Learning Stewardship and Ministry: Faithfulness and Focus

Stewardship and Ministry: Faithfulness and Focus

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 4:1-7

1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?


First, Paul begins chapter four, by asking the Corinthian believers to change their thinking. He called them to consider the apostles as being simply the “servants of Christ.” (The noun, “minister” just means servant.) Furthermore, Paul says, “See us as Stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Lately, we have discussed the concept of ministry several times. We have recognized, in every case, that ministry and servanthood were the same concept.

Stewards and Faithfulness

But, we have barely touched upon the concept of stewardship. A “steward” is someone who with responsibility and limited authority over some matter regarding personnel, or some piece of property, or some investment, perhaps.

Occasionally, the steward may have virtually no “honor” as a part of his or her stewardship. It may simply be “work” that needs doing. On the other hand, he or she may have political prominence, as “the keeper of the keys,” or some such thing. The only thing that all stewardship positions have in common is that the steward must be faithful to that responsibility. Therefore, it says, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (By the way, the Greek simply says “tis” which could be translated as “who” or “one.” This isn’t “just about men!”)

What is Faithfulness?

In some contexts, the word “faithful” simply means the person is a believer in Jesus. This is not that sort of context. In this context, the question is one of “reliability.” Is this person dependable at carrying out the task they have agreed to do, or the task to which they have been assigned?

Living things make this an especially important concept. For example, if you forget to water the house plants for a few days, some of them may die. But all of them will look bad. (Incidentally, “House plant care” is a difficult task for me, as I simply do not think about them: to my eye, they are just “part of the furniture.”)

But what if you have agreed to take care of someone’s pets while they are gone? Those animals are completely dependent upon some human, and, for the prescribed time, that person is YOU!

But, let’s say someone agrees to care for your livestock or pets. If you come home to discover that they have seriously neglected your animals, how will you feel toward the person who proved to be unfaithful? How will you judge yourself for having trusted such a person with your animals?

Now: what if your children are the ones you have entrusted to the care of another, and you find that your children have been neglected or abused?

Some government agencies have been unfaithful. They failed to care for children or the elderly. When the public heard about that failure, everyone was shocked and angry. Everyone wanted the abusers (and/or the “neglectful, careless stewards”) to be held accountable. (Guess what? God holds stewards accountable, too! And it IS God’s children at risk!)


Hebrews 13:17 says God will hold the leaders in the churches accountable for “what happens on their watch,” so to speak. (“ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”)

In a church assembly where the people rebel against God’s Word, the shepherds are not looking forward to standing before Christ and having to answer for their own errors or failures.

In Ezekiel 34:1-10, we see God calling the Shepherds of Israel into account for their behavior, and the result in the flock.

God gave those shepherds a list of seven definite responsibilities toward His flock:

  1. Feed the Flock,
  2. Strengthen the Diseased.
  3. Heal the Sick,
  4. Bind up the Broken,
  5. Bring back those who have been driven away,
  6. Seek the Lost, and
  7. Defend the Flock against all Predators.

Accountability Today

Those responsibilities have not changed: they are still the collective task of the shepherds.

If the shepherds are collectively doing their jobs, in unity, and if the flock is behaving rightly before the Lord, then we can expect His blessing.  If not, then, to the degree we disregard God’s Word, we can expect to see His blessing diminished. That is simply the truth. It is a fact!

In 1st Samuel 2, God held accountable the High Priest Eli for the evil that his sons committed, because he was in a position of sufficient authority that he could have stopped them. But he chose to just “remonstrate with them”…and he got fat on the fruit of their evil doings.

The result? The people of Israel began to despise the Tabernacle and the offerings they brought! God told Eli that he had honored his evil sons more than he had honored God. It cost Eli his own life, the lives of his sons, and a lasting curse on the future of his entire family lineage!

Yes, obviously, the “Stewards of the Mysteries of God” are individually held accountable for their actions and the results of those actions.

Take it Seriously!

James 3:1 warns that we need to take seriously the responsibility of teaching. KJV says “Be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (Don’t just go “running after the spotlight:” as a teacher, you will also receive more severe judgment.)

In some cases, of course, this condemnation could be just from other people. Even the Unbelieving World is actively scrutinizing teachers and pastors, the shepherds of the flock of God. Obviously, the World is always eager to “catch shepherds in sin,” if possible. And sometimes they have gone so far as to deliberately produce a “trap” to make an innocent person “look bad,” publicly. But when a pastor commits a crime, it will be splashed all over the news.

God warns us to expect this “stricter accountability,” and it makes perfect sense. He has entrusted His flock to those leaders, and if they are guilty of misfeasance (or nonfeasance) of their responsibilities, then He will take action against them. The Ezekiel passage we just read is a clear example of that judgment.

Take it Personally!

Any honest servant of God fears failure in this area. None of us want to face the consequences of having fallen prey to greed, lust, or pride, and as a result of our sin, having led astray an assembly of believers. That is why the previous chapter says, “the temple of God (the flock of God) is Holy. If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” God will judge those who defile His flock through bad (or careless) teaching and bad (or careless) leadership!

And yet, Hebrews 5:12 states that “by this time you should have been teaching!”

God does call us to be His ambassadors and He does call us to grow up into responsibility. These warnings are not to dissuade us from seeking to serve God with our lives. Rather, they are a solemn warning that it is a serious business! Do not take it lightly!

And God is the Judge

Next, in verses 3 and 4, Paul says that the collective “opinions” or “judgment” of the Corinthian believers were not his primary concern. His only “Supervisor” and final Judge of his work was The Lord Jesus!

Romans 14:4 confirms that we are each, individually accountable to God. We are not to sharply criticize one another, nor even to hold one another in disregard. Each of us will stand or fall before God…and Paul goes on to say that “God is able to make us stand.”

On the other hand, Romans 2:16 says that God will judge the secrets of the hearts of men “according to the Gospel.” In terms of Salvation, the Gospel will be the standard… “What did you do with Jesus?

But in terms of Service, the standard will still be the Word of God: “What did you allow Jesus to do through you? What did you do with Him?” Did you walk with Him, and follow His leading?”

I can’t see anyone else’s heart. So, I cannot judge them (or their actions) unless their actions are truly rebellion against God’s Word. All I can do, as a shepherd, is keep declaring all the general commands given to all believers.

However, those who hear it and apply it to their own hearts will find that God leads them according to His Word. (Remember that Jesus is the Living Word of God: He never leads us contrary to the Written Word of God!) And God says that He will reveal it ALL in the end. Everyone will know!

The Apostles’ Example: “We are nothing Special!”

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

Paul says that he chose himself and Apollos as simple examples, comparing himself and his own ministry with that of Apollos. His conclusion has consistently been that neither of them was anything special! He has repeatedly brought us back to this simple comparison, first to put a stop to the sectarianism that was beginning in Corinth and finally, to root out any tendency toward the believers holding up themselves as “something special.”

The Implication: “And, Neither are You!”

The bottom line seems to be “If Apollos and I are nothing special (and we are NOT) then what makes you think YOU are so special?”

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, (boast) as if thou hadst not received it?

  • What makes you different than others?
  • What do you have that you did not simply receive as a gift?
  • And if you only have it as a gift that you did nothing to earn, why brag?

We all are called to discipleship! We all are called to service! And we all are called to stewardship at various levels. And we all are called to grow up, by feeding on God’s Word, obeying His Word, and walking with Him. We are called to focus our attention on Christ and His Word. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:19 “Focus on the light of His Word!”)

As a Personal Note:

Having received the gift (and assignment) of teaching and feeding the Flock, I no longer have the option to just “go do something else!” I cannot decide “Y’ know, I’d rather go back to commercial fishing!” (Remember, in John 21, that is exactly what Peter did, and the others followed his example. Jesus called him back and told him that was no longer an option.)

In addition, I cannot choose to go off and be a “hermit luthier:” a recluse, separating myself from other believers, and “just building violins.” I have to Focus on the job I was sent to do!

What about All of Us?

We are no longer our own masters. We are called to follow the leadership and yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is the Savior, the Master, and the final Judge at every level.

We need to keep that in mind.

Lord Jesus, Please teach us to respond to You as our true Master, and as the great shepherd. Teach us to feed upon your Word: to Feed upon You as the Living Word. Cause us to grow up into spiritual maturity and to embrace the responsibility of Discipleship!

Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

Prayer Requests, Final Instructions and Greetings

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Colossians 4:2-18


We have been studying through the Epistle to the Church in Colosse, and we have finally come to the last chapter. The final comments actually begin in verse two, as we saw last time: the first verse is actually in reference and conclusion, to the last part of chapter 3. But, here, even in the midst of Paul’s closing thoughts, there is food for our souls:

Prayer Requests

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

Prayer is something that Paul treated as serious business. He did not see it as a “last resort,” to which we are to turn when all other avenues of hope have failed. Far from a last resort, he saw it as a continuous calling, for us to be in close communion with God, and so that we can have guidance from God, as well as expressing gratitude for His supply in all things. But it is interesting to see what Paul prayed for: notice his prayer request in the next verse:

Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Paul was in a prison, because of the Gospel, and because of his preaching the faith to others. He did not ask that he be freed from prison, or that he would escape punishment for having preached the Gospel: He asked for more opportunities to speak, and the ability to make it clear (manifest) to his hearers. He recognized that he was in prison for that very thing, and all it did was to make him more earnestly desiring to make it all worthwhile by leading more people to Christ.

It shames me to realize how little effort I give to prayer for the souls of those around me, and the opportunity to share Christ with them, compared to the energy I expend, pleading for my own “release from bondage” to whatever circumstances I find “unbearable.” And my circumstances are far less ugly than the Roman prison in which Paul was languishing: not even worthy of mention, let alone comparison.

Final Instructions

And Paul, along with the prayer requests, had some final words of instruction for the believers at Colosse:

Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Paul gave the preaching of the Gospel “top billing” in terms of priority. And, he commands that we see ourselves as having that same responsibility, and to use our time well, in that regard. We are to consider how we use our words, seasoning our thoughts and words with Grace, as if it were salt, to enhance the flavor of life, so as to reach out to any willing to hear the good news of Christ. Redeeming the time by “walking in wisdom toward them that are without…:” reaching out to unbelievers.

You may have noted that people often state their “last requests” as the thing most prominent in their mind: Paul gave this final admonition regarding the witness of the believers to those around them that final place of importance, and demonstrated that it was his own top priority, as well. We need to examine our own hearts as to how we see those around us. Do we see them as precious souls for whom Jesus shed His blood, or mostly as aggravations and annoyances, whom we wish would just leave us alone? Give that some thought: Remember that the people to whom Paul hoped to bear witness were those who had imprisoned him, and who intended to kill him.

Final Introductions and Greetings

The remaining passage is nearly entirely devoted to personal introductions, regarding the messengers who were to bring the letter to Colosse, and personal greetings, extended from those with Paul, to be delivered to those among the believers at Colosse who knew them.

All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:

Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts;

With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

These men, Tychicus and Onesimus, were sent to deliver the letter to Colosse, to encourage the believers, and to bring back news to Paul as to their condition as a church. He commended them personally for their faithfulness and referred to them as beloved brothers, and fellow servants. On several occasions, Tychicus served as a messenger for Paul, travelling to distant cities to carry a word from (or to) Paul. We might turn up our noses at being a “messenger-boy,” but, in reality, that was quite a privilege, if you consider whose “messenger-boy” he was: whom he was serving: and know that it resulted in his being mentioned five times in God’s Word.

Interestingly, Onesimus is the same individual that we can read about in the epistle to Philemon, where we can see that, when Paul first met him, he was an escaped slave, running away from Philemon, who was a believer. Paul led him to Christ, and returned him to Philemon, as a brother, not just a slave. In this passage, however, it seems that he is pretty much acting in freedom, and Paul points out that he is from Colosse, as well. These two were to let the believers in Colosse know all that was going on with Paul, and return to Paul with news of Colosse.

10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

Aristarchus had travelled with Paul on his missionary journey, had worked with him, and had been abused by the crowds along with him. He had been “through it all” with Paul, and now was in prison along with Paul. And, he sent his greetings to these fellow-believers.

Remember, too, that Mark (John Mark from Acts 13:13, 15:36-39…nephew of Barnabas) had previously been rejected for service by Paul, but had been subsequently mentored and made a disciple by his uncle, Barnabas. This is also the “Mark” who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Paul eventually recognized that the young man had been transformed by God and made to be truly worthwhile in the ministry. (See 2nd Timothy 4:11, where Paul said Mark was “…profitable to me for the ministry.”) Perhaps we can use that fact to engender hope in our own lives, when we may feel “rejected” in some particular area of service, knowing that the Lord is not finished with us and that he can make us “profitable for the ministry” as well.

11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

We don’t know much about this last fellow, however, all these men were all identified as Jews, but were also identified as his fellow-workers unto the Kingdom of God. I am not sure why he says they were the “only” ones, even at the moment, because there were definitely others.

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

Evidently Epaphras had brought the news to Paul regarding the church at Colosse, and possibly was also the one who “planted” that church, but he was also from that area, himself. We don’t know a great deal about him, so the following is only a guess: Possibly Epaphras had gone elsewhere, heard the Gospel, become a believer, and had been fairly thoroughly trained in the Word. He subsequently went home, and shared with others, with the result that now there was a blossoming church there.

This pattern has been repeated over the centuries, by people who “took the Gospel home with them,” and led others to Christ. It has happened countless times in families, where one person was saved, and led the whole family to faith. It is still happening today, in third-world countries, where a missionary has contact with a single tribal person who is out of his “home area”, but who seizes upon the Gospel as a treasure, and feeds upon the Word, as spoken by the missionary. He then goes home to his village, and tells others what he has found. Those others are thrilled by his testimony, limited though his understanding may be, and they also believe. Later, they go back to find that missionary, to get “the rest of the story”, and the missionary travels with them to the village, where he finds that there are whole families of believers, yet untaught, but who have believed the Gospel as they understood it, and who are wide open to more teaching. What a thrill that would be! Pretty overwhelming, actually.

There was a book, years ago, called “Fire on the Mountain” (If I remember correctly) in which the story of the evangelical church in Ethiopia was recalled. When the missionaries were forcibly deported, under Mussolini, during the outbreak of WWII, there had only been 48 believers or so, and they were largely untaught.

The missionaries were absolutely devastated, and sick about it, thinking that they were “leaving a flock unattended,” and that the work would have to begin all over again, if they were ever allowed to return. But the “Good Shepherd” was in charge: ten years later, when the war was over, they did return, and found that there were now ten thousand believers, all saved through the testimonies of those forty-odd spiritual “babies” left behind. These were very poorly taught, as the original believers had very little teaching themselves, and very little of the scriptures had been translated. But they had committed themselves to obedience to the little they knew, and God had blessed His Word. The missionaries were free to re-teach, and train up these Ethiopian disciples, to understand God’s Word, and joyfully go on living for God.

14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

Luke, the physician, is the one who wrote the Book of Acts, as well as the Gospel of Luke. We can see that he was a favorite of Paul. Demas was with them at the time, and had also served faithfully, but later, there is a sad footnote that Demas was drawn away by the lure of “this present world,” and abandoned the work and his fellowship with Paul. (2nd Timothy 4:10)

15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

We see in verse 16 that this epistle and others were intended to be “circular” letters, circulating among the believers, and to be read in various church assemblies. Peter confirmed that the writings of Paul were to be considered “scriptures”, in 2nd Peter 3:15, 16. And today, we have the whole of God’s Word, and circulate it everywhere.

16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

Verse 17 includes the only personal admonition in this epistle: It leaves me to wonder: what was the problem with Archippus?

17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

Was Archippus getting “sidetracked?” Was he, as Peter was being drawn back to a professional life, in whatever trade he possessed? Or was he being drawn away by the world in some other way? Or was he simply being “distracted” by some pressing need or personal interest? We really don’t know. But we do know that Archippus was personally admonished, in a public letter, to “get back on task.”

How much we could apply this verse to our own lives? What ministry has been entrusted to us? How faithfully are we fulfilling it? What level of priority do we assign to the service of God, and to the particular responsibility that is ours? To what degree are we being “drawn away” by the world, or by personal interests, passions, and desires?

There is nothing wrong with having a variety of interests. Let’s consider “fishing,” as an example. I know a man who, once or twice a year, goes on a fishing trip. That is his “vacation.” The trip lasts for a weekend, each time, but the rest of the year, he is absolutely faithfully focused on ministry, as a deacon, taking care of the physical needs of a church.

The difference between his actions and those of Peter (when Peter said “I go a fishing,”) is that Peter was returning to his old job as a commercial fisherman, and taking the other disciples with him. Jesus had specifically called him away from the boats (and the fish,) three times. He was not doing it as a “weekend off…” he was abandoning his God-given job. He was doing exactly opposite of what Jesus had personally called him to do.

Perhaps we need to consider what God’s call is for our own lives: we can go to God’s Word to find out what that call really is, and then follow His leading to find, specifically, how he wants us to carry it out. Perhaps we need to consider how we are responding to the call of God, as well. Are we actually following what He says to do? I fervently hope that I will not fail to fulfil the ministry to which I have been assigned.

Closing Benediction

It seems Paul may have signed the letter in person, for once, though he usually had someone else do the actual writing of the letter. (Galatians was the exception. Evidently that particular time he had no scribe to help him, and had to write it himself, in large letters, due to his damaged eyesight.) This time he simply signed it after the letter was written.

18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

This is the only place in the epistle where Paul seems to ask for prayer regarding his imprisonment. I cry out every day to God, to relieve whatever little problem I am facing, none of which even remotely approach the level of suffering endured by Paul and the other apostles and prophets. But Paul was mostly concerned with the task at hand, and the circumstances were only mentioned in passing, as a rule.

Perhaps, even here, we can find an admonition to “toughen up a bit”, and to not allow the daily, ordinary vicissitudes of life to distract us from the job we have been given to do. We are to remember the Grace of God that sustains us, and stand firm.

I pray that God’s Word will have that effect upon each of our lives.

Lord Jesus, touch our hearts by your Holy Spirit, through your Word, and change us into your likeness, transforming us into the faithful men and women of God that you have created us to be. Strengthen us to endure and to glorify you in our lives. Let us shine as lights in this dark world, to honor you in every way.

Paul’s Ministry and Motivation

The Mission and Ministry of the Apostle Paul

© C. O. Bishop 11/15/16 THCF 11/20/16

Romans 15:14-33


We have been studying through the book of Romans, and for the last several weeks, the topic had to do with church unity, and how to deal with the normal, healthy diversity in the church. The point was that the diversity is a good thing, designed by God, but that all of it had to fit within the holiness of God. God makes no provision for sin, beyond the Cross. Paul rebuked virtually every church he wrote to, in one area or another; not harshly, but in corrective teaching, designed to help them walk with God. The only church letter (epistle) in which there was no corrective teaching is the book of Philippians. The two epistles to Corinth are virtually all corrective teaching. So some of the things that were wrong in Corinth had nothing to do with “diversity”, or being “seeker-friendly”, or “relevant to the World.” Some of the issues were simply sin, and Paul addressed those things directly, and unapologetically.

The diversity had to do with different cultures, and different gifting; not morals, or idolatry, or any form of unrighteousness. We would be wise to frequently review Romans 14 and 15 to remind ourselves how to get along with those we find uncomfortable, as well as how we are to become less uncomfortable for others.

Romans is a very well-balanced book, as Paul lays the foundation for faith, and for a stable walk with God. Having done so, Paul goes on to begin to share his own heart; his own way of thinking regarding the gospel, the work of the ministry, the Gentiles, the church, etc.

Paul Shares His Own Heart

14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

In verses 14-16, Paul expresses his confidence that the goodness of God was already having victory in the lives of the Gentile believers in Rome. He acknowledges that they were completely capable of teaching or correcting one another, as needed. Why?

How could he be so sure that they were able to continue the Christian life without his assistance? What two things did they have that assured them of it?

They had the same two things we have—the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the written Word of God. Did they have the New Testament? No, it wasn’t completed, yet, though it is possible they had seen portions of it. Romans is evidently the sixth of Paul’s epistles, and the book of Matthew was almost certainly completed and circulating. Possibly the book of Mark had begun circulating, as well. (Remember that there were no printing presses, so copies were written out by hand, and passed around to other believers.)

They had all of the Old Testament, and, as we have seen in our previous studies, it is completely in agreement with the New Testament, where they overlap. The Old Testament laid a firm foundation for the New Testament, so that the believers who were well-taught in the Old Testament were easily able to grasp the teachings in the New Testament, because the two dovetailed perfectly together. The prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the New Testament, and the New Testament gave clear explanation to the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit was perfectly capable of teaching them from the Old Testament Scripture, and, if necessary, by additional revelation. But, in this case, Paul was that additional revelation. He was sent to do a particular job, and this letter is part of it. He was used to write at least 13 of the New Testament books…probably 14, though we have no proof regarding the writer of Hebrews.

He says that he was “bold” in writing to them because of the peculiar gift of God with which he himself had been entrusted—that he was the servant of Jesus Christ, sent specifically to the Gentiles. (The word “Apostle” means “sent one”.) In another passage (Romans 11:13) Paul says that he is “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” and that he takes it seriously; he “magnifies” his office. He says that his specific job was to ensure that the “offering up of the Gentiles” would be acceptable before God, being sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit.

When I first read this particular passage (v. 16), regarding the “offering up of the Gentiles”, I assumed that he meant that the offerings the Gentiles made would be acceptable; but it turns out that it means that the Gentiles themselves are the offering—a worship offering—and that he wanted them to be an acceptable “worship offering” to God. I like the mental image this evokes…that the lives of the Gentile believers were to be an acceptable, pleasing act of worship to God. I’m a Gentile believer, too…can this apply to me? Yes! We can take this promise and apply it to ourselves. This is a Church Epistle, and it is “To Us.”

Paul says that the result of applying these truths (the whole book of Romans) to our lives is that our lives will be an acceptable worship offering to God, made holy (sanctified) by the Holy Spirit. That makes the Book of Romans a pretty important passage to learn to apply. Possibly a place to start for serious personal study…meditation…memorization.

Paul’s Motivation: To be Used by God

Paul goes on to explain “what makes him tick”— what his motive in life has become. (Not surprisingly, it matches what Jesus said, in John 4:34—“My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.”)

17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,

Paul says that this is his only boast: the effect the Gospel has had in the lives of those to whom he preached. Not in the work of others; just his own. And even this “boast” is only the satisfaction of knowing that his life has been used by God to achieve something of eternal worth. He says that he can boast “through Jesus Christ, in those things that pertain to God.” And that he will not boast of anything that “Christ did not do through him.” This gives us a clue as to what sort of things are reward-worthy, to God. The things Christ does in and through his people are the things he will reward as being of eternal value. Paul hungered for that reward, and the continuing experience of knowing his life was useful, as a tool in the hand of the Savior. God help us all to hunger toward that end, that we may be useful as tools in His Hand.

We often tell people, “Well, God needs (insert professions here; hair-stylists, shoemakers, welders, truck-drivers, laborers, etc.) too!” The fact is, that is not true! God doesn’t “need” anything! We need Him. We need to be in His will. Now, does his will have a place for all of those seemingly “common” professions? Yes! It does!

Tentmakers were nothing dramatic or glorious, in the time of Christ, but God certainly had a use for a couple of them in Acts chapter 18. The tent-making couple, Priscilla and Aquila, had Paul work with them for a while. Later, they took aside the “powerhouse evangelist,” Apollos, and “straightened him out!” It seems he only knew what John the Baptist had taught, plus the Old Testament. They filled him in on the “rest of the story,” as they had been taught by both Paul and the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, Apollos not only received it, he put it to use in his public ministry, and was mightily used by God, to refute the false teachers in that area. How frequently a powerful teacher, who has been used by God in great ways, is too arrogant to listen to the quieter, simpler folk through whom God may choose to speak. (It is well to remember that, on the occasion when He chose to do so, God was able to use a donkey to straighten out a prophet. It is not too much to ask, to listen to the voice of the less prominent. In the case of Aquila and Priscilla, it made a huge difference. They were used by God, and it made a difference!

Pauls’ Pattern of Evangelism

19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.

Verses 19 and 20 are interesting and educational passages: Verse 19 says that he, Paul, “through mighty signs and wonders by the Power of the Spirit of God,” had “fully preached the Gospel” from Jerusalem to Illyricum. What does that mean? Does it mean that he tracked down and preached to every single human in that area?

You can look at the maps of the Mediterranean area, and find all the towns in which he preached, and you can see that what he was describing was a pretty large chunk of territory. But we can read the account in Acts and see that he went from town to town, and preached in civic and religious centers, including market-places and synagogues, so that the news went out from those centers. Once he had believers in an area, he left it to them to find those who had not heard the Gospel and to share it with them. But Paul moved on to an area where the Gospel had never gone. “V. 20 “Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” That was Paul’s three-point mission plan:

  1. Preach in centers from which the message could spread and continue to grow after he left.
  2. Try to concentrate on taking the Gospel to places where it had never been before.
  3. Feed those that are hungry, and don’t waste time on those who are not. (See Acts 17)

Pretty simple, isn’t it? And yet we have huge organizations today, some doing great work, but “over-organized” to the hilt. Every believer can take this attitude toward the Gospel. Evangelism is really pretty simple—it is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food. And Paul had been so busy doing just that, that he had never been free to visit the believers in Rome

By the way, the above pattern is what Jim and Judy Burdett, with New Tribes Mission, have been doing for the last 32 years, while translating the scripture into Dom. They established three small churches, which are mostly self-sustaining, now, from which Bible-teachers are going out into neighboring villages and clans, sharing the Gospel, and teaching the Bible. Jim and Judy can only do so much. But they have taught in those three areas, and the ones they taught have the freedom to go wherever they will be received. They can go to places Jim and Judy could not go.

Paul’s Personal Plans

23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Paul begins his closing remarks, here, with his personal desire to visit Rome. He says “I have no more place in these parts…” Why? Not welcome there? He was never completely welcome, anywhere he went—he had a ministry that was sometimes very uncomfortable. He preached the Cross; Jesus Christ and Him Crucified: and, while it resulted in salvation for many, there were far more who totally rejected the message, and frequently were violently opposed to it and him.

But that is not what is in the context, here. In light of verse 20, what does “I have no more place, here…” mean? He was simply stating that there were no more untouched areas around him, and he was looking as far away as Spain, in order to fulfill his prime objective—take the Gospel where it had never been before. He had already done so where he was (see verse 19).

I knew a retired missionary couple, Roy and Linda Milton, who had worked in Indonesia. There is an area of Irian Jaya (the other half of the Island of New Guinea) called “The Bird’s Head”, because of its shape, that had never been opened to missions. I remember the way Linda’s eyes glowed, when she stated positively, “If they open up the Bird’s Head, we’ll go back!” Their health is no longer good enough to permit such a thing, and I am not sure whether that area was ever opened, but that was her heart’s desire, to take the Gospel where it had never gone.

Does this mean that we should never tell someone the gospel twice? Of course not! But it does mean that we have a greater debt to those who have never heard than to those who have already heard and rejected the Lord. If people aren’t hungry, move on and find someone who is hungry. It is impossible to feed those who are not hungry. Back in Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was a debtor to both Jews and Gentiles, because of the Gospel. In Romans 13:8 we are told to not be in debt to anyone except for this abiding debt of Love. I was not immediately receptive to the Gospel, so if I had only heard it once, I would have been lost. I remember the first time I heard it and understood that all the necessary work was completed at the Cross; that all God was asking me to do was to place my faith in that single completed work of Jesus…His shed blood for my sins. It still took about six months for me to come around. I was eighteen, and I know I must have heard the Gospel many times before that and simply ignored it. God was gracious and patient toward me. But there does come a time when the evangelist must kindly say, “Well…I hope you will think it over and change your mind!” and then… close your mouth! There are others who will respond. You need to pray for their soul, continue to love them, and pray for guidance to find someone else with whom to share the Hope of Eternal Life.

Paul planned to go to Spain, but he had to make a trip to Jerusalem first. He asked for prayer, as the people to who he would go were not at all friendly toward the Gospel, nor, especially, to him. But he promised that en route to Spain, he would stop over in Rome and be a blessing to them, as well. We do not know whether he ever made it to Spain…we have no record of it if he did. And the only recorded time that he went to Rome, he went as a prisoner. V. 29 seems to make it clear that he fully expected to go to Rome as a visitor. If there was another visit, outside of the time he went there in chains, we are not told of it. We simply don’t know.

Conclusion: Paul’s Prayer Requests and Benediction

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Paul begged the Roman believers to “strive together”, in prayer for him. The Greek word is “agonizo –the word from which we derive “agonize”. Paul asked that they pour themselves out for him in prayer, so that he would be delivered from the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem (who desired to silence him), and that his service toward the church in Jerusalem would be well-received. He asked for these things so that, when he came to Rome they could be a blessing to one another, and be refreshed by mutual fellowship.

Paul prayed for them that the God of Peace would be with them all.

Keep in mind that this epistle is to the Church as a whole. God wants his Peace to reign in our lives as well. As we study His Word, and align ourselves with His Will, we find that we are increasingly filled with His Peace. And, honestly, that is about the best thing we can experience in this life: His Peace, and His Joy, and His personal presence as we walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, teach us to align ourselves with your stated will so as to discover your specific will, operative in our lives, and to be filled with your Peace and your Joy. Teach us to practice evangelism the way Paul taught it, and to leave the result to you. Make us continually aware of your presence with us, as we seek to serve you.