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One day in 1742, British evangelist George Whitefield was invited by a Quaker coal merchant to preach at the fair at Marylebone Field, west of London. “I’ll build you a platform,” promised the Quaker. When Whitefield and his wife Elizabeth arrived at the fairgrounds, the sun was already down and the crowds were rowdy. Brawny prizefighters challenged all comers to bare-fisted fights in boxing rings. Gambling booths were plentiful as fireflies, and liquor was flowing freely. Whitefield seldom displayed fear, but that evening he was visibly nervous as he mounted the Quaker’s rickety little platform.
As he raised his magnificent voice, a few people began gathering. The crowds at nearby booths thinned, then emptied as Whitefield preached louder. Shortly into his message, he saw a small army of battered, bare-chested fighters marching toward him, blood in their eyes. His voice faltered, but suddenly he felt a tug on his gown. “George,” Elizabeth said, looking up at him. “Be a bold man for God!” 
Boldness surged through Whitefield. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” he shouted, his voice ringing over the protesting voices of the fighters. “It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” He threw out his arms in a dramatic gesture, and his platform nearly collapsed under him. The fighters noticed Whitefield’s wobbly platform, and they began crowding forward, hoping to topple it. But a group of Christians formed a circle around the evangelist, and Whitefield carried on, preaching as though on the deck of a tossing ship. A thrown rock struck him in the face, then a rotten egg, then a handful of manure. Still he preached on, his words flying like missiles into the crowd. Some people began to pray and others melted in tears. Still he preached on. At last, his work done, the 27-year-old evangelist climbed down from his perch and, escorted by friends, tried to get to his carriage. A young man lunged at him brandishing a sword, but, just in time, it was deflected by a friend’s cane. Whitefield was a bold man for God that day. He was unashamed of the gospel. Are we?

An Inside Look (8-12)

What we read in verses 8-12 is sort of an extension of the background material in verses 1-7. As Paul continues to build a rapport with a church he has never met, his words open the door into the heart of Paul and the heart of this church. We get what we might call an “inside look” into the writer and the readers.
First, Paul expressed his appreciation for their faith. “The news of your faith is being reported in all the world.” How had Paul heard? Trade routes? Other travelers? We don’t know how Paul learned of their faith, but however he did, their faith was commendable. Allowing for a degree of legitimate hyperbole, it was still true that whoever the church’s reputation had spread, the news that there were Christians in the capital city of the Roman Empire must have been exciting. Last week we discussed the unknown origin of the church. We have no clue who planted the church. Whoever it was, they did a good job, for the faith of that church became well-known, quite rapidly.
APPLICATION: What do people in our sphere of influence hear about our church’s faith; or about your faith? Do we have the kind of faith that travels beyond our borders?
Next, Paul makes a point to affirm his own consistent commitment to the gospel: “telling the good news about his Son” (9). One of the things Paul was doing in the letter, as we learned last week, was informing the church of his own authority as an apostle of Christ. His authority as leader would be diminished, or even destroyed, if there was no evidence of commitment to that which he recommends. The church, in order to strengthen their grip on the gospel, must know that Paul’s grip is strong. A loose grip on the gospel cannot be strengthened by one who is equally lacking in a strong grip.
Next Paul informed them that he prayed for them (10). Among his prayers for them, he prayed that he could visit them (11), and in that visit, he hoped to: “impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” Paul probably had in mind his own spiritual gifts of preaching and teaching. Only the Holy Spirit can actually give spiritual gifts. I believe verse 15 backs up this idea: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Paul wished to encourage them, but also find encouragement from them (12). This reminds us that our faith serves to encourage each other. Faith inspires. Faith promotes deeper faith. This is one of the many blessings of being a part of God’s church: the mutual encouragement we receive from each other to continue in faith, and the mutual sharpening of our faith as we serve the Lord together. I am reminded of Proverbs 27:17, which reads, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.”
It was impossible for Paul’s heart to stay beneath the surface. Like a spiritual artesian well, his desire to preach the gospel to the Gentiles bubbled to the surface of its own accord. He longed to come to Rome in order to reap a spiritual harvest there just as he had among the other Gentiles. In this seemingly casual reflection, Paul tells us who he is.
APPLICATION: In our seemingly casual comments and reflections to others we reveal our heart of hearts as well.
What we talk about, what we do in our free time, what we read, what we watch on television, where we venture on the Internet—the small “comments” about ourselves that we make day after day—reveal who we are. Paul was a man in the grip of the gospel. Or perhaps it’s better to say that the gospel had a grip on Paul. Wherever he went, whoever he was with, whatever his agenda, his priority remained the same—tell the world about Jesus.

A Strategic Transition (13-15)

I think Paul wanted to get to the heart of his topic — the gospel — ASAP, but he also wanted to take the time to build rapport. So even the first two verses in this section provide a little more background material, which Paul then used as a segue to his main topic in this portion of the letter.
He explained his failure, at that point, to visit them. It was not due to his lack of planning or diligence. He had been “prevented until now” (13).
What prevented him? Based on the reading of other Pauline letters, we can assume that Paul was implying that the Holy Spirit had prevented him. Though there were other hindrances to Paul’s travels and intentions to that point, he usually counted them as a part of God’s sovereign plan and will. In some cases, God directly intervened in Paul’s plans. For example: in Acts 16, Paul and his team intended to break missionary ground in Asia, but “they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (16:7) And when they tried to go to into Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (16:7). Then, in a vision, Paul saw and heard a man from Macedonia plead, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” (16:10).
More than likely, Paul interpreted the hindrances to visit Rome as the Spirit’s orchestration, in order for him to have a fuller more fruitful ministry when the time was right (13).
From this point of reference, Paul segued to the gospel: “I am obligated …” (14). Paul leaves us in suspense. What is the reference point for his obligation? We know for sure, whatever the obligation, there is no favoritism. He’s obligated to Greeks, barbarians, the wise and the foolish. The meaning of “Greeks” is often too compressed. The word literally means, “peoples.” I doubt Paul had in mind only those who were from Greece, but all people-groups who spoke the Greek language, which included many ethnic groups in his part of the world.
“Barbarians” is an interesting term, denoting non-Greek-speaking people, who were considered uncivilized. “Wise” may have been intended for people who were educated. Seeking wisdom was a prominent concern for people in the Greco-Roman world. “Foolish” refers to people who have strayed off the path, or who demonstrate poor judgment. It sounds to me that Paul had a deep sense of obligation to all people.
Paul used a figure of speech, called a merism, which is an oratorical strategy of citing extremes in opposite directions to indicate a totality (See Ps. 139:8-19 as an example.) This shows the breadth of Paul’s vision for the gospel. There was not a place on earth, nor one human on earth, where and to whom the gospel can be neglected. Everywhere and every person needs the gospel. In other words, the total world needs the gospel.
APPLICATION: How does our vision of the gospel and our eagerness to proclaim it compare with Paul’s?
“I am eager to preach the gospel” (15) explains the obligation. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:16. “For if I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast, because I am compelled to preach—and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I’m also reminded of Jeremiah’s words:his message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail.” (Proverbs 20:9b)
Verse 15 segues into Paul’s main concern and topic: the gospel.
When one realizes that Jesus Christ has paid an infinite debt that secures one’s life and welfare for eternity, it is to the shame of the church that there are not millions of “apostle Pauls” roaming the earth looking for one more person to tell about the gospel of the grace of God.
APPLICATION: What does it say about our understanding of the gift of God that so many in the church today feel no indebtedness, no obligation, to Christ at all?

The Power of the Gospel (16)

The Gospel is nothing to be ashamed of.
At verse 16, we arrive at Paul’s central point: “I am not ashamed …” (16) This completes the thought in verse 15. Hear the passion in Paul’s voice. Hear the urgency in his words. Hear Paul’s heartbeat: I am eager to preach. I am not ashamed of the gospel. Eagerness must be followed by action. And Paul’s action — preaching the gospel — was held in spite of the apparent contempt that some in Rome had toward the gospel.
John Stott writes of a sermon by James Stewart of Edinburgh, on this text. One sentence in the sermon caught his attention:
“There’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.”
And without doubt Paul knew this temptation. He told the Corinthians that he came to them “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” He knew that the message of the cross was “foolishness” to some and “a stumbling-block” to others, because it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence. So whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule. ( John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 60.)
This willingness of Paul to be so transparent, so honest, should lead us to ask ourselves an important question:
Am I sometimes ashamed of the gospel?
The real gospel of Jesus Christ is not at all popular today. There are many watered-down versions of the gospel today that are very popular. However, when we are bold enough to proclaim the gospel in the face of this woke world, we’re going to receive a backlash. We’re going to be called bigots. We’re going to be despised and rejected. It is extremely crucial, at the intersection of woke mentality and self-authorized truth, that we come to the same conclusion as Paul.
Though we are tempted to keep quiet, though we are afraid to speak out the truth, though we are tempted to be ashamed, we must resolve with Paul, and George Whitefield: “I am not ashamed of the gospel!”
And there are some reasons Paul gives us for an unashamed grasp of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is a great “leveler.”
Remembering the background of the letter, Paul was aware of the theological factions in the church in Rome: Gentile believers who practiced freedom from the law because of God’s grace; Jewish believers who held on to Levitical law and condemned Gentile believers who refused circumcision and loyalty to the law.
Paul was convinced that saving faith, which is the necessary response to the gospel, is the great leveler of all people. For everyone who is saved is saved in exactly the same way, by faith. That goes for Jews and Gentiles equally. There is no distinction between them in respect of salvation. (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 60–61.)
The Jewish faction in the church might be one reason why Paul wrote, “first to the Jew”. It appeared that they might need to hear the gospel preached more than the Gentiles. Or, at least, that the key to resolving the conflict in the Roman church was turning the Jewish believers back to the true gospel message. At any rate, some despised the gospel that Paul preached, but he was not about to hesitate preaching it. He was willing to confront the despisers with the truth.
The Gospel is Powerful.
Next, Paul gave a testimony to the power of the gospel. Power is dunamis. This is a dynamic power, which in the New Testament is always assumed as coming from God. There is no human ingenuity or energy in this power; it was directly from God and of God.
And this powerful gospel brings salvation to “everyone who believes.” The wording expresses the reality that God’s powerful gospel is always the cause of salvation. I’m reminded of Peter’s words in Acts 4:12. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
Furthermore, the power of the gospel unveils (reveals) God’s righteousness (17). Seeing our sin, we see the holiness of God.
And, the power of the gospel persuades faith, which is the only appropriate response.
When we respond in faith, the gospel has the power to change — completely change — our life.
We are not ashamed of the gospel because it is the truth of God and the power of God to transform lives.
APPLICATION: Paul is giving the Roman believers a paradigm for life that the contemporary church desperately needs to understand: nothing will display the righteousness of God (and thereby his person and glory) to a needy world like the message of the gospel.

The Impact of the Gospel (17)

In verse 17, three basic questions confront us. First, what is ‘the righteousness of God’? Secondly, what is the meaning of ‘from faith to faith’ ? Thirdly, how should we interpret the Habakkuk quotation and Paul’s use of it
The righteousness of God’ is …
His righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself,
by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his.
His just justification of the unjust,
his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous,
in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us.
God did it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous, as Paul will explain later. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy.
As to the phrase, “from faith to faith,” I found four powerful explanations:
faith’s origin: from the faith of God comes the offer of salvation, which when received, produces faith in the receiver.
faith’s spread (advance): as the gospel travels from one person to the next, likewise, faith travels from one believer to another.
faith’s growth: as the power of the gospel becomes rooted in a person, faith grows in and out of that person.
faith’s primacy: in other words, through and through, faith is the response to and the result of the gospel.
WARNING: Modern evangelicalism, having cut its eye-teeth on a dispensational or historic premillennial eschatology, have all but relegated theological discussions of the kingdom of God to a future millennial event. Our sharing of the gospel is often introduced by asking an eschatalogical question: If you were to die tonight do you have confidence that you will go to heaven?
While this is an important question for people to consider, composing a gospel “presentation” based on that question alone, especially on the front end, reveals an incomplete understanding of the power of the gospel and righteousness in the kingdom of God. Paul’s words remind us that faith is the response and result of the powerful gospel. It is a gift from God that not only gives us the promise of the resurrection after we die, but a promise for a righteous life, right now! We now live by faith. We now live a righteous life that reveals the righteousness of God. The power of the gospel transfers us out of darkness and into God’s kingdom, where we now live as citizens, even while on earth.
As to Paul’s quote of Habakkuk, it can be understood this way: righteousness and life are both by faith. Those who are righteous by faith also live by faith. Those who began in faith, continue in the same path.
APPLICATION: Is my faith growing? Is my faith spreading? Is the gospel traveling from me to others? Am I a conduit of the gospel and faith?

Principles to Apply

When we have a heart for God, we will also have a heart for people.
When we have a heart for people, we will also have a heart for the gospel.
When we have a heart for the gospel, we will be unashamed and eager to proclaim to anyone who will listen.
One Final Word: Self-identification is a trend in American culture today. A man can self-ID as a woman; a woman can self-ID as a man; and I even heard recently of a person who self-identified as a wolf. Do we need any more evidence that America desperately needs the gospel? What Paul would say to us, if he were here, I think is: Christians today need to be convinced that our identification is in Christ alone; and that we should live such an unashamed life, gripped by the gospel, that all the world hears of our faith, and identifes us with the message of the gospel. We are not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to save lives and therefore, save this nation from a certain and rotten decay.
So, let’s leave this worship service today completely gripped by the gospel, and completely ready to share it this week.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. May the example of his servanthood, his leadership, and his love for the gospel capture our hearts as we study this epistle in the weeks ahead. Create in your church a fresh commitment to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Form an identity in us that reveals this commitment to everyone we meet. Amen.
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