Here we see the true humility and degree of servitude of the great apostle, that though his desire was great to visit Rome and impart on them “some spiritual gift,” to do the work of the kingdom, he still fully submitted to the will of the Lord. His personal desire was to go to Rome, and yet, he submitted by realizing that he must first accomplish God’s will elsewhere, doing the work that God had given him among the other Gentile nations first. And yet, notice that he never questions this will. Not even in lip service to placate his readers does he say “though I know not why.” He never says “for some reason,” or implies that he was be better suited to service with them than any others. It would be so easy to question, to think, why would God hinder him from going to so great and mighty of a nation as Rome. No, he never once questions this, but rather embraces open-heartedly, the plans of the Lord for his ministry. In doing so, not only does he display his own faith, but also sets forth a great example for all of us. For how often do we ourselves determine what is important, and determine that it should be our will being done, in spite of anyone else, even the Lord Himself? And yet, life doesn’t always go according to our plans. Things often come up that impede our plans, that change or cancel them completely, and rather than abiding in the Lord’s will, we question it, we argue it, we refuse to accept it, even slandering the very One whom we claim to be attempting to obey. We get so focused on the work of the kingdom, we forsake the Lord of the kingdom. The work, the deeds, the very things which we are working on, become an idol in our hearts, and anything that interferes with it, we consider to be wickedness, even when it is the Lord’s will. I think of the number of times throughout Scripture that Paul wants to go somewhere and the Spirit is like “nope, not right now.” I think of David wanting to rebuild the temple and the Spirit saying, “Actually, your son is going to build it.” For us, it could be a missions trip that we want to go on, and the flight gets cancelled, or a particular service that we’re late to because of a flat tire. Perhaps we’re late to a Bible study because a friend needs help with something; or on the way to a men’s group you see a homeless man and realize that he needs fellowship and a meal. See, we tend to get so caught up in our own schedules and agendas that we forget fully about the rest of the world, and when that happens, oftentimes the Lord will offer us reminders to slow down and pay attention to what’s going on outside of our own little bubble.
And while it’s not that those outside of our own little bubble are less important, rather that they are equally important. Paul stresses here, “it’s not that I am forsaking you, I do strongly desire to be there, but this is the Lord’s will now.” He points out, “that I might have some fruit among you as well.” See, he didn’t want them to think that he was apathetic to their needs, or that they might receive the “spiritual leftovers,” rather that he was in fact strongly desiring to be there among them doing the work of the kingdom. However, he also wants them to understand that all are equally valuable in our Lord Jesus. In his letter to Galatia, he writes that “there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and to Colossae he writes “there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11). At once assuring, and simultaneously humbling them, he wants them to understand that while he wasn’t ignoring them, neither was he going to forsake any other nation that the Lord had sent him to in the name of rushing to them first. In the Lord, all are equally, there is neither partiality nor judgment, and, Peter teaches us in the Book of Acts, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35). See, it’s this idea that the things which we consider meaningful are useless in the eyes of the Lord, and that will be reflected in His will. We consider things like wealth, power, status to be of importance. But to the Lord, all are equal. The rich lawyer in the pew and the hungry man in the street are equal; the wealthy entrepreneur and the poor beggar are of the same value to Him; no ethnic, economic, social group is more important than any other in Christ. And this was important for the church in Rome to understand, because Rome was the superpower of Biblical times. They were the Roman empire, and it would’ve been so easy not only for outsiders, but for they themselves, to place themselves on this pedestal. And Paul here in not only encouraging them that he will be coming, but is also subtly humbling them so that this mindset never comes to fruition within the church.
“I am a debtor, both to Greeks and barbarians.” The word barbarian here is used by Greeks as a reference to anyone who is not Greek, literally, “one who speaks a language not known by another.” It’s the same word used in the Book of Acts translated “natives” in reference to the people of Malta (Acts 28:1-2). Paul here is stating that he is equally indebted to the Greeks, to non-Greeks, indeed to all who are believers, to all who are children of God. All ethnicities, all economic classes, from the wisest elder to the lowliest layman, anyone with faith in the Lord he owes a debt of gratitude, for his only boast is in the Lord, and thus the very purpose of his life is indebted equally to all who believe.
He concludes by stating that with all that is in him, he is willing to undergo, nay, longs to undergo, the task of preaching the gospel to Rome, although he knows the dangers that await him there. He was longing and praying to go into a city, the home of the Roman empire itself, facing all the wickedness and impiety that was there, regardless of the circumstances, knowing that he also may, and most likely would, face execution at the hands of the Romans.
We must also be prepared for what the gospel may cost us. We have to remember that the gospel isn’t a popular message, the Bible isn’t a well liked book, and Jesus wasn’t a well liked Man. In fact, He was so not-well-liked that they executed Him. We should expect no less, that way, if we receive less, we remain grateful to the Lord for the mercy that He has shown us. See, in our generation, we’ve gotten so used to “religious liberty” that I fear that when Jesus bids us to “count the cost,” we may think of the friends that we may lose, or the names that we may be called, and consider that the highest sacrifice we must make. Then we hear of someone losing their job because of their convictions and consider that to be like contemporary martyrdom. And, my fear with that, is that we have lowered our expectation of sacrifice so much that our fear of offending someone’s emotions has become the standard with which we judge our own conviction. We can teach someone about the love and mercy of Jesus, but never teach any of what He commanded of us, never teach any of the sins that He warned us about, never teach anything that might make someone uncomfortable. See, when we count the cost and consider that our faith may cost us our life, then worrying about losing our job seems kind of silly, but when we consider losing a friend the largest sacrifice, then suddenly the idea of dying for our faith becomes almost laughable.
See, our generation has taught us that to offend someone else’s sensiblities tramples on their rights, so we must not teach anything that might “hurt” someone to hear it, which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is about 80% of Scripture. The entire point of the Scripture is to point out how unworthy we are so that we would recognize our need for a Savior. It’s important to point out how much someone needs a Savior if you’re not allowed to tell them that they’ve made a mistake, that they are sinful. See, we must forsake this cultural groundwork and understand that to obey the Lord’s will is going to cost us in this life. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did they speak of the false prophets before you.” (Luke 6:26). We must be renewed in our convictions and not let the fear of consequences silence the Lord’s offer to the world of salvation. If I see a child about to run into a busy street and do not scream for someone to stop him, I would be thought to be inhuman; how can I not apply that same principle to thoughts of that same child suffering for all eternity in a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42); a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41); a place where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44). Worse than any of those physical descriptions, a place removed from the presence of God.
We must go, my brothers and sisters. We must first and foremost, live the gospel; and we must preach the gospel, showing no partiality or judgment, for all are equally worthy in the eyes of the Lord, who desires that “none should perish, but that all would turn in repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). We must preach the gospel to all, letting neither race, creed, financial status, neither lifestyle, nor anything else sway to whom we teach the word. And we can never be intimidated by the world to silence. By our deeds and works we must show our righteousness, so that when they accuse us of evil and wickedness, they are mocked, not we. And, we must do it all in sincere compassion and love. To love the Lord and to love your neighbor are the same commandment, and we would do well to remember that, for every man and woman is formed in the image of the Lord. As the Lord has taught us, whatever we do to the least of men, we do to Him.
Serve the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and teach the gospel. Maybe the world is right, perhaps you are infringing on their right not to believe, their religious liberty to not have religion. Or, maybe you are giving them their first real chance to truly believe. Maybe the gospel is more appealing to the unbeliever when the person preaching it is living it, obediently living the life that Jesus calls us to live, instead of merely lecturing someone on the does and don’t of Scripture. There are many sins that are forbidden, and we must never compromise on that, but there are many commands to compassion as well, to loving the Lord’s creation the same way as we love ourselves, and you can’t forsake either in the name of the other.
I pray that the Holy Spirit would truly guide us to lives lived truly holy and righteous, compassionate and grace-filled; lives that are truly worthy of bearing the name of Christ. Lives appropriate for His ambassadors, His lights shining in he darkness of the world, leading the lost to the way, the truth, the light; God the Word, our beloved Christ.