The Gospel Applied: “A Message worth Your Time” – Romans 15

The-Flying-Nun-the-flying-nun-28014414-340-248Do you remember the television show “The Flying Nun”? The unlikely setting for an American sitcom was based on a 1965 book called “The Fifteenth Pelican”. The series starred Sally Field and ran on ABC from 1967 to 1970 – all 82 episodes. For the young and perhaps unenlightened, the story was about a young and tiny (ninety pound) nun initiate who wore a large habit that made her able to fly when the winds were high enough at the convent. I know… that description makes you want to start searching for it on Amazon Instant Video or Netflix right away.

Remember, those were simpler times. If that sounds boring, remember that people were flocking to Woodstock by 1969 claiming the establishment had become interminably “dull”. Perhaps it had something to do with unimaginative television. In any case, when Sally Field played a young hesitant nun, you got the feeling her character was unsure of virtually everything – her message, her presentation and sometimes even her calling. Because dogmatism was often seen as a weakness in our culture, uncertainty has been carefully bred into our ethical barometer. Moral and theological clarity is often not our strong point. Yet, we need to be clear about our service to Jesus – what it is all about, and how we should do it. Let me ask you truthfully: “Have you ever felt uncertain about how to serve Jesus and share Him with people in your life?” As you reach out in love for the Savior and your lost friends, there are two things that will be essential.

• First, you will need to know your team.
• Second, you will need to become increasingly sure that what you are doing is what God called you to do the way He commanded it be done.

This lesson is about those two ideas – team and message. They tie together in the simple truths found in Romans 15…

Key Principle: God has a message for the world around us, and has left us a pattern for how we should bring that message to them.

How we bring Jesus to the world matters. What we say matters. Who we team up with to say it matters. We need to be sure we follow the pattern God gave us so that we aren’t wasting our opportunities as He supplies them… because the lost around us need what the Savior we have to offer them (even when they don’t know it).

Go back to beginning of Romans 15, and observe how Paul made the point that we need to team up with people to be obedient to God’s call in outreach.

What kind of team should I choose to be a part of following Jesus with?

Paul offered important words..

I need a team that teaches the team is important.

Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

Ball hogs know they are good with the ball. Their play is about their ego, not what is best for the team. Good team players watch for other players. We coordinate. You cannot come to a fellowship of believers simply to feed yourself and play the game alone. Paul wanted every believer to look out for the young and weak – not merely come to grow strong themselves.

Visualize the other believers in town, and those in your local church as your team for the Gospel. If that is true, we need to walk into our church with a different attitude. We are not simply coming to “tank up and take off”. Our church is less a spiritual drive through and more a platform to develop a caring attitude toward others. The same truth extends outside of Sunday meetings, into the daily walk of life. I must temper my allowed liberties by understanding that some around me are much weaker in their Biblical world view (i.e. “faith”) and will be pulled off track by following my example.

We must look at the others on the team, assessing what they need and how we can help them. Focus on solutions, not just their issues. Don’t settle on “that is just how they are” – but ask “How can I help?” Start in your church, then move to the Christian community at large. It is easy to get paralyzed by problems and not focus on what CAN be done to help someone.

I need a team that builds others; it doesn’t simply please them.

Romans 15:2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 15:3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.”

The text explains that I am to “please my neighbor for his good, or edification.” At the same time, I dare not misread this. In my desire to care for others, I must not be driven to measure myself by their happiness. What should drive me forward in life is my Heavenly Father’s expectation of me, not those about me. I am to do what will help them GROW in faith, not simply what will make them happy.

Let me say it this way: If what they need is a bowl of soup; that is simple enough. If what they need is help paying the rent, they probably also need help on how to spend money properly and how to order financial priorities. That may be less comfortable. If we provide the rent and don’t provide the instruction, we enable them to be irresponsible – and that isn’t edifying to them even if it makes them happy!

We must do what will long term help fix the underlying problems with people, not just the fashionable and be easily seen as the “flashy” thing. Look past the outer problem and see if you can identify a root stress that you can relieve.

I need a team that trains me in constant direction and encouragement.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

We harm them when we teach a pattern that does not develop right habits, but brings them to US for encouragement. The Scriptures will do that. We are to equip people to understand them and to use them. Following the marked trails of the people found in God’s Word is VITAL to the success of your mission to live a life in close intimacy with God. We need more than INSTRUCTION – and the Word provides more than that. We need more than RULES – and the Word offer much more than that. We need to be INSPIRED and LIFTED by the resolution of the dramas of others; we need to be touched by the depth of their poetry. We need to be brought to tears with their pains and hear the cries of their lamentations – all so that we can understand that we are NOT ALONE in the struggles of the walk.

Let me kindly ask you to dial back “counseling” people and try helping them whenever possible by walking them back to a deep and meaningful encounter with God in timely portions of His Word and prayer. People will come with a problem that prayer and the Word could help them resolve. We are quick to relieve the pressure on their heart, but God may well have put it there to draw them back to an intimacy with Him that He deeply desires. Don’t become a substitute for God in their life. When we do, we become like the doctor that gives them a vitamin supplement, but does not insist on a healthy diet.

We need to be encouragers; that is certain. There is also a place for counseling in the body. At the same time we need to be careful that we are not relieving God pressures that were placed in the believer’s path to help them develop appropriate growth mechanisms – like intense prayer and hungry searching in the Word.

I need a team that admits there is no mystery to unity.

Real unity comes from prayer for one another (inviting God’s work in us), and deliberate acceptance – a choice to work together for God’s glory. It isn’t a mystery – there is a process to staying together and on track. Paul reminded:

Romans 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

Look at the terms “same mind”, “one accord”, and “one voice. They all lead to the words “accept one another”. The way we stay together as a body is not some mysterious and spooky force – it is the deliberate choice of the will while applying a process God instructed. God gives, in the text, perseverance and encouragement. In the context, it comes from deeper learning of the Scriptures.

I think if you ask people about the modern church, the notion is just the opposite. Most believers think of the word “encouragement” as coming from the “small group” or “brother or sister in the Lord”. I challenge you to look again. The text says the primary place for the encouragement of God is from the Scriptures. Yes, there are other passages that balance that with helping and encouraging one another. I am simply making the observation that many of us aren’t taking into consideration that Biblically illiterate believers will constantly need encouragement from OTHERS when they don’t know how to draw it from GOD through His Word.

We need to CHOOSE to walk together. We need to CHOOSE to worship and glorify God with voices tuned to one another. They were going to need to CHOOSE to accept one another, just as Jesus accepted us. At the same time – we must make the understanding of the Word a top priority or we will have those who perpetually need US to lift them. Is it possible that you are spending longer looking at the problems of the world than the solutions found in the Word? That might be the reason you are feeling the way you are!

I need a team that remembers God keeps His promises – always!

God is good for His promises. That is one of the reasons we teach and ardently support the literal understanding of the Word. Paul argued that Messiah came to serve the Jewish people (the circumcision) because that is what God promised in the prophets. He wrote:

Romans 15:8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,

Here, Paul instructed believers, once again, to believe the Word and take it seriously. Mark my words, every Christian group that attempts to water down the literal presentation of the Word of God in one area will eventually defect on key truths related to the historic faith in Christ. It may take time, but it will happen.

About two weeks ago a Christian college president who is part of the evangelical alliance of schools – the kind that claim to hold true to the Bible – told me directly: “I believe the vast majority of the Christian colleges in the US, even those who are a part of the evangelical alliance, have departed from the belief in a literal Creation, a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal beginning to Genesis.” He isn’t kidding. Groups like Biologos are developing this on Christian campuses. Here is Dr. Falk, who writes for BioLogos. Listen carefully to his words:

Will we ever be able to show the followers of Albert Mohler, John MacArthur and others that Christian theology doesn’t stand or fall on how we understand Genesis 1 or the question of whether Adam and Eve were the sole genetic progenitors of the human race? These are extremely critical issues to many and the task of showing in a convincing manner that evangelical theology doesn’t depend …whether Adam was made directly from dust will likely take decades before it will be convincing to all.”

Why do I mention them? If you look at their website quickly, you will assume they offer mainstream Christian resources. You will see popular speakers you know pop up – some on platforms from youth conferences. Now they are showing up in Christian books, Christian campuses and Christian literature as a way to “bring together” the two world views. They bring together science at the expense of God’s Word being literally true. That may comfort some, but it should send a chill up our spine. We are about to be flanked in the next generation’s educational process. Once again the Bible will suffer at the hands of its friends in academia. We get to hand off two thousand years of defending the truth of the Word to those who know better because they have discovered the truth is found in science. Roll over Gospel, the story of the “Fall” is just a myth. We used to call that liberalism, soon it will be called mainstream evangelicalism.

Here is my point. Our message needs to be clear to the world. What God says, He means. The Bible claims Adam was an historical human being, the Fall was an actual event. From the Biblical perspective, something happened to Jesus Christ just as much as something happened to Adam.

Consider some selected verses from 1 Cor. 15:20 “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Paul believed that death entered creation through the act of one man. For Paul, the Fall and redemption are both actual events – you cannot have one without the other. What else would Paul mean when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:45 “So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Toss the origin story and the rest unravels – we can’t really know when to take the narrative seriously. In much of Europe they went this course. Now their churches are empty and their people searching for an answer that science will not and cannot provide.

It is our future if the church folds here on this point. Mark the point. We aren’t moving. We can’t. Truth is often the first casualty of popularity. If the Bible is filled with cleverly devised myths, we should shut down right now and get off the cultural stage of western history in embarrassment. Why? Because God, if He exists, cannot be trusted! He can make one quintillion stars, but publishing a book that was an accurate account of His labors was WAY too hard for Him.

Let me say it straight: if you aren’t on a team that trains you to take the Bible seriously and literally – change teams. Do it NOW.

I need a team that knows God’s promises extended to the whole world.

God had promises to the Jews, but He also had prophetic promises to the rest of us that many Jews paid little attention to. Paul reminded:


In three verses, Paul mention the “Gentiles” – a term for the non-Jewish rest of the world – six times. All were in the context of promises. Our churches are filled with those, once estranged from God – now vibrant in faith. This was always part of the plan of God, though for generations it was ignored by many of His followers.

I need a team that understands the true source of joy and peace.

What robs my peace is ignorance of God’s promises, mistrust in His Word and A WRONG FOCUS. My team needs to be pushing me to spend time, face to face, with Jesus. Paul wrote:

Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Look carefully at verse 13.

First, we see that God is a God of hope (elpís from Greek word elpō: “to anticipate, welcome”) – properly, expectation of what is certain). Certainty is found in Him.

Second, God is the source of our joy (chara: gladness). This word for JOY is not the one we have defined as “the resolute assurance that God has neither lost interest in me, nor the power to deal with my problems.” Though it fits here, the word actually should be translated as “gladness”. If I am confused, upset and perplexed – I can find gladness in time with HIM.

Third, God offers us to settle us with peace. There is a catch, however. He wrote that such gladness and such peace are available from God, but not automatic. They are accessed by BELIEF. God’s power makes my peace POSSIBLE, but my BELIEF makes it happen.

“Believing” in the context of verse 13 is from the word pisteúō, derived from the word peíthō, to “persuade, be persuaded”. This “active assumption or conviction” becomes the foundation of actions. In other words: God has offered sumptuous expectations that thrill my heart and settle my soul if I take them seriously and make them the foundation of my life’s choices. The team I choose should push me to do that!

We looked at the team and what it should be like. Take a moment to look at the message we should offer the world:

Paul pressed out in the closing verses of Romans 15, what the message he shared was – and what it should be as believers share Jesus with the world”

First, it is a message of confidence in God’s work (in them and him).

Romans 15:14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Paul knew that he didn’t make believers mature. No shepherd or Bible teacher does. We don’t preach because we believe God needs us to do this work. If you know Jesus, He IS at work in you to change you. Some are squelching that work, wrestling to keep their old life as Jesus pulls you to change. Our teaching is to AID the change by ECHOING God’s Word in your ear.

The point is that we, like all believers, function in our role. We work according to our gifts (15:15b) and with a desire to serve those God sends us to (15:16a). We are to seek to make God’s Word clear to you – that is our primary function!

A mother often spoke to her little girl about Dr. Harry A. Ironside, the late pastor of the Moody Memorial Church, Chicago. She told the little girl that he was a great preacher. One day the little girl attended one of the preaching services of Dr. Ironside. He spoke simply, as he always did. As they left the church, the little girl said to her mother, “Mother, I thought you said that Dr. Ironside is a great preacher. Why, Mother, he’s not a great preacher! I understood everything he said.” (Steve Shepherd)

More than just teaching, shepherds are to stand as a priest offering the justification message (15:16b). We have a goal of presenting people to Jesus (15:16b) as mature and acceptable to God. We don’t do it by teaching them to follow US, but by following Jesus. I heard this story last week that reminded me of that truth:

A guy went out and toiled wearily to catch trout and caught none. His equipment was excellent but he was unable to catch any fish. When he came upon an old fisherman whose sack was full of trout, he asked him how he was so successful. The old fisherman answered: “There are three rules to follow in trout fishing: first, keep yourself out of sight; second, keep yourself further out of sight; third, keep yourself still further out of sight.”

We need a message that leads people to God not guilt, to rescue not reform, and to living for Jesus not trying to earn justification. The confidence we have in our message is NOT in the messengers – but in God Himself.

Second, our message must be centered in God’s Work

Paul was clear about the center of the message:

Romans 15:17 “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…19 … so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Our goal must be to magnify what God does (15:17). We should know we are not the story (15:18a) and we should recognize the work is something God entrusts to us (15:18b). We need to recognize it is God empowering our work (15:19a) and we must be able to measure when we are accomplishing the work (15:19b).

The center of the message is God’s work, not OUR ability. We boast of what God can do in a broken life, but we know that our abilities don’t cause God’s transformations. You can be a part of everything we do in our local church setting, but if you don’t know Jesus, your life won’t change from the inside out. Our message is this: We cannot change you, but we can show you One who can – and will – if you let Him!

Third, our message causes us to ache for the unreached.

Never let us be settled on making the saved smarter or more theologically capable. We have the Gospel that rescues the lost! Look at Paul’s example:

Romans 15:20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; …28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

It is a great privilege to reach into the lives of lost people (15:20a).

In a 1998 article in Christian History magazine, Rodney Stark said: “In a world lacking social services, Christians were their brothers’ keepers. At the end of the second century AD, Tertullian wrote that while pagan temples spend their donations “on feasts and drinking bouts,” Christians spent theirs “to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined to the house.” These claims concerning Christian charity were confirmed by pagans as well. The pagan Emperor Julian complained, “The impious Galileans (Christians) support not only their poor, but ours as well.”

To reach people, we need to look beyond doing what everyone else is doing and see the needs with different eyes (15:20-21).

Former boxing writer Harold Conrad visited a women’s prison with heavyweight fighter Muhammad Ali. “All the inmates lined up,” wrote Conrad. “They were ooh-ing and aah-ing as he went along. There were some good-looking ones. But he kissed only the ugly ones.” After they left the prison, Conrad asked the fighter to explain why he chose to kiss only those women. “Because no one ever kisses ’em,” responded the man who called himself The Greatest. “Now they can remember that Ali kissed ’em!” Every human being needs to be loved. Surely the church should be the one place where love is evidenced by warm affection for one another. (From a sermon by Freddy Fritz, Final Greetings, 5/25/2012)

We need to reach people, but we must recognize we cannot do it all with empowering. We must concentrate on what God places in our lives to do with all our strength (15:22-24). Our ministry should be linked to the gifts and work of many others (15:25-27). We need to wait until God opens doors to do each work (15:28).

We dare not build a program so tight on discipleship, that we do not see lost people all around us. When I first went to see the Bible college where I began my studies, I noticed how many drunk and destitute people were living in the shadow of my school in center city Philadelphia. I wondered if the training inside the building had much to do with the hurting outside the building. It is still something I wonder about most churches.

Finally, our message requires a prayer team.

What can I do to make it clear to believers that prayer is not a preamble to a meal – it is the lifeline to ministry? Paul wrote:

Romans 15:30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.

Our work stands together by prayer (15:30)

A number of years ago in Canada, a little two-year-old girl wandered away from her neighborhood. It was a cold, winter day. Her parents alerted the neighbors and they saw some tracks in the snow, but there were a lot of other tracks, so for several hours the searchers went in all different directions calling her name. They didn’t find her. A little before sunset one of the men said, “Instead of all working separately, let’s join hands and form a long line and walk through the field together. That way we cannot miss a square foot.” That’s what they did. They joined hands and together walked as one long line calling that little girl’s name. Tragically, they found her frozen body curled up. One of the men said with great anguish, “Oh, if we had only joined hands sooner. (From a sermon by Bob Joyce, Like Lucy, 8/4/2011)

There will always be opposition (15:31). Paul pointed to specific needs and said: Romans 15:31 “…that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints…” Our response must not be anger, it must first be prayer. This is the refreshing work we can and should offer each other as Paul made clear in 15:32 “ so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

Romans 15 reminds us of two ideas that we must be clear about – our team and our message. Why?

God has a message for the world around us, and has left us a pattern for how we should bring that message to them.

How we bring Jesus to the world matters. What we say matters. Who we team up with to say it matters. We need to be sure we follow the pattern God gave us so that we aren’t wasting our opportunities as He supplies them… because the lost around us need what the Savior we have to offer them (even when they don’t know it).

I keep getting these annoying calls on my cell phone from different numbers that are essentially advertisements. One begins: “Don’t hang up this phone! I have a message for you that will change your life.” I don’t know what it is. I hang up every time and block that number. I wonder how many are doing that with the message God gave us. They do it because they don’t believe it is about their rescue – they believe we want them to join US and help US. Let’s make the goal bringing them to Jesus, not bringing them to US. Let Jesus grow our team, and let’s seek to bring Him to them without strings attached. He’ll take care of us… He always does!