J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Living As A Missionary – Romans 15:17-21 Sermon Notes

It’s funny as a pastor to see all the hot button words and phrases that make their way across the church.  Sometimes, these words pop up without the church knowing much about them, and at other times, the phrases become either part of the vernacular of the day or perhaps even words of disdain.  For example, about 5 years ago, there was great debate about the terms “emerging church” and “Emergent Church.”  So much ink was spilled about the validity of the movements and the definitions.  What resulted was the little “e” emerging church began to stand for a newer church movement but that was seeking to tap into its ancient past while the big “E” Emergent Church became a full-fledged denomination with similar qualities but ultimately embracing such things as universalism and even a acceptance of all religions as viable pathways to God.

Here is the funny thing.  Five years after all the arguing, and both terms are practically meaningless and ineffective.  Apparently, the cycles of relevancy are much shorter now.  The word quickly getting worn out while yet still making the rounds presently is the word “missional.”  And as much as the word “missional” gets used, there is very little agreement on its definition.  Essentially, the word missional describes an emphasis on ministry and the church to promote Christ and His kingdom by equipping, training, and expecting each person involved to live like a missionary in whatever context in which they work, play, and live.  That means that each person in the church must live just like any foreign missionary might by finding a way to make a living but only to fuel the goal of advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A missional church is for the advancement of the kingdom and making real kingdom change.  It is not for passivity.  It does not expect the world to come to it but expects the church, meaning you, to go to the world effecting real change with the power of the Gospel.  For the most part, I don’t have any problem with the label missional though like I said, to some it means everything, to others it means nothing.

Towards the end of the book of Romans, we are going to see what Paul’s missional mindset was.  We are going to see how he approached the work that God had given him.  We are going to see his passions and convictions, and if we examine them well, if we take his convictions to heart, we are going to get a good sense of what missional really means.

Big Picture Question:  What does the life of mission look like?

17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.

What could Paul have done that would cause him to say he was proud of himself?  It just seems like strange language.   Well this is one of those times when translating the Greek into the English falls a bit short because the idea of “Taking pride” in something you’ve done is pretty odd, especially as we read the many scriptural warnings against pride.  Another way to translate this would be “In Christ Jesus, I have the right to glory with respect to my work for God.”  This is Paul’s way of saying that He is eternally grateful and thankful for all that God has done through him.  You see Paul is in a reflective mood as he looks back on his life and all that God has accomplished through him.

Paul exalting in what he had done in Christ Jesus.  He is not bragging about any sort of self accomplishment or achievement.  If Paul had done something in Christ Jesus, which is to say in Jesus’ power and provision, then he is thankful for that.  Anything on his own, done in his own power and out of his own motivation, Paul doesn’t speak of.    So what exactly had God done through Paul?

Well just before this passage, Paul had said that the grace that God gave him, he became a minister to the Gentiles so that their offering might be acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  We talked about this two weeks ago when Paul spoke about his “sentness” – his sense that God had called him to a specific mission to a specific people so that they would experience Christ and live lives that were holy and acceptable to God.  Paul started out hating Jesus and hating anyone who followed Jesus.  He repented of that heart attitude and God used him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and now we worship Christ in part because of what God did with a Jesus hating, self-righteous bigot.  Paul is reflecting in all that God has done through him and is amazed.

Now, have you ever had a thought like this?  Have you ever reflected at something God has done and marveled that God did it through you?   You don’t have to be the Apostle Paul to have that experience and we would all do well to live in both the anticipation of and thankfulness for what God is doing in our lives.  Sometimes it is the simple things like:

Wow, I used to have the shortest temper in the world with my kids or with my husband, but now since I’ve really walked in repentance, God has given me patience like I have never had before.  I see God working in my life to be a kindler gentler parent or spouse.  Wow, I used to not think twice about taking a second glance at another woman or to look at things on the internet that  I know I shouldn’t look at, but since I’ve walked in repentance my heart and mind are much more sensitive to the temptations I face and I’m able to walk in obedience.

Wow, I used to be absolutely discontent all the time wishing I had better kids or a bigger house or more or different life circumstance, but since I’ve walked in repentance, I’m content with all that God has given me.  I don’t want for a single thing.  However, sometimes we should be like Paul and marvel that God is using us for broader, more large scale Kingdom work.  You might say…

Wow, I used not to care about my neighbors at all.  In fact, I used to judge them for their political stickers on their car of the fact that they were living together and were not married.  But now, God is using me to show them the Gospel, and my family and theirs hangs out and we have really honest conversations about God and the Gospel.  In fact, I would call them friends.

Wow, I used to see my day to day life as running through the motions, but now I see every single interaction as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and grow the Kingdom.  Once I repented of thinking that my day was actually my own, then God showed me the millions of opportunities I have each day.  God has given me relationships at the coffee shop, the grocery store, the restaurants we go to, on the soccer field, and practically every other place in my life.  God is using me in ways that I never could imagine.

Now, what I hope is that in the 5 examples I just gave, you find yourself in there somewhere.  Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. I hope you can look at your life and see God using you.  The key to each example, as was the key for Paul, was that God’s using him and God’s using you begins with your repentance.  Recognize sin and selfishness, confess it as sin, and see God do great things in you.  But yet, even in all of these things, Paul has a real sense of how all of the things he did were possible.  Listen to verse 18.

18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience

Everything that Paul accomplished in his life and ministry, he gave credit for to Jesus.  He only spoke in terms of what Jesus had done and not what he had done as he saw many Gentiles come to know Jesus.  This type of speaking of self is so different from what passes for conversations that we have now.  We are so apt to protect our image.  We want folks to think well of us.  Oh we mask that prideful desire by saying we want to have a good “witness” before others but so often, what we really want is praise and recognition.

Paul will have none of the double talk that passes for conversations now days.  Paul will only speak of what Christ has done in him.  This is an attitude of giving Jesus credit and taking no credit for himself.  It is the essence of humility.  It says, “Anything good that I have accomplished for God and the advancement of His kingdom is due to the empowering work of Christ.  It makes you wonder that maybe God doesn’t use some of us because we would just take credit for it even as Christ does it all.  Listen to what God had done through Paul

by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Paul mentions the work that God had done through Him and how God did that work.  So let’s look at what God did trough Paul and then we are going to look at how God did it so we can better understand the mission that Paul lived out.   Here is just a small sample of what Jesus did through Paul all from the book of Acts

Acts 13:42-49 – 42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.  44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

Paul preached the gospel and the Spirit accompanied it with such power that devout Jews came to know Jesus.  Devout Jews is a term scripture uses almost as if to say they will never believe in Jesus.  Then on top of that, word spread so quickly and powerfully that the whole city showed up to hear him preach.  This of course brought an immense amount of opposition as any work of the Spirit will

45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.

Paul doesn’t back down from his preaching and what we get is verse 48.

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.

Many Jewish people believed.  Those who didn’t, opposed Paul and the message of Jesus.  All that did was bring in more Gentiles and the whole region heard about the gospel.

Paul moves on in Acts 16 to Derbe and to Lystra and the churches there were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

So Paul is not only doing evangelistic work, he is strengthening believers as well.  Then we have the conversion of Lydia, a women who was prominent in the market place and her home essentially became the meeting place for the church in that town.

Paul gets thrown into jail.  No worries, he shares the Gospel with a Philippian Jailor and he gets saved.  Upon release, Paul heads to Thessalonica in Acts 17 and some of them of the people there are persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

He heads to Berea next where we read, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”  I could go on and on but basically, everywhere the Spirit guided these guys, the proclaimed Jesus and the kingdom moved forward.  How did God do all these things?

Verse 19 tells us they were done by the by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.  God did these things through Paul.  God showed up in mighty ways.  I mean listen to what God did.

  • Acts 13:6-12 – the Holy Spirit blinded a magician who did the work of Satan in town and because of that leaders of that town believed.
  • Acts 14:8-10 – the Holy Spirit healed a man who could no longer use his feet and it scared the people so greatly, they thought Paul and Silas were from Zeus and wanted offer sacrifices to them.
  • Acts 16:16-18 – Paul and Silas cast a demon out of a young girl who was being used as a slave to make money for her masters.
  • Acts 16:25f – When the guys put in jail, they pray so fervently that God shakes the foundation of the jail itself and that is what God uses to bring the jailor to know Christ.

And this is just a small example of what God did through Paul.  Do you see a pattern here?

  • Paul repents and professes faith in Christ.
  • God calls him and uses him to do great things for the kingdom.
  • The Spirit accompanies his efforts and God shows His power and glory so those things are used to bring many people to know God – jailors, business people, religious leaders, and government officials.

Folks, are you praying that God would use you this way?  Are you repenting ferociously over your sins?  If not, then God is probably not using you and that is why your life feels powerless.  Are you giving God all the credit for what He is doing in your life?  If not, then you are doing things for your own glory and God is probably not doing much through you.  Are you asking God to move in power to heal people and transform people?  Are you asking God to make himself clear and evident by the word of His power to your friends, your boss, your government and the other power brokers in your community?

Do we pray that like Paul and Silas, the whole city is going to show up here on Sunday?  Do you pray that the work of God will expand to the whole region?  The examples here are not the examples of a God long time ago.  This is your God.

  • Repent.
  • Ask for more faith.
  • Give God credit.
  • Ask God to show up in powerful mighty ways to heal the sick and make Himself evident to those who do not yet know Him.

That is what fueled Paul’s mission.  Listen to verse 20.

20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

Paul’s mission was to proclaim Jesus in places where it had never been proclaimed before.  Now there is nothing wrong with proclaiming the Gospel where other’s laid a foundation.  That is precisely what Paul commissioned folks to do when he left a town.  He appointed people to build and grow the churches he planted.  But Paul’s call was to go where Christ had not yet been proclaimed so those who had never heard of Jesus and the Gospel would hear of Him and understand.

Paul lived with this missional sense of repenting of sin, trusting God, looking for God to show up, and proclaiming Him to folks who did not know Jesus yet.  You know why I don’t think we see this kind of work around here any more?  I’ll tell you.

Sociologist Christian Smith described the functional religion of America as “therapeutic moralistic deism” What Smith is saying is that no matter what religion a person professes in America, the way it is lived out can be boiled down to 3 principles:

  • Tell me what to do
  • Make me feel better
  • Because no matter what I believe about God, He is not going to do anything anyway

Sadly, I think Smith is correct.  Even within the church, so much of what passes for Christianity is a self-centered moralism that thinks that the right combination of do’s and don’ts is the key to happiness because we think that is all God cares about.   And though God cares greatly about obedience, this approach to Christianity renders both God and yourself powerless.  Putting what you do or don’t do before God is getting things backwards.  The power of the Gospel, the free work of Jesus to forgive and transform you, is what moves you to obey and moves you to mission.  We wrongfully think that the only way we are going to get God to interact with us is if we impress Him with obedience.  But scripture flips that.  Scripture says that you interact with the all-powerful God and then you are transformed with obedience and mission

Romans 1:16 the Gospel is the power of God for salvation & transformation.  Real mission for God comes from the transforming work of God by Jesus.  It is not done by your hand to move an otherwise powerless god.  It is done by the hand of God to move an otherwise powerless you.  We cannot be a church that just wants God to tell us what to do so we can feel better about ourselves.  That was the life Paul lived before he knew Jesus when he was a Pharisee.  He figured rule keeping would make him feel better.  Then Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he repented of his sins, and gave himself over to Jesus.  Then God used him for real mission.

Folks, God is not powerless.  He is not the great watchmaker who set all this in place leaving us alone with a few rules to follow while He is gone.  He is the wonderful creator God who saves you from your sins.  He has wonderful and grand plans for you, your family, this church, and this city.  We must begin to walk in mission as Paul did.  Repent.  Do all things in God’s power.  Give all the credit to God.  Live like missionaries everywhere we go.

We are not looking for passion that starts anywhere other than a passion for Christ.  Who cares how excited the folks are at SK if we are not excited first and foremost with Jesus Christ?  If our excitement starts anywhere other than Jesus Christ, we just become another charitable organization.  Paul met Jesus Christ and that changed his world.  That’s why he said, “I ventured to preach of nothing other than what Christ has accomplished in me.”  Paul thought, “Who cares what I’ve done?  If Christ hasn’t done it, then it will all burn someday anyway.”

So right in this crowd, we need to put away.

  • Our resumes of accomplishment.
  • Our sense of comfort.
  • Our hobbies.
  • Our efforts to make ourselves feel better.
  • Our tiny little worlds that we have created.
  • We need to put away anything that doesn’t lead to great work for Christ.

Practically, you should ask yourself:

  • Are you living day by day by faith or are you trusting your own sense of self, wisdom, and accomplishment.
  • Are you daily repenting of your sin, not just by having a sense of regret but by actively working against sin and the sinful patterns in your life?
  • Are you giving credit to God for all the good and godly things that He is doing or are you looking for credit for yourself?
  • Are you living like a missionary everywhere you go?
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April 26, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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