MODELING GRACE (2 of 3)
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 6
Romans 1:9-12 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
If I were to ask you to make a list of the names of people who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, I wonder which names you’d write. Without hesitation most of us would probably write Jesus Christ. No one single individual has impacted all of history like Jesus. The familiar lines of James Allan Francis famous 1926 poem One Solitary Life come to mind: He was born in an obscure village, a child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never had a family. Or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He never wrote a book or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness… Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned Put together have not affect the life of man Upon this earth as powerfully as this One Solitary Life. Jesus would be an easy first name for most of us, and we would, of course, be right. But who else would you put on your list? Maybe George Washington? Or how about Albert Einstein? Or, Leonardo Da Vinci? Alexander the Great? Nikola Tesla? Moses? Martin Luther? Karl Marx? Socrates? Mohammed? Search far and wide but there are some names that will never appear on most people’s lists. One of them is the name that belongs to a man who lived almost five-hundred years ago. His name is William Tyndale. Most of us are probably familiar with the bumper sticker: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Well, another bumper sticker would be even more appropriate: “If you can read the Bible in English, thank William Tyndale.” Nearly every English Bible translation throughout the past half-millennium has been greatly influenced by Tyndale’s work. More than just the Bible, Tyndale influenced the English language itself. Thanks to Tyndale we have words like Beautiful, Fisherman, Landlady, Seashore, Stumbling block, Taskmaster, Zealous, Passover, Scapegoat, Atonement, Modesty, Mediocrity, Industrious, Long-suffering, Peacemakers. What would the English language be without the word Beautiful? Or Seashore? Able to speak seven different languages and proficient in both Hebrew and Greek, Tyndale’s driving passion was to make the Bible available for everyone to read in English. “If God spares my life,” Tyndale once said to a contentious priest, “I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than you do.” And he did. Though it eventually cost him his life, Tyndale translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. Scholars, in fact, estimate that 80 to 90% of the KJV are the words of Tyndale. It is not too much to say Tyndale’s driving passion to translate God’s Word into the English language has served to influence and shape our world, our laws, our morality, our nation, our individual lives perhaps more than any one individual outside of Jesus or the Apostle Paul.
I was impressed with this comparison this last week as I thought through this morning’s passage. Just as God greatly used Tyndale to translate the Word of God, He greatly used the Apostle Paul to “translate” God’s message of grace in the book of Romans to the world. Late US Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson said:In a very basic sense, western civilization is a by-product of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Nothing was written by man that had a greater impact on modern history.Theologian and poet Samuel Coleridge wrote:The most profound writing in existence of all time.
This morning we’re going to continue looking at the life of the man behind the words of Romans, the Apostle Paul. What was it about his life that God used him so greatly? Paul would give us a one-word answer: Grace. Paul’s life was a portrait of God’s grace. A masterpiece of what God can do with a life fully submitted to Him. Open with me to Romans 1 (Read: Romans 1:9-12). Four brushstrokes of God’s grace. Someone who 1) prays for the spiritual well-being of other believers, 2) maintains a heart that is surrendered to God’s will, 3) desires to invest in the lives of others, and 4) desires to receive from others as well.
- Prays for the spiritual well-being of other believers. For God. . . is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you(Romans 1:9-10). What did Paul pray? His prayer was specific, that God would allow him to go to Rome. This was not a casual one-time prayer for Paul. His prayer was unceasing, and it was persevering. For God. . . is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you… There is also a note of weariness if perhaps now at last. By letting them know God witnessed his prayers, he is telling them how sincere he really was at seeing them and how long he’d prayed. His hope was to go to Rome and strengthen their faith. But up to this point, all of Paul’s pleas were met with Heaven’s silence. God had not opened the door to Rome, not yet at least.
Do you think Paul’s prayers were only that God make a way for him to visit them? I don’t think so. I believe Paul prayed a lot for their spiritual well-being. He knew their faith was being proclaimed all around the world and that told him something he knew well – when you’re walking God’s will expect opposition. Tammy said it last week, “If you’re not butting heads with the Devil it means you’re both going in the same direction.” When Paul heard of their faith, he not only rejoiced but found himself compelled to pray for them as well. A life filled with grace not only rejoices in the faith of others but is moved to persistently pray for them as well. Paul understood better than anyone their strong faith needed God’s continual help. Even strong faith fades without God’s continual strengthening. It’s not just those who are struggling in their faith that need prayer. Paul instructed believers in Ephesus, With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints(Ephesians 6:18). We need to pray with perseverance for all the saints. The other day a lady whom my wife and have known for many years shared with us we’re on her prayer list every day. When I heard that my heart soared with joy! Paul believed God takes our prayers serious, so Paul was serious about prayer. That’s why he prayed with unceasing perseverance. Even though God had long delayed his plans to go to Rome, Paul realized their greater need was prayer.
James O. Fraser was the first missionary to the Lisu people in the early 1900’s. Gifted concert pianist as well as engineer, he gave up a promising career in order to go on the mission field to share Christ. His missionary endeavors were hardly without deep testing and persevering prayer. During his first six years he did not have one person come to Christ but was met with disappointment after disappointment. In his journal entry dated August 27, 1916 he wrote: Can it be that a great work for God involving thousands of souls devolves upon our prayer life-half a world away? Work on Our Knees. I am feeling more and more that it is, after all, just the prayers of God’s people that call down blessing upon the work, whether they are directly engaged in it or not. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase; and this increase can be brought down from heaven by believing prayer, whether offered in China or in England. We are, as it were, God’s agents-used by Him to do His work, not ours. We do our part, and then can only look to Him, with others, for His blessing. If this is so, then Christians at home can do as much for foreign missions as those actually on the field. I believe it will only be known on the Last Day how much has been accomplished in missionary work by the prayers of earnest believers at home. And this, surely, is the heart of the problem. Such work does not consist in curio exhibitions, lantern lectures, interesting reports, and so on. Good as they may be, these are only the fringe, not the root of the matter. Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees.
I cannot insist too strongly on my own helplessness among these people apart from the grace of God. Although I have been now ten years in China and have had considerable experience with both Chinese and Lisu, I find myself able to do little or nothing apart from God’s going before me and working among men. Without this I feel like a man who has his boat grounded in shallow water. Pull or push as he may, he will not be able to make his boat move more than a few inches. But let the tide come in and lift his boat off the bottom-then he will be able to move it as far as he pleases, quite easily and without friction. It is indeed necessary for me to go around among our Lisu, preaching, teaching, exhorting, rebuking, but the amount of progress made thereby depends almost entirely on the state of the Spiritual Tide in the village-a condition which you can control upon your knees as well as I can. . . . Grace works on its knees for the spiritual well-being of others.
- Maintains a heart that is surrendered to God’s will. if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you(Romans 1:10). No matter how determined Paul was to get to Rome, he was only interested in getting there by the will of God. Our prayers and commitment to do God’s must work in tandem. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said this about believers who are reluctant to commit themselves wholeheartedly to Christ: “When our convictions are yielded to Him completely, He is able to give Himself to us in all His fullness. Until that is so, He cannot trust us. How true it is that we often miss the joy and strength of our Christianity because, by withholding ourselves from Christ, we make it impossible for Him to give Himself to us in all the fullness of His grace and truth.”
Sometimes out of frustration and impatience we try to manipulate God’s will for us. I’ve discovered when I do I sacrifice God’s best and am left in a worse place than I began. This is one of most difficult challenges we face – complete surrender.
When J. Wilbur Chapman was in London, he had an opportunity to meet General Booth, who at that time was past eighty years of age. Dr. Chapman listened reverently as the old general spoke of the trials and the conflicts and the victories. Then the American evangelist asked the general if he would disclose his secret for success.
“He hesitated a second,” Dr. Chapman said, “and I saw the tears come into his eyes and steal down his cheeks, and then he said, ‘I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London, I made up my mind that God would have all of William Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.’” Dr. Chapman said he went away from that meeting with General Booth knowing that, “the greatness of a man’s power is the measure of surrender.” Second, maintain a heart that is surrendered to God’s will. A third mark of grace is a desire to invest in the lives of others.
- Desires to invest in the lives of others. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established (Romans 1:11). Paul’s interest in going to Rome not to be a tourist; he wasn’t interested in the Ancient Roman Forum, the Coliseum, or its chariot races. Paul’s mission was to see the Roman believers established, that is to cause them to become stronger, firmer, and more unchanging in their faith. The spiritual gift was his gift of Apostolic teaching and the teaching was the Word of God. Paul said in Colossians 1 his goal was to present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Col. 1:28-29). He wanted them to grow up into all aspects of Christ (Eph. 4:15), so that they will ultimately become like Him (Rom. 8:29).
Years ago I was asked to go to Italy and teach a course on renaissance and reformation in a little town in central Italy called Carsasa. At the time I agreed to go I only had four or five weeks to prepare and was already teaching a couple of courses at a Bible college in Spokane and pastoring. I will never forget while setting on the plane in Germany asking: What have I gotten myself in for? I prepared as much as I was able but felt wholly inadequate. But I remember the Lord met there and I decided to go for it. The course itself was an intensive course meaning I spent six hours plus in the classroom and then staying up until two or so every night preparing for the next day. After two weeks I was ready to be finished. But I will never forget watching the students grow! As they grew in their understanding of Church history, they deepened in their faith in Christ. It was thrilling to watch! In the end, I had a few days I was able to spend in Rome wandering the ancient streets and taking in some Rome’s famous sights. But my greatest joy was not being a tourist. It was investing in the lives of others.
This is a good place to pause and ask the question: what is your underlying motive in serving the Lord? If we view serving God in whatever capacity that may be – greeting, helping with Children’s ministries or Awana, helping other believers with their needs, whatever it may be as a means of receiving appreciation and personal satisfaction, we will ultimately be disappointed. There is another underlying motive that we have to keep in check as well. Stuart Briscoe warns: There can be a tendency among Christians for gifts to be used to entertain, or intrigue, to fascinate or amuse; but this is a gross abuse. When the gifted man comes to town he should come in the will of God for the strengthening of the people (Briscoe, Romans, p.33). This warning gave me pause. As I pray, study, prepare God’s Word am I here to entertain? To amuse? To impress? No! My desire is to take what God has freely given me and invest it somehow in you so that your faith in Christ will become stronger, deeper, more committed than when you came.
- Desires to receive from others. that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine(Romans 1:12). It seems Paul catches himself while he is dictating his letter realizing he not only wanted to invest in them, but he was looking forward to receiving from them as well. This is a great point of humility in Paul. Though he is an Apostle, Paul never presents himself as being superior to others. There is no detached arrogance that would cause others to think he was the fount of blessing. Instead, Paul points out he was looking forward to being blessed by them as much as he was looking forward to being a blessing to them. This is a real mark of humility that I admire.
Paul is the greatest theologian the world has known. Two-thousand years after he lived, his life is still impacting the world. But he didn’t flaunt it. There is no prideful boasting. He was one of most humble people who’ve ever lived.
During Billy Graham’s last crusade in Portland, Oregon my wife and I served as counselors on the field when people came down from the bleachers to trust Christ. We sat in the section closest to the stage entrance. As we watched Billy Graham walk into the stadium, we were mesmerized. Here was the man whom God had used to literally proclaim to the Gospel to millions of people around the world. He influenced heads of state, royalty, high-profile business figures, famous celebrities. Here was an important man entering a stadium packed with thousands of people just to hear him preach. But what we witnessed was a man of incredible humility and patience. His whole demeaner radiated with sincere modesty; a quiet but strong grace-filled dignity. I believe were we to have seen Paul himself, we would have seen much the same thing.
Paul looked forward to receiving from others as much as he looked forward to giving to others. Paul was a seasoned minister of the Gospel, and he knew from experience that when you minister to others, others in turn will bless you.
Jesus demonstrates this in John 4 with the woman at the well. Jesus and His disciples were passing through Samaria by Jacob’s well. Tired, literally exhausted from the long journey and with the noonday sun beating down on Him, the disciples leave Him sitting by the well while they went to get some food from the nearby town. While Jesus is resting, a Samaritan woman comes carrying water containers to fill up with water. She comes at a time of the day when she knows she’ll be alone. She doesn’t want to associate with others because of her past. As she comes to the well, she meets Jesus. From her perspective, He is a Jewish rabbi and therefore strictly to be avoided. To her surprise He asks her to give Him some water from one her containers. No rabbi or Jew in their right mind would ever make a request like this. Jesus intentionally removes Himself from the lofty arrogance she’s come to expect from rabbis. Then to add to her further surprise, He tells her He has water to give her in which she will never thirst again. This really befuddles her since He doesn’t have any containers. Then He tells her whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14). She says, “Sir, give me this water.” And He tells her to go and bring her husband. To which she says she has no husband. Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband(John 4:17-18). In the course of their conversation, she believes He is the Savior the world has been waiting for and runs off to town to tell others. About this time, the disciples return with food. Only they find Jesus energized and refreshed. When they offer Him food He tells them, I have food to eat that you do not know about (John 4:32). They look wonderingly at each other, “Did you give Him food?” “No.” “Did you?” They don’t understand what just happened. Jesus was refreshed by ministering to the Samaritan woman.
Paul knew he would be refreshed by those he would minister in Rome. Paul realized no matter who you are, none of us are above learning and being refreshed by others. I am refreshed by you every week as I share God’s Word. You may not know it or realize it, but there have been many a morning when I step into the pulpit asking God to bless the teaching of His Word and I in turn find myself more blessed by you than you know.
Four brushstrokes of grace: 1) Prayer for the well-being of others, 2) A heart surrendered to God’s will, 3) A desire to invest in others, and 4) a desire to receive from others.