Sermon preached on Romans 15:8-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/02/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“A Minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles”
In today’s sermon we come to the final main section of the book of Romans. Chapters 1-11 contained a lot of doctrinal teaching. Chapters 12 through to here had contained a lot of practical application about how to live. Verse 13 here ends that section on practical application with a sort of benediction, though it’s actually put more in the form of a wish or prayer to God for our growth. What follows starting in verse 14 is really the final main section in the book; it contains concluding remarks and next chapter will quickly get into some final greetings to the saints at Rome.
And so this means that the section we’ve read today has verses in two different sections of this book. Verses 8-13 really are part of that larger section on practical application. Verses 14-21 are a part of this final concluding section of the book. As for verses 8-13, remember that we had just seemed to finish a discussion on the strong of faith versus the weak of faith. Right after that you see Paul suddenly switch to talk about Jews versus Gentiles. Some have wondered if Jew versus Gentile relations weren’t behind some of the tension between the strong and weak of faith. You could imagine how many Jewish Christians might feel it necessary still to observe the ceremonial laws on what they ate, for example. You could imagine how many Gentile Christians might not. So it’s very possible the distinction of Jew and Gentile made in verses 8-13 are in some broad way related to the strong versus weak of faith discussion Paul had just had.
Well, whether or not that is the case, one thing is clear. Even though our Scripture reading for today has parts in both of these two sections of the book, there is a common theme in both. It’s in fact the theme of how the Gentiles have been brought into the church of Jesus Christ. That’s a theme he’s dealt with earlier in this book. And now as he is wrapping things up, he comes back again to this idea. Paul seems to sum up the strong and weak discussion by pointing out the unity Jews and Gentiles now have in Christ as one church. And then as he turns to make his concluding remarks, he acknowledges he’s spoke fairly boldly on some of these things. Paul says that he didn’t tell them something they didn’t already know, but he told them to remind them of these things. And he says that he has done this because that’s Paul’s special mission. He’s been made a special apostle to the Gentiles. God has used him to bring the Christian faith to the nations that have not know the Lord. Surely that has made Paul an expert on Jewish and Gentile relations in the church. Surely he has some experience on the challenges that have come up in that. But Paul knows it’s so important that fellow Christians come together, Jew and Gentile, in the Lord. And so Paul uses this section to again, once more, drive home how God has done this amazing thing to bring the Gentiles into his church. His call is for us all to receive one another in Christ, as Christ has received us.
And so in today’s message, we’re going to talk about how God has brought the Gentiles into the church. And as we study this passage, we see that Paul talks about this in such a way so as to highlight each person in the Godhead’s role. He talks the unique ways in which God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit all play a part in bringing the Gentiles into the church. And so that will be our focus for today. We’ll look at each person in the Trinity and see how they contributed to bringing Gentiles into the church. By the way, in case you don’t know what a Gentile is, let me define that for you. The word Gentile comes from the Latin, but is basically the term used to define the Hebrew and Greek words for nations or peoples. So, in the Biblical context, when we talk about Gentiles, we are talking about that from the perspective of the Jewish people. So the Gentiles are all non-Jews. They are those other peoples, those other nations. Everyone else who is not ethnically Jewish. So much of the Old Testament talks about God’s plan to bring salvation to the Jews. But the Bible also describes a plan to bring that salvation beyond the Jews… to the nations. That is what we are studying today.
So then, let’s begin with our first point, to see how God the Father was involved in the work of bringing the Gentiles into the church. Here in this passage, by the way, the Father seems to be referenced just simply as God. In distinction, God the Son is referred to as Jesus Christ, and God the Spirit as the Holy Spirit. Verse 16 is an example of a single verse where all three are mentioned. So then, dealing with God the Father, in the Trinity, time and again, we see the plan and purpose of things attributed to God the Father. That certainly seems the case here with the Gentile inclusion. This really comes out in verses 8-12. There we see a reference that Jesus Christ became a servant to the Jews for the purpose of confirming the truthfulness of God with regard to the promises God had made to the Jews. Interestingly, verses 9-12 go on to talk of the promises Paul has in mind. Promises about the Gentiles. About how the Gentiles would praise God and come under the rule of God’s messiah. Paul could have rightfully pointed out lots of promises God had made to the Jews that involved the Jews’ own salvation. But at this point, Paul’s highlighting the Gentile inclusion into the church. And so he can point to God’s promises about the Gentiles inclusion. And so verse 8 says that when Jesus came to earth to do what he did, he proved God to be true with regard to all these promises. You’ll then note a string of Old Testament quotations. Verse 9, 10, 11, and 12 each are a different quote. They seem to signal in growing ways God’s plan for the Gentiles to come to know him, acknowledge him, and serve him. These are quotes from so many years in the past. The point then here is that this was God the Father’s expressed purpose and plan from ages past. God the Father is particularly attributed here with the plan and purpose to ultimately bring salvation even to the Gentiles.
We also see here several benefits of salvation attributed to God the Father. In verse 13, God is said to give us hope. In verse 15, God is said to give grace. In verse 16, its God’s gospel. In verse 17, Paul glories in Christ for things that pertain to God. These are all more general things, things that elsewhere are attributed to Christ or the Holy Spirit as well. But the simple reference for them pertaining to God here, seems to again affirm God’s plan and purpose behind them all. The Father is particularly credited with this plan and purpose to graciously give us the hope of our salvation as Gentiles.
A last point here about the Father’s role in the inclusion of the Gentiles is God’s glory. This is a big point in the Old Testament quotes of verses 9-12, especially the first three. Of course, it’s a big point throughout the Bible. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And so God the Father rightfully seeks his glory. He rightfully wants his saved people to rejoice in him and to praise him. And so, evidently God thought his glory would be all the more exhibited if he brought salvation not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. Surely we see that lived out even today, when a group of Gentiles are gathered together to praise our God and Father in corporate worship.
Let’s turn next to consider God the Son’s role in this. Let’s begin in verse 8. There we see Paul start this whole subject off by describing how Christ had become a servant to the circumcision; in other words to the Jews. Recall, that when Jesus did his earthly ministry, it was almost entirely centered around the Jewish people. Yes, he did heal and help the occasional Gentile, but largely he did his service among the Jews. However, even though that is the case, it would be a mistake to think his earthly service did not nonetheless have a benefit to the Gentiles. No, that’s the beauty of Paul’s point in verses 8 and 9. Jesus’ service to the Jews resulted in God’s promises being fulfilled, promises that included salvation for the Gentiles. This obviously must refer then to the atonement. A primary role of Jesus, in bringing the Gentiles into the church, was the atonement. Jesus’ death and resurrection was necessary to save Jews, but also necessary to save Gentiles. It’s the foundation for which all, Jew and Gentile alike, can have their sins forgiven and be reconciled to God. This then, is the first thing we can say about Jesus’ role in bringing the Gentiles into the church.
Next, we can also say that Jesus Christ is the content of the salvation message. In other words, when the Gentiles are being saved (along with the Jews) the gospel is being announced. At the heart of this gospel message is Christ and his work. That’s why verse 21 sounds like its referring to Christ being the one announced. And in verse 19, it’s the gospel of Christ mentioned as being proclaimed. In verse 20, Paul talks about how he tries to focus his ministry on new places, places where there are not yet Christians, and he describes such places as places where Christ has not yet been named. You see, Christ is the content of the proclamation. He’s the subject matter and object of our faith!
Not only is Christ the content of the preaching, he’s also at work in the midst of the preaching. As Paul describes here, when he does his preaching among the Gentiles, he does it for Christ and by Christ. Verse 16, Paul says he’s a minister of Christ to the Gentiles. As Paul describes his ministry among the Gentiles, he is very clear to say that he won’t be boasting about what he personally accomplished on his own. No, he will only boast about the things for which Christ has accomplished through him in this ministry, verse 18. For Paul, that meant that Christ was empowering him in word and deed. The word, of course, gets at his preaching about Christ. The deed surely includes the signs and wonders mentioned here. As Paul has done this word and deed ministry among Gentiles, he credits Christ for the fruit. Christ was behind the success of Paul’s ministry. And Christ continues to be behind the success of any gospel preaching today. Whenever a preacher stands up and proclaims Christ and people turn and believe, it’s something Christ has accomplished through that preacher. Christ calls his sheep and they hear his voice, even through the instrument of preachers. Christ is building his church, even and especially among the Gentiles!
But Christ’s work doesn’t stop there with the church. Jesus did not only provide the basis for Gentiles salvation and is not just at work at their initial conversion. But Christ also has an ongoing role. For example, we can go on to speak of Jesus’ ongoing role in the Gentile inclusion as the king of his church. Verse 12 has this as prophecy about the Gentiles; that the root of Jesse shall rise up and reign over the Gentiles. That root of Jesse is the Messiah, of course. (Jesse was King David’s father, and the Messiah was the eventual offspring of King David.) Note how verse 12 says that the Gentiles will put their hope in this Messiah king. So this is not picturing Gentiles that grudgingly follow the Christ as king. It’s Gentiles who rejoice in Christ as their king and trust their lives to him. It would be important to point out here what might be obvious then. Jesus is king and head of his whole church, not just the Gentiles. Together, Jews and Gentiles in Christ have Christ as their king. Christ reigns right now over us. That is part of his ongoing role with regard to the Gentile inclusion into the church.
Let’s turn now to our third point for today — to consider the role of God the Holy Spirit in the bringing of the Gentiles into the church. First we can note how Paul’s preaching ministry was coupled with signs and wonders. The text in verse 19 specifically credits that work of power as powered by the Holy Spirit. Yes, a moment ago we said it was something Christ accomplished through Paul. That is true. But how Christ accomplished it was with the agency of his Spirit. The Holy Spirit worked this power through Paul’s preaching and ministry. The idea of these signs and wonders are twofold. They are wonders in that they shock and awe. They are amazing, miraculous, things, for which humans don’t have the power to do. On the other hand, they are also signs. They signify something. They communicate something. In other words, as these miracles attend Paul’s preaching, they confirm by their power the message Paul was preaching. This was important as Paul went through proclaiming Christ in places where Christ had never been proclaimed before. As he did, such foundational preaching was accompanied with these Holy Spirit wrought miracles. Read the book of Acts for more on that, for example; not just with Paul but with the other apostles as well.
Now, true, this Holy Spirit wrought power of miracles is not something ordinary for the life of the church. It’s not something ordinarily seen going forward today as preachers get up and proclaim the gospel. But that doesn’t mean the power of the Holy Spirit is absent. No, every time someone hears the gospel and becomes a believer, that is a powerful thing. New birth is happening. A dead soul has come alive. That is all part of how the Holy Spirit continues to operate with power today, bringing in new converts into the church. This still includes converts from the Gentiles.
The other primary role of the Holy Spirit in the Gentile inclusion can be summarized with the wording of verse 16: sanctification. The Holy Spirit sanctifies believers, Gentiles included. This sanctification is growing them in things like holiness, purity, and obedience. I like how verse 16 helps explain that with the imagery of an offering. When verse 16 says that Paul is ministering the gospel of God, it’s actually the word of priestly service. Some translations bring this out pretty clearly. And so then when it talks about making an acceptable offering of the Gentiles, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, it’s got this sacrifice language in mind. It’s the imagery of Paul being used to win converts to Christ among the Gentiles. It’s like Paul is presenting these converted Gentiles to God as an offering. Well, offerings to God are supposed to be special. Without spot or wrinkle or blemish. And so it’s the Holy Spirit who is said in verse 16 to make these Gentiles like that. To make them “acceptable” as an offering. That’s the sanctification process. That’s explained further then in verse 18 when it talks about the Gentiles obedience. This is all part of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to grow believers in things like obedience.
We can add to this idea of sanctification by pointing out verse 13 too. There it talks about how God fills us with joy, and peace, and hope, but he does that by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 Paul talks about such things as fruit of the Spirit. Likewise, when we read in verse 14 that the Roman Christians, surely Gentiles included, were full of goodness, and knowledge, and able to admonish one another, surely that is the working of the Holy Spirit again there too. Each time a benefit of our salvation comes to take hold in our hearts, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, today we’ve been able to reflect on the work of the Triune God to bring Gentiles to salvation. To be clear, this is true for the Jews too. Jews and Gentiles together find this salvation from, in, and through this Triune God. For both Jews and Gentiles, God the father has planned and purposed this common salvation, for our blessing and for his glory. For both Jews and Gentiles, Christ has secured our salvation in history, and now gathers his elect into his church and then leads them and protects them as their king. For both Jews and Gentiles, the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and continues to grow our hearts as those set apart unto God. Jews and Gentiles together experience this amazing, wonderful, gracious, salvation, wrought in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And yet today’s passage especially highlights how this has come to the nations. I think the emphasis here again is because of how surprising this was to so many. It shouldn’t have been surprising, of course. We saw that the Scriptures repeatedly foretold it. But nonetheless, isn’t this such wonderful proof of God’s Word? That all those Scripture prophecies about the Gentile inclusion actually did come true? I mean, who would have thought? Who would have thought that this amazing message that started out so seemingly intertwined with Jewish nationalism, would spread to all the nations? Especially when you think of how during Jesus’ day there was considerable tension and hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Who would have believed you if you would have told people way back then, that God would use Jesus and his twelve apostles to make converts from all the nations? But that is what has happened. The Word of God has gone out. The Gentiles have believed. We are here today as part of the fulfillment of so many prophecies. It just hit me how clear these prophecies are, and yet how unbelievable they probably were to people. But there is no doubt that they have found fulfillment. Let this encourage your faith. The God of truth wonderfully keeps his promises and fulfills his prophecies.
So then, let us carry on this work of sharing the gospel to the nations. Let’s do it in the spirit of verse 13. Verse 13 is Paul’s benediction-like wish for the people. Let us have that same wish for the lost around us. That they would know the hope and joy and peace found in Christ. And let us live out sharing Christ to those around us because we too have what is in verse 14. We, by the grace of God, are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able to admonish one another. Yes, we have plenty of room to grow. But we also have the Spirit of God which has filled us with the truth of the gospel and brought us to faith. None of us are apostles like Paul preaching with accompanying signs and wonders. But nonetheless, it continues to be God’s purpose and plan to use us in the simplicity of proclaiming Christ. And Christ continues to accomplish much as his church gives its witness. And the Holy Spirit continues to work powerfully through that witness.
So then, let us continue to be about the harvest work for the Lord. And as God grows his church, may we continue to rejoice and praise God and joyfully serve our reigning king. For as we read from the Old Testament quotes today, that is what was predicted we would do. Let us live out the continued fulfillment of those prophecies and so testify to the truth of God. Praise be to God who has wonderfully saved, even us, those from the nations. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.