In 1952 Amy Vanderbilt wrote a book called Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living. In it she covers all kinds of situations we could find ourselves in and then goes on to explain the proper way to act in each. The section on public speaking is of particular interest to us today. She says it will take your audience a few minutes to get used to you, so because of this they won’t really hear what you have to say until they’ve adjusted to listening to you. So, instead of immediately getting to the point, fill your first few moments with ‘Thank you’s’ to certain people you’re going to address.
Curious advice don’t you think? I wonder, is this what Paul’s up to in our passage today? He’s has already introduced himself to the Romans, beginning the letter with an extended greeting full of robust doctrinally truth, and sure enough he follows that right away with an expression of his thankfulness for the Roman Christians. Is Paul just filling time while his readers get used to him? Not at all. He does indeed express his thankfulness for them here but in doing so he tells them much about what the Christian life truly looks like.
This expression of thankfulness is our text today. It’s found in Romans 1:8-15 where Paul first, gives…
A Thankful Prayer (v8-10)
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”
When Paul begins in v8 saying “First…” we might think he’s beginning a list but he never comes to or even mentions a ‘second’ or a ‘third.’ Rather than believing Paul forgot to clarify his second point and on I think this shows us he isn’t making a list at all. Rather, by saying “First…” he’s meaning ‘First above all things, I want to tell you…’ or ‘The first thing I want you to know is…’ So, what then does Paul want them to know first? That he is thankful. But he says more than that, doesn’t he? Paul says he’s thankful to God, “through Jesus Christ”, “for all of you.” He’s thankful “…to God…” because God – God’s grace and God’s gospel and God’s work – is why there are Christians in Rome. He’s thankful “…through Jesus Christ…” because not even the great apostle Paul has direct access to God apart from Christ. Only through Christ can anyone have access to the Father. And he’s thankful “…for all of you…” because even at this infant stage of gospel expansion, even though he’s never been there the gospel message has reached all the way to Rome and Paul is thankful some have heard it and been saved by it. I find it so encouraging that Paul, who’s never met these Christians feel connected to these Christians. Are you encouraged by that? Has this proved true in your experience? You hear of the gospel moving among a certain people or reviving a congregation, and you reach out to those people because you want to see them and encourage them, and when you go meet them for the first time you find something you didn’t expect, family. What a lesson this is to us. We may separated by borders and oceans, but all those who belong to Jesus belong to all those who belong to Jesus. Simply put, Paul’s deeply thankful there are Christians in Rome.
But he’s thankful for more. As v8 ends we see Paul’s thankful the faith of these Roman Christians “…is proclaimed in all the world.” But wait. All the world? Did news of their conversion get to China? To the Polynesian Islands? To the Americas? No, at least not at this time. Paul uses this phrase ‘all the world’ to indicate how far news of their faith had truly gone. He says something similar to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9, “…your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For others themselves report…how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” This is similar to what he means here in Romans 1:8, that Christians everywhere had heard of these Roman citizens believing the gospel message. Again, for this Paul is thankful.
But think more about this. There were no newspapers back then, no internet, no Facebook, no social media, no telephones, no TV’s, no advertising agencies, no church marketing strategies, or anything like that – yet news had spread. How did this happen? How did word spread so vastly without these things? Church, isn’t it simple? A true revival never needs to be advertised; it advertises itself. When God moves, no man and no method of man is needed to spread the word. God takes it as far as He is pleased to. This is true revival! You can as much schedule this as you can schedule a hurricane. I do wonder…perhaps the reason so many churches and movements rely on and spend so much money on advertising and publicity and marketing strategies is because their lives don’t advertise the Lord Jesus Christ very much at all. Not so with these Romans! People all over the Roman empire heard of the Christians in Rome. In Rome of all places! Where such persecution was occurring, where such paganism was thriving. So I ask you: is your faith heard of and spoken of by others? Is your faith spoken of in your home, at your work, in your neighborhood, wherever you go. Does your faith in Christ lead other Christians to rejoice and thank God for His mighty work in saving and sanctifying you? Does your faith in Christ lead lost sinners to question their own lives and ask how they too can be saved? God moved in power with the gospel here in Rome, and God’s done it countless times and in countless nations throughout history, may He do such work again among us!
Paul has more to say in v9-10 about his thankfulness. Because their faith is resounding in all the world Paul is greatly encouraged and so he prays for them without ceasing. ‘God – who I serve with my whole heart in this gospel work, He is my witness’ Paul says, ‘…how I long to come and see you.’ How refreshing to see it, the man was not separated from the message. Paul’s not doing this for underhanded reasons, no, his whole heart and spirit is caught up in this gospel work.And for this work he longed to see them yes, but God’s will had not opened a way for it yet. Little did Paul know when he wrote these words that the manner in which God’s would open the way for him to get to Rome would be as a prisoner in chains.
But why did he want to come see them? That answer leads us to our next point.
A Strong Desire (v11-13)
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Now we see why Paul longs to come visit them. He says his desire is to strengthen them, see that? Paul believes conversion, belief in the gospel, isn’t the end of the matter. He believes it’s the beginning. These Roman Christians have believed in Jesus and been converted, but what must now training must begin. A newborn baby can’t cook you breakfast or clean the house right away, not at all. They need to be nurtured, fed, and taught how to do everything. This is the case with the Christian as well. Conversion is the beginning, they must be strengthened, must be established, in a true sense after conversion training has just begun.
And Paul says he intends to strengthen them through a spiritual gift. It’s not exactly clear what gift Paul is referring to in this spiritual gift in v11, but I think the gift in view is his what we’ve just seen. He longs to use his gift of teaching the whole counsel of God, to preach the Word of God, and to pastor the people of God. Isn’t this precisely what he’s doing in this letter to them already? Indeed it is, this is what he does for all the churches he labors for. But are you surprised at what he says next in v12? In humility Paul is not only wanting to encourage them but he desires to be encouraged by them as well, that they might mutually encourage one another by each other’s faith. You might think its utter nonsense that the great apostle Paul needs encouragement, but let’s not forget Paul was just a man. A great man for sure, but he was a man, liable to the temptations and discouragements we all are. I am no apostle but as an ordinary pastor I get this. Each Sunday after service I receive many wonderfully encouraging comments from many of you about something that greatly helped you in the sermon or the service as a whole, and I’m glad to hear it. But on occasion I do get the usually unintentional negative comment as well; that I misspoke, that I missed the point, that my sermon was a swing and a miss. And sadly, at least the way my mind and heart works, if I get 10 encouraging comments and 1 discouraging comment you know which comment will linger in my soul? The negative one. R.C. Sproul often spoke of his own experience with this reality and on one occasion humorously commented, it’s always open season on pastors “…and every Sunday night people have roast pastor for dinner.” All this to say, those you assume are strong and thriving in faith might really be strong and thriving. But they might be weak and discouraged. Either way, none of us outgrows our need to be encouraged. And Paul’s strong desire was to visit Rome, not to see the sites, but to see this little group of Roman believers. And he didn’t desire to come to them as a high-handed apostle looking down from his lofty spirituality allowing them into his presence to receive his blessing, no. He came as one seeking to pave a two-way street of mutual gospel encouragement.
Let’s pause here. I think a large governing principle for the Christian life is in view here. People often say ‘like attracts like’ right? I don’t disagree at all. We normally and naturally gravitate toward others who share our interests. This can be an awful thing when those shared interests are sinful and wicked. But when those shared interests are found ‘in Christ’ or they promote holiness and godly living it’s a thing of great worth. We can go further I think and say wherever the Spirit of God is truly moving in an individual you’ll find that individual grow a holy discontent about living their Christian life alone, leading them to join together with other Christians. Why? To help one another, to pray for one another, to fellowship together, to spur one another on in following Christ, and to do life together. Paul’s humility shines here in v11-12 as he expresses his desire to not only encourage and serve these Romans Christians but to be encouraged and to be served by them as well.
So question: does your life show a similar humility? Or does your life reveal a pride, you must be the one always doing the serving. Church, humility isn’t just a willingness to serve and encourage others, it’s a two way street, so part of humility is allowing others to serve and encourage us. Some of you who never serve here should get busy and actually get to work among us here! But others of you who are prone to be very busy here, this text would have you swallow your pride and let someone else hold the door for you, let someone else teach you, let someone else step in and serve, let someone else make the sacrifice. You’ll likely be encouraged how God encourages you through them.
Paul really wants them to know these things. That’s what v13 means. When Paul says, “I do not want you to be unaware” he means, ‘I really want you to know!’ He’s been longing to see them for some time to reap a harvest among them and alongside them. But he’s been prevented so far from coming. Why? Many reasons I’m sure. He’s a busy guy isn’t he? There are 12 other letters of his in the New Testament to other churches and each of them has their own strengths and failures, and each of them needs his instruction, his gifts, his care, his correction, and more. But over and above all the reasons why Paul couldn’t come to Rome yet, ultimately v10 already gave us…the will of God hasn’t opened the door yet. How does Paul respond to this closed door? He still desires to see them and works to that end, but in the end he submits to the will of God.
Now that he’s expressed his thankfulness for them and his strong desire to see them, what does he say next?
A Glad Obligation (v14-15)
“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
We have now come to v14, one of the most important verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans. For me, v14 has been one of those verses that has functioned like a needle on a compass, always pointing me in the right direction I need to go as a Christian, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, and as a friend. Here Paul reveals another layer of his own identity as a follower of Christ. We learned much about Paul in v1-7 didn’t we? A slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…laboring among all nations to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s great name. Here, in v14, we get another identity marker. Paul is a debtor, or Paul is indebted to all men, or Paul is a under a glad obligation to all men. We know what it means to be in debt to someone. If someone lets you borrow $100 you’re indebted to them until you pay them back. But there’s another sense of that word too. If someone gives you $100 to give to someone else, you are in their debt until you pass it on to that person. That’s the sense Paul means here in v14. God has saved Paul through the gospel, but God has also called Paul, set apart Paul, to bring the gospel to the nations and until he does that Paul is indebted to all men, he’s under a glad obligation to all men to proclaim the gospel to them.
See how he says this in v14, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” Paul often makes a distinction in his letters between two kinds of people, Jews and Gentiles. By this phrase Paul means ‘all people.’ But those in the Greco-Roman world (like the Romans) used a different distinction, ‘Greeks and Barbarians.’ To them, you were either a Greek or you weren’t much. They viewed non-Greeks as less than, just as the Jews viewed non-Jews as less than. Sad how that happens so often in our fallen world, both in the ancient world and today. But Paul though, he blows through these categories and says whatever a person may be – Greek, Jew, Barbarian, wise, foolish, slave, or free – I am gladly obligated to them all! Why? To give them the gospel God gave me. It’s as if he’s saying, ‘Put any soul in front of me and I owe that soul the gospel of God.’
Now, we don’t share the apostle Paul’s commission to be an apostle to the nations, but we have been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” So question: Paul owned this identity, do we? Do we see ourselves as in the debt of all men? Do we see this as our glad gospel obligation? If we don’t, if our identity is based on anything else, we see ourselves wrongly. But if we own this identity and submit to God in this, God’s agenda becomes our agenda.
So Paul wraps it all up in v15 saying, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Paul knew, only the gospel of God, that he’s about to define very carefully in v16-17, only this gospel, can save and add more souls to the church and build up the souls already in the church.
So what’s the big take away for us? Paul’s thankfulness, desire, and obligation to the Romans is to be our agenda, our priority with one another at SonRise Community Church. We’re to do life together, serving and being served by one another, willingly and gladly entering into gospel obligations to one another. And not only so, we’re also to remind one another of our glad gospel obligations to all those we come into contact with, whoever they may be and wherever they may be from. Why? To give them the gospel God first gave us.
In all seasons, especially in one where so many have been so disconnected and unplugged, may these realities be true of us, more and more.
 Amy Vanderbilt, Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1952) 780-781.
 Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 38.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 19.
 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 32.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 178.
 Lloyd-Jones, 179-180. This is a powerful section!
 Lloyd-Jones, 210–11.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 27.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 182.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 15.
 Sproul, Romans, 30.
 Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, 39.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 241–42.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 17.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 248.
 J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 22.