The Ministering Mentality
The Ministry of Edification (Rom_15:1-14)
The Ministry of Proclamation (Rom_15:15-21)
The Ministry of Administration (Rom_15:22-29)
The Ministry of Intercession (Rom_15:30-33)
One of the greatest motivational factors is the inbuilt desire that all people have to please themselves. This quite naturally leads to all kinds of selfishness and independence which, in themselves, are responsible for many of society's ills. The renewed mind of the believer leads to a different motivational factor, which is the development of a ministering mentality.
The Ministry of Edification
As we saw in the previous chapter the peculiar difficulties facing the church at Rome because of the disparate nature of the membership required mature and careful handling. Paul summarizes this as follows:
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me." For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Rom_15:1-4)
The onus of responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of those who are "strong," meaning those who in areas of spiritual freedom are free to enjoy such liberty. A conscious decision on the part of the strong is necessary—a decision to refrain voluntarily and sacrificially from the enjoyment of legitimate freedom if it is necessary for the "pleasing" of the neighbor. To make such a decision and to adopt such an attitude requires remarkable and commendable strength and maturity. This comes from a variety of sources.
First, there is the understanding that Christian life in the community of believers involves concern for the edifying or the "upbuilding" of both the individual and the body. A commitment to these goals will, of necessity, preclude a commitment to pleasing oneself.
Second, there has to be a desire for the glory of God. There is little that brings honor to the Lord in a feuding, fighting fellowship. Paul's prayer to this end is extremely important.
The likemindedness of which he speaks in verse Rom_15:5 becomes reality not by sweeping differences under the carpet or by destroying the fellowship by fragmenting it into various pressure and interest groups. It is, on the one hand, the product of careful sacrificial action on the part of the strong, and, on the other hand, the result of God's graciously granting through the living Christ that which only He can accomplish in the hearts of His fractious people.
Third, there is the factor of the Word of God, which produces "patience and comfort" in trying times and which outlines the principles to which God is committed in His dealings with mankind. The major relevant principle Paul states at this point in his argument is the oft-repeated and clearly stated purpose of God to bring Jew and Gentile together in the body of Christ. To know this is to be committed to building up people to accept it and to building up the church to reflect it.
Fourth, there is the working of the Lord Himself, as outlined in the apostle's positive and exhilarating benediction of verse Rom_15:13.
"Hope, joy, and peace" are ingredients needed in great measure by those whose commitment is to edifying those who are locked in conflict.
Fifth, there has to be some degree of confidence in the people involved in addition to the confidence placed in the "God of hope." Paul's expression of this is outstanding.
The apostle not only had a sense of confidence in the Roman believers but he also expressed it to them, no doubt recognizing the importance of overt statements of encouragement in all areas of ministry.
The Ministry of Proclamation
Paul, the theologian, teacher, pastor, and apostle, was always the evangelist. His heartbeat for those who had never heard of Christ was always clearly discernible. Having opened the epistle with a statement concerning his call to the ministry of proclamation, he returns to the theme in the concluding verses:
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. (Rom_15:15-17)
The Greek language has a number of words that are translated "minister." The one used here has the special connotation of "priestly" ministry, although it also has secular applications. Paul talks about his evangelistic ministry as if it is the activity of a priest bringing his offering to the Lord in order that the heart of God might be gladdened. There are many motivations to evangelism that are detectable in Paul, but overriding even the concern for the lostness of the lost is the deep desire that the Lord might be honored and glorified by the reconciliation of men and women through the work of Christ on the Cross. While he never hesitates to affirm his position of authority and responsibility as the one to whom "grace [was] given," there is a humble aspect to his statement as he affirms also his complete dependence on the Lord. He writes:
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient— in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Rom_15:18-19)
The mighty preaching, the powerful living, the remarkable conversions are all attributable to the work of God in him and the flow of blessing through him. If Paul did not believe that, he would not even dare to talk about his ministry or to exert his authority in speaking so firmly to the believers in Rome and elsewhere.
Finally, in the heartfelt words about his proclamation ministry, he speaks of a deep-rooted desire (Greek, philotimeomai, which means literally "love of honor," or "ambition"):
And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was
named, lest I should build on another man's foundation, but as it is written:
"To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand." (Rom_15:20-21)
In churches where all types of ambition motivate all types of behavior, it is salutary to remember the ambition of the aging evangelist.
The Ministry of Administration
The undying enthusiasm of the apostle for his ministry which had led him to claim, "from Jerusalem and round about to lllyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rom_15:19), had its drawbacks, as he acknowledges in verse Rom_15:22.
He goes on to outline his travel plans, which include a missionary journey to Spain in keeping with his commitment to the unreached people, a brief stop in Rome as much for his benefit as theirs (his desire to "enjoy your company for a while" is literally a deep longing to be "filled" or "saturated" with their fellowship), and a trip to Jerusalem to deal with some business there. In addition to all the traveling he was contemplating, he had a number of different things on his mind. First he had to complete his work in Corinth; then he had to deliver personally the collection he had organized for the impoverished church in Jerusalem; then he had to make plans for the evangelization of Spain, bearing in mind the necessity to visit the established church in Rome. The collection had necessitated a considerable amount of organization with the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, with much correspondence, encouragement, and personnel administration.
The spiritual aspects of Paul's ministry are easy to identify, but it is important that we recognize the administrative expertise that he exhibited in the many and varied ministries in which he participated. The balance of the apostle is particularly welcome when we are confronted with the tensions that exist in the contemporary church of the Western world—the tension between organization and inspiration and the balance in seeing the church as an organism and organization. Those who think of the church as a business whose problems can all be solved by better organization need to remember that the church is an organism whose secret is life. But those who eschew organization for the reason that the church is a living body should remember that every organism is organized. The apostle could never be accused of overlooking the fact that the churches were the body in which the Spirit moved, but this did not affect his careful attention to matters of detail in a responsible and organized way. His balance is further seen in his recognition of the absolute necessity for everything to be under "the will of God" and his own ministry being exercised "in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel."
The Ministry of Intercession
The way in which the apostle opens his heart to the Roman believers in these verses is most enlightening.
First we note his special request for prayer on his own behalf. There was no doubt about his commitment to intercessory prayer for those to whom he ministered, but he wanted the believers to know how dependent he was on their prayer support. The intensity of this is seen in his use of the word "appeal," which he also employed at the beginning of the practical application in the latter part of the epistle and will later use when asking the believers to do something about those who are disrupting the order of the church. His appeal for intercession invokes the name of "the Lord Jesus Christ and… the love of the Spirit" and is, of course, directed "to God."
Paul is not indulging in clichés when he asks for prayer, but he specifically outlines the matters he wants the recipients of his letter to bring before God. He is apprehensive about his chances of surviving the attentions of the unbelieving (literally, "disobeying") Judeans whose antipathy to him is well documented. He has no guarantee that the church of Jerusalem will be receptive to him or his gift of love to them. There is doubt in his mind as to whether he will ever make it to Rome, and he frankly admits he is in dire need of refreshment.
With all this on his mind it is not surprising that he sees prayer as a struggle and, accordingly, asks the believers in Rome to engage in the ministry of intercession with him to the extent of striving with him. He concludes with his own brief prayer of intercession and blessing for them: "Now the God of peace be with you. …"
The variety of ministries dealt with in the latter part of the epistle serves to encourage all believers actively to develop their own ministering mentality and to find specific outlets of service while it also recognizes the place for a plethora of ministries in the body of believers. This recognition of variety serves not only to meet numerous needs and glorify God in a variety of ways but also gives opportunity to add diversity in operation to the existing diversity of background, maturity, and experience that makes the church uniquely the body of Christ.
One Man's Faith Is Another Man's Poison
- The Inevitability of Differences of Opinion (Rom_14:1-5)
- The Importance of the Discernment of Essentials (Rom_14:6-14)
- The Imperative for Discipline in Attitudes (Rom_14:15-23)
The church of Rome, like many of the churches founded as a result of Paul's ministry, was made up of both Jews and Greeks. This was particularly significant to the apostle as he firmly believed that one of the greatest arguments for the validity of Christianity was its ability to bring together people from segments of society that would normally be estranged from each other. He insisted that "in Christ" societal, cultural, economic, and sexual barriers were broken down, and the resultant unifying of peoples from all manner of groups was not only a preview of heaven but also a practical means of bringing a measure of peace on earth.
The tangible evidence of this was the local assembly of believers which operated on the basis of mutual love between people whose only common denominator was relationship to Christ as Savior and Lord. The practicalities of this situation, however, demanded careful attention, because while in theory the walls of partition were broken down, in practice the walls had a nasty habit of putting themselves up again. Paul uses two examples, neither of which seems particularly important to us but both of which were sore points in the church at Rome. The first had to do with food and the second with holy days.
The Inevitability of Differences of Opinion
There were in the church those whom Paul describes as "weak in the faith." By this he means that there were areas of immaturity in their relationship to Christ and His church. This was particularly evident in those who felt it necessary to maintain certain rules and regulations in their Christian lives that were neither taught nor encouraged by the Lord Jesus. For instance, those who came from a Jewish background were fastidious about their eating habits. This was undoubtedly related to the dietary laws that had been part of their religious heritage from time immemorial. They would never eat certain animals and would not eat others unless they were sure that they had been killed in the correct way. Because they lived in areas where they could not be absolutely sure about the suitability of the meat they were eating, some had taken the position that they would not eat any kind of meat.
This position, while understandable, was not biblical and, moreover, was very hard for those from different backgrounds to understand and accept. They were used to buying meat in the stores of merchants who had obtained it in the pagan temples after meat had been offered to the temple gods. The priests kept some for themselves and sold the rest to the store owners nearby. Pious Jews and concerned Jewish Christians were appalled at the thought that they might be eating something that had been part of a pagan festival, so they soothed their scruples by abstinence.
Meanwhile, many of the believers from different backgrounds had no such problem. To them the meat was meat—nothing more or less—and the fact that it had possibly been in a pagan temple did not alter that fact. They also felt it was the best meat in town! The two different attitudes—"to eat or not to eat"—created a highly volatile situation, because those who felt free to eat sometimes treated their brothers with utter contempt, while those with scruples were highly critical of those who were more free. Criticism and contempt were equally unacceptable in the fellowship of believers, and Paul sets out to deal with both.
The same kind of conflict swirled around the issue of the commemoration of certain days in the calendar. The Jewish reverence for the sabbath was so profound that they had hedged it around with many rules lest they contravene the sabbath laws by chance. The result of their attention to minute detail was a kind of tyranny which they applied to all and sundry, including the Lord Jesus, whose more relaxed approach they deeply resented. Some of the same attitude had remained with some of the believers, and it is not hard to imagine the feelings that would be aroused by the differing views of the observance of the Lord's Day. One solution to the problem would have been simply to put the conservatives in one group and the liberals in another and keep them away from each other. But to do this would not only have been a concession to human obduracy; it would have robbed the body of Christ of its unique characteristic of unity in diversity.
Paul is committed to a nobler, albeit more difficult solution.
The Importance of the Discernment of Essentials
First, Paul requires the believers to act out of conviction.
There is a major difference between doing things out of a sense of convention and doing them from a sense of conviction. The former approach is often a capitulation to the pressures of external factors while the latter should be the product of deep thought and careful evaluation. Paul wants the believers to deal with their controversial issues on the solid base of commitment to Christ rather than surrender to pressure. He does not mind, personally, if they eat meat or not, provided they have decided on the basis of what they understand the Lord's will to be. Provided they do it or don't do it in the light of Christ's lordship over their lives, he has no problem.
Care should be taken at this point to remember that he is not saying that it does not matter what Christians believe or how they behave. In many matters Christ was explicit and the apostle dogmatic, and in such cases Christians have no option but to obey. But in many areas of spiritual experience there are no hard and fast rules and a certain degree of freedom has been granted. It is in the areas of spiritual freedom and scriptural silence that Paul does not mind what conclusions are reached, so long as the conclusion is compatible with the lordship of Christ.
Second, Paul requires the believers to terminate their criticism.
When differences of opinion arise concerning deeply held traditions, reactions are usually quite extreme. Feelings of anger and resentment, frustration and bitterness spill over. Usually the people involved in acrimonious dispute become more entrenched in their position and increasingly isolated from those with whom they disagree. Before long it becomes necessary for those who hold strong positions not only to strengthen their own but also to weaken the other. Criticism becomes the order of the day.
This Paul flatly condemns with words reminiscent of the Lord. His point is that every Christian is ultimately responsible to the Lord, and while we do have the responsibility to encourage, correct, and edify each other, we do not have the freedom to take over the work of evaluation. This only the One who will eventually sit on the Judgment Seat is qualified to do. Therefore, judgmental attitudes in matters of scriptural silence and freedom are totally out of order, and those of us who are guilty of them will answer for them at the Judgment Seat as surely as those with whom we disagree will be evaluated by their Lord.
Third, Paul requires believers to see the other point of view.
The apostle makes a surprisingly strong affirmation of his conviction that in the matters he is discussing there is nothing fundamentally right or wrong about the meat or the day. But if the other person has a strong conscience about the wrongness of participation in the meat or the rightness of recognition of the day, then to that person it is a matter of right or wrong. From a purely biblical point of view, it is not possible to argue the "teetotal" position. If a person feels that partaking of alcoholic beverages is wrong, then it would be wrong for him to partake. But he cannot and must not impose that view on his brother. At the same time it would be wrong for the brother who has no scruples in this matter to bring pressure to bear on his more scrupulous brother. When understood, the apostle's words are clear in their direction.
The Imperative for Discipline in Attitudes
The attitudes we have already noted are warm acceptance of those with whom we may differ, openness to ideas other than our own, and rejection of a censorious and critical spirit. All of these portray that most beautiful of all Christian virtues—love—but Paul has more to say on this subject.
The one who has scruples is described by the apostle as being the weaker brother, and it is interesting to bear in mind that usually when we hold tenaciously to traditions and feel deeply about the things that scripture may treat with silence, we regard ourselves as strong on that point. By the apostle's definition the strong person is the one who is free in areas of God-given freedom and sees no need to build regulations around his freedom, while the weak brother is the one who feels that he needs help in the area of freedom and adds principles which of themselves may be quite right but which are not biblical in origin.
In the examples he has given Paul shows himself to be clearly on the side of the stronger brother but insists that his commitment is to love and peace. This requires willingness to refuse to act in the area of freedom if by so doing one would be offensive or unhelpful to his brother. He is ready to deny himself that which he feels deeply he is free to enjoy because his concern is more for the building up of his Christian brother than for his own fulfillment, and his concern is more for the unity of the fellowship than for the liberty of himself.
Meanwhile the brother who has scruples must live within his own limits because if he contravenes them he must remember "he who doubts is condemned if he eats" (Rom_14:23). The inevitability of differences and the possibility of controversies in the Christian church can be viewed either positively or negatively. Some believers are not prepared to allow for differences of position in matters of secondary importance and insist that everything must be spelled out so that unity might prevail. This approach avoids the unpleasantness of controversy but does nothing to enhance diversity or produce maturity. Other groups allow for freedom of conviction but become so embroiled in feuding that they never achieve a unified position of strength and stability. Paul teaches the Roman believers that they must allow for differences but they must avoid division. In summary, they must commit themselves to working in love to produce a unified body that demonstrates the diversity of God's wonderful handiwork.
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