A Focused Ministry and a Clear Purpose – Romans 1:5
By: Alistair Brown
How do we introduce ourselves for the very first time to people we have never met? We might be writing them an email, sending an old-fashioned letter, calling them on the phone or even getting together face to face. How do we begin?
Probably we give some form of customary greeting; we say something complimentary about them; we let them know a little about ourselves.
As Paul launches into this letter to the Romans, he does all three of those but not in that order. He begins by telling them about himself.
5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.
Paul explains two main things about himself in this introduction: the authority behind his ministry (where it comes from) and the focus of his ministry (what it is all about).
1. The authority for Paul’s ministry.
He begins verse 5 by saying “Through him (Jesus) we received grace and apostleship.”
Paul was not an apostle because he had set himself up to be one. There are preachers ordained by no-one. They’re self-appointed and some are successful in drawing a crowd. Paul is not at all like that. His apostleship is through Christ; it is a role he has been given. He was not looking for it. He did not choose it.
When Moses stood at the burning bush – at that stage of his life just a shepherd in a remote place trying to bring up a family – he had no idea and no ambition to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. But God called and appointed him (Ex. 3, 4).
When Isaiah was frightened to the core of his being by a vision of God, he was not seeking any role as a prophet. But God gave the challenge for someone to go and speak for him, and Isaiah was that man (Is. 6).
When Jeremiah was just a child he had no expectation nor wish to challenge the nation to follow God, but he was the person and that was the time when God appointed him (Jer. 1).
No true ministry for God arises out of wishful thinking, seeking after glory, even from the desire to be useful for the kingdom. Rather, genuine ministry for God comes from God. Paul makes sure these Romans know God is the source of his ministry.
And – Paul goes on – it is through Christ “we received grace and apostleship.” He is not intending to separate grace and apostleship. Paul received grace which led to apostleship or the grace of apostleship.
Paul talks about grace a lot. Two thirds of all the times grace is mentioned in the New Testament are in Paul’s writings. In Romans alone he uses the word on twenty-four occasions. Here Paul says his apostleship is part of God’s grace in his life. Everything about belonging to Jesus is the undeserved, unearned gift of God, and so is the work God has given him. It is God’s doing from beginning to end.
Paul, then, is very clear. He is an apostle by God’s choice and equipping. He did not earn top grades in apostle school; everything about his work is God’s gift to an undeserving servant.
That fundamental truth – that God is the author behind all Christian ministry – is a great encouragement for every Christian serving God. Whether the role is small or big, God is in it right from the start. That means we are never alone, never abandoned to the task, never left with only our own resources. That is why people can do remarkable things in God’s service.
– How does anyone follow the call of God to work in appalling and dangerous conditions in refugee camps to care for and feed starving, dying children?
– How do missionaries take the gospel into hostile regions, facing the dangers of attack or disease?
– How do people give their lives to ministry in deprived, poverty stricken areas with few comforts or encouragements?
– And how does any Christian manage to be a witness in a hostile work place, or stand up for truth and justice knowing others will hate them for it, or choose a career which pays so little in order to care for people with so much need?
The answer: because that work, that role, that service is given to them through the grace of Jesus Christ. They did not seek it; the Lord himself chose it for them. Therefore they are not alone, and therefore they have his strength. This work, this calling, is God’s doing. That is how it began, and that is how everything God purposed for it will be accomplished.
2. The focus for Paul’s ministry.
Paul says his work as an apostle is: “to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”
This is Paul’s line of business. This is what he does. If you like, this is his mission statement:
– To call the Gentiles
– To the obedience that comes from faith
– To do that for Jesus’ sake
His first focus for ministry is to the Gentiles. The Revised Standard Version – which tended to be very literal in its translation of the Greek in which the New Testament is written – translated Paul here as saying his work was to bring about the obedience of faith “among all the nations” (v. 5, RSV). Paul used the word ethnē from which we get the English words ‘ethnic’ and ‘ethnicity.’ In Paul’s day ethnē could mean ‘nations,’ ‘heathen,’ or ‘Gentiles’. When a Jew like Paul was thinking of anywhere beyond Israel, he might mean any of these.
What is clear is that his focus is out to the peoples of the world. The gospel was never only for Jews but for all nations, and Paul’s ministry is to all nations. In other words, Jesus is Savior for all people and the gospel must be taken to all people everywhere.
Later in Romans Paul will write: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Rom. 10:12).
John Stott says:
“What he is affirming is that the gospel is for everybody; its scope is universal… We too, if we are to be committed to world mission, will have to be liberated from all pride of race, nation, tribe, caste and class, and acknowledge that God’s gospel is for everybody, without exception and without distinction.”
No-one is from the wrong country.
No-one is from the wrong part of town.
No-one has the wrong color of skin.
No-one is excluded because of their choice of lifestyle.
All ways of living.
These are people for whom Jesus died and to whom we take the good news of the gospel.
Paul’s ministry focus is to the world, because the gospel is for the world.
His focus is also on the obedience that comes from faith. Paul does not say his focus is on sharing the faith, not even on bringing people to faith. He is sharing faith and bringing people to faith, but faith for Paul was never about head knowledge of the gospel or about a one-time prayer to Jesus. It was about a heart-changing commitment to Jesus that led to a radical reorientation of life in everything. It was about surrender of self and submission to Jesus: “the obedience that comes from faith.”
R.H. Mounce writes:
“To accept Christ as Savior is to give up all rights to oneself. Christians belong to Christ. Paul the apostle was the servant of the Lord. We who believe have placed ourselves at Christ’s disposal to be used as he sees fit. There is little room here for the mistaken idea that people can accept Christ as Savior without also allowing him to be Lord of their lives.”
John Stott writes:
“That is why the response Paul looked for was a total, unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ, which he called ‘the obedience of faith’. This is our answer to those who argue that it is possible to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour without surrendering to him as Lord. It is not.”
Both those writers are very clear: there is no faith without obedience to Jesus as Lord.
Where we go wrong, I suspect, is that we think total obedience and complete surrender are not really important because all that counts is getting to heaven.
It’s as if we make choices like we would for a long-haul flight. We have heard of an amazing place on the other side of the world – an earthly paradise –and we want to go there.
We check the prices of seats on the plane. What about going first class? Wow –a nice idea but a startling price. Unthinkable for us. Could we go business class? Still a great option, still a price beyond what we are willing to pay. So we go economy, and we sit at the back of the plane. It’s uncomfortable, the food is not great and we don’t get special video screens like they do at the front of the plane. But here’s the good news: we have not had to pay the price they did in First or Business and, best of all, we step off at the same destination. We get to paradise just like they did. What can be bad about that?
The answer is nothing if we’re talking about a plane ride.
The answer is everything if we’re talking about Christianity.
Following Jesus is certainly not about luxury, but it is about paying a price. There is no economy class option where faith involves little cost. Over and over Jesus called people to leave their existing way of life to follow him, and he made it very clear that being his disciple meant sacrifice and meant obedience.
So he said: “…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).
And Jesus said: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).
When Paul said his ministry was to call people to a faith that led to obedience to Jesus, he was being very deliberate. It’s what all Christian faith involves.
And lastly he said his ministry was to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith for the sake of Jesus.
Paul did not travel through dangerous lands and over treacherous seas for the sake of his ego, or to become a famous missionary, or so he could have the biggest mega church of the first century.
He did it for the sake of Jesus. There was one King for the kingdom, and it certainly wasn’t Paul. It was Jesus, Lord of all lords and King of all kings. Paul’s mission was to glorify Jesus, to bring people in submission to Jesus, to see the kingdom of Jesus grow and grow.
In that wonderful hymn-like passage in Philippians 2, Paul says:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (vs. 9-11)
No-one is more powerful than Jesus
No-one’s name is more honored than Jesus
No-one will ever stand supreme over all the earth and have all bow before him like Jesus.
Therefore, everything Paul does is for Jesus.
Not so he can count more converts.
Not so he can command a higher salary.
Not so he can boast of the biggest ministry in the world.
It’s for Jesus. It’s all for Jesus. Everything he does is for the glory of Jesus.
Paul’s ministry is not our ministry. But all ministry is given by God. And all ministry is for Jesus. How does our life of service compare to the ministry of Paul: in our sense of calling and our sense of focus?
He was very clear who had given him his apostleship. And he was very clear what his purpose was. God grant us the equivalent clarity of ministry and purpose as Paul had.
 John Stott, The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2001) 51-52.
 R.H. Mounce, Romans (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995) 63.
 John Stott, The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (Leicester, InterVarsity Press, 2001) 52-53.