In Romans chapter 15 verse 14 through 21, Paul tells us something of his plan and pattern of ministry. He tells us of his desire to go to places where the gospel had not been heard. He tells us about his desire to see people converted to Christ who have never heard His name named. He tells the Romans why he wrote to them and why he wrote so boldly. Paul is sharing with us his designs, desires, goals, and his pattern in ministry because he wants these things to capture our hearts too.

Paul's estimation.

In verse 14 of Romans 15, Paul gives a compliment to the Roman Christians. He gives them an assurance of how he sees them just in case the Romans miss understand the vehemence with which he writes the letter. Paul can get carried away when he is writing. You can feel the intensity of this man as he writes to the people of God in the book of Galatians, and in the epistle to the Corinthians, and in the book of Romans.

Paul doesn't want the Romans to misunderstand him. So he tells them here in verse 14, "Concerning you, my brethren, I am convinced that you are full of goodness and filled with all knowledge and you are also able to admonish one another." He gives them this tremendous compliment, he says, I want you to know I see your growth in grace.

Paul has a three fold description of the healthy Christian, goodness, knowledge and capability of mutual admonition. Is that how you would have described a healthy Christian? He's full of goodness, he has knowledge of the faith, knowledge of the truth, knowledge of Bible doctrine. He's able to confront his brothers and sisters in a loving way. I'm not sure those would be under the three things I would have come up with friends.

Notice Paul is looking for the gospel to result in virtue. Goodness is one of the virtues, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can see their goodness. Their knowledge, their firm grasp of Christian truth. They had a genuine comprehension of Christian teaching allied with a deep concern to do what is good. Truth is unto godliness. They are mature in their knowledge and they have a capacity for admonition. Admonition is to lovingly confront and correct. He said that these Christians are capable of admonition. These Romans are mature enough to do admonition.

There is maybe nothing trickier to do, in the bonds of the fellowship of the Christian church, than to admonish a friend and still stay a friend, or to admonish in proportion to where you don't become Mister Admonition, or Mrs. Admonition, or Miss Admonition. It's an amazingly difficult thing and it's a mark of maturity. Paul says that these Romans were mature enough to do it. They were able to engage in this reciprocal brotherly and sisterly ministry of church members holding one another accountable to live the Christian live and kindly challenging one another to do so.

Paul's explanation.

Paul explains in verses 15 and 16 that he wrote boldly because of his role as a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles, out of a concern to offer them to God, and out of a concern that they be sanctified and holy by the Spirit's work . Look at his words, "I've written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again because of the grace that was given me from God."

Notice how Paul used his whole ministry as a grace. His whole ministry is a gift from God. Paul understood his unworthiness to be in this ministry. He was the single most dangerous individual to the continuance and survival of Christianity in the world of his time, the greatest persecutor that the Church knew. He had a keen sense of his unworthiness to be the minister of the gospel and so there was no question in his mind that it was a grace that he had been called into this ministry.

He goes on to use priestly language about his ministry. He doesn't use that priestly language of worship. He doesn't use that priestly language of acts of spiritual gathered devotion of the people of God. He doesn't talk about being a priest in the context of a worship service. He says to us that he is a priest, a minister of Christ to the Gentiles in this sense: that he's offering the Gentiles to God. Just like the priest would offer a sacrifice on the altar to God, he's offering the Gentiles to God.

Paul was not satisfied with somebody simply praying a prayer or saying that they believed in Christ, or signing a card. Paul wanted to see people's lives who had been turned inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit and had been conformed to Jesus Christ. He wanted to see Gentiles who not only professed Christ, but they had become, notice his words in verse 16, acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. He wanted to see not nearly professions of faith, but heaven wrought godliness in saved sinners. He wanted to see the transformation of life. That's what he was excited about. That's what he wanted to give to God.

Paul's evangelization.

In verses 18 and 19, you see Paul's evangelization. Here he tells us about his Christ accomplished Spirit empowered, successful gospel preaching. "For I will not presume to speak of anything, except what Christ has accomplished through me resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed in the power of signs and wonders in the power of the spirit so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricium, I have fully preached the gospel." In other words, through my ministry, the Gentiles have not only given lip service to Christ, they have served Christ in their lives by word and deed. It's been done through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through the power of the Apostle Paul.

Paul's expedition.

Then finally in verses 20 and 21, he tells you about his expedition. Paul had a desire to especially preach Christ where he had not been heard before. He liked to go where there was no Church, where there was no witness, and give witness and build up a church. Paul's aim is to reach the un-reached and to church the un-churched. He tells you this in verses 20 and 21, "Thus I aspire to preach the gospel not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another mans foundation."

That is where our hearts ought to be friends. That is why we as Christians ought to be excited about missions. That is why we as congregations ought to be supporting missions. That's why we ought to be sacrificing in support of missions. That is why we ought to be praying that the most talented men and women in our churches should consider giving themselves to the work of the Lord on the fields of mission.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.