Meditations in Romans : 12 : Obligations
Rom 1:14-15 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.
“I owe you one!” is a phrase that is not unknown to us. We know what it means to owe a favour to someone else. Some people feel they owe no favours to anyone; they are just self-concerned and life is all about pleasing them. The apostle Paul comes to us with a completely different take on life. Paul feels he owes something to everyone! Now that must almost be a unique outlook on life, for that isn’t how most of us feel about the rest of the world. Now what is slightly frustrating is that he doesn’t explain why he feels like this, only what its outcome is.
We are left to speculate why Paul felt obligated to the world. Our starting point might be to look at what he felt about his own salvation. To Timothy he wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim 1:15,16) Now there has been much dispute over what Paul meant there but the most obvious interpretation is that Paul has come to realise the magnitude of Sin in him. He was a very bright man and had risen in the ranks of the learned but that hadn’t stopped him acting arrogantly and powerfully against the church and against God by persecuting the Christians.
To the Corinthians he wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Cor 15:9,10). He didn’t rate himself as an apostle because he knew he was what he was only because God had stepped in and apprehended him on the road to Damascus. If God hadn’t of done that, then Paul would probably be continuing in that self-driven way, still in darkness. Later in the letter to Rome he explains about the power of sin in us in a way that reveals much self-revelation: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:22-25) He knew that without Christ he was utterly hopeless.
In all these ways we see Paul putting himself down. To the church at Ephesus he wrote, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:7,8) On that terrible day on the road to Damascus he had heard that awful voice from heaven ask him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) He had thought he was being zealous for God (see Acts 22:3), but in fact he was actively opposing God. How wrong could you be! Thus the fact that the Lord bothered to speak into the material world and apprehend him, was an act of pure grace. He deserved judgment and received mercy and grace instead. Perhaps, therefore, we might say Paul’s sense of obligation is first and foremost one towards the Lord, but knowing the Lord’s love for His world, that obligation is then turned outwards to the rest of the world.
Paul sees himself in such a lowly position that he feels he is blessed by any and all people. When he says “to the Greeks and non-Greeks” he means to civilized society of the day, and the not civilized parts of society; they are all the same to him now for he is a servant of them all. It doesn’t matter if they are wise or foolish, all men are equal in Paul’s eyes; he has a calling to serve them all by bringing to good news of Jesus to them. They are lost like he was lost and so he has a message to pass on to them all. He makes no distinctions between peoples and that is why he wants to come to Rome to preach there. He’s heard there are Christians there and he wants to come and encourage them by preaching the Gospel in that city so that there will be MORE Christians there!
Presumably, by the nature of the content of this letter he has heard that the Christians in Rome are very young and have not had much teaching for the first parts of this letter are pure, basic Gospel and is the only letter that spells it out in such detail. It is an amazing letter and perhaps Paul puts so much detail in because, deep in his heart, he realises he’s not going to get to see them for some years (it was in fact at least nearly three years) despite his expressions of desire to come to them that we have considered already. He has a deep burden to share the good news with as many people as possible and, once they have surrendered to Jesus, to build them up in the faith with good teaching. This burden comes out of the realisation of his own state together with the amazing calling that he has received. This is why he feels so obliged to come to them and bless them. He is just so grateful at what has happened to him he wants everyone else to know and experience it as well!