Boldness, Perseverance and Vision

Romans 15:14-33

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”

22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Today as we near the end of our study of Romans, we get a peek into Paul’s psyche, and we get a glimpse into his future plans. I’d like to approach today’s text in two ways. 

  1. I want to explore the missionary nature of Paul’s apostolic work because the New Testament tells us a great deal about this. 
  2. I want us to look at Paul’s decision-making paradigm for how he lived and where he would potentially go and share the gospel on his journeys. 

First, a quick history lesson. The New Testament, in particular the book of Acts, tells us about three significant missionary journeys undertaken by Paul. 

1st Journey (48-49 AD): Paul’s first journey began in the city of Antioch in Syria. Now, at this time there were a number of cities called Antioch in this part of the world, and more than one Antioch is mentioned in Scripture, so it can get confusing, but Paul began his first journey from Antioch in Syria, which at this time was the third largest city in the Roman empire. Antioch was also the first significant place outside of Jerusalem where the early church was established. So, Christianity had moved north about 300 miles, or roughly a fifteen day journey. 

Paul was not alone in this first journey, but was accompanied by a man named Barnabas, and their typical activity was to preach in the local synagogues. However, this became extremely controversial and violence and imprisonment were always right around the corner for Paul. So, after being rejected in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas began preaching not only to Jews but to Gentiles as well. And, that is how they continued. They saw many come to Christ, but they also almost died several times. Eventually, they make their way back to Antioch around 49AD. 

2nd Journey (51-54 AD) This journey begins much the same, with Paul and Barnabas leaving out from Antioch and going to revisit the cities where they had planted communities of faith. However, Paul and Barnabas have a falling out and they split up. Barabas goes to Cyprus with John Mark, and Paul picks up a new traveling companion named Silas. On this journey, Paul goes to many cities that you have heard of, such as Philippi, Corinth, and Thessalonica. At Philippi, Paul is imprisoned and we get the famous story of the earthquake that shakes the prison. The jailer awakes, sees that all the cells are open and begins to take his own life when Paul calls out that all the prisoners are still there. The jailer becomes a believer and Paul is released. He goes on to Athens where he famously preaches to the learned men of Athens at Mars Hill. Many people followed Christ during this journey. In particular, Paul met a young man named Timothy who he would later write to. 

3rd Journey (54-58) Paul’s third journey took him to Galatia and Ephesus. Paul eventually makes his way to Corinth, and this is where we believe that he wrote the letter that we have been studying, probably sometime around 57 AD. Later, at Troas, Paul preaches so long that a man falls asleep, falls out of a window and dies. Paul, however, miraculously revives him.  At the end of this journey, Paul goes to Jerusalem where he is put on trial, and eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner. Along the way, he is shipwrecked on the island of Malta. 

Now understanding Paul’s history, why does all this matter? Well, first of all, isn’t this incredible? Basically, in about a ten-year span, Paul had been instrumental in planting Christianity throughout an enormous region, and his ministry is marked by several key features. 

  1. Boldness – We have seen his boldness here in Romans, but Paul was so convinced of the truth of the gospel that he was unconcerned about the conflicts that would arise because of his work. He put his body and his life on the line for the cause of Christ. And, his actions are an apologetic for the gospel. In other words, who does this kind of stuff for a lie? 
  2. Perseverance – Paul recognizes that the real work is God’s, not his, yet he is laboring for the gospel day in and day out. He is not getting rich. At times, he even has to stop and take up his trade of tent-making in order to fund his gospel work. But, none of this deters him. He’s not waiting on the situation to be perfect or for the right amount of money to come in. He is pressing on. 
  3. Vision – Paul always seems to have a plan for where he is going next. Now, outside of where, Paul doesn’t know what is going to transpire, except that he is going to preach the gospel. But, even when his plans are derailed or he gets shipwrecked, nothing changes about his work. When he is washed up on the island of Malta, you know what he does? He preaches the gospel. You know what the predominant religion is in Malta today? Christianity; 98% of the population. Paul probably washed up there around 60AD. 

Now, look at verse 20 in our text:

20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation,

Paul’s paradigm is that he is intentionally seeking out places and peoples who have not heard and where there is not already a missionary effort in place. He is literally striving to go to the ends of the earth. And, even with Rome. While he desires to go to Rome, there is already a church there. So, really what he is looking to do is establish a base of operations, so that he can go on to Spain. So, he calls the people to pray for him. Look at verse 30,

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I look at Paul’s life and compare it to my own, I cannot help but be challenged. Do I believe the gospel as deeply as he did? Am I actually willing to endure discomfort and hardship for the sake of the gospel? Am I willing to be so bold in my faith that I might actually ruffle some feathers or create some kind of conflict? Let’s be real, most of us aren’t even willing to endure an awkward conversation for the sake of the gospel. 

So, let’s end in this way today. What does Boldness, Perseverance and Vision look like in your life? Paul was fulfilling his calling. What is yours? I’m not sure God will call us to things in our lives that don’t require a level of boldness, perseverance and vision. And, it seems to me that anything of real value requires boldness, perseverance and vision. Think about your marriage; think about your parenting. If your marriage is going to be thriving and healthy…it requires boldness, perseverance and vision. 

If you rewind to Romans 12, Paul said:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In other words, lay everything on the line. 

Even though there are only three missionary journeys of Paul explicitly identified in Scripture, many scholars believe that there was also a fourth. 

4 Journey? We know that Paul eventually makes it to Rome, but many scholars believe that Paul did in fact make it to Spain as well. The early church father Clement said that Paul, “had gone to the extremity of the west.” Also, in the fourth century, the church father John Chrysostom said, ““For after he had been in Rome, he returned to Spain, but whether he came thence again into these parts, we know not.” Also in the 4th century, Cyril of Jerusalem said that Paul, “carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain.” 

So, it seems the case that the early church believed that Paul had in fact made it to Spain. 

Friends, I think we should look to Paul’s life and desire to be so bold. That we would desire to be so steadfast. That we would desire to have such vision for our lives. 

But, Paul wasn’t producing these qualities himself. He was simply looking to Christ. You want to talk about boldness, perseverance and vision? Look at Jesus. He is our true example. And, if you are ever inclined to say, yeah, but I’m no Jesus, then look to Paul. Jesus was perfect…but, Paul wasn’t. Paul was just a man, made in God’s image, changed by the gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s amazing what can happen when we truly submit ourselves to God. 

Paul did these things despite hardship, imprisonment, beatings, shipwrecks and trials. Boldness, Perseverance, Vision. Oh, and along the way, he wrote the bulk of the New Testament, some of the most read theological documents in human history. What’d you do this week?

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