What motivates you? Have you ever asked yourself that question? There is no doubt about what motivated the apostle Paul. Until his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul was not only a blasphemer, he was also the number one persecutor of the church. Yet the grace offered him by Jesus Christ changed him, empowered him for service, and ultimately motivated him to live a life of holiness. It can do the same for you too!
Additional messages from this series are available here: Holy Obsession
“Gripped by Grace”
We are in the midst of reading some of Paul’s most personal comments about his own heart and life.
He was a man with holy obsessions.
One of those, we uncovered in our last session, was an obsession for holy living.
And we discovered that in our quest for holy living, we are to make 3 radical refusals:
- We are to refuse mediocrity . . . we will not settle for second class workmanship.
- We are to refuse lethargy . . . we will not only learn the word but live the word.
- And, third, we are to refuse apathy . . . we will challenge one another along the journey of faith.
Which, by the way, is rarely glamorous . . . or great . . . or thrilling . . . or breathtaking . . . or consistently stimulating.
That’s why it’s easy to be caught in the undertow of mediocrity and lethargy and apathy.
Whether you are changing diapers or grading papers or selling wallpaper or cleaning gutters or taking an exam, or performing surgery or standing in a courtroom arguing your case before a jury of peers, you are obsessed that all of it be done with everything you can put into it so that the name and cause of Christ is honored.
So that even the smallest task would provoke the pleasure of God.
Like Jesus Christ Himself, working in a carpenter shop, we learned in our last session, made plows that were being used nearly a hundred years later.
Because He modeled for us what it means to be obsessed with holy living.
Today, we will discover tucked inside Paul’s personal resume, his obsession with the grace of God.
Let’s read it first, in Romans chapter 15, before we unpack as much of the truth as we can in our time together.
You’ll find Paul’s resume in Romans 15 and verse 15.
15. But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God. 16. to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In this brief resume, Paul either implies or directly refers to three different positions or roles that he played in life.
The role of professor, preacher and priest.
And all of it is the direct the result of grace. Circle the words, in the middle of verse 15 “because of … grace.” That’s the key phrase for every aspect of Paul’s life.
Bump into Paul and he’d spill grace. Talk to Paul and he’d speak grace. Pray with Paul and he’d appeal to the grace of God.
I agree with one author that said Paul never fully recovered from his conversion.
He was gripped by the saving grace of God.
One author published a devotional book several years ago with that title – In the Grip of Grace.
He began the book by telling a story he had created to declare the truths of grace; a story he entitled, “The Parable of the River.”
Once there were five sons who lived in a mountain castle with the father. The eldest was an obedient son, but his four younger brothers were rebellious. Their father had warned them of the river, but they had not listened.
He had begged them to stay clear of the bank lest they be swept downstream, but the river’s lure was too strong. Each day the four rebellious sons ventured closer and closer until one son dared to reach in and feel the waters. “Hold my hand so I won’t fall in,” he said, and his brothers did. But when he touched the water, the current yanked him them all into the rapids and rolled them down the river.
Over rocks they bounced, through the channels they roared, on the swells they rode. Their cries for help were lost in the rage of the river. After hours of struggle, they surrendered to the pull of the river and they finally found themselves dumped on the bank of a strange land, in a distant country, in a barren place.
After some time they gathered their courage and reentered the waters, hoping to walk upstream. But the current was too strong. They attempted to walk along the river’s edge, but the terrain was too steep. They considered climbing the mountains, but the peaks were too high. Besides, they didn’t know the way.
Lucado goes on to talk about how one of the brothers moved in with the barbarians in the valley below, building his own hut of mud and grass, deciding that life with the pagans was better than life back with his father.
Another brother became bitter and decided to simply watch his other brother and report all the bad things he did.
A third brother decided that the only way back to his father was to build a path back up the river and walk back. He said, “There is only this option. Rock upon rock I will stack until I have enough rocks to travel upstream to the castle of my father. When he sees how hard I have worked and how diligent I have been, he will have no choice to open the door and let me into his house.”
After several days, a rescuer appears. It is the firstborn son. But tragically, every one of his brothers rejects his offer of help. The brother living with the barbarians has grown to prefer his life with them.
The brother that has grown bitter and only wants to watch the failure of the sin of the barbarians and the sin of his brother is also to preoccupied to be rescued.
The brother who was building a path upstream had been able to take five steps homeward, of which he is very proud, but when the rescuer tells him there are 5 million steps to go, he grows angry and begins to throw rocks at his oldest brother. In spite of the possibility of rescue, he prefers to work his way home and earn his father’s forgiveness thus rejects the firstborn son.
Adapted from Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace (Word Publishers, 1996), p. 1
The analogies are obvious, aren’t they?
Look back at Paul’s history as a faithful Hebrew and a fearless patriot of the Law and a meticulous keeper of all the regulations and ceremonies of his Jewish people.
He would have been the brother on the river bank, working away at the futile task of building a path to heaven out of the rocks of man-made righteousness.
He had walked 5 steps . . . but had 5 million to go.
Paul experienced saving grace on that pathway . . . heading for Damascus to arrest the Christians who dared to suggest that the crucified carpenter was the Son of God.
A flash of light from the sky . . . the appearance of Christ to Paul brought about a flash of divine light. While he physically went blind for several days, he gained spiritual sight.
He was brought to life, through faith in his new-found Lord, Jesus Christ.
He would later write his testimony, “I was circumcised the eighth day (as prescribed in the Mosaic law), of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:5-7)
After his conversion, Paul began a remarkable ministry that has continued to impact the church now for nearly 2,000 years.
What were the roles Paul played as he demonstrated his rescue by grace?
In 2 Timothy 1:11 he writes that God had appointed him to be a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.
Here in Romans 15 there are three roles that Paul fulfills; the role of professor, the role of preacher and the role of priest.
It was Paul’s job to be a teacher or professor;
It was Paul’s jurisdiction to be a preacher to the Gentiles;
And it was Paul’s joy to be a priest unto God.
Paul, the Professor
Let’s look at the first role of professor.
Look back at verse 15. But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again.
A teachers most powerful tool may very well be the review sheet – before the exam.
When the final exams are just around the corner, the students are all ears. I don’t know about you, but I had the terrible habit of ignoring the lectures in class while I simply waited for the review . . . of course, I never made it on the Dean’s list either.
I have had military personnel tell me that a soldier listens to a review of his equipment much differently than he did back at the base.
While I have counseled dozens of couples who planned to get married – the way they listened to me in my office is vastly different than the way they listen in the ceremony when I deliver the charge.
In fact, everyone is listening.
I could preach today on death and dying . . . heaven and hell, but this audience would not listen like an audience will at a funeral. Ask any pastor and they will tell you that an audience’s attention at a funeral service is unrivaled.
There’s something about being reminded when you really need to know.
- That student wants to pass the exam!
- The soldier is about to go into battle!
- That couple is about to become husband and wife!
- That audience is face to face with a coffin and they want to know about eternal life!
The Roman believers were surrounded by the challenges of life and the difficulties of building not only their lives, but a church. They needed to know!
And like a great professor, Paul gave them and us a number of review sheets to help us pass the exams of life.
With these and other believers, Paul often spent time reminding them of the truths of grace.
Paul had spent three years teaching the Ephesian believers, establishing the elders as shepherds and now in his farewell he exhorts them to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Paul challenged the Galatians to join him in being eager to “remember the poor.” (Galatians 2:10)
As Timothy struggled in his ministry as a young and inexperienced pastor, Paul encouraged him to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead . . . for which I (Paul) am willing to suffer hardship even to imprisonment.” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
- In addition, in this same letter, Paul reminded Timothy of the gift that God had given him to use in the ministry; he writes, Timothy, let me remind you that God has given you the spirit of power and love and discipline
- let me remind you further, in verse 9 that you have been saved and called according to His own purpose and grace (verse 9);
- don’t forget, Timothy, that our Savior has abolished death and brought life and immortality to those who believe the gospel (verse 10).
- Timothy, I want to remind you that I am not ashamed of the gospel, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (verse 12).
- Timothy, let me remind you not to lower the standard of preaching this gospel (verse 13)
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the best things you can do at times to refresh your holy obsession for God is remember.
Like the prophet Isaiah, who said, “Listen, you who seek to follow the Lord – remember the rock from which you were hewn, and remember the hole of the pit from which you were dug. (Isaiah 51:1)
Or like David the Psalmist who sang, “He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay and He set my feet upon a rock! (Psalm 40:2)
Why do you think the Lord delivered to the church only one ordinance to repeat over and over as often as we choose when we assemble – we call it the Lord’s Table of Remembrance; we do this to remember Him!
Now would you notice that Paul the professor is speaking boldly to the Romans; he writes in verse 15, But I have written very boldly to you on some points. . .
Why the need for boldness?
For one thing, a person who already knows what you’re telling them, could grow frustrated or even upset that you are reminding them of what they already know.
Like the teenager who doesn’t like to be reminded again and again, “Drive safely;” or, “be careful.”
You get that answer, “We know Dad . . . I know Mom.”
It’s one thing to tell a child, 2 + 2 = 4 when he didn’t already know it; it’s another thing to tell Einstein.
It’s one thing to tell a 4th grade computer class, “Now, class, here’s what a right click on a mouse will do.” But it’s entirely different to tell Bill Gates here’s what a mouse can do.
A teacher runs the risk of being ignored, at best, and being tired of after a while.
This past week I had the delight of welcoming into my office all the different pre-school children here at Colonial. One of the teachers had asked me if I’d come and meet the children and their teachers . . . perhaps speak at their chapel service – held for these 3 and 4 year olds.
I said, “Sure, I’d love to, but how about this . . . why don’t we have them come through my office and let me talk to them; let me show them my office and my books – I have about a 1,000 alone on either side of my desk; let me show them. And maybe I could tell them what a pastor does and even show them some of the treasures I’ve collected from mission fields of the world.
Suzanne said, “That would be great.” So this past week, 4 classes visited me, classes made up mostly of 3 and 4 year olds, came through, one at a time for about 10 minutes each. The teachers just sort of stood at the back and the kids gathered around my desk and my chair.
Every class had a talker . . . a natural leader who asked all the questions and volunteered information – information I didn’t want to know . . . I learned about many of your marriages and home-life. I want to see some of you later.
I showed them my books, “See all these books – they’re all about the Book of Romans – it’s the only book in the Bible, I know anything about.”
Anyway, after showing them my carved ostrich egg from India, one little girl who just seemed so enamored by the whole thing raised her hand. “Oh, Oh,” she said. I said, “Yes ma’am, and what do you want to ask me?” She said, “Um, can we get outta here now?!”
I was a huge success.
A Professor runs the risk of bores his students with stuff they already know, or stuff they don’t care to know anything about.
Obviously the Roman believers welcomed the review and, like us today, would love to have been given even more on their review sheet.
Paul was a wonderful Professor.
The second role is Paul, the Preacher
Notice the last part of verse 15 again, “. . . because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.”
Paul’s job was as a teacher.
Paul’s jurisdiction was as a preacher to the Gentiles.
Paul was given a special responsibility for the Gentiles. In Galatians 2:1-10, we’re told that Peter primarily preached to the Jews and Paul primarily preached to the Gentiles. The predominant influencer of the church, this brand new organism – the Body of Christ, was not Peter, but Paul.
Soon after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to Ananias in a vision that Paul was his chosen instrument of Christ to bear His name first and foremost among the Gentiles. (Acts 9:15)
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul revealed that God had made him an apostle to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:5)
You could correctly say that the Gentiles were the primary jurisdiction of Paul’s preaching influence.
And would you notice that Paul does not say here in Romans 15 that he has been appointed as the chief instrument of Christ because of superior intellect, or speaking ability, or background in the law, or personality . . . or anything like that.
Adapted from R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg Publishing, 1945), p. 878
Paul directly links his preaching office to the fact that he is the recipient of the grace of God.
He is gripped with the truth that the grace has not only redeemed him, but grace has ordained him.
Maybe that’s why Paul doesn’t flash his credentials here as an apostle to the Roman church.
As if to say, “Hey, listen up . . . I’m not only your professor, I am an apostle.”
Would you notice that Paul does not say in verse 16 I am an apostle of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, but (notice) I am a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.
And the word he uses comes out of sheer humility.
The word is leitourgos (leitourgoV) which gives us our English word, liturgy.
The word originally referred to someone who served a public office at his own expense.
Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker, 1974), p. 205
No salary . . . no pension . . . no benefit package . . . just service for the public good out of a generous heart. Over time it came to refer to someone who volunteered to serve their country or their city in some way.
I found several ancient examples of what it meant to be a leitourgos.
Examples below adapted from William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Westminster Press, 1975) p. 202.
Greek cities had great festivals each year that included music and drama. Men who loved their city would volunteer to collect, instruct and equip a chorus at their own expense.
The Athenians were the greatest naval power of the ancient world. And one of the most patriotic things that a wealthy man could do was underwrite the expenses of one warship for a whole year; incredible sacrifice for the good of his country.
The word was also used in relation to the Athenian games. The Athenians were divided into 10 tribes and during these festivals there would be the famous torch-races in which teams from the tribes raced each other in relay races – where the runners would actually carry a lit torch.
To this day we speak of handing off the torch to the next in line.
These games were paid for by leitourgos; men who not only paid the expenses but spent time selecting and training the athletes to represent their tribe.
Over time the word was associated with people who performed religious duties – more than likely because it also was voluntary.
Out of that came the translation, “minister” – a reference to someone who handled the liturgies of the church.
What Paul is announcing is that he views himself so gripped by grace that he is willing to pour out all that he owns and all that he is for the sake of his new family . . . his new tribe . . . his new country.
No matter what the cost. No matter how much time it demanded.
He was willing to sacrifice everything to win the race – to pass on the torch – to equip the ship and fight the good fight of faith – to train the church to sing praise to God.
No matter if it cost him his life.
Like most physicians of great experience, Dr. Evan Kane had become preoccupied with a particular facet of medicine. His strong feelings concerned the use of general anesthesia in major surgery.
He believed that most major operations could and should be performed under local anesthetic, for, in his opinion, the hazards of a general anesthesia outweighed the risks of the surgery itself.
Dr. Kane’s medical mission was to prove to his colleagues once and for all that local anesthesia was worth exploring.
To prove the viability of major surgery using only a local anesthetic, Kane would have to find a patient brave enough to go through a major surgery without general anesthesia. In his 37 years as a surgeon, Kane had performed nearly 4,000 appendectomies. It wasn’t long before he found a patient who needed an appendectomy, and would volunteer to take the risk of only local anesthesia.
I read about that surgery just a few days ago, although it took place many years ago.
The patient was prepped in all the normal ways, but in the operating room was given only a local anesthetic. As he had thousands of times before, Dr. Kane entered the abdomen, slicing tissue and clamping blood vessels as he operated on the his patient. Locating the appendix, the surgeon skillfully clipped it away, folded the stump back in place, and sewed up the patients wound – all with the patient being fully awake and experiencing only minor discomfort. After two days of recovery – much faster than general anesthesia cases – the patient was released from the hospital to recuperate at home.
Dr. Kane had achieved his goal. His patient was too credible a testimony to deny or ignore. You see, Dr. Evan Kane had operated on himself.
He was the only patient he could find willing to take the risk and make the sacrifice.
Since that surgery in 1921, his breakthrough technique changed the face of surgery and saved the lives of countless numbers of people.
Kenneth Boa & William Kruidenier, Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans (Holman, 2000), p. 445
Is it any wonder that the people of God who make the most difference in our lives are not the ones who walk around strutting their stuff . . . flashing their credentials . . . reminding us of how much they know . . . and how much they matter.
They are typically volunteers who offer their bodies . . . their hearts . . . their bank accounts . . . their time . . . to save countless lives.
Like Paul, they are enamored by the grace of God and the God of grace.
That’s Paul the Professor . . . Paul the preacher.
There’s one more in this text.
It is Paul, the Priest
As a professor, Paul was clearly motivated by grace.
As a preacher he delivered the message of grace.
And as a priest he was involved in the miracle of grace.
Notice verse 16 again. To be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
If being a professor was his job
and preaching to the Gentiles his jurisdiction,
being a priest unto God was his joy.
As a priest in this dispensation of grace, Paul was not offering up a lamb or a grain offering . . . this text tells us he was offering up to God Gentile converts . . . he was offering to God this miracle of grace – sanctified Gentile believers.
Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 288
What mattered most were the people. Not his job; not his jurisdiction; not even his own sense of satisfaction and joy – it was sanctified, growing, separated, holy, maturing disciples.
What a great challenge to everyone who is also a priest unto God for Christ has made us to be priests unto God the Father (Revelation 1:6).
This also is our joy.
We can easily become preoccupied with the programs we administer, the subject matter that we are teaching, the books we are reading or writing; we can forget that the purpose of programs and classes and books and activities and lessons – the purpose of it all is nothing less than the formation of strong Christians – sanctified – that is, set apart and holy, acceptable offerings unto God, which is our reasonable service.
Adapted from Linton Arnold Editor, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Zondervan, 2002), p. 88
Paul saw himself dressed as it were in priestly garments, even though he was involved in the dusty, mundane business of traveling the ancient world on foot, suffering from exposure, threats, beatings, rejection – how – he saw himself dressed in priestly garb, in the Holy of Holies, lifting up the souls of men as it were, ascended as sweet smelling savor to almighty God.
That made the most mundane daily occurrences holy. All of life was liturgy.
He was gripped by the grace of God, serving with grace the people of God, for the glory of God.
If only we could see our service like that . . . our lives would be filled the same holy obsession. A pie baked for a neighbor becomes an offering to God; a child loved is an act of worship; an employee treated with dignity becomes a hymn of praise; the gospel shared with an unbeliever a sweet gift to God; a Sunday school class becomes a holy place where you handle sacred things.
This is the sacred view of life . . . this is what it means to become gripped by grace; this is holy obsession.
Adapted from Hughes, p. 288
It led one believer to make this commitment to Christ, “The will of God: nothing less; nothing more; nothing else.
Another believer who lived for Christ said it this way, “No reserve! No regrets! No retreat!”
Nelson’s Complete Book of Illustrations (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 818
They have become gripped by the love and grace of the Lord.
And this grace . . . this love,
It is so amazing, so divine,
It demands – what? – my soul,
My life . . . my all!
That’s living with holy obsession. “No reserve! No regrets! No retreat!”
The will of God; The work of God;
The people of God; The leadership of God
The honor and glory of God . . .
nothing less; nothing more; nothing else.”
I believe that’s what it means to be gripped by the grace of God.