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Refusing a Place on the Pedestal

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 15:17–19

The Christian life is a journey. We start at “It’s all about me” and head toward “It’s all about Jesus.” Today we learn from the apostle Paul three ways we can learn to be humble and grow in magnifying Christ in our lives.

Transcript

Back in 1984, a university football team had made it all the way to the national championship game—against all odds and anyone’s predictions. It was big news in the football world. Interview requests came pouring in to the head coach. He found most of them irritating, and they interfered often with his practice schedule and made his job more difficult.

One morning, while he was out on the practice field with his team, a messenger told him that someone from a well-known sports magazine was on the phone. As he headed to the office to take the call, he grew excited, thinking about the article soon to be published. It would be great publicity for the school. And it would not hurt his reputation either. He imagined that they might even want to put his picture on the cover of the magazine.

He picked up the phone and proudly identified himself as the coach. The person on the other end said, “We’re calling to let you know your subscription is running out. Do you want to renew?”

The coach later said, “You are either humble, or you will be humbled by life.”[1]

That is a good lesson to learn. In fact, there is nothing more harmful than pride. There is nothing more damaging to relationships and families and the church than the poison of pride. To a person enamored with himself, even a compliment is a danger to him. I can remember my missionary father telling us four boys as we grew up that a compliment was like a bottle of perfume. You can smell it; just don’t swallow it.

What is the antidote to the poison of self-centered pride? The apostle Paul is going to answer that now as we set sail today into Romans 15. Paul is about to demonstrate humility in three ways.

First, Paul delighted in elevating the person of Christ. Look at Romans 15:17: “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.”

Do not skip over those opening words, “In Christ Jesus.” Paul is emphasizing what Christ has done through him. He is effectively saying here, “Allow me to brag about Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that I have any reason for boasting; so, let me boast about Him.”

That is impossible to do, beloved, if we are more interested in our own accomplishments—if we are enamored of our own reflection. Paul was focused on his Savior.

Second, Paul not only delighted in elevating Christ; he also declined being placed on a pedestal.

Note his words in verse 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.

Paul is refusing to accept any personal credit for tremendous spiritual fruit.

We usually want all the credit we can get. We are like the young boy in a Little League baseball game who puts his entire body into the swing and barely connects with the ball. The ball dribbles out to the pitcher, who fumbles it and then throws it over the first baseman’s head. The young batter runs toward second base, but the ball is thrown over the second baseman’s head. The hitter rounds third and then crosses home plate as the ball flies over the head of the catcher. And the boy jumps up and down shouting, “I hit a home run!”

Isn’t that just like us? We step up to the plate for Jesus, barely hit the ball, and God arranges everything so we make it around the bases to home plate. Then we announce at the church prayer meeting how we managed to pull it off![2]

Paul could have done that. Think of it—the Gentile masses are coming to faith in Christ and obeying the truth of the gospel; churches are being planted wherever he goes, and he is the leading spokesman. However, he writes here, in effect, “Do not put me on a pedestal. Do not elevate me; elevate Christ working in me. This is all the arrangement of Christ. He’s working through me.”

And God certainly did work through Paul. God used Paul to write more of the New Testament than any other writer. Not only that, almost two thirds of the book of Acts focuses on the ministry of Paul. If anybody deserved to be on the cover of a prestigious magazine as the Missionary of the Century, it would be Paul.

Now Paul is not denying what God has done with him and through him. He does not belittle it either with false humility. But Paul says he was merely an instrument in the hand of God. He did not want to be up on a pedestal. That pedestal belonged to God alone.

Paul not only delighted in elevating Christ and declined being put on pedestal; third, he directed the spotlight onto the Holy Spirit.

This is what he writes in verse 19:

[What Christ has accomplished] 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.

The Holy Spirit granted temporary, unique, miracle-working power to the apostles to demonstrate that they were indeed true servants of the living God. Like the Old Testament prophets who could run faster than chariots and call fire down from heaven, the apostles marked the beginning of a new dispensation of grace in this church age.

Keep in mind that in Paul’s day the New Testament did not exist yet. He could not point people to John 3:16; he could not quote from a copy of 1 Peter or the book of Hebrews.

Without the final, completed Scriptures to back them up, how did the apostles provide verifying evidence that they were truly speaking for God? Here is how: through miraculous signs and wonders. God gave His apostles the same ability Jesus had demonstrated, and they did the same signs and wonders Jesus did—giving sight to the blind, enabling disabled people to walk again, and even raising the dead.

What is the verifying evidence of God’s messengers today? Well, I hope it is not taking me out to the graveyard to see if I can raise somebody out there. No, these signs and wonders ceased as the Scriptures became complete. Any true preacher or teacher today is verified by a message that aligns with the Word of God—is he preaching the Scriptures?

Does that mean God cannot perform miracles of healing today? Of course not. He certainly can heal, and we can pray for healing. But listen beloved, there is a difference between divine healing and divine healers. The apostles were divine healers.

Someone once complained to the famous preacher of the 1900s Donald Grey Barnhouse that it was not fair that Barnhouse could not turn water into wine or do other miracles like the apostles did. Barnhouse replied that he had seen a greater miracle than that. He said he had seen an alcoholic father of a newborn baby girl give his heart to Jesus. And through the power of the gospel, that man’s whiskey was turned into milk![3] That is a miracle of redemption.

And Paul seems to emphasizes that part of his ministry. He writes that “the power of the Spirit of God” had brought unbelieving “Gentiles to obedience”—to salvation. And he stresses that it was not him; it was the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is good news for you and me. The truth is, we are all pretty ordinary. But God’s Spirit will work in us and through us today to change lives as we depend on Him and refuse to mount the pedestal but instead elevate the name of Christ to those in our world. Let us do that today.


[1] Chan Gailey, Sermon Illustrations, preachingtoday.com.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Romans (Crossway Books, 1991), 289.

[3] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1964), 96.

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