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Wearing Different Hats of Helpfulness

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 15:14–16

God gave Paul the work of encouraging, instructing, and preaching and ministering to people. He calls us also—each in various ways—to fulfill the same work among people all around us.

Transcript

As we sail back into Romans 15, Paul is going to deliver some special compliments to these believers living in Rome. But keep in mind that while Paul has heard about them, he has not even met them yet.

Now what Paul does here is something we do not pay enough attention to—but we need to. He demonstrates by personal example the kind of roles we should appreciate and practice in the body of Christ.

In this passage, he is going to wear four different hats, so to speak. He is going to reveal four specific roles that he plays in the lives of these believers.

The first hat he wears—the first role he plays—is that of encourager.

The apostle writes at the beginning of verse 14, “I myself am satisfied about you.” The word he uses for “satisfied” is often translated “convinced.” Paul is absolutely convinced about three qualities in their lives.

First, Paul writes, “You yourselves are full of goodness.” They are like a sponge that is filled with water. Obviously, if you squeeze the sponge, water comes out. Paul says here, “Life is squeezing you, and look what is coming out—goodness!”

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, where Paul uses the same Greek word for “goodness” he uses here in Romans. And that is encouraging to know because goodness is not a personality trait. It is not something you produce by self-effort. You cannot put “goodness” on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

Goodness is not something we can achieve. It is the result of God’s Spirit reforming us into a person of goodness—of good character—like the Lord Himself, who, as Acts 10:38 says, “went about doing good.”

Next, in verse 14, Paul is convinced that the Roman believers are “filled with all knowledge.” When Paul says they are filled with all knowledge, he does not mean they never miss a question on the theology test or they have nothing more to learn. He is referring to the fact that they have been given all the knowledge they need to walk with Christ.

Paul is complimenting these Roman believers for their passion to learn and then apply their biblical knowledge to life. Too many Christians today are researching the truths of the Bible but not reproducing the truths of the Bible in their lives. Beloved, the Bible was not given to make us smarter, but to make us more submissive to its Author, the Holy Spirit, who moved through submissive hearts to produce God’s inspired Word.

The third encouragement from Paul here in verse 14 is that the believers are “able to instruct one another.” The Greek word for “instruct” is noutheteō, which essentially means “to counsel.” It has been adopted to refer to biblical, or nouthetic, counseling—helping one another stay on the path of godly living.

With that, Paul slips on another hat; he is now going to play the role of professor.

He writes, “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder” (verse 15). He is going to remind them of some things. Paul would have made a good university or seminary professor. A good professor provides regular reminders—and that is because students tend to forget what they learned.

The apostle Peter also put on the professor’s hat in 2 Peter, when he wrote these words:

I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. (2 Peter 1:12)

In other words, do not be offended by the review. Even Christians who are well established in the truth need reminders. Let us never resent the review process, beloved. The Bible itself repeats many of the same truths over and over again.

Third, Paul puts on the hat—he plays the role—of a preacher. He writes, “Grace [was] given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (verses 15-16).

Paul was given a special responsibility to preach, not only to the Jewish world, but also, and primarily, to the Gentile world. In Ephesians 2:12 He describes the people God had called him to minister to as “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” How did he minister to them? His principal method was through preaching the gospel of Christ.

By the way, Paul makes it clear that his calling was the gracious work of God. He never said he was appointed according to his ministry ability, or because of his intellect, or his background in the law, or his speaking and teaching gifts.[1]

It was by the grace of God. Paul never got over the fact that God’s grace had redeemed him and then ordained him to the gospel ministry. Beloved, we are not going to make much difference in our world today unless we depend a lot less on our gifts and more on the grace of God.

Paul goes on to write that he was called to don the hat of minister:

[He was] 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. (verse 16)

Paul is living, as we are, in the New Testament dispensation of grace, so he is not offering up any lambs or turtledoves or grain offerings. He is offering up to God Gentile converts; he is offering to God the miracle of grace—Gentile believers.[2]

Again, Paul calls himself a minister here in verse 16, “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” The Greek word he uses for “minister” is leitourgos, which gives us our English word liturgy.

The word originally referred to someone who served the public at his own expense.[3] No salary, no pension, no retirement package—just acts of service. Over time the word came to refer to anyone who volunteered to serve people, often at personal sacrifice. This is the word Paul uses for his own life as a minister. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the good of others.

That reminds me of a surgeon named Evan Kane. Dr. Kane was convinced that local anesthesia could be used in major surgeries, thus lowering the risk to the patient. At the time patients often died while under anesthesia. The medical community was not convinced at all, and Dr. Kane could not find a patient brave enough to be the first person to try it. During his 37 years as a surgeon, he had performed nearly 4,000 appendectomies under general anesthesia, but finally, he found a patient who needed an appendectomy, and he volunteered to have it done under local anesthesia.

During surgery, Dr. Kane skillfully cut through flesh and muscle; he entered the abdomen, located the appendix, carefully clipped it away, and then sewed up the wound. The patient had been fully awake and reported only minor discomfort. After two days of recovery—much faster than usual—the patient was released from the hospital.

Finally, the medical world had to pay attention. The patient was too credible to ignore. You see, Dr. Evan Kane had operated on himself. He was the only patient willing to take the risk and make the sacrifice.

Since that surgery back in 1921, his technique has changed the face of surgery and saved the lives of countless numbers of people.[4]

The Christians who make the most difference in our lives are not the ones who remind us of how much they know or how much they matter. They are volunteers willing to wear any number of hats—to play different roles and make all kinds of personal sacrifices—for the sake of other people and for the glory of God. Let us all be that kind of Christian!


[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg Publishing, 1945), 878.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway Books), 1991), 288.

[3] Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker, 1974), 205.

[4] Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Romans, Holman New Testament Commentary (Holman Reference, 2000), 445.

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