1-8 How To Be An Effective Servant of God
MBC - 6/13/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson
“How To Be An Effective Servant of God”
How would we read this if it had just been unearthed by archaeologists and verified as having been a part of the original scroll dictated by Paul and written by Tertius?
ROM 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.
ROM 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,
ROM 1:10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
ROM 1:11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;
ROM 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
ROM 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.
ROM 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
ROM 1:15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Intro on Ronald Reagan . . . what legacy did he leave? . . . what will you leave? What will you have accomplished? . . .
What made Paul so effective? How did he balance all of the pressures and expectations and demands on his person and his time?
What are you going to leave here when God calls your number?
Sum up the two priorities that we must keep in balance:
Be a people person, and be a planning person. Be a person who loves and touches people’s lives, and also be a person who has a plan and a strategy for doing that.
We all lean one way or the other:
Ø Some of you are more naturally, people-oriented. You don’t like being alone, and when you are alone, you feel lost. Your idea of fun is being with people; playing golf, fishing, playing cards, watching a movie, bar-b-queing, or just hangin’ out. You love to run into friends in the store, and you block the aisles talking for ½ an hour while your ice cream is melting in your cart. It’s no problem--people are priority over ice cream. For you, the best part of a church pot-luck, or a Bible study is when it’s over and you can just shoot the breeze with people. You get panicky and your feel cutoff if you don’t have several different ways of keeping in touch with people: cell-phone, pager, e-mail, snail mail, instant messaging, FAX, 2 orange-juice cans connected with string! And when you are gone on a trip and disconnected, the first thing you do when you get home is rush to turn on the phone answering machine--while you check your e-mail, and tear open letters that came in the mail while you were gone. Life revolves around people and relationships.
Ø And some of you are more goal-oriented. Life revolves around your plans, your objectives, your calendar, your day-runner, your palm-pilot, your outlook, etc. You don’t mind at all being alone--that’s when you are the most in control of your plans! And maybe your plans have to do with people, but sometimes you feel that people are getting in the way of your plans and objectives. When the phone rings, your muscles tighten because you don’t think, “A friend!” you think “An interruption.”
Ø You have your list of what you want to get done: books you want to read, a foreign language you want to learn, a new business you want to explore, furthering your education, etc. When you run into a friend in the store, you tiptoe down to another aisle because you really don’t have time to talk, because you are on a tight schedule--always. You have to get home and cook dinner to be able to eat by 5:15 to be able to do your workout at 6:00, have a half hour of family devotions, watch one hour of PBS--or the history channel--then read 3 chapters in each of 3 different books you are reading before you go to bed at the same time every night so that you can get up at exactly the same time every morning so that you can have your devotions, drink your protein shake, program your palm pilot, and be out the door--at exactly the same time every day. A successful day for you is getting everything done on your to-do list.
Which way do you lean? What we are going to see this morning is that both extremes are wrong. We need a balance. You can be so addicted to your goals--even ministry goals--that you step on people, and you begin to see people only in terms of how they can help you succeed in your ministry. When that happens you aren’t serving people, you are using them.
But you can be a people-person to the extreme too. If you have no objective in your relationships with other people, you could be doing more harm than good by spending time with them. And if you neglect other priorities and responsibilities--like you own walk with God--to be with people, you aren’t doing them or yourself any good. Prov.18:24 is a fascinating verse to ponder:
Ø PRO 18:24 A man of too many friends comes to ruin, [The Amplified Bible say: “The man of many friends [a friend of all the world] will prove himself a bad friend.” [You can spread yourself too thin, relationally, and more can become less.]
By the grace of God in his life, Paul had the right balance. I want you to see 2 priorities woven into this passage: people and planning--Paul loved people, but his love had an objective, it wasn’t just vague sentimentalism. Look back at:
Ø ROM 1:5 we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,
This is a statement of Paul’s life mission. Paul could sum up his life by saying, “I exist (by the grace of God) to bring about the obedience of faith among all peoples for the sake of the glory of His name.”
Yes, Paul loved people, and this is the way Paul loved people! There is nothing in the world more loving than to bring a person to Christ and obedience to Him--right?
and it’s because Paul kept these two in balance that he changed the world for Jesus Christ.
Paul kept in balance two priorities that made him an effective servant of Jesus Christ:
I. The priority of loving people.
Look with me at v.8: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.
V.9: “God is my witness . . . as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,
V.10: always pleading with God that I can come and see you.
V.11 I long to see you. . to impart some spiritual gift that you may be established
V.12: Paul longs for their ministry to him,
V.13: He wanted them to know that he had often planned to come to them,
V.15: He was eager to preach the gospel to them.
Remember, Paul had never met these Christians. He didn’t plant the church in Rome. He says later in 15:20, that they were built on another man’s foundation and it wasn’t him. But before he launches into his explanation of the gospel he wants them to know in the strongest terms possible, that he loves these people. And it is a genuine love. He isn’t some double-tongued politician. He isn’t a salesman. He cares for them deeply.
I’ve been reading Paul’s letters for over 30 years now, and my impression of Paul is that he leaned toward the goal-oriented side of the scale. He was so intent on his objectives, he was so self-disciplined, and I get the feeling from his letters that he didn’t come across as a naturally warm, affectionate person.
Now John was different. When John tells believers that he loves them in his letters--it was an easy sell. John comes across as fatherly, compassionate--mushy--he is the one Jesus loved, the one leaning on Jesus’ breast in the upper room.
Paul is the intellectual and the debater. Paul is the one stirring things up. People want to kill Paul! So it seems that in his letters, Paul struggles to convince his readers that he really does love them:
Ø 1TH 2:7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.
Ø 1TH 2:8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
Ø 1TH 2:19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?
Ø 1TH 2:20 For you are our glory and joy.
Look at what Paul said about his fellow Jews who hated him and regarded him as an infidel:
Ø ROM 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,
Ø ROM 9:2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.
Ø ROM 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,
Ø ROM 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
You can almost hear his voice choking. Paul did love people, even if it didn’t always show in his temperament.
Ø *Let me say something here: Don’t confuse personality with spirituality! There is absolutely no connection between the two. God created each of us with different personality types, but no personality type is more spiritual than another. And if you have more of Paul in you than John, or vice-versa, thank God for who you are, and don’t feel inadequate as a Christian. The goal for each of us is to bring our personality under the complete control of the Holy Spirit.
Now back to Paul and his priority of loving people, I want you to see that he had two obstacles to overcome: First, his own temperament, and second, the fact that he had never met these Christians and it could be that they were wondering why the “Apostle to the Gentiles” had never bothered to visit the capital of the Gentile world. How does he manage to show his love for them despite these obstacles--and how can you do the same?
A. Paul was thankful.
Look at v.8: “First, I thank my God” = “This is what is foremost in my mind as I begin this letter: I am so thankful to God for you people!”
And he wasn’t just flattering them. He had good reason to be thankful: “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” This is no exaggeration. Rome was the capital of the world, and the rest of the world was buzzing with the news of this new Jewish sect called “the Way,” and people wondered, “What do the people in Rome think about this?” It’s like us wondering “What is the buzz in Sacramento or in Washington about this?” Well the report was that people were coming to Christ even in Rome. More than that--Paul tells us in Phil.4:22--even in Caesar’s own household!
Can you imagine how encouraging this news was to the little pockets of believers scattered around the Roman empire! They weren’t alone! Others were being brought into the kingdom of God through the Gospel!
Let me ask you a question: “How would other people know about their faith in Christ?” Faith is invisible--it exists in the mind, you can’t see it. How would others know that they were believers in Christ? Back to v.5: Their faith was producing obedience! Their faith was producing something visible, tangible, observable: they were giving to the needy, they were sharing the gospel, and undoubtedly, they were enduring criticism and persecution. And people around the world could tell about the tree by the fruit! Look at the way Paul said it in the last chapter--
Ø ROM 16:19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you.
Paul was thankful for these Christian because they were fulfilling his life mission: the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.
I want you to get this: Paul didn’t just thank God for these people because he loved them--he loved them because he thanked God for them. What am I saying? If you want to cultivate love for someone, thank God for that person. Sit down and think--remember what you appreciate about them, then go to God and thank Him! If you are married, this is absolutely essential for your relationship with your mate. If you have children, same thing. But it applies to any relationship. I guarantee you that when you begin to thank God for people, your love for them will grow. Think of someone you are struggling to love, and then thank God for them with this passage in mind:
Ø PHI 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
B. Paul was prayerful.
Look at vv.9,10:
Ø ROM 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,
Ø ROM 1:10 always in my prayers making request
Paul is saying, “God knows how I serve Him with all my heart and soul, and He knows how I pray for you relentlessly.”
Remember, he had never met them, but this is how he loved them--he never stopped praying for them. You might be separated geographically from someone you love very much, but you can bring the power and love of God into their lives through your prayers for them. Paul did this with another church he had never visited, the Colossian church:
Ø COL 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle [agonizomai] I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,
Ø COL 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself,
How is he struggling for these Christians to be encouraged and built up in their faith? How is he agonizing over them from his jail cell in Rome? Through his prayers!
And what happens to your relationship with a person when you fervently pray for them? You grow to love and care for them. Has it ever happened that you have been praying for some stranger who is very ill or going through some trial--and then you get to meet that person? There is an immediate bond of affection with that person.
*Let me repeat myself: I guarantee you that your feelings, your attitudes, and even your affections for others will change when you begin to thank God for them, and pray for them. And if you pray fervently, unceasingly, the change will be dramatic--perhaps in them, but definitely, in you!
C. Paul was thoughtful.
Read in between the lines with me for a minute. (“Where is that?) Paul could have been thankful and prayerful and they never would have known, if he hadn’t told them. Paul could have loved them deeply and they never would have known if he hadn’t expressed it to them. Paul is one of the most important men who ever lived--one of only 13 thirteen Apostles of Jesus Christ. He didn’t owe them an explanation as to why he hadn’t been to see them--v.13.
But Paul was thinking of them, not himself. So he expressed his love, he told them about his thanks and prayers for them. He tries to explain why he hadn’t been to Rome. It was for their sakes, not his. Paul would never say, “Oh, it goes without saying.”
If you want to cultivate your love for people, be thoughtful and express yourself to them. You say, “Well, I don’t know how to do that, what does it look like?”
This is easy: What have others said or done that encouraged you? A note in the mail; a phone call; someone noticing what you have done; someone giving you a thoughtful gift; someone helping you, lightening your load. You might feel these things toward another person, but your love for them will grow when you do it--when you say it:
“I appreciate you so much . . . thank you for teaching that class . . . thank you for always being cheerful . . .thank you for your godly example . . . you are a great encouragement to me.”
If an Apostle can do it, you can do it.
Ronald Reagan’s black pen pal
D. Paul believed in mutual ministry.
Ø ROM 1:11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;
Now stop here. You know that Paul dictated this letter to a man named Tertius--16:22. I picture Paul dictating v.11 and then stopping, and saying, “Oh my goodness--they might misunderstand me here,” and then immediately adding v.12--
Ø ROM 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
The last thing Paul wanted was for these Christians to think was that their relationship with him was one-sided. He wasn’t some exalted priest, dispensing religious favors to the lowly masses. You can’t even picture Paul allowing people to bow before him or kiss his ring. He was a fellow-partaker of the grace of salvation, and if God had graced him with a gift for serving them, then he had also graced them with gifts for serving him.
What Paul is demonstrating here is mutual ministry and a reciprocal relationship. Paul believed with his whole heart that the Romans could minister to him just as much as he could minister to them. The same HS that was in him was in them.
Do you really believe that others have something to offer you? Do you believe that others--even younger Christians--can minister to you? I do! you folks might not know it, but I try to absorb what God is doing in your lives, and what God is teaching you. I just did that yesterday morning at the men’s Bible study. I was being encouraged together with those men, while among them, each of us by the other’s faith.
The #1 minister in my own life is Janice, but as my kids have gotten older, I’ve seen how profoundly they minister to me, through their own insights into God’s Word, and their godly example to me.
This principle can have a profound impact on your relationships. Do you do all the giving in a relationship? Do you allow others to give back to you? Do people sense that you need them as much as they might need you?
Ø I’ve told this story before, about the first youth pastor I hired at my first pastorate. He had been leading a Bible study for the college and career people at our church, but they were not happy campers. They felt that he thought he was above them. So I asked him to go for a walk with me. And I asked him, “When you lead the Bible Study, do you ask the people questions?” He said, “Of course, everyone knows that asking questions helps to get people to think and stimulate their minds.” I said, “Do you ask them because you want to know their thoughts on the passage?” He thought and said, “Not really.” And I said, “That’s your problem: you don’t think you can learn anything from them--and it comes across.” And it hurt his relationship with them. Eventually I had to let him go--he was just the first of many . . . but several years later, after he began to pastor a church down in L.A., he wrote me, thanking me for that lesson.
Paul was an effective servant of God because he was passionate about people, and he showed his love by being thankful, prayerful, thoughtful, and mutual in his ministry. But keep all of this in balance with the next principle, the priority of planning--
II. The priority of planning.
Woven into this passage is Paul’s passion to fulfil the will of God:
Ø V.8: Why is Paul thankful for the Christians in Rome? They were fulfilling God’s will in the gospel, they were manifesting the obedience of faith.
Ø V.9: Paul says that he serves God in his spirit, meaning with his whole heart. In v.1, the first thing he says about himself is that he is a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.
Ø V.10: He wants to see the Romans, but only if it is within God’s will.
Ø Vv.11,12: His purpose in seeing them is so that ministry can take place--he wasn’t looking for just a social visit.
Ø Vv.13-15: Paul is consumed with his mission--God’s calling on his life. Yes, he loves them and wants to see them, but that’s so he can preach the gospel to them!
If you were to ask Paul, “Paul, what comes first in your life, is it loving people, or is it your plans and goals?” I think he would get a puzzled look on his face. I think he would say, “It’s not one or the other! The plan is a plan for loving and serving people! And the purpose of having a plan and a strategy is so that people are best served.”
The servant of God must have a passion for God’s people, but he must be directed by the priority of doing God’s will. This is what business management people call “the organizing principle:” it guides and controls all other priorities.
Do you know people who are so people-pressured, that they go here and there, trying to please everyone--and they end up hurting--people? They don’t have a plan or strategy, so they drift along, going wherever the need seems to be the greatest, or where people are crying the loudest. It might seem like a sensitive, compassionate way to approach ministry, but in the end, neither God nor people are served very well.
You simply cannot be people-pressured or need-driven if you want to be an effective servant of God! The reason is simple: peoples needs are endless--and your time and energies are not. So obviously God hasn’t called you to meet every need. He has a call for you and your life, to meet some needs, certain needs, but not all. So one of the most important lessons you and I can learn is: “Need does not constitute call!”
Ø Like the man who can never say no to helping some friend or neighbor on the weekend, and ends up neglecting his own wife and children.
Ø Like the woman who drops everything to talk on the phone for hours, listening to people vent their emotions and problems, and ends up neglecting the people she loves the most--her own family.
Ø Or like so many pastors--bless their hearts--who think that they are loving and serving people by allowing people to take up so much time, talking and visiting, that they neglect their God-given priority of prayer and the Word of God. And the irony is that it’s that time in prayer and the Word that would be the most loving and helpful thing to the greatest number of people!
Here is the point: if we are not priority-directed, we will be people-pressured. And the result will be that the very people we love, won’t be best served or loved by us.
*Oxygen mask on the plane illustration???
Think with me about Jesus: It’s mind-boggling to think that the Son of God turned the world upside in only about 3½ years, yet, He never even left tiny little Palestine. But there was nothing haphazard about Jesus’ life--no wasted energy, no idle moments. He was on business for God, He lived, died, and rose again, according to schedule. Like a general plotting His course of battle, He lived strictly according to His plan.
Imagine how people pulled at Jesus! Read the gospels carefully and you see that He was literally mobbed wherever He went. People had their plans for Jesus! But Jesus did not meet every need: He didn’t heal every disease in Israel--there were plenty of people left for the Apostles to heal. He didn’t cast out every demon. He spent time with many people, but He invested His best time with a limited number--12--and even within the 12, there were 3--James, John, and Peter--who got the best of the best. He had a plan, and He couldn’t allow people to determine His priorities if He was going to fulfill His Father’s will.
Let’s make this practical: It means that you must say no to people sometimes. It’s amazing to read the Gospels and see how many times Jesus said no to people:
Ø In Jn.6: “Jesus, be our King!” No.
Ø “Jesus, show us a sign.” No.
Ø “Jesus, tell my sister to help me in the kitchen!” Nooo.
Ø Lk.8:38,39: That demoniac that Jesus delivered begged Him that he might accompany Him--he wanted to be a follower of Jesus!--but Jesus said, “No, go back to your hometown and tell them what happened to you.”
Ø LUK 4:42 When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them.
Ø LUK 4:43 But He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." i.e., “No!”
Jesus came to earth to love and serve people, and to do that, He couldn’t let people divert Him from His course. The same is true for you:
“I would love to go to the movies with you guys tonight, but I can’t. . . I would love to be a part of one more Bible study, but I can’t. . . I would love to talk right now, but I can’t--my priorities won’t allow me to.” And your priorities aim at loving and serving God and others. Let me give you an example from Paul’s life--
Ø ACT 20:15 Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus.
Ø ACT 20:16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. [Paul loved the Christians in Ephesus, and they loved him. If he stopped there, he knew he wouldn’t be able to leave without spending a lot of time with them, and he couldn’t do that. But look at what he did--]
Ø ACT 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. [He called the elders together, and gave them a warm, fervent, loving, personal message to encourage them in their ministry to the church there. Paul balanced his priorities with his love for people!]