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The Priestly Work of Evangelism

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We have seen that we should not have lethargic or anemic views of evangelism. God is in the processing of saving the world, and that has ramifications for the town in which we live. But we must also be careful to not have irreligious views of evangelism. Evangelism is not mere recruitment; in this text, the apostle Paul gives us a striking image for our evangelistic work.


“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost . . .” (Rom. 15:13-21).


God is the God of hope, and He creates hope in us a particular way. He fills us with all joy and peace in our believing, and He does this through the Spirit, so that we might abound in hope (v. 13). Paul is convinced that the Romans are filled with goodness, and filled with knowledge, with the result that they are able to admonish one another (v. 14). He wrote to them boldly, not because he did not think this of them, but simply to remind them of what they knew (v. 15), according to the grace that had been given to him. God gave this grace to Paul in order he might be a minister of God to the Gentiles, in the priestly office of the gospel, that the sacrificial offering of the Gentiles might be sanctified and acceptable to God (v. 16). As a result he glories in what Christ has done through him (v. 17), and he refuses to take credit for work he did not do in the labor of making the Gentiles obedient (v. 18), while at the same time saying that God did indeed accomplish some marvelous things through him in the power of the Spirit (v. 19). Thus far, he had preached from Jerusalem in the east through Illyricum to the northwest (in the region of modern Croatia, Serbia, and Albania). He has been careful to avoid building on another man’s foundation (v. 20), an important courtesy. Paul must preferred building from scratch. In support of this approach, Paul then cites Is. 52:15—the verse right before the great gospel declaration of Is. 53, and right after the promise that many nations would be sprinkled.


When God does a work in our hearts, He does not do it simply by zapping us, and then we are happy in some generic spiritual sense. God is an architect, and He builds His graces in us. Certain things come first, and others follow after, and it is all done by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. In this case, the God of hope fills us with something else, joy and peace, so that hope may follow abundantly. Without the joy and peace, the hope will be a vain hope, and will collapse. This is the pattern that the Holy Spirit follows. If you are agitated, for example, and you hope that your emotional agitation will cease, this is not the same kind of hope that Paul is talking about here. If you are solemn and grim, and you hope that all these frothy fellows cavorting about you will get a real job sometime, that is not the right kind of hope either. Real peace, real joy, leads to abundant hope. This is the Spirit’s way.


Paul assumes that a lot of pastoral work is going to be done within the congregation. As the leaven of gospel teaching grows and spreads within the congregation, so does the ability of that congregation to admonish one another rightly. But notice what the two preconditions are. The first is that the admonisher be full of goodness, and the second is that he be full of knowledge. Goodness without knowledge leads to well-intentioned mayhem in the admonition. Knowledge without goodness leads to censorious priggishness, and certain self-appointed fellows with the “gift of rebuking” start letting other people have it. When a man is full of goodness, and full of knowledge, then and only then is the beam out of his eye. But when these conditions pertain across a congregation, a lot of pastoral ministry occurs that the church leadership never even hears about.


The language Paul uses to decribe his evangelistic efforts is quite striking. In verse 15, he says that the grace of God was given to him to make him a minister of Jesus Christ (v. 16). The word for minister here is leiturgos, a word used for priestly ministers in a temple. We get the word liturgy from it. He then says that he ministers the gospel of God. The word here is hierourgeo and means “to minister as a priest.” The preach or declare the blood of Christ shed for sinners is to conduct a priestly work. It is not priestly in the old typical sense—clouds of incense and blood on the altar, but it is the antitype. This makes it the real priestly work, of which the older forms of priestly work were just shadows and smoke. We must appropriate the reality here by faith, and This is not a way of spiritualizing it away—evangelists and ministers are priests of the gospel. Note that the converts are an offering made to God. This too is sacrificial language, and it is striking. The Gentiles, symbolized by unclean animals, are now sanctified by the Holy Spirit and are to be offered up as an acceptable offering. Acceptable is even more sacrificial language (Rom. 12:1-2; Is. 60:5-7). If we think of this rightly, it is not worship and evangelism, or worship or evangelism. It is that worship is evangelism. In learning this, we must not skew it.


Priests served in an orderly fashion (Luke 1:8). The work of God is conducted in a manner that is consistent with order and good government (1 Pet. 5:3). Just as the land of Canaan was apportioned among the tribes, so also the ministry of worship/evangelism is apportioned.  Paul says in this passage that he had been assigned the Gentiles, and this is why he was very careful in his ministry to the Jews.


We must take care to distinguish works from obedience. Our understand of obedience is based on whatever the commandment was. If the command was “believe,” then obedience is to have faith alone. If the command was to climb this greasy pole all the way to Heaven, then obedience would be works. So which is it? This is the work of God that you believe in the one God has sent (Jn. 6:29). Obedience is something rendered to the gospel; obedience is a gospel duty (Acts 6:7; Rom. 6:16; Rom. 15:18; Rom. 16:26, and more).

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