I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 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. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 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, 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; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
Paul’s assessment of the Roman church is summarised in v14, he describes it as:
- Full of Goodness,
- Filled with knowledge
- Able to instruct one another
Could someone describe us like that? Could they describe you like that? Full of goodness and full of knowledge and able to instruct?
Full of Goodness (v14)
The Bible says a number of things about goodness,
- it says that only God is good (Jesus says this when called ‘good teacher’ in Mark 10:18 and //’s)
- it says God is good and He does good – Psalm 119:68
- it says that He is good to those who wait for Him and seek Him (Lamentations 3:25)
- It lists goodness amongst the 9 fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
The quality of goodness is really powerful because it has a real drawing power to it. Good people are universally regarded positively. This happens across all ideologies, whether people have faith or no faith, whatever their outlook, when they see a good person, they recognise something special. There is something about goodness which people simply respond to. Good people, especially selfless people, make the headlines. I think that’s a bit sad, that being good is so unusual that people notice it.
As a Christian, I believe that this is because goodness is part of the image of God in every human being. Every single human being is made in the image of God, and however much that image is marred by sin, when goodness breaks through, His image is seen, and people notice. When we consciously allow the Holy Spirit to grow the fruit of goodness in our lives, when we express and show it to people around us, we are quite literally showing more and more of the nature of God to those around us.
Jesus says that we are the light of the world, and we are to let that light shine before men and not attempt to hide it. There is something special in this arena about the quality of goodness. Many Christians can effectively witness to others by just living right and being a good example and role model for others to follow.
Many non-believers carefully watch and study us because they know there is (or should be) something really different about us, and one of the key qualities a nonbeliever will pick up on in a solid Christian is this quality of goodness. This quality has an ability to really reveal who we really are. This doesn’t waver like some of the other qualities can do. Good people are overwhelmingly good down to the very cores of their personalities. You can see it and feel it when you get around these types of people.
As a result of seeing this God-like goodness deeply ingrained into their personalities, there is an immediate drawing towards them. You feel totally safe being around good people because you know you can totally trust them, and you know they would never deliberately hurt you.
Children are especially quick to sense and pick up on this quality in people who really have it. These types of Christians draw people to themselves like magnets.
This is why this particular quality is so important for each Christian to have. Because with it, you are actually showing people what God is like, and as a result, you draw many more people to him.
If the goodness of God leads people to repentance and salvation with Him – then the goodness of God operating through an anointed believer will have the ability to draw nonbelievers into salvation.
You can have the actual goodness of God shining through you to reach others if you are willing to work with the Holy Spirit in this sanctification process. And the beautiful part about this fruit is that this quality is so pure in its goodness – it does not have any manipulative qualities within it. In other words, a truly good person could not even begin to try and use you or manipulate you for their own personal gain because they are too good and righteous to even begin to think along those lines.
This is why these kinds of people are so trustworthy and why so many people are drawn to them – because you feel so safe by just being around them.
Filled with all knowledge
The second characteristic of the Romans church is that they were filled with knowledge. Something which we’ve touched on at various points and in various ways over the last year. The modern understanding of faith and people of faith is that knowledge is not important, on the contrary, many people believe that in order to be a Christian you have to check out of your brain. Paul has been very clear in this letter that our brains are crucial for our faith. The ‘go-to’ verse here is Romans 12:2 “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”.
That we should use our brains is a thread which runs throughout that Scriptures. Knowledge is something which we all desire. It was right at the start of creation and right at the heart of the fall of Adam and Eve.
Genesis 2:17 God says: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”. The fall happened when Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be manipulated and succumbed to their desire for knowledge. (In that particular instance, the knowledge referred to is the knowledge of good and evil).
If we really want to pursue our desire for knowledge, we should remember this … Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction”. In fact, Proverbs 2:6 tells us that knowledge itself is a gift from God: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding”
Knowledge is a characteristic of the mind. In Biblical terms, although knowledge does include intellectual understanding, it isn’t just knowing ABOUT something—it carries with it a much deeper meaning. Biblical knowledge doesn’t just come from books or education, it comes from relationship as well, from understanding and from familiarity. So, knowledge of God is the most valuable thing a man can possess, because knowledge of God implies not only intellectual understanding of His nature, but also the kind of knowledge which comes from relationship WITH Him.
We must, however, beware that we don’t miss something.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says that where knowledge increases, sorrow increases too. Ecclesiastes 1:18: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow”.
So what is the solution. Simply put, knowledge is worthless without the love of God in our souls. This is hinted at in 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul says “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). It is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 8:1 where Paul says “we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up”.
Human knowledge apart from God is flawed, and the characteristic which makes knowledge useful is the love of God in our hearts.
Able to instruct one another
Thirdly, we should be able to instruct one another. This goes hand-in-hand with knowledge. Note there is a real sense of corporate instruction here.
One of the qualities of someone who is ‘suited’ to leadership in the church is an ability to teach and instruct people, so much of Paul’s letters to Timothy for example, are devoted to encouraging him to teach, and to appoint people who can. So, for example, he says an overseer should be (amongst other things) “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Paul also warns against false teaching, calling it “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
Here, however, Paul doesn’t restrict this ability to instruct (or teach) to just the leadership of the church. He implies all the believers in the Romans church are ‘able to instruct one another’.
It seems to me that this puts responsibility on everyone in two areas.
- We should all be teachable.
- We should all be ready to teach.
In my opinion, ‘teachable’ is a companion to ‘servant’, in other words, it speaks to our heart attitudes. I believe that hospitality and encouragement are two of the most undervalued gifts in the church today, and two of the most underrated, undervalued qualities in people are servanthood and teachability.
When I was growing up, my older brother had a poster. We use memes now, but in the olden days as my granddaughter calls them, we had posters! Nige’s poster was a charging rhinoceros with the caption: “I may have my faults but being wrong isn’t one of them!”
This is an attitude which you don’t have to look far to see. It’s all around us, it fuels prejudice and bigotry, it is the root of the attitude which has infected our culture and seeks to shut down every voice with which we don’t agree. It is in every one of us. We love to correct others who we disagree with, which itself is evidence that we ourselves don’t want to learn. No one likes being corrected, we all know this. We try to temper our correction of other by calling it ‘constructive criticism’, and in the Christian world, we’ll even hide behind the ‘I’m only saying this because I love you’ shield.
Being teachable is a key quality of being a disciple — after all, ‘disciple’ means learner, and it is a fruit (if you like) of humility. Teachable people by and large have far more humility than others. In fact, I suggest that there is a direct correlation between our humility and how teachable we are. You could draw a line with humility at one end and pride at the other, and where you sit on that line will indicate how teachable you are. Don’t do it for yourself, though, get others to do it for you — you might get a shock!
This is important because our willingness to learn, our teachability, directly impacts whether and how effective we are at instructing one another.
So, a disciple is one who learns, one key quality we must try to cultivate is positive response to instruction, and to maintain this thing called a ‘teachable spirit’ (which is one of the challenges of our faith which increases with time).
However, we should be ready also to instruct.
Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18 exemplify this. There was a young Christian called Apollos who came to Ephesus, and we read that he very expertly ‘spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’ (Acts 18:25). There was a gap in his learning, though, we read that he only knew about the baptism of John. My point here is that it is a couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who “took him aside and explained the word of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Note that a few things must have been in place for them to be able to do this.
- Apollos was lacking in understanding, it wasn’t wrong understanding, it was incomplete. I wonder if sometimes we jump to a, ‘you’re wrong about that!’ response too quickly. Perhaps, just perhaps, what we should do more frequently is assess where the understanding people have is right, and then build on that.
- Priscilla and Aquila understood the Scriptures for themselves. They must have. Otherwise, they couldn’t have explained it more accurately.
- P & A took Apollos ‘aside’ to explain to him. They didn’t call him out, in public, they showed him respect and honour and spoke privately to him. There is nothing worse than being confronted and embarrassed in public. It might make the ‘corrected’ feel better about themselves, it might show them to be more learned, but I don’t believe it’s the way to encourage and build fellowship.
- Apollos learned. He took the instruction, and the next thing we read about him was that he travels to Achaia and “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:28).
So, some hints on instructing one another
- Know the Scriptures for yourself, but don’t ever get to the point where you think you know it all. Everyone hates a ‘know-it-all’! Be a ‘teachable teacher’.
- Be aware of context. If the ‘instruction’ has a degree of correction in it, whatever you do, DON’T do it in public. If public rebuke is necessary, leave that to the leadership of your church.
Not perfect (“I have written to you by way of reminder”).
Note, Paul is looking back at this letter, so if I were to follow this particular rabbit hole, we’d start in Romans all over again! The word ‘reminder’ implies that they had already been taught it once.
So, there is a warning for us. Which is: just because we learn something once, it is no guarantee that we will keep to it. This is what happened to the Galatians— Paul says this:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).
In revelation, the Spirit writes letters to the churches. In the letters, many of the believers are commended for all sorts of things, faithfulness, not giving in to persecution, and all sorts of things. In nearly every letter, however, the spirit says this (or something like it) “yet I hold this against you”. So, for example, to the church in Ephesus, He says: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).
And to the church in Sardis He says: “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3).
Much of the New Testament is written to encourage and exhort the faithful to hold to the faith, and to warn churches when they start to deviate from it.
Paul sees his ministry as a “priestly service”. He makes a number of comments about it:
“because of the grace given me by God 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” (Romans 15:15,16)
- Paul sees his ministry as an outworking of the grace of God.
- Paul sees himself as a minister of Jesus Christ
- Paul knows his target – the gentiles.
- Paul sees himself as a servant of “the Gospel of God”
- Paul sees the gentiles as an “offering” to God (another priestly function).
One of the keys to effectiveness in ministry is this kind of understanding.
A cursory look at the Bible throws up 22 OT references and 25 NT references to servanthood of God – nearly one for every week of the year! They range from Joshua assembling the people of God at Shechem and challenging them to choose who they would serve –
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Paul frequently describes himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, but James, Peter, Jude, and John also describe themselves as servants.
We are both ministers and servants of the Gospel. We serve God and we minister to people.
Secondly, Paul knows who he ministers TO. He is told that he would be a minister to the gentiles. Ananias is told this by God: “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
An aside from this particular verse is that Paul carries this instruction throughout his life and ministry. He mentions it here, yet the instruction from God given to Paul is given through Ananias. This is striking because Paul had a vision and Jesus could quite easily have told him directly in the vision, but He didn’t. He chose Ananias to give Paul his calling. So … don’t assume even if you hear directly from God that He will always speak to you directly. He may well choose to speak to you through a human mouthpiece—don’t risk missing his direction by ignoring people around you.
Finally, remember that all the results of our ministry, be they saved souls, or something else, are to be offered to God.
When we give an offering to God, we give it to Him. Giving money to God means giving it to Him and leaving it to him. Anyone who gives money and then tries to dictate how that money is used has not really given the money. The same could be said of people. YOU are people who have said to me you feel you belong to the church here, and you see me as your pastor, but you are NOT MY people. You don’t belong to me, you belong to God. It is God who paid the price for you and you belong to Him. The same is true of pastors. Even though churches often support their pastors materially, they don’t own them. Every pastor and leader in the church is ultimately answerable to God. Too many churches would believe, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.
When we work, our first thought should not be what do people think, but what does God think. Remember Hanani, who is appointed by Nehemiah as a leader in Jerusalem. His qualification is described in Nehemiah 7:2: “he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many” (ESV). The NIV puts it like this: “he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do”.
Whatever I do, whatever you do, whatever we accomplish, our actions are offerings to God. And they should be seen that way.
Having said that everything we accomplish is an offering to God, we are allowed to be proud of it.
I grew up in an environment where being proud of something was really frowned upon. Every compliment was batted away because we don’t want to be bigheaded or full of self-importance, do we?
And there is an element of truth in that. We have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is us who have accomplished things. This is the main reason God whittled down Gideon’s army from 33,000 to 300:
“The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2).
Pride and boasting is OK, if the subject is correct …
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17).
Paul says here it is in Christ Jesus that he had reason to be proud of his work for God. There is a phrase which we use: ‘taking pride in our work’. Pride generally speaking involves some form of comparison, but the only kind of pride which we are called to engage in is internal: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”(Galatians 6:4). Note, without comparing themselves. If we are proud of our work, then we are more likely to work hard at it.
Let us start 2023 in confidence, knowing that
- We are working out of the grace God has given to us (i.e. not in our own strength), that
- We are servants of Jesus Christ,
- We are ministers of the gospel of God and
- Everything we do, we do primarily for God.