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Meditation by Paul Jansen (Romania) on Romans Chapter 1: Verses 14-17

'I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Romans Chapter 1 Verses 14–17

The church faces a huge challenge in sharing God’s good news within a world mostly alienated from goodness.  An understandable and accurate language must be used.  This has little to do with what Bible version is chosen.  It is not greatly affected which dialect, vocabulary or jargon are used.  The evangelistic language is an understanding and culture which must be so much part of the body of believers that it both transforms those within and interests those outside.  It is the church’s way of talking as well as of living.

This language is used by Paul here as he writes to the saints in Rome.  They are a group of varied people whom he has never met.  They live at the centre of world power.  Would they read through this long letter?  Would they understand?  A lot has to do with the language used.  The Spirit guided these words and writings, so we would do well to learn this language.

Although apparently illogical, the apostle shows spiritual grammar structure.  He presents himself as a debtor to all – yet he also states he has something to give.  The famous apostle declares he owes both to the wise and civilised as well as to the uncultured and rough – including the Roman readers.  How can he do this?  Because the evangelistic language contains humility as one of its chief structures.  Without humility no one can talk this tongue.

Paul openly confesses his struggles to them and writes: “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24).  Yet this humility is not a weak, word-limiting handicap.  Rather it allows such freedom so as to be able to instruct, warn and discipline directly as Paul does in his writings.  Have we studied the clauses of humility?  Can we find them in our daily talk?  It is important to know how the apostle has gained such freedom to live and speak like this.  We should then put this language test to ourselves and our church.

The apostle is eager to serve them with Good News.  Not a gospel from Paul or about Paul.  He denies ownership by stating the Gospel is: “the power of God”.  Paul had previously fought against it, but in the end the grace of God forced him into defeat.  Into humility.  And into the school of learning the evangelistic language.  We know that much time of silent study and reflection were needed.  Although this event was chronicled (Acts 9) and he acknowledges it himself (Galatians 9) Paul does not remain there.  He joins the church of his time that used the gospel tongue to talk about God’s power and purpose.

Scriptures starts with the words: “In the beginning God…”.  The apostle John outlines that it was always God’s love at first (1 John 4:10).  Peter writes that it was the Lord who mercifully chose those to be his people (1 Peter 2:9).  Similarly Paul puts God first: purposely written that “the gospel is the power of God to salvation TO everyone who believes”  Another language might put it this way “If you do this or even believe there is good news: you can get hold of saving power”.  But such seems to be incorrect grammar according to the Holy Spirit.

As a church with the gospel, we should talk and live clearly admitting that we only have a limited hold on the gospel, yet it fully grasps us!  For the world it is easier to see our weakness before realising God’s perfect power.  So we must confess that also in speaking the tongue of grace also to the world, we are fully reliant on God’s miracle of mercy.  Knowing God, praising Him and telling needy souls about Him are commendable.  The Bible makes that clear many times.  Yet we must similarly conclude with Paul “How unsearchable are God’s judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out” (Romans 11:33).  For if we rely on ourselves in any little way, we will stumble … one day.

That is precisely the centre of God’s good news.  Not that the church needs to be a self-promoting organisation which has the knowledge, power, love and all its accessories neatly packaged up and ready to ship out to the needy world.  Rather what we DO have is a Father who has adopted us as children.  And HE is the One who has all that is needed for eternal perfection!  Too often Satan traps us in our human weakness as we loose the experience of the Father’s love.  We soon stumble and find ourselves in monotony as a factory worker along the production line of product: gospel.  Maybe we are busy with a well-meant Christian activity.  The world seems to easily notice this and our language and life seems very unattractive.  We are so weak and stumble in life and stutter in speech.

Providentially the gospel message can not ever be contained or presented by us it as it deserves.  We should realise that we will never be able to invent an advertising campaign that can accurately and fully promote and market the message God has prepared for the world.  So it is with great comfort when we accept one inherent beauty of the gospel - it sells itself!  Where the gospel has fully penetrated the life of a human – the gospel will not be disregarded.  I believe we maybe need to learn the more the language of introduction and invitation to the gospel rather than listing its virtues in a competitive market style.  We need never be ashamed of grace even if we do not fully comprehend it!  The gospel will never let itself down!  Joining the apostle, we can be both humble (we are weak and were conquered by God’s purpose) and yet unashamed (it is God’s message and power for good after all!)

So in many ways we must speak within the church and outside from the church in that same dialect.  This gospel tongue confessing a Saving Friend, One whom we need and can believe in.  The church looks forward to the future perfect marriage to Christ, as the Lord has entrusted.  It is not for those who have learned how to say: “Lord Lord” but rather who have been chosen before time to become part of His family.

“The righteousness of God is revealed … ‘The just shall live by faith’”.  This evangelistic language is saturated with faith.  Although what we have faith in is bigger than us and not totally comprehendable - yet it brings strength and peace to the church as its members develop in use of its language.  Just as poetry can be appreciated by the listener who is not a poet, and music enjoyed by him who is not a musician.  So faith gives us a beautiful life.  Yet some understanding of the faith language is needed by those who are separated from God.

I have no idea of many of the constant processes that keeps my body alive.  So it is that the church has received revelation of God’s righteousness and knows something of this.  By living in its words and being blessed by it, the church as individuals and as a body wants to share this to the world.

Perfection for people is a complex idea.  We have great difficulty accepting that we hardly know and can scarcely imagine what perfection for us would be.  Humans were created to walk, talk and be with God in a beautiful garden.  Ignoring the language of the souls yearning for this; we forget how to feel it, understand it, listen to it and speak its language.  Conveniently the world fills in this vocabulary void with its answers: happiness, fulfilment, dreams, comfort, relationships with the visible, etc.

We must learn how to tactfully and lovingly share the language of God’s good news with the dying world.  As members of the church this means discovering the language spiritual biology and soul-chemistry as best we can in order to accurately inform the dying patient of his need for eternal Help.  While involved in doing this, we ultimately have faith in the Surgeon who wants to transplant the His Son’s Heart into this needy patient.  And we know He will do it well!  For the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus became assurance of a perfect eternal future for us.

But our part in evangelism is more than just some communicated information and total trust in the Father / Surgeon.  As a church we must also speak the extended evangelistic language which allows us ways of getting personally close to people, connecting personally with their lives – whether Greek or Barbarian or Jew, wise or unwise.  We should share in others’ genuine concerns – by the grace of God working in us – not just linguistically but also by the language of love and in practise.  As children of God we were saved from death by the same miracle of life needed by the world.  It is a testimony of the power of Gods mercy when it flows to His children and creates in them a desire to personally share the remedy for death with those in the world.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans with ink.  A letter full of the language of good news.  Yet this letter ended in practice – when God provided that Paul later went in chains to Rome!  The saints there were blessed by also hearing this language spoken personally and directly put into practice by Paul.  The evangelistic language is a marriage of words and deeds.  In his ministry on this earth Jesus talked and helped those in need.  And so the church has a practical language to use, not just text book theory.  Even though we as humans will fail as we share the message of Christ and we will definitely fail as we try to share the practise of Christ, this world needs both.  And God allows us to serve this world with the gospel.  As Saint Francis of Assisi supposedly summarised: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”.

So the challenge to us is to gain competence in this evangelistic language – glorifying God, highlighting to the world its need of God’s power to salvation.  Yet we must use this language carefully, and humbly.  The church must realise the constraints that it will not be able to use perfectly a language of heaven on earth.  Yet if the Spirit translates our words and thoughts upwards by interceding for us with sighs that are deeper than words (Romans 8:26), we can rely on this same grace for our outwards message that God will bless it!

 

Paul Jansen

January 2006