OUR GENEROUS GOD
“I do not want you to be unaware, brother and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:13-17.
Paul’s desire — God’s intention, but not yet, Paul. Why was Paul prevented from going to Rome as an apostle and evangelist? Did the devil hinder him? It may have seemed like it to him at the time. What was wrong with a desire like that? After all, did he not receive a commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles? And what better place than Rome, centre of the empire! Yes, he would go to Rome, but as a prisoner in God’s time.
However, as much as Paul wanted to go to Rome, he was also submitted to Jesus as his Lord. The Holy Spirit had directed his way up to that point and Paul could trust Him to lead him in the future. But there was nothing to hinder Paul from writing a letter to the church, and that was definitely God’s way for him because we have his letter preserved in God’s Word as a divinely inspired presentation of God’s plan of salvation.
In whatever way he could, Paul wanted to discharge his obligation. Why was it an obligation for him to preach the gospel to the whole world, both Jew and Gentile? Because of God’s nature! What do I mean? Because of God’s mercy to him, Paul, who did not deserve God’s grace because he was guilty of sin and worthy of death, he had an inescapable obligation to share that mercy with the world.
As much as it is right for us to share God’s love with others because we love Him and because of what He has done for us, it is equally a duty and an obligation. We may think that duty is cold and mercenary, a sort-of pay-back to God because of what He has done for us, but that is not God’s way. Sharing the good news with others is not paying God for our salvation. It is our way of displaying God’s nature by being generous towards others with what God has given us. Not to do so is to deny the divine nature that He has given to us (2 Peter 1:3).
In one short paragraph and in four words, Paul encapsulated the good news he was so eager to share: power — salvation — righteousness — faith; God and man brought together, reconnected by what God has done; and man’s response to God’s intervention. Did God have an obligation to rescue us from the disaster that was of our own making? No way! He did the right thing because of who He is, not because our need.
It’s always about Him. How many times has the question been asked, “What have I done to deserve God’s mercy?” Absolutely nothing! God’s mercy towards undeserving sinners has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who He is. If there is any obligation, God is obliged to Himself. Not to do anything to rescue human beings from our plight would be to deny Himself and God cannot do that.
It’s no wonder that Paul took pride in his calling and message. His obligation was also his delight. Would it not be a delight for a prison warder to walk down a row of prison cells and open each door announcing, “You are free to go!” There would be no greater joy than to see the look of surprise and excitement on the prisoners’ faces when they realised that they are no longer caged behind bars.
Would that warder not have an obligation to unlock the prison doors if he had been instructed to do so? If the prisoner refused to leave because he did not believe the warder’s story would be his choice, as long as the warder had done his duty.
So it was with Paul — and so it is with us. We are obliged to tell the people of the world that Jesus has unlocked their prison doors and they are free to leave and to follow Him, since He is the way to the Father. The message Paul had to deliver then is the same message now, of Jesus who has the power to make broken people whole again; not to tell people how bad they are but to tell them how good God is.
If we, and they, believe the message and trust the Son of God who came to show and tell us just how good God is, even to the extent that He paid our unpayable debt, they’ll be out of jail and on the way to a life of wholeness, imitating God by being generous with His mercy as He has been generous towards us.
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