WITHOUT CEASING….(Rom 1:1-15)
I want to teach through the book of Romans next and want to get into it this morning, so open your Bibles to Romans 1 and read with me.
Listen to what the Word of God says. Listen first and foremost and most essentially to what God says – everything I say afterwards is human – God’s word is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit to minister to our souls….
Read Rom 1:1-15
I’ve called this message “Without ceasing.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear that phrase, “without ceasing” I immediately think of prayer. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), or pray always, or as Rom 12:12 puts it, “Be constant in prayer.” You only need to mention the word prayer to produce conviction and guilt in just about any and every believer because we all seem to know that prayer is a lot more important than our actions convey. We all understand the importance of prayer intellectually and yet we all fall short in our practice of it daily. We know we should pray more, but we struggle to actually do it.
But here, in our text, we see a man who had a clear conscience when it comes to prayer. 1:9 He says, “God is my witness” how constantly and diligently and fervently I pray and pray specifically for you always. How many of you would call on God to testify to the fervency of your prayer life?...
Here’s a church that Paul has never visited. In vs 10, God knows how I have longed to see you, but have thus far been prevented. He has never even visited this church and yet he prays continually for them. Does God know and see how often and how much and how sincerely and faithfully you pray for other churches?...
I think you get the point…this man has a prayer life that most of us can only dream about. He’s actually doing everything that we know we should do, but never actually do when it comes to prayer. So let’s take a look in this text at what motives and produces this kind of prayer.
3 perspectives that inform and motivate fervent prayer.
1. The privilege of our calling
2. The greatness of our Saviour
3. The importance of our prayers
1: The privilege of our calling
What is Paul’s attitude in this text, his demeanor, his perspective of his calling? Is Paul dragging his feet on the ground and groaning under the incredible burden of serving Christ, “Oh brother, I don’t know about this Christian life, serving Christ is tough, He’s a hard task master, He expects so much of us and we get so little in return.
That’s not at all the impression you get as Paul describes his calling to be an Apostle in vs 1 and how he has been set apart for the gospel. Called and set apart, meaning “picked out, hand selected” and then set apart, commissioned to a special ministry for Christ as His Apostle. This is the language of privilege and status. The language used of Old Testament prophets and kings called to serve God in a formal office. 1:5 through Jesus Christ we have received as a special gift and calling, grace and apostleship. Unmerited, undeserved favour and the highest possible calling. Then again in 1:9 he can’t just call on God as a witness, but must interject what a privilege it is to serve this God, to serve Him with my whole spirit, with fervor and vigor and pleasure. In vs 14 he can talk about being under obligation but vs 15 it’s an obligation which brings eagerness, longing (11), zeal.
Paul is thrilled about being called to serve Christ.
Roman Society – no slave
Now one thing you must know about Roman society is that it was a society build around class and position. It was all about who you knew, what position you held, what family you were born into. There were all these various social classes and ways of dressing to identify what class you were. Right at the very bottom of this social ladder were the slaves, the untouchables.
Slaves had no rights or privileges. To quote from John MacArhur’s book, Slave:
“Servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing whom they work for and what they do. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property, to the point that in the eyes of the law they were regarded as things rather than persons. To be someone’s slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument.” (pg 17)
To be a Roman citizen was highly esteemed and yet to this society enamored with status and privilege and position, where nobody would stoop to be a slave – Paul opens his letter by saying, Paul…. The slave.
Talk about a shocking greeting. This would be like writing a letter to a church in the days of apartheid and starting “Paul the black man” but not using the euphemism, but using that “K” word which nobody feels comfortable even saying out loud.
Are you feeling a bit uncomfortable by my even raising the topic? That’s how Roman ears would have heard this opening statement “Paul, the slave.”
Is that the way you see yourself? Chris, the slave…Peter the slave, Cindy the slave, Tsepho the slave. Is that your primary identity – before you see yourself as a student or Engineer, or director, or father, or teacher, or husband, or son, or soccer player – do you see yourself as slave?
This was one of Paul’s favourite designations of himself. This is how Paul primarily thought of himself, as a slave of Christ Jesus (Gal 1:1, Phil 1:1, Tit 1:1) and I think this is one of the reasons why He prayed so fervently.
We pray so little because we view prayer primarily as a way to serve ourselves. Think about your prayers and how often they are filled with your own needs and desires and concerns. We are moved to pray when we feel like it, or when we feel overwhelmed, or when we are facing a problem that we can’t solve. It’s not that it’s wrong to pray for ourselves or those things, Jesus taught us to pray to our heavenly father and to ask for our daily bread. But if we view prayer primarily as a way we serve ourselves instead of viewing it as the way we serve Christ – then won’t pray like Paul prayed. We won’t find ourselves praying earnestly for people we don’t even know, for things that wouldn’t matter much to us, except that they matter a great deal to Christ.
Our prayerlessness reflects our selfishness – we don’t pray because we don’t feel the need, because we don’t feel like it, because we have so many other important things to do, we can’t find the time…. So the answer to our prayerlessness is a clearer grasp that we exist to serve Christ – first and foremost, above all else, we are slaves.
The meaning and significance of our lives is to serve Christ, we are only really living to the degree that we are living to serve Him.
Paul laid hold of his calling and position as slave with both hands because of the next 3 words in verse 1, “of Christ Jesus.” To be a slave of any other master, in any other context would be irksome at best, detestable at worst but to be a slave of this master is the highest calling and privilege.
The second perspective that should transform our prayers lives…
2: The greatness of our Saviour
If someone says they are the personal assistant to the CEO of a company or to the president – then that suddenly becomes a very important position because the person being served is so great.
Paul has been set apart for the gospel of God, the good news from God, and it’s good news because it’s about His Son and what He has done.
· In verse 2 Paul reminds us that this is the Son, the messiah whom God told us beforehand about, whom the prophets longed for and whom the Scriptures prepared God’s people for. This is the same Son who is the focal point of sacred Scripture. The one that all of God’s inspired messengers had been writing about.
· In verse 3 this is the son who was a descendent of David, the promised king, the greater David who would reign over an eternal kingdom. The Son who was the fulfillment of the David Covenant.
· And verse 4 reminds us that he wasn’t just a son of man, a son of David, a greatly awaited king – but He was the Son of God. The divine Son, the son from heaven, the Son who was like God in essence and nature and power. The Son who created and rules over the universe with God.
· According to vs 4, He was proved to be the sinless son, the death defeating son, the living son, by His resurrection from the dead.
· In vs 5 He is the grace giving Son, the one to whom the obedience of the nations belongs. The one whom all the nations must see and before whom ever knee must bow – to the glory of His great name.
3 verses packed with the unique glories of Jesus, which seem to flow so naturally and freely from Paul’s pen because He is a man who lives with deep gratitude and the greatest respect for Jesus Christ….that’s what gives the name “slave” such dignity…
Christ’s subjects and slaves
And this is not just Paul’s privilege but the privilege of every believer. That’s vs 6 – including you, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul still has this privileged calling in mind and he knows it’s the privilege of every believer, to be “klytos” called, invited, welcomed, appointed, not to a specific service, but to a specific relationship – to belong to Jesus Christ. That is the language of slavery – to be owned, to belong to – which would be an insult if we were talking about belonging to another person. But to belong to God the Son, to be called to be uniquely His – is the highest honour and the greatest service than any creature can be called into. This is the language God used when He called Israel from among all the other nations, to be His treasured possession.
To believe in Jesus Christ is to surrender our own Lordship, our own rights, our own independence and to enter into a relationship in which Christ is Lord and we are subjects, Christ is King and we are citizens, Christ is master and we are slaves, Christ is head and we are the body which obeys. Faith is not one thing and obedience and service another. Look at how Paul puts it in vs 5 “the obedience of faith” the obedience that arises out from and is the rightful fruit of true faith. We either enter into this kind of relationship with Christ, or we don’t enter into relationship with Him at all….
And Christ is not a harsh, unloving, selfish master. Vs 7 reminds us – we are those who are loved by God. God’s beloved. And called to be saints, called to be set apart from the world, from sin, from death, from what is profane – called to be holy, called to be God’s own possession, called to be uniquely and exclusively His, called be Saints.
We would pray more if we loved Christ more and desired Him to be glorified among the nations. Vs 5….we are all called for the sake of His great name among the nations.
What motivated Paul to serve Christ with his whole spirit as he puts it in vs 9, with his whole beig, to the point of exhaustion? What motivated him in the face of incredible obstacles and persecution and rejection and sickness and sleeplessness and suffering of every kind – was the desire to see Christ magnified among the nations. It was all for the sake of His great name.
We pray so seldom, and so feebly because we are care so little for the greatness of His name.
3 perspectives that inform and motivate fervent prayer.
1. The privilege of our calling
2. The greatness of our Saviour
The importance of our prayers (8-15)
The focal point of Paul’s calling and service is the gospel. Vs 1 “Set apart for the gospel, which he promised beforehand…” Vs 5, he wants to be part of bringing about the obedience of faith among all the nations. Vs 8 I thank my God because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. Vs 15 I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
You get the point, Paul desperately wants to be able to tell people about the greatness of Jesus Christ and what He has done for them and why He should be worshipped and loved and obeyed. He wants all people everywhere to hear and see and He labors tirelessly toward that end.
Read Rom 15:18-24
· Paul is explaining what motivates him in such sacrificial service – to speak about Jesus to those who have never heard. That is what is always driving him on and forward.
· That is why he wants to come to Rome, he wants to encourage them and then use them as a missions base, that he could be sent out, helped on his way in his outreach to Spain to the regions further West of Rome.
· Read 15:30-32. He makes a weighty appeal to them, an authoritative appeal, an urgent and desperate plea by the Lordship of Christ and the love of the Spirit – that they strive together with him in prayer. From deliverance from the unbelievers who were seeking to kill him and that by God’s will he may at last succeed in coming to them.
· That they may “sunagonizomai” Sun=together and agonizomai is related to our English word “agonize” to agonize together, to strive together, to content together for victory in a battle, to fight in company with.
· Paul says – take seriously your duty as a soldier and servant of Christ to come stand alongside me in this battle and fight with me…..in your prayers.
· That doesn’t sound like relaxing on a couch drinking coffee, or curling up on our beds with our heads on the pillow…that sounds like serious, dangerous, vigorous effort.
Go back to our passage in Romans 1. In vs 10 Paul can say that he is always praying, asking, wrestling, agonizing, fighting in his prayers to God – that somehow, at last he may succeed in getting to Rome.
Now just stop there for a moment and recognize something….
· Who called Paul to be an Apostle? Who set him apart for the gospel? Who commissioned Him to preach? Who desires that Jesus be glorified among the nations?
· Is Paul doing God’s work or what?... He calls Himself a slave. He exists and lives for nothing else but to do Christ’s bidding and everything he is trying to do is at Christ’s command and for His glory – and yet it involves such hardship and suffering and persecution and effort.
· Paul didn’t snap his fingers and get teleported to his next preaching destination.
· We all know his description in 2 Cor 11:23- “Are they servants of Christ, I am a better one…..far greater labours, far more imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one. Three times beaten with rods. Once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers, in toil, hardship, through many a sleepless night in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
We have this deep, unshakeable conviction that if we are truly and wholly serving Christ, that we should be blessed and that things should go smoothly and that we succeed in all our plans, if those plans are God’s will.
But look at the text….1:1 Paul is a servant of Christ, he was called to be an Apostle and set apart for the gospel. In vs 11 He longs to see them that he might strengthen and encourage them in their faith and yet vs 13 – he wants them to know the reality that he has often been thwarted, been prevented in his plans and efforts to reach them. For months he had been facing disappointment after disappointment, dead end after dead end, failed attempt after failed attempt. One obstacle after another.
Why does God make it so difficult?
So let me first stop and answer the question – why does God make it so difficult?
· 2 Cor 4:1 Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart and vs 2 we do not tamper with God’s truth. God doesn’t need us, but its grace that He choses to include us in this wonderful plan of redemption and to give us a valid and essential part to play. Paul speaks of God entrusting us with the precious and priceless treasure of the gospel and goes on to speak of the hardships that are involved in carrying this treasure to the nations in vs 7. But this treasure has been housed in jars of clay, weak and easily broken. Why? Because God calls us to partner with Him in a way that doesn’t show our glory and goodness, and strength and wisdom – but shows the world His.
· He goes on to describe the hardships involved in being such a vessel in vs 8. Read 8-9. Why are we weak, why so often unable, why so often crushed, why so often hard pressed? So that Jesus’ life, Jesus power, Jesus goodness might be seen shining through.
a. Not to us, Oh Lord, not to us but to thy name be the glory.
b. There is no other way it can work but for us to be weak so that God can be shown to be strong.
c. God wants Christ to be put on display through our lives so we must often find ourselves inadequate and insufficient and overwhelmed and weak and desperately in need of God’s strength.
Every servant of Christ must live in the strength that God alone provides. Every servant of Christ must do what is humanly impossible to do, every servant of Christ must be what it is humanly impossible to be. Every servant of Christ is merely a channel, a conduit through which the character and glory and power of Christ is put on display.
Once we have embraced this reality, then we ask the question, “How do we access God’s power to live supernaturally for Him?”
HOW TO WE ACCESS GOD’S POWER
Rom 1:9 Without ceasing, night and day, constantly, always and earnestly I am asking God that my plans to serve Him in Rome might come to fruition. And he summons the Romans to stive together with him in prayer.
The work of God is done in the power of God by prayer to God….and no other way.
Does service to God involved labour and planning and travel and preaching. Of course. If we sat back and did nothing, nothing would happen. God has ordained to work through the labour and service of His people. But without prayer, those labours are fruitless because God has ordained to bless those labours, to make them fruitful and effective only by His power, only in answer to prayer.
By God’s will
To see that, look for me at Rom 1:10 again. I am always asking that “somehow, by God’s will, I may at last succeed in coming.” There is great uncertainty in Paul’s words here. He doesn’t know whether his plans will succeed. According to 15:23, for years they have failed despite his diligent and passionate efforts. Paul knew it was God’s revealed will for him to preach the gospel and to preach to the Gentiles and to preach to those who had not heard and so it made complete sense to him that he should plan and go on mission trips which are called Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts. One of those journeys include a trip to Rome, which he had not yet succeeded in doing.
In modern terms, he was trying to get into a closed country to preach to unreached people groups, but his visa had been denied, then he had reapplied and finally been granted access, then he had been stopped at the border, then Covid hit and travel restrictions had prevented further travel into the country, then he started running out of money and first had to go back to his job of making tents to get enough money together to buy another plane ticket and then he had taken ill for a few month, and then he was asked by his church elders to first attend to some local ministry problems that had come up….
What was Paul’s response? He didn’t give up, for years… because he was still convinced that this was the best possible way to do the revealed will of God, to serve Christ’s gospel among the nations. So he kept planning, he kept trying, he wrote Romans to prepare them for a possible visit…and he kept praying and He kept summoning prayer from other believers.
Because Paul understood that he would never succeed in getting to Rome if he didn’t book a ticket and get on a ship sailing for that destination and he would never succeed in getting to Rome if he didn’t ask God to summon His supernatural resources to make those plans fruitful.
God’s will here, in this specific instance and every instance is accomplished through the diligent labours and prayer of is people and no other way. So that God’s power might be put on display.
God has ordained prayer as the essential means by which His will is accomplished. Friends, we can work but we can’t succeed in that work without prayer. We can labour, but we can’t be fruitful in that labour without prayer. We can preach the gospel, but we can’t and won’t see people getting saved unless God works powerfully and supernaturally in answer to our prayers so that the gospel is received with power.
This principle of divine providence applies to every area of life – to our preaching and our parenting, to our studies and careers, to our service at home and in the office and in the church.
Labour without prayer if fruitless…
What will motivate and sustain such labouring in prayer? Understanding
1. The privilege of our calling
2. The greatness of our Saviour
3. The vital importance of our prayers
So will you, from today onwards, labour and pray, labour with prayer, labour in prayer, labour by prayer.