The Message of the Epistle to the Romans
"For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (1:11-12). Paul's statement does not lack dignity, and yet it breathes the very spirit of love and tact and delicacy. It begins with an expression of love - "I long for you," literally, "I am homesick for you" - and then he mentions his immediate purpose. He says, "I want to come that I might impart unto you some spiritual gift." He explains that the result will be to establish them. But he begins to think that some will misconstrue what he is saying and think that he is trying to assume a position of spiritual authority. So he anticipates this by further explanation, that it is not just that he may give them something, but that at the same time he may receive something back from them: that he may obtain comfort while they get the spiritual gift. In other words, the benefit will be mutual.
We cannot give without receiving. That is an impossibility. We cannot impart something without taking back something in return. It is a monumental mistake to suppose that the preacher always gives and never receives. Every true teacher and preacher of God's Word is acquainted with that mysterious reflex aid he is receiving while he is pouring out to others. There is a life that flows from one to another. There is a contribution that every saint of God makes to that wonderful fellowship, to that knowledge of the love of Christ.
"Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto)." The word "let" is old English; we don't use that word any more. "Hinder" is the meaning. This is Paul's explanation for the long delay in his visit to Rome. He had been a called apostle for more than twenty years to the Gentile world, but he had not yet found time to preach Christ in the capital of that world to which he was called. It was no wonder that this church could say, "Why is it that this visit is so long delayed?" There are also other verses that speak of Paul's purpose and how he was hindered: "Paul purposed in the spirit" (Acts 19:21). "I have been much hindered from coming to you" (Romans 15:22). Apparently Paul had held to his purpose throughout the years in spite of those hindrances, and he clung to that purpose to go up to Rome. But he was human after all, like the rest. Perhaps he began to wonder if he would ever arrive at Rome. There is just a hint of this in the book of Acts. In one of the darkest hours of his life, when his own countrymen had tried to tear him to pieces and the captain had to put him in a cell to save his life, the angel of the Lord came to him and said, "As thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). The Lord seemed to think he needed a little encouragement.
Hindrances are not always an evidence that our purposes are wrong. Too often we purpose to do something that we think is according to the divine will, and when we start to do it, a hindrance comes up (or two or three). Immediately, with unseeming haste, we decide that this is not God's will for us, and so we abandon it. But our purpose may be exactly according to the divine will, only perhaps we are trying to carry it out at the wrong time, and the very hindrance that appears as an obstacle in our path may be a divine testing of our purpose, as well as the assurance that it will be carried out at God's appointed time.
"I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." It is very possible that these words reveal Paul's reason for going to Rome - because he is a debtor. Paul wrote these words not at the beginning of his missionary labors, but after he had preached the gospel in a multitude of cities, and lands and had endured untold sufferings and persecutions. He had rendered perhaps the most splendid missionary service that the world has even see, yet after all that, he writes these words. This is Paul's conception of Christian service. Because God had saved him, Paul was made a debtor, but not to God. The Lord Jesus Christ had paid that debt to the last farthing, but Paul had been constituted a debtor to the whole world. He only regarded himself as an honest man ready to pay his debts. It cost Paul his life to pay the debt at Rome.
Every one intelligent in the Word of God feels that he can go to Romans 8:38-39 and say, "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Do we not feel that we have a right to apply that to ourselves? But we have no right to say, "I am persuaded," if we are not also ready to say, "I am a debtor." The two are the same book, they were written by the same man, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, and they wee written to us; and if the one is true, then the other is true. If nothing can separate us from the love of God, then we are debtors to the whole world of sinners! This debt to the heathen is just as important as our debt to the grocer, or to the tax collector. If it is wrong to repudiate the one, it is wrong to repudiate the other.
"I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (1:15). It is not enough to have a missionary purpose, to feel indebtedness to the heathen world. We must be able to say with Paul, "I am ready"! Here we can put our finger on that terrible thing that has hindered and dragged out the evangelization of the world for nineteen centuries, and has made it a failure even in this present day. God is ready. But we are not ready. God has prepared His feast, but we are not ready to go out and invite men to the feast. When our Lord was about to ready to depart out of the world, He said, "Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh" (Matthew 24:44). There is not the slightest doubt in my heart that when He comes, He will take unto Himself every last one of His own. He will not take part of the church and leave the rest here; He will not take the strong ones and leave the weak ones. You will not be able to say, "I am ready for His coming" if you are not able to say, "I am ready to do all in my power to preach the gospel where it is needed." Paul says, "As much as in me is, I am ready." Whatever you can do, look up into the face of God and say, "I am ready!" It may be praying; it may be giving; it may be going.
Paul was a wonderful man, and he stands revealed in the light of these verses. No tribute, no praise is too great for such a man. It is a delight to honor such a man. And yet, we are not to forget what he himself wrote: "Let no many glory in man, but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.! If Paul could be here in person to speak to us, he would turn aside all our praise and repeat these words: "By the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Holy Spirit would have us remember that this very man was once the Saul of Tarsus, a fierce hater and persecutor of all them that called on the name of Jesus. It is a testimony to the power of Paul's Christ to change the heart! All the credit for the mighty transformation of the life of Saul of Tarsus belongs to Him and not to Paul. Let us not glory in Paul, but let us glory in the Lord of Paul, the Christ of God that made him what he was.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 15 - "The Theme of the Epistle to the Romans")