This content is taken from the sermon titled Paul's Missionary Strategy and Ours (Romans Sermon 114 of 120), preached on September 10, 2006 at the First Baptist Church of Durham. The full sermon can be found here.
I want to look at Romans 15:14-22 and the details that are in it, and try to learn from Paul how he went about his work. I want to learn what his strategy was, and I want to learn it so that I can apply it in my own life, so that we can apply it here in this church. Whether you are going to be a frontier missionary, or perhaps you are just going to work tomorrow morning, you have a mission field to work. You have something that God is calling you to do. He's calling you to be a witness, and I think it'd be good for you to have a strategy and follow it the way Paul did.
1) Founding All Things on God’s Written Word
Let's start with the first aspect, and that is the founding of all things on the Word of God. Now, I find it a couple of places in this text. Most plainly, if you look at Paul's ambition, in verses 20-21, he says, "It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written…" Now, just stop there. You see what Paul is doing there? He's founding his whole missionary strategy on the Word of God, "as it is written." Dozens of times Paul has done this in the Letter to Romans. Again and again, he's founding his doctrine, he's founding his whole approach on Scripture, on the written Word of God, "Rather, as it is written…" from the Book of Isaiah, "Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand. And this is why I have often been hindered from coming to you."
So Paul founds his strategy on the written Word of God, the Book of Isaiah in this case. At the front end of the passage, in verse 15-16, we see Paul talking about his own writing. And he says, "You’re competent to counsel, you're full of wisdom, completing goodness, and competent to counsel one another. Nevertheless, I have written you. I've written you boldly," he says, "on some points, as if to remind you of them again because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles," etcetera. So, he's talking about his own writing there. And that's the New Testament, the writing of an apostle. And Paul knew he was an apostle, and he knew he wrote authoritatively. He didn't say things like, "Well, you might want to consider this way of looking at things," etcetera. That's not the way he wrote. He was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he wrote doctrine to them. And so we see right up front that Paul founded all things on God's written Word.
2) Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Secondly, we see that Paul founded his ministry on a clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, 15 and 16, "I have written you quite boldly on some points as if to remind you of them again because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, with the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God." Now, when Paul came to a new community, maybe it was Pisidia and Antioch, maybe it was Troas, maybe it was Philippi, maybe it was Athens, it didn't matter. The first thing on his mind is, "I need to preach Christ." It was proclamation, like a herald going out from a king. He's going with good news, and he's going to stand in the public square and he's going to proclaim the kingdom of God. He's going to proclaim forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name. He's going to set up the cross of Christ in their minds through his preaching. He's going to preach the Son of God crucified and risen for sin. He's going to preach that, that's what he's going to do. He preached the person of Christ, His deity, His humanity. He preached His works, His words. He preached Christ crucified, that's what he did.
Now, this is the Gospel that He described at the beginning of this epistle, Romans 1:16, as being the "power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Paul believed that. He believed this was the power of God to get people who are walking in darkness, to see a great light and be saved. He wanted to go to a dark pagan community and preach Christ, they'd never heard of Him before, and see the light shine in the darkness to the glory of God. He wanted to preach that message. It was a preached message.
Now, in the modern times, missions can involve a lot of complexities. There can be all kinds of interesting things that missionaries can be called to do and some of them very necessary. Some missionaries go and build church buildings or other kinds of buildings, because the community needs it. Some build hospitals, some work as doctors and nurses in those hospitals, some missionaries go as tent makers and establish a professional presence in a place that otherwise would be a closed country that would not welcome a missionary.
I was going on a short-term mission trip once to a closed country, and the country that was giving out the visa questioned me quite closely, actually called me from the embassy, to ask me what my profession was. Very interesting. Teacher apparently wasn't good enough for them. They want to know what kind of a teacher, and I said, "I'm a pastor." And they asked me a lot of questions about my intention in that country, and they sent back a visa and on the visa it said, in one word, no spaces in between, "missionary work, not allowed." "Missionary work, not allowed." But they misspelled "missionary," so I decided I wasn't going to do that, whatever that was. But I was going to be faithful to preach the Gospel because the Lord had called me to do it. So, I didn't do that thing. I still don't know what the definition is, and I don't want to do it, whatever they've commanded, I will not do it. But I'm going to do the missionary work that the Lord has laid on my heart.
The point I'm making is that you need, in some of these countries, Muslim countries, some of these other places, you need a reason to be in there. Some people run powerful radio stations and they put out signals, and they go all over in that whole region with the powerful radio signals. And all of those works and others are necessary. But the center of all true missionary work is the verbal proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the center of it. And if that isn't going on, then true missionary work is not happening.
3) Speaking and Living God’s Truth
Thirdly, speaking and living God's truth. Romans 15:18, it says, "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done." Do you see that phrase? "By what I have said and done," God has led the Gentiles to obey Him. What does this mean, "by what I have said and done?" Well, I think there's a twofold pattern of Paul's strategy. He's going to speak God's truth, and he's going to live God's truth. He's going to speak right doctrine, and by this now, I mean, more than just the milk of the Gospel... The Gospel is beginning doctrine, that's how we start, but there's more doctrine than that. And Paul would settle into a community, sometimes for two years or perhaps even more, and he would be faithful to speak the Word of God very thoroughly and very completely.
Some people have noted, because Paul later in this section, in Romans 15, asks the Roman church for help in his missionary journey to Spain. They said, "Well, I conclude that Romans is a missionary support letter." Well, that's wonderful. It's got to be the greatest missionary support letter in history. It's an awesome missionary support letter. But let's accept that, that's fine. But I say this, it is an unfolding of the doctrine of the Gospel unparalleled in all of Scripture. And we see therefore that Paul considered the fullness of the doctrine to be essential to his mission. It wasn't just the simple ideas of Christ and Him crucified. In Romans, you have far more than that. Romans 1, 2 and 3, you have unfolded very plainly the doctrine of universal depravity and sin. "There is no one righteous, not even one." He's very careful in unfolding this. In Romans 3 and 4, we have the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And there again, he asks that question, founding everything on scripture, he asks about Abraham. What does the scripture say? But he's trying to found his doctrine and Scripture. He's unfolding deep doctrine.
Romans 5, he's talking about original sin and Adam, and how the whole human race sinned in Adam. These are deep thoughts. Romans 6, sanctification, putting sin to death. Romans 7, the bitter struggle with sin. Romans 8, we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit for this fight that we have against sin and for the fulfillment of the work of God. In Romans 9, 10 and 11, we have the deep doctrines of predestination and God's sovereignty applied to the troubling case of why the Jews are almost universally rejecting the Gospel. Deep doctrines. And Paul doesn't shy back from speaking about the truth of God. He said in Acts 20, to the Ephesian Elders, he said, "Now, you remember my ministry and how from house to house I didn't hesitate to proclaim anything that would be helpful for you, but have taught you publicly and from house to house." He also says later, "I did not shrink back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God's Word."
And so, based on what Paul said, he builds the kingdom. But here's the thing, he's there. He's living in the community. They watch his lifestyle. "It's not just by what I've said, it's also by what I've done." Remember how he said in Philippians Chapter 4, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you." Wow. How would you like to say that to your disciple? "Whatever you've seen in my life, put it in practice and God will be with you." But Paul set himself up not arrogantly. He's not an arrogant person, but he knew that part of the missionary work was incarnational. You live in there. They see the way you live. And it's not just what you say, it's how you live. It's an integration of truth and life that was key to his strategy.
4) Performing Signs and Wonders
Fourthly, we also see the issue of signs and wonders. And here, many of you may be saying, "Well, see, now this is where we're going to be different from the Apostle Paul." And you would be right. Because the Apostle Paul was an apostle. I'm not saying miracles don't happen today. I've been on the mission field and I've heard clear testimony, from brothers and sisters in Christ whose lives I respect, of supernatural acts of God. But they are different in essence, I think, than the apostolic miracles that Paul did. But there it is, look at verses 18-19, he says, "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done." And then in verse 19, "By the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit."
Now, I think 21st Century Americans are a little bit squeamish when it comes to signs and wonders. One great missionary article I read was called The Flaw of the Excluded Middle, how American evangelicals tend to exalt God in the heavenly realms, and see God up there in the heavenly realms, and believe in the invisible God by faith, they accept that, and they live in a workaday world, the physical practical world, and they accept that, but they don't see a lot of interaction between the two in the middle realm of signs and wonders, also of demons and angels, and all of that stuff that most of the world accepts readily. And it's in the Bible. It's all part of the biblical world view. And they'll extend the squeamishness even to reading about what the Apostle Paul did and say, "Well, you know... " And they try to minimize the role of signs and wonders in the apostolic ministry. We should never do this.
Paul here clearly ascribes the power of his ministry, at least in part, to the effectiveness of signs and wonders done by the Holy Spirit of God through him. And he said these were the things that marked him as an apostle. That's why we're different than Paul, we are not apostles. But these things marked Paul as an apostle. 2 Corinthians 12:12 says, "The things that marked an apostle, signs, wonders and miracles, were done among you with great perseverance." Now, these signs and wonders had evangelistic power. They had evangelistic power. Jesus himself said in John Chapter 14:11, "Believe me when I say I'm in the Father, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." There, He linked saving faith to the power and the evidence of the miracles. There's nothing wrong with saying that miracles have evangelistic power when coupled with the message of the Gospel.
Miracles also help prove the truthfulness of the apostolic Gospel message. In Acts 14, talking about Pisidia and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to do signs and wonders among the people. He confirmed it, He said, "This is a true message. Look, these people have been healed," etcetera. They also were very effective for drawing a crowd. It is where, in Acts Chapter 3, Peter and John went up to pray at the time of prayer, and they heal a famous beggar, and a huge crowd comes running. And Peter says, "good preaching opportunity." And that's exactly what was happening again and again through the Book of Acts, a sign or a wonder would be done, huge crowds would gather, and they would preach the Gospel, by the power of signs and wonders.
They also had the power to encourage the church. Remember the story of Paul in Troas, and he's probably never going to go there again. And so he spends hours and hours teaching the people. And seated in the window was a young man named Eutychus, probably a teenager, and so he's just sitting there and listening, this young man, that's probably what he was, listening to the Word of God, interested in what Paul was saying. But it was getting hot, it was getting late, Paul was talking on and on, is what Luke wrote in the Book of Acts. They got the oil lanterns in there, there's not electricity, and it's just... He fell asleep. The only problem was he was on the third story, he fell out of the third-story window and was picked up dead. Paul went down and threw himself on this young man and said, "Don't be alarmed…he's alive." God raised him from the dead. And this is what Acts 20 Verse 12 says, "The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted." They're greatly comforted at a clear display of God's power over death. God is the death conqueror. He is sovereign. He's powerful. And even if He doesn't do it every time, even if He doesn't ever do it again, just know that God is powerful. They were greatly encouraged and comforted by these apostolic ministries.
5) Demonstrating the Power of the Holy Spirit
Fifth, there was also a display or a demonstration of the Spirit's power. He says, "By the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit." Let me tell you Paul's missionary strategy, it basically went like this. "I'm going to follow where the Holy Spirit leads, I'm going to speak what the Holy Spirit tells me to speak, I'm going to do it in the open and obvious power of the Holy Spirit, I'm going to rely on the Holy Spirit's power to convict and to convert and to plant the church, I'm relying on the Holy Spirit's power to protect that little church after I have planted it." Everything was done as a display and a demonstration of the Spirit's power.
Paul's ministry was a constant display of the power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of his own weakness. 1 Corinthians Chapter 2, Paul talks about this. He said, "When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God." That wasn't it. You don't have to go to speaking school, eloquent school, to be an effective missionary. That's not it. What was it then? He said, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message, my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with the demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power." He basically wants to plant a church in such a way that everyone can see, "It must not have been Paul."
Remember how one of the Corinthians said, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is rather unimpressive…" Not a great speaker, just a simple message of Christ and him crucified. And look what sprang up. Look what happened. A church was planted, lives were transformed, pagans gave up their paganism, rich people gave up their concern about wealth, poor people understood that in Christ they could be rich. Everything was changed and a church was planted. For eternity, lives were changed. That is a demonstration of the Spirit's power. That's something nobody can do. I could preach for 100 years and if the Spirit is not here, I have wasted my time and yours. I prayed this morning on my knees, I begged that the Spirit of God would be here today, or else I would waste my time and yours. And I'm convinced He is. I'm convinced He's at work in your hearts and mine, too, a clear demonstration of the Spirit's power. Not in technique, or you got to have Paul or nothing happens. "I'm leaving," Paul said. He's going. He's going to plant the church and go. You need to know that from here on out, the Holy Spirit's still with you and you're going to still make progress in the Spirit, a demonstration of the Spirit's power.
6) Venturing Where Christ Is Not Yet Known
And then sixth, venturing or Christ was not known. We've already covered this, but it's a clear technique. Paul said, "I'm passing on. I'm not going to stay here. You're not going to rely on me forever and ever. I'm going to get the church started, I'm going to establish Godly elders and train them, get them in place. I'm going to give you the best I've got for a couple of years, teach you everything, not shrink back from anything, but the rest is up to God by the power of the Spirit. I'm moving on." He was going to continue to move on to those unreached people groups.
And so we see a brief display of Paul's missionary strategy, founding all things on God's written Word, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, speaking and living God's truth in an integrated way, performing signs and wonders, a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit of God, and a commitment to go to unreached people groups, to continue to move on.