by Steven Chan
The “I am” statements of the apostle Paul in Rom 1:14-16 revealed his personal convictions as a disciple of Christ: “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Rom 1:14-16) We will do well to imitate him as he himself urged all disciples of Christ to imitate him: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
- “I am a debtor” to all people- both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.
What was the debt he owed to all the people? In his epistle to the church in Corinth he wrote thus: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”(1 Cor 9:16)
His obligation/debt was to preach the gospel to everyone regardless of their nationalities, societal status or intellectual prowess.
As we know, when we owe someone a debt, we must pay off that debt. The only way to pay off the debt of preaching the gospel is to preach it! If we preach not the gospel then we remained indebted – and as Paul wrote: “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel”. This debt is personal to each one of us. It cannot be discharged by another person on our behalf. Each one of us has to pay this debt by doing our part to preach the gospel.
This debt is owed to all. So the only way to discharge this debt is to preach to all. It is not enough to preach to only one, or to a few or even to many – but to all. Paul wrote thus: “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22) “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Cor 10:31-33)
We need to feel the same burden of our obligation to preach to all – as that is the Great Commission from our Lord given to all who are His disciples (Matt 28:18-20). Preaching the gospel is not optional nor is it to be taken on a voluntary or elective basis. It is not a work reserved for “full time” preachers. It is not a work to be done only when we have completed our studies or our exams, or when we are financially independent, or when we are retired. We are to preach the gospel as we make our pilgrimage through this life towards heaven. We have been “saved” to save others.
The Bible tells us that the early Christians faithfully discharged their obligations: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4). Those who were scattered and went everywhere preaching were not the apostles; the latter stayed back in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1c). “ And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). When Priscilla and Aquila were asked to leave Rome and they travelled to Corinth and then to Ephesus to work as “tent-makers”, they were found teaching Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:1-3, 24-26)
- I am “ready to preach the gospel”.
Paul felt that obligation or that sense of indebtedness; so he was ready to preach the gospel wherever man is found, even as far away as in Rome.
Are we similarly ready to preach the gospel to one and all? When one realizes that one is obligated or required by God to preach the gospel, then one will do whatever is needed to be prepared and ready to preach the gospel. Such a one “will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:21).
Too often we hear the excuse: “I am not ready to preach the gospel” or “I don’t know how to preach the gospel”. How long does it take for one to be ready and prepared to preach the gospel? What does it take to be ready?
There is no other way to be prepared and ready other than to make a definite personal commitment to make that effort as the apostle Peter also said in his epistle: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15)
The answer lies in the heart. We are to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts; then we can always be ready to preach or give a defense of the gospel to everyone. Paul wrote in Rom 10:9-10: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The belief must occur deep within the heart. When our hearts truly believe just like when the Jews on the day of Pentecost were “pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2:37), then we can “confess with our mouth” or “open our mouths” with boldness to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31)
To sanctify God in our hearts is to give proper respect, trust, submission to Him, in acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, power, grace, mercy and holiness, in our hearts. Then we will have no fear to speak God’s word for we trust in His promise when He said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”. No excuse would be acceptable to God – just as when Moses gave his excuse and God replied him: ““O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Ex 4:10-12) Today, by studying the Scriptures and being submissive to His will, we can speak as “oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:10-11). Our sufficiency comes from God (2 Cor 3:4-6) for the power lies within the gospel, the living, active and sharp Word of God (Rom 1:16; Heb 4:12).
- I am not ashamed of the gospel”
Paul was not embarrassed for believing in the gospel of Christ. That’s because he was convinced that “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”. Paul wrote that “our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Tim 1:11-12)
Paul wrote that he knew whom he has believed and he is persuaded of God’s ability to keep His promises. That’s why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel.
Why are some of us “ashamed” to risk “suffering” the shame of “rejection” or “ridicule” from those whom we may want to share the gospel? Could it because we don’t really know whom we supposedly believe? Do we know God, the Creator of the universe and of all things who has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Acts 17:30-31)? Do we know Jesus, the Son of God, who walked the streets of Galilee (Matt 4:23) and taught us the will of God and demonstrated His power over all things (John 20:30-31), even over death when He raised Lazarus (John 11) and others from the dead – and when He Himself triumphed over death when He rose from the dead after three days being in the tomb (Rom 1:4)? If we know Him, are we persuaded, convinced and convicted that He will be able to deliver us from sin and the devices of the evil one, and give us the crown of life (2 Cor 1:10; 2 Tim 4:6-8,18; Heb 2:15; 2 Pet 2:9)?
Brethren, let us endeavor to have the same faith or conviction as the apostle Paul who was ever grateful to God and His grace for giving him the opportunity and privilege to be the preacher of the gospel of Christ. To do that we must share the same personal convictions: “I am a debtor” to preach the gospel to all; “I am ready to preach the gospel” and “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. May the Lord help us all to preach His Word urgently in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).