Paul was a man who is greatly respected by everyone who is familiar with the Bible. His personal story of trying to destroy the early church and then becoming one of its greatest advocates is nothing short of amazing. But how could one man be so driven? How could he single-handedly challenge the Jewish and Roman world simultaneously? Better yet, Why did anyone give him any attention at all? I think part of our answer is found in the following text mentioned in the opening of his letter to the Romans.
“I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 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, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” -Romans 1:14-16
Notice the three “I am” statements that Paul makes about himself.
The first is “I am a debtor.” Paul clearly felt that because he had received salvation from the Lord, that he was held accountable to share God’s plan of salvation with the world. He was compelled to be a witness for Christ.
He considered himself a debtor “to Greeks and Barbarians;” under obligation to the refined and the stupid. Regardless of his audience, he owed them the gospel. This created his urgency in preaching the gospel message.
Virtually all of us have owed something to someone at one time or another. Associated with debt is the inescapable feeling of hopelessness that comes along with it. Many people today refer to that hopeless feeling as “debtor’s prison.” Paul surely felt indebted and was often in prison, but steel bars and chains proved to be no obstacle for his influence. Even in prison, Paul did not sit in self-pity. He allowed no chance for a pity-party to begin and continued in his work. The love of Christ compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14) to share the gospel with every person. In fact, He said “… necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16).”
Beyond all threats and hardship, Paul was bent on preaching the gospel. If he did not, his own conscience would not allow him any rest. He was absolutely single-minded and stubbornly refused to be moved from the salvation message. So far as he was concerned, there was no greater hope for humanity.
Declaring and sharing the gospel is not an opportunity for believers. It is a necessity for others to live!
Heaven and hell are permanent, and more real than the world we see around us. Having forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Jesus eclipses all other needs, no matter how immediate they may seem. For example: to withhold food from a starving man would be unthinkable. Even more, withholding the gospel from a fellow human being is a crime beyond words. The burden of debt (and the fear of committing this crime) drew our beloved Apostle Paul into action.
“I am ready to preach the gospel;” Paul’s second “I am” statement is no less important than his first. “Ready” is perhaps best translated as “eager.” He was ready to move at the first chance he had.
His mind was no doubt flooded with gratitude and wonder as he contemplated the marvelous work Jesus had done at the cross and what it meant to be a child of God. His mind was filled with wonder and his mouth seemed to be carried along with it. The abundance of gratitude to Jesus was magnetic, drawing every hearer closer to the throne of God. Every person became an opportunity for the gospel.
Paul certainly was well read and known to be very intelligent. However, that is not what made his preaching so powerful. It is one thing to be book-smart, but that kind of thinking does not necessarily create a great witness. The ability to win an argument does not qualify as witnessing either. To be an effective witness, gratitude of what God has done in your life will tell far more than any education can provide.
Paul’s third “I am” is “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” This is a bold statement indeed. “Shame” is an emotion that always accompanies sin in scripture as well as in our own lives from our own sin. No doubt, there are numerous ways to feel shame. Sin is very real and takes many shapes. Paul was “not ashamed.” He was not shy or slow to speak about Jesus. If he had been, he would have brought shame upon himself. The writer of Hebrews (likely to be Paul as well) also alluded to this point. “We are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:39).” Paul’s faith was confident and triumphant. Why? It is because the gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” This tells us why he is not and must not be ashamed; why he refused to withold God’s message of salvation. The power of God follows the preaching of the gospel! They are inseparable.
Several months ago, I found myself singing a familiar phrase, “stand up, stand up for Jesus.” The Holy Spirit spoke to me, asking “do you think Jesus needs defending?” The incident nearly knocked me off my feet! While that song may be well-intentioned, it has missed a vital point. We do not stand up “for” Jesus. He does not need our pitiful defense. No, the believer stands up together “with” Jesus! The power of God is with us when we declare the gospel. When we open our mouth to share the gospel, Jesus comes to our defense! And like the Apostle Paul, we should never venture to second guess the faithfulness of God.