Recently in studying for an upcoming sermon series I was in Romans 1. Romans for most pastors is like a juicy steak: they like to cut big bites, let the flavors settle in, chew slowly and keep eating. However, this particular instance I was challenged by just a phase. Actually not even a phrase, but a word in that phrase.
Roman 1:13 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.
Paul is letting the Roman church know that he is eager to get involved in the work that they are doing and that he, too, has a mission. His mission isn’t just to Jewish people, but in fact to ALL people (Gentiles). He write in Romans 1:14 that he is “obligated” to reach all types of people (Greeks and Barbarians) of all different types of backgrounds (wise and foolish). The word obligated stuck out to me. In it’s Greek form (opheiletēs) it means that a person is indebted. That they are someone who has done something wrong and they have to make up for it. This spurred many thoughts in my soul as I enjoyed the marinated juiciness of this peace of truth-steak!
First, although most modern believers love to sit in the grace that our salvation in Christ brings, I am challenged that I owe God everything because of what He did for me through Jesus. I, too, am obligated to live a life that is in complete obedience to him (sharing Christ with others included). This rubs some people wrongly when they feel like they have to “work” for their salvation. But that isn’t what Paul is saying. He is letting his readers know that such an amazing miracle of transformation took place in his life because of what God did, he is compelled to live his life in thankful, obligated gratitude.
Have you ever had your life saved by someone? Have you walked out in front of a car, or started slipping on a cliff’s edge toward cetain doom? Or, maybe you have received the internal organ from someone who has donated it to your benefit? These are just small examples of what it might feel like to be indebted to someone for saving your life. Now, think about the eternal nature of your life. God saved you eternally from a horrific ending apart from him. He, instead, had his son experience it. This should heighten our level of appreciated, and in turn our obligation to Him. I must admit I do not spend my days in the weight of that obligation objective.
Secondly, Paul’s obligation to God showed itself in evangelistic application. Paul felt compelled to share what had been done to him with others. I can imagine him meeting someone for the first time and saying, “let me tell you how God brought me back from death” or “let me tell you about when my eyes were really opened to who Jesus really is”. Paul had a story to tell and that story had him as one of the main characters. His obligation to Greeks and barbarians is actually a mirror reflection of how he saw himself. Paul saw it as imperative to reach these people with the gospel.
In his book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert C. Coleman puts it this way:
“Christian disciples are sent men and women—sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ. With this purpose clearly in focus, everything that is done and said has glorious fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose—educational institutions, social programs, hospitals, church meetings of any kind—everything done in the name of Christ has its justification in fulfilling this mission.”
He sees our obligation as what should propel us to share Christ. And not just share it, but share it with EVERYONE!
Paul was highly intelligent. He was studied in numerous ways—just like the Greeks. But, there is also a barbarian in Paul. Don’t forget that he is the one who plotted the deaths of inumerous Christians when the church first got started. He had barbarian ways. When he says that he is obligated to Greeks and barbarians, he is seeing himself in them and saying “If God can save me, He can save you!” When we reflect on who we were before we were saved, or who we could have become, we should be motivated to reach out to those like us who need Christ. We should be asking ourselves “Who are my Greeks and barbarians”, “who are the people who don’t know Christ that I see in myself”?
Paul knew what his Obligation Objective was. He knew what he was saved from, and who he needed to help save. Do I?