Christ’s work through us
by Jack Wald | February 13th, 2011

Romans 15:14-21

You sit down and write a passionate letter to a woman you love. It is a masterful letter, recounting how you met and how your heart leaped out at your first sight of her as she entered the room. You brilliantly describe all the things you so much admire about her: the way she cares for people, her intelligence and wit, her keen insights, her beauty. With great passion you pour out your love for her and tell her of your lifelong commitment to her if she will consent to be your wife. It is a wonderful letter and then, as you sit there with the letter in front of you, you begin to wonder how she will receive the letter. Will she respond with equal passion and affection? Will she be blown away by your passion? Were you perhaps too forceful in what you wrote?

This is how it seems Paul felt as he came to the end of his letter to the Church in Rome and so Paul writes to ease some of the forcefulness of his letter. He begins by affirming them.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Paul does not want to seem to have belittled them. He does not want them to be offended in any way by what he has written.
But on some points I have written to you very boldly
And then he explains why he has been so forceful in his letter.
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.

It is Paul’s call by God that has led him to write as he did and he is proud of what he has accomplished and proud of what he has written because he has been working in service to God. If he has been bold, it is because of his passion to follow Jesus and serve him as an apostle to the Gentiles. This letter has not been simply a human effort, Paul trying to stir up support for his ministry. This letter has been part of Paul’s service to God, his work with God.

And now, starting in verse 18, he summarizes his ministry. This is where we will focus this morning, verses 18-21. Some of what Paul describes serves as a model for us and some is specific to Paul, but I think this will be helpful for us as we consider our own ministries.

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”

Paul’s description of his ministry begins by making the point that it is Christ who has been at work and it is the work of Christ that has accomplished the results seen in Paul’s ministry.
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished

This may seem very obvious, but there are many who stumble at this point. Those who experience what the world calls success in ministry face the temptation of taking credit for the accomplishments of that ministry. Preach a great sermon and the temptation is to say, “Man, I am really a great preacher!” Start a church and build it up to 1,000 attendees and the temptation is to say, “I am really an impressive leader.” Work overseas and rise in the organization and speak at churches and conferences and write a few books and the temptation is to say, “If everyone was like me, the whole world would turn to Jesus within five years.”

I have great admiration for Billy Graham who built up a powerful ministry and preached around the world and yet remained humble in the process. He did not allow the success of his ministry to go to his head. Bill Bright was another man who built up Campus Crusade for Christ, an organization active in 191 countries of the world, and yet he remained humble up to his death, fully aware that it was Christ who accomplished the work in his life and ministry. Loren Cunningham is a third man who comes to mind. He built up YWAM with an extensive world-wide organization. YWAM currently has over 16,000 full-time volunteer workers in nearly 1,100 operating locations in 171 nations and trains 25,000 short-term missions volunteers annually. This is a huge organization and yet Loren Cunningham has remained humble, aware of the power of God at work in his life. Each of these men lived modest lifestyles.

These three men stand in contrast to Benny Hinn who stands on a stage wearing a white suit with the spotlight shining on him, waving his coat around in a circle as people are overcome by his charisma. He lives in a $10,000,000 mansion with a fleet of luxury cars, travels in style staying in presidential and royal suites costing thousands of dollars per night. Come see a miracle, his promotional materials proclaim, as if he is in control and can dictate what God will do.

I can picture Jesus standing and preaching as Billy Graham did. I can imagine Jesus doing the work of Bill Bright or Loren Cunningham. But can you see Jesus living a lavish lifestyle and wearing a white suit with the spotlight on him at the meetings of Benny Hinn? I can’t. Jesus continually deflected glory to the Father and to the Holy Spirit. He did not seek the glory for himself.

This has never been my situation, but I would imagine it is not easy to resist the temptation to give in to the thousands of people who look to you with admiration. But in smaller ways, we face the same temptation, to begin to think it is our intelligence, our hard work, our creativity that accomplishes the good things in our lives. We may know this but often forget that everything that has lasting value results from the work of Christ in our lives.

All of us in ministry, whether in a church or outside the church, need people around us who hold us accountable and keep our egos in check. A spouse is a great person to take on that role. But we need to seek out others as well. This is what great leaders who maintain humilty have done. They have understood they need help to protect themselves from the temptations of life.

I have often said that RIC is a great place to be a pastor. No matter how well I preach, people leave and no matter how poorly I preach, people still come. At the end of however many years I am pastor of RIC, I will most likely not have a building or organization to look back on. Ministry at RIC is all about relationships, not program. I will leave with a wealth of names of people who have passed through RIC and burned their way into my heart.

Whatever your situation, you need to have some people around you who hold you accountable, keep your ego in check, help you to see the reality that it is Christ who accomplishes anything of lasting value.

Paul continues:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me

Everything of lasting value is the result of the work of Christ but this is what is truly amazing: Christ does his work through us. This is the privilege that is ours, to be the voice, hands and feet of Christ as he accomplishes his purposes. It is of course possible for God to accomplish his will without us, but in the purposes of God, he wants to use us to accomplish his will. God called Saul in dramatic fashion on the road to Damascus to come serve him and take the gospel to the Gentiles. Our conversion may not be so dramatic, but each of us who are followers of Jesus have been called by God into service for him. God does not call us into his kingdom so we can sit in a comfortable chair with the TV remote at our hand and good food to eat in our lap. God calls us into service for him.

As a follower of Jesus you have been given spiritual gifts and it is expected that you will use those in service of the church, to build up the Body of Christ into wholeness. The privilege of having Christ work through you is yours. All you have to do is submit, obey and begin using the gifts God has given you.

Paul continues:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience

This is the specific call of God to Paul. At the very beginning of his life as a follower of Jesus, Paul understood that he was to take the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world. All of us do not have this call. But all of us are called by God to serve him in some specific way. It may be to live overseas and be a witness for Jesus. It may be to start a new church. It may be to serve an existing church. It may be to raise a family and support a local church. It may be to reach out to the needy in the community. There are many, many ways we are called by God to serve him but we are all called. None of us are called to sit back, relax and coast through life. It is not only pastors of churches who are called by God to work with him. All of us are called to actively serve him in some way.

For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God

How was Paul able to be used by God to accomplish the fruit in his ministry? Here are three ways Paul worked to fulfill the call given to him by Jesus. He obeyed his call in his words and deeds, by the power of signs and wonders and by the power of the Spirit of God. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Paul obeyed the call of God in his life in his words and deeds. There was consistency in what Paul preached, taught and wrote and the actions of his life.

When I was considering giving my life to Christ, one of the things that held me back was the example of men in the church I grew up in. I knew one man who was a Sunday School teacher who it turns out had several mistresses, cheated the government out of tax money owed and fled to Switzerland. I knew people in the church on Sunday, deacons and elders, who did not demonstrate their faith during the week.

None of us are perfect. All of us are, to some extent, hypocritical because we are incapable of living out the faith we profess. Our pride gets the best of us. We overreact and wreck relationships. We worry and are anxious instead of trusting God. I can preach a sermon one Sunday and need to have the sermon preached to me the next day. We are not perfect. Paul was not perfect, Paul made mistakes but there was an overall consistency to his words and deeds and there needs to be an overall consistency to the words and actions in our lives.

When Paul wrote in Romans 12 that we should love our enemies, Paul knew what he was talking about. Paul had enemies who plotted against him and tried to kill him. But Paul knew that enemies can become brothers in Christ. He stood in authority as Stephen was stoned to death and heard Stephen say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” As Stephen had forgiven him, so did Paul forgive those who beat him.

In our work for Jesus, we need to be consistent in our words and deeds. To do this we need help. We cannot do it alone. We need trusted people around us who can help keep us accountable. We need people around us in whom we can confide who will help us to resist temptations.

We all know about Christian leaders who have been exposed and shamed because they were leading secret lives with sexual sin. There are Christian leaders who are caught up in financial fraud.

What would happen if it were revealed that I was having an affair with a woman in Rabat? I would be forced to step down as pastor. The church would bear the shame of having a pastor who preached about loving God and being obedient but led a secret life of sin. There might be some who would turn away from faith in Jesus. I imagine the papers and magazines in Morocco might pick up this story to talk about the moral weakness of Christians.

Each of us have a position of responsibility as Christians. When we proclaim the truth about Jesus, there are those who look to see if we are consistent in our lives with what we proclaim. Our obedience to Jesus is not simply about us, our obedience has an affect of the people who know us. When we fall, we make a splash and others around us get wet.

In your work for Jesus, for your sake and for the sake of all those you influence, let your actions and your words support each other.

Paul wrote:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders,

This phrase, by the power of signs and wonders, brings together the three most common biblical terms for the supernatural. Power speaks of God’s power over nature. This is the power demonstrated by Jesus is quieting a storm at sea or by Jesus in regenerating nerves and tendons when he healed the man with a withered arm. Signs are the miracles that take place as the kingdom of God intrudes into this world reversing the death and decay we live with. And wonder is the reaction we have to God’s miraculous work. We are amazed.

Sings and wonders are not a sideshow of the church where you go to see strange and mysterious things. Signs and wonders are not abnormal activities of the church. When we read through the gospels it is difficult to avoid the reality that the supernatural entered into the daily life of Jesus and his disciples and those who came to him. People were healed, people were delivered of demons and this was the status quo. This happened all the time. These were not rare occurrences.

The power of God to reverse the decay and death of this life was evident in the life of Jesus and of his disciples. And it was evident in the life of Paul who met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul healed a man born lame in Lystra. He delivered a demon from a girl in Philippi. In Ephesus people who touched his cloak were healed. In Malta the sick were healed.

Paul spoke and wrote powerfully but he also demonstrated the power of God working through him in miraculous healings and deliverances.

Where is the power of signs and wonders in our church? In the eleven years I have been pastor of RIC I have not seen any dramatic healings or deliverances. We have prayed for someone who was sick and they said they felt better but later they had the same sickness. We have little healings. Why do we not see the healings we read about in the gospels and in Acts? We have prayed for someone with MS (multiple sclerosis) and that man had to leave Morocco and is back in the US and still suffering from that disease. I prayed for a little girl who died and whose body was still warm on the stretcher in the hospital but she did not come back to life. We prayed for Oti but he died. We have a number of prayer concerns in the bulletin of people who need to experience physical healing but they continue to suffer.

Do we not have enough faith? Are healings and deliverances in the gospels and Acts meant for that time but not for today? Where are the signs and wonders in our ministry?

Periodically I receive an email from someone who says they have a powerful ministry of healing and deliverance and want me to invite them to come to Morocco and minister at RIC. My response is that if they really have such a powerful ministry, they would not need to promote themselves. But I pay attention when I receive such an email because I am praying that we will see signs and wonders here in Morocco.

This is obviously too complex an issue to be dealt with so shortly, but let me make a few points.

We are to expect God to act in supernatural ways. God has the power to heal and deliver demons. God continues to have the compassion Jesus showed when he saw someone suffering. God continues to love us and care for us and desires to lead us into wholeness.

But remember that Paul began the summary of his ministry by saying he would not speak of anything except what Christ had accomplished through him. Signs and wonders were not under the control of Paul. The healings and deliverances in the ministry of Paul were the work of Christ, not of Paul.

When some people advertise their meetings with the slogan, Come See a Miracle! they are saying signs and wonders are under their control. They can manufacture them when they choose to do so. Come Expect a Miracle! is something I can accept.

We are to expect God to act but we cannot make it happen ourselves.

This Thursday night we will begin a monthly prayer meeting where we will meet to worship and then pray for people with special needs. We will pray as a small team of three or four people with each person who comes. We will spend time listening to the person who has a need. We will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into insights that will be helpful in the healing process. And we will expect God to act in a supernatural way in the life of the person who comes with a specific need.

God has purposes we are unaware of. We do not know why God brings revival to one part of the world and not another. We do not know why God brings revival at one point in history and not another. We do not know why some people are healed and others are not. But we know God is at work and we move forward, trusting that he will take our willingness to serve him and work his signs and wonders through us.

So if you have a special concern, I encourage you to come to my house on Thursday night at 7. Come with expectation that God will work in your life. Come in submission to God, ready to love him regardless of what happens. Come and open yourself to the work of God through those who will pray with you.

Paul wrote:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God

What does Paul mean by the power of the Spirit of God? He has already talked about the power of signs and wonders, which are also the work of the Holy Spirit, so this means something else.

After the prophet Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, he feared for his life because of threats made by Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, and he fled into the desert. (1 Kings 19:9–13)
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” …  11 And [the Lord] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Signs and wonders are the dramatic work of the Holy Spirit but there is also the low whisper of the Holy Spirit and this too was part of the experience of Paul. This is the work of the Holy Spirit that takes a verse in the Bible and brings it to life in our mind and heart. Sometimes we are counseling someone and a thought comes to us that is highly appropriate for the moment. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit. When I am working on a sermon and I am led to a passage of Scripture or someone sends me an email with a thought or I have a conversation with someone and this helps me to express what I want to say in the sermon, this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

When you decide to go to one café rather than another and meet someone there which turns out to be a divine appointment, this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

I would think we are aware of only the smallest part of all the ways we are directed and led by the low whisper of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I am certain that Paul sat back in the course of writing his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome and was stunned by what he had written. I am certain that throughout the writing of this letter, Paul heard the low whisper of the Holy Spirit as he tried to find the right way to communicate what was on his mind and heart.

And so this is how Paul fulfilled his call:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Everyone of us have been called by God to his work in the world. God did not call you into his kingdom so you could have a vacation or sit on the sidelines and watch others work with Jesus. If you are a child of God, then you have the responsibility to use your gifts, physical and spiritual, for the work of God in the world.

Whether your work is in the church, in the home, at school or in the marketplace, are your words and deeds consistent? Who is working with you to hold you accountable and help you to have consistency in word and deed?

Are you expecting God to work in signs and wonders? Are you praying for God to reveal his power in signs and wonders? Are you open to being used by God as he works in signs and wonders? The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the book of Acts are not the myths of an old religion. We do not have in the gospels and Acts stories of Greek and Roman and Norse gods cavorting and conniving. Jesus acted in history in the gospels and continued to act through the apostles in the early years of the church. Jesus continues to act in history up to the present day through those who follow him.

God has his purposes and we need to be eager and ready to be used for him when he reveals his power and love in supernatural signs and wonders. Come Thursday night expecting God to act in a miraculous way.

Spend time reading the Scriptures, journaling, reflecting, praying. Live in openness to the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, leading you, guiding you. Learn to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit so you develop confidence in what he tells you.

Work hard, fulfill the calling of God in your life.