During my first week at high school one of the exercises we had to do was to plot out our life ambitions. We had to draw a timeline for our lives starting with our birth, and plot out what we wanted to happen. Because we were eleven we were fairly ambitious – we were going to be astronauts, millionaires and footballers for Leeds United. But there was the usual stuff too: jobs, homes, families. Just for a moment try to remember what your ambitions were when you were at school. Imagine plotting them out on a piece of paper. Maybe some of them have been realised, maybe some not. What we're going to look at tonight turns our ambitions, realised or unrealised, upside down. We're going to see that God's kindness, his grace, transforms our ambitions. Grace turns our ambitions from serving ourselves to serving God. Grace forms the ambition for mission.
We're diving into Romans at the end of Paul's letter. Paul has reminded them of God's glorious gospel grace. He's shown them the outworking of God's grace. He wants the Jewish and Gentile believers to be united, and assist him in his mission.
The key to both these issues is gospel grace. So in chapter 14 he's shown that only a church humbled by grace will be united. So in chapter 15 he shows us only a church soaked in the grace will reach out with passion. As we come to our text tonight Paul tells the Roman church of his vision for gospel ministry so that they might share his ambition for mission. As we look at Paul's vision we're going to see that grace forms the ambition for mission.
I've got three headings: Gospel Ministry, Gospel Ambition and Gospel Mission. Let's look at Gospel Ministry. The first thing we see is that gospel ministry is by grace. So if you'd like to grab your bibles, and we'll read from verse 14:
"I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written to 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, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
Do you see what qualifies Paul as a gospel minister in verse 15? It's grace, it's God extraordinary kindness to Paul. Paul's ministry was unique. He was an apostle set apart by Jesus. We are not apostles. However, believers do share many things in common with Paul. The first is that, we too have received the same extraordinary kindness from God.
In the news this week there was a story of kindness. Last week a disabled man called Alan Barnes who lives in Low Fell was mugged. Alan was putting out his bins when he was told to hand over his money by a mugger. He had none so he was pushed to the floor where he broke his collarbone. It was reported on Look North where he said he was too frightened to live at home. In kindness a woman who had never met him set up an online appeal for him. Within a week people had given £330,000 so he could move house. On TV, Alan said, "It's magical, I didn't expect anything." Alan received kindness. But believers have received extraordinary kindness from God. But the grace God shows is totally undeserved. We can understand people's generosity to Alan Barnes. But God's generosity is out of this world. Let me put it like this. We are like someone in the news story: the mugger Imagine the mugger receiving such generosity? It would be shocking. That's a bit like the kindness believers receive. Every day we break God's law that he's etched onto our hearts. We think and do what is shameful. We deserve nothing but God's justice. But God shows undeserved kindness to believers: forgiveness, adoption, eternal life. How is it fair that God shows law breakers such kindness? Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sin. This means if we believe in Jesus God is both just and able to make us right before him. That is the wonder of grace. It is the grace Paul received. It is the grace you have received if you believe in Jesus. Better still it's not magical, it's true.
Tonight some of you may think, "I'm no use to God. I'm a mess." If you've trusted in Jesus you have been given grace. God has forgiven you. He's made you right with him. But his grace doesn't finish there. God takes those who have received his kindness, and makes them ministers of his grace. Paul was a gospel minister by grace. All believers are gospel ministers by grace. Gospel ministry is by grace. We need to remember that at HTG. As we plan and prepare for growth, of course we'll disagree over things. But grace should humble us so that pride stops divisions forming. Grace humbles us so that we reach out from floor level to fellow sinners without looking down.
Secondly we see that gospel ministry is proclaiming. In verse 16 Paul says he has a priestly duty to proclaim "the gospel of God". His job was to tell the gospel. We can't claim to be set apart in the way Paul was. We can't expect our ministry to be accompanied by miracles. But the gospel Paul proclaimed was God's. It is God's power to save all who believe. It is not dependent on Paul but on God. So we too may be involved in proclaiming the gospel. If you are a believer, God in his sovereignty has brought you to Gateshead to proclaim the gospel of God.
Paul knew his ministry was by grace, and he was to proclaim the good news of God. Grace gave him Gospel Ambition, and that's my second point. Grace changes Paul's heart and it's longings, look with me at verse 17:
"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 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 - by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ."
What does Paul glory in verse 17? Paul glories in Christ Jesus in his service to God. Paul boasts that everything he has achieved has been done by Jesus through the Spirit. It's the very opposite of boasting about his own successes. He says look what Jesus has done through me, look how wonderfully kind he is to me!
Think of the things we usually boast in. Our work, our homes, our families. They are things that make us look good. Things that we like to show off to people. Paul boasts in Jesus. In the grace he's received to minister the gospel. He's loves to make Jesus look good. He loves to show off Jesus. His spotlight isn't on himself but on Jesus. Grace has turned his heart upside down, from a heart that serves self to one that serves Jesus.
It's worth saying at this point, if you're looking into the claims of Jesus – beware! The gospel will turn your ambitions inside out. The gospel will change your heart from being self-centred to Jesus and others centred. We see that in Paul, but also in the lives of believers today. Let me just give you a quick example.
I have some friends who have always talked about living in the country. They love the outdoors life. With their jobs they know they will have to move at some point. They had always talked about moving to the sticks. But one time I was speaking to the husband and I asked where they were thinking of moving to. He surprised me, he said we're thinking of moving to a city! When I pushed him on it, he said they'd changed their minds because they wanted to live somewhere where they could serve people, show hospitality and share the gospel easily. The gospel gradually works at our hearts so we're more concerned for others and for Jesus. Grace forms the ambition for mission.
If you're a believer let me encourage you to brag more. To boast more in Jesus. Paul is absolutely clear everything he does is done in the power of the Spirit. It means Jesus gets the glory. So next time your Bible study goes well praise Jesus! Next time you have the privilege of sharing the gospel praise Jesus! Next time you look at our building – praise Jesus – it's his work.
Paul loves Jesus' name so much he wants to spread his fame. We see his heart's ambition in verse 20:
"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: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand. This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you."
Paul was bound as an apostle to be a gospel pioneer in a way we are not. There is nothing wrong with building on someone else's foundation, a lot of our ministry here is building on foundations. However, we need to be deeply challenged by Paul's barrier breaking gospel ambition. He was keen to visit the church in Rome, but Paul's higher priority was to go where no church had been planted. Reaching people who did not worship the living God gripped Paul.
The American pastor John Piper says, "Mission exists because worship does not." We can be thankful for the growing number of Bible teaching churches being planted in the North East. But if you look to your sides you lots of stacked up empty chairs. It is clear that worshippers in this part of Gateshead are few. We have a remarkable opportunity here as folks come to mums and toddlers and the Rock to tell those with no foundation about Jesus.
As we head out to work and school everyday we have a special chance to tell the unreached about Jesus. And we can do that with confidence because as Paul reminds the Romans in verse 21, "those who have not heard will understand." It's a prophecy from Isaiah that the nations will worship God – people will believe! Empty chairs in churches across the world will be filled. It's a good reminder too that we need to have a vision not just for Gateshead but the nations. Don't forget world mission as you review your giving. If God has given you a desire to reach the unreached overseas don't sit on it – keep praying it through and talking about it with others.
Grace forms the ambition for mission. Grace drove Paul to seek Jesus' fame. It drove him to mission, and that's what I want to look at in my final point: Gospel Mission. Paul's ambition leads him to action, that what's what I mean by mission. Look with me at verse 23:
"But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while."
Can you see how Paul's ambition leads him to action? He wants to reach the unreached so he wants to go to Spain. No one had yet planted churches in Spain. His vision informs his strategy. Paul is a man with a plan.
We can learn a lot from Paul's intentionality here. As a church it's good to have a clear vision for our future, one that will lead to informed and concrete action. Just as it's good to dream what the gospel could do in Gateshead, it's good to dream on a more personal level. To dream of what the gospel can do in our families and workplaces. Gospel ambition should lead us to intentional action.
So that will mean the workplace isn't just a place to climb a ladder, but a place to serve others. The coffee break becomes as place not just to chat about Broadchurch, but about Jesus. Having young children becomes not just an opportunity to train them to play the piano or football better than you, but train them in the way of the Lord. The retirement doesn't necessarily mean your work is over, but rather you have more time for service within the life of the church.
Let's be intentional in our mission as a church, in our homes and workplaces. In March we're having a week of mission – a week of being really intentional. But the reality is we're on mission all the time!
Let me say this too. It's right to have a vision for our church, our families and workplaces. It's right to be intentional and take action. But we must remember all of our plans sit under God's plans. So we must lift up our plans in prayer and acknowledge it is God's work, and he will work his plans out. Paul planned to go to Spain. We don't know if he made it. Paul planned to go to Rome. He arrived in Rome as a prisoner. We can have confidence God is working out his plan even when it's not going to our plan. God is working out his plans in Gateshead, but let's make sure we're on our knees in prayer. Let me encourage you to be intentional about that too: come to the church prayer meeting, the first Wednesday of each month. All are welcome!
Paul's gospel ambition lead to mission, but he knew couldn't do it without others. In verse 24 we see Paul ask the Roman church to be partners in the gospel with him. He wants them to 'assist' him on his journey to Spain. Before we get into the particulars of what that means it is striking that even an apostle needs a team. Even Paul needed help to get the gospel out. So how much more do we need to a team to get the gospel out?
Christmas just gone was really encouraging. We saw lots of guests come to carols to hear about Jesus. But that wouldn't have been possible without a team. We had folks on the doors, people in the kitchen making mulled wine, someone making hotdogs for the kids, some one was on the PA desk, some folks were in the choir, some folks running the crèche, some folks doing the readings and of course Rod doing the talk. Imagine if Rod had to do all that by himself? It's impossible! Getting the gospel out is a team effort. We're really grateful to God for the team here.
Paul is eager to preach the gospel to them because he wants them to share his ambition for mission. He wants them to be eager to assist him. The word 'assist' in verse 24 refers practical and financial support. Such assistance is an outworking of the gospel of grace. Only hearts changed by grace will have the ambition for mission. What our hearts are set on we will give to. Let me try and show you the connection between our hearts and actions.
Last week while I was cooking dinner there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find a man and a woman from PDSA, the animal charity. The man said, "Hello sir, do you love animals?"
"Well," I said, "I don't have anything against them. I quite like them. I've been to some zoos."
"At this time sir, there are plenty of abandoned pets after Christmas. Could you help us look after them by giving?"
Do you see the connection between our hearts and our actions? If we love pets we'll happily give to them, hence the PDSA man's question. What we love we give to. We know this from life. You get up at 4am in the morning to comfort your crying baby. You give up your time to visit an elderly relative. We take a loved one out for a meal. What we love we give to.
Remember grace changes our hearts. Grace turns our ambitions upside down. Instead of serving self, we want to serve Jesus. That is the outworking of the grace in your life. Let me show you a massive outworking of grace. Look all around you. This building was costly. But people formed by grace gave. They had an ambition for mission. Grace forms the ambition for mission.
So how can we practically assist in mission in Gateshead? It will mean assisting practically in the running of the ministries of the church. In addition to committing to Sunday services and a home group, is there one ministry area you can serve in? Find out where there are needs. Consider what gifts you have. Sometimes we're not sure what we can offer. If you're not sure speak to a friend or member of staff, and ask 'What can I do to assist?'
It will also mean assisting financially. Only believers will give to the spread of the gospel. No one else will give so the unreached in Gateshead can hear of God's grace. Some of us may be able to give more, some of us less. Let me encourage you to make the most of the giving review by making some time to look at what you have and prayerfully consider what you can give.
Finally, Paul shows us an example of ambition turned upside down. He shows us service, not for self but for God. Paul's heart is but an echo of Jesus' heart. Let's just reflect on how supreme Jesus is. Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus' ambition was his father's glory. His mission was to serve you by laying down his life. So that sinners may receive extraordinary grace.
That kind of grace changes your heart. It turns you inside out. Think back to the ambitions you held in the past. Consider what God's grace does to your ambitions. If you're not a believer yet, think through how it might change your life. Because the God's grace turns your ambitions upside down. Grace forms the ambition for mission.