In Rom. 1:13-15 Paul tells the Roman Christians of his long-held desire to visit them. He uses two expressions to speak of his ministry that are often misunderstood because of narrowed conceptions of the Christian gospel. I’ll quote here the NIV and CEB translations of these verses and highlight these expressions.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome (NIV).
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I planned to visit you many times, although I have been prevented from coming until now. I want to harvest some fruit among you, just as I have done among the other Gentiles. I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish. That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome (CEB).
Paul is not here referring to what many of us imagine when we think of “the gospel.” When Paul says that he wants to obtain “some fruit” among the Romans he isn’t saying that when he’s there he hopes to go street preaching. And by “preaching the gospel” to them, he does not mean that many of them are unconverted and that he plans to hold some evangelistic services during his visit. He is not thinking of the “Romans Road,” four spiritual laws, or giving his testimony with a seamless transition to an invitation at the end.
Paul’s conception of the gospel is larger, grander, more comprehensive, and more robust than that. It is not merely the tidy and simple message that gets one into the Christian faith.
According to Paul’s gospel conception, God is at work to restore creation. The powers of Sin, Death, and the Flesh have hijacked God’s good world and are at work corrupting and perverting everything. But God has acted decisively and in power to break the enslaving and oppressive grip of the powers of evil over his world and has begun to reclaim and renew everything.
In Christ and by his Spirit, God is transforming creation, redeeming humans, and healing relationships. God is at work to restore all of creation to flourishing for the glory of his name through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit.
When Paul hears about the conflicts in the Roman fellowships while in Corinth, therefore, he thinks in holistic gospel terms. The fruit that Paul wants to obtain among them is reconciliation between Christian sisters and brothers. Paul writes a pastoral letter exhorting them to be reconciled and urging them toward unity as the restored people of God.
Such conflict-resolution is gospel ministry. That is the fruit that Paul wants to obtain among them—reconciliation and restoration.
If he were to travel to Rome, Paul would not necessarily want to “preach the gospel” to them. By εὐαγγελίσασθαι in v. 15 Paul signals that he wants to “gospelize” them during his visit. He wants to see the gospel at work among them, which will involve God’s transforming power working to unite them more fruitfully and effectively for their shared joy to the glory of God (cf. Rom. 15:5-7).
When Paul thinks of “the gospel,” he has this larger reality in view—the resurrection power of God invading and transforming creation in Christ and by God’s Spirit. It involves healing human hearts, mending relationships, renewing communities—whatever is involved in restoring creation to its flourishing for the glory of God.
Gospel ministry, therefore, has many contours and takes many shapes, just as the gospel speaks many voices and meets and transforms any and every situation.
8 thoughts on “Paul’s Gospel Ministry”
Even when preaching to those who are not Christians, a holistic gospel is so much more compelling. Why believe on the basis of an existence I have yet to see and may not even actually exist? Is it not better to discuss how Christianity makes sense of the world I know? The Good News is good today…and forever.
Romans 12 is amazing. The gospel – ie. “good news” – is about Paul’s vision of an alternative community (ie. in contrast to the Roman society) in which there is love and mutuality. It is a place where everyone honours everyone else – yes, including slaves! Even those at the bottom of the society will be honoured (rather than shamed, as the dominant culture would do to them). And at the end of Romans 12 it talks about overcoming evil with good, and that’s how the community should deal with outsiders (paving the way to Romans 13). That’s a restored humanity at its best.
Exactly! What’s amazing is that in Western interpretation Romans 9-16, certainly chapters 12-16, have largely been neglected in favor of the “theological” section in chapters 1-8. But Paul’s burden is really the shaping of this transformed community in chapters 12ff. Great stuff, S.!
Kind of sounds like the “participate in the gospel” idea he goes on about in Philippians. Very helpful, I’ve never thought of this opening phrase in light of the gospel’s wider focus. Thanks!
Yeah, totally, Jon. The gospel’s this large reality in which we participate and which overwhelms and transforms us by God’s power. It just seems that we need to learn to speak of it as this larger reality so that we can come to understand its versatility and its potential to transform us in so very many ways.
Likewise in chapter six, baptism is not merely an event in the believer’s past whereby one “gets saved.” Baptism, like the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor 10), brings us into an entirely new, “Gospel” reality. Baptism is lived. We no longer live in the Realm of Sin. We live in the Realm of the Gospel. “Dead to Sin” does not mean we (are to) “sin less.” Something much bigger is in view here; as you say, a “larger reality.” We don’t live “for” Sin. We live “for” God. Paul might say, “How can you continue to live with these factions when you have died to that world?”
Well-said, Joey. I’ve thought that the reality is that we are brought into the new realm of Christ by the Spirit — the realm in which resurrection power is at work to renew us and vivify us and transform us and unite us–both to God and to each other. The gospel, then, becomes the announcement that this reality is here, news about how to enter it, and talk about how its dynamics work among us and on us.
And factionalism is characteristic of the realm of Sin–the realm of oppression and degradation that is headed for ultimate destruction. So, stop fostering factions and be unified! Not that they “owe it to God” to do that, but that’s the way to truly live into and live out of that new reality into which they’ve been baptized by God’s Spirit.
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