For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:11-15)
A Different Kind of Letter
The letter Paul wrote to Rome is different than any of his other letters. Compare it with Galatians, for instance. Paul writes things like, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you . . . for a different gospel . . .” (1:6) and “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” (3:1)
Or think about Philippians: “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (1:12). “You have done well to share with me in my affliction” (4:14).
Or consider 1 Corinthians: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote” (7:1). “Now concerning spiritual gifts” (12:1).
Put this sort of writing up against Romans. There is a definite difference. In his other letters Paul is always dealing directly with the church, frequently using pronouns like “you” or “I” and often referring openly to situations and events that are within the context of the church or his relationship with it. But in Romans the writing is different. It is more organized, for one thing. There is not much about the Roman church directly or about Paul except at the beginning and the end. The letter seems mainly to be an organized doctrinal explanation, beginning noticeably in chapter 1, answering objections, and always leading to a conclusion.
Why this difference? It is important to answer this question because it opens up a window into the purpose of the letter itself.
Imagine a map. In the middle is the Mediterranean Sea. On the lower right, you have Palestine (Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, etc.) where Paul lived. Go up and to your left and you come to Asia Minor where Paul conducted his first missionary journey (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, etc.).
Keep going left and you pass Colossae and Ephesus. Eventually you come to Greece. Now we are following the course of Paul’s second and third journeys. Hit places like Philippi and Thessalonica, then go down to Athens and finally to Corinth. You have come to the place in which Paul probably wrote his letter to Rome.
Now look over the Ionian Sea at Italy. Rome is somewhere in the middle. Get into Paul’s mind and situation. Your mission is to get the gospel out to the entire known world.
Where is the most strategic city for this purpose? Rome–for two reasons. First, the known world at that time is almost all a part of the Roman Empire. The center of the empire is Rome itself. The known world comes to and goes out from Rome. Second, past Rome, is the frontier. Spain! Rome is the last outpost. After that are places where no man with the gospel has been before.
I think Paul saw Rome as a sort of missionary base of operations. It could be used as a springboard for reaching the world–especially Spain. And this is the reason for the difference in writing. The purpose of Romans was not to call the church to shape up its act or to thank it for a gift or to encourage it in affliction. The purpose largely was to enlighten it and excite it about missionary endeavors because it was to be right in the middle of them.
So Paul wrote about the primary motivation in his missionary life–the “mystery.” “The Gentiles are fellow heirs and members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Romans is a letter that, quite simply, explains that.
Romans 10:11-15 gets at the same concept. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” And then Paul makes an application in which you can feel his apostolic zeal and his desire to convey it to his readers: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’”
In other words, the Romans had a responsibility to preach the gospel to Gentiles! The knowledge that God was the God of Gentiles and that without preaching they would never believe was supposed to push the Romans toward missions.
So the question is, How can we convey these kinds of ideas from Paul’s era to modern missions. You don’t here talk about the “mystery” of the Gentile inclusion in the promises in today’s missions conferences. Should you? You may say, “I can understand the importance of this for Paul (a Jew) and I even see the importance of this for modern Jews. But we are not Jews and so it is not important.” Remember, though, that Paul fully expected the Roman Gentiles to be motivated and excited by this truth, not just the Jews. And I believe he would fully expect us to be as well.
What, then, should change? Nothing necessarily in our methodology, but something in the way we think about the gospel.
The gospel today has been reduced to this: Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners. While there is nothing openly wrong with this, some of the richness and driving force of the gospel has been lost. There is no mention that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, the Head of the Kingdom of heaven, and the Savior of a covenant people that now includes Gentiles. We do not think of the gospel within the flow of history. As a result, we miss a great part of its beauty and much impetus to grow the kingdom of God.
Think of the gospel more like this. God created the world and Adam and Eve. They sinned (no accident) and brought repercussions for all of mankind. Then came the flood and the salvation of Noah which foretold a future salvation of a remnant in the final destruction of the world.
And then—out of nowhere!—God came to Abram and made a covenant to be his God and the God of his seed forever. And right there was the beginning of a plan to use the Jewish nation to bring salvation to the world.
Isaac was born, and Jacob, and the twelve sons of Jacob. The nation grew large and eventually found itself in slavery to Egypt. Here God remained true to His covenant and ripped them out of bondage and brought them to the promised land. Next came the judges and then the kings.
Finally, along with some of the kings, the prophets arrived. They came foretelling judgment and destruction. But not only that. Past the judgment they spoke of a Messiah and a deliverance for Israel. They spoke of the righteousness of God and justification. They even spoke of a time when all mankind (Gentiles) would call on the name of the Lord and be saved.
The judgment came in the form of invasion by Assyria and Babylon. For years the Jews remained in exile, longing for the promised deliverance. Then, a partial deliverance did come and they returned to Palestine.
At this point, while Israel is under Roman rule, Jesus was born. Many Jews thought, “This is the Messiah we were expecting!” And He was the Messiah, but He was not what they were expecting. He came preaching a kingdom that was not of this world, and repentance, and belief in His name. They hated it, and killed Him, and in the process completed the greatest action He came to do on earth. Then He was raised and ascended back to the Father.
Before His ascension, Jesus said something stunning to His disciples: “You will be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In other words, the plan to use the Jewish nation for the salvation of the world had now come to the place of explosion! Think of everything that happened with the Jews as a fuse connected to a firecracker. It began with Abraham, went through David, the prophets, and finally came to Jesus and Pentecost. At this point, it blows sky high. God has used the Jews as a springboard to create a covenant people from the remotest parts of the earth.
If we think of the gospel more like this, it will propel missions. It propelled Paul. We are somewhere between Jerusalem and the remotest parts of the earth. There are still thousands of Gentiles yet to be grafted in. The real Israel, God’s people, is incomplete. Be driven by that. It is true evangelism and true missions.