William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Words Reveal The Man (Romans 15:14-21)

15:14-21 Brothers, I myself am quite sure that you, as you are, are full of goodness and replete with all knowledge and well able to give good advice to one another. I write to you with a certain amount of boldness, as it were, with the purpose of reminding you of what you already know. My ground for doing so is the God-given grace which made me the servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, and gave me the sacred task of telling the good news, and my aim in doing so is to make the Gentiles an offering acceptable to God, an offering consecrated by the Holy Spirit. Now, in Christ, I have good reason to take a legitimate pride in my work in God's service. I can say this for I will not venture to speak of anything other than the things which Christ has wrought in me, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring the Gentiles into obedience to him. Thus from Jerusalem right round to Illyricum, I have completed the announcing of the good news of God's Anointed One. But it has always been my ambition to announce the good news, not where Christ's name has already been preached, because I want to avoid building on another man's foundation. but as it stands written: "Those to whom the good news has not been told shall see; and those who have not heard will understand."

Few passages reveal Paul's character better than this. He is coming to the end of his letter and is wishing to prepare the ground for the visit that he hopes soon to pay to Rome. Here we see something at least of his secret in winning men.

(i) Paul reveals himself as a man of tact. There is no rebuke here. He does not nag the brethren at Rome nor speak to them like some angry schoolmaster. He tells them that he is only reminding them of what they well know, and assures them that he is certain that they have it in them to render outstanding service to each other and to their Lord. Paul was much more interested in what a man could be than in what he was. He saw faults with utter clarity, and dealt with them with utter fidelity; but all the time he was thinking, not of the wretched creature that a man was, but of the splendid creature that he might be.

It is told that once when Michelangelo began to carve a huge and shapeless block of marble, he said that his aim was to release the angel imprisoned in the stone. Paul was like that. He did not want to knock a man down and out; he did not criticize to cause pain; he spoke with honesty and with severity but always because he wished to enable a man to be what he could be and never yet attained to being.

(ii) The only glory that Paul claimed was that he was the servant of Christ. The word he uses (leitourgos, Greek #3011 ) is a great one. In ancient Greece there were certain state duties called liturgies (leitourgiai, Greek #3011 ) which were sometimes laid upon and sometimes voluntarily shouldered by men who loved their country. There were five of these voluntary services which patriotic citizens used to undertake.

(a) There was choregia ( Greek #5524 ), which was the duty of supplying a chorus. When Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides were producing their immortal dramas, in each of them a verse-speaking chorus was necessary. There were great festivals like the City Dionysia when as many as eighteen new dramatic works were performed. Men who loved their city would volunteer to collect, maintain, instruct and equip such a chorus at their own expense.

(b) There was gumnasiarchia. The Athenians were divided into ten tribes; and they were great athletes. At certain of the great festivals there were the famous torch-races in which teams from the various tribes raced against each other. We still speak of handing on the torch. To win the torch-race was a great honour, and there were public-spirited men who at their own cost would select and support and train a team to represent their tribe.

(c) There was hestiasis. There were occasions when the tribes met together to share in a common meal and a common rejoicing; and there were generous men who undertook the task of meeting the expense of such a gathering.

(d) There was archetheoria. Sometimes the city of Athens sent an embassy to another city or to consult the oracle at Delphi or Dodona. On such an occasion everything had to be done in such a way that the honour of the city was maintained; and there were patriotic men who voluntarily defrayed the expenses of such an embassy.

(e) There was trierarchia. The Athenians were the great naval power of the ancient world. And one of the most patriotic things that a man could do was voluntarily to undertake the expenses of maintaining a trireme or warship for a whole year.

That is the background of this word leitourgos ( Greek #3009 ). In later days, as patriotism died, such liturgies became compulsory and not voluntary. Later the word came to be used of any kind of service; and later still it came to be used especially of worship and service rendered in the temple of the gods. But the word always had this background of generous service. Just as a man in the ancient days laid his fortune on the altar of the service of his beloved Athens, and counted it his only glory, so Paul laid his everything on the altar of the service of Christ, and was proud to be the servant of his Master.

(iii) Paul saw himself, in the scheme of things, as an instrument in the hands of Christ. He did not talk of what he had done; but of what Christ had done with him. He never said of anything: "I did it." He always said: "Christ used me to do it." It is told that the change in the life of D. L. Moody came when he went to a meeting and heard a preacher say: "If only one man would give himself entirely and without reserve to the Holy Spirit, what that Spirit might do with him!" Moody said to himself: "Why should I not be that man?" And all the world knows what the Spirit of God did with D. L. Moody. It is when a man ceases to think of what he can do and begins to think of what God can do with him, that things begin to happen.

(iv) Paul's ambition was to be a pioneer. It is told that when Livingstone volunteered as a missionary with the London Missionary Society they asked him where he would like to go. "Anywhere," he said, "so long as it is forward." And when he reached Africa he was haunted by the smoke of a thousand villages which he saw in the distance. It was Paul's one ambition to carry the good news of God to men who had never heard it. He takes a text from Isaiah 52:15 to tell his aim.

"Ye armies of the living God,

His sacramental host,

Where hallowed footstep never trod,

Take your appointed post."

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible