“It has been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20).
There can be no doubt that Paul believed in evangelism. Like the other apostles, he took seriously our Lord’s command that the gospel of salvation should be “preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). So Paul began his letter to the Romans by declaring, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
In the concluding section of his letter to the Romans, he wrote about plans for his further missionary work. He intended to press onward to Spain, a part of the western frontier of the Roman empire, where, apparently, the gospel message of Jesus Christ had not yet penetrated (Romans 15:24, 28). On his way westward, he planned to visit the believers in Rome. This was so that he could ask for their partnership in prayer (v.30) and financial support (v. 24), as well as the encouragement of their fellowship in the Lord (v. 32).
This was because of the specific call of Christ to Paul (Romans 15:15-17). But in addition, Paul was motivated by the scriptures. He understood that the whole Bible shows that evangelism and world missions have always been on God’s heart. The sweep of biblical history, from the call of Abraham to the second coming of Christ, is the story of God’s calling out from the nations a people for himself.
Paul knew, and he wants us to know that the spread of the Christian gospel was in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The inclusion of the nations was not an afterthought. It was always the plan of God “that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).
In Romans 15:9-12 Paul cites verses from each of the main sections of the Hebrew scriptures to prove his point: world missions has always been a priority with God. The message of salvation should and would go to the nations.
In v. 9 he quotes from the psalms: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name” (Psalm 18:49). In v. 10 he quotes from the law: “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). In v.11 he returns to the psalms: “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him” (Psalm 117:10).
Then in v. 12 he quotes from the prophetic scriptures to show that all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope” (Isaiah 11:10).
Paul is quoting these scriptures to show the biblical authority for his missionary outreach to the Gentiles. It is integral to the plan of God. The Old Testament is filled with references to God’s compassion for the nations and his intention that they worship him. Paul quotes just a few of them in Romans 15.
This illustrates the continuing relevance of the Old Testament scriptures (Romans 15:4). This also reminds today’s believers of the continuing desire of our Lord that we be faithful to spread his gospel of salvation to others where we live, work, and play.
Everyone needs to hear the gospel. The message of the book of Romans is that all people without Christ are lost, guilty and without excuse (Romans chapters 1-3). If they are to be saved, they must call on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). In order for them to do this, somebody must tell them the good news (Romans 10:14). That’s evangelism, sharing the message of the crucified and risen Savior.
Pastor Randy Faulkner