The UK church can often seem to have lost some of its confidence in the gospel. This is very unlike Paul, who says in Romans 1:14–16:
I’m 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 at Rome. I’m not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
Paul wouldn’t need reminding that he was required to share his faith in every context. Many might say: “But it was different for him,” and: “He had it easier.” This is not true. Paul had been engaged in his ministry for almost 30 exhausting years. During this time he had lived through enough trauma, excitement and difficulty to last most people 10 lifetimes. He would have had the most compelling reasons for giving up on sharing his faith, yet his enthusiasm didn’t run out. He knew that if good people stay silent, bad things happen!
Paul’s three bold statements: “I am obligated” (verse 14), “I am eager” (verse 15), and “I am not ashamed” (verse 16) contradict the attitude of many of us Christians today. John Stott points out that too often we appear to regard evangelism as an optional extra, and feel in some perverse sense that if we do engage in it then we are doing God some sort of favour. When it comes to evangelism, our Christian culture is often one of reluctance and fear; Paul’s was one of eagerness and enthusiasm (Stott, Romans, p.58). We need to seek to regain some of this necessary eagerness.
When Christ tells us to change and become like children (Matthew 18:3) I don’t think this means becoming immature. I believe it means we need to recapture the eagerness and enthusiasm of childhood. I have two young children and whatever the previous day may have carried, by the next morning they are enthusiastic and eager once more. They get excited about everything, smile a lot and so often see the best where I might see the worst. This is the kind of childlike attitude we need to adopt in reaching the world too.
In our current cultural setting many would say it was a very distinct cultural context Paul operated within and therefore the rules of engagement were entirely different. How could he possibly manage to do the same in our instant and consumerist world? However, the world Paul found himself in was no easy place to minister either. He was in a very difficult cultural context where the gospel was at least as untenable and unpopular as it might ever seem here.
Rome was perceived in her day as the ultimate symbol of imperial power and pride. People spoke of it in awe and many hoped to visit it on some kind of pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime in order to simply look and stare in wonder at her beauty. The city was seen as the pinnacle of mankind’s creation and as evidence that human strength was all that was needed. This Roman context would have been so hostile to the message Paul carried.
As if this wasn’t all bad enough, according to tradition, Paul was no ‘pin-up’ of a man. He is said to have been small with eyebrows that met in the middle, skinny, rickety legs, a bald patch, bent nose, poor eyesight and no great rhetorical gifts. What could this one man, Paul, hope to accomplish when pitched against the proud might of imperial Rome? Would it not be more sensible to stay away? Or, if he must visit Rome, should he not keep quiet, to avoid being laughed out of town (Stott, Romans, p.58)? Paul did not think so. He was brave and stood up to the culture he was speaking into.
Paul believed he could truly change things in Rome. Spiritual hindsight is an amazing reality as looking on 2,000 years later Paul was right. If Paul could do it in this difficult Roman context, what on earth is stopping us? We may be imperfect, but we do follow a perfect God who’s with us in it so we can be braver and clearer like Paul, confident in the Lord and the gospel He has given us to share.