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And Now for the Good News Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 1

Romans 1:1-7


A.    Wrong Motives for Serving the Lord 

1.      Panic
Some people serve the Lord because of legalism.  They try to keep lists of do's and don'ts because they are afraid not to.  They think that is what God requires if you're to get into the Kingdom.  There are some cults that teach if you don't go to the mission field for at least two years, you won't make into heaven.  Within the framework of Christianity, some people serve the Lord strictly because they feel bound to do so.  They want to keep God from breaking their bubble and making life miserable for them.
2.      Prestige
Others want to make a name for themselves and to be highly esteemed by others.  They seek the chief seats, playing the role of Diotrephes, who loved "to have the pre-eminence" (3 John 9).
3.      Pride
There are some people who serve the Lord because they want to be thought of as religious.  For them, Christianity is a way to feed their own ego.
4.      Peer pressure
There are some people who serve the Lord because of peer pressure.  Since everyone else is doing it, they've got to get on the bandwagon.  They think that if they're not involved, they won't be accepted by their group.
5.      Parents
There are also some people who serve the Lord because they have been forced to by their parents or by others.  They might have been intimidated for years and still feel bound by that kind of intimidation.
6.      Profit
Some people serve the Lord for money.  They are simply out for the almighty dollar.  Jesus, for them, is a commodity that sells.
All the above however, betray an external motive for service.  It is not motivated by a pure response from the heart but an unrighteous response from the flesh.
B.    Right Motives for Serving the Lord

1.      The fight for right motives
All who serve the Lord struggle from time to time with having the purest of motives.  You can easily find yourself drawn into service with a wrong motive.  There are times when I preach, not because I want to but because I have to.  It can become a mechanical function.
There are times when someone teaches a Bible class because they think that in doing so, they will looked upon as spiritual because of gaining the leadership they had always wanted.  There are times when a group will ask me to come and speak to them and my first thought is, "The last time I spoke there, they only gave me twenty-five dollars. " But that is the devil simply trying to tempt me to preach with a wrong motive.
I once was invited to speak at a university campus gathering on the credibility of Christianity, followed by a forty-five minute question-and-answer period.  I spoke for three consecutive Tuesday nights, driving fifty miles one way.  I ultimately received three dollars for the entire occasion! They must have felt I was worth one dollar per night! I had just graduated from seminary and money was scarce.  We can be easily tempted to think like that.  We can all find ourselves fighting off improper motives as we serve Christ.
2.      The fervency for right motives
In Romans 1:8-16a, the apostle Paul epitomizes what it really means to have the right perspective on true spiritual service.  Although some 1900 years have past since this passage was written, it is still relevant and alive with Paul's affection.  As you study this passage, you can see Paul's great love for the church in Rome, a group he had never met.  And it was not like him to build on another man's foundation (cf.  Rom.  15:20). 
a) Paul was an initiator
The apostle Paul is most often seen as a strong, determined, confrontive, bold, and dynamic individual.
b) Paul was an intellectual Paul's logic was brilliant.  He was a genius--the greatest theologian the church has ever known.
c) Paul was intimate
Paul was a very sensitive, loving, warm, and gentle man of God.  He had the zeal of a prophet, the mind of a teacher, the determination of an apostle, but also the heart of a shepherd.  Paul was no paid preacher with a fee in the place of his heart.  He wasn't a preacher with a bag of old-hat sermons in the place of passion.  He had a true shepherd's heart.
3.      The focus of right motives
Before Paul moved into the full explanation of the good news, which begins in verse 16 and runs throughout the rest of the book, he wanted to open his heart to the believers in Rome.  It was most important for him to do so because the Christians in Rome don't really know him at all.  They might have questions as to why he is writing to them and why if he is the great apostle to the Gentiles, why he has never come to their city before? Paul wanted to explain the question of why he was writing and why he had not come.
Because of his heart for people, Paul cared deeply about their spiritual maturity, yet had been unable to come because God has not allowed him to come.  Since the Romans had never met him, the only way they could have had insight into his heart was if he wrote and then came to them.  In Romans 1:8-16, the apostle opened his heart to reveal the character of his service for Christ.
a)     Paul's knowledge of externalism
Paul had been raised in Judaism and knew that the Romans might not be able to differentiate between real service to Christ and ritualism.  He knew the external, religious activity of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, chief priests, and elders.  He knew that much of their service was merely routine and liturgy--physical, superficial, and temporal.  Paul also grew up in a Gentile world and knew how the priests of the pagan gods served.  They served out of the fear that if they didn't perform certain functions, the gods would crush them, or bring calamity on their cities and towns.  As a result, their service to the gods was shallow and superficial.
b)     Paul's knack for internalism
Paul summed up his entire perspective for the Romans in the statement "God . . .  whom I serve with my spirit" (v.  9).  He was saying that his service came from within, not from without.  He served with a pure and holy motivation.  What motivated him was not what people thought, or what they paid.  It wasn't peer pressure or some legal obligation, but a heart motivated to accomplish the will of God.
1)     Paul's spirit
Paul affirmed that his whole heart, mind, soul, and spirit were involved in the service he rendered.  For the apostle Paul, ministry was an all-out effort.  He was sincere.
2)     Paul's service
We use the word spirit in the same way Paul used it.  We may watch an athlete go all out in his performance, and comment, "That is spirited play!" That means he had his whole being involved in his effort.  When I was in college, the "Esprit de Corps award" which was given to the football player who rendered the effort on the field.  That is the sense in which the apostle Paul served the Lord.
Paul never served the Lord without a wholehearted commitment.  By doing that, he distinguished himself from the hirelings--those whose labor was external and insincere (John 10:11-13).  He also separated himself from the heathen, cultic priests.  Verse 9 tells us that the Holy Spirit was behind the scenes, energizing the service of the apostle Paul.
It is interesting to observe that the phrase translated "to serve" comes from the Greek verb latreu[ma]o and is frequently translated "worship. " It is always used in the New Testament to refer to religious service or worship.  Many think of worship as stained-glass windows and pipe organs.  But the Bible says the same word that means worship also means service.  The greatest worship you ever render to God is to serve Him.  For Paul, service was a total commitment.
a)     Romans 12:1-2
After finishing his main theological treatises, Paul said, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. " With everything Paul had, he served to his fullest.
b)     Philippians 3:3
"We are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. " Here Paul makes the same distinction between internal, spiritual worship, and external, fleshly worship.
c)      Acts 27:22-23
Paul, in the midst of a storm on the Mediterranean Sea, said, "I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but only of the ship.  For there stood by me this night an angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve. "
d)     2 Timothy 1:3
Paul wrote, "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience. " He was saying, "You can look deep inside me and see that I serve God with a whole heart. " Paul's service was an act of worship.  It was deep, genuine, and honest.  That is the real measure of true spirituality.  The only way to serve God is with total commitment.
e)     2 Timothy 2:22
Paul said this to Timothy, who was wavering in his faith: "Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. "
II.      A THANKFUL SPIRIT (v.  8)
"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. "
A.     Paul's Pattern
If there's one thing we know about the apostle Paul, it's that he had a thankful heart.  In almost every one of his epistles, Paul expressed thanks for the ones to whom he wrote.  The only exception is the epistle to the Galatians.  The Galatians had defected from the gospel and were functioning in the flesh.  All the churches Paul wrote to needed to be corrected, but even though he saw the need for instruction, he also could find something to be thankful for.  He was always able to see God's purposes being accomplished.  Paul expressed what is in the heart of all true servants of God-- an attitude of gratitude.
Some people go through life dwelling on the negative.  English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy said he had a friend who would be the first to spot the manure pile in a beautiful meadow! Some people refuse to be grateful for the good that God is doing in someone else's life.  If it isn't happening to them, they think it's bad.  The apostle Paul didn't express his thanks by saying, "I'm so thankful for what God has done for me"; rather he said, "I thank God for you. " He received as much joy from someone else's success as he did from his own.
B.    Paul's Predicament
Paul was in Corinth when he wrote this epistle.  At the time, the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill him (Acts 20:3).  But he never lost his perspective.  Even in that particular situation he was still filled with thanksgiving.  When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he was constantly told he would be put in chains and his life would be in imminent danger.  But it never bothered Paul in the least because he had a thankful heart.
C.    Paul's Praise
What was Paul thankful about in Romans 1:8? That God had given the Romans a testimony of faith that was extending throughout the whole world.  History records that the testimony of the church in Rome was so strong, Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews in [SC] A.  D.  49.  The Roman historian Suetonius tells us why: "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome" (Life of Claudius 25. 4).  "Chrestus" is the Latin spelling for Christ.  The Roman Christians had such a tremendous testimony, they stirred up the entire Jewish community.  The "whole world" of verse 8 has reference not to the whole world comprehensively, but the whole world of their understanding--the Mediterranean regions.
Superficial servers, unlike Paul, are never satisfied with their situations, and are therefore thankless.  They focus on their own insatiable appetites for glory.  Show me a thankless heart and I'll show you a proud, self-centered individual.  Even when you can't find things in your own life to be thankful for, you can always find many things that God is doing in someone else's life.  You should be just as thankful for them as you would be for yourself.  Philippians 2:3 says, "With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself" ([SC] (NASB).  The apostle Paul was thankful in the midst of his distresses because his joy came not from his own success, but from the advance of God's Kingdom.
D.    Paul's Passion
The intimacy Paul had with God was not something the other religions of his day could relate to.  The Pagans thought their gods were distant and so did the Jewish people.  To Paul, God was not a theological abstraction, but an intimate friend.
1.      The source (v.  8a)
"First, I thank my God. "
a)     Philippians 1:3
"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. "
b)     Philemon 4
"I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers. " Paul was so in tune with God's purposes, that they became the source of his thanksgiving.
Paul said, "The Holy Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me" (Acts 20:23).  Even when he became a prisoner in the Mamertine prison, he maintained a thankful spirit.  The Mamertine prison was connected with the city's sewage system, which ran by the prison door.  After forty prisoners were placed in the prison hole, the guards flooded the chamber sewage system and drowned the prisoners, and started with forty more.
Regardless of his condition, Paul remained thankful to God.  He was consistently filled with joy because his joy had nothing to do with his present circumstances.  He was concerned only about proclaiming the cause of Christ (cf.  1 Cor.  2:2).

III.    The mediator (v.  8b)
"I thank my God through Jesus Christ. "
Jesus is always seen as the Mediator between God and man (cf.  1 Tim.  2:5).  The only way Paul could come to God was through Jesus Christ.
A.     John 14:6
Jesus said, "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. "
Hebrews 4:16--The writer of Hebrews, having just spoken of Christ's mediatory role, said, "Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. " Apart from Jesus Christ, God would to us be nothing but a consuming fire (Heb.  12:29).  The only reason we can approach God is that Christ died in our behalf.  Paul served his God through Christ with a heart of thanksgiving.
B.    The scope (v.  8c)
"I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all. "
The scope of Paul's thanksgiving was all-encompassing.  By this statement, Paul showed his heart was toward all the Roman believers.  He was not biased nor did he choose favorites.  He didn't look for what was wrong with people.  He was simply thankful.
Many people are not thankful because they don't think they have what they deserve.  But if you really received what you deserved, you would be in hell forever.  Paul was thankful that the faith of the believers in Rome had been spoken of throughout the world.  In saying he was thankful for their faith, he was referring to the genuineness of their salvation, and the clear testimony of their lives.  He was thankful that they were a redeemed fellowship manifesting the life and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, even in the midst of severe Roman persecution.  Their faith added credibility and integrity to the message of Christianity.
Are You Truly Thankful?
Wouldn't it be honoring to God to be famous throughout the entire world for your faith? Some churches are famous for their pastor; others for their architecture.  Some are famous for their art: others for their organ.  Some are even famous for their choirs, or the different celebrities that attend.  But wouldn't it be great to be famous around the world for your faith? People come to me almost daily and ask, "Could you recommend a good church in my city?" They don't say, "Could you recommend one with nice architecture or one with a pipe organ?" They want to attend a church where the pastor and the congregation believe God and take Him at His Word.
A thankful heart is essential for true spiritual service.  If you are trying to serve the Lord without gratitude in your heart for what He's done for you, you are serving in the flesh with improper motives.  One who is thankful realizes that God has a cause for everything that happens.  One who serves externally, legalistically, or ritualistically will not find very many things to be thankful for in his life because he is not grateful for the things God has already done for him.
Do you have a thankful heart? Are you overwhelmed with thanksgiving for what God has done? If you are, that will take out any bitterness or resentment you may be feeling toward God or anyone else.  There is so much to be thankful for.  The devil often tempts us by saying, "You deserve better than that.  You don't have to be thankful. " He attempts to play a game with our minds, but when he does, step back and say, "No! There is too much to be thankful for!"

"For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers. "
A.     Paul's Redundancy (v.  9b)
"Without ceasing I make mention of you always. " "Without ceasing" is a negative emphasis and "always" is a positive emphasis.  Paul was simply affirming to the Roman believers that he was covering all the bases and praying for them constantly.
B.    Paul's Representative (v.  9a)
"For God is my witness. "
Since the Roman believers did not know Paul, he called on God to validate his ministry to them.  He was saying, "God is my witness and he knows my heart. " Just as God witnessed about Christ's public ministry (cf.  Matt.  3:17, 1 John 5:9-11), so also He testified concerning the public ministry of the apostle Paul.
C.    Paul's Request (v.  9c)
"In my prayers. "
Paul was always in the habit of praying for the saints.  He began most of his epistles with an indication of his concerned prayers for the readers.  And here he prayed for a group he had never met.  He never took for granted their spiritual lives.  He never forgot their labor of love and continued to pray for them.
1.      The influence of the early apostles
a)     Acts 6:4
The early apostles said, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word. "
b)     1 Thessalonians 5:17
Paul said to, "Pray without ceasing. "
2.      The intensity of the apostle Paul
a)     Ephesians 6:18
Paul also said we're to be, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. " Paul was always praying for everyone. 

b)     Ephesians 3:14-19
In praying for the Ephesians, Paul said, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. "
c)      Philippians 1:9-11
To the Philippians Paul said, "This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. "
d)     Colossians 1:9
Paul and his co-workers prayed fervently for the Colossians: "For this cause, we also since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing by the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father. "
e)     2 Thessalonians 1:11
For the Thessalonians they prayed, "that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him. "
Paul was consumed with praying for the saints.  He endeavored to line up with God's will on their behalf.  Paul called on God's omniscience for verification.
God, who cannot lie (cf.  Heb.  6:18), was Paul's witness that he never stopped praying for the believers he ministered to.  He wanted them to know that his failure to visit Rome was not because he lacked the desire, but that it was not God's purpose at that time.  Paul's prayers were characteristic of a true servant's heart.

V.     A WILLING SPIRIT (v.  10a)
"Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey. "
A.     The Participation
Paul not only prayed for the believers in Rome, but also asked God if he might be part of the answer to his prayer.  That is a refreshing statement because so many people today want someone else to do the work of the ministry rather than themselves.  I have heard people praying, "Lord, raise up someone to reach my neighbor. " The real answer to that prayer ought to be the one who prayed it!
B.    The Proclamation
Some years ago a film was made called The Gospel Blimp.  It was about a man who wanted to bring his neighbor to Christ.  He went to the extreme of hiring a blimp service to drop gospel tracts in his neighbor's yard.  A group of men formed the International Christian Blimp Association to fly over their neighbor's yards depositing tracts.  There are many "gospel blimp" Christians in the world.  They want to bring their neighbors to Christ, but they won't simply go over to their house and witness to them.
A man once came to me after our church service and said, "I have a plan to win my neighbors to Christ.  And I'd like to know if the church would give me twenty-five thousand dollars to carry out my plan. " I said, "What do you need the twenty-five thousand dollars for?" He responded, "I'm going to buy a sophisticated telephone answering system where people call in and hear the gospel.  When it's in place, I'll start giving out the phone number to my gospel call-in service to all my neighbors.  I won't tell them what the number is for, so they'll think it's for something else.  Without knowing it, they'll call and hear the gospel. " I said very politely, "Sir, you don't need twenty-five thousand dollars from the church.  You simply need to go over and tell you neighbors about Christ and what He's done for you. "
We don't need gospel blimps or other gimmicks.  The key is to want to have a part in answering our own prayers.  The prophet Isaiah said, "Here am I.  Send me!" (Isa.  6:8 [SC] NASB).  It becomes so easy to pray for missionaries to reach a lost world, and yet it is so hard to share Christ with our neighbors.  If you pray, "Lord, I want this to be done and if need be, I'll do it," then you're showing a willing heart.
Focusing on the Facts
1. Give six reasons that people serve the Lord and describe the wrong motives behind them.
2. External service is not motivated by a ________ response from the __________ but an ________________ response from the ________.
3. Explain why people struggle with right motives for serving the Lord.
4. Describe three characteristics that show the fervency of Paul's motives?
5. Why did Paul need to reveal his heart to the Roman believers? Why might they have questions about his ministry?
6.  What is the key phrase in understanding Romans 1:8-16a? Why is it so important?
7. What is the commonality between serving and worship? Give examples from Scripture.
8. If there's one thing we know about the apostle Paul, it would be that he had a _____________________.
9. True or False: A person with a thankful heart recognizes the work of God in the life of someone else.
10. Who was the source of Paul's thankful heart and who was it mediated by?
11. What does Paul mean by saying he was thankful for the Romans' faith?
12. Who did Paul call upon to validate his ministry to the Roman believers? Why did he to do that?
13. Describe Paul's prayer life to all the believers he ministered to.
14. Paul's prayers were characteristic of a true ____________________.
15. What did Paul's prayer for the Romans consist of? How did he attempt to involve himself in his prayer?
16. How can you show a willing heart to God?

Pondering the Principles
1. The apostle Paul had a thankful heart.  In almost every one of his epistles, he expressed thanks to God for the ones to whom he wrote.  Are you a thankful person? Do you thank God for everything that occurs in your life, no matter what the circumstances may be? Study the following verses and ask God to make you a thankful person: Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 4:6-7, and 1 Thessalonians 5:18.  Memorize at least one of them.
2. How often do you pray? When you do pray, how much of that time is spent praying for others? Use the following passages to pray for those to whom you minister, whether it be your family, friends, or those you are discipling or evangelizing: Ephesians 1:16-19, 3:14-21, and Colossians 1:9-13.
3. A willing spirit is a mark of true spiritual service.  It is the service that renders not only prayer but also the willingness to be part of the answer.  If you pray, "Lord, I want this to be done and if need be, I'll do it," then you're showing a willing heart.  Do you desire to be part of the solution in your prayers for others? Do you regularly pray for your neighbors, yet are unwilling to be used by God to reach them? If so, ask God to begin to make you the solution to your prayers for others.  Seek to be "a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and fit for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim.  2:21).


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