Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 1
April 5, 1981
People serve the Lord for many reasons. There are some people who serve the Lord because of legalism. They’re afraid not to. They serve the Lord because they think that’s what He requires if you’re to get in the Kingdom. There are some cults that even teach if you don’t go to the mission field for a couple of years, you’ll never make it. There are people within the framework of Christianity who serve the Lord strictly because they feel bound to do that or else God may pop their balloon, make life miserable for them.
There are people who serve the Lord for prestige sake. They want to make a reputation. They want to be highly esteemed. They want to lord it over men. They want to seek a chief seat. They play the role of Deotrophes(?) who loved to have the preeminence.
There are some people who serve the Lord because they want to be thought righteous. They want to be thought of as holy, as godly, as religious. There are some people who serve the Lord because of peer pressure. Everybody else is doing it and they’ve got to get on the bandwagon or they won’t be accepted in the group.
There are some people who serve the Lord because they’ve been forced to do it by somebody else, maybe their parents, perhaps even who have intimidated them in years past and they’re still bound by that intimidation.
You can serve the Lord for many reasons. Out of your own ego, out of fear, out of legalism, out of intimidation. But none of those is true spiritual service because all of that is external. It’s all functionary. It’s all going through the motions, cranking it out. I might add there are some people who serve the Lord, believe it or not, out of money. They do it for filthy lucre sake. Jesus now days is a commodity that sells, in case you haven’t noticed.
But all of these show an external kind of service. We could call it serving in the flesh, for external reasons. And what I want to share with you tonight out of Romans 1:8–15 and right into the beginning of verse 16, is something very different from that and that is true spiritual service.
Now let me go a step further and say that all of us who may serve the Lord from time to time because we really have a pure motive can find ourselves drawn into the other kind of service. There are times, for example, when I might preach because I have to preach. And it’s mechanical and I’ve got to do it, if I don’t do it you’ll all come and we’ll sing and you’ll go home. And that will never do so I’ll preach. It’s a function.
There might be times when you teach a Bible class or a Sunday-school class or something like that because you feel that if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be a part of the group because all your friends are doing it and you just go through the motions. You may do it sometimes so people will think you’re spiritual, you may do it sometimes so you can have that leadership that you’ve always wanted. It’s possible to serve the Lord for money. I hate to admit the thing but it’s true. There are times, you know, when somebody will call or write and say, “We’d like to have you come and speak.” And my first thought is, “You know, the last time I went there they only gave me $25.00.” And I say I would never think that, it must be the devil putting that in my mind because he tempts you that way.
I remember one time being invited to speak at a campus. I spoke for 45 minutes on the credibility of Christianity to an open forum student body and they had 45 minutes to ask me questions. Now that’s putting your head on the block at a college. And I did that for three Tuesday nights in a row. And I drove 50 miles one way to do it here in the southland and I received a check in the mail for $3.00 … a dollar a night. I never forgot that. And my reaction is “A dollar a night!” I had just gotten out of seminary at the time and I was really desperate. Oh, it’s so easy to be tempted like that.
All of us find ourselves fighting off emotions and bad motives, improper motives as we serve Christ. And as we look at the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:8–16, I think we might get a glimpse of the right motives. And maybe the Lord will really begin to reinforce in our hearts the perspective of true spiritual service.
Almost 1900 years ago this passage was written. And yet though over 1900 years old, it still had a tremendous warmth. It is just alive with affection. There is in these verses a tremendous sensitivity. There is a tenderness and a strength that just breathes its way through the letters and the words. As I read this over and over and over and over this week, it just seemed to me that I could sense Paul’s great heart beating with love for the church he had never seen in Rome. It wasn’t his church, he didn’t found it. He had never met with that church. And it was not like him to build on another man’s foundation as he says in chapter 16, so this was a very, very unusual passion that he had for this church. And as I read the message again, it seemed as though Paul was alive and his heart was beating and the thing was so fresh that it spoke to me of my own service for Christ right here and right now. And I hope it will for you as well.
I think we tend to see Paul as a strong resolute determined hard confrontive bold dynamic individual. We primarily see him as an initiator. And that’s true. And we also see him as a brilliant logical astute genius, a definitive theologian. He’s not only an initiator but he’s an intellectual.
But I have to add a third word, he’s also an intimate. There’s something very tender down inside Paul, something very sensitive, something very loving, something very soft and warm and gentle. He had the zeal of the prophet. He had the mind of the teacher. He had the determination of the Apostle. But he had the heart of a shepherd. And that’s what you see in these verses here. He was no paid preacher with a fee in the place of a heart. He wasn’t a preacher with a bag of old-hat sermons in place of a passion. He was every bit the shepherd.
Now he has already introduced the gospel in the first seven verses of Roman in a brief summary of what he’ll unfold in the sixteen chapters. He’s already introduced the gospel. But before he moves into its full explanation which begins in the middle of verse 16, before he gets into that unfolding explanation that runs the length of the book, he wants to open up his heart and it’s most important for him to do that because the people in Rome basically don’t know him. And there might be the question, first of all, why is this man whom we’ve never met writing us this long epistle? Secondly, this great Apostle to the Gentiles, why has he never come to our city? Doesn’t he care about us? Is he going to treat us at arm’s length?
And so, I believe he wants to answer the question of why he is writing and why he has not come. And the answer is very simple, he’s writing because he cares so deeply about their spiritual maturity and he hasn’t come because although he’s wanted to so desperately, God has never allowed him to come. But he has to say that so they’ll understand. The Romans had never met him and the only way they could get an insight into his heart is if he opened his heart to them. So, what we have right here in verses 8–16, the first part of the verse, is the Apostle opening his heart to reveal the character of his service to Christ. It’s a tremendous passage. We get a glimpse into the real Paul, behind that initiator and behind that intellectual, the spirit of the man.
I read this passage I can’t tell you how many times before something finally clicked in my mind as to what was going on here. In fact, I can’t remember a passage in months and months that I went over and over and over like I did this and never really got the whole thing put together till half way through yesterday … after spending all week on it. Because I never could really see what the key was. And then there was a sort of “eureka” and I caught a phrase in verse 9: “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” And the phrase that jumped out at me was “whom I serve with my spirit.”
Paul had been raised in Judaism. He knew the Pharisees. He knew the Sadducees. He knew the scribes, the chief priests, the elders. And he knew the externalism. He knew that the service was so much mechanics, so much activity, so much formality, so much routine, so much liturgy. They served with the flesh. They served in the physical, in the external, in the superficial. And he grew up in a Gentile world and he knew how the priests of the pagan gods served. They served externally out of fear that if they didn’t do it the god would step on them and crush them, or bring calamity on their city or their town or their country. All of it was so shallow and so superficial. He had seen so much religiosity. He had seen so much phony functioning in the name of religion. And he sums up his whole approach in the statement “God whom I serve with my spirit.”
And I believe what he is saying is that my service comes from deep within me, not from the outside, not from the external. In my service, in the gospel of His Son which gospel he has already alluded to in the first seven verses, when I serve God in the gospel of His Son, I serve with my spirit. In other words, my inner man is what motivates me. My inner man is what drives me. It isn’t what people think. It isn’t what they pay me. It isn’t peer pressure. It isn’t legal obligation. It’s in my heart to do this. It’s in my spirit to do this.
The best way to see that beautiful phrase is as an affirmation that his whole being, his whole heart, his whole mind, his whole soul, his whole spirit was in the service that he rendered. He’s saying to them, “I’m not insincere. I am genuine.” He’s just saying it’s an all out effort for me.
We use the word “spirit” sometimes in that same way. We may watch an athletic team participate or an athlete participate in some sport and we see him lethargic, indifferent and just going through the motions. On the other hand, sometimes you see somebody just go all out, just put out everything and we tend to say, “That is spirited play.” He’s got his whole being in that. In fact, when I was in college we used to give an award on the football team called the “esprit de corps” award,” for the one who rendered the greatest spirit, really had his heart in it. And that’s Paul.
He never served the Lord without a wholehearted commitment. That’s the only way to go at it. So he distinguishes himself from the hirelings. He distinguishes himself from those whose labor was formal and outward and pretense and insincerity. He separates himself from the traditional heathen cultic priests and the scribes and the Pharisees. And he says I serve God with my inner man. And the allusion to the Holy Spirit here is irresistible. I see in the spirit also the Holy Spirit behind the scenes. I serve with my spirit, but his spirit had been long energized by the Holy Spirit of God. His service then is the real stuff.
In fact, the word “to serve” comes from the Greek verb latreuo. It is used in the New Testament only for religious service, always for service to God. Except two times it’s used for service to idols. But it always is used for service to God, divine service. And frequently the word is translated “worship.” It always has fascinated me that this word exists in the New Testament and can be translated either to serve or worship. We think of worship as stained glass windows and pipe organs. You’ll notice we have not a pipe organ and no stained glass windows. We don’t want you to be confused. People think of worship as external. But the Bible says the same word that means worship also means … what?… service. The greatest worship you ever render to God is to serve Him. And Paul says I serve Him with my spirit.
Now frankly, for Paul that meant a total all-out commitment. Look at Romans 12:1 … Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies … watch this … a living sacrifice.” Oh, that’s a great phrase. “Present your body a living sacrifice.” That means one that is ever willing to die if need be, that’s how deep the commitment … holy. And by the way, that is already holy … “Holy, acceptable unto God which is your … what?… reasonable, or spiritual service.”
Paul says, “Look, I serve with my whole spirit.” How do you do that, Paul? Well, by presenting your body a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God. Further, “By not being conformed to this … what?… world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In other words, your body is presented as a living sacrifice. Your soul is not conformed to the world. Your mind is transformed. Every part of you belongs to God. That is your spiritual service. That’s the way Paul served, with everything he had.
In Philippians 3:3 he uses the same terms. He says, “For we are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit.” And he makes the same contrast in Philippians 3:3. We’re not external. We worship or serve God … same word again … from deep within our hearts. It is spiritual service, spiritual worship.
I love the statement he made when the boat was going through the Mediterranean Sea and they were having that terrible disastrous shipwreck and all those things were happening. And you remember what he said? He came and he said, “Look, everything’s going to be okay because an angel appeared to me.” And then he said this, I love this, “For I believe God … I believe God.” How so, Paul? Earlier he says this, “For there stood by me this night an angel of God,” here’s the phrase I want you to get, “whose I am and whom I … what?… serve.” I belong to God and I serve Him.
Second Timothy 1:3, he writes: “I thank God whom I serve with a pure conscience.” In other words, you can look deep down inside of me and you will see that I serve with a whole heart. Paul’s service is an act of worship. Paul’s service was deep and genuine and honest. And that, my friend, is true spiritual service. That’s the real stuff. That’s the only way to serve. There is no other way to serve, but with total commitment.
Paul reminds Timothy who has defected in 2 Timothy 2, he says to him, “Timothy, you had better begin to call upon the Lord,” listen to this, “out of a pure heart.” You better get your act together.
Now what does this involve? If we are to serve the Lord in the right way, what does it really involve? What are the ingredients? Let me give you a test. We’ll probably start it tonight and finish it next time. The other alternative is, we’ll be here till midnight. We’ll take alternative number one.
What are the marks of true spiritual service? How can you look at somebody and tell that they’re really serving with their spirit? You know, we have a lot of people in this church who serve … a lot of people … a lot of people. Do you know that Jim Welles was telling me the other night that just in the ministry of recreation alone, there are 400 leaders that are involved over a period of a year. I don’t know how many teachers there are in the elementary division, 500? A lot of people serve, flocks ministries, missions, youth ministries. In fact, we figured a few weeks ago, I shared it with you, that between eight and nine thousand in this church are involved in some service, some fellowship between the Sundays. We have a lot of people who serve.
Now, how do we really evaluate whether our service is according to the heart? Here comes the test. And I think there are ten marks of true spiritual service. First, number one, true spiritual service is marked by a thankful spirit … a thankful spirit. Look at verse 8. First, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”
You know, if there’s anything you learn about Paul, it’s that he had a thankful heart. Do you know that in every single epistle that he wrote, he expresses thanks for the one to whom he writes … except for one? And that was the Galatians who had defected from the gospel and were functioning in the flesh. All the rest begin with thanksgiving. Now let me tell you something. The reason he wrote those letters, for the most part, was because those churches need to be corrected. But even where he saw that need and where he saw the need for instruction, he also could find something to be thankful for. Paul had a thankful spirit. He was always able to see God’s purposes being accomplished. He was always able to see God’s Kingdom advancing. He was always able to see people being saved. He looked for that. He focused on that. And he expressed what I believe you find in the heart of all true servants of God, the man lived out an attitude of gratitude.
Some people go through the world and all they ever find is what’s wrong with everything. It’s like Thomas Hardy said, he had a friend, you could take him in to any beautiful meadow and immediately he’d find the manure pile. Didn’t matter where it was. There are some people who just go through life negative. They just cannot find the good things. You know why that is? Because the only good things they care about are the good things that happen to them and they know nothing of what it is to live a life of gratitude over what God’s doing for somebody else. If it isn’t happening to them, it isn’t happening.
Now Paul expresses his thanks. He doesn’t say, “Thank you, Romans.” No, thanking the Romans would have been flattery. And he doesn’t say, “I’m so thankful for what God has done for me.” That would have been selfishness. He says, “I thank God … not the Romans … for what He’s done … not for me, but … for you.” He got just as much joy out of somebody else’s success as he did his own.
You might be interested to know where he was when he wrote this. He was in Corinth. And you know what was going on? The Jews were plotting to kill him. But he never lost his perspective. That was nothing new, frankly. That happened in about every town he went into. But in the twentieth chapter of Acts and the second verse, it says, “They were lying in wait to kill him.” In that particular situation he still is filled with thanksgiving, even though things are pretty sad in his case. And he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem and everywhere he went people kept telling him when he got there he’s going to be put in chains and his life would be in danger. It never even bothered him. He was thankful.
And what was he thankful about? That God had given them a testimony of faith that was going throughout the whole world. Their testimony was strong. In fact, the testimony of the church in Rome was so strong that in 49 A.D., Emperor Claudius had expelled all the Jews, kicked them all out. And if you read Suetonius, the Roman historian, Suetonius records that the reason Emperor Claudius threw all the Jews out is because there was trouble brewing under the influence of one named “Krestus(?)” which seems to be poor Claudius’ feeble attempt at identifying Christ. They had had a tremendous testimony. They’d stirred up the Jewish community there. Their testimony had gone, as it were, through the whole world. And, of course, that’s not comprehensively the whole world, but the whole world of their purview, the world of their living and the world of their understanding.
So he thanked God. I think superficial servers are basically thankless. They never get satisfied. They never get enough. They focus only on their own insatiable appetites. You show me a thankless heart and I’ll always show you a proud self-centered individual. Because even when you can’t find things in your own life to be thankful for, if you’re really living the kind of life you should, you can find myriads of things that God’s doing in somebody else’s life. And you should be just as thankful for those. In fact, in the spirit of Philippians 2, more thankful.
And so, Paul had a thankful heart even though his life was being plotted against, even though he was heading to Jerusalem where he had been warned that he would become a prisoner and perhaps lose his life. His great concern was the Kingdom of God, not his own hide. So he was thankful. He was thankful in the midst of his distress because the joy came in the advance of God’s Kingdom, not in his own success.
Notice what he says in verse 8. “First I thank my God.” Pagans didn’t say that. There was no intimacy. Jews didn’t say that. There was no intimacy. But Paul said that because God for Paul was not a theological abstraction, God for Paul was an intimate friend. The God whose I am and whom I serve, there was a tremendous intimacy between himself and God. And he says that very often, “My God.” In Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God.” In Philemon, that little letter, I think it’s in verse 4, “I thank my God.” He felt a real intimacy and he was so … mark this now … so entwined with his God that his God’s purposes and his God’s causes and his God’s ends became the source of his thanksgiving.
You see, even when he became a prisoner and was in that stinking wretched Mammertine prison where the city sewage system ran by the door and after 40 prisoners were in that hole in the ground, they opened the sewage and drowned the prisoners and started with the next 40, even while he was a captive in his own house in Rome and when he was writing those prison letters, he was always filled with joy because his joy had nothing to do with what was happening to him. In fact, he said, you know, even the people who ought to be my friends have criticized me. And some are adding affliction to my bonds. In other words, it isn’t enough I’m a prisoner, they’re wailing on me, criticizing my ministry, saying I’m in jail because God had to shelf me. But he says I don’t care, if Jesus Christ is preached, in that I will rejoice. He had a thankful heart. Thankful language comes from one who serves the Lord with his deep inner man.
Notice just a couple of other notes in verse 8. He says, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ.” Always the Mediator, one mediator between God and man. The only way he could come to God was through Jesus Christ. “No man comes unto the Father,” said Jesus, “but … what?… by Me,” John 14:6. Jesus is the one, says the writer of Hebrews, who has opened the way so that we can boldly come into the presence of the Father to seek mercy in the time of need. Apart from Jesus Christ I warn you that God would be nothing but a consuming fire. The reason He is my God is because the intimacy has been made possible by Christ. And so he comes to serve his God through Christ with a heart of thanksgiving.
And notice it’s an all-encompassing thanks. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” Some people say this indicates that he was from the south. But I’m not really sure that’s exactly what it’s intended to indicate. But that his heart was toward all of them. The man had such a big heart. He didn’t look for what was wrong with people. He wasn’t picky. He was just thankful.
I’ve always said, you know, if you’re not thankful, the reason is you think you didn’t get what you deserve. And let me just tell you. If you really got what you deserved, you’d get hell forever. I’m thankful, he says. And I’m thankful that your faith is spoken of throughout the world. What does he mean by their faith? The genuineness of their salvation, the true character of their redemption, the clear testimony that they were a really redeemed fellowship manifesting the life and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And there they were, right in the middle of the mouth of the Roman lion, right in Rome itself. And he was so thankful. They had credibility, they had integrity. They lived out their faith.
Wouldn’t it great to be famous throughout the whole world for your faith? Some churches are famous for their pastor. Some churches are famous for their architecture. Some churches are famous for the high ceiling, or the glass, or the carvings. Some churches are famous for the dome on top. Some are famous for the art. Some are famous for the cemetery out back. Some are famous for the organ. Some are famous for their choir. Some are famous for the celebrities that go there. Some are famous for their money, some for their theology, some for their fanaticism. Wouldn’t it be great to be famous for your faith throughout the whole world? No wonder he was thankful.
When people come to me, and they come every … almost every day either by letter or by phone call or person to person, they say, “Could you please recommend a church in my city? They don’t say, “Could you recommend one with nice architecture? Do you know a good church that has a dome on it? Do you know a church where there’s a nice cemetery in the back? Do you know a church with a pipe organ? You know, we’re moving to a new city, where do the celebrities go? People never ask me that. You know what they ask me? Do you know a good church in such-a-such-a place where they really believe God and take Him at His Word? That’s what they want to know. And that’s why Paul was thankful for this church.
A thankful heart is essential to true spiritual service. If you’re trying to serve the Lord without gratitude in your heart for what He’s done, you’re serving in the flesh for other than proper motives. Thankfulness, let me tell you, is an attitude that will always find a cause … always. It will always find something to express itself. And one who serves externally and one who serves legalistically and one who serves ritualistically, one who serves out of duty can hardly find things to be thankful for in his own life, let alone anybody else’s.
Do you have a thankful heart? Are you overwhelmed with thanksgiving? If you are, that will take out any bitterness or any negative thinking. There’s so much to be thankful for. And you know, the devil always wants to say, “Ah, it isn’t like you to like it, is it?” And he plays that game with me, too. And then I just stop and stand back and say, “But wait a minute, look, so much to be thankful for.”
Second point, true spiritual service is characterized by a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit … a concerned spirit. And here is a marvelous duality. While there is deep gratitude, at the same time there is concern for what isn’t being done. You have to have the two. Sure, we’re thankful but we don’t just sit back and say, “Oh, there’s three or four good things going on, so we just let the 84 bad things sort of slide along.” No, we don’t do that. There’s concern. Look at verse 9, “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.”
Now the emphasis of that statement is simply this. Drop out the part that we studied in the middle and he’s saying this, “For God is my witness that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” Now you say, “Paul, you’re being redundant. I mean, what you said without ceasing you didn’t need to say always, or if you said always you could leave out the without ceasing. Why do you say without ceasing I make mention of you always? That’s redundant. Yeah, but says that’s how I do it. I just do it always and without ceasing. The first one is negative and the second one is positive, you see. He just wants to cover the ground. He says I pray for you all the time.
And now you have no way of knowing that. Because you don’t know me. So he uses that little beginning in verse 9, “For God is my witness.” Since you don’t have that knowledge, I call on God. God is my witness. God knows my heart. Beloved, may I suggest to you secondly, that the spirit of true spiritual service is one of concern that issues in prayer? First a thankful heart and then a concerned heart that prays. If you see needs, go to your knees about those needs. True spiritual service prays.
Oh, how many of his epistles does he begin with an indication of his concerned prayers for the readers? He does it over and over again. And here for a group he’s never even visited, and a church he didn’t even found, he says I never stop praying for you. He never took it for granted. He didn’t say, “Oh, well, that church in Rome, their faith is spoken throughout the whole world. I’m so thankful, God, for what You’ve done. Cross them off the list.” No. Continued to pray.
It was so with the early Apostles. In Acts 6:4 it says that they gave themselves continually to prayer in the ministry of the Word. Paul told the Thessalonians simply this, “Pray without … what?… ceasing.” They could never know his intensity. They could never know his concern unless he told them. And maybe they wouldn’t believe it except that he calls on God and says God is my witness. And after all, it’s Him I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son. I’m lining up with God and telling you I pray like this on your behalf. He calls on omniscience for verification. God who cannot lie, God who knows the secrets of the heart, God who knows the hidden motives, let God be my witness that I pray for you and I never stop praying for you. What a testimony. If you have a little class of people that you teach, can you say to them, “I thank my God for you and with all your problems and I never, ever ever stop praying for you?” Boy, I tell you, that’s the stuff that real service is made out of.
He wants them to know, you see, that his failure to visit Rome is not due to some lack of desire on his part for them, some lack of concern, some indifference. He never stops praying for them. That’s characteristic of a true hearted servant.
In Ephesians 6:18, he says the same thing, he says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication for all saints.” Always praying for everybody.
What do you think the content of his prayer was? What did he pray for the Romans? Lord, there’s one of them that’s got a twisted ankle … Lord, one of them’s trying to debate about whether they ought to buy a new chariot … What do you think the content of his prayer was? Lord, I want to pray for that Roman church, they need to add an education unit … heh-heh. What do you think he was praying about?
Well, I’ll give you a little insight. You want to see some of his prayers? How about Ephesians 3, this is what he writes to the Ephesians and this letter probably got circulated around a lot more places than the Ephesians. We find manuscripts of it with different places in the indication of its objective. But in verse 14, here’s a typical prayer of Paul. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.… now I’m going to pray.” That last phrase may or may not be in the manuscripts, but he says, “I’m praying now to the Father and this is what I’m going to pray.” Verse 16, “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 settle down and be at home in your hearts through faith and that you would be rooted and grounded in love and able to comprehend with all saints the breadth and length and depth and height and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Now that’s a pretty hefty prayer. Pray that you would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that Christ would settle down and be at home in your heart, that you would be filled with an understanding of love, that you would know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, that you’d be filled with the fullness of God, that you’d fulfill the ability to do abundantly above all you can ask or think and unto Him be glory in the church. It’s all spiritual stuff.
You go to Philippians and he prays again. Chapter 1:9, “And this I pray,” what are you going to pray, Paul? “That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, that you may be filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
You look at Colossians and he prays again in chapter 1. Verse 9, “For this cause, we also since the day we heard it do not cease to pray for you and the desire—here it is—that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that you 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.”
I mean, it just keeps going like this. Second Thessalonians 1, same thing, verse 11, “Wherefore also we pray always for you.” And what do we pray? “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 you in Him.”
You look at the prayers of Paul and I’ve just given you some samples and the content is all spiritual. He prayed for their heart to be knit with the heart of God. He prayed for their knowledge that they might know God’s will and for their obedience that they might do it. He prayed for them. We emphasize praying for individuals but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be praying for groups as well, Paul did.
You can see that he served out of a true heart because he had a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit. You show me a person in a ministry who doesn’t exhibit a positive affirming joyous thankful heart and who doesn’t spend time in constant prayer for his people and I’ll show you someone who serves in the flesh. On the other hand, you show me someone whose heart is filled with thanksgiving for what he perceives God is doing and yet whose heart is so filled with concerned that he’s ever and always praying on behalf of his people and I’ll show you someone who ministers in the Spirit.
Let me give you a third point, and we’ll quit at this one tonight. That leaves seven for next week. A willing spirit … and this brings together the first triad, really. I thought of them in a unit of three because they tied together. This is so good, verse 10, “Now in my prayers I make a request.” What is your request, Paul? “If by any means … I mean, anyway it could be done, by any means, I don’t care what it is … at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. And while I’m praying for you, I’m asking the Lord somehow by any means, I don’t care how He does it, just to get me there.” That’s a willing spirit.
You know what I love to see? I love to see somebody who prays and in his prayer—listen to this—asks if he can’t also be part of the answer. Did you get that? Oh, that’s so good. What a true heart. He not only prayed but he wanted to part of the answer to his prayer. It’s so easy to pray for others to do it. “Lord, raise someone up to reach my neighbor.” I always think of the “Gospel Blimp.” You remember that film? Incredible film. A guy wanted to win his neighbor, so he hired a blimp to drop gospel bombs in his neighbor’s yard. They formed the International Christian Blimp Association and flew a blimp over his neighbor’s yard and bombed his house with tracts.
Boy, there are so many “gospel blimps” in the world. I’ll never forget a guy, came to me after a service one time over there and he says, “I’ve got a great plan.” He said, “I’m concerned about winning my neighbors.” I said, “You are?” He says, “Yep.” He said, “I’d like to know if Grace Church would give me $25,000, I’ve got the plan to do it.”
I said, “What do you need the $25.…” He said, “I’m going to buy a sophisticated telephone answering system and I’ve got an elaborate plan worked out where people can call in and get the gospel and I’m going to get the phone number to that gospel-call-in service to my neighbor when he thinks it will be for something else.” He went through this whole thing. “And he’ll call and he’ll get the gospel.”
Twenty-five thousand dollars, I said. “Why don’t you go over and tell him the gospel?” How many times we’re praying for gospel blimps. The key is to want to be a part of the solution. Isaiah said, “Here am I, Lord … what?… send me.” It’s easy to pray for missionaries we wax pious, we even wax eloquent. We pray for the missionaries to reach the people across the sea. Very difficult to pray for somebody to reach our neighbor, isn’t it? Very difficult.
God knows when you’re praying safely and He knows whether you have a willing spirit. You pray, “Well, Lord, I want this to be done and if need be, I’ll do it.” Then you’ve got some real teeth in your prayer. Then you’re showing a pure heart.
Paul prayed with a willing heart. He prayed sacrificially. He says, “I’m not just praying for you, I’m praying that God will send me to you so that I can impart to you what it is that you need.” Thankful spirit, concerned spirit, willing spirit.
Now those are marks, people … true spiritual service. And you need to examine your own heart and your own life to see if they’re part of your service. That’s only the beginning. Now I don’t want you to get so intimidated you don’t come back next time. I’m listening to this, too, you know. And it isn’t easy for me either. But I think you get the message, don’t you? Paul really served with a spirit. Down deep in his heart he was committed to serving Christ.
You know what happens when you serve this way? I’ll just give you a little hint. You know what happens when you serve this way? All of a sudden when you serve out of your spirit and God is moving, amazing things begin to happen. I can tell you that.
There’s an old story about Isadore. Isadore was believed to be the patron saint of Madrid. In fact, on the tenth of May, I think, the Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the festival related to Isadore. But there’s an interesting story about this supposed individual. He was a common farm servant. And he would always go out and serve. But in all of his serving, he always thought of the Lord and he always gave all the glory to the Lord and he always had this overwhelming thankful heart. And he spent all of his time in prayer. He was just utterly plugged into God. Everything he did was spiritual service, according to the story, even when he plowed a field. It was all the Lord’s work.
Now, he irritated the other farm workers because he always came late for the plowing. And they finally confronted him and they said, “Isadore, you are always late for the plowing. And we’re here working long before you arrive.” To which he is said to reply, “It may be true that I am later at my work than some of the other laborers but I do my utmost to make up for the lateness by diligence.”
“Why are you late?”
“Well, I spend the time in prayer. And I ask you to compare my work with the others and if I have defrauded you in the least, I will make amends by paying you out of my own private store.”
Well, the master to whom he was speaking was silent but not satisfied and resolved to see for himself whether Isadore made up what he lost by being late. And the next morning he hid himself in the field to which Isadore was assigned. And sure enough, everybody was working and Isadore came late. He’d been praying again. And the indignant master resolved to berate him and to cut his pay. He started to move out from his hiding place but was immediately halted by a strange vision. In the clear sunlight, he saw a pair of white oxen drawing a plow held by an angel, up the field, down the field flew this strange team creating the cleanest furrow he had ever seen. The master started toward Isadore whom he saw bowing over the plow while this other plow made its way back and forth. And as he called to Isadore, he said, “Who are your assistants?” The surprise plowman said, “Sir, I work alone. I know of no other assistant.”
And the tradition came down from that story. Simply stated, the one who plows with God in his heart has God for his assistant. The story is fictitious, the principle is true. I’d rather serve out of a pure heart and have God doing the plowing. Wouldn’t you? Then to do it in the flesh. Come back next time and see what else the Lord will teach us from this chapter.
Thank You, Father, for our time tonight. Good time, warms our hearts. Thank You that You’ve given us the privilege of service. We fail so often. We serve for the wrong reasons. We let our ego get in the way, our desire for earthly gain, prosperity, popularity, prestige. The water gets so muddy. Help us, Lord, to have a clear stream coming from our hearts of pure motives. Thank You for all these precious people who serve. Some serve within the family, some serve beyond their own family in the church family, some serve out in the world touching the lives of the lost, some serve in the classes here, Bible studies in the community, in jail teams, hospitals. Some serve in teaching and preaching, others in showing mercy and doing deeds of kindness. Some serve in giving. Lord, whatever way we serve, may it be that we can say God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit. May it be that we can say I serve my God out of a pure conscience. May it be that we can say with Paul, I wait the day when God shall manifest the secret things of the heart and then shall every man have praise of God. May our service be true hearted, wholehearted and pure. May we manifest a thankful spirit, a concerned and prayerful spirit and a willing spirit to be part of the answer. Thank You for preparing us for better service and for what lies ahead next week as we continue in this @wonderful text in Christ’s name. Amen.
This transcript, along with related media, can also be found here on the Grace to You website.
Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 2
April 12, 1981
I invite you to take your Bible and open it with us to the first chapter of Romans … Romans 1. We’re looking at verses 8 through the first part of verse 16 of this tremendous opening chapter in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Already we have been enriched in our study and we’re barely into chapter 1. This is a monumental epistle, some feel the most significant and greatest of all epistles in the Bible, certainly one that defines most fully, most comprehensively the doctrine of the gospel of God.
Now in our passage, verses 8 through the first part of verse 16, the Apostle Paul opens up his heart. And he lets us see the motives with which he serves the Lord Jesus Christ. No greater servant ever lived than the Apostle Paul, except our Lord Himself. And this passage forces us to look inside and to see what really made him tick, the reasons that he was what he was, that he did what he did, that he thought the way he thought and wrote the way he wrote. And apparently it was very important to him as he wrote this epistle to stop at the very beginning after just the introduction in the first seven verses and unbare his heart.
He had never been to the Roman church. He did not found the church at Rome. Most of the people there had only heard of him and did not know him personally, although as chapter 16 indicates he was acquainted with some of them. But before launching into this masterful presentation of the gospel which some have called the Christian constitution, he feels that because they do not have a personal relationship one with the other that he ought to open up his heart and let them see in that they might better understand him and better be able to accept what he teaches.
And so, as we look at verses 8 and following, we see the quality of his life, the character of his service to Christ, the motives that moved his heart. And in so discovering, we find a pattern for ourselves. All Christians are called to be engaged in service to Christ. None of us is exempt from that. Best rendered is our service when we understand the Apostle Paul and why he served the way he served, for he presents for us an unequalled example. He wants them to really understand his heart so that as they read the rest of the epistle, they’ll sense not only the theology but the living breathing Apostle behind it.
Now the key phrase in verses 8–16 appears in verse 9 and that key phrase is this phrase, “For God is my witness,” and here comes the key phrase, “whom I serve with my spirit.” Paul says I serve God with my spirit.
Now you’ll remember that the word “to serve” here is the word latreuo which is always used of religious service … always in the New Testament. And sometimes the word is translated “worship.” Paul says I serve or I worship, using the same word for either thought because the truest kind of worship is service and the truest kind of service is worship. And so he says I serve God with a service of worship and I serve with my spirit, or in my spirit. And what he means by that is from deep down within me. It is not superficial. It is not shallow. It is not external. It is not liturgical. It is not formal. But I serve and worship from the deep inner man of the heart. That’s the way he served, from the heart. Unlike some of the legalistic Jews, unlike some of the ritualistic pagans, he served from the heart.
And that was the characteristic of Paul all through his ministry. And that is the model for all of us. We should never render God’s service that is external, superficial, liturgical, it should always come from the heart.
Now I really believe that this is the essence of what our Lord meant. And if you want to look at a comparative Scripture, look at John 4:23 for just a moment. Our Lord made a very important statement. He said in John 4:23, “The hour cometh and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him, God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
In other words, you cannot worship God with externals … lighting candles, reciting beads, bowing down, going through some religious ritual or routine, you worship God from the heart or you do not worship God at all. And Paul is saying the same thing. You serve God from the heart or you do not serve at all. I believe it involves the surrender of the whole man.
It is as Ephesians 6 puts it, serving not with eye service as men pleasers but as the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. It is doing God’s will from the heart, not because you have to but because you want to more than you want anything else. It is that spiritual service that we saw in Romans 12:1 and 2, presenting your body a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God which is your spiritual service and not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may know and prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
So, Paul is saying, “Look, I want you to know to begin with that I serve with my spirit, that my service to Jesus Christ and to God on behalf of the gospel is a wholehearted service. I’m in it all the way.” This is a ringing theme in Paul’s letters, by the way. Over and over and over again, he reminds people that he does not serve for any external reason.
Now there are some people who serve God for money, believe it or not. I guess they think they serve God for money. Paul didn’t do that and he made it very clear that his motive was not money. In Acts 20:35, he says, “I’ve shown you all things how that so laboring you ought to support the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said it is more blessed to give than receive.” Paul knew that Jesus said it’s better to give than receive so he says I coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know that these hands have served mine necessities and them that were with me. He worked. He wasn’t in it to make money, he had to work and earn his own keep as well as to preach.
First Corinthians 10 and verse 24, he said, “Let no man seek his own but every man another’s prosperity.” Don’t be in it for what you think you can get out of it. He didn’t serve God for financial reasons. He wasn’t, as Peter warned, greedy of filthy lucre.
Secondly, he didn’t serve the Lord just because it was fun to do that. Believe me, for him it was anything but fun. Just because he gained some personal pleasure. In Romans 15:3, it says even Christ pleased not Himself. He didn’t even do that which would bring him the greatest personal pleasure and Paul didn’t either. And he didn’t serve just out of reward either.
He didn’t do it just so that he could stockpile some kind of honor. Because he says in 1 Corinthians 9, “Though I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of, if I did this thing willingly I would have a reward but if it’s against my will, then it’s a dispensation of God given to me.”
In other words, don’t reward me for doing it, I didn’t choose to do it, God called me. Honor God. So he didn’t serve for the externals of money and pleasure and reward and he certainly didn’t serve for fame. And there are some people who are in the ministry so they can be famous. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” He wasn’t seeking fame.
And may I hasten to add, he didn’t serve because he got pressured into it either by his peers. There was no peer pressure. I love what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “Though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all.”
Nobody made me do this apart from God and my own agreeing heart.
So, over and over … and those are just some suggestions, you can find those same themes everywhere. Paul says I don’t serve for money. I don’t serve for pleasure. I don’t serve for reward, for fame because of pressure, none of those external things move me. I serve because I have a worshiping heart. It’s a sad thing when people’s service gets all muddled up with those other reasons. He says I serve with my spirit.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the old missionary who was returning home after many years of sacrificial service in Africa.
He was on the same ship with the then President, Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt had been in Africa, too, for a few weeks on a big game hunt. The ship docked in New York, great crowds greeted the President, the press was there to cover the story. The old missionary and his wife walked off the ship unnoticed, made their way all alone to a cheap hotel to spend the night before traveling on a train to the west.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” the missionary said to his wife in a rather bitter tone. “We give our lives in Africa to win souls to Christ and when we arrive home, there’s nobody to meet us and there’s no reward. The President shoots some animals and gets a royal welcome.”
As they were praying before retiring, it seemed that the Lord spoke to them and said this, “Do you know why you haven’t received your reward yet? Simple, it’s because you’re not home.”
I think that’s what Paul had in mind. He didn’t serve because of some superficial temporal acclaim. He was willing to wait until he got home, the ultimate home, to receive what God had for him.
Now, let’s go back to Romans 1. When someone serves with their spirit wholeheartedly, not as men pleasers, not eye service—that is looking around to see who’s watching—but when you do it with a whole heart, what kind of service is that? And I think in these verses Paul gives us the ten marks of true spiritual service and they really act as a check list for all of us. I know in my own mind, I’ve been checking myself off on these for the last month as I’ve been thinking them through. The marks of true spiritual service. And I ask you to test yourself.
Maybe it’s a service you render to your children or your spouse, the service you render in worshiping the Lord here at the church, in teaching a Bible study or a class and discipling someone and evangelizing … whatever kind of service, test yourself. Do you really give wholehearted service? Do you really give genuine worshipful service from deep within your spirit? If you do, it will be characterized by the following things.
Number one, and we covered the first three last time, just going to mention them to you, was a thankful spirit. In verse 8, “First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” One who serves from the spirit is always thankful, always find plenty to be thankful about. Not going around griping and complaining and bitter because things don’t go the way that they feel they should go. And even when things are tough, they’re thankful. And by the way, as Paul was writing this epistle, there was a plot by the Jews to murder him. But instead of being upset and filled with anxiety over his own problems, he was filled with thanksgiving over what God had done in the Roman church.
But that is the way it is with people who serve from the heart. They are thankful people. They don’t have to have everything. They don’t have to have all the blessings. It all doesn’t have to come their way. They can be just as thankful, in fact, usually more so when it comes to someone else. An unselfish thankfulness. That characterized Paul and that proves to me that his service was with the spirit. So many people who proport(?) to serve Jesus Christ, if they don’t get the glory or the fame or the acclaim, if the church doesn’t just do everything the way they think it ought to be, cross its “t’s” and dot its “i’s” with all of the regularity that they would like, they just can’t handle it. They lose their ability to find something to be thankful for.
A second mark of one who is truly serving in a spiritual way is a concerned spirit. Not only a thankful spirit but a concerned spirit, verse 9, “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,” unceasing and always, that’s redundant but that’s how it was with Paul. I pray for you al the time. I am thankful for what God has done and yet I am deeply concerned for what has yet not been done.
I can identify with that as a pastor. I thank God for what He’s done in this church and yet I unceasingly pray to God for what I see that has not yet been done. And I think the intensity of prayer measures the intensity of concern. Paul had a concerned spirit. This is a remarkable statement. He says I unceasingly pray for you always, even though he did not found that church and he did not know those people. Most of us can’t even muster up intensity in prayer over people we know very well.
We usually get intense only when something hits us personally that devastates us and then we get very spiritual very quickly.
But we are a million miles, usually, from the unselfish attitude of Paul who unceasingly prayed for people he’d never even met that Christ might be perfected in them.
True spiritual service is marked by a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit and thirdly, a willing spirit. And I like this.
Verse 10, he says, “I make request as I pray, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” In other words, there was such honesty and integrity in his prayer that he also prayed himself right into it as a solution. “God, I want to pray for the Romans and I’d like to volunteer to be the one You use to answer my prayer.” Boy, that is the integrity of prayer. When you can pray for somebody to come to Jesus Christ, for somebody to be matured in the faith and pray that God will make you the tool, then there’s real integrity in your praying. Paul was a volunteer. Paul was the fist guy to stick his hand up when somebody announced there was a need.
In fact, in 15:30, he says, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and the love of the spirit, strive together with me in your prayers.” Let’s pray together though we’re apart and you strive at it. And what should I pray? “That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted by the saints and that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God and may be with you refreshed.” When you pray, pray that I can come there. Oh, there’s something so wonderful about that, praying yourself into the prayer and asking God to make you the answer.
It’s the spirit of William Carey(?), that great missionary to India. He was bidding farewell to his friends and standing on a dock in 1793 and his friends were sort of saying, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Going to India in those days was, to put it mildly, precarious. Carey is alleged to have said this. “I’ll go down into the pit itself if you’ll hold the rope.” I like that. That’s the willing spirit.
I think about our Lord who was willing to humble Himself and come into this world. And I wonder sometimes how willing we are to go. And we have all these little stipulations. I mean, we’ve got to have everything just right, you know, we’ve got to make sure we can be comfortable and have the right kind of car and we’re all going to volunteer for missionary work in the South Seas. We don’t like to go too far cause we don’t want to get too far away from our friends and our family. And we have all these barriers that keep us from a willing heart. Paul is saying, “Look, I want these people to be changed, God, and I’m willing to go and be the instrument to see it happen.” Next time you get on your knees and pray for a mission field, ask God to make you the one that goes. Be willing to say no to the comfort and the car and the good weather and the nice house and the friends and the family and whatever it costs.
Some people aren’t willing to pray even. Some people who pray aren’t willing to give even, let alone to go because it would mean sacrificing a luxury. I always think of John Payton.
His story is so indelible in my mind because I read it in my seminary days and it just transformed my thinking. Went to the New Hebrides to minister to cannibals. He and his wife and his … they had just been married not long, and you know, I can … I know how I would react to that if God called me to minister to cannibals. I know what my humanness would say.
“That’s silly, Lord. I can make it in the ministry. I’ll go there, they’ll eat me.” Right, I mean, what’s the point? “I know a guy who dropped out of seminary, he’ll never make it anyway, send him there, they’ll eat him, he’ll be a hero and who will know?” Right? I mean, why waste a good one? You can always rationalize that kind of stuff.
But Paul with all of his passion and fervency is willing to be a part of the answer for that which he prays for. When you pray for the church of Jesus Christ and you pray for Grace Church, are you willing to be a part of the answer? A lot of people are willing to come and tell what the problems are. My response to that is usually, “Are you praying about it? And if you’re praying about it, are you willing to be part of the solution?” The world’s full of critics but there aren’t quite as many volunteers as there are critics.
Let’s go to fourth principle … a submissive spirit … a submissive spirit, the end of verse 10. He says, “By the will of God.” I want to come and I want to be with you and I want to be the instrument if it is the will of God. And he says the same thing at the end of the epistle, chapter 15, as I read, verse 32, “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God.”
In other words, though he was highly motivated, thankful, concerned and willing, he was regulated by a commitment to the will of God. I think the Lord was his example who said, “Not My will but Thine be done.” And that is the way we are to pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” We are to be conformed to His will. And Paul lived his life that way. He was utterly concerned with doing the will of God from the heart.
Sure, he was volunteering, but only if that’s what God wanted.
You can trace, and I won’t take the time because I want to keep us moving, but you can trace through Paul’s life so many times when the will of God was the issue. But one that just comes to mind is in the twenty-first chapter of Acts and Paul here says, “And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased … or rather Luke says … we ceased saying, The will of the Lord be done.” In other words, Paul was being told by everybody if you keep going to Jerusalem, Paul, by the time you get there you’re going to get in a lot of trouble, you’re going to become a prisoner, you’re going to get bound and Agabus took off his belt and tied him up and did a little demonstration and the whole thing. And they said, “But we kept on telling him and telling him and telling him and Paul says to us, What are you guys crying about? Why do you keep weeping? I am ready not only to be bound but to die. And they said, The will of the Lord be done.” He lived for the will of God. And they finally resigned themselves to the fact that that’s the way it would ultimately turn out for him.
In the fourth chapter of James, I think, there’s another good word. It says, verse 14 … or verse 13, “Come now, you that say tomorrow or today, will go to such a city and continue there a year and buy and sell and get gain.” In other words, we make our plans for the future, you’re going to go do this and so forth. “You don’t know what will be on the next day, for what is your life, it’s a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away.” It’s puff and it’s gone. “You ought to say, If the Lord will we shall live and do this or that.”
In other words, the limiting factor in everybody’s life is the will of God. The true servant is totally submissive to God’s will. So Paul submits himself. He was resigned to God’s will and it didn’t matter what it brought him, whether it brought him pain or pleasure. And that isn’t fatalism. That is confidence to know that God has the best plan and that’s not fatalistic. And so, Paul prays and he pours out his heart but he says I only want God’s will.
Now people always have trouble at this point. They say, “Well, he’s praying and praying and he’s saying ultimately God do whatever You’re going to do anyway. Why pray?” This is always the tension. I think, and I was reading this just last week, that Dr. Barnhouse had a great illustration to convey something of the relationship between our prayers and God’s sovereignty and will. Listen to what he writes.
We will suppose the case of a man who loves violin music. Okay? He has the means to buy for himself a very fine violin and he also purchases the very best radio he can buy. He builds a library of the great musical scores so that he is able to take any piece that is announced on the radio, put it on his music stand and play along with the orchestra.
The announcer says that Mr. Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra are going to play Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The man in his home puts the symphony on his stand, tunes his violin with what he hears coming from the orchestra. The music that comes from the radio we might call foreordained. Ormandy is going to follow the score just as Beethoven wrote it. The man in his living room starts to scratch away at the first violin part.
He misses beats, he loses his place, he finds it again, he breaks a string, he stops to fix it, but the music goes on and on. He finds his place again and plays on after his fashion till the symphony is ended.
The announcer names the next work that is to be played and the fiddler puts that number on his rack. And day after day and week after week and month after month and year after year, he finds pleasure in scraping his fiddle along with the violins of the great orchestra. Their music is determined in advance. What he must do is to learn to play in their tempo, in their key and to follow the score as its been written in advance. If he decides that he wants to play “Yankee Doodle” when the orchestra is in the midst of a Brahms number, there’s going to be dissonance and discord in the man’s house. But not in the Academy of Music.
After some years of this, the man may be a rather creditable violin player and may have learned to submit himself utterly to the scores that are written and follow the program as played.
Harmony and joy come from the submission and cooperation.
Then Barnhouse says this, “So it is with the plan of God, it is rolling toward us unfolding day by day as He has planned it before the foundation of the world. There are those who fight against it and ultimately are cast into outer darkness because he will not have in His heaven those who probably resist Him. This cannot be tolerated anymore than the authorities would permit a man to bring his own violin into the Academy of Music and start to play Shostakovich when the program called for Bach. The score of God’s plan is set forth in the Bible and in the measure that I learn it, submit myself to it and lived … or seek to live in accordance with it, I shall find myself in joy and in harmony with God and His plans. If I set myself to fight against it or disagree with that which comes forth, there can be no peace in my heart and life. If in my heart I seek to play a tune that is not melody the Lord has for me, there will be nothing but dissonance.
Prayer is learning to play the same tune that the eternal God plays and to play it the way the eternal composer wrote it and meant it to be played.”
Maybe that helps you. God’s sovereignty puts out the foreordained tune to be played. Prayer is learning to play in tune. But even when we’re out of tune, it doesn’t mess up the celestial orchestra. Fortunately we hear them but they apparently don’t hear us when we’re out of line.
And so, Paul says I only want what God wills. You know, I hate that confessional faith thing that I keep hearing today where people go around demanding things from God. I don’t know if you’ve heard this as much as I have, but I hate that. It is perverted. It is heretical. It is self-will that not only attacks the will of God but attacks the nature of God. And if you don’t know what it is, just thank God and don’t ask any questions. It’s not worth knowing.
Paul sought the advance of God’s glory through God’s Kingdom and God’s will. So, listen, now. True spiritual service and let’s sum it up fast, is seen in being thankful for what God has done, in being concerned for what is yet to be done, being willing to be the one to do it if it fits God’s will. That’s the only way to live. That’s true spiritual service. Those are the marks.
Can I give you a fifth mark? A loving heart … or a loving spirit, verse 11, “For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end that you may be established.”
Why did you want to come, Paul? Why were you so concerned? What is it that drew you? I really believe it was not some personal gratification, but it was something that he wanted to give them.
“That I may give you some spiritual gift.” And you tell me, what is the number one quality of love? What does love always do?
Gives. “For God so loved the world that God … what?… gave …”
That’s what love does. Love gives.
And that’s where we see the loving heart. I’m not coming because I liked to tour the Appian Way and see the Forum and watch the chariot races. I’m not coming to see if I can take the city. I’m coming because I want to give something, not get something. Oh, how you have to go back to that.
I know in my ministry here, week after week and month after month and year after year as we preach and teach the Word of God, sometimes you can say to yourself, “Boy, you know, I wonder whether anybody’s hearing what I’m saying. I wonder whether people appreciate the Word of God. I wonder whether they appreciate me.” You know, you get that kind of a “poor me” kind of complex. “And they don’t really understand the effort and all that’s going.” And maybe you feel that way about your class sometime or about the ministry you’re involved in. But you have to remember that as long as you look at the ministry as something you give, you never have that problem. If you look at it as something you’re going to get, you’re going to get all twisted and warped. Paul says I want to come because I want to give you something. I want to give you a spiritual something to establish you.
You see, Paul was reaching out just like in Colossians 1, he really longed for their full maturity and he says in verse 27, “I want God to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory, whom we preach warning every man, teaching every man in all wisdom … and here it comes … that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” I want everybody mature. And in one other occasion he said, “I suffer, travail or birth pangs, pain until Christ be formed in you.” It pains me. I agonize over it.
I don’t know that I can totally identify with Paul on that but I know what it’s like sometimes to have a severe stomach ache, a severe pain in the pit of my stomach in anxiety over the response of people to the teaching of the Word of God. Because you want so desperately to give them something of spiritual value and sometimes, you know, they just don’t seem to get it. I’ve often said some people come with a thimble and spill it on the steps going out. You know they didn’t quite … they didn’t make it out even to the car, let alone home, before dumping it.
He wanted to give them something. He had a great heart of love. In second … second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, I think you get a glimpse of his heart of love. He says in verse 7, “We were gentle among you as a nursing mother cherishes her child.” You can’t think of anything more gentle than a nursing mother and a little baby at her breast. That’s how we were with you. “So being affectionately desirous of you,” that’s a very strong term.
The word “cherish” means “body heat, to warm with body heat.” We warmed you with the warmth of our body, our person like a mother does a little baby and we were so affectionately desirous, we longed for your presence and fellowship. And because of that we were willing to have imparted unto you not only the gospel but our own souls because you were so dear unto us. Paul says I loved you so much I would have given you my soul, let alone my message.
At the end of 2 Corinthians, he says in 12:15, “I would gladly spend and be spent for you even though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved, if you hate me more for it, I’d still love you.” He had a great love. And the main characteristic of love is unselfish giving. Such love always seeks the best and so what he sought was some spiritual gift, look at verse 11 again. “To impart unto you some spiritual gift.” Now what is this? Well, it’s the word charisma, gift of grace, a spiritual charisma, pneumatikon, a grace gift of the Spirit. It means the source is the Holy Spirit. I want to give you a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Now what is this talking about? What spiritual gift is this? Well, the same term is used in 5:15 and 16 to speak of Christ … the great gift of Christ. It is used in 11:29 to speak of the blessings God gave to Israel, very general. It is also used in 12:6 to speak of the spiritual gifts given to the body, the gift of teaching and so forth and so on. So, it could be used of Christ. It could be used of the general blessings that God gives to His people. Or it could be used of specific spiritual gifts.
How is Paul using it? We don’t know. I would tend to think that he’s using it in the largest possible way. For some of you, I’d like to give you Christ. For others of you, I’d like to delineate to you the blessings of God. And for still others of you, I’d like to minister my spiritual gifts to you. I think it encompasses everything. He would present Christ, speak of the gifts of God’s blessing and use his own spiritual gifts to build the body. But what he wanted to give them wasn’t physical, it was … what?… spiritual. I serve God in my spirit, therefore I want to impart unto you a kind of service to God that has in its very core the Spirit of God.
You know, I can understand this. I don’t want to tickle your fancy. I don’t want to entertain people. I used to … somebody said to me, “You know, when you were younger, you were funnier.” That’s true. I mean, I don’t know that I was ever particularly funny, but I was definitely funnier than I am now … if I was funny at all. And I guess what it finally comes down to is that you finally get to the point where what you want to impart to people is so much a spiritual reality that it’s very difficult to play around in the superficial. And by that I don’t mean that you’re to be boring about it, hopefully not. But you realize that it is the imparting of a spiritual thing that you really are after … something deep. I mean, I can’t … that, I can’t see any point in superficiality. Sermonettes for Christianettes, you know. I can’t see any point in just frivolity, book reviews and whatever else. I don’t know what goes on in some churches but what we want to impart is something spiritual. Love always gives the best it has.
For what reason? At the end of verse 11, “To the end that it may establish you,” sterizo, to make you fast, to fix you, to confirm you, to strengthen you, to establish you. I want your feet down solid. Another way to say it, “For the perfecting of the saints,” if you take the language of Ephesians 4. I want to give you something spiritual. And where is the source of all those spiritual things? It’s out of the book, isn’t it? They’re all right here. You don’t just pull them out of the air. Using the Word of God and the gifts of the Spirit, I want to impart to you something spiritual.
You know, as a pastor I suppose I could hold your hand and try to move around. In fact, I know one pastor who said his goal is to visit each person in his church once a year. Ridiculous.
But I mean, I could go around and I could hold your hand and come visit you and pat you on the back and do all kinds of nice things like that. And I’d like to do that. In fact, there are lots of days when I’d like to do that. But I don’t want to give you something superficial. I don’t want to give you something physical, something human. I want to make the necessary sacrifice to feed you the living Word of God because that’s spiritual, that’s deep, not cheap and shallow. So, you may say you love someone. But if you don’t impart to them the Word of God in depth, it’s questionable.
I remember a girl in our church who was a student at SC.
And she said to me one day, she said, “I learned a great lesson last week.” She said, “I always told myself that I loved the little girls in my Sunday-school class.” And she had like fourth grade girls, I mean, who wouldn’t love fourth-grade girls, you know. And she said, “I … they all had these little frilly dresses and little bright smiles and pretty eyes. I told myself I loved them, Oh, I loved them so much I wouldn’t miss my class and I just love them.” She said one day I was at a football game at USC on Saturday as I always went and the Lord spoke to my heart about the fact that I was always at the football games on Saturday so I never really prepared my lesson until I just ran it through my mind on Sunday morning and what I gave them was very shallow. And God pointed out in my heart that I didn’t love them at all because I made no sacrifice to give them something with eternal significance. And then she said to me, and boy, if you know anything about an SC student, “I’m not going to any more football games.” The ultimate sacrifice. “I’m going to spend time so that I can give them something of value.”
That’s where Paul was at. His heart of love wasn’t just a sentiment, it resulted in wanting to give them a spiritual gift that would firmly establish them in the faith. That’s the true spirit of service. You’re not looking for some superficial goal … “Well, boy, I got that over with. Man, Alice, let’s get out of town next week and get a break from this thing. Do you realize I’ve been teaching four weeks in a row without a break?
I mean, I’ve got to have a little rest.” Well, you better check your goals, your motives.
That opens up the next mark of true spiritual service. In case you’re wondering, we’re not going to get down with ten of them, you knew that before we started. But we will do one more.
I love this. Paul had a humble spirit … a humble spirit. And I see this again in verse 11, it’s just really wonderful. He says, “I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end that you may be established, that is that I may … I mean, let me correct that, he says, let me fill that out so you don’t get the wrong idea like I’m the great gift who’s going to come in and dump on you, I mean … that I, too, will be comforted together with you by our mutual faith.” Isn’t that good? He says I’m not coming in as the expert and I’m going to come and give some spiritual gifts. No, I. I. I. what I mean is I’ll give you and you’ll give me and we’ll give each other. That’s humble.
I guess there are some people who think they have nothing to learn. They’ve got it all to give. What kind of a spirit is the spirit of true spiritual service? A thankful spirit for what God has done, always thankful … always thankful. A concerned spirit for what yet needs to be done, always prayerful. And a desire to be used by God to do what needs to be done if God wills. And all of this is born out of a heart of love. Yet, with all of that passion and all of that desire, there is never a feeling of superiority, never lording it over them but rather the humble heart that says, “Hey, I’ll come and give you some spiritual gift and I know in return that you’ll give some back to me. You’ll minister to me,” he says, “as much as I’ll minister to you.”
Look at that in verse 12, “That I may be exhorted, encouraged, comforted together with you by the mutual faith of both you and me.”
John Calvin wrote, “Note to what degree of modesty his pious heart submitted itself so that he did not disdain to seek strength from inexperienced beginners. He means what he says, too, for there is no one so void of gifts in the church of Christ who is unable to contribute something to our benefit. Ill will and pride, however, prevent our deriving such fruit from one another,” end quote.
From inexperienced beginners, Paul said I’ll receive something from you, too. You know, sometimes someone who is relatively a new Christian will come and talk to me and they’ll say, “I … I don’t know why I’m talking to you, I mean, I know there are lots of people that you should be talking to and you should be doing something else.” People say this to me all the time. “I mean, you must be busy, you should … you should go and be doing what you should be doing and, I mean, you shouldn’t be talking to me.”
And I’m saying, “Why shouldn’t I be talking to you.” “Well, I mean, I … I. I’m just … you know, I’m nobody.” I hear that all the time. And the assumption that they have nothing to offer.
I had dinner with someone not long ago and they kept saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry to be telling you this, I don’t know why I keep talking … I keep saying these things, I know you’re probably not … I’m sorry, I apologize.” And I kept saying, “I love this, this is terrific, I mean, this is building my soul, I’m having a wonderful time.”
“Oh now, I appreciate you saying that but I know.…”
Really that happens all the time. “I know I’m boring you to death, and I just go on and on and on.” And I’m having the greatest time of my life. I’m not saying a thing and it’s refreshing. And I’m just listening and somebody’s pouring out their heart and telling me what God’s doing and I’m loving every minute of it and they’re trying to deny me the privilege.
One writer said, “Humility is that low sweet root from which all heavenly virtues shoot.” The humble teacher says let’s learn together. I guess there’s nothing worse than a pompous teacher who treats you as if you knew nothing and he knew everything.
The greatest theologian that ever lived, the Apostle Paul, is ready to humbly learn from a bunch of new Christians in Rome that he’d never met. The humility of the pure in heart … the humility of the pure in heart.
First Peter 5:3, Peter says. backing to verse 2, I guess, “Pastor or feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight of it, not by constraint … not because you have to … but willingly, not for filthy lucre … not for money … but of a ready mind because you’re eager, neither as being lords over the charge alloted to you but being examples to the flock and when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you’ll receive a crown of glory that fades not away. In like manner, you younger submit yourselves to the elder and all of you be subject to one another … that’s the one another again … be clothed with humility for God resists the proud but gives … what?… grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore.” The place of humility.
The indicator of a true hearted servant … humble. What does it mean to be humble? You say it means to say, “Oh, I’m nothing, I’m less than a worm, I’m … I’m …” No, that’s just dumb to talk like that, that’s not humble that’s just dumb. What does it mean to be humble? To be humble means simply to consider the needs of others more important than your own. Jesus considered that our need was so great that He ought to leave heaven to meet our need.
And He did it. And He humbled Himself. Humility is to look not on my own things but the things of others, to consider others better than myself, even those I teach.
What is the attitude of a true hearted servant? He’s thankful, always thankful. Check yourself. Are you always thankful? Or do you complain and gripe? He’s always prayerful because he knows that although he can thank God for what has been done, there’s a lot that yet needs to be done. And he’s always willing to be the solution to the problem if it’s God’s will so that he’s submissive to that. And it all comes out of a loving heart that seeks to wrap itself around others, not only for what it can give for what it can receive. That’s the spirit of true service.
There are some more principles that I’m going to give you next time that are literally life changing for me as we wrap up this. Let me read you a poem. Listen to it.
I gave my service, but with a heavy heart.
And with it went but little love or trust.
He was my master, I must serve or die. So I gave my service for I must. That is the voice of destiny.
Then o’er the dreary dullness of my road, there came the kindling ray of better thought, I owed my service to a loving God, so I gave my service for I ought. That is the voice of duty.
And lo, the master made my service sweet and like a ray of glory from above, there came the knowledge that to serve was joy. And so I gave my service for I love. That is the voice of devotion.
And that’s where we ought to be. Serving from the heart.
Father, so much to be done, so many to reach, to teach, to build, to mature, to establish. So many spiritual gifts to impart, so much to be mutually gained. May we serve with the spirit that Your work might be done in Your way for Your glory.
Marks of True Spiritual Service, Part 3
May 24, 1981
Let’s look at Romans 1 tonight. This is the last easy part in Romans. The next three years in chapter 1 are going to prove to be … No, this is the last of the introductory messages and then beginning in our next study, next Sunday evening, we will get into verse 16, the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation which is the theme of the book. And then we’ll move through this tremendous presentation. And we’re going to move at a rate that we don’t lose our perspective. So, I really feel God’s going to change some lives as we go through.
But for tonight, we’re ending up looking at the section beginning at verse 8. Because it’s been a while, I’d like to read—as you follow—verse 8 through the first part of verse 16.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, for God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit and the gospel of His Son that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making requests if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you; for I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end you may be established. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often times I purposed to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor, both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Now in those very important statements, the Apostle Paul teaches us some principles of true spiritual service. Now I know that for the most part we know these principles. Through the years we’ve gone over them in many passages and so tonight, it’s just going to be a kind of picking up maybe what we’ve forgotten, kind of reaffirming some things.
There was an old German artist by the name of Hoffmann. He painted majestically. And many of his greatest works were hanging in the Royal Gallery in Dresden. And periodically, through the door would come the artist Hoffmann. And in his hand he would have a little pouch filled with paints and brushes. And he would spend a couple of days touching up his masterpieces, maybe where the color had faded, where the canvas might have shown a little bit, he would just touch it up.
And in a very real sense, I believe, that that’s perhaps what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to do with us. It isn’t that we don’t understand these truths. It isn’t that we haven’t already painted the picture, but maybe it’s just time for a little touch up because in the living of life it’s very easy for some spots to fade, isn’t it? In our service to Christ, sometimes we get a little bit threadbare and the canvas shows through and the color just isn’t what it was. And so I want you to look at this as if the Lord Himself took a brush and wanted to touch up some of the faded color of your life.
Now we’re talking about spiritual service and we’re seeing that the Apostle Paul in verses 8–16, opens up his heart. And in all of those statements that I just read to you which don’t really seem to flow logically, you may say they’re kind of random but if you say that you’ve missed the point. Because there is a marvelous flow as he opens up his heart. In writing to the Romans, people he’d never met, he wanted them to get to know him. And there’s no way for people to get to know you better than for you to open up your heart to them. And so he shares with them not his theology first, not his doctrine, not his convictions, not his goals and purposes in terms of the calling of God, not his ministry, but he shares with them his heart. He opens up the inside and gives them his life.
I had the wonderful privilege of going to seminary at Talbot Theological Seminary and I can promise you that I learned something from the books I read. I learned something from the notes I took. I learned something from the papers I wrote. But I learned more from the lives of the men who taught me than I ever learned from anything that they said in class. The courses were important but I was watching men’s attitudes. I was watching their desires. I was watching their motives. I wanted to know not what they said but why they said it. And I really believe that’s what Paul does with the Romans here. I think he opens his heart and says I’m about to say some things that are important but before I give you my theology, let me give you myself. And so we are seeing the incomparable Paul unbare his heart in regard to the real stuff that characterized his spiritual service.
And I think this is the focus of all of us who serve and we’re all called to serve. Romans 6:22 says that, we have become servants of Christ. We’re all called to serve. And I think that the principles of spiritual service that Paul reveals from his own heart become models for all of our service. We may not have Paul’s apostolic calling. We may not have his remarkable and unique gifts, but we can sure have his motives and his attitudes and his desires.
Now the key phrase, would you please notice, is in verse 9. And it’s the phrase, “For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” He’s talking about the heart of service, spiritual service, not the outward but the inward. The statement “I serve with my spirit.” He uses the word latreuo, it’s always used for religious worship or religious service. It came to mean the inner worship of the heart. And he is saying that my true hearted worshipful whole hearted service to God is along these lines. And surrounding that statement, he gives us insight into how he served. He doesn’t talk about a lot of his activities, a lot of his methods, just his heart. And he says my service is the true service of the heart.
Now I don’t know about you but that’s the way I want to serve the Lord. Believe me, I have a fear that there could be a time in my own life when I serve the Lord mechanically, when I serve the Lord externally, when I was just cranking out activity, when I was just filling up the program, when I was just doing the ministry, quote/unquote, but the worshiping heart wasn’t there. I think it’s important that we understand what’s in that phrase, to serve with a worshiping heart.
What does it mean? What separates that from everybody else’s spiritual activity? Well, we already went through two looks at this text about six weeks ago, and this is the third. And I just pray that the artist himself will touch up your canvas wherever the color has faded. Let’s just be reminded of the marks of true spiritual service.
What do we see in Paul’s statement here? The first mark of true spiritual service is a thankful spirit. Verse 8, that’s where he begins, “First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Paul’s heart was a thankful heart. He was always thankful for other people. And we went through that in many of his epistles. It is characteristic of true spiritual service that it is marked by a thankful spirit. You show me a person who serves the Lord grudgingly, who serves the Lord with grit in his teeth, who serves the Lord bitterly and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t serve worshipfully from the heart because a worshiping heart is a thankful heart. And the reason you can be thankful no matter what happens in your service is because you’re just thankful to have the privilege no matter what happens.
Secondly, we learned that true spiritual service is marked not only by a thankful spirit but by a concerned spirit. While on the one hand you’re thankful, on the other hand you’re concerned. Verse 9, he says “Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” You show me someone whose heart is constantly in prayer over his people and I’ll show you someone who serves from the heart. It isn’t just showing up and doing your thing, it’s caring enough to pray, thankful to God for what was done and yet deeply concerned for what was not yet done. True spiritual service involves a thankful spirit and a concerned spirit.
Thirdly, a willing spirit. Verse 10, “Making request,” he says, “in my prayers if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” This is tremendous. He is praying for them and he is saying to God I’m willing to be the answer. I know you have problems in Rome and I’m praying for you and I’m asking God to let me be part of the answer. That’s a willing spirit. That’s not praying at arm’s length, that’s praying and saying here am I, Lord, send me.
And then we’ve already learned that spiritual service is marked by a submissive spirit. The end of verse 10 says, “I would like to have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.” In other words, everything has to be ordered by God’s perfect will. There’s no panic. There’s not trying to stretch yourself out, trying to gain your reputation, trying to broaden your influence for personal reasons. There’s an utter submission to the will of God. Self-styled Messiahs are always megalomaniacs. They always want to win the world and nothing short of it and they get very upset when something stands in their way. They don’t have any economy of effort. They don’t know what it is to be limited by God’s will, they just go out and try to do as much as they can as big as they can and little thought is ever given to what God might will. The true servant of God submits all his plans to God’s will. He’s not in the business of competing with God.
I told you some years ago that a reporter asked me if I had a desire to build a church. I said no. He says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Jesus said He’d build the church and I’d rather not compete with Him.” I have no desire to build the church. I only have a desire to be faithful to the one who is building it. If He picks up this tool, I want to be useful, that’s all. No personal ambition.
So, true spiritual service is being thankful for what God has done, yet concerned that there is more to do, willing to be used to do it if God so wills. So you’re not pushy about it.
Fifthly, true spiritual service is marked by a loving spirit. Verse 11, “For I long to see you that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift to the end you may be established.” Now I’ll ask you a very simple question and you can answer it easily in your mind. What one thing makes people want to give to others? What is it? It’s love. It’s love. “For God so loved that He … what?… gave.” It is love that makes us want to give. And Paul says I long to see you. And the idea there is of a great internal desire, and I want to give you a spiritual gift to see you established. That is a loving spirit. He wasn’t saying I want to broaden my reputation … I want to see if I can knock off Rome … I want to see if I can become famous and reach the high ups. His desire was not for himself but to give something to them. That’s so important. True love is always measured in what it gives not ever in what it takes or wants. Love would take anything, it would accept anything and return only the highest good to the one who offended. That’s what love would do. Love always gives back good. It always seeks the best, no matter how it is abused or wounded. And Paul says I long for you and I want to give you something.
Is that the way you look at your service? When you go to a Bible study to teach or when you go to a Sunday-school class, or when you come to sing in the choir or when you do that that you do, helping in the kitchen or working with some folks in some project or being involved in evangelism, do you approach that thing with a longing in your heart that overwhelms you because you have so much that you want to give? That’s how it should be. And so many times we go at it thinking of what we might get … what they’ll think of me … what this will bring to me.
True spiritual service is all about a loving spirit and a loving spirit knows only about giving, not getting. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, thought the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” I’ll spend, that means I’ll use all my resources. I’ll be spent, that means I’ll die. Even though the more I love you, the less you love in return. That was a loving spirit. And I don’t think you can minister effectively in any way without a loving spirit. And a loving spirit seeks to give, not get.
Oh, there’s so much loveless selfish service. There’s so much legalism for personal appearance sake that’s so far from this. And by the way, when you serve like that there is a reciprocating joy that comes.
Number six, still reviewing, true spiritual service is marked by a humble spirit. I just love this. Verse 12, he says, “I want to come and see you and be with you and establish you, that is … and I like this … that I may be comforted together with you by our mutual faith.” That is so gracious. He is saying I want to come and give you a spiritual gift and establish you and … oh, I also want to be comforted by you as well. Paul doesn’t see himself as some know-it-all with spiritual pride, he’s going to come in and unload on everybody. Who himself could receive nothing for he’s all sufficient. With all of this high level of spiritual commitment there was no sense of spiritual pride in his life. That, by the way, is the ugliest of all evils. He said I want to learn together with you. I want you to teach me.
Now let’s go to the final marks of spiritual service. A fruitful spirit … a fruitful spirit, verse 13, “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often times I purposed to come unto you.” And then he tells them that the reason he didn’t come was that he was prevented by the Lord. “I wanted to come to you in order that I might have some fruit among you, even as also among other Gentiles.”
Paul’s view of the ministry was, now listen to this, that it was a quest for spiritual fruit. The ministry—and you have to keep this in mind because it’s so easy to lose this—the ministry is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. The purpose of preaching is not preaching, the purpose of preaching is fruit. The purpose of ministry in music tonight is not ministry in music, it is fruit in your life. It is to get you to think about divine truth. It is to touch your heart. The purpose of any ministry is not the function itself, that is only the means to the end. The purpose is fruit … product, result. The quest for spiritual fruit was the mainspring of all apostolic activity. Jesus said, “I have ordained you that you should go and bring forth … what?… fruit.” John 15:16, He sent them out to bring forth fruit.
Let me tell you something. A person who serves with the heart, a person whose spiritual service is genuine is only content with fruit. Some people are content with prestige. Some people are content with pure acceptance. Some people are content with money. You know, the devil even pumps that thought into my mind, you know that? A couple of weeks ago I was going through a low time in my life and I was thinking, you know, I just am not seeing the fruit that I want to see in the lives of our people. I had the thought, “What do you care? You’re saved. You’re going to heaven. Look at all the rest of the people who are going to heaven. You’re well paid. I mean, at the worst, you’ve got a good job, a lot of security. They’re nice to you. Pat your kids on the head. Like your wife. You can’t lose.”
Well, you see, you can be pressured by Satan to settle for something far less than what you ought to settle for. My reaction to that was, “Ah, I am not content to be taken care of, appreciated, have a nice thing going on. The only thing that makes me happy in the ministry is fruit.” That’s all. Result. And if you can settle for something less than that, then your service is external, not internal. I’m here for the fruit, folks, I’ll promise you that. That’s true. And when God shows me that there’s more fruit somewhere else, I’ll probably be somewhere else because I only live for the fruit, to see God’s Word go forth and do its work. In 2 Timothy 2:6, it says, “The farmer that labors, works hard, kopiao, sweats, does it because he gets to be the partaker of the fruit.”
You know, I guess that’s why I love the baptisimal services so much because … I just feel like I have a silly grin on my face the whole time. Because I see the fruit. Or when somebody writes me a letter, tells me what God’s done in their life, or when somebody in the church comes and tells me how a person ministered to them and I see the fruit. God help me if I settle for anything less than that.
Now look at the beginning of verse 13. “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren.” And that little phrase is used by Paul many times and it is a phrase for emphasis on essential truth. Paul uses it when he talks about the doctrine of salvation. He uses it when he talks about the doctrine of Satan. He uses it when he talks about the doctrine of the Second Coming. He uses it when he talks about spiritual gifts. He uses it in a lot of very key places and he uses it again here. It’s like saying get this and get it good because I don’t want you to miss it. I want you to know that I wanted to come desperately in order that I might have some fruit among you. He’s in effect saying I’m not interested in the amount of the love offering, I just want the fruit.
Keep this in mind. You can measure your commitment to Christ … now listen to this … by whether you are more concerned with what happens in others lives than you are with what happens in your own. Do you really get lost in what happens in the lives of other people?
Now what is fruit? Now we’ve gone over this before. But maybe you’ve faded a little at this point and we’ll try to cover that patch with some new color. Basically in the Scripture, three things constitute fruit. One, that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, right? That’s what I call attitude fruit. Those are all attitudes, love’s an attitude, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control … those are attitude fruit. Fruit is attitude. Paul is saying I want to come and see you with the right attitude, an attitude of love and joy and peace and gentleness and goodness and faith and meekness and self-control … Galatians 5:22 and 23.
Well, fruit is also action. That’s right. It’s not only attitude, it’s also action. Fruit is what you do. In Romans 6:22, “But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness.” And there he’s talking about holy living … the fruit of your lips, which is praise; the fruit of your hands, Philippians 4, which is giving; the fruit of righteousness which is the behavior of your life. So, you have attitude fruit and action fruit. He says not only do I want to see you with the right attitude, I want to see you with the right action.
Can I stretch you to a third kind of fruit? First, attitude; second, action; and third—are you ready?—addition … addition fruit. Well, what do you mean by that? Well, Paul says I want to have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. Well, what kind of fruit are you talking about, Paul? I think he’s talking about converts, don’t you? First fruits, as he mentions in Romans 16:5, the first converts in an area. Fruit are the people that come to know Jesus Christ and are added—that’s why I call it addition—fruit to the body. Paul desired to save men. He said that in 1 Corinthians 9:22, to see men saved.
So, Paul says my desire is to see believers with the right attitude, believers with the right holy life style and people added to the Kingdom. And I think the last one is the real thrust of this text. And, believe me, folks, the fruit was enormous when he got to Rome. I mean, it was tremendous. In fact, when he wrote back to the Philippians from Rome, he said, “All the saints in Caesar’s household greet you.” He had been used of God to win people in Caesar’s household to Christ. And so he was in the ministry for fruit.
You know, I can promise you that I don’t think I could survive a ministry of maintenance. Just getting a group of sanctified saints sitting around looking at each other. Got to have fruit. And that’s the joy of service. I get just so excited about testimony after testimony after testimony of how God has changed lives. That’s what it’s all about. You know, I look at this world in its confusion and its chaos and its lostness and I hear all the idiocy that’s pumped out in the name of human philosophy and all the stupidity that comes over the media and all of the lies and wrong answers and wrong opinions … my wife and I the other day walked into a store and two of the people who worked in the store were standing in the front and one said to the other, “Well, of course, anybody knows that Genesis is only a fairy tale.” And the man says—he was Jewish—“Well, I agree with that, it’s definitely a fairy tale.” And the other, who was a lady, says, “Yes, but it’s meant to teach us a mystical moral.”
And then came this reiterated statement, “But obviously, anybody knows the account of creation in Genesis is not the truth.” At that precise moment, my wife said, “Oh yes it is!” And they both did a double take—who is this woman? And I’m standing there with this grin on my face. Right? I said good for you. She said, “I just can’t stand to hear people say things like that.”
Well, you know, it just points up the folly of the world. They don’t even know what they’re talking about. And you know, to be able to crash into that world and bring somebody to the truth, that is what living is all about. That’s what it’s all about. Oh, don’t ever get indifferent to that. True spiritual service is fruitful in spirit.
Number eight, true spiritual service is also marked by an obedient spirit … a thankful spirit, a concerned spirit, a willing spirit, a submissive spirit, a loving spirit, a humble spirit, a fruitful spirit and an obedient spirit. This is so good. Verse 14, Paul continues to talk about his attitudes and the reasons he serves, he says, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and the barbarians, to the wise and the unwise.” He says I have an obligation. The ministry for me is not a whimsey. I didn’t say one day, “Let’s see, I could be a tent maker, go into my own business and build a tent plant. Or, I could be an attorney, I could be a lawyer with my logical mind, I might even become a politician. Or, I could become a preacher of the gospel … eenie, meenie, miney, moe.” No, he didn’t do it that way. For him it was a debt. It was an obligation to God. He owed a debt to God.
If you have forgotten, look for a moment at 1 Corinthians 9 … 1 Corinthians 9:16, he says, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing in which to glory.” In other words, it’s true that I preach the gospel, but don’t … don’t give me an award for that. Don’t name a city after me and a statue and give me honorary degrees. I don’t have anything to glory. “Necessity is laid upon me, yea, I am cursed,” that’s what “woe is me” means, “if I don’t preach.” I mean, I am involved in a debt to God. “If I did it willingly, (verse 17) then I’d have a reward. But if it’s against my will, then it is strictly a dispensation of God given to me.” And it was against his will, he was on the way to killing Christians and the next thing he knew, God turned him around and called him into the ministry. And he was in against his will. He says don’t commend me, he says I have a debt to pay. “God has brought this to pass.”
A young man recently asked me, he said, “How can you week after week after week keep studying and studying and constantly preaching and preaching, what motivates you?” And I said to him, “Well, there are from time to time a lot of things. Some passages are so exhilarating in themselves that you’re just kind of flying through the week and can’t wait to get to Sunday. Other times you’re battling time problems and priority things and you’re fighting your way through and it really doesn’t look that interesting and you just kind of struggle. And those are the times that you do it because you have a debt to pay to God who called you to preach.” And if you’re looking at Christian service like so many people, you do it only when you feel like doing it, then you haven’t learned the kind of service that Paul understood right here. I mean, when you’ve just been hauled out of city … out of the city, thrown in the city dump dead because they’ve stoned you to death, and you are risen from the dead like he was, and you go right back into town and preach some more, that is a commitment to duty.
And sometimes that’s all you have to go on. You have an obligation to God. Paul says, “I have a debt.” And I think the implication of the text here is that his debt is really to God toward the Greeks and barbarians. I am debtor to the Greeks and barbarians, to the wise and the unwise. And I see, first of all, a debt to God on their behalf.
Secondly, there is a sense in which he has a debt to them. If I’m walking down the street and I pass a house and I see that the roof is on fire and the family is in another section of the house and I can see them all sitting there. What is my responsibility? I could stand on the curb and say, “Oh my, I wonder if anyone knows them that could let them know their house is burning down.” No … no, because they are in a dire situation and because I have the information that can save their lives, I owe a debt to them. If I’m going across a bridge and a fellow falls in the river, I don’t say, “I wonder who might know this fellow to know whether he’s worth saving.” No, if I have a rope at my disposal or some means, I have a debt because if his need and my capacity to meet that need.
If I see a man cross my path who is destitute, who has not clothes or no food or no place to sleep and I have all of those things and say to him, “Be warmed, be filled,” I have not discharged my debt. Paul says I owe the Gentile world a message because they’re on the way to hell and I know the way to heaven. You have a debt, folks. And to whom much is given, much is … what?… required. He had an obligation, first of all, to God and it was his apostolic calling. And his debt was expressed in preaching the gospel to Greeks and barbarians.
And I really believe the phrases here, “Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise” are parallel phrases. The Greeks were considered the wise and the barbarians the unwise. And he’s really saying the educated and the uneducated. The Greeks were very sophisticated and when they knew the Greek language, of course, which was believed to be the language of the gods and all of that and the language of philosophy and wisdom and so forth. Now they thought they were really the elite, the educated. When a person came along and spoke another language, they had an unintelligible kind of sound, and the Greeks used to call their unintelligible chatter “bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-bar.” And so foreigners became known as bar-barians. They were regarded as uncultured, uneducated and unintelligent.
Paul is saying I owe the same responsibility to the educated, the uneducated, the wise, the unwise, the cultured, the uncultured, the Greeks and the bar-barians. You know what he says there in that statement? You can’t pick and choose who you want to preach the gospel to. It bothers me when I hear somebody say, “Well, you know, I’m trying to reach the elite.” Oh? Why? Are they something better than the rest of us? Jesus said, “God is no respecter of … what?… persons.”
Far and wide, Paul says I want to reach people. Have you ever remembered that the first person that Jesus ever revealed Himself to was a half-breed harlot living in the village of Sychar who had a handful of husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband? Nice lady. And to make matters worse, she was a Samaritan. But the gospel is always the great equalizer, isn’t it? It’s so easy to be trapped in being a respecter of persons. We tend to want to evangelize the high class and we let the rest of the people pass by. And so very often, the poor are more open, aren’t they?
So, Paul had a thankful heart. He had a concerned heart, a willing heart, a submissive heart, a loving heart, a humble heart, a fruitful heart, and an obedient heart. He was going to fulfill his debt. And that’s what faithfulness is all about, see. He would obey at any cost. On his way to Jerusalem, they told him he was going to be imprisoned and all of that and he says, “I don’t care. I’m going to finish what the Lord has given me to do,” the twentieth chapter of Acts. And sometimes, folks, that’s all you have to go on. You’re going through struggles and you haven’t seen all the joys and it’s tough and all you’ve got is the bottom line of a debt to God. And I believe if you’re faithful to discharge the debt, He’ll fill your heart with joy.
Now, two final marks. Number nine and number ten, a pure heart and servant of God is characterized by an eager spirit … an eager spirit. And this wonderfully balances off the last point about discharging the debt. That is not to say that you do it reluctantly. There is an eagerness to fulfill that responsibility. And so in verse 15, this is lovely, he says, “So much as is in me.” In other words, as much as I can muster inside myself, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome.” That’s an eager spirit. I’m ready. And the word is eager.
You know, in Acts 20:22, he said, “I go to Jerusalem bound in the spirit.” It was as if somebody wrapped up his heart and dragged him into Jerusalem. He was compelled. It indicates a strong desire, Acts 20:22, bound in the spirit, a very strong desire. In fact, it’s used in Romans 7:2 of a woman who is bound to her husband, strong binding, strong obligation. He says I am ready. My spirit is bound. And this is a good indication that Paul’s self-preservation was not at the top of his priority list. His only concern was to fulfill the plan of God and the ministry got it given to him and really, that was everything he lived for. He says nothing moves me, in Acts 20, because I don’t count my life dear unto myself. Paul’s life was never ever ever the issue. In fact, he said, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He said in 2 Corinthians 5, “What’s the difference if I die? If I’m absent from the body, I’m present with the Lord.” His life was never the issue.
In Colossians 1, I believe it’s verse 24, he said, “I rejoice in my sufferings for you.” In Philippians he said, “If I be offered on the sacrifice of your service … or rather … the sacrifice of your faith, I rejoice.” If I lose my life reaching you, that’s okay. So, he had an eager spirit.
Life had only one value to Paul. Think of this and look at your own life. This is a very hard thing to accept. Life had only one purpose. There was only one value in life to Paul and that was to do God’s work … consumed by that. He was eager to preach. And there were others like him. I think of Philippians 2 and it says in verse 27, “Of Epaphroditus, he was sick near unto death, but God had mercy on him and not on him only but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Epaphroditus was working with Paul there and Paul says God was not only merciful to him to preserve his life, but merciful to me because my heart would have been broken. Because, “For the work of Christ he was near unto death, not regarding his life to fulfill your lack of service toward me.” So Paul is saying in Romans 1:15, all that falls within my power, all that falls within my prerogative is ready. As far as I am concerned, I am eager to come to Rome to preach the gospel.
He’s like a racehorse in the gate, banging against the steel, waiting for the thing to open. He’s like a sprinter who gets in those blocks … and I can remember that feeling so well … and that guy puts his hand up and up goes the gun and you’re just … and there’s usually in a very important race somebody goes too soon and they have to restart. Paul was like a sprinter and God had to hold him back he was so ready to go.
Are you so eager? Is that the kind of service you render? Or does somebody have to get behind you and shove with all their might to get you involved? Does your wife have to give you the typical Sunday afternoon lecture to get you here Sunday night? To get you to the Flock group or the Bible study? Or are you eager? If it comes out of your heart, you’re eager.
And, you know, it’s amazing that he was as eager as he was because he knew what a volatile place Rome was. He knew they would despise him. He knew they would reject his message. He knew they hated Christ. And that brings us to the last final mark of a pure spirit, I call it a bold spirit … a bold spirit. Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
Paul, how can you be so eager to go Rome? I mean, you know they’re up to their neck in emperor worship. You know they’re steeped in paganism. You know that they despise the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can you be in such a hurry to go there? Aren’t you intimidated about what’s liable to happen?
No, I’m not ashamed. Oh, that’s … that’s such an important statement. Paul says when I get the opportunity to preach, I’ll really preach.
It’s amazing what shame does to us. Many people get real eager but when the battle starts, they faint. Remember John Mark, he started out, he was really hot for the missionary trip. He bailed out. Didn’t want to confront it.
You know, there are what I call in the church “the sign-up specialists.” They sign up for everything and drop out. You see the eagerness but they don’t have that boldness, that unashamedness. The pagans in Rome branded Christianity as atheism. They even branded Christianity as cannibalism. They said that the Christians ate one another … and that was their communion service, talking about drinking blood and eating flesh. The Jews branded Christianity as heresy, blasphemy, lawlessness. The gospel was always a rock of offense and a stumbling block. But Paul said I don’t care, I’m not ashamed of it, I am not ashamed.
He proved that in Jerusalem, didn’t he? He proved it in Athens. And he would prove it in Rome. He proved it in every city he went to because it nearly cost him his life in every single town, but he never pulled a punch. The servant of the Lord is always going to face the situation in a unashamed, bold way.
May I just offer this thought? The great ones never compromise … or become ashamed, never. And that speaks to my own heart as well. Jeffrey Wilson wrote, “The unpopularity of a crucified Christ has prompted many to present a message which is more palatable to the unbeliever. But the removal of the offense of the cross always renders the message ineffective. An inoffensive gospel is an inoperative gospel. Thus—listen to this—Christianity is wounded most in the house of its friends.” It’s true. We have emasculated the gospel so it won’t offend anybody.
I remember speaking at a youth rally and I preached on the need that young people had to be saved. And a lady who was the wife of the director of the rally came to me afterward and said, “You know, your message offended me because you preached as if all of these young people were evil.” I said, “Well, I’m glad you got that out of it because that’s exactly what I was saying.”
“And you turned them off.”
But, you see, that’s the kind of mentality that so many people have. You compromise the message and you have an inoffensive yes and equally inoperative message. Unashamed boldness to speak for Christ.
How do you do in that score? Do you clam up? Do you kind of wiggle around the issues comfortably? Or do you confront it?
There was a great saint in the early church by the name of Basil. You can read about him. He was martyred in 363 A.D. and he was martyred by a man that became known as Julian the Apostate. Julian had restored into the Roman Empire heathen worship. You remember that Constantine, for the most part, had made Christianity the religion around 325. And when Julian came in, he brought back heathen worship. And Basil, who was a great Christian, went to him one day and this is what the historian said he said to the emperor. “Thou renegade, thou hast abdicated the throne prepared for thee in heaven. Verily I believe that Christ, whom thou has adjured, will take thee and pluck thee out of thy dwelling that thou mayest know how great is that God whom thou hast offended. Thou hast not fought of His judgments, nor venerated His altars, thou hast not kept His laws which thou didst declare often with thy lips. Wherefore, great emperor, Christ will not remember thee.”
Emperors were not used to being talked to like that. Julian ordered Basil to prison. And this was the punishment. Every day the guards were to make seven leather thongs from strips pulled out of his skin. And so, every day they would cut long strips to make into thongs. This went on for weeks. Finally Basil picked up one of the thongs and asked to see the emperor. This was granted because the guards felt that he had prepared himself to deny the faith and affirm the place of the emperor.
And so, he was brought holding in his hand his own flesh, scarred all over his body and this, the historians record, is what he said, “Dumb, deaf and blind are thy idols, apostate. To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And he threw the thong of his own flesh at Julian’s feet. They carried him out and dropped him on a red-hot bed of iron spikes and he died.
Soon after, Julian himself died. And there are many records of his last words. He is said to have said this, “Thou hast conquered, O Man of Galilee.” I’d say Basil was bold, wouldn’t you? And I’d say his boldness got the message through.
Paul served with his spirit. What did that mean? That mean that he was bold and eager to preach out of a great debt to God and because he desired fruit and all of this was born out of a thankful, concerned, willing, submissive, loving, humble heart. He was unashamed. And if you find in your life shame for the gospel of Christ and if I find in my heart shame for the gospel of Christ, it just reminds us of how far we are away from the heart of true spiritual service.
William Lloyd Garrison wrote this: “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language. But is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to talk or think or write in moderation. No, no, tell a man who’s house is on fire to give a moderate alarm, to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher. Tell a mother gradually to extricate her baby from the fire into which it has fallen. But urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard. The apathy of the people (he said) is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead,” end quote. What zeal.
You know, I think that we haven’t even seen what God could do in our city, our state and our country if we began to serve truly the way we’ve seen in Romans 1. We don’t have everybody here, this is Memorial Day weekend. But just this group that’s here could revolutionize the city if we served from our spirits in a worshipful whole-hearted service, if we serve with a spirit filled with thanksgiving, with concern, a willing spirit, a submissive spirit, a loving spirit, humble, fruitful, obedient, eager and bold. But we tend to get so comfortable, so lazy spiritually.
Well, I hope you thought about your own life and not somebody else’s tonight. I know I thought about mine. And I kind of feel like the master picked up the brush and touched me up in a few places. But I’ve been touched up before and I tend to fade in the same spots, do you? Let’s resolve tonight to restore the color and be used as Paul was.
Thank You, Father, for Your good word to us tonight in the heart and spirit of Paul. And now as we leave the introduction, and begin to enter the masterpiece of the theology of the gospel, may we do so with the same heart that Paul had so that we don’t treat it as academics but as the only hope for the salvation of lost men. Teach us more, Lord, that we may reach others. And may we serve You with our hearts, our whole hearts, not externally but from deep within.