What does it look like to live out our calling? Christians are called to loving outreach but this can be difficult to navigate at times. In this message on Romans 15–16, Pastor David Platt exhorts us to live in light of our calling as Christians. He emphasizes the various roles we play both individually and as a church and shares two main ideas to guide our churches.
- We are God-centered
- We are peoples-focused
Before you open your Bible, I want to pray for what is about to happen in the next fewminutes.
Acts 13 tells us that while the church at Antioch was worshiping and fasting and praying,the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have calledthem” (Acts 13:2). I’ve often wondered how that happened. Exactly how did the Holy Spiritsay this? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that as a result of whatthe Holy Spirit said on that day, a missionary movement was born that led to the spread ofthe gospel throughout the known world in the first century.
Earlier this month, we set aside a day to fast as a faith family, and we came together thatnight. One of the things we prayed for specifically was this day. We fasted and we prayedthat God might see fit in our worship gatherings today to say by His Spirit, “Set apart thesepeople for the work to which I have called them.” We’ve been praying ever since that dayfor the same thing: That by His Spirit through His Word in our worship today God might callcertain ones of us from Brook Hills, from Birmingham to spread the gospel in places outsideof Birmingham.
Just so you know where this is all going, at the end of our time in the Word today, I’m goingto invite anyone—any individuals, any couples, any families—in this room who believe theLord may be setting you apart to move outside of Birmingham for the spread of the gospelto stand where you are, so that we can pray with you about that possibility in your life oryour family. I’m not calling people today to move tomorrow to the Middle East. But I amcalling people today to say, “The Lord may be leading me to move away from Birminghamfor the spread of the gospel, and I want the church to pray for me in that.”
I want to pray now in anticipation of that moment to come. As we pray, I want to call everyfollower of Christ in this room, and particularly every member of this church, in a new andfresh way, right now to put a blank check with your family and your family and your futureon the table before the Lord. To say, “Lord, are you setting me apart? Are you setting myfamily apart for the spread of the gospel outside of Birmingham?” Will you bow your headswith me?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name in all the earth. Cause your name to be madeknown as holy in all the earth. Your kingdom come. We want your kingdom to come. Yourwill be done. Your will be done in our lives, in our families, in this church, and on this earthas it is in heaven. We pray that, in the next few moments, you would speak clearly to us byyour Spirit. That you would keep the Adversary from distracting us from hearing your voice,from doubting you when we hear your voice, and from deceiving us into thinking that yourvoice cannot be trusted. Help us to hear you, and help us to obey you no matter what yousay, no matter what that means because we trust you. We worship you. We pray, I pray, O God, that in the next few moments you would set apart men and women to stand in thisroom in the same way you set apart Paul and Barnabas to go two thousand years ago. InJesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Now, if you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to Romans 15. I mentioned overthe last couple of weeks that we were going to pause on this Sunday in our study of 1Corinthians, though it’s not really a complete pause because Paul actually wrote the textwe’re looking at when he was in Corinth. Paul was surrounded by the Corinthian churchwhen he wrote the book of Romans, and I know of no better text for a day like this thanRomans 15-16.
I want us to read most of it (we’re going to start in verse 8). We’re not going to walk verse by-verse through a study of it, but instead, it’s going to be the overall foundation that I’mgoing to stand on in casting vision for who we are as The Church at Brook Hills and callingmany of you to leave The Church at Brook Hills for the glory of God among the nations.Let’s start in Romans 15:8, where Paul (who also wrote 1 Corinthians) writes:
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’struthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and inorder that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Andagain it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise theLord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiahsays, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; inhim will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy andpeace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound inhope.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full ofgoodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But onsome points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because ofthe grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles inthe priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentilesmay be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I havereason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak ofanything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring theGentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders,by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the wayaround to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; andthus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ hasalready been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it iswritten, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who havenever heard will understand.”
This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. Butnow, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since Ihave longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as Igo to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I haveenjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going toJerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have beenpleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they oughtalso to be of service to them in material blessings. (Romans 15:8-27)
The Church at Brook Hills…
Standing upon this foundation, here is the picture I want us to see today of who we are,what is common to all of us who are a part of this church, and what God may be callingeach of us to do as a part of this church. First, who we are: The Church at Brook Hills. Iknow this is wordy, but every word here counts, so follow with me. The Church at BrookHills. We are a family of brothers and sisters radically saved by God’s grace, miraculouslyfilled with God’s Spirit, and absolutely surrendered to God’s purpose: praying, giving andgoing together—and the key word here is “together;” we’re praying, giving and goingtogether—for the spread of God’s gospel and the sake of God’s glory among all the peoplesof the world. Now in that sentence, in that description of who we are, I want to drawattention to two main facets of our community together—who we are and what we’re about.
Romans 15-16 and how We are God-centered.
One, we are God-centered. My wording is intentional here to emphasize God’s grace andGod’s Spirit and God’s purpose and God’s gospel and God’s glory. Romans 16:27, “To theonly wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:27). We are aGod-centered community.
His grace saves all of us. This is what makes us the church in the first place: The mercy of God. This is why Christ came in the first place. Romans 15:8, “Christ became a servant tothe circumcised…” A reference to the Jews, “…to show God’s truthfulness, in order toconfirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles…” i.e., thenations, which includes most of us in this room. Not Jewish people, but Gentiles – Christcame so that we “might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8).
I realize that some people here today are not members of The Church at Brook Hills, andyou’re thinking, “What have I walked in on? A bunch of crazy people talking about howthey’re going to move around the world. Why would they do that?” Here’s why. Here’s whatI pray you who are visiting with us today might hear in this place on this day. That youmight hear today that God is merciful and that God is gracious. That you and I have sinnedagainst God, you and I have turned away from God to our own way instead of His way forour lives.
We’ve all done it, and what has God done? God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay theprice for our sin and our rebellion. You and I deserve death from God in our sin, and Christhas died in our place. He has died the death we deserve to die, and He has conquered theenemy we cannot conquer—sin and death itself. Jesus has risen from the dead, and God isgraciously inviting you today to turn from your sin and to turn from yourself and to trust inHis mercy toward you through His Son on a cross.
As other people in this room in a few moments might stand and say, “I believe the Lordmay be leading me or my family to spread this good news outside of Birmingham,” I inviteyou to respond today by saying in your heart, “Today, I’m going to receive this good news.Today, I’m going to trust God to save me from my sin and myself by His grace and in Hismercy.” Let this day be that day for you. Christian, remember today that when it comes to making decisions about going around theworld with our lives, what drives us is not guilt. “We feel guilty because we’ve heard thegospel and others haven’t, so I guess we need to go.” No. What drives us is not guilt; whatdrives us is grace! The greatest news in all the world is that God has sent His Son and thatHe has saved us from eternal death to eternal life. It just makes sense for us all to put theblank check on the table before this God because the very reason He has left us on thisplanet is to make this good news known among the peoples of the earth!
We’re a people saturated by the grace of God, and as a result, we’re a people surrenderedto the mission of God. Don’t forget. Some of you may think, “I don’t know if I can give Goda blank check with my life or my family. What if He calls me to Africa? What if He calls us toCentral Asia or the Middle East?” This is where I remind you: If you can trust God to saveyou from your sin, you can trust God to lead you in your life. And not only to lead you, butto satisfy you every step of the way. The grace of God saves us. May the grace of God saveus from ourselves even today, and consequently compel us to go wherever He leads and tobe with us every step of the way.
The next blank there in your notes: God’s Spirit fills all of us. One of the many things I loveabout Paul’s description of his life and ministry in Romans 15 is how all the credit goes toGod. Verse 18, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplishedthrough me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signsand wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18). Everything Paul did as hetraveled around the world proclaiming the gospel was a result of the power of the Spirit ofGod in him. After all, who set Paul apart in the first place? Acts 13, “The Holy Spirit said,‘Set apart for me Paul and Barnabas, for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2).
The Spirit of God called Paul, and then, follow this: The Spirit of God equipped Paul foreverything God called him to do. Some of you may already be thinking, “I just don’t think Icould do this. I don’t even like to travel. I’ve spent my whole life in Birmingham; I don’tthink I could make it somewhere else. I just don’t think I’m cut out to be a missionarysomewhere in the world; that’s a whole other class of Christian, isn’t it? I’m just a plainperson. This is not me.” If that’s what you’re thinking – if you’re thinking, “I could never dothis,” I want to say as loudly as I possibly can this morning, “You’re right!”
But this is where every Christian in this room has got to answer the question: Are you goingto waste your life on that which only you can do in your own power, or are you going tospend your life doing that which you can only do in His power? Are you going to live yourentire Christian life in dependence on yourself, always limited by what you think you canhandle? Or are you going to live your Christian life in dependence upon His Spirit, neverlimited by what He might accomplish in and through you?
I remind you, Church at Brook Hills, every single one of you in this room who has trusted inChrist for your salvation has received the Holy Spirit of God, who right now is dwelling inyou. For many of you, He is calling you today to do something you could never do on yourown, something you could never do in your power. But because of your obedience to Him,one day, you’re going to look back and say, “I won’t venture to speak of anything exceptwhat Christ has accomplished through me by the power of His Spirit.”
I’m calling many of you today to step out and go not because I have confidence in you, butbecause I have confidence in the Spirit of God in you, the Spirit of God who has filled you,and the Spirit of God who will enable you to do whatever He calls you to do. That’s part of what it means to be God-centered. We’re living our lives in ways that can’t be explainednaturally but can only be explained supernaturally.
God’s grace saves all of us, God’s Spirit fills all of us, and God’s purpose includes all of us.His purpose includes all of us. You say, “What do you mean? What is God’s purpose?” Lookat Romans 15:8-13 with me, where Paul quotes four times from the Old Testament (back to-back-to-back-to-back). In these quotations, we see a picture of God’s purpose in all ofhistory, specifically the purpose for which Christ came and died on a cross.
Follow this in your notes, and then I want to show it to you in the text. Jesus Christ died.Why? What was the purpose? Jesus Christ died to purchase a people from among all thepeoples of the world for the eternal praise of God. Again, every word here is important.Jesus Christ died for this purpose. Why did Jesus die on a cross? Here’s why: To purchase apeople from among all the peoples of the world for the eternal praise of God.
The wording here is taken almost verbatim from Revelation 5, where angels in heaven singto Christ, saying, “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomedpeople for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Thatheavenly vision is exactly what these Old Testament quotations are all about. Thesequotations take us all the way back in the Old Testament to show us that, when God calledthe people of Israel, the Jewish people, it was never just about God receiving praise fromthem. God’s purpose from the very beginning was to receive praise from all the peoples ofthe world.
Look at the progression that unfolds from Romans 15:9-13. Follow this. The first quotation in verse 9 is from Psalm 18:49, and the picture is the Jewish people praising God among (inthe middle of) the Gentiles. Romans 15:9, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,and sing to your name” (Romans 15:9). Then, in the next quotation, the picture is theJewish people praising God with the Gentiles. Romans 15:10, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with hispeople” (Romans 15:10).
So, you have the Jewish people praising God among the Gentiles, and then the Jewishpeople praising God with the Gentiles, and then in the next verse, the focus is on the Jewishpeople calling the Gentiles to praise God. “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all thepeoples extol him” (Romans 15:11). That’s a quote from Psalm 117. Finally, the lastquotation is from Isaiah 11:10, and the picture here is Jesus, referred to as the root ofJesse, rising up and receiving praise from among all the nations, Jews and Gentiles alike.Romans 15:12, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in himwill the Gentiles (in him will the nations) hope” (Romans 15:12).
Don’t miss this. The progression is from Jews praising God among the Gentiles, to Jewspraising God with the Gentiles, then Jews calling on the Gentiles to praise God, and then allthe peoples—Jews and Gentiles alike—praising God through Christ. The picture here is Paulsaying, “This has been the purpose of God all along.” Everything God has done in the world,all throughout the Old Testament and now into the New Testament – God’s purpose hasbeen to form a people from among all peoples for the praise of His name. This is why Jesuscame, and this is why Jesus died—to fulfill that purpose. To make that people from amongall the peoples of the earth a reality.
So step back and get the picture. What is God doing in the world right now, today? God isdoing what He has been doing from the beginning of history, from the dawn of creation.God is doing today what He sent Christ to do 2000 years ago. Today, God is forming a people from among all the peoples of the earth for the praise of His name. God is not fullypraised when only one type of people worship Him, only Jewish people or only Anglo Americans or only African-Americans or only Latin Americans or only Europeans. No, God ismost fully praised when every type of people in the world, people from every part ofAmerica and every part of Africa and every part of Asia, people from among all the peoplesof the world are joining together in the eternal praise of God. This is the purpose of God.This is the purpose for which Christ died. Christian, this is the purpose for which we live.
Jesus Christ died to purchase a people from among all the peoples of the world for theeternal praise of God, so we as Christians live to reach people from among all the peoples ofthe world for the eternal praise of God. It only makes sense, right? If this is the purpose ofGod in this world, and if our lives belong to God in this world, then His purpose is ourpurpose. And His purpose includes all of us. Not one Christian is sidelined in this purpose.
For far too long in the church today, we have relegated the worldwide purpose of God to acompartmentalized program in the church. “That’s for the missions people. That’s for thepeople who care about the glory of God in the world.” No, we all care about the glory of Godin the world. It’s why we have breath. We all want to see all the peoples of the worldpraising our God in Christ, and not one of us who has been saved by the grace of God and isfilled with the Spirit is content to ignore the purpose of God. We’re all in this together. It’sthe very reason we’re on the planet. The reason Christ died is the reason Christians live—sothat a people from among all the peoples of the world will resound in eternal praise to God.
This is what it means to be God-centered. It means our lives are not our own anymore. Wehave been saved by God’s grace, we have been filled with God’s Spirit, and we are nowconsumed with God’s purpose. As members of this church, without exception, we are allpraying, giving, and going together wherever, however, whenever God leads for the spreadof His gospel and the sake of His glory among all the peoples of the world.
Romans 15-16 and How We are peoples-focused.
Which leads to the next component of our community that I want to emphasize. One (andeverything springs from this), we are God-centered. Then, in light of God’s grace, God’sSpirit, and specifically God’s purpose in the world, two, we are peoples-focused. This is howthe Bible views God’s purpose in the world.
I’ve already quoted from Revelation 5:9. The Bible views the world in terms of tribes andlanguages and peoples and nations. It’s what Jesus said to His disciples right before He leftthis earth: “Now go and make disciples of all the nations.” We’ve talked before about how“nations” in the Bible is not a reference to geopolitical countries like we think of today.Around 200 nations are recognized in our world today. We know these are not the “nations”Jesus is talking about because, well, the United States of America didn’t exist as a nationwhen Jesus gave that command.
Instead, the word he used there in Matthew 28, that we see in other places in the NewTestament, is “ethne”, from which we get “ethnicity”. It’s a reference to all kinds of tribesand families and clans and types of people on the earth, what we commonly call “peoplegroups” today. This is where biblical, anthropological, and missiological scholars have lookedat the world and identified, as best as they can, groups of people who share commonlanguages and common cultural characteristics. There are far more than 200 such peoples.There are well over 100,000 people groups like this in the world. It makes sense. You go to India. It’s one nation with diverse people groups everywhere.Different languages, cultures, ways of life, clans, tribes, peoples. For that matter, you don’thave to go to India to see this. I was preaching up in Chicago recently, and in a few days ofriding around in a cab, I met all kinds of different people: Moroccan Arabs, Somalis,Bulgarians, Nigerians. All living in Chicago. When we look at the world biblically, we don’tjust see geopolitical nations; we see people groups. Just like the Bible sees Amorites andHittites and Perizzites and Jebusites, we see these peoples alongside the Baloch people ofPakistan and the Hui people of China and the Arab people of Egypt. We see the world thisway because Jesus has purposed to save people from among every single one of thosetribes and clans and languages and nations, and Jesus has commanded us in the GreatCommission to go and make disciples among every single one of those people groups.
We know we have not been commanded simply to make disciples among as many people aspossible. This is huge. Jesus has not just given us a general command to make disciplesamong as many people as possible. Instead, Jesus has given us a specific command. Weknow we have been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of theworld. Christ has told us as His church to go to all the peoples of the world, to reach all thepeoples of the world for the praise of God.
Which begs the question: How are we doing? And the answer is not encouraging. Out ofover 11,000 distinct people groups in the world, over 6,000 of them are still classified asunreached by the gospel. This basically means they are less than 2% evangelical Christian,which means there is hardly any church presence there to sustain the spread of the gospelwithin that people. Practically, this means that most people – and there are close to 2 billionpeople in those 6,000 people groups – in these people groups are born, live, and die withoutever hearing the gospel. It doesn’t just mean they’re lost. There are lost peopleeverywhere. Right here in Birmingham, Alabama, there are people without Christ. Thedifference between here and there, though, is that here there is access to the gospel. Butthere, among more than 6,000 people groups, there is not even access to the gospel. For achurch that has been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of theworld, this is not acceptable for us.
Yet people say, “Well, like you said, there are lost people here in Birmingham, so why wouldwe pack our bags, sell our homes, and move our families to go over there when there’s aton of need here?” That’s a great question.
Let me give you an illustration. Follow this with me. Remember a couple of years ago whentornadoes ravaged Birmingham and northern Alabama, and our city and surrounding citiesimmediately went into rescue mode. I want you to think about that, and I want you to putyourself in that situation. I want you to imagine that the commander overseeing rescueoperations in all of northern Alabama put you in charge of the rescue teams. Imagine takingall the teams you have and coming upon the first community that you found, and thatcommunity is in dire need. People everywhere, dying, that need to be rescued from therubble of their homes. There’s more work than your teams could handle in that onecommunity.
Imagine also knowing that there are other communities 5, 50, 100, 200 miles away thatalso need rescue teams, but you’re overloaded right where you are. Let me ask thequestion. In that situation, would you send some of your teams somewhere else? Basically,would you divide your resources? Knowing that if you did, because of travel, those teamswould lose time when they could be saving people right here. Knowing that those othercommunities are going to be hard to get to, and you don’t know even know the way to get to them. What if you even know that in some of these other communities, they’re actuallyresisting help and don’t even want you to come?
If you’re in that situation, doesn’t contemporary wisdom and even compassion simply say,“Let’s stay here and help as many people as we can. This is the best use of our resources. Itwill take far more time, far more resources, and much greater risk to try to get to thoseother places. Let’s stay here where we know we can help.” Follow this. The only thing thatwould cause you to do anything different than that would be if the rescue commander saidto you, “I don’t want you to just rescue as many people as possible. Instead, I want you torescue people from every single one of those communities.” If the commander said, “I wantpeople rescued from every single community” – if that was the command and it was clear,then you would use the resources at your disposal to make sure that people from everycommunity were rescued.
Church, this is our command, and it is clear. The purpose of God in the world is that peoplefrom every single people group be rescued and ransomed by Christ. Therefore, commitmentto the Great Commission in our lives and in this church necessarily involves commitment ofour lives and our resources to get the gospel to people groups that have still not beenreached. Do you see this?
This is not an option for us biblically. God has not just told us to get the gospel to as manypeople as we can. If that were the case, then we would go, find the most fruitful missionfield there is, and stay there the rest of our lives. But God has told us to go to every peoplegroup on the planet. Our mission is not just a lot of people; our mission is all peoples.
There are 6,000 people groups who haven’t heard, so we prioritize going to unreachedpeoples. It’s not that we don’t care about Birmingham. We care deeply about Birminghamand people we live around and work with here that need the gospel. God will leave some ofus here in Birmingham, but at the same time, He is calling many of us to go beyondBirmingham, to unreached peoples in North America.
When we’re peoples-focused, when we see the world in terms of peoples, we realize thatGod has brought peoples (unreached peoples) to us in this country. It’s estimated that over360 unreached people groups are living here in the United States. It’s Arab peoples(hundreds of thousands of them living in places like Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan). It’sSouth Asian peoples in New York City, Somalis in Minneapolis, Bosnians in St. Louis, Kurdishpeoples in Nashville. It’s 20,000 Yemeni Arabs in metro New York. It’s almost impossible toget into Yemen right now, but you can reach Yemeni Arabs right there in New York.
We are making plans (and you can read about a couple of families along these lines on thefront of your Worship Guide) to send people from The Church at Brook Hills to work amongdifferent people groups in North America. God may not be calling you overseas, but He maybe calling you, setting you apart to go to unreached people groups right here in NorthAmerica.
Or overseas, beyond North America. Yes, many unreached people groups are here, but notall of them are here. Most of them are there, so we prioritize going to unreached peoplegroups over there. Men and women from this faith family have moved to reach the Arundoand the Hui and the Baloch and Middle Eastern peoples and other people groups to come.
We prioritize going to unreached peoples, and we prioritize going to unreached places. Evenamong communities of American peoples in North America, you have cities like Provo-Orem, Utah, that are 0.5% evangelical Christian, virtually unreached. By contrast, Birmingham,Alabama, is 45% evangelical Christian, almost half. We praise God for that, but Church atBrook Hills especially, we realize that we are among one of the most reached peoples andplaces in the world.
Wouldn’t it make sense that God, who desires His glory among all the peoples of the earth,would send an unusual number of us out from here, from this people and this place to reachunreached peoples in unreached places? It’s almost like the default among us shouldprobably be to go, and we should only stay if God is making clear that He’s telling us tostay. We’ve not been commanded simply to make disciples among as many people aspossible. We’ve been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of theworld. So we prioritize going to unreached peoples and we prioritize going to unreachedplaces.
We have a team going to Turkey soon, a nation of 70 million people. Do you know howmany believers there are in Turkey? Do you know how many evangelical Christians, Bible believing, Gospel-embracing Christians there are in Turkey? About 3,000. Do we realizewhat this means? There will be more people that will gather in this room today to worshipGod than there will be across the entire nation of Turkey with 70 million people. We mustprioritize going to unreached peoples and unreached places.
So what does this mean? Does this mean that we all need to go to unreached peoples? Doesthis mean that those who don’t move to unreached places are being disobedient? Are thosewho stay less committed Christians than those who go? Is there a first and second-classChristianity here, where missionaries from Brook Hills are the ones who are reallycommitted, and members who stay in Birmingham at Brook Hills are just somewhatcommitted?
This is where I want to be really careful, and this is why I was particularly drawn to Romans15 and 16 together. Because in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes clear that his ambition, andGod’s call on his life, was to preach the gospel where it had never been heard, to nameChrist’s name where it had never been named. Verse 21, “Those who have never been toldof him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:21).
What Paul says in verse 23 is shocking. He had said in verse 19 that he had fully proclaimedthe gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and then he said in verse 23, “Since I no longerhave any room for work in these regions…I [am going] to Spain” (Romans 15:23-24). Didyou hear that? Do you realize what Paul is saying? Paul is looking around him in places likeCorinth and Ephesus and Crete, and he’s saying, “There’s no more work for me to do here;I’m moving on.” Now did that mean that everyone in those cities had been saved? Did thateven mean that everyone in those cities had heard the gospel? No. What it meant was thatthe church had been planted in those cities. The gospel had been proclaimed, disciples hadbeen made, the church had been founded, and the work was going on, so Paul says, “I’mmoving on.”
We know from the rest of the New Testament that there were other people that Paul himselftold to stay in these places. Paul told Timothy to stay and pastor the church in Ephesus. Hetold Titus to stay in Crete. So the picture you have in the New Testament is some Christiansstaying under the sovereignty of God in certain places that have already been reached withthe gospel. After all, there were other leaders at the church at Antioch that the Holy Spiritdidn’t set apart to go, but to stay there. So some Christians stayed in the church and citywhere they came to Christ, and then other Christians, like Paul and some of his traveling companions and others, who are moving to other cities. It’s not because Paul is beingobedient and everyone else is being disobedient, but because God is calling His people tocarry out His mission in different places and among different peoples.
This is where I want to be really, really careful today and across this church not to imply inany way that those who don’t move to live among unreached peoples, those who stayseated in a moment while others stand and say, “The Lord may be leading us to moveoutside of Birmingham” – if you’re sitting at that moment, the last thing I want you to thinkis that a you’re second-class Christian in any way. The ultimate issue is not whether you’resitting or standing in that moment; the ultimate issue is whether you’re obeying in thatmoment. For some of you, obedience will mean sitting. For others of you, obedience willmean standing.
What Is Common To All Of Us…
As the entire church…
This is where I want us to realize the difference between what is common to all of us andwhat is a calling for each of us. First, as the entire church, what is common to all of us isthat we are God-centered. We have all been saved by God’s grace, we are all filled withGod’s Spirit, and we are all included in God’s purpose. We live to reach people from all thepeoples of the world for the eternal praise of God. We know that we have not beencommanded simply to make disciples among as many people as possible. We know that wehave been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of the world.
Together, we prioritize unreached peoples, and we prioritize unreached places. That’sexactly what the Bible is saying in Romans 15. Then notice this list of names in the churchright after Paul finishes Romans 15 in Romans 16. You have a whole list of people – thereare 26 of them mentioned here – who have different backgrounds and different gifts and areplaying different roles in the mission of the church, doing different things.
You have Phoebe, likely a businesswoman traveling to Rome and delivering this letter toPaul. You have Prisca and Aquila, a couple who had served with Paul in Ephesus and nowlive in Rome. You have Epaenetus, the first to come to Christ in Asia, and then anothercouple who were in prison for Christ alongside Paul. You have families and households,slaves and free. You have Rufus and his mom, who was like a mom to Paul.
See the entire church. Men and women—nine women mentioned in this chapter, Mary andJulia and Persis and others—single and married, young and old, rich and poor. All kinds ofdifferent people united together on mission in the church. Think about what unites them all,what is common to them all. First and foremost, obviously what unites them all is Christ.Four times these people are described as being “in Christ,” five times they’re described asbeing “in the Lord,” and twice he calls them “brothers and sisters.” The person of Christunites them, but so also does the mission of Christ.
See what Paul’s writing to them, and as you see it, think about this entire church. Men andwomen, single and married, young and old, rich and poor, what is common to all of us asThe Church at Brook Hills? Well, first, Christ. We are together in Christ, in the Lord, asbrothers and sisters. But our unity is not just in His person; our unity is in His mission. Andwhat do we all do in this mission?
Romans 15-16 and Why We pray…
We all pray. Paul appeals to them in Romans 15:30 for the church in Rome to strivetogether with him in prayers to God on two different levels: For the church and for the lost;for the church and for the lost. He’s asking the church in Rome to pray for the church inJerusalem, that they will receive Paul when he brings this offering that he has collected forthem. Paul also asks the church to pray for him, to be delivered from unbelievers (the lost)in Judea, as he goes. There were major threats against Paul’s life in Jerusalem, threats thatwere founded when he was eventually arrested in Jerusalem. He ended up coming to Rome,not quite in the way he intended, but as a prisoner.
The picture here is huge. He’s saying, “On this mission, I need your prayers, the churchneeds your prayers, unbelievers need your prayers. Strive to God on behalf of all thesethings,” Paul tells the Roman church. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, butagainst rulers and powers and authorities in this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in theheavenly places, so pray, he says in Ephesians 6, at all times in the Spirit, with all prayerand supplication, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,and pray that I may proclaim the mystery of the gospel boldly in the face of adversity.
Church at Brook Hills, across this room, what is common to us all? We are striving togetherin prayer amidst this mission to make the glory of God known in all nations. This is why I’vewanted to expose you to resources like Operation World, where you can pray throughoutthe year for the peoples and the nations of the earth. Prayer for global mission is not justfor a select few; it’s for us all. There needs to be a global component to all of our praying,on a continual basis. I know this for a fact. This is not a matter of calling. Christian,biblically you need to pray for the spread of the gospel to the nations, for the churchglobally, for the lost around the world. This is non-negotiable for all of us who know Christand are in Christ.
We pray, and we give. We all give. We’re all compelled and we’ve all been commanded togive to spread the gospel and serve the poor. Again, both of these things are evident in thechurch as a whole in Romans 15-16. Paul says at the end of Romans 15 that he’s writingthis entire letter because he needs help in getting the gospel to Spain where people havenever heard it. He says in verse 24, “I hope…to be helped on my journey there by you” (Romans 15:24). The language he’s using refers to physical help and assistance in the formof people and resources he can take with him to Spain.
I’ve talked before about how the book of Romans is one big fat missionary support letterthat’s saying, “Here’s the glory of God in the gospel. Now please help me get this gospel topeople who’ve never heard it before.” Now notice this. At the same time, as important as itwas to get the gospel to Spain where people hadn’t heard it, and as much as he wanted thechurch at Rome to give toward that end, Paul says, “I’m not going to Spain yet because firstI need to go to Jerusalem and deliver an offering to the church there.” The reason this wasso important is because the church in Jerusalem had experienced a famine and wasphysically struggling, so Paul had rallied churches all across Asia in places like Macedoniaand Achaia, even among poorer churches there, and had collected an offering to take to asuffering, impoverished, struggling church in Jerusalem.
Notice that passion for unreached peoples did not negate love for reached peoples in Paul’smind. The church cares about urgent spiritual need and urgent physical need. Yes, what’sdriving Paul is taking the gospel to the nations, but along the way, he’s encounteringbrothers and sisters in need, and he’s leading the church to do something about it. The same is true for us. We give. We all give. Let’s just pause and remember that we havemuch to give. We live in one of the wealthiest places on planet earth. God has given us somuch, and He has not intended for us to spend it all on ourselves. God has blessed us,Psalm 67, for the sake of His name among the nations. He has given us worldly wealth forHis worldwide worship.
So we give—generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully—for the spread of the gospel to thosewho have never heard. We all give. We all look at our budgets and say, “In a world where6,000 people groups have yet to be reached with the gospel, how can I give more so thatthose people groups are reached with the gospel?” And, along the way, how can I give toserve the poor, particularly our struggling, in some cases starving, brothers and sistersaround the world. This is why we, as a church, give much to missionaries and missions workaround the world that is focused on the unreached, yet we also give to communities andchurches in India, even in areas that are more reached with the gospel because we havebrothers and sisters who are starving there without clean water or food and they’re dying ofpreventable diseases. This is what we do together. We give to spread the gospel and toserve the poor.
And then, we go. We all go. In this sense, we go right where we live, and we go whereverGod leads. Making disciples is not a calling; making disciples is a command. So we all goright where we live, where we work, where we play, right here. Every Sunday, we send outone another, saying, “Go make disciples.” This is what we do, and in this sense, going is notjust for some of us; going is for all of us. We are all going, we are all involved in makingdisciples who make disciples who make disciples because we know that commission is notjust for special Christians. That commission sums up what it means to be a Christian. I lovethis picture in Romans 16 of a diverse people who are all involved in working alongside Paulin the church on mission, and that’s what we are. We are fellow workers (to use Paul’sdescription in verse 9), going right where we live and all going, every single one of us with ablank check on the table saying we’ll go wherever God leads.
What Is A Calling For Each Of Us…
That leads to what is a calling for each of us. This is where I want to make the distinctionbetween what is common to all of us, meaning what is biblically non-negotiable for all of us.We all pray for the church and for the spread of the gospel around the world. A globalpassion for the praise of God among all peoples must drive every single one of our prayingand our giving. We all give. We all give (we all make sacrifices to give) for the spread of thegospel and the service of struggling, suffering, impoverished brothers and sisters aroundthe world. And we all go. This is not a matter of calling for a few of us, but a command to allof us. We all go, every week, right where we live, making disciples, and we all go whereverGod leads. But how God leads us to do these things will vary in different ways. Again, this ispart of the beauty of Romans 15-16 and really the whole picture we have of the church inthe New Testament.
Romans 15-16 and How often we pray and whom we pray for.
Yes, in Christ, we’re united in our praying, yet God calls us to carry out such praying indifferent ways. What is common to all of us: Praying for the church and the lost around theworld. What is a calling for each of us: How often we pray and whom we pray for. I’m justgoing to hit this real quick because this is not the primary purpose of this sermon. I think about all these people in Romans 16, and certainly the way Paul’s appeal for them topray at the end of Romans 15 would play out differently. I can picture Phoebe praying forPaul as she delivered this letter. I can picture Prisca and Aquila, this couple who had beenparticularly close to Paul, setting aside much time together before going to sleep at night topray specifically for him. I can picture Rufus’ mom, who had been like a mother to Paul. Iknow this is conjecture here, but just imagine. Maybe she was a widow. According to 1Timothy 5, widows are exhorted to pray all the more, for women with husbands attend totheir husbands and younger women attend to their children. But older women whosehusbands have died and whose children are grown have more time. Paul says in 1 Timothy5:5, they “continue in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5).
I’m not saying that people who are busy in the church don’t need to make time to pray. Notat all. After all, we’re all busy, right? We all make time to pray, but what that time looks likeand how that time is focused is going to vary for us. I have a specific list of things andpeople I pray for each day of every week, and your list won’t look exactly like my list. Whatwill be the same, though, I hope, is that we’re praying together for church and the lostaround the world.
How much we give and whom we give to.
Similarly, what is common to all of us: We give to spread the gospel and to serve the poor.What is a calling for each of us is: How much we give and whom we give to. Certainly in theGospels we see even Jesus telling a rich man to sell all he has, and then right after that,commending Zacchaeus for giving half of his possessions away. Then in Acts, we seedifferent people selling property or giving different gifts at different times. We even seesome people using larger homes to host house churches.
What our giving looks like will vary, how much we give and who we give to. Obviouslythere’s a priority on giving to the local church that we’re going to talk about in a couple ofweeks in 1 Corinthians 16, but even as the local church, we make decisions together onwhat we’re going to give to. Many of you, beyond your giving to Brook Hills, give to spreadthe gospel and to serve the poor in other ways, as well. The goal in all of this is for us togive exactly what God is leading us to give.
Where we go, how long we stay, what financial support we have, and what kind ofwork we do.
So we’re all praying, but God will call us to pray in different ways. And we’re all giving, andGod will call us to give in different ways. Finally, we’re all going, but God is calling us to goin different ways. Here are four categories that I would encourage you to think about whenit comes to distinctions in God’s call for us to go. So what is common to all of us is that wego and make disciples where we live and wherever God leads. What is a calling for each ofus is where we go, how long we stay, what financial support we have, and what kind ofwork we do.
So think about these four categories. First, where we go. Even just locally, right here inBirmingham, God has led certain ones of us to do ministry right here inside our community,and God has led others of us to reach outside our community. I think about brothers andsisters who might be using foster care or Sav-a-Life to make disciples right here insuburban Birmingham, and others who are making disciples through Divine Faith BaptistChurch or Brother Bryan or Olivia House or a host of other ministry avenues in downtownBirmingham. I think of some people who have gone out from among us to church plants inEast Lake or Southside for the spread of the gospel beyond this community, people who stilllive in Birmingham, but the Lord has led even from this church at this location. The reality is, if we are really going to be about making disciples and multiplying churches, the Lord willlead more and more of us outside this community for the spread of His gospel.
On another level, the Lord may lead us to go among our culture or across other cultures.Again, God is doing this among us as many of you are involved in outreach to internationalpopulations here in Birmingham, whether Asian or Hispanic or any number of other cross cultural ministry opportunities. In the same way, the Lord will lead many of us to makedisciples on this continent and beyond this continent. Some will go out from Birmingham,led by His Spirit, to unreached peoples and unreached places in North America. Others willgo out into unreached peoples and unreached peoples beyond North America. The point isthat we go and make disciples is common to all of us; where we go and make disciples is acalling for each of us.
And so is how long we stay. We encourage and exhort one another all the time to considershort-term (1-2 weeks) missions, spending a week or so going outside of Birmingham forthe spread of the gospel and the sake of God’s glory. We encourage everyone who liveshere in Birmingham to consider giving 2% of your time (about a week of your life in a year)taking the gospel outside of Birmingham in a way that will transform the other 98% of yourtime that you live inside of Birmingham. We have a whole new list of short-term tripscoming out in a couple of weeks, in addition to customized trips that you and your smallgroup can actually create alongside our global team.
We also send out brothers and sisters from us mid-term (2 months to 2 years) to servebetween 2 months and 2 years in different places and among different peoples for thespread of the gospel. We encourage everyone who can, who has the kind of flexibility intheir schedule to do this, to consider this. Whether you’re a student – we encourage everycollege student to spend at least a summer or semester somewhere like this, even if theLord doesn’t lead you long-term to live among unreached peoples. This will radicallytransform your perspective on the mission of God among the peoples of the world fromwherever you life. Likewise, teachers and other vocations that have longer times like thisbuilt in, or flexibility to work on the road, or semi-retired and retired brothers and sisters.We encourage anyone who can to go mid-term.
Then others that the Lord leads to go long-term (more than 2 years) to basically make asomewhat permanent (if not altogether permanent) move to live and work amongunreached peoples and places. God is calling some to go short-term, others to go mid-term,and others to go long-term. How long we stay wherever we go is a matter of calling.
Then, what financial support we have. Part of the benefit of God’s material blessing upon usin this part of the world is that we are able to send brothers and sisters, and to use Paul’slanguage, to help them on their journey financially. There are some missionaries today whogo to unreached peoples and places and are fully supported by other Christians in thechurch. But the reality is that if we really want to reach over 6,000 unreached peoplegroups in the world, it’s likely not going to happen through men and women who are fullysupported financially among those people groups.
This is where we must intentionally explore ways the Lord might be sending self-supported brothers and sisters to unreached peoples and unreached places. You may remember wetalked about this a few weeks ago when talking about the gospel and our work, that thethree great church planting centers of the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome)were all founded not by apostles but by workers who were using their vocations asplatforms for making disciples in pioneer areas. We talked about how these 6,000 people groups are very difficult to reach, and you don’t gointo an unreached place like Saudi Arabia on a Christian missionary visa. Missionaries whosefinancial support is solely dependent on Christians can’t get into Saudi Arabia, but do youknow who can? Christian businessmen and Christian businesswomen. Do you realize thereare about six million Americans living abroad right now, and estimates are that over onemillion of those are evangelical Christians, followers of Jesus? Do we realize what a missionsforce this can be in the world?
This is why, even when we talk about missions, the last thing I want you to think is, “Okay,I need to leave my work, my job, my skills, my education behind.” No, it’s, “Is there a waythat my work, my job, my skills, my education could be used to make the gospel knownamong one of the neediest places in the entire world?” And for us altogether to begin tothink like that.
How can your job, how can your work, how can your skills…college students, what degreecan you get that will open doors for you around the world? For us all to begin to train ourchildren to think this way, to work hard in school, why? So they can get a good job andmake good money and coast out a comfortable life in a Christian setting? Or so that theycan be ready to go to people and peoples around the world with their skills and theirtraining and their degrees and make the gospel known among people who’ve never, everheard it before? If we really want to reach all peoples in the world with the gospel, it’s goingto happen on the wings of workers, men and women with jobs, who don’t automaticallyassume that they should teach or program computers or manage or do accounting or dosales or practice medicine in Birmingham or even in America, but workers who default tothe fact that if there are people groups in North America and around the world that havenever even heard the gospel, then maybe God has given us a job and skills that can beused to reach them. God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplaces for thespread of His gospel through the sending of His people as workers around the world for theglory of His name. We must explore ways God is leading more and more of us as self
supported missionaries in different vocations, moving to cities in North America andcountries beyond North America to work for the spread of the gospel.
I don’t want to leave it at just those two categories because there’s a picture even biblicallyof partially supported brothers and sisters, of whom one was Paul. Paul worked as atentmaker. At the same time, Paul received support from churches like the one at Rome.There’s a place for a both/and here. I would simply emphasize that if and when there areopportunities for people to get jobs among unreached peoples in and beyond NorthAmerica, we should pursue those possibilities, and in the process, save funds for thosepeople the Lord leads into places where it may be particularly hard to get a job.
Regardless, what financial support we have will vary according to what the Lord calls us todo, and finally, what kind of work we do will vary, mainly according to what kind of settingwe’re working in. Among the reached, the primary work we’re going to focus on isstrengthening the church to make disciples. Simply put, where the church exists, we wantto work alongside the church. This is undoubtedly the picture we see in the New Testament.
But then, where the church is not, among the unreached, we’re planting the church bymaking disciples. We’re going out, much like Paul and Barnabas did, and our goal is to makedisciples among particular people groups, and once disciples have been made, to lead themto form a church with leaders and begin spreading the gospel. This is what we’re workingfor among the Arundo and the Hui and the Baloch and Middle Eastern peoples. This is whatthe two families you see mentioned on the worship guide today are going to do among South Asian peoples in New York, and this is what we want to send brothers and sistersfrom this faith family out to do across North America and around the world.
Some self-supported, others partially supported, and some fully supported, going mid-termand long-term, making disciples and multiplying the church among the least reachedpeoples of the world.
The Question Every One of Us Is Considering Today…
That then brings us to the question every one of us is considering today. What I want to dois I want to give you this question, and then I want to invite you to just sit still for a minute,not to start packing up your stuff, ready to move on to the next part of our gathering. Thisis the moment that we have been building to. I want to invite every single member of thischurch, men and women, single and married, young and old, rich and poor, to consider thisquestion, to contemplate this question I want to challenge you, right where you are sitting,to consider: By God’s grace, through God’s Spirit, and for God’s purpose, might the Lord beleading me (or my family) to leave Birmingham for at least two months of my life (or ourlives) to spread His gospel for the sake of His glory among unreached peoples in the world?
Now the key word there is “might.” This is not me asking you to make a vow, a commitmentto move overseas. The reality is that decision is not yours to make alone. In Acts 13, thiswas a decision that was made in the context of the church, with the church prayingalongside Saul and Barnabas. That’s why I want to ask you to stand in a minute to say, in asense, to brothers and sisters in this faith family, “Will you pray with me in this?
Some of you are married, and you’re sensing the Lord may be leading you in this way, butyou don’t know what your husband’s thinking or you don’t know what your wife’s thinking.This is obviously something you’re going to pray about together. What I want to invite youto do is, even if just one of you is thinking this, I want to invite you to stand. Husband/wife,even if you’re not thinking this right now, I want to invite you to stand with your spouse,and in that way it will be a picture of you saying, “At least one of us is sensing this in ourhearts, so we need people to pray for us.” Likewise, if you have kids that would be affectedby this, I invite them to stand with you, as well.
The whole goal is to take a first step today, even just in prayer. Then the other thing I’mgoing to ask you to do is to take the back of your Worship Guide tear-off, and write“unreached” on it. That won’t mean we’re calling you now to book your tickets overseas, butwe’ll be contacting you to let you know ways you can move forward in exploring this, eventalking about this from here.
Again, by God’s grace, through God’s Spirit, and for God’s purpose, might the Lord beleading me (or my family) to leave Birmingham for at least two months of my life (or ourlives) to spread His gospel for the sake of His glory among unreached peoples in the world?If answer to that question is yes, I want to invite you to stand.
© David Platt 2013 17
- A family of brothers and sisters radically saved by God’s grace, miraculously filled with God’s Spirit, and absolutely surrendered to God’s purpose: praying, giving, and going together for the spread of God’s gospel and the sake of
- God’s glory among all the peoples of the world.
- We are God-centered.
- His grace saves all of us.
- His Spirit fills all of us.
- His purpose includes all of us.
- Jesus Christ died to purchase a people from among all the
- peoples of the world for the eternal praise of God.
- We as Christians live to reach people from among all
- the peoples of the world for the eternal praise of God.
- We are peoples-focused.
- We know we have not been commanded simply to make disciples among as many people as possible.
- We know we have been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of the world.
- So we prioritize going to unreached peoples.
- And we prioritize going to unreached places.
What Is Common To All Of Us…
- As the entire church…
- Men and women, single and married, young and old, rich and poor.
- We pray…
- For the church and for the lost.
- We give…
- To spread the gospel and serve the poor.
- We go…
- Right where we live and wherever God leads.
What Is A Calling For Each Of Us…
- How often we pray and whom we pray for.
- How much we give and whom we give to.
- Where we go, how long we stay, what financial support we have, and what kind of work we do.
- Where we go…
- Inside our community or outside our community.
- Among our culture or across other cultures.
- On this continent or beyond this continent.
- How long we stay…
- Short-term (1-2 weeks)
- Mid-term (2 months to 2 years)
- Long-term (More than 2 years)
- What financial support we have…
- Fully supported
- Partially supported
- Self supported
- What kind of work we do…
- Among the reached, we’re strengthening the church to make disciples.
- Among the unreached, we’re planting the church by making disciples.
- Where we go…
The question every one of us is considering today…
- By God’s grace, through God’s Spirit, and for God’s purpose, might the Lord be leading me (or my family) to leave Birmingham for at least two months of my life (or our lives) to spread His gospel for the sake of His glory among unreached peoples in the world?