An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians
Scripture: Romans 10:14–10:21
My sermon title this morning is An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians…I don’t make a habit of borrowing other people’s sermon titles. But I have done so this morning. Well, actually I have only borrowed part of the title. The author was William Carey, and the full title of his tract was: An Enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathens in which the religious state of the different nations of the world, the success of former undertakings and the practicability of further undertakings are considered.
Now there is a title that just rolls off the tongue! Yet his little booklet became a Christian classic, and served a vital role in launching the modern mission movement. William Carey was born in 1761 and a shoemaker by profession. But God got hold of his heart and, practicing what he preached, he spent his life proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in India.
In that booklet, right after the title and before the “Introduction” is a quotation taken from the Book of Romans chapter 10 beginning in verse 12:
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
This quotation bridges the passage where we concluded last week as well as introducing the text we are considering this week. Last week’s passage concluded with the ringing, open invitation to salvation to Jew and non-Jew alike; to everyone who will believe and call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation. With that invitation comes the promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Today, we are going to consider the sacred obligation which we incur when we accept that offer of salvation. This is an enquiry into the obligations of Christians…Chief among those obligations is the responsibility we have to pass the message of Christ on to others.
This passion for sharing the message of Christ permeated the life and writings of Paul. We could go through passage after passage in his writings and find numerous examples. I am limiting myself simply to his epistle to the Romans. This passion was rooted in his deep compassion for the lost.
There are a couple of verses we saw back in chapter 9 that have been haunting me. It is Romans 9:1-3:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
I read that and I ask myself the question: Do I have that? Do I carry great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for the lost people all around me? Paul says that he is not exaggerating. He is not lying. He even calls on the Holy Spirit to be his witness. “Great sorrow and unceasing anguish!” Why, Paul? “Because my fellow countrymen, my kinsmen, my race, my people are lost!” Leave aside the technicalities of Bible interpretation for a moment and hear and feel the raw human emotion! Do you share that? Do I share that?
The very next verse is almost beyond belief. Verse 3: For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Hear what Paul is saying. He uses a rare grammatical form here that protects him from outright heresy. It is rendered “I could wish”. He doesn’t quite say that he does wish it. He says, so to speak, “I am this close! The potential is there. My concern for my brothers is so great that if I could exchange my salvation for theirs (and I know I can’t), I am right on the point of being willing to make that exchange and take their place in Hell if that would lead to their salvation.
Can I say that? Do I have that same passionate concern for the lost that I would be willing to give up my own salvation for them? And if that is too much to ask, if that is too high a bar, what am I willing to give up so that others can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and come to salvation?
A quote from William Carey’s little booklet speaks powerfully to this point: “Some attempts are still making, but they are inconsiderable in comparison of what might be done if the whole body of Christians entered heartily into the spirit of the divine command on this subject. Some think little about it, others are unacquainted with the state of the world, and others love their wealth better than the souls of their fellow-creatures.” (Carey) Does that pinch just a little?
Paul’s passion for the lost found a practical expression in the form of prayer. We find this in Romans 10:1: Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Paul carried this burden with him into his prayer life – and he regularly and passionately prayed for the lost. In his case, he carried a special prayer burden for the Jews. I believe that God does give particular prayer burdens to us. We are not all equally burdened for every one or every people group. But I believe we should all carry a burden of prayer for the lost. If you don’t have that, ask God to give it to you. It may be certain individuals among your family or friends. It may be a wider category of people, or an entire people group. When my parents were in Bible College in California in the 1930’s, their college was organized into “prayer bands” to pray for particular regions of the world. They both went to the prayer band for Africa. In fact, that is where they met. They ended up spending almost 45 years in Africa, sharing the Gospel. It began with a prayer burden. Who are we praying for?
This passion for the lost found expression in his prayers. But it didn’t stop there did it? When Paul compares the eternal destiny of the lost with the incredible spiritual riches on offer in Christ and in his Gospel, it prompts him to ask a series of rhetorical questions which lead to a clear picture of our obligation as Christians.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
It is a perfectly logical sequence, is it not? In order to experience the riches which are in Christ, people must call on him. In order to call on him, they have to believe in him. In order to believe in him, they have to hear about him. And how will they hear about him? Someone has to tell them! And that is our job. That is our obligation as those who have received the riches of Jesus Christ and been justified by faith.
By the way, the word “preaching” here is not limited to something that happens in a church building and it does not require a pulpit and a microphone. It means to serve as a herald; someone who makes an official message known by proclaiming it. It can be done before multitudes or it can be done one to one. It is a task for every follower of Christ.
There is one final link in this chain of responsibility. Not everyone lives within reach or sound of a Gospel preaching community or people. They live on the other side of some kind of barrier of geological or cultural or linguistic distance. They will not be reached in the natural course of everyday life. Someone must go to them. That requires “sending”. This of course, is where William Carey focused his famous work. At that time, England had many churches. Anyone in England who seriously cared to could find a church where the Gospel was proclaimed. William Carey did not disparage the work or the Gospel preaching of these churches. But he wrote to declare that it was not enough. There were many peoples and places in the world where there was no Gospel witness. It was time to be deliberate and intentional to send people to those places and to those people, because the Christians’ obligation is ultimately to the whole world.
And William Carey was also not content to only call for prayer. Listen to another quote from his book: “We must not be contented however with prayer, without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for.”
I know Paul would have said a hearty “Amen” to William Carey’s writings.
Paul makes no attempt to sugar coat the difficulty of the task. He makes it clear that there are many who will not believe even when they hear the message. This is what he tells us in verse 16: But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
When I was in university, I was active with a campus ministry which trained me to share my faith. I have always been grateful for that training. But there was one statement that they used repeatedly which I struggled with. It went something like this: “Most people want to accept Christ. They just don’t know how.” The implication was that all that was missing was information. Just tell them and “most” will follow Christ. Frankly that was never my experience. Most people I shared with did not follow Christ. And Paul tells us here that we should be prepared for this. He quotes Isaiah, from the heart of Isaiah 53 that great prophecy of the coming Messiah. And the quote is almost a despairing one. It is almost as if Isaiah asks, “Will there be any who believe my message?” Paul goes on in the passage to quote several more passages about the refusal, particularly of the Jews, to respond to God’s offer of mercy. No, not all will obey the Gospel when they hear it.
But that does not relieve us of our responsibility to tell them. Because, while not everyone who hears will believe, one thing is for sure. If there is no proclamation there is no hearing and without hearing there will be no faith. This is Paul’s point in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. We have an obligation to pass the message on – whether or not the recipients respond.
That same campus ministry taught us something else, and this I have held on to over the years. It was a definition for successful witnessing. “Successful witnessing is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.” Results are God’s domain. Our responsibility and obligation is to share the good news.
As I conclude this message, let me level with you. I know, as a preacher, that there are a couple of topics I can preach on which inevitably leave my hearers feeling defeated and guilty. One of those topics is prayer. We all know or feel that we don’t pray often enough, hard enough or long enough and a few good quotes about famous Christians who spent 4 hours a day in prayer before breakfast leave us feeling inferior and guilty. Another of those topics is witnessing. Most of us are intimidated by the topic and feel guilty that we are not doing enough. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t particularly like preaching on these topics, because they leave me as the preacher feeling guilty!
I don’t want to send you away today with another load of guilt and inferiority to carry through your week. Let me break it down into bite size pieces. First of all, start with prayer. And it doesn’t have to be 4 hours of prayer before breakfast! Just simple, sentence prayers asking God to give you a burden and a passion for a particular individual or individuals, or even a particular category of people or a people group. Don’t try to manufacture the burden. Ask God to give the burden to you. Then make those individuals or that group a regular part of your intercessory praying.
Then we are going to give you another piece. Many people are afraid to share their faith because they are not sure what to say. Sometimes a good tool can take some of the fear out of that. I encourage you to find such a tool or tools. It might be a book, a tract, a DVD; anything that presents the Gospel clearly and powerfully.
Now put the two together. As you are praying to God to give you a burden and passion for the lost, ask God if there is anyone he wants you to give this tool to. Don’t rush it. Let God show you who to give it to and when to give it. Then when they have had the opportunity to read or watch it, you can ask what they thought of it. Then continue to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading from there. Remember, results are God’s domain. Our obligation is simply to share the good news!
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear unless someone tells them?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Share together as a group your background and experiences in sharing your faith: what training you have had, what types of outreach efforts you have been involved in, negative and positive experiences, and present participation.
Read Romans 9:3 and discuss your reaction to Paul’s words.
Has God given you a particular burden for any particular category of people or people group? Any particular individuals in your life?
Do you agree with the statement: “Most people want to accept Christ. They just don’t know how.” Why or why not?
“Successful witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” There are three parts to that statement. Take them apart and discuss why it is important to keep each part in mind.
How different is the situation in the world (and in churches) today from the situation William Carey faced when he wrote his book?