Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 1:14 “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Bar barians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.”
“Greeks” referred to all who spoke the rich Greek language; “Barbarians” referred to those whose speech was foreign. “Greek and Barbarian” was a way of saying all people of all languages, wherever they lived.
“Wise and unwise” means learned and unlearned, the cultured and the crude, the civilized and uncivilized. Paul sensed himself a debtor to all men, irrespective of nationality or mental ability.
What a contrast is this attitude of Paul to many who live today. A student often graduates with the attitude, “I’ve paid my dues. Now the world owes me a living.” The socialite says, “The world owes me fame.” A man of knowledge demands, “The world owes me a hearing.” A politician says, “The world owes me influence.” The worker says, “The world owes me a promotion.” Many people feel the world should rotate around them. They are the world’s creditor. It is honored by their presence and “owes” them.
Paul upset this apple cart. Surely if the world ever “owed” a man anything, it was to Paul. He gave his all for the betterment of humanity. Nevertheless, he said, “I am debtor.”
A sense of compulsion and debt and duty has ever marked the true leaders of every profession. Sir Walter Scott wrote because he felt compelled to write. Once he was fever-ridden, his brain half delirious, but he had no time to be sick and commanded his startled servant, “This is folly! Bring in the pens and paper!” For two years he was painfully ill with a kidney ailment, but dictated three of his most famous novels during this time (one of them was Ivanhoe). In 1830, at age 59, he had a stroke but kept on writing. In 1831 he had another stroke but completed two more novels after that. His doctor persuaded him to take a Mediterranean cruise, but he cut it short to return home to work. There is no more fertile soil for productivity than the pressure of a great debt. Obligation is the mother of productivity.
Every day we enjoy benefits which have come to us from the service of our fellow men. We did not earn our freedom. Others fought for it and wrote laws which gave us protection. Others worked hard to make our jobs and education possible. We would be terribly handicapped without the influence of those gone before.
We cannot repay the debt to those who have gone before. We can only pay it forward to those around us and yet to come. Every honorable man feels compelled to give back to the world as much service as he takes from it. Any other attitude is reprehensible.
Our social debt is important, but not nearly as important as our spiritual debt, to which Paul is actually referring here. The instant Paul was saved, he knew he was in debt to Jesus, who collects payment on this debt through the lost world. A major evidence of our gratitude is in trying to give others what has been given to us.
People are precious in God’s sight. They have a dignity which compels us to serve them. Of every man it can be said, “There is the person Jesus died for.” Paul was keenly aware he had been entrusted with the only message which meets the need of lost humanity. The very fact he had it made him responsible for those who need it. He owed a debt.
When Pasteur discovered bacteria spread disease, he was immediately a debtor to the human race. He had to share the news. When Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, he was instantly a debtor to mankind. When Edward Jenner developed a safe smallpox vaccination, he was immediately under obligation.
The world needs healing, and believers have the only medicine to cure it. This fact alone is sufficient to prescribe duty. No excuse can vindicate a man who knows the secret of health, but keeps it from the sick.
During one of Britain’s civil wars, a governor was convicted of treason against the king. Intercession was made on his behalf, and the king issued a pardon from the death sentence. Unfortunately, the pardon fell into the hands of the governor’s bitter enemy, who kept it locked up until after the execution.
We all feel horror-struck at the ruthlessness of a man who, having the pardon of a fellowman in his possession, could keep it back and let him die. However, the Lord could point His finger at many of us and make the same accusation.
The Lord has entrusted us with a pardon which spares men from everlasting death. The pardon is available to all, sent to all, designed for all, blood-bought for all; and we must get the news to them.
A child of God who feels he is a debtor to the lost will surely find a way to discharge this duty. The Christian who realizes, “I am debtor,” is the one who will do the most and best work for Christ. A sense of obligation is the best root from which to grow genuine service. “God, give us a sense of debt.”
Romans 1:15a “So, as much as in me is, I am ready . . .”
Paul not only admitted he was a debtor, but also confessed he was anxious to pay on the debt. “I am debtor” and “I am ready” are two confessions at the very heart of all true work for God. We owe men, and need to be about the task of paying on the debt.
“Ready” comes from a word which means to be in a heat, as from running. It points to eagerness which breathes hard, panting heavily and rapidly. Desire was astir within Paul. He had a passion to preach in Rome.
“As much as in me is” is the key phrase. It reveals the extent to which Paul sensed his debt. The debt is more than he can pay in one lifetime. It requires his whole self. He will pay on the debt until all his resources are exhausted in death. All he is and has will be applied to the debt.
Paul’s life demonstrated the sincerity of his intentions. On the Damascus Road he asked, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” Immediately after his conversion, Paul preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus and Jerusalem. God had to stop him and send him to Arabia to meditate and pray. After being stoned in Lystra, he returned there in a few days to see how the Christians were doing. When he saw the vision of a man from Macedonia, he immediately endeavored to go there. Though Jews at Jerusalem desired his death, he went there with an offering for the saints.
David Brainerd died a horrible and slow death at age 29 due to tuberculosis. His clothes often dripped with sweat caused by his recurrent fever and chills. He was a missionary to the Indians and gave himself entirely to their service. There was often blood on the snow where he had knelt in prayer for them. He preached to the Indians as often as possible. As his strength continued to fail, he preached while seated. Often the Indians had to carry him home after the service. Finally, he had to have the Indians come to his house, and he preached while lying down. When he was taken (in vain) to Massachusetts to recover, he wrote letters to the Indians. When too weak to write, he dictated letters by whispering. When too weak to whisper, he prayed for them. God grant us the spirit to say, “So as much as in me is, I am ready. . .”
Romans 1:15b “. . .to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.”
By any human standards, Paul was crazy. His desire appears suicidal. Paul, utterly weak in himself, tormented by a thorn in the flesh, is going to march into Rome and preach the Gospel. He is going to proclaim Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul was going to preach in Rome that the true king of the world was a man who had been crucified by a Roman governor!!
Where can you find greater bravery than Paul’s? When he arrived at Rome, he himself was in chains, and preached to the Romans about a man they had already disposed of.
Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon marched with armies to enforce their will upon men. Paul marched with Christ alone to the center of the world’s might. He took the Word of God right into Satan’s strongest trench.
Paul was ready to do all he possibly could to proclaim the message of Jesus the King in the city of kings. Paul’s victory was sure because his weapon was sure. He knew the Word, sharper than any two-edged sword, would topple the armies of Satan. When the Knights of Germany offered their swords to Luther in behalf of his cause, he replied, “The Word shall do it.” He was right.
Paul had a message of certainties. He had a word from God, and did not hesitate to say he had the last word regarding salvation. He preached an authoritative message with authority. The result was staggering. Within 10 generations after Paul’s arrival, 1,750,000 Christians had been buried in the catacombs at Rome. By the year 250 A.D. one-fifth of Rome was Christian; by 313 A.D. Christians had received religious freedom; by 380 A.D. Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The message of Jesus still has the power to change societies. In November 1857 Elijah Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob at Alton, Illinois. Earlier that fateful day there had been calm and peace. All seemed at rest. Before dawn Lovejoy and his friend, Edward Beecher, went to the warehouse where the printing press was located. Beecher watched the sun come up and was moved with emotion as it shed its rays over the valley of the mighty Mississippi. Beecher, a Presbyterian preacher, knew the region would be vastly populated someday. Of this moment he later recalled, “I thought of future ages, and of the countless millions that should dwell on this mighty stream; and that nothing but the truth would make them free.” His words are still true. Men have not changed. The hope of the Mississippi Valley, St. Louis in particular, and mankind in general, is the same as that of Rome–the Gospel, the Truth, the Word.