I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’
There is something tremendously powerful in Paul’s comments here. All these centuries after they were written, they remain as poignant and pertinent as when the ink was wet. They judge and they encourage. They offer a vision and a hope that is captivating even as it may be daunting!
Paul is summing up aspects of his own ministry; turning over in his imagination the missionary journeys and the encounters that have marked his years of faith in Christ. He is offering this church he hopes to visit some of his apostolic and missionary credentials.
What Paul does is unveil the heart of evangelism. As he does so, what might we see? Firstly, I notice the focus and the force that makes all evangelism possible. It is God’s work before it is anyone’s. It is Christ who accomplishes things through Paul, not Paul who accomplishes things for Christ. It is the power of the Spirit who works the wonders and weaves the words. It is Christ who converts. The only good news Paul can ever offer is that about Jesus Christ. Evangelism evokes humility, our openness to becoming available, our willingness to join in with what God is already up to long before any scheme or programme reaches our agendas our our lips.
And then there’s Paul’s closing quotation. What words he draws from Isaiah 52:15! This is one of Isaiah’s Servant Songs; evocative words about how God’s servant will suffer, yet draws all nations to God. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection play out such prophecies. Against all expectation, the broken servant becomes the beacon of human hope.
This is the stunning good news we are recruited to share with an aching world. Paul gives thanks for opportunity to bear witness to all of this; all he knows of Christ’s work. And now? Our turn.
Give us wisdom, Grant us courage, Guide our journeys, Go with us, Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of your Spirit. Grace us with words when words are needed. Goad us into silence when we need to listen with far greater care. God, help us bear good witness to all you have shared. Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Minister, Thornbury URC and Trinity-Henleaze URC (Bristol)