January 4, 2010

Under Obligation

“I am under obligation” Paul says in Romans 1.14 “both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.” “Under obligation”, as he goes on to explain in verse 15, to proclaim the good news of Jesus. “Under obligation” to tell the story of the God-man who came to earth to live without sin, to die for sin, and to rise in victory over sin. “Under obligation” to inform men and women, boys and girls that the ladder to heaven is not set up by our good works … but is actually let down by God’s good grace; that (v.16) “the righteous shall live by faith” (not by works). Paul was “under obligation” to get this news to the ends of the earth – both to civilized, “wise” Greeks, and to wild, “foolish”, barbarians (for all alike are sinners!). In other words, Paul simply had to preach.

But why? Why did Paul feel this sense of “obligation”? Why did he carry around this burden? Certainly part of it was that he was an apostle of the Lord Jesus. He had been specially commissioned, in person, by the risen Christ to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Surely that one-on-one encounter with the Lord was a large determining factor behind his feeling “under obligation.” But was that it? Did Paul feel compelled to pronounce glad tidings simply because it was his job? Merely because he was an apostle? I’m not so sure.

In fact, it seems to me that part of Paul’s sense of obligation must have stemmed simply from his heart as a Christian (and not solely from his role as an apostle). Of course he felt burdened to share the good news! He had been on the highway to hell. And Jesus literally met him on that broad road that leads to destruction and rescued him. Paul deserved to smell the stench of his own rotting flesh as it burned unceasingly in hell … and instead he’d been given the promise of heaven; the forgiveness of sins; and the assurance that God was his friend. Indeed, he’d been set free from his lifelong futile attempts at earning God’s approval (see Philippians 3.1-9)! He had been saved by grace.

And I suggest to you that this was a large and central reason why he felt “under obligation” to preach in Rome and to all the other cities where he toiled. He was amazed by grace, dazzled by Jesus, in love with the Father, and enthralled with the gospel. And if God could do all this for him (the chief of sinners) … then surely this “power of God” (v.16) would be effective in others lives … if someone told them the news!

So yes, having been commissioned as an apostle by Jesus Himself, Paul sensed a great responsibility, a great “obligation.” And I think any one of us, if commissioned the way Paul was, would carry around the same weight. But I also believe that any one of us who has been saved in the same way as Paul (and all of us who are real Christians have!) … will also feel a bit of a burden, a desire, a longing, and “obligation” to tell others the grand news!

No, your role in God’s grand scheme of things will never be anything close to that which the apostle Paul occupied (so breathe easy!). You have not been given the tasks Paul was given. However, if you’ve been saved by grace through faith in Jesus, I’d be willing to wager that you probably feel just a little “obligation” to do what you can to see that others are too! That is true Christianity! And it’s a wonderful and exhilarating burden to carry!

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