14 And concerning you, my brothers and sisters, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom15:14-16)
Coming towards the end of his Magnus Opus, Paul affirms the Roman Church of his time to be a people who were “full of goodness”, knowledgeable and able admonish one another (v14). Contrary to the depiction of some Christians, the Church is not merely to be an “assembly of justified sinners”. The people consecrated to Christ should aspire to be like the churches in Rome of Paul’s day which the apostle delighted in – an assemblly of those who like the seed that fell on the good ground are noble of heart, zealous for good works and bearing much fruit (cfTit2:14). As we shall shortly observe, the same could not be said of the Church at Corinth (1Cor3:3).
Likewise, some Christians take comfort or alternatively believe it to be an act of piety for Paul to regard himself as still “the chief of sinners”. But every account of the Apostle’s post-conversion life and ministry shows him to be a thoroughly spiritual man who had “lived in all good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts23:1). He was someone whose behaviour set a pattern for his converts to imitate. Speaking of himself and his fellow workers “our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience that in godly sincerity and purity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world” (2Cor1:12). That is hardly the testimony of one who still regarded himself as the “chief of sinners” (1Tim1:15). That description had been in the context of what he had referred to just two verses earlier concerning his pre-conversion attempt to tear apart the infant Church of Jesus Christ. It was in the past but should remind us all that God’s elective choice is entirely a matter of grace.
And why was Paul chosen? It was “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of presenting the gospel of God such that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v16). And it is also why he was called as the thirteenth faithful apostle “out of due time”. For as I have been endeavouring to explain, it was never foretold in the Old Testament that members of the Gentile nations could themselves become an offering to the Creator in the sense of a sanctified people chosen to participate as the Israel of God (cf. Rom11:24-25). This had been Paul’s Good News – in his words “that the Gentiles should become fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light the dispensation pertaining to the secret (plan) which for ages has been hidden in God the Father who created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph3:6-9).
Or as Paul concludes his letter to the Romans:
Now to Him who is able to establish you ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY WHICH HAS BEEN KEPT SECRET FOR LONG AGES PAST 26 BUT NOW HAS BEEN DISCLOSED THROUGH PROPHETIC WRITINGS in accordance with the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. AMEN.[Rom16:25-27]