Living the Call – A Sermon Series on Romans 9-11
“God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans ). God is a giving and calling God. God has gifted and called all his people to do his ministry on earth. The church has traditionally set aside a number of its people for the sake of equipping this ministry of God’s people. These equippers are always in need of encouragement and correction.
As a young member of this fellowship of equippers, I have written a series of sermons on passages from Romans 9-11 with an eye to ministry. I have asked Paul, “What does these mean for the experience of modern ministry?” I trust this is not a forced connection, since the issues of Romans 9-11 were crucial to Paul’s reflection on his own ministry and formed the climax of the his defense of his ministry in Romans. By the power of the Holy Spirit, today’s ministers can benefit from Paul’s reflection.
The audience of these sermons is therefore anyone engaged in the ministry of Christ’s church. Of course, I had my own struggles in mind, but I pray that others might also benefit from these words. So think of this series as if it were delivered at a ministers’ or seminarians’ retreat. In light of the common call to all believers, any Christian could hear the content of these sermons. They are nevertheless shaped with the full-time equipping ministry in mind.
Since five of these six sermons are found in outline form only, I have made explicit the form of each sermon. In many cases, I used forms exemplified in Ronald Allen’s Patterns of Preaching. This will hopefully aid the clarity of the ideas and presentation, which would otherwise be rendered opaque by the pithiness of an outline.
I have organized the whole series into three main parts. The first points up the resources of the minister with two sermons, one on prayer and the other on the Word of God. The second section identified three dangers the minister faces: running that leads to stumbling, loneliness that leads to self-righteousness, and boasting that leads to brokenness. The last section contains a sermon on the vision and commission of the minister.
I. The Resources
1. The Prayer for the Lost (9:1-5 and 10:1)
2. The Power of God’s Word (9:6-13)
II. The Dangers
3. Running that leads to Stumbling ( and -33) [full manuscript]
4. Loneliness that leads to Self-Righteousness (11:1-5)
5. Boasting that leads to Brokenness (-24)
III. The Vision and Commission
6. God’s Secret Plan and Our Small Part (-36 and 10:9-15)
The Prayer for the Lost (9:1-5 and 10:1)
The aim of this sermon is to point out the ministry resource of prayer, especially for the lost. I will make a tie between Paul’s grieved prayer for the salvation of his brethren, the Jews and our contemporary prayer for the salvation of unbelievers. The point is that any ministry for the sake of the lost begins with making our desire known to God through prayer.
Form: Problem – Solution – Celebration
A. There are so many people living outside God’s call to salvation. It is natural for we as Christians to be hurting for them.
a. Story: I have a close friend at Seminary who has lost interest in the gospel. We cannot pray together. We cannot talk about what God is doing in our lives. We do not share in the Lord’s Supper. This causes a rift between us that grieves me.
b. 9:1-2: Paul speaks the truth in Christ, he is not lying, his conscience bears with him, in the Holy Spirit, that his grief is great and there is constant sorrow in his heart.
B. Although we have an obligation to bear witness of the gospel to those who are lost, we are nevertheless incapable of bringing change in the hearts of others.
a. Theology: God the Holy Spirit alone saves
b. Experience: Forced conversions either fail or are phony
A. God wants to hear our desires through prayer
a. Logic: If God is the one who saves, then we should tell him about those we desire to be saved
b. 10:1: Paul’s desire is for the salvation of the Jews, and this naturally coincides with his prayer to God for them
c. Story: My family prayed for Uncle Jon’s salvation for decades. He was a true burden for my family, and prayer was the only release. He finally did encounter the grace of God just a few years back. He is thankful for our prayers.
B. God wants to hear first of all about those closest to us
a. 9:3b: Paul’s prayer is for his kinsmen according to the flesh.
b. Application: We can start with our family and friends and groups to which we are connected, instead of starting with the lost world in abstraction from our real lives.
C. God wants to hear the specifics of those who are lost
a. 9:4-5: Paul recounts the story of his people. He names what makes them unique to God’s story. This is part of his plea to God.
b. Application: We need to name people to God. This can be scary because it is assuming we know who might be in or out. We must be humble, but beware of a false humility that does not face the truth. In this case, it is the truth about anyone’s lack of a confession of Christ that we must face. We need take a risk with Paul by crying out for specific people who need salvation. We need to tell and retell their story. We need to claim the lost for God as God’s creatures. We can claim God’s promises to the whole world (Gen. 9; I Tim. 2:4).
What does prayer for the lost look like?
A. It is a burden: Paul prays to be cut away from Christ for the sake of his lost brothers (9:3a). This is at best a “wish,” especially since there is no separating Christ and those he loves (-39). However, this is a legitimate manner of prayer.
a. Exodus 32:32: Paul may be tapping into the story of Moses and the Golden Calf. In the face of God’s anger, Moses offers to be blotted out of God’s book in their place to make atonement for their sin.
b. Challenge: Are you willing to carry this burden? Are you willing to give up your spot in the Body of Christ for those who are lost?
B. It is also a joy: Paul ends chapters 9-11 with a hymn to God for his deep riches and wisdom and knowledge (-36). He knows that God is able to show mercy on all (). It is therefore possible to carry this burden in a context of joy, hoping in the riches of God.
- Prayer time at the end for the lost who are closest to us
- Encourage signing up for a Prodigals Ministry where names are exchanged for prayer.
The Power of God’s Word (9:6-13)
The purpose of this sermon is to encourage ministers to
spend time in the word of God as a resource for their ministry. I will make a case for this by following
Paul’s explanation of how the word of God has not failed by the latest stage in
the story of
Form: Puritan Plain Style
Will the word of God fail you? Have you seen too many unfulfilled promises? Does this discourage you from reading the Bible with trust in your heart?
Story: My friend Dan. We went to college together,
and both majored in religion. Although
he came to college with a call to pastoral ministry, he sensed a redirection
toward an academic career. He was a top
student in our class. Nobody studied the
Bible like this guy. Then suddenly
during our senior, his original call to pastoral ministry was rekindled. He said goodbye to academics and now serves a
small congregation in southern
The word of God will not fail. Although God may work subtly, God will keep his promises.
Paul is shaken up by the relationship
between the Jews and the church. But he
is certain that God’s word – his adoption, glory, covenants, legislation,
worship, and promises given to
When we see problems in our ministry, and it seems as though the word has failed, maybe this path is what the word was saying all along. Remember that God may have a particular way of working out his promises that is hard to see (cf. Joseph story).
Nevertheless, the Word is powerful – the gospel is the power for those who believe (). It can be trusted because God can be trusted.
(1) Explication: Before we too quickly assume the failure of God’s word, we should search it deeply as Paul did to try to understand how God’s particular promise might work out in history. Keep in mind God’s pattern of election that makes the promise harder to see. In our ministries, realize that God may have a wise plan for how to bring fruits to our labor.
(2) Meditation: We can meditate on the words of scriptures. We can read them slowly and deliberately so that they become a part of us. The scriptures are our food. In the face of problems and even failures, the word of God will illumine us, but not without our prior meditation. So be immersed in the scriptures, for as God’s promises they are backed by God’s power.
(3) Proclamation: We can preach the word. This is our calling as ministers. And it is a tremendous calling. Why? Because God’s word is powerful! It will not fail. Therefore, we are to communicate the powerful promises of God to his people. God will do his part.
Running that leads to Stumbling (, 30-33)
Form: Paul Scott Wilson’s The Four Pages of the Preacher
“Therefore it is not of the one who is willing, nor of the one who is running, but of the God who has mercy” (Romans ).
Draw a picture in your mind’s eye with me. It is the picture of a runner. Not just some guy in a suit who is late for a meeting, but a real runner, a runner who is training for something. I am picturing a runner drenched in sweat. There is that look of pain and agony on his face. He is trying to beat an old record of his. He will feel so good if he does. He will feel devastated if he fails. The sweat pours down from his scalp. It stretches out his shirt. It fills his boiling hot shoes. He is running with all his might.
We are filled with awe by such a picture. “I wish I had that kind of will-power,” we say to ourselves. It invokes in me feelings of desire and jealousy, encouragement and inadequacy. It is a beloved image, and it has been used for centuries to inspire Christian discipleship. Just think of Eric Little in Chariots of Fire. Even more so has it been used to describe Christian ministry. Runners. Running. Training. Training for God.
[Problem in the text world] But then Paul comes along and drops a bombshell on this inspiring image. He says, “Therefore it is not out of one who wills nor out of one who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16). Not running, but God’s mercy. Not willing, but God’s mercy. Paul here manages to thwart my desire for the willpower to be a great spiritual runner. He proclaims loud and clear that such running is not what really counts. Does not God want our hard work and discipline? Does not our call to ministry require we have the will to run the race set before us? How can he say this?
Paul makes such a
claim by appealing to the story of Pharaoh.
Paul quotes Exodus saying, “Unto this thing you were brought up that I
may show in you my power and that you may proclaim my name in all the earth”
(v. 17). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened
against Moses’ call to let his people go.
But God had a specific purpose set aside for this hardening. It was all for the sake of proclaiming God’s
power and name. Moses did lead the
people out of
Paul taps into
this story of Pharaoh in order to answer the question of whether there is
injustice with God (v. 14). Paul makes
it clear that God is not being unjust but rather making divine use out his
creatures for the sake of showing mercy.
But there is more at stake in this passage. There is more that concerns Paul than the
justice of God as an abstract principle.
Actually, such a question has little independent interest for Paul. The question and Paul’s answer is but one
movement in a greater conversation about God’s people:
see, Paul was seriously concerned that the Jews as a whole were not
participating in the new community of Jesus Christ, yet many Gentiles
were. Since the new community worshipped
the God of Israel, Paul was impelled to explain this phenomenon for the sake of
his own ministry. If the emergence of
this new community was not in line with the pattern of God’s story with
But why this new phenomenon?
Why this new community of Gentiles?
It seems so odd, since the Jews were the very ones who were living for
God. Here is how Paul expresses this
confusing fact: “What shall we say then?
That Gentiles, although not pursuing righteousness, attained
righteousness, and a righteousness that is out of faith? But
[Problem in the our world] This is our fate as ministers who continue to drool over the image of the sweat-drenched runner. It has been the fate of many already. It happened to a friend of mine. Let’s call him Scott. Scott loved this running and willing image of a minister. He idolized the busybodies in the church. He bought into the formula that hard work automatically turns into kingdom harvest. Scott was drenched in the sweat of ministry. When he graduated from seminary, he took the call to do some of the hardest work of ministry – church planting. He poured his life into the first church, and handed it off to another capable minister within two years. He then planted another. He poured his life into it, pushing and pushing and struggling to see success. Things were happening. But the small miracles of ministry were far out of proportion to his running and willpower. After a year and a half, he and his wife decided to give up on church planting. This was devastating, but necessary for his survival. He is now filling an excellent staff position at an established church.
I want to praise Scott for his obedience to the call to plant new
churches. This is an important call, and
I am glad someone is following it.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing such a hard task. Paul certainly went against the grain in his
But before we look down on Scott, we need to check our own desires and thoughts. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “How much weight do I put on my own running and willing, working and sweat? How often do I pat myself on the back when ministry is going good? Why do I get so down on myself when the church is in a ministry slump?” I suspect each one of us has bought into that image of ourselves as the sweat-drenched runner. And if we do not discard that image soon, our speed will send us stumbling. Maybe some of us already have.
[Grace in the text world] Now, you are probably wondering what I am going to tell you. It sounds like I am going to say, “Just slow down, take it easy; the sovereign God will take care of it.” And if I said that, I would hope that you would think it a waste to have listened to me today. Anyone can see the sweat on your brow and tell you to take it easy. But what I need to tell you today is not, “slow down.” No, lets look at what Paul has to say about this sweat-drenched image we cannot get out of our heads. He says that it is not our willing and running that counts, but God’s mercy. God’s mercy. God’s mercy. We could all stop sweating, but if we not captured by God’s mercy we will still stumble over the stumbling stone. Because our willing and running are not in themselves stumbling stones.
then, is the stumbling stone? What did
And here is where the good news comes in: “Christ is the completion of the law into righteousness for all who believe” (10:4). Christ is the climax of the covenant! God’s righteousness is secured in Christ’s completion of covenant history. He is its purpose and goal. We could even dare to say that he is the covenant. Christ is, therefore, also a stumbling stone and a rock of offence. Anyone who believes in him will not be put to shame ()! They will not trip over him if they believe on him.
[Grace in the our world] Therefore, for those of us who are drenched with the sweat of ministry, Paul offers far better advice than “slow down.” He proclaims the good news that Christ has run the race and crossed the finished line. God intended from the beginning to run the race in Christ. We are simply called to believe in him. We are to “walk in faith,” not run the covenant marathon. For it is not of willing and running, but of God who has mercy!
So when we think about our calling, and the path set before us, take a stroll of faith. Try to remember what God has done in your congregation. Try to keep your eyes peeled for where Christ is at work in the lives of his people. And put down the stopwatch; no one is timing you! Don’t overlook the mercy of God, wherever it pops up. Please, do not let your zeal for God make you ignorant of his righteousness (10:2-3). And if your running has already toppled you over God’s stumbling stone, now is your opportunity to start trusting God with your ministry. Now is the time to rely on God’s mercy. Now is the time to follow Christ who is willing and able to pastor his Church.
course, you may ask me, “But what about all the demands put on me? How can I not trust in my own hard
work? How can I break the cycle of
running and willing?” Years ago, John
Wesley found himself asking this same question.
After years of running, he stumbled while ministering in
In the meantime, let us try to find a better image for this busy activity we call ministry. Draw a new picture in your mind’s eye with me. Replace that picture of a sweet-drenched, pain-faced runner. Picture instead a child. Think how a young child runs. They don’t need the stopwatch and the pulse counts. Children run without pretense. Keep this image in your mind. Let it train our desires. Maybe by God’s mercy this picture will keep us from stumbling until we learn to trust him with our lives and ministries.
Loneliness that leads to Self-Righteousness (11:1-5)
This sermon aims to point out the danger of loneliness in the pastorate, especially as it leads to a self-righteous attitude. I will try to expose this loneliness by following alongside Paul as he weaves his experience as a member of the remnant with Elijah’s in I Kings 19. The projected outcome would be to trade our loneliness that leads to self-righteousness for a fellowship of ministry that leads to gratitude for God’s grace.
Form: Eugene Lowry’s Homiletical Plot
Oops – upsetting the equilibrium of the congregation
Our work is hard. But we love it too. We know that there is something significant in what we are doing. No matter how Protestant our theology of the ministry is, we still feel special about ourselves. What would your church be without me, God?
This is exactly how Elijah felt. He had just performed the greatest of miracles against the Baal prophets. He won the religious super-bowl. But he still had to flee. God’s team seemed to not be winning.
The same was true for Paul. He had seen the light about God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet God’s own people were not joining in on the celebration.
Ugh – the plot thickens
Sometimes when the greatest things happen in our lives and ministries, we feel all alone. It’s lonely at the top, they say. Of course, it’s lonely at the bottom, too. But when we are lonely we can seem to feel on top – at least in the sense that we are proud of going at it alone. We feel like no one else is helping. Like we are up against such great odds. We have God on our side. Just me and God against the world. But it is wearisome. We feel so good yet so bad all at the same time.
It is in this same frustration that Elijah cries out: “Lord, your prophets they have killed and your altars they have tore down. I am the only one left remaining and they are seeking my life” (11:3). On the surface, this is a lonely cry. Underneath, however, it hides a self-righteousness that Elijah is the only one left. But, how else would you feel if you were the last pastor on earth? Do we not feel like this sometimes?
Aha – disclosing the clue to resolution
In the face of our loneliness, Paul points us to the word of God: “But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bent a knee to Baal’” (11:4). God has keep seven thousand for himself. A remnant. By his gracious election God always has a host of people doing his work. It is never just me and God against the world. No. God keeps a team waiting in the wings. They are God’s hidden team. So we are not alone after all, for they are our teammates in ministry.
Whee – experiencing the gospel
Paul applies this story of Elijah to his day: “In the same way then, also in the now time, there is a remnant according to gracious election” (11:5). There were 7000 prophets for Elijah, and a remnant for Paul. What about our “now time”? What about for the modern lonely minister? These teammates in ministry can be our friends. The hidden team does not have to remain hidden. They can be our companions in ministry.
My field education supervisor can testify to this possibility of companionship. The pastors in his local area of churches recently started meeting once a month for prayer and sharing. This has become for he and the rest a key resource for ministry. These pastors of predominately small, struggling churches have traded their loneliness for fellowship.
Yeah – anticipating the future
Maybe you will see the great work being done around you.
Maybe God has set 7000 waiting in the wings.
Maybe you are part of a remnant that
will judge and bless a lonely minister.
Boasting that leads to Brokenness (-24)
The purpose of this sermon is to warn ministers of the perennial problem of boasting about one’s ministry. I will draw on Paul’s warning that the new engrafted branches are in danger of being broken off and should therefore be humble. This will not only help us think about Jewish-Christian relations, but also stands as a particular challenge to the continuous boasting of ministers. We especially boast by comparing our generation’s accomplishments with the out-of-date ministries of previous generations. This sermon is intended to be a hard wake up call to this danger.
Form: Verse-by-Verse Inductive
The Jews did not stumble in order to fall. No, they are not completely fallen. Their future is open. Actually, salvation has come to the Gentiles in order to provoke Jews to jealousy. Our role in God’s plan is always for the sake of someone else.
The transgression and loss of the Jews means riches for the world and for Gentiles. We ought to therefore be grateful to them, not looking down on them. Furthermore, since the future is open to the full return of the Jews, even greater riches await us. We should not wish the worst for them
Paul is clearly talking to us who are Gentile Christians. Paul shocks us with his view of his own ministry: the Gentiles are merely a provocation of jealousy to Jews so that some might be saved.
The rejection of the Jews provided for the world to be reconciled. But if they are once again accepted, it will be the equivalent of resurrection.
The holiness of the Jews as the first fruits will make the whole batch holy. The root will make the branches holy. They should therefore not be ignored.
v. 17 - 18
We are but a wild olive tree that partakes in the root. The branches were cut off for our sake. We still rely on their roots. So being a branch is not worth much boasting, because the root supports us.
v. 19 - 21
We tend to say, “Others have been pushed out of the way so we can do our thing!” Paul says this is true, but it was because of their unbelief. In other words, it was not because we are so great. We are only in by believing. We should be afraid, then, because God can cut us off just as easily. Actually, he would do it even easier because we are not even the original branches.
v. 22 – 24
Our eyes should not be on our great state of affairs but rather on God, who is both kind and severe. Sure, right now he is kind to us, but we may very easily be broken off. The Jews may currently be under the severity of God, but that could change in an instant if they believe. For God can re-in-graft them. Paul sums it all up by reminding us that we Gentiles are naturally wild, whereas the Jews are naturally a part of God’s tree. If they happen to be re-in-grafted, they are much better than we.
How do we look at those who have come before us? Are we glad they are out of the way? Or do we appreciate the roots they laid down? Well, if we are too proud to see what has gone before, we will end up pushed out of the way too.
God’s Secret Plan and Our Small Part (-36 and 10:9-15)
The goal of this sermon is to provide a vision for our ministry. The vision is the divine work, which is well described by Paul in -36. This vision is the constant context of our human work as ministers called to proclaim the gospel as described in 10:9-15. The one is not the cause of the other. Rather, one describes God’s plan while the other describes our part.
Form: From Indicative to Imperative
There is a lot of talk about vision for ministry lately. Everyone says that the ministry of the church is sharpened when the vision is clear. However, we often displace the vision of God’s work in the world and replace it with the vision of our calling and task. Let’s listen to Paul as he describes a vision of what God is doing and will do. Let us not be ignorant of this mystery.
I. Indicative: Vision
A. What is this passage saying?
a. What? It is the revelation of a mystery. We are given the gift of a glimpse into God’s
secret plan. Paul aims for us not to
rely on our own wisdom. Vision casting
is never act of human wisdom alone! The substance of the message is that God
has planned a partial hardening of
Jesus Christ will deliver
2. Who is the deliverer but Jesus?
3. Who turns away ungodliness but Jesus?
4. Who underwrites the covenant but Jesus?
5. Who takes away sins but Jesus?
iii. God will have mercy on all (32).
Though the good news to the Gentiles is a rift in God’s
ii. God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable (29). Adoption, glory, covenant, legislation, worship, promises, fathers, and the Messiah (cf. 9:4-5) are theirs irrevocably.
i. This hardening is partial in time, for it will not last forever.
When the fullness of the Gentiles enters,
iii. They will be shown mercy at the right time (31)
i. A partial hardening is the divinely intended Way for their salvation (26a). It is partial in quantity, for there is a remnant of believing Jews. It is partial in manner, for it is a revocable hardening.
God is now showing mercy to disobedient Gentiles while
B. What is Paul’s response? Praise for God’s plan (33-36).
Conclusion: God uses all things for the sake of his mercy to all who disobey.
Transition: This vision of God’s salvation plan is the constant context of our commission.
II. Imperative: Commission
A. What is this passage saying?
a. What? Preaching is necessary so that people can call on Jesus for salvation.
i. The Preacher is anyone who proclaims the good news.
ii. The Audience is anyone, for the division between Jews and Gentiles is overcome in the summons to believe (12-13)
c. Why? Salvation comes by calling on the name of the Lord. In order to call one must believe, and in order to believe one must have heard, and to hear the must be a preacher. The preacher is the lifeline!
d. When? The preaching task is for today.
e. How? The message will get out only if the preacher is sent (15a). Therefore, the our commissioning is ever so important
B. What is Paul’s (and our) response? Appreciation of the preacher (15b)
Conclusion: Our small part in the face of God’s great plan of salvation is to preach so others can hear and have faith in this Jesus Christ who will save them.