Paul’s Gospel Obligation

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (vv. 14–15).

- Romans 1:13–15

Unfortunately, we sometimes find well-meaning Christians in our day opposing the concepts of duty and delight. It is a mistake, many of these individuals tell us, to ever conceive of ourselves as having a duty to the Lord. In fact, if we do anything out of a sense of duty and not because we eagerly want to do it, our actions are completely worthless.

Of course, God finds our works more pleasing when our whole heart is in them (Eph. 6:5–8). However, if we sharply oppose duty and delight, we run the risk of making people think that the Lord’s commands become optional if we do not want to do them or if we are not consciously motivated by God’s glory in our obedience. Scripture is quite clear that although delighting in one’s duty is the goal, our Creator still expects us to fulfill His demands even when we would rather do something else. The story of Jonah, who took no delight in his duty but whom God forced to go to Nineveh anyway, perfectly exemplifies this principle.

We do well to remember that the Bible never places duty and delight in opposition. By God’s grace and power, we can find our duties delightful and we can delight in the opportunity to do our duties. Paul certainly experienced his duty in this way. As he continues his opening message to the Romans in today’s passage, he notes that he is under the obligation to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and that it is a task he is eager to accomplish (Rom. 1:14–15). The Apostle had a strong sense of duty that came from his calling by God to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. In fact, he was so committed to this mission that he could say, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b). But this was not a burden that he found onerous. By the Lord’s grace, Paul found this mandate to be a delight, viewing his preaching as a means by which he could worship God and show his thankfulness for his salvation.

Paul explains that his obligation is to “Greeks and to barbarians … to the wise and to the foolish” (Rom. 1:14), indicating the comprehensive nature of his mission to the nations. The Greco-Roman culture of his day made a distinction between the cultured and highly educated Greeks and the barbarian—non-Greek—nations and tribes that had fallen to the Roman Empire. The Greeks were wise, having produced some of the most noteworthy philosophers and finest art, and the barbarians were foolish, not being known for their contributions to mankind. Though ancient peoples made such differentiations, Paul and the God he served do not. The gospel is for all people without distinction.

Coram Deo

All believers have been called by God to a specific task and given certain gifts for ministry. The question for us is whether we feel driven to fulfill this vocation and use the gifts that the Lord has given us. Though our physical limitations and our sin may lead us into periods of apathy, one sign of the Spirit’s work in our hearts is that we feel compelled to serve God where He has called us and that we are eager to find ways to fulfill our vocations.

Passages for Further Study

1 Samuel 12:19–25
Ezra 10
Luke 9:51
Acts 19:21

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