What Christ Did through Paul
“In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed” (vv. 17–18).- Romans 15:17-19
Even though Paul did not plant the church in Rome and did not have personal contact with most of the addressees of his epistle to the Roman Christians, he nevertheless had the authority to instruct the Romans in the content and application of the gospel (Rom. 15:15-16). He possessed this authority as an Apostle, as one appointed to speak on behalf of Christ and to deliver the teaching of the Lord Himself. In today’s passage, Paul elaborates on this theme and on his calling, stressing the point that any success he had in his ministry could be attributed only to Christ’s work in and through him.
Paul speaks of being “proud” of his work for God. This might seem strange because Scripture often speaks of pride as a great sin (Prov. 8:13). However, the Lord does not condemn being proud in and of itself. There is a legitimate way in which we can take pride in our work for God, and the Apostle shows us what this looks like in Romans 15:17-18. Paul took pride in his ministry to the Gentiles not because it demonstrated his own strength, intelligence, or other talents. That kind of pride would be sinful because it demonstrates a heart that is all about self-reliance, a spirit that thinks we are capable in ourselves of great success. This flies in the face of all that the Bible has to say about our need to trust in the Lord and to rely on Him in all that we do (Ps. 28:7; Prov. 3:5-6). God-honoring pride boasts in the Lord and acknowledges that all of our accomplishments are possible only through His gifts to us and His sustaining power. When we serve the Lord successfully and fulfill His purposes for us, the credit is not finally due to ourselves but to God’s work in us. Paul’s pride is not sinful, because this is the kind of pride he exhibits in today’s passage. It is a God-centered pride that recognizes the source of His success and thereby gives back to God what He has given to us. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans: “Paul offers to God a return of the gifts that God himself has given. That is all we can ever do. What can we give to God that we have not first received from his hand?”
Paul then refers to the scope of his ministry, that he has been successful from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Rom. 15:19). This points out the extent of the Apostle’s work in the eastern Roman Empire, as his church-planting efforts extended from Palestine (Jerusalem) to modern-day Serbia (Illyricum). At the time he wrote his letter to the Romans, Paul saw that his work in those regions was finished, and as we will see, it was time for him to head west.
We can take godly pride in serving the Lord successfully when we recognize that we have been only instruments in the Lord’s hand, instruments of His work and not ultimately the workers ourselves. Because we are God’s instruments, our goal is to be faithful. He produces fruit through us; we do not give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). We live faithfully by working hard unto the God and by trusting Him to accomplish His purposes, and not trusting in our efforts.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 10:17