God designs people differently and places them in a wide variety of ministries (1Co 12:5), but regardless of what kind of ministry a person does some become spiritually fruitful while others stall and make little progress. And the difference between the two doesnt seem to depend on talent or natural gifting. Those who become very fruitful are not necessarily the ones you or I would have picked. Highly talented people might accomplish little over a lifetime while someone who appears much less talented might go on to accomplish remarkable things. So, what determines fruitfulness must have more to do with attitudes than abilities, at least in the spiritual world. Thats why God told the prophet Samuel that what He sees when He looks at a person is their heart, but what we humans see is the outward appearance (1Sa 16:7).
And it was his heart that made Paul such an effective minister. It takes no more than the first verse of his letter to the Romans for him to let us see three life-changing attitudes that explain why he was so effective. Were any one of those attitudes missing Paul would not have become the great apostle that we know. Today as we examine the attitudes he reveals to us we need to be careful to avoid a common danger. Most of us admire him but think to ourselves, I could never be like Paul, he was a great apostle. But God isnt asking us to do what Paul did. Hes asking us to have the same attitude Paul had, and then to joyfully be what Hes made us to be. Because when these three attitudes converge in anyone, unusual fruitfulness results.
Why did Paul write this letter?
Paul wrote this letter while spending three months in the city of Corinth waiting for the collection of an offering for impoverished believers in Jerusalem (2Co 8, 9). The churches in Greece and Macedonia wanted to send a love-gift and he planned to travel with a delegation of their leaders back to present it. When that was accomplished he planned to start a new phase of ministry evangelizing the western portion of the Mediterranean, starting with Spain (Ro 15:24). He hoped to begin this campaign in Rome. Hed never ministered in that city and hadnt planted any of its churches so he would need an invitation from their leaders if he were going to be allowed to speak in their congregations, and he also hoped they would consider supporting him financially when he headed west to plant churches. For that to happen they would need to know him and be confident that his teaching was doctrinally sound. Certainly they knew his reputation and there were people in their churches who knew him personally (Ro 16), but he wanted the elders to trust him enough to allow him to preach and teach freely in their congregations. So, he wrote to Rome the most thorough explanation of his beliefs of any of his letters.
The Three Attitudes (memorize Romans 1:1)
In this verse Paul introduces himself by showing us three foundational attitudes that were in his heart. They help us understand why he became such a great apostle but they also serve to challenge us, for what made Paul great will make any disciple great.
Attitude #1: a slave (doulos) of the Messiah Jesus
Paul has abandoned his rights and all control of his life in order to serve Jesus.
God considered Paul now to be a son (Gal 3:26), but Paul chose to give himself back to God as a slave.
He understood that the only reasonable response to Gods goodness is to abandon oneself to Gods plan (Ro 12:1; 1Co 6:19, 20, Do you not know that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price... ; 1Pe 1:18, 19 ...with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ).)
This is a mindset: here we work, in heaven we rest.
Full surrender; abandonment of control, self-protection, personal comfort, daily agenda, finances...
Where did this attitude lead him? (2Co 11:23-33).
Attitude #2: called to be an apostle
God directly revealed to Paul his assignment in life. He told him how he was to minister and to whom
Romans 1:5 to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles...:
Acts 9:15; 26:16-18
Paul knew his assignment. This gave him boldness, perseverance and focus.
Apostle: a traveling church-planter. A person with the character, gifting and biblical knowledge in order to start brand new Christian communities. People could learn how to be Christians by observing and imitating their faith and practice (Heb 13:7; 1Co 4:16; 1Thess 1:6). They must have healthy doctrine, the power of the Spirit and a godly character. They are the seed that is to be reproduced.
Attitude #3: set apart (aphoridzo) for the Gospel of God
Not only did God reveal His plan for Paul to Paul, but at the right time He revealed it to elders to whom Paul was submitted.
Matthew 25:32, 33 as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left
Acts 13:1-3 set apart to me Barnabus and Saul into the work to which I have called them
Galatians 1:15 ...God, who had set me apart from my mothers womb and called me through His grace...
How long did it take God to prepare Paul to be an apostle from the moment of his call on the road to Damascus to finally being sent out by the Spirit and elders from Antioch? At least 17 years! He went to Arabia to meditate (Gal 1:17), and then was in Damascus for three years (Gal 1:17, 18), then he was sent home to Tarsus for probably 12 years or so (Ac 9:26-31), and then Barnabus brought him down to Antioch for a year (Ac 11:25, 26).
God put Paul through 17 years of preparation before He told elders it was time to send him out.
He waited until elders confirmed his call and agreed that he was mature enough to perform it.
Why does God take so long to prepare a minister?
God will tell us what we are going to do long before we are ready to step out and do it. So its one thing to know what were to do but its another to know when were to do it. The reason is simple: when we minister to others we influence them to become like us. Our attitudes are reproduced in them. We cant reproduce anything else. This is what Jesus was trying to explain when He said a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produced bad fruit (Mt 7:15-20). He was warning us that our attitudes will become like the attitudes of those who lead us (Mt 7:15). This is why God takes whatever time is needed to work with our attitude, particularly the three Paul mentions. Otherwise well just spread our brokenness to others. This doesnt mean He wont use us until were perfect; He actually wants us to serve Him right away. But when it comes to our calling, that must wait until:
1) Im fully surrendered to Jesus
2) Ive heard Him speak to me and know what His call is for my life.
3) Im submitted to mature believers who know me well and bear witness to Gods call and my readiness to perform it.
What holds us back?
1) Fear of loss, ridicule and death
2) Too busy to listen, poorly taught
3) Impatience, pride, distrust of human authority
What steps can I take?
1) Ask God to bring you to the place where you are able to surrender.
2) Acknowledge what God has called you to do. If youre not certain schedule quiet time with a journal and be relentless until you hear.
3) Prayerfully, diligently search for a church where you believe God has called you (integrity, Spirit-led). Share your calling and spend time waiting in some type of active ministry. You may have to wait years but dont grow frustrated and quiet.
1) Have you heard God speak His call to you? Dont feel pressured to share it, but if you like to wed love to hear what He said to you.
2) Have you found yourself waiting for Gods release longer than you expected? What are the frustrations you feel while waiting?