“. . . because of the grace given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Rom 15.15b-16).”
Paul helps me see that yesterday was sacramental. There were offerings being made to the God of the universe. There was confession, repentance, worship and renewal in the name of Christ to announce God’s pleasure to His people. The offerings were not to appease an angry God, but because God is no longer angry. His wrath is absolved in the Lord Jesus and our offerings were to celebrate grace already earned (Heb 13.15-16).
More specifically, though, Paul spoke of offerings from the “business side” of the pulpit. There do we find that (at least) yesterday was an eternal event, where we transacted with Almighty God. Perhaps Paul wrote the above on Monday for all those who minister to the Gentiles. Let’s examine each phrase in turn and watch the sun rise.
“. . . because of the grace given me from God.” Paul was never hamstrung by his lack of competence or adequacy (2 Cor 3.5-6). He ministered to the Gentiles solely because God saw fit to enlist him (1 Tim 1.12-14). God is in the business of making the most out of the least. So, of course, we were not adequate for the task yesterday. We never were and will never be. To expect otherwise is to profane grace. This whole office is bigger than all of us put together, therefore, we are silly to think heaven breathed a sigh of relief when our pews emptied.
“to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.” We may be in the Free Church tradition, but we are never void of liturgy. Paul considered himself a “liturgist” (leitourgon) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. The same word is used of Jesus in Heb 8.2. Therefore, as a minister Paul found himself in the lineage of Christ’s liturgical heritage. In short, the leitourgon serves the church’s public ministry needs. He leads the people of God in the orderly, public praise of their God. So, the question is not merely whether or not I preached well. Were the people of God lead by Scripture to the orderly exaltation of the Lord who bought us? Or did we just throw something together and called it church?
“ministering as a priest the gospel of God.” With some Jewish flavor Paul filled out his ministry as one of a ministering priest (ierourgounta). Paul does not establish a formal Catholic priesthood as he refers elsewhere to Christians in some sense being priests (Phil 2.17; cf. 1 Pt 2.9). And he certainly does not diminish the sole priesthood of Christ. However, he does consider himself, through his public ministry, as one who brings God to the Gentiles and the Gentiles to God. The conduit for reconciliation was not bulls and goats, but the gospel of God in Christ itself. Did we bring the gospel of God to the congregation and the congregation to the gospel of God?
“so that the offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable.” Naturally, priests make offerings to God. Therefore, we would expect as liturgist and priest Paul would transact with his God of grace. The word translated “offering” (prosphora) is no empty term. It is a precise term of a forensic nature, used often of Jesus’ sacrifice (Acts 21.26; 24.17; Eph 5.2; Heb 10.5, 10, 14, 18). It was as if Paul brought his Gentile converts to Bethel so that God would receive them with pleasure. He was not doing his job and hoping for the best. Rather, he was preparing an offering for God. And if the Gentiles weren’t a worthy offering then he took responsibility. Yesterday we offered our congregations to God for his approval. Were they consecrated by the gospel of God to give themselves willingly as Isaac did to Abraham? Today their faith will be tested on the altar of the world’s ambition. Will they prove acceptable? When we stand before God to say, “Here are the ‘talents’ you entrusted to me” (Heb 13.17), will they have been worthy offerings? Yesterday we transacted with God and made our offerings. Did we prepare them well?
“sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” God doesn’t receive just any offering as Cain knows full well now. Whatever pleases God must be sieved through the Spirit’s cleansing power. And the Spirit sanctifies only by the Word of God to the glory of Christ the God (Rom 15.18). Paul was impotent to sanctify the Gentiles. He had simply to put them in the way of the Spirit’s sanctifying means. Five loaves and two fish in Philip’s hand is a sack lunch; in Christ’s they are a meal for the masses. Did we give the Spirit any reason to sanctify us yesterday? Was Scripture sufficiently Christ-centered in song, prayer, reading and preaching that it dripped with the Spirit’s purifying power? When God “received” our offerings did they smell of the Spirit’s sweet aroma in Christ’s blood?
Our view from this side of the pulpit must extend beyond the hermeneutical and homiletical to the sacramental. Then are we less dependent on ourselves and more thankful to God, who makes much out of little. In Christ, liturgy and sacrifice are by shepherds and sheeps, but no longer done sheepishly. Soli Deo Gloria!