14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers,  that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 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, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:14-21 (ESV)
If Paul didn’t mean to end his epistle here outright, he is, at least, signaling the end. He begins to understand that perhaps some of his letter could be read as being a bit harsh and accusatory, especially to people he doesn’t actually know. He wants them to understand that his letter isn’t meant to be accusatory. He assures them that he knows they are full of goodness. They have been doing just fine without him thus far. He doesn’t want to be said of him what he quotes being said of him in 2 Corinthians “I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (2 Corinthians 10:9-10 (ESV)
It seems even Paul was aware that writing isn’t the best form of communication, and is prone to be interpreted with more acrimony than intended. Something to keep in mind while reading blogs, Facebook posts and so on. Something to keep more in mind while writing them.
But Paul writes boldly, not out of acrimony for those to whom he writes, but because of zeal for the message that he has been given to bring. His excitement pours out onto the page. He gets carried away and allows himself to be carried away because it is the Spirit that is carrying him. He is writing truth. And what he writes is true regardless of who he is writing it too.
Of course, this is one of the things that makes Romans such an important book for understanding Paul’s theology. He isn’t writing to anyone in particular even if he is sending it to the Romans. He has to think of them in the abstract independent of any problems they may or may not be facing themselves. His other letters are written to specific entities. He is writing to people he knows in the midst of struggles he knows they are facing. Sometimes this can be surmised from the context of the letter, sometimes we only have guesses. Things can be opened and subject to different applications depending on what you think Paul might be addressing. But here we have Romans, he treats his theology a bit more fully in such a way that it becomes an interpretive key to the rest of his writing. So it is fitting that it is first in the collection of his letters, even if it was the last to be written and occupies that place simply because it is longest.
But Paul is really writing to butter up the Romans so that they might support him in his missionary endeavors. So he lets them know what he is doing, and what he has done. He’s proud of his work in Jesus Christ. This is something every Christian can take to heart. We have failures for sure. Our service to God does not always look like what we would want it to look like. Paul has met with much opposition. It is to be thought that the rejection he received at Mars Hill was probably more common than not though some believed. He perhaps had more reason than most to despair. “But in Christ Jesus, he has reason to be proud of his work.” He has done what he was called to do. His failures are forgiven and even sanctified by the Spirit even, just as all the offerings of the gentiles are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirits job, to make our offerings holy. And these offerings are the things we do in our vocations. I’m going to quote Schartau here as found in the book “Henric Schartau and the Order of Grace.” “When Kierkegaard, in protest against a merely official form of Christianity, said, “we must return to the cloister which Luther abandoned,” Schartau would say, “not to the cloister, but to your vocation and, first of all, to a true conversion, that you may become a new man and as such enter into your labor.” Pg. 30
We serve God where we are. It never really looks all that holy. Those works that do look holy and attractive to Christians, running off to monasteries in the case of Kierkegaard, renouncing the world today like Buddhist monks today. These are works that look holy and good but are really mortal sins as Luther talks about in his Heidelberg Disputation. The emphasis in Christian circles is often placed on these externals. It’s amazing that the mark of a true Christian would be to behave like a Buddhist, isn’t it? Sometimes I think the goal of a preacher is to make us all behave in such a manner as to win the approval of Mormons. This sort of preaching is often called sanctification preaching, or some such blather. “We’re just admonishing the Christians to be sanctified, to live sanctified lives!” Really? It’s the gospel that sanctifies. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, and we do not contribute or complete it with our works. Our works are works of the flesh apart from Christ, apart from the gospel, apart from the Holy Spirit who brings what he has started within us to completion. This isn’t to say we don’t cooperate with the Holy Spirit, in sanctification that is within a state of sanctification we do cooperate with the Holy Spirit in what we do. But what we do does not contribute to our sanctification or progress in it. Rather, we cooperate in doing what we have been given to do. This isn’t to abandon the world, this isn’t to make ourselves look holier than our neighbors, this is to go to work, take care of our families, make an honest living, love our spouses, feed our children. Included in this would also be to contribute to the work of the church in accordance with the gifts that have been given you when possible. But it may also be skipping Bible Study on a Saturday morning to watch your son’s soccer game. And though none of this contributes anything to our own righteousness or sanctification, it may and does, in Jesus Christ, contribute to the sanctification of our neighbor, our children, because it is through you and what you do as part of the body of Christ that Jesus ensures his forgiveness is known, not only to you but all around you.