When you read the letters of the apostle Paul, you discover that one of his trademarks is to build modest houses and then dig mile-deep foundations under them.
For example, marriage is a modest house, and the way a husband treats a wife is a fairly ordinary, everyday, modest act in that house. Paul builds that modest house in Ephesians 5, and then he digs a mile-deep foundation for it.
He says to husbands, “Here’s the foundation for your modest house called marriage: the Son of God — the second person of the infinite, eternal Trinity and the Creator of the universe — possessed, from before eternity, a predestined holy and blameless bride, the church. And to make her his own and cleanse her from all impurity, he came into the world as the God-man, and he was crucified in her place. And deeper than the mystery of Genesis 2:24, he became one flesh with her — one body — that they might enjoy each other forever.”
To this mile-deep foundation Paul adds, “Therefore, husbands, a modest proposal: this afternoon, be kind to your wife.” So Paul builds modest houses and digs mile-deep foundations under them.
Modest Conflict Reconciliation
Here’s another example from Romans 14. The vegans and the meat lovers in the Roman church are quarreling, so Paul builds a modest house. He says, “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). So, get along without judging each other, says Paul.
Then he digs a mile-deep foundation under that house:
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7–9)
“One of Paul’s trademarks is to build modest houses and then dig mile-deep foundations under them.”
To which, perhaps, one of his impatient pragmatist friends would say, “Paul, we are talking about vegetables and steak! And then you bring in life and death and the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection and his lordship over the living and the dead — good grief! Lighten up. You don’t need to get all deep and theological and heavy about everything.”
Then we come to our text, Romans 15:8–15, and we notice that it begins with the word for — otherwise known as a massive drill bit for digging pilings a mile deep under modest houses.
Paul builds the modest house in Romans 15:5–7:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
There’s the modest house: “Live in harmony. Welcome each other. Do it all to show how glorious God is.” And then he fastens the drill bit in Romans 15:8 — using the word for — and digs a mile-deep missions week text about “The Global Glorification of the Merciful God,” which is the title of this message.
This is not a message on Romans 15:5–7. It’s not an exposition of living in harmony and welcoming each other as Christ welcomed us for the glory of God. But it’s good for you to know that this mile-deep missions text about the global glorification of the merciful God was drilled to support the modest house called Bethlehem Baptist Church, who welcome one another as Christ welcomed us.
We often think the other way around — namely, that the church exists to support missions. There’s a sense in which that’s true, but that’s not the way Paul set it up here. Romans 15:8–13 is a mile-deep missions text about the global glorification of the merciful God, and all of this passage is dug as an unshakeable foundation under the modest house of Christian harmony called Bethlehem. God has been doing this for one hundred and fifty years — making his global mission a massive support for the church. It’s not just the other way around.
So let’s watch him drill these pilings. Romans 15:8 says this: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised.” Male circumcision was the sign of belonging to Israel. So Paul is saying that the Son of God came into the world as the Jewish Messiah. When the high priest asked Jesus in Mark 14:61, “Are you the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered, “I am.”
As the Messiah, he said in Mark 10:45, “[I] came not to be served but to serve, and to give [my] life as a ransom for many.” As the Messiah, “[he] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). As the servant-Messiah, he became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
But as a servant to the circumcised he was not coerced or forced: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Christ served Israel freely. He gave his life freely. He took it back freely. He died. He rose. And thus he served.
Why? Why did he come to serve like this? Paul answers in the middle of Romans 15:8: “To show God’s truthfulness.” Here’s the entire verse: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness” — or we might also say, for the sake of God’s truth. Christ came into the world as the Jewish Messiah to prove to the universe that God tells the truth. He only tells the truth. He never lies. Every word of God comes true.
Two Great Purposes of God
At the end of Romans 15:8 and the beginning of Romans 15:9 Paul drills down into two purposes guaranteed by God’s truthfulness. Because God is absolutely truthful, two purposes of God will come to pass. First, God’s promises made to the patriarchs are firm — they will come to pass. Second, the Gentiles will glorify God for his mercy.
Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8–9)
We might jump to the conclusion that these are two distinct purposes. Confirm promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — that’s one purpose. Bring about the global glorification of the merciful God — that’s the second purpose. But I doubt it, because God’s purpose to save the Gentiles was included in the promises made to the patriarchs.
Promises to the Patriarchs
Genesis 12:3 says, “I will bless those who bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” When the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, came to serve Israel — when he died and rose again to confirm the promises made to Abraham — in that very act of confirming the promises to Israel, he secured the global glorification of his mercy among all the families of the earth. Because that’s what God promised to Abraham.
So God is true. He keeps his word to Israel, and that word promised that Israel would be blessed and that Gentiles would be blessed through Israel. Never think of the Great Commission as excluding Jewish people. Jesus came into the world to confirm the promises made to them. And those promises include a great salvation through faith in Messiah Jesus.
There are almost fifteen million Jewish people worldwide. Sixty-five thousand Jews live in Minnesota, mostly in the Twin Cities. There are twenty-four synagogues in these cities. Jesus Christ is their only hope. Every missional focus at Bethlehem includes them. God’s call is on some of you for the Jewish people. Your call is right here in this text — to join Christ in confirming the promises made to Israel.
Gentiles Will Glorify God
But let’s focus for the rest of our time on God’s second purpose — the global glorification of the merciful God.
Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, [first] in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and [second, to make explicit that it is included in the first] in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:8–9)
Let’s ask three questions: Who are the Gentiles? What is God’s mercy? And, How are Gentiles to glorify God?
1. Who are the Gentiles?
Paul quotes four different Old Testament passages to support his claim that God’s purpose is that Gentiles glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” (Romans 15:9–12)
In all four quotations he mentions Gentiles. He chose these texts to show that already in God’s purposes in the Old Testament — you could say, in his promises to the patriarchs in Deuteronomy, Psalms, or Isaiah — already in God’s word to Israel, his aim was that the Gentiles would be saved. They would glorify God for his mercy.
In one of these four quotations from the Old Testament, Paul shows us what he means by “Gentiles.” It’s in Romans 15:11: “And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.’”
“God’s purpose is that he be glorified for his mercy among the peoples of the world.”
“Peoples” — with an s — parallels “Gentiles.” This means that Gentiles are not simply to be understood as individual non-Jews. It does have that meaning in many places, but Paul is striking another note here. God’s purpose is that he be glorified for his mercy among the peoples of the world. This is why there is an s at the end of the word people in our church mission statement: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”
Therefore our calling as a church in global missions is not only to win to Christ as many individuals as we can, but also to make disciples among unreached or unengaged peoples. Or as one of our global partners emphasized yesterday, our calling is to plant biblical churches that plant biblical churches among all the peoples of the world.
2. What is God’s mercy?
In the Bible “mercy” and “grace” are overlapping realities. Where they overlap, they have the common meaning of treating someone kindly and helpfully. The difference is this: when that kindness is drawn out by a person’s misery, we tend to call it mercy, but when that kindness is drawn out in spite of the person’s guilt, we tend to call it grace.
You can show mercy to an animal because an animal can be miserable (Proverbs 12:10). But you don’t show grace to an animal because animals don’t have moral capacities that make up the basis of moral guilt.
The Bible tends to use these words interchangeably when dealing with God’s grace and mercy towards sinners because our greatest misery — namely, suffering in hell, forever cut off from the goodness of God — is inseparable from our guilt. No human being but one has ever lived whose misery was not accompanied by guilt. Therefore all of God’s mercy toward humans is gracious.
But here Paul strikes the note of mercy: “ . . . that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). When God came down on Mount Sinai and declared his name, he said, “I am.” He said, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). The first thing out of his mouth after his name is mercy: “My name is Yahweh! My name is Yahweh! I am merciful. I look with pity upon the miserable.”
And when Zechariah was filled with the Spirit in Luke 1:78, he exulted in why Jesus and John the Baptist had come: “Because of the bowels of the mercy of our God.” That’s a risky image. God doesn’t have intestines, but he has mercy way down in the feeling part of his being. Not just brains of mercy. Bowels of mercy. Deeply felt mercy.
When Christ became a servant to the circumcised and gave his life as a ransom for many, they sang a new song in heaven: “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). A tsunami of mercy was unleashed for all the peoples of the world. Missions is God’s plan to make that mercy known and glorified. There is no other plan. Therefore, it will succeed. Which brings us now to our last question: How are Gentiles — the peoples — to glorify God?
3. How are the peoples to glorify God?
Be sure you see what Romans 15:9 says. It does not say, “In order that the Gentiles might receive mercy.” It does not say, “In order that the Gentiles might glorify God’s mercy.” It says, “In order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
“God’s mission to the world is radically God-focused, God-exalting.”
God’s mission to the world is radically God-focused, God-exalting. The end of all things is God. And he is so glorious — so great, so beautiful, so valuable — that his glorious fullness overflows with mercy. Mercy is the stream. God is the fountain. Missions lead people to the stream and then up the stream to the fountain because the goal of all missions is that all the peoples would glorify God — glorify God! — for his mercy.
So then, how are all peoples to glorify God? The answer is found in the four Old Testament quotations in Romans 15:9–12. As I read them, you tabulate the words that describe how the peoples are to glorify God for his mercy.
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” (Romans 15:9–12)
I think “extolling” and “praising” are basically the same, so what we have is praise, sing, rejoice, and hope. Which of these is at the bottom, giving rise to the authenticity of the other three? Here’s what I suggest.
Joy is at the bottom. Romans 15:10: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” Joy is the root: joy in seeing and savoring the glory of God spilling over in mercy. Next comes hope: the hope that this joy will last forever, never giving out but only getting better and better. Next comes praise: praise may be unspoken or spoken. In my heart I can offer to God words of praise for his glory. And finally comes song: my inner joy in God’s glory, my hope that it will last forever and get better and better, and my heart-praise burst forth in song.
You do see what this means, don’t you? It means that the way the peoples glorify God for his mercy is by being happy in the glorious God of mercy — not just happy in the relief of misery, but happy in the glorious God who relieves the misery of guilty sinners, all because Christ became a servant to the circumcised. Gladness in God for his mercy glorifies God for his mercy.
Sustained for and by Missions
So here we are at the bottom of the mile-deep foundation for Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another [at Bethlehem] as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Then Paul fastens the drill bit and digs his mile-deep foundation for our welcoming one another: incarnation, the service of Christ’s sacrifice, the declaration of God’s truth, the confirmation of God’s promises, and the global glorification of the merciful God.
God has sustained our church for one hundred and fifty years. He has sustained us for the sake of world missions, but in this text it’s also the other way around. God’s mission to be glorified for his mercy among the peoples is the mile-deep foundation that supports the church. So may God raise up hundreds of you for the sake of the peoples and for the sake of our church.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. (Psalm 67:3–4)