When Paul speaks of reaping “some harvest” (Rom. 1:13) among the Roman Christians, perhaps he is looking back to the parable told by Jesus about the four soils (Luke 8:4-15). The only seed that grew and actually yielded a harvest of grain was that which fell on good soil. Perhaps we should regard this parable as a strong hint that it takes some time to know whether our evangelism results in a disciple of Jesus or not.
Either way, our job is to tell the good news about Jesus and build those who become his disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).
(ESV) Romans 1:13–15 I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Paul continues his efforts to defuse any criticisms of his ministry that might hinder his recipients from listening to his theological arguments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of his extensive ministry among Gentiles in far-flung places, the Roman Christians might have felt slighted by the fact Paul had not visited the capital of the empire.
Once again John Chrysostom (a fourth-century father) offers a helpful set of insights about Paul’s inability to visit Rome sooner (1:13):
Paul does not concern himself with such things [as to why he was impeded], yielding instead to the incomprehensible nature of providence. By doing this he shows the right tone of his soul and also teaches us never to call God to account for what happens, even though what is done seems to trouble the minds of many. For it is the master’s place to command and the servant’s to obey.
When Paul mentions the “Greeks” in 1:14, this term includes all those who considered themselves partakers of Greek culture; for example, the standard Greek lexicon says, “Cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term.” We must also recall that due to the conquest of most of the known world by Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Greek language and culture had spread throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.
So, when Paul speaks of “Greeks and . . . barbarians” (1:14), he is effectively saying everyone. The terms “the wise and. . . the foolish” also mean everyone. In saying “I am under obligation” (1:14), Paul uses the present tense and indicative mood to convey the ongoing nature of his moral obligation before God to preach the gospel.
If the idea that Paul is going to “preach the gospel” (1:15) to Roman Christians seems a bit jarring, the problem is in our limited contemporary understanding of this phrase. Moo observes, “In this case, ’preach the gospel’ will refer to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.” Similarly, Osborne says, “Once more, it is important to realize that gospel in the New Testament included discipleship as well as evangelism.” Paul had a big gospel.
Never shrink the gospel!
Perhaps some of you will remember the Walt Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989); before you scorn the title, consider that the film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. While shrinking might be comical in a Disney movie, it is serious when it comes to the gospel.
One popular tool for “sharing the gospel” is The Four Spiritual Laws, a brief booklet written by Bill Bright in 1952. While such tools are very useful in explaining the essentials of salvation — as in my own conversion to Christian faith — they often have the unfortunate side-effect of shrinking the gospel to a degree that Paul would find really tiny.
1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. You will easily see both evangelism and discipleship in these verses. How would you relate these verses to the broader understanding of the gospel?
2. How might we get better educated on various aspects of salvation? Here are some references to consider: Substitution (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:14); Justification (Rom. 3:21-26); Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19); Redemption (Eph. 1:7); Expiation (Col. 2:14); Regeneration (Titus 3:5). How do these verses help you to see various aspects of salvation?
Perhaps it will help to think of the gospel as a treasure. You would not want people taking away pieces while you were not looking! Another way the gospel is like a treasure is that we should get busy giving it away to those who need it so desperately!
Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas); used by permission.
 Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 26.
 BDAG-3, Hell?n, Greek, q.v.
 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 63.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 39.