The Other Equally Very Important Side of Romans 10:14-17
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul’s words to the Romans in this passage have appeared in many sermons on missions and in missionary reports. The argument often is that people must be sent to preach the gospel, since without a preacher, people will not call on the name of the Lord and be saved. The logic of Romans 10:14-15 is straightforward. This point cannot be debated. But, have we missed an equally very important point of this passage by focusing so much on the need to send? I think so.
There is another part of Romans 10 that, if taken seriously, will intensify the desire to bring the gospel to the nations. This point only comes into view when we take Romans 10:14-15 in the context of Romans 9:30-10:17. We want to ask, “Why did Paul say these words in this particular place?” To answer, we look in summary form at the development of his argument and make the following observations:
1.There is a situation of unbelief that is displeasing to Paul (9:30-33). The issue is that Gentiles have trusted God for righteousness. But Israel, by trying to pursue righteousness through works, has not obtained it (9:32). The actions of Gentiles and those of Israel are contrasted in 9:30-31. Israel failed to understand that being made right with God is a matter of faith and not works. It is the person who “believes in him” that “will not be put to shame” (9:33). Right away, we see that faith is necessary for a right relationship with God.
2. Paul’s response to the situation of unbelief in Israel (10:1-4). In response, Paul says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1). It seems that Paul is very burdened, desires their salvation, and prays that God will do it. His burden is because his fellow Israelites are zealous for God, but in ignorance. They do not know that righteousness with God is by faith and not by works, and so they labor to obtain it. In other words, they are lost and need the gospel that promises salvation through faith alone.
3. The message of salvation explained (10:5-13). In this section, Paul takes time to explain the message of salvation that is by faith. In order to do that, he contrasts righteousness by the law and righteousness by faith (10:5-6). As a matter of fact, the message is not so hard that one should wonder how he or she can possibly obtain it (10:6b-8). The message says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (10:9-10). This is the message taught in Scripture (10:11) and the same message holds for everyone (10:12). What is required is faith: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
4. But how is anyone to hear unless there is a preacher (10:14-15). The words of Paul about the need for a preacher to be sent comes in the context of the unbelief of Israel and the faith of Gentiles, his burden for his people and prayer that God will save them, and his explanation of the gospel message that brings salvation.
In view of the above observations, we can note the following points:
- It is not enough to be eager to send people to preach the gospel. One can do that and not be moved by it at all. Anybody can give money for a preacher to be sent to the heathen. Instead, it seems that preceding the sending is a sense of the danger of the lost in seeking a righteousness of their own based on works and a burden for them; a desire and prayer that God will save them. Paul was burdened and so he prayed. He also knew how ignorant his fellow country people were, and sought to help change the situation. So, there needs to be an understanding of the situation of those needing to hear the gospel, a burden on our hearts that pushes us to pray.
- The message of salvation is clear and rooted in Scripture. Paul took time (10:5-13) to explain the message of salvation. It is not enough to know that people need the gospel, it is not enough to be burdened and pray, we must arm ourselves with a message. It must be clear and easily explained.
- After all of these, then we seek to see how that message will go to those who need it by sending preachers (10:14-15). Interestingly, the preacher must have a message because without a message there will be no faith. Note what Paul says in 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
As we strive to bring the gospel to the nations, let us ask God to give us a burden for the nations, be purposeful in prayer, confident in our message, and obedient in going and sending.