“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.” For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;” (Romans 15:18-22, NASB95)
Paul had some pretty impressive credentials prior to being brought to salvation by Jesus Himself. But even more had been accomplished through him in the numbers coming to salvation and the building of the church in various regions since that time. The big difference is that Paul saw this later work as the work of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was God working through Him to accomplish these things, and as we read in verse 17 this was what Paul was going to boast in such that God was glorified in the message. As we move into verse 18 Paul reaffirms that it was the overwhelming work of Christ being accomplished through him that led to so many Gentiles coming to Christ. He had been faithful to God in being his messenger from Jerusalem to the area of Illyricum (which was a span of about 1,400 miles). In the days before planes, trains, and automobiles and even engine powered boats this was a big region, and God had used Paul to preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and even establishing churches and teaching fundamentals of the faith thoroughly throughout these regions.
Also recognizing that it was God who was using vessels such as him to spread this gospel message, Paul felt no compulsion to duplicate the work where others had been. Rather, he saw the advantages of multiple persons working in other areas in making this word to spread faster and more efficiently. And in that he could trust God to accomplish His work through each of them so that many, many more might be saved. In making this point he likely paraphrased Isaiah 52:15 where it says, “Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:15, NASB95)
It was because of the extent of this ministry that Paul had not been to Rome as we read in verse 22. But this did not mean that it was not his desire to do so when the time might permit which, as we will see in the next verses, Paul thought might be coming quite soon. In the meantime and to prepare them for his visit he wrote to them this letter of encouragement and instruction, so that when he arrives they might in a sense be well prepared.
I’m sure Paul’s reputation preceded him, and getting a letter from the apostle who was so instrumental in bringing the good news of Christ (the gospel) to much of the world was an exciting thing. And knowing his heart to visit them and join them in the good work they had been doing must have been a real encouragement. But as Paul had just said, the ministry which God had given to him to this point required him to be elsewhere, just as God was doing a work in them where they were. And in this shared spreading of the good news in various regions they could rejoice together, and for those who were to receive the letter, they could go forward with a firmer foundation of knowledge and confidence that they previously might have.
There have been several people in my life who I have never met who have taught me and encouraged me. Some of them have been the same men, who through the inspiration of the Spirit penned our Bible, and some have been men who have written out their sermons or prepared books over time, and others have been those who have reached me regularly through the radio. And beyond that, there have of course been those whose teaching I have had the extreme privilege to sit under and those whose wisdom I have been privileged to soak up as we worked side by side. All of these individuals being believers who God used to accomplish His good work. And just as God worked through the church and the individual believers in Rome who served in their homes and their community, so does He work in us to reach those around us.
Paul’s perspective, that the only One worthy of boasting in is God and the only things worthy of speaking about are those things God had done through him, can serve to remind us to keep things in perspective realizing that it is Christ who also works in and through us, while also serving to encourage us at the same time knowing that indeed it is Christ who works in and through us. He is the One, through the enabling of the Spirit who makes us adequate for service.