Paul has never been to Rome, but he is anxious to visit. He is looking forward to encouraging the church and to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. He hopes, more specifically, that there will be a harvest among his brothers and sisters in Christ and among the Gentiles. Paul knows the gospel is powerful when it is shared among believers, and powerful when it is shared with people who don’t yet know and love Jesus Christ. In fact, under no circumstances is Paul ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Paul writes this letter he has already been around most of the Mediterranean world preaching and receiving mixed results. In some places he is heartily received by an excited set of new believers. In some places he is barely noticed, and in some places he is run out of town on a rail or stoned. But in all places Paul is unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Christ is true, powerful, beautiful, transformative, holy and glorious – all on its own. It is all these things without my help or contribution. The gospel is untarnished by human error or cultural corruption. Though it steps into our lives and histories and has the power to change us, we cannot change it. The gospel does not need my help to be attractive, my strength to stand in our world, my intelligence and cleverness to be true or triumphant. It is not within my abilities to make it what it is and always will be – the power of God for salvation.
There is no good reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But there are a lot of bad reasons.
It might be peer pressure of some sort. The crowd I find myself in may be put-off by Jesus’ story, or they may find it a quaint belief for some small set of people who don’t have the wherewithal to stand on their own two feet. We may even recognize that the crowd we want to fit into looks down on what they think is the childishness or lack of sophistication of the gospel. They are all wrong on all counts, and these are bad reasons to be ashamed.
I may simply be a spiritual sloth – a lazy bum when it comes to my relationship with God. How is this being ashamed? Will a lazy believer stand for the truth of their belief when the pressure is on? What about when there is a better offer from another point of view? Will they know how to address the skeptic who confronts them or the pains of life when they assail them? They won’t, and while the spiritual sloth may carry their faith lightly on good days, they will drop it quickly on the hard ones. Laziness is a bad reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes these words maybe 15 years before he is able to actually visit Rome. We know Paul backs up these words with his deeds when he writes them. But when he actually gets to Rome – when his wish of visiting them is fulfilled – he arrives in chains. By then he is a prisoner for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When he raises his hand to hug his friends they are in shackles. Paul lives unashamed of the gospel and arrives in Rome unashamed of the gospel.
There is no good reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the very power of God himself.