So here’s the situation: Person “A” gives you $1000 with the understanding that you are to give it to Person “B”. The money was given to you to give away. If you choose to keep the money for yourself you will have stolen from Person “B”… and will have betrayed Person “A”. Get it? Okay… one more time:
So God gave Paul the Gospel/Good-News with the understanding that he was to give it to others. The Gospel was given to Paul so that he might give it away. If Paul decided to keep the Gospel for himself he would have stolen from others what was intended as theirs… and he would have betrayed God.
In other words, the fact that Paul has the Gospel means that he must give it away. As long as he had the Gospel, he felt he was indebted to all people… to whom the Gospel actually belonged. (For more on this, see John Stott’s commentary on Romans.) Paul understood that the Gospel was for all nations… and so if he possessed it, he must give it away. The Good News was not his to keep. The Good News was for others.
The words translated as “I am under obligation” in most of our English versions of Romans 1:14 literally mean “I am a debtor” or “I am indebted” (ὀφειλέτης εἰμί). And to whom was Paul indebted? The answer is a bit surprising: Paul considers himself indebted to the people of this world = Jewish people, Greek people and non-Jewish-non-Greek people. In other words, everyone. As long as he had the Gospel, he had to share it.
Paul took this seriously… A lesson for many of us in our contemporary day who can naively or fearfully hold onto the Gospel as “ours”— and consider that only a select few are actualy called to share the Good News. We can tend to treat the Gospel as if it was a personal newspaper for our own quiet enjoyment while we undisturbingly sip our own coffee and scarf down our own chocolately donut. But isn't the Good News more of an “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”- sort of reality?
As a servant of Christ (1:1), Paul understood his calling to share the Gospel with people everywhere (1:5). Paul had pursued this “obligation” – this compelling responsibility – with vigorous determination for about twenty years at the writing of these verses. He had traveled thousands of miles through territories now known as Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Crete, Cyprus, etc. He had shared his Christ-relationship with people who were extremely wise (e.g. Acts 17:18), who were fools (e.g. Acts 19:24), who were wealthy (e.g. Acts 16:14), who were poor (e.g. Acts 20:35), who were Jewish (e.g. Acts 13:14ff), who were Greek (‘Ελλησίν; e.g. Acts 17:4), who were non-Greek (“Barbarian” or βαρβάροις; e.g. perhaps Acts 13:1), who were men (e.g. Acts 18:7-8), and who were women (e.g. Acts 16:13). Paul shared with people of high position (e.g. Acts 16:38) and with the outcast (e.g. Acts 16:32). And over the years he had tremendous results, planting new communities of Jesus-Followers where none existed before… and which were now independent (or intertwined) enough to be planting their own new satellite communities. So profound was Paul’s indebtedness, that he dramatically impacted the economies of certain regions (e.g. Acts 16:19) and disrupted the status-quo of others (e.g. Acts 17:5-8).
So while Paul wanted so desperately to come visit the Romans, he just hadn’t been freed up from his indebtedness yet… he still had some business to finish up in other parts of the Mediterranean before settling his debts to the people of Rome.
But the idea of eventually being in Rome, the center of the Western globe, the hub of civilizations, where Jew and Greek and Barbarian exchanged commerce and politics and life, was extremely compelling to the indebted apostle. So he was eager to come.
I wonder what has happened to our sense of indebtedness as Christians today? Why do we feel as if we are owed something because we have the Good News? Why don’t we feel that we owe what we have to others?
ROMANS 1:13-15 ~~ I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see good results, just as I have done among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and to people in other cultures, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach God’s Good News. (NLT)
p.s. Click on the newspaper graphic… Can you imagine a newspaper like this nowadays?