WONDERFUL WORDS OF LIFE RADIO SERMON
February 22, 1976
THE SPIRIT OF GREATNESS
Romans 1:8 16
By any standard of measurement, the Apostle Paul was a great man. If you just consider the influence of his life
upon history, even upon his own generation, you are confronted with his greatness. In terms of achievement, no
man his ever more nearly approximated what it means to be a genuine Christian. His life was filled with a true
spiritual greatness. In the New Testament you best see the greatness of this man as you read his epistles. You
are especially helped to see the spirit of his greatness as you read the personal parts of the letters.
The paragraph before us today was written by Paul in an attempt to establish a rapport with these Roman
Christians. Since he was not personally acquainted with them, nor they with him, he wanted to establish a
rapport so he could communicate to them the things God had put in his heart. In these personal things, his
spirit, his true inner self breaks through. You get insight into what made Paul the kind of achiever he was for
God in his day. These things that marked the inner spirit of this man could well mark our inner spirits. It is surely
true that our outward achievement will reach greatness only as we know greatness of spirit.
In our paragraph I have found at least seven things that marked the inner spirit of Paul. Each of them is
significant in understanding the spirit of greatness.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude was first in the heart of Paul. "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is
spoken of throughout the whole world." Whenever news came to Paul of the beginning of a new church, or the
winning of a new convert, regardless of where it might be in the world, his spirit would be one of gratitude toward
God. Though he did not know the Roman believers personally, he was still thanking God for their faith. He was
especially grateful for the witness their faith had become throughout the whole world. The presence of a
Christian group in the imperial city of the Roman empire must have been news in that ancient world.
Little men are not able to rejoice over things in which they have no part. Their spirit of gratitude is limited to the
things that fall upon their lives or upon the lives of others through them. No such littleness can ever be found in
the spirit of Paul. He gratefully acknowledged the work of God, evidence of the gracious hand of God, in every
conversion to the name of Jesus Christ. The only competitor for this great man was the forces of evil that were
at work in the world.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF PRAYERFULNESS
Great men know themselves to be dependent upon God for everything. This prompts them to translate their
burdens and desires into petitions which they present before the heavenly Father. Prayer was the constant
experience of this man Paul. "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel, of his Son, that
without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request, if by any means now at length I
might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you." The prayer list of the Apostle must have
been impressive. He told almost all of the churches .hat he wrote that he was "always" praying for them. That
does not mean that he never ceased praying for them, but that each time he prayed they were included in his
petitions. One of the petitions that he was ever repeating before the Lord was that he might have the privilege
of coming to Rome to share the Gospel.
Just as an aside remark on this prayer, it might be helpful to recall that this prayer was answered. It was not
answered in the manner in which Paul had hoped and ex¬pected, but he was allowed to go to Rome. In the
providence of God he went to Rome in the custody of Roman authorities, as a prisoner.
Such an unceasing spirit of prayerfulness is the mark of spiritual greatness. Anytime you find a life marked with
great achievement in the kingdom of God, you will find behind that life such a spirit of prayerfulness. Prayer will
be the very breath of the life. Each sense of need will be presented to the heavenly Father as a petition.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF FLEXIBILITY
Great men learn how to roll with the punches of life. They do not allow frustrations and disappointments to keep
them from moving on toward their goals. Paul was such a man. One of his personal goals had been for a long
time to carry the message of Christ to the city of Rome. So far he had not been able to make the journey. The
frustration of not being able to achieve this goal had not discouraged him. Instead he was manifesting a
remarkable flexibility of spirit. It was one of the things that ever marked the ministry of Paul writes "Now I would
not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto). " "Let" is
used in the sense of "hindered". Hindrances kept cropping up to keep Paul from going to Rome. Paul did not
become depressed or bitter, though he was not able to carry out his plans, because he knew that the over
ruling autho¬rity in his life was God. He felt himself to be subject to the will of God in everything. When
hindrances blocked his plans, he just accepted this as being God's will, and made other plans. Such a flexibility
of spirit is important if you are to ever know true greatness in your life.
People like Paul will find possibilities in any situation. If they find themselves with a lemon, they will make some
lemonade. If they find themselves in jail, they will begin a jail ministry. They will be so flexible that nothing can
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF ASPIRATION FOR OTHERS
Great people do not become great at the expense of others. They become great through their service to
others. The aspiration of Paul's spirit was not selfish. His interest in visiting Rome was to spread his personal
influence a little further in the world. He expressed it clearly, "For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you
some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established". He aspired to perform the ministry God had given to him
among the Romans that they might achieve the greatness that God had planned for them. He wanted to help
them become established in the things of God more firmly. He did not want to take something from them, but to
give them a gracious gift through his personal ministry.
This is truly a reflection of the very inner spirit that marked the life of our Lord. It marks the life of all truly great
men. Jesus said, "The son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a
ransom for man." This is the spirit that was in the heart of Paul. It is the mark of true spiritual greatness. Are you
one aspiring for opportunities to help your brother so that he might achieve in the kingdom of God, or do you
spend time thinking of ways you might use your brother in achieving your own purposes in the world? There is a
difference in the two. The first is the spirit of true greatness and the latter is the spirit of the world.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF WILLINGNESS TO RECEIVE
Great men do not know everything. They are willing to be taught as well as to teach. Paul gladly acknowledged
that the Romans had something they could share with him and he was ready to receive it. "That is, that I may be
comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." Paul knew that his own spirit could he
strengthened and lifted by personal fellowship with the Romans.
Every pastor is aware of the truth that is suggested by Paul here. Years ago, Dr. Donald Barnhouse wrote in
the margin of his Bible by this verse this comment, "The congregation is the pastor's pastor." How true! As the
pastor goes about imparting that which builds up the faith of the congregation, they in turn renew and
strengthen his faith in the Lord Christ. He needs them just as much as he is needed. Great men live with a
constant awareness of this.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF DEBTORSHIP
Little men approach the world with a spirit that the world owes them something. Great men approach life with a
spirit that reflects a deep and abiding sense of debtorship. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the
Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." Men who become great achievers in the service of their
country are men who approach their stewardship to their country with a profound sense of debt to their country.
They are aware that their country has given them something. They do not feel that their country owes them
something. Those who are great achievers in the service of our Lord are those who sense that they are in debt
to the Lord. The immeasurable riches of Christ which they have freely received has put them in debt to God and
to the world. They are driven by this sense of debtorship.
Do you know this in your spirit? It is almost a rarity in Christians in our day. Just as the spirit in our nation seems
to be the notion that the nation owes its citizens certain things, the spirit in the church seems to be that God is
our debtor. Many seem to feel that God owes them something. We are the debtors. We are in debt to all men.
The only way we can remove this debt is by sharing with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.
GREATNESS OF LIFE IS MARKED BY A SPIRIT OF PRIDE IN WORK
Great men are humble men in spirit, yet they have a deep sense of pride in their work. They are not ashamed
of their work. They are not proud and egotistical about themselves, but they are confident and proud of their
work. The apostle would declare, “for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
Those who achieve greatness in the work of the Lord always have such a healthy sense of pride.
Let us emulate the life of this great man. There is great need in the Christian world of our day for such