James Gilmore was a member of the London Missionary Society who traveled to Mongolia in 1872. When he died 21 years later he had little to show for his effort and could point to only a handful of converts. Still, throughout his life Gilmore was driven by a passion to proclaim Christ to those who had not yet heard of Him. Early in his ministry he wrote these words in his journal: “When shall I be able to speak to the people? O Lord, suggest by the Spirit how I should come among them, and in preparing myself to teach the life and love of Christ Jesus.”
Gilmore’s desire echoes Paul’s ambition described in today’s verse to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (v. 20). This vision propelled him into regions where others had not yet attempted to bring the good news. The Apostle describes this as a “priestly duty” and characterizes the Gentiles who respond to his message as “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16).
When Paul refers to himself as a “minister” in this verse, he is not using the title in the way we often employ it today. We usually reserve the title “minister” for someone who has been formally ordained by the church. A minister often functions as an officer of the church and may have the title “Reverend.” In this passage, Paul refers to himself as a minister in a figurative sense, using a Greek word that was often used to speak of a public officer or servant. He uses the same word in Romans 13:6 to refer to the civil authorities who receive our taxes. Anyone who shares the gospel with others is engaged in “ministry” in this sense of being engaged in service to God.
While some believers have been called to “vocational” or “full-time” ministry, every Christian has been made a steward of the gospel. This is our real vocation, no matter how we may earn our paycheck. We are all ministers of the gospel.