Epistles: Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles (Romans 15:14-33)
With tact, Paul explains why he wrote to the Roman church: “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (vv. 14-16). Since Christ appointed Paul to serve the Gentiles, he felt that he could remind them that basic Christian principles would help them deal with the doctrinal differences they had.
“He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16). Paul uses special terms here to call his mission a work of worship. He is zealous in this mission: “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done” (Romans 15:17-18). Paul is giving the credit to God, not himself.
The results of Paul’s ministry can be seen in the fact that Gentiles are obeying God. This does not mean circumcision, food laws or Sabbaths — the Gentiles are considered obedient without keeping such laws.
How has Christ achieved this result through Paul? “By the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God” (v. 19). Although Acts describes several miracles done through Paul, Paul rarely mentions them. His readers needed to follow him not by doing miracles, but in humility and enduring difficulties.
“So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum [modern Albania] , I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (v. 19). Paul did not preach in every city, but everywhere he preached, he proclaimed all the gospel. He preached in a few cities, and after he left, his converts could then take the gospel to surrounding towns.
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (v. 20). At some point in his life Paul decided that his mission was to go to new areas. He saw his work as a fulfillment of Isa. 52:15: “As it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’ This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (vv. 21-22). This verse does not apply to every missionary, but it described what Paul was doing.
Although Paul had wanted to visit Rome earlier, there was a greater need for the gospel in Asia Minor and Greece. Now, Paul sets his sights farther west — Spain — and that will give him an opportunity to visit Rome. But he had a more important mission to take care of first.
Paul’s travel plans
Greek letters often mentioned the writer’s travel plans, and this letter does as well. Paul begins with an almost humorous exaggeration: “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while” (vv. 23-24).
Paul would never live long enough to take the gospel to all the empire, so he wanted to make a decisive leap westward. He not only invited himself to Rome, he also invited them to support his mission — perhaps even provide some assistants.
But other plans were more immediate — the churches in Greece were sending an offering to the believers in Judea. Paul had urged them to do it, for he felt it was very important to send this token of unity from the Gentiles to the Jews. “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (vv. 25-27).
The Greek Christians had a debt to pay. But what could the Roman Christians do? It was too late for them to join in the offering being sent to Jerusalem. Paul is hinting that the Gentile Christians in Rome should help the Jewish Christians in Rome. Paul wants peace between Jews and Gentiles, whether it is in Rome or in Jerusalem.
“So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (vv. 28-29). Paul viewed this offering as a symbol of the spiritual fruit produced by the gospel among the Gentiles.
The message he wanted to send to the Jerusalem church was this: “See how many Gentiles are now praising God because of the mission you began. They are thankful that your Messiah is also their Messiah, and as the Scriptures predicted (Isa. 60:5; 66:20), they are sending gifts to Jerusalem as a firstfruits offering to sanctify the rest of the harvest among the Gentiles.”
Paul was confident that after he had delivered this offering, that Christ would bless his mission to Rome and Spain. He asks them to help him in his difficult mission by praying for him: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the believers there…” (vv. 30-31).
As Acts 21 confirms, the most dangerous part of the trip was not the voyage, but the disobedient Jews (an ironic contrast to the obedient Gentiles). Paul did not assume that the believers would be glad to see him, either — he wanted prayer that they might accept the offering he was bringing. Some did not want to accept the fact that Gentiles were now in the family of faith.
And after the offering, Paul wanted them to pray “so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen” (vv. 32-33). Paul concludes with a benediction of peace — what the Roman churches needed most. He says “amen,” but he is not yet done. In our next issue, we will discuss the greetings and exhortations of chapter 16.
Things to think about
- How well do we teach one another? (v. 14)
- If evangelism is a priestly duty (v. 16), does it apply to all Christians?
- Should we assist missionaries who are on their way to another region? (v. 24)
- Are we obligated to share material blessings with the Jews, or should we share with some other parent group? (v. 27)
- Do we pray for missionaries in dangerous areas? (v. 31)
Author: Michael Morrison