Romans Bible Guide – Day 38
March 23, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has wrapped up his fourth and final segment exploring the good news of Jesus for Jews and Gentiles and is moving toward closing encouragements and comments.
14 I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15 Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. 20 Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.”
22 This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; 29 and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
30 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.
Points of Interest:
- ‘I myself feel confident about you…’ – The first line sounds like flattery, but it’s really just in keeping with good manners. After asking anything of their recipients, ancient letters often politely assume that the people reading were of course the good people that would do such a thing anyway. The “filled with” goodness and knowledge is also a contrast to the godless humanity at its worst, “filled with wickedness, evil, etc.” from the end of chapter 1.
- ‘I have written to you rather boldly’ – Paul acknowledges that he’s been pretty direct for a stranger, but that this is the kind of thing God has led him to do for work.
- ‘so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable’ – Why is Paul this direct-speaking minister and priest? So that God will get this “offering of the Gentiles”? This could seem like God needs a bigger pool of people to give him money or sacrifices or something, but I’m pretty sure that the people themselves are the offering here. Paul has been quoting fairly constantly from Isaiah, and at the very end of Isaiah, people from all nations – even perhaps as far away as Spain – come to God to worship and bring an offering. In Jesus, Paul has realized that the people themselves in all these places are an offering, that God enjoys these people and their love.
- ‘I have reason to boast of my work for God’ – Paul gets a bad rap for these moments where he seems kind of full of himself. This sort of thing isn’t just normal in Greco-Roman culture, though, it’s a typical move of an ambassador to establish his authority. In the teaching of rhetoric, we call this ethos – the reason we should pay attention to this particular speaker. The Romans should take Paul seriously because the Spirit of God has been working with him to bring Jesus’ good news all over the place.
- ‘from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum’ –Illyricum was the area of the today’s Baltic states, just across the sea, east of Italy. Scholars who have reconstructed Paul’s travels have noticed that he was really strategic about making his way from the city where Jesus died and rose again, to the very ends of the known world, which in Paul’s case, centered around the Mediterranean sea. It’s like Paul looked at a map of the Mediterranean world – the only kind of map that would have ever been available to him – and saw that a path toward the ends of the earth would have taken him through Illyricum and on through Rome and beyond. And he made his plans accordingly.
- ‘those who have never been told of him shall see’ – Paul grounds his working strategy in Isaiah again, this time 52:15. Paul’s job, as he understood it, was that of a pioneer, or a faith entrepreneur: to take the good news of Jesus to places where it has never been. Other people, as Paul hit on in Romans 12:6-8, have other gifts and other jobs.
- ‘to come to you when I go to Spain’ – On the one hand, Paul really wants to meet these famous Roman house churches, as he’s said since the first chapter. On the other hand, he assures them he’s not trying to make himself their new leader or overstay his welcome. They’re more of a pit stop for him on the way to Spain – the land on the far Western ends of their maps, the land of barbarians as far as Rome is concerned, and perhaps the land mentioned at the very end of the book of Isaiah as well. The whole book of Romans makes a lot of sense when you read it as a Kickstarter appeal for Paul’s gospel journey to Spain.
- ‘I hope to see you on my journey and be sent on by you’ – Paul doesn’t want to be over-explicit and impolite about it, but he expects the Romans to overcome their own internal divisions and come together to provide him with some financial and logistical support.
- ‘I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints’ – First off, Paul has to run an errand in Jerusalem. Now this was not at all on the way! It’s far to the East of Corinth, in Greece, where Paul was writing this letter. But another one of Paul’s big life missions, before going on to Rome and Spain, was to collect a financial offering from Gentile believers in Greece and bring it to desperately impoverished Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.
- ‘for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service’ – This offering likely had political significance to Paul. Jewish believers still had only an awkward peace with this growing number of non-Jewish, uncircumcised followers of Jesus who weren’t even following the Jewish law as part of their new faith. By collecting a large financial gift from all these new churches he had started amongst the Gentiles, Paul might hope to warm the hearts of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem toward them.Paul says the Gentile churches have been happy to chip in too, and that there’s perhaps something spiritually fitting and beautiful about this. The blessing of Jesus, with its roots in the Jewish story, is returned by these new believers when they help feed their new spiritual cousins in Jerusalem.
- ‘that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea’ – Like most of what Paul did, though, this was a dangerous mission he was on. He was carrying a large amount of cash into a city where many who don’t follow Jesus view him as a traitor to his faith and culture, and many who do wonder if he’s taken this message of Jesus to the Gentiles too far. Paul hopes he’ll make it out and get to Rome alive, and asks for prayers that this will happen. It turns out that the only way that Paul will ever get to Rome is in chains, but that’s a story for another day.
Taking It Home:
For you – Paul has a focused life mission with two huge goals at this point in time – bring a financial contribution from the Gentile churches to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, and then bring the good news of Jesus to the end of the world. He invites the Romans into their own mission as well – peace and love with one another, and support of his work when he arrives. What long-term life mission does God seem to have for you? Is there any particular work that you think you might be called to today? Ask God for discernment and courage around this.
For your 6 – Pray for the work of your six, that they will find ways to devote their lives to good that God is doing in the world. Another prayer today for your six could be to pray that they will either be the recipients or benefactors of some practically and spiritually significant generosity.