So, we’re getting near the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. After all the doctrine of chapters 1 to 11, and after the instructions on how to live the heavenly life in chapters 12 to the middle of chapter 15, we come to the concluding part of his letter. And the passage we read a few moments ago can be divided into three parts. Firstly, in verses 14 to 22, Paul explains why he hasn’t been to see the believers in Rome yet. Secondly, in verses 23 to 29, he refers to his travelling plans and how he hopes to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome and then to Spain. And thirdly, in verses 30 to 33, he asks his readers to pray for him. And we’ll look at those three sections today.
Verses 14 to 22
And as we turn to verses 14 to 22 we need to remind ourselves that Paul has never been to Rome. And perhaps some of the members of the church in Rome were wondering what was taking him so long. He’s been all over the place; why not to Rome? And so, in this section he explains to them why he hasn’t been there yet.
And, first of all, he commends his readers in verse 14. He says about them:
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
So, he’s praising his readers in Rome. You’re full of goodness: in other words, they live good and upright lives; and are kind and generous towards others. You’re complete in knowledge: in other words, they already have a good grasp of the gospel message. And because they have a good grasp of the gospel message, they’re able to instruct one another. So, that’s all good.
And then, in verse 15, he explains that he’s written to them to remind them of certain points. And the reason he feels able to write to them is because God called him to be a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles. And, of course, the church in Rome was a Gentile church; most of the members were Gentile believers. So, it comes under his jurisdiction; he’s been called by God to minister to people like them.
And then he goes on to describe his work, using priestly terms. So, he refers to the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God; he refers to how the Gentiles have become an offering which is acceptable to God. So, just as the Old Testament priest would bring an animal and offer it to the Lord, so Paul sees himself in a similar role, but instead of bringing to God an animal — a bull or a goat — he brought to the Lord all these Gentiles who have believed the gospel. And perhaps he’s still thinking about what he said in chapter 12 about how believers are to offer themselves to God as a living sacrifice. Well, he’s bringing to God all these living sacrifices who — now that they believe — are going to dedicate the whole of their lives to God’s glory. And, of course, the Old Testament sacrifices had to be acceptable to the Lord; they had to be pleasing to him. And believers are acceptable to God, we’re made pleasing to God, because we’re sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Whenever we first believe, the Holy Spirit sets us apart as holy so that we now belong to God. And after we first believe, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us more and more holy, more and more obedient to the Lord.
And then in verses 17 to 21 he boasts about his work and his particular calling. But, of course, he’s not boasting about himself: and he’s not boasting in himself or in his own abilities. No, he’s boasting about the Lord Jesus; and he’s boasting in all that the Lord Jesus has accomplished through him. He’s only the instrument, the tool in the Lord’s hand; and anything that he’s accomplished, has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus who deserves all the glory and the praise.
And you’ll see there at the end of verse 18 and into verse 19 what he’s been able to do: he’s been able to lead the Gentiles to obey God. So, once they used to disobey God; they didn’t walk in his ways; they’re didn’t follow his commandments; they didn’t do his will. But now that they have come to believe in the Lord Jesus, and have been sanctified by his Spirit, they’re now walking in the ways of the Lord and they’re seeking to do his will.
And how was Paul able to lead them to obey God? Well, it wasn’t Paul; it was the Lord, working through him. The Lord worked through him and through the things he said and did; and the Lord worked through him by means of the miraculous signs and wonders he was able to perform; and the Lord worked through him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember right at the beginning of Romans? Paul wrote about the power of the gospel for the salvation of everyone who believes. Well, the gospel message is powerful because the Lord Jesus works powerfully through the preaching of the gospel and through the activity of the Holy Spirit to save those who are perishing. And since the Lord Jesus is the one who is powerful, since he’s the one who convinces and converts unbelievers, then he’s the one who gets the praise and the glory. If I’m boasting, says Paul, I’m boasting about the Lord and about what he’s done.
So, that’s the work Paul has been doing. And what an important job it was: to lead the Gentiles to forsake their false gods and to obey the one true and living God. And where has Paul being doing this work? Well, he tells us in the second half of verse 19: from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, which is to the north of Greece. It was a huge area. But Paul was satisfied that he had fully proclaimed the gospel in that large area.
And Paul reveals his design, his plan, in verse 20. He says that wherever Christ was not known, that’s where Paul wanted to go. He saw his role as one of laying the foundation rather than one of building on another person’s foundation. In other words, he lays the foundation: he goes to virgin territory; he preaches the gospel where it’s not known; he establishes a new church; and once the church has been established, it’s time for him to move on. That’s always been his aim. And then, in verse 21, he quotes from the prophet Isaiah to sum up his view of his work. He says:
Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.
So, he’s always thinking about those who were not told about the Lord Jesus; he’s always thinking about those who have not heard about the Lord Jesus. He’s always thinking about them and how to reach them so that they will see and understand and believe.
And so, here’s the reason why he hasn’t been to Rome yet. Here’s the reason he’s been so slow to come to Rome. Since his aim has always been to preach the gospel where Christ is not known, he’s been busy doing that, instead of going to preach in Rome where Christ was already known. He’s been busy laying new foundations, establishing new churches, instead of building on the foundation which someone else has laid in Rome.
Of course, Paul was an apostle, sent by the Lord Jesus into all the world to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ. The work of the apostles was evangelistic and was all about going where Christ was not known in order to make him known. And we can contrast the work of an apostle like Paul with the work of someone like Timothy or Titus who were working in already established churches. Timothy and Titus were called to build on another person’s foundation and to build up the churches of Jesus Christ in Ephesus and Crete. They were instructed to do mundane things like appointings elders and deacons to oversee God’s people. And they were instructed to teach the Lord’s people what to believe and how to behave.
Paul’s work was exciting and adventurous: to go to new places, to spread the gospel. Timothy and Titus were called to do ordinary things: to nurture the faith of God’s people in one place. But both kinds of work are necessary: we still need missionaries to go and preach where Christ is not known; and we still need ordinary ministers to build up already existing churches. Both are necessary. But Paul was very clear what his work was.
Verses 23 to 29
In verses 23 to 29 Paul refers to his travelling plans and how he hopes to come to Rome at last. Since he’s preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and since he’s always wanted to come to Rome, he now hopes to visit Rome when he’s on his way to Spain. And you see, once again, the priority is to reach new lands and to go where Christ is not known. He really wants to go to Spain, but he’ll stop off in Rome on the way. And while he’s in Rome, he’s hoping they will assist him on his journey to Spain. Do you see that in verse 24? Probably he’s referring to financial assistance, which is always necessary. But he also hopes to enjoy their company for a while.
But before he goes to Spain, he must first go to Jerusalem. Do you see that in verse 25? He wants to go to Jerusalem to deliver the money which the churches in Macedonia and Achaia have collected on behalf of the needy believers in Jerusalem. Now Paul refers to this collection in both letters to the Corinthians. And he explains here in verse 27 how the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to take up this collection. In other words, they did it voluntarily. However, Paul goes on to say that, in a sense, they owed it to the believers in Jerusalem. You see, the believers in Jerusalem were Jewish; and Christianity began among the Jews. And the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were Gentiles. And so, the Gentiles believers in Macedonia and Achaia had come to share in the salvation which was originally enjoyed by the Jews in Jerusalem. So, since the Gentiles have shared in the spiritual blessings of the Jews, it’s right now for the Jews to share in the material blessings of the Gentiles.
And, according to verse 28, once Paul has delivered the money to Jerusalem, he hopes to go to Spain. And he’ll visit Rome on the way.
There’s a chapter in our church’s Confession of Faith on the communion of the saints which is relevant here. It begins by teaching us that every believer is united to Jesus Christ by his Spirit and by faith. And so, we all share in Jesus Christ and his benefits. But then the Confession adds that believers are united to one another in love. Therefore, we’re obligated to perform such duties which promote our mutual good in both spiritual and temporal concerns. So, we’re to help one another in both spiritual and material ways. And the Confession goes in to say: We’re to build one another up in spiritual things; and we’re to assist one another in temporal things according to our different abilities and needs. Whenever we’re tempted to think that the spiritual is all that matters, the Confession reminds us that we’re to care for one another in physical and material ways. And this communion is to be extended, says the Confession, as God gives opportunity, to all those in every place who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. So, whenever we’re tempted to think that we only have to help believers who belong to our own church, the Confession reminds us that we’re to care for believers in every place.
So, because every believer is united to every other believer, we’re duty bound, as we have opportunity, to help believers whoever they are and wherever they live in spiritual ways and in material ways. Paul believed this and therefore he encouraged the believers in Macedonia and Achaia to help the believers in Jerusalem. And the believers in Macedonia and Achaia believed this and were happy to help. We’re not only to help the believers we know, but we’re to do what we can to help believers in other places.
Verses 30 and 33
Finally today, and very briefly, we have verses 30 to 33. ‘Join with me in my struggle’, Paul says in verse 30. How were they to join him in his struggle? By going in person to help him? No, but by praying for him. He asked them to pray for protection. And he asked them to pray that his work in Jerusalem would be pleasing to the believers in Jerusalem.
In several of his New Testament letters Paul asks believers to pray for him and his ministry. Now, we tend to ask believers to get up and get out there; but Paul asked believers to get together and to pray. And that’s why this midweek prayer meeting is so vital and so necessary, because it’s at the midweek prayer meeting that we’re able to get together and to pray for the extension of Christ’s church throughout the world.