As Paul wraps up his letter to the Romans, he writes to the church in Rome about his personal travel plans, his expectations of the church in Rome, and the actions of other churches. Rather than simply look at Paul’s agenda, we can look at what Paul writes and learn what a godly, gospel driven church looks like. We are able to get a view of how Paul sees his work and we are able to learn how we must look at our work in God’s kingdom.
The Character of the Church in Rome (15:14)
We might get the false impression that the Christians in Rome were a complete mess because Paul has spent a significant portion of the letter writing about fellowship and accepting one another. However, Paul writes that he is satisfied with the Christians in Rome. Paul knows of the righteous things that this church is doing. Paul says that the church is full of goodness. Paul commends them for their moral excellence. They are living their lives right before the Lord. Further, they are living their lives based upon a full knowledge of God’s will. They were not ignorant of the scriptures. They wanted to know God’s will and are seeking it so that they can be found pleasing to God. Also, the Christians in Rome have the ability to instruct one another. This reminds me of the criticism given by the writer of Hebrews to his audience how by this time they ought to have been teachers. Paul did not need to utter such words to the Christians at Rome. They are growing and maturing and they are able to instruct one another. They know the scriptures, they know God’s will, and they are able to capably teach each other. These are the initial marks of a godly church: full of moral excellence, knowing God’s word, and teaching one another to deepen and strengthen their faith.
An Evangelistic Church (15:15-21)
However, Paul has written strongly and boldly on some of these points by way of reminder. All of us need reminders about how to live our lives and about the doctrines of Christ. So also the Christians in Rome are being reminded about the grace of God, justification, and living in harmony. Paul goes on to say that he is proud of the work he is doing for the Lord. Because of God’s grace he is a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel. This is a unique image that Paul uses. None of the other New Testament writers speak of themselves functioning in a priestly service as ministers of the gospel. Paul sees himself working in God’s kingdom as a priest. Paul has an offering that he makes before the Lord. His offering is the Gentiles. It is Paul’s desire that his offering of bringing to the gospel to the Gentiles will be acceptable and made holy by the Holy Spirit. Paul did not see his work as something to be disdained. As an important Jew within the community of Israel, Paul did not see his God given task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles as something to be hated. He was not disappointed in this being his work. He is proud of the work he is doing. He is not proud because of himself. Verse 18 shows that Paul is proud because Christ has accomplished great things through the life of Paul. Winning the Gentiles to Christ is Paul’s priestly function. Paul takes joy as a Jew in being a minister to the Gentiles. Paul has gone to great lengths to reach the Gentiles, even as far away as Illyricum.
Paul saw evangelism as his offering that he could make to God. This was his act of service to the Lord and Paul was thrilled at the opportunity to do this. This is a fantastic attitude that is not unique to Paul. Paul spoke of the Thessalonians who had the same fervor. "For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything" (1 Thessalonians 1:8; ESV). What a great and powerful attitude for a church to have! I believe we should have a similar goal of sounding forth the word of the Lord in Palm Beach county and our faith going forth everywhere.
Unfortunately, we too often have a limited view of evangelism. Too often we think of evangelism as people who go to China or Romania, so we think that evangelism is not for us. This causes us to miss some of the most important evangelism we can do. How can we gain a heart for evangelism that Paul and the church at Thessalonica had?
- See evangelism as an offering you can make to God. Earlier in this letter Paul described that we are to become sacrifices to God, alive, holy, and pleasing (Romans 12:1). Evangelism is an offering that we can make. Do not think of evangelism as something that only a few can do. There is work that all of us can do. First, we must think of evangelism as the highest priority. While we have many purposes and functions, the important task we are given is to seek and save the lost to Jesus.
- Invite people to services with you. We have done a number of things to make this as easy for you as possible. For the lectures we have postcards that you can hand out our send to your friends and acquaintances. We even have an email that you can send out. This is really easy. Go through your contact list and email and invitation to them. We have invitation cards that are the size of business cards that you can hand out to people. We have the Getting To Know God series of pamphlets that my father and I put together that you can give to people. We have the study booklets from our Bible class that you can give. We have the website you can invite people to read. We have the podcast that you can invite people to listen to sermons. We are going to have the book of Revelation invitations. I am not sure if there are any more tools that we can give you to invite people. Are we inviting? Everyone can do it. No knowledge of the scriptures required. All you are doing is saying, "Come and see." Barna and Outreach do a number of polls of people who do not regularly go to church, asking them why they do not go. Do you know what the usual number reason why they do not go? The reason is because they have not been asked. Further, if asked, the majority of them said they would go. We have such a pessimistic attitude that no one would want to enjoy the same blessings in Christ that we enjoy. However, people are curious and interested, if we will simply invite. With our lectures coming in two weeks, we all have a great opportunity before us to be inviters.
- Be a welcoming greeter. Meet the people who come through our doors. Too many sit in one section of the church and do not get up to meet the other people. We talk to the same people and we isolate ourselves. Get up and talk to our guests who have come to worship. Most try to leave very quickly. You must lovingly tackle them. Get to know them. Strike up a conversation about where they are from and what they do for a living. We cannot let visitors and repeated guests get to the back door as fast as they do.
- Get here early. You need to be here and be here early. You need to figure out how to get here. You need to be here with your kids early so they can greet other kids. If we have a family come in and your late, they do not see what we are church to stick around for. You evangelize by being here early, showing the lost you want to be here and you care to be here. It can be done. We had three little kids, trying to get them out the door. We know how hard it is. You will just have to get up ten minutes earlier if you will have the heart for evangelism.
- Send cards and letters. Send our guests cards thanking them for coming. This is so important so that we show them that we do care about them. Even though the conversations were short, there is a great impression made when we show that we care about them and want them to come back.
See these things as your offering to God in trying to save the lost. It makes a powerful impact on those who are willing to reach out and offer the gospel.
We know that Paul was unique as an apostle who traveled as far as he could to teach the gospel. Paul declares that it is his ambition to preach the gospel where others had not preached thus far. Paul called it "building on someone else’s foundation." Paul is not saying that there is something wrong with building on the foundation of another. But Paul really saw himself as a missionary, going to areas where the good news had not reached. We have to be so thankful for the men and women who have that kind of courage and drive to do the same. People like brother Payne who went Romania with the gospel and brother Kingery who in the face of great danger went with the gospel to China. Paul quotes from the suffering servant text, Isaiah 52:15, and sees himself as an extension of the work of the Messiah, taking the good news where it had not been proclaimed.
A Financially Giving Church (15:22-29)
It is this preaching of the gospel in areas where the gospel had not been preached that has kept Paul from making it to Rome. But now there is no more room for work in these regions for Paul. The gospel has been spread and he does not want to go where the gospel already is. Paul is not saying that all the churches are mature or that there were no more souls to save. Paul sees himself as needing to go where the gospel is not. Both are needed. We need teachers to go where the gospel is not and we need teachers to teach the rest of the lost in areas where the gospel has already had an impact and a church exists.
Therefore, Paul plans to go to Spain because the gospel has not gone there yet. Paul tells the Romans that he intends to go to Rome and make that the place from where he will launch off to Spain. Further, he is asking for the Romans to be ready to assist him financially for this work. Before he can fulfill these plans Paul must first go to Jerusalem with the money collected from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia to help the poor saints.
Do we think of giving to needy Christians the way these Christians in Macedonia and Achaia did? In verse 26 Paul says they were "pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." In verse 27 Paul again says that they were pleased to do it. This is something that they wanted to do. When we read the second letter to the Corinthians Paul declares that those Christians gave beyond what they were able to give because they zealously desired to help. Paul also describes this as the sharing of material blessings. Since we all share together in the spiritual blessings of Christ, how can we not share in the material blessings as well? It is a blessing to give and to share with our fellow Christians. We should want to share the blessings that we have. One of the things we need to do more sharing is in our homes. It does not matter if you have a small apartment or live in a shed. It does not matter if you have no furniture and would have to sit on the floor. We need to have people over to our homes. It is shameful that our Christian family can be held in isolation from one another and never spend that kind of time together. To not have one another over in small groups, in Bible studies, or potlucks is tragic. Share in your blessings that you have.
Other important lesson here is that though we are separated by distance, we are connected to Christians we have never met. The Christians in Macedonia and Achaia did not know the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul did not personally know the Christians in Rome. However, we are bound together as family in Christ and are to share with those who are Christians in this country and around the world. Let us be pleased to do share our blessings with all the saints in any place.
A Praying Church (15:30-33)
Paul also calls for the church to be praying for him. Paul knows what lies ahead of him as he travels to Jerusalem with the contributions of the saints for the needy Christians in Jerusalem. Prophets had foretold that Paul would be bound if he went to Jerusalem (Acts 21:11). Paul asks for prayers concerning what was coming. In reading the rest of the book of Acts we know that Paul was arrested and imprisoned and sent to Rome for trial. He did not go to Rome as planned. However, we know that Paul was released from prison. The scriptures do not tell us if Paul did make it to Spain once released from Rome. Clement, who wrote around 90-100 AD says that Paul did go to Spain.
In either case, Paul calls upon the Roman Christians to be a praying church. Pray for Paul. Pray for his work. Pray for his deliverance. Pray and pray even more. We do not need this to know the myriad of commands that tells us to pray as individuals and to come together and pray as a church. Pray for the work. Pray for our efforts. Pray for the good news to spread. Pray for our growth. Pray for the word to sink into the hearts of people. Pray for our shepherds and their leading and decisions. Pray, pray, pray, and pray.
A Refreshing and Joyful Church (15:32)
Finally, Paul is looking forward to being with the Christians in Rome. He expects to enjoy his time with them and he will be refreshed by coming to them. This is what every group of Christians ought to be. When we get together, it should be refreshing to do so. There should be joy. When we gather on Sundays and Wednesday, it should be refreshing to our souls and our faith to be together. What a horrible thing it would be if coming together was something we did not look forward to or did not enjoy. I know I come up short, but I try to make every lesson have something to build you up and give you a reason to come. We try hard to make our worship joyful and refreshing to your soul. Let us all work together to be the gospel driven church that Paul describes.