Paul's plan to visit Rome. 15:23-33
Paul continues to deal with personal matters in this passage. He writes about his desire to visit Rome on his way to Spain, but first he must deliver the gifts of the Gentiles to the needy believers in Jerusalem. To this end he asks for the prayers of his readers that if it is God's will, his plans might be brought to completion.
v23-24a. Although Paul did not believe that the work of evangelism was complete in his former missionary areas, he did believe that his strategic ground-breaking work was completed. This, of course, was his special interest. So, new pioneering work was his goal, and Spain, now fully Roman since the time of Augustus, was his next missionary project.
v24b. On the way to Spain Paul intends to visit Rome and seek from them their support for his mission.
v25. The collection for the saints ("in the service of the saints") was one of Paul's pet projects, Acts 24:17, 2Cor.8-9. In fulfillment of scripture he wanted the Gentiles to present gifts to God's historic people in Jerusalem and so demonstrate the present reality of the kingdom in Christ. When you see Gentiles bearing gifts to Israel then you know that the kingdom of God is at hand. So for this reason, Paul must first visit Jerusalem with the gift of the Gentiles for the poor believers there.
v26. These gifts to poor believers in Jerusalem were freely given; it was not a levy imposed by the Jerusalem church.
v27. Paul now explains why his Gentile churches are asked to support the poor among the believers ("saints") in Jerusalem. The world is blessed through the seed of Abraham, and it is right for the Gentiles to make a thank-offering in response. Hopefully, unbelieving fellow Jews will understand this "sign".
v28. Paul intends to go to Jerusalem and then visit Rome on the way to Spain. Describing the collection as "fruit" further develops the idea of the collection being a thank-offering.
v29. When he does come to Rome, it will be with the abundant blessing of the gospel.
v30-32. Paul now encourages his readers to pray for him. First, he indicates by what authority the prayer should be offered, namely, by our Lord Jesus. Second, the basis of the prayer is the love of the brotherhood made real through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ in each believer. Third, he describes the style of the prayer as earnest, urgent. It is better to understand the text as asking them to "struggle" in prayer, rather than to pray with Paul for his missionary "struggle". Fourth, he outlines the content of the prayer. He asks to be "rescued from the unbelievers". Romans 10:16 and 11:31 indicates that the word is best translated "disobedient", and so he is probably thinking of the pharisaic members of the Jerusalem church (the judaizers), rather than unbelieving Jews. The second part of his request puts the positive side. May his ministry be "acceptable to the saints".
The struggle over the place of the law in the life of a believer was a contentious issue and so Paul's Lutheran stance disturbed the law-bound believers. Ultimately, the prayer is for brotherly love, a prayer request that is clearly in the will of God. This realized, Paul may then joyfully, rather than sadly, visit the church in Rome.
v33. Paul concludes with a prayer-wish. May the God of "peace" be with his readers. Peace is the sum of all spiritual blessings, particularly salvation.
Let there be love
For some years, one of my friends lived in a boarding house. Actually, I think the experience nearly destroyed his stomach; he ended up in hospital with a fat overload. I don't think the cooks at the boarding house were into healthy eating.
One evening, a resident came into the loungeroom and announced that she had miraculously been given new fillings in her teeth. She had attended a revivalist meeting that evening and a faith healer was present. His speciality was miraculous fillings. All here rotten teeth were now filled. My friend, a typical skeptic, wondered why God would bother filling people's rotted teeth. "Wouldn't he give her new teeth"?
The healing ministry is often used to verify the gospel. The messianic healings certainly proclaimed the gospel to the Old Testament people of Israel, yet Jesus made it clear that for the church era the sign of the gospel would be the love disciples have one for another. The peace of love proclaims eternity.
For Paul, the loving thank-offering of the Gentiles to the poor believers in Jerusalem, proclaimed the reality of the new age of the kingdom. Even the prophets foretold that the showering of gifts on Israel by the Gentiles would herald the coming kingdom. So, when Paul asks for prayer-support from the Roman church, he is asking that there be a warm acceptance of his ministry team and the thank-offering of the Gentiles.
Paul identifies the basis of his prayer as the "love of the Spirit". The presence of the indwelling Spirit in a believer's life should generate love within the fellowship. Love proclaims the gospel in sign, so let there be love.
1. What do we Gentiles owe to the Jews and how can we repay that debt?
2. Identify Paul's prayer principles in v30-35.
3. How does the sign-value of love work?
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