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An Acceptable Offering (15:14-22)

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The world tries to tell the followers of Christ that they are evil, ignorant and incompetent to teach anyone about God. The Apostle Paul, however, has a very different view. In chapter 15, verse 22 of his inspired letter to the followers of Christ at Rome, he says, “I myself am also persuaded about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish others.”

How can this be since earlier in his letter, Paul himself quoted from the Psalms to make the point that no one is righteous before God? If that were not enough, he writes that, “there is no one who understands,” (Romans 3:11 NIV) How can he now say that the people to whom he is writing are full of goodness and complete in knowledge?

The answer to this dilemma is that Paul was referring to the condition of people who do not know Christ. It is very true that none of us can make ourselves pleasing to God through our own efforts or in our own strength. All of us, regardless of our background or religious heritage are sinners. However, Paul goes on to explain that when we submit ourselves to Christ, His sacrifice cleanses us. We are made new. God transforms us into the image and character of Christ. When God looks at us, He no longer sees us, but Christ in us. It is this transformation which fills us with goodness. It is this experience of being made new in Christ which makes us complete in knowledge. The most humble and uneducated villager who follows Christ knows more about God’s grace than the most sophisticated and educated scholar who is outside of Christ. At best, the scholar who is not a Christian can have only a dim and vague theoretical idea about salvation. The unsophisticated peasant who follows Christ knows by experience who God is and what pleases Him. It is this knowledge which makes the most unlettered and humble follower of Christ competent to teach and encourage others in a way the unbelieving scholar never can.

Unfortunately, many people, even in the church, have the idea that only leaders or those who have degrees in theology are competent to teach God’s people. Paul does not agree. He is not writing just to leaders, but to all the followers of Christ. Every follower of Christ has a message which is worth sharing with others. If nothing else, every follower of Christ can tell others how Christ has changed him.

If everyone in the church is full of goodness, is complete in knowledge and is capable of instructing one another, then why did Paul write this letter? He tells us in verses 15 through 22. “But I write the more boldly to you in part, as reminding you, because of the grace that was given to me by God, that I should be a servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest the Good News of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I have therefore my boasting in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God. For I will not dare to speak of any things except those which Christ worked through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of God's Spirit; so that from Jerusalem, and around as far as to Illyricum, I have fully preached the Good News of Christ; yes, making it my aim to preach the Good News, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another’s foundation. But, as it is written, “They will see, to whom no news of him came. They who haven't heard will understand.” Therefore also I was hindered these many times from coming to you,”

In these verses, Paul gives two reasons for writing his letter. The first is to remind the followers of Christ of the teaching they have received about Christ and the process of salvation. We humans have a tendency to forget. When we forget what we were before knowing Christ, and how much He has done for us, we start to take our blessings for granted. It is good to be reminded of God’s love. It is good to be reminded of how Christ has reconciled us to God.

Another reason for the letter is that Paul regarded writing it as part of his ministry. Even though he had never been to Rome he still felt a responsibility for the followers of Christ there. Christ said this about Paul, “...This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles...” (Acts 9:15 NIV) In light of this commission Paul considered writing this letter part of his priestly duty. The Apostle Peter writes that one of duties of a priest is to declare God’s praises. Writing to followers of Christ he says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV) Is it any wonder, then, that Paul felt obligated to declare God’s praise to the Gentiles living in Rome?

Another function of priests is to offer sacrifices. Paul wishes to present the Gentiles to whom he ministered, as it were, an acceptable sacrifice to God. This is why he was so eager to proclaim the good news of redemption and reconciliation to them.

If Paul’s purpose was to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentile peoples, and if he felt such an obligation to those at Rome, then why didn’t he visit them instead of writing a letter? A few verses later he says that he has longed for many years to see them. However, in this place he writes that he has been hindered from doing so. What caused the hindrance? What prevented Paul from visiting the people he longed to see? It was a sense of priorities. The people to whom Paul is writing are already followers of Christ. Paul felt it was more important to proclaim the Gospel to those who had never had the opportunity to hear it than to visit those who had already accepted Christ.

He writes that he had fully proclaimed the Gospel all the way from Jerusalem to the province of Illyricum. This means that he had preached Christ’s message throughout the countries we know as Syria, Turkey and Greece. This is a vast area. Even today, with our modern transportation and means of communication, it would be difficult for anyone to personally visit and evangelize it all. Yet, Paul does not take the credit for himself and boast of all he accomplished. Instead, he gives the credit to Christ who empowered him through the Holy Spirit to proclaim the message and to work signs and miracles. To whom do we give the credit and praise for the things we accomplish?