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Sharing (15:23-33)

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Before ascending to heaven Jesus Christ gave His disciples a command. He said, “...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) When the Apostle Paul became a follower of Christ, he took this command very seriously.

Paul writes that he had fully evangelized the territory from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. To put it another way, he fully proclaimed Christ’s Gospel throughout the places we call Syria, Turkey and Greece, as well as parts of Yugoslavia and Albania.

When he says that he fully proclaimed the message, he does not mean that he personally taught everyone in these places about Jesus. Instead, he did something much more significant: Everywhere Paul went, he left behind fully functioning churches which were able to carry on the work he had started. This was the genius of his ministry. Paul and his companions would enter a city and proclaim Christ. He would form those who believed into a church and from among their own numbers would appoint Elders to lead and guide them. Then, Paul would leave and evangelize in another area where people had not yet had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. The churches Paul left behind would continue the work Paul started. In this way, large areas heard the Gospel in a short amount of time.

Paul’s stated desire was to go where Christ’s message had never been preached before. From Greece, the logical next step was to continue westward to Rome. However, there were already followers of Christ and a church at Rome. We know that people from Rome were present when the Apostle Peter first proclaimed in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus is the Savior. Some 3,000 men became followers of Christ that day. Presumably, some of the men from Rome were among those who believed.

Since there was already a church at Rome, Paul decided to travel beyond Rome into Spain. He wrote an extensive letter to the followers of Christ in Rome which provided them with additional teaching about salvation and living for Christ. He also expressed the hope that the believers in Rome would assist him on his journey. In chapter 15, verses 23 through 33 he writes, “but now, no longer having any place in these regions, and having these many years a longing to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I will come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. But now, I say, I am going to Jerusalem, serving the saints. For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. Yes, it has been their good pleasure, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to serve them in fleshly things. When therefore I have accomplished this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that, when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of the Good News of Christ. Now I beg you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints; that I may come to you in joy through the will of God, and together with you, find rest. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

While Paul’s ambition was to proclaim Christ’s message to those who had not had the opportunity to hear it, he never forgot his obligations to those who already believed. At the time of Paul’s writing, the believers in Jerusalem were in need. Scripture records that they had not only been the target of persecution on more than one occasion, they had also suffered from famine. To help relieve their suffering Paul collected a large offering from other churches.

Paul saw this offering as a partial payment of a debt. It was the Jews who proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentile peoples. In light of this Paul felt it was only just for the Gentiles to share their material blessings with those who had told them about salvation.

Though Paul does not mention it here, he hoped that the offering would also be a demonstration of unity. It would show that both Jew and Gentile accepted one another. In Christ, the ancient hostilities which divided the two groups were now reconciled.

Paul asked the believers in Rome to pray that saints in Jerusalem would accept this service from him. Why did he think that they might not accept the gift he brought? One reason is that people were misinformed about Paul’s ministry. We know from other Scripture that they thought he spoke against the Mosaic Law. This, in their eyes, made him a traitor against Judaism. Paul was concerned that this misunderstanding might cause the believers in Jerusalem to reject him and the offering he brought.

Though Paul does not say so in this letter, another reason for Paul’s anxiety, no doubt, was his previous history with the Jerusalem church. Before becoming a follower of Christ, Paul was one of the church’s severest persecutors. On another occasion he said, “...On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme...” (Acts 26:10-11 NIV) It is reasonable to assume that there were still many in the Jerusalem church who had either personally suffered at Paul’s hands or who had lost loved ones because of what he did. They may have looked at the offering Paul brought as blood-money.

Wherever Paul went, he encountered opposition from Jews who resented his speaking to Gentiles about Christ. Paul asked the believers in Rome to pray that he would be rescued from such people in Jerusalem. If the prayers were answered as Paul anticipated, he would be free to come to Rome with the full blessing of Christ. Then, he and the Roman church could mutually refresh each other before he left for Spain.