Last week we finished studying the main body of Paul's letter to the Romans. This Sunday and next we will look at his concluding remarks. The content of the final 2 messages in this preaching series will be more informative than instructional. As he draws his letter to a close, Paul describes his future plans to visit Rome and records several specific and individual greetings. In most of his letters Paul's benediction is relatively brief, but in Romans it is quite lengthy. Typically these matter-of-fact type passages are not used as sermon material, but we will cover them nevertheless as we wrap up our comprehensive study through Romans.
We are going to call this last section of our series "The Messengers of Salvation". If you can recall, the first sermon in this series was called "The Message of Salvation". Paul opened this book by identifying the gospel as the greatest message that needed to be heard. He stated that it inherently carried the power of God unto salvation for all who believed it - both Jew and Greek. Now, as he is concluding this book, Paul names himself and several other Christians - any and all of which have been called by God to be messengers of the gospel.
The Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus, which is along the southern coast of present-day Turkey. He was the son of Jewish parents, yet because of their prominence his family was afforded Roman citizenship - status that was uncommon for most Jews living in the Roman Empire. As a youth, Paul was sent to Jerusalem where he was trained by the Gamaliel, the most prominent and respected teacher of his day, to become a Jewish rabbi. As Christianity began to spread in Judea following the resurrection of Jesus, the young man Paul regarded it as a great threat to Judaism. Zealous to stop its increase, Paul became a severe persecutor of Christians. He was even present for the stoning of Stephen, the first of many Christian martyrs. However, when he encountered the Lord on the Damascus Road, Paul surrendered his life to Christ and became the greatest missionary who has ever lived.
This morning we will spend some time considering the life of Paul as it was around the time when he wrote this letter to the churches in Rome. We will review his past work, preview his future plans, and discover his present request of the Roman believers.
I. PAUL'S PAST WORK - Romans 15:14-21
Having dispensed with the main body of his letter, Paul begins his closing remarks with a compliment. He states that he is convinced that the Roman Christians are full of goodness and that they are capable of admonishing (or cautioning) one another to prevent themselves from sinning. Despite this confidence, Paul thought it necessary to strongly emphasize certain points in his letter. Perhaps his most pressing concern was the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile believers who made up the congregation. Numerous times throughout the book of Romans Paul spoke about the need for these two groups to look beyond their differences and upon their unity in Christ. He was fearful that their division might hinder the development and health of the church.
Paul was not one to brag on himself, yet he was eager to boast about all that Christ had accomplished through him. Paul was an evangelist and church planter who intentionally carried the gospel to Gentile regions where the people had never heard it before. From his home church in Antioch, Paul traveled westward throughout Asia-Minor and eventually crossed over into Macedonia and Greece spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Along the way he helped to establish numerous churches and, as a result, Christianity began to take root among the Gentiles in both Asia and Europe. Paul was a pioneer of sorts, blazing the trail to new places and preaching to new audiences, careful not to "build on another man's foundation".
Believe it or not, there are still large segments of the population even today that have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. According to statistics compiled by the Joshua Project, 29% of the people on earth still remain unreached by the gospel. This is the equivalent of 2.11 billion people. Despite modern advancements, there are still preventative factors that limit the spread of Christianity in certain countries and places around the globe. Repressive governmental policies, religious extremism, and unchecked violence in many locations have kept missionaries from making any impact. Though the hardships were different in his day, these are the types of places where Paul travelled and suffered for the cause of Christ.
II. PAUL'S FUTURE PLANS - Romans 15:22-29
In these verses Paul speaks of his upcoming travels and plans. In order to understand them properly we'll need to back up just a bit. Following his first missionary journey through Asia Minor, the church leaders held a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss several pressing issues. Paul and a few of his companions were in attendance. Apparently some time during this meeting, Paul was encouraged to collect an offering from the various Gentile churches that he had established. The monies were to be used to aid the poverty stricken Jewish Christians who resided in Jerusalem. Happy to do this, he readily accepted the challenge. On his second missionary journey, Paul announced to the churches his intentions to take up an offering upon his return. Then on his third missionary journey, he actually collected that which had been given since his previous visit.
Near the end of this third trip, Paul waited in Corinth during the winter of 56-57 AD for warm weather to return. It was during this season that he wrote the letter to the Romans. In this passage, Paul states that he intends to carry the offering he has gathered from the churches in "Macedonia and Achaia" to Jerusalem and present it to the saints there. Following this, Paul plans to begin a brand new initiative. In keeping with his desire to reach new places, his next destination will be Spain. Seeing that Rome is on the way, Paul plans to stop and visit the Christians there as he passes through. This will be Paul's first meeting with the Romans and he looks forward to it with high expectations.
Although Paul's main task was to spread to gospel in new places, he also spent a great deal of time and energy on this missions offering. He saw it as a material way for the Gentile churches to return the spiritual blessing that had been extended to them through the Jews. He took this collection very seriously. Each year Southern Baptist churches take up several missions offerings. They are targeted to assist state missions, home missions, and international missions. Like Paul, we should consider these opportunities to be much more than simply religious donations or fundraisers. By giving to these causes, we demonstrate the love of Christ and become an integral part of reaching the lost and helping those in need.
III. PAUL'S PRESENT REQUEST - Romans 15:30-33
Paul requests that the believers in Rome pray with him and for him as he returns to Jerusalem. He is aware of some who are "disobedient" in Judea and fears that his arrival there may not be as welcoming as one might expect. The irony is that Paul is returning with a sizable monetary gift intended to help the Jerusalem church, and yet he worries that he may need to be rescued from the Jews while there. Despite his reservations and covered by the prayer of many, we read in Acts 21 that Paul finally made his way back to Jerusalem and delivered the "Collection for the Saints" just as he'd planned. Unfortunately, some of the devout Jews in the city turned against Paul and he was arrested.
After being held in custody for over 2 years, Paul cited his Roman citizenship and appealed his case to Caesar. He was put on a ship and sent to Rome in order to stand trial. This was not the way he'd planned to get there, but the providential hand of God brought him to Rome nevertheless. Though under house arrest, Paul was allowed visitors during his first imprisonment in Rome. He continued to preach, teach, write, and serve the churches to the extent that he was able. He likely met many of the people to whom this letter had been written.
The Bible does not tell us whether or not Paul ever made it to Spain. There are a handful of extra-biblical writings that suggest that he did. Following his first confinement in Rome, some religious historians believe that Paul travelled on to Spain just as he had planned. If he did make it there, most certainly he preached the gospel to unreached people and worked to plant churches. According to local tradition and custom, the apostle Paul established the Christian church in Tarragona, Spain sometime around 65 AD. While this cant be confirmed with absolute certainty, it is a fascinating possibility to consider.
Paul was arrested and held briefly in Rome for a second time before being executed by the highly unstable Emperor Nero in or around 67 AD. During his lifetime, Paul relentlessly sought to spread the gospel as a messenger of salvation. As we consider his ministry and the numerous sufferings he endured, we are challenged to evaluate our own personal testimonies. God has called each of his children to be messengers of salvation... how are we doing?
Paul was quick to boast about all that Jesus had done in his life. Do we do the same? He was never content with the status quo. There was always another project on the horizon - a new place to go, a new people to tell. What is God calling you to do next? Finally, Paul was constantly asking others to pray for and with him. He believed in the sustaining power of prayer. Do you need prayer today? Ask someone to pray with you...