SPIRITUAL MINISTRY LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR ONGOING MUTUAL FELLOWSHIP THAT RESPONDS TO MATERIAL NEEDS
AND PROMOTES THE EXTENSION OF THE GOSPEL
Douglas Moo: Paul goes on to mention his next three destinations (in order of visit): Jerusalem (vv. 25–27), Rome (vv. 22–24, 28–29), and Spain (vv. 24, 28). He is not interested is simply giving the Roman Christians his itinerary. His main concern is to explain why it has taken him so long to get to Rome (v. 22) and why, when he does get there, he does not plan to stay long (v. 28). He must fulfill his commission to bring the gospel where the name of Christ has not yet been heard, and Spain is a fertile field for pioneer church-planting. But a stop in Rome is necessary for the apostle to secure logistical support for this new outreach, so far from his original home base of Antioch. But before these plans can be carried out, Paul must first visit Jerusalem, where he hopes to bring to a successful climax his long-cherished project of collecting money from Gentile churches for the impoverished saints in the home city of the gospel.
Thomas Schreiner: Paul returns to one of the themes in the introduction (1:13), reminding the Romans (15:22) that he was prevented from visiting them previously. The word “therefore” (διό, dio) gives the reason for the hindrance. Paul was busy planting churches in the area extending from Jerusalem to Illyricum (v. 19). But now this work is completed, and he is free to visit the Romans and garner support from them for his Spanish mission (vv. 23–24). Meanwhile, however, he is on his way to Jerusalem to hand over the collection for the saints (v. 25). Verse 26 explains why there is a collection. The Macedonian and Achaian churches have been pleased to make a contribution. In verse 27 Paul explains (γάρ, gar, for) why such a contribution is only right. These gentiles have received spiritual blessings from the Jews, and thus it is appropriate that they in turn share their material riches. After the gift is securely deposited with the saints in Jerusalem, Paul will visit Rome on his way to Spain (v. 28). He is convinced that his arrival in Rome will be with the fullness of Christ’s blessings (v. 29).
Everett Harrison: The contemplated trip to Spain by way of Rome will have to be postponed until another mission is accomplished, namely, his impending visit to Jerusalem. So three geographical points lie commingled in the mind of the apostle: Rome as the goal of much praying, hoping, and planning; Jerusalem as the necessary stop on the way; and Spain as the ultimate objective. One can see how necessary the journey to Jerusalem was in his thinking, since otherwise the lure of the West might take precedence over everything else. So Paul explains just how important this trip to the mother church is, that his readers will understand that he is not dilatory about visiting them.
I. (:22-24) THE DESIRE FOR MUTUAL FELLOWSHIP DRIVES OUR MINISTRY PLANS
A. (:22) Priorities Impact Our Ministry Plans
“For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you;”
John Murray: In verse 22 we have a virtual repetition of what Paul had said at 1:13. The significant difference is that now he tells the reason why he had been so many times hindered from fulfilling his purpose to go to Rome. This is the force of “wherefore also”. He was hindered by the necessities of fulfilling his ministry in the regions more adjacent. He could not leave until he had fully preached the gospel in the territories in which up to date he had labored. “But now” (vs. 23) the case is different.
Frank Thielman: Despite his strong desire to come to Rome (cf. 1:13; 15:23), he had not been able to go there because of his dedication to establishing Christ-worshiping communities between Jerusalem and Illyricum. . .
What were those hindrances? Paul probably thought especially of the physical suffering he had endured as he proclaimed the gospel and instructed new believers in various places (1 Cor 4:9–13; 2 Cor 4:7–12; 6:4–10; 11:23–33; 12:10; 1 Thess 2:2). Since he was writing from Corinth just before taking his relief collection to Jerusalem (15:25–28), he may also have had especially in mind his recent, turbulent relationship with the Corinthian church (1 Cor 4:18–20; 2 Cor 1:23–2:13; 6:11–12; 7:2–16; 10:1–13:10), not least in connection with persuading the Corinthians to follow through on their original commitment to contribute to that collection (2 Cor 8:10–11).
Douglas Moo: Paul has two reasons to come to Rome:
- a negative one (the hindrance of ministry in the east has been removed)
- and a positive one (he longs to see them).
B. (:23a) Prospects (Opportunities) Impact Our Ministry Plans
“but now, with no further place for me in these regions,”
Frank Thielman: In light of his special assignment to take the gospel where Christ has not been named, the regions stretching northwest from Corinth to Illyricum and southeast to Jerusalem are no longer a good “fit” for him.
Second, Paul is ready to make a strategic change in the location of his service to the gentiles because of a long-held desire to visit God’s beloved and holy people in Rome (cf. 1:7, 10–11).
John MacArthur: But you need to be on your knees before the Lord until such a time until you clearly understand your gifts and callings and know where the opportunity that God has for you lies. And realize, too, that it may change as life goes on. But whatever it is, know it and function within it with great commitment and precision.
I think the point I want to stress is that Paul never felt, and Jesus never felt that they had to do everything in the world that could possibly be done, but rather to function with limits on the ministry consistent with the will of God. . .
Trusting in the providence of God is no excuse for a lack of planning, or a lack of purpose, or a lack of direction, or a lack of goals. There are those people who want to sit back and say, “Well, we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit lead.” That’s a poor excuse for laziness. Let me tell you something; I believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but effective ministry just doesn’t happen without very careful planning and strategizing. “Man makes his plans” – Proverbs 16 says – “but God directs his steps.” But man makes his plans. I mean we spend a lot of time around here planning. Things happen because we plan. . .
So a life of ministry in the will of God involves precision and providence and planning, priority and prosperity.
C. (:23b-24) Providence Impacts Our Ministry Plans
“and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain– for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—“
Frank Thielman: Paul hopes that after an enjoyable and substantial visit with the Roman believers, they will “send” him “on” (προπέμπω) to Spain. This expression could mean anything from sending him off “with prayers and good wishes” to outfitting him with “companions, food, money, and perhaps a means for travel by sea.” In a context like this, the term typically meant to send someone on their way in safety and with emotional support. This might involve, for example, letters of introduction, native companions for travel, or simply a supportive crowd of well-wishers at the dock (e.g., 1 Macc 12:4; Jdt 10:15; Acts 21:5; Josephus, Ant. 5.99). When Paul uses the term elsewhere, he seems to mean something more than a warm send-off: spending an entire winter in Corinth will prepare the Corinthians to send him on to Judea (1 Cor 16:6; 2 Cor 1:16), and when Titus sends Zenas and Apollos on their way, this involves seeing “that they lack nothing” (Titus 3:13). Paul himself may not have been entirely sure what the Romans would do to aid his Spanish venture, but the term communicates that he hopes at least for their heartfelt support of his journey and work there.
James Dunn: The matter is delicately broached. He wants to “visit” them and “have the full pleasure of their company for a short time,” but he is only “passing through” (v 24, 28). The sensitivities to possible misunderstanding and fear of some sort of rebuff are even more marked than in 1:11–12. He clearly wants to avoid giving any impression whatsoever either that he is covertly seeking a position of leadership and authority among them (he is not their apostle; contrast 1 Cor 9:1–2), or that he intends to abuse their hospitality (cf. Did. 11.4–5). In the midst of these implicit disclaimers comes the actual request, expressed as a hope: that they will help provision his expedition to the further west—that is, by offering some financial or personnel assistance, or as a continuing base from which communication and support would be maintained during his time in Spain. The matter is delicate, since Paul is in effect asking the Roman congregations to follow the pattern developed with the churches he himself had founded in the east—as to the provision both of financial support and of manpower as assistants and fellow workers. The manner in which Paul brings in the request probably indicates that the reports he had had of the Roman churches from those he knew there (chap. 16) had given him sufficient confidence that such a request would be well received.
John Witmer: Paul paid the Roman believers the sincere compliment that their fellowship would refresh and satisfy him spiritually (cf. 1:13). He also wanted to impart a spiritual gift to them, thereby strengthening them (1:11) and to have some spiritual harvest among them (1:13), that is, to be able to help them grow in Christ.
II. (:25-27) THE DEBT OF MUTUAL FELLOWSHIP MOTIVATES CHRISTIAN GIVING – BETWEEN THE GENTILES IN MACEDONIA AND ACHAIA AND THE JEWS IN JERUSALEM
David Thompson: The believers had a responsibility to believing Jews. 15:25-27
Paul was a man himself who gave to the work of God. One of the major financial projects that he personally undertook was a collection for the Jerusalem believers (I Corinthians 16:1-4; II Corinthians 8:1- 9:15; Romans 15:25-27).
- (Reason #1) – Because the Jews were believers. They were “saints.” 15:25
- (Reason #2) – Because the Jews were poor. 15:26
- (Reason #3) – Because the Jews were owed. 15:27
A. (:25) Obligation to Provide for the Saints in Jerusalem
“but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.”
Thomas Schreiner: But before Paul can move west he must complete his mission in the east. The but now at the beginning of v. 25 repeats the but now at the beginning of v. 23. But now there is no longer a place in the east, but now I am going to Jerusalem. The phrase indicates an important transition. Paul must round off his mission in the east by delivering a collection from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to the poor among the holy ones (or, the saints) in Jerusalem.
B. (:26) Obligation to Provide for the Poor Among the Saints in Jerusalem
“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”
Frank Thielman: Paul mentions the contributions of Macedonia and Achaia to the collection, but makes no mention of Galatia despite having raised funds for the collection there (1 Cor 16:1). Similarly, Luke names delegates from Macedonia, Galatia, and Asia, but no one from Achaia (Acts 20:4). When Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth in Achaia (16:1–2), he had just been to Macedonia (Acts 20:1–2), and so he may have only mentioned the most recent and geographically closest contributors at the time of writing. The absence of anyone from Corinth in Luke’s list is more of a mystery, but it is possible that the Corinthians decided not to send a delegate with Paul despite contributing to the collection.
Douglas Moo: Paul initiated this enterprise on his third missionary journey, requesting contributions from the Gentile churches he had planted to be sent to Jerusalem for the believers who were suffering from severe want (1 Cor. 16:1–2; 2 Cor. 8–9). In somewhat of a parenthesis, Paul now explains this “service” (Rom. 15:26–27) before continuing to discuss his plans to visit Rome (vv. 28–29). Macedonia is the Roman province that includes important Pauline churches like Philippi and Thessalonica, while Achaia includes Corinth. Paul has requested money from them, but he makes clear that they gave of their own free will: They were “pleased to make a contribution [koinonia].” Koinonia is the usual New Testament word for “fellowship” enjoyed by believers in Christ. The money sent by the Gentiles is a tangible expression of this fellowship.
John Witmer: The voluntary nature of the contribution (koinonian, “fellowship”) is stressed by the repetition of the verb were pleased (cf. Rom. 15:26-27; 2 Cor. 8:10-12). At the same time Paul recognized the churches had an obligation; Indeed they owe it to them (lit., “and they are debtors to them”). This sense of moral obligation had undoubtedly prompted Paul to suggest the offering.
C. (:27) Obligation to Provide for Those Who Have Ministered to us Spiritually
“Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them.
For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things,
they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.”
Thomas Schreiner: Indeed, not even the Romans are expected to contribute to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. Paul solicits their prayers for his visit to Jerusalem but not a contribution. . . More likely the giving of their substance signified gentile inclusion into the people of God. The acceptance of the gift by Jewish Christians was therefore of tremendous significance, since it symbolized the solidarity of Jews and gentiles in the people of God (cf. Downs 2008: 15–17), and the unity of Jews and gentiles is one of the major themes of Romans. Did Paul also believe that the collection, the symbol of gentile inclusion into the people of God, would provoke the Jews to jealousy so that they would turn and be saved? It is certainly possible that Paul hoped this would be the outcome. We know from Rom. 11 that the conversion of the gentiles would eventually provoke the Jews to jealousy so that the latter would be saved. We have no reason to doubt, therefore, that Paul may have hoped that the collection would yield such an outcome. What we must avoid is the claim that Paul certainly believed that the consequence of the collection would be Jewish jealousy and salvation. Nowhere does Paul say this, and it is eisegesis to read it into the text.
Grant Osborne: That is, if the Gentiles had received the gospel (spiritual blessings) originally from Jerusalem (where Christianity began), surely they would want to offer financial help (material blessings) to the needy poor there.
Not only that, but Paul hoped that such generosity and caring among the churches would strengthen the ties between them. The Jerusalem church, obviously made up mostly of Jews, at first had a difficult time accepting ministry to the Gentiles (see Peter’s situation in Acts 10:1 – 11:18). Some were still concerned about these mostly-Gentile churches. Gentile churches helping to meet the needs of the Jerusalem church was a sure way to maintain harmony among the believers and strengthen the bond of brotherhood.
This was not the first time a collection was taken to the church in Jerusalem. About ten years earlier, Paul and Barnabas brought a collection from the church in Antioch of Syria to help the Jerusalem church during a time of famine (Acts 11:30; 12:25). It seems that being Christian and being poor went together if one lived in Jerusalem. Christianity was not well accepted by the Jewish authorities, and when Jews became Christians they were often cut off from family and friends. The Jerusalem church probably had little means of support, so help from the other churches was needed and greatly appreciated.
F. F. Bruce: Here indeed the question suggests itself whether the contribution was understood by Paul and by the Jerusalem leaders in the same sense. For Paul it was a spontaneous gesture of brotherly love, a token of grateful response on his converts’ part to the grace of God which had brought them salvation. But in the eyes of the Jerusalem leaders it perhaps was a form of tribute, a duty owed by the daughter-churches to their mother, comparable to the half-shekel paid annually by Jews throughout the world for the maintenance of the Jerusalem temple and its services.
III. (:28-29) THE DELIGHT OF MUTUAL FELLOWSHIP SPARKS THE ANTICIPATION OF FUTURE MINISTRY – BETWEEN PAUL AND BELIEVERS IN ROME AND SPAIN
A. (:28) Anticipation of Travel to Spain
“Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs,
I will go on by way of you to Spain.”
Frank Thielman: Containers holding goods for shipment, including agricultural products such as seed, were often “sealed” (cf. σφραγισάμενος) to make any tampering evident and to insure an intact delivery. Since Paul has used so much commercial language in this context, it is likely that this metaphor follows that pattern and refers to the safe delivery of the collection.
Grant Osborne: Paul was looking forward to taking the gospel to new lands west of Rome. But even the best-laid plans may not happen as we anticipate. Eventually Paul got to Rome, but it was after having his life threatened, becoming a prisoner of Rome, enduring a shipwreck, getting bit by a poisonous snake on the island of Malta, and landing finally in Rome under arrest (see Acts 27–28)! Tradition says that Paul was released for a time, and that he used this opportunity to go to Spain to preach the Good News. This journey is not mentioned in the book of Acts.
Everett Harrison: He speaks of the gift as “this fruit” (v. 29), probably meaning that the generosity of the Jerusalem church in dispersing the seed of the gospel to other Gentiles will now be rewarded, the offering being the fruit of their willingness to hare their spiritual blessings.
B. (:29) Anticipation of Sharing the Blessing of Christ
“And I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ.”
Thomas Schreiner: The thought is similar to 1:11, where he anticipates sharing a spiritual gift with the Romans. Paul knows that ministry will occur when he comes to Rome, and both the Romans and he will be strengthened.
John Murray: This is the blessing which Christ imparts and Paul is convinced that his presence in Rome would be accompanied by the fullness of this blessing. No term could more appropriately express the full measure of the blessing anticipated We are liable to think of the rich blessing that would accompany his ministry. This is without doubt in view. But we may not restrict the thought thus. The terms indicate that he will come thither in the possession of the fullness of Christ’s blessing. This evinces the confidence of Christ’s abiding presence in the plentitude of his grace and power. And it is also the key to the boldness with which Paul had planned his journey to the seat of empire and to the limits of the west. Although we may not press the terms of the sentence to convey this meaning, nevertheless, we cannot exclude from Paul’s total thought (cf. 1:12; 15:24) the assurance that the fullness of Christ’s blessing would also be imparted to the believers at Rome.