6 March 2014Romans 15:14-33
“I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you.” (v. 23)
It is tempting to think that this is part of a coda to the letter. One of the most important theological tracts in the history of the Church moves here to dealing with more practical details. Paul is talking about his travel plans. But great theological themes are still present. When Paul talks about boasting of what God has done, we are reminded of the discussion in Romans 5:1-11. Paul has had a remarkable ministry, but the credit is Christ's. He talks about his ministry as the "priestly service of the gospel" (v. 16).
There are some puzzles about this passage if we compare it to the account in Acts. Paul says that he has taken the gospel (good news about Jesus) as far as Illyricum, but that is further north than anywhere Luke (the writer of Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles) records. Paul is making a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. We might assume that the journey to Jerusalem that Paul is planning here is the one mentioned in Acts 19:21 (where we are told that Paul decided to go to Jerusalem), but we hear nothing in Luke's account about a collection.
If the decision of Acts 19:21 and the plans in this passage are the same, things did not work out as Paul had planned. Paul wants to visit Rome, not to evangelise the Romans, but to use Rome as a stepping stone to the next part of his mission, to Spain. We do not know who first took the gospel to the imperial city, but Paul was not intending to build on top of someone else's work. His vocation was to preach good news to those who had not previously had an opportunity to hear it. What happened, we know from Acts, is that Paul was taken to Rome after more than two years as a prisoner in Judaea. Perhaps, though, there is an hint in Paul's request for prayer (verses 30-31) that he was aware of the danger of returning to Jerusalem.
- When we do something well for God, can we talk about it without 'boasting'? Or should we 'boast' about what Christ has done in and through us? Why?
- Paul believes that prayer is vital to support his work. How diligent is your church in praying for those who serve Christ in difficult missions?
- Paul arrives in Rome eventually (Acts 28:14) in a very different manner from that which he envisaged. What times have there been in your life when something to which you aspired has happened in a different way from what you expected?