7 May 2021Romans 15:14-21
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me (v. 18)
This paragraph begins to wind up Paul’s ‘letter’ to the Romans – actually, his long and complex treatise. If you were a church member in Rome (which Paul had not yet visited) and received this, would you not be anxious about his arrival in person? Even Paul begins to recognise this. Verse 14 has a note of flattery about it, as well as respect. He is not going to turn their world upside down. But they must know that, above all else, Paul was an advocate and cheerleader for Gentiles: they must hear the gospel and must have full and equal membership in the Church alongside Jewish Christians.
Paul’s vocation was to visit place after place and preach directly to Gentiles. Wonderful conversions took place and churches were founded (and sometimes local Jews also became converts). But this was only because Christ was at work through Paul. And the power of the Spirit was evident. Through the Spirit, Paul’s gospel ministry was priestly: his Gentile converts were the pure and holy sacrifice he offered to God.
Paul’s usual policy was to be a pioneer preacher, evangelising where Christ was unknown. (Isaiah 52:15 is cited in support, verse 21.) He planted churches and then moved on quickly. While offering prayerful support from a distance, he trusted his congregations to evangelise locally. In fact phase one of his personal global ministry was now completed (verse 19). He had founded congregations throughout the eastern Roman empire – in an arc from Jerusalem as far as Albania on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea (Illyricum). Now he must tackle phase two, in Spain, in the western empire.
But he needed to visit Rome on his way there, partly to check that the Gentile Christians living in Rome were fully accepted in the predominantly Jewish congregation(s) and were also staying humble. (Probably his almost apologetic phrase ‘rather boldly’ in verse 15 – a polite way of saying ‘fiercely and uncompromisingly’ – refers to the parts of his ‘letter’ about the relations between Jews and Gentiles.) Mainly, however, his visit to Rome was to win support for his new venture.
- Paul’s passion to ensure the inclusion of the Gentiles alongside Jews in Christ’s community of faith challenges contemporary Christians to check whether there are any examples of ‘second-class members' in the modern Church. How is it in your congregation? Is there anything that needs attention, and if so what will you yourself do about it?
- Paul’s gospel was that, pardoned by God through the death of Jesus and inwardly transformed towards holiness by the gift of the Holy Spirit, everyone is called to the service of Jesus. But forms of service are extraordinarily diverse. In what service does the Spirit inspire you to deploy your gifts and experience, both in the Church and in wider society?