Romans (Part 51) – The Offering (15:14–33)
So Paul’s mission goal, as apostle to the Gentiles, was to present the gospel to Gentiles and incorporate them in the believing church. As Paul discovered, incorporating them into the church was a struggle. A clash occurred with the Jews who often misunderstood their heritage and its Law to be needed as part of the church rather than having faded as part of the path to the church. Paul argued extensively to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans of being unified in Christ, appreciating God’s plan through the Jews but no longer depending on it for their lives of faith. And the offering that Paul was collecting from among the Gentiles for the Jerusalem church (overwhelmingly Jewish) was to symbolize that incorporation and unity. Paul called the offering his “boast.” He takes pride in it, not as a selfish pursuit and accomplishment, but rather as the instruction and blessing of God. And that understanding aligns well with his boasting in other letters, such as in 1 Corinthians where he says in 1:30–31, “But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” Paul is quoting there from Jeremiah 9:24. Therefore, this matter of boasting in the Lord is a communal pride of the people of God for our God and his work of restoration. As a result, Paul states in 15:19 that he had brought the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Now this claim seems confusing because this verse is the only one in the whole Bible that mentions Illyricum. When did Paul go to Illyricum? Where in the world is Illyricum?
Illyricum is a province just as Macedonia and Achaia are. It lies north west of Macedonia on the Adriatic, about where the current nation of Albania is. We have no discussion in Acts or any of Paul’s letters about traveling to Illyricum, but it is not a far-fetched idea. Paul traveled through Macedonia once on his second missionary journey and twice on his third. The Egnatian Way, a Roman road built about two centuries earlier, ran from Thrace through Macedonia and on to Illyricum. So we can imagine Paul heading up that way on one of his trips through Macedonia.
While his mission goal was to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and to see them accepted and incorporated in the unified church, Paul’s usual mission activity (as he mentions in 15:20–22) was to go to places where the gospel had not yet been preached. His motivation to not build on another’s foundation was again not for selfish reasons. Rather, it was his ministry call. And that is why, Paul explains, that he had been prevented previously from going to Rome. The church at Rome was already established, so God wanted Paul to continue his work in the Greek provinces first.
As Paul continues to discuss his plans, however, he lets them know in verses 23 and 24 that since his work in Greece was complete, he would, in keeping with his usual ministry activity, head for another area that did not yet have the gospel—Spain. And in his travels to Spain, he planned to stop in Rome to see them and still solidify his mission goal of the unification of Jews and Gentiles in the church.
As soon as Paul mentions going to Rome, he explains that he currently was planning to head for Jerusalem. He explains that the churches in Macedonia and Achaia had generously provided an offering that he would carry with him for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Paul mentions that the Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia gave because it was the right thing to do. They had shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, so they should share with them of their material blessings.
Now why is Paul telling the Romans this? This is classic Paul dropping overly obvious hints of something he wants them to do. He wants the Gentiles who dominate the church in Rome to do the same thing—take a collection to provide for the needs of the Christian Jews in Jerusalem. So Paul mentions that as soon as he delivers the offering, he is coming to them. And, he says, he is coming in the fullness of blessing. He had just explained both what the Greek Gentiles did for the Jews and why—because it was right to share blessing, and then he tells the Roman Gentiles he is coming to them to share the blessing of the gospel that had come through the Jews. The Romans were not dull. They surely picked up on Paul’s hint to prepare their own offering. And in doing so, they would be uniting their hearts with their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Paul concludes in verses 30 through 33 introducing his appeal as one of love—in Christ and of the Spirit. He wants the Romans to pray with him for these goals: that he would be rescued from unbelievers, that the monetary offering would be acceptable (which was his mission goal among the Jews—for them to accept the Gentiles), and that they would have joy and refreshing (which was his mission goal for the Roman church—for them to accept the Jews).