We have noted before that the book of Romans is a fundraising letter. The fact that it is so strikingly different from modern Christian fundraising letters tells us all we need to know about the attitude of the modern church to money . . . and to the gospel.
“For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; Whensoever I take my journey into Spain . . .” (Rom. 15:22-33),
Summary of the Text
Since Paul did not plant the church in Rome, his desire not to meddle with another man’s foundation had kept him from visiting the Roman church (v. 22). But now, done with his current work, and because he could hit Rome on the way to Spain, he thought to indulge a desire of many years and visit them now (vv. 23-24). But before heading west, Paul was going to go to Jerusalem first (v. 25). His ministry there was a financial one, delivering a contribution from Macedonia and Achaia (v. 26). The Gentiles of Greece had an obligation to do this, because they were beneficiaries of the spiritual inheritance of the Jews (v. 27). After Paul had performed this duty, what he called a “sealing of fruit,” he intended to visit Rome on his way to Spain (v. 28; cf. Rom. 1:8-15). He clearly would love the support of the Romans in this endeavor. When he comes, he is sure that he will do so in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel (v. 29). Paul then beseeches their prayer support (v. 30) for his pending trip to Judea. He asks for three things. The first is that he would be spared from the unbelievers of Judea (v. 31). The second is that his financial ministry would be acceptable to the saints there (v. 31). The third is that his subsequent trip to Rome would result in mutual refreshment and joy in the will of God (v. 32). Paul then finishes with a benediction (v. 33).
Paul’s Unknown Travels
We have already noted that this letter was written in the mid-fifties. As we can read in the book of Acts, this trip that Paul was requesting prayer for was a trip that in fact needed a great deal of prayer. He was received by the saints gladly (Acts 21:17), meaning one of his requests was answered. But the unbelievers he mentioned here successfully got a tumult going (Acts 21:27-28), with the result that Paul was arrested/rescued by a centurion. Held for a time by Felix and then Festus, Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, and was shipped off to Rome (Acts 27:1). The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest (Acts 28:30-31), and we are still in the fifties. According to Clement of Rome, a friend of Paul’s, the apostle “taught righteousness to the whole world, having traveled to the limits of the west” (1 Clement 5:7). This refers to Spain, and possibly Britain. Paul wasn’t executed by Nero until the persecution broke out in 64 A.D., so it is safe to presume that Paul was released after the end of Acts, made his way west, and was subsequently rearrested.
A Different Kind of Fundraising
Paul knows the necessity of fundraising. He also knows and fully understands the necessity of not doing it in a way that discredits the gospel. Indeed, the gospel is to be honored and spread by this means, and Paul knows that in order for the Romans to support his work with a clean conscience, he needed to set the gospel he preached before them, and he does so by means of a full synopsis.
Unlike so many, Paul says, he is not a huckster peddling the Word of God (2 Cor. 2:17). So many? That is a telling indictment, and we still need to be reminded of it today. At the same time, to walk away from the responsibility of raising money is to be negligent in ministry. The people of God need to be taught these financial principles. Consider how often Paul addresses it. The one taught should share all good things with the one who teaches (Gal. 6: 6-9). The spiritual nature of ministry does not mean that it runs on air (1 Cor. 9:7, 14).
Generosity in financial matters is a spiritual form of farming (2 Cor. 9:6-7). At the same time, it is important to avoid any appearance of impropriety (2 Cor. 8:20). Paul is exceptionally sensitive at this point (Phil. 4:17), but not so sensitive that he withholds the truth from Christians (Phil. 4:10).
The Fellowship of Money
The word used for “contribution” in Rom. 15:26 is the word for fellowship, koinonia. A verb form of the same root is used in Phil. 4:14, when he says that the Philippians shared with him in his trouble. He does the same in Gal. 6: 6. When Paul takes the gift from Greece to Jerusalem, he does so in order to minister to them. The word is related to diakonos, and refers to service ministry. And the word for the Gentiles ministering in v. 27 is another word we discussed before—leitourgos. This whole subject has to do with religious and priestly service.
Now whenever finances are brought up in a sermon, it is often the case that all God’s people say, uh oh. But all I need to say here is that as a congregation you have been extraordinarily generous with your time, your expertise, your money, your hands, and your homes. The only exhortation I would give you is to make sure you don’t grow slack in this privilege, and that you redouble your efforts to do all this more and more (1 Thess. 4:1,10). There are profound blessings here. To have the reputation of a generous people is good, but not good enough. You should want to be more generous than that.
As believers devoted to generosity, we don’t want to save up guilt-edged securities. Gilt is superficial, but guilt goes all the way down and contaminates everything. You have heard many times that guilt is a poor motivator in giving. But notice what happens when we move this whole subject into the sanctuary. We confess our sins at the beginning of the service, and we hear the words of peace spoken over us from God. That means that when the offering is brought forward, the whole thing is a delight. The offering is part of the consecration offering, and is not part of the guilt offering. Jesus made that offering for us.