Wikipedia defines obligations as, “A course of action that someone is required to take, whether legal or moral. There are also obligations in other normative contexts, such as obligations of etiquette, social obligations, and possibly in terms of politics, where obligations are requirements which must be fulfilled. These are generally legal obligations, which can incur a penalty for non-fulfilment, although certain people are obliged to carry out certain actions for other reasons as well, whether as a tradition or for social reasons.”
I think we all understand obligations, we all have them. In this section of Romans 15, in verses 22-29, we see Paul fulfilling obligations that he had, and we see the Gentiles fulfilling an obligation that they had. This section is essentially Paul’s answer to the question, “Why haven’t you visited Rome yet?”
For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; Romans 15:22 NASB
“For this reason”—points back to verse 20:
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; Romans 15:20 NASB
Paul’s drive was to go to virgin territory where the Gospel had never been heard. This is why he had not yet been to Rome. He was so busy doing what was his priority ministry, doing what God had called him to do. The fact that he has been preaching to the Gentiles and evangelizing is what hindered him from coming to Rome.
“I have often been prevented from coming to you”—the verb "prevented" is a very interesting verb, it is egkopto, it literally means to: “cut out, or to cut in” and has the idea etymologically of a sort of a fortress and here comes an enemy and in order to prevent the enemy from getting to the fortress, they would cut a deep trench. And from that etymological root it came to mean anything that's cut as an impediment or a hindrance in the path of attack. And so Paul is saying, I've always seemed to have a big trench in the way that prevented me from coming. The fact that it's an imperfect tense indicates that this was a continual kind of hindrance, and that it is passive denotes that someone else was putting it there. Who was hindering him from coming to them?:
For we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, more than once--and yet Satan hindered us. 1 Thessalonians 2:18 NASB
Here it was Satan that hindered him, but in our text it is not Satan. In our text it was Yahweh who hindered him by giving him a burden to go to virgin territory. Paul knew his calling, and he stuck to it.
What if Paul had gone to Rome earlier; we might not have the letter to the Romans,
which beyond all question is the greatest of all of Paul’s letters. It is the ultimate statement of his theology of God, sin, and salvation. Martin Luther begins his preface to his Commentary on Romans this way:
“This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.”
The implication of verse 22 is that Paul had planned to come to visit Rome but was hindered. What is implied here is stated in:
I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. Romans 1:13 NASB
So Paul had planned to come to them, but was hindered in doing so. I don’t know of anyone who believed more strongly in the absolute sovereignty of God than Paul, and yet Paul made plans. Providence does not preclude planning. So Paul made plans, but didn’t get upset when Yahweh changed them. And what we notice about Paul’s plans is that they are spiritual. He was planning ministry.
What are your spiritual plans? Do you have any? We plan so many things, but often fail to plan for our spiritual lives. Do you have ministry plans? Do you plan to read through the Bible? Do you plan study time?
but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you Romans 15:23 NASB
“But now”—things are different. “With no further place for me in these regions”—Paul said in verse 19, “From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.”Did he mean that everyone in the wide span from Jerusalem all the way up to Albania and across the peninsula of Greece had already heard the Gospel? That’s certainly not the case because he told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist”:
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:5 NASB
When Paul said that there was “no further place for me” he implied that the Gospel had been sufficiently planted that it would continue to grow and multiply in those regions. Churches had been established that would now be able to further penetrate their local region with the Gospel. Paul was saying that his calling was to be a church planter.
“Since I have had for many years a longing to come to you”—Paul is reiterating what he told them in the beginning of the letter:
always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; Romans 1:10-11 NASB
“Long” is from the Greek epipotheo, which means: “to intensely crave.” The present tense of the verb suggests that Paul had a great longing that only intensified with the years. No one in Rome could doubt his deep love for a church he has never visited. The long list of names in chapter 16 demonstrates his intimate knowledge of the congregation.
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-- Romans 15:24 NASB
“Whenever I go to Spain”—Why Spain? Spain was considered the end of the world. Clement of Rome, around A.D. 95, called it “the limits of the West.” It was the western edge of the continent. That was it. That was as far as you could go. And Rome had opened up Spain because they had Roman roads going all the way to Spain.
To this very day you can see the ruins of Roman architecture in Spain. The greatest Spaniard in the Roman Empire was a man named Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, tutor of Nero and Prime Minister of the Roman Empire.
Did Paul ever make it to Spain? The New Testament does not tell us for certain that he did, but Clement tells us that Paul did. Two other ancient documents from the late second century make the same affirmation, though with these being external witnesses and no biblical affirmation, we’re still left with uncertainty.
Whether Paul made it to Spain or not is not the issue. The point is that Paul continued to make plans for the expansion of the Gospel where Christ was not named.
Paul was not passive when it came to his role in mission. He was forward looking. His plan was to leave Corinth from where he was writing; travel to Jerusalem with a financial gift from the Macedonians and Corinthians; then go to Rome where he would spend some time with the Christian communit; and then, being helped on his way by them, travel about a week on ship to the eastern coast of Spain or travel for several weeks via the Roman road system that would have taken him along the coast of northern Italy, southern France, along the edge of the Pyrenees into Spain.
“I hope to see you in passing”—the word “passing” is from the Greek diaporeuomai, which means, “to cause to pass through a place, to carry across, to journey through a place, go through, to travel through.” Paul didn't want to spend a long time in Rome. Why? Rome was the chief city of the Roman Empire, it is therefore the most important city in the world. What happens in Rome matters more than what happens in Athens, Corinth, or Antioch or even Jerusalem. Rome rules the world. Why not drop everything and go to Rome, strengthen the church, and build a stronger base for the Gospel? Do you know why? I believe it’s the same reason that he had not been there yet. His priority was church planting where Christ had not been named. Notice what he says next, “And to be helped on my way there by you”—the phrase “helped on my way” is from the Greek verb propempo, which is a technical term. Every time it's used in the New Testament, which is nine times, it is used strictly to define the ancient custom in the early church of furnishing an escort and all the necessary supplies to accompany someone setting out on a missionary journey.
His purpose for passing through Rome is clear, he wants their support for his mission to Spain, and he wants to fellowship with them. Paul is saying, I want to see you, and then I want you to support me when I go on beyond that on my way to Spain. We could say that Romans is a missionary support letter. Paul wanted in Rome a home base from which the Gospel would go out to Spain and the western Mediterranean world. Paul wanted to move on to a new base in Rome to carry the Gospel to the West. His base in the East had been Antioch.
“When I have first enjoyed your company for a while”—Paul wanted to go to the Roman church because there's nothing he enjoyed more than communion with the redeemed people of God to refresh his spirit:
I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. 1 Corinthians 16:17-18 NASB
Paul wanted to enjoy the company of the redeemed community. The blessing and ministry of fellowship is also seen in:
But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; 2 Corinthians 7:6 NASB
God comforted them through Titus. God works through His people.
but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. Romans 15:25 NASB
“But now”—Paul wanted to come to Rome and then on to Spain, but not quite yet, he had another priority that was a first priority, it really was an obligation. And this obligation would cause him to go one thousand miles in the opposite direction.
“I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints”—Even though Paul really wants to go to Rome, he still doesn’t go to Rome. Instead, he takes a two-thousand-mile detour to Jerusalem. Paul at this time had been in Corinth for nearly 18 months. He wrote as though he were leaving almost immediately for Jerusalem. This would be Paul's fifth visit to the city of Jerusalem so far as the Book of Acts is concerned. He thought it was important, evidently, since he interrupted his evangelistic program in order to carry out this particular visit. I think that he not only thought it important because it would be the means of helping the physical condition of those poor Christians in Jerusalem, but he wanted to give a visible representation, be a part of it, of the union that existed between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ. This was a visible representation of the nature of the church of Christ. Jew and Gentile in one body through the Holy Spirit.
There was poverty in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not a wealthy area. Keep in mind that the Jews lived under the authority of Rome and existed at the pleasure of Rome. Poverty was widespread throughout the Roman Empire, so it would be likely that Judea had its share. The poverty came about from a lot of things: It came about because there was overcrowding in Jerusalem; it came about because there were many people who came to Jerusalem, heard the Gospel, were saved, and never went home; and they had to sort of move in with people, and people didn't have a lot and so there was poverty.
We know from Acts 11:28 in the Bible and from the Jewish historian Josephus outside the Bible (Antiquities iii. 15. 3; xx. 2. 5; 5. 2) that there was a famine in Judea between A.D. 44 and 48. That may have been part of the reason for such a dire need among the Christians in Jerusalem. Also, because of the hatred of many Jews toward Yeshua and His followers, which generated persecution and dispossession of homes and the loss of jobs and even imprisonment; they were throwing them into prison in Acts chapter 8; they were breathing out threatening and slaughter against them so the Christians had a very difficult time in earning a living.
So Paul had been collecting an offering for the Jerusalem saints on his missionary trips, and now he was taking it to Jerusalem. Paul takes this offering to the poor in Jerusalem himself to underline the importance of ministry to the poor. He could have sent the offering by someone else. But he takes it himself at a tremendous cost. I believe that Paul saw this as his obligation, he had promised to remember the poor:
and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NASB
Perhaps already at the time of this meeting there was a crisis in Jerusalem and many Christians were destitute. Peter, then, would be saying: “Paul don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget your people. Don’t forget the poor.” Paul in essence gave his right hand to Peter, and said, “I won’t forget.”
Paul came to the end of Galatians and wrote in chapter 6:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6:10 NASB
Paul had a burden for the poor in Jerusalem, and he was going there himself to take them the money he had raised:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Romans 15:26 NASB
Achaia was the place where Corinth was located, this is where Paul is writing from. The Macedonians made a very generous contribution:
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 NASB
The word “participation” here is koinonia, it is the word for fellowship. It is the same word used in Romans 15:26 for “contribution.” Sharing money is so essential a part of fellowship that three times in referring to this collection Paul uses the word koinonia. He calls the collection, “fellowship, common sharing.” When we speak of Christian fellowship we are inclined to think simply of Christians who get together and have a meal together discussing the affairs of the day.
Why was this trip to Jerusalem so important that Paul can’t simply hand it off to someone else to do in Jerusalem, and then head west to Rome and on to Spain? What’s the big deal about taking this money to Jerusalem? Paul is demonstrating that the prophecy of the restoration of Israel was being fulfilled. Israel is being restored by the Messiah in the establishment of the Church.
Keep in mind that when Paul went back with the money, he also took representatives of all those churches so when he came to Jerusalem he not only had a large amount of money for the poor, but he had representatives from all the Gentile churches there with the money. Let me show you why this is important. Look with me at Isaiah 60, this is a Messianic prophecy. It concerns the restoration of Israel; the calling of the Gentiles, and how the Gentiles would view restored Israel:
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. "For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. "And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. "Lift up your eyes round about, and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms. "Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. Isaiah 60:1-5 NASB
The word "nations" here could be and should be translated: "Gentiles." Notice verse 3, “Nations will come to your light.”Paul is coming to Jerusalem bringing with him representatives of the Gentiles who are worshipers of Yahweh. Notice verse 5, "The wealth of the Gentiles will come to you." Who is the "you"? It is restored Israel. God said that when Israel was saved, the Gentiles would also come to the light, and the Gentiles would give their wealth to Israel. These two groups hated each other, and the Gentiles would have never wilfully given wealth to Israel. But in Christ they are now brothers. So out of love they do what they normally would never have done.
When the believers at Antioch sent a contribution to Judea, the Gentiles were bringing their wealth to Israel. They were, in fact, fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah 60 finds its fulfillment in Jew and Gentile worshiping God together as one body.
By the picture of Paul going to Jerusalem with representatives of the Gentiles and Gentile money he is showing that God's prophecies to Israel are being fulfilled. Israel is being restored. This restoration is not physical, as so many today assume. And if we didn't have the New Testament to expound on these prophecies, we could see how people would assume they were physical. But these prophecies are being fulfilled in the Church, the true Israel. To see this, look with me at Isaiah:
"And foreigners will build up your walls, And their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, And in My favor I have had compassion on you. "And your gates will be open continually; They will not be closed day or night, So that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, With their kings led in procession. "For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, And the nations will be utterly ruined. "The glory of Lebanon will come to you, The juniper, the box tree, and the cypress together, To beautify the place of My sanctuary; And I shall make the place of My feet glorious. "And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. "Whereas you have been forsaken and hated With no one passing through, I will make you an everlasting pride, A joy from generation to generation. "You will also suck the milk of nations, And will suck the breast of kings; Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:10-16 NASB
Apart from the New Covenant truth, we would view this as a physical restoration. But the New Testament writers give us the true meaning of these verses:
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: 'I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 'Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie-- behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Revelation 3:7-9 NASB
Who would say they were Jews, but weren't? Physical Israel. Yeshua said that an unbelieving Jew was of the synagogue of Satan. A true Jew, a true Israelite is one who has trusted in Yeshua the Christ and has been circumcised in heart.
Those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are not those who are Jews ethnically or outwardly. But those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are those who are Jews spiritually and inwardly. Notice that what Yeshua says in Revelation 3:9, He is quoting from the text we read from Isaiah 60:
"And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 60:14 NASB
If we were an Old Covenant Jew, we would understand this prophecy of Isaiah as our Gentile enemies being subservient to us. But Yeshua uses this verse and applies it to the Church, that is true Israel, and it is Old Covenant Israel that is persecuting the Church. Yeshua said that the Old Covenant Jews were going to come and bow before the feet of the Church, the true Israel of God.
So in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem we see the true fulfillment, the spiritual fulfillment of Isaiah 60. For Gentiles to give money for Jewish Christians was a sign that the Gentiles regarded them as members of the same family; for Jewish Christians to accept it would be a sign that they in turn accepted the Gentiles as part of their family. This symbolizes the solidarity of Jews and Gentiles in the people of God.
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. Romans 15:27 NASB
“They were pleased to do so”—he says this twice. They weren’t under compulsion, they wanted to give, they begged for the privilege to give:
begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 2 Corinthians 8:4 NASB
Today it’s not the people begging to give, but the preachers begging them to give.
“They are indebted to them”—even though they did it willingly they certainly were in debt to the Jews. “For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things”—the Gospel came through the Lord Yeshua the Christ who was a Jew. It was preached by Jewish apostles in fulfillment of the First Testament, which was written by Jewish authors. Yeshua even said in John 4:22, "Salvation is of the Jews." We are all indebted to that. Further more, the first church in Jerusalem was Jewish, and it was that first church that sent out the first missionaries to Antioch seven years after its founding to evangelize the first group of Gentiles. It was the Jew Paul who reached the Gentiles. The Gentile church owes its life on a human level to Jewish preachers, teachers, evangelists, and missionaries.
Remember what Paul said in Romans 11, he said that Gentiles are like wild olive branches that were grafted into the rich root of the natural olive tree, that is, the covenant made with Israel. So Gentiles have their spiritual life and hope and blessing because they have become Jewish by belonging to the Messiah. We are attached to the Jewish root.
The spiritual blessings we enjoy—forgiveness of sins, justification by faith, and reconciliation with God; all of these are owing to our being connected to the seed of Abraham, namely, Yeshua the Christ (Galatians 3:16).
That is, if the Gentile believers received the Gospel as a result of Jewish Christian witness they have an obligation to help the Jewish Christian brethren materially. Paul links this by using the word koinonia that is translated as “contribution.” The “contribution” is literally “a sharing in” or “a fellowship in.” The verb “have shared” is the same root word, indicating that both the giving and receiving of the Gospel and financial support is part of the connection that believers have together in the larger church.
“They are indebted to minister to them also in material things”—minister is the word leitourgeo from which we get liturgy. It means to act as an official priest giving an offering. In 2 Corinthians 9:12 this very offering is called leitourgos, a priestly act. The Gentiles come, as it were, like priests offering their money to the Jews in gratitude.
Paul says that they are “indebted” twice, this is from the Greek word opheilo, which means: “to be under obligation.” Paul is saying that the believing Gentiles have a financial obligation to the believing Jews. Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians:
If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? 1 Corinthians 9:11 NASB
The "if" is a first class condition in the Greek and could be translated: "since." Since I have taught you about the Lord, since I have taught you about spiritual things, since I have encouraged you in the Word of God, shouldn't you provide material things for me?
I think that this is a New Covenant principle that those who teach the Word should be materially provided for by those they teach. What do you think of that?:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." 1 Timothy 5:17-18 NASB
We are to support those elders who rule well. The word rule is proistemi, which means "to lead, care for, manage, guide, and protect." We are also to support those who work hard at preaching and teaching. That is those who give themselves to study of the Word of God. So we are to give to support the Bible teachers of the Church:
And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Galatians 6:6 NASB
The word Paul utilizes for "the one who is taught," is the Greek word katecheo, which is the word we use for catechize. Its basic meaning is: "to instruct." The use of the present passive participle demonstrates that Paul means these believers are involved in a regular, ongoing ministry of being taught the Word of God. It was not a sporadic participation, but a normal part of the Christian's life to be instructed in the Word of God. We will do well to maintain this practice.
While the believer is to be "taught," there are also those "who teach." The church must exist on the basis of those who instruct others in the Scriptures. Let programs go! Let pageantry go! Let big organization go! But do not diminish the ministry of teaching the Word of God! And what is to be the content being taught? "And let the one who is taught the word" explains that it is the clear, unadulterated Word of God (Greek: logos), which is to be expounded regularly to others in the body of Christ. In a day when teaching the Word has taken a backseat to all sorts of other activities, we must be steadfast in its priority.
The word for "share" is a present imperative verb. This gives it the force of a command, not a suggestion. It also implies that this is to be the regular practice and duty of the Christian who is being taught. I see the Scriptures as teaching that if you are being taught the Bible, you have an obligation to financially support the one teaching you. I really think that is self evident. If you benefit from what we do here at BBC, you must realize that it cost us to do it, which would mean that if you are benefitting from what we do here, you ought to be helping support this work. Is it right for you to benefit and others pay for it? Unless you are a Socialist I would think that you would understand this.
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. Romans 15:28 NASB
Paul says that when he finishes taking the offering to Jerusalem he will then stop and see them on his way to Spain. “And have put my seal on this fruit of theirs”—since “sealing” something is the last act before handing it over, Paul is simply saying, “When the matter is complete.”
“I will go on by way of you to Spain”—think of what Paul had been through this far. By Western standards, he was due a good, secure retirement where he could relax every day and leisurely cruise the Mediterranean in his spare time. That’s Western thought, but not biblical thought. Paul just wanted to count for Yeshua until his dying breath. That meant the extension of the Gospel remained his objective until the Lord took him home.
I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Romans 15:29 NASB
Not only does he fully expect to come to Rome, he also fully expects to come with the blessing of the Lord. How did he know that? He knew that because he always lived in the place of blessing, no matter how negative his circumstance may have been, he enjoyed the blessing of God. Beneath those words lies a bedrock faith in God’s sovereignty over the details of life.
Paul’s life was far from easy, yet he had learned in every situation to be content—whether in ease or in enormous difficulty (Philippians 4:11-12)—through the strength that Christ provided (v. 13). How can a man be content while being beaten again and again and suffering so many trials? The answer must be that Paul had a big view of God, one so large that it encompassed the worst that could happen to him. The bigger your God, the greater will be your capacity to survive the darkest moments of life.
So Paul was careful to fulfill his obligations, and Paul exhorted others to fulfill their obligations. Do you know what your spiritual obligations are? Are you fulfilling them?
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