Saturday, June 28, 2014

Paul’s Thanksgiving (Prayer)

Let me (Paul) say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in Him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about His Son. One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. Romans 1:8-15 (NLT)

Paul begins his Roman letter with thanksgiving (Romans 1:8-15) as with his other letters (e.g. see 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). All access to God, whether through prayer (John 15:16) or thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17), is through Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul was eager to visit Rome. One of the burdens of Paul's prayer was that God would allow him to visit Rome. Paul would have visited Rome sooner, but his missionary work in the eastern churches had kept him busy (Romans 15:15-33). Paul did not establish the church in Rome and had never visited Rome. So the Roman letter is Paul’s letter of introduction to the Roman church and his preparation to visit. Paul’s eagerness to visit Rome was not of a sightseer, but the eagerness of a soul-winner of the Gospel (Good News). As God's missionary, Paul wanted to share with the Roman church the true meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:10-13). After his experience with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9; see also Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18), Paul’s entire life was consumed with spreading the Good News of Christ's resurrection and salvation to all people — both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:16-17). Actually, the book of Romans is Paul’s explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Roman church.

The Roman church was at the world's political power center and highly visible. In Paul’s day, Rome was the center of the world in every way: law, culture, power, and learning. “All roads led to Rome.” Fortunately, the Roman church had a good reputation and a strong faith (or faithfulness) and the “whole world” knew of the faith of the Christians at Rome (Romans 1:8; Romans 15:20-22). So strong was the faith of these Romans that Paul speaks of them in worldwide terms. Paul wanted to visit the church at Rome so he could teach the Christians there (Romans 1:9-10). Moreover, Paul longed to encourage and also to receive encouragement from the Roman church (Romans 1:11-12). He was looking forward to a time of mutual blessing in the love of Jesus Christ.  

Before Paul could visit the Roman church, he had to complete his work in Corinth, the city from which he most likely wrote this Roman letter. Paul believed that he had finished what God wanted him to do in the eastern Mediterranean and was looking forward to taking the Gospel ("spiritual blessings") to the new lands of Rome and onto Spain (Romans 15:23-24). The need to plant and nourish churches in the eastern Mediterranean had occupied Paul. Paul's future plan was to spread the Gospel message into western Mediterranean – Rome and onto Spain. Before Paul could visit the Romans church, he first needed to return to Jerusalem to deliver a gift of money collected from the Gentile churches for the needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-29). After leaving Jerusalem to deliver the gift, Paul hoped to be able to travel from Jerusalem to Rome, and then on to Spain. Paul had a desire to preach the Gospel in Spain where no man had laid a Christian foundation. Rome was to be a stopover for that journey as he proceeded to Spain. Paul wanted to use the Roman church as a base of operation for a mission to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28).

But before coming to Rome, Paul had to return to Jerusalem to make a certain contribution for the poor Jewish Christians at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-29). One of the most important missions Paul had during his third journey was the gathering of a special offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-31; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1). The Jewish church in Jerusalem has fallen on hard time. The period of A.D.50s had significant time for Palestine with droughts and storms that destroyed the crops. So, the Jerusalem church had fallen into dire poverty. During his third missionary journey, Paul had collected money for the poor believers in Jerusalem. Details about this collection are recorded in 2 Corinthians 8-9. The churches in Macedonia—Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea—had given money sacrificially even though they too were poor (2 Corinthians 8:2-5). Paul wanted to personally present the gift to the Jerusalem Christians as an act of Christian love (Romans 15:25-26). More importantly, Paul intended to accompany the offering from these Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in hopes of uniting or reconciling in fellowship the Jewish and Gentile Christians (see also Psalms 133). Paul hoped the material gifts of Gentile love would help to build some bridges between the churches. The gift represented the love and concern of the Gentile churches for their Jewish brothers and sister in Christ living in Jerusalem. Sadly in the first century, there was fraction or division among the Gentile and Jewish Christian churches. Unfortunately, there were still Jews Christians who opposed the message of God’s grace to the Gentiles preached by Paul and who wanted the Gentiles to become Jews and accept the Jewish Law. Yet, the power of the Gospel was to reconcile a holy God to an unholy people (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and also to reconcile the Jews and Gentiles (Romans 13:8-10). Paul saw the division in the church as a direct denial of the power of the Gospel.

Even more, the Gentile contributions also recognized the moral debt they owed to the Jerusalem church which had first spread the Gospel. The Gentiles Christians had received spiritual wealth from the Jews Christians. Paul considered the Gentile Christians debtors to the Jews, for it was the Jews who gave to the Gentiles the Jesus Christ – the Word of God and the Son of God (John 1:1-14). Thus, Paul believed the Gentile Christians ought to feel an obligation to Israel, and to pay that debt by praying for Israel, sharing the Gospel, and helping in a material way.

Yet, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with the love offering did not bring the reconciliation and did not solve the problem of Jews and Gentiles. In Acts 21, Luke indicated the hostility against Paul in Jerusalem and James, who is the head of the Jerusalem church, did not even want to talk to Paul. Eventually, Paul was stoned to death and arrested by the Romans. Then, there was a series futile of trials until Paul appealed his case to Caesar as a Roman citizens and Paul ends up in Rome as a prisoner! The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest, teaching and preaching freely awaiting a court date. So, Paul gets to Roman as a prisoner.

When Paul wrote this Roman letter, he had no idea that he would go through imprisonment and even shipwreck before arriving in Rome! Yet, Paul’s imprisonment in Rome became a blessing in the fact that Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians letters were all written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment. Church traditions say that Paul was eventually released for a time, and that he used this opportunity to go to Spain to preach the Good News. However, this fourth missionary journey is never mentioned in the book of Acts.

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.

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