In contrast to how we usually write letters today, Paul started with the “heavy” stuff at the beginning of this epistle and put the lighter “housekeeping” material nearer the end. But even here there are plenty of important points we need to pick up.
Paul is laying out his plans: He’s planning to come visit them, but first he needs to go to Jerusalem with a relief offering that’s been collected from believers in Macedonia and Achaia. There apparently was a huge need for financial assistance to the poor in Jerusalem.
He makes a very crucial aside here which we need to consider. We talked about our debt to the Jewish people last year, but it’s always worth remembering. Once again, I think I’ll plagiarize myself:
“You pay tribute to their language every time you pray: ‘Amen.’ When you say ‘Hallelujah,’ you’re speaking Hebrew. A verse from Leviticus is on our Liberty Bell and a representation of Moses with the Ten Commandments is above our Supreme Court.
Yes, I know that the Lord gave us all that. He gave us the Ten Commandments. He revealed all we know about where we came from and what went wrong in the book of Genesis. He gave us the thrilling stories of Joshua and the lessons from the life of David. But he gave us all these things through the Jews.
But most important, above everything else, God gave us our Savior through them. When he came to earth, he entered the womb of a Jewish teenager. He grew up in a faithful Jewish home, and all his first followers were Jewish.”
Add to this the fact that all of God’s word which you hold in your hand (or see on your computer screen)—minus two lonely books—came to us through the Jews. All of the apostles were Jewish. Our spiritual debt to them is literally incalculable.
And because of this, the situation called for more than merely saying “Thank you.” There were Jewish believers in physical need, and this called for practical help. That’s what Paul means in vs. 27: “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” It’s nice to think and say nice things about those who’ve been the conduit of spiritual blessings to you. That’s good and right and proper. But all too often our gratitude ends with thoughts and words. Gratitude, like love, needs to be a practical thing.
On a more personal note, how’s about the people who’ve blessed you spiritually in a more direct way? How’s your pastor doing financially? Or your church staff? I know I know I know. Money’s not supposed to be the reason why anyone’s in ministry. Any minister should be perfectly willing to make financial sacrifices in order to further the Kingdom’s work. But that in no way relieves you of your responsibility to financially support those who’ve blessed you spiritually.
And there’s another point here, one that’s very touching. In verse 30, he asks the believers in Rome to pray for him. He asked them to pray for safety in his travels, that his love offering would be favorably received in Jerusalem, so that he could ultimately come to them and “in your company be refreshed.”
Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? Paul—the apostle Paul, who’s been visited personally by Jesus and who’s writing Scripture at this very moment—is asking them to pray for him. And he wants to see them, so that he could be refreshed (encouraged, strengthened) by them. By ordinary believers, just like you and me.
My friend, I can only dream of being as close to Christ, as spiritually mature, as bold in proclaiming the Message as this man was. But he wanted and needed prayers and intimate encouragement from ordinary believers. That tells me that no matter how far along you are in your walk with Christ, you still need prayers from others. You still need encouragement from others. In this life, you’re never “past” this. The Lord designed his Body so that each of us needs the other. As we say in the IT world, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Again, I can see an immediate application in the person of your pastor. How often have you sent a note encouraging him, letting him know how much he’s blessed you and that you’re praying for him? I certainly can’t claim innocence in this either. Let’s make a pact, shall we, to pray for and encourage those who’ve blessed us? And make sure that their material needs are met. Instead of adding to their burden, let’s see what we can do to make it a little lighter.
Father, how can I bless my pastor today? How can I work off some of that debt which I owe him?