Fundraiser for Jesus (Romans 15.25-29)

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We all know that the Apostle Paul was one of the greatest missionaries of the first century (or any century). But did you know that he was also one of the greatest fundraisers? Paul mentions his fundraising activities in Romans 15.25-29: 

Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. 

Notice several things about these verses: 

First, Paul raised funds for a specific project, which he refers to as “a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” We are not sure why the Jerusalem believers were in such desperate financial straits. But Paul knew, and he believed that it was the responsibility of wealthy believers to supply the material needs of the Christian poor, whether around the corner or across the sea. 

Second, the motivation for Paul’s fundraising was gratitude. Paul notes that he raised the funds from Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia, that is, modern Greece. “They were pleased to do it,” he writes, “and indeed they owe it to them.” Sometimes, we have obligations that we are not particularly happy to discharge. The Gentile Christians felt otherwise about their donations to the poor believers in Jerusalem. They owed their eternal salvation to the efforts of Jewish Christians who told them the good news about Jesus Christ. The Gentiles “shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings”; they returned the favor by sharing “their material blessings” with the Jews. 

Third, Paul undertook fundraising with appropriate accountability. He wrote the Romans and other Christians about the funds he was raising. Not only that, he promised to “complete” the task and “make sure” the intended recipients received every dime. Paul stated his intentions and actions publicly and welcomed public scrutiny. Today, all churches do well when they follow his example. 

Finally, Paul mentioned the end result of his fundraising activities: “the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” Paul wasn’t just raising money for the relief of the Jerusalem poor. In his day, there were many tensions between the Jewish and the Gentile wings of the Christian church, based on differences in their religious and cultural backgrounds. One effect of Paul’s offering was to release those tensions. Genuine compassion has a way of bringing diverse people together. And when it does, Christ’s blessing is the result. 

More money equals more ministry. And more ministry equals a better church. Let’s give and serve for that purpose!

The Unretiring Christian (Romans 15.23-24)

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There’s no retirement from Christian service. When you sign up with Christ you sign up for life. The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of the unretiring Christian.

In Romans 15.17-22, Paul speaks freely about the scope of his Christian service. “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum,” he writes in verse 19, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Geographically speaking, the area between Jerusalem and Illyricum includes the modern nations of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and several Balkan nations (Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia).

I tire just thinking of the thousands of miles Paul covered on foot. But Paul didn’t tire of his labors as he ambitiously pursued Christ’s purpose. Instead, he kept his eye on the horizon for new areas in which to serve Christ. Having completed his mission from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he turned his attention to Italy and Spain.

Here’s what Paul writes in Romans 15.23-24:

But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Notice several things:

First, Christian service is work. It is purpose-driven behavior. And there are metrics to determine whether you have accomplished your purpose. One of the metrics of my job as a pastor is The Daily Word. If I send it out each Monday through Friday, then I have done my job. The metric of Paul’s service was planting geographically strategic churches. As he surveyed his work from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he concluded that he had done his job—there was “no more place”—and could move on to the next one. 

Second, Christian service is desirable work. Paul speaks of “longing for many years to see you.” The other day in my small group, a member joked about hoping God would not call her to be a missionary in Africa. Some people labor under the fear that Christ calls Christians to serve him by doing what they detest. Based on Paul’s example, I think the truth lies in the opposite assertion. Christ calls us to serve him by what we do best and most passionately. He gives us “longing” and “hope” for what he calls us to do. 

Finally, Christian service is diverse work. Paul was a missionary. I am a pastor. But those are not the only forms of Christian service. Each Christian is uniquely spiritually gifted. Interestingly, Paul did not ask the Romans to go with him to Spain. He simply asked them to send him along with financial support. “Assist me,” he wrote. All Christians have the same purpose, to enter the kingdom of God along with as many others as possible. But we accomplish that purpose in different ways. Some go, some send, all serve.

Ambitiously Pursuing Christ’s Purpose (Romans 15.17-22)

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Looking back on your life, have you spent your time well? 

In Romans 15.17-22, Paul reflects on his life so far with evident satisfaction:

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written:  

“Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

 Notice several things about Paul’s remarks.

First, he interprets his life in terms of Jesus. “I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.” Indeed, Paul attributes all his success to “what Christ has accomplished through me.” We ought to do the same. Do we work for Christ’s glory? Do we rely on his power for success? If we do, we have spent our time well. 

Second, Paul has a clear sense of his life’s purpose, namely, “leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done.” Paul was a missionary to Gentiles. That was his life’s entire purpose, what God saved him for and called him to do. God does not necessarily have the same purpose for your life. Each one of us has a unique spiritual gift. Do you know what your spiritual gift is? Do you know the purpose for its use? And do you use it? How you answer those questions indicates whether you’ve spent your time well. 

Third, Paul shows that he pursued his purpose ambitiously. “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Illyricum was a Roman province located in the vicinity of the modern-day Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia. Basically, Paul is saying that he pursued his evangelistic purpose throughout the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire. “My ambition,” he writes, “[was] to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” What matters is not merely knowing your purpose in life, but ambitiously pursuing it. Whether you are doing so reveals whether you have spent your time well. 

Now, contrasted with the Apostle Paul, I do not believe I have spent my time well. There are parts of my life I still need to turn over to Jesus. And while I know my God-given purpose, I don’t always pursue it as ambitiously as I should. Chances are you’re in the same boat. So, Paul’s personal example can be a bit discouraging. Until you remember that for the first half of his life, Paul didn’t honor Christ, had an anti-Christian purpose, and zealously pursued it. All that changed when Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9).  

Maybe you haven’t spent your time well so far. But your past is no more a predictor of your future than Paul’s was. There’s nothing that keeps you from ambitiously pursuing Christ’s purpose for you from this moment on.

Grace to Remind Boldly (Romans 15.14-16)

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I have been writing and emailing The Daily Word for more than five years. During this time, I have expressed my opinion on what the Bible means and how it applies to our lives. But sometimes I ask myself, “Is my opinion really worth sharing with others?” I asked myself that question again when I read Romans 15.14-16, where Paul writes: 

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

 In verse 14, Paul describes the Roman Christians as “full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” If they were so full, complete, and competent, why did Paul bother to write them? What could he possibly add to their lives? I’ll get to that in a second, but for now, let me simply say that I sympathize with Paul. I know what it feels like to write to good, knowledgeable, competent Christians. I do it every Monday through Friday. It feels like I’m saying that I’m better than you, smarter than you, more practical than you. It seems like an exercise in ego gratification. 

But Paul doesn’t write to gratify his ego. (And I try not to write to gratify mine either.) Instead, according to verses 15-16, he writes because of the “grace” God gave him and in order to “remind” the Romans of what they already knew but perhaps were forgetting to put into practice. By grace, Paul specifically means the divine commission he received to be an apostle to the Gentiles. And that is what the Roman church needed to be reminded of. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has implications not only for our personal relationship with God, but also for our social life with one another. Christ does not just change one thing. He changes everything. He wants all people, in all areas of their lives, to be “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” In a similar way to Paul, but on an obviously much smaller scale, I feel that God has given me grace to read and write. And if my reading and writing about the Bible help you make sense of your faith and practice good works, then I’m not afraid to write “quite boldly” now and then. 

Of course, I believe that God has not just given grace to me, but also to you. He has given you unique gifts and abilities that you should use to advance the interests of his kingdom. It’s not an exercise in ego gratification to use those gifts for those purposes. Rather, it’s a false humility that says you have nothing to offer the church or the world. You do. So, whatever you have, offer it boldly. The world needs both you and me to remind it— every day and in every way— of God’s grace.

A Religion of Hope (Romans 15.13)

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Christianity appeals to both our hopes and fears. 

Every two years, Americans endure the “silly season” of a national election. Candidates for political office appeal first to the hopes and then to the fears of their prospective voters. They try to paint a picture of what could be if voters elected them, and what would be their opponents were elected. 

Politicians may be stupid, but they’re not dumb. Hope and fear are two of the most basic motivators in the human psyche. Hope pulls us toward the future we want. It is fundamentally optimistic. Fear pushes us away from the future we want to avoid. It is fundamentally pessimistic. Bad politicians peddle false hopes and unwarranted fears. Good politicians deal with reality. They inspire “the better angels of our nature,” in Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words, even as they warn us about the world’s lurking evils. 

The other day, I corresponded with one of my students about Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Here’s Edwards: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” Hell is a fear motivator. My student wanted to know, among other things, whether people still preached like Edwards, or whether his was an outmoded style of preaching. My answer was that Edwards message was biblical, even if his hellfire-and-brimstone preaching method was a bit old school. 

In this regard, think of how the Apostle Paul begins Romans. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” (Romans 1.18). That is a fear-motivating statement. But as we draw near to the end of Romans, we see that fear of divine judgment serves the purposes of hope. Consider Paul’s prayer in Romans 15.13: 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Notice how Paul describes God as “the God of hope.” God is white-hot mad at sin and its consequences, but he loves us sinners. His great desire is to mend his relationship with us that we are responsible for rending. And he works proactively to fulfill his desire. In the words of Romans 5.8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

When we respond to his love with trust (or faith), God pours the blessings of his joy and peace into our lives. Isn’t that the future we all want? Interestingly, God gives us joy and peace “so that” we may “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Through Christ, in the Spirit, God makes believers super-optimists. 

Is there fear in Christianity? Yes, of sin and its consequences. But in the end, Christianity is a religion of hope. At Christmas, we sing the carol which says to Jesus, “The hopes and fears of all the years / are met in Thee tonight.” And when they meet, hope puts fear to flight.

John Mayer, Continuum

I haven't been posting many lectures lately, mostly because I haven't been lecturing lately. Last Monday and Tuesday, I had tests in both Worldview and New Testament Survey. On Wednesday, I began a Worldview lecture on John Mayer's album, Continuum, but it failed to record. On Thursday, I canceled NT Survey. And Friday was a school holiday of some sort.

Today, however, I got back into the swing of things by finishing my lecture on John Mayer, Continuum. You might think it's a bit weird to be reviewing pop albums in a Worldview class, but it is my conviction that pop culture is where most people interact with worldviews. So…

In this lecture, I outline some thoughts about how to identify worldviews in pop culture, then I talk a little about themes in Continuum, then I talk about three specific songs. I also made remarks about three other songs previously (last Wednesday), but those didn't get recorded.

Download lecture MP3.

No Exceptions to Acceptance (Romans 15.7-12)

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In the Christian worldview, there are no exceptions to acceptance. 

This was a novel principle in the first-century intellectual milieu in which Jesus Christ was born. Jews distinguished between themselves and the Gentiles. Romans distinguished between citizens and non-citizens, between the freeborn and slaves. Greeks distinguished between themselves and barbarians. These various groups might interact, but they did not think of themselves as equals in any way. They did not accept one another. 

Jesus Christ broke down the racial, religious, and cultural barriers people erected against one another. He accepted all people in order to give them all God’s gift of salvation. He did this by means of the cross. Consider what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2.14-16: 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 

In Romans 15.7-12, Paul refers to Christ as the model accepter, whose example we should follow: 

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:  

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name” [2 Samuel 22.50, Psalm 18.49]. 

Again, it says,  

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” [Deuteronomy 32.43]. 

And again,  

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples” [Psalm 117.1]. 

And again, Isaiah says,  

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him” [Isaiah 11.10]. 

Because of the social situation of the early church, Paul focuses on the need for Jewish and Gentile Christians to accept one another. In the Roman church, which was a mixed church, numerous opportunities to erect barriers existed. Should Christians eat kosher or not? Should they observe the Sabbath or not? Most of these potential barriers existed because of the religious and cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles. 

But as far as Paul was concerned, none of those barriers should be erected in the church. Rather, we should accept one another. And if Christ crossed over the barrier of sin that divides us from God, destroyed it, gave us the grace of our Heavenly Father and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit to reform our spiritual and moral lives, how could we do otherwise? If Christ is a barrier-destroying accepter of people, shouldn’t we be too? 

Obviously, we should never accept sinful behavior. But when it comes to sinful people, there truly are no exceptions to acceptance.

A Prayer for Christian Unity (Romans 15.5-6)

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How about a joke to start your day? 

Comedian Emo Philips tells this joke about Baptists: 

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! Don't do it!” 

“Why shouldn't I?” he said.  

“Well, there's so much to live for!” 

“Like what?” 

“Well…are you religious?” He said yes. I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?” 


“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” 

“Protestant.”  “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” 


“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” 

“Baptist Church of God!” 

“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” 

“Reformed Baptist Church of God!” 

“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” 

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” 

I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off. 

Church history is—from one perspective—the sad story of Christians pushing each other off the bridge. On July 16, 1054, representatives of the Pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, inaugurating the Great Schism between the western Roman Catholic Church and the eastern Greek Orthodox Church. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, inaugurating the Protestant Reformation and further dividing the western church. Today, according to the World Christian Database, there are over 9000 denominations at work in the world, at least 635 in the United States alone. 

Some of these divisions were necessary. When an essential doctrine or moral principle is on the line, Christians have to choose for orthodoxy over heresy. But most of the splits between Protestant denominations have nothing to do with essential doctrines or moral principles. They are, rather, splits over doctrines and practices that are nonessential. They are, in other words, divisions over personal preferences. And such divisions are unfortunate.  

In John 17.20-21, Jesus prayed: 

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

Christian disunity—when caused by disputes over personal preferences—is tragic because it hinders our evangelistic witness to the world. 

In Romans 15.5-6, Paul prayed this prayer: 

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is a prayer we too ought to pray and put into practice. Following Jesus should unite all Christians—regardless of denominational stripe—and enable them to present a unified front to a world desperately in need of grace.

Let’s stop pushing each other off the bridge to heaven and instead work together to help others across.

Christian Self-giving-ness (Romans 15.1-4)

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When I was a bachelor, I was selfish. When I married, I realized that selfishness is no way to build a home. My motto for marriage is, “Happy wife, happy life.” Something similar could be said of all good relationships.

Paul writes about the relationship of “strong” and “weak” Christians in Romans 15.1-4:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Strong Christians are people with a robust understanding of Christian freedom. They know that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17). They exercise their personal preferences in good faith and with a clear conscience. Weak Christians, on the other hand, have a feeble understanding of Christian freedom. They often confuse personal preferences with moral principles. They are bound by scruples about eating and drinking, thinking that such things do in fact matter in God’s kingdom.

Now, it’s always very easy for strong Christians to ride roughshod over the feelings of weak Christians. Strong Christians are tempted to act selfishly, like bachelors, when they should act selflessly, like happily married men. They are tempted, in other words, to please themselves when they should really aim to please others. But as Paul argues, strong Christians should use their strength to benefit others. They should “bear with the failings of the weak” and “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Such selflessness is not rooted in low self-esteem. Strong Christians have strong, healthy egos. They know that they can leverage their strengths to help others. Come to think of it, selflessness is not really the word I should be using. Self-giving-ness hits closer to the mark. Strong Christians give themselves in service to others precisely because they know that they have something to offer them.

Jesus Christ is the best example of a strong, self-giving person. As Paul points out, “Christ did not please himself.” Rather, he let the insults intended for us fall on his strong, broad shoulders. No doubt this experience was unpleasant for him, but it resulted in pleasant consequences for us.

Obviously, we’re talking about the cross here. As the TNIV translation of Philippians 2.6-7 reminds us, Jesus, who was “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Christ’s self-giving-ness for us flowed from a robust understanding of his divine equality. 

Anyone who claims to be spiritually strong should follow his example.

Sinful Personal Preferences (Romans 14.22-23)

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Can personal preferences be sinful? Maybe.

Throughout Romans 14.1-15.13, Paul is teaching Christians how to live with their differences over personal preferences. His teaching assumes a distinction between moral principles (which are absolute and require Christian unity) and personal preferences (which are relative and allow for Christian diversity). When it comes to things like adultery, lying, and murder, for example, there is only one Christian principle: Don’t! But when it comes to things like eating meat or vegetables, drinking alcohol or abstaining, Christians are free to do as they wish. So, it would seem that personal preferences cannot be sinful.

But in Romans 14.22-23, Paul argues that in fact personal preferences can be sinful under two conditions. Here’s what he writes:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

The first condition under which personal preferences can be sinful is if they harm someone else. As Paul makes abundantly clear throughout this passage, eating and drinking are matters of Christian freedom. But given their cultural and religious backgrounds, some Christians—in Paul’s day and ours—have scruples about eating meat and drinking alcohol. Although Christians are free to eat and drink whatever they want, they are not free to ride roughshod over the feelings of “weaker,” more scrupulous Christians. It would be wrong, for example, to exercise your Christian freedom by drinking alcohol in front of an alcoholic Christian who is currently in recovery. When Paul writes, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves,” he is thinking of this first condition. A Christian who prizes personal freedom over loving fellowship has not yet learned the way of Jesus. His actions are totally un-Christlike.

The second condition under which personal preferences can be sinful is if they proceed from doubt rather than faith. If the first condition pertains to “stronger” Christians and their exercise of freedom, the second condition pertains to “weaker” Christians and their exercise of freedom. “The man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Let’s say a vegetarian Christian decides to go ahead and eat a steak because all her Christian friends are doing it, but she still has scruples about meat. She is acting out of peer pressure, not faith. Her action is therefore sinful because she is violating her conscience. Christian freedom is a blessed thing, but sometimes, we have to work our way slowly into it. Our beliefs must develop alongside our emotions and our actions in order for us to be truly, Christianly free. 

So, can personal preferences be sinful? Only if exercised without love or faith. Other than that, no, they can’t.

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