I wonder whether you’re a TEAM sport person, or more into INDIVIDUAL sports? I USED to play basketball, and cricket and rugby, which are about the TEAM. And I loved how if YOU had a bad day, the team could still win. It didn’t all depend on you. And it was just a lot of FUN being part of a team.
These days, it’s golf or swimming or running. Which are really INDIVIDUAL sports. And if you have a bad day in THESE sports, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. There’s no one to help out, no one to support you.
And some people think it’s like that with the Christian life. That it’s an INDIVIDUAL sport. Whether it’s a certain type of traditional church-goer, who reverently and silently focuses on God, who looks straight ahead. And who thinks it rude if anyone TALKS in church. And then who leaves as soon as the service finishes.
Or perhaps it’s in modern churches. The person who goes there searching for the emotional high. The worship experience. With the band and the lights. And isn’t really interested in THE PEOPLE AROUND THEM. It’s all about them and God.
Or the person who just turns up to church when it suits THEM. They’re happy just soaking it up, taking but never giving. Like a leech, sucking the life out of the body, but never giving anything back.
Or perhaps it’s someone who doesn’t actually MAKE it to church. Who says he’s into GOD, but not into CHURCH. Who likes Jesus, just not his followers.
For these sorts of people, their version of Christianity is an INDIVIDUAL sport, rather than a team one.
But that’s not the picture that’s painted in these verses. Here we see Paul traveling all over the place, at the very frontiers of Christianity. Often in prison, or in distress. He’s single, no fixed address. No family we know of. Always on the move.
If there’s ANYONE who’s Christianity is an individual sport, it’d be Paul. But what we see here is that he’s NEVER alone, and NEVER unsupported. We see partners and co-workers. We see supporters and pray-ers and givers. We see BROTHERS and SISTERS.
And that’s the reality of the NORMAL Christian life. The sort of life WE’RE called to. Even if it’s probably going to look a whole lot different from Paul’s. Even if we’re just like those NORMAL people who were part of Paul’s team.
We’re called to be part of team. To both support and be supported. To play our part in all sorts of different ways. Ways that we’ll see examples of in today’s passage. Paul’s given us the THEORY back in Ch 12. About the church being like A BODY, with different parts, each one doing a different job. But now we see what that looks like IN PRACTICE.
What’s the game?
So what was the GAME Paul was playing? If it’s a team sport, and we’re part of team, what’s the SPORT? What was the POINT? The aim, the objective?
In a word. The GOSPEL. The good news about Jesus. We’ve seen it all the way through the letter. Paul’s job was proclaiming the message of Jesus. And ESPECIALLY to the Gentiles. There in v16.
16 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.
For more than 20 years, Paul’s taken that message about GETTING RIGHT WITH GOD through Jesus / to all sorts of people, in all sorts of places. Down in v19, he says
So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
You can see on the map, Paul’s just about gone as far as he could go. Every region, every major city has had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. And he’s established churches in lots of those places. And God’s done amazing things through Paul.
And Paul COULD be proud of his accomplishments. He could bask in the glow of his success. Milk it. Accept honorary doctorates, take well-paid speaking engagements, and advisory board positions. But he wants to give all honour and glory to Jesus. Because everything Paul’s achieved is through HIS power. Look there in v17.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 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- 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.
All of Christ, and nothing of Paul.
He COULD be proud of what he’s achieved. And feel COMFORTABLE with it. Feel he’s due for a bit of a break. Time to pass the baton on to others. After all, there’s been no one like him. And he’s suffered so much. Surely he DESERVES retirement, or at least long service leave, or a sabbatical. A little “me-time”. Is THAT what he’s thinking?
No, the whole reason he’s writing to the Romans is because he wants to push the boundaries EVEN FURTHER. Be used by Christ in even MORE unreached areas. Look at his travel plans there in v23.
23 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, 24 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.
He’s been to lots of places, but never to Spain. And Spain’s FULL of people who need Jesus. People Jesus died for. People who need to re-connect with the God who made them. So that’s where he’s headed.
That’s the game. A game that NEEDS a team. Because being a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, being a proclaimer of the gospel – it’s a TEAM SPORT.
And as Paul winds up his letter, we see a whole lot of practical details that show the teamwork Paul needs. They show the team MEMBERS, and the team TASKS.
It’s all summed up in v30 of ch 15.
30 I urge you, BROTHERS, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to JOIN ME IN MY STRUGGLE
These are people he’s never met. People from different BACKGROUNDS, with different EXPERIENCES, different CULTURE. Yet Paul calls them BROTHERS. Part of the family. Because they ALL belong to Jesus. All serving HIM. All with God as their father. And so they’re CONNECTED. Brothers and sisters.
And Paul invites them to JOIN with him in his struggle. Because he can’t do it on his own. Invites them to share the load, help in the task. And that happens in a whole lot of different ways.
The first of which we saw there in v24. He wants the Roman church to be HIS SUPPORT BASE. It’s something we’ve seen all the way through the book of Acts. Paul pushes out into each of his three missionary journeys from a support base in Antioch (show on map). That was his sending church. They commission him, then send him out with financial support and prayer. And when he comes back he REPORTS to them, and is ACCOUNTABLE to them.
And we do the same thing TODAY when we send missionaries out. They have a HOME CHURCH that supports them, and sends them out. And HELPS them when they return.
But now Paul wants to push even FURTHER afield. And Antioch is just TOO FAR AWAY to be his base. So his plan is that ROME will do the same job Antioch’s done. It’s partly why he goes into such detail in the first 11 chapters about his gospel message. So the Roman Christians will know exactly what sort of expedition they’ll be supporting.
And part of the support Paul expects is FINANCIAL support. That’s at least PART of what he means in v24 that he hopes they’ll ASSIST HIM ON HIS WAY. Help him with expenses so he could give his whole time to proclaiming the message about Jesus. And he wouldn’t have to work a normal job AS WELL, just to put bread on the table.
But it’s not only HIMSELF Paul wants them to support. He’s actually doing the rounds collecting money to help the Christians in Jerusalem. See there in v25.
25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make A CONTRIBUTION FOR THE POOR among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 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.
It’s possibly a famine, or maybe it’s persecution. But either way, there are Christian brothers and sisters in need, and part of being a team member is to financially support those who need it. And the Macedonian and the Achaians were HAPPY to help out. Help out the family. People they’ve never MET. Even if SOME are Jews, and SOME are GENTILES. Because family is family, and teamwork is teamwork.
Do we give our money with that attitude? Or what about how we give our TIME and our ENERGY? Do we give out with an attitude of responsibility to the family, the TEAM? Are we PLEASED to do it? Or are we more grudging? Miserly? Selfish?
Are we generous? Or tightfisted?
Are there people HERE you can be helping out? Have you had a good look around? Have you been LISTENING CAREFULLY as people tell you about what they’re up to? Looking for opportunities to help out? Because if you’re perceptive, you’ll pick up on them. And be able to help out family.
But Paul didn’t just need FINANCIAL support, he needs PRAYER support. There in v30. We read it before.
30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle BY PRAYING TO GOD FOR ME. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.
You might argue the Roman Christians and Paul weren’t really part of the same body. They weren’t really CONNECTED in any way. They didn’t meet, they couldn’t sing or pray or lead or encourage each other. Did that mean they weren’t really part of the same BODY? Perhaps they were a DIFFERENT body?
But Paul says No. “Join with me in PRAYING.” Prayer JOINS members together. CONNECTS them. Prayer highlights what we have in common. Our common LORD, our common PURPOSE. In prayer, we struggle with those who struggle, we grieve with those who grieve, and give thanks with those who give thanks.
FROM A DISTANCE, we can be encourage, and be encouraged. We’re a long way from Kate and Des in Queensland, with their new miracle baby, but as we PRAY for them, we’re encouraged by their progress, and rejoice in their good news.
We’re a long way from Lucy or Rodney in Victoria, or from the Williamsons in Vanuatu, or the Woldhuises in Ecuador, but we can join with them in their struggles and victories as we PRAY for them.
And notice too, how Paul’s requests for prayer are SPECIFIC? He prays for deliverance from his enemies in Jerusalem. For a warm welcome from the Christians there, and that the collection would be USEFUL. And he also wants them to pray that he’d make it eventually to see THEM. So they’d BOTH be refreshed. All quite specific things.
Sometimes we make do with prayers to BLESS so and so. Or even “We PRAY for so and so.” But that’s just LAZY. It’s hard to JOIN WITH someone unless your prayer SPECIFIC things.
It’s why missionaries like the Woldhuises send us prayer updates. Like the one in the news sheet today. So we can pray SPECIFICALLY.
Can I encourage you to DO that? To USE the news sheet in your daily prayer. Stick it in your Bible. Pray through the points on the BACK page as well.
Because it’s ONE of the ways we can JOIN TOGETHER. That we can show our TEAMWORK.
And as we move into Ch 16, we see MORE evidence of TEAMWORK. Just scan your eye down the page. At a very superficial level, do you notice the SHEER NUMBER of people who get a mention? And don’t forget Paul’s never actually BEEN to Rome. But he knows all those people from verses 3 to 16.
He asks the church to receive Phoebe when she arrives. That’s v1. She’s probably delivering the letter. She’s a servant of the church in Corinth where Paul’s writing the letter.
But then he starts powering through the names. All sorts of people he’s met in his travels, and who’ve wound up in Rome.
And there’s a couple of things that stand out to me. First, there’s a whole lot of FELLOW workers. CO-workers. People who’ve stood side-by-side in the trenches with Paul. Working for a common aim. BROTHERS in the BEST sense of the word. Which is always encouraging.
There’s Priscilla and Aquilla in v3. Fellow workers.
Or in v9 there’s Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ.
Or down in v21, it’s Timothy, Paul’s fellow worker.
Something else that jumps out at me is their HARD WORK and COMMITMENT.
V4. Priscilla and Aquila RISKED THEIR LIVES for Paul.
V6. Mary worked very hard for them.
V7 Andronicus and Junias have been in PRISON with Paul.
V12. Tryphena and Tryphosa worked hard. As did Persis.
And one OTHER aspect of teamwork that stands out to me. HOSPITALITY. Church didn’t meet in dedicated buildings in those days. Like halls. It was only people’s HOMES. Wealthy people. Who had the SPACE to host plenty of people. People like Priscilla and Aquila in Rome. V5 tells us the church meets in their house.
Or at the OTHER end of the letter. Back in Corinth, where Paul’s writing the letter. It’s Gaius who hosts the church. Down in v23.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
In between setting up the chairs, and cooking dinner, and answering the door, Gaius says G’day.
Hospitality is a wonderful way to show our TEAMWORK. It doesn’t have to be FANCY. In fact the people I reckon do it the BEST, the people who are MOST welcoming, and MOST generous, quite often have the simple, plain meals. In houses that are often disorganized. But the LOVE is there, the WELCOME, and that’s what makes the hospitality.
Some people are CREATIVE about how they do it. Since Mum died, my Dad, who’s not the best cook in the world, now TAKES PEOPLE OUT TO DINNER.
I’ve been invited to a picnic at Nurragingy by another family, because they didn’t feel comfortable about having people at home. But it was the THOUGHT that counted. That’s where the encouragement was.
And as I think about all the stuff in Ch 16, it’s all these same things that cause ME to be encouraged by YOU LOT.
By being CO-WORKERS together. Watching someone look after the crèche. Or set up the chairs, or turn up early to practice music. Or talk to a stranger at Woodcroft Festival – even though it doesn’t come naturally. That’s encouraging.
It’s what you PROMISED to do TODAY. When you promised to help Adam and Marijke as they raise Ryenne to follow Jesus. To work TOGETHER with them. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. And that’s what we’re agreeing with in that promise. That it takes a TEAM, a whole CHURCH FAMILY, to raise Ryenne. Let’s be working TOGETHER to do that. It’s encouraging when I see us DOING that.
And it’s encouraging when you WORK HARD at that. That you reckon Western Blacktown is IMPORTANT enough – that JESUS is important enough – that you’re going to put in the hard yards. Week after week, and year after year.
And hospitality. ANOTHER encouragement.
Can I encourage you to keep doing those things more and more? Keep looking out for one another. Keep noticing who’s standing on their own. Keep noticing who’s not around. Keep making the phone call, sending the text message, or the card. Keep offering to pray for people. Keep asking for specific things to pray about. And keep actually PRAYING for them.
They’re the things that result in us JOINING TOGETHER IN THE STRUGGLE of following Jesus. The things that both SHOW we’re brothers and sisters in the Lord. And that BUILD the depth of that family relationship.
I URGE you brothers and sisters, in Paul’s words, to join together in the struggle. Support and pray and work hard and be hospitable.
And, as Paul prays in v33 of ch15, may the God of peace be with you all. Amen.