A One-Track Mind.

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.  I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.  – Romans 15:22-33 ESV

Paul had just said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20 ESV). Now he tells them that he hopes to see them, but only in passing as he makes his way to Spain. Paul was a starter, not a builder. Yet his many letters, that comprise most of the New Testament canon, prove that he cared deeply about the ongoing maturity of the body of Christ. He wanted to see believers grow, but more than anything else, he wanted to see the lost come to faith in Christ. So he was always looking for fertile fields in which to sow the seeds of the gospel. Paul took the charge of Jesus seriously: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Luke 10:2 NLT). Paul knew that there were those who would do the sowing and those who would reap the harvest, and his job was to plant so that others might come along and water the new seeds of faith so that they would grow into full maturity. That is exactly what he told the Corinthian believers when he heard that they were dividing themselves between those who claimed to be his followers and those who claimed to follow of Apollos.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NLT

Paul wasn’t looking for glory or trying to establish a name for himself. He simply wanted to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to as many people in as many places as he possibly could. But he also cared deeply about the discipleship of those who came to faith in Christ. He had a passion for the reputation of the body of Christ and all the congregations he had helped to plant. He was concerned about the unity of the body and the acceptance of his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ by the church in Jerusalem. He wanted them to be one. When he discovered the division taking place in Corinth, he wrote, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT). Paul wanted to see the body of Christ prove its love by ministering to itself selflessly and lovingly, regardless of location. So he told the believers in Rome that he would try to come to them as soon as he finished his task of taking an offering collected from all the churches to “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” He reminded his Gentile readers that since they “have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27 NLT). The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were suffering and Paul wanted to see the Gentile believers play a part in ministering to them. Paul’s goal was unity and impartiality.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” – 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NLT

Paul’s mission was not just to make converts, but to establish a strong and vibrant church, made up of those who understood the grace of God and were willing to extend that grace to others. For Paul, being saved was not the end. He was concerned that those who were saved lived in keeping with their salvation. They were to be new creations, exhibiting the characteristics of Christ, living in submission to the Spirit and expressing the love of God to all those around them. And as verse 31 indicates, he was under constant attack for his unfailing commitment to the cause of Christ. His mission was not an easy one. His ministry was far from trouble-free. He traveled far, suffered much, failed often, but never lost sight of his mission: “to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard” (Romans 15:20 NLT).