We will look at Romans 15:8-33 from the point of view of the church and missions. What can we learn about the church-mission connection from this passage of this great epistle?
The Objective Of The Church (vs. 8-12)
Why must the church be involved in missions? Because God’s objective is global. It doesn’t just include Israel, and it doesn’t just include Bulgaria. It includes people from all over the world – from every nation and ethnic group in the world. Christ was a servant of God’s Word, of God’s promises, and these promises of salvation included not just the circumcised, not just the Jews, but also the Gentiles – all nations. Verses 8 and 9 are one more way of saying, that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is not just for one nation, not just for one ethnic group. It is global – it includes all nations and everyone in the world.
8 For I tell you that Christ Jesus has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.
Christ became a servant of his people, of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He did it to fulfill and confirm the promises they had been given. But, see what these promises are (verse 9).
9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:
“For this reason I will confess you among the Gentiles and sing praise to your name.”
From verse 9 we understand that Christ became a servant not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles. In the quotation from verse 9 Christ is presented as glorifying God among the nations. We know that while he was on the earth, Christ’s ministry was to a large extent limited to the Jews, to his own nation. Then how will he fulfill the promise to praise God’s name among the Gentiles? Even though while he was still on earth the Lord Jesus began to fulfill it through his ministry to the Gentiles in Galilee, Syria and the Decapolis, we can say that in its fullness this promise will be fulfilled by the Church, which is his body, and the Church will fulfill this promise through missions.
The result of Christ’s activity among the circumcised is the glorifying of God’s name among the Gentiles. It would follow that the result of Christ’s activity in his church today will be the reaching of the unreached and the saving of the unsaved, with the aim of producing praise and thanksgiving to God from their hearts.
The glory of God is at the foundation of everything. Everything has the objective that God should receive all the glory that He deserves. And this glory must be given to God by all nations, by all tribes, by all ethnic groups. That is why Jesus Christ came, that is the task of the Church today – that we should act to bring about this plan, this objective of God’s.
Why must all the people on the earth glorify God? To better understand the answer to this question, maybe we should remind ourselves where all human problems began? Where did sin come from? From the fact that, after people knew God, they neither glorified Him nor thanked Him. And from the fact that they refused to glorify Him – that is where all problems began. Remember Romans 1:21:
21 Because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened.
From there on it is told how they sank deeper and deeper into sin and how that sin led to total depravity and eventually to death. The logic is simple. All people on earth must glorify God, because not glorifying God leads to problems, deepening of the problems and death, whereas glorifying God leads to solution of the problems and eternal life.
The Nations (Gentiles)
God is a redeemer and the nations are on His heart. The apostle Paul proves this in verses 11-12 with a series of quotations from the Old Testament. The first in verse 10 is from Deuteronomy 32:43.
10 And again he says:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
The second in verse 11 is from Psalm 117:1:
11 And again:
“Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!”
Notice the word “all” in this verse. God’s call is not just to some nations, but to “all” nations. No-one can praise God without having knowledge of Him. How will the nations begin to praise God? By hearing about Him. How will they hear? Through missions.
The series of quotations ends in verse 12 with a quotation from Isaiah 11:10. This quotation contains the idea of the Kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is ruled by Christ and will this rule be just over one nation? No. Over all nations. God’s kingdom is not simply regional or local, it is global or worldwide. The way that the kingdom of God comes and spreads is though missions.
12 And again Isaiah says:
“There shall be a root of Jesse
And he who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles
In him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Even one biblical quotation, even a single Bible verse, if it is applied correctly, is enough to prove a given thesis. So why does the apostle Paul use not one quotation but a series of quotations? And he quotes: “The Gentiles! The Gentiles! The Gentiles!”? Because the Jews were prejudiced against this part of God’s plan and the apostle Paul has to shatter their prejudices. The Jews thought they were the chosen nation and there were no other chosen nations. The apostle Paul wants to shatter this concept and tell them: “God’s plan doesn’t just include the circumcised. God’s plan also includes the uncircumcised – those called in Hebrew ‘goyim’.”
Today many Bulgarian believers are full of prejudice against missions. They think that missions are for the Americans, for the Europeans, for the Koreans, but not for us Bulgarians. That is why we need to hear this word again and again: “The nations! The nations! The nations!” When we meet brothers and sisters who doubt that the Bulgarian church should take part in missions, I tell them: “Get yourself a concordance, open it and see how many times these words – “the Gentiles” – or – “the Nations” – are mentioned in the Bible and realize that God’s plan includes not just our nation but all nations!” So a fundamental part of the ministry of the Church is to reach the nations.
The idea of reaching the nations is not some later addition to God’s plan of salvation – it didn’t appear after the resurrection of Jesus. It begins with God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 where God tells him: “…and in you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.”
Romans 15:8-12 is a similar passage to Luke 24:45-47 which relates what the Lord Jesus said to the apostles on the day of his resurrection.
45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Notice that in these verses Christ again returns to the Scriptures. In them God’s plan is revealed. They are the foundation of his ministry. They must be the foundation of our ministry too. Verse 46 describes Christ’s role in God’s plan, which he fulfilled, but verse 47 describes our role that we must fulfill – to preach the Gospel to “all nations”.
Romans 15:8-12 contains a conceptual version of the Great Commission. Beginning with the Jews, the Good News about Christ must be preached to all nations so that they may praise God, so that the promise of Romans 15:9, that we read about, can be fulfilled. God the Son will praise God the Father among the nations. How? Through the Church, which is his body. To fulfill this, the Church needs missions. Such is God’s plan, such are God’s promises, such is the Word of God, and such is the Great Commission.
The Church’s Need For Missionaries (vs. 13-21)
What is the objective of the Church? The nations. The objective of the Church is not simply its internal well-being, but the nations. To be able to fulfill this objective, it needs missionaries. The following verses help us to answer the question: “Why does the Church need missionaries?”
Firstly, the Church needs missionaries so that it can realize its goal of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ and God’s promises to preach the Gospel to all nations.
Reaching the nations is something only a strong Church can achieve. Because only a strong church can send out missionaries. God desires every local church to be strong, because only a strong church can send out missionaries. If it can’t take care of its own existence, how can it send out missionaries? That is why in verse 13 the apostle Paul prays for the church in Rome to be a strong church – full of joy, peace, faith, hope and the Holy Spirit.
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul blesses them and prays for them to be a strong church filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, full of hope. A church doesn’t need missionaries to achieve its inner spiritual life. It can meet its spiritual needs by itself. It may have a pastor who preaches the Word of God to it, or even if it hasn’t got a pastor, it can meet and the people in it can pray for one another, read the Bible and build one another up. They don’t need a missionary for their inner spiritual life. In verse 14, the apostle Paul confirms that a church can meet its inner needs by itself.
14 Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
The apostle Paul doesn’t doubt their competence, that they can admonish one another and successfully conduct their inner spiritual life. These words remind us of the beginning of the epistle, where in 1:8 the apostle Paul says to the Roman believers:
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
The church in Rome was full of faith, of goodness, of knowledge and admonition. In other words it could take care of itself. So too churches today can take care of themselves and don’t need missionaries for their own welfare. But the Church must not forget its objective. Its objective is not to serve itself, not to be known throughout the world, but to serve God by fulfilling His aims and intentions. And as we saw, these aims and intentions at their foundation include the reaching of the unreached and the saving of the unsaved. The church doesn’t need missionaries for its own edification, but it needs missionaries to fulfill its objective of reaching the unreached.
15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, 16 that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
When we worship and sing to God, our praise is a spiritual sacrifice to God (Hebrews 13:15). But the best sacrifice we can bring to God is the fruit of saved souls – reaching the unreached and saving the unsaved. This fruit can be offered through missions alone. That is why the Church needs missionaries. The Church needs missionaries to be able to fulfill its objective. What was its objective? The nations.
Secondly, the Church needs missionaries, because missions are a work of God and the Church is expected to do God’s works. Missions are brought about through the combined activity of the missionary and God, but on the whole they are not a human work but the work of God. In that sense missions are divine, because they are of God. The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit act and work also though the missionaries.
17 Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. 18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient.
Do you see the combined activity here? The apostle Paul is speaking about what Christ has done. Yet He did not do it alone, but through the word and the deed of the apostle Paul. God always acts jointly with man to fulfill his aims and intentions. God was working together with Paul and Paul was working together with God. The signs and wonders could not be performed just by Paul. To perform them he needed God’s power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
19 in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Illyricum was a Roman province that included the territories of present-day Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia – the former Yugoslavia without Slovenia, or what some modern politicians call “the Western Balkans”. So the apostle Paul preached the gospel from Jerusalem and its environs to the “Western Balkans”. Reaching there from Jerusalem, the apostle Paul throughout his years as a servant of Christ was carrying out the Great Commission. He preached the Gospel to ethnic groups and nations who hadn’t heard the name of Jesus. He shared the Gospel with them and told them that Jesus is the Messiah, that he is God’s chosen Anointed One, the One who saves us from our sins.
And that is what missionaries do. They go to a culture, to a people, where the name of Jesus is not known. And they start from scratch. They begin by forming friendships, by learning the language. Because how can you tell them about Jesus if you don’t know their language. When a missionary goes somewhere that God is sending him, the first thing he must do is to learn the language of that ethnic group, to be able to communicate and tell them the Gospel in their own language.
Thirdly, the Church needs missionaries because they help it to maintain right priorities in relation to the gospel. The Church’s priority must be, not the saving of the unsaved, but the reaching of the unreached. What does this mean? See verse 20.
20 And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, 21 but as it is written:
“Those to whom He was not declared shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”
See, again and again The apostle Paul bases everything he does on the Word of God. Christ is a servant of the Word of God and the Word of God includes the Gentiles, includes the nations. The same Word of God also says that “Those to whom he was not declared shall see and those who have not heard shall understand”. So the apostle Paul’s priority in preaching the gospel was to preach, not to nations that had their own churches, but there where the name of Jesus had not been heard.
From verses 20-21 we can conclude that in this world there are two kinds of unsaved people. Some are unsaved, living among nations reached by the gospel, while others are unsaved living among nations not reached by the gospel. The reached nations are those who have a living church that is capable of reaching its own people with the Gospel. These are nations among whom the name of Jesus Christ is known. An example of a reached nation is the Bulgarian nation. Bulgarians have heard the Gospel, they have a living church that preaches it. Bulgarians hear the Gospel at least twice a year – at Easter and Christmas. They have friends and relatives who are believers. They can go to the bookshop and buy themselves a Bible or get a free one from the Gideons. They have seen the film “Jesus”. The unsaved Bulgarians are unsaved not because they haven’t heard the Gospel, but because they have chosen to reject God’s command to repent and believe in Christ. Because the Gospel is God’s command for repentance and faith. Notice that in verse 18 the apostle Paul speaks about making the Gentiles obedient. The gospel is not optional. It’s an ultimatum. A person either accepts it and is saved or rejects it and condemns himself to eternal perdition. In Bulgaria there are many Bulgarians who have rejected the gospel, and they are unsaved, but they live among a nation reached with the gospel. So Bulgaria is a reached nation and we are privileged for that. But we are also responsible, because God expects the church in reached nations to reach the unreached nations.
Which nations are unreached? Unreached nations are those where there is no living church to preach the name of Jesus effectively. Among them there may be a handful of believers, but on the whole the majority of people have not heard the name of Jesus, don’t know what a Bible is, don’t know of their need of salvation. People of these nations are doomed to eternal perdition. They can’t call on the true God and be saved, because they don’t have at their disposal God’s saving power – the Gospel. In that sense the unsaved among the unreached nations are in a more serious situation than the unsaved among the reached nations. If they are saved, they will form a new church and that nation will change from unreached to reached. This new church will evangelize and testify to people of its own culture and there will be no need when evangelizing to cross linguistic or cultural barriers.
Evangelism among the reached nations is easy. Why? Because to evangelize your own people you don’t need to learn a foreign language. You speak to them – they understand you. You are in the same culture. But to evangelize people from unreached nations, you first have to learn their language. Not everyone can learn a foreign language, not everyone can travel and move to live among the unreached nations. That is precisely why we need missionaries. Missionaries are those who cross linguistic and cultural barriers on the way of evangelism. That is precisely why the church needs them. They help it not only to maintain proper priorities but also to fulfill its task of evangelizing cross-culturally. Because the Great Commission is addressed not only to missionaries. It is addressed to the whole Church. And we must never forget that in essence the Great Commission is a cross-cultural obligation to preach the gospel – an obligation that Jesus expects his Church to fulfill. What does “cross-cultural” mean? It means that we are obliged to preach the gospel to people of other cultures. It means that the Church is obliged to learn another language to be able to preach to those nations, to learn another culture to be able to share the gospel with them. And of course we can’t all do that – that is why we need missionaries. The Lord calls them, but the Church must support them. Because when you partner with someone, when you take part in a given mission, you receive the same reward as the missionary who goes to the mission field.
The Church’s Care For Its Missionaries (vs. 22-33)
In the third part of this passage, the apostle Paul makes a number of appeals to the church in Rome. This is the conclusion of his whole epistle and it’s quite emotional. After he has set out his theology and his understanding of the gospel (chapters 1-5), salvation (chapters 6-11) and ministry (chapters 12-14), the apostle now addresses specific appeals to his readers – appeals for them to take specific actions. From these appeals we can learn how the church should care for its missionaries. How should the church care for its missionaries? Firstly, the church must send out its missionaries.
22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you
What has hindered him? What hindered the apostle Paul from visiting the church in Rome were his priorities. Why go to the church to preach the gospel when there are unreached nations to preach the gospel to? For him visiting the church in Rome was not a priority, because they had already been reached with the gospel, whereas for the apostle Paul it was a priority to visit places unreached with the gospel. Now he has already visited them (verse 23).
23 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,
The apostle Paul will plan to visit the church in Rome, but he won’t stop there. He continues on his way to the unreached nations (verse 24).
24 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.
The apostle Paul’s missionary service covered the Roman provinces from Jerusalem to Rome – “from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum” (verse 19) – he covered Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, Achaia, Illyricum. Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula have already been reached with the gospel. Now he is heading towards the Apennine Peninsula and from there he plans to head for the Iberian Peninsula. As a missionary, the apostle Paul is constantly heading for new territories – for territories where the name of Jesus Christ is still unknown. But to be able to reach them he needs to be sent there by a given local church. Just as in the beginning he was sent on his first missionary journey by the church in Antioch. This was the first time when God’s people voluntarily fulfilled God’s call to reach the unreached. Now, in this specific case, the apostle Paul needs a new church to send him to Spain – the church in Rome. “I hope to see you in passing … and to be helped on my journey there by you.” (verse 24).
The theme of sending out missionaries takes us back to Romans 10:13-15.
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Missionaries’ feet are beautiful, because with them they go to share the Gospel – the Good News. Apart from that, by their travelling missionaries serve as a bridge, as a link between churches. And in verses 25-27 we see how the apostle Paul served as a link between the Gentile church and the Jewish church.
25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 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.
The apostle Paul preached to these churches – the churches in Thessaloniki and Philippi, in Corinth, in Ephesus – and these churches collected donations for the church in Jerusalem, which was in need. Do you see, the spiritual and material things are linked? Sending out missionaries is not just a spiritual activity. Sending out missionaries includes a financial element. When someone gives to missionary projects, he will be rewarded (verse 28).
28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
Sharing about the gift that had been entrusted to him by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia for the church in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul builds trust in himself. If these churches have entrusted their funds to him, it means he enjoys their trust and is reliable. Clearly he expects the church in Rome to support him and to secure his onward journey.
Missionaries carry God’s blessing (verse 29).
29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
And so how should the Church care for its missionaries? The Church should meet its missionaries and send them out. Sending involves not only spiritual but also financial support. For this reason the Church should collect funds not only for its own maintenance but also for missions. These funds should be spent on projects involving cross-cultural preaching of the Gospel – to people of a different culture.
Secondly, apart from sending them out and supporting them financially, the Church must pray for the missionaries. The missionaries need not only financial but also prayer support. Many missionaries share in their letters and in their experience that over the years they lose their prayer support. In the beginning, when they have announced that they are devoting themselves to be missionaries, the church has been inspired and believers have said that they will pray for them. But after a certain time, after one, two or five years, they have forgotten. But missionaries need constant prayer support. That is why in verses 30-31 the apostle Paul firmly insists on receiving it.
30 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, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,
So we must not only give to missionaries, not only send them out, but also pray for them.
And thirdly, the Church must care for the missionaries by ensuring they get rest. Missionaries do hard spiritual labor. They travel, preach, work with people, come up against rejection, persecution, meet those who refuse to believe (verse 31), fight spiritual battles. Therefore they need rest. Not having that is what the Americans call “burnout” – exhaustion and burning out. And it is the Church that should guarantee them that rest. See verse 32.
32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
The apostle Paul was longing for a little rest. Where should he rest? In the church.
And so from this passage we have learned a number of things. First, we learned what the objective of the Church is. What is the objective of the church? The nations. Reaching the unreached and producing praise to God from their lips.
Second, we learned that the Church needs to have missionaries. Why does the Church need to send out missionaries? First, to be able to reach its objective, namely to preach the Gospel to the nations – to fulfill the cross-cultural obligation that is contained in the Great Commission. Second because God works through the missionaries and by participating in their activity the Church participates in the work of God. And third, because the missionaries help the Church maintain proper priorities in relation to the gospel, namely to take care first of reaching the unreached and afterwards of saving the unsaved, and not the other way round. Because it may “get stuck in”, so to speak, in taking care of saving the unsaved and if it is concerned only for itself and only for its own nation, then Jesus may not return for many years yet. Because he said that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”.
The third thing that we learned from this passage is what the Church’s care for its missionaries must be. How must the Church care for its missionaries? Firstly, by sending them out and supporting them financially; secondly by praying for them; and thirdly by guaranteeing them refreshment and rest.
May God help us to remember our objective as a church, to realize our need for missionaries and to support them spiritually and materially with our prayers and giving.
Finally the apostle Paul ends his thought with a blessing. And may this blessing be upon us as we read these words of his.
33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.