Join Me in My Struggle

Romans 15:14-33

As we come to the closing words of chapters 15 and 16, Paul turns from thoughts of a theological and spiritual nature to personal reflections and plans for the future. But not without a final word to these Christians in Rome who are wrestling with this diversity between Jew and Gentile, between cultural differences and dietary differences, and so many other things that worked against their being unified.

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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:14-33

The modern church growth movement says, build homogeneous churches – churches where people are like each other socially, racially, economically – because people will naturally gravitate to people with whom they share similarities. They would look at the church in Rome and shake their heads and say, see what you get? You can’t build a church with Jews and Gentiles together – they should have had a church for the Jews and a church for the Gentiles, a church for the upwardly mobile, a church for the working class poor, a traditional church, a contemporary church.

But Paul didn’t believe that. He said, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” The answer to diversity is not to set up your separate churches and gather people who are just like you – that’s how the world operates. Instead, the church is a living demonstration of how God breaks down barriers and unites people who have nothing in common but the blood of his Son Jesus Christ – and he shows how that is more than enough.

What I really appreciate from Paul is his parting word on the subject – vs. 14 “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Paul expects the best out of them – he expects unity and harmony to prevail.
• What if he had said, “you’re all so hard headed and selfish you’ll probably end up splitting and hating one another.” Sometimes we create self-fulfilling prophecies by our low expectations and lack of faith in each other.
• Instead of giving in to the natural tendency, Paul raises the bar and says, “I know you can do it!” Never give up hope where God is involved. I hope that is a message that resonates loudly here at Glenwood.

I can’t help but be impressed by Paul. There are some qualities in his life that are, not only admirable, but worthy of imitation. And in a way that is not arrogant, but humbly aware of his influence and leadership:
1 Cor. 4:16 “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”
1 Cor. 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Phil. 3:17 “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Phil. 4:9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”
Here in Rom. 15:30 – “Join me in my struggle.”
There are no spectators – we’re all called to front line faith.
Illust. - Bud Wilkenson (Univ. of Okla. football coach) – “football is a game where 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise watch 22 men desperately in need of rest.” We need to get out of the stands and “join” Paul in his struggle.

As I read this passage, three qualities characterize Paul’s work and plans:

Humility
Illust – Lion, king of the jungle
Some folks just have an inflated view of themselves and everybody knows it. Paul really had a reason to boast by human standards – where he had been, what he had accomplished. By human standards, Paul had done more and accomplished more than you or I, or all of us together could hope to accomplish in all our lifetimes. But you never hear him boast or speak of his own accomplishments – quite to the contrary. Just in these few verses in Romans 15, listen to how he appraises his ministry and accomplishments:
vs. 17 “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.”
vs. 18 “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…”
vs. 19 “by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Holy Spirit”
vs. 32 “so that by God’s will I may come to you.”

Paul’s joy came, not in what he accomplished, but by what God accomplished through him. Paul’s plans were made, not with human strategy and personal convenience, but in God’s will and purpose for him.

Glory for Paul was not in receiving the applause of men, but in the applause of heaven – not in being admired, but in God being glorified. Most of us like to get a little of the glory. We do it for God, but we don’t want others to miss seeing our part and making over us.

He had managed, more than anyone I have ever known, to shift the attention from himself to God. Not in a self-deprecating way, or with a pseudo-humility that wants others to say, “well of course God was involved, but isn’t he lucky to have you on his side.” There was such an absolute selflessness to everything he did and said, that we cannot help but see God at work.

Do a little personal check-up this morning. Listen to your words – better yet, ask your husband or wife or close friend, “Do my words communicate a dependence on God – a humility that acknowledges that he is in control?”

Do you talk about what you are doing and accomplishing, or what God is doing and accomplishing? Is your favorite pronoun “He” or “I”?

Purpose
With this absolute sense of God’s guidance and his unswerving commitment to glorify God, Paul also lets us see into his future plans and ultimate purposes.

His preaching was strategic – vs. 20 “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.”
As he writes this letter he is coming to the conclusion of his third missionary journey. A major portion of this trip has been spent in gathering financial help from the Gentile churches for the church in Jerusalem which has been suffering from the famine that has engulfed Judea.

Paul tells them that as soon as he completes the delivery of that gift he intends to come to Rome (Remember back in ch. 1? But little does he know the circumstances or the means by which he will arrive in Rome some two years later – in chains, coming to face trial before Caesar himself).

Spain, though, is his ultimate objective. Spain was the limits of the known world at that time. It represented the completion of his commission to preach to the Gentiles.

Paul made some amazing statements:
Rom. 15:19 “…from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”
Rom. 15:23 “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions…”
Col. 1:23 “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

That doesn’t mean that Paul had personally preached the gospel to every person in every town and village in every country, but he had preached and established churches in every major city in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece, as well as preaching everywhere in Palestine. And from his work, the gospel had spread into every city in every country in the known world.

Think of the thousands of miles logged on foot, on ship, on horseback – all of the opposition, the persecution, the physical trials he suffered and endured in the course of preaching the gospel.

There really is only one way to do what Paul did and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and the obstacles that are before you. That is to be focused on your goal, be committed to your purpose, and to live by your priorities.

What has God called you to do and to be? Paul had an incredible sense of his purpose in life, but was he unique? Do you know what your purpose is, and especially where do you fit in the kingdom? What are you doing to serve God’s ultimate plans? Tough question? I don’t know if Paul would have called it this, but he had a mission statement. It kept him centered, it kept him from being distracted by lesser demands. You and I need a mission statement – “My purpose in life is to…”

You’ve got to have a sense of why you’re here and what you’re working toward.

Courage
You can’t talk very long about Paul without mentioning courage. When you read about his trials in 2 Cor., you can’t help but marvel at the things he endured for the sake of the gospel - 2 Cor. 11:23-28 “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Even as he writes this chapter he is looking toward arriving in Jerusalem. He has already been warned in Ephesus, Tyre, and Caesarea that only danger awaited him in Jerusalem. They begged him in tears not to go. He goes to Jerusalem with eyes wide open – Rom. 15:31 “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.”

Still, he goes without regard for personal safety because he has a God-given mission to fulfill.

Most of us have never had our personal safety threatened for sharing the gospel. We don’t make any enormous sacrifices because we’re a Christian. But it does take courage to be a Christian – to live day in and day out by priorities that put you crosswise with the world around you – to take a stand for things you believe in that exclude you from certain activities, that loses you some friends and makes others look down on you.

It takes courage to make Jesus the Lord of your life and let him take control. It makes demands on your time and energies and finances. When Jesus is the Lord of your life, you live no longer for yourself, but for him. With Paul, you are crucified to yourself, and Jesus lives and rules in you.

What sacrifices are you willing to make, what price are you willing to pay to live for Christ?

When Paul says, “join me in my struggle” he isn’t just writing to people 2000 years and an ocean away from us, he is inviting each one of us to join him in laying down our lives and taking up our cross to follow Jesus.