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Paul is planning a big trip. One obstacle, however, remains in the way of Paul’s trip to the western part of the empire: He is on his way to Jerusalem “in the service of the saints there”. “In the service” translates the Greek verb diakoneo (to serve, minister). This word refers to any kind of ministry, but the context reveals that Paul is referring to the specific ministry of “the collection”. Paul is going to help the poor in Jerusalem.

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 [the churches in] 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.

English Standard Version. (2016). (Romans 15:22–29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Paul initiated this enterprise on his third missionary journey, requesting contributions from the Gentile churches he had planted to be sent to Jerusalem for the believers who were suffering from severe want. In somewhat of a parenthesis, Paul now explains this “service” before continuing to discuss his plans to visit Rome. Macedonia is the Roman province that includes important Pauline churches like Philippi and Thessalonica, while Achaia includes Corinth.

  • Paul has requested money from them, but he makes clear that they gave of their own free will.
  • They were “pleased to make a contribution [koinonia].” Koinonia is the usual New Testament word for “fellowship” enjoyed by believers in Jesus.
  • The money sent by the Gentiles is a tangible expression of this fellowship.

The recipients of this collection are “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem”. This rendering assumes a particular interpretation of the Greek phrase used here.

  • Some commentators think that “the poor” may have a theological meaning, derived from the Old Testament and Jewish use of that word to denote the “pious.”
  • But since Paul gives no hint of this theological use of the word, the interpretation is preferable.
  • We are to help the poor. That is clear.

We detect why the collection is so important to Paul. It is not just a charitable project; it is also designed to bring into closer fellowship Gentile and Jewish believers. The Gentiles, after all, have benefited spiritually from the Jews. As Paul explains, Gentile Christians derive whatever spiritual blessing they experience from the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The Gentile disciples can partially repay this debt by sharing with the Jews their own material blessings.

  • Paul will only head for Rome and Spain when he has “completed this task” of bringing the collection to Jerusalem.
  • Why must Paul himself accompany the collection? He hints at the reason in the phrase that translates “I … have made sure that they have received this fruit” (lit. trans.: “I have sealed for them this fruit”).
  • The idea of “sealing” (sphragizo, affix a seal) often connotes an official affirmation of authenticity. Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, must accompany the gift to Jerusalem in order to authenticate its purpose as a healing gesture.

Paul breathes “a sigh of relief.” For by the time he gets to Rome the tension over the collection will be over. He will therefore be able to come to them “in the full measure of the blessing of the Messiah.” Paul probably refers here to the mutual ministry of edification he anticipates when he comes to Rome.

Digging deeper:

  • Galatians 2:10 — 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
  • Acts 24:17 — 17 “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings;
  • 1 Timothy 5:16 — 16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.