Perhaps the most natural condition for every human is selfishness. Granted, selfishness has varying degrees, but we all begin life practicing and further learning about selfishness.
Consider a newborn baby. It cries because it is spanked and is cold. But over a very short period of time, most babies begin to learn that crying will bring attention – including food or a diaper change. As the child grows, two of the favorite words become “Mine!” and “Why?” And as we grow, we are told to “Look out for #1!” or something similar.
Now, I do not mean to suggest that a baby is intentionally manipulating others by their selfishness, but children do learn that trait quickly. And I am not suggesting that having some selfish tendencies is wrong – such tendencies can actually be a protective mechanism and save us from harm at times. But I am stating that it is natural to be selfish, and is something we need to watch in ourselves if we are to become well-rounded human beings…and particularly to be faithful followers of Christ.
Consider the parent who wants the child to learn to share. They may scold the child for holding onto a toy or book. But the real words with meaning are: “You need to share!” Any child will respond (at least mentally, but often verbally), “No! It’s mine.” The parent gets frustrated (and maybe depending upon the company, embarrassed) and a small battle ensues. But unless the parent is diligent that child will not share.
However, I would argue that as natural as it is for us to be selfish, being made in the image of God, we are destined to share. God is a giving God. Of course, He gave His Son, but He gave from His creativity with Creation. He gave redemption to Noah. He gave a promise to Abraham. He gave a purpose to Moses. He gave hope, and later a land, to Israel. God is a giving God, and we, the imago dei, are meant to be giving as well. Thus, we are meant to share. But to share we must overcome the instinct to be selfish.
In Romans 15.22-29, Paul “shares” his plans with the church at Rome. As he stated in Romans 1, he had been hindered from coming to be with them, but is now ready to do so, after he completes one more task. And that task relates to taking a collection back to Jerusalem. That collection represents what I want to discuss in this message. I will do that in three points today. Ultimately, however, this passage has two other aspects of sharing, and I will cover those in videos later this week.
We Share Because of the Needs of Others
Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. In Romans 15.19, he states that he has planted churches throughout the eastern portion of the Roman Empire (from Jerusalem to Illyricum), and now his intention is to plant to the west, specifically mentioning going all the way to Spain. To do that, Paul would need a new base of operations. He would need help and assistance – with assistance meaning resources consisting of money, prayer, people, etc.
But before he makes it to Rome to establish that base, Paul needs to take care of the poor saints in Jerusalem. By poor, Paul does not mean poor in faith, he means in the financial sense. We know of one reason these saints were likely poor, but another reason was likely as well.
First, from 46-48 AD, a major drought hit the area of the Middle East. This drought caused a great famine. Historians note this, but we also find a prophecy about this in Acts 11.27-28. A collection was taken for the saints at that time, and Barnabas and Paul took that collection to Jerusalem. But a greater collection was taken over time, and Paul planned to deliver that to Jerusalem.
Second, we know that the early church shared everything they had with one another. We find this idea in Acts 2.44-45 where we are told everyone sold what they had so people’s needs would be met. We find another example at the end of Acts 4 where we are told that Barnabas sold his property and no one had any need (v 34). And that story feeds into Acts 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira who also sound their property. Ideally, this idea is great because everyone has their needs met. But once everyone sold what they had, when nothing was left to sell, and then a famine hit, nothing could be done.
And so, Paul asked for the churches he started to contribute. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 16.1, Paul says he has asked the churches in Galatia to take a collection, and then in v2, he says the church at Corinth should do the same. Several months later, when writing 2 Corinthians, he stated that the church in Corinth desired to give, but they had not actually done what they said they would do (cf. 2 Cor 8.10-11). Corinth was a wealthy city (v.14) and could help alleviate the challenge, but they were being selfish and unwilling to share. So, in that letter, Paul also mentioned the gifts that had been given by the churches in Macedonia (which would include Philippi) which gave even amidst their own financial challenges.
Therefore, churches throughout the region had been taking a collection for the better part of a year. And now Paul needed to take that collection back to Jerusalem to sustain the church there.
We Share Because of the Sharing of Others
In the first century, reciprocity was very important. In our day, we may consider the idea as generally worthwhile, but it was fully embedded into the culture of that day. The main difference was in what gets reciprocated. For instance, in today’s world, if someone invites you over for a meal, before leaving, you might say, “This was fun. We should do it again. Next time, we will do it at my place.” That is reciprocity. But it is a very equal trade – that is, you are trading hosting a meal with one another. However, in the first century, what was returned was something different. An example would be to repay honor to someone for a gift you received. We see this in Romans 15.
Read Romans 15.25-27.
The idea here is that the spiritual blessing shared by the Jews was to be returned as material blessings by the Gentiles. Reciprocity would take place, but the Gentiles could not fully share the spiritual blessings, because salvation originated with the Jews. Remember, Romans 1.16 says that the gospel is the power unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. So, the spiritual blessing comes to the Jew first, and thus it must come from the Jew. That is, God sent salvation for all people, but Jesus specifically came to Israel, and He was physically a Jew. That was by design. And now, that salvation had been shared with Gentiles, including those in Rome.
To share that gospel meant sharing the message of salvation, but let’s acknowledge the fact that sharing the gospel around the region also required financial sacrifice to send people as missionaries (like Paul). But Paul was not appealing to the need to send money because of the cost of travel. He appealed because if the Jews had not shared the Gospel, then how could the Gentiles know? Of course, God would make a way as that was part of His plan (see Romans 14.9-12), but Paul has appealed to these various churches because they “owed” it to the saints in Jerusalem (15.27).
We Share Because We Can Partner with Others
I touched on this partnership a bit in the last point. We share with others because others have shared for us. But I want to share something important about this passage – in this letter, Paul does not ask the Romans to give to the saints in Jerusalem. He may have done so at a later point, but he does not do so here. Why?
They do not know him. It is that simple. Of course, it also might have been difficult for them to take up a collection and get it to him before he returned to Jerusalem, but that is secondary. Paul had not been to Rome (cf. 1.13, 15.22), so he did not have a direct connection with them. However, this section of Scripture shares that he intends to come to Rome after returning to Jerusalem. What does he hope to achieve when that happens?
To have them become partners with him in the next phase of his ministry when he heads toward Spain. At that point, he will ask for money, for people, and any other resource, but only after he has spent a little time with them. During that time, they will encourage one another, minister to, and with, each other, and become partners in ministry together (cf. 1.12, 15.24,29).
So, I have shared the purpose of Paul writing this paragraph. I have put it in the context of the first century. But do these words still have application today? Well, first, look at the headings. The headings state that WE SHARE. That is meant to mean both Christians then (as Paul was writing to the saints in Rome) and now (as these principles are still applicable today).
Therefore, how might we consider these ideas as Fairfax Baptist Church in the 21st Century?
First, each Hub Sunday, we give to those who are considered financially poor. Let me assure you that our brothers and sisters in Kenya (and elsewhere) are filled with joy, with hope, with love, etc. But economically, the areas (and even countries) in which they live are definitely what we call Third World. Our ministry of sharing with them helps Michael and Benson to travel, but that is all. Of course, we send the money to them and if they use it for food or something else, so be it. I have no problem with that. But thankfully, we have, AND TAKE, the opportunity to give to those pastors each month. I would love to give more to them as well as give to more individuals, but for now, that is where we are.
Second, we give forward because others have given for us. Fairfax Baptist Church is 137 years old. People have given over the years so that we could have the land we are on, the building we are in, the pews on which we sit, the sound system we have, etc. We give now so that others can hear now and in the future. A few people here have ties to this area from the time the church started, but many of us do not. The people in 1884, or 1925, or 1967, or even 2003 had no idea who some of us are, but they gave forward. So, we honor them by giving forward as well. The people of Rome were to pay it back, we pay it ahead.
Let me share one more idea about sharing it forward that relates to my work in Kenya. Of course, our church has made a big impact in Lesurwa spiritually (by sharing the gospel and other Bible stories) and physically (with the well and the building for the church). And we have impacted others in the general area as well. But beyond that, I have taught many pastors from different areas of Kenya online as well. Do you know why? Let me share a couple of reasons.
- God told me to. That is first and foremost.
- It is a way for me to give back.
- It is a way for me to give forward.
As for #3, some of those pastors will reach ten or twenty people. Others may reach 100 or 1000. Others may reach more. But early on in my planning for our non-profit, it dawned on me that with the growth of Christianity in Africa, and the fading of it in America, it is possible that someone from Africa may be a missionary to America at some point in the future and that person may lead my great-grandchild to know Jesus. Of course, I do not know that will be true, but it is possible. And I have been reminded of that this week which has reignited a passion to get back to recording videos for pastors abroad.
So, we must continue to give for those who have less, and to give forward for those who have given in the past, but what about shared ministry? Remember, Paul did not ask the Romans to give – yet. But he did have an expectation of partnering with them one day once they knew one another.
Some of you may remember missionaries travelling from church to church to get donations (and more importantly pledges) so they can go on/or back to the mission field. We have helped the Flemings with that process. But a major challenge with that approach is that you do not know who to trust. Thus, you could have a missionary come and sweettalk his/her way to getting a bunch of money and use it to sit on a beach somewhere. I am not saying that is indicative, nor that I know any who would do that, but I am certain the next one who does that would not be the first.
That is one of the benefits of the SBC. The Cooperative Program allows us to give to missions as a church. And besides the regular percentage of our overall budget that we give as a church, we also participate in seasonal offerings like the Missouri Missions Offering, the International Mission Board (i.e. Lottie Moon Christmas) Offering, the North American Mission Board (i.e. Annie Armstrong Easter) Offering that are SBC-related.
Through these offerings we can partner with people who can go where we cannot or will not go. And the oversight they have from NAMB or the IMB provides assurance that the funds are spent well.
But the whole message boils down to whether we are willing to share with others – or if we will allow our selfish nature to control us. I am not suggesting that a particular percentage is necessary although the idea of giving 10% was instituted by Abraham, not as part of the Law with Moses. But whether we give 5% or 10% or 50% or even 90% as some (like JC Penney did), we can never outgive God who gave us Jesus. And it is because of God’s unselfishness, that we should seek to share what we can, and even a little more.
Paul was preparing to return to Jerusalem so he could share a gift from the churches with the saints in Israel. But Paul’s goal was to get to Rome so he could share his life with them, God’s message with them, and allow them to share their resources with him, as they shared in ministry together – in Rome, in Spain, and everywhere in between.
What’s Next?: We are all called to share of ourselves. Of course, that sharing can be of our time, our talent, and our treasure. Consider one way to share from each aspect this week.
- Do you have a friend that needs to talk? (time)
- Do you know someone who needs help with something? (talent)
- Do you know someone who needs a few extra funds? If not, next week is Hub Sunday! Bring your coins or dollars for the pastors in Kenya). Or give to the Missouri Missions Offering. Or next month we will begin packing for Operation Christmas Child. (treasure)
We always have an opportunity to share. The question is simply, will we?