J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Gifts of Mercy…and Donuts – Notes from Romans 15:22-33

Opportunities are not like Dunkin Donuts – when you miss one you can’t just say, “We’ll make more.”  When you have the opportunity to encourage someone, or speak truth into their lives, or offer a hug, or serve someone else, you might get a chance at some later point and time, but that unique opportunity has passed you by.  Now, we believe in a Sovereign God, so we shouldn’t be paralyzed thinking the world is coming to an end if we missed the chance to do something, but we are also called to a sober minded vigilance that is aware depth of gravity of each situation each day (I Peter 5:8).

Sometimes I’m afraid, those who call themselves Christians don’t take the day to day responsibility of bearing the privilege of the name of Christ seriously.  Sometimes the church is a lot like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.  There is a scene in the first movie where our heroine, Elizabeth Swann says, “There will come a time when you have a chance to do the right thing.”  And Jack responds by saying, “I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by.”

Yes, God is sovereign, but the life of faith is vigilantly looking for opportunities to display Christ whether that be in showing mercy to those in need, serving someone in silence, or maybe, just maybe saying something.  I often wonder which people struggle with more:  their abilities ore their confidence.  Do people think they have nothing to offer or are they just afraid to actually get involved in loving and serving others?  I firmly believe that each and every believer in Christ is equipped with some gift or talent that can either be used for self or in service.  Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has equipped the church with every spiritual blessing through Christ so that no matter your fear or background, in Christ, you are able to love and serve and contribute to the kingdom.  But so often, it comes down to whether you will use those gifts for self or service?

This week in the book of Romans, Paul is going to speak of the gifts that the church gave to him and ways that the church cared for him on his journeys.  In that, we will see a model of how gifts should be used in service, so with that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What are various gifts that God uses from each church body to bless the work of the Kingdom?

Let’s look at the gift of hospitality first.  Let’s read verses 22-24.  15:22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 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, 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.

Can you imagine for a minute the life that Paul lived as he traveled the roads to share the good news of Christ?  Just this week I took a quick ride up to High Point.  On the way up, I left the house with a travel mug of coffee, listened to a sermon in the car, and spoke with 3 different people on the phone.  On the way back, I once again had a full cup of coffee, a roaring air conditioner, good music in the background.  I spoke to 5 people on the phone.  Sent an email while driving (I know, I know) and when I walked in the door, I was greeted with 3 little girls screaming, “Daddy’s home.”  Life ain’t bad.

Paul had none of that.  He traveled arid, barren places outside for weeks at a time always dependant upon either someone’s graciousness towards him or his ability to pick up a quick job tentmaking so he could earn some cash.  He did it all because he had given his life over to proclaiming the Gospel.  In verse 22, Paul speaks about wanting to come visit the Romans but his mission of proclaiming Jesus to people who had never heard of him often hindered him from a social call.  Paul had spent the last several years prior to writing the book of Romans planting new churches throughout the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Paul felt that work was complete, he felt he was ready to go visit his friends in Rome.  Paul’s plan was to go visit the folks in Rome and catch up with them.  He would have wanted to seen how the church had grown.  He would have wanted to seen how the church responded to his letter, our book of Romans.  He would have wanted to catch his breath, to prepare his body and spirit to begin a new missionary work in Spain.  Spain at that time was under Roman control and was booming in terms of growth and importance to the Roman Empire.

So at this point, we already see how God uses certain gifts to bless the work of the kingdom.  Paul is specifically saying that he is in need of and planning on depending on the gift of hospitality.  He needs someone to give him a place to stay and feed him for an indefinite period of time so he can encourage the believers in Rome and also take care of himself before he heads out to the mission field again.  Here is the wonderful thing that I see in this passage.  Paul speaks about heading on out to Spain to do missions work (something that as far as we can tell, never happened because he got put in jail) only after he has “enjoyed the Romans company for a while.”  Paul is not in doubt or fear that he is going to be cared for, and not only will he be cared for, he will be prepared for what God has for him next.

This hospitality, this willingness and ability to care for others is an essential element of kingdom of God.  And here is the secret that is so often lost in the Martha Stewart hospitality of the world.  Hospitality is not rooted in the neatness of your house, the coordinating of appetizers, main courses, drinks, and desserts, or in the attractiveness of your curtains.  Hospitality is always about grace.  Hospitality is about mercy.  With that, the person who professes faith in Christ should be the most hospitable of people because the Christian has received mercy and grace from God.  As Cindy Holtrop from the Calvin Institue of Christian Worship said, “I did not become passionate about hospitality until I realized that it had to be rooted in grace. Not until my desire to reflect God’s hospitality to me, in no longer calling me a stranger, but in calling me a friend, did the hospitality I extend to others become linked to grace. When that happened, then hospitality became more than technique and more than a task.”

You see, when you open your home to someone, you are visibly showing them what Christ is like.  When you feed someone or when you let someone stay or live at your house, or when you make your home a home to others, then your house becomes used for the kingdom.  Remember last week, we talked about how the temptation is to make our home’s like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude where no one is allowed for any lengthy point of time.  Instead our homes must become missionary outposts for the Kingdom where God meets people and their needs.  As Henry Nouwen says so eloquently put it:  “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

The New Testament church was built and established because of the extension of hospitality of Jesus to sick sinners who in turned extended a physical hospitality to others.  Perhaps the church in America grows at such a snail’s place because we spend so much time creating a home for us to hide in instead of creating an oasis for others to find rest.

Two and half years ago, when the church was struggling ministerially, numerically, financially, and pretty much every other way a church could struggle, a friend of mind referred my family to the Missionary Care Home in GA.  This is a home built and designed to give pastors and missionaries a free place to go and rest.  We weren’t referred there.  We were practically ordered there.  So my family and I went to this home we had never seen, without a lot of money, and we had more emotional baggage than we did physical baggage.  The wonderful staff met us there with open arms.  The refrigerator was full with enough to feed us for 3 days.  They offered to keep our kids if Amy and I wanted to have date.  They offered listening and sympathetic ears if we wanted them.  They offered us a physical rest so that we could experience the spiritual rest and grace of Christ.

You may not be called to have someone live in your home.  Maybe you are.  But I know that each of us is called to live out the same hospitality that was shown to Paul by the church of Rome.  As we will see, all of these gifts are connect, and we could talk about hospitality forever, but let’s move on to the next gift in the passage:  The Gift of Charity:

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.

Before Paul headed out to Rome, he was going to go to Jerusalem and bring them the aid they needed.   You might ask, “Where did Paul get any money if he was traveling all the time?”  Verse 26 speaks about the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia gathering up money to send to the needy Christians in Jerusalem.  Paul was glad to take this money to them so they wouldn’t be in need.  Now the key to understanding giving money to those in need is given to us in the beginning of verse 27.  The churches of Macedonia and Achaia joyfully gave out of a sense of loving obligation.

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3 views of money and wealth

Blessed above all people because you have enough money to do whatever it is you want.  You can buy any item of clothing, any car, home, or whatever passes your fancy.  The most valuable thing this wealth does it makes you the master of your time.  You can go where you want when you want and how you want because you have the wealthy to make it happen.  This is essentially the American Dream which really boiled down is worship of wealth.

Blessed above all people because you have so much faith in God, He will give you enough money to do what you want.  Then everything looks the same as the first example.  You can buy any item of clothing, any car, home, or whatever passes your fancy.  The most valuable thing this wealth does it makes you the master of your time.  You can go where you want when you want and how you want because you have the wealthy to make it happen.  This is essentially the American Dream which really boiled down is worship of wealth.  What this view of wealth does is take all the selfish desires of the world and make attempt to remove the guilt by telling you that God is going to give them to you as a reward for your faith.  This is a fiendish gospel that often misses Jesus and makes stuff your functional Savior.

Blessed because you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and have been lavished with every spiritual blessing from God…Oh about your finances.  Everything you have, everything you will ever have is God’s.  It is you are but merely a servant being asked to use the master’s finances well.  This is where the other two views of money get it wrong.  They propose that the wealth of the world has some intrinsic, eternal value and real blessing is to have as much of it as possible and wealth is having the absolute freedom to do what you want.

But one of the fundamental problems in our country today is that we are addicted to our freedoms while being oblivious to our obligations.  The churches of Macedonia and Achaia joyfully gave out of a sense of loving obligation.  If there were other churches in need, they were obligated out of the inherent connectionalism that comes from being part of the Body of Christ to meet the needs of those who were going without.

  • Organically, each Christian is connected and obligated to each other.
  • Covenantally, each person at Sovereign King is connected and obligated to each other.
  • Kingdom wise, each Christian is obligated to any person in need per Jesus’ teaching in that in serving others in need, we are serving Christ Himself.

Fundamentally, the thing that should most move you to action in loving and caring for others by contributing to their needs is one thing:  awareness.  Coercion should not be the thing that moves you to give.  Promises of future blessing should not be the thing that moves you to give.  Awareness is what should move you to give.  If you hear of someone in need, your response should be, “Oh I know what it is to be in desperate need and have that need met.  That’s what Jesus did for me.  So now that I know you are in need, I’m going to reflect how Jesus served and gave to me by serving and giving to you.”

You should do that individually every day by helping folks out.  You should help folks when they don’t have enough money to pay a bill, letting folks borrow a car and the millions of other ways you should have a chance to be charitable each day.  You are called to do that each and every Sunday by giving to our offering which in turn makes sure that the ministries to which God has called us are funded.  You are called to help meet other’s needs the last Sunday of each month by giving to the mercy fund.

And now each of us is being called to give in addition to upfit our new space so that we might have a greater tool for loving and caring for people in the community.  Think about the stories we have seen just here at Sovereign King Church.  Newly singled parents with no job being able to pay their bills.  Homeless students graduating from college and becoming a Marine.  All the bills for a family having a baby with no insurance taken care.

The gift of charity is one of the primary ways in which the Kingdom of God moves forward.  Moving on, after looking at the gifts of hospitality and charity, let’s look at the gift of spiritual blessing.

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. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Paul’s plan was this.  He wanted to deliver the gift to the church in Jerusalem.  Then he wanted to spend time with the Roman believers resting and enjoying their company.  And then he wanted to head out to Spain.  But something funny along with the way happened with Paul’s plans.  Though there is some debate about whether Paul ever made it to Spain, most theologians and historians don’t feel like he ever made because of his long jail term.  Instead, while he was in jail, he wrote the Biblical letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.  Not a bad way to spend your time.

But look at what Paul’s expectation was during his time in Rome.  He says, “I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”  What does that mean?  Well the word blessing here is dispute among some scholars.  Some interpret the passage as saying, “I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the Gospel of Christ.”  The Spiritual Blessing that Paul is intending to bring the Romans is the same spiritual blessing that any believer can bring at any point and time.  Paul is saying, “The blessing of the Gospel is that the fullness of Christ dwells in each believer”  The deposit of the Holy Sprit promises that whenever a believer in Christ goes anywhere, the fullness of Jesus and the Gospel goes with them.

I know within this congregation there is a sense of fatigue and being overwhelmed.  You guys love Jesus and the Gospel and you want to see some real Gospel good happen.  You want to see marriages restored and strengthened.  You want to see folks find jobs.  You want to see folks struggling with depression find joy.  You want to see folks overwhelmed with financial worry become financially free.  And I also know that many of you feel unprepared for the task.  You think, “What in the world can I offer these folks?”  You think,

  • “I’m on marriage counselor.  I have my own marriage issues.”
  • “I don’t have any connections.  I can’t help any one get a job.”
  • “I struggle with depression myself.  I need someone to encourage me.”
  • “I don’t know how help folks get out of debt.”

But this passage should be an encouragement everyone one of us, whether we are the one in need or the one helping others in need.  Everywhere you go, you carry with you the fullness of the Gospel of Christ.  You don’t have to be an expert in any field to encourage some one.

  • You don’t have to have conquered every issue that you are facing.
  • You don’t’ have had the same experiences as others to encourage them.
  • You carry around the fullness of the Gospel of Christ with you everywhere you go because the Holy Spirit dwells within you.  And because of that you can be blessed and be a blessing to others.

Don’t listen to anything that tells you can’t.  That is not the Spirit of Christ speaking to you.  That is a lie.  And we counteract lies with truths.  This truth is that the fullness of Christ dwells within each and every believer whether you recognize it or not.  As we think about how we are to bless one another, let’s speak about the last spiritual blessing, The Gift of Intercession as our conclusion.

Paul encourages the Romans in this way and we should use these encouragements as our commissioning for the day and the week to come.

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,

Folks, we are to work together.  We are not to hide out in our homes or avoid meeting together for worship, CE Groups, Fight Club or Runway.  Yes, heading back out after work or after a difficult week is a challenge.  Sometimes, making an effort to get together with folks means changing your schedule and your plans.  But let me exhort you in the same way that Paul exhorted the Romans.  By the equipping power of Jesus and the love of the Holy Spirit that dwells with in you, let’s do this mission of creating and engaging community for the glory of Christ together.

  • Let’s pray for each other as Paul wanted the Romans to pray for him.
  • Let’s pray for the folks in our workplaces and communities.
  • Let’s stand in the gap for those who are too weak, overwhelmed or discouraged to continue on.

We have the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit to equip us and we are much more effective for the kingdom when we strive together.

31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea,

Paul was doing the work of the Kingdom and he was facing real world opposition.  Remember, within 2 years of the writing of this letter, Paul would be placed in jail because of accusations from non—believing Jews and hostile non-believers.  The mission of the kingdom of God is to take the powerful Gospel to those who do not yet believe.  But along the way, we are promised that some folks are going to be discouraged and Paul wants the Romans to pray for him.  Here is the thing, when you face opposition from folks who do not believe in Christ, you have a couple of sinful options.

  • You become angry and self-righteous and pretty much ineffective in displaying the Gospel.
  • You become cold and heart and just look at non-believers with a “That’s there problem” attitude.

Maybe when bad things happen to non-believers, you just think, “Well that’s what they get.”  Instead, what God would have for you is to be spiritually encouraged by the prayers of your church while you graciously proclaim Jesus to those who desperately need to hear it.  All that leads to Paul’s last request.

and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.  33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

When we strive for the Gospel together.  When we impart spiritual blessings by encouraging one another, when we do Godly acceptable things together, when proclaim the Gospel mercies of Christ to those who do not believe it, when we serve our community in the name of Jesus.

  • We are individually and corporately refreshed.
  • We are infused with joy from God Himself.
  • We experience God’s peace to a greater extent together rather than apart.
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May 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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