A Commentary by John Stott
*Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there* (25). The expression ‘I am on my way’ is an attempt to catch the present tense of the verb (*poreuomai*), meaning that his departure is imminent; it has even virtually begun. His purpose in going is to ‘serve the saints’ there, the people of God, in this case the Jewish Christian community. To explain this to the church in Rome, he first gives the facts about the collection (26) and then draws out its significance (27).
The facts may be simply stated. *For Macedonia and Achaia* (that is, the churches of northern and southern Greece respectively) *were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem* (26). In order to understand this, we need to think first about the poor in Jerusalem, and then about the Christians of Macedonia and Achaia. First, no explanation is given of the cause of poverty in Jerusalem. It may have been caused partly by the ‘severe famine’ which Agabus predicted (Acts 11:27ff.). But the plausible suggestion has also often been made that it was related to the economic sharing of the first church there (Acts 2:44f.; 4:32ff.). While applauding their generosity, some have questioned their wisdom, since they sold and gave ‘in the economically disastrous way of realizing capital and distributing it as income’. Secondly, Paul writes that the Macedonian and Achaian Christians *were pleased to make a contribution* for the Jerusalem poor. ‘Contribution’ renders *koinonia*, which means a ‘common share’ in anything, here in contributing to Paul’s collection. His statement that the Greek Christians *were pleased* to give (an expression he repeats in verse 27) is a forgivable euphemism. They did give freely and willingly, but only because Paul had urged them to do so!
Why then did Paul conceive and initiate this freewill offering project, this *koinonia*? Clearly he saw great significance in it, as may be seen partly from the disproportionate amount of space which he devoted to it in his letters (Rom.15:25ff.), partly from the passionate zeal with which he pronounced it, and partly from his astonishing decision to add nearly 2,000 miles to his journey, in order to present the offering himself. Instead of sailing directly west from Corinth to Rome to Spain, he has made up his mind to travel first in entirely the wrong direction, that is, to go to Rome via Jerusalem!
The significance of the offering (the solidarity of God’s people in Christ) was primarily neither geographical (from Greece to Judea), nor social (from the rich to the poor), nor even ethnic ( from Gentiles to Jews), but both religious (from liberated radicals to traditional conservatives, that is, from the strong to the weak), and especially theological (from beneficiaries to benefactors). In other words, the so-called ‘gift’ was in reality a ‘debt’: *They were pleased to do it* (sc. to make their contribution), *and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jew’s spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings* (27).
The nature of this debt Paul has already elaborated in chapter 11. Although indeed it is through Israel’s transgression that ‘salvation has come to the Gentiles’ (11:11), he has argued, yet the Gentiles must be careful not to get boastful or arrogant (11:18-20). They must rather remember that they have inherited from the Jews enormous blessings to which they have no title. In themselves they are nothing but a wild olive shoot. But having been grafted into God’s ancient olive tree, they ‘now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root’ (11:17). It is right therefore for Gentiles to acknowledge what they owe to the Jews. When we Gentiles are thinking of the great blessings of salvation, we are hugely in debt to the Jews, and always will be. Paul sees the offering from the Gentile churches as a humble, material, symbolic demonstration of this indebtedness.
Tomorrow: Romans 15:28-29. Paul plans to visit Spain.