Grace and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ!
One of the most neglected observations about Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is that it was written to inspire them to help him with his next missionary journey. He only offers hints as to the mission on his mind in the beginning of the letter. First, Paul does not sound like an evangelist who wants to come to Rome in order to hold a crusade or a bunch of tent meetings to reach those who are not yet Christians in the city and surrounding region. Instead, Paul sounds like a missionary who will be looking for some kind of support so that he might reach the rest of the Gentiles in another place. Second, Paul describes his obligation as an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles as to both Greeks and barbarians or the wise and the foolish. Paul has been busy setting up churches throughout the eastern Mediterranean among the Greeks in strategic locations so that they might reach the surrounding regions. But now he has finished founding those churches and he hints that the next part of the world where Paul wants to establish churches is among the barbarians. Barbarians is a Greek word that sounds like its meaning – it is poking fun at the way that their foreign languages sound to the supposedly more sophisticated Greco-Roman ears. When Paul says “to the wise and to the foolish” the idea in English is more like ‘to the sophisticates and to the rustics.’ So Paul wants to take the gospel to a part of the world that the Greeks and Romans thought of as uncivilized. In other words, Paul is hinting that he wants to move onto the western Mediterranean.
Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the Christians who were in Rome so that they would joyfully help him to reach the ends of the earth. He wrote that letter to Christians who already knew the good news of Jesus Christ and who knew it well. But his goal in proclaiming the good news was to get them interested in the mission on his mind and to encourage them to get involved. I too want us to be united behind a mission to reach people not only in our backyards but also in another part of the world. Like Paul’s strategy, this is an ambitious goal.
But we are thinking too small if we just think of our part to play in God’s mission to save people in our neighborhoods. God wants us to stretch us and help us to grow through reaching people we might be tempted to think of as uncivilized and who sound funny to our ears. The place might seem like it is at the ends of the earth from here, but this goal is important for us as a congregation to be united with a clear sense of our mission and purpose.
No doubt in the back of our minds we have hints about what this mission might involve for us as a congregation but we are going to have to take some time to discover the destination and the shape it will take together. This needs to be the mission on our mind – together and united – a mission that will excite us. Thus I want you to listen for and hear hints of the mission on our mind as a congregation of believers in Jesus. It might seem like a big dream, but if God wants us to imagine it then He will open the doors for us to do it.