Friday, February 13, 2015

The fullness of grace

"But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, 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 things. So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessings of Christ."  Romans 15:23-29 (NRSV)

The setting for this letter to the Roman Christians is linked to the part of Paul’s journey in Acts 20-21 where Paul is headed toward Jerusalem to meet with the church there. Acts 20:16 says that he was eager to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Paul loved Israel, and he is eager to return to Jerusalem and deliver, to the poor Christians, money collected by the Gentile churches. Paul wants to minister to these people, and his desire is so strong to go to Jerusalem, that he ignores all of the Holy Spirit-filled advice given to him by the churches in Miletus, Tyre, and Caesarea. These churches urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul was determined to go anyway. (Acts 20 and 21).

We know the ending of the story. Paul went to Jerusalem, was arrested and sent to Rome where he was a prisoner until his death. In the scripture quoted above, Paul expresses his desire to see the Roman Christians, and he prophecies that he will “come in the fullness of the blessings of Christ.” Paul acted against the instructions of the Holy Spirit when he returned to Jerusalem. Yet, God still used Paul in a way that was mightier than anyone could imagine. After Paul was arrested and imprisoned, the “fullness of the blessings of Christ” extended not only to the Roman Christians, not only to the Gentile churches, but to all churches throughout the ages. God used Paul’s disobedience to bless our lives right now—right this very moment. What grand, all encompassing, time surpassing grace!