I Will Leave for Spain by Way of You

Mission was never meant to be delegated to para church agencies, and it was never meant to be something we followed from a distance.

Among the many things you do for mission, truly believing the gospel, truly loving the God of the gospel, faithfully living the life of the gospel, wholeheartedly committing to the community of the gospel, and faithfully passing on the truth of the gospel are indispensable pursuits. This mindset means that as pastors and elders we are going to have to see our health as both an immediate and an ultimate issue, it means that members of churches are going to have to take stock and take ownership for what we do here and now, week on week, seeing it as a vital component to Christ being honoured. 

 

If you attend a well organised missions event where your mind and heart are stretched by the need of the world and the urgency of the task of making Christ known, it is quite likely that you will have asked yourself a couple of questions that can be hard to answer – what part am I to play, and what part can our church play in the work of reaching the lost with the gospel? To spare our excessive guilt we have formulated a catchphrase which seems to cover things quite well – pray, give, go. This is undoubtedly a good ABC of what can be done, and it is helpful as far as it goes, but it does not do full justice to what local churches can and ought to do when it comes to mission.

In this post I want to look at some of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in the book of Romans, and from there highlight a ‘4th way’ where our walk with God personally, and our life as church locally, joins up with what God is doing globally. Romans 15 is an excellent place to turn to if we want to understand something of the dynamic which ought to exist between the church and mission. This is one of those pieces of tail end material in Paul’s letters that we often and easily overlook, but it provides for us two points of connection between the local and the global which I am convinced, if grasped, can give us a different approach to how we live day by day, how we serve side by side in the local church, and how we engage meaningfully with global ministry.

The health of the local church in global mission

It is all too easy with a book like Romans to forget the reason for its existence. If we come from a Christian background we will be familiar with the fact of Romans, this weighty book which lurks ominously behind the sweeping drama of Acts. We might even be familiar with some of the features of Romans, either its broad arguments, or sample texts that we have learned for evangelism. We tend to forget, however, that the transmission of this text and the motivation behind its composition are of enormous import in our understanding of what it has to say.

This is a letter, a real life document, subjected to the same processes and pressures that any epistle would have faced in travelling from one place to another in its day. Paul has written this letter to Christians in Rome, many of whom he has never met, and some of whom he is acquainted with. He wants to minister to them, and through them he wants to make a connection that might be profitable for them and the work that Paul hopes to do. This means that the weighty doctrine, the wonderful truths that this book contains, are in a certain sense a means to an end. Paul is establishing common ground, he is teaching the saving grace of the gospel, so that he might identify his ministry to these people, in order that they in turn might endorse his ministry as he presses on for Spain.

Paul, however, is also deeply concerned about the health and life of the local church in Rome, and so he teaches them. He writes to them ‘very boldly by way of reminder’ (15:15), a theme which he first introduced in chapter one. There he exulted in the fact that the Roman believers’ faith ‘is proclaimed in all the world’ (1:8), and shares his longing ‘to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you’ (1:11).

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