Romans 15:23-33 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. 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. 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. 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, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, 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. (ESV)
Some years ago, a missionary was leaving to return to his field after spending some months housed in a church provided apartment. The church was explicit that they wanted to serve its missionaries by providing clean comfortable housing while the missionary family was at home on furlough. On the day after the missionary left for the field, I stopped by to encourage some ladies who were cleaning the apartment, preparing it for the next incoming family. It must have been the heat or a cloudy day because the cleaning ladies, instead of laughing and feeling good about the terrific service they were providing, were grumping that they were having to clean up after someone else. I looked rather critically at the apartment and I, albeit looking through a man’s eyes, did not see any unexpected dirtiness. Some dust behind the fridge and under the couch and perhaps some smeary windows. We had clearly told the family that we should do what we could, while they should focus on their return to ministry on the field, a job we could not do. I felt sad that we could not provide our services cheerfully, realizing that these judgmental ladies had an unwritten expectation for the missionary Mom of superhuman achievement. What they said and what they felt were two different things.
If the missionary wife had known of the criticism she received, she would have been crushed, even completely defeated. One more pressure on her already bent back! In closing chapter 15 of Romans, Paul reminds his Roman friends of his desire to come visit them, but also of his pressing personal necessity of taking the Macedonian love gift back to the suffering Jerusalem mother church in their famine. As he outlines his plan and reasons for delay, he allows us to see some of the burdens on his heart that are typical of any missionary serving in a remote place in any age.
Despite his glorying in all that Christ had done through him, Paul also had had some severe pressure and disappointments along the way. He had endured resistance from sinners which had imperiled him.
Barriers, resistance and heartbreak all constantly destroy a worker’s spirit. All through Acts, Paul encounters resistance form hostile unbelievers, and the situation is no different today. He wrote of numerous confrontations in his classic list in 2 Corinthians 11. In our day the situation remains unchanged. Missionaries face resistance, political unrest and danger, unsanitary water and health conditions, wretched climates, not to mention the constant distress of being so far away from loved ones and friends. They would love to hear the sermon we criticize. The very ministry they are called to do is in itself debilitating.
Even more damaging is the rejection of the saints which impedes the work. Not only did the unbelieving Jews hate Paul, but even many Christian Jews regarded him as false to the national heritage, especially regarding the Law. Rejected by his own brethren. There was a danger that the very gift he brought might not be well received in Jerusalem, being seen as a bribe. I can hardly count the times when Eunice and I have seen national churches turn on the very missionary which brought them the gospel, injuring the missionary to the core of his heart. We ourselves have suffered at the hand of other Christians. And so Paul lets us see that God does not choose to keep him out of danger and discouragement, but to keep him through them.
These problems are not insurmountable. Paul, the missionary pastor, felt the pressures of the attacks for sure, but he also tells us of the powers that would release him as well. Surely his first spiritual defense is his submissive obedient life attitude, a conviction which ultimately led him to his death. Further, he sees prayer as work. Ian Hay of SIM often says that prayer is not for the work or even part of it; prayer is the work! The Greek word he uses has the idea of striving together in agony as a team. And he beseeches them, implores, enlists that they please please pray with him! He is a desperate man in a hard corner. He is in a pit with a lion on a snowy day. He is motivated solely by his relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love that the Holy Spirit gives us for each other.
In the end, he longs for a job well completed and received with blessing by all concerned, especially God. In our day our American church has become very politicized, buying into the lie that ours is the most important country on the globe and that we can change it through political effort and reform. Such is not the case. Our world is universally loved by our God and by our Lord Jesus who died for all people – pagans, Muslims, homosexuals, democrats, liberals, unpopular brothers-in-law, even North Carolinians of German decent (like me)! Our missionaries are out there in the middle of the hottest spots with the most danger, struggling with the darkest enemies and a resistant audience. The plea is for us to struggle with them in prayer, equally as submissive in service to Christ as are they. How seriously do we hear and receive their pleas to pray? Prayer is their work!
Bill Schmidt (Calvary Missionary)