For years Paul has labored faithfully in the Gentile fields, bringing harvest after harvest into the Kingdom, training workers to sustain and keep those churches strong. Paul’s ministry has had three broad focuses: to plant churches, to train workers, and to support the churches (whether or not he planted them) through his letters. We today are the continued beneficiaries of his ministry.
However, there was one more focus of Paul’s ministry that we haven’t noted as closely—Paul’s bridge-building ministry between Jews and Gentiles. Paul was a unique link between the old and new ways of being God’s people—a Jew committed to the Gentile mission. Even Peter, chief among the disciples, failed this aspect of the mission, favoring the Jews over the Gentiles. Paul must have felt quite alone at times, working hard to serve the life of this new creation in Christ, a Church of Jews and Gentiles together, the New People of God.
And here, in Romans 15:22-29 we catch a significant glimpse of this focus of Paul’s ministry—the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. See, Paul has a plan: collect a freewill offering from the Gentile churches and bring it to the Jews in Jerusalem, suffering under a famine. The move is practical as well as rhetorical—practical because there was a need in the Church, rhetorical because in accepting the much-needed gift the predominantly Jewish Church in Jerusalem would be forced to accept fellowship with the Gentile Church. Paul, in other words, leverages mercy in an attempt to bring unity to the Church.
Whatever else we say about Paul, whatever else we think about his ministry and his theology, this fact is always paramount: Paul’s greatest concern was for the unity of the Church in Christ—one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one people of God, Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Man and Woman, redeemed by Christ, made one in Christ, never again to be divided.