Romans 15:25-27, “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.”
For many years before he wrote his epistle to the Roman Christians, Paul had longed to come to Rome and fellowship with the believers there. However, he had been providentially hindered. His calling to preach Christ where Christ was unknown meant that he had to finish his church planting work in the eastern part of the Roman Empire before he could go west to Rome, and then ultimately to Spain. In the concluding portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we learn that at the time he wrote the letter, his work in the east was complete and he was finally able to travel to Rome (Rom. 1:13; 15:18-24). Yet, after finishing his letter to the Romans, Paul would not go immediately to the imperial capital. He had one more stop to make on the way—Jerusalem.
Why did Paul need to go to Jerusalem before coming to Rome? We read in today’s passage that he had a collection to bring to the Jerusalem church for the alleviation of the needs of the impoverished brethren there. We read about this collection elsewhere in the New Testament. In Acts 24:17, we find Paul’s testimony to Felix that he came to Jerusalem in order to bring alms to his fellow Jewish Christians. The Apostle also solicited funds for this collection from the church in Corinth through his epistles to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9). Given the way that Paul talks about this fund-raising effort in Romans and in 1 and 2 Corinthians, we see that he did not regard it as simply a way to meet the physical needs of the Jerusalem church. In addition to serving that important purpose, the collection was theologically significant as a demonstration of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. By contributing to the needs of the believers in Jerusalem, the Gentile Christians demonstrated their love and oneness with Jewish Christians (Rom. 15:26-27).
The Apostle is clear that the Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia (modern-day Greece) gave willingly and did not need to be compelled. Nevertheless, Paul saw their giving also as the fulfillment of an obligation they had to the Jews. The Gentile Christians had come to share in the blessings of the Jewish Christians. Salvation is of the Jews—for that nation was entrusted with the oracles of God and the Savior Himself was Jewish (9:1-5). Because they had received the spiritual blessing of salvation through the Jewish Messiah, they had a debt of gratitude to pay to the Jewish church in the form of contributing to their material needs out of thankfulness for what the Jews had given them (15:27).
As Gentile Christians, we owe a great debt to the old covenant community and the Jewish people. God chose them as the first recipients of His special revelation. He saves the world through a Messiah who is of Jewish ethnicity. Jewish Apostles wrote the vast majority of the New Testament (Luke-Acts being the exception) and preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Let us not forget that debt, and let us seek to “repay” it by supporting Christian ministry to the Jewish people.