We are coming to the conclusion of our study of Romans. And as I have said previously, the last few chapters of Romans, starting in chapter 12, are not doctrinal so much as they are practical application. And that application is particularly focused on the church. In these three chapters, Paul has written concerning the life, worship and fellowship of the church in great detail. Now at the end of chapter 15, he speaks about what might be called the fruit of the church. At the beginning of the epistle he stated that he wanted to see some spiritual fruit from the church at Rome back in chapter 1vs 13. Now in vs 28 of chapter 15 he speaks again of this fruit of the church.
Now spiritual fruit is a desired outcome of our faith, isn’t it? Spiritual fruit is the desired outcome of spiritual life. It is the purpose of spiritual gifts, to produce spiritual fruit. The question though is what is spiritual fruit? A lot of times we tend to categorize conversion as spiritual fruit. But actually, the scripture indicates fruit is not the beginning of spiritual life, but the result of spiritual life. As the Holy Spirit lives in you and leads you and works in you He produces spiritual fruit in you. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
So in these closing remarks to the church of Rome, Paul is going to emphasize four areas of fruitfulness in the church, which should be applicable to all churches. That’s not to say that these four are the only four fruits of the church, but they are ones that we should be exhibiting if we are truly a fellowship of believers.
The purpose of the church is not just to house a gathering of people who enjoy each other’s company. You can have fellowship at a ball game. But Christian fellowship is a body or a group of believers who are connected in spirit and united in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fellowship in the things of Jesus Christ is the reason we are in communion together, and that sort of fellowship will produce spiritual fruit.
Now there are four areas of spiritual fruitfulness that are described in this passage. I have managed to ascribe alliteration to them for the sake of helping us in our study. The first fruit is providence, the second fruit is the present, the third is prayer, and the fourth is peace. Paul starts out by talking about providence. Now providence as a word does not show up on any list in scripture of spiritual gifts. But I think it encompasses the fruits of faithfulness and patience and goodness. Providence speaks of the will of God, the plan of God, worked out among His people. When we speak of providence, we mean an act of God, which is worked out in the affairs of men through their circumstances and their plans. A lot of times as Christians we want God to perform the miraculous. We want Him to interrupt the natural order of things and impose a supernatural event in answer to our prayers. But providence is no less than a miracle. In fact it may be more of a miracle for God to work through His foreknowledge and work through our circumstances to bring about His will.
William Cowper wrote a hymn in 1774, which has the famous line; “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” And John J. Murray, a noted Scottish theologian wrote a sermon almost 200 years later with part of that line as his title. And he goes on to describe providence this way; “Providence is an old fashioned word and has a strange ring to modern ears. Yet when we break it down into its parts the meaning becomes clear. It comes from the Latin video ‘to see’ and pro ‘before’, meaning ‘to see beforehand’. In our lives we plan beforehand but we do not see what is going to happen. God has planned everything for His creation and because He is the sovereign God everything will come to pass as He purposed. Providence is that marvelous working of God by which all the events and happenings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind.”So providence includes not only the plans of God, but also the plans of men.
Now remember that Paul did not found the church at Rome, it had been founded by others. And so consequently he did not regard it as one of the churches he had planted. He wanted to visit Rome to help them, but as he stated in vs 20 his plan was not to build on another’s foundation. So he says, “I want to visit Rome, I want to see the believers there, I want to have some time with them, but I want to pass on to Spain.” He wanted to pass through Rome and have fellowship with them and so he’s speaking of his plans.
But Paul did not consider his plans as something of human origin. In fact, he says in vs 18, “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.” In other words, “I don’t want to speak about anything except the things that Christ has done through me.”
Paul glorifies the Lord in what he accomplished. Paul had plans and he speaks of his plans. He wanted to come to Rome. So he speaks of these plans beginning with the 22nd verse through the 24th verse. It’s a very interesting picture, I think, of faithfulness in ministry. It’s important if we are to be faithful that we are strategic and deliberate in our plans to serve the Lord. We need to be strategic and deliberate in our evangelism, and yet the fruit is the Lord’s. Paul said elsewhere that I planted, Apollos watered, but God causes the growth.
But in regards to the overriding principle of providence, we see Paul’s plans were flexible. They were changeable as the will of God was manifested in his experience. He was persistent, he had wanted to come to Rome for a lengthy period of time and he kept after it and ultimately he will get there, but not as he had anticipated. But he appealed to the church to help him in prayer that he might accomplish the things that he felt led to do.
He said in vs 22, “For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you.” In one of the other epistles of the apostle he speaks of being hindered by Satan and in the earlier part of this epistle in the 1st chapter he says also that he was hindered from coming. He doesn’t tell us exactly why but implies that it was because of his missionary journeys. He says in vs 19, “from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” If you look at a map that’s a rather tremendous amount of ground that he had covered. Fourteen hundred miles between those two points as the crow flies, but Paul had covered so much more territory than that, zig zagging all over Asia Minor to preach to every significant city in between.
So the fruit of trusting in providence encompasses the spiritual fruits of faithfulness, of goodness and patience in ministry. Making plans, being strategic in our evangelism, being deliberate, but also leaving room for the will of God and the direction of God. As Prov. 16: 9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” We are the Lord’s church, the Lord’s people, and we are to be about the Lord’s business and so we trust in His providence as we make our plans to serve Him.
The next spiritual fruit of the church that Paul talks about is what I have called “the present.” A present is a gift, and in the context of the church that gift is an offering. I believe there are some things that this passage teaches us in relation to Christian giving. Giving is a spiritual fruit which correlates to the fruit of kindness or compassion and love. It’s evidence of spiritual maturity. As a Christian grows in their walk with the Lord, they should grow out of the gimme stage, and grow into the giving stage of their faith. Jesus said it is better to give than to receive.
Paul talks about this gift of the church in vs25. “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased [to do so,] and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.”
Now there are a couple of principles that we can learn from this passage in regards to giving. First of all, I want you to notice that Paul never makes an appeal for money for his own benefit. He mentions in other places that certain churches had supported him, but whenever he mentions collecting money, it is always in relation to others and not himself. This business of churches and Christian ministries always begging for money is not biblical. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that giving is not biblical, but that asking for money is not biblical.
In fact Paul makes clear the principle of giving here by saying if you share in spiritual things from someone, then you are indebted to minister to them also in material things. He says in Gal. 6:6 that “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches [him.]” And in many other places he emphasizes the principle of Christian giving. But he doesn’t make an appeal for offerings to benefit himself. The offering is being collected in this case for the church at Jerusalem, who because of persecution were experiencing poverty.
The Old Testament law of tithing is different than what the New Testament teaches. 2Cor 9:7 says, “Each one [must do] just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” So to whom do we give? The New Testament says we support those in the family who are needy so that they might not be on public support, we support needy fellow Christians, we support the church, we support those who teach us, we give liberally as God has given to us. We are not limited to the tithe, or 10%, we give proportionally according to the way the Lord has prospered us.
I read of a great example of sacrificial giving in the case of the famous minister John Wesley; the first year he had thirty pounds for his income, he lived on twenty-eight and gave two pounds to the Lord. The next year he had sixty pounds, he lived on twenty-eight and gave thirty-two to the Lord. The next year he had ninety pounds, he lived on twenty-eight and gave sixty-two to the Lord. The next year one hundred and twenty pounds and he continued to live on twenty-eight. When John Wesley died he had practically nothing. He had given away over thirty thousand pounds which was a significant amount of money in those days. That’s the kind of giving that lays up treasure in heaven.
But Paul considers such giving to be voluntary and not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver, but at the same time he calls it an obligation for those who benefit spiritually to respond with material things. And that kind of response is a spiritual fruit. Notice that he calls it a fruit in vs 28. “Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” This present to the church at Jerusalem Paul considers a blessing of Christ. Material things can be the means of spiritual blessings.
Next, another fruit of the church that Paul talks about is that of prayer. Prayer is a spiritual discipline that needs to be exercised often to be effective. It needs to be practiced. And the apostle Paul was a fervent believer in the efficacy of human prayer. In his mind he saw no conflict between divine foreordination and the determination that all things happen according to the counsel of His will and at the same time this earnest exhortation to pray. Prayer is a ministry of the church that everyone is called to do. Not everyone is called to preach or teach, but all are called to pray.
He says in vs30 “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and [that] my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find [refreshing] rest in your company.”
Now we know the Bible says that God always answers our prayers. But sometimes we forget that the Bible never tells us that he answers our prayers as we wish them to be answered. He always hears our prayers and he answers them. But His answers are His answers and are not always our answers or the answer we want to hear. We find that illustrated when we compare this passage and Paul’s earnest prayer that he might be delivered from the unbelievers in Jerusalem and that his ministry might be acceptable to the saints as we compare with it what actually happened as recorded in the Book of the Acts.
But notice that Paul is imploring the church to pray for him. He was very concerned about his journey and the dangers that were ahead of him, as well as the possible reception by the Jews. He urges them to join in his struggle by praying for him. Prayer is a struggle – it is part of our arsenal for spiritual warfare, according to Ephesians 6.
It’s also interesting that he enjoins the entire Trinity in his prayer. He says by the Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit. He gives the full title and name of Jesus, encompassing both His office of Lord, and Messiah (Christ). And when he says the love of the Spirit he is referencing the love which the Holy Spirit has poured out into the hearts of those who belong to Christ. So we see that prayer is a fruit of the Spirit, as a result of our love for one another. We hear so much in the NT about love, and how we are to love one another. And yet it’s hard to sometimes put a finger on how we can do that. I would suggest Paul says that love for one another is accomplished by praying for one another.
Paul calls it a struggle. Prayer is a means of engaging in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].” And then it lists the spiritual armor we are to put on; the sheild of faith, the helmet of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the Spirit and having shod your feet with the gospel of peace. But then immediately it adds the following, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” Prayer is essential to this struggle, and it is the fruit of love, because of the love of the Spirit which is poured out in our hearts towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now he prayed, he said in verse 31, “That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Jerusalem.” Here is the great apostle, the great apostle of prayer, telling us that he prayed that he might be delivered from the disobedient in Jerusalem and that his ministry might be acceptable to the saints there. What kind of answer did he get? Acts tells us the rest of the story. When Paul got to Jerusalem he was in difficulty immediately. The saints went out and said “look Paul, you have a reputation of being a person who’s against the law and against the temple and that kind of thing and so you better take a vow.” So Paul took a vow but he was seen in the temple area and immediately there was a riot and if it were not for the intervention of the Romans the apostle might have lost his life in the city of Jerusalem. He prayed, “O God deliver me from the disobedient in Jerusalem,” and the answer was, “No.”
He was arrested, but while in confinement the Lord appeared to him and said, “Paul, you’ve ministered to me in Jerusalem and I’m going to give you a ministry in Rome.” What kind of ministry? Well the apostle went down to Caesarea, stayed two years in prison there, finally under the pressure of the trial said, “I appeal to Caesar.” And so they sent him to Caesar. So in confinement he left and went to the city of Rome in chains. God answered Paul’s prayer in God’s way and in God’s timing.
When he got to Rome it says in the Book of Acts that he dwelt two whole years there in his own hired house and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God with all freedom. He saw great fruitfulness there even though he was in prison. That’s the fulfillment of the word that God gave to him when he was in confinement in Jerusalem. But far beyond the apostle’s anticipation God gave him deliverance and acceptance through the epistles he wrote while in prison that continue to bear fruit for the Lord 2000 years later throughout the whole world. That’s the way God does things. He answers our prayers. Sometimes with a no, sometimes with a yes, sometimes with a wait, but according to His providence and plan.
There is one more fruit that is mentioned here in the closing line of this chapter. And that is peace. Peace is one of the spiritual fruits mentioned in Galatians. The Bible speaks much of peace, and it can have a variety of applications. But at least here Paul indicates that the God of peace is the God who is the author of peace. Apart from peace with God there is no peace. Basic to peace is reconciliation with God through the death of Jesus Christ. Peace is knowing that your sins are forgiven, God is working all things together for good, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
But I think also indicated in this blessing of peace on the church is peace within the church. When love is the operating principle in the church, when others needs are considered as more important than your own, when unity of doctrine is prevalent, then there is peace in the church. So when Paul expresses the blessing of peace upon this church he means that his desire is that the God of peace will provide peace in their lives as they rest in the providence of God, in the midst of whatever toils and dangers or trials and tribulations they may encounter. Peace coming in knowing that God works in mysterious ways but we can trust His providence.
As we yield ourselves completely to God, we can trust in God to work His will in us and through whatever circumstances we may encounter. I want to close our time together this morning by reading the hymn written some 200 years ago by William Cowper, as we trust in the providence of God.
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.