Paul believed very strongly in what we could call mercy ministries. Before he would walk to Spain in the west, he was going to make another journey to the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea, to Jerusalem in order to give practical help to the believers there. Paul had been gathering this great collection for a couple of years and he also mentions it in other New Testament letters that he wrote. Paul has some interesting comments to make about helping the needy.
First, Paul says we have an obligation to help poor Christians in other parts of the world. He mentions the contribution from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia – that would be the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth and elsewhere – and commends them for providing part of the collection. Wherever he had gone in recent months, he had mentioned this collection that he was putting together. Of course, he knew that on one occasion all the leaders of the church had got together to discuss policy – we call the meeting the Council of Jerusalem – and they had specified that Gentile converts should remember the poor. It is safe to deduce that if a congregation ignores poor Christians it ceases to be a biblical church.
Second, Paul says an obligation in itself is not enough. In addition, there has to be a desire and a delight in participating in it. Merely doing it out of some sense of obligation was not in itself commendable to the Lord. As Paul stresses elsewhere when referring to this collection, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. And if we can borrow the insights of a fellow leader with Paul, we will observe that the apostle John states very clearly that those who express concrete brotherly love will enjoy great assurance of salvation as they make their way through life. He also says that its absence is a real cause of concern about the reality of a person’s faith in Jesus (1 John 3:16-20).
Third, Paul had a spiritual reason why the Gentile churches should provide practical help for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He tells us the reason in verse 27 – the Gentiles have received spiritual blessing through the the church in Jerusalem, probably through what had happened there in the early days of the church. After all, those who commenced the church in Rome were probably converted on the Day of Pentecost because Rome is one of the places of origin mentioned by Luke in Acts 2. Because they had received spiritual help from Jerusalem, therefore they should send practical help to Jerusalem. I suppose Paul would say to us in the affluent West, ‘The poor Christians in other parts of the world are praying for you and God is answering their prayers for you, therefore you should send them practical help.’ Maybe he was dropping hints that the believers in Rome should adopt a project, such as helping him take the gospel to Spain.