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Brethren, as you turn in your Bibles to Romans, and chapter 15, let me use this opportunity to first of all thank the leadership of this church for having me as a keynote speaker at your 2020 Missions Conference. I will also use the opportunity to thank you on behalf of individuals like Tim and LaQuanda here, who you are supporting as they labor in student work in campus outreach in our neck of the woods. We are definitely grateful for your ongoing support and trust that you are also being enriched and encouraged as reports flow back from across the ocean about what is happening there. As your pastor here, Kevin, was praying a few moments ago, again my mind was overwhelmed with the realization that so much of what has taken place on the African continent is a result of the generosity and sacrifice of so many who are here and so many others who have sense gone on to their reward, both as those that were supporting missions from this end and also those who actually crossed the oceans to labor, and some of them to seal their weakness with their blood over on our end.
So let me use this opportunity to just thank you and encourage you to keep up the good work.
I’m speaking on the general theme of the power of partnering, but in speaking about it, and dealing with it in terms of meeting the missionary’s godly longings. And so that’s, that’s really the connection between the two, that as you appreciate what you do as God’s people who have not yourselves gone over into the work of missions, but who remain faithful as partners, you are energizing something of the longings of missionaries being realized.
And the two areas that I’m dealing with, first of all this morning, I’m dealing with the longing for fellowship, and then the Lord willing, this evening we’ll be looking at the longing for effective ministry and fruit. And both of these I’d like us to look at from Romans and chapter 15, Romans and chapter 15.
The book of Romans is a most glorious piece of literature. If you’ve ever studied it, you know what I’m talking about. There are many times when it reaches such levels in revealing something of God’s glorious truths, what Paul calls in Ephesians the unsearchable riches of Christ, that often you just want to close it and worship, because your, your heart is filled to overflowing with the goodness, the mercy, the love, and the grace of God.
But in the process of enjoying something of these glorious heights, it’s fairly easy to, to miss the details of the common life between Paul the missionary and the Roman church. In fact, all other epistles that is writing, you tend to feel as though you’ve landed an aeroplane and all you’re thinking about is going through the terminal building and going out. You, you miss the details at that point.
And that’s something of what we find in Romans chapter 15. He’s written a glorious epistle. And it’s quite easy for you, by the time you’re getting towards the end of Romans 14 and the beginning of chapter 15, to feel it’s over. Let’s quickly jump onto the next epistle.
But it’s often in these details towards the end that you begin to appreciate something of the relationship between the preacher and the congregation. The relationship between the missionary, the sent one, and those who send him. And it is this that I want us to capture together as we, we look at this passage of scripture. We’ll begin with the 22nd verse, and in looking at it, I want us to see something of how this missionary’s godly longing is realized through the power of partnering, through the power of partnering.
And to begin with, it’s simply the fact that this partnership was one that was between this missionary and already established church. The church in Rome at this point was already a church in existence with its own leadership and congregation and divided in many ways in terms of small groups, but still as one church in the city of Rome.
The Apostle Paul did not initially see going there as priority. Look at the way he puts it in verse 22, Romans 15, and verse 22. The Bible says, “This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you, but now since I have no longer any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my way there by you once I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
You can’t miss the fact that although Paul longed to meet with his brethren, it was not really his number one priority, and the reason why is one that he gives a few verses before. He tells us in verse 20 that, “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”
And let’s face it. That’s often the heartbeat of anyone who has a sense of call to missions work. It’s the fact that they are at home and they are mingling with fellow believers and they begin to sense that there is a greater need out there. There are fewer believers, there are fewer Christians, there are fewer churches that are so well-ordered as we have here, and so they begin to seek means and ways by which they can be sent out so that they can go and fulfill their calling out there.
But what it also means is that when they are out there and ministering, that’s really where the priority is, and so although there are opportunities to, as it were, come back home and mingle with the, the rest of the brethren here, that’s, that’s really not where their priority lies. They, they really would like to continue as much as possible to be in ministry where they are. That’s just the common reality. They want to be used by the Lord, and so as often as possible, they want to be where the work is.
And yet having said that, there is still some benefit in coming back home. Coming home, to simply have fellowship, that’s all. To, to be among the saints once again in an already established church.
In chapter 19 of the book of Acts we are given an idea of how the Apostle Paul felt about coming back here. Chapter 19, and verse 21. Listen to this, the book of Acts, 19, and verse 21: Now after these events, that’s largely in Ephesus, Paul resolved in the spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go on to Jerusalem, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’
Now basically, the difference being that the first part of that statement has to do with the amount of work that Paul still needed to do. But in the midst of all that, Rome still lingers at the back of his mind. He would like to finally be with the brethren there.
Now why should that be the case? Well, it’s, it gives the opportunity for that person who is out there in ministry to just, as it were, let down his hair and relax. Instead of constantly being in a place where there is this need, and this needs to be done, and those people need to be discipled, and those people need to be corrected in the ways in which they are going wrong and so on, it’s just wonderful to, to finally leave just all that for a season and simply be one to be ministered to. To enjoy the fellowship of God’s people. To be in a place where you’re not uptight that you’re about to hear again this, this error, this erroneous teaching that is so commonplace, in the place where you are laboring. But to realize that here is a place I don’t even need to think in terms of being on my guard. Just enjoy the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
And a place where church order and church government has already been put into place sufficiently so that the mechanisms of the Christian church as God ordained it to be takes place like clockwork. That’s helpful for somebody who is in missions. It causes them to, to want to come away and just relax that way, like a bow, you know, bow and arrow. It does something to their own personalities and beings to just have the bow unstrung and consequently refresh something of its elasticity.
So that’s one aspect of a missionary’s godly longing.
Now Apostle Paul says here that I’ve longed for many years to come to you. And when he speaks about coming to them, look at the way he puts it at the end of verse 24. He’s talking about finally going onto Spain, but listen to this: Once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
Just enjoying your company. Just, just being among you for a season.
And on that score, I’d really like to encourage you to, to bring back your missionaries every so often and let them just relax among you. And for you as an individual to also think “how can I play some role in ensuring that the individuals that we support can come and just relax?” To enjoy the company of God’s people. That’s part of the power of partnership. Making sure that you are enabling that to happen.
But also I want you to notice that while the Apostle Paul is speaking about coming on his way to Spain and enjoying the company of God’s people, that this power of partnership is also being realized in the way in which the brethren in the church in Rome assist him on his way to Spain.
Let’s go back to our text, and notice this. It’s almost mentioned in passing. You can miss it if you’re not careful. Look at verse 24. It says there, “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.” Once I’ve enjoyed your company for a while.
As I said, it’s almost in passing. What is interesting is that the Apostle Paul is not even asking for their help. He is just taking it for granted, that once I have reached Rome, I don’t even have to worry as to whether I have the wherewithal to reach Spain, because I would have come among the people of God, I just take it for granted that they will see it as part of their partnership to ensure that they get me to the next stage.
That little phrase, “to be helped on my journey.” We find something of that also in Acts 15. In this case it wasn’t Acts it wasn’t a very good procedure that was about to happen because the situation was, was quite bad in Antioch. There was a doctrinal rift between Paul and Barnabas on one hand and some brethren that had come in from, from Jerusalem. But you still find this little phrase being put there because ultimately it’s talking about the practical means by which individuals would be able to fulfill what they need to do.
And so in Acts chapter 15 and verse 3 we read these words. Acts 15 and verse 3: “So being sent on their way by the church, they passed through by Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles and brought great joy to all the brothers.”
That little phrase again there, “being sent on their way by the church.” This is not simply people at some airport or bus station or train station saying “bye, travel well, see you when you come back.” It’s actually providing for them, so that in the next phase of what they want to do you have enabled them to do so.
And again, you can’t miss the application of that, when it comes to the power of partnership, the power of partnership. It is this reality that missionaries have the next item on the agenda, they have the next project, they have the next activity that lies ahead of them, and often they don’t have the means. They don’t. They don’t have a ready congregation where they are serving in terms of immediately working that has the wherewithal to support that which they need to do.
But they should have that peace and assurance that I’m going to spend time with an established church, among the people of God, and that as we are talking I will tell them what lies ahead. In Paul’s case here, what lay ahead was a journey onto Spain to continue doing missions work. Well, the missionaries that you have among you this weekend will have a variety of other immediate needs and projects and agendas, and they should have this sense that “I’m among God’s people, they won’t just say ‘travel well, we’re praying for you, we hope that those projects finally get done somehow.'”
No, they will realize we are partners. We are partners. Let’s send them on their way. Let’s ensure that we enable them to undertake that which lies ahead. Let us help them on their journey.
Again, let me challenge you about that. Because remember, while we’ve sent out our missionaries and they are laboring out there, some in difficult situations, others in dangerous situations, others in deprived situations, we have the benign of the fact that we are here and we are working and we are earning.
Well, the partnership must be pretty obvious. It is that we can enable them to do what they need to do with the means that we are able to earn as we sweat away at our regular work.
So I am encouraged to notice that you have some pledge forms and you have your, your monthly giving and you’ve got your one-off giving. I’m encouraged about that. We do the same back at home and I want to assure you, I learnt it from here. With respect to our missionaries, in fact the card I got here I’m going to take pictures of it and quickly send it home and say, “there, there you have it.”
But it’s also good to hear the missionaries who’ve come home, and to listen to the immediate plans, and to say “what can I do, what can we do together, in the light of the immediate plans?” so that in that way the partnership goes beyond the regular check that is sent out. The partnership is in real time. It’s in the now, as we are listening to them right away.
I wonder whether you’re thinking about it now this way with the missionaries that have come. And the many others, perhaps, that have not been able to make it here, but you’ve received the news. Whether you’re thinking in terms of the now, the need now, and for you to play a relevant part right now, to help them in the next phase.
The Apostle Paul was able to do tent making, as you know. And in that sense, raise funds to help with the work of ministry. But consider that to be a loss on the part of the church, because they are losing out on the privilege of partnership, the privilege of partnership. We ought to consider ourselves as God’s people to have the privilege to join hands with God’s servants through this practical way of enabling them to do what they need to do for the furtherance of the Gospel to the glory of God.
I hope that this sense of taking things for granted on the part of Paul is in the hearts of your missionaries, that they simply take it for granted. We don’t even need to ask. God’s people simply need to know, and they’ll play their part as God enables them. We don’t even need to ask.
That’s the power of partnership, deliberate partnership. You don’t even need to ask, just state it.
But let’s hurry on. Because the next section of this passage is what I’ll come and deal with in the evening, so I’ll skip quite a lot, but Paul envisages, he imagines the end of his visit, and that’s where I want us to peep again, in this aspect of fellowship. He imagines the end of his visit. He imagines the state of mind, heart, and spirit that he will be in as he jumps into the boat or ship to sail to Spain.
And look at the way he phrase it in verse 32, verse 32. Let me begin from verse 30, it’s an appeal for prayer and so on we’ll look it in detail later on this evening. He says, “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.” We heard that earlier on. This is what he was hoping would be the result of his prayer, that “I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints; so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy.”
Now listen to this. This is the state of mind he was hoping he would leave the church with: “And be refreshed in your company.” To be refreshed in your company.
That’s important to all of us as Christians. I’ll show that in a moment. But it’s particularly important for our missionaries. Especially as a fruit of this, this partnership with God’s people. And the reason is because the Christian faith by its very nature is a fight, an exhausting fight. It’s a fight with the world, a fight with the devil, and a fight with our own fallen nature.
For those who are missionaries, those who are, as it were pushing the domains of darkness backwards through their labors, it’s even more difficult, challenging, and exhausting. Because where as we simply have to resist the world, they are pushing against the world’s agenda. And often it can be extremely exhausting.
The longing is to come away from all of that for a season, to come and simply be as we said so earlier on, in a place where they can let down their hair and relax. Without being constantly on their guard. A place where they know that they, they will be loved with tenderness and care. There again is something that is, is refreshing.
And for Paul, this issue of exhausted saints being refreshed is something he no doubt cherished.
To the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians and the last chapter, chapter 16, this is something that Paul rejoiced in concerning the leaders that had been chosen in the Corinthian church. Look at the way he puts it in 1 Corinthians 16 and verse 18. Look at the way he puts it there. I begin from verse 17: “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatas and Achaicus.” Now these were leaders in the church in Corinth who had now visited him, wherever it was that he was. They brought him news about how the church was fairing out in Corinth. Well, quite a bit was negative information; he struggled with that. But thankfully part of it was positive information that encouraged him.
Now listen to this. He says, “Because they’ve made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as your: Give recognition to such people.”
They brought him news from the church in Corinth. They ministered to him in his circumstances. The sense of exhaustion that he was once under was dealt with. It disappeared and consequently there was renewed vigor to keep going again.
Oh, as we see in Philemon, Paul writing to him, puts it this way. In Philemon, no chapters there, verse 7 particularly. Verse 7. The Apostle Paul says there, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because,” and here it is, the phrase, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”
No doubt Onesimus was playing the role of a Christian leader and as he was ministering there, sort of Philemon, yes, Onesimus was the one who went back to him, Philemon as was ministering there, the saints would come under his ministry and gloriously be refreshed, revived, renewed, and get back into Christian life and service, putting up a gallant fight for Jesus Christ.
Well, the Apostle Paul was saying what you’ve done for the saints I’d like to experience that from you as well. Look at the way he puts it in verse 20: “Yes, brother, I want some benign from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” Renew my energies in the Lord Jesus Christ. Revive my drooping spirits in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Trust me. When missionaries are coming for a season out of their mission fields and they come home, they come to a place like this, they are longing that by the time they get back to wherever it is, their energies have been revived. They can get out there and put up a gallant fight once again.
As you mingle with them, that’s their longing. It’s not to get back even a lot more tired, but to get back feeling like, “Yeah, I realize I was nearing some spiritual brain-out here, but the brethren, the saints, have played their role in revitalizing me, refreshing me, renewing me. I feel like I can go on forever.”
That’s the power of partnership. And it’s fulfilled in the missionary’s godly longing for spiritual fellowship, for spiritual fellowship.
O brethren, this sermon simply illustrates the power of partnership, that don’t take it for granted. We often miss the fact that each one of us has an all important role to play in this great enterprise called the Great Commission. We’ve got a great role to play. And there are those seasons that come every so often when the missionaries troop back home. They are longing for fellowship. Fellowship. Give it to them. Give it to them in is spiritual form, give it to them in its practical form, but give it to them. Don’t look down on yourself as though you’ve got no meaningful role to play. Don’t do that. Come out of the woodwork and see how you can relevantly play your role.
I can fully well assure you that at Christ Covenant Church, with the kind of pulpit ministry that you have, the kind of organized structures that you have, the truths that you already endear to your own hearts and confess, your missionaries will come and just lay down their heads, take off their shoes as it were, and relax. They need it. Desperately need it. Don’t think that is on any other business matter. It meets their real longing.
So I say, play your individual role, play your collective role, and you’ll be surprised when the great missionary enterprise is over, after the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sees all the minutest details of what you do, what you say, that hardly anybody ever notices, when it comes to reward ___, for the great work that missions would have achieved in our generation, in our era, you will be surprised how the great head of the Church will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
You may have never crossed the ocean, but you would have been faithful in ensuring that the missionary’s godly longing for fellowship is realized and fulfilled through the power of partnership that you provided.
May God help you, may God help us all to meet that godly longing. Amen.