At the end of Romans, Paul reveals the reason for that theological treatise. His letter was a missionary letter — a request for financial and spiritual support and encouragement as he took the gospel of Christ to Spain. All the theology of the letter was simply his way of affirming his beliefs and teaching, demonstrating that he was holding to an orthodox understanding of sin, salvation, sanctification, and sovereignty. Since his teaching was consistent with biblical theology, he reasons, he is worthy of being supported on this missionary venture.
So in the penultimate chapter of Romans Paul articulates his philosophy of missions: his missionary message (Rom. 15:17-21), his missionary vision (Rom. 15:22-29), and his missionary power (Rom. 15:30-33).
What Paul leaves unsaid is a basic presupposition about missions: we do missions because God does missions. God is a missionary God.
That truth dominates Scripture, almost from the first chapter. Consider just a few examples (and be aware that the Scriptures below are but a few of the dozens of examples that might be provided):
While making a covenant with Abraham and Israel, God includes the nations in His promise, saying that people from all over the world would be spiritually blessed through Abraham: “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
God speaks through the prophet Isaiah promising that Egypt, the oppressing enemy of Israel, would ultimately turn from rebellion against God to worshipping God and even having a place (altar) of godly worship there (Is. 19:19-25). The end of the promise even includes these remarkable words: “In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Is. 19:24–25).
Jeremiah was appointed by God as a prophet to Israel — and to the nations (Jer. 1:5). Further, “At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the LORD,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17).
Israel did not always embrace its role as missionary to the nations, as the story of Jonah demonstrates. God sent him as a missionary to Nineveh, but he was rebelliously angry over that call. Yet, God saved the sailors who unwittingly were carrying him away from Nineveh (Jonah 1:14, 16), and then saved the Gentile city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1ff).
The advent of Christ was a provision of salvation for Israel — and the nations: “Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:31–32).
Revelation also affirms the goal of God to take the message of salvation to the nations. Consider only a few examples from the final book of Scripture:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9)
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (7:9-10)
…in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (22:2).
From the first book to the last book of the Bible, it is evident that God is a gospel-giving, grace-preaching, missions-minded God. So we should love missions, be inclined to go as missionaries, and support and encourage missions and missionaries if we stay (and most of us will stay) because when we do that we are aligning our hearts with the heart of God.
Photo: US Government (Central Intelligence Agency), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons