Acceptable to The Saints?

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“I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” (Romans 15:30-32, NIV)

When Paul was going to Jerusalem to help the poor brethren there with a generous gift from the churches of Achaia and Macedonia (Acts 20:1ff, 1 Cor. 16:1ff, 2 Cor. 8:1ff, Rom. 15:25ff), he had three serious concerns about things that might affect the completion of his trip when he arrived in Jerusalem with the gift in hand. He wrote about his concerns to the Corinthian church from Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-15, 20-21) and the Roman church while in Corinth (Rom. 15:30-32).

One area of evident concern to Paul as he worked his way toward Jerusalem was whether the churches that had been eager to start the effort would in fact finish with enthusiasm. This was a major concern when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this service (2 Cor. 8:1-15). Would the brethren finish what they started or fail to live up to their promises and so bring a reproach on the name of Christ?

Later, by the time Paul was writing Romans, he had seen success in that regard. Believers in Macedonia and Achaia had carried through and given generously for the saints in Jerusalem. So Paul wrote asking the brethren at Rome to join him and help him in prayer, that he might be rescued from the unbelievers, those hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wanted the Roman believers to pray about that, joining in his struggle by prayer so that the hostility and plots of unbelievers could not overwhelm him or destroy his work for the Lord. There is little use in being concerned over the world’s response to Christian endeavor until there is Christian endeavor. Often saints seem to get their concerns mixed up, and worry about how the world will react “if” we do something, rather than determining to do what is right, and then prayerfully struggle against the opposition. Paul did not seem to lose sleep over what “might” happen “if” the Christians did what they should, before they’d done it. Instead he first concentrated on getting Christians to do what they should and then worked on confronting the obstacles that necessarily must arise as the Christian endeavor came to fruition. Of course prayer, his own and that of other believers, was an integral part of how he prepared to face the rising hostility of unbelievers in the face of Christian service. And so Paul was concerned about the hostility of unbelievers he would face in delivering the gift of the churches to the Christians in Jerusalem, after the churches had in fact provided the gift.

In the same manner, if we understand the path that Paul followed here, we will be concerned about obstacles imposed by unbelievers, but only in the context of being sure that something is being done for the Lord that might provoke opposition. If we first become concerned about the possible opposition of unbelievers, instead of first being concerned about Christian commitment and endeavor, then we will certainly neglect the work that ought to be done. That is one lesson here, that Christians should determine to do what is right and then bolster themselves and one another by prayer in order to face the world’s consequences.

There is another lesson in the passages in Romans and Corinthians though, that we ought to take serious note of. Paul’s other concern at the time of his writing, besides being finishing the work and being rescued from unbelievers. His other concern, for which he solicited planning and prayer, was that his service would be “acceptable to the saints,” to do what is right “in the eyes of the Lord” and “also in the eyes of men.” It might seem strange that this would be a concern at all, that Christians might find unacceptable a gift of love from other Christians in a time of need, that Christians might reject or criticize a service by an apostle and other servants of Jesus Christ, and yet Paul had very real concern that the Jerusalem Christians or other brethren might indeed find this service unacceptable. He had so much concern that he asked several churches to send representatives and asked another body of believers hundreds of miles away, many of them strangers to him, to join him in his struggle by praying about this.

Perhaps there are at least a couple of points we can see in Paul’s concern here and how he dealt with it. For one thing, we can learn not to be naive about people’s (believers’) feelings, to think through what our actions may cause others to feel, how we may be perceived by them even in doing right. Paul was not one to press blindly ahead doing “the right thing” with no concern for how his actions would be perceived by others. A significant factor in his work of gathering the gift for the Jerusalem Christians had been a desire to bind Jewish and Gentile churches more closely together, and that would not be accomplished if the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem found him or this gift unacceptable. He wanted God’s help to present even a gift in a way acceptable to the church, in a way that would foster peace and harmony. Paul would need God’s help to finish this work in a way that was good for the church, no matter whether it seemed obviously good or not.

God’s servants today need an awareness as well that their good may be evil spoken of or poorly received, even by saints, and that they must be prayerfully concerned to work in such a way as to be acceptable to the saints. Gifts or services delivered without thought for the feelings of the recipients will all too often stir feelings of distrust or resentment. Christian workers must anticipate human reaction and approach believers with a prayerful desire for approval, that their service be acceptable to the saints.

On the other hand, we should also realize that Paul’s concern that his service be acceptable did not overwhelm his determination to do what he understood as the Lord’s will. He didn’t take a survey and get an approval rating from believers (or unbelievers) before he set out to do it. He wasn’t so concerned about acceptability that he reinterpreted God’s will on that basis, but he was very concerned that in doing God’s will he be able, in his struggle, to present his service in a way that would be acceptable.

And still there is another thought here worth noticing. We can learn the lesson of Paul’s attitude as servants of God, that we do God’s work and not be hindered by hostility from unbelievers, that we concern ourselves with working in a way that will be helpful to the brethren because they find it acceptable, that we solicit God’s help by our prayers and solicit the prayers of others. But we also need to learn from Paul’s expectations of others, even the saints. Are our hearts softened by the touch of God so that we try to find the services of Jesus’ servants acceptable? Are we responsive to the will of God in receiving the services of those he uses, or do we hinder their work and destroy their joy with various forms of negativism and hostility? Paul’s ongoing work, his effectiveness and his joy, depended on both being rescued from unbelievers and being acceptable to the saints. If some servant of God is endeavoring to help you or I, individually or congregationally, can we yield ourselves to the will of God, finding that service acceptable, and remembering that before his own master he stands or falls (Rom. 14:4)? With the help of God, in fact, we can.

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