Much of this section of scripture pertains to Paul speaking of his own ministry. The Lord called Paul specifically to preach the gospel to the Gentiles to bring the Gentile nations to the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ.
We then see Paul continue ministering in the letters he wrote to the churches he established. These letters defined the processes of the New Covenant; how it works, what it is, why it is the way it is and what they and we today need to learn and understand if we are to come into the fullness of all that God promised to those who seek Him through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
What we also see in these verses from Romans 15 is Paul's satisfaction with the early church in Rome saying they now had all they needed to be self-sustaining. It is this message too that we need to recognize today for it is quite different to how many modern ministers and ministries operate.
Paul went into the known world, led by the Holy Spirit, seeking out the Gentiles who would listen to the word of the gospel and preaching to them. He and his partners in ministry established churches in many places, some of whom we know through the letters he sent, which were collected into what we now know as the New Testament. There are also mentioned other churches established to whom he wrote letters that we do not have.
We see that when Paul went into a region he found believers or those who would listen to the gospel and set up churches. He stayed with those churches for some time to teach them and establish them in the foundational teachings of the new covenant so that they would be able to stand. We see several times in the book of Acts where Paul stayed with the churches for two or three years to establish them so that they would be firm in the word.
But we see also that after the churches were established, Paul moved on. He did not stay with them once they were at a stage where they could fend for themselves. Once they had received the necessary teachings to be able to stand and fight the good fight of the faith, Paul left them to begin again in another place, having given them all the teaching they needed to continue on their own being led by the Holy Spirit.
If we consider the ministry of Jesus who was the forerunner and example for all of us, He came and called the original disciples and taught them for three years or so before He left to return to the Father.
So it appears that over this period of two to three years a church should be able to reach a standard where they can continue to grow and mature and stand on their own two feet. Note what Paul says in this section of scripture regarding how he saw the church in Rome.
14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God – (Romans 15:14-15)
Paul saw that the church in Rome had reached the stage where they had sufficient knowledge, goodness and teachers so that they could continue to instruct each other and so be strengthened and grow.
Did they have it all? No, for we see that Paul continued to support them by the letters he sent so that they would not forget what was important and hold fast to the truth of the gospel. He did not desert them but similarly he did not smother them and try to keep them as children in Christ always needing him as father, pastor, teacher or guide. He knew that like a young bird they had to take that step from the nest and fly alone. But like a mother bird he continued to support and encourage so that they would grow and strengthen to the point where they could stand alone.
Paul created churches that were self-sustaining. He did not creat churches that would remain under his power or would have to continually seek him out to learn. He did not create a “Church of Paul” who would follow him. Instead he established churches that would seek and follow the Lord, guided by the Holy Spirit so that they would seek the words of God and not the words of man.
Sustaining The Church
Paul continued to work with the churches after he left by letters and also through visits from others of the early church. We see that Titus visited Crete and was left there to lead the church to the next phase of sustaining that church.
To fully establish the churches and make them self-sustaining Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in the church at Crete. And this was the pattern throughout the churches that Paul established, as did the other apostles. This is the key to establishing a church so that it can stand. After the elders were appointed Titus too would move on for he had his own ministry.
The appointment of elders is essential in every church for it is the elders who are charged with the orderly running and operation of the church. It is they who guard the ministry of the truth to ensure no false teaching is introduced and it is they who ensure the soundness of what is taught to the people in the church. Eldership is a grave responsibility and not to be taken lightly.
This is why the conditions for eldership are so strict. They must not be a new convert, they must be apt teachers able to instruct others, they must hold firm to the truth of the covenant, they must be stable, sober, sincere and strong in the faith and most importantly, there must be more than one elder, preferably a few. Even Jesus when He set up the first church selected twelve disciples who became the apostles and elders of the early church.
When a church is led by a group of elders holding fast to the truth and who are able to teach others, then the church can be self-sustaining, strong and able to mature in Jesus Christ.
And the church needs to recognize that they do not look to any man. The focus of our worship is God and the Lord Jesus Christ, not any man for that is antichrist. And this is why there needs to be more than one elder in the church so that they do not become the figurehead of the church and displace Christ from His rightful place at the head of the church.
Modern Church Issues
The forms of the modern churches are not always as described above. Often we see churches today that are built on the words of one man who sits as the head of the church and who even has veto power over the elders.
This is not the way the church is meant to be established. No one man should be the head of any church for then they sit in the position that belongs to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and if a man sits as the head of a church he displaces Jesus. And when this happens, that man takes up a position as an antichrist.
The Greek word translated as “anti” does not just mean to be in opposition, but also means to be “in place of.” If a man sits at the head of the church, which is the place belonging to Jesus Christ, then that man is in place of Christ and falls victim to being an antichrist able to be taken over by the devilish spirit of antichrist.
And if the spirit of antichrist is leading the church rather than the Holy Spirit, then the teachings of that man in that church will be false teachings. Thus we see many of the false teachings running rampant in the church today have been born out of antichrist structured churches where men were not being led by the truth but by the lies of the devil.
Furthermore we see in these structures that these antichrists are not seeking to develop self-sustaining churches where the people are able to teach one another, instead they seek the people to be beholden to them and to give them glory. The bind them up in all kinds of ways so that the people lose the freedom that is offered by Jesus Christ, and become slaves of these antichrist structures.
Beware of any church that is led by one man rather than a group of co-equal elders. Where one man has all the say or the final word on the matters of the church, that church is in danger. And if you happen to be the leader of such a church, the very first thing to do is what Paul instructed Titus to do; appoint an Eldership where all the elders are equal and have equal say. This is both for the protection of the church and the protection of the individuals leading the church.
Satan can attack one man, but the Lord has established Eldership structures so that if one man in the Eldership is attacked, the rest can help and correct any errors before they taint the church. And by so doing the church can be sustained through the leading of the Holy Spirit, holding fast to the word of truth and seeking the Lord Jesus Christ as head of the church so that we are all built up into Him as head.
You might also like:
Growth In The Kingdom Of God
John The Baptist The Friend Of God
Enlightened By The Holy Spirit
Encourage One Another
Gifts From God
The Good Samaritan
A New Commandment
How To Love Jesus
Living In The Family Of God
Live In Harmony
Love The Great Commandment
Walking In Love
Encourage One Another