Surprising Lessons in Generosity from the Book of Romans

The fundraising letter that has blessed the church for two thousand years

Anand Mahadevan | 20 Jun 2023

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The epistle to the Romans is often regarded as one of the finest and most stirring expositions of the gospel. 

Early church father Augustine was converted reading the book. Martin Luther had an epiphany reading the epistle, sparking his personal renewal and eventually the Protestant Reformation. And when John Wesley heard Luther’s commentary on Romans being read out at an evening service at Aldersgate Street in London, he had a powerful spiritual experience.

Swiss theologian Frederic Godet, in his commentary on Romans, was bold enough to declare that ‘every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book’.

Undoubtedly, the epistle to the Romans has blessed the church richly for 2,000 years. But why did the apostle Paul write this letter? What was one of his primary motivations to write this letter? The answer is a surprising one.

Paul himself describes part of the reason he wrote the letter in the very first chapter. He desired to impart some spiritual gift to strengthen the believers in Rome (1:11–12) and to give them a detailed explanation of the gospel (1:15).

But it is not until chapter 15 that we get to understand another key reason Paul wrote this epistle: to raise funds.

At the time of writing his letter to the Romans, Paul had already preached the gospel in all the surrounding regions and desired to move to Spain, where the gospel had not yet been preached. In order to do so, he asked the believers in Rome to partner with him through financial support. He writes in Romans 15:24, ‘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.’

That a fundraising letter has so richly and profoundly blessed the church for 2,000 years offers great encouragement to those raising funds for frontline missions today, and also to those who are generously providing support. 

Fundraisers and supporters alike can be encouraged by the book of Romans, which is a remarkable example of how God honours our faithfulness both in raising support and in giving it.

The Grand Story of Redemption

The Roman epistle is a reminder that God is still scripting his grand story of redemption. In God’s grace, our faithfulness in mission and our faithfulness in generosity are two powerful forces that shape the contours of God’s arc of redemption.

It is beautiful enough when some step forth boldly into missions and others step up sacrificially in generosity. But, as it was in the church at Rome, it is even more glorious when the stories of those who go and the stories of those who give are woven together in the providence of God.  

God is the grand weaver, masterfully knitting an exquisite tapestry by bringing together those he has called to faithful evangelism and missions with those he has called to generosity and financial stewardship. As he weaves more and more such partnerships, generations will be eternally blessed. Each of our stories in this grand tapestry, be it as missionary, donor, or beneficiary, is precious in God’s eyes.

Fundraising is often seen merely as a necessary chore. It is viewed as something we must do so that we can get on to the actual work of missions and ministry.

But what God has done through the ‘fundraising’ letter of Romans challenges this false narrative. Fundraising is not an additional, non-ministry chore. It is an integral component of core ministry for three reasons:

  • Faithful fundraising is one of the best ways to recruit people into participating in the global story of God’s redemption. It offers people an opportunity to participate in missions that they may otherwise be unable to be a part of.
  • Fundraising can be a form of discipleship. Often, the one raising resources for the mission of God is discipling those he is asking for resources into the mission of God.  
  • Fundraising helps in the sanctification of both giver and receiver, helping both move from self-reliance to God-dependence.

Biblical history also offers a strong connection between a godly vision and fundraising. In other words, if God has indeed given you a vision, he has very likely also called you to raise the funds for it. For example, in the book of Exodus, God gives Moses a vision for a tabernacle. And Moses then has to raise the funds required to build it (Ex 35). 

Another example is the building of the first temple. Many assume that all the resources to build the first temple in Solomon and David’s day came from the kings’ personal wealth. The Bible tells us otherwise. When David had a vision for the first temple that his son Solomon eventually built, David did give from his personal wealth, but he also raised funds (1 Chron 29:1–6) from other leaders of Israel.

David was obviously wealthy enough to have funded the temple that Solomon eventually built. But he perhaps understood that asking his leaders to also give was part of their development as leaders and worshippers.  

Other examples of a collaborative style of fundraising in the Bible are the tabernacle, the first temple, the second temple, Jesus’ ministry, the early church, and Paul’s missionary journeys. All these were funded by the faithful giving of many people. This is God’s design.

In biblical history, God weaves together the faithful labour of some with the faithful generosity of others to build his kingdom. The ministry of some and the generosity of others always go hand in hand.

Those called to raise funds for ministry would do well to embrace it as an integral and important part of God’s call on their lives. 

The Non-Obvious Benefits of Fundraising

The most obvious benefit of fundraising is that missions and ministries get the required resources. But there are also many other practical benefits that are often overlooked.

First, fundraising helps ministers grow in stewardship, honing their ability to clarify ministry objectives and sift the essential from the non-essential. Even when a missionary or ministry lacks certain resources, these times can be an invitation to grow in dependence on God. 

Every shortfall is an opportunity to assess the ministry plan so that resources are allocated wisely and any wasteful expenditure is minimized. In the same way, in God’s providence, success in fundraising may be one way of confirming a calling or clarifying the timing of its execution.

Secondly, the process of fundraising—developing and making presentations, communicating needs, etc.—also helps the minister understand and internalise the vision God has laid on his heart more sharply. Every potential financial partner will and should ask questions before joining the mission. These questions help the minister think through the mission better. So often, his blueprint emerges more robust, thanks to the questions and inputs of potential donors.

In a fallen world, we sadly see several wrong, selfish, and unbiblical models of fundraising in Christian spheres. Financial impropriety and failed governance are also not uncommon. These must serve as strong warnings, but they need not discourage faithful and godly fundraising.

Lastly, it is not only ministers who need this theology of fundraising. Present and potential donors would also do well to allow their generosity to be informed and shaped by the biblical mandate for fundraising.

Yes, generosity should flow from compassion, stewardship, and gratefulness for all that Christ has done for us. But generosity is also the path through which those who are called to give find their place in God’s redemption story and are fulfilled in it.

Anand Mahadevan is a pastor, author, and business journalist. He enjoys bringing the simplicity of the gospel to bear on the complexities of urban culture. He lives in Mumbai, India, along with his wife and two children. You can follow him on social media @enjoythegospel.