I used to completely ignore the first and last twenty verses or so of any of Paul's letters. I wanted to get to the core of his message. These greetings had absolutely no significance to me for about 27 years (literally). Then we started ministry partnership, the process of building a support network for our ministry in Africa. All of a sudden, I see the relevance and importance Paul placed on communicating, appreciatiting and sharing his need for prayer and financial support, as well as keeping the readers apprised of what He was able to do through their support.Although the majority of the content of his letter was slightly more instructional, he did make sure to inform his readers who most likely were personal supporters as to what he had been up to.
Romans 15:17-33 says, "Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done-by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ...since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord's people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it ot the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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 kept safe from the unbeliveres in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord's people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God's will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen."
Side note - he mentions a trip to Spain in the works. We have no indication that he ever made it, but I am fully convinced that if MAF were in existence then, he would have!
It is so vital to the life of a Christian to be connected with other Christians. Some say that they don't need anyone else, they just need Christ. Is this possible? Could Christ certainly be all you need to survive as a Christian? I can't say it's not possible (this is very much the case in many Muslim countries in the world), but there is a depth and importance that Christ placed on sticking together.
When the Pharisees accused Christ of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, Christ replied that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. I absolutely believe that holds true for us too. If we stand divided, we are weak. The gospel of John reports the unity theme as a major part of Jesus' prayer in the garden before he was crucified.
John 17:20-23 tells us, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us to that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."
The body of Christ is made, in part, to support and encourage each other. This is why our support network is crucially important to our emotional and spiritual wellbeing, especially in a place that is so far from home, geographically and culturally.