Well, let’s open our Bibles to the fifteenth chapter of Romans tonight. We’re going to begin to examine verses 22 through 33, the next section in this epilogue to Paul’s epistle to the Romans. And in this section, beginning in chapter 15 and verse 14, we have Paul’s personal remarks as he closes out the epistle. He’s through with the doctrinal section. He’s really sharing his heart for the apostolic work that God has called him to fulfill. And I want us to look, tonight, at verses 22 through 33, a section that basically will deal with ministry in the will of God.
Now, as you teach the Bible – and you that are in seminary are going to find this out – sometimes when you teach a passage, you’re going to find that the passage is very explicit in what it says: it is a doctrinal passage; it is a theological passage; it is a passage with a very definitive message; it speaks very overtly and very clearly.
You’re going to find there are other passages that speak not explicitly but implicitly. They speak not as a matter of simple fact, but they speak in a way with an underlying message behind the simple facts that are articulated. And that’s as wonderful an adventure in study and preaching as that which is very obvious and very explicit. In fact, in some ways, it’s even more wonderful because there’s a sense in which you feel you’ve uncovered the heart of something by going beyond just that which is on the surface. This is that kind of passage.
At first reading, it seems like sort of a lot of rather insignificant things. Let’s look at the passage together and follow as I read beginning in verse 22. “For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you; but now, having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you, whenever I take my journey into Spain – for I trust to see you in my journey, and be brought along my way by you, if first I be somewhat fulfilled with your company – but now, I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem. It has pleased them truly, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in material things.
“When, therefore, I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. And I am sure that when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service, which I have for Jerusalem, may be accepted by the saints that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Now, at first glance, it really doesn’t appear to be a life-changing passage. It looks like a whole lot of data about Paul’s plans. And, on the surface, indeed it is. But underlying the surface, in this passage, is a very deep and profound truth that is articulated in verse 32, and it is this: Paul says, “That I may come unto you with joy,” and then this key phrase, “by the will of God.”
Now, let me, if I might, take that phrase “by the will of God” and let it spread its implications over the whole passage. Because you see in this passage the attitudes, the perceptions, and the viewpoints of a man who functions in the will of God.
And as I began to study through this passage and read it over and over, and look at some of it perhaps more closely, and examine the original text, and try to deal with what it says, I began to see, coming from underneath the surface, the things that characterized this man’s ministry in the will of God. And that is what I want you to see as well.
Now remember, he has already discussed something of his personal ministry in the prior passage, verse 14 to 21. He has said that he is a priest. He sees himself as a priest, offering up to God a sacrifice of redeemed Gentiles which God has used him to reach. He sees himself as a prophet whose task is to proclaim the saving gospel of Christ in every place the Lord calls him. Then he sees himself as a pioneer whose desire is to serve in areas where the message has never been heard, and not to build on any man’s foundation but his own.
And here we find this underlying characteristic in all of his ministry, whether seen as a priest or a prophet or a pioneer, and that is that what he did he did under the direction of what he believed to be the will of God. And always, that is the ruling principle in the life of any person and in the pattern and direction of any ministry.
Now, I want to show you how much Paul was committed to function in the will of God. His sermon at Antioch of Pisidia, in Acts 13, right after he was sent out from the church in Antioch to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, begins immediately to let us know that he was committed to the will of God.
In the sermon he preaches at Antioch, in verse 22, he speaks about David, and he speaks about David in this way, “And when He had removed him, He raised up unto them David to be their king” – God having removed the prior king, Saul – “to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart, who shall fulfill all My will.’” Then down in verse 36, in further discussion about David, the Scripture says, “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, and was laid unto his fathers and saw corruption.”
Twice, then, verse 22 and verse 36, he marks out David as one who did the will of God. Now, that becomes a pattern for Paul’s own ministry. And as he begins, in the writing of the Roman epistle in chapter 1 and verse 10, he says, “I desire to have prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come to you.” Over in chapter 8, again, in verse 27, he’s speaking of the Holy Spirit. Says, “He searches the hearts, knows what is” – that is God – “knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit makes intercession for the saints according to God” – implied, according to God’s will.
Over in chapter 12, again in verse 2, he says, in a very familiar passage, that we are not to be conformed to this world, having presented our bodies as living sacrifices, being transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Reaching back, then, he sees the importance of the will of God in David as he preaches. And then, in his own ministry, writing to the Romans, he emphasizes how important it is to know and discern and be in the will of God. This became almost a byword for him. In 1 Corinthians, as he begins his epistle in chapter 1, verse 1, he writes, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, he says, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” In Ephesians 1, verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” Colossians 1 and verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” And in his second letter to Timothy, it’s the same thing, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.”
Now, here was a man, then, whose primary preoccupation in his ministry was to do the will of God. I want to draw you, if I might, for a moment, again, back to the book of Acts. And I’d like you to look at chapters 21 and 22 very briefly just to wrap this obvious point up. And I’m only doing this for emphasis in your minds.
In Acts chapter 21 and verse 13, Paul reacts to the concern of certain believers, and they are concerned that if Paul continues on his journey to Jerusalem, he’s going to suffer greatly. In fact, a prophet in verse 10 by the name of Agabus makes a prediction that Paul is going to be imprisoned, bound with his own belt and delivered to the hands of the Gentiles.
And so, in verse 12, they beg him not to go to Jerusalem. They tell him, “Don’t go to Jerusalem because terrible things are going to happen.” And Paul answers, in verse 13, and says, “‘What do you mean, weeping and trying to break my heart? Why are you making me sad because you’re so sad? I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And when he wouldn’t be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’”
They ceased their weeping and they said, “The will of the Lord be done!” In other words, Paul convinced them of that very important perspective. God’s will will be done.
In chapter 22, verse 14, when Paul recites his testimony, in his defense before this mob of people in Jerusalem who did try to kill him, he says, remembering his conversion and his confrontation with Ananias, when on the way to Damascus he was blinded and met that man. “Ananias said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you’” – referring to Paul - “‘that you should know His will.’” And I think we ought to mark that out. I mean that’s something we sort of forget about Paul. The hallmark of the man’s ministry was that he functioned within the will of God. I can’t tell you how significant that is. I can’t tell you how significant that knowledge is to a servant of Christ. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is – I don’t have words for it – to let you know that I live every day of my life with a 100 percent confidence that I am in the will of God. That’s a tremendous thing. That puts me at rest. I’m not agitated about what I ought to be doing. And Paul lived within the will of God and was committed to the will of God. And that has to be the overriding attitude in all effective Christian service.
Now, what are the results of functioning in the will of God? Let’s go back to our text; we’ve already seen them in the prior passage. Because he functioned in the will of God, he knew spiritual triumph. Because he functioned in the will of God, he could praise God, in verses 17 and 18, for the things which Christ had wrought through him, making the Gentiles obedient by word and deed. By his testimony of life and ministry, he brought about Gentile salvation. In other words, serving in the will of God brings about spiritual triumph. It means usefulness; it means success in the work.
Secondly, because he was in the will of God, he knew supernatural power. In verse 19, he saw the mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, working through him. Being in the will of God put him in a place of triumph and a place of power. And finally, it put him in a place of fulfillment. At the end of verse 19, he says, “I have fully preached” – I’ve accomplished my mission. He knew the meaning of satisfaction: I’ve done what God wanted me to do. What a wonderful thing to know. And Paul, when he came to the end of his life, said, “I’m ready to be offered. I’ve finished my course. I did what You wanted me to do. How much better than to come to the end of your life and say, “I don’t know if I did what You wanted me to do.” Or to have to say, “I know I did not do what You wanted me to do.” But here was a man who functioned within the will of God.
And you see the results: spiritual triumph, supernatural power, and satisfaction of the call of God. But what are the elements in his life that lead him to such thrilling results? I believe in the text we’re going to look at tonight and probably next Lord’s Day as well, Paul gives us the elements really, the features of a ministry in the will of God. And let’s just take some key words. They all start with P, that way you can know when I’m mentioning one; you won’t get lost.
The first one – and I’m going to try to not only share the text but to share my heart a bit in this regard tonight and next time. Number one, I believe people who function in the will of God know, in their ministry, precision. “Precision” – I like that word. In fact, I love that word. It’s a marvelous word. I mean when you hear the word “precision,” you used to think of a watch. “A precision watch,” they used to say. That is it functions precisely. It is on time; it is without flaw, without error. I love to think of someone who is precise. And anyone who functions in the ministry of God in accord with His will will know precision.
Let me show you that. Let’s back up to verse 20 and pick that up. He says, “Yes, so I have strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named” – that is not in places where the gospel had already been preached and everybody was familiar with Christ – “lest I should build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written” – and he quotes Isaiah 52:15, as we saw last time - “‘To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand.’” He says, “Look, my calling was to places where they didn’t know about Christ, not places where they did.”
Now, there’s a great precision in his ministry. He understood his calling from the Lord. He understood his giftedness for ministry. He understood exactly what he was directed to do. He knew that he was to make, as he says back in verse 18, “the Gentiles obedient,” his calling was to the Gentiles. He said, “I will never glory in anything other than Christ, and only in that which Christ has wrought through me in the precise ministry that he has given to me.” And I believe that any effective servant of the Lord is one who has a very clear perspective on the purpose of God for his life. And I tell you, there are so many, many people who do a little bit of a lot of stuff and never really find that calling and that giftedness and that unique place with precision where they can most efficiently and effectively maximize the calling of God in their life.
We could also call it, as David McKenna did one time in an article, “great economy of effort.” Great economy of effort. And the best illustration of this is the Lord Himself. The Lord economized his life in an almost unimaginable way for one who was supernatural. I mean he basically stayed in a little, tiny country in a earthly small location, never moving in – never, ever going 200 miles away from His home. In fact, He said in John 5:30, “I never do anything except the Father tells Me to do it.” Very narrow in terms of His plan, and very narrow in terms of His timing. Repeatedly He would say, “My time has not come.” “My time has not come,” John 7:30, John 8:20.” In all those places, Jesus had a tremendous sense of timing. He had a very narrow plan; He had a very narrow time frame.
He also had a very narrow perspective on people. He said He was not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And among the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He said, “I’m not even come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” So, He had come for those who acknowledged their sin among the people of Israel. Very much economy of effort.
He even had a very narrow message. In Acts chapter 1, until the time He was taken up to heaven, He spoke concerning the kingdom of God. He spoke of things pertaining to the kingdom. Whenever He opened His mouth, it was always the kingdom. Very precise. And He spent the majority of the three years of His ministry working with 12 people. Twelve people. Great precision. And such precision, by the way, is frightening to people that feel they have no limits. Megalomaniacs are greatly distressed by such economy of effort. And I believe that Paul knew that same kind of precision, and that’s why he was so effective.
Well, you say, “Well, wait a minute. Paul went beyond Jerusalem.”
That’s right. He went all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and that’s in excess of a thousand miles, maybe as much as 1,400 miles if you drew a line. He covered a lot of territory, but you might be interested to know that all three of his missionary tours – he took three missionary journeys – all three of his missionary tours basically covered the same area. He kept going back and strengthening, going back and strengthening. Each time he’d go back, he’d extend it a little further. He’d go back again, extend it a little further; go back again, extend it a little further - strengthening and extending, strengthening and extending. And finally, the reason he got as far as he did was because of his imprisonment, really, which took him all the way to Rome. But he had great precision in terms of his ministry from the very beginning.
If you go back to the ninth chapter of Acts, you’re going to find in verse 6 he says, trembling and with tremendous fear because he’s just been knocked to the dirt on the way to Damascus, and now he’s blind – and trembling and with great fear, he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? Give me direction. Give me some orders.”
And the Lord said to him, “Arise, get up, go to the city and you’ll find out.” And he went into the city, and that’s when he met Ananias, who was God’s instrument. And in verse 15, “The Lord said to him, ‘Go your way. Ananias, you can leave him; he’s a chosen vessel to me, and here’s his calling: to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” So, he had a very specific calling. And he had a great sense of that calling.
I read you from chapter 22 of Acts, a moment ago – I want to read you another verse – chapter 22, verse 21 – “And He reciting his testimony, ‘Depart! For I will send thee far from here unto the Gentiles.’” He had this sense of mission that was very precise. In the chapter in which he gives his testimony later in the book of Acts, that being chapter 26, in verse 15 he says - reciting his testimony, he says on the Damascus Road, “I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’
“He said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand on your feet; I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, of those things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the people, from the Gentiles unto whom now I send you. And here’s your mission, to pen the eyes of the Gentiles, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God” - that is an evangelism ministry – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.’”
So, he had great sense of precision and direction from God in his ministry. He articulates this back in the twentieth chapter of Acts in a discussion with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. And he is very, very committed to the task that God has given him. Particularly I want you to notice verse 22. He says, “I’m going to Jerusalem, even though I’m bound in my spirit” – my spirit is captive to this mission – “I don’t know what’s going to fall on me there; I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says, “except the Holy Spirit keeps telling me in every single city that I’m going to get put in chains and I’m going to be afflicted. So, I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going; I’m moving; I’m on my way.” Why? “Because none of these outward physical circumstances move me for the simple reason that I do not count my life dear unto myself. I’m not concerned with my own self-preservation. The only thing I want to do is finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, which is to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
“And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. But I can testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not failed to declare to you all the counsel of God.” In other words, “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done, and that is to do exactly what God called me to do.”
In Colossians 1, he reiterates the fact that God had made him a minister, and God had set him in motion. In Galatians chapter 2, verse 7 and verse 8, you get the same impression, that he was sent to the Gentiles and the testimony of Scripture is that he was mighty in his ministry to the Gentiles. So, Paul knew precision.
I’m reminded of the great words of John Knox who said, “Give me Scotland or I die.” He knew exactly what God had laid upon his heart. It’s so simple. Any successful servant of God realizes that success will come when he understands his calling, his gifts, and his opportunities in line with clear goals.
Now you say, “That’s a little frustrating because I don’t know if the Lord’s revealed that to me yet.”
And that might be the case. But you need to be on your knees before the Lord until such a time until you clearly understand your gifts and callings and know where the opportunity that God has for you lies. And realize, too, that it may change as life goes on. But whatever it is, know it and function within it with great commitment and precision.
I think the point I want to stress is that Paul never felt, and Jesus never felt that they had to do everything in the world that could possibly be done, but rather to function with limits on the ministry consistent with the will of God.
So, you only ask one question: is it the will of God? Is it the will of God? And I’m under the belief that if God has a will, He would like you to know it. Does that sound far-fetched? Sounds sort of obvious to me. Let’s assume God has a will for your life. Can you assume that? If He doesn’t, you’re in a lot of trouble. He has a will for your life.
The second assumption is that He would like you to know it. The third assumption is that if you ask Him – take a wild guess – He’ll probably show you. And if you have difficulty finding it, it isn’t that He’s not revealing it, it’s that the channel of reception is on the wrong station. The message is going out; your receiver isn’t right.
So, the first word that I want to draw to your attention, in a ministry in the will of God, that I see, implicit in what Paul says here, is this idea of “precision.” Now, there’s a second word – key word – that’s the word “providence” – providence. In discussing the events of the death and resurrection of Christ, I taught a little bit about providence. And I just want to briefly mention it. But look at verse 22. “My ministry was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; that’s been my calling.” But he says, “I have been much hindered from coming to you because of this – I’ve been so busy doing what is the priority ministry, what God has called me to do” – the first part of the verse –“For which cause” literally means “For this reason” – as stated in verses 20 and 21 – “the fact that I’ve been preaching to the Gentiles and evangelizing means that I have been much hindered from coming to you. I have been prevented.”
Literally the verb hindered is a very interesting verb eg – it should be pronounced eng-kop’-to (egkoptō). It means literally to cut out or to cut in and has the idea probably etymologically of a sort of a fortress. And here comes an enemy, and in order to prevent the enemy from getting to the fortress, they would cut a deep trench. And from that etymological root, it came to mean anything that’s cut as an impediment or a hindrance in the path of attack. And so, he says, “You know, I’ve always seemed to have a big trench in the way that prevented me from coming.” The fact that it’s an imperfect tense indicates that this was a continual kind of hindrance, and that it is passive denotes that someone else was putting it there, and that someone else was none other than God. In other words, “I’ve wanted to come for a long time. I’ve wanted to be with you for a long. Behind that I’ve wanted to be with you, and beyond you to go to Spain for a long time, but God has always cut a big trench in my way and filled it with my ministry to the Gentiles; so, I’ve never been able to get past that.” Now, this is providence. God, by moving Paul here, and moving him there, and moving him over there, and having him over here, had providentially controlled his life.
Now, God controls us and God controls human history basically one of two ways: through miracle, which is the direct interruption of the natural course – you just interrupt the natural course and do something supernatural. And God has done that in history in the past. But throughout history, where no miracles appear, God still controls things not by interrupting natural history, but by controlling all of its events so that all the events blend together to result in His purpose. And Paul, then, has been under providence – the controlling elements of providence.
I was talking to Dave Spear, who’s been on our radio staff for, well, many years and has just accepted a position as managing editor for Radio Bible Class and Day of Discovery and you know that as Daily Bread and all of that, and he’s going back there. And I said to him today – they’re just ready to leave for that new ministry, a wonderful new challenge – I said, “How did this happen?” I said, “Your ministry with us is so critical. You’ve been such a great help. I don’t understand how this happened.” And so, I sort of recited some of the scenario of events.
And he said, “Well, you know, I don’t know how it happened either. It seemed to be a series of things that happened over which we had no control.”
And I said to him, “You know, I don’t want you to go because a part of me goes because of the ministry you’ve had. But I sense that this is not something that we had anything to control. This is beyond us – in which we had anything to control, this is beyond us.”
And he said, “I have the same feeling. It’s as if the Lord has just made it happen.” And I’ve seen that so many times.
In Acts, again, let’s look at chapter 16 for a moment and get a view of how providence may work. In Acts 16, verse 6, “And when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia” – this is Paul and his traveling companions – “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Now, how did he do that? How did the Holy Spirit forbid them? It doesn’t say. It doesn’t say it was miraculous. It doesn’t say they heard a voice out of heaven. Somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t allow them to go to Asia. So, “They came to Mysia and attempted to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit wouldn’t allow that either.” How did that happen? We don’t know. “And so, they passed by Mysia and came to Troas. And there a vision appeared to Paul,” and he knew what the Spirit wanted. The direction was go over across the water to Macedonia, and that was the Macedonian call. But here is God ordering the circumstances to bring about His own will.
The classic illustrations in the Old Testament are Joseph, who when sold into slavery by his brothers becomes his brothers’ savior. Later on, when the famine comes, they go down to get food, and Joseph is the prime minister and gives them food.
The other classic Old Testament illustration is Esther, who because she’s so beautiful is chosen by the king because of her beauty. And when a decree goes out to slaughter all of her people, she is in a vital position as the beauty who attends the king himself as the queen of the land to preserve her people from total destruction. And God, by controlling all the elements of history, brought about His will.
And Paul knows what it is to function within the realm of God’s providence. That is so marvelous. And I can tell you that that’s a great comfort to my own heart. I don’t have any anxiety about what happens; I just trust that God will order everything the way He wants it to be done.
I was supposed to fly to San Jose a week ago, to speak to a youth rally at Mount Herman on a Friday night – the Friday night after Thanksgiving. And so, my son, Matt, took me by the airport and dropped me off because it was only ten minutes till the flight, and I was just going to go in and get on the plane and leave. And he took off, and I walked in, and there was a sign that said, “San Jose flight cancelled.” That was the only flight, at that time, that was cancelled, though the weather got bad in the north, I guess, and they began to cancel a whole lot of flights.
So, I’m standing there, realizing that there are people coming from all over everyplace to this rally to hear me speak, and I’m supposed to be flying in. And somebody, at that time, is already on their way to the airport because it’s about a 55-minute flight. There’s nothing I can do, and I don’t even have a ride home. So, there I am.
And in the providence of God, they were having a sale in the shop, and I bought my wife’s birthday present, which was really providential at 50 percent off. If you ask her, she’ll show it to you after the service tonight; she’s wearing it. But that was providential, as God would have it, because it’s something she needed greatly; she lost the last one I got her. But anyway, we won’t go into that. I’m digging a hole for myself; you’ll have to help me out. No.
So, anyway, I’m standing there in the airport, and I called, and we tried everything we could possibly conceive to get me to San Jose. There was a flight leaving later, but it was overbooked, and there was a long standby waiting list, and it would get me there not in time to drive all the way down anyway.
And so, we were trying to get a hold of people and so forth and so on, and there was nothing I could do. So, I went home - and everyone said, “Why are you here?” - which was a little bit of a surprise. We had a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. And the Lord, perhaps, provided that day for my family.
But anyway, I went through the next couple of days and a couple of days later, a young man came up to me and said, “By the way, you didn’t get to San Jose, did you?”
And I said, “No. How did you know?”
He said, “I was there in anticipation of hearing you speak.” But he said, “I want to set your heart at ease.” He said, “Another person was there also who had come to hear you speak, who was speaking there in the area over the weekend, and when he walked in the backdoor, they informed him that he had been elected to take your place. And so, without any preparation, he got up and spoke. And I want you to know that that was of God because the message he gave was directly to my heart, and the Spirit of God used it to change my life. So,” he said, “I just want you to know that the Lord is in control.”
Well, I was really thankful to hear that. I mean I don’t believe for a minute that I’m necessary to what God wants to do, and it’s just as wonderful not to be somewhere as it is to be there if the Lord’s God something else in mind. But that’s how God works providence.
I asked the girl at the desk, “Why is the flight cancelled?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know.” And then she punched the little computer, and it didn’t know. The Lord knew. I was not the issue, but someone else was. Providence - providence.
A couple of weeks ago, on – well, I guess it was the same weekend you got the little Thanksgiving offering things that told you we needed $48,000.00 for our parking. Remember that? And so, everybody kind of just gave over the next two weeks. Do you know how much money came in? Take a wild guess. About $48,000. And somebody might say, “Well how do you guys pull that off?”
I don’t know. You just start counting, and it’s a few dollars here and a few dollars here, and when it all adds up, it all adds up to what the need was. Who control’s that? Who controls that? It’s little things; it’s big things. So, whether or not you’re hindered for God’s purpose – hey, Paul says, “I was hindered; that’s all right. If the Lord wanted to hinder me, that’s as well as if the Lord wanted to send me. I accept His providence.” And I really can tell you, that’s a marvelous way to view your ministry. I don’t have any sense of anxiety. I don’t have any sense of a screaming need to run all over the globe and cover every base. I only want to be where God wants me to be.
Now, having said that, I have to take you to a third word, at least - and we’ll close with that one, perhaps, tonight – and that is the third word that’s involved in the ministry within the will of God, and that’s “planning.” That’s planning. While it’s wonderful to trust providence, that’s no excuse for poor planning. In fact, the truth is you’ll never really experience the providence unless you’ve got some plans for God to work on. Planning.
So, in verse 23, he says, “But now” – all hindrance is in the past – “having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you whenever I take my journey into Spain” – and that should go together that way – “for I trust to see you in my journey and be brought on my way there by you, if first I be somewhat fulfilled with your company” - or your presence.
Now, waiting on the providence of God does not preclude planning. He had plans. The implication of verse 22 is that Paul had planned to come but was hindered, but at least he had a plan. He had a plan. He had planned also to visit Thessalonica. In chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, verse 17, “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time – in presence, not in heart – endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you – even I, Paul, once and again – but Satan hindered us.” God allowed Satan to hinder them from reaching Thessalonica. God is not the victim of Satan, nor is the servant of God. God allowed Satan to hinder that ministry for a divine purpose. But Paul had a plan – a very positive and definite plan.
In chapter 1, verse 13 of Romans – do you remember this one? – “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purpose to come to you but was prevented thus far in order that I might have some fruit” – that is win some souls to Christ – “among you as among other Gentiles.” He had a plan. And as I said again, providence does not preclude planning. You have to make some plans for God to adjust them. And He does it so wonderfully, so marvelously.
Trusting in the providence of God is no excuse for a lack of planning, or a lack of purpose, or a lack of direction, or a lack of goals. There are those people who want to sit back and say, “Well, we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit lead.” That’s a poor excuse for laziness. Let me tell you something; I believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but effective ministry just doesn’t happen without very careful planning and strategizing. “Man makes his plans” – Proverbs 16 says – “but God directs his steps.” But man makes his plans. I mean we spend a lot of time around here planning. Things happen because we plan.
So, Paul reveals his plan. Look at it in verse 23. Now he says, “But now, having no more place in these parts” – that is to say, “I have evangelized this far; I’ve evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum and there’s no sense in staying around. The church is growing. There are others who can carry on the ministry. There are elders ordained in the various places; the work will go on. There are no more regions where Christ is not at least named in this area. I have” – as verse 19 says – “fully preached the gospel of Christ all around about Jerusalem to Illyricum.”
“And since this is thoroughly covered” – and I love that idea; he wasn’t going to move on till he’d done the work where he was – great principle, if I can say it to you that are in seminary, learn it and learn it well: thoroughness before breadth, depth before breadth; it is not the breadth of a ministry, it is the depth of a ministry; not how much ground did you cover, but how fully did you cover the ground you covered; not how far did you reach, and not how many, but how complete and how effective.
“But now” – after, well, at least 15 plus years of labor, the church was founded in that part of the world; the church was strong. Are you saying everyone was saved? No. Are you saying every Christian was mature? No, but the resources were there. People were saved; leaders were ordained; spiritual resources were in place. And Paul’s heart, now true to his calling, yearned for unconquered territory. And so, his plan is – he says it; look – “having a great desire these many years to come to you” – this isn’t a new feeling; this plan’s been burning in his heart for years. You know, that’s a wonderful insight into the character of this man. He could set duty before desire. Not easy. You show me a man with a great passion and a great vision for an unreached ministry, and I’ll usually show you a man whose useless where he is. Duty before desire. He had the self-discipline to do the difficult task at hand and set the dream aside until God, in His providence, made it possible. Oh what a quality that is. What a quality that is.
And there’s sort of a – oh, I guess a running realization among those who serve in the church; pastor’s bandy it about. It’s this: if ever a person on your staff comes and says they’re leaving for another ministry, you might as well let them go the next day, because once they’re heart is turned toward another ministry, they’re useless where they are. I’ve heard myriad of discussions about that. But it is the mark of a man in the will of God that he can have a strong desire maybe someday to pastor his own church, or someday to reach a mission field, or someday to teach a class, or whatever it might be, and even though that’s the dream and the plan that’s burning in his own heart for a long period of time, the measure of that man’s commitment to the will of God is having that great desire, how faithful is he to the task at hand? How faithful is he to the task at hand?
Paul says, “And maybe God’s time is now. I don’t have any more place in these parts, and I’ve had a great desire to come to you for many years whenever I take my journey into Spain – whenever I go to Spain.” The Hebrew is Tarshish. You remember it because it’s where Jonah tried to go and didn’t succeed. But then he says, “When I do take my journey into Spain, I trust to see you in that journey and be carried along my way there by you.” In other words, “I want to see you, and then I want you to support me when I go on beyond that on my way to Spain.”
Very likely Aquila and Priscilla had told him of the believers in Rome, about six years earlier when they were together in Corinth, and he for six years had carried this desire to meet these wonderful Christians and to use them as a beginning point to launch his ministry. The kind of visit he had in mind was a brief one. He says, “I want to see you in order to be brought along by you on my way to Spain. But first” – I love this – “I want to be somewhat filled with you – filled with you.” In other words, “I want to draw all the spiritual richness I can out of you,” as he says in Romans 1:11-13, “I want to be mutually comforted together with you. I want to share some spiritual fruit.” He wasn’t thinking of a few days, but he wasn’t thinking of a few months either. It was a long enough time to be refreshed and to solidify an intimate relationship, and then to gather support from them so that he could be brought along on his way to Spain, which was his real goal. What would be the point of him staying in Rome when Rome was already evangelized?
Now, I want you to notice one word, and then we’ll wrap up our thoughts for tonight. He says there, in verse 24, to be brought on my way there by you. Now, that is a very interesting verb. The verb propempō is a technical term. It is not a general word; it is a technical term. Every time it’s used in the New Testament, it is used strictly to define the ancient custom in the early church of furnishing an escort and all the necessary supplies to accompany someone setting out on a missionary journey. What he’s saying is, “I’m coming there” – in the vernacular – “to do deputation to get support from you and an escort from you to go to Spain. That’s exactly what he had in mind. He was going to take a missionary offering and carry all the resources – human resources, financial resources, travel supplies from the believers in Rome. That word appears in Acts 15:3, Acts 20:38, Acts 21:5. It appears in 1 Corinthians 16, Titus 3:13, and in 3 John. Every time it is used, it has reference to this technical custom of escorting someone to a mission field in order to accompany them on their way.
And so, he wanted to establish himself doctrinally with him; that’s why he wrote the great portion of the book. He wanted to establish himself personally with them; that’s why he gives them his heart. And he wanted to establish himself with them by fellowship; that’s why he wanted to visit there and then get support from them on his way to Spain. Why Spain? Listen to this; it was the western edge of the continent. That was it. That’s as far as you could go. Portugal was part of Spain in those days. That was it; that was as far as you could go.
And Rome had opened up Spain because they had Roman roads going all the way to Spain. To this very day, you can see the ruins of Roman architecture in Spain. And in Paul’s time, there was a blaze of greatness in Spain. Many great figures writing their names on Roman history and literature at this time were Spaniards. People like Martial, who was the master of the epigram; Lucan the poet; and Columella and Pomponius Mela, famous for literature; Quintilian, famous for oratory; and the greatest Spaniard of all in the Roman Empire was a man named Seneca, the great stoic philosopher, tutor of Nero, and prime minister of the Roman Empire.
So, Paul saw Spain as a vital place to minister. What an opportunity to reach Spain. He was a master strategist. He made his plans. The providence of God does not preclude our planning. By the way, as a footnote, there’s no evidence he ever made it. But that isn’t the issue; the issue is he planned it. And when the Holy Spirit reveals it here, the Holy Spirit isn’t revealing that he went there, the Holy Spirit is only revealing it was in his heart to go there, although very likely he never made it – he never made it. As best we know, it wasn’t until the year 251 A.D. that the gospel finally was planted in Spain. But 200 years before that, Paul no doubt prayed daily for Spain, though it was 200 years later before the gospel finally reached here.
How about you? How does this relate to you? Do you make any plans? Do you lean on the providence of God? Do you function in a ministry with precision? Those are characteristics of ministry within the will of God. And we have several more to go next time. Let’s pray together.
We thank You, Lord, again, for a wonderful day that You’ve given us. We thank You for the instruction of this passage as we catch the passion of the heart of this wonderful servant. Our Lord, we’re so grateful for the joy that is ours in serving in the will of God. O Lord, may everyone in this place know that joy: the joy that comes in precision – that is doing that for which we are gifted and called, and for which opportunity is given and the door is open. May every one of us know what it is to see the providential hand of God moving in our lives, ordering our circumstances.
And, Lord, may each of us make plans. May we have the vision of what You would have us do in the future. Challenge us to those things and places and people that are in our hearts, that we may make plans, that we may begin to pray. And even though we don’t have the privilege by Your providence of going where we have dreamed to go, perhaps our prayers can speed the Word through someone else.
Teach us, Lord, precision, teach us to touch in providence, teach us to faithfully plan and thus to minister within Your will. And we’ll thank You for such a privilege, in the Savior’s name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.