Let’s open our Bibles tonight to Romans chapter 15, Romans chapter 15. And I – I want for the time that we have left, which is not a lot of time, but I want us to go back to the text that we looked at in our last study of Romans chapter 15. That is the section from verse 22 through 33, really a unit of – of thought as we approach it, in which Paul discusses the subject of ministry in the will of God. There’s a key phrase in verse 32 and that is the phrase “by the will of God.” That phrase really is a good sort of overall theme phrase for this whole section. In verses 22 through 33 Paul, basically, is presenting his own personal plans.
He has given the Roman church his theology through verse 13 of chapter 15. That whole 15 chapters, really, was his doctrine, the presentation of justification by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Having given them his theology, he then begins in verse 14 to give them his heart so that they’ll know him as a person. He shares his own personal attitudes toward ministry. And we looked at verses 14 down through verse 21 and we saw that Paul sees himself as a – as a priest and a preacher and a pioneer. We looked at that, how he views his ministry.
And now we’re looking at this sort of overall idea of ministry in the will of God. He knew what it was to serve within the framework of the will of God. He lived under the sovereignty of Christ. Whatever it was that the Lord wanted him to do was his highest joy. He did not need to be coerced into doing things for the Lord; that was his greatest thrill. And as he talks about his ministry here, just really at first it – it appears to be a meandering train of thought, talking about some of the things that he desires in his heart to do and some of his plans.
We see woven through all of these thoughts and attitudes elements that make up a ministry in the will of God. Those of you who were ordained tonight and commissioned and all the rest of us who serve Christ need to know what it is that makes up a ministry in the will of God. And I decided that, in presenting this that I’d just pick out some key words and use those key words to attach to the text so that we can see what elements of ministry in the will of God Paul is referring to.
Number one I gave you last time was the word “precision.” Anyone who functions within the will of God functions with precision. Go back to verse 20. He says, “I have agonized with great effort to preach the gospel not where Christ was named,” that is not where there was already a church, not where people were already saved, not in places where the gospel already had reached. I wanted to preach in places where Christ was not named. I did not want to “build on another man’s foundation.” And then he quotes from Isaiah 52:15 in support of that, “As it is written, to whom he was not spoken of they shall see and they that have not heard shall understand.” He wanted to take the message to those who hadn’t seen or heard concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
And what I see in that, as he shares a little of his vision of ministry with the Roman church, is a sense of precision. He knew precisely what it was that God had called and equipped him to do. He has a very clear perspective on the purpose of God which is essential to effective ministry. I’ve often thought that there are many people who are in ministry much like the man who jumped on his horse and rode off madly in all directions. They really have very little idea of what it is they’re supposed to be doing, very little sense of precision in their work.
And as we saw last time, when you have precision in your work and you know what God wants you to do and you tackle that thing, you have an economy of effort that takes your best talents and your energy and puts them in line with that which God wants you to accomplish and, therefore, you have the greatest potential for accomplishment.
The second word that opens up to us in looking at Paul’s thoughts here, is the word providence, providence. In verse 22 he said, “It was for this cause” – the cause of always going to places where Christ wasn’t named, the fact I didn’t want to build on another’s foundation, it was for that reason – “I have been much hindered from coming to you.” Why? Because you’re already there, you already have a church, you already have the gospel, you’re already built up and strengthened in the Lord and my priority was not that so even though I wanted to come in my heart I was hindered.
And I just wanted last time to sort of grab that word “hindered” and remind you that God controls His servants, not only on the basis of their own plan but on the basis of how He organizes circumstances. He was hindered. In writing to the Thessalonians he said, “Satan hindered me.” Now whether it was Satan hindering him as on the occasion in Thessalonians or whether God let Satan hinder him, of course, which He did, or whether God directly hindered him, he was hindered, he was hindered. He waited on God to order circumstances and he had a sense of God’s providence. God controlled the circumstances of his life as He controls all circumstances in the life of everyone.
In Jeremiah chapter 10, to read you a verse that will go along with that thought, I want to read you verse 23, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself.” – what a statement – “The way of man is not in himself. It is not in man that walks to direct his steps.” Man doesn’t really direct his own life because, let’s face it, folks, we cannot control our circumstances, we cannot control our environment. We have absolutely nothing to say about what goes on around us. We do not control our lives. God does.
In Proverbs 16 in verse 9 it says this, “A man devises his way in his heart but the Lord directs his steps.” A man devises his way in his heart but the Lord directs his steps. In Proverbs chapter 19 and verse 21, “There are many plans” – or devices – “in a man’s heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” So we may make our plans but it is God who orders the sequence of events in history that brings us to the moment in time in which we presently minister. So he had a sense of providence.
Thirdly, another key word is the word planning. Even though he believed in God’s providence and in God ordering the circumstances, he nonetheless was engaged in planning, verse 23. Now, he says, “I don’t have any more place in these parts.” Why? Because I’ve taken Christ everywhere – back in verse 19, all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum which was way over in the area of Greece. I’ve covered all the ground the Lord wants me to cover. There’s no sense in staying here any longer. “And having had a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I take my journey into Spain, for I trust to see you in my journey and be brought on my way there by you if first I be somewhat filled with your company,” – or refreshed by your presence.”
So he says I want to come to you on my way to Spain. What I see there is not only is this is a man who knows the providence of God, but a man who also makes some plans. He had planned to go to Spain. He had planned on going to Spain to stop in Rome. And “to be brought on my way by you,” means to be sort of supported by you, with money and supplies and other people to accompany me into Spain for the sake of preaching the gospel in that place.
So he was not a man who had no plans. And we want to keep in mind that there are some people who would tell us all ministry is to be spontaneous and all ministry is to be unplanned, but that is not the case. The most spontaneous and unplanned church in the New Testament was the church at Corinth. And they were so spontaneous and so unplanned that the Spirit of God, through Paul, said to them, “All things are to be done decently and” – what? – “in order.” And you better tell the prophets to make their spirits subject to them. And you better be careful because what you think is the Holy Spirit, he says, is in fact demons, for no man calls Jesus accursed by the Spirit of God.
And when you meet together, he says in chapter 14, somebody has a Psalm and somebody has this and somebody has a prophecy and somebody – it’s chaotic, you better get that thing under control because ministry is to be planned carefully. So he had a plan to go to Spain, he had a plan to go to Rome on the way to be refreshed in their presence and to gather some people and some resources and some money to go along and reach the people in Spain.
That last statement in verse 24, “to be somewhat filled with your company,” is a beautiful statement. And I wish we had time to dig deeply into the – the real ethos of that statement. And that is to say this, the apostle Paul was human. I think sometimes we get the feeling that he may have been superhuman, that he may have been sort of beyond anybody else. That’s not true of me, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s amazing how people think of me as – as sort of inhuman, not because they’ve had some personal encounter with me, but probably because they haven’t.
And people will say the strangest things to me. I remember the lady who walked up to me in the market. I was just going to the market doing whatever my wife told me and taking things off the shelf, you know. We only have one rule. She won’t take me to the market when I’m hungry. Apart from that I can go, because when I’m hungry I buy all the junk food, you know. But anyway, so I was taking things off and she just walked up and said, “Oh, it’s John. I go to Grace Church.” And I just talked and she was kind of amazed, and made some statement about the fact that, “You mean you just talk to people like other people do?”
And she was just really amazed that I was not just a preaching machine, you didn’t wind me up and bbbbbrrr, you know. But that the – and some people are shocked when I don’t – when I don’t have a tie on. If I happen to be in a pair of jeans or something, they just, “Uhhhh,” you know, like some terrible thing has happened, you know. But there are those people who have the illusion that people in the ministry don’t need normal human relationships of refreshment and fulfillment.
Paul wanted to go to the Roman church because there’s nothing he enjoyed more than communion with the redeemed people of God to refresh his spirit. And that’s what he is saying there and that was something that was very much a part of his own ministry. In writing to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians chapter 16, he says, “I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied. For they have refreshed my spirit” They have refreshed my spirit. And indeed, many, many times when folks come with a gracious word and a kind thought, they are a refreshment to my own spirit. The fellowship of the saints is as precious to me as it is to anyone.
In 2 Corinthians 7:13, “Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.” Titus too was refreshed. This was just a part of the need of anyone who is in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul mentions it in other places as well. So he has some plans. And what I want you to see is that ministry in the will of God is a ministry with a plan.
I was excited to hear John Glass give his testimony in a little more – at a little more length the other night in the elders’ meeting and he shared that he for many years has had a great dream about going back to Geneva. In fact, he would like to go back and – and get into the cathedral there and really rejuvenate the whole country and start a new reformation. This has been burning in his heart for a long time and now he’s beginning to see God work and he’s going to be going to a ministry that’s only an hour away from Geneva, which is for him sort of target.
And who knows, but that God is going to give him the fulfillment of that dream. If God so orders the circumstances in his providence to bring about that which is his plan, then blessed be His name. But the servant of God who functions in the will of God has a plan. The old story is true, if you have no target you can’t hit it. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to determine where your goal is.
Now let me take you to a fourth word that helps to open up this passage, and with this we come to verse 25. That’s the word “priority,” priority. The person who is effective in the will of God in the service of the Lord, the person who is useful to the Savior has plans and dreams for the future — listen carefully now — but those never choke off the priority of the present. And that’s not an easy thing to handle.
Spain was Paul’s target. And he had a priority to go there in his heart, in his mind. But he had another priority that was a first priority, and that demanded him — get this — to go well over one thousand miles in the opposite direction. This priority was not an easy one for him to fulfill. He had this dream of reaching Spain. He had already evangelized, verse 19 says, from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he had covered all the territory God wanted him to cover. The next thing was Spain and it was burning in his heart.
But there was something he had to do. Look at verse 25. “But now,” – as much as I want to come to you and on to Spain – “I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints.” I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. This is the test of a man’s heart in the ministry. Can he set his dream aside for a menial priority? My father used to say if a person resigns, get rid of him fast because they’re no good once they’ve resigned and moved their heart to another place. They just don’t perform.
So the apostle Paul has burning in his heart Spain but he has a present priority, and that is to go a thousand miles in the opposite direction and that’s a very difficult journey on foot and by ship, to minister to the saints in Jerusalem. This is remarkable. This is really remarkable, especially back in verse 20 and 21 when he says my whole calling “is to preach the gospel where Christ is not named.” I mean, this is my whole calling.
Well, if it’s your whole calling, why are you going to Jerusalem? Why are you going back there to minister to the saints who are already redeemed? Why are you going back to take care of the church if you’re called to the lost? Because the Spirit of God had laid it upon the – the apostle Paul that the needs of those believers and the unity of the church was a greater present priority than the evangelization of Spain.
I want you to listen because I think this is an important principle. There was poverty in Jerusalem; that was the problem. There was poverty there. We see it there first in Acts 6 when the widows don’t have enough food. There was poverty. The poverty came about from a lot of things. It came about because there was overcrowding in Jerusalem, it came about because there were many people who came to Jerusalem, heard the gospel, were saved and never went home and they had to sort of move in with people and people didn’t have a lot and there was poverty.
Not only that, if you read in the book of Acts carefully you will find that there was a great famine. It’s recorded in chapters 11 and into chapter 12. There was a great famine in Jerusalem. And because of the influx into the city of these Christians, because of the presence of those that were saved on the day of Pentecost and never went home, because of the hatred of many Jews toward Jesus and His followers which generated persecution and dispossession of homes and the loss of jobs and even imprisonment — they were throwing them in to prison in Acts chapter 8, they were breathing out threatening and slaughter against them — so the Christians had a very difficult time in earning a living.
Many of them couldn’t get a job. Many of the fathers of the homes were put in prison and so, there was nothing to supply for the wife and children. There was a great need because of the poverty there. And so, in light of that need the apostle Paul had arranged for a collection. He had arranged to take an offering and take it back to the poor saints.
In Galatians chapter 2 verse 7, I want to read you a few verses, “On the contrary, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed to me,” – Paul says – “as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter.” In other words, God called me to preach primarily to Gentiles, God called Peter to preach primarily to Jews. “And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars,” – pillars in the church – “perceived the grace that was given to me,” – perceived my calling for ministry – “they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go to the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor.”
In other words, they said at the very ordination of Paul, you go to the Gentiles but don’t forget the poor in Jerusalem. “The same,” – he says, verse 10 – “which I also was diligent to do.” In his commissioning he was told not to forget the poor. And so, as he had been traveling around Asia Minor and in Achaia and Macedonia, he had been collecting money. Verse 26, “It has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia” — Achaia was the place where Corinth was located — “to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem.”
The Macedonians made a very generous contribution. Read 2 Corinthians 8, how that the Macedonians out of their deep poverty gave liberally to Paul to take back to these poor saints. And now, the Corinthians were to have a share in that as well. First Corinthians 16:1, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave orders to the church of Galatia, you do the same.” So he was collecting it from Galatia, from Achaia, from Macedonia. Everywhere he went he was collecting this money.
By the way, when he went back with the money he also took representatives of all those churches so when he came back to Jerusalem finally – finally, he not only had a large amount of money for the poor but he had representatives from all the Gentile churches there with the money. And you have to understand that with Paul it wasn’t just a question of the money, it wasn’t simply making a certain contribution for the poor among the saints or, literally, the poor of the saints who were at Jerusalem.
It was a way to conciliate two factions in the church. You had a Jewish church in Jerusalem, you had a Gentile church in the rest of the world and everybody at that time knew Jew and Gentile had very little relationship. And so, in an act that was not only meant to relieve some distress by virtue of the money but also to demonstrate the unity of the church, Paul was committed to taking this money, along with the Gentile representatives who gave it, so that there might be conciliation.
The word “contribution,” by the way, a very important word, verse 26, the word is koinōnia. It is the word for fellowship. It is the word for fellowship. And sharing money is so essential a part of fellowship that three times in referring to this collection Paul uses the word koinōnia. Romans 15:26 right here, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:14, he calls the collection fellowship, common sharing. This is to be the priority. Now listen, I believe that Paul in his mind knew that, ultimately, the evangelization of the world would be hard pressed to succeed unless there was unity in the church. And he was committed to the strengthening of the base church, that it might be strong and have its needs met before he went out to reach the world. Very important.
It’s been in recent years at Grace Community Church that our outreach has expanded around the world and continues to expand at a very rapid rate. In fact, it makes our heads spin sometimes. So many people are preparing for ministry. I think 75 people now are in a group of people preparing to go to someplace in the world as missionaries and we have many young men preparing to go out in ministry. And this church is challenged by the world and what we can do to reach the world.
But in the first years of my ministry here, the great emphasis was on the foundation and the base and the strength of the church, in order that having laid that foundation and having a strong church supporting, what we did then the work could go beyond to the world. And I know what Paul’s got in his heart. He knows that when the gospel extends itself, it’s going to extend itself with strength if it’s extended off of a strong foundation. And he wanted to conciliate the Jews and the Gentiles as one in Christ.
That was so much a part of the theology that he taught. Read Ephesians 2, read Ephesians 3. His whole message was the middle wall is broken down, Jew and Gentile are one. He says I have been given the gospel and the gospel as a steward given to me is to preach Jesus Christ by whom Jew and Gentile become one. That was his heartbeat. And in order to see that come about in practicality, he sought this conciliating act of love from the Gentiles to the Jews.
Verse 27 then follows up, “For it has pleased them,” – that is it’s pleased the saints in Macedonia and Achaia who gave the money – “it has pleased them truly.” There’s the first reason they did it, they did it because they wanted to do it. They did it because it was in their heart to do it. They did it because of love. They did it because Paul told them it was right. They did it because they wanted to do it. They weren’t coerced to do it. But then he turns it around and says, “and their debtors they are.” Even though they did it willingly they certainly were in debt to the Jews. They certainly were.
Listen, all of us who are Gentiles have a great debt we owe the Jews. Is that not right? Of course, I mean, the gospel came through the Lord Jesus Christ who was a Jew. It was preached by Jewish apostles in fulfillment of the Old Testament written by Jewish authors. Jesus even said in John 4:22, “Salvation is of the Jews.” We are all indebted to that. Furthermore, the first church in Jerusalem was Jewish. And it was that first church that sent out the first missionaries to Antioch seven years after its founding to evangelize the first group of Gentiles.
It was that great Jew Paul, who reached the Gentiles, that great Jew Peter, who reached the Jews. The Gentile church owes its life on a human level to Jewish preachers, teachers and evangelists and missionaries. And even further back, we would never have the Word of God if it weren’t for Jewish authors, would we? And that’s what he means to say. You’re in their debt, you’re in their debt.
Then he goes on, “For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their” – that is the Jews’ – “spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things,” would be a better translation. In other words, if we have received the spiritual things from them, we certainly ought to minister back at least the material things. So Paul is saying they gave this out of the love of their heart, but they also had a debt.
And you can have a debt to do something and still do it out of love, can’t you? Those are not mutually exclusive. I mean, Isaiah 2:3 says, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” And aren’t we all indebted then to Zion and Jerusalem? And didn’t the Messiah come as a shoot out of Jesse’s stalk to bring forth justice to the Gentiles? As Isaiah 11:1 and 42:1 say? Yes, they receive the covenants and the promises and the Word of God, and we are their sort of product by God’s grace.
Then in verse 28 notice what he says. “When therefore I have performed this and sealed to them this fruit, I’ll come by you into Spain.” I’ll come by you into Spain. Great sense of priority. I have to take care of this offering first, then I’ll come. The offering has to happen because I want to see the saints relieved in their distress financially.
Secondly and more important, I want to see the Jew and the Gentile conciliated. And I want to see the Gentiles, who have received spiritual things – look again at verse 27 – minister. And that is the word leitourgeō, from which we get liturgy. It means to act as an official priest giving an offering. I want to see the Gentiles offer back to those who gave them spiritual things some material things by way of thanks, by way of thanks.
Footnote, In 2 Corinthians 9:12 this very offering is called leitourgeō, a priestly act. The Gentiles come, as it were, like priests offering their money to the Jews in gratitude. And so, Paul has a strong sense of priority. And he says I can’t come by you to Spain until I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit. Can I comment on that? “Them” means the Jews. Until I have sealed to the Jews in Jerusalem this fruit. Now what would this fruit be? What’s he holding in his hot little hand? Money, and he’s got these Gentiles with him.
The money was the proof of the transforming power of the gospel to Gentiles. The Jews, originally, were a little bit skeptical about whether Gentiles could be converted. We all remember the struggle of the Judaizers, right, who wanted to say that you could never become a Christian until you first became a Jew and the Gentile couldn’t just become a believer. There were those who thought that salvation only belonged to the Jews.
And so, what Paul wants to do is take back the money as the expression of love and the proof that the gospel had indeed changed the lives of Gentiles. In 2 Corinthians 9:13, “While by the proving of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ and your liberal distribution unto them and unto all men.” What it’s saying is the same thing. The money you’ve given and your generosity to the Jew is proof of the redeeming power of God in your lives because, in that world at that time, Jew and Gentile knew great hostility.
The generous gift of love was fruit demonstrating a transformed life among the Gentiles, visible evidence that the Holy Spirit had visited the pagans and taken out a people for God. And sending this gift sealed to the Jews or verified or guaranteed or certified this great truth that Gentiles had been saved. It was the fruit of Paul’s labor, it was the fruit of the gospel, and it was also the fruit of the Christians at Jerusalem from whom the – the gospel first came, from whom it first came.
So he says, “When I take this fruit back and seal this fruit, then I’ll go on my way. I’ve got to show the Jews that the Gentiles love them; that they are one and that God is saving the Gentiles as made manifest by the overwhelming generosity of their gifts. And then I’m going to go to Spain.” And so, I say that what I gather out of this in relation to Paul’s ministry is he had a great sense of priority.
And that, dear friends, is so critical. I have seen young people who feel called to the ministry, -- I saw – I’ve seen it for years. I saw it when I was a seminary student – come into seminary, and they say, “Oh, God’s called me to preach or teach or go to a mission field,” and the whole time they’re going through the process of education they have zero commitment to anything. And they expect at some time to step out on the stage and it will all happen. And it just doesn’t happen. There is no realization of a future dream as God would have it for anybody who doesn’t know how it is to give himself totally to the priority that’s existing right at his own feet in the moment in which he lives. Priority.
Let me give you a fifth word. If you’re going to function in the ministry in the will of God there’s the word “prosperity,” verse 29. I just think this is very, very simple and yet very beautiful. Verse 29, “I’m sure,” – he says – “when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Now what an assurance that is.
He says I’m going to come in spiritual prosperity. When I come to you I’m going to come with blessing. In spite of difficulties, in spite of trials, I’m going to come in blessing. By the way, that last phrase “of the gospel” is not in the better manuscripts and so the verse would read, “I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” I know when I come to you I’m going to be blessed.
You say, “Well how did he know that?” Because that’s the way it always was with him. Some people — mark this — by virtue of an obedient spiritual life always live in the place of blessing. No matter what negative circumstance they may have, they enjoy the blessing of God. He has enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ throughout his ministry so he says, and I love this. “I am” – look at it, verse 29 – “I am sure.” I am sure.
Well how are you so sure? Past experience, I’m sure because it’s always this way. I don’t care whether I’m abased or whether I abound, I don’t care whether I’m free or whether I’m in jail, I don’t care whether I’m enjoying a feast or being beaten with rods. I’ll tell you I know from past experience that the blessing of Christ is on my life.
You say, “How does he know that? How has he enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ?” Because of obedience, because of obedience. Now he says, notice again verse 29, “I’m sure that when I come to you,” -- Now he didn’t know whether he was going to come and the fact that he said that doesn’t mean it necessarily had to come to pass. The fact that he was coming is not inspired, the fact that he thought he might come is inspired. He was planning to come, whether he came or not. But he said, – “When I do come” – obviously within the will of God – “I know one thing, I’ll be blessed.”
I mean, that’s the way to live, isn’t it? To me, that’s the only way to live. To be able to say, “Well I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow but I know one thing, I’ll be blessed. I don’t know where I’ll be a couple of years from now, but I know one thing, I’ll be in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” How can you promise yourself that? Because the key to that is an obedient life. Now that is true positive thinking, not the cheap substitute we hear about today.
True positive thinking says, “I live in submission to Christ, I live in obedience to His Word so I know wherever I am I’ll enjoy the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” Marvelous way to live. By the way, as it turned out, he did get to Rome. That’s right, only he got there as a prisoner. But this still came true. He got there as a prisoner, and even as a prisoner he wrote the Philippians. And in writing to the Philippians, chapter 1, he talks about the difficulties, chains, and some people are criticizing him and so forth and so on.
And he says that doesn’t matter to me, verse 18, “Christ is preached and in that I do rejoice, yea, and I will continue to rejoice.” Yeah, I’m in prison, people are criticizing me, people are saying God had to put me on the shelf because of sin in my life, whatever, I’m getting it from every angle, not only from my enemies but my friends. But I’m just going to tell you this, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m going to rejoice continually. Yes, always in the place of blessing because he was always in the place of obedience. It didn’t matter what the circumstances were.
And at any point in time he could say, “The peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:7. He knew the peace of God. It didn’t matter what the situation was. Later on in that fourth chapter, he says, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” You know those verses. So he knew prosperity. And listen, beloved, hear me, prosperity in the spiritual sense is the mark of ministry in the will of God. Not necessarily larger crowds, not necessarily greater popularity or reputation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the publisher is going to print your book.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that your church is going to double in the first six months, it doesn’t necessarily mean the people are going to crowd in to hear you, they’re going to raise your salary, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to become well known, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are going to be a lot of folks saved, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to build a great ministry long remembered.
I’ll tell you what it does mean. It does mean that in the spiritual dimension between you and God, you will be blessed. That’s what it’s all about, prosperity, true riches, spiritual riches. You see, Paul – Paul’s joy was never tied to his circumstance; it was never tied to the occasion. His joy was tied to his obedience. Francis Xavier’s hymn, which our choir sings from time to time goes like this:
“My God, I love Thee, not because I hope for Heaven thereby/Nor yet because who love Thee not, must burn eternally/Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me Upon the Cross embrace/For me didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace/And griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony/and death itself—and all for me who was Thine enemy/Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ! Should I not love Thee well/Not for the sake of winning Heaven, Or of escaping Hell/Not with the hope of gaining aught; Not seeking a reward/But, as Thyself hast loved me, O everloving Lord.” And then this, “Even so I love Thee, and will love, aAnd in Thy Praise will sing/Because Thou art my loving God, and my eternal King.”
In other words, what Francis Xavier was saying is what Paul knew. I don’t love You, God, for the nice circumstance you put me in, I love You because of what You’ve done for me and who You are. And as I live in obedience I then live in the fullness of blessing. This is the greatest satisfaction.
So a life of ministry in the will of God involves precision and providence and planning, priority and prosperity. Let me throw in one other one, a negative, verse 31. Jump down to verse 31, “persecution,” persecution. “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.” You know what’s inevitable in Christian ministry, absolutely inevitable? Effective Christian ministry in the will of God will always receive what? Persecution.
I want to talk a little more about that but I don’t have any time for that tonight. And then I want to give you just a final element or two on this chapter and we’ll close it out. That will be two weeks from tonight. Bow with me in a word of prayer.
Father, we would labor in Your will. And You have shown us tonight what that means. Very practical, not so profound, but so practical. Teach us the precision of ministry, to zero in on some task and do it with all our might, some task reflective of Your holy will and purpose and calling. And give us a great, great trust in providence. May we never try to manipulate the circumstances.
May we never try to manufacture the environment and thus have to lie and deceive and connive and plan, pervert and twist to make things the way we think they ought to be, compromise and avoid certain things. Lord, help us just to open our mouth and speak the Word and live as You would have us live and let You order the – the circumstances. Help us to have that great faith that stands back and no matter what happens says, “It is God’s will. It is God’s will. He’s in control.”
And then, Lord, too, but while we want to be trusting in providence may we never fail to plan. Oh Lord, may our – our minds near burst with plans, dreams for the extent of the gospel. And may we do all we can to prepare and work to make the best of plans to advance Your kingdom. But, Lord, even in the dreaming and the planning and the looking ahead, may we know what Paul knew, the devotion to the priority of the moment.
And though it takes us a thousand miles in the opposite direction, though it involves something less than perhaps the highest calling, if it’s Your will may we do it with all our might. Though it might mean the loss of life and the forfeiture of that great dream, help us to do it. Give us that great spiritual virtue that does the task at hand with total commitment, total dedication.
And then, Lord, may we know prosperity, not in money, not fame, not reputation. Spiritual blessing. May we know the blessedness of obedience so that we can say, “I’m not sure where I’ll be but I know wherever I’ll be I’ll be there in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” And, Lord, as we so live in the ministry to which You’ve called us, be it in the family or with our neighbors or wherever, as we so live, may we know that we are pleasing the one we love and serve. That’s our goal and our glory and to that end we pray. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
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