For tonight, let's go back to Romans chapter 15. And I'm doing my best to finish this chapter. We've been looking at verses 22 to 33, which really is just a narrative of some of the plans of the apostle Paul that are in his heart. But it is loaded with some key insights into the matter of doing the will of God, ministering in the will of God. And I suggested to you that from verse 22 through 33 the key phrase that sort of unlocks that whole passage is in verse 32. It is "by the will of God." That little phrase, "by the will of God," was a phrase that was more than just a part of verse 32. It was a part of the whole life and ministry of the apostle Paul. It was the will of God that controlled Paul's life. He was a servant, not living for his own design, not living to fulfill his own desire, but living to do the will of God. And that is a very basic and rather obvious element of Christian living. Anyone in any service rendered to Christ seeks to do the will of God if indeed they're on target as they ought to be.
Paul could conceive of no higher duty, no nobler pursuit, no greater joy, no richer privilege than to do the will of God. And very much like David, in fact the parallels between Paul and David are rather great. There are many parallels and I have through the years sort of chronologed some of them in my mind and when I hear Paul committing himself to do the will of God, I hear the echo of what David said when he said in Psalm 40 verse 8, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God. Yea, Thy law is within my heart." He was committed to that same thing.
By the way, that statement by David in Psalm 40 and verse 8 is also a Messianic sentiment repeated by the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 10:5 through 7. It was the delight of David to do the will of God. It was the delight of the Messiah Christ to do the will of God. It is equally the delight of Paul to do the will of God and should be our delight also. And when you look at the testimony of Paul you see throughout his life and ministry this commitment to do the will of God. And we've been looking at that. I'll just give you a little bit of a reminder.
In the opening of 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Timothy, he introduces himself as an “apostle by the will of God.” The will of God was that determining factor in his call to ministry. On the Damascus Road when he first met Jesus he asked the question: What will You have me to do? What will You have me to do? It was always from the very beginning his desire to do what it was the Lord wanted him to do. And later on in that same experience on the Damascus Road he was met by a man named Ananias whom God used to communicate to him and as it's recorded in Acts 22:14 Ananias told him, “the God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will.” He was chosen as a unique vessel to know the will of God, to do the will of God, to pass the will of God along to those who would come after him.
The commitment to doing God's will continued as Paul was called out of Antioch in Acts 13 and he was called along with Barnabas to go evangelize the Gentiles and he went eagerly. He went anxiously because he knew that was the expressed will of God through the moving of the Spirit of God on those that prayed and fasted.
Further, the rest of his life was ordered by this idea of the will of God. When he wrote to the Romans, you'll remember, back in chapter 1 verse 10 he started out by saying, "I want to come to you and I will come to you by the will of God," if God wills. When he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:19, he said, "I will come if the Lord wills." The high point of spiritual commitment for everybody he records in Romans 12, where he says that we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, and we are to be not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds that we may know and that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The goal of our life then is to know and perfect in our own lives the outworking of the will of God.
He said on another occasion that the generous gift the Macedonians had given to him, in 2 Corinthians 8:5, was given by the will of God. He called Christians to understand in Ephesians 5:17 what the will of the Lord is. He said, "Be not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is." In Ephesians 6:6 he called on us to do the will of God from the heart. He prayed for his own disciples in Colossians 1:9 to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord's will. And his friend Epaphras in the same epistle, chapter 4, verse 12, prayed continually for Christians to be perfect and complete in all the will of God.
It wasn't just Paul. The writer of Hebrews carries the same thing. The writer of Hebrews says that after we have done the will of God, chapter 10 verse 36, we will receive the promise of glory. And James says you ought to say, “if the Lord wills we will live and do this or that.” In other words, it's presumptuous to assume anything unless you say "if the Lord wills," James 4:15. Peter said, "So is the will of God that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." And Peter added to that in 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 2 that we are no longer to live in the flesh to lust, but live to the will of God.
So it is all through the New Testament, basic to Christian living, that as John says in sort of summing up our little look at these various writers, "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever," 1 John 2:17. Doing the will of God then is basic. And I just run that by you so you'll recapture the essential character of this concept of doing the will of God.
All right, what does it actually mean? How does that sort of flesh out in our ministry, doing the will of God? Well we've been looking at what Paul tells us here and we're going to go back to it but before we do I want to mention something that might help you in sort of defining things a little more clearly.
When we say "the will of God" we could be speaking of any one of three dimensions because the will of God is sort of packaged in three dimensions. Number one, there is the sovereign will of God. Now by that I mean there is that absolute unalterable, inviable will of God that never changes. Now that sovereign will of God relates to God's control of history, to His absolute, outworking purpose in history, which is unwavering and perfectly carried out to fulfillment without variation. That is the will of God that determines the direction of the history of the universe, the history of the world, the history of mankind. This will is revealed and in part is revealed, some of it may not fully be revealed but there is in the Word of God the revealing of what the plan of the ages is. So generally this will is revealed and will always be accomplished. This is the sovereign will of God. And there are many passages that refer to that sovereign will of God which is unalterable and undeniable and will come to pass. God will do what He predetermines to do in the course of history.
Secondly, there is the moral will of God. Now the moral will of God has to do with God's desire for obedience to His expressed standard of righteousness. The moral will of God is bound up in every command in the Bible. When God says you ought to do this, you ought to do that, you ought to do this, and not to do that, that expresses His moral will. His moral, will like His sovereign will, is revealed in Scripture. But unlike His sovereign will it is not always done. You and I do not always do the will of God in this regard. We are not always faithful to fulfill the moral will of God, that is, the expression of God's will that comes through His commands in Scripture.
Now the third dimension of God's will and the one we're focusing on here is God's personal will, that is His will for an individual believer's life, the detailed plan that God has for an individual Christian's life ministry. This will is not revealed in Scripture. For this we must listen to the voice of the Spirit of God. For this we must take into consideration the options and circumstances that we find ourselves. So the sovereign will of God is revealed and fully accomplished. The moral will of God is revealed and not always accomplished. The personal will of God for every individual is not revealed in Scripture and may or may not be accomplished, depending on the obedience of disobedience of any given Christian.
Now it is this area of the personal plan of God for the life of the believer that is Paul's concern here, the area of personal will, knowing the place of ministry, the place of service that God would have you and God would have me. Seeing the guiding, moving hand of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, this is his concern in this text.
Paul certainly was committed to all three aspects of God's will and they do intersect and they do interface but here he is most concerned with focusing on God's working in the unfolding of his own ministry. He was in the flow of doing God's will for his own personal life and ministry.
Now in that third dimension we learn from Paul some important ingredients. One who is in the flow of God's personal plan for his life, one who is in that flow has a ministry marked out by certain elements, and we've been looking at those elements.
Number one was the element of precision in verses 20 and 21. We've talked about that in detail, we won't go back to it. One who functions in the will of God has a precision to his ministry. There is a very clear, structured design and direction for the ministry of one who is moving in the will of God.
Secondly, another key that marks a ministry in the will of God is providence. We saw that in verse 22. There is a sense in which God's sovereign will intersects at this point and He controls the circumstances to bring about the expression that is very personal for the individual believer. One who functions in the will of God is committed to providence, to the moving of God in the circumstances of life, as well as precision, a clear focus on the gifts and callings that God has given.
The third element we saw is the element of planning. One who serves in the will of God is involved in planning. Even though we trust in God's sovereignty, even though we look to God for direction and guidance and the moving of all the circumstances to bring about His will, we still involve ourselves in careful planning. And commitment to sovereign will does not preclude planning, dreaming and setting goals. The one who labors in the will of God can function in a tension, a tension between God's absolute sovereignty and our own planning and our own hoping and our own goal setting. And that tension has to be there.
The fourth principle that unfolds out of this passage in this wonderful insight into Paul's heart is the principle of priority from verses 25 to 28 as we saw last time. Paul says in spite of my dreams, in spite of my plans to go to Spain, in spite of my desire to come to you and get supplies and money and people and go on to Spain to evangelize an area that's never been evangelized, to take Christ where He's never been, as it were, to go where Christ is not named, where no church has been established, aside from the fact that that's my calling and aside from the fact that that's my dream, there is a priority in my heart that I must care for and that is this matter of taking an offering of money to the Jerusalem church for the relief of the poor saints and the conciliation of the Jewish-Gentile factions in the church.
So we see here that one who functions in the will of God though he is a planner and a dreamer of sorts and has goals and desires, he still is able to commit himself to the present priority. And there's no lame duck service. He's able to finish the task he has begun.
And then fifthly last time we said there is the element of prosperity. For one who functions in the will of God there is prosperity in verse 29. He says that when I do come to you I know I'll come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. He knows because of past experience. He knows the condition of his heart is one of obedience. Therefore he receives the blessing of God in his life. Later he did come to Rome and he did enter in a blessed ministry. Even though he was a prisoner he had a tremendous impact and when he wrote while in Rome as a prisoner the epistle to the Philippians, in chapter 1 he talks about his bonds and his afflictions and all of his troubles and all of the other difficulties that were being heaped on him by critics on the outside who were condemning his ministry because he was in prison. In spite of all of this he said Christ is being preached and I rejoice and I'll keep on rejoicing. And over in chapter 4 he continues to rejoice. He writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice." He says, "I know how to be abased, I know how to abound, everywhere and in all things I'm instructed, to be full and hungry, to abound and suffer need, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He says, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches and glory by Christ Jesus." He's learned that. He knows that. He is, even though a prisoner, in a state of blessing and praising God and rejoicing for the goodness of God to an obedient servant.
So he knew that he would prosper in the spiritual dimension when he functioned in the will of God. Precision, providence, planning, priority and prosperity are all elements of ministry in the will of God. They are the principles that mark out the person devoted to pleasing the Lord. Now all of those are positive. I want to go to a negative one tonight. And that's our sixth principle in verse 31. This is where we'll pick up our text.
This is a negative one and it is the principle of persecution. It is also true that someone serving effectively in the will of God is going to experience persecution. Notice verse 31, we'll come down to verse 31 and back up to verse 30 in a moment. He's asking in verse 30 for people to pray for him and the reason is in 31, "That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea and that my ministry” or my service “which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted by the saints."
Now the first line is what I want you to grasp, "That I may be delivered from them who do not believe in Judea." The word "delivered" is a very interesting word. Rhuomai means to be rescued, to be rescued out of a dangerous life-threatening situation. I want you to pray for my rescue. I want you to pray that I will be delivered from a very dangerous situation.
It was not uncommon for Paul to face danger. In fact, it was a way of life. He was in danger most of the time. He continually asked for prayer because of that. In writing to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 8, "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble, which came to us in Asia that we were pressed out of measure above strength insomuch that we despaired even of life, we had the sentence of death in ourselves." In other words, whatever happened in Asia was nigh unto the...the end of Paul. "But we trust in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death and continues to deliver in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us, you also helping together by your prayers."
So he says to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:8 to 11, you pray too because we're in great danger day after day after day and you need to pray that God in His grace will deliver us. In chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians he says, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; thrown down but not destroyed; always carrying about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus." We always are on the brink of death, he means by that, dying for the cause of Christ.
So what he is saying in verse 31 indicates to us that it marks a person in the will of God really moving ahead for the glory of God that they're going to be persecuted because they're invading the kingdom of the enemy. Now he had no idea at the time of the writing of Romans what was to come from those who do not believe in Judea, Jews who resented him, he had no idea at this particular time what they would do to him. But it was very predictable that they would be hostile toward his message.
He was confrontive, he was direct, he spoke the truth of God, he said what needed to be said without pulling any punches for the sake of compliance with an existing attitude. And because of his tremendous, confrontive ministry he endured a great amount of persecution. And he knew inevitably on his way back to Jerusalem, remember now, with the money to give the Jerusalem saints, he knows that there will be a negative reaction to his arrival on the part of the Jews who hate him. And the Jews in Judea hated Paul because of his renouncing of Judaism. Remember at one particular time he was their hero. He was the guy representing the Jewish establishment going around killing Christians, imprisoning Christians, and persecuting Christ. And now he is the ultimate traitor. He is the turncoat. He's become one of them that he once persecuted. He has abandoned, in the mind of the Jews, Judaism. He has abandoned his heritage. And he is vocally proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ, vocally proclaiming the gospel, heralding a new message, speaking about a New Covenant, saying the Old Covenant is passed away, and the Jews are greatly hostile to that. He is also hated for preaching, no doubt, the equality of Jew and Gentile in Christ. He's probably hated for preaching the equality of God and Jesus Christ. He is hated for preaching Christian freedom from Old Covenant economy and ceremony and ritual and law.
So there's a great amount of hostility to this man, Paul. And he says to them, "Pray for me that I might be delivered." And what I want you to see out of that is the inevitability of hostility toward an aggressive Christian moving in the will of God. It's to be expected. Persecution comes to those who move out in God's will. Satan tried to hinder Paul. God allowed him a certain amount of activity in Paul's life. "Satan hindered us," on one occasion Paul says. On another occasion he says he had a messenger of Satan in his flesh to buffet him. The enemy was always after him. So it goes, I suppose, as a general rule with very few exceptions that one who moves in the will of God meets the resistance of the one opposed to the will of God.
Now let me take you to a seventh word that identifies another element of service in the will of God and it's the word, we'll call it purpose. It's the word “purpose.” One who serves in the will of God also is marked out with a very clear purpose. Back to verse 30, the beginning of the verse: "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake and for the love of the Spirit." Stop at that point.
Boy, what a marvelous, marvelous expression! Here is the sum of the purpose of Paul's ministry. "I plead with you to pray for me that I might carry out my ministry." Why? For my own sake? No. For the sake of my safety? No. For the sake of evangelism? No, not really. "I want you to pray for me that I might continue to do my work for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit." That's the purpose. You see, the thing that motivated Paul was not his own comfort, not even his own success, as wonderful as that was in the spiritual dimension. The thing that moved and motivated the heart of the apostle Paul was the Lord Jesus Christ's glory and his great love for the Holy Spirit.
For the Lord Jesus Christ's sake is always the goal of any ministry. Why do we preach? Why do we teach? Why do we pray? Why do we give? Why do we serve? Why do we lead? Why do we do anything? Why do we comfort people or build them up or strengthen them? Why do we do any of that? For the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, not for our sake, it's always the goal of ministry for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 9 Paul says, "I'm free from all men but I've become a servant." And then he goes on to talk about, to the Jews he was a Jew, to those that are without the law he is like one without the law, to the weak he's like the weak, “I am made all things to all men that I might do...by all means save some and this I do for the gospel's sake.” I do it for the sake of the good news that redounds to the glory of Jesus Christ. Always the right motive, always the right purpose.
In 2 Corinthians 4 and verse 5 he says, "We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord (Listen to this.)and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake,” for Jesus' sake. In verse 11, "We bear in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest." We do it for His sake that He might be made manifest.
In 2 Corinthians 12:10, "I take pleasure in infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecution, in distress for Christ's sake." Always the purpose, always the purpose.
And the bottom line is very simple. In your service or my service, what's our motive? What is our motive? Is our motive self-glory, a certain amount of self-esteem? Is our motive to be thought well of by people around us? Is our motive to do the best we can with the life we've got? All those have a place, I suppose. But the proper motive is to do what we do for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. And see, Paul knew that if he went to Jerusalem, had all this money and these Gentiles going with him and if he got there with the money and with the Gentiles and expressed love and if the church received them, and if his trip to Jerusalem was successful, Christ would be glorified. Why? For one thing, Christ desired Jew and Gentile to be what? To be one. And if Paul could pull that off that would be to the glory of Christ. For another thing, Christ desired the church to demonstrate love to its own, visible love so the world might see it. This would glorify Christ. Christ would be glorified if the ministry of the apostle Paul could continue with success and that's his desire. He said, "Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do," 1 Corinthians 10:31, "do it all to the glory of God." Always the supreme, surpassing motive.
In writing to the Galatians in chapter 6 and verse 17, he said, "Let no man trouble me, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." It was his pleasure to suffer persecution in bringing glory to Jesus Christ.
The second thing he says in verse 30 about his purpose is not only for the sake of the Lord Jesus but a very unusual phrase, not used anywhere else in the New Testament, "For the love of the Spirit." And I believe that the best way to understand that is the love for the Spirit. I do what I do for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and my love for the Holy Spirit. The psalmist in Psalm 143:10 expressed something akin to this loving attitude toward the Spirit of God when he said this, "Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. Let Thy good Spirit lead me for the sake of Thy name, O Lord." Almost the same sentiment again. For the sake of Thy name, O Lord, for the sake of Thy good Spirit. And so it is his love for the Lord Jesus Christ, it is his love for the precious Holy Spirit who works in him that compels him in his ministry.
Does that compel us? Is that our supreme motive? Are we compelled to serve because of what Christ has done for us, because of what the Spirit of God is doing in us, because of Christ's gracious and magnanimous and eternal goodness to us and because of the ongoing grace of the Spirit of God given us? We should serve in the will of God to bring honor to Christ and show love to the Holy Spirit, whose work it is we do and who is the one empowering us.
So his purpose is very clear. And anyone in the will of God has this as a set purpose, to demonstrate honor and glory to Christ and love to the Spirit of God. What deep spirituality reigned in the heart of Paul! It's a far cry from the shallowness of much Christian service, quote-unquote, today.
Now we've looked at all these elements and I've given you seven of them: Precision, providence, planning, priority, prosperity, persecution and purpose. And just those words to sort of sum up what it is to serve in the will of God, but there's one more and I want to focus on that as we close tonight. One key that really touches all the rest and it is the eighth element of serving in the will of God and it is the element of prayer, prayer. And we find it in verse 30 at the end of the verse and then down to verse 32, and then a final benediction at the end of the chapter.
Notice verse 30, "I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake” as we saw “and the love of the Spirit," then this word on prayer, "that you sunagōnizomai." Agōnizomai would be enough. That means to agonize together in a struggle. To add sun to the front of it intensifies it. "That you intensely struggle together with me in your prayers to God for me."
Now he realizes that ministry in the will of God is dependent on prayer. That is an essential element. The word agōnizomai or sunagōnizomai is a word taken from gymnastics. It's taken from athletics. It is a gymnastic term meaning “to agonize.” It could be translated "to fight." It takes tremendous exertion and energy and maximum effort to fulfill the significance of this word, a very strong term. In fact it's translated in John 18:36 "fight." Jesus said, "My servants would fight if My kingdom was of this world." It is a word of great intensity.
Prayer, beloved, is a battle. And I say this from time to time as we come to passages like this but I want to remind you of it. Prayer is a battle. I think sometimes we don't understand that because the battle isn't where we can see it. We've been talking, haven't we, in 1 Timothy, about the spiritual battle. And I hope we've learned some things. Prayer is a war waged against the forces of evil. In fact, Isaiah 64:7 speaks of, quote: "Arousing oneself to take hold of God in prayer." That's the idea of the Hebrew terminology in Isaiah 64:7, arousing one’s self to take hold of God. And you remember, no doubt, reading Genesis 32:24 to 30 where it says that Jacob wrestled with the Lord and he wouldn't let go of the Lord until he was what? He was blessed. In Colossians 2:1 Paul calls prayer great conflict. He sees it as great conflict. It is not an easy thing, it is a conflict. He says, "I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you." What is he talking about in writing to the Colossians? I'm engaged in a battle, a prayer battle over your spiritual situation. And in 4:12 of Colossians, as I mentioned earlier, Epaphras, that wonderful man of prayer, is said to be always laboring fervently for you in prayer that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Prayer is a battle, an agonizing experience.
Now I realize there is a certain paradox between the sovereignty of God and fervent prayer, but the Bible teaches us to pray fervently. We go back to Luke 11 and remember the story of the man for his much knocking who was heard, because he gave much effort he finally received what he sought, and it's an illustration of what we call importunity, or intensity in prayer. We remember James who said in 5:16 of his epistle, "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Even our Lord fasted and prayed for 40 days. It wasn't easy for Him.
Two weeks ago I received a tape from someone in the mail. It was a very interesting tape. This lady had sought the gift of tongues. And in pursuing the gift of tongues she got the gift of tongues. And she spoke in ecstatic speech. She went to see a pastor and in the discussion with the pastor she wanted help with this gift of tongues and this particular pastor apparently desired to record this encounter and he recorded a very interesting situation.
She began to speak in this ecstatic tongue and he spoke back to her and demanded to know the source of this and revealed in her all kinds of demons. And it's an interesting tape to listen to to put it mildly. But all these demons began to speak and talk and the terrifying things that went on in that conversation were quite amazing. One part of the tape is her testimony given in public about how wonderful it was to get the gift of tongues. The flip side is the testimony of this simple recording that reveals the manifestation of many demons. And as these demons are speaking and as there is an effort to dispel the demons and relieve the woman, this one demon keeps saying over and over again, I heard it with my own ears, "I don't come out except by prayer and fasting." And that's a heavy-duty word, believe me. I suppose that that startles us more than the fact that the Bible just tells us we ought to pray intensely. We say, "Oh sure, oh yes." But when we hear it from the other side, when the demons give testimony to it, we may be more prone to believe it, sad to say. "I don't come out except by prayer and fasting." And the battle waged hot and furious and by God's grace ultimately the woman found deliverance.
There is a great spiritual warfare that demands our prayer. And I believe that if the demons dogged the trail of anybody, they dogged the trail of the apostle Paul. Do you believe that? Of course, and Paul often solicited prayer. He called on people to pray for him repeatedly because he knew how dependent he was. He sought prayer from many who he knew...whom he knew and loved and who knew him.
He says, and I think maybe it's as good an illustration as any, and there are many in Ephesians after he's discussed spiritual warfare, Ephesians 6, he sums it up in verse 18, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching there unto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints and for me." Pray for me. You've just heard about our principalities and powers and the demons that we battle and about having the armor and now the sum of it all is pray, pray for each other and pray for me because the battle wages hot for me as well.
Again in Colossians chapter 4, "Continue in prayer” verse 2 “and watch in the same with thanksgiving, praying also for us that God would open a door of utterance, that God would allow me to speak." At that time he was in chains. Pray for me. The battle is great and we need your prayers. In the end of 1 Thessalonians, short verse, verse 25 of chapter 5, "Brethren, pray for us.” “Brethren, pray for us." We need divine help.
Second Thessalonians 3:1, "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the Word of the Lord may have free course." I mean, this was common for Paul to do. As he began this Roman epistle, this great letter, he says, "For God is my witness whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers. I pray for you always, making request if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come to you." I pray for you, you pray for me he says at the end. In the beginning I'll pray for you, I keep praying for you. In the end, he says, you pray for me.
Now he has three specific requests in mind in this text, let's look at them, three requests. Number one is for his safety, verse 31, "That I may be delivered (or rescued) from them that do not believe in Judea." Pray for my safety that I may be rescued from the evil intent of unbelieving Jews."
Listen, there was the same element of Jew...Jewish leadership in Jerusalem hounding Paul that ultimately brought about the death of Christ. It's the same hostility, it's still there. He knows he will meet them on his return with the money and the Gentiles, he knows it. Pray for me and for my safety. He knew what would happen because he had already experienced that hostility.
Let's go to the book of Acts and see something of that Jewish hostility so that we get a better understanding of it and we'll look briefly at a couple of passages. Acts 9, now here we are the very conversion of Paul, right? He has just converted to Christ, come out of Judaism into the New Covenant. He now knows Christ, he preaches Christ. And no sooner had he been converted and baptized, at verse 20, the early part of chapter 9 is the story of his conversion, then in verse 20 immediately he preached Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God. Now you want to make trouble, go to a synagogue and preach that Jesus is God's Son. I mean, that is going right into the very teeth of the storm. "And all that heard him were amazed and said, ‘Isn't this the one that destroyed them who called on this name in Jerusalem and came here for that intent that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?’" Isn't this the same guy who was persecuting Christians and now he's saying Christ is the Son of God? "But Saul increased the more in strength.” His message got stronger and he was so bright and so inspired by the Spirit of God and so profound that he confounded the Jews who tried to argue with him at Damascus “and he proved that Jesus was Christ." He proved Jesus to be the Messiah.
And what was their response in verse 23? "After many days were fulfilled the Jews (What?) took counsel (To do what?) to kill him,” to murder him. I mean, because of his fearless preaching they wanted to kill him. He had hostility from the very beginning. He had been away, you know, for three years in Nabatea in Arabia where God had prepared his heart. And when he came back and began to preach, really chronologically in a sense of ministry, right after his conversion with that little interlude of three years, when he came back the hostility began. And it only took about two weeks, 15 days, Galatians 1:18 says. And the persecution broke out and they were after him. Verse 30, it says that he came to Jerusalem, he escaped the plot, he came to Jerusalem, you remember how he escaped? They let him out of a basket. I was in that prison in Damascus. It's fascinating, the site of the prison, of course, is still there, identifiable. Paul got on a basket, he escaped Damascus where the Jews wanted to kill him. And he went to Jerusalem of all of the places. That's really getting from the frying pan to the fire. And he went there and he did the same thing. Verse 29, "He spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Grecians and they went about to slay him."
And so, the people in the church at Jerusalem said, "Look, you've got to get out of town. So the brethren got him and sent him to Tarsus. Go to Tarsus and cool off a little. And then had the churches rest. When he started to preach they not only persecuted him but they persecuted all the Christians, too. So the Christians had a little committee meeting and said, "Could you go out of town for a while? You bring heat on everybody." And that was of the Lord and the churches grew and were strengthened. It didn't take long, as I said, just a few weeks and he had stirred up tremendous trouble. So he already knew what that kind of persecution was like.
Now go over to chapter 20 of the book of Acts and see another one. Here we find Paul is in Macedonia and he's preaching around that area and comes into Greece. In verse 3, he was there three months. And it only took three months and the Jews laid wait for him. That means they plotted against him. As he was about to sail into Syria — probably they wanted to throw him overboard — they set a plot for him. During those three months he wrote Romans, by the way, and sent it off with Phoebe, who was a deaconess at the church at Cenchrea. We'll meet her in chapter 16. After the winter months had passed he planned to take a trip by ship from Cenchrea to Jerusalem to be there for Passover but a change in plans made him delay it 50 days so he wouldn't get there till Pentecost. But here he is preaching for three months and the same reaction. Here are these Jews who are angry, they are furious. They probably remember from years back in chapter 18 verses 12 to 17 where they brought him before the court of Gallio in the city of Corinth and they had a plot then to kill him. And he escaped that. Now they've got another plot, they've carried their anger through the years. Hatred dies hard, by the way. And Jewish hatred was boiling like a subterranean volcano. But he continues in the will of God.
So he purposed, at the end of verse 3, to return through Macedonia. He says I'll go a different way. I'll change my route. If there's a plot to kill me, I'll... He wouldn't concede to go hide, he just conceded to change his route. And by this time, just to give you a little idea, it had been 12 months of exhausting, non-stop, agonizing preaching, teaching, planning, traveling, writing ministry and now he's headed for the holy city and the people say, "You're going to get it when you get there. Boy, they're after you.” And all he'll do is change his route and not his destination. In chapter 20, verse 19 he's giving his testimony, a familiar text, he says, "I serve the Lord with the humility of mind, many tears and trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews." He was getting used to their plotting, their hostility. Everywhere he went they were after him, they wanted him removed, they wanted him dead.
First Corinthians 15, do you remember this? His own testimony, verse 30 and 31: "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I die daily.” I live on the edge of death every waking moment of my life, he says, "for the cause of Christ." Everybody was telling him, that's what was going to happen. Look at Acts 20 verse 22, "I go bound in the Spirit," the Holy Spirit I believe and his human spirit. I go compelled is what he is saying. "I am compelled to go to Jerusalem and I don't know specifically the things that will befall me except that the Holy Spirit witnesses in every city saying that bonds and affliction await me." I don't know how it will happen but everywhere I go the Holy Spirit says, "When you get to Jerusalem you're going to be in trouble."
And then verse 24 is the sum of his testimony, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself." I don't care about my life so these things don't move me. I just want to finish my course with joy and the ministry I've received of the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. I...I just want to do the ministry, I'm not going to worry about whether I live or die, that's immaterial to me. I just need to finish the project. I need to get the money back there and try to bring the Jewish and Gentile factions of the church together. I want to do what the Lord wants me to do. I am bound in my spirit. I am strongly compelled to do this.
And self-preservation was absolutely no issue to this man. He had no regard for self-preservation. And he was constantly under the threat of death at the hands of the Jews.
In chapter 21 verse 4, on his way back, he is sailing now from Miletus to Tyre. He's on his way back toward the east, toward Jerusalem. He's met with the Ephesian elders at Miletus in chapter 20. He got on a boat. He's going on this boat; he's going to go to Tyre. Tyre, of course, is on the north coast of the land of Palestine, so he gets to that area. And they come to Tyre, verse 4, and they stay there seven days. And the reason is because there was a church there, a church that was founded out of the overflow of the death of Stephen and that church had disciples and there was a time for fellowship. And he sought out that fellowship. And so he finds disciples, look at verse 4, and stayed seven days and the disciples said to Paul through the Spirit, that is using no doubt the gift of prophecy, using a Spirit-given gift, a proclamation that revealed the mind of the Spirit, a revelation, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. “And yet when we had accomplished those days we departed and went our way.”
You say, "Well now wait a minute. Didn't the Spirit give a prophetic utterance not to go?" Well it says that. Did Paul disobey? Well yes and no. We don't know for certain that the Holy Spirit forbid him to go. We read carefully who said to Paul through the Spirit that he shouldn't go to Jerusalem. That may... That is not a direct quote. That may be an allusion to the message from the Spirit telling him what he had told him all along that when he got there, there was going to be persecution and prison and chains and all of that. It is my own conviction that Paul is not disobeying the Spirit because the Spirit is not commanding him not to go. Really the Spirit is saying if you go this is what to expect, so don't go unless you're ready for this.
The reason I believe Paul is obedient is multiple. One, he lived in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And I believe since he was committed to doing the will of God and obeying the will of the Spirit, he would have not flagrantly denied the Spirit's will in this case. When in chapter 16 he started to go into one area, Bithynia, the Spirit stopped him, he turned around. When he started to go into another area, the Spirit stopped him; he went the other way and finally went in to the Macedonian region because the Spirit stopped him in all the other areas. I believe he lived in sensitivity to the Spirit. And I believe also in chapter 20 when he says, "I am bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem," he is saying, "I have a strong leading from the Spirit of God within me." Furthermore, he had the right reasons for going. His reasons for going were to accomplish the ministry of collecting this offering which he knew was from the Lord. From the very beginning of his commission as recorded in Galatians 2:7 to 10 he was told to remember the poor, he was doing what he was told, he was doing what the Spirit of God had put in his heart to do. And I believe the Spirit actually sent him. I believe he was dispatched by the Spirit of God to carry out this ministry.
In 19:21 of Acts it says, "He purposed in the Spirit to go." And then later in 20 as I read he was bound in the Spirit to go. And I believe it was the Holy Spirit working on his human spirit. Furthermore, the Spirit was telling him all the way along what was going to happen when he got there so the Holy Spirit must have known he was going to get there. That must have fit in the plan. And never, finally, is there any indication in the testimony of Paul or the testimony of Scripture that he did wrong. That is not said. So I believe what he met in Tyre here was not a prohibition but a forewarning, a forewarning that when you go if you go this is exactly what you're going to face. And there would be some people in the crowd who would say, "Don't go, don't go." It's very much like Jesus in Acts...in Luke 9:51 who steadfastly set His face toward Jerusalem even though He knew exactly what to expect. So he was in constant danger.
You come later down into verse 10 and what happens? They came to a place called Ptolemais after leaving Tyre. And here comes in verse 10 a prophet named Agabus and he's going to give him the same message. He takes Paul's belt and he ties his hands and feet, this is an object lesson and he says that the Holy Spirit says, so the Jews at Jerusalem are going to bind the man that owns this belt and deliver him to the hands of the Gentiles. Now that was in the will of God. That was the plan, inevitable. And when everybody heard it, oh they begged him, verse 12, not to go to Jerusalem, don't go. And Paul said, "What do you mean weeping? Are you trying to break my heart? I'm ready not only to be bound but (To what?) to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded we ceased and said (What?), ‘The will of the Lord be done.’" That's a good thing to say.
I could take you even further. Now he finally arrives in Jerusalem later in chapter 21. What happens? Just what everybody said would happen, exactly. Starting in chapter 21 verse 27, the mob comes and the mob tries to murder him. And the story goes from there.
So you can understand, can't you then, why he is praying for God's people, why he is...rather why he is asking for God's people to pray for him to be rescued from the plots of those who do not believe in Judea. He knew he was subject to them capturing him, taking his life and he wanted God's people to pray that he would complete his task and his ministry.
There is a second element to his prayer request. It is not only a prayer, chapter 15 again of Romans, for safety, it is a prayer for success, a prayer for success. Again I take you back to verse 31, "Pray not only that I'll be rescued from those that don't believe in Judea, but also that my service which I have, that is my offering (The word service is diakonia, my offering.) may be accepted by the saints." Pray for success.
Now how do you pray for your pastor? How do you pray for your missionaries? How do you pray for those who serve? You pray for their safety, you pray for their success. Do you pray like that? There's no defense as strong as that. There's no hope of success as hopeful as the prayers of God's people. Do you pray for the church? Do you pray for the leadership? Do you pray for the pastors? So he says pray, pray that the saints will accept the offering.
You say, "Well wait a minute, why wouldn't they?" Because some of those saints were also so strongly Jewish that they were hostile to the Gentiles, too. And there was much opposition to Gentile conversion and Gentile inclusion into the early church. Even some believing Jews resented Paul for renouncing the old ceremonies. There were many Jews who were still hung up on their old Jewish habits. And he feared that they might see this as little more than a bribe to make them accept Paul and make them accept the Gentiles. It was by no means certain that they would accept the gift. So he says pray.
Then the third request, verse 32, "Pray that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and may with you be refreshed." Pray for my safety, pray for my success and pray for the fulfillment of my plans. Pray for the ultimate goal. Pray that I'll get to Rome with joy, that I'll come with a joyful heart in the will of God and be refreshed with you.
Ignatius, the early church father, prayed that he might be crowned with the honor of martyrdom. Not Paul. He says pray that I get through and back to you alive. He was more concerned with the glorification of Christ than the glorification through martyrdom of Paul. Duty first, then glory later. And he sought the refreshment, I love that, he sought the refreshment of the redeemed people in Rome. So he urged them to pray.
Listen, beloved, serving in the will of God — listen carefully, here's the point — serving in the will of God, believing in the precision of gifts and callings, commitment to the providence of God as He works out the circumstances does not mean we don't pray. It never precludes that. And any theology that weakens a believer's commitment to prayer is heresy. It's heresy.
Now we want to ask a question. Did Paul's prayers and those of his Roman prayer partners get a positive answer? Sure did. Did he experience safety? Oh yeah. When he got to Jerusalem the mob tried to kill him and the Romans rescued him. And then there was a... The Jews said, "Oh, we'd like you to transfer him from the jail and bring him over here and we want to discuss his case again." And the whole idea was to kill him on the way. But his sister's son heard about it and warned him and he was saved again. And then safety brought him to Caesarea and literally the whole Roman guard guarded him for two years to keep the Jews from killing him. They got the whole Roman army together to just answer that prayer. God does whatever He has to do. Yes the prayer was answered. He was safe.
Was he successful? Yes, he was successful. Yeah, when he got there they received him wonderfully. They received him. Chapter 21 verse 17, "And when we were come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly." Isn't that great? Their prayers were answered. The brethren received them gladly. The plots of the Jews were foiled. They never did kill him.
What about the third one, did he ever get to Rome? Sure he did. The Romans themselves sent him there so that he could have a trial before Caesar. After two years of being kept a prisoner for his own sake in Caesarea, they then sent him to Rome and even on the way to Rome I believe the devil tried to drown him. There was a terrible shipwreck. But not only did Paul escape but so did everybody else on board, Acts 27. He made it to Rome. Well that's the testimony to the power of prayer.
What does it take? What does it take to serve in the will of God? Is it something mystical? Is it something for an elite few people at a certain strata of spiritual life? No. It isn't. Let me run by it a quick...quickly again. Precision, serving in the will of God means I know my gifts, I know my callings and I maximize my life in those areas. Serving in the will of God means I understand the providence of God. That is I never worry and fret because God is in control of all the circumstances. Serving in the will of God means I plan and I set goals and I dream and I establish targets and I give my whole heart to that kind of planning. But it also means that I know my priority for the moment. And none of my plans for the future cause me to be ineffective in the present.
Ministry in the will of God is also marked by prosperity. And that isn't a matter of how successful I am outwardly, that's a matter of being in the place where God blesses. And then in a negative aspect, doing the will of God means persecution because if I'm breaking down the kingdom of darkness effectively for the sake of the Lord, there's going to be a negative reaction.
But doing the will of God also means purpose. Very clear, I do what I do for the Lord's sake so persecution isn't a big issue to me as it wasn't to Paul because what I do I do for His sake and the love of the Holy Spirit. And then there's one final and pervasive thing, serving in the will of God demands prayer, intense prayer on the part of God's people. And, beloved, we need to be praying for each other. I need to pray
more faithfully and regularly for those who serve alongside me and for you. You need to pray more faithfully and regularly and intensely over the spiritual battle that is engaging all around you among the people you know and love as well as those who lead and serve you in the church. All of these we see, as we get a glimpse into the heart of Paul, are the factors of ministry in the will of God.
Now as I said at the very beginning I say at the end, these things are not explicitly identified and listed here as I have listed them. But they come to us in that wonderful, fresh way of sort of oozing out of the conversation of Paul as he discusses his ministry. And thus they are not simply philosophical ideas or principles that are sort of laid out somewhere on a tablet, but they are the fleshing out of the life of this man which is the best place to look to find if principles really work. And we see them working effectively in his life.
Well he closes this chapter before some final words of commendation with a beautiful and simple benediction: "Now the God of peace be with you all, amen." The God of peace, what does that mean? That's a common term for God, the God of peace. It is to say that God is the source of peace. What do you mean by that? He is the source of peace in two ways. He provides peace with Him. Before you came to Christ you were at war with God. In Christ you are saved, you make peace with God. We call that peace with God. He also provides the peace of God which is the settled heart confidence that all is well that removes anxiety and brings tranquility to the soul. He is the God of peace, that is to say He reconciles men to Himself. He is the God of peace, that is to say He brings tranquility to the reconciled soul, the God of peace.
Our God is identified in this chapter in verse 5 as the God of patience and the God of comfort. In verse 13 He is the God of hope. And here He is the God of peace; the God of patience, the God of comfort, the God of hope, the God of peace.
Back in chapter 5 of Romans, that beautiful chapter that speaks of the benefits of salvation says, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." He is the God of peace. He makes peace with sinners through Christ. And so he says the God of peace with whom we have peace and from whom we have peace be with you all. That is to say that you may enjoy His intimate fellowship, amen, so let it be.
Here was a man who lived in constant turmoil — listen now — and yet never lost the sense of peace because he functioned in the will of God. And that was all that mattered to him. Not his own life, for that he did not count dear to himself. So should we live in the peace and settled tranquility of a life that is committed to the will of God. Let's have a word of prayer.
Father, thank You for this glimpse of Paul. What a practical and helpful reminder to all of us to serve in Your will, and what a model he is and what an example. May these elements be those that we pursue as we serve, that in the midst of plotting and in the midst of danger, in the face of death, we might not only see Your hand and know we're doing Your will but we might experience Your peace even as Paul, and that we who are the most troubled on the front lines, the most attacked, for whom the battle is the greatest might be the models of tranquility and peace so that we can even speak to others of the peace that Christ would bestow on them and be a living illustration of the significance and the power of that peace. We thank You for the testimony of Paul, not only his theology in this great epistle but his own personal testimony to the character of his ministry. May ours be so blessed for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit. Amen.
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