I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Paul's Plans for Ministry and the Gospel Ministry Today
In the Northwestern Pilot magazine, someone wrote this interesting bit of history:
Miss Miriam Booth, daughter of the founder of the Salvation Army, a beautiful, brilliant, cultured woman, began her Christian work with great promise and had unusual success. Very soon disease laid hold upon her and brought her down to the point of death. A friend visiting her one day told her that it seemed a pity that a woman so capable should be hindered by sickness from doing the Lord's work. She replied with gentle grace, "It is great to do the Lord's work, but it is greater to do the Lord's will."
In Romans 15:22-33 Paul is beginning to wrap up his letter to the Romans. In this section, he writes to the Roman Christians of his future plans to do God's will for his life, which he hopes will include a visit with these people to whom he has written.
The Apostle lets these believers know that he plans to visit them when on his way to Spain to continue his mission of preaching the gospel where Christ has not been named (Romans 15:20). He hasn't been able to see them in person yet and longs to visit.
However, first, the Apostle must deliver a contribution he has been collecting for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The fellow-believers in Macedonia and Achaia have generously given a gift for the needs of the saints there who are suffering and he has to bring it to them. Paul is asking the believers in Rome to pray for his Jerusalem trip and for his trip to Rome.
We find in Acts 21 that the Apostle to the Gentiles had every reason to ask for prayer for he was in danger. Paul is quickly arrested on trumped-up charges and the unbelieving Jews attempt to kill him. By the end of Acts we find that he did reach Rome but not in the way he had hoped. He got there as a prisoner of the Roman government waiting to appeal to Caesar to be released from custody.
This is what the text of Acts 28 tells us:
" Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him." (28:30-31).
From the Scripture, we don't know if he ever made it to Spain. However, we hear from two early church Fathers, Eusebius, and Clement of Rome, that Paul was indeed released from house arrest and was able to preach the gospel in Spain. Once again, he got where he was going but not in the way he'd hoped. We see, however, that, though Paul's plans were hindered, God's will prevailed in the end.
It is interesting that when Paul gives us the many theological passages that are in his writings, we realize that we can learn a lot about our own lives and how to apply what he's taught us. But, from this passage, we can also learn much about our own present ministry for Jesus Christ. We are all ministers. We are called ambassadors for Christ and we serve a master who has a plan for each of us. The people of God today should realize from Paul that a minister ought to have desires to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost world around them.
Let's take a closer look at this passage to see what further desires a minister of God should have and see how God can use those desires in accomplishing His will for our lives and in this world in which we live today.
I. A Desire to Make Plans but Allow God's Changes (22-25)
First of all, we see in verse 22 that Paul's plans to reach the whole world with the gospel were the reason that he'd never visited Rome. We glean from this passage that he didn't sit around waiting for a voice from Heaven each time before he moved. Paul indeed made plans for his life. Sure he prayed, but he also acted upon the plans that he had prayerfully considered.
He anticipated that his trip to Rome would take place shortly after his mission to help the saints at Jerusalem and that he'd enjoy the company of the Roman Christians for a while on his way through there to Spain where the people had never heard about the good news of Jesus Christ. And just maybe the people of Rome would help him in his journey and possibly assist in financing his further missionary trip.
What actually happened was quite different and he was in Rome longer than expected. He spent two years in prison in Caesarea. He then was shipwrecked on his journey to Rome and spent 3 months in Malta. He finally arrived in Rome under armed guard and was met by a delegation of the brothers at the three Taverns on the Appian Way. And finally, he lived 2 whole years in a rented house under guard in the city of Rome.
This reminds me of a quote by the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns who said:
"The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."
But at the same time, God's plans were going forward perfectly as He wanted them to go. We must, like Paul, make our plans. However, we need to leave room for the providence of God to change them for His glory.
God doesn't want us to sit back and wait for Him to give us an audible word from Heaven as to what we must do. We must pray and then start moving, trusting Him to open doors of ministry that He wants open and close doors that He wants to be closed. The old saying is true that "You can't steer a parked car." And God won't steer us if we don't step out in faith and do something, anything to bring about His glory and the salvation of mankind.
Paul did the Lord's work as best he knew how, and God lead him into his will for his life. We must do the same.
II. A Desire to Help in the Physical Needs of Others (26-29).
The second desire of a minister of God is that of wanting to help others with their physical needs. While the Gospel is of utmost importance for now and for eternity, this world is full of physical needs as well. Paul ministered in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia during his first and second missionary journeys. During that time he took up a contribution for the poor saints in Jerusalem who were suffering because of the persecution and a famine there.
The word "contribution" is the Greek word "koinōnian" which is often translated as "fellowship" or "communion." Part of the fellowship of the Body of Christ is the willingness to help brothers and sisters in financial hardship in providing for their financial needs. Money, in the Bible, like everything else, doesn't belong to us but is God's possession and is given to us by Him. We are His stewards to use what we have for His Kingdom and His glory. And if we see a brother or sister in any need, it is part of our Christian duty to make sure they are taken care of as the Lord has given us the means to do so.
Paul makes a point of saying to the Gentiles that they were indebted to the Jews spiritually, so they had a moral obligation to provide for their physical needs (26-27). By this, he means that the gospel truth was first preached to the Gentiles by Jewish apostles, prophets, teachers, and evangelists. So it is only right for them to help out in their hour of physical need.
We should do the same for those who have helped us in hearing and believing the gospel as well if we see that they are in need. None of us has gotten to this point in our spiritual journey on our own. God has placed many people in our lives at strategic times when He wanted us to learn lessons and to grow in our faith. We should honor and remember them throughout their lives both, by our prayers and in tangible ways as needed by them.
At the end of this paragraph, Paul tells the Romans that after he has finished making this contribution to the poor in Jerusalem, then he will have done what God wanted him to do. So when he finally does come to visit the Roman Christians he can do so with the full blessing of Christ (29). In other words, Paul knows that he will come with Christ's blessing and approval to see the Roman Christians and can be a blessing to them as well just by his physical presence. The great Apostle believes that his comings and goings are dependent upon Christ's blessings and that the Lord uses his presence to be a blessing to the people he minister's to as well. Just being there gives them assurance and comfort.
In the same way, if we want God to be pleased with our ministry for Him, we must not neglect to be present with those to whom we minister, especially during times of need, in order to provide for the physical necessities of those whom the Lord has placed in our paths, both Christians and non-Christians alike. This is an essential part of proclaiming the good news of salvation to a world that needs to hear it and to know that we care.
But they won't listen to us on an empty stomach. They won't listen to us if they are without the basics needed for physical survival. And they won't give us a hearing if they think that they are just a number on a church attendance sheet to us. We have to truly care and truly help.
At the same time, charity begins at home. And Paul said in another epistle:
"As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:10).
If we have a moral obligation to those who don't know Christ then certainly we have a greater obligation to those who are of the same family of faith. A minister of Jesus Christ desires to help those in need. That includes everyone.
III. A Desire for Prayer for Their Ministry (30-33)
Finally, not only did Paul make plans to minister and preach the gospel of God's grace to the world. And not only did he want to show his care for those to whom he preached, ministering by his physical presence and monetary assistance, but he also knew that none of this could ever be accomplished on his own strength. He knew that without the fervent prayers of God's people on his behalf he would never succeed. Paul had a deep desire that the Romans pray for his mission to Jerusalem, Rome and finally Spain. Here are his words:
"Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints, so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen." (30-33)
Paul's desire for rescue came from the knowledge that many Jews in Judea rejected the gospel and were prepared to attack him when he arrived. Being aware of this, Paul wanted the Roman Christians to pray for his protection so that he could complete his mission. Their prayers were answered by the fact that the Apostle wasn't killed. He was rescued from death but not imprisonment. However, we know that this 2-year imprisonment lead to the spread of the gospel all over Rome. So Paul obeyed God's will and, in time, got what he wanted as well.
When all is said and done, these desires of a true minister of Jesus Christ are a desire to have God's will accomplished through his ministry. That is what we should all be striving for. We should all be prayerfully making and executing the plans that we believe that the Lord has for us to do. We should also be desiring to meet any physical needs that may arise with the people to whom we are ministering. And finally, we should covet the prayers of the Church and pray for them as well that God will use us all to do great things for Him. What it all boils down to is a desire that God's will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, and that He will receive the praise for what we have done for Him.
This reminds me of a story from an unknown author who wrote this:
An engineer was confined to his bed, his lower limbs being paralyzed, but because of his reputation for great skill, he was asked to draw the blueprints for a magnificent suspension bridge. The plans were at length completed and placed in the hands of those who were to do the work.
Months passed by and the bridge was finished. Four men came to the engineer's room and carried him out on his cot to a place from whence he could view the bridge spanning a wide river, over which vehicles were rapidly passing. Tears filled his eyes, and looking down at the blueprints in his hands, he cried out, "It's just like the plan; it's just like the plan." God has his blueprints. They are world plans, while others have individual life plans. The question is: "Have we found His plan for our lives, and are we obediently walking in it?" There can be no greater reward, when looking back over our lives from eternity, than to hear Him say, "It's just like the plan; it's just like the plan."
May God help us to seek out His will for our ministries. And let us accomplish His plan for all that we do. For, in the end, His will be the only plan that will succeed and be of eternal value. My prayer is that God will be proud of the small part that each of us has played in His wonderful and beautiful plan for this universe that He has made. And that we will one day look back and give Him praise for the chance that He gave us to serve in it! To God be the glory!!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on November 05, 2019:
I agree with you, Bill. God does work in mysterious ways. But HIs ways are always the best. Thanks for reading.
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 03, 2019:
Your statement, "Once again, he got where he was going but not in the way he'd hoped. " seems to sum up a lot of life, at least for me. Good series, Jeff!