Paul’s Ministry Plans – Romans 15:22-33
Pastor Mark Hardy March 2, 2014
Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, England, so they went to hear the famous “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was the largest church edifice of its day, seating 5000 with standing room for another 1000. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented.
The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking God’s blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon himself.
Spurgeon believed in the power of prayer. The apostle Paul also believed this, and this is one of the things that we are going to be looking at this morning as we conclude our study of Romans 15.
In Romans 15:22-33 we can see four aspects of Paul’s ministry plans that reveal important lessons every believer needs to learn.
The first aspect of Paul’s ministry plans is this:
I. His Plan to Visit the Romans
A. Look at vv. 22-24: For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—
1. Just as we saw in the beginning of this letter in 1:10 and 13, Paul had often planned to come and visit the believers in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire, but had been “prevented” from doing so.
2. The word “prevented” (enekoptomen) here means to be cut off, detoured, hindered or thwarted. It is in the passive tense in the Greek and known as a divine passive, indicating that it was God Himself who had prevented him.
3. Paul couldn’t come to them because was too busy with his God-given pioneer church planting ministry in the area extending from Jerusalem to Illyricum, as we saw last time in vv. 19-20. However, having “fully preached the gospel of Christ” from Jerusalem to Illyricum (v. 19), Paul declares in v. 23, “but now, with no further place for me in these regions,” (Stop there)
4. Since Paul sees his ministry in these regions as completed he is now looking forward to preaching the gospel in new territories west of Rome. Paul first hints at what he has in mind while reaffirming his desire to visit the believers in Rome.
B. Look at vv. 23b-24, “…and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—”
1. But on his way to Spain Paul looked forward to seeing them in Rome. Notice that he does not plan on staying very long in Rome by the two phrases “see you in passing” and “enjoyed your company for a while.”
2. And yet, as we saw back in 1:11-12 Paul plans to stay long enough to not only be strengthened and encouraged by each other’s company and faith, but also in 1:15 long enough to preach the gospel there in Rome.
3. However, as much as Paul longed to meet and fellowship with these Roman believers whom he had heard so much about (1:8), he also had another reason which is seen in his statement “…and to be helped on my way there (i.e. Spain) by you.”
4. The word “helped” (propemphthenai) here is a regular technical term for missionary support (Acts 15:3; 20:38; 21:5; 1 Cor. 16:6, 11; 2 Cor. 1:16; Tit. 3:13; 3 Jn. 6). Paul was hoping that the Roman church would function as his home base for his Spanish mission, which would be the focus of his fourth missionary journey.
5. Douglas Moo correctly states, “Paul is reluctant even to hint at this request for help at the beginning of the letter; only after he has ‘built a relationship’ with the community through his letter does he think it appropriate to bring up the matter.” (pp.901-902)
6. Now although Paul doesn’t say how he wanted them to support him in his missionary trip to Spain, most likely he wanted their support in prayer, financially, and with personnel.
7. However, before Paul could direct his course toward Rome there was a very important assignment that he needed to fulfill, which would take him about 1,000 miles in the opposite direction. We see this in the second aspect of Paul’s ministry plans, which is this:
II. His Plan to Return to Jerusalem
A. Look at v. 25: but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.
1. The one Greek word translated “I am going” (poreuomai) is in the present tense, meaning that Paul is even as he writes this preparing to leave Corinth on his way to Jerusalem. It would take him two years to get there.
2. Notice that the purpose of Paul’s planned return to Jerusalem is “…serving the saints.” He then further explains this “serving” (kiakonon) or ministering to the Jerusalem saints in v. 26, “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”
3. During his third missionary journey, Paul has been collecting a contribution from all of the Gentile churches he had founded. Although other churches had participated in this (1 Cor. 16:1), he mentions here only the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, which northern and southern Greece respectively, probably for two reasons.
4. First, because they were directly across the Adriatic Sea from Rome. Second, and most importantly, because they were a model of sacrificial giving that every church should follow (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9).
5. Now the word “contribution” (koinonian) has the basic idea of sharing, and is usually rendered “fellowship” or “communion.” But here in this context, it refers to the sharing of a financial gift.
6. The believers in Macedonia and Achaia were models to follow because although they were in deep poverty themselves, “…they were pleased to make a contribution…” (2 Cor. 8:1-5). The word “pleased” (eudokesan), used twice here in vv. 26-27, stresses the voluntary nature of their financial gift.
7. By emphasizing their joy in giving freely and willingly, Paul underlines the truth that genuine giving is never merely a duty; it is also to be a delight (2 Cor. 8:1-5). For we read in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
8. And notice again for whom this financial love gift was being collected, “…for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” Although Paul gives no explanation for the cause of their poverty, it was probably because of the persecutions they experienced (Acts 8:1) and the “severe famine” going on throughout Palestine (Acts 11:27-30).
B. Paul then gives the reason why such a contribution was the right thing to do in v. 27: Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them (i.e. the Jews). (Stop there)
1. Here we see that the Gentile believers’ contribution was both a voluntary love gift and a debt. They were “indebted” () or morally obligated to the Jews.
2. Don’t’ think that duty and delight in our Christian lives are mutually exclusive. If we are truly in touch with our regenerate heart we want to do what we should do!
3. Now Paul further explains the Gentiles moral obligation to the Jews saying, “For if (i.e. better “since”) the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
4. All Gentile Christians have truly “shared” (ekoinonesan) in or partaken of the “spiritual things” (pneumatikois) of the Jews. In what way?
5. Jesus said in John 4:22, “…for salvation is from the Jews.” Therefore, the salvation enjoyed by every Gentile believer comes only by way of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 11:1; 42:1), and the fulfillment of promises made to Israel (1:16; 4:13-16; 11:11-12, 17-24; 15:7-8, 12; Gal. 3:14; Eph. 3:6).
6. Leon Morris accurately states, “…there is no doubting that Paul means the gospel above everything else. That was the supreme privilege; nothing in all the world is to be compared to the gift of God in the gospel, and the gospel came first to the Jews. When the Gentiles received it, it was because Jewish missionaries proclaimed it to them and invited them to share in its blessings.” (pg. 521)
7. Therefore, since Gentile believers have received spiritual things from the Jews, Paul goes on to say that it is only reasonable that “…they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.”
8. The word “minister” (leitourgesai) is the same word in v. 16 that refers to priestly service. Never forget that giving financially to the work of the Lord is an act of spiritual, priestly service.
9. Now the reason why Paul wanted the Gentile believers to give financially of their “material things” was very significant! Not only did this show their loving concern to their suffering Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, but also it demonstrated their partnership and solidarity with them in the gospel (Acts 24:17; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; 9:12-13; Gal. 2:10).
10. To Paul, this love offering symbolized the worldwide unity of Jew and Gentile Christians as the new people of God, the one body of Christ. Paul hoped that the generosity of Gentiles for the poor in Jerusalem would cement their relationship together as it provided tangible evidence that the promises made to Abraham have been fulfilled (12:3), as well as, the prophecies regarding Gentiles bringing their wealth to Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; 45:14; 60:5-17; 61:6; Mic. 4:1-2, 13).
11. No wonder Paul was so committed to taking the love offering, along with representatives of the Gentile churches who gave it (Acts 20:4), to the saints in Jerusalem.
12. The third aspect of Paul’s ministry plans is this:
III. His Plan to Minister in Spain
A. Paul says in v. 28: Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.
1. Here Paul says that the important assignment of delivering the contribution to the saints in Jerusalem must be “finished” (epitelesas) or completed. And this will happen only after Paul says “I. . . . have put my seal on this fruit of theirs.”
2. By this he is talking about personally accompanying the Gentile believers’ contribution, which is their “fruit,” in order to “seal” () or confirm its safe delivery in full and that the saints in Jerusalem understood correctly who it was from and what it was for.
3. Only then does Paul go on to explicitly state, “…I will go on by way of you to Spain. His ultimate destination was not Rome but Spain, since his passion was always to preach the gospel and plant strategic churches where Christ was not already named (v. 20).
4. John MacArthur says that Spain was “The city and region referred to in the Old Testament as Tarshish (Jon. 1:3; 1 Kgs. 10:22), located on the far western end of the European continent. It had become a major center of commerce and culture, made accessible by the vast network of Roman roads.” (Mac Study Bible pg. 1690)
5. Now whether Paul ever made it to Spain, no one really knows! Although church tradition says that he did (e.g. Clement of Rome—1 Clement 5:7), there is no biblical evidence that he did.
6. If Paul did, it would have had to take place after the history of Acts 28 where he is under house arrest in Rome. And before his second Roman imprisonment when he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
B. Now notice Paul confidence as he envisions coming to Rome on his way to Spain in v. 29: I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
1. This is similar to 1:11-12 where Paul anticipates imparting some spiritual blessing to the Roman believers. In faith, he is confident in Christ’s work through him that when he comes both he and they will be strengthened by the other’s faith.
2. Charles Hodge said it well, “Paul was persuaded that God, who had so richly crowned his labors in other places, would cause his visit to Rome to be attended by those abundant blessings which the gospel of Christ is adapted to produce.” (pg. 443)
3. The fourth aspect of Paul’s ministry plans is this:
IV. His Plea for Believers to Pray
A. Understanding the opposition and obstacles ahead of him in his plans, Paul says in v. 30: 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.
1. The word “urge” (parakalo) here is a strong word that does not represent an informal request, but means to implore, exhort, summons, entreat, appeal, and plead. Paul often asked for prayer in his letters (2 Cor. 1:11; Eph. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3-4; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; Phile. 22).
2. Here he exhorts his Roman brothers and sisters in Christ on the authority of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” referring to the fullness of His being; and on the basis of “the love of the Spirit,” which refers to the love the Holy Spirit gives believers for one another (Gal. 5:22) to pray to God [the Father] for him. Notice how we see each member of the Triune God in this verse.
3. Here Paul pleads with them “…to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” The one Greek word translated “strive together” (sunagonisasthai) means “to struggle or fight” and is the term from which we get our English word “agonize.”
4. This word is used of athletic events in the Greek games where contestants struggled against each other in competition. Therefore, this speaks of serious, earnest and persistent prayer (Col. 4:12).
5. Paul believed in the power of prayer, for it is part of the God-ordained means to accomplish His purposes. This is why Paul exhorted the Roman believers to pray for him.
6. Nothing of eternal significance is ever accomplished apart from prayer. Not only is prayer part of the armor of God that we are to continually wear (Eph. 6:18-19), but it is also an evidence of loving others when we struggle and fight against the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil in intercessory prayer on their behalf.
7. Let me ask you: What does your prayer life say about what you really believe about the power of prayer? How serious are you in your commitment to earnestly and persistently pray for others?
B. Paul then goes on to give them three specific prayer requests to pray for him about, as indicated by the words “that,” “and that,” and “so that” in vv. 31-32.
1. His first request is for personal safety in Judea when he visits Jerusalem. Look at v. 31: that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea,
• The word “rescued” (rustho) refers to the preservation of his life, for he will be unable to complete his ministry if he dies.
• Paul was well aware of that possibility and all the problems that lay before him in returning to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3; 21:4, 10-14, 27-36). The phrase “those who are “disobedient” (apeithounton) refers to the unbelieving Jews who rejected the Messiah and His gospel and insisted on their own works-righteousness (10:21; 11:30-31).
• Nothing could stop Paul from doing what he believed God wanted him to do (Acts 20:20-24; 21:10-13). But he pleads for their prayers for his personal safety.
2. His second request is for ministry success among the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Look again at v. 31: …and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;
• Paul knew the conservative Jewish Christians in Jerusalem distrusted him and continued to be hostile toward him because of his “law-free” gospel (Acts 21:20-25).
• Since he was concerned that they might reject the Gentiles contribution he summons the Romans prayer that the Jewish believers would accept it with loving gratitude for what it was, a gesture of brotherly love and evidence of their unity in Christ.
3. His third request is for personal satisfaction in their fellowship when in Rome. Paul says in v. 32: so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.
• This is Paul’s most personal prayer request of the three. He looked forward to when he finally would be in Rome with them and experience joy and refreshing rest in their company and they mutually minister to one another.
• But notice Paul qualifies this in saying, “by the will of God.” He said the same thing back in 1:10.
• There is nothing wrong with making specific plans like Paul did. However, all of our plans and even his prayer requests must be subject to God’s sovereign will.
• Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (19:21)
• Likewise, prayer is not trying to get God to use His almighty power to accomplish our will, but rather is aligning our will to His will. We must pray as Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Jam. 4:15; 1 Jn. 5:14-15)
C. Now how exactly did God answer each of these prayers?
1. Paul’s first request for personal safety in Judea when he visits Jerusalem was answered positively, in that, he was not killed.
• However, things didn’t go as Paul might have wished! After he arrived in Jerusalem he was beaten by the Jews and nearly killed in the temple (Acts 21:27-36).
• Then he was arrested, tried, and later imprisoned by the Romans in Caesarea for two years.
2. Paul’s second request for ministry success among the Jewish believers in Jerusalem was also believed to have been answered positively.
• For the most part the Jewish believers accepted the Gentiles contribution but some were still suspicious (Acts 21:17-26).
3. Paul’s third request for personal satisfaction in their fellowship when in Rome was ultimately answered positively, but not when or in the way Paul anticipated!
• While being held under guard by the Romans in Jerusalem, Acts 23:11 states: …the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” So Paul knew that his plan to go to Rome would be fulfilled.
• However, he was taken as a prisoner in chains from Caesarea to Rome by ship, which suffered shipwreck along the way. When he arrived in Rome he was under house arrest chained to a Roman guard for two years, and yet because his life and ministry were always surrendered to the sovereign will of God, he was still joyful and found refreshment in the Lord and the Roman believers who came to see him.
• Absolutely nothing could take away Paul’s joy. And his presence in Rome truly proved to be “the fullness of the blessing of Christ” because he ministered to all those who came to see him, he openly preached the gospel to the Roman guards, and God used him to write what is known as the Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
• No wonder he was able to say to the Philippians in Philippians 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” He wasn’t angry at God for what He allowed to happen to him and gripping and complaining about his difficult circumstances.
• No! Paul recognized that he belonged to the all-wise, sovereign and good God He knows what is best. And he trusted God to rearrange his plans and answer his prayers in the time and way God deem best for His glory and Paul’s good. We need to learn that same lesson!
D. Just as Paul exhorted the Romans to pray for him, he now concludes with a prayer-wish for them. Look at v. 33: Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
1. Here Paul calls God the “God of peace,” which means that He is the Source and Giver of true peace. The word “peace” (eirenes) refers to the supernatural inner tranquility, restfulness and contentment of soul that God gives to those who trust in Him, regardless of all the difficult circumstances in life.
2. Such a prayer for God’s peace to reign throughout the entire Roman church is appropriate given the tensions between the “strong” and the “weak” Jew and Gentile believers in the church we saw in Romans 14:1-15:13.
3. Paul then concludes this prayer-wish by adding the word of solemn affirmation and enthusiastic approval, “Amen,” which literally means, “So let it be.”
In closing, Paul’s ministry plans are good example of the mysterious and intricate biblical balance between the human responsibility of planning and prayer, and the sovereign will of God. May we, like Paul, live each day subjecting our plans and prayers to God’s sovereign will for our lives, so that we too will respond in faith and maintain our joy in Christ whenever He alters our plans and doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we desire.