“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” ~ Romans 1:15
The book of Romans is a book full of tremendous and spectacular theology. Therefore, it is an epistle that is deserving of thorough attention. Because of its richness, it is easy to passover simplistic passages such as the introductory and concluding remarks. For the past several weeks we have looked at some of Paul’s introductory remarks found in 1:8-15 and the implications these simplistic statements have for missions (and ministry in general). As Paul shares his heart with the Roman believers, one can see his prayer, his passion, and his position (you can read the previous articles on this points by clicking the following: Part 1 and Part 2). However, there is one final point to notice here: Paul’s plan in verse 15.
Paul was a man who understood Proverbs 16:9 where it is written, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” A simple reading of the epistles would make it seem that Paul was random in where he went and why. However, his letters in combination with the book of Acts reveal that Paul indeed had plans, but his plans were always more directed by God’s will.
To fully grasp Paul’s plan, we must understand two concepts. First, consider what Paul says towards the end of Romans. It’s interesting to see that Paul begins Romans first with greetings and then with an exhortation to the believers by explaining his own desire, plans, and ministry. He then ends Romans in a similar manner, but in reverse. In the end of chapter fifteen Paul first exhorts the believers in Rome by sharing again his plans and ministry and then concludes with personal greetings in chapter 16. Why does such a notion matter to our understanding of Paul’s plans? We find our answer in Romans 15:19 in which Paul writes, “. . . so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” Furthermore he explains his desire to visit Spain by way of Rome (v. 28). Therefore, we can see that Paul was anticipating a ministry that expanded further than where it already was.
However, there is a second point to be understood. Maps from around Paul’s time help us anticipate what Paul was doing. With little information of the day, the maps reveal what people thought about the world. They reveal the prevailing thought of the day was that Spain was considered ‘the end of the world.’ The halfway point was Rome. Illyricum, where Paul had ministered to thus far, was often a stopping point from Jerusalem to Rome. With this in mind, we are able to see that Paul had a progression of ministry planned.
In fact, Paul’s ministry plan appears to be oriented towards fulfilling the Great Commission as outlined in Acts 1:8 at the words of Christ: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Paul’s plans then were not necessarily a measure of personal ambitions, but coincided with what a sovereign Lord had already decreed should take place.
Go deeper though and consider something else: who is Paul writing to? Believers in Rome. We know this by the fact that he thanks God for their faith (verse 8). Yet, in verse 15 he says that he is eager to come preach the gospel to them (verse 15). It must be understood then that Paul is desiring to make disciples, as is the commission from Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) and desires to see them grow spiritually (Romans 1:11-13).
Within a matter of a few verses, Paul has laid out his life’s goal: to make disciples throughout the world. Paul never made it to Spain though. He did make it to Rome, although the circumstances were probably not as he planned. Was Paul a failure then? The obvious answer is, “Of course not!” In fact, we could argue that Paul was the most ‘successful’ minister to live (that wasn’t born from a virgin). Yet, Paul would tell you it was never his work, but God’s work through Him. So while Paul made plans, he yielded to the Lord’s will and while that will did not see Paul complete his personal endeavor, it generated a great influence and great expansion of Christian ministry.
When I first began this three-part series, I did so with the story of six families who went to Bolivia to bring the gospel (please note a quick correction below). Five men died without ever sharing the gospel. Yet, their contact generated both the possibility for future contact and motivated others to dedicate their lives as missionaries as well. The men had plans, but the Lord’s will was different and the impact was far greater than what we would have expected from such a difficult story. This is the final essential quality of missions: to plan, but humbly yielding to the Lord’s will. In this short introductory passage from Romans 1:8-15 we see four essential qualities of missions: Prayer, passion, position, and planning.
Correction: Perhaps clarification is better used here. When I first introduced this series, I shared the story of five men who went out with their wives and six children who lost their lives in Bolivia. I did so with the best information that I had, but a friend who has more intimate knowledge of what took place clarified for me that indeed it was six families that went out (six men and their spouses and children). However, the mission had a policy in place at that time that one man was to remain with the women and children while the other five went to make contact. The result was that one man survived while fulfilling his particular role and the others died fulfilling their particular roles. This does not change the message in the story, but I wanted to make sure I shared correct details.
Photo “Globe” courtesy of user Jason Bachman and Flickr.