Have you ever had to plan a foreign holiday or some international business trip? If you have, how did go about it? Did you use a travel agent? Or did you prefer pouring over a variety of detailed timetables on the kitchen table? Maybe you booked the whole trip on the internet.
In the 21 st century such planning has become a relatively easy thing and international travel itself is pretty straightforward and reliable too. Some of us have travelled to other countries this year and even in going to the other side of the world we mostly measure the delays we encounter in just a handful of hours.
But, you know, it wasn't like that in the ancient world. There were no travel agents, no timetables and no internet – no planes either: travel was by land or by sea and could take a long time, a very long time.
Had travel agents existed then I reckon they would have been falling over themselves to try to secure the business of the apostle Paul because he always seemed to be on the move. He surely would have qualified for a frequent traveller discount!
We've been looking for some time now at Paul's letter to the Romans and we've finished with those doctrinal matters which dominate it. But Bible truth is never meant to be a matter of mere mental assent it is meant to transform the lives of all who come into contact with it. In these closing sections we're able to see how Paul's life was personally transformed by these truths. And we would do well to consider whether these truths are impacting our lives too?
In the verses before us this morning Paul, writing from Corinth in Greece, mentions his plans for visiting three different places – Jerusalem, Rome and Spain. Such a trip would involve travel by both land and sea and cover at least 3,000 miles – Paul was an experienced traveller and he refers to such a major undertaking in an almost casual manner. Let's take a look at his plans in more detail. (We'll spend a diminishing amount of time on each trip so don't get worried if Trip N°1 is taking a lot of our time!)
Trip 1 -
Understanding this will help us to understand a little better the importance Paul attributed to his planned trip to Jerusalem. Why? Because going first to Jerusalem would add a great number of miles to his overall journey – it would in fact more than double the distance he would have to cover!
Paul was at Corinth and from there it would have a relatively short trip to head westwards by boat towards Rome – just a small matter of 700 miles or so. Instead Paul planned first to go in the opposite direction, eastwards to Jerusalem a journey of at least 800 miles. The journey from Jerusalem to Rome would be a further 1,500 miles.
What was so important to Paul about the trip to Jerusalem that he was prepared to so put himself out?
1. The Description
The trip to Jerusalem was all about bringing relief aid to Jewish Christians living in poverty. Christian giving and Christian generosity in the relief of suffering was important to the apostle Paul as a careful reading of his letters and survey of his ministry will make clear.
A number of years previously (9?), Paul had been in Jerusalem with Barnabas taking part in what has come to be known as the Council of Jerusalem which met to consider the great question of the day – the integration of Gentiles into the church. When Paul wrote to the Galatians he referred to one of the requests made to him at the time by the leaders of the predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem:
Gal.2:10 "they asked us to remember the poor…" meaning the poor Christians in Judea
This was not a problem at all for Paul who added that this was
"…the very thing I was eager to do."
In the intervening years Paul had been involved working in Asia Minor and in Greece where he saw churches come into being amongst largely Gentile communities. As Paul taught these churches he included the responsibility they had of being generous with their finances. They were to be ready to support other Christians and in particular their poor brothers in Christ in Jerusalem. Not only did Paul teach this responsibility but he also organised the collection of such funds. He was now entrusted with the responsibility of taking them to Jerusalem.
For Paul this was not simply a question of kindness and charity, he expressed the responsibility in theological terms. This poor relief, as Paul understood it, was the repayment of a spiritual debt. If Gentiles were benefiting from the gospel it was because they had been grafted, as wide olive branches, onto the cultivated root stock which was Jewish – salvation is of the Jews! As Paul saw this when Gentiles shared in the spiritual blessings which had been promised to Jewish believers they became indebted to them, a debt which could be repaid by material help in time of need.
2. The Prayer
The importance of the trip is further underlined by the prayer support that Paul asks for. He specifically raised a number of matters for which he urged the Christians in Rome to pray:
is own personal safety – Paul asked to be delivered from unbelievers in Judea. As a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ Paul was considered by many to be a traitor to his own people and to their traditions. Already in his missionary endeavours in Asia Minor Paul had encountered considerable opposition and persecution at the hands of incensed members of the Jewish community and he did not anticipate anything else in Jerusalem. If Paul were to be intercepted he would not be able to fulfil his ministry of bringing the poor relief from the young Gentile churches.
for the gift he carried with him to be accepted – the acceptance of the gift would signify an acceptance of Gentile Christians into the church as full Christians even though they had not adopted Jewish traditions (this was a real live issue in Paul's day and we too need to be careful that we don't insist upon our own cultural practices and traditions as men and women come to faith in Jesus Christ!)
that Paul would be able to visit Rome having fulfilled his mission in Jerusalem – we'll think a bit more about this in a moment.
Before we turn our attention to Paul's second planned trip we should stop for a moment and consider just how these prayers were answered. It will be helpful because we can so easily entertain wrong thoughts about prayer which is not about bending God's will to ours but rather ours to his! All of our praying (whether we employ the words or not) must be conditioned by a "your will be done".
1. Personal safety – the divine response was both "yes and no".
On the one hand, Paul was delivered from being lynched, from being flogged and from a plot that sought his life:
On the other, he was arrested, tried and put in prison.
2. Success in his mission – we simply don't know!
It is perhaps rather surprising given the obvious importance of the matter to the apostle Paul that Luke in writing his account in Acts does not tell us what the reaction was to the gift! There are times, perhaps many times, when we will simply not know what the answers to our prayers are.
3. Ability to visit Rome – well the simple answer is "yes".
However the apostle probably did not anticipate quite the manner in which it all was to unfold – he got there as a prisoner having appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen!
Our prayers too may well receive similar responses – we may well receive what we ask for but not at all in the manner in which we expected.
Paul didn't let this worry him. When he was in Rome he could write like this of his experiences in his letter to the Philippians:
And isn't this just what we would expect from the man who had penned the words
Rom.8:28 "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Trip 2 -
Back in ch.1 Paul had already written of his strong desire to visit Rome. He returns to the same theme here in ch.15.
Paul really did want to visit and finally, he thought, the time and the opportunity had come. He wants to move westwards and preach the gospel in Spain – more virgin territory for the gospel – but on the way he can stop-
He wanted to come following on from a successful trip to Jerusalem – if that were the case he would be full of joy and sure of the Lord's blessing upon his visit to Rome.
In fact Paul had quite a number of expectations for this planned visit:
he wanted to enjoy their company – and what about you, do you think it's possible to enjoy the company of Christians? What efforts do you take to ensure that you actually do?
he wanted to be refreshed – after all he would have travelled miles to get to them and would be naturally weary. It was likely too that the trip to Jerusalem would prove somewhat stressful. Isn't it interesting that the great apostle was eagerly expecting to be refreshed by the regular members of the congregation in Rome – are you prepared to receive from others in the congregation? Are you prepared to give to others too?
he wanted mutual encouragement to be the outcome of his visit – what a good goal to have in one's Christian life! We live in a day when many only think about themselves, of what they will get from this or that church, this or that meeting – but Paul's thinking was much more healthily balanced: he was concerned for himself but not at all exclusively!
he wanted to preach the gospel to them. Paul was writing to Christians but still the gospel is something Christians need to hear again and again – when you begin to grow weary of the gospel you should interpret that as something of a wake-
he wanted to secure their help for his future mission as he moved beyond Rome and on to Spain, that is what he meant in v.24 when he wrote of "being helped on his journey".
Yes, the word Paul used implied all of this. This was and is what partnership in the gospel means – a joyful and willing interdependence to promote the spread of the gospel.
Are you committed to this kind of living as a Christian? Are you giving generously? Are you praying? Here at Sunnyhill we support four mission agencies praying for each regularly and sending them part of our funds – are you aware of that? Can you be more involved with this? In just a few weeks time we will have the opportunity of welcoming Wyn and Sally and their family amongst again. Will you make the effort to find out how things are going with them in Thailand? They'll be sharing with us on Wed.2 nd July – will you block that date out in your diary and even if you don't normally come to the prayer meeting will you not come then and encourage our missionary colleagues? What a sorry situation it will be if they are prepared to go to Thailand to serve the Lord but you're not willing enough to come down to the schoolroom – and, do you know what? There isn't even a match in the World Cup on that day!! No excuses!!!
Trip 3 – From Rome to Spain
Finally, and very briefly, we come to Paul's proposed visit to Spain. Paul mentions it twice here (vv.24+28). He's not planning to go as a tourist but as a minister of Christ – how Paul longs to see the name of Jesus Christ honoured. Is there anything at all of that in me? Maybe we can't go as missionaries ourselves but can't our prayers follow those who do, can't our finances help support those who do?
Did Paul ever get to Spain?
We can't be sure because when Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles he left us with Paul in prison in Rome. Perhaps he was released for a time and did travel to Spain – there are some extra-
But of one thing we can be certain: Paul was a man who both understood the gospel and its implications for daily live. He loved Jesus who is the very centre and heart of the good news and he lived his life for his Saviour.
Can the same be said of us?
May God help us all!