Where exactly does grace enter into our personal plans?
Grace Leads to Pride Over Success in God’s Work (vv. 14-19)
As previously mentioned, the church in Rome was diverse. Though Paul wanted to visit the church at Rome, he had delayed his visit for a couple of reasons, one of which was that he had heard many good reports about the church and how well they were doing. Paul encouraged and complimented his readers.
On occasion, complimenting others might give them the “big head,” but it’s normally better to take a chance rather than withhold the compliments. Compliments encourage us in the task we are carrying out. As we are complimented so we need to compliment, and we need to compliment even if no one is complimenting us. We don’t compliment to get compliments but because it is the right thing to do.
Paul mentions their goodness and spiritual maturity. Just as we always need more compliments, we also need more goodness. Kind acts are always in short supply, and there are always opportunities to demonstrate them to others whether we feel they deserve them or not. How wonderful if our reputation in the eyes of others is that we are full of goodness. How wonderful if that was the reputation of every one of God’s churches. When goodness is prevalent, badness is not. Goodness overcomes evil.
Paul also alludes to his readers’ spiritual maturity when he mentions they were able to teach others the things they had been taught. Spiritual immaturity is never a trophy to desire. We are expected to grow in grace and knowledge. The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers about this when he scolds them for needing to relearn the elementary aspects of the faith when they should be teachers (Hebrews 5:12ff). Paul’s purpose was simply to remind them by reemphasizing what they already knew. We have heard the saying, “Repetition is the best teacher.” Think how often this is done in school settings, and we also do a tremendous amount in church life. But it is commanded and necessary.
Paul was a special messenger sent by God to them and all Gentiles with the message of Jesus Christ. Paul took pride in his work. He almost appears to brag, but a close reading will reveal he is bragging on what God has done through him, not himself. < How do we know when we have crossed the line between pride in our accomplishments and pride in God’s accomplishments through us? One way is to consider the question, “Am I just as proud over what God is doing through someone else as what he is doing through me?” Can you be happy when another believer is in the spotlight and you’re not? There is nothing wrong with excitement over what God does through us. God gives talents, gifts, and opportunities for us to use, not abuse or hide. When we are faithful, he will be too, and it’s acceptable to be excited about the results of our joint effort (which by the way is really all of God). Paul was only boasting of what God accomplished through him. God called him as an apostle to the Gentiles, and he had obeyed the call. Notice Paul’s witness involved words and lifestyle. He witnessed with the spoken message and also in the way he lived before unbelievers. Both are essential and important. The old trite phrase reminds us of that: “Walk the talk.” Because of Paul’s obedience, God used him to present the gospel to Gentiles from Jerusalem to Illyricum (a Roman territory between present day Italy and Greece, covering much of the same territory as present-day Yugoslavia). We are God’s instruments, and we can thank him for whatever ways he uses us. All our gifts and talents are important. They may seem small to us, but they are important nevertheless. Not everyone will be nationally known for their Christian work, but that’s acceptable because we don’t have to be. Grace and Our Need for Guidance (vv. 20-29)
Paul had never met many of the believers in Rome. What he knew of them had come from reports he had heard. Evidently, the good news of their behavior and what God was doing through them was traveling quickly.
One reason for Paul’s delay in visiting the believers in Rome was his preaching in unreached areas. It was more important to him to preach in areas where people had not heard the good news rather than the opposite. We must consider the spiritual significance of the things we do. Are we out simply to entertain and draw a crowd or do we want others to know God’s saving grace? Is our desired end to grow others spiritually? Are we enhancing our fellowship and edifying our Lord?
Having now finished his preaching in the areas where people had not heard, Paul is ready to visit Rome. Priorities are in focus here. Paul put first things first. He intended to stop by Rome on his way to Spain, which was the western end of the civilized world. Before this, however, he had to go to Jerusalem to drop off a love offering taken by the believers in Greece for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem. The Gentiles recognized their indebtedness to the Jewish Christians for it was through them that the gospel had come to the Gentile world.
Paul alludes to the principle that should be evident among believers. Yes, we should help unbelievers and try to lead them to Christ, but believers should take care of other believers. Just as it is wrong to spend all of our time on each other and neglect those outside the church, so it is also just as wrong to spend all of our time on those outside the church and neglect the needs within it. We must strike a balance.
Paul’s example also reminds us God may change the plans we make, even when spiritual in nature. Paul did make it to Rome, but not as a free man. He was a prisoner. Tradition says he was released for a time and went to Spain. The book of Acts, however, does not mention this journey. However, Paul eventually met his death in Rome.
Our individual plans (spiritual and secular) should come from God, and certainly our church plans should as well. Recognizing our humanness, we also understand God’s plan can be missed or misunderstand. Our timing can also be off. God’s ways are higher than ours and sometimes beyond our accurate comprehension. We should always investigate the motives behind what we’re doing. Personal recognition or glory is never proper motivating factors.
Prayer Should Form the Basis of Our Plans (vv. 30-33)
Paul believed his plans should be formulated through prayer. He encourages those in Rome to join him in prayer and to pray for him. The basis of their prayers would be their love for him. He requested they pray for his deliverance from any in Jerusalem who wanted to harm him. In reality, this was not answered in the way he may have desired because he was arrested in Jerusalem and went to Rome as a prisoner. He also desired they pray for unity among believers. He was bringing an offering to Jews from Gentiles. It would help the financial state of those in Jerusalem, so he wanted it to be accepted with love. This would promote unity in the church. Some no doubt still had misgivings about the gospel going to Gentiles.
The formulation of our plans should be preceded by prayer. Prayer clues us in to what God wants to do through us and how he wants to do it. The means to the end are important and need to come from God as well. It may not materialize as we imagine, but obedience is the key factor. God can and does bring good from the evil plans of others. He is able and will protect us as he did Paul.
On his journey to Rome as a prisoner, Paul also endured shipwreck and a bite from a poisonous snake. Prayer needs to include periods of silence so we can pause long enough for God to speak to our spirits. Prayer also reminds us we are in a spiritual struggle or battle. Not only do we need God’s guidance, but we also need his strength to overcome. And since believers are in this work together, we need to intercede for one another.
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