Did Paul get his heart’s desire? Did he get to Spain?

The Apostle was a pioneer unafraid of taking the gospel into unknown frontiers. It is clear that he intended to go to Spain. “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there… So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.” (Romans 15 v 23-25, 28)

Did he get there? Luke who wrote with detail of his missionary journeys actually leaves him in Rome in his own rented house but under house arrest for 2 whole years. What happened then? Did Paul venture out onto a 4th missionary journey arriving in Spain? Did he then return to Rome and was then martyred? Or was Spain another one of those places where Paul wanted to go but couldn’t, like Bithynia? Subsequent early Church letters sent by people like Clement of Rome do make clear that Paul got to Spain, if they are to be believed.

If he did get there and then returned to Rome and was beheaded or if he didn’t get his heart’s desire I think we can learn this: make sure you grow old with a passion for the gospel burning in your heart; grow old wanting to talk to new people about Jesus; grow old so that the enemy will have to take your head off to shut you up about the good news of Jesus Christ! Let’s burn brighter as we get older.                    

So you want to do Missions work?

Some only focus on raising money for projects like those trafficked; people with leprosy; orphans; the persecuted; those caught in famine and disease.

Some only focus on the gospel to the whole world.

We need both.

Some only get involved in Church charitable projects and some only want to do Church gospel campaigns.

Again that is okay. But we need both.

From this amazing leader we have an insight into both. Here is what the Apostle writes informing of his travel plans, “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. (Romans 15 v 23-29)

Without doubt Paul is keen to get to Spain to continue his work of reaching the Gentiles with the gospel. He promises that he will stop by Rome to enlist their help for this work. However, though this is important, he must go to Jerusalem. He has been raising money for the poor there. So what do we learn?

  1. His missionary journeys full of pioneering gospel work, signs and wonders, also contained a strategic fund-raising campaign.
  2. He could have let someone else collect the money but he did it. There are some things we should not delegate because we carry the passion for it.
  3. He could have let someone else take the money to Jerusalem but he took responsibility for it.
  4. It wasn’t convenient for him; he was in Corinth when he wrote the letter, so to go to Spain via Rome was to go in the Western direction; he chose to go via Jerusalem adding approximately 2,000 miles to his journey.
  5. He raised money because he believed in two-way missions. This wasn’t an approach of only giving to the poor from the wealthy but Jerusalem had given much to the world in terms of their heritage and gospel launch that Paul believed they were owed it; mission is two-way.
  6. Helping the poor is a God-service as much as anything else.

Let’s do both!

There are some things people just don’t know

Even in this world of social media where it seems everything and anything is posted, from the meals we eat to the people we see, there are many things that people have not known about your life.

As a Pastor when I visited homes of my members some would ask me where I was going next after them. They liked to know what my day was like; they wanted to track me; they wanted to know.

But there are some things people just don’t know.

They have not seen the flowers you took for someone who was going through a bad time; the card you wrote to encourage the person who had not been well; the text you sent with a Bible verse just to edify; the train journey you took to be with a friend who needed to talk. Today may be one of those days when once again you do something but don’t announce what you are doing to a watching world. You just do it.

Why am I saying all of this? It is because of this verse:

So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15 v 19)

Illyricum stretched from what is modern north Albania to Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Paul is not recorded by Luke as visiting it in his missionary journeys. Here in this verse Paul reveals he went there. It is the only place in the Bible it is mentioned.

He was sold out for the cause of the gospel that Paul went to places and saw people that was not recorded in the ‘official’ missionary journeys.

Isn’t that wonderful?! God sees a lot of things! And He will see what you do today whether or not it gets onto social media. The gospel is active all over the world.

Sunday small thought: A vision needs a plan.

Paul had a plan: 3 missionary journeys.

Paul had a plan: Pioneer work then leave it to others to build.

Paul had a plan: Rooted in Scripture.

“So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand (Isaiah 52:15).” (Romans 15 v 19-21)

A vision needs a plan!

Never take the credit for what God actually did.

Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) boasted that he did more than Jesus to keep a church together.
“God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil–all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet . . . ” (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 408-409).

“I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round.” Muhammed Ali

Boasting is the outward form of the inner condition of pride.
John Piper

It is always the novice that exaggerates
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape letters

“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.  (Romans 15 v 17-19)

Christian social media is abound with the miraculous and the supernatural, the brilliance and off the scale moments of “me”. God does get a look in but at best He’s alongside us choosing the incredible me to work through. Me. Miraculously Extraordinary me.

No one is that good!

The Apostle reminds us that all that he has done, his ‘service’, was attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The signs and wonders he has seen are not because of him but the Holy Spirit.

So he doesn’t speak of what he has done but what HE has done. He doesn’t even “venture to speak of him” (ESV)

The hardest challenge is for those who have been successful to not write about their successes; those who have seen God work through their life to write of only God. Not many accomplish it without making you feel they are taking the credit in some kind of humble brag.

I think God has done more than He is given credit for.

Even the saints need to hear bold Bible preaching!

Sometimes pulpits (and I don’t mean only those found in churches but those on social media too) are used as ammunition stations throwing hand grenades at whoever is listening. I don’t like that.

But I also don’t like soft-play pulpits either. I like pulpits that are not afraid to open the Bible. I heard someone say the other day in defending her position, “I know it says in the Bible however …”and I should have responded with ‘say that again, but don’t used the word however.’ But I didn’t because I didn’t want to offend and she looked scary!

It seems that pulpits shouldn’t mention certain things anymore. We must not offend anyone ever. In fact if we permitted the editing of the Bible so that no one was hurt by what it said then we would not have much left. I was talking with a Church team recently about whether or not when I come to them I preach on tithing because ‘we don’t want the Church to think we are asking for money’. However the Church team really need their Church to tithe. We decided to go ahead and I am praying for that opportunity which is coming up soon. Pulpits can become the most uncertain, watered down, soft spaces, as we talk so mystical, so accepting that no one really has a clue what we are saying. The gospel doesn’t make sense unless we know what we are needing to be saved from. Preachers don’t need to lay their lives down if no one is calling for their blood because they have been hurt.

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me.” (Romans 15 v 14-15)

He has never visited them but he is convinced by what he seemingly has heard about them that they are definitely part of God’s family as he is.

They are not a new community of converts but they are mature in the faith.

They are “full, filled and competent”.

Yet.

He has been bold in what he has written to them. He is risking them being offended.

He knows he has written old truths. He is risking them responding with ‘we know this!”

He has done this because of God. The risk of being misunderstood by the Gentile Church of Rome is nothing compared to the risk of not pursuing the call of God on his life which he calls grace.

The Apostle knows that even the saints of Rome need bold Bible preaching!

You are a Priest

“How do you keep going when there are only 2 people in the pews?!” That was the question I asked of another minister many years ago when I was leading a Church plant. I didn’t have much more, there were 15 of us! I will never forget his reply, “I don’t minister to the people I minister to God.” He was saying my eyes are not only on the people they are on Him. Something that has stayed with me and which I still need to learn at times!

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15 v 14-16)

The Apostle Paul, a Jew, writing to mainly a Gentile Roman Church, tells them he does so because not only was Jesus’ focus on the Gentiles he is now following that lead. He is called to the Gentile world. But that calling is as a minister of Christ or “ministering as a priest” (NASB). This is unique here to Paul but a wonderful thought that when people convert and come to Christ in doing so it is an acceptable sacrifice to God. Therefore the presentation of the gospel in whatever way it is done to bring them to Jesus is a ministering priestly service to God. This is the priesthood of all believers; where there is no elite task force who have special knowledge or carry a special anointing or indeed have a special authority to understand the Bible than the rest. You are not a minister till you retire and then stop being a minister. You were a minister before you became a minister and even if you never became a minister you were always a minister (hope that’s not too confusing!).

Yesterday I visited the hospital where one of our retired ministers is battling cancer. He told me how the day before he was enjoying worshipping God with his hands in the air with the worship songs blasting from his ipad. Then he opened his eyes to see a nurse standing there watching with amazement at this minister bringing a service to God declaring His praise to those around.

Today whatever you do, wherever you find yourself, your ultimate task is to be a ministerial priest to a watching world. How you do that is by the leading of the Spirit within you and with His wisdom. But never underestimate what God is doing in your life. Never look down on the smallness of your world. Today is a ministering priestly day and it may be that you are instrumental in bringing someone to Jesus and in turn an acceptable sacrificial offering is given.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Filled and brimming over!

A tiger can be kept in captivity but that doesn’t mean it is domesticated. Being ‘tamed’ which is usually done by way of abuse, fear or starvation is what the enemy of our soul desires to do to the Church. However …!

This morning I believe and can see signs of the Church filled and brimming over with the Holy Spirit.

That we might go on being filled to the brim, continually, being completely taken over, letting every aspect of our life being invaded and ultimately possessed by the Holy Spirit without ceasing, ongoing, keeping on, being filled again and again, every single day.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15 v 13

We need hope.

This is a real, tangible, definite, guaranteed hope in Jesus. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) said this of hope, it “expects the coming of something new. Hope looks toward that which is not yet. Hope reaches out beyond ourselves to a power beyond us. Hope is grounded in the historic Christ-event … and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.” (in Seeds of Hope)

We need joy.

Some people say you can have joy without being happy, but it usually those who are not smiling. Some people say their joy is deep down inside, but what good is a light that doesn’t shine?

Nothing satisfies, renews and re-energises like the joy of the Lord! How can we fight the battles of the Lord if we are downbeat? How can we be a light to the world if we do not shine? How can we set the world on fire if we are cold and dry? We need joy in our hearts. A joyless life is an un-revived life. Am I heartless to talk about joy when the world suffers? No, I have found the church with the most joy is the church that is suffering. I have wept with Christians in many despicable places of the world only to see their smile return because God is with them.

We need peace.

Jesus Christ is peace. Nothing else. No one else. Don’t look to the world. You can gain the whole world and you won’t have peace if you don’t have Jesus. Your friends may want the very best for you. They want you married, they want you to have children, they want you to have a great job, a house, a car, they want you to be happy, to travel, to experience, to be well. They are good friends. But they don’t understand that the best wish they could ever have for you is that you have Jesus Christ. To have Jesus is to have peace.

So, Come, Holy Spirit!

Jesus and others.

So here is why we should reach out and accept one another … because Jesus did it.

What Jesus did when He came was to bring good news of God’s love to all people no matter who they were.

So here is why we should love and not dismiss people who are different to us … because Jesus did it.

What Jesus did when He came was to step into one people group and show them their ancestral paths pointed to the Messiah and these ancient prophecies included more than themselves.

So here is why we should reach out to different tribes … because everyone needs the Messiah to save them from sin.

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jewson behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”(2 Samuel 22:50) Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”(Deuteronomy 32:43) And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”(Psalm 117:1) And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Isaiah 11:10)

(Romans 15: 8-12)

Jesus reached into the Jewish culture to fulfil all their promises of a Messiah and then held out a hand to those outside of their faith, to the Gentiles.

In doing so we see God being praised amongst the Gentiles; these people are called to rejoice; the Gentiles rejoice; and they will live with hope.

Why is Paul quoting these Old Testament Scriptures? He is trying to prove that it was always God’s intent to include the Gentiles. It was never only about the Jew. Jesus accepted all. So must we. It is never only about us. The demands of the saved must never outweigh those who are yet to know Jesus.

The accepting Church

I stood before the congregation as I do most Sundays. Before me were people of different ages; different careers present and past; different scales of wealth; different nationalities, skin colour, gender, and even sexual identity. A young lady not used to public speaking came to the front to bring a presentation promoting an organisation. She was very nervous but despite the obvious struggle of a nervous stammer did very well and received an applause as she went back to her seat with people nearby saying, ‘well done’ with nods of encouragement. The Pastor came to the pulpit and called for the people to give to a local youth mission, ‘even though we may not benefit from this mission ourselves’. This church doesn’t have lots of youth but the ones they do have are catered for very well. This Church has a rich diversity of people, you wouldn’t necessarily arrange for this particular group of people to do life together because their difference is seen in a variety of ways. However, they all had been praising God using the same songs; they all would share the same refreshments after the service; they all shared the same Pastor and Eldership team who served them keeping this church in alignment with the Word and Spirit as much as they could. But they all were different. Some old in the faith but very young in spirit; some young in the faith but brow-beaten by life’s difficulties.

It wasn’t without tension. Most places like this have their ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’, as the Apostle Paul has spoken of in the previous chapter. It wasn’t perfect but it was a safe place.

During an appeal for anyone to come forward for prayer a man who had come to church for the first time that morning walked to the front. He committed his life to Jesus and everyone whooped and applauded bringing more praise to God.

As the man went back to his seat I said to him publicly these words: “Welcome to this Church. This is a safe place for you. You will grow as a disciple of Christ in this community.” Why was I so sure?

I was in a Church that understood these words, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans‬ ‭15:7‬ ‭