Paul preached contentment in the midst of difficulty. He modeled the kind of faith that sees every obstacle as an opportunity. But he was also human. Like you and me, Paul had hopes and dreams that, at this point in his story, were unfulfilled. As we witness this great apostle deal openly with his most trying disappointment, Stephen helps us confront and deal with our own.
Frustration and the Sovereignty of God
Intro – comic strip
Trouble is, we write out resolutions for ourselves, and we are far from perfect.
In the Book of Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 26, the Spirit through Solomon wrote, “Ponder the path of your feet, that all your ways be established.”
The Hebrew verb for ponder actually refers to clearing the path so that you reach your destination. In other words, make sure that you’ve done everything possible to move forward. Another nuance of the verb refers to actually measuring the distance of your path so that you start out and arrive on time.
Ponder your path – think it through – clear away the debris – measure the distance.
Daniel Webster defined a resolution as “coming to an earnest decision.”
Now I might have made a new years resolution to eat more vegetables and less chocolate covered doughnuts. I said, “I might have” not “I did.” The tough part is making it past the doughnut section of Harris Teeter – it’s the very first aisle you come to!
Marsha and the girls are in Atlanta with Mom Gladney – another round of doctor’s visits and outpatient surgery. The boys are in school, so they’re here with me. My wife is afraid that with me in charge of breakfast and supper, it’s likely we’ll all come down with something like dysentery, like the pilgrims got on the Mayflower.
So she diligently prepared. There are sticky notes on the cupboards that say things like, “Plenty of turkey for sandwiches” “Eat chili before Saturday”; “Don’t forget salad.” She even bought lettuce already chopped up so all we have to do is take it out of the refrigerator and add dressing. She bought bags with stuff in them so all I have to do is put the meat in the bag and cook it in the oven. She thought of everything.
She’s been gone three days now – the only thing we’ve run out of so far is milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The Pepsi’s low too.
You didn’t hear any of this from me!
I happen to believe that one of the greatest revelations of character is found buried in your list of resolutions. Your slate of goals. The things that drive your dreams.
Not a list of resolutions that come and go, but earnest, life directing decisions.
I have been, and continue this morning to speak specifically to men, although truth knows no boundaries of gender or age.
We have observed thus far in the life of Paul that the affections of a godly man determine his ultimate desires. He struggles to kneel and pray for those under his influence; in our last discussion we discovered through Paul’s letter to the Roman believers that a godly man desires to give the best gifts in life – gifts that support the cause and name of Christ; gifts that strengthen the spiritual walk of others; gifts that speak encouragement to the hearts of others and gifts that stretch the faith of others.
A godly man longs not so much for things from God but for God Himself. Which leads him to develop great affection for God’s purposes and God’s people.
We’ve seen all of that thus far in Paul’s affectionate words to the Christians living in Rome, Italy.
Now, in the next verse of our ongoing exposition through Romans chapter 1, we actually discover an earnest decision of Paul’s – we could call it a resolution that marked Paul’s thinking and praying and planning.
It’s a verse that reveals the heart of Paul and his godly incentives.
Romans chapter 1 verse 13. “And I do not want you to be
unaware, brethren . . .”
By the way, Paul used that phrase many time in his letters to emphasize something he was about to write. I do not want you to be ignorant – or I don’t want you to be without knowledge”; “this is something really important I want you to be aware of”.
He used it in 1 Corinthians 12 as he explained how spiritual gifts were to build up the body of Christ. He used it again in 2 Corinthians 1 to reveal his struggle in Asia and how God spared his life; He used it in chapter 2 of that same letter as he warned the believers of Satan’s schemes; again Paul used the phrase to introduce the doctrinal truth in 1 Thessalonians 4 concerning the rapture of the church.
And now here in Romans, Paul says, “Listen, there’s something really important to me that I want you to know.”
“. . . I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:13)
Two life principles emerge from verse 13. First, is Paul’s deep desire and godly affection for personal contact.
Second is Paul’s godly, earnest life-determining resolution of making a permanent impact on the lives of people.
You remember in verse 11 how Paul spoke, “For I long to see you, in order that I might impart some spiritual gift to you.”
And even earlier in verse 9, Paul affection and devotion for the believers in Rome is revealed as he writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if
perhaps, now by the will of God, I may succeed in coming to you.”
What do you really want to do with your life Paul? “Oh I want to make personally involved in teaching and leading those in Rome and I want to make a permanent impact on their lives for God’s glory.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the affections of a godly man.
Let’s go back to the first desire of Paul – the principle of personal contact.
He writes in verse 13, “. . . often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far)
It’s interesting to me that Paul did not say, “Listen, I’d like to come to Rome, but here’s my letter . . . it’ll do just as well, so read it and make sure you follow the directions.”
No! Paul wanted personal, face to face contact with his spiritual children. He knew that his life would add so much to his letter.
One of the missing ingredients today with men developing relationships with their wives and children is personal, life relating time.
I shared with you several weeks ago the startling statistic that the average father spends 37 seconds a day interacting on a personal level with his children. Those 37 seconds does not include sitting beside them in the car on the way to church; it does not include sitting beside them on the couch watching the television; it does no include taking them to school or sitting at the dining room table with them. 37 seconds of face to face, one on one investment in their lives.
One of our elders told me a few weeks ago that when they got home from church, that afternoon, his little 7 year old daughter, who had been in that service and heard that statistic said to him, “Okay Daddy, it’s time now for my 37 seconds.”
You can’t buy your way out of personal contact. “Here’s a lollipop honey, now run along.” You can’t give things instead of yourself.
I will never forget those two little girls who got off the pre-school bus at the park and came to swing next to where I was pushing my little girl – and one looked at the other as they swung back and forth and said to her, “Aren’t you lonely?”
I wonder if her Daddy will ever catch on before she’s grown and gone – 37 seconds or less will never do.
Isn’t it fascinating that God did not deliver the gospel to mankind by writing in the sky a series of propositions; “Read this and you’ll get it all.” He didn’t just send propositional truth; He sent us a person who was the Truth.
And the Savior came, not to simply tell us how to live, but to show us how.
God did not send us words alone, He sent us the Word alive! The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory (John 1:14).
Paul says in effect, “I don’t just want to mail you a letter; I want to see you and it happens to be an earnest decision of mine to come to Rome.”
What was Paul’s incentive for coming. Why risk the hardship – why make the effort.
There are, by the way, ungodly incentives for serving God:
Some serve God because of family. They are pressured and manipulated into doing something that they would rather not do – their family is watching. Maybe your here this morning and that’s the only reason your here.
Some serve God because their friends do. In order to be accepted by those they admire and love, they join the ball team and play along – while there is no internal motivation for the glory of God. It’s just what everybody in your life seems to be doing.
Some try appear religious for financial gain. There are dead men in pulpits today in this city – they go through the motions because it’s a nice job and a good pension – besides they feel good about the prospect of helping somebody. Turn on the television and you’ll see other religious salesmen who are peddling religion. Selling the things of God. Peter said, false teachers will make merchandise of the gospel. In other words, pay them money and watch your life be blessed, watch your faith grow, watch your health return, watch your debt disappear. Jesus is their product and they are getting rich off selling Him to naive and deceived followers.
Others try to live for God for the sake of forgiveness. They try to keep a list of do’s and don’ts in hopes of balancing out the scales of their life with enough good deeds to counteract their sinful deeds. They regularly turn over new leafs in their lives in an attempt to earn forgiveness by God.
Others serve God out of fear.
Still others try to live for God for the sake of fame. Going to church is good for your reputation – it’s good for business. People look up to you because you go to church.
All of these things are ungodly motivations for living for Jesus Christ and serving others.
Paul says, my incentive for serving God by coming to the believers in Rome is fruit. Spiritual fruit!
This is the second incentive – it is the principle of permanent impact.
In the last part of verse 13 Paul says, “I have planned to come to you . . . in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
There are a number of ways that fruit appears in the letters of Paul.
He wrote to the Galatian believers, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, against such there is not law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
These are those qualities developed in the life of the believer who is submissive to the Holy Spirit.
Paul also wrote in Romans 16:5 about a certain man named Epaenetus (Epainetos), who was the first fruits of Asia.
For Paul then, the word fruit could refer not only to those qualities that are added to a persons character by the Spirit, but it also can refer to someone who themselves have been added to the church by the Savior.
Redemption by means of the Savior produces fruit.
Sanctification by means of the Spirit produces fruit.
The fruit of redemption deals with who you are.
The fruit of sanctification deals with how you live.
Through redemption you become children of God.
Through sanctification you behave like children of God.
So Paul’s incentive for coming to Rome was to see both things happen. On the one hand, to see the Romans develop the fruit of the Spirit, and on the other hand, to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
Men, you will revolutionize your life if you put into practice these two principles. The principle of personal contact and the principle of permanent impact.
To long for – to make an earnest resolution – to see the people in your world develop the fruit of the Spirit: to see people in your world who do not know Christ, by your testimony, come to put their faith in the Savior.
Most men are happy if their kids bring home good report cards. And stay out of trouble. And don’t embarrass the family name. That’s enough for them. How many men will long for and pray for their families and believing friends to develop the fruit of the Spirit and a passion to win the world for Christ.
This was Paul’s longing. And we would never know Paul was frustrated in any way if he hadn’t slipped that little phrase into his letter that I’ve ignored until now. Look back at verse 13. “And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) . . .”
In other words, Paul informs the church that he has put into his calendar time and time again, this trip to Rome. And time after time, he’s had to erase it off his itinerary.
You can almost hear him saying, “There – it happened again! I was planning to set sail for Rome this month and something else came up – something always seems to get in the way. I long for the day I can come to you – I have nothing but godly intentions – God knows my heart – my dreams would only honor Him if He would just make it happen!”
You see, we happen to know what Paul, at this point does not know.
He will not arrive in Rome as a pioneer – he will arrive years later, as a prisoner.
He will not come and personally build the church, he will come to Rome, bound in chains.
He just doesn’t know that yet.
If you could pull Paul over to the side of the room and say, “Hey, Paul, tell me what it’s going to be like in Rome.” He’d say what he’s said here in verse 13. “Oh listen, I can’t wait to reap a harvest of souls – I can picture evangelism taking place in Nero’s palace where a few believers are already primed and ready – I can’t wait to teach the saints – I’ve already done it in Corinth and in Ephesus – I’ll teach in Rome like I taught in Ephesus, night and day – I can see the church gathered, Jews and Gentiles together learning from the Scriptures about their Savior, Jesus Christ. Ministry in Rome will be absolutely unforgettable. If I can just get there. Every time I plan to leave for Rome, something else has to be done. I keep being hindered. I am longing to go, maybe soon I will be able to set sail for Rome.”
Let me show you something else. Turn to chapter 15 and look at verse 22. For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23. 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 24. whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, (wait – did you just read that right? Read it again - 23. 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 24. 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 (skip to verse) 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.
Say Paul, what do you, the great apostle see God preparing you to accomplish. “Well, I see God preparing the path for me to venture out into unchartered territory – to go to Spain and bring the gospel where it’s never gone before. As soon as I finish taking this financial gift to Jerusalem, I’m setting sail for Rome. And then on to Spain!
Why did Paul want to go to Spain? Perhaps it was because Spain had produced men like Lucan the poet and Quintilian, the master of Roman oratory. Seneca, the brilliant philosopher and prime minister of the Roman empire was from Spain. Perhaps Paul thought, what if the gospel could make it to Spanish soil – the country that was producing the greatest minds of his generation.
Or perhaps it was because Spain was considered in Paul’s day to be the end of the world – in fact, the Roman empire had only recently opened up territory in Spain – Paul wanted to take the gospel to the ends of the world.
He would never make it to Spain.
The Book of Acts informs us that things did not go like Paul planned them to go. He did deliver the money to the church in Jerusalem, but when he went to the temple, he was recognized and a crowd of people swarmed him and began to beat him. He escaped with the aid of Roman soldiers.
Thus began a series of trials before Roman authorities as well as Jewish authorities. Eventually, having been accused of desecrating the temple, which was a crime guilty of death, he appealed to Caesar and was taken to Rome. On his voyage there, they were shipwrecked in a storm, cast up on a island and eventually made it to Rome in chains.
Life turned out differently than Paul had planned.
If I could have asked you a year ago, 10 years ago, tell me what your life is going to be like. “Oh, let me tell you . . . let me give you my plans.”
And as godly as they were, they did not take place.
What were your plans on your wedding day – how have they changed? When you brought that baby home from the hospital – did it turn out like you thought it would? When you arrived on that college campus – when you began your career – when you enlisted – when you became a Christian – let me paint the picture for you – here’s what’s going to happen!
And yet, things out of your control, took place. People changed. Circumstances you never dreamed would occur, happened.
You never made it to Spain.
I want to give you four things that God wants to teach us all – not just men whom God wants to develop into godly men – but women and young people alike.
In the midst of frustrated intentions, what is God wanting to do in your life?
Number 1 – God wants to develop your trust in His sovereignty.
And as great as the Apostle Paul was, and as godly a man as he was, he had no more idea what God had planned for his life then, than you do today.
God is at work – His purposes and plans will come to pass. Even in chaos, He orders the chaos to accomplish His ultimate end. Even when things are falling apart, He sovereignly arranges the way things fall to ultimately fulfill His designs. You say, “I don’t understand.”
Many times we don’t. When you say that God is sovereign – you are saying that God is not required to explain Himself.
You say, “But I just want my dreams to come true – my intentions are godly . . . why can’t I just arrive there?!”
You see, to us, arrival is everything. To God, the journey is everything.
Secondly, God wants to deepen your understanding of His power.
I love the story Kent Hughes told in his commentary on Romans about the Little Leaguer who put all his sixty pounds into a ferocious swing and barely connected. The ball scraped by the bottom of the bat, jiggled straight back to the pitcher, who groped and fumbled it. There was still plenty of time to nail the batter at first, but the pitcher’s throw soared high over the first baseman’s head. The slugger flew on toward second base. Somebody retrieved the ball. The next throw sailed wildly into left field. The hitter ran to third, puffing along with a man sized grin, then continued on to cross home plate and say, “That’s the first home run I ever hit.” That is so much like us.
Kent Hughes, Romans p. 289
None of us are home run hitters – truth be known, we barely make contact with the ball every once in a while . . . but when we admit our weakness; when we acknowledge our inability – whenever we catch a glimpse of our total inability, we are then ready to catch a fresh glimpse of God’s power.
Third, when the best of your intentions are frustrated, God may want to prepare you for something different.
Who would have ever guessed that God did not want a missionary in Spain – he wanted a martyr in Rome. We can’t figure that out – we don’t have to.
But we must continue to follow our Lord, even when we don’t understand where and how and why.
Finally, God wants to develop your character in the face of frustration
This past week I finished a portion of William Carey’s biography. Carey was the founder of modern missions, and gave his life in India for the Lord.
Do I think Paul came to the end of his life with regrets? Did he say, “You know, I never did have the ministry in Rome that I wanted to have . . . and I never did make it to Spain.”
Was Paul bitter with God for refusing him one of his greatest longings in life? Did Paul consider his life incomplete, unfinished?
No. In his last letter he wrote, “I have finished my course. I have run the race . . . I have kept the faith.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, this godly man, who modeled godly manhood for us all, had made an earnest resolution. It was not so much sailing to Rome or making it to Spain as it was in following the Savior.
He had learned – when it comes to making plans and resolutions, arriving is not nearly as important as the journey.
INTRO – COMIC STRIP
In one episode of a comic strip, a woman is sitting at a table writing: #9 – Be nicer to other people; #10 – eat only healthy food; #11 – stop being so pushy; #12 – cut down on sweets; #13 – Don’t be so critical of others . . . her husband comes in and sits down beside her as she’s writing. He asks, “New Year’s resolutions?” She replies, “It’s that time of year again!” He looks over her shoulder and reads the list and says, “I’m impressed. Those are really good goals . . . but do you think you can keep all of them?” She replies, “Why should I, these are for you!” Then she hands him the list.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to write resolutions for everyone else – it would probably be a perfect world.
William Carey also published the first books on science and natural history in all of India. He introduced the steam engine to India; he was the first to make indigenous paper for the nation; he built was then the largest printing press in India. He wrote gospel music in the Bengali language; he wrote the first sanskrit dictionary – he either translated or published the Bible in 40 different Indian languages – he pioneered the Protestant church in India. Around 1823, when the printing and translation work was at its height, a devastating fire ravaged the hall that housed their work. During the day this hall, which was 200 feet long and 50 feet wide, had housed at least twenty staff, working on different translations, along with the type-founders, compositors, pressmen, binders and writers. This huge fire had consumed Carey’s manuscripts along with 10 Bible translations. His project of the sanskrit dictionary was now just ashes. Vast quantities of paper, fourteen fonts of Oriental types, new supplies of Hebrew, Greek and English type, priceless dictionaries, grammars, steel punches, deeds, and account books of the property were all gone. Carey would later write these words, “In one short evening the labors of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.
Frustrated? It was nearly unbearable. But there was a firm conviction in the sovereignty of God.