Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grace And Personal Plans by Martin Wiles

Romans 15:14-33

A. In considering God’s grace, we have also considered free will and God’s sovereignty.

B. With that in mind, what part does my personal plan play in the story?

C. Should I even make plans or should I simply go with the flow?

D. Or should my plans be made through prayer and the guidance of God’s Spirit? 

E. The second is the correct answer as Paul demonstrates in these and other writings.

I. Grace Leads To Pride Over Success In God’s Work (vv. 14-19)

A. As already mentioned, the church in Rome was very diverse-Jews and Gentiles, slave and free.

1. Though Paul wanted to visit the church at Rome, he had delayed his visit for a couple of reasons, one of which was he heard many good reports about the church and how well they were doing.

2. Paul encouraged and complimented his readers-two things we need to do more of in our interaction with one another.

3. On occasion, complimenting others might give them as we like to say, the “big head,” but it’s normally better to take a chance rather than withhold the compliments. 

4. I’ve never received too many compliments and they certainly encourage us in the task we are carrying out.

5. As we are complimented so we need to compliment, and we need to compliment even if no one is complimenting us. 

6. We don’t compliment to get compliments but because it is the right thing to do.

B. Paul mentions their goodness and spiritual maturity.

1. Just as we always need more compliments, so we need more goodness.

2. 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.

3. How wonderful if our reputation in the eyes of others is that we are just full of goodness.

4. How wonderful if that was the reputation of every one of God’s churches.

5. When goodness is prevalent, badness is not. Goodness can overcome evil. 

6. He also alludes to their spiritual maturity when he mentions they are able to teach others the things they have been taught.

7. Spiritual immaturity is never a trophy for us to desire.

8. 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 by now. (Hebrews 5:12ff)

9. Paul’s purpose was simply to remind them by reemphasizing what they already knew. 

10. 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 as well. But it is commanded and necessary.

11. There is another phrase; “Out of sight, out of mind.” 

12. Paul was a special messenger sent by God to them-and all Gentiles, with the message of Jesus Christ.

C. Paul’s pride in his work (vv. 17-19)

1. Paul almost appears to brag in these verses, but a close reading will reveal he is bragging on what God has done through him, not himself.

2. How do we know when we have crossed the line between pride in our accomplishment and pride in God’s accomplishments through us?

3. 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?” 

4. Can you be happy when another believer is in the spotlight and you’re not?

5. There is nothing wrong with excitement over what God does through us.

6. He gives talents, gifts and opportunities for us to use, not abuse or hide.

7. When we are faithful, he will be too, and it’s okay to be excited about the results of our joint effort (which by the way is really all of God).

8. Paul was only boasting of what God accomplished through him. God called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and he had obeyed the call. 

9. Notice Paul’s witness involved words and lifestyle (v. 18).

10. He witnessed with the spoken message but also in the way he lived before unbelievers.

11. Both are essential and important. The old trite phrase reminds us of that; “Walk the talk.”

12. Because of his 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).

13. We are God’s instruments, and we can thank him for whatever ways he uses us in his service.

14. 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 okay. We don’t have to be. 

II. Grace And Our Need For Guidance (vv. 20-29)

A. Paul’s plan.

1. Paul had never met many of the believers in Rome. 

2. What he knew of them had come from reports he had heard about them. Evidently, the good news of their behavior and what God was doing through them was traveling quickly.

3. As a side note, it’s always nice when others hear of what God is doing through particular individuals or through certain churches. 

4. God’s name is honored when his work progresses and when believers work together in unity.

5. One reason for Paul’s delay in visiting the believers in Rome was his preaching in unreached areas.

6. It was more important to him to preach in areas where people had not heard the good news rather than the opposite.

7. Verse 20 may contain a matter of consideration. Where is most of our time spent as a church? Yes we must disciple the saved, but is most or all our time spent on us rather than others. This applies to us individually and as a church. 

8. 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?

9. Having now finished his preaching in the areas where people had not heard, Paul is ready to visit them. Priorities are in focus here. First things first.

10. Paul intended to stop by Rome on his way to Spain which was the very western end of the civilized world.

11. Before this, however, he had to go to Jerusalem and drop off a love offering taken by the believers in Greece for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem. 

12. The Gentiles recognized their indebtedness to the Jewish Christians for it was through them that the gospel and thus salvation had come to the Gentile world.

13. 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.

14. Just as it is wrong to spend all our time on each other and neglect those outside the church, so it is just as wrong to spend all our time on those outside the church and neglect the needs within it. 

15. We must strike a balance. 

16. Paul’s example also reminds us God may change the plans we make, even when spiritual in nature.

17. 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. 

18. Whether this happened or not, Paul eventually met his death in Rome.

B. Our plans.

1. Our individual plans (spiritual and secular) should come from God and certainly our church plans should as well.

2. Recognizing our humanness, we also understand we sometimes miss God’s plan or misunderstand it. Our timing can be off. God’s ways are always higher than ours and sometimes beyond our accurate comprehension. 

3. We should always investigate our motive behind what we’re doing. 

4. Personal recognition or glory is never proper motivating factors.

III. Prayer Should Form The Basis Of Our Plans (vv. 30-33)

A. Paul believed his plans should be formulated through prayer.

1. He encourages those in Rome to join him in prayer and to pray for him.

2. The basis of their prayers would be their love for him. 

3. 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. 

4. 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 by them. This would promote unity in the church. Some no doubt still had misgivings about the gospel and Gentiles.

B. The formulation of our plans should be preceded by prayer.

1. Prayer clues us in on what God wants to do through us and how he wants to do it.

2. The means to the end are important and need to come from him as well.

3. It may not materialize as we imagine but obedience is the key factor.

4. God can and does bring good from the evil plans of others.

5. 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. 

6. Prayer needs to include periods of silence so we can pause long enough for God to speak to our spirits. 

7. 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. 

8. And since believers are in this work together, we need to intercede for one another. 

A. Bathe your plans in prayer.

B. Be open to God’s guidance as you make your personal plans.