Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed” (Rom. 15:30-32).
Now compare Paul’s plans with what finally came to pass and the three major lessons we learn from these events.
Paul’s plan for his fourth missionary journey was to go to Rome and then to Spain (Rom. 15:22-32). He did indeed go to Rome, but neither in the way nor at the time that he had planned. And Rome was as evidently as far as he went on that journey. As Paul neared the end of his third missionary journey and prepared to return to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit testified in every city that Paul went that bonds and afflictions were in store for him at Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 10-11). These warnings did not move Paul (Acts 20:24; Acts 21:12-14), and Paul went to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-25). The Jews from Asia Minor, who were at Jerusalem at that time, caused the whole city to be in an uproar against Paul, and the people took Paul out of the temple to kill him (Acts 21:26-31). The Romans intervened and took Paul prisoner (Acts 21:31-36; Acts 22:24-30). Jesus appeared to Paul in the Roman castle in Jerusalem and told him to be of good cheer because he would testify of him in Rome (Acts 23:10-11). The Romans moved Paul to Caesarea (Acts 23:12-35), where he remained a prisoner for two years (Acts 24:22-27).
Finally, Paul, a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38; Acts 22:25-29; 23:27), appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:8-12). The Romans sent Paul to Rome (Acts 27-28), where he remained a prisoner for another two years before being set free (Acts 28:30-31). As Jesus had promised (Acts 23:10-11), Paul did freely preach the gospel during those two years in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), and by his work, some of Caesar’s household obeyed the gospel of Christ (Php 4:22). Thus, Paul did finally get to visit Rome and the brethren there and was able to preach there, but not at all in the way that he had initially planned. We do not know if Paul was able to go to Spain after his release from prison in Rome.
The difference between what Paul had planned and what eventually happened teaches us at least three major lessons:
- We do need to make plans and be diligent and organized. Paul definitely made plans and was thorough and organized in seeking to carry them out, even if things did not turn out the way he had planned (Rom. 15:22-32).
- We need to pray for God to bless our plans and works. Christ has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and he is working all things after the counsel of his own will (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11). God tells us to make request of Him in everything (Php. 4:6), and if we do not have enough faith to ask Him, He says we will not receive (James 4:2; Matt. 7:7-8).
- We also need to understand that even though we plan and pray, what happens in the end is only in God’s hands, a fact that is taught in several places in the scriptures. For example, Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart devises his way: but the Lord directs his steps.” This passage emphasizes the inability of man to do anything unless it is God’s will. Man makes plans and devises what he wants to do or thinks he will do, but ultimately, it is only what God wills (literally determines) that happens. We cannot even make ourselves continue to love, let alone make ourselves able to do “this or that” (James 4:13-15). So often our plans do not work out. When we fail to say, “if the Lord wills,” that is a form of evil boasting (James 4:15-16) because the Lord must direct man’s steps (Prov. 16:9).