Paul, The Apostle to the Gentiles
(d) Paul’s Itinerary
In writing to the Roman Church, Paul at this stage outlines his travel plans. As we will have in our possession a schedule or an itinerary when we travel so the apostle had very clear ideas as to where he would go and what he would do in his travels. Of course Paul was a well seasoned and highly experienced traveller. He was well acquainted with the routes available within the Roman World and he used that knowledge to full advantage in the spreading of the Gospel. This study will focus upon Paul’s travel plans and how they concerned the Roman Christians.
1: Paul’s Departure v23
Paul has already summarised his field of labour up until this stage of his ministry in v19; “..from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illryricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” His travels and ministry had taken him from Jerusalem to the region where Albania is today. Throughout these lands he had not only evangelised but established churches, which were now self governing and progressing. Therefore Paul felt strongly that he had “no more place in these parts.” He was now seeking a new field of labour that would take him away from the field where had spent the bulk of his ministry.
2: Paul’s Destination v23
His great ambition was that he might visit Rome. While as a traveller, as a freeman of the Roman Empire and as an academic Paul would have had an intense interest in the Imperial City. There was no city like Rome in the ancient world, with its enormous population approaching 1,500,000. Yet Paul’s key reason in coming to this place was to meet with and fellowship with the Christians who had established a Church in Rome. Indeed at the beginning of the epistle he emphasised this desire and had also explained that the Providence of God had made it impossible for him to make the trip. He restated this difficulty in 15:22. Paul was not one to be easily discouraged. He still was making plans to visit Rome. It is not wrong for Christians to think ahead and make plans for the future. Even if we have been frustrated by Providence and the will of God in the past does not mean a particular course of action may be wrong in the future. Plans are sensible as long as we commit them into God’s care.
Did Paul ever reach Spain? There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that he did. Some scholars believe that Paul was imprisoned twice in Rome being released from the house arrest that he was subjected to in the book of Acts. This would have given him opportunity to make this journey to Spain and some early Christian writers speak of Paul going into this land. There is however no absolute proof for this. Even if he never went to Spain was it wrong for Paul to have the burden? James Montgomery Boice wrote, “It is better to dream great dreams for God, even if they are not fully realised, than to dream no dreams at all. One thing is certain, unless we see visions, dream dreams, and make plans, there will be no steps forward in the work of the gospel.”
4: Paul’s Detour v25-28
Paul, however, was not planning to come immediately to Rome. He was initially intending to visit Jerusalem because he had taken up an offering among the Gentile Churches for the poor Christians in Judea. This is a section of great interest because it tells us where Paul was when he wrote this epistle. Three of the people mentioned in Romans 16 had strong links with Corinth; Phebe (v1), Gaius his host (v23, 1 Corinthians 1:14) and Erastus, (v23 and 2nd Timothy 4:20). We know that Paul remained 3 months in Greece in his third missionary journey before going to Jerusalem. Also 2nd Corinthians 8-9 is filled with arguments why Christians should give to God’s work and it appears that Paul was in the process, at that time, of taking up a specific collection. This offering was for the Jews who had initially been given the Gospel. Paul believed that the Church was one body and that this offering was the fruit of the unity that God’s people enjoyed in Christ. This oneness, this care, this concern and this sacrifice are marks of the true Church.
5: Paul’s Design v29
When Paul made his journey his intention was that he would come to the Romans in “the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” This is a striking phrase. In the thinking of Paul blessing meant two things:
(a) Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ. As Paul was an heir of God who proclaimed among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ he knew that he would come to Rome as a spiritually wealthy man. This same spiritual wealth is ours to enjoy.
(b) Blessing on the Work. Moses longed for the favour of God to be placed upon the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17). Paul knew that he needed this favour for his work to successful. He could travel and preach, however, as a man who had experienced this, therefore he anticipated blessing upon his future labours.