This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.
The world that Paul knew was much smaller than ours, and time was much more compressed too. This first generation of believers had been expecting all things shortly to come to an end, though some will certainly have recalled Jesus’s words that “the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mark 13.10). As the years are ticking by, I sense that Paul is checking up on himself and the scope of his own ministry. And like many of us, he probably wonders if he could have done more.
Here he is reflecting on how far he has been, and how far there is yet to go. He began the letter by expressing the hope that he would soon be able to visit his readers in Rome – a surprising ambition as he is usually concerned only with churches that he has founded himself, “so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation”. Then he knows that there are promises to keep, which will mean first travelling back to Jerusalem, with the money that others have been collecting for the “mother church”. Jesus’s disciples realise that they are never completely free agents: we may try to make plans, but there are always new challenges and demands on our time.
But now Paul discloses one further ambition – to go to Spain, which is of course in his world as far anyone can go. This is not an item on an ageing man’s bucket list, nor is the journey contemplated just for the satisfaction of saying “from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum… and even further”. Paul is thinking about what faithfulness to the Gospel may now be demanding of him – to take the good news to earth’s very extremity.
But so far as we know, he never made it to Spain. God’s plans and ours do not always coincide.
Help us in our life journeys
to follow your directions
to be ambitious only to carry out your will
and to know the fullness of Christ’s blessing
in the company and service of his people. Amen
The Rev’d John Durell Retired minister Member of Waddington Street URC, Durham
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