Priorities

Lesson 58: Romans 15:22-29


Priorities

by Bob Burridge ©2012

There are somethings in life that can’t be neglected for long. They demand our attention. When you try to hold your breath you discover that at best you can only do it for a few minutes. Our lungs normally take in air about 12 times every minute — that’s 720 breaths per hour. They slow down some when we are sleeping, and speed up for a while when we are active.

Imagine that a truck pulls up in front of your house tomorrow afternoon, and the driver delivers 90 gallon jugs of water. Think of how much space you would have to find to store them. Then the driver tells you that every hour another truck would arrive with 90 more gallon jugs. By the same time tomorrow you would have received 2,160 containers to store.

That’s how much air your lungs move. It comes to an average of 90 gallons per hour, 2,160 gallons every day!

Our lungs work that hard all our lives because every cell in our bodies has a constant need for a supply of Oxygen. Most of what you breath in is Nitrogen. But what your lungs are after is the 21% of the air that is Oxygen. That’s the important part that your cells need to stay alive. Your blood goes to your lungs to pick up oxygen on its way to all the parts of your body. When cells don’t get oxygen they can’t function. Then they die. Some of them die very quickly. That’s why breathing is such a high priority in our lives.

You can go without a drink for a little longer, because the body stores water longer. You can go without food even longer than that, because the body stores food very well. But without a supply of these things you would not last long. You would die in just minutes if your air supply was cut off. So our bodies won’t let us deprive them of air for long. After you hold your breath for a few minutes you instinctively struggle to start up again. We have the sensations of thirst and hunger to make sure we get water and food when it’s needed. We get tired so that we won’t starve our body of needed sleep. These are hard drives to resist.

It is an important part of life to learn how to get enough of all these things we need. Some needs must come before others. Our bodies need to average a certain basic amount of air, water, food, sleep, hygiene, and exercise. We also need to spend part of our lives either working to provide for our needs, or in school preparing to eventually go to work. We need time to show care for the emotional needs of our family members and friends. We need time to repair some things when they break.

We need to spend time every day in prayer, in thinking about God and his word, and in shining as lights to the world. We need to gather weekly for worship and instruction in holy living as a church. We even need some time to relax and just enjoy being part of God’s wonderful creation, and to benefit from the fruit of our own labors.

With so many things in our lives it gets very complicated to keep our priorities as they should be. Balance is hard. But we must make sure that none of the important things are neglected. With limited resources, time, and energy, careful budgeting needs to be done.

When the time spent on each gets mismanaged, serious problems occur. Often obsession with less important things such as hobbies, video games, watching TV, and playing on the internet can lead to neglect of family, health, church, or work.

Sometimes even necessary things can be over done. There are limits to how much a person should eat, sleep, work, exercise, or rest. And you would be neglecting other responsibilities if you spent all your time in worship, prayer, or telling people about Christ.

Even within the service of Jesus we need a balance. We need to make sure we spend some time in each of the means of Grace, and that we serve in a variety of ways, not just the one part of service that appeals to us.

Even the Apostle Paul had some things he wanted to do, good things, that he did not get to do. He often had to put his plans on hold while God busied him with other matters. We see here, in Romans 15:22-29, how Paul explained this balance he had to maintain.


Paul explained his travel plans to the Roman believers:

Romans 15:22-24, “For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; 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 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 –“

The Apostle Paul had gained a reputation among the early believers for his sound teaching. The Roman believers would have wanted a visit from God’s Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul wanted them to understand why he had not been able to go there yet. This long and detailed letter to the Romans would be helpful, but it was no substitute for direct fellowship. So Paul told them about the deep longing he had to see them in person too.

While it is true that some people let their feelings overcome their better judgment, we should not be afraid to sense how deeply God leads us to feel about people and things in God’s world. We were created to have desires. It is our drive for air that will not let us forget to breathe. It is our tiredness, hunger, and thirst that make sure we do not neglect sleep, food, and water. It is our deep longing toward our family in Christ that often drives us to minister to them. God directs our desires as one of the most common means by which he advances his great plan for his people to be a spiritual family.

Even in overseeing his work of missions, God tells us only a few times that he directed the Apostles by direct revelation. Most of their plans appear to have been based upon what they judged were the best places to go. Sometimes God intervened and would not let them follow their plans. But those were the exceptions. God moves us to move his way by moving our heart’s desires.

God stirs us by grace through the work of Christ, to want to obey him. That obedience makes us learn more about what his word says is good. Knowing the word helps us desire right things. His Spirit then makes us grow in grace to love those good things all the more. Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

Though we may only be aware of our part in the planning process, we must never forget that it is the power of God behind it directing every thought and step we take. This is not some obscure theological idea weakly supported from a few verses taken out of context. It is repeated all through Scripture. For example:

Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

Proverbs 19:21, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel — that will stand.”

Jeremiah 10:23, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

Paul’s mission to unevangelized territories in Macedonia was just about completed. That work had prevented him from being able to satisfy his strong desire to visit them in Rome. He had kept the priority work first. It was that which God had assigned. He presumed he would soon be free to take the trip to Spain and to Rome on the way. Things did not go exactly as Paul seemed to think they would.

Did Paul ever make it to Spain? We don’t know for sure. Tradition says that he did get there. But tradition is not evidence. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Jail in Rome. Up to then, a trip to Spain could not have taken place. After his release from that first Roman imprisonment Paul traveled again. We can reconstruct some of his travels by comments he makes in his epistles to Titus and to Timothy. It is certainly possible that Spain might have been visited, but it is not mentioned.

It is not important to prove that he did or did not get there. This passage is about Paul’s desires, not what God revealed to him about what would happen. There were other times when Paul was not able to accomplish what he had planned. For example, there was his change of direction on the 2nd Missionary Journey in Asia, the one that turned him to Troas and the direct call of God for him to go to Macedonia.

Paul did eventually make it to Rome. However, he came under very different circumstances than what he shows he was expecting here. He did not come by choice as a missionary on his way to Spain. He came twice as a prisoner under Roman guard.

The classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life shows how George Baily’s plans seemed never to work out. But when it all came together in the end, things worked out better than he could have dreamed. Our plans are also sometimes turned aside by God’s providence, often through the duties he gives us to keep us involved in one way rather than in another.

We need to remember that behind our personal disappointments are the perfect plans of God. Earlier in this epistle Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

There is a principle in Scripture that should encourage us when things do not go as we plan. We may not get the job we expected, or the loan we thought would be necessary. Sometimes there are emergencies that keep us from what we expected to be doing. We may not get to go to all the places we want to visit, or to do the things we dream of doing. God’s providence may create schedule conflicts which demand that we make hard choices.

It’s all a matter of priority. It is important not to neglect any of the clear duties God puts before us. We need to keep them all balanced in the best way we can. We need sometimes to set aside mere pleasures if they keep us from honoring our God and Savior, or those he loves.

When Paul says that he hopes to see them as he passes by toward Spain, he was not speaking with the same confidence he had in the hope of God’s promises. This was hope in a personal desire. Our hope in Christ and in God’s covenant is not just a personal longing. It is a promise from the Creator himself. That in which we hope is only as certain as the thing in which we hope.

What is certified by the word of God ought to be a firm expectation. If, as it was in this case with the Apostle Paul, it is just our own heart’s desire, we cannot be sure it is the unchangeable plan of God.

All our plans and dreams must be first of all agreeable with the moral principles God has revealed to us in his word. But we must also be willing to submit to the secret councils of God which only become known as they take place. We are warned in Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.” and in James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ ”

Paul had confidence in the Roman believers. He knew he could count on them to help him on his way to Spain. The word used for his being “helped” on his way is propempo (προπεμπω). Literally it is a compound word meaning “to send forth”. It was often used of escorting someone along the way as they left for a journey. It might also mean that Paul expected material help in making it financially possible for him to make his planned trip.

He expected his visit with them to be fulfilling to him. Probably the exact wording means that he knew that his visit with them would be short, never the less he knew it would be very encouraging for him as well as for them.


Next, Paul explained that he had one more duty to perform.

Romans 15: 25-27, “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.”

He was on his way to Jerusalem with help from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia. The need in Jerusalem was great. Early history shows that the Jerusalem saints faced very hard times materially. First, it was a city held in the grip of apostate Judaism. The ones who accepted the Messiah were cut off from the synagogues. The city resources were not available to them for relief of the sick and widows. They were not included in political or business decisions. They found it hard to compete economically in the hateful Jewish population. Second, a famine had hit the empire in the days of Claudius Caesar. Jerusalem was often more vulnerable to droughts which made it even harder for the Christians.

God was using this need to help heal the rift that was hurting the church. Tension existed between believers who were Jewish, and those who were Gentile.

So this was more than a mere relief mission. Paul was not getting his priorities confused. He was not doing diaconal work, or neglecting his mission to Rome and Spain. This gift from the Gentile believers in Macedonia and Achaia, probably the cities of Philippi and Corinth, showed the change God had worked in their hearts, and the gratitude they had to the Jews not only for the Savior who was born to them, but also for the missionaries they had sent out with the good news. Paul expected this gift would be a remedy to cure tragic prejudices and jealousies. The Gentile saints had given sacrificially, out of love and a sense of Christian duty.

Perhaps this was God’s purpose in letting Jerusalem suffer so much need. God who rules all circumstances not only creates in us a love to give and to help the truly needy, he also provides needs to showcase his mercy and care. As much as he calls the able to help, he calls the unable to receive. All is to be done with respect for the other, and with humility of self. All is to be done to the glory of God.


Paul explained his plan: After he left Jerusalem
he would be free to go to Rome.

Romans 15:28-29, “Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”

Paul’s personal commitment and intention was important. He calls it setting his seal upon this fruit of theirs. It does not mean that he was the only one who could safely guard the gift, or that he was worried the givers might not get proper credit for it. Those simple matters could have been done by anyone and are not worthy of Apostolic time.

He was the one chosen to deliver the gift to attest that it was a genuine fruit of love done for Christ’s glory. God must receive the honor for good works, or else we glorify the giver as if he is good on his own. When we forget to glorify Christ in our good, we steal the praise from God.

There was that other dimension too. He wanted the Jews to realize how God had changed these Gentile hearts, and made them true brothers in the family of Christ, brothers who truly cared. The gift was a fruit of their being redeemed by the Messiah.

We should not be among those who are afraid to commend other believers for good works they do. Every good motive is a testimony to the power of God to mercifully conquer our fallen hearts. We need to appreciate the evidence of God at work in redeemed hearts.

Here again, Paul expressed his plan to come to Rome on the way to Spain. It is true that he did not end up doing what he said he would do. This was neither a broken promise nor a lie. We commonly speak in terms of what we expect will be. If we are sincere it is not a lie. We always presume that human plans are subject to divine intervention. We only see the secret will of God when it unfolds. Paul explained that there were many times before this that he had intended to come to Rome, but God had hindered him. He undoubtedly realized as he wrote this that his plans could likely be changed again. Yet he made plans based upon what he expected at the time.

We should do the same. We make our plans with first things first, and all important things considered. However, we always plan in submission to what God would reveal as his secret plan. We keep in mind, “But thy will be done”.

The inspiration of the Bible is not at question here either. It is not a mistake. It accurately recorded what Paul in his heart intended. That is how biblical history is always written. Scripture records even the fallible notions of men, yet always showing the overpowering directing of God who unfolds his eternal plan in the course of time.

Paul fully expected that when his mission to Jerusalem was over, he would come to Rome overflowing with joy at what God would accomplish. Though his coming to Rome was not victorious in the way he expected, we see from his letters written from Roman imprisonment that he did come to Rome abounding in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

From that Roman imprisonment he wrote these words to the Philippian believers:

1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,”

1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”

4:11, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:”

He had come to know that God is always victorious, even when we cannot discern the real battle. He did come “… in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ”, just not in the way he thought it would happen.


When I was little there were a number of “but first’s”.

When I was still a child up and wanted to do something, I’d hear things like, “but first you need to clean your room” or “but first you have to finish your home work” or “but first you have to come in and get washed up for dinner.” There are always priorities. We need to learn how to keep things in balance. No important things should be neglected. Our first responsibilities must get our proper attention.

We should be careful to respect how hard it is for others to keep that balance. Sometimes our friends may not give us the time we expect from them, but if they are doing what God calls them to do we should not be hurt. If we think they have the wrong priorities we should pray for and encourage them to correct the problem for their own good. Often we cannot fully appreciate the burden God puts upon their hearts. We do not want our own selfish desires to grieve friends who cannot do what we want because they are trying to be responsible. Sometimes visits cannot take place as often as we prefer, as with Paul and Rome.

As we order our own lives, we need to consider how to prioritize in ways that God approves. We should put the necessities and duties to others over our own luxury time. We should make sure we do not just focus on our personal preferences and leave the less enjoyable tasks undone or done poorly.

On the positive side, when we order our lives to promote the glory of God in all we do, and to encourage other believers in the best way we know how, God promises to satisfy our hearts with a fullness of joy and blessing.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
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