Romans 15:22-24, “This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
Most of what we know about Paul’s life comes from the book of Acts and his letters, and when he includes such information in his epistles, the Apostle often puts it in the opening or concluding portions of his writings. This is no different in the case of Romans, and in today’s passage, wherein Paul begins to wrap up his letter, we gain insight into the course of the Apostle’s ministry in its later years.
First, we learn from Romans 15:23 that Paul longed to visit the Christians in Rome before he wrote his epistle. This is not new information, for the Apostle wrote in 1:13 of his intention to come and preach the gospel in Rome and edify the church there. It was not Paul’s intention to interact with the Romans only by letter; he also had a pastoral concern to minister to them face to face.
Also, we learn that Paul had been unable to come to Rome earlier because he was hindered (15:22). As with Paul’s declaration of his intent to visit Rome in verse 23, verse 22 is not the first time we read that the Apostle was hindered from coming to the capital city of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, verse 22 is the first place where Paul mentions what had hindered him. The reason the Apostle could not come sooner was the pressing need to finish his work in the eastern part of the empire. After all, Paul mentions in the preceding section his calling to preach the gospel where it had not yet been preached in the eastern Roman Empire, and then he says it was “for this reason”—for the sake of completing his missionary work in the east—that he could not come to Rome sooner.
Third, despite Paul’s strong desire to visit the Roman Christians, we learn in today’s passage that he did not plan to stay in Rome for any significant length of time. Instead, he would see them in passing as he made his way to Spain (v. 24). Paul refers to the Roman province that covered the entire Iberian Peninsula, the location of modern-day Spain and Portugal, which represented the westernmost area of Roman control. The Apostle’s zeal to proclaim the gospel where it had not yet been heard compelled him to reach the most remote regions so that no one in the known world would lack access to the gospel. Since Paul was traveling west from the eastern empire, Rome would be a logical stopover where he could fellowship with other believers and even receive refreshment and financial support for bringing the good news of Jesus to the far reaches the world.
As long as our intentions and plans are for godly ends, it is right and perfectly wise to look ahead and chart out an anticipated course of action. However, we must always remember that we are not in final control of our lives and that God in His providence may redirect us or keep some of our plans from coming to pass. In such cases, as in all circumstances in life, we must trust in the Lord’s wisdom and humbly submit to His will.