31 Dec 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Having shared with the Roman church his understanding of his special apostolic ministry, Paul now looks into the future and confides to the Romans his travel plans. He specifies three destinations. First, he is about to sail from Corinth to Jerusalem, taking with him the collection which he has long been organizing. Secondly, he is intending to go from Jerusalem to Rome, even though he will only be ‘passing through’ (24) rather than settling down among them for an appreciable period. Thirdly, from Rome he will travel on to Spain, determined to resume his pioneer evangelistic commitment. If he were to make all these journeys by ship, the first would be at least 800 miles, the second 1,500, and the third 700, making a minimum total of 3,000 miles, and many more if he were to travel some of the way by land rather than sea. When one reflects on the uncertainties and hazards of ancient travel, the almost nonchalant way in which Paul announces his intention to undertake these three voyages is quite extraordinary.
1). He plans to visit Rome (23-24).
Although Paul has so far been hindered from coming to Rome, now at last the time seems to be ripe for his long-awaited, long-postponed visit. A combination of three factors has facilitated it. First, his missionary service in the East Mediterranean zone is complete. *But now*, he writes, *…there is no more place for me to work in these regions* (23a). At first hearing this is a most surprising statement, for undoubtedly there were still many areas into which the gospel had not penetrated, and still multitudes of people who were not converted. But we must read Paul’s words in verse 23 in the light of his policy explained in verse 20. He means that there is no more room in Greece and its environs for his pioneer church-planting ministry, for that initial work has been done.
Secondly, Paul writes, *I have been longing for many years to see you* (23b). He has written the same thing near the beginning of his letter: ‘I long to see you’ (1:11). He is not exaggerating. Nor is this a mere flash in the pan. It is a sustained, ardent desire over *many years*, which all the hindrances and frustrations have not been able to quench. It must surely be from God.
The third deciding factor in Paul’s mind is that he has come to see his visit to Rome as a stepping-stone to Spain. *I plan to do so* (sc. visit you) *when I go to Spain* (24a). This perspective helps him to keep his resolve not to build on someone else’s foundation, for he will only be *passing through*. At the same time, he entertains a second hope: *I hope to visit you…and to have you assist me on my journey there* (sc. to Spain), *after I have enjoyed your company for a while* (24b). The verb translated *assist (propempo)* seems already to have become almost a technical Christian term for helping missionaries on their way. It is undoubtedly meant more than good wishes and a valedictory prayer. In most cases it also involved supplying them with provisions and money (cf. Tit.3:13; 3 Jn.6f.), and sometimes providing them as well with an escort to accompany them at least part of the way (E.g. Acts 20:38; 21:5). So the dictionary definition of *propempo* is to ‘help on ones journey with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel etc.’ (BAGD). Perhaps Paul hopes to establish an ongoing relationship with the Christians in Rome, so that they will continue to support him, as other churches have done previously (E.g. Phil. 4:14ff.).
This conjunction of three factors must have presented itself to Paul as evidence of the providential guidance of God. It has led him to make plans to go to Rome. But first, he explains, he has another journey to make.
Tomorrow: Romans 15:25-27. 2). He plans to visit Jerusalem.