I can’t speak for all of you, but I am to the point in my Christian life, where a link like this is so natural that I don’t consider it of great importance. This is exactly the sort of thing we should expect, because we don’t doubt the honesty of either book. But the truth is, despite Paul’s desire to visit Rome, he had not yet done so. It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried or that his desire had vanished; he simply had not been able to make that trip. He had been hindered in some fashion every time that he made actual, definite plans.
This is the thought that I’d like to explore this evening. I don’t suppose that we’ve ever had has lofty goals and thoughts as those of the great apostle. But I’m reasonably sure that we’ve all had our hope to do one thing or another. Sometimes we’ve been able to see those goals accomplished and those hopes come to fruition. But some of them, like those of Paul, haven’t yet been attained. Like his, they have been “let hitherto.”
Maybe we can learn something about our delays, by thinking about Paul’s.
But consider briefly, Paul’s purpose.
As he has already told us, Paul had a desire to visit Rome. He hoped for it, prayed about it, and even told the church in Rome that he prayed about it. There was the foundation of a church in that city, if there wasn’t a flourishing church already. There were “brethren” in that city – children of Abraham, as Paul was a child of Abraham. But there were also Gentile believers – “brethren” – people with the same kind of faith as Abraham. In fact the church was made up primarily of Gentile believers, as this verse implies.
And he has told us that one of his reasons for wanting to visit was to help establish them in the things of God. Although he didn’t specify, he probably wanted to strengthen them in doctrine, in faith and in holiness. But here he adds another thought – he wanted “fruit” among these Gentiles – as he had among others. So he had “oftentimes” purposed to travel to Rome. Exactly how many times is “oftentimes”? It is impossible to say, but apparently it was a great many times. Perhaps whenever he left one city to go to the next, he said to himself, “After my ministry in this place, I will buy my passage to Rome – if there is money in the account.” But then he was force by persecution to flee that city, or the funds weren’t there, or there was someone in the next town just down the road who was pleading for his help. And then it became his plan to go to Rome after the next city.
The Greek word “purposed” is kind of interesting to people who love words as much as I do. It is found only three times in the Bible, and it means “to place something in the first position.” Something that is “purposed” is exposed to public view, says Strong. It is to positively determine to do something. Those other two uses of this word include Romans 3:23-26 – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath SET FORTH to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” I know that when God purposes something the weight of that thing is a little different than ours, but the idea is the same. The other reference is Ephesians 1:7-9 – “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath PURPOSED in himself.” In other words, this desire of Paul to visit Rome was not a whim or just a politically-correct mumble. He set this desire of his in the forefront of his agenda – on the first page of his calendar.
As we’ve said before, Rome was the capital of the Western World. I can’t say that it was in the heart of Paul, but he could have had the thought: “If this city can be won to Christ, then the doors will open to the entire world.” It was natural and right for Paul to yearn for the evangelization of the greatest city in the world.
Now, what sort of things are in the forefront of your agenda? It’s probably not the evangelism of Rome, or even Post Falls, but why not? Is your heart set on anything spiritual? Perhaps it’s the salvation of one specific friend or loved one. What does it mean if your desires are “hindered”?
Just as “oftentimes” as he purposed, Paul was “let hitherto.”
I looked up the English word “let” in my computer dictionary, and I found a whole army of definitions. It means to rent out, as in letting an apartment. It means to release from confinement, as in letting air out of the balloon. It means to award, as in the letting out of a contract. But of course, first it means to give permission; “I will let you drive my car, if you bring it back full of gas.” Ironically, it also means exactly the opposite. It can be a noun – speaking of something that hinders. Or it can be a verb – the hindering of something.
When Paul said that he was “let hitherto” from coming to Rome, the word that he used was “koluo” (ko-loo’-o). It’s a relatively common word, but this translation “let” is not common – used once in 23 instances. And, surprisingly, it is translated “hindered” only twice. Our Lord Jesus said, “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” And the Ethiopian “as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” The Greek word is actually much stronger than just “to hinder” – seventeen times it is translated “forbid.” Mark 9:38-39 – “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we FORBAD him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.” I Timothy 4:1-3 – “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; FORBIDDING to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats.”
What this means is that Paul was not just side-tracked from his plan and purpose. He considered it either directly, or by permission, to be the unalterable will of God on all those occasions. This is the same Greek word that Luke used in Acts 16:6 – “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were FORBIDDEN of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” By what means did God forbid Paul from going into Asia and into Italy? We aren’t told. It could have been that he was providentially hindered or forbidden. Some things are just impossible – like trying to use a trampoline to jump to the moon – it can’t be done. It must be the Lord’s will that we don’t do it.
But then sometimes the Lord just creates new duties for the moment. It is usually best to do the closest job first. If there is something which needs to be done Wednesday, and another which needs to be done today, usually the “today” job should be done first. If there are ten things which I need to by-pass to get to one task somewhere else, I am shirking my responsibilities if I do the one farthest away. If the Lord put a soul, thirsting for righteousness, right in front of Paul, that one soul became more important than a hundred in the next city. I am sure that sort of thing is what kept Paul from boarding a ship bound for Rome.
But then too, sometimes the Lord permits Satan to do the hindering. All we have to do is look to Daniel, seeking a divine explanation for the revelations that he had been given. An angel of the Lord was dispatched to assist him, but that angel was delayed by a Satanic ambassador. If that can happen to angels and prophets, it can happen to apostles and Christians. On another occasion Paul wanted to revisit his friends in Thessalonica, but he was hindered. “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but SATAN hindered us.”
So Paul was being hindered. It’s important to distinguish the difference between real hindrances and imaginary hindrances. We – I – am prone sometimes to look for hindrances when the job is not something that I relish. Is this really the Lord forbidding me? If it is not, then I better bite my tongue and get busy. If it is the Devil hindering me, then perhaps I should seek the Lord’s blessing and push on. How easy it is to quit and to shirk our responsibilities. And then, as in Paul’s case here, if we are sure that the Lord is hindering us, don’t become disconsolate. The Apostle simply made it a matter of prayer, and basically suggested to his friends in Rome to pray about it as well. It may be forbidden at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that the door is permanently closed. Pray until the Lord indicates that you shouldn’t be praying about this any more.
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.”
This brings us to Paul’s object – fruit.
As I was meditating on this idea yesterday, I was struck with a very simple thought. When he said “that I might have some fruit among you also” that could be construed as selfishness. Someone who didn’t know the apostle might think that he was trying to earn greater rewards from the Lord by harvesting fruit in the fresh fields of Rome – ripe unto harvest. The field-hand who picks the most tomatoes is going to be paid more than the hand that picks very few. But it occurred to me that Paul wasn’t talking about picking fruit, but producing fruit. That tomato vine isn’t producing those bright red fruit for some sort of divine reward. The vine produces fruit because that is what it does; it produces tomatoes in order to reproduce. You could say that it makes tomatoes in order to obey the Lord and to glorify the Lord.
Paul has already told us that he wanted to visit Rome in order to strengthen and establish the brethren there. In the context following this verse, he says that it is his desire to preach the gospel among the lost in that city – both Jews and Gentiles. A part of the fruit that he yearned to present to the Master were newly born souls. So he made his plans and developed his hopes, but to this point he had been hindered. Don’t worry about it Paul, if the Lord wants you to minister in Rome, you will. And as we know – he did.