A Little Setback

Setbacks are just opportunities in a different garb.

Little is Much (6)

For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your 
company for a while. Romans 15.22-24

Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!” Acts 25.12

Planning for Rome
The apostle Paul had long wanted to visit Rome and preach the Gospel there. Rome! The capital of the civilized world. Of course Paul would want to go there. As he says in Romans 1.13, he had often planned to go to Rome, but things just got in the way. But now, as he was concluding matters in Greece, Paul believed the time was right for him to make the long journey. A quick trip to Jerusalem, and then he would make getting to Rome his priority.

We can see his mind at work, thinking through the different parts of his plan. First, how would he get there? Rome itself had already helped to facilitate the trip by building excellent roads. Primarily constructed, like the US Interstate system, with military purposes in mind, the Roman roads made travel easy for all kinds of purposes. And it was true that all roads led to Rome. Perhaps Paul would walk there, as he did throughout Asia. 

Rome had also swept the Mediterranean clear of pirates, again, with military purposes as the primary motive. This meant that all kinds of ships could ply the seas, and so perhaps Paul was planning a sea route for at least part of his trip. Probably he would need a combination of land and sea travel. And, second, he would continue evangelizing and starting churches as he journeyed.

And then, third, how to pay for all this? A trip to Rome would not be inexpensive, since Paul would have had a team with him, for whom he would need to provide support. Where would the money come from to cover these expenses? 

Paul was probably developing a plan for that as well, as he hints in Romans 1 and 15. Paul must have been feeling as though he was grooving with the Spirit, so strong was his impulse to go to Rome at this time.

And while he was certainly correct about the larger goal, the details of his plan would unfold in a manner entirely unlike anything he could have contrived.

Jail time
Things did not go well in Jerusalem. The religious leaders, angry at Paul for any number of reasons, managed to have him arrested and put in custody of the Roman authorities. This definitely was not part of Paul’s plan, although he was well aware that something like this was likely to occur (cf. Acts 21.1-14). When a plot was concocted against Paul in Jerusalem, the Romans transferred him to Caesarea. There he was kept under house arrest for two years (Acts 24.27), which must have seemed like a lifetime.

This was beginning to look like a serious setback. It was not at all what Paul had planned. He’d expected to be in Rome long ago, preaching the Gospel and starting churches throughout the city. Now he could only sit and wait for the slow machinery of Roman justice to determine his fate.

The Roman authorities in Caesarea had no idea what to do. They kept passing him from one court to another, hoping he might bribe them for his freedom or that his accusers would just give up and go away. Paul also perceived that his case was going nowhere, so he invoked his privilege as a Roman citizen for a hearing before the emperor.

In Rome.

A plan comes together
Suddenly, a major part of Paul’s plan fell into place. He would go by ship and at Rome’s expense. Items 1 and 3, check. There was the problem of his being a prisoner, of course, but he must have felt confident that Roman chains would not be able to contain the Gospels.

And he was right. Who knows how many of those sailors on that storm-tossed ship confessed faith in Jesus upon seeing Paul’s faith and wisdom? Many people on the island of Malta heard the Gospel and experienced the grace of God through Paul’s ministry. Check item 2 of Paul’s plan for getting to Rome.

And upon his arrival there, he had his own apartment, guarded 24/7 from any potential violence by Roman guards. He didn’t have to seek out synagogues or marketplaces to evangelize the lost; they came right to his home. Those who attended to him from the imperial staff heard the Gospel, and many of them believed as well. And the Christians in Rome, to whom Paul had written his epistle, were emboldened by Paul’s witness and became “much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil. 1.12-14). And finally, Paul had his audience with the emperor. Though he stood alone before the imperial court, he did not flinch, nor did he fail in his witness. And he must have impressed them because, if tradition is true, Paul was released from this first imprisonment to continue his ministry.

A little setback like Paul experienced in Jerusalem and Caesarea might have caused others to despair. Paul realized that God was simply altering his larger plan for working his Personal Mission Field. Paul used that little setback, as he used every setback, to grow stronger in the Lord and firmer in his resolve to fulfill his witness for the Lord.

No little setbacks can keep us from being faithful. If we will rejoice and give thanks in all our trials, and keep our eye on our plan for working our Personal Mission Field, God will open surprising doors of opportunity, and use our little setbacks to realize much good in advancing His Kingdom and glory.

For reflection
1.  Do you have a plan for working your Personal Mission Field? Do you review this plan daily and commit it to the Lord in prayer? What are the key elements of your plan?

2.  What kind of setbacks discourage you in your walk with and work for the Lord? How can you turn those setbacks into opportunities?

3.  How can believers encourage one another to be faithful in bearing witness for the Lord (Heb. 10.24, 25)?

Next steps – Preparation: Review and revise your personal plan for knowing and showing Jesus.

T. M. Moore

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This week’s study is part 3 of a 3-part series, The Small Stuff. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 3, “Little is Much.” Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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