Some six times in his epistles Paul expresses the desire that his readers should not be ignorant - Romans 1.13; 11.25; 1 Corinthians 10.1; 12.1; 2 Corinthians 1.8; 1 Thessalonians 4.13. Although the language varies slightly, on each occasion Paul is laying emphasis on the information he is imparting to them and indicating that here were matters that he desired they should be fully conversant with.
In examining those six references we might suggest that they can be easily divided into three couplets: two relating to personal matters, two relating to practical matters, and two relating to prophetical matters.
I would not have you ignorant concerning personal matters.
Writing to the believers at Rome Paul says in Romans 1.13, "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". While writing to the believers at Corinth he says in 2 Corinthians 1.8, "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life". Looking at the two verses we discover that Romans 1.13 concerns information regarding his exercise, whereas in 2 Corinthians 1.8 it is information regarding his experiences. No doubt most of us will know what it is to make plans, and then, perhaps unexpectedly, to have those plans interrupted: Paul knew something of that. Again, many readers will have known periods of trial, when they were sorely pressed: Paul had experiences like that too.
Paul would have the saints at Rome appreciate that "oftentimes" he had purposed to visit them. This was a desire that had been present with the apostle for a number of years, and to which he refers again in Romans 15.23: " having a great desire these many years to come unto you". We are not specifically told why Paul had been unable to visit Rome; all that he says here is that he "was let hitherto" (see however 15.20,22) but he nevertheless wants them to appreciate that it had been a longstanding exercise with him, and of that they should have no doubts. Had some spoken ill of Paul because he, the apostle to the Gentiles, had not yet visited the capital of the Roman Empire? Is that why he lays an emphasis upon this information regarding his desire to visit Rome? Whether that is so or not, he would have the saints understand that he had intended visiting them, that it had been no passing whim, but rather something that had been on his heart for many years. The passing of those years had not diminished that desire, so he says in vv.10 & 11, "Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established". What Paul says regarding his desire to visit Rome and his exercise concerning it has some important lessons for us.
Paul had made it a specific matter of prayer, and his words, "making request", are surely a timely reminder that we should likewise daily submit our desires, our plans, and our movements to God in prayer. In Psalm 37.5 the Psalmist wrote, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him". Do we daily commit our way unto Him?
To submit everything to the will of God. Although this visit had been a longstanding desire with the apostle, his language indicates that he would not take that journey independent of the will of God. Although Paul had a great desire to visit Rome, something else was more important to him, and that was that he should be continually found in the path of Gods appointment. Is that a priority with us, something that overrides our personal desires?
His reasons for wanting to visit Rome. Paul says in v.11: "That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift". Is it simply a reference to general "spiritual blessing", imparted, no doubt, through the teaching and preaching of Gods Word? Or is this "spiritual gift" a full understanding of the gospel? The immediate context would seem to favour the latter? In v.13 we have a further indication as to why Paul desired to visit Rome - "that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles". Paul saw Rome as a potential field for fruitful activity in the gospel. He had reaped fruit for God in other cities as he laboured among the Gentiles; he saw the potential for further fruit at Rome. Why was he exercised to see such fruit? He will tell us in v.14 that "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise".
In what sense did Paul see himself as a debtor? Notice that in the verse, he speaks about the Greeks and the Barbarians, but makes no mention of the Jews. They are mentioned in v.16 when Paul speaks of the gospel being the "power of God unto salvation", but omitted here in v.14. That omission perhaps gives the key to the way in which Paul considered himself a debtor - that he is writing against the background of the ministry committed to him and of which he has already spoken at v.5: "We have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations", a theme to which he will later return in 11.13; 15.15-16 as the apostle to the Gentiles. In the light of that commission Paul says, "I am debtor". He had been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying the gospel to the nations, and because of it he saw himself as "a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and the unwise". Paul had been given a commission, he was exercised to fulfil it and to bear fruit for God, and that had a bearing upon his desires and movements. That should surely equally be true of all believers, in their respective spheres of service. To summarise, Paul would have the saints at Rome appreciate his exercise regarding a visit to them.
It had been a longstanding desire with him, one which had been the subject of prayer, one which he had submitted to Gods will, and one which was consistent with his calling. We know from Acts 28 that Paul eventually got to Rome, but when he wrote this letter he could hardly have envisaged the circumstances that would ultimately bring him there, namely as a prisoner of the Roman authorities, nor could he have anticipated the difficulties that would attend the journey, and the shipwreck recorded in Acts 27. But from those earlier exercises Paul could certainly rest in the knowledge that he was in the path of Gods appointment, as we shall be able to do if our desires and plans are committed to God in prayer, are made subject to His will, and are consistent with the work to which we have been called.
To be continued.