Summary: Paul understood that God had a plan for him and that even though he had his own desires, he should make plans in accord Gods plan, and sometimes this meant that he would need to be flexible in his own plans.
. . . that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel
(Romans 1:12-16a NIV)
Corrie Ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident which taught her a very important principle. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to Ravensbruck, the worst German prison camp they had seen. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea infested. Their Scripture reading that morning had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and give thanks to the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed. And during the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
Do the circumstances you face change your attitude, or does your attitude change the circumstances? Probably neither is true. But it is true that our attitude will change how we deal with our circumstances and ultimately determine the impact those circumstances have on you. And often, God will use those circumstances to do a work in your life.
Marks of Christian character or maturity come from a life that has been seasoned and tested through the tough times. The unfortunate reality is that we learn the most from the difficulties we face. It is in the fire that we are refined and that our character is molded. When we can thank God for unpleasantness, for the difficulty life presents, we have taken a great step in the right direction.
A Humble Mentality
One of the greatest stumbling blocks in the Christian life is pride. Pride keeps us from admitting that we have a need. Pride prevents us from receiving God’s best. Pride keeps us from experiencing what God desires for us in our lives.
Paul had learned both the destructive power of pride and the constructive value of humility. As a result, he had adopted a humble mentality. He talks to these inexperienced Roman Christians about being mutually encouraged by each other's faith. Here was the great apostle, who had accomplished many mighty works in the name of Jesus Christ, telling these young Christians that he needed them. He not only wanted to give some spiritual gift to them, he declared that he needed to receive from them out of their storehouse of faith. Paul was humble.
When we find ourselves in the frame of mind which leads us to believe that no one can teach us anything, we are in a very dangerous position. In fact, we are deluded. We are very much like those Christians Paul described in the church in Corinth. They had divided into various groups based on the teaching of the teacher they were partial to, rejecting the others. Some were following Paul, others Apollos, still others Cephas (or Peter), and finally, some claimed they followed Christ. What some fail to understand, however, is that all of those groups were wrong. Not only were those wrong who claimed to follow the human teachers, but so was the group who claimed to follow Christ. You see, they were all claiming that their way was right. They were all puffed up in the pride of their position. Paul pointed out to them the error of their divisive spirit. Pride has no place in the body of Christ. Christ is not divided. When we are, we are not walking in humility.
We must be willing to hear Christ speak to us through whomever He chooses. The youngest believer in Christ can be an instrument through whom Christ speaks. The newest believer might be the one whom Jesus speaks through. We all can learn from one another. In fact, we must learn from one another. This is how we grow in our faith. And it is through a humble spirit that we will be always open to receive from one another. This is the kind of attitude Paul maintained. This is the kind of attitude that is a mark of maturity for the believer.