Longings Marked by Love
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:11-13 ESV)
“For I long to see you.” Paul has never met them. He doesn’t know any of them personally. Yet he has prayed for them ceaselessly and the desire of his heart is to see them. This is Christian brotherhood and love. He has heard so much about their faith and obedience. He realizes the challenges they face doing ministry in the imperial city of Rome. His heart is with them and he can’t wait to see them.
Notice that Paul has at least three unfulfilled longings for the Roman Christians: To see them, to bless them, and to be blessed by them. The language he uses is to “impart…some spiritual gift.” What gift? Is it a spiritual gift specifically like knowledge or service or a more general spiritual encouragement? I think the latter. Among the best spiritual graces that go with being a Christian is to be with other like-minded Christians!
You mean for immature Christians that is helpful. I’m mature and I don’t really need other Christians. Please see what Paul says, “…that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:12)
“Mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Even apostles need the refreshment that God’s people uniquely provide when the grace we are giving each other is on the faith level. So watching the ball game together is probably not what Paul has in mind, even though there is nothing wrong with social times together. We are mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. When relationships and conversations can get to the spiritual level with authenticity, then we are strengthened by each other.
Here are some good starter questions:
- What has God been teaching you lately?
- What is a key season of spiritual growth in your story?
- How can I pray for you?
- Who has God used to grow you as a Christian?
- What are you reading for spiritual growth?
For all our talk about the Bears and the weather, moving our relationships to these categories is how we are mutually encouraged in our faith.
For so many, one reason our faith is not strong is that for fear or awkwardness or avoidance, we rarely get to the spiritual level with other Christians. Worship services won’t provide this. It requires time spent outside the worship service and relationships. Do you have that? We strive to provide those contexts with our small groups, Celebrate Recovery, and Bible studies; intentionally spiritually-directed relationships that strengthen us. Even apostles need it. This pastor needs it.
Paul’s love extends beyond the Roman Christians. “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:14-15) These words translate awkwardly to us. Greeks and barbarians. Wise and foolish. He is not disparaging. He is merely being inclusive. Barbarians were non-Greeks. Wise and foolish could mean educated or not. Civilized or not. He is describing the scope of God’s love and salvation. It includes the cultured and educated class like that found in Rome. It also includes those without access to education or modern culture; the haves and the have-nots and everyone in between. One of the main themes of Romans is that the gospel is for everyone, not just religious Jews, but pagan Gentiles as well.
Paul says he is under obligation. Paul felt a debt of obligation to preach the gospel to all. John Stott makes the point that there are two kinds of debt. If you take out a loan, you are obligated to pay it back. Another kind of debt is if I give you $1,000 to give to someone else; you are obligated to get it to them. The latter is how Paul means it. His ministry was a debt from Jesus. Jesus gave him the gospel, which is worth far more than money can buy. Paul was obligated to share it.
If we viewed evangelism and sharing our faith this way, we would be much more evangelistic. For us it isn’t an obligation, it’s more if opportunity allows. If I get around to it. What about our church’s obligation to the people of Northwest Indiana? Are we obligated or not? Would you be OK if we didn’t do outreach as long as your needs were being met and your kids were being told about Jesus?
How many of us would be totally OK going to a church as long as it was really good at ministering to us? I know one person who wouldn’t go to a church like that. The Apostle Paul. May God forgive us for not acting on the debt we have to minister the gospel to the lost community around us.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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