Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Church Praised for its Faith (part 2)

In Romans 1:1-7, Paul shared with the saints at Rome his call which involved his credentials as an apostle and the content of his message. In Romans 1:8-15, Paul shared with the saints at Rome his concern. Paul was doing all this in essence to show the saints at Rome who he was before he showed them his theology. As we study this section dealing with Paul’s concern for the saints at Rome we will see four aspects of that concern.

We have already considered the first aspect of Paul’s concern for the saints at Rome which was Paul praised the saints at Rome (1:8). Now we turn our attention to the other three aspects of Paul’s concern for the saints at Rome:

Next, Paul prayed for the saints at Rome (1:9-10). The saints at Rome did not know about Paul’s prayer support for them but the Lord knew about it and honored it. One of the burdens of Paul’s prayer was that God would allow him to visit Rome and minister to the churches there. He would have visited them sooner but his ministry work and God’s will kept him busy (Romans 15:15-33).

Paul wrote the letter to the Romans while he was in Corinth. Paul was about to leave Corinth for Jerusalem to deliver the special offering received from the Gentile churches for the poor Jewish saints. He hoped that he would be able to travel from Jerusalem to Rome, and then on to Spain; and he was hoping for a prosperous journey. However, we know that Paul had a very perilous journey and that he went to Rome as a prisoner after being arrested in the temple based on false accusations from the Jewish authorities. Paul eventually had to appeal to Caesar in order to not be handed over to the Jews who wanted to kill him. On his way to Rome as a prisoner, Paul was even shipwrecked. Some three years after writing to the Romans and wanting to visit them, Paul finally arrived – in chains.

Paul had total and unreserved commitment to be used by God however it pleased God – “For God, whom I serve in my spirit.” True service is worship in which believers present their bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is their spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1). True worship is service to God in the Spirit of God and putting no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). It is this that caused the apostle to pray unceasingly for the saints in Rome.

Paul’s primary service to God was the preaching of the gospel of His Son. But he went on to explain that service to God included deep, personal concern for everyone who believed the gospel, whether they heard it from him or someone else. Paul was not concerned for the saints in Rome because they were his converts, but because they were his brothers and sisters who had the same spiritual Father through trusting in the same Lord and Savior that had saved both him and them.

Perhaps because most of the saints in Rome did not personally know Paul, so he called the Lord as a witness to his sincere love and concern for them. He knew that God who knows the motive and sincerity of each heart would testify as to how unceasingly he made mention of them always in his prayers. Paul was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the saints in Rome and the glory of God through the churches there. As we read Paul’s letters to the churches we always see his prayers for the saints in each place. Witnessing, serving, and praying go hand in hand. We dare not attempt to witness and serve without also praying. Knowing the difficulties that Christians must endure for their faith we must always be praying for all the saints everywhere. Also, knowing the danger that unbelievers are under the wrath of God we are to pray for all men (1 Timothy 2:1).

Paul not only prayed for the spiritual well-being of the saints at Rome, he also prayed that he could be an instrument in the hands of God to go to them and strengthen them in their faith. As we pray for God to reach and strengthen others, we must be willing to be the answer to that prayer.

Paul had been making request for a long time that he could visit the saints at Rome and minister to them and be ministered to by them. Paul’s eagerness to serve God was always directed by his willingness to obey God and be in His will. Paul sought the advancement of God’s glory and kingdom through God’s own will, not his own.

Next we see Paul’s passion for the saints at Rome (1:11-12). Paul wanted to visit the saints at Rome in order to serve them lovingly in God’s name. He did not want to go as a tourist and visit the wonders of Rome – he wanted to go to give himself in the Lord’s service to the people; not to entertain and indulge himself. Paul was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the Christians in Rome and therefore he wanted to go and impart some spiritual gift to them. He wasn’t speaking of giving them a spiritual gift that only the Holy Spirit can do – but he was speaking of exercising his gifts so that they might be established.

Paul made it clear though that they would not be the only beneficiaries of his faith but that he also would be encouraged and would benefit from their faith. The great apostle knew that he would be strengthened and encouraged from inexperienced beginners. After all, every genuine convert has been gifted by the Holy Spirit and can contribute in some way to the spiritual progress of others. Pity the person who cannot learn from others because he no longer has a teachable and humble spirit.

Finally we see Paul’s plan for the saints at Rome (1:13-15). Paul wanted to make it clear to the Roman Christians that he had often planned to come to them (but had been prevented so far). As far as his own plans were concerned he would have come to them much sooner and would not have been prevented. However, God is sovereign and all-knowing and Paul was submitted to God’s will and not his own. Sometimes Paul was hindered because of the work of Satan – “But we brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). But in this case it was Paul’s work for the Lord and the work of the Lord that kept him from coming as soon as he would have liked (Romans 15:15-33).

Paul planned to obtain some fruit while in Rome visiting the saints there. Paul wanted both the fruit that comes from maturing those who already saved and the fruit that comes from leading others to Christ. Paul wanted to be used to help the Roman church grow through new converts and to grow in sanctification.

Paul had an obligation to minister in Rome as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians. The Greeks considered every non-Greek a barbarian. The Greeks considered themselves wise because they were steeped in centuries of philosophy and they considered everyone else foolish. But Paul felt an obligation to all men, just as we need to feel a burden for the whole world.

Paul was eager to visit Rome that he might minister to the believers there and evangelize the lost there. It was not the eagerness of a sightseer, but the eagerness of a soul-winner. Paul was eager to preach the gospel in Rome. He knew that Rome was a dangerous place and that Christians there had already experienced persecution. He knew that the false apostles would be spreading their destructive heresies there. He knew that the capitol city of the empire was steeped in immorality and paganism, including emperor worship. He knew that he would be despised by many and that they would probably seek to harm him. Yet he was boldly eager to go there for His Lord’s sake and for the sake of the Lord’s people.

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