Paul had never met most of the people in the church at Rome but he had a great concern for them and a great desire to see them and strengthen them. Paul’s love for man flowed from his love for God and that caused him to not only love those who were saved, he also had a love for the lost and for their salvation. In this section of Romans 1, Paul was expressing his love and concern for the saints at Rome.
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. Today we will only deal with the first of these four aspects.
First, Paul’s praise for the saints at Rome (1:8) – what is praise and why did Paul praise the saints at Rome?
What is praise?
Praise is based on truth if it is genuine praise. “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Praising people for what they are doing wrong deceives them and encourages them in their wickedness. “Those who forsake the law [God’s Word] praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive with them” (Proverbs 28:4). We are living in a day when churches and church members think they ought to always be praised and never should they have someone “strive with them” over their unrighteousness.
The Lord Jesus Christ through the apostle John said to the church at Ephesus, “I know your deeds and your toil and your perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:1-3). So the Lord praised the church at Ephesus for what they were doing right. But then the Lord went on in verses four and five and said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.” So here we see reproof and correction of those things that are not praiseworthy. Reproof and correction of those things that are not praiseworthy is based on love just as praise is based on love – “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
In every epistle but one, Paul expressed praise and gratitude for those to whom he wrote. The exception was the letter to the church in Galatia which had defected from the true gospel and was turning to a false gospel. It was not that the other churches were perfect, which is apparent because Paul wrote most of his letters to reprove and correct concerning wrong doctrine and wrong living. But for those churches that had praiseworthy attributes he was thankful and praised them for that. However, Paul refused to give praise that wasn’t based on truth.
To give you an idea of the day in which we live read this hypothetical situation based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians as to what would be the response to that letter if it were written in our day and published in Christianity Today: If Paul's Epistle to the Galatians was Published in Christianity Today
How popular would the apostle Paul be today in our generation which is screaming for the wicked to be praised and labeling those who would strive with them as unloving, critical and divisive? We shouldn’t have any problem with praise as long as that praise is based on truth. We should have a problem with any praise that is based on lies.
Why did Paul praise the saints at Rome?
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8). Paul praised the saints at Rome because of their faith being proclaimed which would mean that he praised them for their obedience to Jesus as Lord and proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Others could see that the faith of the saints in Rome was the real deal because of their unwavering commitment to obey Jesus Christ in the face of opposition and persecution. The Christians in Rome were under persecution but were remaining true to the Lord - “After these things he [the apostle Paul] left Athens and went to Corinth. And found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:1-2).
Faith that does not trust and obey in spite of consequences is not saving and persevering faith. Faith that is not tested in the furnace of trials cannot be trusted and cannot be seen by others. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:12-13). It is through the perseverance of the saints in obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord while enduring opposition and persecution that their faith is proven to be genuine – “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
In every instance where we read of the faith of a church in the New Testament that is being proclaimed throughout the whole world, it is in the context of their obedience to Jesus as Lord in the face of opposition and persecution (see 1 Thessalonians 1:2-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:4).
Some churches are known for their fame (Sardis – Revelation 3:1 and Laodicea – Revelation 3:15-17) but are not praised by the Lord. Others are known for their faith. Some churches seek the praise and glory of men – and they use pragmatic methods; they advertise their statistics; and many wrongly praise them thinking that fame is the same as faith.
Some churches seek the praise and glory of God – and they obey Jesus Christ as Lord in all matters of life; they endure persecution and false accusations for Jesus’ name sake; and many wrongly accuse them of having no faith because they have no fame.
Do we want to be known for our fame or for our faith?