Mutual Encouragements

A Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Base on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 2a of 83

 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; 10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; 12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.  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.  14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also”( Romans 1:8-15).

It is quite a well-known fact that the book of Romans can be divided into two parts: the first 11 chapters has to do with doctrine, while the last 5 chapters has to do with applications.

We must remember, however, that this book was written as a letter. Thus there will be customary elements of a letter like recipient and sender identity, as well as personal remarks. We studied the introductory elements previously. In this continuing study, we must look at some personal remarks that Paul made to the Romans as he opens the letter.

We may consider it under three heads: (1) A note of Thanksgiving (v. 8); (2) A note of Prayer (v. 9-10); and (3) A note of Longing (v. 11-15).

1. A Note of Thanksgiving

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

a. The faith of the Roman Christians was well-known. They had a good reputation amongst the Christians throughout the Roman Empire. How did their fame spread? Partly, it must have been through word of mouth of those who visited Rome. And partly, it might have been through those who met the Roman Christians who were expelled from Rome during the reign of emperor Claudius, such as Aquila and Priscilla (cf. Acts 18:2-3).

Whatever the means by which the Romans were made famous, the Romans had a reputation by the time Paul wrote to them.

But notice what Paul said was well-known about them. Was it their wealth? Was it their works? Was it their generosity? Was it their knowledge? No, no, it was their faith that was spoken about. Yes, no doubt their faith,—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,—would include knowledge and good works; but all these would amount to nothing were it not for their faith.

It was well-known around the Roman empire that there was a church in Rome, and that the members were godly and faithful Christians. What a great commendation for the church!

b. The apostle Paul thanks God for them. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all” he says. What does it mean to thank God through Jesus Christ? What is the difference with merely thanking God? The difference is the humble acknowledgement on the part of the apostle that his relationship with God is a covenant relationship through Christ his covenant head.

Paul would later speak about the sinfulness of man. The sinfulness or depravity of man was not just an intellectual concept for Paul. He knew that his sinfulness meant that he cannot approach God except through Christ, the only mediator between God and man. So even in praising and thanking God for the Romans, he had to do so through the Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, his praises cannot be pleasing to God. This is but a small illustration of how the apostle was true to his life’s motto—“for me to live is Christ!” Let none of us ever forget the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us never leave him from our minds when we pray or thank God for anything.

But notice who he thanks God for? “For you all” he says. Not for some of you, but for all of you—officers and members; young and old; male and female; bond and free; Jews and Gentiles. “For you all.” Paul did not know many of the Christians in Rome. He knew some of them, and he mentions them by name in chapter 16, but he could honestly thank God for the whole church because they are called-out to be one body. There are no loose stones in the temple of God, only lively stones joined together by the blood of Christ and by God’s providence.

But why does the apostle Paul tell the Romans that he thanks God for them? It is, no doubt, right and proper for him to thank God for them. We should always thank God for anything that brings us joy and encouragement. But why does Paul need to tell them that he thanks God for them?

It is, no doubt, to encourage them. Paul saw the importance of mutual encouragement. It is truly encouraging to be told by someone that he thanks God for us. When someone tells me “I thank God for you,” I am encouraged, and I am encouraged to encourage him or her in return.

This, apparently, was what the Romans did. This letter was written in A.D. 67 or 68. Paul did not arrive in Rome until about AD 60 or 61, and then as a prisoner. This is recorded in Acts 28. There we are told that the Christians came out to meet him “as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns.” When Paul saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage” (Acts 28:15). He was encouraged by those whom he had earlier encouraged!

c.   Let us learn a couple of things from Paul in this statement of thanksgiving.

First, let us desire too to be known for our faith. The Romans, like the ancient fathers in the faith, obtained a good report through faith (Heb 11:2). We, too, must desire to be talked about for our faith. We must not desire merely to be known as charitable or knowledgeable, for that would bring glory to ourselves. We must rather be known for our faith—that we are what we are because of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Secondly, let us learn not only to be grateful to the Lord, but to encourage our brethren. Let us learn to do so by our expressions of gratitude. We must not be afraid of encouraging our brethren by thanking them for their labours of love, or telling them of our gratitude to God for them! We must not be crippled by a fear of flattery or a fear of making those we appreciate proud. If we should refrain from expressions of gratitude and praise for fear of making people proud, then the apostle Paul would have made a mistake, for surely such a statement (as v. 8) would make them proud!

But no, we should think, rather, that what he told them would encourage them to keep up their faith and good works.

 

… to be continued next issue