Sermon preached on Romans 1:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/1/2012 in Novato, CA.
*** Note: The introductory remarks to the sermon were inadvertently cut off from the audio recording. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“That We May Be Mutually Encouraged”
When I approach different books in the Bible, I endeavor to craft the organization and style of my sermon taking into account the genre of the book. For a narrative passage, I want to bring out the drama of the story. For a piece of poetry, I try to bring out the beauty of the literary presentation of it. And for a letter like the book of Romans we see that it is very much a book that teaches doctrine. It teaches doctrine in great detail. As we go through this book, I want us to be noticing the different doctrines that are being conveyed. These are doctrines that will inform our faith and dictate how we live. Now, to be sure, at this point in the letter, we’ve not gotten into the heart of Paul’s doctrinal discussions yet. Quickly we’ll be getting there. Quickly we’ll be getting into what I would consider the best theological treatise on justification in the whole Bible. We aren’t quite there yet. Right now we are still in the opening parts of this letter. Last week we saw the opening salutation. Now Paul moves just beyond that to add a personal note of his thankfulness for the Romans and his concern for them. This is all very typical for Paul’s start of a letter. It’s still part of his introduction into this letter.
And yet, even in this introduction, we do find an important doctrine behind these verses. It’s a doctrine that is surely motivating Paul’s writing of this section. It’s the doctrine of what we might call “mutual edification.” Mutual edification. This is the doctrine that says that in the church, fellow Christians have been gifted in such a way so as to build each other up and encourage one another. And so this doctrine of mutual edification is what we’ll be considering today. We’ll look at this in three points today. First, we’ll look at Rome’s notable faith. Second, we’ll look at Paul’s longing to go and visit the Romans. Third, we’ll look at Paul’s intentions for a fruitful visit with the Roman Christians. We’ll see how these all show us to this doctrine of mutual edification.
Let’s begin then by looking at the Roman Christians’ notable faith. Paul typically finds it important in his letters to start out by letting the recipients know that he’s thankful for them, particularly for their faith. That’s what he does here, notice in verse 8 he even uses the word “First.” First, he lets them know this. Paul lets them know that he’s been thankful for their faith. But don’t miss the direction of his thanks. He’s thankful to God through Jesus Christ. Paul says in verses 8-9 that this has become a regular part of his prayer life. Regularly in his prayers Paul is thanking God for the faith of the Roman Christians. Of course, the fact that Paul is thanking God in his prayers, shows Paul’s theology on how we come to faith. Paul is so consistent on this point in his letters. Paul recognizes what we should recognize. Faith is ultimately a gift of God. If someone believes in Christ, it’s because God has first made them alive spiritually through what we call regeneration. And so Paul thanks God for that faith which has been found in the Christians at Rome.
And don’t miss how notable their faith is. It’s literally a world renown faith, Paul says. That’s what Paul says he’s specifically thanking God for, according to verse 8. That their faith is being proclaimed throughout the world. You could imagine how encouraging this would be to an apostle. Your job as an apostle is to see the faith spread throughout the world. How encouraging it would be that Rome, the capital of the known world and the seat of such influence on the world, had a growing, vibrant, church. That this faith which was first proclaimed in Jerusalem, had made it all the way across continents to Rome and was taking root in a wonderful way. This was obviously something very encouraging to Paul. And so Paul was regularly thanking God for this fruit of the gospel in Rome.
Don’t miss of course who their faith is in. It will become more clear in the rest of the letter. But Paul right away thanks God through Christ, because their faith is in God through Christ. They have come to believe the gospel which Paul mentions in verses 16 and 17. That gospel that says that by faith in Jesus, we are forgiven of our sins and declared righteous before God’s sight. That will be the subject that Paul will be flushing out in this letter, but he mentions it right here. This faith, is faith in God and in the saving work of Jesus Christ. They have believed in the gospel and have found this wonderful salvation. For this, Paul rejoices. In this, Paul is encouraged.
And so do you see that even right here in Paul’s description of their notable faith, we find the principle of mutual edification already going on? The faith of the Roman Christians is already affecting Paul. It’s already been a blessing and encouragement to him. Their faith has had an effect on Paul. It caused an increase in Paul’s prayer life. Surely it would have encouraged his ministry, that if God can bring Romans to faith, then God can use Paul as an apostle to bring others to faith as well. Paul was encouraged by them and that was seen in increased thankfulness and prayer in Paul’s life.
But to talk about mutual edification, that means we look for the edification to go both ways. And that too we see already in this first point about their notable prayer. Not only has Paul been affected positively by their faith. They are the recipients here too. Two immediate things jump out here. Paul has been praying for them. They are benefitting from his prayers. And Paul is now writing to them, because of this faith that has come to his attention. And so they are benefitting from his teaching ministry via correspondence. Via this letter. As we’ll see at the end of the letter, Paul already knows some of the people in that church at Rome, and so his influence and blessing has probably already come to them that way too. People like in Romans 16:3, Priscilla and Aquila, who he had met in Corinth. He had ministered to people like these outside of Rome, and then those people had come to Rome and influenced the faith of these new Christians with those things they had learned from Paul. And so at this initial point about their notable faith, already we see the principle of mutual edification at work.
So right away we can find some points of application here. One, of course, is that our faith is not a reason for personal boasting, but for thanking God. But more on our topic for today, we are reminded of how we should live out our faith, and how that can encourage other Christians. For the Roman Christians to have a world renown faith means that they weren’t ashamed of their faith. They didn’t hide the fact that they were a Christian. Rather they lived it out for the world to see. Paul of course in verse 16 acknowledges that himself when he says that he too is not ashamed of the gospel. And so then, though we don’t take personal pride in our faith in a boastful way, we should be glad that we have this faith. We should live in such a way that the world does know that we believe. As we do that, this will be part of how we encourage other believers. It’s encouraging to other believers when they see fellow Christians living unashamed for Christ. Let us live as such.
Let’s turn now to consider Paul’s longing to go and visit the church at Rome. Paul sees this as something important to tell them. So, important that he invokes God’s name as witness to his prayers, prayers that include Paul’s regular prayer request that he might go visit them. That’s verses 9-10. And so realize this is not just some casual desire. There’s a fervency behind it. Paul’s asking God that if there’s any way possible, he wants to come to Rome for ministry. Remember how Jesus teaches about persistent prayer. That’s what Paul is doing. He’s persistently praying that God might will for him to go and visit these Romans. You can find out how really important something is to you, if you are praying about it. And if you are always praying about it, then it must be pretty important to you.
You see his desire to come to Rome again in verse 11. There he says that he longs to see them. This is a word of great passion. It’s describing a passionate desire of him. He is yearning to go and visit them. There’s an intensity and zeal in this desire. And yet he expresses all of this in this way, just to go on to say that’s he’s not been able yet to come visit them. Verses 13 makes it clear that he’s very much intended to come, but has not been able to. That something has prevented him from coming. Now, in light of his prayers, we know how he sees this. He sees that it’s not been God’s will for him to go yet to Rome. We’re not told the exact reason that’s he’s been prevented. Was it some divine revelation, or just some practical reason such as his existing shepherding responsibilities that has prevented him from coming? We don’t know. He does mention again in chapter 15, verse 22, that something has in fact hindered him from coming. What that is, he doesn’t tell us. But at this juncture what hindered him is not the focus. The focus is on how much he has wanted to come to them. How much he has wanted this ministry opportunity together. How much he has wanted this time together for mutual edification.
Well the application that comes from is hopefully obvious. We should long for ministry opportunities. We should long for time together with the saints. We should crave it and hunger for it. We should do what we can to make this happen. That of course will mean that we have to make the time. I don’t imagine Paul praying so fervently like this, and then just not making any effort toward trying to go and visit them. If we are going to have these times of mutual edification, we need to plan for these times and then invest the time with one another. Let’s see the importance of planning and purposing for this time together.
Of course, at the same time, we have to humbly submit our plans to God’s will. Christians are to make plans, but we also acknowledge that if the Lord wills, we will do this or that. But when we find these plans hitting hindrances, Paul tells us what to do. If we endeavor to make this time to invest with the fellow saints, and roadblocks come up, we know what to do. Paul shows that we pray about it. We persistently bring these requests to God, that your longing for such ministry times will become reality. Of course for some of us, what we need to be praying for is the passion in the first place. How quickly we can get use to going through the motions as a Christian. We can miss the passion and zeal Paul expresses here for fellowship with the saints. If you find that waning in you, pray for more longing. Longing for intentional time together with the saints.
That leads us then to our third point for today. Let’s consider now Paul’s intention for a fruitful visit with them. Here’s where we see really the heart of this doctrine today that we’ve called “mutual edification.” Paul’s longing to see them is for the very purpose of having this time of mutual edification. Let’s walk through that here. Look first at verse 11. “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established.” Paul tells them the first reason why he’s wanted so badly to come see them. He wants to be able to share some spiritual gift with them. That’s what the word “impart” means here in the Greek. It’s about sharing something you have with someone else. Taking from something you have and giving it to another. He doesn’t elaborate on what specific gift or gifts he has in mind. Are these the extraordinary gifts that the apostles often exercised – various signs and wonders? Or are they more of the ordinary types – preaching and teaching and encouragement and exhortation. He doesn’t explicitly tell us. Maybe he has them all in mind. Surely he has in mind at least preaching per verse 15. That would be the certain answer at least. But he does especially tell us what these spiritual gifts will do for them. They will be established. This idea of being established is a term of foundation. It’s the idea of being established or fixed in a certain place. Here it’s obviously with regard to their Christian faith and life. He hopes to exercise his spiritual gifting among them in such a way so as to strengthen their faith. That they would become stronger and more firm and unchanging in their belief. That they’d be all the more established in faith as a disciple of Christ. That’s the first thing he tells them that he hoped to accomplish in visiting them.
And yet as soon as he says that, he immediately adds some clarification. It’s not just like only Paul has something to contribute to them. This edification is not just one way. You might think that; I mean Paul is an apostle. That’s a pretty amazing, out-of-the-ordinary, office, as we discussed last week. But it’s so amazing that Paul goes on in verse 12 to say that the edification would go both ways. That they would be encouraged together. Their faith, and his faith. Both them and Paul. Paul believes that both of them would find their faith encouraged by their time together.
And so Paul believes there will be fruit from his visit. That’s what he says in verse 13. Think of how Jesus talked about the Word of God bearing fruit in people’s lives. Disciples are to grow and bear fruit. Paul sees that their time will be one where fruit will be borne. Again, he doesn’t go into details at this point. But the picture you get is that Paul wants to come and do ministry among them. And in that process he sees that there will be a mutual strengthening and growth of their faith.
I don’t know about you, but I think this is pretty neat, to say the least. If an apostle can say this, then how much more true is this in our circumstances of ministry. If I were a Christian in the Roman church, I’d probably figure I didn’t have much to offer to Paul. I would have figured I had much to benefit from his visit, but I wouldn’t have thought I had something to contribute to him. Same thing today if some famous preacher came here. Someone like R.C. Sproul or someone like that. I’d assume I’d have much to learn from him, but wouldn’t be thinking about the way I could bless him. And yet that’s what Paul is talking about here. That Paul, and R.C. Sproul, would be mutually encouraged with us if they came to visit. And if that is true for apostles, and for the most learned teachers in the church, certainly it is true for us. It’s true for all Christians in general, and certainly true with the local pastors as well. I can certainly confirm this. It’s the norm, not the exception, that when I go to minister to someone, that I come away encouraged, blessed, and strengthened in different ways. But again this is not just for pastor, parishioner relationships. This is supposed to be something that’s happening between every member in the church.
That’s why Paul says things like this: Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” We are to be looking to mutually encourage and build up one another in the Lord. We do that through the Word of God and in making use of the different spiritual gifts God has given us. Our fellowship is to be as iron sharpening iron. We testify to what God has done in our lives, to what he has taught us in his Word, and keep living out our faith in the presence of one another.
And so the application here is that we need to be intentional in our time together. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us. Gifts to build one another up. Gifts to serve the saints in God’s church. What I mean by being intentional is that our time together is not just for a social experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have that component in our fellowship. I know that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know people in our church as not just ministry partners, but as friends. It’s great to have friends. It’s great to be able to talk about shared interests that you will have. We need that. It’s a very good thing. But part of being intentional in our time together, is also to see the importance to invest spiritually in one another. To see that we can and ought to mutually encourage each other. I love how Paul says it in verse 14. He’s a debtor to all sorts of people. He sees that he has an obligation to use his spiritual gifting to build up others. We have that obligation too. We ought to be intentional in this way. To make the time in our friendships and our relationships with those in church to think spiritually. To talk about our faith. To pray for one another. To let people know how their faith encouraged you. To point people to the Word. Let us be intentional in making time for these things. Let us be eager to see the fruit that will come from them.
Well, as we close out our message for today, I’d like to draw your attention to a final application that we get from this text. Notice verse 13. In a bit of emphatic double negation he says, “Now, I do not want you to be unaware.” Or to say it the other direction, “I want you to know this!” Do you see how important this was to Paul? How important it was for him to communicate this to the Christians at Rome? He seems to think it’s very important for them to know that he’s been praying about them. That he’s been thanking God for them. And that he’s been really wanting to come and have this time of mutual ministry together. Paul sees this is very important for them to know. Well realize then why he thought this. It’s not like he needed to tell them about his prayers for God to hear them. No, he already invoked God as his witness about his prayers. But that shows that the reason why he told them about his thankful prayers was to encourage them. He wanted them to be encouraged by knowing that he was thankful for them. Same with his intentions on visiting them. I can’t see any real practical reason why he should find it so important in telling them this; save to encourage them. And to set expectations of how they could be such a wonderful mutual encouragement to one another.
Well, brothers and sisters, this is what we ought to do as well. Let us tell our brothers and sisters how they encourage us. And how important they are to us. Let them know you are praying for them. Well, let me lead by example. I am so thankful to the LORD for each of you here. It’s been such a pleasure and blessing to get to know each of you. To build real relationships and friendship. But also to grow spiritually with you. I have been encouraged and thankful by the struggles people in this church have gone through, and yet seeing God sustain their faith. And I have been so thankful to see the way God uses people here to bless the church in different ways. To see the different ways each of you serve in the church, and look to be a blessing to others. I praise God for you all, and I look forward to many more years together of opportunities for mutual edification.
So, okay, I actually have one last small point. Today is the day celebrated throughout much of the church as Palm Sunday. I have a Palm Sunday application for us. Paul longed to come to Rome to be a blessing for them. Well, Palm Sunday makes us think about comings. Palm Sunday is about Jesus coming to his people. On that first coming, he came riding on that donkey in great humility to go to the cross. On his second coming, he will come to usher us into glory. If Paul’s coming meant blessing for the Roman Christians, we know that Christ’s comings are surely for blessing. To build us up in grace and faith. And so, looking back on Christ’s first coming, and looking forward to his second coming, we rejoice in those blessings. When God sends messengers to his people, they are blessed. How much more when God sends his Son to his people. Praise God! And come quickly, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.