Encouraged Together

Encouraged Together

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 04: Romans 1:8-12

People were not created to be alone. We were created to be families and communities. We were created to work together to produce the things we need. We were commanded to organize into churches, and into governed societies. This can get frustrating at times. These groupings are as imperfect as the individuals that form them.

There are wrong ways of dealing with imperfect groups of people. Some people just withdraw and isolate themselves when they have a hard time with the behaviors of others. They might tolerate working with others in limited ways out of necessity, but they try not to develop close relationships. They may even attend worship, but limit their contacts with the others in the church beyond that.

Others keep jumping from group to group looking for a more perfect situation. They have little commitment to their workplace, community, and sometimes even to their family relationships. They often drift from job to job. They may even move from community to community. They are the ones who never find a church they like. To justify their lack of commitment they list all the faults and imperfections of those who make up or who lead the group.

This is not the way God taught us to live. If there are problems we need to become part of the solution. Loyalty and commitment are important character traits. We ought to develop them. The fallen world has abandoned those values in favor of a more self-serving ethic. Today loyalty and commitment ends when the going gets hard.

Marriages end for reasons not justified by God’s law. People leave their spiritual families in churches as easily as they leave their spouses. It’s hard for employers to afford new workers when they leave as soon as opportunity comes along, even after considerable expense has been made to train them.

Instead of abandoning others when problems arise, and in place of that critical spirit of finding faults, there ought to be mutual encouragement of one another in Jesus Christ. There is great joy in seeing God at work in families, churches, workplaces, and communities.

Paul appreciated the Roman church’s
great reputation which was spoken of world-wide.

Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”

The faith God had put into the hearts of the Roman believers was testifying powerfully. It provided a real-life demonstration that the gospel is God’s truth, it works!

In our study so far (Romans 1:1-7) we have seen that the gospel means “good news”. All humans are separated from God’s fellowship because of the offense of real moral guilt. Not just individual guilt, but primarily the guilt and corruption we inherit from Adam. But God made a promise in Eden after the first sin. One would come who would be born of a woman, who would suffer in place of God’s people and crush Satan.

As history unfolded more details were made known. By the time of the Apostle Paul, it had become clear that Jesus was that Promised One.

The good news that there are fallen humans who are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ had come to Rome too. The hearts of believers there had been changed by the power of God. Faith had been implanted along with life-transforming power. Good News indeed!

The watching world had seen the changes in the lives of the Roman believers. Paul calls believers “epistles.” In them, the world could see the effects of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul wrote, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Similarly Paul said to the believers in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “… you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”

We should all be concerned to show the work of Christ in our lives. Others, both in the church and outside of it, will observe our words and actions. God’s truth and grace in Christ ought to be evident in us. Jesus said our lives should shine like light so that men might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

The believers in Rome, were imperfect (we will see more of that as we continue), yet they were being a good testimony to the world of Christ’s life-transforming power.

Paul explained that he was in continual prayer
to praise God for what he had seen in them.

Romans 1:9, “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,”

Similarly, when John saw other believers living as evidence of Christ’s power, he rejoiced. He wrote to them saying, “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.” (2 john 1:4), and “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.” (3 John 1:30).

Man’s fallen nature tends to become jealous about the success of others. However, we should not be just individuals trying to get gain for ourselves. We ought to learn to rejoice in the success of others. Specially others in the body of Christ. We are a family together with them. There should be evidence of certain family traits in each of us. The fruit of the Holy Spirit and our spiritual loyalty ought to mark us out.

There is a fundamental unity that we ought not ignore, even when things are imperfect. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

There are also some limits placed upon our fellowship. There ought to be some kind of division that separate us from those who have no loyalty to Christ and to his church. There should be no confusion about who is a representative of Christ, and who is not. A compromising testimony by the church does not honor God. It confuses his message and obscures the gospel.

In that same letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’ ”

From the larger context we see that this is not about shunning those who sin. We would have no one left in our lives if we did that, since we are all sinners by God’s definition of it. The context is in the membership of the church. Those who continue to rebel against God’s standards unrepentantly should not be on the roll as members of God’s family. They are not rightly part of our spiritual family’s meals and trust. Out of respect for the standards God demands of his church, such people need to be put out of the church as long as they insist on defending their rebellious behaviors and attitudes. But we are not to be unkind to them. We are told to treat them as unbelievers and work to bring them to humble repentance and restoration to fellowship through the power of the gospel.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.’ ”

When the church stands together, marked by loyalty, it presents a powerful testimony to the world. The goodness of God’s news is made plain by the transformation of lost souls woven together into a family of God.

We should set aside time in our prayers to praise God for his blessings upon his people. Paul’s prayer reminds us again of the wonders of Grace. Paul does not commend the Romans as if God had them to thank for the good testimony of the church. He thanks God for their obedience of faith. God is the one who works goodness in us. Nothing remains in which we can boast. There is no place for self-pride. Instead, we have a marvelous sense of God’s redeeming and sanctifying grace.

Paul had a compelling desire to be encouraged
together with the Roman believers.

Romans 1:10-12, “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”

Paul very much wanted to go to Rome to see these believers in person. However, God had not provided the opportunity. When we study verse 13 we will see how Paul, though wanting to come to them, kept his own desires in submission to God and his greater and often hidden plan.

The Apostle’s purpose in wanting to go to Rome had two parts. On the one hand he wanted to build them up by imparting spiritual gifts to them. Some of that work was special to the office of Apostle. There were unique miraculous gifts in that Apostolic era for the building of the church’s foundation.

Some of the gifts to be imparted were a common work we all do as believers. By our fellowship we are to stir one another to spiritual growth. We help one another develop the fruit of the Spirit. We become mutual examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (see Galatians 5:22-23). In humility we correct one another when we fall into sin or into neglect of these fruits.

On the other hand Paul longed for himself to be encouraged by the believers in Rome too. Ministers and members of the church alike are important to one another in Christ.

The union we have as a church is very special. Our bond is not just because we have common interests, or like temperaments, or similar backgrounds and circumstances in our lives, or even plans for the future. Those may occur among us but our bond is much stronger than that. It is not just because we have common beliefs and convictions.

These are the things that cause union in the world too. But in the family of God there is an element the world cannot know. The special nature of our fellowship consists in our real spiritual union in Christ. We have an actual family bond. We have the same Father in heaven. We are joint heirs of eternal blessings in Christ. We are truly brothers and sisters spiritually.

In John 15:5 Jesus used a helpful analogy. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

We all draw from the same nourishment. The same sap flows through us. Our spiritual life blood is the same. We share in the same covenant benefits, live by the same rules, and are one with the same Lord. 1 Corinthians 6:17 says,”But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”

Paul wrote important instructions to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:2-6 he said, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Though we have this unity, we are not all the same. Not by far. There is a diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. We are all very different from one another: We are born in different decades. We dress differently, wear our hair differently (for those who have it), and have different styles of speech. We have different talents and abilities. God has called us to different occupations.

1 Corinthians 12:14-18 explains it so well, “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”

Every member of the body is vital to the whole. Paul adds in verse 22, “No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” In verses 25-27 he says that we need to value every member of the church, “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”

Because one of us has a gift, we all have it too as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are a family in Christ.

Ever since I was very little, I’ve loved to take things apart. I disassembled radios, television sets, door bells, carburetors, kitchen faucets, and so on. Putting them back together was always harder. I know you have all had the experience in one way or another of putting parts together. It’s a bit unsettling when you have some parts left over. A few times I’ve ha to install new kitchen faucets. I remember once when there was a rubber washer left over. When I turned it on all seemed ok — until I tried the rinsing hose. Water sprayed all over. That little washer was important! Just as every component and wire is important to a radio of computer, so also every one of you is important to the proper functioning of the body of Christ.

What happens when a vital part of the body is missing? even just for a while? Can you imagine what it would be like if your body parts only worked once-in-a-while? What if your eye or a particular finger only was available occasionally? What if a lung shut down unexpectedly every few days? Could you be just as effective if you never knew when you would have to do without an arm or leg for a day? or for a week? Think of what it would be like walking down the street and a foot unexpectedly decided to shut down for a while.

That is why it is important to have regular attendance in the church. When attendance is occasional, it’s like occasional paralysis. Each part contributes to the whole. It could be a little story, or experience in your life, a little personal insight or a lesson you’ve learned, or how you smile at one of the children, or when you show a bit of humility among the adults. These each may seem insignificant to you in casual conversation over refreshments after worship, but maybe that little gesture or comment is exactly what someone else needs to see or hear.

When one person is absent it effects the whole — as when a family member is gone. Of course sometimes God in his providence keeps us away. We may get sick, or may be called out of town, or travel on vacation. Unless we can’t be there by reason of God’s providence, we have a job to do for Christ as part of his family.

Jesus Christ has called each one of us to family union and Kingdom service. Don’t cripple the body by withholding that talent or experience God has entrusted to you. It ought not be a chore to be with God’s people in worship on the Lord’s Day. It ought not to feel as if you are making a sacrifice. Being there instead of home watching TV, or sleeping in, is an important family duty. Getting to bed decently on Saturday night so you can get here on time Sunday morning, ought to be a satisfying preparation for your service to the church, and for fulfilling your part as the whole body comes together to worship the God who saved us.

We each have a joint obligation to devote our gifts to the glory of Christ, and the growth of the body of his church. It is a job for which we need to make preparations. We need to take our Christian responsibilities seriously. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”

Our service together on Sundays, and our support of one another all week long, is not an option or an extra to add to our lives as Christians. It is our reasonable service.

The fallen world around us has a different standard. It makes friends to satisfy self-needs, to gain what friends can offer, or to feel accepted. We have been transformed from that by Christ. Our friendships in the Lord are to honor our Savior and to help one another.

Christ did not call us to be alone. Nor has he called us to neglect our families, jobs, church, or community. They may be very imperfect places. Other families, jobs, churches, or communities may look more appealing to us in some way. However, children don’t leave families and move in down the street with another family because they have a better pool or TV set, because there are more kids to play with, because the allowance is better, or because it’s a shorter walk to the mall. There should be loyalty and commitment to the family. So also there ought to be an undying loyalty to the imperfect unions we have at work, and in our communities. We should not looking for something better, but how to serve where God puts us. Even more so there should be loyalty and a sense of belonging in the church, our spiritual family, the body of Christ. Be an active member lending all you can to the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The church works best when every part is committed and working hard as a family. Oh, what a testimony that is to the glory of our Heavenly Father when the spiritual family works together, when all its parts are functioning, when everyone is present and on time looking for opportunity instead of looking for gain.

This is what Paul is saying in this part of his introduction to the letter to the Romans. He longed for a time of fellowship with the believers in Rome so he could encourage them, and be encouraged by them.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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