Thursday, October 05, 2006

Romans 1:11-13

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

Why the desire to visit Rome (Part I)? Paul wanted to serve, to minister, and to give spiritual gifts. He was unselfish. We want to go to church for what we get out of it. Paul wanted to go for what he could give to it. Paul tells them specifically that his purpose is for them to be strengthened—established in the faith—through spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts come from the Spirit; Paul could not dole out spiritual gifts like Santa spreads packages—neither can we! But he knows that the Spirit can and will give these gifts as the gospel is preached. Paul knows these Romans are genuine believers. Yet he still wants a harvest among them. But he says for them to be strengthened, they need to hear the gospel. The gospel isn’t something that we listen to at conversion, the beginning of our Christian experience, and then it set aside to move on to something more profound. The gospel is to be infused throughout our lives as Christians. As our understanding of the gospel increases, our faith and trust in God increases.

1 Corinthians 3:5-7 “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” It is the Spirit Who brings growth, and that’s why Paul is so anxious to be there preaching and teaching the Word. The Spirit is the only One Who, through His gifting, establishes us in the faith. Yet Paul says, “I’m eager to be with you in order that you might be strengthened.” What’s Paul thinking?

Paul knows that the ultimate source of spiritual life and spiritual growth is the Holy Spirit. And he also knows that faith comes by hearing. The ministry of the Word of God is the Spirit’s ordained choice, the instrument, for how He brings people to faith. Paul sees no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Paul shows us his reliance on the sovereignty of God, and yet still holds to complete human responsibility. So often people who are unfamiliar with Calvinism think that Calvinists hold to God’s sovereignty only and not man’s responsibility. And that means that if God has chosen people, then they’ll come to Christ on their own. There’s no need for us to get involved. But that’s wrong. True Calvinism holds to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God must make us willing and able to respond, and once we are made willing in the day of His power, then we must respond. It’s the Spirit’s job to make people willing to respond to the gospel and grow in faith; but it’s our responsibility and our privilege to share the gospel. And so the coherence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are presented even in the way Paul talks to the Romans in this little passage.

Why the desire to visit Rome (Part II)? Paul here is humbly acknowledging that if he goes to the Roman church with a desire to bless and build them up, with a desire to encourage and establish them, the strange and true reality of it is that he will be built up. He will be blessed and encouraged. The irony of Christian service is that when you die to yourself, you find life. When you give yourself away, you find yourself. When you put yourself last, you find yourself first. When you devote yourself to serving others, you always receive more than you could ever give. And here the apostle Paul, maybe the greatest mind and greatest preacher ever in the Christian church, is saying to these Roman Christians, “As I come to give to you, one of the things that’s going to happen is that I’m going to be blessed by you, and our faith is going to be strengthened together as we fellowship.” What an incredible thought! And it’s true!

Paul’s ultimate goal in going to Rome was evangelism and edification. He wants fruit; he wants to see the fruit of believers growing in Christ. Perhaps fruit is the “obedience of faith” mentioned last time. Faith is only true faith when it is fruitful. There is no such thing as an unfruitful faith. There is no such Person as Savior Jesus Who is not also Lord Jesus. Do we, when we fellowship, strive to see fruit and produce fruit among our Christian brethren? Let us be committed to bringing about the obedience of faith in each other and among the peoples of our neighborhood and all the nations.

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