Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Fellowship in the Gospel - Romans 1:8-15

Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome. It seems that he has wanted to visit for a long time, but hasn't been able to make it yet. In the meantime, he writes a letter to them, setting out the gospel, and also encouraging them to stand firm in the faith.

The Roman Christians are famous. Their 'faith is proclaimed in all the world.' Rightly so. These were the people who were standing out in saying 'Jesus is Lord' in the very centre of the empire, which said 'Caesar is Lord'. In Caesar's capital city, they defy the emperor to honour the King of Kings.

Paul longs to be with them, to come and see them. To that end, he says that he never ceases to pray for them, mentioning them in his prayers - with God as his witness. What a testimony, to be so confident of saying to someone that we never cease to pray for them - people he has never even met! How does our praying stand in comparison? Sometimes it can be so easy to say to someone, yeah, I'll pray for you, or I'll pray about that - but do we always remember?

Paul wants to see them, not just because of their faith, but also so that he can impart some spiritual gift to the, to strengthen them. What is it that Paul wants to give them? Nothing more than mutual encouragement, the sharing together in a common faith, being built up by hearing the faith story of fellow Christians. I love 1:12 - 'that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.' For so many of us, we see fellowship as the holy huddle after church, or a chance to catch up on the week's gossip, or maybe a game of ten-pin bowling. But for Paul, this gathering together, this meeting up with other Christians would be about encouragement, and being mutually encouraged. How do our times of fellowship stand in comparison?

These verses have been about fellowship - about Paul finally coming to Rome, so that he can meet these famous Christians, and be mutually encouraged. The thing that has really struck me in these verses, though, has been the final purpose of Paul's coming to Rome. I think it's also at the heart of fellowship.

Paul wants to come to Rome so that he will have some harvest there among them, as he has seen among the Gentiles in other places too. This is his obligation- his purpose - his duty - the task he has been called to fulfil - to preach to both wise and foolish. But look at verse 15 - 'So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.'

Remember that Paul is writing to Christians, and yet he is eager to preach the gospel to 'you' who are in Rome. I've consulted my commentaries, and no one really seems to comment on this at all, instead focusing on Paul's eagerness or readiness. I think it's significant that Paul's method of fellowship, the way to mutually encourage is to return again to the gospel, to tell again the 'old, old story' and to preach the gospel. As we'll see soon, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. It's the secret of true fellowship.

So, then, how is your praying? How is your fellowshipping? And how is your gospelling? These three together will mutually encourage and build up the Body of Christ like nothing else can.

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