Monday, March 08, 2010


When you think of the Apostle Paul, what comes to mind? A harsh, fierce missionary, confrontational, misogynist? Someone who would be hard to like? Perhaps at times Paul comes across as fearsome. Just think of his strong renunciations of the legalists and circumcision group in Galatians. Or the robust theologian defending the gospel in Romans

Yet we also find in Scripture the tenderness of the pastor Paul, as he writes of his love and concern for the Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians) or his warmth for his young colleague Timothy (1&2 Timothy).

Today I was listening to Romans, and the last chapter struck me in a new way. Paul hasn't been to Rome, but he's eager to come to preach there also. Paul wants to come so that he and they can be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. Yet even though he hasn't been there, he knows the people.

In just 16 verses (Romans 16:1-16) there are at least 29 individuals mentioned, as well as at least one church (in the home of Prisca and Aquila) and two families (of Aristobulus, and Narcissus). A nightmare passage for the Bible reader, with
lots of unfamiliar and tricky names to stumble over, but what does this passage tell us about Paul's relationship to the church in Rome?

The fact that he's able to greet so many people by name, and in many cases say something about them too shows that for Paul, the church really is the family of God. These are his brothers and sisters, and he knows them by name.

What about us? The church is absolutely where two or three gather in Jesus' name. A congregation is the church (not a part of it). But can we get so caught up in me and my small corner that we neglect or ignore the wider church? Do we know Christians in the next town, let alone the next country? Could we name Christians on the other side of the world? Do we really know what the Lord is doing there, being involved through prayer and support?

On Sunday past we were blessed to have Australians present, as well as our mission partners who are preparing to return to Afghanistan. Up until Sunday, our mission partner was just a name on a sheet, but now I know Martin and the family. Our prayer interest definitely grows as we know and love and care for the people we're praying for. The church is the family of God, spread across the world, but united in Christ.

Will you take up the challenge to know your brothers and sisters across the world? Perhaps you can support a mission partner through Crosslinks or CMSI or some other agency. We'll spend eternity together, why not start getting to know each other now?

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