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TEXT: Romans 1:8-15
SUBJECT: Romans #2: Thanksgiving and Prayer
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Paul's Letter to the Church of Rome. In most ways, it is very much like his other Epistles, but in one way it stands alone. All the others were written to churches or men Paul knew well. He had founded the other churches; he was a close friend of Philemon; he traveled with Titus; and Timothy? He was Paul's son in the ministry.
The Romans he didn't know, for the most part: But he feels the same affection for them that he does for the Ephesians, the Corinthians, the Philippians, and the others. How do we explain this?
If you're on the cynical side, you might say, 'Paul is a preacher, and preachers always pretend to love everyone'. There is some truth in this: think of how most weddings begin-
.the pastor says-to a roomful of strangers!
This is not true of Paul, and we know it isn't because, in v.9, he swears otherwise-
For God is my witness.
As a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, Paul was taught from birth to never, ever take the Lord's Name in vain. There is more than one way to do it, but the most serious violation of this Law was swearing in God's Name to something that was not true. It was perjury against Heaven, and brought down the heaviest penalties-
For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
The love Paul has for this church full of strangers is a real love-a love that would live and die for them. Why does he love them? Because God does; back in v.7, Paul says they're-
Beloved of God.
If God feels so deeply for the Christians in Rome, who is Paul to feel nothing for them? And, I might add: Who are we to ignore or despise, or hate people God loves? But we do ignore them, because we're busy; and we despise them because they don't live up to our standards; we might even hate them because they've done us wrong and not made things right.
In the light of the sun, we feel justified in not loving others. But in the light of God, our lack of love looks like the shabby, unworthy, and ungodly thing it is!
What Paul says in II Corinthians, he could have said in Romans-
Our heart is wide open to you.
This is how Paul lived the Christian life, in love for God's People, and though we don't have the same office he had, we have the same calling-
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
This is the message of Romans 1:8-15; now let's see how Paul develops it.
He starts with thanksgiving, v.8-
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
The word, first, often means 'first in a sequence'-first, this, then that, then the other, and so on. But it can also mean 'primarily' or 'of first importance'. This is what it means here: Paul wants the Romans to know that before he prays for them or teaches them or helps them in other ways, he thanks God for them!
It is this thankful attitude that allows him to do the other things. It is very hard to serve people you also resent or look down on. But the man who is thankful for his wife, for example, is also the man who will serve her in love, even when he's tired or busy or not feeling too well.
Paul is all of the above-tired, busy, and sick-but he is so grateful to God for the Roman believers that he longs to spend and be spent for their good. The things we give thanks for most are also the things we most value. And the people we value most are the things we serve from the heart.
Maybe we're not very useful in the church because we're not very thankful for it. We like each other well enough, but we don't see what we really are: people chosen by God and destined for glory. In his essay, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis writes-
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.It is a serious thing to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw him now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.
This was Paul's perspective: without being blind to their faults, he was deeply thankful for the saints in Rome, and this enabled him to serve them with good cheer.
Before moving on, let me ask you: Are you thankful for your church? Do you bless the Lord for its members-by name? Even when they haven't done you a special favor, are you grateful for what they are and what they are-to you? I know it is easier to pick at churches-this is wrong, that's wrong, he's wrong, she's wrong-but it's better to give thanks. And not only better for your state of mind, but objectively better-it is more fitting, it is the right thing to do. Surely, if Paul can give thanks for the brethren he had never seen, we can thank God for the ones we see every Sunday!
When remembering the saints in Rome, Paul is thankful for many things, of course, but most of all, he is thankful that their-
Faith is spoken of throughout all the world.
Like the rest of us, Paul had his preferences: he liked some qualities better than others. Being an educated man himself, I'm sure he liked the company of literate men more than illiterate. Or, being a Jew, he certainly felt more comfortable with his countrymen than he did with Gentiles, who did icky things like put slices of cheese on their hamburgers!
Had he focused on these personal quirks he would have been grateful for some of the Romans, but not all of them. He didn't focus on these things, however, but on the thing that mattered most: their faith in Christ. Since this is what he valued most, and everyone in the Church of Rome had it, he could sincerely thank God for every last one of them!
This is one of the hallmarks of Paul's ministry. Turn to his other Letters and you'll see he often does it, even for people who are not what he wishes they were.
The Church in Corinth was a bloody mess, but before he calls them on their sins and folly, he says-
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus.
The Ephesians were solid doctrinally, but their love for each other was cooling by the day. Paul urges them to renew their brotherly love, but first, he said-
I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.
He wrote Philippians when he was in jail and facing the death penalty. Rather than begging the people to pray for him or to remember how much he did for them, he said-
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.
He said the same kind of things to the Colossians and Thessalonians as well. Paul was deeply thankful for the church; we would do well to follow him.
Having thanked God for the saints in Rome, Paul goes on to pray for them, vv.9-10-
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, making request, if by some means, now at last, I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.
Every day Paul prayed for the church in Rome. Some prayers are cheap substitutes for costly service. If you ask me to help you make the rent, it is a lot cheaper to say, 'I'll pray for you Brother', than to give you the money you need. This is not what Paul is doing!
He wants to serve them in more practical ways, but, at the moment, he just can't do it. So he does the next best thing: he prays for them. But, you notice he's not praying that other people will help them, but that God will enable him to do it.
Thus, the blessing he's asking God to give them is.himself, v.10b-
That I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.
Why does he want to visit Rome? Not for sightseeing, though I'm sure he did some of that, but to-
Impart some spiritual gift that [they] might be established.
To some degree, the church was already established; someone or some people had preached the Gospel and taught them God's Word, and now they were functioning well as the Body of Christ. But no church has 'arrived'-we all have room to grow-and Paul wants to use his gifts to promote the welfare of the church.
Paul has many gifts, of course, and the Romans could use them all, but he's not thinking of his example or his prayers or his general teaching at the moment, but one gift in particular: the Gospel.
Paul had a knack for applying the Gospel to every part of life. This is what he hopes to do when he comes to Rome.
This longing to preach the Gospel is not Paul's hobby; it is his reason for being. He's not doing them a favor; he is paying a debt. Paul owes it to them, to everyone he can reach--
Greeks and Barbarians, wise and unwise.
The Romans are not excluded from His Gospel ministry; when circumstances allow him to come to Rome, he'll be ready-
As much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also.
Paul's Gospel will be a real boon to the Romans, but they're not the only ones who will benefit from his preaching: Paul will too-
That I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith, both of you and me.
There is nothing a pastor wants more than to see his people believing the Gospel, and living by it. This is what encouraged Paul and its is how the Romans could best show their love for him.
This part of the Letter is all about Love, the love Paul has for the Romans and they have for him. Was there some effort involved in their mutual love? Sure there was-love is never automatic. But the source of their love was not their warm hearts or their strong wills. It was the Gospel, the announcement of God's love for us in Christ.
This is what made Paul love the Romans and what made the Romans love Paul. And it's the only thing that will make us love one another. Let us, therefore, know the love of God, meditate on it, believe we have it, and share it with one another.
Your assignment this week is to love your church, and to show your love by giving thanks for the church and praying for one another. God give us the grace to do so, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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