A LETTER FOR ALL CHRISTIANS
Have you ever wanted to go to Rome? Possibly not. But if you did, there is a website called Vrbo that rents houses, condos, apartments, villas or studios to stay in if you go.
The site advertisement says: “Discover a selection of 7,000 vacation rentals in Rome, Italy that are perfect for your trip. Whether you’re traveling with friends, family, or even pets, Vrbo vacation homes have the best amenities for hanging out with the people that matter most, including WiFi and air conditioning.
“Prices start at $105 per night, and condos and villas are popular options for a stay in Rome. Either way, you'll find a rental for everyone's needs.”
Does that entice you to want to make the trip? The apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome, but when he got there he did not have the fine accommodations that Vrbo advertises.
Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome before he ever went. He eventually did arrive there, but not in the way he first imagined.
This letter to the Romans is different from the other letters he wrote which concern the churches and their problems and needs. Romans focuses on God and His plan of salvation for mankind, both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul wrote the letter while he was in Corinth during his third missionary journey. He was on his way back to Jerusalem with the collections from the Gentiles churches.
So the practical reason for writing this letter was to tell the Roman Christians that he was planning to visit them after his trip to Jerusalem. But He was arrested in Jerusalem and he appealed his case to Caesar.
Here is Charles Spurgeon’s interesting comment on how Paul finally got to Rome: “I do not suppose that Paul guessed that he would be sent there at the government’s expense, but he was. The Roman Empire had to find a ship for him, and a fit escort for him, too; and he entered the city as an ambassador in bonds.
“When our hearts are set on a thing, and we pray for it, God may grant us the blessing; but, it may be, in a way that we never looked for. You shall go to Rome, Paul; but you shall go in chains.”
Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters that we have, and the most in-depth and comprehensive exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That explains the introduction that we will look at today. He set the tone right. Lets read the beginning of this letter. Romans 1:1-15:
1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 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, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
13 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. 15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. (NKJV)
The first thing Paul does in these verses is to talk about Jesus. Following Jesus, teaching others about Jesus, writing to encourage others in their obedience to Jesus was Paul's passion.
Having introduced himself at the beginning of this letter, Paul gives us concise statements of the Gospel of God.
He explains the good news has to do with Jesus Christ, the descendant of David by birth and declared the Son of God by His resurrection.
Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection brings us into a new relationship with God. In these few lines, Paul lays out the thrust of the rest of this letter – the message of the Gospel.
It is in Jesus that we find the grace and peace that Paul speaks of so often. Only in Jesus is the unmerited favor of God available. And once we receive God's grace, that is what brings peace into our hearts and minds.
That is why, though it is called a letter to the Romans, it truly is a letter to us all. We all need Jesus. And we need to live in such a way that brings honor to our Lord.
According to verse eight, the Christians in Rome had a good reputation for their faith. The report about them was positive throughout the world.
What kind of report do you think we have as followers of Jesus?
You know in school, children receive a report card to measure their progress. There is a story about little Billy who brought home his report card.
His mother was very disappointed with his low grades and she let him know about it. Billy said, “But it’s got a good side to it too. At least you know I’m not cheating.”
Another boy came home from school with his report card. He said to his dad, “Dad, here’s my report card along with one of your old report cards.”
His dad looked at the cards and said, “Well, son, you’re right. This old report card of mine doesn’t look any better than your report card. I guess the only fair thing to do is to give you what my father gave me.”
How did your report card look when you were in school? What kind of grades did you get? But more importantly...
How is your spiritual report card? Is your faith being reported all over the known world? That’s highly doubtful. Is it even being talked about all over town?
Or how about in your own family? Do your family members know that you are a person of faith by your actions, your speech, your church attendance, your giving, your Christian service?
The question is: What is the evidence of our faith? How would our spiritual report card read? The faith of the Christians in Rome obviously had a good report card. Their faith was reported all over the known world at that time!
Both churches and individuals have a reputation either for good or ill, for faith or a lack of it. There are churches that are known as preacher killers. On other hand, there are many churches that have a reputation for being kind, friendly, gracious, and giving.
I believe we have a good reputation as a friendly church that honors the Lord. And we have an opportunity this week to increase a positive reputation in the area by our Benefit Gospel Concert for Watered Gardens ministries.
And that is not just in having the event. It will be through the love of Jesus we have experienced being shown to others as they come to enjoy the music.
Now, in verse five Paul says that Christian are beloved of God, called to be saints. That means we are called to be set apart from the secular world, to be a part of that group of people who are serving God and His cause in the world.
We are to be growing and making ourselves available on any level to be of benefit to the body of Christ.
We do not have to be like anyone else at all, but we all need to be willing to become all that we can become by the grace of God.
Keep in mind that Paul did not start the church at Rome. He had never been there. The Christians who began this work are so obscure that nobody knows who they were. But they are the ones who made it possible for Paul to write this famous life-changing letter.
If others had not started the church, there never would have been a body of believers who needed this message of Paul like they did. And like we do. These persons will never be known to us.
They get no recognition whatever in the great plan of God for this letter, but they were just as called and a vital part of the plan as was Paul.
Likely Paul would have loved the honor of having started this strategic church in the capital of the Gentile world. But God gave that honor to people we do not know.
Being called does not mean having special gifts, or getting special notoriety or fame. People who are obscure and unknown are just as called as those who get the limelight.
God calls all His children to be a part of His plan, and every one of them is just as important as those who get the center stage. The behind the scenes helpers are just as called and just as crucial for the success God wants to see.
In verse nine, Paul speaks of his constant prayers for the Christians in Rome. We all need the prayers of others to become, and to be, what God has called us to be.
When people pray for us, we receive strength we would not have otherwise. That is also the reason we need to be praying for others so they have the strength to carry on. There is a mutual benefit as we pray for each other.
In verse twelve Paul says that his prayer is that he wants to see them. Not just to give strength, but to receive it, and that they might be encouraged by each other's faith. Paul is not so proud as to think that he does not need the strength that can come from them.
This is the most powerful reason there is for Christians to get together. It is that we might encourage and make each other stronger.
Paul knows what anyone knows who tries to live in full obedience to God. It can be hard. And there is an ever present temptation to throw in the towel, take the easy way out and just drift along with the culture.
Swimming against the stream and climbing the mountain of the upward call leads to burn out and discouragement. We need to be renewed and strengthened to keep going.
We come together to hear the Word of God in order to charge our batteries so that we can go away saying with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
We can then resist the devil; resist conformity to the world, and in spite of our weakness, be witnesses for Jesus.
The point of coming to church is to come out of the world to worship God, and then be strengthened to go back into the world to be His people.
We need the encouragement of each other to overcome all the natural weaknesses of the flesh, and recognize that every day we touch lives with either that weakness or the power of God.
The Christians in Rome had to be fairly strong and mature, for the report of their faith had spread so far. Nevertheless, Paul says they still need to be made strong.
The implication is that every Christian, including himself, needs to be strengthened. There is no such thing as a Christian who is too strong.
There is no level a Christian can reach where he or she is no longer in need of encouragement and strengthening that comes from other Christians and their gifts.
If anyone could be a lone ranger Christian it would be Paul, but he admits he needed the encouragement of their faith. Anyone who claims to be so strong that they never need the encouragement of others has achieved a level that is no where recognized in the New Testament.
The fact is, Paul had plans that fell through over and over again. He often did not get to do what he wanted to do.
Look at verse 13, and you can see Paul admitting to his frustration. He says that he planned many times to come to them but was prevented.
It is a great disappointment to have your plans not work out when all you want to do is serve the Lord and do good.
It is bad enough when the plan goes sour once or twice, but when it happens many times you begin to wonder if you should just give up.
That is why Paul needed the encouragement of others. And that is why we all do. The only way any Christian can be obedient over the long hall, and not get weary in well doing, is to be encouraged by other believers and strengthened to keep running the race.
We need each other. And we need Jesus.
As Paul tells us in verse five it is through Him we have received grace... for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name.
So we have this letter to the Christians in Rome. It is not just for them. It is for all Christians. It is for us.
Harold Dye, a gifted Christian writer tells of his experience while fishing in the New Mexico mountains. He was climbing to a high stream when he came to a dangerous spot on the trail.
The rain and the snow had eroded the trail and left a chasm he would have to leap across. He writes, "As I debated making the leap from this side to the other I noticed something on the trail ahead that made
all the difference in the world-the fresh imprint of a shoe.
“Someone had been along this trail before me. He too had faced the same chasm and had safely crossed it. That was all the encouragement I needed. With one strong effort I was safely on the other side and on my way to that inviting stream.”
Just the presence of one other person facing the same decision can keep us climbing. That is why support groups are so popular and helpful. They encourage people in whatever battle they face
because they know they are not alone.
This is the comfort and encouragement that the church is to give to all who want to climb higher in the Christian life, but who face obstacles that hinder them and make they want to give up.
But Jesus has shown the way. He has taken the first step. And together, with Christ, we can do all things.