(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 7/1/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's read Romans 1:11-12:
Romans 1: (11) For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, for the establishing of you; (12) and this is to be comforted together among you, through the faith in one another, both yours and mine.
Paul is continuing his personal remarks toward the Roman believers. In verse 8, he thanked God for their famous faith, and in verse 9, he told them that he is continually praying for them and beseeching God if he could visit them. Now, in the next sentence, he writes about the reason he wants to see them.
Paul first says that he LONGS to see them. The Greek word for "to long" means "to greatly desire." Paul is not saying, "It would probably be nice to see you." He had a great desire in his heart to see the saints at Rome. The rest of the sentence tells us why he longs to see them. First, he says, "that I may impart some spiritual gift to you." Now there is some disagreement on what spiritual gift Paul is talking about. After thinking it carefully through and looking at cross-references and reading what others have to say about it, I have to say that I can't be dogmatic about the meaning of this. Some say that this is a supernatural apostolic gift, which seems unlikely, given the context of this phrase. But among the non-apostolic gifts, there are many interpretations. We know, from the remainder of the sentence, that whatever this gift is, it results in establishment which results in comfort. Perhaps this gift is the gift of knowledge that Paul can impart to the Roman believers when he gets there. One thing we know for sure, though, and that is that the Roman believers ALREADY had the knowledge of the gospel. They didn't need to be taught that salvation is by the work of Christ alone. So if this gift was the gift of knowledge, it was non-essential knowledge. But it would have to be knowledge that ESTABLISHES. What does it mean to ESTABLISH? The Greek word means "to strengthen" or "to confirm." Paul's gift imparted would strengthen and confirm the Roman believers. Perhaps it's the gift of fellowship or encouragement. This would fit with the latter part of the sentence, in which the Romans would be comforted through one another's faith, including Paul's faith. Most of you Christians know what it's like when another Christian visits. We fellowship in the faith, talk about our common trials and persecutions, and get into the Word and discuss biblical truths. This serves to confirm and strengthen us, doesn't it? When we're battle-weary and start getting the "I'm the last one" Elijah Syndrome, the fellowship of another visiting believer strengthens our zeal and resolve and lets us know that there are others out there who are fighting the fight with us. Of course, the gift of fellowship and encouragement are nothing without knowledge, so maybe it's all these things rolled into one.
We already talked about establishing; let's talk about comforting for a little while, specifically, being "comforted together." These two words - "comforted together" - come from one Greek word, which is soom-par-a-ka-LEH-oh. This is actually the only time this Greek word is used in the Bible. It comes from two other Greek words: SOON, which means "together," and par-a-ka-LEH-oh, which means "to exhort, to comfort, to pray." Now "to comfort" means "to console." So "comforted together" denotes mutual consolation. It's not a one-sided comforting or consolation; it goes both ways. To be "comforted together" means that I comfort you and you comfort me. Paul says in verse 12 that if he comes, the Roman believers will be comforted amongst themselves, Paul will comfort the Roman believers, and the Roman believers will comfort Paul. Now what's all this comforting about? Why is there a need for and a desire to comfort and be comforted? Well, let's first think about the opposites of comfort. Some of them are discomfort, pain, burden, disheartenment, weariness, weakness, disturbance - you get the picture. God's people have a need to be comforted. But what makes them lose comfort? We can think of many things, can't we? Most of it comes from our sinful reactions to situations. We are mocked and slandered by our enemies. We try to witness to someone and it seems like we're talking to a brick wall. We see that there are so few believers. We find out that people whom we thought were believers are actually pretenders. We see our own miserable failure to keep God's commandments over and over again. And on and on we could go. These things typically lead to the opposite of comfort. We become weary and disheartened and disillusioned. But when God's people come together, they engage in mutual comfort and consolation. This is one of the reasons the assembly is so important. If you are the only Christian in your area and are thus not in an assembly of other believers, you will not have the comfort that fellowship provides. And without that comfort, you will become more and more weary. Day by day, the struggles against sin and your enemies wear you down. There can be no mutual comforting, no mutual strengthening, when there is only you. You might say that God is your consolation, which is totally true, but God has ordained His people to be one of the means of consolation. He commands you not to neglect this.
In verse 12, Paul says that this mutual consolation is "through the faith in one another." Now this could be misread to say, "through faith in one another," which would mean that one finds comfort in another person by having faith in that other person. That's not what it's saying here at all. "The faith in one another" is talking about the faith that each person possesses that is INSIDE each person that is a PART OF each person. So what Paul is saying here is that each person's faith comforts the other person. My faith comforts you, and your faith comforts me. When I witness the faith you have, I am comforted, and when you witness the faith I have, you are comforted. And what is that faith? It is the belief in the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. There can be no mutual comfort if there is not a common faith. A person who believes in salvation conditioned on the sinner CANNOT comfort a person who believes in salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone. In fact, a believer will REFUSE to be comforted by a person who brings a false gospel. We see all this ecumenism between Arminians and so-called "Calvinists" in which they fellowship and pray with each other, but this is just a mutual false comfort based on a false refuge as both sides slide into hell, embracing each other as they go.
Notice finally that Paul doesn't exclude himself from the need to be comforted. Even though Paul had the special calling to be an apostle, he did not think of himself as being above the need to be comforted by the non-apostles. There are no classes in the church of Christ. There are different gifts, but there is no class structure. There is no "clergy-laity" distinction in which the so-called "clergy" is first class and the so-called "laity" is second class. All are on the same level in Christ. All need encouragement and strengthening.
On to the next sentence, which is verse 13:
Romans 1: (13) But I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, that often I purposed to come to you, and was kept back until the present, that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among the other nations.
Paul wanted them to know that he had often planned to come to visit the Roman believers but was kept back. Remember what I said last week about being submitted to God's will? In verse 10, Paul acknowledged that he would not get to see the Romans unless it was by the will of God. Proverbs 16:9 says, "A man's heart plans his way, but Jehovah fixes his step." Man can plan and plan and plan and have everything just right and all set and ready to go, but it is ALMIGHTY GOD who orders everything. The plans of a man are just that - the plans of a man. If God has not willed that these plans be carried out, then these plans will not be carried out, and there is nothing man can do to carry them out. If God has willed that these plans be carried out, then these plans will be carried out, and there is nothing man can do to stop them from being carried out.
So Paul was kept back by God from visiting the Romans up until then, even though Paul had planned many times to go there. God had other purposes in mind for Paul. What other purposes did God have in mind for Paul? Well, read the book of Acts. He was called to other places. And in the perfect timing of God Almighty, he was not called to go to Rome until he had fruit among the other nations. This fruit is obviously talking about conversion of the Gentiles and edification of the saints in other nations. Only when the time was right did Paul go to Rome. God planned for Paul to have fruit among the Romans only after Paul had fruit among the other nations. This was in the all-wise eternal counsel of God. It could not have been any other way. So there's no point in hypothesizing, "What if ...?", like "What if Paul had visited Rome earlier?" or "What if Paul had decided not to visit Rome?" These questions are nothing but foolishness, because in the eternal decree of God, there are no "What if"s.
Next sentence, verses 14 and 15:
Romans 1: (14) I am a debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise, and to foolish, (15) so as far as [lies] in me, I am eager to preach the gospel to you in Rome also.
This is a continuation of the thought of the end of the previous sentence. In verse 14, Paul is talking about those to whom he went before he went to Rome. Let's first go into how he describes these people. First, he describes them as "Greeks" and "foreigners." The KJV translates it, "Greeks" and "Barbarians." He is here talking about the sophisticated, culturally advanced cosmopolitan types and the crude, uncivilized, earthy types. Second, he parallels this by using the words "wise" and "foolish." These are the educated intellectual elite and the uneducated, illiterate class. Paul did not make any distinctions in his preaching of the gospel. He did not go to just one class of people. He was not a racist. He was not someone who thought himself too high to preach to the uneducated and uncivilized. He realized that ALL of them were human beings with living souls. He realized that ALL of them, from the beggar to the king, were in need of a righteousness they could not produce. He preached the gospel freely to all who would hear, without distinction of race, nationality, color, education, or status. And you know what? People from all walks of life heard and believed that gospel. Even the uneducated and illiterate heard and believed the gospel! The gospel of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone is not some "higher doctrine" that only the seminarians in their ivory towers can understand! It is simple enough for a child to understand! EVERY CHRISTIAN, from the uneducated to the highly educated, believes that the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone demands the salvation of all whom He represented and makes the only difference between heaven and hell. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 10:21 that God was pleased to hide these things from the sophisticated and cunning and reveal them to babes. Turn over to 1 Corinthians 1:20-29.
1 Corinthians 1: (20) Where [is the] wise? Where [the] scribe? Where [the] lawyer of this world? Did God not make the wisdom of this world foolish? (21) For since in the wisdom of God the world [by] wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save the ones believing. (22) And since Jews ask for a sign, and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) we, on the other hand, preach Christ crucified (truly an offense to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks), (24) but to the called out ones, both to Jews and to Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God; (25) because the foolish thing of God is wiser [than] men, and the weak thing of God is stronger [than] men. (26) For you see your calling, brothers, that [there are] not many wise according to flesh, nor many powerful, not many wellborn. (27) But God chose the foolish things of the world that the wise might be put to shame, and God chose the weak things of the world so that He might put to shame the strong things. (28) And God chose the low-born of the world, and the despised, and the things that are not, so that He might bring to nothing the things that are, (29) so that no flesh might glory in His presence.
Amen to that!
Back to Romans 1:14. Paul says that he is a DEBTOR to those people he mentioned. How could he say that he was in debt to them? What did he owe them? I believe this is talking about Paul's obligation to preach the gospel to them. He did this out of love for Christ who redeemed him and called him to be a messenger of the gospel. Paul did not yet go to Rome because he was indebted to preach the gospel to the others first. The call to apostleship was so strong that he knew preaching the gospel to these people was not an option; it was a NEED. These people NEEDED to hear the gospel, and Paul NEEDED to preach it to them, even if it meant postponing his plans to visit Rome.
Then, in verse 15, he tells the Romans that he is also eager to preach the gospel to them. He had been wanting to do this for a long time, but God had other plans for him. He still acknowledges that the ultimate decision is God's by saying, "as far as in me." (Lies isn't in the original Greek.) So he's saying, "as far as in me, I eagerly desire to preach the gospel to you in Rome." His desire is strong, but he knows that this visit must be ordained of God in order for it to come to pass.
Now if Paul is writing to Roman believers, why does he say that he wants to preach the gospel to them? Isn't the gospel just for unbelievers? To hear many religionists talk, the answer would be yes. But to us who truly believe the gospel, the answer is NO. The gospel has three purposes: To bring the lost elect to Christ, to harden the hearts of the reprobate, and to edify the saints. There is nothing more edifying to a child of God than to hear the gospel. It is sweet music to his ears. He never tires of hearing of the amazing grace of God, who sent His only begotten Son into the world as the God-man mediator to die a bloody death on the cross and pay the penalty in full for all whom He represented and establish a righteousness that answers all the demands of God's holy law and ensures the salvation of all for whom He lived and died. This is his song now and in eternity - WORTHY IS THE LAMB! Also, in coming to preach the gospel to the Romans, Paul is not just expecting to see Christians in his audience; he is also expecting to be preaching to unbelievers as well.
So why did Paul think the gospel was so important? What's the big deal? As we will see next time, the Lord willing, Paul knew that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing. It is the most important thing anyone can hear. And, as we will also see, the Lord willing, the gospel is a specific message that reveals the righteousness of God. Paul realized that it's a life-and-death matter. Do you? Amen.