Giving, Getting, Growing – Romans 1:11-13

  • Mar 11, 2014
  • Series: President's Bible Study

Giving, Getting, Growing – Romans 1:11-13

I was visiting Christians in Hungary, deep in the heart of Europe. On Sunday morning I went to a church service in a large, classic kind of church building. The style of the service was as formal as the building. The choir was certainly magnificent and the sermon very carefully crafted. Afterwards, my Christian friends said: “We’re taking you to a very different service this afternoon.” They were certainly correct!

We drove out of Budapest and then for a couple of hours through the hills, along some very twisty, tight roads, and eventually down through thick forests to a small town in a valley. “We are now in a Romany community,” they told me.

Romany[1] people – often called gypsies – are very numerous in Europe, perhaps almost ten million (though no-one knows for sure because many do not register as Romany because that can lead to discrimination). They have often suffered persecution or been shunned. Education has been difficult because children fluent in the Romany language can struggle with teaching or text books in another language.

Traditionally the Romany people have traveled around from place to place, but, I was told, when communism came to Hungary they were prevented from moving and had to set up their own settlements.

In recent years many of the Romany have turned to Christ, and I was about to worship with a home based congregation. I wrapped my coat tight against the cold weather as we trudged across a mud-covered road into a simple house.

The room we entered was packed with people. I was immediately given a giant bear hug by a man who looked like he was a bear. He was massively tall, with a hugely broad chest, bulging biceps in his arms, and a long, shaggy beard. There were others like him, and I got the same crushing but wonderful welcome from each of them.

Food was served, conversation was constant. These people loved being together and they clearly loved having guests like me.

Finally we all squeezed into seats on one side of the room. The giants who had welcomed me picked up guitars and played them with so much force I almost took pity on the guitar strings. All around me people sang with amazing vigor. I did not know their words, but they were clearly praise songs.

I was invited to bring a greeting and a short message which someone translated. But I was very far from being the highlight of that service.

There was a much longer and powerful sermon from one of their own people. A translation was whispered in my ear, but it was hard for the translator to keep up with the rapid flow of words or the energy in that message. But I could sense this was a dynamic message about life belonging to Jesus, and how each of us is called to follow him in everything.

When the sermon was over, one of the other men shared news of an evangelistic trip he had taken. He had no car, but he had heard of a Romany community hundreds of miles away where the gospel was unknown. He had gone on a bus – maybe several buses – for thirty-six hours to reach that village and had shared the good news of Jesus with them. When the visit was over, he had spent another thirty-six hours on a bus coming home again. He’d got back only a day or two before that Sunday, and now he was sharing news of his visit and asking them to pray for that village.

I remember my afternoon with those Romany Christians in Hungary so clearly because in traveling to many countries, and being in so many churches through all my life, that service stands out as one of the most real and challenging services I have ever attended.

These people were poor. They had little education compared to many. We did not even share a language. But they were rich in Christ. I went to teach and encourage them, but I was the one taught, I was the one encouraged, and I was the one deeply challenged.

Often we think we’ll be giving and find that we’re getting, and if we’re open to both giving and getting then the kingdom will be growing.

Paul, the writer of Romans, knew that very well.

Romans 1:11-13

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

Let us understand what Paul says in these verses and then learn what that means for us today.

1. There were things he could give.

He writes: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” (v. 11).

Paul does not sound as if he has a specific spiritual gift he wants to share. He is speaking more generally. He is like a master boat builder speaking to a young apprentice and saying: “I want to share my skills and insights with you, so that you too can build the finest boats, capable of sailing any ocean.”

The church in Rome was made up of apprentices. Certainly they were Christians and believed the gospel, but probably none of them had been in Israel at the time of Jesus, none had met any of those who had been with Jesus, and none had grown far yet in their understanding of the faith.

But Paul was from Israel, and he had firsthand encounters with people who knew Jesus, and his faith began with a personal encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 9:3-6). There were things Paul knew and things Paul had experienced which they had not.

And his longing was to share the knowledge and the gifts he had to make them strong. He wasn’t trying to boast about his learning or show off with his spirituality. All he wanted to do was take spiritual apprentices and make them spiritual craftsmen and craftswomen.

There were things he could give.

2. There were things he could get.

No sooner has Paul spoken about what he could give to these Romans, it’s as if he realizes he should stress what he could get from them. He adds: “…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (v. 12). In other words, his faith would encourage them and their faith would encourage him.

When they read this, the Romans probably wondered how their faith could possibly encourage the great Apostle Paul about whom they had heard so much.

But it would. Young faith is often full of features which are very encouraging including these:

  • Believing simply and straightforwardly what has been told.
  • Brimming with the excitement of discovery.
  • Bravely defending the truth that has been found.
  • Boldly telling the good news to all who will listen.

Paul was not weary with his faith, but the energy and wonder of these young Christians would be a marvelous boost for him. He was excited about the things he could get from them.

3. There were things which could grow.

Paul clearly feels the giving and getting with the Romans should have happened long ago. He’s anxious in case the Romans think he’s never tried to visit. “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now)” (v. 13). He doesn’t say what stopped him. Maybe he was caught up in issues with churches he had already planted. Maybe persecution prevented him. Maybe he wasn’t well. Maybe he didn’t have the funds. Whatever the reason he had never got to Rome and to this young church.

But he is very clear why he wants to be there with them: “…in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles” (v. 13).

Paul wants to evangelize alongside them. He wants fruit for the kingdom in Rome like he has seen across other lands around the Mediterranean. Paul was a powerful Christian evangelist, and he believes he can find a harvest for God in the most influential city of the known world: Rome.

  • Paul wanted to give – to share spiritual gifts to strengthen the church.
  • Paul wanted to get – encouragement from their faith.
  • Paul wanted to grow – the kingdom of God by seeing a harvest for the gospel in Rome.

Those are three marvelous purposes, and they give us two important lessons for our Christian lives today.

1)      God’s strength often comes through our Christian sisters and brothers.

There is a myth which is prevalent among Christians – that God plus me equals power to do anything. Often people have a scripture verse like Philippians 4:13 in mind: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (NRSV). Or maybe they’re thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Verses like these are very positive. With God’s help all sorts of trials and temptations can be overcome.

But here is the question most fail to ask: “How does God give us his strength?” Or, “How does God help us overcome temptation?”

The assumption is that we cry out to God in prayer, that inner strength is then passed down from heaven, and from that moment we live victoriously. But that is not the way the New Testament tells us we become strong.

Paul says here in Romans: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” (v. 11). How will they become strong? It will be through Paul, through him coming alongside them, and that is how they will get strength.

When he wrote to the Corinthians Paul said:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21)

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26)

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)

Why would Paul write any of that marvelous metaphor of the body of Christ, and how every part of the body needs every other part of the body, if we who are the body of Christ did not need each other. If all each person had to do – all by themselves – was draw on more divine power and then we would overcome every issue, why say all that?

What Paul knew was that the way God strengthens us most of the time is through those around us. Through his body, from those in our Christian family, come encouragement, comfort, guidance, hope, wisdom, and so many other spiritual insights and gifts. Yes, we go to God, but God’s answers are so often through those already around us. He uses his people – those we interact with all the time and sometimes strangers he brings across our path – to make us strong.

2)      All of us have things to share and all of us have things to receive.

My guess is that the Christians in Rome, who were still very few in number, had little idea of their importance or their ability to help anyone else. The idea that their faith could actually do good for the great Apostle Paul would have seemed ludicrous.

And if Paul had had an ego as great as his fame as an apostle, then it would never have occurred to him that he had anything to receive from them. He was the evangelist. He was the teacher. He was the one who instructed the churches in how to follow Christ. He could have seen ministry as a one way street: he gave to them and they had nothing to give to him.

If the Roman Christians had thought they had nothing to give, and if Paul had thought he had nothing to get, both would have been wrong. The Christians in Rome certainly had things they could share. And Paul certainly had things he could learn from them.

There are times for every Christian to give and there are times for every Christian to receive.

I have sat in meetings where we were wrestling with a major setback, and then someone young in the faith has said: “This seems to me one of these times when we must simply trust God.” And that was a word from God for all of us. We sat up straight, agreed God had spoken, and we moved forward with new faith.

I was with an evangelistic mission team when I was about twenty-one. Even though I was young I was a key figure in that team. But it was a bad time for me. My life was not in good shape, and I was miserable about all my failures. One night, one of the youngest members of that mission team said to me: “Alistair, do you think Jesus died for the sins of the whole world except yours? Do you think your sins were greater than what his death on the cross covered?” Those words hit me very hard. It was a turning point. I trusted Christ again for forgiveness and I got on with the mission and my faith.

No one is too new, too young, or too inexperienced to be used by God. Everyone has things to share with others that will help them on their way.

No one – no matter how long they’ve been a Christian – no matter how theologically well qualified they are – no matter how much experience of Christian work they have – no matter how wonderful their spiritual experiences – no one gets beyond the need to receive.

We are the body of Christ, and we truly need each other. We have things to share and things to receive.

 

Paul wanted to be in Rome to share his spiritual gifts to make the Christians there strong.

Paul also wanted to be in Rome to receive from those Christians and so be encouraged in his faith.

Paul knew that through that exchange of gifts and encouragement, he would see an increase for the kingdom there.

Each would give, each would get, and the result would be that the kingdom would grow.

In the things the world values the Romany congregation I visited in Hungary had very little. But in the things God values they were very rich, and that day they made me rich. I have never forgotten them and never ceased being thankful for the day they ministered deep into my heart, encouraged my faith, and challenged me to serve God more faithfully. Many despised those Romany people. For me they were a gift of God.

 

[1] Their name can also be spelled Romani.