Reputation and Remembrance – Romans 1:8-10
By: Alistair Brown
There is something that preachers do, but often don’t know they’re doing, and afterwards may not really care they’ve done it. What is it? Preaching too long? No, almost always they know they’re doing that. The answer to what they do but usually don’t know they’re doing and don’t really care that they do is that they use hyperbole.
What is hyperbole? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines hyperbole as “language that describes something as better or worse than it really is.” In other words it’s exaggeration – saying something strongly because you want to make a point. The dictionary gives an everyday example: someone says they have “enough food to feed a whole army.” Really? Well, not really. They’re overstating to emphasize that they have a lot of food.
Preachers overstate for emphasis. A story gets exaggerated, or facts are mentioned as if everyone everywhere knows them. No-one is telling a lie and no-one is deceived. The preacher is just making a point strongly.
Paul uses hyperbole too, and does it at least once if not twice in a short passage early in his letter to the Romans.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
There are two highlights in this passage.
One is the immense compliment Paul pays to these Romans about their faith in verse 8 – it is being “reported all over the world.” That is their reputation.
The other is how much Paul keeps praying for the Romans. He says in verses 9-10 that God is his witness for “how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times.” That’s remembrance.
Down through human history, people have recognized the importance of having a good reputation.
The Apostle Paul said one of the essential requirements for someone to be a church leader was: “He must also have a good reputation” (1 Tim. 3:7).
The classical Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
The powerful preacher and evangelist of the 19th century, Dwight L. Moody, said “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of me.”
Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, gave a stern warning: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
Reputation matters. In Romans 1 Paul wrote about the reputation of the Roman Christians. They were known for their faith and – with some hyperbole – he says that faith “is being reported all over the world” (v.8).
Why would that happen? Why would the reputation of Roman Christians be known far and wide, and why would their reputation be about their faith?
1) Because they were Christians who were living, worshiping, and witnessing at the heart of the Roman Empire.
That empire was the most conspicuous power in the world, and the strongest power in the world. It was seen and feared.
And people across that empire were interested to hear news that the gospel had reached Rome. When Paul was writing there was no large church in Rome like any church we might know today. But there were Christians in Rome, and they were gathering together as the people of God, as Christ’s church, in that great city. That was worth talking about. It was news that there were people of faith at the center of the world’s greatest power.
2) Because their faith was standing firm through the fiercest trials.
Christians did not suffer widespread, general persecution until after much of the New Testament was written – but from the very beginning they were subject to local persecution, mainly from Jewish authorities. The Acts of the Apostles tells several stories like that beginning with the arrest of the apostles in Jerusalem for healing a lame man and preaching the gospel, and then moves on to the stoning to death of Stephen, and later gives other accounts of hardship for the faith.
But that larger, broader persecution did come. One of the most dreadful, early experiences was in Rome under the Emperor Nero. A fire destroyed much of the city in 64 AD, and the rumor was that Nero had had it started for his own amusement. Nero needed to blame someone else, and the Christians were a soft target. He had many Christians arrested and killed. The Roman historian, Tacitus, describes their deaths as very cruel. Some were covered in the skins of animals and then torn to pieces by dogs. Some were crucified. And some were covered in tar and set on fire as human torches to light Nero’s garden at night.
That had not happened at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, but Christians in that city could sense the growing danger. With little protection under the law, the temptation must have been great for Christians to deny the faith and protect themselves and their families.
But they didn’t. Their faith could not be disposed of even though it meant their lives were at risk. They put Christ first above all else.
The Christians in Rome were people of faith. It is what they were known for. It was their reputation.
Every one of us will be known for something, and the way we live, the work we do, the attitude we have, the character and beliefs we show are all part of building our reputation.
What is it we want to be known for?
- I’m Scottish and sometimes tell people I have the finest accent in the world – but I don’t want to be known for that.
- I like playing golf, by most judgments I’m quite good at it, and I even know the rules of golf – but I don’t want to be known for that.
- I own a 900cc motorcycle, I’ve passed advanced riding skills tests and I used to lead a group of over 100 bikers – but I don’t want to be known for that.
- I have four children and several grandchildren, and I am proud of them all and thrilled to be called their father or grandfather – but not even that is what I want to be known for.
By God’s grace, I would wish my reputation to be as someone who put God first, who put God’s call on his life first, and who put first fulfilling the potential God had placed in him.
I have thought about it many times, and that’s what I want to be known for. I believe all of us should consider deeply what we want our reputation to be, and to live life every day in a way that matches that reputation.
Paul writes that he constantly remembers these people in his prayers at all times (vs. 9-10). He cannot actually remember them – not because his memory was failing – but because he had never met them.
He is probably writing this letter from Corinth, which is in modern-day Greece, and he had not yet been to Rome (which is why he finishes verse 10 longing that by God’s will he might at last come to them).
The New International Version translates Paul’s words by the Christian phrase, that he ‘remembers’ them in his prayers, but the Greek word he uses only means ‘to mention’. He does not know them. Yet he prays for these people, not occasionally but, he says, he does it “constantly” (v. 9) and “at all times (v. 10). Literally, in the Greek of Paul’s original letter, he writes that he prays for them ‘unceasingly.’ There may be some hyperbole there, but there is no doubt he prayed over and over for these Christians in Rome.
It is wonderful that he did that, but isn’t it also strange? This is not a church Paul planted, and these are not people Paul knew personally, and yet constantly he prays for them?
How many do that?
I remember David and Aileen who were in my Sunday School class when I was growing up.
I remember Allan and Marjorie and Bob and Kathy who were fabulous friends in the first church where I was pastor.
I remember Jane and Ian and Jim and Jane, also close friends, who were from the next church to which I went.
I remember Marian and David from my time of working with a missionary society
And there were many more than just these names. I grew to know these people deeply. I loved them as my Christian brothers and sisters and friends, and many years later I do still pray for them. I confess that is not often, but I do pray for them. Because I know them I ask God’s blessing on them.
Paul is not like that. What he writes about here is not occasional prayer for people he has met at some time in his life. He prays constantly and urgently for people he has never met.
- Because he loves them. He does not know them personally, but they are his sisters and brothers in the faith, and belonging together in the family of God matters to him.
- Because he knows the strategic place in which God has put them – at the heart of the Roman Empire – and he wants them to be strong in their faith.
- Because he knows they are having hard times and even more difficult times will lie ahead. Paul was no stranger to persecution himself, and he knew the fires of hell would fall on those Christians, as they in fact did just a few years later at the hands of a tyrant emperor.
So he prayed for them. With all his heart and as often as he could, he prayed for them.
God calls us to prayer. He calls us to love even those we have never met, and prayer follows love.
In that circle of love and prayer will be:
-Those who hold office in the highest places, Christians who are trying to live out the call of God on their lives as best they understand it.
-Those who minister in hard places in our country, often with little support or encouraging results.
-Those who struggle with poverty or discrimination or lack of opportunity or broken hearts or trying to cope with pain and perhaps terminal illness.
-Those who live in lands where there is no freedom to worship, whose churches are burned, whose pastors are killed, whose livelihoods and sometimes even their children are taken away.
God calls us to love them – to remember them even though we have never met them – and therefore to pray for them.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he describes dreadful hardships that he and his companions had been through, so bad he despaired even of life. But God was merciful.
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:10-11).
Paul could not survive the ministry God had given him without the prayers of many others. That principle is still true today, and there are people right now who need our prayers.
Reputation – what will we be known for? God help us to live lives that match what God would have our reputation to be.
Remembrance – who are we praying for constantly? God help us so to love even those we have never met and will never meet that they are sustained by our prayers.
With no exaggeration – no hyperbole – may these life changing principles become daily realities for us.