First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:8-15 ESV
Paul had heard about the believers in Rome. He probably had little or no awareness of any particular individuals, because he had not yet been able to visit the church there. But he had become aware of the church as a whole. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8 ESV). The church in Rome had gained a reputation for its faith. News of their corporate commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ had been spread throughout the known world. And Paul longed to see them face to face. He prayed for them consistently and persistently asked God to allow him the opportunity to visit them. It is clear that Paul had a love for the body of Christ. He was more than an evangelist, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ and watching people come to faith in Him. Paul was a builder. He wanted to see the local congregations that were springing up all around the world grow into spiritual maturity. The majority of his letters were written to local churches and have a corporate context to them. We tend to read his letters from an individualistic viewpoint, failing to understand that his words were intended for the congregation as a whole, not the individual believer.
The church in Rome had a corporate reputation for its faith. It was as a body that they had become known for their faith, not as individuals. And somehow, with our western, individualistic mindsets, we lose sight of the fact that we have been baptized into the body of Christ, the both the local and global body of Christ, for a reason. We have become members of something far greater and far more significant than ourselves. Later on in this same letter, Paul tells the believers in Rome, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5 ESV). He wrote similar words to the church in Corinth. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20 ESV). Our tendency is to focus on our own spiritual growth while neglecting the well-being of the body. We concentrate all our efforts on ourselves.
But it’s interesting to note Paul’s comment to his brothers and sisters in Rome. He said, “For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Romans 1:11 ESV). I don’t think Paul is saying that he wants to lay hands on each and every one of them and give them a spiritual gift like tongues or healing. He clarifies what he means in the very next line. “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12 ESV). In other words, Paul simply wanted to be a source of encouragement to them as he shared his faith with them. And he knew that they would lift him up in his own faith as they ministered to him. He was less focused on any specific spiritual gift than he was on the mutual encouragement that believers receive as members of the body of Christ. Paul’s heart was for unity in the body and a sense of shared concern for one another, which why he told the church in Corinth, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 ESV).
Sometimes we make far more out of the gifts than we do the purpose behind the giving of them. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Whatever gift the Spirit has given, He has done so for the mutual benefit of the body. We exist to build up one another. My very presence within the body is other-oriented. It is not all about me – it is about US. That is why God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to the early church – “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13 ESV).
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). The gift of mutual encouragement. It’s desperately needed in the church today. We are in this thing together. We are members of one body, serving one God and sharing a common faith in one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May we learn to share our gifts with one another. May we grow in our desire to love and encourage one another. And may our corporate reputation for faith in Christ spread throughout the world.