As far as most of the customs and organization of the church in Rome are concerned, we know very little. Unlike ours, there are lots of church have lots of deacons – did the church in Rome have deacons? Some churches observe the Lord’s Supper every week, or every month, or every three months. How did the church in Rome keep the Lord’s Supper. Maybe they didn’t observe it at all. We don’t know for sure that there were any pastors in that church. Elsewhere we read, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” But we don’t have that kind of greeting here in the Epistle to the Romans. And in other letters, towards the end of the book we have references to the pastor, but not in this letter. The closest that we come is “greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: likewise greet the church that is in their house.” But from what we know about Aquila, he was not an ordained pastor/elder.
Is quite possible that the church in Rome didn’t have a pastor. It may have had only a few dozen members, or perhaps many more than that. It may have even had different homes in which it met. There were obviously some members who knew the Word of God well enough to feed the flock of God, but there were no Apostles or prophets present. And this makes Paul’s prayer for the church a little more meaningful. If there were three or four qualified bishops in the church, then Paul’s desire to visit and minister there would tend to sound just a little egotistical. “Since you have no one who can impart unto you any GENUINE spiritual gifts, I have been beseeching God that I might be allowed to do so.” I really don’t think that Paul, the apostle, was trying to pull rank over some novice pastors.
As I read over Paul’s prayer once again, I believe that I see four things which could apply to any church. Every Christian, and every church, need to be spiritually established. We all need spiritual gifts, and sometimes it is only through a more mature saint that we can receive them. And then, it doesn’t matter how mature the saints might be, we all could use a little spiritual comfort.
Every Christian, and every church, needs to be spiritually established.
We live in a very tumultuous world, and this has been the case from the very days of Cain and Abel. Perhaps we can illustrate this most clearly with some of the churches and missions in Mexico and Central America. Not only do they have the winds and rains of hurricanes, ripping apart buildings and killing members, but they have the hatred of the unbelievers trying to steal and destroy their property. And then is the jealousy of other believers, who say that their doctrines are correct and the mission’s doctrines are heresy and should be eradicated from the face of the earth. Those Christian servants may see and feel the wrath of the enemy more directly than we do, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t under the same spiritual onslaught. “The devil as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” And yet he really doesn’t have anything in us if we have the right foundations and strength.
I have told you before about a man to whom I used to minister up in Calgary. Pearly is an interesting story, a part of which was that he suffered from tuberculosis. For months and months, I went to visit him in a TB sanatorium on the west side of the city. But I was assured by the overseers of the facility, that I had nothing to fear from his disease. As long as I was healthy and careful, the tuberculosis bacteria would not have any effect on me. And it was true, despite all my exposure, I have never been infected. In a similar sort of way, if God’s people and churches can be spiritually established, they can endure all that the world, the flesh and the devil can throw at them.
Of course, they need to be established in KNOWLEDGE and DOCTRINE. This is one reason why the kind of preaching that you are hearing at this moment is so important. While expository preaching lacks current-event excitement, it does force us to consider the whole counsel of God unlike any other approach to Bible study. Would we have had a message on swearing, if we hadn’t been involved in this kind of study? And several times the text has forced us to think about the deity of Christ and His Mediatorship. Eventually this kind of study brings before us every doctrine contained in the Word of God. Every member of our church needs to know and understand that the Lord Jesus is going to return to earth, and that it could be within the next few moments. There is comfort and important impetus to godly Christian living in that doctrine. But a couple of weeks ago I sent out some baby-announcement e-mails, in which I jokingly mentioned that it has been said that Sahalie was born on the birthday of her future husband. I said that if the rapture of the saints doesn’t occur soon, she could become Sahalie Brook Zeweniuk. A day later I got a reply from the wife of a pastor friend, who asked me what I meant by “rapture.” That is sad, very sad.
We could go through each of the doctrines in our statement of faith, and point out why they are important. Not one of them can be compromised without great danger. As I’ve said before, there are people who deny God’s omniscience – what utter confusion and heresy. And how important are the doctrines of the church and the ordinances? Some say that they aren’t important at all. And that may be why their churches are relinquishing other important doctrines. When the sovereignty of God is not properly understood, eventually the preaching of the gospel becomes so weak that there isn’t enough substance in it to save souls. How few churches there are today, which believe in the eternal security of the souls which God saves? What devastating effect such confusion causes. And what has happened to those churches which misunderstood the subjects of heaven and hell? Every Bible doctrine is linked to other important doctrines, and as one falls, so will another and another.
I can’t say that Aquila and some of the other immigrants to Rome didn’t know these doctrines or couldn’t teach them to the new converts, but Paul could certainly do a better job than most. It wouldn’t have been much different than when I first moved to Lethbridge. I was often preaching the eternal security of the saints of God back in those days. But a lady came to me and questioned some of the comments found in Hebrews. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” I was young; I was inexperienced; and I was even more dumb than I am now, so I asked Bro. Ken Johnson to come down from Calgary and do some teaching from Hebrews and on the doctrine of eternal security. What a blessing it was to have a mature and seasoned servant of God, come and reinforce what I had already been teaching. What Pastor Johnson did in that visit was to help establish those few people in the Truth.
We all need to be established in KNOWLEDGE – and in HOLINESS as well. We need to be constantly reminded of our Christian duties and responsibilities. And sometime we need a Paul to come and exhort us to give up our besetting sins. A true abhorrence for sin is not an easy thing to maintain, especially if we never had one in the first place. And it must not be confined to sinful generalities – sin is all about specifics. For example, it needs to deal with minced oaths as well as outright blasphemies. The attacks upon our churches and upon our souls, come from within as well as without.
We also need to be established in FAITH. Not just the faith, but the trust that we put in the Lord. Faith is never more important and necessary than when the saints are being attacked and persecuted. For example, when Paul had moved south, he wrote his first letter back to the brethren in Thessalonica. Even though it was Paul who had started that church, he was prevented from staying there very long. Unlike the brethren in Rome, he knew these people personally, and he became worried about them. “Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your FAITH: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.” In I Thessalonians 3 Paul said essentially the same thing as he does here in Romans 1.
Every Christian and every church needs to be established – more and more and more firmly established. This is why church membership and regular church attendance are so important. And this is why we need people like the Apostle Paul.
Establishment means the application of some spiritual gifts.
The commentators are divided on the nature of these spiritual gifts. The word “gift” is the Greek “charisma,” and it is almost always translated “gift” in some fashion. But this is not a gift any mere man can give. This always refers to some kind of miraculous, gracious gift of God. “And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he GAVE (“charizomai – khar-id’-zom-ahee) sight.” Throughout I Corinthians and particularly chapter 12 Paul refers to God’s working miracles through specific men – miracles like healing and speaking in tongues. But one form of the word speaks simply about God’s forgiveness of sins. And this particular form speaks about salvation. “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.” “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Is Paul telling the Romans that he wants to visit them in order to give them the ability to raise the dead, make tears flow down from the faces of statues, and to speak in the Inca language? I don’t believe so. Although such miracles might have had their place at that time within the kingdom of the Lord, these gifts have never had the purpose of strengthening the saints. The gift of tongues for example was given to enable those saints to speak to the lost in their native tongue. It was not a gift to impress the believer, but the unbeliever. Acts 9 tells us about a notable gift that the Lord gave through Peter. “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; AND MANY BELIEVED IN THE LORD.” The so-called “charismatic gifts” that some Christians so desperately seek today, were originally meant to be used evangelistically. And their mis-use today proves that the users are not really using them to serve the Lord.
But the spiritual gifts to which Paul refers here, were meant to bless and establish the saints. “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.” I believe that he was talking about the more mundane gifts of teaching, preaching, exhorting and encouraging. Every Christian needs the use of these divine gifts, just as much as we need food to eat and air to breathe.
And that means that sometimes everyone needs special help. Paul could pray that the Lord send this establishment to these good people. But it was going to require the ministry of God through human instruments. And so Paul was specifically praying that the Lord would send him to Rome. And important as it is to read your Bible every day, and to spend time in fellowship with the Lord, there is nothing that can replace the ministry of people like the Apostle Paul. “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.”
Because in addition to stability, there are times when everyone needs SPIRITUAL COMFORT.
“For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”
There are some pastors, who like cult leaders, wish to be lords over people’s faith. They are tyrants; they are dictators; they are little popes. But Paul, who had far more authority than any local pastor. But as an Apostle he didn’t want to leave that impression. As he said with all honesty in another place, he merely wanted to be a helper in their joy. This is particularly important for long-term, permanently stationed ministries. They see babies born into the families of the church – babies which grow into children and adulthood. Many of these children become believers – saved by the grace of God – but some are not. Of course, for the Christian parents of those children, their unbelief is heart-breaking. But the same it true for the apostles and pastors of those kids.
And sometimes adults make professions of faith in the Lord and join one of the Lord’s churches. But for one reason or other, they are never really established in the faith. They wander off into heresy or into overt sin. Either they never were children of God, or they sin to point of becoming unrecognizable as Christians. It can rip out the heart of the man of God.
When God’s people are established in doctrine, in faith and in holiness, parents’ hearts rejoice. And so do the hearts of all the brethren around them. And so do the hearts of their pastors and teachers. Part of Bible Christianity is the “communion of the saints” – the fellowship and relationship that comes with a very special kind of family.
Paul rejoiced to hear that there were a number of saints in Rome. He knew some of the people there, and his affection for the entire assembly was growing. But he worried about their on-going faith and service. If he knew for sure that they were firmly established in the Truth, it would be such a blessing. He longed for the comfort that there was in that assurance. Earlier, I talked about the grace that filled the hearts of young Benjamin and William Hewling as they faced execution at the hands of God’s enemies. I also mentioned the peace that filled the heart of their sister. That is the sort of thing that Paul was talking about here.
Are you bestowing comfort upon the saints of God in this sort of way? Are you living your life in a fashion that convinces your parents, or your children, or your neighbors that if the Lord called your name today that you’d immediately enter His presence? Are you absolutely sure that you are a child of God?