The Humble Teacher

Romans 1:8-15

Our text this week begins with a note of thanks in Romans 1:8. Paul mentions that he is thankful for the Roman Christians because their faith was known through out the world. What a wonderful thing it must have been for them to hear that! Many churches are known for their great music program, or perhaps famous for a stellar preacher. Some churches are known for their great architecture or beautiful location.  The church in Rome to whom this letter is addressed to was known for its faith.

In A.D. 49 Emperor Claudius kicked all of the Jews out of Rome, apparently because the Jews were causing riots in response to Christianity.[1] Since Paul is writing this letter at least a decade latter, that is enough time for the expelled Jews (Christian and Non-Christian alike) to travel and spread word of the growing church in Rome while the gentile Christians stayed behind in the city to build their church in peace. This is likely the source of the information that Paul has about the church at this point.

From there Paul moves into a section about his prayers. Through this section on prayer, Paul tells them a couple things about himself. First, he tells them that he serves God with “his spirit.” This comment is roughly equivalent to the modern expression “with all my heart.” [2] That is he has dedicated his all to this service to God. He adds clarity to this by saying this service is “in the Gospel of His Son”, which is to say he has dedicated his life to the work of the Gospel.

Paul then tells them that he is constantly in prayer for them. The complete content of his prayer for him is not given here, but if we look at other places where he prays for a church we can get a general idea of the kinds of things he prays. For exampling in 1 Colossians 1:9-11 we see a similar note from Paul about prayer, but there he says that he is praying for them to have wisdom and understanding from God and live worthy of God. He also prays that they would be strengthened so that they might have great endurance. These are the kinds of things Paul probably prayed for the churches in Rome.

The text does tell us that included in that prayer was a request that Paul can come see them. Paul has no idea how he is going to get to Rome, but he trusts God can get him there if it is in God’s will. The phrases Paul uses here, in Romans 1:10-11, “at last now” and “for I long” make it clear that Paul has been trying to come to Rome for a long time now. Romans 1:13 also shows that it has been Paul’s plan to get up there, but he was prevented. We are not told here what the means of prevention was, nor why he was prevented, but it is implied that God prevented him for some reason.

Paul does tell us why he wants to come to see them. In Romans 1:11 he says that he wants to impart to them a spiritual gift. He specifies that this gift is to strengthen them. The next verse makes it clear that he wants to do this by coming along side of them and working with them. Romans 1:13b tells us that the end result that Paul is looking for is to have fruit among them.

Since Paul is writing to the believers in Rome, the “fruit” here cannot exclusively mean new conversions. That being said, the text does say in Romans 1:15 that Paul wants to come to Rome to preach the Gospel there. If he is writing to believers, and talking about praying for them to be strengthened, what could he mean by “preach the Gospel” and “fruit”?

In our modern era “preach the Gospel,” usually means an evangelical message intended to bring people to saving knowledge of Christ. For Paul preaching the Gospel was much more than that. Paul wanted to grow his fellow Christians in the faith. The fruit he was looking for in Roman was mature Christians. Believers like Luke, who was not only his faithful doctor and traveling companion but also helped form the church in Philippi that many scholars fell was Paul’s favorite church plant.

To put it simply, Paul wants to get to Rome to teach them about Christianity. He knows the church there is without any unifying head and was not started by any of the Apostles so Paul would surely guess that they are likely struggling with how to worship and serve this new God. This would be especially true since the church in Rome would be predominantly gentile (because of the Jewish expulsion) and would not even have the Jewish scriptures to work from.

Paul’s humble spirit comes shining through all of this. It is clear that the believers in Rome would likely have been much lower then Paul in their learning and understanding. It would be easy for a man of Paul’s stature to have the attitude “I will go there and help them” but that is not what we see with Paul. Paul attitude here is “we will strive together and both grow stronger because of it.” Paul did not look down on his brothers in Christ; instead, he saw them as partners to spiritual growth.

In our text this week Paul models for us the humble teacher. Paul also models a mindset of service. He desires to travel to Rome to give them a gift. His heart and mind are on getting there in order to help them. He wishes to come along side them and help them.

This is a great lesson for us today. If we as a people were to forget our pride, and focus on coming along side others to serve them we may then find this same fruit that Paul was after. Then perhaps like Paul we would find that those that we help actually help us grow stronger in the process.

[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 5.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, vol. 27, Romans, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 67.

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