God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son. 10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you…
As Paul continues the introduction of his letter, he reveals a heart of a faithful pastor. He reveals his love for God’s people and for being part of God’s people. He has wanted to visit the believers in Rome, but God hasn’t allowed him to until now. Paul feels he has accomplished all that God had for him to do in the eastern part of the empire and now desired to travel westward towards Rome and then outside of the empire in Spain (15:18-24), continuing to serve God by spreading the Good News about Jesus. A love for God’s people must be true of a pastor but should be true of all believers.
1 John 3:23-24
And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us.
The aged Apostle reminds the believers of his day that a follower of Christ is one who believes in all of Jesus, His person, and His work alone to restore our relationship with God and secure eternity with Him. Yet, John also reminds them and us today that true belief in Jesus will manifest itself in our loving one another, and our obedience to this command demonstrates to us and assures us that our faith in Christ is genuine. The verb translated as love describes a sacrificial love, not of feeling but of the will and mind that is continually present and describes and shapes a believer’s actions and attitudes towards others. This love will express itself to all people (Galatians 6:10) but especially to other believers (John 13:34-35, 15:12 & 17).
This love for God’s people is clear in Paul’s desire to be with them but also in his praying for them. Near the conclusion of his letter, Paul asks the Romans to pray for him because of the love they have for him as the result of the Holy Spirit in them.
Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.
From Romans 15:30, we can conclude two things. One, Paul faithfully prayed for the believers because of his love for them, given to him by the Holy Spirit. Two, praying for one another is one way we love one another. The command to pray for one another (James 5:16) is one of 59 “one another” commands of Scripture. We can only obey these commands when being part of a faith community, a local church. While Paul didn’t know many believers in the house churches in Rome, he knew a few (16:3-16) and no doubt prayed explicitly for them and also for the churches in Rome based upon his knowledge of them that came from being part of the Church at large. Like the command to pray for one another, we can only obey Scripture’s “one another” commands by being around other believers and doing life with one another.
My youngest son, who is four, is too smart and too witty for his good. I’ve always admired those with quick wit, though I’m not sure I’ll feel like that once he is old enough to get the best of me. I’ve always been one that will be replaying a past conversation and my mind and think of something that I could have said that would have been funny or a good comeback. My inability to quickly deliver a clever response or deliver a perfectly timed joke also shows itself in conversations with other believers after a statement has been made that causes me to be like, “Uhm, yeah, that’s not right.” Another follows this thought: they should know their statement’s error, but the shock causes me to nod politely nine times out of ten. I formulate an answer or response only after the conversation has passed and the replay is in motion in my brain. This inability to respond quickly in all the above situations is a gift of grace because there have been many times in which a quick and wise response, even if correct, would not have been God-honoring or relationally beneficial!
One example of me being left befuzzled was when I asked someone when they were coming back to church. The person politely said that though they missed coming, they were doing family devotions on Sunday morning and named the book they were currently in as well as others they had read through and discussed as a family since Covid and how well it was going and how the family as a whole enjoyed it. Since that conversation, I’ve wrestled with how I would respond to a similar statement moving forward, and here is what I have concluded.
For starters, I commend this person and their family for being in and discussing the Scriptures as a family unit. For decades, the American Church emphasized the family being at church instead of discipleship in the home. Time regularly spent in the Scriptures as a family unit is a biblical part of God’s plan for spiritual growth and has been since the beginning. However, personal and family time in the Word and prayer are part of the whole of God’s process for spiritual growth.
Undoubtedly family units helped make up the churches in Rome, Ephesus, and Thessalonica. Still, contextually, the wisdom and instructions written by Paul were to the local bodies of believers, not just family units. So, for example, the command to forgive one another just as God, through Christ, has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32) is within the context of relationships with other believers in the local churches. This command to forgive isn’t limited to relationships with others in our local body of Christ but the universal body of Christ, including believers in our own family.
Secondly, as Christians, we are to be Christlike. As a disciple of Jesus, we are learners of Jesus. We line up our lives to match His teachings and His practices. If anyone could have justified following God alone, it would have been Him as the Son of God. Yet, we see Jesus’ parents instructing Him in the ways of the LORD in the home and by rabbis in the synagogue. Even as an adult, Scripture reveals that He regularly went to the synagogue (Luke 4:16). He was part of a local faith community. He did life with His disciples, who sought to know God more.
While being a part of a church does not make you a Christian or prove that you have a right relationship with God through Christ, having a love for the family of God demonstrated through belonging to a local body and obeying the “one another” commands can assure our right standing with God during seasons of doubt. Being part of a church is important because the Holy Spirit can use those relationships in that particular body to cause the love He has given you for the believers to become visible, thus reassuring you of your salvation.
Paul loved God’s family and was part of many local assemblies as he labored among them, loving them willfully and sacrificially. Paul knew that his love for them was given to him by the Spirit (15:30) and that because of the Spirit’s work in his life, he knew he belonged to God (8:9, 14-17). He also knew that being sealed by the Spirit (Ephesians 1:14), his status as God’s child was secure (8:38-39).
Does Paul’s desire to be with the believers in Rome resemble your feelings towards the people in your home church or God’s people in general? If not, ponder why. Once you prayerfully think through why you don’t share the same feelings about being with other believers and the Holy Spirit reveals the reason or reasons for those emotions, respond in prayer and biblical obedience to whatever He shows you.