“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” Romans 1:8-15
In our last Romans study, we looked at how the ‘faith’ of the Christians living in the city of Rome was ‘spoken of throughout the whole world.’ Rome was the primary city of the great Roman Empire and people from all over the world traveled to and from Rome to experience what the city had to offer.
Today, we’ll look at Paul’s strong desire to visit the Christians in Rome and what he hoped to accomplish there.
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.”
Paul opens with a strong statement – μαρτυς γαρ μου εστιν ο θεος – “For witness of me is God.” The word ‘witness’ is a translation of the Greek word – martus – used for a judicial witness; someone who would testify to the truth of something they had witnessed. The word ‘martyr’ is a transliteration of martus based on the history of witnesses dying for their testimony. Paul is claiming that God is his witness. Witness to what?
A witness in ancient times had to be ‘eligible’ to act as a witness. They usually were free men who were not deaf or mentally or morally unstable. Romans believed people could be witnesses to actions and words, but not to intentions. Calling on God as your witness would include actions, words and intentions. Paul was calling on the highest witness possible and the only witness who knew the true heart of every man.
Paul took his relationship with God to even a higher level than a witness to his actions, words and intentions. Paul said of God – “whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son” – ω λατρευω εν τω πνευματι μου εν τω ευαγγελιω του υιου αυτου – ‘whom I serve in the spirit of me in the gospel of the Son of him.’ The word ‘serve’ is the Greek word latreuo, which means ‘to worship, to render religious service and homage, offer sacrifices, present offerings. It was used for the work of priests in rendering sacred service to God. The word comes from latris – ‘a hired servant’ and carried the idea of someone being qualified to accomplish the task of serving.
Paul used the word ‘gospel’ (ευαγγελιον) 15 times in his letter to the Romans. That’s more than any other letter he wrote or any other writings in the New Testament. The ‘gospel of His Son’ was Paul’s deep passion. He loved God and was devoted to what God was doing in the world–and what God was doing, and is still doing, is the ‘gospel of His Son.’
Paul said that God was his witness ‘that without ceasing’ he made mention of the Romans ‘always’ in his prayers. That’s a strong statement, especially in light of claiming God as his ‘witness.’ Such a claim was a powerful declaration of honesty and would have carried great weight with the Roman believers.
Paul’s prayerful desire was that ‘now at last’ he would find a way ‘in the will of God’ to come to them. Later in the letter, Paul wrote that he had had a ‘great desire’ for many years to visit them. It demonstrated to the Romans how deeply he cared for them and how much he wanted to be with them.
The next verse gives us great insight into how Paul viewed his calling as an apostle. He longed to see the Christians in Rome so he could ‘impart’ to them some ‘spiritual gift’ so they would be ‘established.’
The word metadidomi (impart) means ‘to give a share of, offer so that a change of owner is produced.’ Jesus Christ gave apostles to His Church for the purpose of “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Paul wanted to share with the Romans (‘impart’) charisma humin pneumatikon (‘gift to you spiritual’). He will later describe spiritual gifts in more detail (Romans 12), but it appears from verse 11 that he wanted to share something special with them to help ‘establish’ them .. something he could share with them as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
The word ‘establish’ is στηριχθηναι (from sterizo – to fix, make fast, set). The idea is to ‘fix firmly, strengthen, prop up, support.’ Paul looked forward to the day when he would be able to meet with the Roman Christians in person and share with them a charisma pneumatikon to strengthen them.
Paul added this to his statement – “that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” This is a beautiful part of the relationship that Christians have with each other. The ‘mutual faith’ that Christians share in Jesus Christ encourages everyone involved. It’s not just the apostles or other gifted leaders of the Church who do the strengthening and establishing. All Christians are built up in their faith as they share their gifts with each other. Paul understood that and was looking forward to being ‘encouraged together’ with the Roman Christians by their ‘mutual faith.’
Christians, we all need each other. God has gifted every believer with spiritual gifts that are intended to encourage and build up other brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.” Romans 1:13
Rome was the central city of the Roman Empire, so it would seem natural that the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ would make every effort to spend time in the city preaching the Gospel of Christ. Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to know that he had ‘often planned’ (προεθεμην – set before, place before, design beforehand, determine before .. from πρό, before, and τίθημι, put, place, set, set) to visit them, but had been ‘hindered’ (εκωλυθην – prevent, hinder, restrain) from doing so in the past.
Paul said his purpose in going to Rome would be so he might have ‘some fruit’ among them. The word ‘fruit’ is καρπον and was used for fruit in both the literal and figurative sense. John the Baptist used the word καρπον in Matthew 3:8 when He told the Pharisees, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Jesus used the word καρπον several times in His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ when He told people to ‘beware of false prophets’. He used the word for literal and figurative ‘fruit’ to help people understand how to identify the good from the bad.
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:16-20
Paul’s desire was to go to Rome, invest himself in the lives of the Christians there ‘that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.’ Paul had seen God do wonderful things in the lives of Gentiles in many cities and wanted to see God do it in Rome.
“I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” Romans 1:14-15
Paul said he was a ‘debtor’ (οφειλετης – under obligation to repay a debt .. from ὀφείλω, to owe, be indebted, be obligated) to Greeks and barbarians, ‘both to wise and to unwise.’ Paul was well aware of the calling he had to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and understood it to be something God had entrusted to him.
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” 1 Corinthians 9:16-17
It was this deep sense of personal obligation and stewardship that burned within Paul to preach the Gospel to the people ‘who are in Rome also.’ He was both a ‘debtor’ and ‘ready’ (προθυμον – enthusiastically willing, eager .. from πρό, before, and θυμός, passion-driven behavior, strong impulses) to ‘preach’ (ευαγγελισασθαι – proclaim good news .. from εὖ, good, well done, and ἄγγελος, messenger, envoy, one who is sent) the ‘gospel to you who are in Rome also.’ Paul wanted to do in Rome what he had done in so many other Gentile cities – preach the ‘good news’ of the the grace of God through Christ Jesus the Lord.
On a personal note … are we any less debtors than Paul?
In the next part of our study, we will look at the ‘power’ of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”