We look to the apostle Paul for a lesson in encouragement. Not only did he preach the gospel, traveling throughout the world; he had a deep and compassionate desire and care for people, even those believers whom he had never met. When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he had yet to visit there, yet he was deeply concerned about their spiritual well-being and desired to come there so that he might have fellowship with them and participate in mutual encouragement.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Romans 1:8-12 (NIV)
There are four keys in this passage pertaining to Paul’s heart and his desire to encourage and build up people which would serve each one of us well to follow as a template for our ministries.
The first thing that we see is that Paul had his finger on the pulse and activities of the church around the world. Even though communication in the first century was slow and primitive, in many places as seen throughout his letters, Paul knew what was going on in the churches, both good and bad.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 (NIV)
It is important to stay aware of what is happening in the church world around you, yet it must be filtered through the Word and prayer so that we distinguish between fads and the stream of God’s Spirit. We should watch and pray, keeping informed about what is going on with other believers is a great source of encouragement. As John wrote:
It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 3-4 (NIV)
Paul saw both the good and bad things that were happening in churches throughout the world. The good things provided an opportunity to rejoice and celebrate God’s goodness and the bad things would serve as a warning or object lesson, or in the case of the Corinthians, it provided a teachable opportunity for correction.
Being informed leads us to the second key, “constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times.” Intimacy increases the urgency of our prayer. The more informed and closer we are to someone, the more seriously we will intercede on their behalf, Paul was a busy man, but that did not prevent him from spending much time in prayer. To the church at Thessalonica he wrote: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith”. 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV)
The third key to Paul’s concern for the Roman church is found in verse 11. “I long to come and see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” I began to wonder how the circumstances in Rome differed from that of Corinth. “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” 1 Corinthians 1:7 (NIV) Do not underestimate the value of spiritual gifts in the life of the church.
The fourth key is in verse 12, “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” This is a practical example of just how interconnected we are and how much we need each other’s support and encouragement. There will be times when we are called to stand alone, however standing with someone is always more encouraging. Paul understood that regardless of one’s stature or position in the body of Christ there is benefit in fellowship and encouraging one another.
Paul may have been the Apostle, but he recognized good places and good people where he knew he would be encouraged in addition to bringing them encouragement. I really like the Message Translation of verse 12:
But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you. Romans 1:12 (The Message)
Paul recognized the value of mutual encouragement and that is why he so desired to go to Rome. He had heard of their faith, if you will, in the face of lions and he longed to bring to them a spiritual gift which would further strengthen them in their pursuit of building one another up. His journey to Rome would not be direct; in fact, several times it was filled with danger that could have cost him his life. When he wrote this, he may not have anticipated that he would come to Rome as a prisoner, but he did make it to Rome. If you really want to be encouraged and built up in your faith, seek out those who have been tested or those who are going through the fire because they are the ones who have living testimonies of how good God is and how he is able to preserve us regardless of the testing and trials.