Over the last week, two different people have mentioned Romans 1:11-12 to me. The first person told me about discussing that passage in a Bible study. The second mentioned the passage Sunday morning as he was sharing how God had used it in his life. Here is the passage:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12 ESV)
Most people believe that Romans was a sort of introduction letter for Paul. He obviously knew some of the believers in Rome (see Romans 16), but he had never been to Rome. In spite of this, he “longed” to see the believers in Rome.
Paul recognized that he had something to offer to the believers in Rome. Or… to be more precise… Paul recognized that God could use him to build up the believers in Rome. Paul knew that the Spirit of God desired to work through him – through the gifts that the Spirit imparts – to help these brothers and sisters, many of whom he had never met.
Furthermore, Paul recognized that the believers in Rome had something to offer him. Just as he knew that God would work through him to strengthen the church in Rome, he also knew that God would work through the believers in Rome to strengthen him. Paul did not simply desire to encourage his brothers and sisters, he was anticipating “mutual encouragement”.
This is a great attitude for us to take into any meeting with other believers – whether it is a small group of believers or a large group – whether we are meeting with people that we know or with brothers and sisters that we have never met. We should desire both to encourage them, and we should welcome and expect encouragement from others. This type of encouragement is not just a pat on the back and a “you’re okay, I’m okay” kind of thing. Instead, “encouragement” includes teaching, comfort, rebuke, exhortation, listening, whatever is necessary to help someone grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ.
Usually, when believers get together, the general attitude is that leaders do the encouraging while everyone else receives the encouragement. But, this one-way “encouragement” is not scriptural. Even an apostle – like Paul – recognized his need of mutual encouragement. Even an apostle – like Paul – recognized that other believers could help him in his walk with Jesus Christ in this world.
Yes, the Holy Spirit had gifted Paul in order that Paul could impact the lives of other people and to help them grow in grace and maturity in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the Holy Spirit had gifted all of the believers in Rome (and all believers today) for the same purpose. Its time to stop hindering the work of the Spirit and, instead, to allow him to work through all of his children as he desires.