Faith (RomansĀ 1:8-12)

This post is an excerpt from a Bible study I began writing on the book of Romans over a year ago and never finished (I think I made it through one chapter; the entire study as it stands can be read here). I have altered nothing from the original writing except deleted the very beginning since it doesn’t make sense for this post. So if anything is weird or wrong, take it up with me from last year.

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. (Romans 1:8-12)

There are two critical points in this section of text, similar in theme, worth taking to heart for believers. The first point is that Paul extols the Christians in Rome for having a faith worth speaking of, yet not above being prayed for. The faith shown in this Roman people was certainly admirably strong, but a close look emphasizes this further. Saying their faith was “spoken of” makes it sound as though it was being brought up in casual conversation in the marketplaces or homes, but the Greek word used, katangelletai, has the connotation of the faith being proclaimed and declared. These believers were not underground Christians known only by word-of-mouth, their love of Christ was public knowledge.

Even more, Paul does not even use the word “earth” or such for the reach of this proclamation of faith; the Greek phrase literally reads “the whole of the cosmos”. It is not a stretch to say that the faith of this Christian collective was among the strongest and most ardent of its time, and perhaps all time; and yet, even with such an incredible faith on their side, Paul prayed for this group of believers every single time he prayed. That is worth taking serious notice of.

Our faith as Christians can never be strong enough, never be solid enough, never be sound enough that it does not merit lifting up in prayer. Our faith can and will never be perfect; it will never, I think, move mountains as Christ assured us it could. No matter how devoted we are as Christians, we are too fallen as humans. Think of the great men and women of faith over the years who have fallen away from their beliefs. Think of the great number of lesser believers – pastors, deacons, clergy – who have recanted their faith. To become so comfortable in our faith that our souls become bored and stagnant is to beg the devil to come and reap our spirits. Satan is watching us, waiting for us to stop praying for our faith. We must always pray for ourselves and our fellow believers, that we might not succumb to his antagonism.

The second point to be extracted from these verses is that while the faith of the Roman contingent was never good enough, it was still certainly able to do good. Paul expressed a strong desire to be able to visit the Christians in Rome personally, to “impart […] some spiritual gift“. While it may be unclear what Paul meant precisely by “spiritual gift”, he wanted to ensure the Roman believers were “established”; the Greek word is sterichthenai, which has the literal meaning of making firmly fixed. One might think of Paul as wanting to solidify the foundation of the believers’ faith for future generations; however, this is not in the connotation of the word. The word used expresses more directly concern for the believers existing now, that they should be fixed solidly in their faith.

Yet Paul does not criticize the believers’ faith as too weak or shallow; to the contrary, part of his desire to visit is to be encouraged himself by their strong faith. While our faith as Christians may not be perfect and can always be strengthened, it can still strengthen the faith of others. In the body of Christ, it is a poor mental picture to think of different believers as being on different levels or steps of faith, with the higher always pulling up the lower. It is more right to think of us as equals all seeking to push each other higher. Faith is not a discrete numerical scale, with some believers at a 7 and some at a 3; faith is an intangible goal to be constantly pursued and pressed toward.