Leeds Vineyard

Romans 1:8-13 A Gospel Journey

(8) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is being reported all over the world. 

Paul has not been able to visit Rome before. It’s a bit of an omission for the leading evangelist of the time. But Rome didn’t have a huge church in an ornate building. A large city of something like 1 million people the Christians would have numbered maybe 100 and would have met in small groups in each other’s homes.

They would mainly have lived in the poor areas at the foot of the seven hills, in areas prone to flooding by the Nile. As they stood at the door of their humble little house they would look up the hill to see the emperor’s ornate palace high on the hill.

But their faith had been reported.

What was it about their faith that got Paul’s attention 1,000 km away as the crow flys, across the Adriatic Sea? What is it about you that leads people to say, “there’s something different about him, she has got faith, I want some of that.”

It’s not just about attendance and participation in church life but part of being a holy people, set apart, withdrawn from ordinary use. A people who do extra-ordinary things.

julian-the-apostate-1-sizedThe Emperor Julian (Epistle 22), the last of the non-Christian Emperors who tried to re-establish neo-platonic paganism and traditional Roman values, complained about the Christians,  “It is a disgrace that these impious Galilaeans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.”

The Early Christians were known for:
•        Forgiveness, forbearance, courage
•        Sobriety, peacefulness, generosity
•        Faithfulness to their spouses
•        Chastity
•        Rescuing children from infanticide
•        Caring for the poor & the sick/plague victims
•        Refusing to worship other gods or the emperor
•        Charity as a reflection of God’s love, coming from religious faith
May our faith be reported in the world too.

(9) God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you (10) in my prayers at all times;

Here is an insight into Paul’s private, spiritual life.
His whole being is wrapped up in a form of worship which is to share the gospel, declare it to the whole world. He doesn’t make journeys for the good of his health but in order to see the kingdom come.

More than that though, this posture he has – of pushing forward with the gospel, travelling, preaching, encouraging, teaching – mirrors an inner life of prayer. Of constant dialogue with “his” God about the gospel and about the people to whom he wants to preach and with whom he wants to minister.

Cultivate an internal life which mirrors your external life. What’s God’s call on your life? Pursue it eagerly but spend time with God in prayer too.
Leaders and preachers - pray for those to whom you minister

Pause & pray.

(10) and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you…. (13)  I planned many times to come to you but have been prevented from doing so until now.

God has a plan. A plan for you and your life. A plan for the world. He is on a mission to restore creation to himself.
But within that overall plan and will, he gives us free-will. We’re not robots.
But we are human, so we don’t always find our will completely in synch with his.

We are encouraged to identify and pursue our “will”, our “desires” but they don’t control God. His will has complete precedence. Yet we are taught to pray and ask. Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given you.”

So 18 months ago we finally felt that God has given us the go-ahead to move to Headingley. We all prayed hard about it and worked hard for a way to reveal itself. But for a long time nothing happened. And then God opened a door in a quite special way. We ended up in Headingley but in nothing like the way I expected.

And currently we have the Vineyard Centre on the market (for 9 months) and are praying for it to sell and at a good price. We think this is a good plan, the way ahead. But we have had no enquiries whatsoever. I definitely feel “prevented”.

So I how are we meant to understand this?
What seems clear from this passage is that Paul had long wanted to come to Rome. He really did and he is almost embarrassed that he hasn’t made it yet.

He doesn’t blame the devil. He doesn’t claim that he had discerned God’s plan and that the devil was getting in the way.
The passive tense here implies that although this is what he wanted and prayed for and thought was good, God had other plans for him in the meantime. He had other things to get on with in Corinth and Jerusalem.

Paul doesn’t assume that he knows what God’s will is nor does he try and impose his own will on God. God listens to our prayers and sees the desires of our hearts – and he may comply, or he may not. He’s God.

As you walk closer and closer to God and as you begin to understand his call on your life and how he wants you to live, your desires and prayers will become closer and closer aligned to his will. However, even Paul, a seasoned Christian, was denied his wishes – or at least held back from getting what he wanted for a long time (and when he did get to Rome it wasn’t as he had hoped).

So it is fine to pursue what you would love to see happen, it is crucial that you pray for it unceasingly, but it is God’s decision as to whether and when and how it happens.

Pause and pray – pray again for what you have a burden for.

(11) I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – (12) that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 

How about if whenever we got together, whether here on Sunday morning or in your housegroup or when serving the poor or ministering with the children, how about if the result was always that you ended up strengthened and encouraged?

Something happens as we spend time together which results in you walking out feeling strong and feeling encouraged.

When Paul refers to leaving a spiritual gift he isn’t talking here about gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, healing, other languages), he is saying that he wants there to be a supernatural element to their meeting together which results in them bestowing a spiritual blessing on each other.

I love the way that although he is the big cheese in the Christian world at that time he is quick to make this a two-way exercise – mutual encouragement. He knows he can be blessed by the fellowship of other followers of Jesus just as much as he can impart something to them (note how the Pope always asks people to pray for him).

So when you come to weekly worship or go to your housegroup or join in with a team in some area of service, enter with an expectation that this is what you will do. As we each give, we each receive.

Come with an expectation and an attitude that you will impart, share, give, leave behind with people something that strengthens and encourages.

Pause – what do I need to do differently? Repent and ask God to show you a better way.

(13) I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other gentiles.

What sort of harvest do we want? A faith that is reported. Cf verse 8

This is our ambition, a harvest in Headingley, Leeds or wherever we live and work. Everyone has a part to play in this mission/adventure.

Find your call, what journey are you on? Where are you going? Work toward the desires of your heart, pray constantly and when we get together come to encourag and to strengthen others.

And we will see a harvest on this journey too.
Souls saved. People healed. The poor fed. Marriages restored.
The lost found. The lonely placed in families. The least raised up.

May the Lord of the harvest release one to us. One that overflows and spills out of this building with the gospel. May the report of our faith go around the world. 

Romans - Web 1
David Flowers, 09/10/2013