In 1903, a group of seventeen men got together to form a small political organization. By 1917, this organization of seventeen men had grown to 40,000 members and had become powerful enough to overthrow the Czar of Russia. Hammer & Sickle began to make its way across our world. And before the Iron Curtain fell, communism dominated up to two-thirds of the globe. In spite of our aversion to communism, we still must ask ourselves how seventeen men could possibly have made such an amazing impact upon the world in as few as seventy or eighty years. I believe the answer is simple: The men who founded the Communist Party were committed to impacting their world. They had no plan B. They were sold-out. Nothing was going to deter them in their cause.
Today, I must ask you a very important question:
Are you a person who longs to impact your world?
Think about that question for a moment. Is there something within you that yearns to join a cause that makes a difference in this life and reverberates throughout eternity? Are you tired of going through the motions at church? Do you feel restless in your occupation? Is there something within you that senses there must be something more to life? I’m convinced that the Lord is looking for a few good men and women who yearn to make an impact. If you are teachable, available, and faithful God will use you in a powerful way. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.
Rom 1:8-15 explains how we can join a mission that will change the world. In these eight verses, we’ll see how to make a spiritual impact like Paul. We’ll also gain a better understanding of how we can serve on an impact team—a team such as the one Paul writes to in Rome. In 1:1-7 we looked at Paul’s greeting; now in 1:8-15 we will study his thanksgiving and prayer. Remember that Paul doesn’t know these believers personally. This is unusual for Paul, because he usually visited a city (e.g., Thessalonica or Corinth), then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city (i.e., 1 Thess, 1 Cor). But that’s not what Paul is doing here. Hence, he spends a great deal of time introducing himself to his Roman readers. He provides three evidences of a church on mission.
- A Church On Mission Is Thankful (1:8-10).
One of the greatest indications of Christian faithfulness is thankfulness, particularly for other believers. Paul made a practice of beginning his letters with (1) a word of thanks to God, (2) a specific prayer, and (3) a personal message to those who would read his letters. In ten of his thirteen letters, Paul states that it is his relationship with others that actually causes him to be thankful. This repeated emphasis indicates the priority he placed upon thanking God for other believers. In 1:8a he writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.”
Other than the Lord Jesus at the time He spoke from the cross, Paul is the only other person in the NT who speaks of God as “my God” (2 Cor 12:21; Phil 1:3; 4:19; Philemon 4). The addition of the pronoun “my” (mou) draws our attention to the intensely personal relationship Paul had with God. Obviously, Paul was not some crusty, bookish theologian; he was a lover of God. To Paul, the Lord was not some distant abstraction to be worshipped from afar; He was close and personal—his Father and his friend.
The word “first” (protos) is not followed here by the word “second,” for in this reference the word “first” implies importance rather than the beginning of a list. The verb translated “I thank” (eucharisto) is in the present tense and can be rendered: “I continually thank” or “I thank God over and over!” It is quite obvious that Paul loved his fellow believers. His gratitude to God is expressed “through Jesus Christ.” He understood that Christ’s work on the cross brought believers into union with each other.
Why is Paul so thankful? In 1:8b he gives the reason: “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say.
“Your drop dead preacher is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
“Your killer worship team is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” “Your unprecedented church growth is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
“Your cutting edge programs are being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
“Your glorious building is being celebrated is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
These are the types of statements that you might hear about a “successful” church today. We can be an arrogant, consumer-oriented people. Paul, however, has a very different perspective than many contemporary believers. He is not commending the Romans for superficial things. He indicates that their “faith” was being reported all around the world. He is not referring to the fact of their faith; he is speaking of the nature of their faith. In a sin-saturated society these Roman believers progressively grew to maturity in their faith. In just a few years some of these believers would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum. Some would even be dipped in wax and lit on fire by the satanic Emperor Nero. These believers were disciples indeed. They were consistent and reflected the nature and character of Christ in their lives. Hence, Paul could affirm them for the quality of their faith.
The verb translated “proclaimed” (katangello) is a very strong verb that could just as easily be translated “advertised.” These believers were living advertisements for Jesus. They were on-fire! Stop for just a moment and let this fact sink in. The Roman Empire was desperately dark… sin abounded! No one would expect a church to thrive in Rome, the capital of the pagan world. Yet the house churches in Rome stood out as a living light in a dark world. The fervent faith of these believers was so contrary to the societal norm of their day that all who observed them couldn’t help spreading the word about them.
The same is true in the community we live in. No one expects a church in the Longview area to stand out and make a mark. Our culture assumes that they can dominate us and intimidate us. In many cases, this is exactly what has transpired. Consequently, there’s really no cultural pressure on us. It is assumed that the church is irrelevant. We are a non-factor. So we’ve got nothing to lose! We need to grow in our faith and trust that it will be proclaimed throughout the world. What is the Christian community saying about us? What are unbelievers in Longview saying about us? Do they recognize our faith and our faithfulness? What do people hear about us? Let’s give our county something to talk about!
It is also worth noting what Paul meant by the use of the phrase “the whole world.” In the New Testament, that phrase normally refers to the Roman Empire. Since Rome was the capital city, it seems reasonable to suggest that the faith of the Roman church was being proclaimed throughout the whole empire, not the “whole world” as we know it today. Obviously, the whole world couldn’t include the still undiscovered Western Hemisphere, nor would it indicate the Far East. But with the increase of technology, we have the opportunity to literally impact the entire world (e.g., video, Internet, Facebook, etc.). The key is: Let’s seek to impact our world with what really matters—our faith in the Lord Jesus. Word spreads quickly about growth, new facilities, innovative programs, but what about faith? God receives the most glory from the world when our lives point to Him. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.
How can we follow Paul’s example and effectively express thanks for our fellow believers? In 1:9-10, Paul expresses thanks through prayer to God. He writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Surprisingly, the key phrase in these verses is: “God is my witness.” This phrase is moved to the front of the Greek sentence in 1:9. In the Greek New Testament words were often moved about in the sentence structure for the purpose of emphasis. Thus, placing “witness” (martus) as the first word in his Greek sentence would be analogous to placing it in boldface or italics. “God is my witness” is a strong expression that Paul uses on a number of occasions. It probably represents an oath that he had taken to be faithful to pray for the church with great constancy and fervency. This is confirmed by the language in 1:9-10. In 1:9, the adverb translated “unceasingly” (adialeiptos) means “without letting up or leaving off.” The word suggests that there is no great length of time between prayers. His prayers were frequent and regular. In 1:10, Paul indicates that the Roman believers are “always” (pantote) in his prayers. Although praying so consistently and repeatedly may seem to be an unusual commitment for a man who didn’t personally know most of the people he was praying for, such unceasing prayer characterized Paul’s life and ministry. He was a man of great prayer. He prayed fervently for the church at Rome in the same way that he prayed for all of the other churches. Prayer was the invisible power behind his ministry. In fact, it was Paul’s passion for prayer that ensured the success of his ministry and led to the growth and maturity of the early churches.
How can you and I take steps to grow in our prayer lives?
We can write down our prayers or our prayer requests so that we will pray consistently.
We can pray out loud.
We can use the time we have commuting in the car for prayer.
When we exercise we can devote a portion of that time to prayer.
We can spend time in prayer before we go to bed and when we wake up.
We can pray with our church family every Sunday morning.
We can also volunteer to pray in the overflow room during one of our worship services.
One of the keys to growing in prayer is to look for any and every opportunity to pray.