Who are those “impressive Christians”? In America it tends to be the ones who are both flashy and relevant, who can captivate a live audience of thousands, who create undeniably moving and well-produced Youtube videos, and who can play well with the current cultural climate. But is that the biblical standard? What impressed Paul about the Romans’ faith?
“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (Romans 1.8)
In the opening of his letter, we can see Paul pouring out his heart to a group of believers he has never even met. He expresses his thankfulness that their faith was “proclaimed in all the world”. Their faith was so evident, public, and well-known that even God’s chosen minister to the Gentiles, working on the other side of the known world, was impressed. Imagine living a life that so reflected the heart of Christ that people couldn’t help but talk about it. In today’s age we’re unfamiliar with slow communication. I can text with someone in Indonesia if I so choose. Within minutes an event in Russia will pop up on our social media feeds with instant reaction from every corner of the globe. How information spreads has made quantum leaps, but why it spreads has never changed. Only the impressive and impactful stuff gets talked about. So in Paul’s time, when information moved at a comparatively slow drip, it must have been impressive news indeed to make it to his ears.
“without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” (Romans 1.9-10)
We can’t say for sure who started the Church in Rome, but we can say for sure it wasn’t Paul. In this section as well as at the end of his letter (15.22-24), he makes it clear that he had never met the Roman believers. However, so evident was the work of the Spirit amongst them that he was led to pray for them “without ceasing”. Did you notice what he was praying for? It wasn’t for their blessing or need (though we do see his heart for this within the letter), but for God to make a way to come visit them. Paul wanted to see this for himself.
So I asked myself, what was it about their faith that was so impressive? Were they performing great miracles or winning thousands of souls? We don’t know, but we do know the points on which Paul openly commended them: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (15.14) Also, “Your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you.” (16.19) After each of those verses, Paul is also very clear that there were several points of correction he needed to address, thus the instructions in the latter half of the letter. However, it’s clear from these verses that the impressiveness of their faith wasn’t in the spectacular, but in the mundane. He was impressed that the gospel was playing out as it should in their day-to-day lives. They were continually studying, teaching, and obeying the truth that transformed them.
In a day when the instant and the spectacular are the measure of spiritual success, I think it would benefit us to find the simplicity of living a steady, Spirit-filled life that radiates from a consistent devotion to God’s word. It may not be impressive at first glance, but it will build a spiritual foundation that can continue to make an impression for those who come after you, who look to you as their model of faithfulness.
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