8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9For 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; 10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. 11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; 12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. (The King James Version, 1769)
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Paul has been in ministry for approximately 15 years by the time he writes this letter. He was most likely on his third missionary journey when he wrote this letter. By this time the gospel message is already known in Rome. About six years prior to this date the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. It may be that the reason for this ban was the rising contentions between the Orthodox Jew and the Christian Jew, which broke out in violence.
About this time we have recorded in Acts that the Jerusalem council gathered to argue whether Gentiles converts to Christ must be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. The result was no. Only a few restrictions were placed on Christian Gentiles. Paul therefore is writing to a church group.
Perhaps these two facts working together explain why Paul is writing the letter aimed predominately to Gentile believers in Rome. By the time Paul does arrive in Rome, under arrest, Claudius has been replaced by Nero. Nero lifted the ban against Jews several years earlier. Orthodox Jews returned to Rome and reestablished their worship.
So the core of believers in Rome are Gentile converts to Christ and it is their faith to which Paul is referring.
9For 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;
Here is the underpinning of Paul's ministry. We know of his letters. We know of his missionary journeys. He went about laying the groundwork of doctrine for the newly established churches he planted. Yet part of the focus of Paul's work was prayer. He prays for the people he knows and for those he hopes to visit. He prays for the needs of those he hears about. It is through his time in prayer that he is instructed by God. This is the heart of a parent to their children and those they would like to adopt.
Notice that Paul says, "I serve with my spirit," for it is his spirit working together with God's Spirit that makes all things possible. There are spiritual battles... there are spiritual awakenings... it is all the work of the spirit and Spirit. It begins in prayer and ends with thanksgiving.
10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
"Be careful what you pray for," is a common enough saying among Christians. Our definition of prosperous does not always agree with God's. Yet if God is in it, who can be against it? Shortly God will be sending Paul on his way to Rome. Yet that voyage will be in chains as a prisoner. What is good about that? Paul will be under the protection of Rome. No one can harm him for he must appear before Caesar. It is being under arrest that saves him from the mobs. The gospel will be preached before kings. Prosperous... yes.
11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
If you are a charismatic believer, you understand the importance of receiving a spiritual gift. Paul seems to want to lay hands of the believers who live in Rome, that he may impart the anointing for spiritual service. The situation could have been similar to Philip in a city of Samaria. The people believed the gospel but did not receive the Spirit for service until Peter and John showed up and laid hands upon the people.
12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Why is it beneficial to have this spiritual anointing? With it the mysteries surrounding us can be discovered. People can lay hands on others and be healed. Spirits can be discerned. A word of comfort at the right season lifts the soul. Seeing God at work in yourself and others gives a people confidence that God will meet their needs. This mutual faith is practical. It is the reason for the statement, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves..." This is specially true when hard times approach and an individual or church is going to be attacked: physically, mentally or spiritually.
13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
If it were up to "the plans of men" Paul would have been in Rome a long time ago. He wanted to reach out to the believers in Rome. He wanted to make converts. He wanted to see them grow. Whether the fruit was spiritual or the growth in numbers of believers, Paul wanted to see them flourish.
"But was let hitherto," can be seen from many angles. I do not believe that the opposition for his coming to Rome was due to physical restraint. Paul was too tenacious in spreading the gospel to have any human or group of people prevent him from ministering. What then? It was either a spiritual enemy or was the Spirit of God that refrained him. As for a spiritual enemy, no demon could stand long in opposition to Paul. The Spirit in Paul was greater than "he that is in the world." Who then is left? The Spirit of God "let hitherto." Paul wanted to preach in Asia. In Acts 16 we read, "6Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." This earlier example shows that God is the restrainer. All things, if done in God's timing, bears fruit. Paul would have to wait until he returned to Jerusalem, to set the stage for his journey to Rome.
14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
Why a Debtor? Because all of us, including Paul, was purchased by Christ. That price was his shed blood. We have entered the kingdom of God because Jesus paid the price for our sin. Jesus is our Saviour. Jesus is also our Lord! He saves us by grace. He uses us by design. In Paul's case God's design for ministry was spoken to Barnabas when Paul had his "road to Damascus" experience. These are the words God spoke to Barnabas concerning Paul, Acts 9. "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake."
You can see that we all are in debt to Jesus. He purchased us. How do we repay? We follow him and obey him throughout eternity. That will never fully pay the debt... nothing can... but we do what we can as he asks us. How does Jesus want Paul to repay his kindness to him? By ministering to the needs of others as God directs. One aspect of paying the debt, "to bear my name before the Gentiles." That includes the Romans when the time is right.
If you are still having a problem with the idea of debt, here is a definition of the term: one who owes another, a debtor; example... one held by some obligation, bound by some duty.
This obligation, this duty, was placed upon Paul. An obligation, a duty "to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise."
15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Paul is finally ready to preach the gospel to those in Rome. His spirit is willing and the Spirit is about to lead him on his journey. In God's timing all things work out for the good. Paul will be on a tumultuous ride. He will be like an apostle in a small boat on the sea of Galilee; storm tossed and water coming over the bow; but resting completely in the knowledge that God will protect him and deliverer him out of all harm.
Until that time comes, when he will see them face to face, this letter will be the initial teaching. It will prepare the people for his eventual arrival. There will be contentions and when it is over the church in Rome will be on a firmer foundation.
Webite administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada