Yellow Balloons Devotional Series: Advent

Romans 1:11-13

The Apostle Paul writes to the world-renowned believers in Rome, the center of the world at that time, in order to answer a slanderous charge made to them against Paul and his message. Paul’s detractors claim his emphasis on faith overturns the law. Paul says that ” just living by the law” does not achieve personal justice before God, while “just living by faith” does. Paul then demonstrates what a just life looks like: harmonious living with Jesus as the leader. Paul also makes clear the choice a believer has: to walk in faith and the power of the resurrection and experience resurrection life, or walk in sin and unnecessarily experience the negative consequences.

Paul makes clear his respect for the believers in Rome, acknowledging that their “faith is being proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8)and states his central theme that the just or righteous live by faith empowered with resurrection power, while unjust living based on our own pride and strength leads to wrath and destruction.

These Gentile believers have faith that is being talked about throughout the world, but Paul still hopes to go to them so that he and they may be encouraged and strengthen their faith.

Paul’s prayer is to see these believers he has not met in person and impart a spiritual gift to them in order to establish them in the faith. Although these Gentile believers are holy (set apart) and their faith is so strong that it is being spoken of throughout the entire world (1:8), Paul still wants to establish them. The Greek word starezo translated here by many translations as “establish” can also be translated “strengthen.” The reality is that we, as frail humans, no matter how strong we grow in faith, will always need more strengthening on this side of glory. In fact, Paul acknowledges in the very next verse that he too needs to be strengthened, and if he comes to visit the Roman believers he expects to be built up by them as well.

Paul prays to God that he might be able to come to Rome in order to strengthen the believers there by applying the gifts the Spirit of God bestowed upon him, and at the same time he is desirous of being himself strengthened by the encouragement of the faith of these Roman believers.

Faith is, by definition, an intangible thing. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

How can we have assurance for something we hope for? If we hope for it, then we don’t currently possess it. But faith is that which considers it possessed; we have the substance of what is hoped for as though we actually possessed it. Likewise, how can we have conviction regarding something we cannot see? Again, faith provides the “evidence” that what we cannot see is as real as though we could see it.

The Greek word pistis translated “faith” and the verb form pisteuo translated “believe” occur in Paul’s letter to the Romans forty times and twenty-one times, respectively. The theme of Romans is that the way to live a just life before men is to live by faith in God. Here we see that faith is something we do together. My faith builds yours and yours builds mine.

When Paul (finally) visits Rome for the first time, he also desires to have “fruit” among the Roman believers as he has experienced in the other Gentile churches he has established (in places like Corinth and Ephesus). What does Paul mean by “fruit”? The Greek word here is “karpos” and it is used in some form six times in Romans. In each case, it means the outworking of what is believed. In Romans 6:21 Paul asks the stout Roman believers what fruit they gained from their former pagan lives, living as slaves to sin. Paul answers that the fruit of sin is death. In Romans 15:28 Paul says he plans to seal or finalize a “fruit” of the living faith of the believers in Greece by delivering an offering for the Jewish believers suffering persecution in Israel at that time.

So, consistent with this entire epistle, what Paul longs to do is to participate directly in assisting the Roman believers to live their faith actively and truly in a manner that pleases God, thereby producing the fruit of a just life.

Biblical Text

11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.