I’m reading my way through Romans right now. Well, I’m TRYING to; I haven’t made it out of Chapter 1. One section that especially caught my attention contains verses 11 and 12. Paul is in the process of telling the people of Rome how much he long to come visit them. In verse 11, we get a picture of why:
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong…” (Romans 1:11)
Of course, this makes sense. Why else would Paul want to visit? Paul knows a lot. Paul has been called by God to do big things for God. Paul knows what’s what when it comes to spiritual matters. Paul surely has a lot he can give to the people there, many of whom are at the beginning of their spiritual journeys.
Yet, as we head into verse 12, we realize that Paul is anything but prideful. It’s not about him having some great spiritual insights or gifts to pass along. No, the gift is simply, community. He needs them, just as much as they need him.
“… That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:12).
I have been blessed over the past few weeks to experience this huge blessing of community in many situations. I’ve experienced what it looks like for people to offer me grace and love when I couldn’t give those things to myself. I’ve held friends as they’ve cried, and I’ve been the one being held. I’ve asked questions of God and wondered where He was at in certain situations, and I’ve had chance to point out God’s presence and compassion to others in the midst of their questions and doubts. I’ve laughed with teammates and praised God with them at the work He is doing in people’s lives and our hearts have been broken as we see the brokenness in others. I’ve watched my niece signing “Jesus Loves Me” on a video and have prayed for her each day, that she would never forget that love. I’ve witnessed my cousin’s daughter reciting much of Psalm 23, encouraged by the 3 year old speaking truth to my heart. And I’ve had the chance to speak the truth of God’s love to the 3 year olds passing by my office each day.
So when Paul mentioned this great spiritual gift, I’m glad it wasn’t some intellectual pursuit, or something the people of Rome (and myself) have to strive to attain. It wasn’t about age or “spiritual maturity”. It was about community … for community is perhaps one of the most amazing, and powerful, gifts God gives to his people. Community gives reminders that we’re not alone. We don’t have to act like everything’s okay if it’s not. We have people around us who want to celebrate like crazy with us in the good times. We have a community of grace and just like Paul, we can long for, look for, and work to create that community. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s often messy, filled with imperfect people. But when imperfect people love imperfect people, God’s grace overflows. If you stumble upon this kind of mutual encouragement, it’s tempting to walk away in fear of the mess, in fear of what people might say, in fear of what might happen. But don’t! Please don’t! We need each other. This kind of community, though messy, is one of the most precious gifts of all!
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. … Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud,but be willing to associate with people of low position.” (Romans 12:9-16)