We grow by the gospel
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. NIV
Paul opens this section of the letter by indicating that he is thankful to God for the Romans. “First” is not used as in numbering here but to indicate importance. Before the believers at Rome can know anything, they must be aware that Paul is thankful to God for them. This not only prepares them to hear what Paul is about to say, but it also encourages them in their walk. He thanks God for the Romans through Jesus Christ. Here, the apostle acknowledges at the outset that whatever he is about to say about the Romans, is possible because of Jesus Christ. Whatever good is being heard about the Romans is only possible because of Jesus Christ. They are saved because of Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:6 he declared that believers belong to Jesus Christ. He thanks God for each one of them [in Christ] – probably, because “their faith” [in the last part of the verse] is possible through Christ. Hence, the thanks for each of them are also through Jesus Christ. The Apostle could also be simply obeying the Lord’s command in John 14:13, to ask all things through Him. Whatever thanks on behalf of the Romans are to the Father through the Son. And whatever requests will be made on behalf of the Romans are to the Father through the Son.
Rome is the capital of the Roman Empire, and most certainly the “world” refers to the Roman world. This might not mean a lot for a modern day reader, but it certainly did for the Roman believers. They most likely started from scratch without any of “the Apostles”. Paul himself mentions that he had not yet been to Rome up to this point (Romans 1:13, 15:22), and that he always longed to visit this thriving group of believers (Romans 1:11, 15:23-24, Acts 19:21).
“Clues from Acts may be incorporated into a wider model that surmises that geographical dispersions of Christians in the first century likely brought Christianity to Rome.54 Both Roman inhabitants who visited Jerusalem before returning to Rome and Jews who settled into Rome for the first time may have played a role.55 Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.56 A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome. The mysterious reference in [Acts] 12:17 (Peter “went to another place”) opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination.57 Later church tradition asserts that Peter’s ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations.58 Finally, Rom 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter’s ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome.59” 1
Some early church traditions acknowledge the influence of both the Peter and Paul on the Roman church but remain obscure regarding either of the apostles’ influence in the foundational stages of the growing Roman church. “More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment, leading to a vital and growing community.” 2 A few hints back this position. Firstly, In mentioning those who were present at Pentecost in Jerusalem, Acts 2:10 adds “and visitors from Rome.” According to Acts 2:5, these might have been “devout” Jews or Gentiles converts to Judaism living in diaspora who are now listed among the earliest converts to Christianity. They could have taken the gospel to their respective regions, including Rome. Secondly, because of the persecution in Jerusalem [Recorded in chapters 4-8 of Acts], some early Christians might have scattered as far as Rome. Acts 11:19-20 adds that those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch, and Cyrene preaching the Lord Jesus. It reasonable to speculate that some of these might have ended up in Rome. Thirdly, a note in Acts 18:1-2 indicates that some Jews had been living in Rome, and were at this time being expelled by emperor Claudius. How and when they went there is unclear, but among them was a Christian couple, Aquila and Pricilla. Fourthly, it might be surprising that the apostle who had never been to Rome has a long list of household churches and members as he concludes the epistle to the Romans. Romans 16:5 hints that at least one person was a convert of Paul’s from another part of the Roman empire. He encountered the gospel through Paul’s preaching elsewhere, it changed him, and he is now possibly a leader or at least a member of the household churches constituting a thriving Christian community in Rome. Some of them were earlier companions of Paul in ministry, and they ended up in Rome (Romans 16:3,7,9).
At any rate, the gospel made inroads into Rome, and the Church was thriving in faith as a result. This is highlighted in Paul’s reason for thanking God: He thanks God for the believers at Rome because their faith is being reported throughout the world. Faith here should mean their right belief and way of life. Simply, the Romans’ right belief [in the gospel] had manifested in their lifestyle and was visible and discussed in the Roman world.
The gospel is powerful and sufficient: Although no apostle is particularly linked with the foundations of the church at Rome, God was at work through the gospel in the capital of the Roman empire. The gospel infiltrated the seat of power of the Roman world, changing the people therein. Evidently, this is a testimony of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation”. Whereas Rome was the symbol of earthly power at the time, the gospel is the greater power of God through which he reconciles lost mankind to himself. That the Romans’ faith was being reported all over the world puts an emphasis on the power and sufficiency of the gospel to bring God’s desired result in people’s lives. The believers had faith in the gospel and their daily lives were also characterized by the same faith in the gospel. The Christian life starts by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and continues by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:2-3, Ephesians 2:8-9). There are no other means by which believers live and grow in their faith apart from the gospel. From the testimony of the Romans, the gospel can and must be relied upon for salvation and Christian living.
The gospel is unstoppable: In a city as politically fierce and religiously pagan as Rome, the gospel advances. Rome was a religiously and politically fierce city. Some emperors claimed divinity and consequently demanded worship. Simply, the imperial cult was at play in the Roman empire, even in the first century AD. “Across the 1st century CE, emperors who were declared divus in Rome and the West included Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, and Trajan. Some other members of imperial families were also elevated, including the wife of Augustus, Livia; the sister of Caligula, Drusilla; the daughter of Nero, Claudia Augusta; and the daughter of Domitian; Julia Augusta. The worship of emperors practiced in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire resembled ruler-worship elsewhere in the ancient world.”3 That a testimony of Christian faith is coming out of such a city is remarkable. It is a sheer testimony of God’s work in individual believers and the growing church [household churches]. Further, from this background, it can be understood why Paul found it necessary to frequently stress that his Lord is Jesus Christ, and not any Caesar. Here, the penetrating power of the gospel is a stark reminder of the Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14 concerning God’s church and God’s people. The gospel will triumph. The gospel will prevail. God was at work through the gospel in the Roman empire and God is at work through the gospel today, no matter the circumstances. Amen!
By way of application, the following principles can be deduced from this verse.
- The gospel is sufficient for our salvation and Christian living. By the gospel we believe and by the gospel we live out our faith.
- The gospel is God’s power: It is unstoppable and will not fail – More of the reason to rely on it.
- From Paul’s words “your faith is being reported all over the world,” it can be deduced from here that a believer’s life can have a tremendous impact on others. In principle, when believers live in obedience, they shine forth as examples for others. Their testimony can encourage others into the life of obedience in Christ.
- From the Paul’s gesture, believers can learn to commend other believers when they are doing well. As the epistle unfolds, some “problems” become evident in the Roman church. But here, the apostle takes time to commend them for what they did well – their faith was being reported in the Roman world.