“I am longing to see you; I’ve tried and tried, but so far I’ve run up against a wall.” Paul, in time, chose to travel to Rome as a prisoner of the Empire since it seemed the only way he could get there. His words weren’t meaningless pleasantries, but the true cry of his heart. Here is my paraphrase of these emotion-charged expressions:
First, I thank my God through Jesus the Messiah for you all, because everywhere in the world your faith is being talked about. God, whom I serve in the gospel through my spirit is my witness how I constantly mention you all in my prayers, begging to be allowed to come and see you.
I long to visit you so that I may share some spiritual gift — impart it to you so that you may be established. That is, that we may be encouraged by one another’s faith, both yours and mine.
I want you to know that I’ve tried many times to come to you, and have always been hindered, even until now. I want to come so that I might have some fruit among you as I have among the other nations, for I am a debtor both to Greeks and Barbarians; wise and unwise. Thus I am eager to present the gospel also in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation to all who will believe; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; for the righteousness of God is revealed in it; by faith, to faith: even as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Don’t miss Paul’s use of hyperbole here; he does it often: “Everywhere in the world people talk about your faith.” Use of linguistic devices such as hyperbole, sarcasm, simile and metaphor are not incompatible with speaking truth. The writers of scripture were humans just as we are, and communicated using all sorts of means.
So . . . what does this passage tell us about God? That He wants us to serve Him in the spirit; not by natural strength (in the flesh). That we can pester Him in our prayers for what we desire and He will not punish us by giving us what we want at the wrong time or in the wrong way (so long as we truly desire His will). He will even prevent us (or allow us to be prevented) from “making it happen” on our own so long as we submit ourselves to Him, walking in the spirit and not by our own strength.
If God gives us a charge to serve others, then that is a debt we owe them. Paul’s charge is to preach the gospel and thus bring about fruit bearing in those who receive it gladly. The first of these fruits is salvation. He desires to share gifts of the Spirit to build up the church and help them to grow and bear fruit of righteousness.
Paul also desires to be blessed and built up spiritually by the believers in Rome. I don’t see this as an empty platitude. The least of us can bless the greatest in the power of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t play favorites; He uses every willing saint. (All believers are saints in the vernacular of the NT.)
The Gospel IS the power of salvation. It reveals God’s righteousness by the faith of the speaker to the faith of the hearer and brings life to all who will believe it. It justifies (makes right or straight), and the just live by that faith.
I am particularly impressed by the implication that our words (in the spirit) to one another can bear fruit in one another’s lives. When we encourage a fellow believer and share the truth we have heard from God, it’s like putting fertilizer on a tomato plant. The right kind of fertilizer will give that plant what it needs to bear fruit. We can do this for one another, and that is both an amazing privilege and an awesome responsibility.
Where then do we get these nuggets of faith fertilizer? From many places, but always from our own interaction with God — in the Spirit and not from the flesh. Our brothers and sisters don’t need sanctimonious, natural advice. They need a fresh word of God from our hearts to theirs, and we need the same from them. So let’s not neglect our time with Father; a brother or sister’s growth in the faith may depend on things the Father gives US to share with THEM.