Romans 1:11-12

Sermon preached on February 22, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Marg and I were over in Prescott a week or so ago and while we were there we went to the Post Office to mail a couple of parcels to relatives in Canada. The lady in line ahead of us had six big boxes that she was mailing. They were going to a Canadian cable company. She was returning equipment and the company had sent her empty boxes to use. But what was strange was what she told the postal clerk. She said that they had sent her too many and that three of the boxes were empty. The clerk never batted an eye and just told her to take the mailing labels from inside the empty boxes and put them on the outside. I thought it was crazy. I could understand them mailing her the empty boxes. But I couldn't understand them getting her to mail the three empty boxes back to them. It seemed inefficient, wasteful and not environmentally friendly. One would think that it would be a lot cheaper for them to tell her to throw the empty boxes away or just save them for her to use when she needed boxes. They have empty boxes going back and forth in the mail which seems ridiculous.

There are a lot of ridiculous things in the world. It's easy to see how other people are ridiculous—but we often overlook some of the ridiculous things we do. One of the most ridiculous things we do relates to our Christians fellowship. Christian fellowship is supposed to be for our good. That's the great theme of our text. Paul sums it up in verses 11 and 12. He wrote,

"I long to see you so that
I may impart to you
some spiritual gift to make you strong—
that is, that you and I
may be mutually encouraged
by each other's faith."

The great truth is that

we are to be a blessing to one another.

But often people's experience in church is the opposite of that. So often the meeting of Christians together is like those in the Corinthian church. Paul criticized the Corinthian Christians because some of them abused the Lord's Supper. The rich didn't care for the poor and there was division in the church. Paul said, (1 Corinthians 11:17)

"In the following directives
I have no praise for you,
for your meetings
do more harm than good."

So often that is true. And it's absolutely ridiculous. It should never be. It's crazy for us to behave that way. We impoverish ourselves. I've heard story after story on how Christians have been hurt, insulted and degraded in church. I know people who don't come to church because they've been burned in churches. Churches can be places where people can be hurt and trampled upon.

I remember going to church one evening when I was a student in St. John's, Newfoundland. Apparently there was a young man who had just become a Christian in that church. He didn't have a Christian background so church was all new to him, he didn't know all the rules. That Sunday morning he come to church and he noticed that the church lawn hadn't been mowed that week. So after lunch to put his lawnmower in his card and went over to the church and mowed the lawn. When people came to church that night and saw that the lawn had been mowed—they wanted to know who mowed the lawn. I came in that night just as one of the guys found out. It was the new Christian. Well, one of the church leaders went up one side of the guy and down the other. He was so angry. The poor guy who mowed the lawn. He got quite a tongue lashing. It wasn't the right way to deal with it at all.

Marg has relatives that not long after they got married started going to church. But then they stopped going. After awhile they started thinking that they should go to church again. So they went back to the same church. One of the ushers knew them and when he saw them come in he thought he would have some fun. So he greeted them and introduced himself and asked who they were and asked them if they would like to sign the guest book. He thought he was being funny. But he embarrassed them. They didn't see the humor in it and they were insulted.

I come from Cape Breton and some of the people there are uncouth. After I became a pastor here in New York I met a minister from Massachusetts, Wendell R. When Wendell found out I was from Cape Breton he told me a story about someone from Sydney Mines who attended his church in Massachusetts. At the time, Wendell's church consisted of mostly very refined people. They were well educated, very cultured, very respectable. The guy from Cape Breton didn't quite fit in. But they welcomed him and wanted to help him. He wanted to serve and they made him an usher. I mean, how much harm can you do as an usher? Quite a bit. Everything worked out well at first. He showed people to their seats and there was no problem. But one day a new couple came to the church. They were one of the best known and distinguished couples in town They came in while this usher was showing someone else to their seats. Since it was the first time there the couple quietly slipped into the little pew against the back wall of the sanctuary. The problem was that that little pew was the ushers pew. So when the usher from Sydney Mines finished showing the other people to their seat and came back and saw the couple sitting in the usher's pew, he pointed to them and said,

"Get your… off of there."

They did and they never came back to that church.

It's amazing what takes place in churches. It's often the opposite of what we are supposed to do. We Christians are to love one another. As the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1:22

"love one another deeply,
from the heart."

Part of this love involves the way we behave toward other Christians—how we are to be a blessing to them. The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians that he was planning to visit them so that he could impart some spiritual gift to them to make them strong. Paul was going to teach them something about God, or by his example show them something about his faith and life so that they would be blessed by it. He was going to make them strong.

You'll remember that when David was down because King Saul was trying to kill him, his friend Jonathan went to him at Horesh, (1 Samuel 23:16)

"and helped him find strength in God."

Paul was going to use the spiritual gifts that he had to be a blessing to the Roman Christians. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7

"Now to each one
the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for the common good."

And in 1 Peter 4:10 the apostle Peter wrote,

"Each one should use
whatever gift he has received
to serve others,
faithfully administering God's grace
in its various forms."

That's what Paul was going to do. He was going to be a spiritual blessing to them.

That's our job as well. We are to be blessings to each other. The writer to Hebrews told us about this in Hebrews 10:24. He said,

"And let us consider how we may
spur one another on
toward love and good deeds."

So the great lesson for us is that

when we meet together we must be a spiritual blessing to others.

God has given you at least one spiritual gift so you can do that. He wants you to use your spiritual gift to help others. You are to put thought and effort into this before you even come to church. The verse I just quoted from Hebrews told us that we are to 'consider' how we may spur one other on to love and good deeds. The word that is used means,

"to think about carefully"

Look around you, the people sitting here. Next week, before you come here, you are to think how you can encourage them to love God and others better. You are to mediate on how you can encourage them to be more diligent in good deeds.

In Christian fellowship you are to be a blessing to others and nothing but a blessing. Shame on you if you do the opposite. Shame on you if others leave here hurt because of something you do or say.

Just how seriously we are to take this is evident from the second part of what Paul says. He wrote,

"I long to see you so that
I may impart to you
some spiritual gift to make you strong—
that is,
that you and I
may be mutually encouraged
by each other's faith

This second part is very revealing. It shows us that

Paul expected to be blessed spiritually by the Romans.

This is incredible. If I heard that the apostle Paul was coming to visit us and that he wanted to impart some spiritual gift to us—I would be thrilled. The knowledge that Paul had, his zeal for the Lord, his experience in facing persecution, his untiring labor, his being taken up to the third heaven, his faithfulness—I know that he would be such a blessing to us. I would be excited about it and be so looking forward to it.

But the second part would give me pause. If the apostle Paul wrote me and told me that he expected to be encouraged in his faith by his meeting with me—I'd go,

"Oh, no!"

Up until that time I'd have been thinking that his visit would have been a one-way street—that the blessings would flow from him to us. I'd wonder how I could possibly be a blessing to the apostle Paul. How could my faith possibly encourage him? He's so far above me that I don't know of any way that I could help him. He would be able to be a blessing to me but I'm not sure how I could help him.

It's possible that some of the Christians at Rome felt the same way. But Paul didn't see it that way. John Calvin writes, (Romans, p. 24)

"Note how modestly he expresses what he feels by not refusing to seek strengthening from inexperienced beginners. He means what he says, too, for there is none so void of gifts in the Church of Christ who cannot in some measure contribute to our spiritual progress. Ill will and pride, however, prevent our deriving such benefit from one another. Such is our superiority and such the intoxicating effect of our stupid boasting, that every one of us despises and disregards others, and considers that he possesses a sufficient abundance for himself."

One of the lessons that Calvin draws from the text is that

you should be seeking to be blessed by Christians, even those that seem to be less than you.

Remember David's brother, Eliab? When David came and heard Goliath's challenge and was talking about how Goliath answered and killed—Eliab burning with anger toward David and said to him, (1 Samuel 17:28)

"Why have you come down here?
And with whom did you leave
those few sheep in the desert?
I know how conceited you are
and how wicked your heart is;
you came down only to watch the battle."

Eliab could have learned much from David and his courage, from his faith, from his outrage at Goliath defying the armies of the living God. But Eliab's attitude showed that he wasn't prepared to learn anything from David. He impoverished himself.

Do we spiritually impoverish ourselves because we think that other Christians are below us and can't help us and we close our eyes to the lessons before us and we don't seek to learn from them?

When I began the prison ministry at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility many years ago—I think it was the third time I went in, I learned a great lesson from an unexpected source. We were all sitting around a table and we went around the table reading one or two verses each. But I had told them that if someone didn't want to read that he could just say pass. I didn't want to embarrass anyone who couldn't read or couldn't read well. One older gentlemen passed when it came to his turn to read. He never contributed anything to the discussion during the study time. Because of that I was expecting that he didn't have anything to teach me. But when we closed I opened it up for prayer. This old man prayed. In his prayer he thanked God for the roof over his head and for the three meals that he had received that day. Wow.

At the time, I knew that if I found myself in prison I would never have thought to thank God for the roof over my head. I think that if I was going to say anything about the prison food it would have been to complain about it. I'd sure miss Marg's cooking. I had been brought up in a Christian home, I had been to seminary for three years—and yet this old prisoner taught me something I had never learned before.

We can learn things from the most lowly of Christians—like the woman casting her last two copper coins in the temple treasury. We must look for what God can teach us through them using their gifts.

This morning I was reading a book by a Christian theologian who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He wrote a book about it called,
Rejoicing in Lament. The book is designed to help other Christians dealing with sickness. I was struck by how he opened them book. It wasn't with a quote from one of the great theologians of the church, but rather it began with the words that a 15 year old girl with Down syndrome wrote in a card to him. It said,

"Get will soon! Jesus loves you! God is bigger than cancer!"

He said that tears started to flow as he read her words. He spent the next couple of paragraphs telling him how the theological truth of her simple words, "God is bigger than cancer!" were such a help to him.

You can learn from just about everyone in the church. Don't neglect doing so.

Christians, you have great duty to one another. Christian fellowship is all about love. As Eric Alexander says, (Our Great God and Savior, p. 134)

"true Christian fellowship is a sharing of Christ as our most glorious common possession."

The whole idea that some professing Christians have of not going to church is so wrong. How can they love others if they refuse to gather with them? How can they love them? How can they spur them on to love and good deeds if they don't meet with them? How can they use their spiritual gifts for the common good if they don't gather with other Christians for that purpose?

The whole idea of coming to church and being a mere spectator is so wrong. You have a great job to do here in the church. This body needs you. It needs you to work hard at using your spiritual gift. We need you to bless us.

Christians make sure you make our fellowship a loving community.

When I was a kid I used to love it when we were going to visit my mom's parents. They were Ukrainian. Baba and Gigi were so nice. There were always lots of my aunts and uncles around. What was interesting about my mom's family was that she had 10 brothers and sisters, and since she was one of the oldest, some of my aunts and uncles were only 5 or 7, 9 years older than me. That made it easy to have a special bond. But even more than that—they were all so nice to us. They were nothing but nice. They were so kind to us. They had such great food—fried bread dough with icing sugar on it. They had comic books which we weren't allowed to have at home. They all made us feel that we belonged. There was nothing negative there.

But it wasn't the same going to see my other grandparents. My grandfather was perfect. It was wonderful when we were with him alone. But my grandmother—it was like she didn't like kids. She was often mean to us. She wouldn't let us do anything that was fun. She'd say,

"Sit there and be quiet."

She'd say some mean things to us and laugh at us.

Our congregation can be like either one—a place where everyone is made to feel that they belong—or a place that is demoralizing. Your contribution to our congregation—which kind of place do you make it?

We are here to serve Jesus, to perfect each other in Christ, to serve one another. Ephesians 4:29–30

"Do not let any unwholesome talk
come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful
for building others up
according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."

Be on fire for Christ and His glory.

J. Douglas MacMillan told a story how one day shortly after he was converted was taken by his father, who was a part time blacksmith, into the smithy. The blacksmith's hearth was alight with little lumps of coal. His father said to him,

"Douglas, I want you to look at something."

Then with a pair of tongs he took just one coal off the fire, put it on the anvil and said,

"Watch that!"

It came out glowing red, almost white, and as they stood and watched it on the anvil—do you know what happened? It began to turn blue, greeny-blue, and then black. His father then said to him,

"If we leave it long enough, it will be cold. Always seek Christian fellowship."

Douglas said he learned a lesson that day—Christian fellowship is a means of grace; we are part of the flock of living sheep. (From The Lord our Shepherd. p. 49-50)

May we our fellowship be like that.