“Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.”
Romans 1:8-9 NLT
After the initial greetings, Paul gets into his letter. And straight away he thanks the Christians in Rome for their faith in God. It’s ”being talked about all over the world“, he said. What an accolade! But how could their faith become so public? And what was there about that faith that made other people in the city talk about it?
Here in the UK, faith is often considered to be a very private matter. There is almost an embarrassment with some Christians, if asked a question about their church or what they believe. In the workplace, religion is a no go area for many, and in the lives of some Christians there is no clue that would indicate their faith. Such people behave the same way as everyone else Monday to Saturday, the only difference is that they will disappear into a church building for an hour or so on a Sunday morning, while others head for the golf course or some other activity. Such a faith is hardly what Paul is highlighting here in his message of thanks. And it is also not following what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” Such Christians may not be denying Jesus “here on earth”, but they aren’t “acknowledging [Him] publicly” either.
How would we get our faith to become the subject of a public discussion? And to what extent should we? In my daily walks around the West of Fife, I try and take every opportunity to share my faith. Most people in my neighbourhood know what I stand for, regarding the things of God. In the office my fellow workers knew about my faith. But is that enough? A Christianity that is benign and inoffensive is hardly likely to be the subject of discussion. We Christians have a counter-cultural message of salvation that, when superimposed on this devil-controlled world, causes offence. We have a God-sourced opinion about sin and wickedness that those in the world find uncomfortable. Christians everywhere will soon find themselves publicly noticed when they stand up for the Biblical, God-breathed, principles of sexuality, marriage and the sanctity of human life, both before and after birth. And this is just a start. We may not be the sandwich-board evangelists, shouting out an in-your-face message of “turn or burn” or something similar, but there should be something about Christians that publicises the “salt and light” talked about by Jesus in Matthew 5.
Of course, there are positives about Christians that those in the world find attractive and for which people are grateful. For example, most food banks in the UK are run by Christian organisations. Christian charities are extensively glueing together the fabric of society, with benevolent acts, being “good Samaritans” to their friends and neighbours. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Are we hilltop or basket lights?
We pilgrims have the opportunity to make our marks on the societies in which we live. By nailing our colours to the masts of our communities, we will become ridiculed, avoided, and even abused. But we know the future. The world economic machine, riddled with sin and wickedness, grinds on towards eternal destruction, but, through God’s grace, we have the counter-cultural words of eternal life. We have the message of hope that is denied to so many by their love of the things of the world. We pray for God’s grace to extend to those we meet, that His love will warm their hearts, and that another child of the enemy will be released from their life of sin into a new life as a child of God.
Heavenly Father. We pray for our friends and families, that Your grace and love will work transforming miracles in their lives. We worship You today. Amen.