“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles.”
Romans 1:13 NLT
Paul was a worker. He laboured unceasingly in doing what God, through Jesus, had asked him to do, ever since that encounter on the Damascus Road. His desire was to disciple, to teach, to encourage, all to build up the Christians in Rome and see the spiritual fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit start to ripen and mature in their lives. Paul knew it was possible, because he had seen other Gentile Christians blossom in the light of the Holy Spirit.
What spiritual fruit would Paul have expected to see? In several places in his letters, Paul takes on misdemeanours manifesting themselves in the local congregation. For example, in the Corinthian church Paul was concerned about disunity. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose”. In the same church, sexual misconduct was also his concern. We read in 1 Corinthians 5:1, “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother”. So there was probably some basic “spiritual fruit” potential at the back or Paul’s mind, dealing with issues that he had heard about on the early church grapevine.
On a more positive note, the early Christian church everywhere suffered persecution, and Paul would have encouraged the Christians to respond in a way that amplified the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Gifts such as wisdom, helping them to deal with difficult situations. Or discernment, enabling them to change course perhaps in the face of societal difficulties. But they found out something about persecution that may be foreign to us Western pilgrims. It refines our faith and commitment. There are no half-hearted, lukewarm Christians around when persecution is present.
So, on arrival in Rome, Paul would have immediately been able to put his spiritual finger on the issues of immaturity that perhaps were present in the Roman church, and he would have encouraged growth in those areas needing his support and teaching. Also, if anyone knew how to live with persecution it was Paul. Paul’s work amongst the Christians in Rome would have been invaluable and life changing to those in the congregation.
Have we ever noticed our human tendencies to rationalise or fail to focus on the right issues? Where even our pastors teach one thing but, really, we need teaching or guidance on something else? That is where an apostolic visitation can sometimes help; an external prophetic voice is often able to put his or her finger on the important issues affecting a local church and bring a new perspective, turning the church, and all those within it, around and back on track. We pilgrims must always pray that we stay on the narrow path, and don’t get diverted into dead ends and, worse, back on the broad way that leads to destruction. But we must also be thankful for the men and women of God, who He sends our way to help us grow, to bear the spiritual fruit so beloved by Paul.
Dear Father God. You are so faithful. You lead us into green pastures as we follow our Heavenly Shepherd. We are so grateful. Amen.