I love Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have studied it in-depth and taught it in-depth many times. Yet there is a passage right near the beginning that for many years, I glossed over because I was eager to get to the “meat.” It was one of those passages that one learns from experience rather than from study.
Paul is writing to the Romans in his authority as “an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (1:1). He desires to go to Rome, the capital city of the Empire, to visit the church there. He says “always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you” (verse 10). The reason he gives is that “ … I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established” (verse 11).
I can picture Paul here, dictating these words to his scribe, Tertius (16:22). Suddenly he stops, motions to Tertius to lay his quill pen down. He puts his hand on his chin, paces back and forth a few times and motions Tertius to dip his pen and start writing again.
“that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (verse 12).
Here is the great apostle, the explainer of the gospel, the great missionary who opened Europe to the gospel, explaining to his readers that not only did he have something to give them – they had something to offer him! I think I know a little bit of how Paul feels.
I have taught the Bible and Theology for many years. I’ve preached, I’ve taught in college. I have had the privilege of teaching literally thousands of men and women, and of sharing my small “gift” with them.
And yet I believe that I am the one who has benefited the most from my intercommunication with them.
Their questions in class have often given me fresh insights. Very seldom did a class session go by without my learning something – not only about the material, but about people.
Of course at the end of a semester there were material gifts and cards expressing gratitude. There were often gifts of food. (I think some students actually delighted in seeing me get on a sugar high.) :^) There were many notes of appreciation which still bring tears to my eyes.
However, mostly it was the students themselves who not only encouraged me, but taught me by their lives. The College of Biblical Studies where I taught for many years is not your typical Bible college. Most of my students were not young people fresh out of high school. They were adults, a few of them even older than I. They were men and women involved in ministries of all sorts – they were pastors, Sunday school teachers, church elders and deacons, those involved in ministries to addicts, or to the poor. They taught me about commitment to Christ and about love for people.
And some were new believers, or old believers who had never grown. I could see growth spurts in many. I could see light bulbs going on over their heads as they learned how to study the Scripture and think for themselves, I could see new or renewed commitments as they began to apply the Scriptures to their own lives.
Like Paul, I was “encouraged together with (them) while among (them), each of us by the others’ faith.”
If any of my former students are reading this, thank you!