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Committing to Christian Relationships - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 1:8-15

  • 2014-09-14 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


There is, in our culture, a growing concern about personal privacy. It's in the news almost every day. There was recently a breach of personal privacy on the Internet and it made big news everywhere. Seems like every week I receive letters from companies that I do business with and when I open the envelope all that's in the envelope is a reminder of their privacy policy. Again and again we are reminded of the fact that we have a right to privacy, and, of course, we ought to be concerned about our privacy in one sense, we all agree that our personal information should never be used without our permission, should never be sold to the highest bidder and exploited for other people or companies' personal profit.

On the other hand, the constant demand for and the seeking of privacy in our culture can be, and frankly often is, spiritually detrimental. The push for personal privacy allows people to pursue the worst kinds of sin in complete and utter privacy of their own homes or rooms on a computer. The push for privacy is also contrary, frankly, to the spirit of the Christian faith. As Christians belonging to the body of Christ, let me put it as bluntly as I can, we have no right to privacy. We have no right to insulate and isolate our lives from other Christians because we belong to what the New Testament calls the church.

Now, when the New Testament uses the word church, the Greek word is ecclesia, it uses it with two primary meanings. First of all, it often uses the word church to refer to the local church. That is, a local assembly of all of those in that community who profess faith in the biblical Jesus and in the biblical gospel. About 92 times of the 109 times the word ecclesia occurs in the New Testament it refers to the local church. The other way this word ecclesia is used is of what we could call the universal church. That is, all professing believers in Jesus Christ everywhere on the planet. It's used this way about 17 times of the 109 times it's used in the New Testament.

We could divide the universal church into two other categories, or we could delineate it may be a better way to say it, in two different ways. First of all there is the visible universal church. That is, all professing believers everywhere as we see the church, which includes both true believers and false believers. Our Lord warned us constantly that there would be false Christs, that people would embrace the wrong Jesus, and that they would believe a false gospel. Paul reminds us there are such things in Galatians 1. So, the visible church, all of those collectively around the globe who profess Jesus Christ, who claim the biblical Christ, claim the biblical gospel, is composed of both true and false believers.

But there is, in addition, what we could call the invisible universal church. This is the church on this planet as God sees it, which includes only true believers. All of those who believe in the true biblical gospel and in the biblical Christ belong to the church invisible, along with all of those who have been redeemed. Now understand this, all who belong to the church invisible, all who are truly redeemed, will also always belong to a local church, to a local manifestation of the body of Christ where the biblical Christ is worshiped and the biblical gospel is believed. Why is that? Because the Spirit of God has united us not only to Christ, Paul says in Ephesians 2, but He's united us as well to every other believer. We just know, by Scripture and intuitively, that we are in the family, that we belong to the family of God, and therefore there is a desire to connect with others in the body of Christ.

So understand then that in the body of Christ, all who believe in the biblical Christ, in the biblical gospel, are interconnected with one another. The New Testament, in both its example and its teaching, calls for us then, to give up our sinful selfish desire to be isolated and alone and instead to intentionally surrender our privacy and to share our lives with other believers in the context of the church. God calls us to exchange our sinful desire for privacy and to be left alone for Christian fellowship.

Now, the biblical and theological foundation behind this reality is that we are now members of the body of Christ, and Christ intends that the members of his body share a common life together. This is clear from the beginning, keep your finger here in Romans 1, but turned back to Acts 2. Acts 2 is Pentecost, the day the church, in New Testament terms, was born. The day began with this amazing sermon by the apostle Peter, after a demonstration of the presence of the Spirit, and when he finishes the sermon in verse 41 this is what we read, "So then, those who had received his word," received here is another word for believed, put their faith in, those who had believed the gospel he presents in the sermon, they "were baptized." So, this is always the biblical order and you'll find it throughout the book of Acts. They hear the Word, they believe the Word and repent of their sins, and then they are baptized. Baptism is an indication of an inward spiritual change.

"That day there were added about 3,000 souls." That day began with 120 believers gathered in the upper room and it ends with a church in Jerusalem of 3,120.

Now, notice how this church, the first local New Testament church, notice how they interacted with one another. Verse 42, "They were continually devoting themselves," to four things. Number one, "to the apostles teaching." That is, they were studying the Scripture. They were hearing the apostles teach the Scripture and they were learning what the Scriptures teach. Secondly, "to fellowship." The Greek word is koinonia, it literally means, "a sharing." They shared themselves and their lives with one another. They also shared their belongings, as we will see in a moment. There was a sharing of lives.

Thirdly, there was "the breaking of bread." That's, here in this context, likely a reference to the Lord's Table, to communion, to the remembrance of what our Lord accomplished on the cross for us. And, verse 42 adds a fourth component of their daily devotion, it was "to prayer." This was a praying church. "Everyone," verse 43, "kept feeling a sense of awe; and many signs and wonders were taking place through the apostles." Now notice, again, here's another description of how this church functions,

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

That last phrase is key. This wasn't a form of communism. These were people who owned their own possessions. In chapter 5 Peter says, "While it belonged to you was it not your own?" speaking of Ananias and Sapphira and their selling their property. They still had their own private property, the Scripture affirms that, but they didn't see it as just theirs to cling to. When people had need they shared. They sold their property and made sure people's needs were met. By the way, there are records in the early Roman historians saying that Christians who were poor, who didn't have any means to help others, would sometimes fast a day or two so they could share their food with others. This is the spirit of believers.

Verse 46, "Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple." Here are 3,100 believers, there's no private home where they can meet, and so they met on the great Temple Mount that Herod had built, that massive platform that held up to 400,000 people. They found a corner and that's where they met, and that's where they had their corporate worship. But it was a little awkward for some of the things that needed to happen and so verse 46 goes on to say, "they broke bread from house the house." Everything couldn't happen on the Temple Mount, so they celebrate the Lord's Table in individual homes. The church divided into individual homes and this is what they did. And they were

taking [their food together,] their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

This is the first church, and this is the model for every church. Let me just ask you honestly, you know, I've this week had to ask myself, is this how I think of the church? Is this how our church functions? And by God's grace, I think in many ways this is true of our church, but let me ask you personally, does this describe your interaction with the church? Is this how you think of the church? How you think of the people that are here? This is the New Testament church.

Now, the foundation for this is over in I Corinthians. Again, keep your finger in Romans. We will get there. First Corinthians 12:13, let's start in verse 12, 1 Corinthians 12:12, Paul says, "For even as the body," he's talking here about the human body, "as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body." Stop for a moment. He's saying, listen, your body is one body, but it has all of these constituent parts. It has all these members, internal members that cause everything to function right, external members, your fingers and toes and nose and so forth. And he says in verse 12, "so also is Christ." Christ's body is like that. And then he says in verse 13, "For by one Spirit," the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, "we were all baptized into one body." This is something that universally happens to every true Christian. There's no water in this verse. It's the Spirit immersing, that's the Greek word, into one body, that is the body of Christ, "whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." This is the reality. So, therefore we ought to act like that's the reality, and he goes on to explain that, but skip down to verse 24, the middle of the verse, "But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to the member which lacked," in other words, you honor your internal organs more than you honor your external members. Because, frankly, you can live without a finger, but you can't live without a liver, okay? God's done this, verse 25, in the body of Christ,

so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.

This is the theological reality, the foundation. We are members of the body of Christ. We share a common life. We share a common Lord, a common Father, a common faith, and in light of that Scripture calls us to renounce our supposed right to privacy and to instead share our lives with our fellow Christians as members of the same family, and even as members of the same body. That's the theological foundation behind the paragraph that we are studying in Romans 1. Now you can turn there, back, with me.

Let me just remind you, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, a church he didn't found, a church he'd never visited. According to Romans 15, part of the reason he wrote was that he had just completed a 25-year evangelistic mission in what we call Eastern Europe. And he wanted the Romans to consider helping to support his new missionary endeavor in Western Europe, beginning in Spain. If the Romans were going to support him then they deserved to know firsthand the gospel he preached, and the result is this long letter that's more like a theological treatise.

Now, the first 17 verses of this letter are simply the opening to the letter itself. This section consists of three paragraphs. The first paragraph in verses 1 to 7 is simply the greetings from Paul. He introduces himself as the writer. He introduces the subject he's going to write about. He introduces the recipients. And as I've noted for you when we studied this in great detail, that here Paul provides us, today, with three reasons that Romans matters and should matter to us. First of all, it matters because Paul wrote it. He gives his credentials in verse 1 and they are high credentials, and therefore, call for us to take this letter very seriously. Secondly, it matters because it's about the gospel. In verses 2 through 5 he gives us a thumbnail sketch of the gospel that he will later unfold in great detail. And then in verses 6 and 7 we learned that Romans matters for us because of its intended audience. Not only was it written to Romans, with whom we have much in common culturally, but it was written to a spiritual audience, the true Christians in Rome, with whom we share everything in common.

Now, the second paragraph in this opening is a thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans. It begins in verse 8, runs down to verse 15, and then the third paragraph in this opening is in verses 16 and 17, and here we have a formal statement of the theme of this letter to the Romans. Last week we began the second section in the opening of this letter, Paul's thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans. Let's read it again together. Romans 1:8-15. You follow along.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit and the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 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. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Now, as we noted last week, this paragraph describes the historical circumstances behind the writing of this letter. It also records for us the personal interaction between the apostle Paul and the churches, the house churches that were in Rome. So, as we're studying this passage we are considering then the first century circumstances that prompted Paul to write. At the same time, and perhaps more importantly for us, we are also learning how Paul thought and how we should think about our fellowship with believers in the church. You see, Paul understood that the Christian life was never intended by God to be merely a private relationship with Him, where I live as an island separate from others. Instead, it was meant to be a life shared with other Christians, and in this passage Paul teaches us by example. In one sense we sort of get to look over his shoulder and watch his interaction with the Roman Christians, and by his example we learn the commitments that we all must make to our Christian relationships.

Now, the first commitment that Paul modeled and that we must make as well, we saw last week, and that is, we must thank God for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Verse 8, "First," that is, let me start here, let me begin here, Paul says, this is really important for me, for you to understand, to me, for you to understand. "I thank my God through Jesus Christ," that is, through the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. "I thank God," I extend my thanks to the Father, "through the Son, for you all." He means specifically here for their faith. You'll see that he references their faith, for the fact of their faith. When Paul heard that there were Christians, real Christians, dotted around the city of Rome, he thanked God. He thanked God for setting His love upon them, for calling them to belong to Jesus Christ, for giving them the faith with which to believe.

Notice, Paul also thanked God, verse 8, "because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world." Paul said wherever there are Christians scattered across the Roman Empire, your faith, believers in Rome, is an encouragement to them because it shows that the plan of God, the power of the gospel, marches even into that ancient wicked city that was the center of the Roman Empire. He says, "I thank God for all of you." We learned last time that the only reason Paul could do that is he had learned the truth of ambivalence, being able to see the strengths and weaknesses at the same time, hold those in tension, and thank God for the work He had done, was doing, and would do in the lives of other Christians. It means bearing with their weaknesses.

Now, today we begin by examining the second commitment that Paul made to the Romans and that we must make in our Christian relationships. Not only must we thank God for them, but we must pray for them consistently. Look at verse 9, "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you," and by "mention of you," that is clear in verse 10, he means "mention of you in my prayers." Paul begins by expressing the fact that he has prayed, and is praying, for the Romans. Now, first century letters usually began this way, even letters written by pagans reference some prayer to their gods.

When I was in seminary I spent a semester translating common household documents from the first century that had been found in ancient trash heaps all over the Middle East. Those documents were written on a kind of paper made from papyrus reed and therefore collectively those documents were known as the papyri, and I spent a semester translating many of those documents. Many of them were personal letters. Here's one example of a personal letter from the first century, written by a pagan, a lady named Sarapius. She writes, "Sarapius to her children. Heartiest greeting. Above all, I pray that you may be in health, which is for me, the most necessary of all things. I make my obeisance to the Lord Sarapius, praying that I may receive word that you are in health, even as I pray for your general welfare." Now, I read that just to show you that this is the form most first century letters began with.

Paul as you can see, followed the typical form of a first century letter, but because he was an apostle, because he knew the true God, and not some pagan God, he filled out that first century form with rich and profound meaning, he shares his prayer for the Romans. Notice, Paul begins by calling God Himself to witness about the content of his prayers, "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness." You know, Paul can't help himself, he just bleeds theology. Here he's just talking about his prayer and he can't help himself. Look how he describes God. In the previous verse he described God as "my God," that is, God belongs to me and I belong to Him. It's part of that new covenant promise where God says, "I will be their God and they will be My people."

In verse 9 Paul adds, it is the God "whom I serve." The Greek word that's translated serve here always refers to religious service. It's not the word from which we get the word deacon. It's a different word. The service that's described here can either be the act of worship itself or it can refer to some religious duty performed. I think Paul means both. I think he was saying that I worship God and I serve him through the duties He's given me to perform. Notice, Paul's service was not grudging, wasn't merely external, he says, "I serve Him in my spirit." In other words, his service was genuine. It was from his heart. Paul also identifies the primary means of his service to God, as an apostle of the Gentiles. Notice what he says, "in the preaching of the gospel of His Son." Paul saw his primary service to God to proclaim the good news that God had made known concerning His Son.

What was that gospel message? Well, Paul introduces, down in verses 16 and 17, the fact that he's going to talk about the gospel, and then beginning in verse 18 he doesn't talk about the gospel. In fact, he spends the next couple of chapters talking about the need for the gospel, showing how "there is none righteous, not one," whether you're religious, or whether you're irreligious, whether you're a Jew, or whether you're a pagan. It doesn't matter. "There is none righteous; there is none who seeks God," Paul says. We are together become an unclean thing; we are all together guilty before God. And then he comes to the gospel. Turn over to chapter 3, verse 21. He ends the bad news in chapter 3 verse 20 and he begins the good news in verse 21. "But now," in contrast to our natural condition, which is dead in sin, completely rebellious against God, unable to please God in any way, "But now apart from the Law." That is, this is not something that comes to us through obeying God's Law. "Apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested," and this idea isn't a new idea, it was witnessed by the law and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament. It's, "the righteousness of God," which comes, "through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." This is a righteousness that comes to everyone who believes, "for there is no distinction; for all have sinned," we're all in the same miserable condition, spiritually, and we've all "fallen short of the glory of God."

So how can people like that have a relationship with God? How can we be made right with God? Verse 24, "being justified," that means to be declared right before God. That's what that word means, to declare righteous. It's used often in contrast to condemn, which is a legal term meaning to find guilty. This is defined righteous, we are declared righteous. How? How can God do this? He does it as a gift by His grace. You say, well, wait a minute. How can a righteous judge declare a wicked person to be righteous? Well, here's the answer, "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." It's through what Christ did on the cross. Verse 25, it's when "God publicly displayed Christ as a propitiation." The word means a satisfaction of God's wrath, "in His blood," that is, through His death, His violent death as a substitutionary sacrifice, and that becomes ours, "through faith." That was the gospel that Paul preached.

Go back to chapter 1. Paul calls God, whom he serves with his whole heart in the preaching of that gospel to witness, may God be "my witness." Now why does Paul say that? Paul always uses this expression when he knows that his readers have no way of knowing if he's really telling them the truth. I mean think about this for a moment. All the Romans knew for sure was that the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, had never shown up in Rome. He'd never visited them. Not once. They might conclude from that that Paul really had no real interest in them and that his new interest in writing this letter was solely their financial support in his new ministry, and so Paul calls God Himself as a witness to the truth that he has wanted to come, has sought to come to be with them, for a long time. In fact, he's often asked God to make it possible for him to be there.

That is the historical circumstance in which Paul wrote, but in explaining that to the Romans Paul also lets us in on a very important fact about his interaction with them. Notice, he consistently prayed for the believers in Rome. The end of verse 9, he says, "I make mention of you." How? Verse 10, "in my prayers." Paul prayed for his fellow believers, even those he didn't know personally and he prayed for the Romans, notice verse 9, "unceasingly." The word doesn't mean that he never stopped praying for a moment for the Romans. That's impossible, as well as impractical. It means instead that he prayed frequently. He prayed, maybe the best way to translate it is he prayed consistently for his fellow Christians in Rome.

This is just who Paul was. This is what Paul did. Let me show you a couple of examples. Turn over to Ephesians 1:15. He says, "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints," verse 16, "do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." He says, I pray for you. I pray for you consistently. One other example, look at Colossians 1:9, "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding," and so forth. He records his spiritual prayer for them here. The point is, Paul prayed for his fellow Christians consistently.

Now, I know what you're tempted to think. You're tempted to think, well, of course he did, he's the apostle Paul. This is part of the apostle's job description. "We will devote ourselves," Acts 6 says, "to the word of God, and to prayer." He had to do it. But that's not the reason Paul prayed consistently for others. The truth is, Scripture commands all true Christians, every one of us, to pray for our fellow believers in the same way. Let me give you two biblical arguments. First of all, think with me about the Lord's Prayer. We studied it together at length when we went through the Sermon on the Mount. In the Lord's Prayer our Lord consistently teaches us not to pray using the first person singular possessive pronoun my, but rather, using the second person plural our and us. "Our Father who is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

Now, Jesus's point was not that it's inappropriate to use the personal pronoun my or that we should never express our prayer in personal terms. Clearly, many of the Psalms do. Rather, our Lord was teaching us this, when we come to pray, we are coming to pray as members of a family and we have to keep that in mind. We are to think in prayer beyond ourselves, for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But there's another argument for our responsibility to pray for everyone, all believers, and that's the direct commands of the New Testament. What about Ephesians 6:18, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." That's a command. Christ has commanded you and me to pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In 1 Timothy 2:1 Paul even enlarges it beyond that. He says, in the context of the church, "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men," and he mentions governmental leaders; he mentions everybody.

Let me ask you, and I want you to be honest with your own heart here, how often do you pray for someone other than yourself and your own family? You see, we tend to think myopically. We tend to lose the sight of what we really are about. We belong to a family; we belong to the church of Jesus Christ. We are members of His body and we have a responsibility as the thumb to the toe. Do you pray for the people in this church? I mean, do you really pray for the people in this church? Do you pray for other faithful churches across our city and across our state and across our country? Other faithful churches in the world? Do you pray for our brothers in Christ who are being persecuted right now as we sit here in comfort? Do you pray for believers in countries that are in the news? You know, some country shows up in the news for Ebola, or for, you know, some plane being downed, or war, or civil war, do you think beyond the news headlines and think, I have brothers and sisters there. I wonder what their lives are like? Lord, give them grace; protect them. Listen, if that's not how you pray, this is what Christ has commanded us to do.

How do you start? Here's just a little start. On your way out this morning, pick up a prayer list in the foyer. Now, we may be out after the first two services; we'll get more, but it's a list of the specific needs that members of this church have shared with us and have asked us all to pray with them about. There's a good starting place. Oh, by the way, we're not just to pray for physical needs. We are to pray for physical needs, but two thirds of the petitions in the Lord's prayer are not about physical needs, they are about spiritual needs. So, we're to pray. Paul not only thanked God for his fellow believers. He prayed for them consistently and so should we.

Now there's a third commitment that Paul made, and that we should make to our fellow Christians, and that is, enjoy being with them. Enjoy being with them. Look at verse 10,

always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you.

In verse 9 Paul told the Roman Christians he prayed for them consistently. In verse 10 he tells them one of his consistent prayers. He desperately wanted to be with them, to visit them. Verse 10, "always in my prayers. This is the request I make." Whenever Paul prayed for them he always asked God to allow him to visit them.

By the way, we can learn a lot about how to pray by paying attention to how Paul expresses this desire to God. Look at what he says in verse 10, "always in my prayers making request," here it is, "if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." That's remarkable. Paul the apostle desperately wanted to visit Rome and he wanted to visit there, not as a tourist, but for purposes that were in keeping with God's great eternal plan of redemption, and in line with the commission that Christ Himself had given Paul. And yet, even the apostle submitted his godly plans for the advance of the kingdom to the will of God. It is right for us, as it was for the apostle, to submit our prayers to be granted by God only if it is His will.

Now, why do I belabor what seems like a pretty obvious point to most of us? It's because there are some professing Christians today who are rejecting this idea entirely. Recently I read an article online in which a charismatic author argued that you should never once pray, "if it's Your will." In fact, he said that that phrase, "if it's Your will," is one of the biggest destroyers of faith. As you know, in charismatic theology God will give you whatever you really believe is going to happen and so you don't want anything that ebbs away at that confidence, and so to say, "if it's Your will," he says, that destroys your faith, and you're not going to get what you want from God. He says, it is a destroyer of faith.

Well, our Lord apparently didn't think so. He said, in Luke 22:42, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Nor did Paul, in the early church, think it was a problem to think and pray like this. In Romans 15:32, Paul says, "I want to come to you by the will of God." Acts 18:21, Paul leaves Ephesus and he says, "I will return to you again if God wills." Acts 21:14, Paul would not be persuaded to discontinue his plans to head to Jerusalem, even though the believers were afraid he would be killed and they say, "we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done.'" First Corinthians 4:19, Paul says to the Corinthians, "I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills." James 4:15, "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'" Even for the apostle Paul, he submitted his desires, even his Kingdom desires, to the will of God. And so, Paul prayed that if it was according to God's will, God would allow him to succeed in coming to them. This was Paul's consistent and his earnest prayer.

Now listen carefully, the lesson we learn from his example here is profound in any period of time, but especially in our own. Paul was not content to engage in a long-distance relationship. He could not satisfy his desire for fellowship by writing letters. Paul wanted to be with those believers in person, face-to-face, and this is the consistent theme of Scripture. In Scripture, being together face-to-face is always better than trying to carry on a relationship at a distance.

This is true of our relationship to God. I mean, we know God the Father, and we know His Son Jesus Christ right now, if we've repented and believed, but we still long to be with them face-to-face, and that, folks, will be better. First Corinthians 13:12, Paul says, "Now we see in a mirror dimly," that's what life here is like, "but then face to face," and it's clear what Paul preferred. Second Corinthians 5:8, "I prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." Philippians 1:23, Paul says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." You see, as wonderful as our relationship with God can be here in this life, He is our constant companion, our Father, our Shepherd, we still long for the faith that we have to become sight, as we sang together this morning, "When my faith will be my eyes I'll see Him," and that's better.

Now listen carefully, Scripture is equally clear that our relationships with one another are better face-to-face. That's the implication behind Paul's prayer here in Romans 1. We can see this same point show up in other places. Look at Philippians 1. Philippians 1:8, "For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." What did Paul mean? Look at chapter 4 verse 1, "Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see." Paul wanted to be with the Philippians. Look at 1 Thessalonians 3, you see this attitude of Paul's again; 1 Thessalonians 3:10, he says,

We day and night keep praying most earnestly that we may see [your text, is that what it says? No.] your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith. Now, may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you.

You see, although Paul had never met most of the Christians in Rome, he still genuinely desired to be with them. Paul loved the personal company of other Christians and he understood that there was fellowship that could take place in-person, face-to-face, that couldn't take place at a distance through writing or through any other mode of communication.

Now let me just draw out a couple of very practical implications for us that are an application in our cultural context and not in the cultural context of the first century. Number one, two of them, number one, you ought to enjoy being with other Christians. You ought to enjoy being with other Christians. Not merely streaming the services of the church as a habit. Not merely listening to your favorite Bible teacher on the radio or online. Not merely attending a multisite campus where you sit down, watch a talking head on a video, and walk out and never interconnect with other believers. Not merely walking into a church service like this one at the very last moment so that you won't have to talk to anybody and then when the amen is said, heading for the doors. No, you ought to enjoy and to pursue the company of other Christians. Remember Acts 2? That's the model, sharing life together, having meals together, taking care of the needs of each other. If you see the church as something that you can come, like a buffet line, and get what you want and leave, you have totally misunderstood your Lord's purpose for you.

Let me give you a second implication. Don't make the mistake of thinking that social media, Facebook, Twitter, and texting, are legitimate replacements for face-to-face relationships. In a presentation on Internet trends, Mary Meeker, a widely respected Internet analyst, made these points about the usage of electronic devices in the US today. US adults, on average, spend seven and a half hours every day looking at screens, 2.4 hours watching TV, 1.71 hours in front of a computer, 2.51 hours on a smart phone, 43 minutes with a tablet. Seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen and of that seven and a half hours, three of those hours are spent in social media. Three hours a day. Now, many people believe that those hours are not wasted, that they are instead deepening their personal relationships.

Folks, there is a growing body of evidence to the absolute contrary. A New York Times article quotes Gary Small, a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry at UCLA. He also wrote a book called iBrain, Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. Small believes that digital natives, as they're called, the term for the generation that's grown up using computers, they're already having a hard time with face-to-face communication. He writes, "Even though young digital natives are very good with tech skills. They are weak with the face-to-face human contact skills." A couple of years ago MIT professor Sherry Terkel wrote a book entitled Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. In an interview with Frontline about that book, this is what she had to say about the effect of technology on relationships, "What I'm seeing is a generation that says consistently, I would rather text than make a phone call. Why? It's less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don't have to get all involved. It's more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face-to-face. There's this sense that you can have, [this is her commentary,] there's this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy are complicated; they're hard." That's exactly right, and so it feels like we're more connected when in reality we're growing increasingly disconnected.

Now, with that in mind, let me just make a couple of very practical suggestions for you to consider. These are not written in Scripture. They are just ideas for you to consider. Number one, as a habit, don't interrupt face-to-face conversations and fellowship for digital ones. I was having a meal with a missionary friend of mine and when we finished the meal he thanked me. He thanked me for not breaking out my smartphone during the meal and he described to me that he had a meal with a pastor whom we both knew, a good man that I respect, and he said throughout the meal the pastor kept looking at his texts and updating his Facebook page. He was trying to connect to people, just not to the people he was eating with. Now, I understand there will need to be, you know, exceptions to this from time to time, you're expecting an important text, an important call, but let me just consider, or let me just encourage you, rather, to consider making this guideline for your digital life: Whomever you are with at the moment, be all there. That's a person made in the image of God in which you can invest.

A second very practical suggestion on this media front is, if you want to grow a relationship, pursue face-to-face communication. Don't do it via text. This is true, by the way, when it's two men who want, as Christian men, to get together and, as brothers in Christ, get to know each other better and deepen a relation where there will be iron upon iron sharpening one another. It's true of women pursuing that same kind of deeper relationship in Christ. It's equally true if you're here this morning and you're of marriageable age and you're beginning to think about pursuing marriage. Listen, this can only happen when you are together. There is no substitute for face-to-face relationship and, by the way, as we saw in Acts 2, one of the best ways for that to happen is over food. It's happened since the first century. Invite them over for a meal. Go out to dinner. It will be messy. Yes, you will encounter people who are nothing like you. That's the church. This is God's intention.

Paul had never met most of the Christians in Rome but he desperately wanted to be with them, both to enjoy their company as we have seen today and, as we will discover next time, to promote their spiritual growth as well. Let me ask you, do you consistently pray for the other members of this body? Do you enjoy and seek out their company and companionship? Paul did with the believers he knew and he left us a wonderful model to follow. This is the church.

Let's pray together. Father take Your truth and seal it to our hearts. I pray that You would give us, both individually and corporately, a desire to pursue this model of life in the church. Thank You Father for what You have done here and I pray that we would excel still more in these kinds of relationships, in praying for each other, in thanking God for one another, and in truly enjoying each other's company, face-to-face, in person, sharing life together. We thank You, Father, for Your word, use it in all of our lives. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.