Meditations in Romans : 6 : Good Witnesses?
Rom 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
In this first decade of the twenty first century there has been a full frontal attack on the Christian faith by crusading atheists. Now the interesting thing to note is that they are woefully ignorant of the truths of the Gospel as found in the New Testament and so that is not the main object of their attack. No, their attack has been against many forms of Christianity, or expressions of Christianity, that have been observed in the church in the past or are being seen around the world today – expressions that are far from that shown in the New Testament. In the United Kingdom at least, whenever the media portray a representative of the church they are almost always either weak individuals or quirky-belief individuals. Never or rarely is there a portrayal of Christians as strong, helpful members of society, people who should be given a fair hearing for the reality of their faith. Now I know that part of the enemy’s tactics is to demean and neutralise Christians, but it does seem to me that so often we have given him plenty of ammunition to play with!
Now I am sure that the church in Rome in Paul’s day wasn’t perfect but even so, they were a church that the world knew about, and about which Paul could feel good. This letter by Paul isn’t a corrective letter like the first one to the Corinthians. No, it seems that this is a church with a strong faith and the news of that faith has gone round the world. Now that is a challenge isn’t it! Yes, put aside all the negatives that come from the media, but I wonder how the world around us views our local expression of ‘church’? Paul could talk to God in prayer about this church at Rome and speak very positively about it because of what he had heard about them. He wasn’t embarrassed about them and he didn’t need to make excuses for them. No, he gave thanks for what he heard about them.
So what might it be (for he doesn’t tell us) that made this church known around the world? He says it is their ‘faith’, so what does that mean? Well the first thing to suggest is that it doesn’t just mean their set of beliefs, because that would not get them a good reputation around the world. No it has to mean that they are living out their lives with a faith dimension to it. That suggests that they have been taught to live lives that distinguish them from the rest of the world. They are people who have changed so that they are marked out so that they have been seen for what they are. So what sort of characteristics make us people who can have a good reputation in the eyes of the rest of the world? Let’s suggest a few things.
First, we may suggest, they are people of truth, people who are honest and trustworthy, people who are known for their integrity. Truth is valued highly by the Lord and so this would be a mark of a good church. Second, we may suggest, they would be people of peace and harmony, free from arguing, criticising, gossiping, judging and speaking badly of others. In fact, to the contrary, they will be people who look for the best in one another, who speak well of one another, who encourage and build up one another. They would love and accept one another and be there for one another. They would be a caring community. They would be known for looking after the needy – the widows and orphans. They would be law abiding, good citizens, caring for their community, both Christian and non-Christian. They would be good workers and not lazy or careless. They would be wise stewards of whatever wealth the Lord has allowed them to have, meeting the needs of those who did not have.
It is probable that they would be known for the supernatural dimension of their lives. They are people who claim to hear God and live their lives in accord with what He has said to them. They see things happening as they respond to what they hear from Him. They pray and things change. They pray for the sick and they are healed.
Now where do we get all these things from? From the New Testament of course, but as we said earlier, it is probable that they are not perfect and not all these things are patently obvious in their church life yet. Perhaps that is why Paul writes in a very practical way in the latter chapters. One of the obvious things, we have to suggest, is that these people do what they do and are known for what they do, because of God. They are not just nice people, not just good people – they are godly people and the focus is on God. As a result of their lives God is glorified, just as Jesus said: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
If they are a growing church then Solomon’s words will also be true of them: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) – and they are seen! Where God is Lord, then we will also see the prayer of Jesus being fulfilled: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23). The presence of God in these people is seen by the world and they are witnesses to the Lord. May all these things apply to us, His church today!