Personal Perspective | Pt. 1
A friend of mine recently commented, “Perspective is the only thing that can change the whole world, without altering any of the facts.” I couldn’t agree more.
Perspective is that powerful, which means not only is the right perspective important, but the wrong perspective is dangerous. When it comes to personal perspective, Paul can teach us a lot.
I recently found some challenging points of application from his greeting to the church in Rome. He writes:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. —Romans 1:8–12
His first impulse is to thank God for the faith of the Roman Christians. On the surface it sounds like a typical Paul greeting. He does the same thing with the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and the Philippians. But here’s the difference: Paul planted those churches. He personally visited the cities, found lodgings, preached the gospel, made disciples, passed along apostolic doctrine, installed leaders, and left. He was centrally involved. Not so at Rome. Paul had never visited Rome. Paul had never preached in Rome.
In fact, you might say that a church was built in Rome in spite of Paul, not because of him. When visiting Romans from Jerusalem brought the gospel message back to their city, Paul was still unconverted at that point and quite hostile to the Christian faith and message. He was Saul the church persecutor, not Paul the church planter.
But God delivered him from a powerless form of religion and opened his eyes to the truth of Christ. And the rest is history. Paul became the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” And here’s where it gets interesting. Rome was the center of the Gentile world. It was the capital. All roads led to Rome. It was the cultural and religious center of the world at that time. And Paul hears that a church has sprung up there—without his involvement.
How will the Apostle to the Gentiles respond? With a grateful and humble heart. He thanks God and commends the Romans. He says literally, “Your faith is announced up and down the world.” What an encouragement. I’ll bet their hearts soared to read that.
American Christian leaders have not always reflected that spirit of gratitude when a movement of God has taken place without their involvement. Our fleshly reflex is to criticize. We easily and tragically grow cynical and suspicious of anything without our fingerprints on it. Paul’s example should challenge and correct us.
Paul is not a critic. He is a cheerleader. That doesn’t mean he is naive. He’s not celebrating a dead faith. On the contrary, as he’ll say later, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you” (16:19). He expresses thanks for God’s kingdom shining light and rescuing souls in the heart of a dark, broken empire.
He knew that the kingdom was bigger than him. It was never about him to begin with, so Paul is happy to see his name missing—so long as the name of Christ increases. He’s overjoyed that people in Rome are genuinely following Jesus. We hear plenty of bad news today about the hypocritical faith and scandalous lifestyles of so many, and we’re right to lament those stories and examine ourselves. But I’m convinced that we struggle to celebrate Kingdom growth when it comes through others.
We pray for revival. We seek a fresh movement of God’s Spirit in our cities and neighborhoods. What if God answered our prayers, but through another church, another pastor, another leader, another denomination? Would we rejoice and celebrate? Or would we criticize and dismiss? The Gospel was bearing fruit in Rome. It doesn’t create envy or jealousy in him. He doesn’t feel left out or passed over. In fact, he is eager to join the work! He plans to come to Rome.
That’s his earnest prayer. He is longing to partner with them in fulfilling the great commission in Rome and beyond. Paul is not a distant spectator to the work of God. He is a willing participant. He cannot get to Rome fast enough. What a perspective!
Paul says next that he wants to strengthen the Christians in Rome, and be strengthened by them. He is eager to participate in the work that God has already done there. He’s not interested in starting up a new work across the street. That’s Christian perspective!
He doesn’t view himself as a consumer, someone who can come and benefit from the faith of those in Rome without contributing. Neither does he view himself as one who has so much to give but so little to gain. No, Paul wants to impart a spiritual gift to strengthen and be mutually encouraged by their faith. What a humble perspective.
I’m persuaded that we rarely view ourselves in that role. We look for amenities, perks, programs, and comfort. How is the coffee, worship music, Children’s department, and parking? What do we stand to gain in coming here? We’re missing the point, aren’t we? God gave us gifts, not just to consume, but to co-labor, to strengthen and help one another grow. That’s why resisting community and neglecting to gather not only hurts us—it deprives others. It harms the cause of Christ in the world. Consider all the ways your faith in Jesus has been enriched, encouraged, and strengthened—through others.
Paul is praying he can come to Rome in order to encourage people in the Gospel. He wants to see a harvest! He’s a cheerleader, not a critic. He’s a participant, not a spectator. That’s a powerful perspective that can change the world without altering the facts. What kind of perspective have you adopted?