I have recently been struck by a very simple verse in the first chapter of Romans:
“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.” (vv. 11–12)
The first part of that statement makes perfect sense to me. Paul was obviously a spiritual giant, so it’s only right that he would want to visit the church in Rome and strengthen them through his spiritual gifts.
We’re used to this in the church. We go to conferences to hear powerful speakers and talented musicians. God has given them gifts, and we want these giants to use their God-given gifts to bless us. The same thing is true within our churches. We sit through services on Sunday mornings so that we can be strengthened by our pastor’s spiritual gifts. Why shouldn’t Paul want to use his God-given gifts to strengthen the church in Rome?
But it’s the second half of the passage that strikes me. Paul clarifies by saying that what he really wants is to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Paul is longing to visit this church so that he could be encouraged by their faith. Paul. This is the guy who was encouraging others to share the joy he felt while in a prison cell. The guy who got stoned and left for dead because he preached the gospel, then got up and walked to another town to preach the gospel some more. This Paul wanted to interact with “little” Christians he had never met so that he could be encouraged by their gifts.
Can you imagine going to a conference where you strengthen John Piper or David Platt with your gifts? Or a church service where the pastor is being encouraged by your faith?
Paul’s statement shouldn’t be as shocking as it seems. The church has always been about mutual encouragement. The church was never designed to have super Christians who are always giving and little Christians who are always receiving. Yet that has become our default in many cases.
So if you’re a spiritual leader, used to challenging other with your gifts, learn to be strengthened and encouraged by the Christians around you. Learn to need the people who need you. Paul longed for this; so should you. You’ll never outgrow the church, no matter how powerful you think you’ve become.
And if you’re a “normal” Christian, look for ways to strengthen the church through your gifts. The church is tragically weakened when it misses out on your strengths. God placed the Spirit inside you in a unique way so that you could make the church stronger (see 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4). Take that seriously.