In our first lesson in this study on renewing your mind, we talked about the importance of belonging to Jesus—of finding your identity in Him. He is our All in All and the ultimate source of our strength. But God has also given us something more. He’s given us one another.
One of the best ways to renew your mind is to fellowship with other believers, to encourage one another in your faith, so you can give one another a fresh perspective on your life and the situations that you face.
This is what the Apostle Paul longed to do with the Christians living in Rome when he wrote his letter to them in about the year 57 A.D. If you know anything about this time period in Roman history, you’ll know that these were the days of the gladiators, the colosseums, and the fights-to-the-death in those huge arenas.
It was only seven years after Paul’s letter to the Romans—in 64 A.D.—that the mad Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for setting Rome on fire, a fire that many historians believed that Emperor Nero himself set so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking. This newly emerging group of Christians were an easy scapegoat. They were already looked down upon by the people because they chose to follow Christ rather than pay honor to the official Roman gods—one of which included Emperor Nero himself.
The Roman historian Tacitus—who lived in Rome at the time—says that after the fire, Nero arrested a vast number of Christians and had them tortured in the most heinous ways. Tacitus writes:
“In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and torn to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle…” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, circa 100 A.D.)
Just in case you missed what Tacitus was saying in that last statement, he was saying that Christians were set on fire to serve as human torches to light Nero’s gardens after the sun had gone down.
It is into this setting, just seven years earlier, that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter. For quite some time, he had wanted to visit the Roman Christians in person so that they could encourage one another in their faith. But being prevented once again, he wrote them a letter instead, a letter that has survived almost 2,000 years and still encourages us today.
Listen to Paul’s heartfelt love for the Christians in Rome:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles (Romans 8:8-13).
Life is hard for all of us at times. And it’s in those times that we need one another even more than ever. We need one another’s perspectives on the situations that we face, just as Paul gave his perspective to the Roman Christians. Although they were being ridiculed and persecuted—and they could have felt that God was treating them unfairly—Paul helped them to see their situation in another light. He thanked God for them, because their faith was being reported throughout the world.
Rather than seeing their situation as lowly and humiliating, Paul saw their stars of faith shining brightly—stars that illuminated the darkness around them.
And Paul was eager to join them in this dark place. While Paul could have been hesitant for many reasons to go to Rome, he wasn’t. As a natural-born citizen of Rome and one of the greatest intellectual thinkers of his day, he could have been embarrassed to align himself with those who followed Christ—a man who was mocked by the Roman leaders and crucified under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
But Paul wasn’t ashamed. He didn’t flinch at the possibility that he could be ridiculed, beaten, jailed, or killed for his faith. Why? Because Paul knew the life-changing power of the gospel that he preached—the “good news” of Christ.
Paul knew that the gospel had the power to save those who responded to it. He was eager to go to Rome and to have a harvest among those who were yet to believe. Paul said:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).
We could all use a few more Pauls in our lives, people who believe so much in the power of the gospel that their faith rubs off on us.
If you need a new perspective on your life—and the situations you’re facing in it—can I encourage you to find some other believers and to be honest with them about the struggles you’re facing? You can’t go it alone, and God doesn’t want you to. Even though Jesus may be all you need, that’s because He’s the One who can provide you with all you need—like believing friends who can be like family to you.
Seek them out and engage with them in heartfelt conversations. It’s risky. It’s hard. But it’s so worth it. Ask them if they see anything in your life that you might not be able to see. Ask them what God may be doing in and through the situations you’re facing. Open up the Word of God with them, and see how God has brought others through situations like the ones you’re facing. And if you think your situation is so unique that God’s Word doesn’t address it, that’s most likely because you haven’t read enough of God’s Word!
God has so much to say to you, but sometimes it takes another believer to help you to see it. If you don’t have church home, find one that strongly believes that the Bible is God’s Word. Get involved with a small group of other Christians. Join a chat room or a forum on the Internet where you can lift up one another with your prayers and concerns.
Or if you want, just forward this message to a Christian you respect and ask them to join you in this study of the book of Romans along with you, whether you get together in person or you share with each other electronically, half-way across the world.
One of my own kids is in Sydney, Australia, right now and I’m thankful that we’re still able to encourage one another in our faith from literally half-way around the world! He shares with me what he’s learning, and I share with him what I’m learning, and we both encourage one another with the new things we’re learning about life from God’s Word. The same thing happens with my wife and our other kids here in the house, and with our church and small group that we attend regularly. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
God wants to renew your mind, and one of the best ways you can do that is to fellowship with other believers. Seek them out. Share your story with them. Ask them to give you a boost in your faith, and give them a boost in their faith while you’re at it.
And if you’re the one who’s feeling particularly strong right now, can I encourage you to take some time to write or call, email or text, or just stop by and visit someone who could use your perspective on their life today? As Paul longed to do with the Romans—to be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”—God wants you to do the same with those around you. You’ll be glad you did.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for reminding us that even though Jesus is all we need, that we still need each other, and that our fellowship with other believers is one of the great blessings that Jesus wants to give us. Lord, for those who have such a fellowship, thank You. For those who need such a fellowship, I pray that You would answer their prayers. Help them to reach out to those around them and share honestly the struggles they’re going through in life. And then provide them with the fresh perspective and practical help they need to help them through this time with a faith that shines brightly for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.