I admit to having been blindsided a few times in life, by hearing about what someone – whether a family member, friend, or colleague – was going through. A person who looked OK (to me) was enduring physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. It is so easy to just see people at a surface level, and exchange normal pleasantries or have situationally-appropriate discussions (like exchanging information about school or work), while missing out on what is going on in someone’s heart.
Even when we hear more about what someone else is going through from a third party (hopefully shared as an opportunity to genuinely support the other person, and not just rumors or gossip), we still see only a little more into their lives. In order to truly understand a person’s background, motivation, dreams, and fears, it takes a lot of time listening, often accompanied by sharing life experiences with that person. (For instance, you can learn a lot about someone by joining them on a service project or short-term mission trip. Long drives, overseas flights, or hours of work provide a lot of time to talk…and to listen.)
And, even with a willingness to listen, we can only learn about another person to the extent that they share with us. With all of these challenges, we we shouldn’t pretend that we know how someone feels from just a two-sentence summary of their day.
It is interesting to me that Paul, when he wrote to the church in Rome (i.e., the book of the Bible that we call “Romans”), had probably never met them. He had certainly learned some things about them from others, but somehow He managed to put together a substantial letter (16 chapters’ worth, although chapter and verse notations were added much later, just for convenience).
Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.
Romans 1:8-9 NLT
How was Paul justified in giving instructions to a group that he had never met? Was he being presumptuous? Was he just writing generic “self-help” material? Where does he get the right to tell strangers what to do?
Here’s my belief: Paul wrote to the believers in Rome based on what he knew about them. This included what he had heard, as well as – more significantly – what Paul knew to be true about everyone, and what Paul knew to be universally true about faith in God.
Like Paul, while we don’t know all that is going on in someone’s mind when we cross paths with them, we can know some things about them, by their very nature of being a human. Having not met most visitors to this site, here are a couple of things that I know about you, not because I’m spying on you, but because these things are true for everyone.
No matter who you are, you live in a fallen world. God created a perfect world for humankind to live in, but we – from Adam and Eve to yours truly – broke it. Our selfish choices, our rebellion against the instructions that God gave us for our own good, and our arrogant belief that we know better than God: all of these contribute to a messed-up world. Much (most?) of these trials are due to our own bad choices, although the consequences are not necessarily mapped one-to-one with individuals who decide to take a wrong path. Our own sins can cost us, but sometimes our sins end up harming others (or vice versa). Yet other frustrations are due to the curse placed upon this world because of our wrong choices, reminding us that sin is a really bad thing.
Even without meeting you, I can be certain that your life will be better with Jesus. I’m not suggesting that you’ll become wealthier, better-looking, or more popular. But, you will no longer have to live with the dread of facing the eternal consequences of your sins. On a more positive note (since following Jesus is far more than “get out of Hell” – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), God’s Holy Spirit offers unique wisdom and insight into our purpose in life, as well as direction. (Unfortunately, as much as I could try to explain to you about what it means to follow Him, you can’t appreciate all of it unless you give Him a chance, and experience it for yourself.)
If you already follow Jesus, you can probably already attest to the truth of these 2 statements. If not, I hope that you will look around and appreciate their validity. In either case, the book of Romans itself is packed with great lessons that apply to all of us, whether we are just learning about Jesus, or have been trusting Him as our Savior for years.
Click here to get started reading Romans today.
Read through a few paragraphs per day, and you can soak in the entire book’s worth of universal knowledge in about a month. Or, dig in and learn its lessons in just a couple of weeks. Either way, as a human being, this message is for you!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.