“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.” Romans 1:12
This is a lively phrase in which we can practically hear the cogs of Paul’s brain turn: writing to the believers in Rome, he looks forward to ministering to them, but then remembers how much the experience is inevitably a mutual blessing. He anticipates imparting a spiritual gift to them – this refers to the way Jesus and his followers laid hands (then and now) on another believer and in prayer imparted a gift, such as an anointing for leadership. This happened to Timothy, for example – see Paul’s letter to him. Imagining this happy scene, Paul is aware that he is encouraged in seeing God at work in the lives of those he is ministering to, just as much as they are encouraged by him.
If you’ve been around Christian teaching for a while you might recognise part of the Greek word that Paul uses for ‘mutually encouraged’: symparakaleō. The Holy Spirit is famously described as the paraklete, our great helper-encourager. As he does for us, Paul is looking forward to being with his Roman brothers and sisters so they can all be sym- or co-parakletes for each other – providing help and encouragement for each other. Such friendships are a holy calling.
Visiting a friend tonight, I enjoyed hearing her talk about how she had understood something as she was talking to Jesus on her morning walk. She had a revelation in understanding something about herself. I was momentarily struck with the temptation to wish that I heard from God that well. But as we continued sharing our recent experiences, it was evident that we each had news of God’s breakthroughs in things we were working on and we were encouraged at each others’ testimonies and breakthroughs. We might start tired and discouraged but end by feeling the confidence of God’s evident presence in our lives.
It is such a precious thing to meet regularly with friends and regularly take stock. Just reviewing what God has done is so encouraging, and if one of us is going through a tougher time, you need reassurance that God is at work in a life near you all the more. Even if it feels like winter in your life, you can bask in someone else’s good weather for while. It’s so easy for the invisible to become the unnoticed. We need to have a regular diet of the reality of God, for our noisy lives not to drown out the less obviously tangible.
Thank God for my friends who listen and share what’s really going on underneath. Life would be much poorer without them.