This being my first message to you, as I begin my services in your midst, I have chosen a Word of God which very beautifully states the relationship which should exist between pastor and people, a relationship which will be ours, God willing here in our Christian family of Holy Cross congregation. The Word of God is found in Romans 1: 11-12 and reads as follows: "For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift unto you, to the end that ye may be established, that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." Let us consider these word under the gracious guidance of God the Holy Spirit in the following moments.
These words, of course, were written by the great apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul, to the Christian church at Rome. At the time of writing Paul was in Corinth, in Greece. He, as yet, had never been in Rome and hence had never met the people to whom he was writing. He only knew them, in so far as he had heard about them. He had heard that there was a group of believing Christians there, and that they had formed a church of some sort.
Who had started it, we don't know, perhaps several people. At least it was a young church, in the process of growing with a great future in store for it. And now Paul wants to come to them. We read, in the same chapter from which our text is taken, that he had wanted to come to Rome for a long time already.
Rome - that glorious capital of his time. It was the head of the then known world - the Roman Empire. Everybody knew about this great city and everybody longed to go there sometime and see it. A lot like Paris, London, New York, and other famous centers today. Here all the people of great renown and fame resorted. Here was the emperors palace and court. The great nobles and generals of the day made their headquarters here. Here was the center of trade and commerce. All roads led to Rome. Rome was wealthy, Rome was glorious with it's magnificant temples and arenas, its pomp, entertainment and pageantry. Yes this was the city of which Augustine once said he wished he could have seen when it was in its glory and height. And many today still have the same wish.
Well, St. Paul lived right at that time, and at the time of our text, he was planning to go to Rome too. But oh, how different this man of God was from the rest of the crowds that wanted to see Rome. Nowhere throughout the whole Epistle to the Romans anywhere, does he mention the city with its attractions. Nowhere does he even hint that he is wishing to see these things - these things which are the works of man. But rather, with determination and expectant hope we see his whole attention directed to this little insignificant group of believers, of whom he has heard, as we read in our text: "I long to see you". Yes, to see this little group of people, who were perhaps not even noticed by most of the people in Rome. In fact, one secular writer spoke of them as "some sort of sect".
But to St. Paul these people weren't insignificant. These were the most important people in Rome, far more important than any historic sight or magnificant building. These weren't the works of man, but the works of God. These were people whom God had created in His image, and they were precious in His sight. These were people for whom God, out of love, delivered up His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, that they might be saved from the wrath to come and have eternal life. Yes, they may not have been famous and wealthy in the eyes of the masses, but they were rich, for they would be heirs of the heavenly mansions which their Lord prepared for them. For they had come to hear the wonderful Gospel of Christ, the good news of salvation and they had believed. But they didn't have a leader, an apostle, or presbyter to strengthen them in their faith in the evil environment in which they were living.
All about them was Rome, like Paris today, with its wild and low life, its pleasure-madness, its temptations and allurements of many sorts to lead them away from Christ. They needed a spiritual leader. And now Paul is coming. And he tells them why. For the sole reason of strengthening their faith, of imparting some spiritual help to them, that they would be established firmly in their faith, upon that solid rock, the Rock of Ages.
And now, dear friends, there is much similarity between this situation in our text and us.
This church, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kitchener, is a young church too, just like the church at Rome. A young church, but a growing church and one which has great opportunities of growth. And it is a church in the midst of a large city, a growing city, and one of the nicest cities in this part of the county. It has industries galore, modern business establishments and homes, good recreational facilities, and many well-known people. People from all around are attracted to it for many and varied reasons.
But this city too, is not just buildings, business and pleasure, but above all is made up of human beings with immortal souls, thousands of them. People who have been created by God the Heavenly Father, and are very precious in His sight. People who have also been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and who need this Savior, and whom God would have come to the knowledge of the truth.
And oh, thank God that there are many in this city who have come to a knowledge of their Savior and are active in His kingdom, and not just a few as in Rome. Especially must we be thankful for this congregation of believers, in this East section of town, who have formed a church, built a beautiful House of God to His glory and have reached out and grown by leaps and bounds in these few short years. That is indeed God-pleasing and the way it should be. The church should be an influence on the world and convert it, rather than the other way around.
But remember, we too, like the Roman Church are in the world. We too, are still living among those who are weak in the faith and lukewarm, those who are unchurched completely and even those who are anti-churched, against the church, working to undo the work of the church. And we come in contact with them everyday and hence are bound to be influenced by them in some way. They all weaken our faith, and for that reason our faith must constantly be strengthened and increased, so that we can stand up in their midst unmoved and influence them. This is the work of a pastor to his people, and it is for this reason that I have been assigned to serve you. That I may be able to impart some spiritual gift to you while in your midst, to strengthen your faith, to establish you firmly on a foundation which no one can shake, namely, the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ. I pray God that this may be my motto at all times.
But the work of the Christian Church is not just a one-way thing. That a pastor, as it were, like a pitcher of water, keeps pouring into one glass after another until they are all full - the pitcher never becoming empty for some miraculous reason, and the people, as the glasses, one after another are filled with faith as he deals with. No, it is also a two-way thing, as St. Paul writes in the second verse of our text: "That is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith, both of you and me."
Here is this great New Testament missionary, who had started dozens of churches throughout Asia Minor. His faith was so strong that we marvel at it in every chapter of his epistles. Paul is called the Apostle of Faith because he speaks of it so much. He was brought to faith by the Lord Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. You all know the story of his conversion, and his great love and trust in the Lord from that hour on. And doubtless we'd agee if there ever was a person wouldn't have to worry about his weak faith it would be Paul. And yet here in our text we read that he is looking forward to these Christians in Rome to strengthen his faith. This is strange. Not only that he strengthen their faith but that they also strengthen his. And we know there must have been many there who perhaps knew so little that they could barely believe themselves. This is of special comfort to me right now, while just beginning my ministerial work, to know that after all those years, that a great apostle of God felt that way - that he needed the help of the common people to strengthen his faith. How can this be? How could these, as it were, babes in the faith, strengthen this man of faith?
We can perhaps understand it a little better if we remember that faith and knowledge aren't the same. One Christian might have more knowledge than another but not more faith. Knowing about Christ and believing and trusting in Him are 2 different things. We read in the book of James that the Devil too knows God (and far better than you or I ever will) but he trembles. And so, while it is true that our faith should constantly grow stronger as we grow older, still we may find that a little child will have a stronger faith and greater trust in the Lord than her parents. And the apostle Paul knew this only too well. He knew how easily a person's faith could be shaken and weakened. He knew how the devil had worked on him. Perhaps telling him: ' You're clever, well educated, just rely on that. or Look how proud you should be for all the church work you have done - not everybody can do that, and so on & so on. Paul passed through those moments of temptation to self glory, honour, and self-trust, and he knew how hard it is to hold firmly to his faith as a little child.
But now how could the faith of others strengthen him? Just by seeing the faith of others. By seeing how others trust in the Lord, turn to Him in all their needs, and also to know that they are praying for him and his kingdom work. One of our professors at the Seminary told us how forcefully true this passage is just for him. He said, he at time just longs to get back into a parish ministry where he can see more directly the faith of the common humble Cristian at work - of an old grandmother, for example on a sick bed showing her hopeful trust that all will work out for her good because God has promised it, or a little youngster praying out loud in such endearing and loving terms as if Jesus were right there visibly. And perhaps each one of you can recall how seeing the strong faith of someone else has lifted you and strengthened your faith too.
Thus, dear friends, is how a Christian congregation should operate. Each one building up each other's faith. Pastors strengthening their peoples faith by word and example, and people in turn, strengthening the faith of their pastors, by showing their faith in their lives, in their everyday living, and their speaking of their trust in their Savior. May it be said right here, that a wonderful opportunity to build up the faith of others will present itself in the annual Vacation Bible School which will be conducted here in July. Here teachers can touch the hearts of many little children to know their Savior better, and the children, in turn, will strengthen the faith of many a teacher. Teachers are still needed and if anyone wouild like to help teach, contact Mrs. W.E. Bish.
This strengthening, moreover, is also done by prayer. Scripture is full of passages were pastors are instructed to pray for their people and churches. Every epistle of Paul tells how he prayed for his people. But it is also the other way too. People are to pray for their pastors too. Time and again this is admonished, and rightly so. For we know, without God's help we can do nothing, and above all in the ministry, for this is spiritual work. How much more then, would not our work be blessed and would not the kingdom flourish if people everywhere lifted up holy hands in prayer that their pastors be guided and helped in their work.
May this be the relationship between pastor and people, here at Holy Cross, at all times - that pastor and people join hands, and together grow in faith, and strengthen each other till the Lord come to call all faithful to His eternal city, with all its mansions which he has prepared for us.