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Defining Success Through a Gift Exchange

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 1:11–12

The best gifts we can give or receive are not those we can touch or hold. They are spiritual gifts that have eternal value. Paul gives us a glimpse of some of these invaluable gifts in this first chapter of Romans.


Most people in the world today would define success in terms of earning a large income; furnishing a nice home with nice things; and, if they have children, dressing them in nice clothes and then driving them to good schools in comfortable vehicles, making sure everyone is happy and healthy.

Well, that is all nice, but it is nothing less than arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. If providing a nice voyage for our loved ones involves only life on deck, then we have missed the most important gifts in life.

Father, mother, grandparent, if the only gifts you think of giving your family come at Christmastime or birthdays, you are missing the most important gifts of all. A truly successful person’s gifts go way beyond Christmas or birthdays.

Think for a moment about God’s gifts to you, especially the gift of God’s Son. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life is free because Jesus paid everything for it. He took our place on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”

How long does this gift of salvation last? John 3:16 told us: “Whoever believes in him [will] not perish but have eternal [everlasting] life.”

Now as we sail back into the first chapter of the book of Romans, we discover this same concept of gift giving in the life of the apostle Paul. He wants to give gifts that have eternal value:

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. (verses 11-12)

This is Paul’s desire. He writes, “I long to see you.” That’s another way of saying, “I am homesick for you.”

Paul is not longing to come to Rome so he can visit the museums or see the palace or watch a sporting event in the Colosseum. No, he longs to be with the believers there in the imperial city.

Why? Well, he makes it clear in verse 11: “That I may impart to you some spiritual gift.”

The Greek word for “gift” is charisma. Charisma is used in the New Testament to speak of the gifts of Christ, such as eternal life. It is used to refer to general blessings given by God to His children. And it is also used to refer to specific ways, or giftings, that enable God’s people to serve one another. Through exercising spiritual gifts, they build up the church and promote the cause of Christ.

Now this phrase, “That I may impart to you some spiritual gift” can be translated, “That I may impart to you some gift pertaining to your spirit.”

In other words, the gifts Paul is bringing with him are not boxed up and wrapped with a ribbon on top. They are spiritual in nature. Some people in Rome might hear Paul preach and receive the gift of salvation; others might have difficult questions answered through his gift of wisdom; and still others might be guided through some difficulty in life through his gift of encouragement. This is Paul’s desire.

Paul’s design in imparting a spiritual gift to them is to “strengthen” them (verse 11). The word here for “strengthen” is one of Paul’s favorite words. The Greek verb is stērizō, from which we get our modern word steroids. The primary purpose of a steroid—as properly used under the direction of a medical professional—is to strengthen or fortify something that is weak. At times, a medical doctor will prescribe steroids to help someone struggling with a disease or weakness.

I remember having a difficult time getting over a particular illness, and the doctor gave me a steroid shot. I do not like shots—I don’t like needles at all—but I sure liked what it did for me in helping fortify and strengthen me. Now I realize that steroids can be misused, especially among athletes. But in the most positive sense here, Paul is effectively telling his readers he wants to help them add some spiritual muscle to their faith.

These believers already had a reputation for their faith, as we learned back in verse 8. However, their faith is not robust yet. It is still a little flabby, so to speak. Paul senses that they are not strong enough to handle persecution and to stand against different kinds of spiritual deception; he wants them to have a little more spiritual muscle as persecution is beginning to increase.

So, Paul wants to be their strength instructor—he wants to fortify their faith. He cannot personally do that from a distance; so, until he arrives, he is sending them some spiritual workout exercises that are found throughout this letter he has written to them.

By the way, if you have a Bible, you have a copy of that same exercise regimen, and it will build your faith as well. It was written by God the Holy Spirit, through Paul, to you too.

Keep it near you. And do not just keep it near you but read it! Then meditate on it, and memorize parts of it. There is a woman in the church I pastor who has memorized the entire book of Romans—and that is no small undertaking.

Go through the book of Romans, and let the book of Romans go through you into your everyday life. It will have the same effect on you that it had on those who were living in Rome two thousand years ago. You are going to be strengthened. You are going to add some bulk to your spiritual muscles of faith.

Paul is quick to say that he does not expect his visit to Rome to be a one-way street. He writes in verse 12 that his purpose is not only to strengthen them but also “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

Can you imagine what this meant to the Christians in the Roman church? Let me put it into a contemporary context for you. Imagine getting a letter from a well-known, best-selling, renowned Christian statesman. You have never met him before. But he writes you a letter and says, “I am planning to come and visit you and spend time with you, because I need to be encouraged by your faith. I’ll see you soon.”

How incredibly encouraging that would be! Well, that is exactly what Paul writes to the Roman believers. It is a sincere desire, and it also reveals the humility of Paul.

He knows just about everything related to the gospel and sound doctrine; he is coming to Rome to teach the church. But he throws this little line in here to tell them that he plans on learning from them as well. This is going to be a mutually beneficial visit.

Paul wants it to involve a gift exchange—to go both ways—so they will all be strengthened in the Lord by each other.

Beloved, a truly successful person—like Paul—wants to carve his name, not on a marble statue, but on lives that are challenged and deepened and encouraged to walk with Christ.

This is true success. It takes place in life when there is this wonderful exchange of gifts and we serve one another, encourage one another, and build one another up in the faith. If you do that, if you give someone else that kind of gift, you are on your way to living a truly successful life.

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