Rambling through Romans (4): 1:8-13
8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world. 9 I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you 10 in all my prayers. I’m always asking that somehow, by God’s will, I might succeed in visiting you at last. 11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. 12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.
I’m struck here by Paul’s desire to be with the Roman Christians for “mutual encouragement” by one another’s “faithfulness” (v.12). Both the NIV and the NRSV translate the Greek word pistis by “faith,” the CEB by “faithfulness.” The latter is preferable in my view because we in the West still too easily reduce the meaning of “faith” to something that takes place solely in our heads and/or hearts.
But this is unbiblical. Faith there involves three aspects: truth, trust, and troth. Affirming the truth, entrusting ourselves to the truth, and loving commitment to the truth. Faithfulness captures this fuller sense of faith that we often lose with our unbalanced focus on the affirming the truth aspect of faith.
How do we know someone has faith in us? When they act toward us in trustful and committed ways. Trying to share faith by somehow communicating what’s in our minds usually results in sharing ideas or feelings apart from their embodiment in our lives. I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about here. I’m sure he means those concrete acts of concern and care that communicate more clearly than anything else our trust in Jesus Christ and our love for him and his people. After all, God’s love for the world did not come in new and better ideas or more elevated feelings and sentiments about one another. No, it came, he came, as one of us to “show and tell” what God is truly like and the depth of his commitment to us.
And to trust such a God is to similarly “show and tell” each other and the world that same God in action among us. This is the kind of faithfulness that strengthens and encourages us to “keep on keeping on” with the struggle.