Paul was grateful for the church in Rome. One reason for his gratitude was its worldwide witness. He does not say in what way their faith was known everywhere. He could mean that all other churches were aware of the church in Rome or he could mean that non-Christians in many places had heard of them. Despite their achievements, and perhaps because of their achievements, he prayed for them. After all, the best of churches will decline if it does not keep growing.
He writes, ‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.’ There may be a very simple lesson here, which is that when we pray for someone we should be aware of something about him or her for which we can give thanks to God. As we go through a prayer list of people, we should not focus on their flaws first.
It is important to note that Paul’s gratitude for them is comprehensive – he thanked God for all of them. When he said those words, he was not merely being polite. We can see that Paul’s affections were an imitation of God’s. How many of the Roman Christians did God care for, how many of the Roman Christians did Jesus represent, and how many of the Roman Christians was the Holy Spirit sanctifying? Each divine person cared for all of the Roman Christians. Therefore, it is not surprizing that Paul’s prayers extended to all of them as well.
Of course, Paul did not know about the church in as detailed a way as God did. The apostle would never have imagined that could be the case. Yet he did not use his limitations as a reason for not wanting to know more about them and we can see from Romans 15 that he knew a great deal about them even although he had not been there. We could almost regard that chapter as Paul’s prayer list for one of his times of prayer, although he probably did not have such a practice. So his comprehensiveness in prayer is a challenge to us about how we pray for people. Do we make an effort to find out what their needs are?
It is also important to note to whom Paul gives the credit for the wonderful witness of the church in Rome. We are not told how it happened, yet Paul was aware that people everywhere were talking about the church of Jesus in Rome. Some may have spoken in a condemning way, others may have spoken in an intrigued way, and others may have spoken in a thankful way. Those commenting on their lifestyles may have highlighted various people and assessed why it was happening. Paul, in his prayers, gave all the credit to God.