"For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established," (Romans 1:11; NKJV).
Christians innately know that we should have a peculiar longing to be among the people of God. Even those who have struggled long with social anxiety, after having availed themselves of a loving, open, and embracing Christian fellowship for months or even years, will come to long for it when it is no longer available to them. There is a unique desire among the members of Christ to be attached in a practical, functional way with the body of Christ. We certainly see this longing in the life of Paul.
From the very beginning of his walk with Christ, Paul “was trying to associate with the disciples,” (Acts 9:26; NASB). The term associate can be misleading, though. In the Greek, the term is κολλάομαι, a term meaning to join or to unite. In fact, it is the same term used by Christ when He taught, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” (Matthew 19:5; NASB). It is the same word that Paul used in Ephesians 5:31 to refer to the same union. Our joining to the body of Christ is not exactly the same as, but is nonetheless akin to, the union of marriage between a man and a woman.
As such, a certain longing to be among the people of God should be expected. We should desire not merely to be joined to the church in name or on paper, but in function as well. But to what end? What is the purpose of our regular assembly with the people of God?
Paul gives two purposes for his longing to see the saints at Rome in Romans 1:11. He records his desire first to impart some spiritual gift to them and second to see them established. Paul did not want to gather with the saints at Rome in order that he might be served by them. He was not approaching the church of God with a consumeristic attitude. He didn’t ask, “What programs do they offer?” “What if they expect me to do something that makes me uncomfortable?” or, “How about I just show up for the preached word and then quickly make my exit?”
A healthy hand does not seek to be left dormant at the body’s side not to be bothered or to aid in the comfort of the other members of the body. Where there is an itch, the hand scratches. Where there is pain, the hand seeks to sooth. Where there is thirst, the hand brings water. Where there is nakedness, the hand assists to clothe. So it goes with the rest of the members of the body. Where they can serve the rest of the body, they seek to do so. Apart from these functions, the members of the body are of little or no value to the head and might just as soon be removed.
In fact, no member of a body is joined to the head without first being joined to the body. Imagine the foot saying, “I no longer wish to be attached to the leg or the torso, but do not tell me I am not attached to the head.” Such a notion would be absurd. In like manner, it is absurd for Christians to think themselves united to Christ as long as they are unwilling to unite also to His body. We have each been given a spiritual gift, and we find our unique identity, purpose, and value in Christ as we come to understand our unique function within the body of Christ.
Not only did Paul hope to impart some spiritual gift to the body of Christ in Rome, but he hoped that this impartation of his gift would result in the further establishment of their faith. In other words, Paul’s longing to see these saints was for their benefit, not his own. This ought to be the desire of each one of us. As we look to our midweek gatherings, let us long to join ourselves with the people of God, not for our own sakes, but for the good that God might do for the body through us. Let us seek in every gathering to discern how we might provide refreshment for the saints.