Romans 1:8–12, “8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
In keeping with the normal conventions of letter writing in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Paul immediately follows his salutation to the Roman church with an expression of thanksgiving. As is evident in Romans 1:8–12, the Apostle has much to be thankful for, and he clearly has an affection for the believers in the empire’s capital city even though he has never met most of them before.
The main reason for Paul’s gratitude to God is that the Roman believers’ “faith is proclaimed in all the world” (v. 8). Given that Rome was the largest and most influential city in the known world at the time, we are not surprised that the presence of Christians there was known to the entire church. Jesus was being proclaimed as Lord in the place where Caesar’s lordship was most evident, and that people were hearing of the true King of kings in the seat of imperial power was indeed something in which Christians could rejoice. Note that Paul says he gives his thanks to God “through Jesus Christ.” Our Lord is the only way to the Father, and whenever we come before Him, we must come through Jesus (Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:15). Furthermore, giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ for the faith of others is particularly fitting given the Apostle’s doctrine of grace. Since even faith itself is a gift that the Spirit of God sovereignly bestows (Eph. 5:18–20), the Lord deserves thanks whenever someone comes to faith. After all, He is the one who grants it.
We also read in today’s passage of Paul’s longing to come to see the Christians in Rome. His affection for them is deep, as He prays continually for them, but this intercession is according to God’s will (Rom. 1:9–10). Paul does not demand that the Lord open up a way to come to Rome, and he even acknowledges in Romans 1:13 that providence has thus far hindered his journey. This is an excellent example of God-honoring prayer that is content with the will of our Creator but nevertheless keeps on asking, seeking, and knocking when one does not know what God’s will is. Paul wants to see the Romans, and he keeps praying to that end, all the while knowing that the Father may not grant that request.
Verses 11–12 indicate that Paul wants to come to Rome in order to strengthen the church there and to be encouraged by the believers’ words and witness. The spiritual gift Paul mentions likely refers to some special insight that the Apostle wants to share with the Romans. He has a message for the church there, and he wants them to benefit from it.
One commentator notes how Paul does not view God’s sovereignty as something that he should take as permission not to pray or act. He knew that the Lord had thus far prevented him from coming to Rome, but he did not know if that was to be a permanent situation, so he kept on asking God to give him a path forward to the capital city. Praying according to God’s will does not mean that we stop praying if we do not get what we ask for right away.