The apostle tells his Roman readers of his feelings toward them.
He thanks God for them all. The faith of the Romans is being reported all over the world. Wherever the church had spread, the news that there were Christians in the capital had spread also. Although Paul was not responsible for bringing the gospel to them, this does not inhibit him from giving thanks that Rome has been evangelized.
He assures them that, even though most of them are unknown to him personally, he intercedes for them constantly and at all times. In particular, he prays that “now at last by God’s will,” that is, if it is God’s will, “the way may be opened” for him to come to them. Paul presumes neither to impose his will on God nor to claim to know what God’s will may be. Instead, he submits his will to God’s.
Paul longs to see the Christians in Rome, and he tells them why: he wants to impart to them some spiritual gift. He can hardly claim to be able to impart any spiritual gift himself. He appears to use the term in a more general sense. The statement seems indefinite, perhaps because he does not yet know what the Romans’ main spiritual needs will be.
But no sooner has Paul dictated these words than he seems to sense their inappropriate one-sidedness, as if he has everything to give and nothing to receive. So he immediately explains (even corrects) himself: “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” He knows about the reciprocal blessings of Christian fellowship, and although he is an apostle, he is not too proud to acknowledge his need of it. Happy is the missionary who goes to another country and culture in the same spirit of receptivity, anxious to receive as well as give, to learn as well as teach, to be encouraged as well as to encourage! And happy is the congregation who have a pastor of the same humble mind!
So far Paul has been prevented from visiting Rome. Why had he tried to visit them? “In order that I might have [RSV “reap”] a harvest among you.” Paul hopes to win some converts in Rome. It would be appropriate that the apostle to the Gentiles should engage in evangelistic reaping in the capital city of the Gentile world.
From Reading Romans with John Stott by John Stott with Dale and Sandy Larsen.