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A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #33 Pleasing Others and Praising God Romans 15:1-13

16 Dec

Introduction

If you have ever watched (or participated) a marching band, you notice very quickly that marching requires unity—people doing the same thing at the same time. Although a band or an orchestra has many instruments and many different parts, it must have a central unity for a harmonious end result. The same is true of a choir.

Our text in Romans 15 finds Paul speaking of the church of our Lord as though it were similar to a choir. The

May God fill ALL of you with joy on this wonderful day ...

great task and privilege of this unique choir is singing praises to the glory of God. For this to be accomplished, there must be both unity and harmony.

Because these verses are Paul’s closing statement concerning our convictions and the exercise of our liberties within the body of Christ, they are significant. They represent Paul’s formal conclusion to the argument of the entire Epistle to the Romans. Although the remainder of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16 are important and are related to Paul’s previous teaching in Romans, for all intents and purposes Paul completes his argument in our text.

This vitally important text is like the last chapter of a mystery, for this chapter tells us where Paul has been heading since his first introductory words in chapter 1. Listen closely to his final words, asking God’s Spirit to make their meaning clear to our minds and hearts to the glory of God.

Paul classified himself with the strong saints as he dealt with a basic problem—selfishness. True Christian love is not selfish; rather, it seeks to share with others and make others happy. It is even willing to carry the younger Christians, to help them along in their spiritual development. We do not endure them. We encourage them!

Of course, the great example in this is our Lord Jesus Christ. He paid a tremendous price in order to minister to us. Paul quoted Psalm 69:9 to prove his point. Does a strong Christian think he is making a great sacrifice by giving up some food or drink? Then let him measure his sacrifice by the sacrifice of Christ. No sacrifice we could ever make could match Calvary.

A person’s spiritual maturity is revealed by his discernment. He is willing to give up his rights that others might be helped. He does this, not as a burden, but as a blessing. Just as loving parents make sacrifices for their children, so the mature believer sacrifices to help younger Christians grow in the faith.

Paul shared the two sources of spiritual power from which we must draw if we are to live to please others: the Word of God (Rom. 15:4) and prayer (Rom. 15:5-6). We must confess that we sometimes get impatient with younger Christians, just as parents become impatient with their children. But the Word of God can give us the “patience and encouragement” that we need. Paul closed this section praying for his readers, that they might experience from God that spiritual unity that He alone can give.

This suggests to us that the local church must major in the Word of God and prayer. The first real danger to the unity of the church came because the Apostles were too busy to minister God’s Word and pray (Acts 6:1-7). When they found others to share their burdens, they returned to their proper ministry, and the church experienced harmony and growth.

The result of this is, of course, glory to God (Rom. 15:7). Disunity and disagreement do not glorify God; they rob Him of glory. Abraham’s words to Lot are applicable to today: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee… for we be brethren” (Gen. 13:8). The neighbors were watching! Abraham wanted them to see that he and Lot were different from them because they worshiped the true God. In His prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church to the glory of God (John 17:20-26).

Receive one another; edify one another; and please one another—all to the glory of God.

The Context of Our Text

The topic of Romans 14:1–15:13 is love and Christian liberty. Paul is addressing the conflict which differing convictions have brought into the church. The strong tend to look down on the weak, and the weak often condemn the strong because of their liberty. Paul forbids all such judging, whether by the strong or the weak (14:1-12).

In 14:13-23, Paul urges the strong not to become a stumbling block to the weak by exercising liberties which might cause the weak to stumble. If they are walking in love, the strong will gladly surrender the exercise of their liberties for the good of the weak. The benefits which our liberties offer are so small, and the blessings for limiting our liberties are so great that this should not be an agonizing decision.

Christian love is not just negative. It requires much more than the giving up of judging and certain liberties. On the one hand, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). But this is not nearly enough, and so love not only “abhors what is evil,” it clings “to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Love refuses to do that which is harmful to others, and it aggressively seeks to do “good” and “what is right in the sight of all men” (see Romans 12:9-21).

In Romans 14, Paul’s emphasis is negative. He urges us not to judge one another regarding our differences in convictions (verses 1-12). He also exhorts strong believers not to offend a weaker brother by exercising any liberty which might cause him to stumble by doing likewise, against his convictions (verses 13-23).

Paul’s shift to a more positive emphasis begins in Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”

In chapter 15, this positive thrust becomes the primary emphasis. Two major topics dominate verses 1-13: pleasing others instead of ourselves (verses 1-3) and praising God in unity and harmony (verses 4-13).

Another shift of emphasis in our text is not readily apparent. Throughout chapter 14 Paul speaks of the Christian’s relationship to his fellow-believers, using the most frequent term “brother.” In Romans 15:2, Paul sets the term “brother” aside and employs instead the term “neighbor.”[1] Thus, Paul broadens the application of his teaching on love and liberty.[2] Love not only requires that I do good to my “brother,” but that I do good to my “neighbor,” including my enemy (see Romans 12:17-21; Matthew 5:43-48).

In considering these verses, let us listen and obey God’s instructions here for all who would live according to love.

Pleasing Others and Not Ourselves (15:1-3)

1 Now we who are strong[3] ought[4] to bear[5] the weaknesses of those without strength and not just[6] please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.”

Paul continues his discussion from chapter 14 on how believers should relate to one another, especially when there are disagreements on matters of opinion. There is no question that a variety of opinions on many matters will be represented in any church and the church in Rome was no exception. Paul uses “strong” and “weak” to describe the believers. “Strong” believers are those who understand their freedom in Christ and who are sensitive to the concerns of others. They realize that true obedience comes from the heart and conscience of each individual.

“Weak” believers are those whose faith has not yet matured so as to be free of some of the rituals and traditions. “Strong” believers can function in a variety of situations and be influences for good; “weak” believers find that they need to stay away from some situations in order to maintain a clear conscience. But both are still believers, and both are still seeking to obey God.

As long as these matters of conviction do not entail disobedience to God, strong believers must not look down on their weaker brothers and sisters, and weak believers must not judge and condemn the freedom of stronger brothers and sisters (14:1-12). Also, strong believers must not flaunt their freedom in a way that hinders the spiritual growth of the weaker brother or sister (14:13-23). Our best example for dealing with others in the church is Jesus Christ. We should imitate him.

15:1 We who are strong.NRSV Paul identifies himself as one of the “strong.” He was comfortable in any company because his main goal was to win others to Christ. To the Corinthians he wrote:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22 niv)

Ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.NRSV The word for ought is present tense, showing that stronger believers always have this obligation. They may find themselves frustrated by the failings of the weak—their concerns and worries over what, to the strong, seems trivial. But the responsibility lies with the strong to maintain harmony in the church by bearing with these brothers and sisters (see Galatians 6:1-2). The stronger believers demonstrate their spiritual strength precisely at those moments when they are practicing compassion for those who are weaker. The kind of strength modeled by Christ allowed him to put up with our failings. We ought to do the same for one another.

15:2 Please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.NIV The strong believer must never be self-centered, but must be concerned for the spiritual welfare of his neighbor—the weaker person beside him or her in the congregation. This “pleasing” is done with a goal in mind—to encourage and build up that other believer in the faith. There is a fine line to walk—the stronger person should not push the weaker one to change his or her ways before he or she is ready; neither should the stronger person pander to the scruples of that weaker one by allowing such scruples to become rules for the church. Instead, the stronger believers should bear with (15:1) and work to help the weaker believers in their faith; this will benefit the church as a whole. It is not always possible to predict exactly how acceptance and encouragement will help another believer grow, but it is certainly the way to build him up.

15:3 Christ did not please himself. Christ was the “strongest” human who ever lived—he did not please himself, but did God’s will. Certainly death on a cruel cross was not the path he would have chosen to please himself, but his mission was to please God (see John 4:34; 5:30; 8:29). Most of the world can’t recognize the strength God calls for (1 Corinthians 1:25). Christ’s strength showed itself most graphically in his death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 13:4). God’s strength is made perfect in weakness so he allowed Paul to minister with an infirmity (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Those who are strongest are actually servants of all (Mark 10:42-45). Strength is not independence from God, but total dependence on God. Strength in the church doesn’t come from each believer being

completely independent, but from mutual interdependence. Truly strong believers are those who are willing to limit their freedoms in order to care for and love their weaker brothers and sisters. You will not understand what it means to be a servant until someone treats you like one.

Gerry Fosdal

As it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”NRSV Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9. This messianic psalm prophesied the Messiah’s coming into the world and what would happen to him. Christ faced reproach and insults because he did not choose to please himself; instead, he chose to do what God had called him to do. How much more should we, who are called by his name, also choose to please God rather than ourselves.

 

NOT OUR WILL
Real Christian freedom means inconvenience. In the complexities of relationships, a free person will limit his or her actions in one area in order to accomplish a more important goal in another. Bearing with weaknesses, identifying with those who are persecuted for the cause of Christ, and seeking others’ good demonstrate a life of love. Maturity develops when we don’t allow our convictions to become excuses for treating poorly our brothers and sisters in Christ.

15:4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.NIV All of Scripture (here referring to the Old Testament) was written and preserved for future generations. Our scriptural knowledge affects our attitude toward the present and the future. The more we know about what God has done in years past, the greater will be our confidence in what he will do in the days ahead. We should read our Bible diligently to increase our trust that God’s will is best for us.

To Timothy, who was with Paul when he wrote Romans (16:21), Paul later expands what he means by written to teach us. He reminds his youthful assistant of the Scriptures’ divine origin and describes their purpose: “The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16 tlb).

So that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.NRSV How does the Bible encourage us? (1) God’s attributes and character constantly remind us in whom our hope is based (Psalm 46:1-2) (2) The biographies of saints who overcame great obstacles give us examples of what can be done with God’s help (Hebrews 11). (3) The direct exhortation of Scripture calls for endurance and speaks encouragement (James 1:24; Hebrews 12:1-2). (4) The prophetic statements support our hope for a wonderful future planned for us in eternity (Romans 5:1-5).

Paul admonishes strong believers not to please themselves but to please God and others. Scripture records stories of those who pleased God, those who didn’t, and those who failed but learned from their mistakes. We are to endure as Christ endured and be encouraged by the examples of other believers. This gives us hope as we look toward the future.

Paul is still dealing with the duties of those within the Christian fellowship to one another, and especially with the duty of the stronger to the weaker brother. This passage gives us a wonderful summary of the marks which should characterize that fellowship.

(i) The Christian fellowship should be marked by the consideration of its members for each other. Always their thoughts should be, not for themselves, but for each other. But this consideration must not degenerate into an easy-going, sentimental laxity. It must always be designed for the other person’s good and for his upbuilding in the faith. It is not the toleration which tolerates because it is too lazy to do anything else. It is the toleration which knows that a man may be won much more easily to a fuller faith by surrounding him with an atmosphere of love than by attacking him with a battery of criticism.

(ii) The Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture; and from that study of scripture the Christian draws encouragement. Scripture, from this point of view, provides us with two things. (a) It gives us the record of God’s dealing with a nation, a record which is the demonstration that it is always better to be right with God and to suffer, than to be wrong with men and to avoid trouble. The history of Israel is the demonstration in the events of history that ultimately it is well with good and evil with the wicked. Scripture demonstrates, not that God’s way is ever an easy way, but in the end it is the only way to everything that makes life worth while in time and in eternity. (b) It gives us the great and precious promises of God. It is said that Alexander Whyte sometimes had a habit of uttering one text when he left some home during his pastoral visitation; and, as he uttered it, he would say: “Put that under your tongue and suck it like a sweetie.” These promises are the promises of a God who never breaks his word. In these ways scripture gives to the man who studies it comfort in his sorrow and encouragement in his struggle.

(iii) The Christian fellowship should be marked by fortitude. Fortitude is an attitude of the heart to life. Again we meet this great word hupomone (<G5281>). It is far more than patience; it is the triumphant adequacy which can cope with life; it is the strength which does not only accept things, but which, in accepting them, transmutes them into glory.

(iv) The Christian fellowship should be marked by hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. It might be thought that hope is the prerogative of the young; but the great artists did not think that. When Watts drew “Hope” he drew her as a battered and bowed figure with one string left upon her lyre. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. It is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human achievement; it is hope in the power of God.

(v) The Christian fellowship should be marked by harmony. However ornate a church may be, however perfect its worship and its music, however liberal its giving, it has lost the very first essential of a Christian fellowship if it has lost harmony. That is not to say that there will not be differences of opinion; it is not to say that there will be no argument and debate; but it means that those who are within the Christian fellowship will have solved the problem of living together. They will be quite sure that the Christ who unites them is greater by far than the differences which may divide them.

(vi) The Christian fellowship should be marked by praise. It is no bad test of a man to ask whether the main accent of his voice is that of grumbling discontent or cheerful thanksgiving. “What can I do, who am a little old lame man,” said Epictetus, “except give praise to God?” The Christian should enjoy life because he enjoys God. He will carry his secret within him, for he will be sure that God is working all things together for good.

(vii) And the essence of the matter is that the Christian fellowship takes its example, its inspiration and its dynamic from Jesus Christ. He did not please himself. The quotation which Paul uses is from Ps 69:9. It is significant that when Paul speaks of bearing the weaknesses of others he uses the same word as is used of Christ bearing his Cross (bastazein, <G941>). When the Lord of Glory chose to serve others instead of to please himself, he set the pattern which every one who seeks to be his follower must accept.

Christianity turns the world’s thinking upside-down concerning the “strong” and the “weak.” The world thinks those who are strong should use their strength to take advantage of the weak—the vulnerability of another is seen as an opportunity for the strong to gain at the expense of the weak. Such thinking and behavior may wear the garments of social respectability, but it is evil.

The Bible turns this mindset inside-out. It requires a transformed mind regarding the strong and the weak. Those who are strong have an obligation to the weak. They are not to victimize the weak but to come to their aid. This mindset is evident in the Old Testament Law where the widows, the orphans, and the aliens were given special consideration, protection, and benefits. Not only were these helpless people not to be taken advantage of, they were to be helped.

Jesus taught the same truth. The leaders of the nation Israel were to serve the people and to protect the helpless. They did not do so. In the Gospels, Jesus has strong words of rebuke for Israel’s leaders who abused their power (see Matthew 23). He taught His disciples that while the Gentile leaders misused their power, causing the weak to serve them, His disciples were to use their power as leaders to serve others just as He Himself did (see Mark 10:35-45).

Both Peter and Paul taught this same perspective on power. Peter instructed elders not to “lord it over” the flock, but to be “examples” to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). Paul instructed those who had once been thieves to steal no longer, but to work with their hands so that they could give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). If nature demonstrates the “survival of the fittest,” the gospel emphasizes the obligations of the strong to the weak. The strong should not prey upon the weak to prevail over them, but instead should come to their aid. We see this same principle evident in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given to each believer so that each may minister out of his strength to those who are weak in this area (see Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

The strong, Paul tells his Roman readers, are not to harm the weak (by judging them and causing them to stumble—chapter 14) but to help them. The strong are to bear the weaknesses of those who lack strength. Rather than putting the weak down, the strong are to bear up the weak, in their areas of weakness.

Such service must be sacrificial, a denial of self-interest and of self-serving. This should come as no surprise (see Romans 12:1-2). If we are to “bear the weaknesses of those without strength,” we must not and cannot “please ourselves” (15:1).

Whether, then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

In the context of these two chapters in Romans, how might Paul have wanted us to understand “pleasing ourselves”? We could please ourselves by avoiding those whose convictions differ from our own, even to the point of excluding them. We could also please ourselves by accepting them, but only for the opportunity to judge, to criticize, and to try to change their convictions.

Paul’s command here to please others may seem to contradict his statements elsewhere which condemn pleasing men:

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God, Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts (1 Thess. 2:4).

How do we resolve this tension? When is it right to please men, and when is it wrong? The solution to this problem is very simple; it is found in the alternative to pleasing men. When we must choose between pleasing others or pleasing ourselves, it is right to please others. But when the choice is between pleasing others and pleasing God, pleasing others is wrong. Here, Paul instructs us to please others and not ourselves.

Before considering what Paul does say about pleasing others, let us note what he has not said. He has not said we should please our neighbor in any way our neighbor dictates. We are to please our neighbor as God dictates. We are not instructed to make our neighbor feel good about himself, to make him comfortable, and to fulfill his desires or expectations. God is the One who defines what is pleasing to our neighbor—not our neighbor. As we shall soon see, doing what is pleasing to our neighbor may not “please” him at all. Paul is speaking of pleasing in a long-term, eternal sense—not in a short-term way.

We can see then that Paul’s instruction to please others needs clarification. Our text provides that clarification as Paul defines what pleasing others means by setting down three qualifications in verses 2 and 3. We please others by

(1) … working toward the good of others

(2) … working toward the edification of others

(3) … pleasing others as Christ Himself pleased men.

The first qualification for pleasing men is that we must please our neighbor for his good. The “good” of our neighbor must be understood in the light of God’s eternal purpose for His elect as spoken of in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Seeking the “good” of our neighbor must first begin by seeking his salvation, for only those who love God and are the “called according to His purpose” can expect or experience His eternal good—His salvation and His kingdom. This “good” is not to be confused with our neighbor’s comfort or his pleasure. In order to enter into all the goodness of God, we must endure suffering and tribulation (see Romans 5:3-11; 8:12-39).

Our neighbor’s “good,” which begins with salvation, should then press on to his edification. We must cease and desist from every attitude and action which would tear down our neighbor, pressing on with those things which will build him up in his faith (verse 2; see also 14:19-20).

Paul turns our attention to the example of our Lord in verse 3. We are not to please ourselves, but to please others just as Christ has done. He did not please Himself, but instead sacrificed Himself so that He might bring about both our good and our edification.

The text which Paul chooses to prove his point is most interesting: “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.” This text comes from Psalm 69:9. Two things are striking about this Old Testament quotation.

First, it is an Old Testament quotation. Why did Paul not refer to the historical event of Christ’s self-denial and self-sacrifice as he did in Philippians 2? Why does Paul prove his point from prophecy rather than from history? Because inspired prophecy is as good as history. When God said something would happen, it was as good as done. One can rely on prophecy as though it were history.[7]

Second, Paul’s reference to Psalm 69:9 is fascinating because Christ’s gracious, saving work is spoken of in this psalm as that which was not pleasing to men. His work was done to please God and men, but only those who trust in Him by faith find His work of atonement pleasing. Thus many responded to His grace with reproaches rather than with praise and gratitude.

When we seek to please men, we must do so as our Lord did. We must begin by giving up any effort to please ourselves. We must further seek to do that which will lead to the salvation and building up of believers in Christ. But in so doing, let us not fool ourselves by thinking that most men will be pleased by our efforts to please them. If we seek to please men as our Lord did, our efforts will often be as happily received as a child’s effort to please his mother by “weeding” the garden, pulling up all the flowers in the front yard.

To apply Paul’s words in the context of Romans 14 and 15, we please our neighbor by putting up with the reproaches of those who would criticize our convictions and seek to change us, rather than to accept us. Pleasing others includes putting up with the grief others bring to our lives. This surely was true of our Lord who endured the reproaches of men and pressed on to bear our burdens on the cross of Calvary.

From the example of our Lord, we see that pleasing our neighbor is not easy nor is it immediately rewarding. Co-dependency is the topic of great discussion these days. I have many misgivings about the overuse of such terminology and thinking, but I believe our Lord’s example clearly demonstrates that pleasing others as God requires is not at all like the man-pleasing of those who are “co-dependent.”

Those who are co-dependent in today’s thinking, as I understand the term, must have the approval of others. Consequently, they are constantly trying to please those whose approval they feel they desperately need. The “good” they do to please another is determined by the whims and wants of that other person, whether good or evil, whether right or wrong. The “good” which the Christian should do to please his neighbor may very well produce not only disapproval but even reproach. Pleasing others as Paul teaches is nothing like the man-pleasing which is really selfish and self-serving co-dependency.

CHART: PROFILE OF A STRONG CHURCH

A place of refuge, where people find help 15:1
A place of instruction, where people’s faith and lives are built up 15:2
A place centered on Christ, where Jesus is held up as a model 15:3
A place filled with the Word, where the Scriptures are known and applied 15:4
A place of prayer, where endurance and encouragement are sought from God 15:4-5
A place of acceptance, where there is an atmosphere and understanding of hope 15:4
A place of togetherness, where unity is recognized as a product of God’s work 15:5
A place of witness, where acceptance of others is Christlike 15:8

The Inclusive Church (Rom 15:4-13)

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Thy name.” And again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” And again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine).

15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.NIV The endurance and encouragement received from the Scriptures (15:4) have their ultimate source in God, for the Scriptures are his. Paul asks God to give the believers an attitude of unity—Jews and Gentiles, weak and strong, conservative and liberal—as they seek to follow Christ. This prayer is strikingly similar to the one Jesus prayed with his disciples at the end of his final meal with them, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23 niv). Unity is not an optional behavior for believers.

 

LORDSHIP
To accept Jesus’ lordship in all areas of life means to share his values and perspectives. Just as we take Jesus’ view on the authority of Scripture and the resurrection, we are to have his attitude of love toward other Christians as well (have a “spirit of unity”). As we grow in faith and come to know Jesus better, we will become more capable of maintaining this attitude of loving unity throughout each day. Christ’s attitude is explained in more detail in Philippians 2.

15:6 So that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.NIV The unity Paul prays for is unity of heart (worship and fellowship) and mouth (witness and teaching) that continually glorifies God and Jesus Christ. This should be the ultimate purpose of each believer and of the entire church.

15:7 Accept one another . . . just as Christ accepted you.NIV If our goal is to glorify God, we cannot be caught up in dissension, disagreements, or arguments, especially about trivial matters. Instead, we should lovingly accept one another—there is to be no one-sided acceptance. All are to accept one another and live in harmony. At one time, we all were weak. And many strong believers are still weak in some areas. Christ is our model of what acceptance means. When we realize that Christ accepted us, as unlovely and sinful and immature as we were when we came to him (see 5:6, 8, 10), then we will accept our brothers and sisters. The world sits up and takes notice when believers of widely differing backgrounds practice Christlike acceptance. This brings praise to God.NIV

 

MUTUAL ACCEPTANCE
The Roman church was a hybrid community. It was made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, rich and poor, strong and weak. So it was difficult for them to accept one another. Accepting means taking people into our homes as well as into our hearts, sharing meals and activities, and avoiding racial and economic discrimination. We must go out of our way to avoid favoritism. Consciously spend time greeting those you don’t normally talk to, minimize differences, and seek common ground for fellowship.

15:8-9 Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth.NIV Having referred to unity again, Paul feels compelled to remind his readers that the greatest example of unity brings both Jews and Gentiles under the lordship of Christ. Jesus came to bring the truth to the Jews and to show that God is true to his promises—the promises given to the patriarchs.NRSV At the same time, Christ came so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.NKJV The promises, the covenants, were made to the patriarchs of the Jewish nation alone, but God, in his mercy, made them available to the Gentiles as well. God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles would cause them to glorify him for his mercy. Without God’s mercy, the Gentiles could never receive his blessings and his salvation.

To offer final proof, Paul quoted four Old Testament passages, taken from the three divisions of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The Old Testament pictured the Gentiles as receiving blessings from God.

As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”NIV Paul quotes from Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50. In this psalm and the parallel passage in 2 Samuel 22, David praises God for delivering him from his enemies and from King Saul who was trying to kill him. He writes that he would praise God among the Gentiles, not just among his own people.

15:10 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” This is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:43, sometimes called “The Song of Moses,” where Moses poetically recites a brief history of Israel, reminds the people of their mistakes, warns them to avoid repetition of those mistakes, and offers the hope that comes only in trusting God. Moses calls the Gentiles to rejoice with the Hebrews.

15:11 “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples Praise him.”NRSV In this quote from Psalm 117:1, the psalmist calls the Gentiles to sing praises to God. It must have been startling, at times, for Jews to be reminded from their own Scriptures that the God who had chosen them was not theirs alone. Since God’s unlimited love has been extended to all people, Jewish Christians should accept the Gentile Christians as full-fledged participants in God’s kingdom.

15:12 Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”NIV Paul quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:10. The Root of Jesse refers to Christ as the heir from the family line of Jesse, David’s father (1 Samuel 16:1). Isaiah prophesied that the Gentiles would also hope in or believe in the Messiah.

In the foregoing quotations, Paul demonstrated that the Old Testament spoke of the Gentiles being included in the messianic kingdom. Since Christ would rule over both the Jews and the Gentiles, they should accept each other as members of God’s family.

15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.NIV Paul again prays for the believers (as in 15:5). This time Paul prays that the God who gives hope will give them joy (as they anticipate what God has in store for them) and peace (as they rest in the assurance that God will do as he has promised). Then, the believers can overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.NIV It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that God accomplishes his care for his people—giving them endurance, encouragement, unity (15:5), hope, joy, and peace. Hope comes as a by-product of the Holy Spirit’s work. It does not come from our own senses or experiences. This is Paul’s benediction to his letter. What follows from this point are his personal plans and greetings.

PAUL EXPLAINS HIS REASON FOR WRITING / 15:14-32

Although Paul referred briefly to his reason for writing earlier in the letter, here in his closing remarks, he says more about his reasons for writing. He also explains his writing style. In these verses, we feel the heartbeat of Paul’s missionary zeal.

Few passages reveal Paul’s character better than this. He is coming to the end of his letter and is wishing to prepare the ground for the visit that he hopes soon to pay to Rome. Here we see something at least of his secret in winning men.

(i) Paul reveals himself as a man of tact. There is no rebuke here. He does not nag the brethren at Rome nor speak to them like some angry schoolmaster. He tells them that he is only reminding them of what they well know, and assures them that he is certain that they have it in them to render outstanding service to each other and to their Lord. Paul was much more interested in what a man could be than in what he was. He saw faults with utter clarity, and dealt with them with utter fidelity; but all the time he was thinking, not of the wretched creature that a man was, but of the splendid creature that he might be.

It is told that once when Michelangelo began to carve a huge and shapeless block of marble, he said that his aim was to release the angel imprisoned in the stone. Paul was like that. He did not want to knock a man down and out; he did not criticize to cause pain; he spoke with honesty and with severity but always because he wished to enable a man to be what he could be and never yet attained to being.

(ii) The only glory that Paul claimed was that he was the servant of Christ. The word he uses (leitourgos, <G3011>) is a great one. In ancient Greece there were certain state duties called liturgies (leitourgiai, <G3011>) which were sometimes laid upon and sometimes voluntarily shouldered by men who loved their country. There were five of these voluntary services which patriotic citizens used to undertake.

(a) There was choregia (<G5524>), which was the duty of supplying a chorus. When Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides were producing their immortal dramas, in each of them a verse-speaking chorus was necessary. There were great festivals like the City Dionysia when as many as eighteen new dramatic works were performed. Men who loved their city would volunteer to collect, maintain, instruct and equip such a chorus at their own expense.

(b) There was gumnasiarchia. The Athenians were divided into ten tribes; and they were great athletes. At certain of the great festivals there were the famous torch-races in which teams from the various tribes raced against each other. We still speak of handing on the torch. To win the torch-race was a great honour, and there were public-spirited men who at their own cost would select and support and train a team to represent their tribe.

(c) There was hestiasis. There were occasions when the tribes met together to share in a common meal and a common rejoicing; and there were generous men who undertook the task of meeting the expense of such a gathering.

(d) There was archetheoria. Sometimes the city of Athens sent an embassy to another city or to consult the oracle at Delphi or Dodona. On such an occasion everything had to be done in such a way that the honour of the city was maintained; and there were patriotic men who voluntarily defrayed the expenses of such an embassy.

(e) There was trierarchia. The Athenians were the great naval power of the ancient world. And one of the most patriotic things that a man could do was voluntarily to undertake the expenses of maintaining a trireme or warship for a whole year.

That is the background of this word leitourgos (<G3009>). In later days, as patriotism died, such liturgies became compulsory and not voluntary. Later the word came to be used of any kind of service; and later still it came to be used especially of worship and service rendered in the temple of the gods. But the word always had this background of generous service. Just as a man in the ancient days laid his fortune on the altar of the service of his beloved Athens, and counted it his only glory, so Paul laid his everything on the altar of the service of Christ, and was proud to be the servant of his Master.

(iii) Paul saw himself, in the scheme of things, as an instrument in the hands of Christ. He did not talk of what he had done; but of what Christ had done with him. He never said of anything: “I did it.” He always said: “Christ used me to do it.” It is told that the change in the life of D. L. Moody came when he went to a meeting and heard a preacher say: “If only one man would give himself entirely and without reserve to the Holy Spirit, what that Spirit might do with him!” Moody said to himself: “Why should I not be that man?” And all the world knows what the Spirit of God did with D. L. Moody. It is when a man ceases to think of what he can do and begins to think of what God can do with him, that things begin to happen.

(iv) Paul’s ambition was to be a pioneer. It is told that when Livingstone volunteered as a missionary with the London Missionary Society they asked him where he would like to go. “Anywhere,” he said, “so long as it is forward.” And when he reached Africa he was haunted by the smoke of a thousand villages which he saw in the distance. It was Paul’s one ambition to carry the good news of God to men who had never heard it. He takes a text from Isa 52:15 to tell his aim.

“Ye armies of the living God, His sacramental host,

Where hallowed footstep never trod, Take your appointed post.”

15:14 I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters.nrsv Although Paul had never met most of the believers in Rome, he was convinced (most likely from reports he had heard of them) that they were spiritually mature. In the poor man who knocks at my door’, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet.

C. S. Lewis

You yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.NRSV Paul knew they were doing good and living to please God, that they had a full understanding of the truth of the gospel, and were able to counsel and help guide one another. Paul was practicing the kind of encouragement that he had just asked them to use with each other.

15:15-16 Written you quite boldly . . . to remind you.NIV Paul knew these believers were mature, but he wrote this lengthy letter on the basics of Christianity to remind them. It may have seemed bold of him to write in this manner to a church he had not founded, but he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and it was in that capacity that he wrote to them. (See also 2 Peter 1:12; 3:1-2.)

Because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.NRSV Paul is qualified to write to them because God had allowed him the special privilege of being a minister to the Gentiles. The Greek word here is leitourgon, meaning “public servant.”

Priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.NIV Paul viewed his ministry to the Gentiles as a priestly duty. The Greek here is hierourgounta, meaning “to work in sacred things.” Paul’s ministry was a sacred task because he was proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles.

Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.NIV Paul faithfully proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles so that they would receive the Good News, and become acceptable to God, sanctified (literally “having been sanctified” or “having been set apart”) by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s missionary work was an act of worship. He viewed the Gentile church as a consecrated, sacrificial offering which he presented to God for his acceptance.

 

From Paul we learn that to produce offerings acceptable to God:
Our motives must be clear and cleansed—the love of Christ must be what compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Our preparation and participation should be wholehearted desire to serve God, not human beings.
Our expectations and results must be left in God’s control.
Our objective should be to glorify God by what he has done in us.

15:17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.NIV Paul did not glory in what he had done, but in what God had done through him. The word therefore ties this sentence to Paul’s previous explanation of his work among the Gentiles and the fact that God had accepted them. This caused him to glory in his service because of what Christ was accomplishing through him. We should reevaluate our attitudes in service and ministry. How often do we view our efforts as giving glory to God?

15:18-19 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.NRSV Being proud of God’s work is not a sin—it is worship. Paul knew that all the glory for his ministry went to Christ alone, for it was Christ who was accomplishing the work of leading the Gentiles to obey God.NIV (The word for obey here refers to coming to Christ for salvation.) But Paul well understood that he was the vessel through whom God was working because the mission to the Gentiles was being accomplished by what Paul had said and done.NIV

By the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.NRSV Paul had, by the power of God’s Spirit, done signs (the Greek word is semeia, miracles to show God’s truth) and wonders (the Greek word is terata, miracles to catch people’s attention so they want to know more).

The words signs, wonders, and miracles are used throughout the book of Acts to describe what the apostles did—these verified the authenticity of their words. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:12; see also Hebrews 2:3-4).

From Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.NIV Because of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, Paul had taken the Good News from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Also known as Dalmatia (see 2 Timothy 4:10), Illyricum was a Roman territory on the Adriatic Sea between present-day Italy and Greece. It covered much the same territory as present-day Yugoslavia. See the map in the introduction.

15:20 My ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.NIV The reason for the extent of Paul’s ministry was the driving ambition to share Christ in territories where Christ was not known or heard of yet. Paul saw his mission as moving into the centers of population, starting a church, being sure it had a good foundation, then allowing it to continue the work of evangelization in its area while Paul moved on to areas uncharted by the gospel.

 

AMBITION
Paul says that he has “ambition.” Ambition can be a difficult topic for Christians because we see so many bad examples of ambitious people who claw their way to the top. But certainly that isn’t the kind of ambition one sees in Paul. Instead of looking out for himself and working hard for personal advancement, he was ambitious to serve God—for Paul that meant to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Are you ambitious for God? Do you want, more than anything else to please him, to do his will? Ask God for “holy ambition.”

I do not build on someone else’s foundation.NRSV Other preachers would have brought the gospel to some areas that Paul had not gone to; they would be involved in the follow-up and spiritual growth of the believers there. Paul did not want to move into those areas when it was more important for him to preach where people had not yet heard the Good News.

15:21 It is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”NIV Paul quotes from part of Isaiah 52:15 to show that those who had been ignorant of God’s Word would respond positively to the Messiah. Isaiah predicted how surprised the Gentile nations would be when they saw the humiliation and exaltation of God’s Servant, the Messiah. Paul uses this prophetic word to affirm the need for his missionary efforts to the Gentiles.

Here we have Paul telling of an immediate and of a future plan.

(i) His future plan was to go to Spain. There were two reasons why he should wish to go there. First, Spain was at the very western end of Europe. It was in one sense the then limit of the civilized world, and the very fact that it was such would lure Paul on to preach there. He would characteristically wish to take the good news of God so far that he could not take it farther.

(ii) At this time Spain was experiencing a kind of blaze of genius. Many of the greatest men in the Empire were Spaniards. Lucan, the epic poet, Martial, the master of the epigram, Quintilian, the greatest teacher of oratory of his day, were all Spaniards. Above all, Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, who was first the guardian and afterwards the prime minister of Nero, was a Spaniard. It may well be that Paul was saying to himself that if only he could touch Spain for Christ tremendous things might happen.

(iii) His immediate plan was to go to Jerusalem. He had had a plan which was very dear to his heart. He had arranged for a collection to be taken from his young churches for the poor in the Church of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that that collection would be necessary. In a city like Jerusalem much of the available employment must have been connected with the Temple and its needs. All the priests and the Temple authorities were Sadducees, and the Sadducees were the supreme enemies of Jesus. It must therefore have happened that many a man, when he became a Christian in Jerusalem, lost his job and was in sore need. The help the younger churches could give was much needed. But there were at least three other great reasons why Paul was so eager to take this gift to Jerusalem.

(a) For himself it was the payment of a debt and a duty. When it had been agreed that Paul should be the apostle to the Gentiles, one injunction had been laid upon him by the leaders of the Church—that he would remember the poor (Gal 2:10). “Which very thing,” said Paul, “I was eager to do.” He was not the man to forget a debt, and now that debt was about to be paid, at least in part.

(b) There was no better way of demonstrating in the most practical way the unity of the Church. This was a way of teaching the young churches that they were not isolated units but members of a great Church extending throughout all the world. The value of giving to others is that it makes us remember that we are not members of a congregation but of a Church which is worldwide.

(c) There was no better way of putting Christianity into practical action. It was easy enough to talk about Christian generosity; here was a chance to turn Christian words into Christian deeds.

So Paul is on the way to Jerusalem, and he is planning a journey to Spain. As far as we know he never got to Spain, for in Jerusalem he encountered the trouble which led to his long imprisonment and his death. It would seem that this was one plan of the great pioneer which never was worked out.

15:22 I also have been much hindered from coming to you.NKJV Because of his driving force to bring the gospel to people who had not yet heard, Paul had been hindered from going to Rome. He had much territory to cover in Asia Minor and around Greece, so it seems likely that he postponed his trip to Rome because there was already a strong church there. However, it is possible that Satan had hindered him from coming to Rome (as in 1 Thessalonians 2:18) or that the imperial edict of Rome (in a.d. 44), which mandated the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, had hindered him from going to Rome.

15:23 No more place for me to work in these regions.NIV But now Paul feels that enough local churches have been established throughout the area (not just by him, but by the other apostles and other missionaries) that these churches could complete the work of evangelization.

I have been longing for many years to see you.NIV Because he feels that his work in the regions of Jerusalem and Greece has been accomplished, and because of his great desire to meet the believers in Rome, he will visit them on his next trip. The fact that he knows so many of them personally is reason enough for his desire (see chapter 16). But up to this point, his pioneering missionary work has taken all his time.

15:24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain.NIV The planned destination of Paul’s next trip is Spain. The Greek word for when is more indefinite, better translated “whenever.” On the way, he will stop in Rome to visit with the believers there while passing through.NIV Apparently Paul did not plan to stay long in Rome, but he hoped that the believers there would assist him (i.e., encourage him, help financially with the trip, be a home base) as he continued on to Spain. This statement should dispel any concern that Paul would try to assume some sort of permanent leadership position or take advantage of the church’s hospitality. Instead, he was planning to move through, to the next uncharted territory for the gospel, at the western limit of the Roman empire.

Spain was a Roman colony, and there were Jews there. Paul wanted to take the Good News there. Also, Spain had many great minds and influential leaders in the Roman world (Lucan, Martial, Hadrian), and perhaps Paul thought Christianity would advance greatly in such an atmosphere.

15:25 I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints.NRSV Paul was indefinite about exactly when he would visit Rome because he was busy with another matter at present. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem from Corinth (from where he had most likely written this letter; he had been in that city for about three months, see Acts 20:3) with a delegation of men chosen by each church to deliver offerings from those churches to the believers (saints) in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:14; 2 Corinthians 9:13). Paul considered his delivery of this offering as an act of worship. Indeed, it was a fitting climax to his ministry in the east before he moved west.

It is quite evident that Paul was not aware that his plan to go to Rome was about to be accomplished in a way he did not foresee. His imprisonment in Jerusalem and in Caesarea and his eventual travel to Rome was completely at the expense of the Roman empire.

15:26 It pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.NKJV Paul had collected voluntary offerings from various churches, including the ones in Macedonia and Achaia, and would be taking that to the poor believers in Jerusalem. He mentioned these two provinces in particular because he had been in close contact with them during his months in Corinth. (See 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.)

15:27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them.NRSV Paul again stressed the voluntary nature of the offering by repeating that the churches were pleased to give. But Paul also considered it an obligation.

If the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.NIV That is, if the Gentiles had received the gospel (spiritual blessings) originally from Jerusalem (where Christianity began), surely they would want to offer financial help to the needy poor there (material blessings).

Not only that, but Paul hoped that such generosity and caring among the churches would strengthen the ties between them. The Jerusalem church, obviously made up mostly of Jews, at first had a difficult time even accepting ministry to the Gentiles (see Peter’s situation in Acts 10:1-11:18). Some were still concerned about these mostly-Gentile churches. Gentile churches helping to meet the needs of the Jerusalem church was a sure way to maintain harmony among the believers and strengthen the bond of brotherhood.

This was not the first time a collection was taken to the church in Jerusalem. About ten years earlier, Paul and Barnabas brought a collection from the church in Antioch of Syria to help the Jerusalem church during a time of famine (Acts 11:30; 12:25). It seems that being Christian and being poor went together if one lived in Jerusalem. Christianity was not well accepted by the Jewish authorities, and when Jews became Christians they were often cut off from family and friends. The Jerusalem church probably had little means of support, so help from the other churches was needed and greatly appreciated.

15:28 When I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected.NRSV After making sure the church in Jerusalem received the offerings from the other churches, Paul would take his anticipated trip.

I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.NIV Paul was looking forward to taking the gospel to new lands west of Rome. But even the best-laid plans may not happen as we anticipate. Eventually Paul got to Rome, but it was after having his life threatened, becoming a prisoner of Rome, enduring a shipwreck, getting bit by a poisonous snake on the island of Malta, and landing finally in Rome under arrest (see Acts 27-28)! Tradition says that Paul was released for a time, and that he used this opportunity to go to Spain to preach the Good News. This journey is not mentioned in the book of Acts.

15:29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.NRSV Paul knows that when he arrives in Rome, he will come with blessings to share: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (1:11-12 niv). The sense of this verse can be read in two ways: Paul will be bringing a fresh awareness of all the benefits of being united with Christ; or Paul is expecting to experience with the Romans a rich time of fellowship in Christ. The benefits of spending time with other believers, even those we do not know, are very real. From time to time, Christians should worship in unfamiliar places, just to be reminded how oneness in Christ overcomes the barrier of meeting strangers.

We came to the end of the last passage by saying that as far as we know Paul’s plans to go to Spain were never realized. We know for a certainty that when he went to Jerusalem he was arrested and spent the next four years in prison, two in Caesarea and two in Rome. Here again his great character comes out.

(i) When Paul went to Jerusalem he knew what he was doing and was well aware of the dangers that lay ahead. Just as his Master steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51) so also did Paul. The highest courage is to know that something perilous awaits us and still to go on. That is the courage that Jesus showed; that is the courage that Paul showed; and that is the courage that all Christ’s followers must show.

(ii) In such a situation Paul asked for the prayers of the Christian Church at Rome. It is a great thing to go on knowing that we are wrapped in the warmth of the prayers of those who love us. However far we are separated from those we love, we and they can meet around the mercy-seat of God.

(iii) Paul leaves them his blessing as he goes. It was no doubt all that he had to give. Even when we have nothing else, we can still bear our friends and loved ones in prayer to God.

(iv) It was the blessing of the God of peace that Paul sent to Rome and it was with the presence of the God of peace that he himself went to Jerusalem with all its threats. The man who has the peace of God in his heart can meet all life’s perils unafraid.

15:30 I urge you . . . by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.NIV Paul asked his readers to pray for him, a request he made in many of his letters (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22). Paul needed their intercessory prayer; he needed them to join him in promoting the cause of Christ. The Greek term sunagonisasthai (“to strive together with him”) was often used in connection with athletic events where a team had to put forth a great, concerted action. Though the Roman believers could not be physically with Paul, they could join his efforts through prayer. This is a subtle but effective emphasis that Paul was not an independent agent. He was part of the body, and he needed the body’s help.

 

STRUGGLING TOGETHER
Too often we see prayer as a time for comfort, reflection, or making our requests known to God. But here Paul urges believers to join in his struggle by means of prayer. Prayer is a weapon that all believers possess and should use in interceding for others. Many of us know believers who are living in difficult places in order to communicate the gospel. Sending them funds is part of joining them in their struggles. But prayer is also a crucial way of being with them. Missionaries are unanimous in desiring the prayers of those who have sent them out. Do our prayers reflect that urgency?

15:31 That I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.NRSV Paul’s specific prayer requests pertain to his return to Jerusalem. Paul knew of the potential danger awaiting him there (see Acts 20:22-24; 21:27ff.), so he asked them to pray for his safety. Paul was still regarded as a traitor to his faith, and some of his fellow Jews might have considered it their religious duty to get rid of him for good. He also asked the Roman Christians to pray that the offering he was bringing to the Jerusalem church would be received and distributed acceptably. He may have been fearing that the church would not want to accept the money.

15:32 By God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.NIV If all went well in Jerusalem, Paul hoped to then visit the church in Rome, finally to be able to relax with them and be refreshed. Paul’s anticipation of being with other believers puts to shame our halfhearted efforts at preparing for worship and looking forward to the time we spend with other believers. Could it be that most of the lack of vitality in church life is created by the very ones who notice its absence? If we don’t mentally prepare ourselves to be with Christ and his people, how can we expect to be refreshed by those encounters?

15:33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.NKJV Paul closes this section of the letter with another personal benediction for the believers. The God of peace was a Jewish benediction, and Paul offers it here to his Jewish and Gentile Christian readers. This phrase sounds like it should signal the end of the book, but the epistle continues on for another chapter. However, this benediction pronounces the end of Paul’s teaching—the last chapter is an extended salutation. His greeting at the opening of the letter was “Grace and peace to you” (1:7). Most of the letter had explained the nature and results of God’s grace. It was natural, then that he close by referring also to the God of peace.

Paul makes one last appeal that all people within the Church should be bound into one, that those who are weak in the faith and those who are strong in the faith should be one united body, that Jew and Gentile should find a common fellowship. There may be many differences but there is only one Christ, and the bond of unity is a common loyalty to him. Christ’s work was for Jew and Gentile alike. He was born a Jew and was subject to the Jewish law. This was in order that all the great promises given to the fathers of the Jewish race might come true and that salvation might come first to the Jew. But he came, not only for the Jew, but for the Gentile also.

To prove that this is not his own novel and heretical idea Paul cites four passages from the Old Testament; he quotes them from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is why they vary from the translation of the Old Testament as we know it. The passages are Ps 18:50; Deut 32:43; Ps 117:1; Isa 11:10. In all of them Paul finds ancient forecasts of the reception of the Gentiles into the faith. He is convinced that, just as Jesus Christ came into this world to save all men, so the Church must welcome all men, no matter what their differences may be. Christ was an inclusive Saviour, and therefore his Church must be an inclusive Church.

Then Paul once again goes on to sound the notes of the Christian faith. The great words of the Christian faith flash out one after another.

(i) There is hope. It is easy in the light of experience to despair of oneself. It is easy in the light of events to despair of the world. Someone tells of a meeting in a certain church at a time of emergency. The meeting was constituted with prayer by the chairman. He addressed God as “Almighty and eternal God, whose grace is sufficient for all things.” When the prayer was finished, the business part of the meeting began; and the chairman introduced the business by saying: “Gentlemen, the situation in this church is completely hopeless, and nothing can be done.” Either his prayer was composed of empty and meaningless words, or his statement was untrue.

It has long ago been said that there are no hopeless situations; there are only men who have grown hopeless about them. It is told that there was a cabinet meeting in the darkest days of the last war, just after France had capitulated. Mr. Churchill outlined the situation in its starkest colours. Britain stood alone. There was a silence when he had finished speaking, and on some faces was written despair, and some would have given up the struggle. Mr. Churchill looked round that dispirited company. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I find it rather inspiring.”

There is something in Christian hope that not all the shadows can quench—and that something is the conviction that God is alive. No man is hopeless so long as there is the grace of Jesus Christ; and no situation is hopeless so long as there is the power of God.

(ii) There is joy. There is all the difference in this world between pleasure and joy. The Cynic philosophers declared that pleasure was unmitigated evil. Anthisthenes made the strange statement that he would “rather be mad than pleased.” Their argument was that “pleasure is only the pause between two pains.” You have longing for something, that is the pain; you get it, the longing is satisfied and there is a pause in the pain; you enjoy it and the moment is gone; and the pain comes back. In truth, that is the way pleasure works. But Christian joy is not dependent on things outside a man; its source is in our consciousness of the presence of the living Lord, the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God in him.

(iii) There is peace. The ancient philosophers sought for what they called ataraxia, the untroubled life. They wanted all that serenity which is proof alike against the shattering blows and the petty pinpricks of this life. One would almost say that today serenity is a lost possession. There are two things which make it impossible.

(a) There is inner tension. Men live a distracted life, for the word distract literally means to pull apart. So long as a man is a walking civil war and a split personality, there can obviously be for him no such thing as serenity. There is only one way out of this, and that is for self to abdicate to Christ. When Christ controls, the tension is gone.

(b) There is worry about external things. Many are haunted by the chances and the changes of life. H. G. Wells tells how in New York harbour he was once on a liner. It was foggy, and suddenly out of the fog loomed another liner, and the two ships slid past each other with only yards to spare. He was suddenly face to face with what he called the general large dangerousness of life. It is hard not to worry, for man is characteristically a creature who looks forward to guess and fear. The only end to that worry is the utter conviction that, whatever happens, God’s hand will never cause his child a needless tear. Things will happen that we cannot understand, but if we are sure enough of God’s love, we can accept with serenity even those things which wound the heart and baffle the mind.

(iv) There is power. Here is the supreme need of men. It is not that we do not know the right thing; the trouble is the doing it. The trouble is to cope with and to conquer things, to make what Wells called “the secret splendour of our intentions” into actual facts. That we can never do alone. Only when the surge of Christ’s power fills our weakness can we master life as we ought. By ourselves we can do nothing; but with God all things are possible.

Before beginning our exposition of verses 4-13, some preliminary observations on these verses as a whole may be helpful. First, verses 4-13 are not only Paul’s conclusion to his teaching on love and liberty in chapters 14 and 15, they are the conclusion of his argument in this Epistle to the Romans.[8] Second, note the strong emphasis on the Scriptures; a substantial portion of this passage is made up of Old Testament Scriptures which Paul cites. Third, there is a strong emphasis on Jews and Gentiles, and especially on the unity of their combined praise of God. Finally, there is a strong emphasis on hope. Verse 4 speaks of the hope which comes from perseverance and from the Scriptures. Hope is found also in verses 12 and 13. In verses 4-13, Paul begins and ends with the subject of hope.

Keep in mind as we study verses 4-13 that we are reading Paul’s closing argument. He is drawing together in these words all that he has been trying to say throughout the entire epistle, and also in the final section on love and Christian liberty. Paul’s words here cannot be understood apart from the message he has been seeking to convey throughout this epistle.

Paul’s overall message and emphasis is the relationship of the Jews and the Gentiles to the gospel. No wonder he concludes with a recitation of Old Testament texts, speaking of the combined, harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles as they glorify God together! To form a backdrop to Paul’s conclusion, let us briefly review the recurring theme of the Jews and the Gentiles through Romans.

Romans 1:1-17

Paul, a Jew, is called as an “apostle to the Gentiles.” It is because of this calling that he desires to visit Rome but has thus far been prevented. He expresses his concern for the Roman saints by writing this epistle to them to build them up in their faith. This letter ministers to them in his absence and announces his commitment to come to Rome as soon as other obligations are fulfilled.

Romans 1:18–3:20

Paul demonstrates that both the Gentiles and the Jews are sinners, under sentence of divine condemnation due to their rejection of the revelation God has given them. Both the Jews and the Gentiles are equal in their lost and helpless condition. Neither can save themselves by their own efforts.

Romans 3:21–4:25

What no man is able to do to save himself from sin, God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was without sin, died in the sinner’s place, bearing his punishment, and thus satisfying the holy wrath of God aroused by sin. The righteousness God requires is available in Christ to anyone who will receive it by faith. This salvation by faith has always been the way God has made men righteous, so that He could save and bless them. It was so with Abraham, and everyone who, like Abraham, believes in God’s promise of salvation. By faith, one becomes a son of Abraham. Circumcision and Law-keeping did not save Abraham; faith did. So it is for all men, throughout all times.

Romans 5-8

The salvation God offers to all men, in Christ, is more than temporal—it is eternal. Having been justified by faith, we have great joy, and the certain hope of glory, the hope of God’s promised kingdom. We also have hope in the midst of trials and adversity. What God has done for us in Christ gives us hope for the future and hope in present distress.

The righteousness God has provided in Christ is not just positional—something judicially decreed. Salvation in Christ paves the way for a practical demonstration of righteousness in our daily lives. This is possible because Jesus Christ has reversed the effects of the fall of Adam, for all who are in Him. Thus, we need not, indeed we dare not, continue to live in sin. Since we died to sin in Christ and have been raised to newness of life in Him, we should live a new kind of life, a life of righteousness.

Daily righteousness can no more be accomplished by human effort than salvation could be earned by works. As Christians, we agree with God’s standards as defined by His Law. We even delight in His Law. But we cannot, in and of ourselves, live up to the standards set by the Law. The problem is our flesh, which is weak and constantly overcome by sin’s power. Even though we want to do what is right, we fail to do so. Though we try not to sin, we persistently fail and fall into sin. We are as helpless (in and of ourselves) to live righteously as Christians as we were helpless to save ourselves as unbelievers.

The solution to our sin, weakness, and inability to live according to God’s standards is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for sin for those who are in Christ. Our sins as Christians find the same forgiveness we found initially at the time of our salvation. What we cannot do in the power of our flesh, God has enabled us to do as His sons, by the power of His Holy Spirit who now indwells us. His Spirit indwells and empowers us and assures us that we are His children. Until that day when His kingdom is established on the earth, His Spirit works in us, assuring us of our future hope and interceding for us as we groan in the imperfections of this present world.

Neither the license of the Gentiles nor the Law-keeping of the Jews is pleasing to God. The righteousness God requires of us as Christians comes as a result of being in Christ and walking in His Spirit. The righteousness of God in Christ is provided to replace the unrighteousness of lawless Gentiles and the self-righteous legalism of unbelieving Jews.

Romans 9-11

From eternity past, the plan of God was to save men from every nation. Israel was promised God’s blessing, and part of her blessing was that she was to be God’s channel of blessing to the other nations. Through Israel, God’s Law and the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures were revealed. Through the seed of Israel (and his descendants, including Judah and David), the Lord Jesus came to save men. Through this Jewish Messiah, Israel and the nations are saved, by faith.

Israel, as a nation, rejected Jesus and brought about His death, with the help of the Gentiles. Not only did the Jews reject the gospel, they opposed it so that wherever Paul and the apostles proclaimed it, the church was persecuted. Paul himself was a leader of this opposition until his conversion.

As far as the Old Testament Scriptures are concerned, Israel’s unbelief comes as no surprise. Not all of the seed of Israel were chosen, and thus not all were saved. Indeed, often only a small remnant was preserved, thus assuring Israel’s hope of a future salvation and blessing. Israel’s unbelief has not terminated God’s plans for Israel nor has it frustrated His promises.

Indeed, Israel’s unbelief has fulfilled the Scriptures. And her unbelief has become the instrument through which God has brought the gospel to the Gentiles. Israel’s unbelief and opposition to the gospel only served to promote the gospel among the Gentiles. If her unbelief has brought such blessings to the Gentiles, one can only wonder what blessings her belief and obedience will bring.

When God’s purposes and promises for the Gentiles have been fulfilled, He will cause the Jews to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus as the Messiah; thus both the Jews and the Gentiles will experience forgiveness and God’s blessings. God’s way of accomplishing this is far beyond human wisdom. What a wonder the wisdom and the grace of God is to the believer!

Romans 12:1–15:13

Such grace and mercy should overwhelm the true believer, inspiring him to offer himself to God in grateful, sacrificial worship. This worship is not just the kind which occurs in church; it is the kind of worship which is evident in daily living. We serve God by serving others. The manifestation of this service is best summed up by the word love. We are to love God first, and then others, including our enemies. Love is reflected in our pursuit of what is good and our hatred and avoidance of what is evil. Love manifests itself toward fellow-believers, toward our unsaved neighbors, and toward our enemies. Love manifests itself by our doing no harm to others and by our actively promoting their good.

Walking in love is evidenced by the way in which we hold and practice our convictions. In our desire to cling to the good and abhor what is evil, we must seriously consider the Scriptures and their implications, determining those liberties which we can exercise in good conscience and faith. We must not judge our brother concerning his convictions nor seek to change them. We should, however, surrender the use of our own liberties whenever this would result in our brother’s stumbling by following our example, contrary to his faith and conscience.

We should not allow differences in convictions concerning Christian liberties to create friction with a brother or the fall of a brother. Even more than this, love prompts the Christian to come to the aid of a weaker brother and to bear with him and his weaknesses. Love prompts us to bear the burdens of our brother’s weakness.

It is God who gives grace to deal in this way with a weaker brother. His grace enables us to persevere. His Scriptures give us hope, hope for endurance and perseverance in this life, and the hope of experiencing His blessings in eternity. The Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly speak of that future day when Jews and Gentiles will worship and praise God together, in unity and harmony. This certainty encourages us to live in unity and harmony with our fellow-believers today, even though we may have many differences.

Paul’s teaching on love and liberty in Romans 14:1–15:3 sets down three obligations of the strong toward their weaker brothers. First, the strong are not to judge their weaker brother concerning his convictions (as the weaker brother is not to condemn the strong, 14:1-12). Second, the one who is strong is not to cause a weaker brother to stumble by the exercise of a Christian liberty (14:13-23). Third, the strong are to use their strength to sustain and uphold the one who is weak, rather than to tear him down (15:1-3). How can any one do this? What enables the Christian to give up pleasing himself in order to please his neighbor? Paul provides the answer in Romans 15:4-13.

In verse 3, Paul has just quoted Psalm 69:9 to illustrate how our Lord did not please Himself but pleased others, for their good. That citation seems to be in Paul’s mind as he writes the words of verse 4:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The cluster of four Old Testament quotes in verses 9-12 seems to follow up on verse 4.

Old Testament Scriptures are biblical accounts of those things which happened before our time. This biblical history is more than history, however. It was divinely inspired and preserved so that we might have hope. Hope, according to verse 4, is the result of two things: (1) perseverance and (2) the encouragement of the Scriptures.

Hope is the result of perseverance, as Paul has already demonstrated in chapter 5:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

The same hope which comes from perseverance is also produced and promoted by the Old Testament Scriptures.[9] How do the Scriptures encourage us so as to produce hope? In two ways, I believe. First, in those Scriptures which are historical, we are taught that God never failed to fulfill His promises to His people. The Scriptures teach us the faithfulness of God and the certainty of His promises.

Second, the Old Testament Scriptures contain prophecies. Some of these prophecies have already been fulfilled, just as God promised they would take place. Other prophecies are still awaiting the day of their fulfillment. The promises and prophecies of the Old Testament give the child of God hope, because hope is our expectation of that which is future and not yet seen (see Romans 8:23-25).

Hope which comes from the Scriptures encourages us in such a way that we will suffer present persecution and deny ourselves of short-term pleasures (pleasing ourselves) because we are certain of the eternal blessings which lie ahead for us as God’s children.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Both perseverance and hope come from God who supplies them to His saints (verse 5).[10] Perseverance and hope are not man-made; they are a gift from God. So it is also with unity. Unity is not something we are to produce. Unity is that which God has produced by the work of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Unity is that which we are to preserve and to practice (Ephesians 4:3).

The goal of this unity is the harmonious praise of God, by both Jews and Gentiles, singing together to the glory of God which Paul seeks to emphasize in verse 6 (and extended in verses 7-12). If personal convictions become the basis for conflict and discord, our unity and harmonious praise will be adversely affected.

The tone of verses 7-12 changes from the tone of verses 5 and 6. In verses 5 and 6, Paul looked to God to supply perseverance, encouragement, and hope. These verses are a kind of benediction or blessing. Paul does not look to us to accomplish these things, but to God. And there is no doubt in his mind that God will provide them.[11] Verses 7-12 focus, once again, on the Christian and his responsibility to trust and obey. The “wherefore” at the beginning of verse 7 indicates that the exhortation or instruction which follows is the outcome, the result of what he has been saying. It is Paul’s conclusion, his practical application, his final application.

Verse 7 returns to the matter of accepting the weaker brother, introduced initially in 14:1: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”

In chapter 14, the emphasis falls upon the purposes for which we are not to accept others. We are to accept our weaker brother, but not to argue with him about his convictions or to judge him for them. We are also not to accept our weaker brother, only to cause him to stumble by the irresponsible exercise of our own liberties. In Romans 15, Paul turns to the positive purpose for which we should accept our weaker brother. We are to accept others for the glory of God.

Once again, Christ is our example. His life and ministry provide us with both the motivation and the means for accepting those who are weak. Our Lord accepted us, for the glory of God.[12] Our Lord became a servant. He was a servant to the Jews, in order to confirm the promises God had given to the patriarchs, the fathers (verse 8). He was also a servant to the Gentiles, for our good, and ultimately for the glory of God, due to His mercy (verse 9).

All of this comes as no surprise. The salvation of the Gentiles is not some alternative plan, required by Israel’s unbelief and rebellion against God. This is all in accordance with the plans and purposes of God, determined in eternity past and repeatedly revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Verses 9-12 contain four Old Testament quotations. In verse 9, Paul cites from 2 Samuel 22:50 (repeated in Psalm 18:49). Verse 10 comes from Deuteronomy 32:43; verse 11 from Psalm 117:1; and verse 12 from Isaiah 11:10.

Why four quotations? First, Paul wants us to understand that he is not desperately grasping for proof texts here. God’s purpose to have the Jews and the Gentiles joining in harmonious praise is frequently repeated in Scripture and not merely dredged up from some obscure text. Second, this eternal purpose was revealed throughout the Old Testament in different passages, at different times, and in different ways. These four quotes encompass virtually every part of the Old Testament: the Law (Deuteronomy 32:43); the historical books (2 Samuel 22:5); the Psalms (Psalm 117:1); and the prophets (Isaiah 11:10).

There may well be some individual emphasis provided by each text. There may also be a progression of thought through these four quotations. For our purposes, we should simply note that the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly and emphatically stress the divine and eternal purpose to save both Jews and Gentiles, thus bringing about their united, harmonious praise of God.

There is a common thread running through each of these four Old Testament quotations, which give a unity to Paul’s argument. The praise of God is the central theme and focus. The participants in each case are both Jews and Gentiles. Their praise is united and harmonious.

Paul’s words are very much related to the context and to the argument which he is pressing here. Consider, in context, the impact of what he is saying to us.

(1) This is what God purposed from eternity past. The combined and harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles is God’s will.

(2) This is what will be—a certainty—in eternity. These verses Paul has drawn from the Old Testament are a description of what heaven will be like. Prophecy will become history. Prophecy is as sure and certain as history.

(3) This is a description of what should be evident now in the church of Jesus Christ. Here is the ideal for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unity and harmony should be one of the evidences of the grace of God in our lives, the result of His work on the cross of Calvary.

(4) This is why we must walk in love and not let our convictions become the basis for conflict and strife. If unity and harmony between Jews and Gentiles is God’s purpose, God’s will, a certainty in and for eternity, the standard and ideal for the church today, then walking in love is a necessity. Specifically, we dare not accept others in order to judge them or in order to cause them to stumble; we must accept others in order to build them up so that we may all, in unity and harmony, praise God according to His purpose and for His glory.

Verse 13 contains Paul’s final words of his formal argument in Romans. They are a benediction. They look to God and not to men for fulfillment and realization. May the God of hope fill each believer with all joy and peace, so that we may abound in hope.

Paul’s hope is that God will fill the believer with all joy and all peace. There is no joy nor peace which does not come from God. And the joy and peace which come from God are experienced by faith. Thus, Paul says that we are filled with joy and peace “in believing.” Nothing in the Christian life is pleasing to God which is not by faith. Being filled with all joy and peace is no different, for it comes by “believing” in God as well.

An additional Source of hope is introduced here—the Holy Spirit. God is the God of hope. He produces hope through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures. He also produces hope through the Spirit who indwells us (see also Romans 5:5; 8:1-27).

Conclusion

These closing verses of Paul’s argument in Romans are both similar to and different from his other concluding remarks elsewhere in Romans. Let us refresh our memories concerning his two earlier conclusions:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

The similarity between our text and those above from Romans 8 and 11 is that in every instance, Paul’s argument concludes in praise. Paul speaks to us first about avoiding evil and then about seeking our neighbor’s good. But he concludes with the emphasis on His glory and the praise which this should inspire. In our text, as he often does elsewhere, Paul sees all good things as coming from God, as their Source. He sees all good things taking place through God, as their means. He sees all good things as being unto God, for His glory and praise. This is what Paul has said in Romans 11 above. It bears repeating:

Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:35-36, emphasis mine).

Is it not interesting that we Christians are eager to get to the application? I fear that often this is because we are self-centered. Application focuses on us—we think. If we think this, we are wrong! Paul’s application focuses our attention on God and our praise toward God. That is where it belongs. That is where our focus always belongs. That is where our focus eternally will be. That is where our focus should be now.

There is also a difference in the praise of God found in our text when compared to Paul’s previous praise in Romans. Before, Paul was praising God; we could identify with him in his praise, but it was his praise. We could even join with him in praise. But here, in this final word of praise, it is the combined praise of all the saints from all ages. It is the combined praise of both the Jews and the Gentiles. It is that yet to be fulfilled in eternity. It is that which should warm our hearts now and turn our hearts toward God, where we find salvation, peace, joy, hope, love, and all that is worthy of praise.

It is not our convictions which should consume us. Nor should it be the differences we have with our fellow-believers. It is God who should consume us. May we be caught up—lost in Him—in His glory, honor, wisdom, and power. Let us not leave this text without joining Paul and all of the saints of all the ages, in praising God. To God be the glory, great things He hath done!

 

[1] This term, rendered “neighbor,” is used by Paul in Romans 13:9-10; 15:2; Galatians 5:14; Ephesians 4:25. In my estimation, the term “neighbor” is more general, referring to one’s fellow-man. It would include one’s “brothers” in Christ as well as unbelievers.

[2] In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul’s emphasis falls much more heavily on our obligation toward unbelievers. Paul speaks specifically to the Corinthians about how he surrenders his liberties for the sake of the gospel, so that he will not hinder any from coming to faith in Christ.

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

“Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

[3] It is interesting that Paul includes himself among the strong. Rightly so. But I am not convinced that the “strong” here are necessarily those who are “strong,” but perhaps only those who think themselves to be strong. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor” (1 Cor. 4:10; see also 2 Corinthians 13:9). Paul’s argument might go something like this: “All right, so you think you are strong and your brother is weak. Let me tell you your obligation to the weak, if you are indeed strong.”

[4] “Ought” indicates obligation. Obligation has been a prominent theme, especially in Romans 12:1 and following. Love should be our primary obligation, the basis and source of all legitimate obligations (Romans 13:8).

[5] The term “bear” has more than one connotation. It sometimes means “to endure” or to “put up with.” Elsewhere, it means “to carry.” In our text, I believe both meanings are intended. We are both to accept, or put up with, the weaknesses of those who are without strength, and we are to help bear their burdens. I believe our Lord evidences both types of “bearing” in His earthly life as recorded by the Gospels. He not only put up with our weaknesses (often with a sigh—see Mark 7:34; 8:12), but also by bearing our sins on the cross.

[6] The word “just” in verse 1 has been supplied by the translators of the NASB. It is not found in the NIV nor in the KJV. I think this is one of the few times the NASB has gone too far. Literally rendered, Paul’s words make good sense. “We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not please ourselves.” When Paul gets to the example of our Lord in verse 3, the word “just” is not supplied. Why not? Because Jesus did not seek to please Himself at all, just as we must not seek to please ourselves. Pleasing self and pleasing others are mutually exclusive. Either you do one or the other, but not both. (The same should be said of loving oneself and loving others.)

[7] Indeed, this is the reason for the frequent use of the “prophetic perfect” in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. A past tense verb is often employed to speak prophetically of a future event. God spoke of future events in the past tense because they are as certain as history.

[8] The remainder of this epistle is profitable reading, but his formal argument seems to end at Romans 15:13. Romans 15:14-33 focus on Paul, his purpose and calling, his past ministry, and his plans for the future. Romans 16:1-33 contains Paul’s final greetings and exhortations.

[9] See also, in a similar context, 1 Corinthians 10:11.

[10] Notice the clue to Paul’s structure here. Verse 5 is a kind of invocation or benediction. So too is verse 13. Both verses begin in the same way: “Now may the God of …” (see the marginal note in the NASB at verse 5).

[11] Because of the form of the verbs in verses 5 and 13, some have referred to these as Paul’s wish. In a sense, they are. But the term “wish” has become too wishy-washy (if you will pardon the pun). It is too iffy. Paul does not doubt, either that God can accomplish this or that He will. Therefore, it is more a pronouncement of blessings than a wish for God’s blessing.

[12] Compare 1 Corinthians 10:31.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2021 in Romans

 

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