A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS: The Gospel, Acceptance, and Unity Romans 15
Dr. Jerry A. Collins
So how must the strong in faith, the one’s understanding their Christian liberty, manage relationships with the weaker who have a limited understanding and experience with their Christian freedom?
By Edifying One Another
Verse 1: The one who understands his Christian freedom ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength. The strong ought to take the initiative in resolving the tension between the strong and the weak. The weak are those who do not yet feel the liberty to eat. To not observe a holy day. Concern for traditions. Why not strengthen the weak rather than just bear their weakness? Isn’t that enabling the weak to stay weak? Of course, we should always build people up whenever we can. Verse 2 says it’s all about his edification. The idea is to bear their weakness. Not to trample on it. Not to ignore it. Not to argue against it. Not to look down upon it. Instead, understand the struggle so as not to abuse but consider the weaker. The problem is, some who are weak are not capable of being strong. We all have limits. When people who want to do the right thing reach their limits, they often just become more conservative or legalistic.
PT—We can’t always cure everyone’s spiritual weakness, but we can help them bear their weakness. Sometimes we cannot make people stronger, we just need to help them bear their weakness.
—and not [just] please ourselves. The stronger in faith can please himself in his Christian liberty but not to be used to just please yourself. The goal of our behavior here is the other person’s welfare and edification. Pleasing them is not an end in itself, but is for their good—to build them up. The Lord Jesus does not want us using our freedom to hurt fellow believers. The way we do that is by freely giving up rights since we must keep the weaker brother in mind.
Verse 2: Rather than pleasing oneself, each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. The result of such selfless action is edification of the church body—building each other up. What Paul has in mind is situations where the weaker brother is directly present. We are not to live in fear that our private actions will hurt the weaker brother. We should simply make sure that we do not flaunt our liberty. Paul was not saying that we should be “people pleasers” and do whatever anyone wants us to do simply because it will please them (cf. Gal. 1:10, 19; Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:22; 1 Thess. 2:4). The goal of our behavior should be the other person’s welfare and spiritual edification.
Verse 3: The Lord Jesus Christ is Paul’s prime example of one who did not please Himself. He then quotes Psalm 69:9 to fortify the idea that our aim in life is to pay the cost to please God, not ourselves, or not just even our neighbor. But as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me.” When the weak are hurting, troubled, confused, we do not gloat in our self-sufficiency—even if they should have been more mature by now! Paul supports this point citing from the messianic Psalm 69 to say that Christ did not seek to please himself; he served others and bore their burdens. Sacrificing His own preferences for the welfare of others did not make Him acceptable to everyone, but it did make Him acceptable to His Father.
Verse 4: Paul used his reference to David’s experience as an occasion to comment on the usefulness of all Old Testament Scripture. For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. The Old Testament provides motivation for enduring and gives encouragement as we seek to remain faithful in our commitment to do God’s will. So that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. But its hope based in our own self-interest. It appears that not pleasing ourselves when it hinders the weaker in faith in the short-term (here on earth) is in our own best self-interest in the long-term (throughout eternity). These Scriptures give us hope because in them we see God’s approval of those who persevered faithfully in spite of opposition.
By Being of the Same Mind
Verse 5: Paul launches into prayer. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement. The Old Testament gives us encouragement and teaches endurance. Think Hebrews 11 here. The endurance, encouragement and comfort we need ultimately come from God. They are not things we manufacture. He is the author of scripture that produces this. You must become a student of the Bible. Paul’s prayer is that this will result in the more mature believer so as to grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus. But unity is not a goal in itself. The unity must be according to Christ Jesus. In other words, the strong are to pursue the mind of Christ – with others. Unity is a major theme in the New Testament (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4), but it’s never a unity through tolerance. It’s always a unity by conforming to the mind of Christ.
Verse 6: The whole outcome of unity and harmony is so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is an important point: the praise should express the unity of the faith. Or, to put it another way, in glorifying God all the little walls that separate will fall down if praise is biblical praise and not entertainment or show. There is nothing more significant than glorifying God. As we apply pleasing one another to our interpersonal relationships, the result is unity in the church, not disrupted by our differences in convictions and that is how we give God glory. Paul’s point—corporate glorification of God occurs when believers are unified inwardly and outwardly.
An Application—Christianity includes being my brother’s keeper. The church is a household, a collection of individuals responsible to pursue the spiritual maturity of one another. The church is made up of individuals who together grow up as a family united by one another’s eternal welfare.
By Accepting one another
Verse 7: Mature believers must also keep in mind to accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. Christians of all backgrounds must grow together in unity. Work patiently with one another as Christ works with you. Here are individuals for whom Jesus died--just as He did for me; and here are individuals that our Lord graciously accepts and develops. I am no better than they, and certainly do not have an inside track on divine favor. The way we glorify God, is the same way Jesus did—to accept one another. Just as Christ accepted us. He received us when we were ungodly—powerless—enemies and sinners. We must now receive others who differ with us in nonessential issues.
Verse 8: The example (and proof) Paul offered is that Christ became a servant to both the Jews and the Gentiles. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision. And there can be no superiority over Jew and Gentile issues, as the early Church had to learn. All ethnicities are to be accepted equally as part of the body of Christ. Consequently, the typically stronger Gentile believers should not despise their occasionally weaker Jewish brethren. Paul's reasoning is that the Son of God became a Jew on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises to the fathers in order that the Gentiles (“all the families of the earth”) might glorify God for his mercy.
PT—In support of this Paul strings together a series of passages from the Old Testament that show God's plans to include the Gentiles in the praise of God.
Verse 9: His first passage is from Psalm 18:49 where praise to God comes among the Gentiles. And for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.”
Verse 10: He then uses Deuteronomy 32:43, Moses' song with the panoramic view of God's eternal program. Again he says, “Rejoice, o gentiles, with His people.”
Verse 11: Then he works in the shortest psalm, Psalm 117, which is a call for Jew and Gentile to praise the Lord. And again, “Praise the Lord all you gentiles, and let all the people praise Him.”
Verse 12: He then adds Isaiah 11:10 to show that even though the Messiah will spring from Jesse, he will rule over the nations. 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.”
PT—Notice that Gentiles can glorify God, rejoice, praise the Lord, and hope due to God’s imitative to include us in His plan of the ages. It was clearly God's plan that Gentiles should come to faith in the Messiah. God had always planned to include Gentiles, and conservative Jewish believers should not despise more liberal Gentile brothers.
Verse 13: Paul stops to offer a benediction, for the main themes of his epistle end here. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul ends this paragraph with hope again – mentioned three times. Hope points us to the future. We are still under construction as Christians. There is more to God’s salvation than experienced as of yet. The God of Hope is a new and marvelous title for the Lord. The hope comes through the power of the Holy Spirit and it will fill the believer with joy and peace.
PT—Only God can take people who are lost in sin and spiritually dead, save them by His grace, sanctify them by His Spirit, put them into service within the body of believers, and fill them with joy and peace. From beginning to end it is a work of grace by the power of the Spirit. It is up to us to respond by faith, for faith accepts the word and the work of the Lord and transforms it into reality.
An Application—We live in the age of grace. God work is with the global church. That network of believers, Jew and Gentile, from Pentecost until the rapture. In this administration of Gods is invested in His church. Next is the Kingdom. We are a microcosm here of this work of our God.
Here ends main body of letter. Now we learn of the Anatomy of a Ministry. The entire point is that Paul may have ministry in Rome. Ministry is service to people with their eternal values in mind.
Ministry is Priestly in nature introducing People to God as an Offering
Verse 14: Here are a group of people considered spiritually informed and spiritually mature. And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. Amazing that Paul knew this without ever having visited the groups of believers in Rome before. (1) Full of goodness morally or morally excellent. (2) Filled with all knowledge intellectually. To be complete in knowledge. Not in an absolute sense, but they had understanding of the full scope of Christian truth. (3) Functionally, then, they are able to admonish one another competent then to instruct one another.
PT—You can only take people as far as you have gone. This is why we need to be discipled. The Bible continually commands us to grow up, to mature and in crease our spiritual capacity.
Verse 15: So here is the purpose for writing this section. But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again. As full as they are, they still needed reminding about the ministry. And he was qualified to do this because of his special position due to the grace that was given me from God. Paul, of course, was an apostle to the Gentiles. God called him to this.
PT—First, it is good to review what you already know. In college a prof said to us ‘read a systematic theology thru every year’. Now I had four years of college—4 years of seminary, but so had he. Second, it is good to build on what you already know. Becoming a perpetual student.
Verse 16: This grace of God is what enabled Paul to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God. Paul saw his assignment as a priest (one who stands between the people and God), in the sense that he not only delivered the Gospel to these Gentiles, he will also (in a sense, because of their salvation) deliver the believing Gentiles to God. So that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. These Gentiles would be acceptable to God as the Holy Spirit set them apart to God as His possession. This ministry was carried out as a priestly duty my offering. In this case on behalf of the gospel—the gospel that is God’s. So a priest brings people to God with the gospel. Then, these believers grow through your ministry to them as such become your offering to God. God accepts them and they become set apart to God by the Holy Spirit both positionally and progressively and experientially.
Ministry is an Opportunity to Participate with God in what it is He is Doing
Verse 17: Therefore, in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. Paul had grounds to boast because Gentiles had come to Jesus Christ through his ministry. Yet, he gave all the credit for what had happened to Jesus Christ. Ministry is effective not because of what I do but because of what Christ does through me. The results are always up to Christ. We cannot manufacture them. We make ourselves available.
Verse 18: While recognizing that all credit goes to Christ, yet Paul was involved and so are we. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me. God worked by what he had said and done. We participate with God in what it is He is doing not inviting God to participate in what it is we are doing. Paul’s words and deeds had been used by God resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed. But Paul dared not claim this as something he did independently of Christ.
Verse 19: In his case it included the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit. In Acts Luke tells us about many of the signs and wonders God accomplished through Paul (and Peter). For example, in Lystra, Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth (Acts 14:8-10). In Philippi, he cast a spirit of divination out of a slave girl (Acts 16:16-18). In Corinth, Paul healed many who were sick and cast out many who were demon-possessed (Acts 19:11-12). He restored Eutychus to life after he fell from a third story window in Troas (Acts 20:9-12). And on the island of Malta Paul suffered no ill effects from being bitten by a deadly viper and he healed many people there (Acts 28:3-9). In each case the signs and wonders validated his evangelistic preaching.
—So that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Illyricum is the area from northeast Italy to Macedonia, roughly that of the former Yugoslavia. From Jerusalem to Albania the gospel was preached. Paul’s claim to have “fully” preached the gospel means that he had faithfully proclaimed it in that area, not that he had personally delivered it to every individual.
Ministry Includes the Good News Proclaimed in Unknown Places
Verse 20: Paul had a specific aim in terms of the sphere of his evangelistic efforts. He wanted to proclaim the gospel in places where Christ was not named. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named. It is always good to do something; go somewhere none has ever done or gone before. The desire to do pioneer missionary work grew out of zeal to preach gospel to those never heard. To go and do something no one has ever done before. Paul considered this important so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.
Verse 21: To him there were so many Gentiles who had not yet heard, that he knew his calling was to preach the Gospel to them. This is the point of the quotation from Isaiah 52:15. But as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.” The quote gave him encouragement to pursue this virgin territory and new ministry. Paul had no spirit of competition with other ministers; he was not interested in taking over works that others had started. The implication for the Church of Rome is that it apparently had no apostolic founding apart from Paul who preached to those who migrated to Rome and formed a church. If another apostle had founded it, Paul would not have been eager to write to them or visit them to preach the Gospel.
Verse 22: For this reason, I have often been prevented from coming to you. The reason preventing him from coming to them was that he has had an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to the Greeks in Macedonia and Achaia. Now that he has no more opportunities to do that in Greece, so he will be coming to see them in Rome. Up to this time he had always found new areas for ministry so that he had not yet felt free to look beyond Rome and Spain and thus had kept him away. The principle is: Know what God has called you to do and make that a priority over other good things to do.
Ministry Includes fellowship that is Mutually Refreshing to Each Other Spiritually
Verse 23: The Greeks had now heard the gospel so further unreached fields appealed farther west. But now, with no further place for me in these regions. The apostle felt that the Christians in the areas he had evangelized were in a good position to carry on the propagation of the gospel in their territories. This coupled with the long-time desire to see them was reason he planned to do so. And since I have had for many years a longing to come to you. Consequently, he believed that he could look to comparatively unreached fields farther to the west in what is now Europe.
Verse 24: Spain is western limit of Roman Empire. Traveling there would only happen after enjoying or being filled full with their company. Whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.
Paul tells us of his plans. He planned to:
· Go to Jerusalem to help deliver the financial gift of the Macedonians to the suffering believers in Jerusalem.
· Go to Rome to minister to them and be ministered to by them.
· Go onto Spain to continue his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel in new unreached areas.
So the principle is: Make plans that include both your calling and the needs of the believers around you.
Ministry Needs Financial Gifts to Sustain and Enable Its Work
Verse 25-26: Money and ministry do go hand in hand in a good way. But now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. Contributions from groups of believers allow ministry to carry on and enable it to do good works. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. You should set some of your money aside for this. Sharing in spiritual blessing they reciprocated with material and financial blessing. Paul did not twist any arms. He merely encouraged the believers who already wished to make such a gift to follow through with their intentions.
Verse 27: The money that Paul was collecting was both a love-gift and an obligation. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. The givers owed it because the gospel had come to them from Jerusalem and Judea where the money was returning to help needy. He could say that the givers owed it because the gospel had come from Jerusalem and Judea to the Gentiles. Believers in Asia Minor also contributed to this fund. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. The believers in the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were mainly Gentiles. The believers in the church of Jerusalem were mainly Jews. Since the Christian message went forth from Jerusalem, all of the Gentile churches in a sense owe their very lives and growth to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
Ministry is Both Planned Ahead and Flexible
Verse 28: He still needs to complete his ministry in Greece. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs. Sealing conveys security. Thus fruit which has been sealed means that once Paul completes this gift, then the future eternal reward for the believers in Macedonia and Achaia for what they did in this matter will be guaranteed. His plans are clear and he got to Rome, but not when or in the manner he anticipated (Acts 27-28). I will go on by way of you to Spain. No way to know he would arrive in chains. He was confident of the outcome of his visit—with Christ’s blessings to share with them. He anticipated an effective ministry amongst them. It is good to plan. We should plan our ministry. But since God is in control of it, we must remain flexible.
Verse 29: Paul reiterates his conviction: I know that when I come to you. On his trip to Jerusalem he was bearing material blessings to the believers there. When he comes to Rome he will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ by allowing him to reach Rome but also with reference to the good news about Christ, including His death and resurrection and His soon return to establish His righteous kingdom. The blessing of Christ in view was God’s blessing on Paul by allowing him to reach Rome.
Ministry Requires Intercessory Prayer from Other Believers Again and Again
Verse 30: Paul ends his discussion of his proposed trip to visit them with an appeal that they pray for him. Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. This was a difficult journey. He could be in danger from the unbelievers, the Jews who wanted to destroy him. And his gift from Gentiles might not be well received by the believers. Paul is probably full of uncertainties about his escaping alive; he therefore wants them to agonize in prayer—strive earnestly—over this issue. Of course the prayer was answered, his life was spared, he finished his course. He realized that in view of the spiritual forces antagonistic to his ministry energetic praying was necessary.
Verse 31: Ministry is spiritual warfare but also spiritual service. That I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea. It requires spiritual resources. Since forces against it are antagonistic, prayer for it must be energetic and specific. And that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints (1) Delivered and safe (2) Acceptable—this case money received.
Verses 32-33: The result would be a joyful arrival in Rome in God’s will and refreshed. So that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. He asks them to pray for that. But that’s not what happened. He was arrested in Jerusalem, imprisoned two years in Caesarea, put on a prison ship to Rome. He nearly starved, was snake bitten, shipwrecked, and then imprisoned in Rome for another two years. Then the history is a bit sketchy, but it seems that he was released, he revisited the Greek city-churches, sent Timothy to Ephesus and Titus to Crete. Then he was re-arrested, and returned to Rome, where he wrote Second Timothy before being beheaded. As far as we know, he never got to Spain. But he prayed that he would and asked the Romans to pray for that. Apparently, God said: NO. We should pray for all good things and opportunities for ministry, but we should not expect God to always let us do what we plan to do, even when what we plan to do is a good thing to do.
So the principle is: Continue your calling, and pray for your calling until God removes you from it.
· Grow up into a strong believer of faith. Make that your life goal.
· Weaker brothers will exist and need encouragement to pursue a strong faith.
· We all have ministry responsibility with a calling from God.