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VI. THE PRACTICE OF GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS 12:1-15:13
In contrasting chapters 1-11 with chapters 12-16 of Romans, perhaps the most important distinction is that the first part deals primarily with God’s actions for humanity, and the last part deals with people’s actions in response to God’s. This is an oversimplification of the book, but the distinction is a valid one. God’s provision contrasts with man’s responsibility to behave in a manner consistent with what God has done, is doing, and will do for him (cf. Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 2:12-13). The first part is more information for belief whereas the last part is more exhortation for action. The first part stresses right relations with God and the last part right relations with other people.
"Doctrine must always precede exhortation since in doctrine the saint is shown his exalted position which makes the exhortation to a holy life, a reasonable one, and in doctrine, the saint is informed as to the resources of grace he possesses with which to obey the exhortations." [Note: Kenneth S. Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, p. 204.]
Essentially this exhortation, which is both positive and negative, deals with behavior within the spheres of life where the believer lives. These areas are his or her relationship to God, to other members of the body of Christ, and to the civil state. There is a general correspondence here with the instruction that God gave the Israelites through Moses for life in Israel. Paul dealt with the same areas of life: moral, religious and civil life. The differences with the Mosaic Code are as striking as the similarities. Romans does not contain all the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), but each of the other New Testament books makes its unique contribution to our understanding of God’s will for Christians.
"One of the most striking features of Romans 12:1 to Romans 15:13 is the way in which its various themes resemble teaching that Paul gives elsewhere [cf. Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 4:17-24; Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11-17; Romans 12:9-21 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 and 1 Corinthians 13; Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-15; Romans 13:11-14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10]." [Note: Moo, p. 745.]
Chapters 12-13 give directions for Christian conduct generally, and Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13 deals with a specific problem that the Roman Christians faced and which all Christians share.
D. Conduct within Christian liberty 14:1-15:13
In Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13, Paul gave special attention to the problem of knowing how to live in Christian freedom. This section of Romans deals with Christian conduct when God does not specify exactly what we should do in every situation (cf. 1 Corinthians 8). In such cases some Christians will do one thing and others another, both within God’s will. How to handle these situations is the focus of this section.
Paul moved on to discuss a problem that arises as the dedicated Christian seeks to live within God’s will in the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-21) and in the body politic (ch. 13). As Christians, the 613 specific commands of the Mosaic Law no longer govern our conduct (Romans 7:6; Romans 10:4), but the principles that Jesus Christ and His apostles revealed do (cf. chs. 12-13). How then should we deal with conflicting applications of these principles? How should we conduct ourselves when our interpretation of God’s will differs from that of another believer? Paul explained how believers can disagree on nonessentials and still maintain unity in the church.
"From speaking of those who were too lax in the indulgence of natural appetites [Romans 13:11-14], the subject passes mainly to those who are too scrupulous. The object is not to remove these scruples, but to show those who have them and those who have them not how to live in Christian peace." [Note: Stifler, p. 222.]
The command to accept one another begins (Romans 14:1) and climaxes this section (Romans 15:7). Within it Paul also gave three other "one another" references (Romans 14:13; Romans 14:19; Romans 15:5).
The strong ought to take the initiative in resolving the tension between the strong and the weak. They need to be willing to limit their Christian liberty if by doing so they can reduce the problems of their brethren. The weak need knowledge, and the strong need love. Paul was not saying that the strong must determine to put up with the weak. He meant, "Those of us who are strong must accept as our own burden the tender scruples of the weak." [Note: Revised English Bible.]
3. The importance of pleasing one another 15:1-6
Paul now developed the key concept to which he referred in chapter 14, namely, putting the welfare of others before that of self (cf. Galatians 6:2). This is love. He cited the example of Christ who lived free of taboos and unnecessary inhibitions but was always careful to bear with the weaknesses of others.
All Christians, not just the strong, need to apply this principle of love. 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. Galatians 1:10; Galatians 1:19; Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). The goal of our behavior should be the other person’s welfare and spiritual edification (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). We should not please others rather than God, but we should please others rather than ourselves.
The apostle illustrated the commitment to doing the will of God that he advocated with the example of Jesus Christ. In Him we can see the difference between a people pleaser and a people lover. 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. David voiced the testimony that Paul quoted here regarding his zeal for God’s house (Psalms 69:9). Christians need to show as strong commitment to building up God’s spiritual house as David displayed in promoting His physical house.
"Convictions about what constitutes Christian conduct sometimes reflect ecclesiastical and social backgrounds, but the principles written in this passage are timeless. They may be stated as follows: Christians (1) are not to judge the practice of other Christians in respect to doubtful things (Romans 15:3); (2) are personally accountable to God for their actions (Romans 15:12); (3) are not to do anything that will put a stumbling block before their brethren (Romans 15:13); (4) have Christian liberty regarding what they do (Romans 15:14; Romans 15:20); (5) are to do what will edify their brethren (Romans 15:19); (6) should, for the sake of their weaker brethren, voluntarily abstain from certain practices (Romans 15:21); (7) are to do only what can be done without self-condemnation (Romans 15:22); and (8) are to follow the example of Christ, who did not live to please Himself (Romans 15:1-3)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1228.]
Paul used his reference to David’s experience as an occasion to comment on the usefulness of all Old Testament Scripture. [Note: See George W. Knight, III, "The Scriptures Were Written for Our Instruction," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:1 (March 1996):3-13.] It provides motivation for enduring and gives encouragement as we seek to remain faithful in our commitment to do God’s will. These Scriptures give us hope because in them we see God’s approval of those who persevered faithfully in spite of opposition and frustration (cf. Hebrews 11).
Endurance and encouragement come to us through the Scriptures, but they are gifts from God. Paul wished that all his readers, the strong and the weak, would appropriate these gifts and apply them in their interpersonal relationships. [Note: See Cranfield, 2:736, for helpful comments on Paul’s prayerful wishes.] The result would be unity in the church.
"The centripetal magnetism of the Lord can effectively counter the centrifugal force of individual judgment and opinion." [Note: Harrison, p. 153.]
United vocal praise of God in the assembly would be an evidence of unity among the strong and the weak. Christians who do not love God and one another have difficulty praising God together in church meetings.
"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)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:562.]
"Accept" repeats Paul’s opening exhortation (Romans 14:1). "One another" encompasses the two groups, the strong and the weak. It is inconsistent for a Christian to reject someone whom God has accepted. We are to receive one another as Jesus Christ has received us. We are fellow members of the family of God. Accepting one another glorifies God.
4. The importance of accepting one another 15:7-13
This section concludes Paul’s instructions concerning the importance of accepting one another as Christians that he began in Romans 14:1. In this section the apostle charged both the strong and the weak.
Romans 15:8-10 expand the idea of Jesus Christ accepting us. Romans 15:8 deals with His acceptance of Jews. He not only accepted Jewish believers but came to serve the Jewish people, as the Old Testament predicted, fulfilling God’s promise to the patriarchs (Mark 10:45; Matthew 15:24; cf. Galatians 3:16). Consequently the typically stronger Gentile believers should not despise their occasionally weaker Jewish brethren.
These verses deal with Jesus Christ’s acceptance of Gentiles. The citations show that God always purposed to bless the Gentiles. Therefore conservative Jewish believers should not despise their more liberal Gentile brethren. I use the adjectives "conservative" and "liberal" to describe their relationship to amoral (non-moral) matters. Four quotations from the Old Testament ("Writings," "Law," and "Prophets") follow, which support Paul’s assertions in Romans 15:8-9 a as a whole.
Psalms 18:49 pictures David rejoicing in God for his victories among the nations that had become subject to him. In Deuteronomy 32:43 Moses saw the Gentiles praising God with the Israelites. These passages would have encouraged Paul’s Jewish readers to accept their Gentile brethren.
Two more quotations picture the Gentiles praising God alone apart from participation in Israel (Psalms 117:1; Isaiah 11:10). Perhaps Paul cited them to help his Jewish readers remember that their Gentile brethren did not need to come to God through Jews or Judaism. They did not need to practice some of the things that Jewish Christians did as a part of their cultural heritage.
This verse concludes the section dealing with the practice of God’s righteousness (Romans 12:1 to Romans 15:13). It is another pious wish (cf. Romans 15:5).
The mention of hope points forward to the future. Throughout this epistle Paul kept referring to the fact that God had not finished His saving work in his readers’ lives. They were still under construction as Christians. There was more to God’s salvation than they had experienced yet. In closing his treatise on God’s righteousness the apostle focused his readers’ attention on the rest of their sanctification and final glorification.
The God of hope is the God who inspires hope in and provides hope for His redeemed ones. Christians can be joyful because of what God has already done for us and is doing for us. We can also be peaceful as we realize what He is doing for us now and what He will do for us in the future. It is possible for us to abound in hope because the omnipotent Holy Spirit is at work in us (cf. ch. 8).
"The achievement of all God’s purposes for the spiritual welfare of His children comes from the power given by the Spirit of God. What a fitting closing reminder to the apostle’s discussion of Christian living." [Note: Witmer, "Romans," p. 496.]
This concludes Paul’s exposition of the theme of the righteousness of God that constitutes the heart of this epistle (Romans 1:18 to Romans 15:13). Paul showed man’s need of God’s righteousness (Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20), how God imputes it to people who trust in His Son (Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:21), and how He imparts it to those to whom He has imputed it (chs. 6-8). Moreover he demonstrated that God is consistently righteous in doing all this (chs. 9-11). He ended by urging his readers to practice their righteousness in their most important relationships (Romans 12:1 to Romans 15:13).
Paul’s knowledge of the church in Rome had come to him through sources other than personal observation (Romans 15:22-24).
"Goodness" is moral excellence that comes through the working of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22; cf. Romans 6:13). Goodness is necessary to apply the truth to life, as is knowledge. This was primarily a self-taught church (Romans 6:17), and the believers were able to instruct one another. "Admonish" or "instruct" means to inculcate (cf. Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
"Morally, they were ’full of goodness,’ intellectually they were ’complete in knowledge,’ and functionally they were ’competent to instruct one another.’" [Note: Mounce, p. 266.]
1. Past labors 15:14-21
Paul had been somewhat critical of the strong and the weak in the Roman church (Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13). He now balanced those comments by pointing out other strengths in the church beside the faith of his Roman brethren (Romans 1:8).
VII. CONCLUSION 15:14-16:27
The conclusion of the epistle corresponds to its introduction (Romans 1:1-17; cf. Romans 15:14 and Romans 1:8; Romans 15:15-21 and Romans 1:3; Romans 1:13; Romans 15:22 and Romans 1:13 a; Romans 15:27 and Romans 1:14; Romans 15:29 and Romans 1:11-12; and Romans 15:30-32 and Romans 1:9-10). Both sections deal with matters of personal interest to Paul and frame his exposition of the righteousness of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; 1 Corinthians 16:5-24). However in both sections what Paul wrote about himself related to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A. Paul’s ministry 15:14-33
The apostle first gave information concerning his past labors (Romans 15:14-21). Then he explained his present program (Romans 15:22-29). Finally he shared his future plans (Romans 15:30-33).
The apostle gave his readers credit for some knowledge of what he had written in the foregoing chapters. Nevertheless they needed reminding, as do all God’s people. This is the closest Paul got to explaining his purpose for writing Romans in this epistle, but this purpose statement is obviously very general.
Paul had a special obligation to this primarily Gentile congregation (Romans 1:13) since God had sent him to minister to Gentiles primarily. As a believer priest, it was his duty to bring people to God with the gospel. He regarded the Gentiles who were coming to faith and growing through his ministry as his offering to God. These Gentiles would be acceptable to God as the Holy Spirit set them apart to God as His possession (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11). Positional sanctification is in view rather than progressive sanctification.
Paul had grounds to boast because Gentiles had come to Jesus Christ through his ministry. Notwithstanding he gave all the credit for what had happened to Jesus Christ. He had worked through His servant to bring the Gentiles to obey God in word and deed. Obedience in this context involved coming to Christ (cf. Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26; Acts 17:30; 1 Peter 1:2)
Signs and wonders, standard biblical phraseology for miracles, accredited the messenger of God and validated the message that he proclaimed (Acts 2:22; Acts 5:12). [Note: See Ken L. Sarles, "An Appraisal of the Signs and Wonders Movement," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1988):57-82.] The Holy Spirit enabled people to see the connection between the miracle and the message and, therefore, to believe the gospel and experience salvation.
Paul’s arena of ministry when he wrote this epistle stretched about 1,400 miles, from Jerusalem to the Roman province of Illyricum. Illyricum lay on the east side of the Adriatic Sea opposite Italy. This is modern northern Albania, much of former Yugoslavia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is no record in Acts of Paul having gone there, though he may have done so on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9) or during his third journey (Acts 21:1-2). 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.
This verse, along with Romans 15:18-19, explains why Paul had not yet been able to visit Rome. His desire to do pioneer missionary work grew out of his zeal to reach as many unsaved people as possible (cf. Romans 1:14). He went to unreached people with the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). He did not wait for them to come and enquire about it.
Paul seems to have found encouragement to pursue this goal in this prophecy from Isaiah, which describes the mission of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 52:15).
This verse captures the point of what Paul explained in the preceding pericope.
2. Present program 15:22-29
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. Consequently he believed that he could look to comparatively unreached fields farther to the west in what is now Europe (cf. Romans 1:11-12).
"Parts of Spain (which in the ancient world included all the Iberian peninsula) had been occupied by Rome since about 200 B.C.; but it was only in Paul’s lifetime that the Romans had fully organized the entire area." [Note: Moo, p. 900. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Spain," by A. F. Walls.]
The purpose of Paul’s collection of money from the Macedonian and Achaean churches was to relieve the poverty that existed among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. A secondary purpose was to cement relations between Gentile and Jewish believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9).
The money that Paul was collecting was both a love-gift and an obligation. 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 (1 Corinthians 16:1; Acts 20:4).
Paul evidently anticipated the completion of this project eagerly. The money given was "fruit" in that it was the product of gospel seed-sowing. Paul as "apostle to the Gentiles" evidently wanted the gift to serve as a token of the Gentile churches’ love and gratitude to the Jerusalem church. Or possibly he wanted it to serve as a token of the fruit that God had produced among the Gentiles because of the Jerusalem church. [Note: Cranfield, 2:775.]
The blessing of Jesus Christ in view was God’s blessing on Paul by allowing him to reach Rome. The apostle probably also had in mind the blessing that would come to the Romans through his ministry among them. He did not know at this time that he would arrive in chains (Acts 28:16).
Paul drew attention to the great need he felt for his readers’ prayers by using the same term he did when appealing for them to dedicate themselves to God (Romans 12:1). He exhorted them on the basis of their relationship with Jesus Christ and the love that the Holy Spirit inspires. He realized that in view of the spiritual forces antagonistic to his ministry energetic praying was necessary (cf. Ephesians 6:18-20; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11).
". . . our praying must not be a casual experience that has no heart or earnestness. We should put as much fervor into our praying as a wrestler does into his wrestling!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:565.]
"A Christian’s intercession is a means of sharing in the ministry of others." [Note: Witmer, p. 498.]
3. Future plans 15:30-33
Paul identified two immediate prayer requests. One was safety from the opposition of hostile unbelieving Jews (cf. Acts 9:29-30) and the distrust of Jewish Christians. The other was that the Jewish Christians would receive the monetary gift of their Gentile brethren. If they did not, the unity of the body would be in jeopardy.
The granting of these two requests would hopefully contribute to the realization of a third goal. This goal was Paul’s joyful arrival in Rome in God’s will (Romans 1:10) and his refreshment in the fellowship of the Roman saints.
Even though Paul’s life was full of turmoil because of his ministry, he wished the peace that comes from God as a special portion for the Roman church.
"Far from being an afterthought that included only a few personal remarks, Romans 15:14-33 is key for understanding the Book of Romans and Paul’s theology of missions. As such, it offers significant insights for a contemporary biblical theology of missions. The passage is a reminder, first, that all missionary efforts must be dependent on God and all results must be recognized as the work of God’s grace. Second, the task of missions is a priestly privilege of presenting the nations to God. Third, missions must maintain a balance between the ultimate goal of establishing mature strategic congregations and not losing the urgency of evangelism among the unreached. Fourth, those who carry the gospel to the unreached among the nations are helping fulfill the purposes of God in salvation history. Fifth, reciprocal, mutual partnerships, so central to the task of missions, must emerge among churches around the world." [Note: Steve Strauss, "Missions Theology in Romans 15:14-33," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:640 (October-December 2003):474.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 15". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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