Verse 1 — I commend unto you Phebe our sister , which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
I commend unto you Phebe. — Paul here introduces Phebe to the brethren at Rome. Letters of recommendation were unnecessary for those who derived their credentials specially from the Lord, and who were officially well known to the churches. Paul disclaims the necessity of such letters for himself to the church at Corinth, though at his first visit he needed the introduction of Barnabas to the brethren at Jerusalem. There might be doubts respecting Phebe at Rome, as there were doubts at Jerusalem with respect to Paul, and these could not be removed by mere profession, unsupported by sufficient evidence, whether of her faith, or of his apostleship.
Phebe. — This was the name of the moon, one of the objects of the worship of the heathens. The moon was reverenced by females in honor of the goddess Diana. This person retaining that name shows that there is no necessity to renounce names that have been adopted under heathenish in honor of false gods. There is no necessity to give other names, as Christian names.
Sister. — The terms brother and sister, taken from human relations, are given to express the new and spiritual relationship which subsists among believers, who by a new nature have become the sons of God and the brethren of Christ. This shows how nearly Christians are related, and how affectionately they ought to love one another. If Christians be all really brethren and sisters, nothing should disunite them in affection.
Which is a servant, or deaconess. — As deacons were appointed to attend to the poor, so deaconesses were specially set apart in the churches in order to attend to the wants of their own sex.
That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh Saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath, been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
That ye receive her. — The purpose of Paul’s recommendation was, that Phebe should be received by the church.
In the Lord. — That is, that they would receive her as a member of the body of Christ. This shows that none ought to be received into communion by a church but those who are considered as being in the Lord. It shows also that all who are in the Lord ought to be received. The ground of Christian fellowship is union with Christ.
As becometh saints. — Literally, worthily of the saints; that is, in a manner worthy of the saints. This is usually understood as respecting the receivers, — ’in a manner that becomes saints to receive such persons.’
But it may respect the received, and signify, ‘in a manner worthy of those who are received, viz., the saints.’ The latter appears to be the meaning.
The word worthily applies best to this reference. The saints may be poor and despised, but they belong to the family in heaven; they are the brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sons of God. They are therefore worthy of honorable reception by their brethren.
And that ye assist her. — The saints are not only to receive one another into fellowship and to hospitality, but also they are to pay attention to strangers thus received, assisting them in the business which may have brought them to their place of residence.
For she hath been a succorer of many. — In addition to the general claim, the Apostle enhances the particular claims of Phebe by a reference to her own character. She was a most devoted person, and had exerted herself in assisting the brethren in distress.
Myself also. — In what way Phebe had ministered to the assistance of the Apostle we are not informed. But she might have many opportunities of relieving him, either by contributing to his support or ministering personally to his comfort. Here we see that, while the Apostle often shows the obligation of the churches and individuals to himself, yet he acknowledges with gratitude the services of all who contributed to his relief.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila. — The sending of salutations to particular persons or bodies was an indication of peculiar esteem and love. This shows us, in the first place, that in all things not sinful we may comply with the customs of mankind. There is no good, but much evil, in singularity with respect to anything, except such things as God has either forbidden or required. It is only when the authority of Jesus interposes that we are bound to depart from the world. There will be sufficient opportunities of doing this without creating them for ourselves.
Singularity in dress or in phraseology has no countenance from the word of God. Christians are to show sobriety in their language and in their dress, but in neither are they to form a fashion of their own. In the second place, we may learn from these salutations that it is not contrary to the universal love which we ought to entertain for the whole household of God, to have a peculiar regard for individuals. Paul singles out individuals from the body in general as peculiar objects of his attentions and remembrance.
My helpers. — Paul is not ashamed to mention those persons, one of whom was a woman, who is here first named, as his helpers in the Gospel He shows no jealousy about the invasion of his office in their labors to spread the Gospel. To fill any office in a church of Christ belongs only to those whom God has appointed to it; but to labor in the Gospel, either publicly or privately, is not peculiar to any office — not even to the office of an Apostle, but belongs to every Christian, according to the ability conferred on him by the Head of the Church. Christians are in general to blame for laboring so little in the Lord’s service, but they can never be charged with laboring too much. Priscilla and Aquila are styled by the Apostle fellow-laborers in Christ Jesus. And there is no doubt that Jesus will acknowledge all those persons as such, whether male or female, whether in office or out of office in his churches, they have labored to make sinners acquainted with the Gospel of salvation.
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
Who have for my life laid down their own necks. — We also speak of venturing the neck, or laying down the head; and both idioms are proverbial expressions, denoting to expose to death in whatever manner it may take place. This expression is proverbial, and is grounded on the manner of taking away the life of criminals on the block. Priscilla and Aquila are said to have laid down their necks, not because they had done so literally, but because they acted in such a manner as to expose their lives to jeopardy. A Christian is not required to substitute himself in the room of another Christian who is condemned to death. For this would be to go beyond the requirement of the law — it would be to love our neighbors better than ourselves. But there may be occasions when it is duty to act in such a manner for the benefit of the brethren, as to hazard life. This we are not to decline. This is what is meant by the Apostle John when he says that ‘we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
Unto whom not only I give thanks. — The devoted conduct of this disciple and his wife was nothing but their duty; yet Paul returns them thanks before all the churches, and all the world. The speculations of some on this subject would banish gratitude as a Christian virtue. To do good to the brethren is duty in all Christians, but to be thankful for good done is equally duty.
But also all the churches of the Gentiles. — Though the particular instance of exemplary benevolence shown by Priscilla and Aquila towards the Apostle is not recorded, yet no doubt it was well known at the time in all the churches; and the whole Gentile brethren considered themselves under obligations for the conduct of these two devoted Christians.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epenetus, who is the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. — Besides saluting Priscilla and Aquila, the Apostle sends his salutation to the church which assembled in their house. The same expression respecting the church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla occurs in 1 Corinthians 16:19. On this passage Calvin remarks: ‘It is worthy of observation, that Paul could not confer a more distinguished honor and ornament on this family, than by making mention of the church in their house. I am not satisfied with Erasmus’ translation congregation; for Paul undoubtedly made an honorable mention of the church in this passage.’ Salute my well-beloved (rather, my beloved) Epenetus. — Paul here calls Epenetus his beloved. He loved all Christians; but when he styles any of them his beloved, it imports that they were peculiarly objects of his affection. But to show this, there is no need, with our version, to translate the word well-beloved, because the English word beloved is as capable as the Greek of expressing such a meaning. This is a distinguished honor to Epenetus. If he was the beloved of Paul, he must have been eminent as a servant of Christ.
First-fruits. — That is, the first converted in the place mentioned. Such persons are called the first-fruits of the place, in allusion to the first fruits under the law. The first-fruits were offered unto God before any of the harvest was used, which was a setting apart of the rest to the service of man, and a pledge of the harvest. It is here implied to be a peculiar honor to be the first to believe the Gospel in any country or district. This honor is conferred by God in a sovereign way. This shows that, though all believers are equally the purchase of Christ, and that they are all equally washed from sin in His blood, yet that they are not all partakers of equal honors. Here we see, also, that Paul, instead of refusing to give praise to the saints on account of any distinction, avails himself of every opportunity to bring into notice whatever may be creditable to those whom he mentions.
Of Achaia. — Some, on the authority of certain manuscripts and versions, have substituted Asia for Achaia. The authority, however, does not seem sufficient. The objection, namely, that the household of Stephanas is elsewhere said to be the first-fruits of Achaia, is not applicable, for Epenetus may have been one of that household, and in that case the passages are quite consistent. Besides, the change to Asia may have been adopted in the manuscripts and versions in order to avoid a contradiction which was apprehended from the common reading.
Unto Christ. — That is, Epenetus was the first-fruits offered or presented to Christ, as the first-fruits under the law were presented unto God. This is a proof of the deity of Christ. If believers are presented as an offering to Christ, He must be God.
Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us.
That is, labored much in serving us, not, according to Dr. Macknight, who ‘labored with us,’ in the work of the Gospel. Many women labored in the Gospel with the Apostle, but that is no reason for forcing this phrase to refer to such. Works of kindness to the Apostle were worthy of approbation as well as the peculiar work of disseminating the Gospel.
This shows that every one has a talent, and ought to exercise it in the service of Christ. All are not missionaries or preachers of the Gospel, but all may in some way assist in it.
Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
It is true, indeed, as Dr. Macknight observes, that the Apostle ( Romans 9:3) calls all the Jews his kinsmen; but as he here distinguishes individuals by this character, it is necessary to understand him as speaking of kindred in a more limited sense. Though every Jew was, in a certain sense, related to Paul, and he calls the whole nation his kinsmen in the sense to which he there refers, yet there would be no propriety in singling out individuals of the nation as related to him who were not so actually. Here, then, we see how desirous the Apostle is to express his consideration of the brethren individually, so far as was in his power. This also recognizes the propriety of attachment to kindred. Though all Christians are brethren, yet this does not interfere with the attachment peculiar to the relations which God Himself has established among men. This is of great importance, as it sets aside the speculations of persons who would have us believe that all relations in life must be absorbed by the union of believers in Christ.
My fellow-prisoners. — When, where, or by whom this imprisonment took place, we have no account; yet it is not the less certain. How absurd, then, is it to reason, as many do, as if research were necessary, in order to prove what the Scriptures allege in general terms. It is a distinguished honor to be imprisoned for the cause of Christ. As that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination with God, so this, which is disgraceful in the eyes of men, is the highest honor before God.
Who are of note, or distinguished. — This is another proof that, though all Christians are equally pardoned and equally justified, God acts as a sovereign in this as in everything else.
Among the apostles. — Those persons, from their active cooperation with the Apostles, were well known to them and distinguished among them.
Were in Christ. — To be in Christ is to be a Christian, to be a member of the spiritual body of Christ. This takes place by faith, and in the first moment of believing in Him.
Before me. — Here priority of conversion to God is reckoned an honor; and Paul, instead of claiming all honors to himself, is solicitous to exhibit what is honorable in every man’s situation, and to give the preference to others whenever that preference is due. The Fathers, as they are called, were pious men, but often lamentably deficient in judgment, and generally bad reasoners. From the fact that these persons, Andronicus and Junia, were Christians before Paul, and that they were distinguished among the Apostles, Origen infers that they were of the number of the seventy disciples. This is a conclusion without premises.
Such conjectural reasoning imposes on many, as it has the appearance of giving us additional information, and containing nothing contrary to the Scriptures. But it affords a most mischievous precedent for perverting the word of God, and in no instance can it be of any service.
Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord.
This person is another of those distinguished objects of the Apostles love. Paul loved all the brethren, but for some he had a peculiar affection.
Amplias was beloved of Paul in the Lord, as a Christian, or one who was a member of the spiritual body of Christ. Amplias, then, as he was one of the peculiar objects of Pauls love in Christ, must have been distinguished for his devotedness to Christ.
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
Paul, as we have before seen, felt no jealousy of others laboring in the Lord, but distinguishes all of them as peculiar objects of his regard. They who endeavor to check the efforts of any of the disciples of Christ, in aiming to save sinners by communicating to them the knowledge of the Gospel, have a spirit very opposite to that of Paul, and are counteracting what he commands. It is worthy of observation, also, that though Paul was an inspired teacher, yet he freely distinguishes the humblest of those who were in any manner engaged in the work of the Gospel as his fellow-laborers. Stachys is one of those whom Paul honors with an expression of peculiar love for Christs sake. How unlike is the spirit of this Apostle from that of men who, under mistaken notions, regard with coldness, dislike, or jealousy the labors of those who are not called to office in the Church of Christ!
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.
Apelles is here distinguished as a tried disciple. It is mentioned to his honor that he was tried and approved in Christ. The Lord’s people have various and widely diversified characteristics as Christians. The Apostle selects that peculiar trait in the characters of those of whom he writes for which they are severally distinguished. Some of them are tried with peculiar afflictions, and their obedience to their Lord is put to the severest test. When they stand this fiery trial, it is the most distinguished honor, and their trials in the service of Christ ought to be held up to notice. This is due to them from their brethren, and it is a great encouragement to others who are similarly tried. All the Lord’s people are not exposed to trials equally severe; and when the Lord calls any of them to glorify His name by suffering peculiarly for His sake, we are here taught to treat them with peculiar honor. How very unfounded, then, and unscriptural, are the views of those who would fear the encouragement of a proud legal spirit, were they to utter a word of praise with respect to the characters of any of the Lord’s servants. From perceiving an extreme on one hand, they plunge into the opposite. But they confound things entirely distinct. That praise which a worldly spirit is accustomed to seek or to give, is quite different from that which the Apostle confers. The latter excites to greater devotedness; but the former puffs up, and is quite opposed to the spirit of the Gospel ‘How can ye believe,’ says Christ, ‘who receive honor one of another?’ Such persons love the praise of men more than the praise of God. But the honor which is given by the Lord’s servants, after the example of Paul, is to the honor of the Lord, and for the interest of His cause.
Aristobulus’ household. — Aristobulus was evidently a personage of great distinction, who had many domestics, of whom there were some who had believed the Gospel. When the head of the family believed, he vas usually saluted, and his household with him. When, therefore, salutations are sent to some of his family or slaves, and not to himself, there is no reason to conclude that Aristobulus was a believer. It is true, as Dr. Macknight suggests, he might have been abroad or dead, but there is no need of such suppositions where no part of the statement implies that he was a believer.
From this we see the sovereignty of God, in calling some of a family and leaving others in unbelief. And we may see the peculiarity of this sovereignty, in calling the slaves and overlooking the master. God does not judge as man judges. It would have been as easy for the Lord Jesus to have called Aristobulus as the meanest of his domestics; and human wisdom would have given the preference to the master. We see this exemplified in a thousand instances in our own day. Religious parties, in order to advance their interests, often select as their chief patrons and officers the greatest personages who will consent to give them their names, and even though they should be manifest enemies to the Gospel by wicked works. When the Lord has need of the talents of the great, the rich, or the learned He can convert them, and when He does convert them, they are a blessing for which God ought to be praised; but some persons choose those whom Christ has not chosen, even the enemies of Christ, for which they will have no praise from their Master.
Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
Salute Herodion my kinsman. This is another person that Paul acknowledges as a relation, thereby recognizing the affection becoming the natural ties of kindred. The household of Narcissus is saluted like that of Aristobulus. Whether this Narcissus was the distinguished favorite of the Emperor Claudius, the Scriptures do not determine, and it, therefore, can be of no importance to be ascertained. It might minister a question to curiosity, and thereby lead away from profitably considering what the Scriptures contain, in order to discover what they do not contain. This is a vain as well as an unprofitable way of spending time. Persons who indulge in it may fancy that they are studying and throwing light upon Scripture, but they are only covering Gods word with a heap of rubbish, gratifying an idle curiosity, and tending to draw away attention from the truths of eternal importance which the Scriptures reveal. Which are in the Lord. This shows us what sort of persons were recognized in the first churches. They were such only as were believed to be in the Lord, that is, members of the spiritual body of Christ. It shows, also, that persons who at the time appeared to be Christians were considered as such without any distrust with respect to the reality of their faith, though with respect to some the fact might afterwards manifest the contrary. Man judges by evidence, and is warranted to proceed with confidence upon that evidence, though the Searcher of hearts may see the profession to be without the true knowledge of God, or change of heart.
This explains the passage in Ezekiel with respect to the righteous turning away from his righteousness; and the passage in Hebrews, If any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa who labor in the Lord. — These were women who labored in the Gospel This shows that, while women are excluded from speaking in the church, they are not excluded from laboring in the Gospel. The Lord has not only permitted women to labor in the Gospel, but He has, both in the apostolic and in the present time, singularly blessed their labors.
Beloved Persis. — She was another woman who employed herself in the service of the Gospel, and is peculiarly distinguished as laboring much in the Lord. Even among the faithful servants of the Lord there is a difference of activity in His service, and the servant who labors much is peculiarly noticed by Paul. As, however, all the good deeds of the Lord’s people are done only by the influence of His spirit, none have in themselves ground of boasting.
Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
All believers are chosen of God. When Rufus is distinguished as the chosen, he must have furnished distinguished evidence of his election. He was chosen in the Lord, for none are elected but in Christ. Their election is without regard to merit in themselves: they are chosen in Christ. His
mother and mine. — The word mother seems to be used in its proper signification in respect to Rufus, and figuratively in its application to Paul.
This is a high honor to be so distinguished by the Apostle. This person, it appears, had behaved to the Apostle with the kindness, affection, and tenderness of a mother. This inculcates kindness and attention on the part of Christians towards those who are devotedly laboring in the service of Christ. It may, indeed, be a matter of lamentation that there are few like this woman; but it is equally a matter of lamentation that there are so few believers who manifest that devotedness which was constantly exhibited by Paul When the laborers in Christ’s vineyard make no sacrifice, they should not expect what is due only to signal devotedness and disinterestedness.
Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Pacrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
Here a number of brethren are selected without distinction. This mark of brotherly attention would gratify those whom the Apostle here names, besides the brethren who were with them. The lord’s people are not equally distinguished, but they are all brethren equally related to Him who is the Elder Brother of His people. Some of them are eminent, and others are without peculiar distinction. They are all, however, worthy of love. A church is not to consist of the most eminent believers, but of believers, though some be of the lowest attainments. A church of Christ is a school in which their education is to be perfected.
And all the saints which are with them. — That is, the believers in their families and neighborhood.
These might not be personally known to the Apostle, but as believers they were worthy of his notice.
It might at first sight appear strange that in an inspired letter, which was to be preserved to the end of the world for the edification and instruction of the churches, there should be so much of it taken up with what many might consider as useless ceremony. But as the Apostle was inspired by the Spirit of God in this, no well as in the highest matters, it is evident that we ought to look for instruction from this peculiarity of his writings. This shows the value of inspiration; for were these writings merely human, we should not look for instruction from such things. It shows us that every attention that expresses and promotes love ought to be exhibited among Christians, who should employ the forms and courtesies of social life that manifest respect in order to show their esteem and affection for one another.
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
From the salutations sent to the brethren, Paul passes to the injunction of a form of salutation to the used among those to whom he wrote. He enjoins them to salute one another with a holy kiss. He calls it a holy kiss as distinguished not only from that which is sinful, but also from the kiss that merely expresses common affection. The latter was proper in itself as an expression of kindness among relations or friends; but this is grounded on the love that Christians should have for one another, and is a holy kiss.
Much ridicule has been cast on this practice. But it was enjoined on the churches by the Apostles. It is again and again repeated, and was practiced by all the primitive churches. Peter calls it a kiss of love. Justin Martyr, in giving an account of the weekly assemblies of the Christians of the second century, says, We mutually salute one another by a kiss, and then we bring forward the bread and the cup. And the form is still maintained by the Church of Rome in what they call the osculum pacis. The churches of Christ salute you. Not only did individuals send salutations to churches or individuals with whom they had a personala> acquaintance, but whole churches sent salutations to one another in consideration of their common union in the Lord.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
Now I beseech you, brethren. — The churches of Christ have here the most solemn injunction given, in the most earnest manner, with respect to a thing to which at one time or other they will all be found obnoxious. They are warned against the artful attempts of dangerous hypocrites, who, for sinister and interested purposes, endeavor to make divisions in the churches with which they are united. The injunction does not respect the conscientious errors of good men, but the plausible efforts of men who, under the mask of religion, are serving themselves. There is no essential difference, whether the divisions are internal or external — whether they are merely calculated to distract the body to which they belong — or whether they tend to schism or separation in fellowship. Indeed, the most dangerous and mischievous divisions are those which do not call for separation. They eat like a gangrene; and their authors should not be tolerated. Every Christian may profess and follow his own views of the will of his Master without exciting any division in the body of Christ; and even when he is called to separate, to maintain his fidelity to his Lord, this is not dividing the body of Christ, but the most effectual way to promote its union. The motive is not self-interest, or pride; but obedience to the will of God.
Contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned. — The force of the passage lies in this sentence. The factious persons, against whom the Apostle here warns the church to which he writes, are to be watched and guarded against. Their motives are bad, and their efforts are contrary to the Gospel and the doctrine which the Church had already learned; for the Gospel teaches unity among all who believe in the Savior. They are all one, as united in Christ, the head of the body. Such persons are to be avoided.
Men who, from a view of exalting themselves, endeavor to sow division in the Church, are more to be shunned than if they were infected with pestilence; and the brethren who are connected with them ought not, from their confidence in their own steadfastness, to expose themselves to their conversation on such subjects. Such persons are in the service of Satan, who will prevail to deceive the strongest of the people of God, if he obtains permission.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Persons of this description serve not our Lord Jesus Christ. — To serve Christ is their profession; and this profession they may render plausible, but with all its plausibility it is a false profession. They are not doing the Lord’s work, for they are disuniting those whom Jesus has united. Instead of serving the Lord, they have a design of making gain by this conduct, which is equally to be condemned, whether they are led by vanity or ambition, or any other selfish motive not sanctioned by the word of God.
No injunction ought to be attended to with more vigilance than this. The evil that is here condemned in the persons denounced by the Apostle is more dangerous than the open profligacy of those who turn away from the truth. No one could be deceived by the openly profane; but the hypocritical professions of such factious persons is calculated to injure or to destroy the Church of Christ, under the cloak of religion. And by good words and fair speeches. — Here the Apostle points out the means which those wicked persons employ to give them success. They use good words and fair speeches. Their soothing address is the bait by which Satan teaches them to ensnare the brethren. Accordingly, the Apostle says that in this manner they deceive the hearts of the simple. The authors of heresies have, in general, been remarkable for a winning manner and seductive address; and thus some of the Lord’s people may at least for a time be entangled in their snares. It is quite obvious that the injunction here given is not designed to discountenance Christians from denouncing any error or corruption that may have obtained place among His people.
The persons against whom the Apostle warns us are those who, for their own interest or selfish purposes, excite divisions among the brethren.
Calvin observes, ‘To separate such as agree in the truth of Christ is an impious and sacrilegious divorce; but to defend a conspiracy for promoting lies and impious doctrines, under the pretext of peace and unity, is a shameless calumny. The Papists have no foundation for exciting, by artful guile, an unfavorable impression and low opinion of us believers from this passage, for we do not attack and confute the Gospel of Christ, but the falsehoods of the devil by which it has hitherto been obscured.’
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. The Apostle intimates here that he gave the believers at Rome these warnings, not from any peculiar jealousy with respect to their liability to err; on the contrary, he praises them for their ready obedience to the will of God as delineated by his Epistles. Obedience here may indeed respect their reception of the Gospel, which was a matter much spoken of, but it is not to be confined to this. It will apply to their readiness in receiving everything taught by the authority of God. The same authority that requires obedience to the Gospel, requires also obedience to every ordinance and precept. It is the greatest praise to any church or individual to obey cheerfully, with a childlike disposition, whatever the word of God teaches. Many Christians are not teachable, and while they have obeyed the Gospel to salvation, yet use their own wisdom in many other things respecting the institutions of God. They employ subtle and plausible reasonings, by which they impose on themselves and deceive others. This in the end will procure them neither honor nor profit. It will at last be found that he who submits most unreservedly to every tittle of the Divine injunctions, has been the wisest man. Blessed shall that servant be, who, when his Lord comes, shall be found doing His will fully.
The obedience of the Roman Christians had been published most extensively; and this notice of the fact shows that it is important that the disciples should publicly make a profession of the Gospel, and of every commandment of the Lord. They should not be ashamed either of Him or of His word. They should boldly profess faith in His revealed character in every part of it, and of His ordinances and precepts even in the things most offensive to the world. This is to the honor of their Lord, and is designed as a testimony to men. Christians are not at liberty to decline obedience to anything that the Lord has appointed, out of fear of the reproach of the world. On the contrary, they are to hold forth before all men everything that God hath commanded. This is different from ostentation. To attend to any religious appointment to be seen of men, is the vilest hypocrisy. But to hold forth the will of God in things that the world hates, is true Christian obedience. I am glad therefore on your behalf So far from suspecting the obedience of the brethren at Rome, the Apostle rejoiced concerning them. It was the greatest pleasure to him to hear of their obedience so extensively published. All Christians should imitate the Apostle in this joy. It should be matter of rejoicing to them to hear of believers in every part of the world fully obeying Christ. The disposition which the Apostle here manifests, and of which alone the Lord will approve, is a joy in hearing of Christ being honored, and the people of Christ advanced in devotedness to His will. We ought to be zealous for every part of our belief with respect to the will of God. But we should be on our guard lest this should arise from any selfish motive, and not solely from love to Christ and Christs people. Christ cannot be honored, and His people cannot be profited, when they practice the inventions of men as the appointments of God.
And it is hurtful to believers, as well as injurious to the honor of Christ, when His people decline conformity to any part of His will, either from disaffection to it, or from a desire to avoid the offense of the cross. But yet I would have you wise unto that which is good. This is the reason why he warned them against the authors of division. The Apostle wished them to be wise with respect to that which is good. They ought not only to understand the doctrines and ordinances of Christ, but also to be aware of the fact that even in the churches of Christ there would from time to time arise deceivers to lead away the simple. Had they not been warned of this, they might be ready to think that no evil person could ever be found among the disciples, who would thereby be liable to be ensnared by crafty men. Simple concerning evil Simple here appears to mean not merely pure, as Dr. Macknight translates it, but simple as opposed to wise. The two words are here evidently contrasted. As to evil, the Apostle wishes the Christians to be without cunning, or dexterity, or skill. In this, it was his desire that they should be quite unknowing and unpracticed in the ways of sin.
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
And the God of peace. — After the exhortation which the Apostle had just given to the saints at Rome to maintain peace among themselves, he here designates their heavenly Father, as in the conclusion of the preceding chapter, the God of peace. God is the God of peace, because He it is that is the author of all the peace that His people enjoy. Were it not for the overruling power of the Lord, His people would have no rest at any time in this world. But the Lord Jesus rules in the midst of His enemies, and He gives His people peace in the midst of their enemies. This shows us that we ought constantly to look to God for this peace. If we seek it not, but grow self-confident and secure, dangers and troubles may arise from every quarter. Our only security is God, and our duty is constantly to ask peace of Him in the midst of a world of trouble. God gives His people different gifts; but peace is a blessing which they all need, and without which they can have no happiness. We ought, therefore, constantly to pray for peace to God’s people all over the world. We ought to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as our chief joy. Instead of thinking it strange that unbelievers should disturb us, or that Satan should stir up confusion even among Christians, it is owing to almighty power that His people have any peace on earth.
Even in the churches there would be no peace, were it not for God’s presence. Such is the cunning of Satan, and the remaining ignorance and corruption of the Lord’s people, that Satan would keep them in continual broils, if God did not powerfully counteract him. God is here called the God of peace, with a peculiar reference to the factious persons against whom the believers were warned in the preceding connection. The emissaries of Satan strive to distract the churches; but God — the God of peace — counteracts their wicked designs. When it is considered that there is so much remaining evil in the best of children of God, it is amazing that they ever have peace. But it is the presence of God that gives them any degree of peace Were it not for this, no church could continue one day in peace.
Shall bruise Satan under your feet. — Christ, the seed of the woman, bruised the head of the serpent, and His people will, through Christ, bruise Satan likewise. The word Satan signifies adversary. The term Devil means calumniator or accuser. He accuses the brethren before God day and night.
He is called Leviathan , the Serpent, the great Dragon, the old Serpent, the Tempter, Beelzebub, a Murderer, a Liar, Prince of this world, Ruler of darkness, God of this world, Prince of the power of air, Belial, the Angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in Greek hath his name Apollyon , that is destroyer.
The Apostle here encourages the believers to sustain the combat against Satan, their mortal enemy, who does everything in his power to disturb their peace, and to tempt them to all evil. There were two victories to be obtained over Satan. By the first, his head was to be bruised under the feet of Jesus Christ; and by the second, the rest of his body will be bruised under the feet of the believers. Of the second of these victories, Paul here speaks. In the first prediction, God speaks as the Lord of Hosts, the God of war — ’I will put enmity.’ The war continues till the bruising of Satan’s head has taken place, and his empire is overthrown; and when it is subverted, peace is made, and God is the God of peace . As, then, the seed of the woman has bruised the head of the serpent, so His people will through Christ likewise bruise Satan. The Apostle says not we shall bruise him under our feet, but God shall do it; yet he says not He shall bruise him under His own feet, but under yours. The victory shall be ours, though wrought by Him; and He shall do it shortly. The God of peace shall subdue that grand disturber of our peace, and shall give us perfect victory, and after it endless peace; He shall free us of this trouble and molestation.
It is not, then, in our own power that we must encounter this adversary; it is God who bruises him under our feet. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places;’ and it is only when covered with the armor of God and by His power that we can overcome enemies so formidable. Dr. Macknight says of the word Satan, that ‘Here it is given to the unbelieving Jews, and also to the Judaizing teachers and their adherents, who, for selfish purposes, bred divisions at Rome, ver. 17, and in every church where they could obtain a footing; they are therefore called ministers of Satan’ 2 Corinthians 11:15, etc. But it is of Satan himself that the Apostle speaks. Though Satan works by his instruments are crushed, he is crushed. Paul wrote this Epistle, and Tertius wrote it, — the one as dictating, the other as amanuensis. But when Paul is said to write the Epistle, we are not to say that Paul means Tertius. Satan works personally in disturbing the churches, though his work is carried on through the instrumentality of men. He excites his emissaries and suggests his devices to them, and they are successful through his artifices.
Shortly. — Some understand this of the final victory that all the Lord’s people will obtain at last over Satan and all his emissaries. But though they will not be free from the attacks of this subtle adversary as long as they are in the body, yet from the phrase ‘speedily,’ or ‘shortly,’ no well as from the immediate reference to the power of God in the Church, it appears rather to refer to a present victory. The meaning, then, is, that all the churches of Christ are to be hurt by factious people rising up among them, emissaries of Satan, under the cover of religion; and if the Church is not led away by the error of Satan, God, as the God of peace, will shortly deliver them from the malignant influence of this apostate spirit. Satan will not be permitted to harass them continually. It is consistent with God’s wisdom to permit Satan to try His people; but when they are sufficiently tried, they are delivered from the temptation. So it was with the Son of God Himself. Satan was for a time permitted to harass Him, but at last he was dismissed. In like manner, churches and individual Christians are all to be tried in various ways; but if they abide the trial, they shall be delivered from the temptation, and, in the most emphatic and extensive sense, they shall all at last bruise Satan under their feet. They shall obtain a complete victory over him in the day of the appearing of their almighty Lord, who will then finally consign him to his awful punishment, and cast him into the lake of fire and brimstone. On that day the full import of this expression will be seen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. — This form of expression has always been understood to import the deity of Jesus Christ, and justly it has been so understood. It is essentially and necessarily a prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ; and if He is not God, what grace has He to bestow on His people? ‘My grace,’ said He to Paul when praying to Him, ‘is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ It implies that there is a constant supply of grace to be communicated from Christ to His people; and if Christ so communicates His holy influences to His people in all ages, in all countries, to every individual of them, at every instant of time, what can He be but the almighty God? This implies that they who have been bought by the blood of Christ are to be supplied with grace by Him continually, in order to their standing in the truth. All their perseverance is in virtue of this. Of His Church it is said, ‘I, the Lord, do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.’
Timotheus my work-fellow, and Lucius, and Jason,and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
Timothy was a most devoted servant of the Lord Jesus, more of the same spirit with Paul than any of his other fellow-laborers. The Apostle, instead of designating himself by the superiority of his office with reference to that of Timothy, calls him his work-fellow. How different is this from the conduct of those who seek earthly honors and distinctions as the servants of Christ! All Christians are not alike obedient, and therefore not all equally honored before God; but their honor will be revealed in another world, though not in this. The other persons mentioned in this salutation were the kinsmen of the Apostle, whom he thus honorably recognizes as his relations.
I Tertius, who wrote this Epistle, salute you in the Lord.
The Apostle generally employed an amanuensis to write what he dictated.
Tertius wrote the Epistle, but it was in all things communicated by Paul, as what Paul communicated was dictated to him by the Holy Ghost.
Tertius likewise salutes the brethren.
In the Lord. — These salutations were not those of mere worldly acquaintance or friendship, but in the Lord, that is, as a member of the body of Christ of which they were members. He might have no acquaintance with any individual among them, yet he was full of affection to them as a Christian brother. That conformity to the world which the Scriptures condemn, is a conformity to things contrary to the law of God. All the innocent customs of society may be imitated by Christ’s people without any sin. As the people of the world are accustomed to express good will by their salutations, so the Lord’s people ought likewise to show their love by similar expressions.
Love ought not only to exist in the heart, but also ought, on proper occasions, to be outwardly expressed. Without this it cannot edify or console those who are its objects. The people of the Lord, then, ought to recognize one another, and express their mutual love in all those ways usual among men.
Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you.
Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
Gaius was distinguished for Christian hospitality. The Apostle abode in his house at the time of writing this Epistle; but his hospitality was of the most liberal and extensive kind. He is praised by the Apostle as the host of the whole church. Gaius also sent his salutations to the church at Rome.
While Christianity does not destroy the different orders in society, all Christians are brethren, and recognize each other as such, though of different nations and of different ranks.
Erastus the chamberlain of the city. — This is another personage of distinction who sends his salutation to the brethren at Rome. He held an important office in the city where he lived. The Apostle designates him as chamberlain, which might correspond in a good measure to treasurer. But in such cases in most instances no word in one language can be found to correspond perfectly to that of another, because no two countries may have the same modification of offices. The notice of the office of Erastus, although in itself it may appear trifling, is in reality of great importance. It shows us that Christians may hold offices even under heathen governments, and that to serve Christ we are not to be abstracted from worldly business.
Quartus a brother. — The Apostle having no peculiar distinction to notice in this person, calls him a brother. This was a common name for all believers, because they are all brethren in Christ. It may at first sight appear superfluous to designate this person by a characteristic belonging to all Christians. But though it belongs to all Christians, yet it is not endlessly expressed. The Apostle directs attention to this circumstance that they are brethren, and that it is a real and important relation. We may know that all Christians are brethren, but it is nevertheless useful to be reminded of this, as we may be prone to act towards them in an unbrotherly manner.
Thegrace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
This important prayer is repeated from ver. 20, which shows us that all repetition is not vain repetition, but that it may mark a thing of peculiar importance. Three times did our Lord employ the same words in His prayer in Gethsemane. And the Apostle, from the abundance of his heart, and his great concern for the Christians at Rome, here within a short compass twice prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with them. Indeed, there is great need of such earnest petitions, for without the constant supply of the grace of Christ we could not abide in Him. Dr.
Macknight observes that in the Syriac version this benediction is omitted at the 24th verse, and added at the end of the Epistle. But this has the appearance of human wisdom correcting the language of the Holy Ghost.
Now to Him that is of power to establish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.
Now to Him that is of power to establish you. — From this we learn that establishment in the faith is not of ourselves, but of God. It requires the power of Jehovah to establish His people in the truth. So far from being able to bring themselves into the faith of the Gospel, they are not able to continue in it without God. What blindness, then, is it to boast of the power of man to believe and to keep himself in the truth! Power to do anything in the service of God must be communicated from above.
According to my Gospel. — Here we see in what a Christian is to be established, namely, in the faith according to the Gospel. Men may be established in error, they may die for human traditions, and have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge; but this is of no value. Paul calls the Gospel his Gospel, to intimate that different doctrines would be preached by false teachers as the Gospel. But all other gospels, except that of Paul and the other Apostles, are false. Believers must be established in Paul’s Gospel. How many other gospels are now preached as the Gospel of Christ! yet none of them can avail for the salvation of the soul.And the preaching of Jesus Christ — This phrase is not the mere repetition of the same thing. It is indeed the same truth, but in a different point of view. In the one it is considered as the Gospel or good news, and this according to the doctrine of Paul. In the other it is considered as the publication of the truth about Jesus Christ. We are to be established according to what the Apostles preached concerning Jesus Christ. Believers have nothing to do with the vain speculations and opinions of men about the way of salvation. They must believe, and ought to be confirmed, in the truth, according as it was originally preached by the Apostles. The preaching of the Gospel is called preaching Jesus Christ, Acts 5:42, who is the subject of the Gospel.
According to the revelation of the mystery . — This is another view of the same truth, but not a mere synonymous expression. The Gospel is here considered as the revelation of a mystery. It was couched in dark figures under the Old Testament dispensation, but is now developed by the Apostles of the Lord. It is first considered as the Gospel, or good news, characterized as the Gospel of Paul; secondly as the doctrine preached concerning Jesus Christ by those whom He had inspired to reveal and publish it; and, lastly, it is considered as a mystery revealed. In this there is no tautology. It is designed to present the same thing in several different aspects. The word mystery here refers, not, as Dr. Macknight and many others suppose, to the calling of the Gentiles, but to the Gospel itself, which was obscurely revealed in the Old Testament. Calvin, without sufficient ground, states this as a difficulty but in reality there is no difficulty in it. ‘In what sense,’ he says, ‘Paul calls the Gospel a hidden mystery in this passage, in Ephesians 3:9, and Colossians 1:26, is not fully determined even among the learned. The opinion of those who refer it to the calling in of the Gentiles, is the most forcible, to which Paul himself expressly alludes in his Epistle to the Colossians. I grant this to be one, but not the sole cause; for I think there is a greater probability in supposing Paul to have regarded other points of difference between the Old and New Testament.’ All these passages use the word mystery with the same reference: none of them represent the calling of the Gentiles to be the mystery, or the reason why the Gospel was called a mystery. It is the Gospel itself which is called a mystery in Ephesians 3:9. The thing hid in God from the beginning of the world, was the plan of salvation through the death of His Son; and the revelation of it by Christ and His Apostles, was making known the manifold wisdom of God in the redemption of His people. In Colossians 1:26, it is the Gospel as the word of God that is the mystery. In ver. 27, this mystery is said, by the preaching of the Gospel, to be made known among the Gentiles, just as in the verse before us. The calling of the Gentiles is not called a mystery.
Kept secret since the world began, or, in eternal times; that is, in all preceding eternity. — The common version very well expresses the meaning. The translation of Dr. Macknight, ‘the times of the ages,’ is an uncouth expression, and founded on views which, as stated by him, are quite fanciful. The mystery kept secret was the hidden sense of the Old Testament dispensation, which all pointed to the kingdom of God, but still left it concealed under various historical, prophetical, and typical representations The whole of the Old Testament, indicating the truth which is revealed in the New, may properly be termed a parable, the meaning of which is, that it conveys information embodied in an action designed to represent some truth called the moral, or mystery. This method of parabolical instruction, Jesus Christ Himself, as had been predicted, Psalm 78:2, Matthew 13:35, adopted towards the multitude, concealing under it the mysteries to which He referred. When ‘His disciples asked Him, saying, What might this parable be?’ ‘He said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others in parables, that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.’ Thus the mystery, or concealed sense of what He said, was kept secret from them. It is to the Old Testament, taken as a whole, that our Lord seems to refer when He says, ‘Know ye not this parable, and how then will ye know all parables?’
But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the Prophets according to the commandment of the everlasting God , made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.
But now is made manifest. — Mr. Stuart construes the words translated ‘the scriptures of the Prophets’ with ‘made manifest,’ and translates thus: ‘But is now revealed by the scriptures of the Prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God.’ But these words, ‘the scriptures of the Prophets,’ are evidently to be construed with ‘made known.’ He observes that ‘the Apostle refers to the most ancient times, before any revelation was given, as the cro >noi aijw >nioi next to the Messianic prophecies contained in the Old Testament.’ But this is a forced view. In the text there is no appearance of dividing the times of the Old Testament dispensation from ancient times. All the times preceding Christ are included in the words translated in our version, ‘since the world began,’ and by Mr. Stuart, ‘ancient ages.’ The revelation of the Messiah in the Old Testament could not be spoken of as now revealed. There was now a new revelation. In the time of the Old Testament, the mystery of the Messiah was couched in figure and in prophecy. The Messiah, indeed, was in a certain degree discovered by Moses and the Prophets, but He was not made manifest. This was done when He Himself appeared. The mystery of Christ and of the Gospel is always spoken of in the New Testament as being manifested then, and not in the former dispensation. In the same manner, although the bringing in of the ‘everlasting righteousness,’ namely, the righteousness of God, Romans 1:17, was predicted by the Prophet Daniel 9:24, and so often made mention of by Isaiah, yet Isaiah speaks of it as not yet revealed or made manifest but as shortly to be so. ‘Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed,’ Isaiah 56:50: And in accordance with this, Paul, in this Epistle, ch. 1:17, and 3:21, declares that now it is revealed. ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the Prophets.’ This corresponds with what the Apostle here announces respecting the manifestation of the mystery of the Gospel. Until the Sun of Righteousness arose, all the testimonies of the Prophets were as ‘a light that shineth in a dark place,’ 2 Peter 1:19; but they came to be plainly confirmed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
And by the scriptures of the Prophets made known to all nations. — Dr. Macknight justly construes these words, not with the words ‘made manifest,’ like Mr. Stuart, but with ‘made known.’ But as, probably, it did not appear to him obvious how the mystery was now made known by the scriptures of the Prophets, he uses violence to evade this sense of the expression. He makes a transposition in translating the words which is not justifiable, and renders the passage thus: ‘But is now made manifest, and by the command of the eternal God, in the prophetic writings, is made known to all the Gentiles, in order to the obedience of faith.’ This not only deranges the order of the Apostle’s words, but also gives a translation that is not warrant able. He renders the phrase not through or by the Scriptures, but ‘in the Scriptures.’ This bends the words of the Apostle to a supposed meaning. But whatever difficulty may appear in the affirmation that the mystery is now made known by the writings of the Prophets, yet as this is what the Apostle has said, our duty is to search for its signification, and not arbitrarily to force out the words a translation which is unnatural. The meaning appears to be, that by the fulfillment of the prophetical writings which had now taken place, such a light was thrown on these writings, that by them the mystery, which was in perfect consistency with their representations, was made known. In the same way the Apostle Peter, besides referring to the voice from heaven, which was heard by him and the other Apostles on the holy mount, appeals to the word of prophecy, not as ‘more sure,’ — a sense which would be degrading to the apostolic testimony, than which nothing can be more sure, — but as made more firm, or confirmed by its accomplishment. The revelation now made of the mystery of Christ and of the Gospel, by the Apostle, was through the prophetical writings, inasmuch as, though he was as fully inspired as the Prophets themselves, he proved his doctrines by the Scriptures, and pointed to them as containing in prediction what was now accomplished. This is a characteristic feature in the teaching of the Apostles — a feature which to many has appeared strange. In the same way as Paul here declares that the mystery was made known by the scriptures of the Prophets, Peter affirms that the Prophets prophesied of the grace that should come to us.
According to the commandment. — The publication of the Gospel was by God’s special command, and by the injunction of God it was to be made known to all nations. Thus the interest of the Gentiles in the salvation of the Gospel is made to rest on the direct authority of God. The Jews were prone to consider the blessings of the Messiah as confined to themselves; but they had no warrant, or even plausible pretext, for this error, in their own Scriptures. Of the everlasting God, or eternal God. — God is distinguished from all besides as eternal. All other objects that have been worshipped, and all other beings, had a beginning. God is without beginning as well as without end. For the obedience of faith. — That is, to be believed; for to believe is to obey the Gospel. The command of the Gospel is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Every one who believes in Him obeys the Gospel.
To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever.
To God only wise. — There are three different ways in which the words in the original are translated. God only wise, according to our version; or, the only wise God; or, the wise God alone. Between the first and the second there is only this difference, that the one represents God as the only wise being, and the other as the only wise God. Dr. Macknight’s objections to the common version, and his reasons for the adoption of the third translation, do not seem convincing. When God is called the only wise God, it may not imply, as he alleges, that there are some gods who are not wise, but that the character of God, as exhibited in the Scriptures, is the only character that ascribes wisdom in proportion to God. The gods of the heathen are not wise. The God of the Deist is not wise. The God of the Arian is not wise. No view ever given of the Divine character exhibits the infinite wisdom of God in redemption, but that which is found it the Gospel. The expression, ‘God only wise,’ does not imply, as Dr.
Macknight again alleges, that God possesses no perfection but wisdom. It means that God is the only wise being. Yet John, 17:3, where the word rendered God is similarly situated, seems to favor the second mode of translating the words, as in 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25.
Be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. — All the glory that will redound to God through the ages of eternity, from the salvation of sinners, proceeds through Jesus Christ. Through Him it is manifested. It is through Jesus Christ that we ought to ascribe to God the glory. In Jesus Christ all things are united which are in heaven and which are on earth, — not only saints, but angels. Christ is ‘the power of God, and the wisdom of God.’ ‘God hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ All this shows that Jesus Christ is God, for Christ’s work is the glory of the Father, because He is one with Him. In the same way Jude concludes his Epistle — ’To the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and powerful both now and ever. Amen.’
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Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 16". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
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