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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 15

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Now we who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the frail (powerless), and not to please ourselves.’

Paul commences with the general statement, to be read in the light of the previous chapter, that ‘we who are strong’ ought to have consideration for the ‘powerless’, by ‘bearing their infirmities’, just as Christ ‘bore our infirmities’ (Isaiah 53:4). The phrase Paul uses probably has Isaiah in mind. This will include living among their weaker brothers and sisters in subjection, while among them, to the things that they in their weakness see as necessary for religious living, but it also has wider application. Paul is drawing out a general lesson from the particular situation. We are to seek to please others rather than ourselves in all things which are matters of relative unimportance so as to ‘bear their infirmities’. That a more general principle is in mind is confirmed by the change in vocabulary, He no longer speaks of the ‘weak’ but of the ‘powerless’. Thus the statement is to have wider application, although having the previous situation in mind. We are reminded here of Philippians 2:5-11 where there is the same injunction to follow the example of Christ’s humility for the good of others.


Verses 1-6

The Strong Should Help The Weak, And Unity Must Be Foremost (15:1-15:6).

Paul now brings out the underlying lesson, that among believers those who are strong should have consideration for weaker brothers and sisters. They should be pleasing to their brothers and sisters in order that they might ‘at one’ together, and might help to build each other up, in the same way as Christ did not please Himself but bore our reproach. He did not put self-interest first. He could have continued in Heaven and not subjected Himself to the vagaries of men, but instead He chose to come among us, pleasing not Himself but men by whose standards He lived. (We tend to overlook the fact that Jesus was never Himself criticised by the Pharisees for failing to live up to their injunctions on matters of cleanliness, demonstrating that He faithfully observed them).


Verse 2

‘Let each one of us please his neighbour unto the good, resulting in edifying.’

And the aim behind this is the pleasing of our neighbour in order to achieve ‘the good’. That does not mean putting the pleasing of our neighbour before our pleasing God. Indeed, the point is that by achieving ‘the good’ we will be pleasing God, for the idea behind the good is of what God sees as good. The good includes the good result of sustaining the weaker brothers and sisters, but probably also includes the final good resulting on the widest scale from obeying what had become Christ’s commandment based on Leviticus 19:10, to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. By loving one another we sustain one another.

The use of the term ‘neighbour’ rather than ‘brother’ clearly suggests that Paul wants them to see their attitude as in line with ‘loving their neighbour’ (in the New Testament the use of the word neighbour is almost always in that context). That in this context ‘the neighbour’ is a fellow-Christian is apparent from the fact that pleasing him will result in edifying, that is, in his being built up in the faith.


Verse 3

‘For Christ also did not please himself, but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” ’

And in so pleasing others for the good of all, we will be following the example of Christ Who also did not please Himself in order that He might achieve the good of others. The citation from Psalms 69:9 b is from a Davidic Psalm. Such Psalms were regularly seen as Messianic, and thus as referring to Jesus, the greater David. And the main point being drawn from this Psalm is the example of the One Who was willing to take reproaches on Himself, rather than pleasing Himself, because He was seeking to achieve the good. He thus allowed men’s reproaches of God to fall upon Himself, and it was because He stood firm for what was good (the zeal of your house has eaten me up - Psalms 69:9 a). If the Messiah could demonstrate such self-abnegation, then those whom He has made strong should also be willing to do so.

Paul probably had in mind here the reproaches that Christ suffered at the cross as those gathered around railed on Him. They did not realise that they were reproaching God, says Paul, but in fact they were. And the reason that He suffered those reproaches was for our sakes, so that we, the powerless, might be made strong. Some would also include in this the reproaches that He suffered throughout His earthly life, which were also because He defended the truth of His Father, and were also for us.

Paul is deliberately arguing form the higher to the lower. In view of the greatness of what the Messiah was willing to suffer for us, how can we possibly cavil at having to undergo a few voluntary restrictions on our liberty, for the good of those for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15).


Verse 4

‘For whatever things were written in former times were written for our learning, that through patient endurance and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.’

And we should take heed to this because what was written in former time was written in order to teach us how to respond to situations, enabling us to endure patiently and obtain encouragement through the Scriptures as they provide us with confident hope for the future. The hope in mind may refer just to general confidence gained, or may have in mind our blessed hope, the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).


Verse 5-6

‘Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

The source of this patient endurance and encouragement obtained through the Scriptures is in fact God, for He is the God of patient endurance and encouragement (comfort). And Paul prays that He, as such a God might grant to them to be of the same mind one with another, giving them patient endurance and encouragement, thereby enabling them to bear with each other’s weaknesses and to demonstrate a unity that results from consideration towards one another, ‘in accordance with Christ Jesus’, that is, by following His example and being like Him.

And the hoped for consequence is that they might in full accord and speak as one as they glorify the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid great emphasis on the need for such unity. It was to be the wonder of the world as they said, ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (John 13:34-35; John 15:12; John 17:21-23). It was a result worth making sacrifices for. The aim was so that they would concentrate on what was really important, the united worship of God and the bringing home to the world of the glory of God and the glory of Christ.


Verse 7

‘For which reason receive you one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God.’

The thought is the same as in Romans 14:3, that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians might receive each other because God, or in this case God’s Messiah, has received them. And this to the glory of God. This would serve to confirm that in Romans 14:3 Jew/Gentile distinctions were in mind. The change from ‘God’ to ‘the Messiah’ was necessary in order to connect with what follows where Paul will demonstrate that the Messiah came on behalf of both. It is a continuing plea for essential unity.


Verses 7-13

Christ Has Been Made A Minister Of Circumcision In Order To Confirm The Promises To The Fathers To The Jews And In Order To Reach Out With Mercy To The Gentiles As The Root Of Jesse (15:7-13).

God’s people as a mixture of Jew and Gentile are to receive one another as the Messiah ‘has received them’ (compare Romans 4:3 where their oneness is desired because God has received them). For the Messiah both ministered to the circumcision (the Jews) in order to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and has ministered to the Gentiles so that they might find mercy as they partake in God’s promises through Him as the Root of Jesse (Romans 15:12).


Verses 7-33

3). The Ministry Of The Messiah Is To Both Jews And Gentiles (15:7-33).

Paul now demonstrates that the Messiah has come in order to minister to both Jews and Gentiles, and that this has been in part achieved because he himself has ministered to the Gentiles as a minister of Messiah Jesus, his ministry being witnessed to by the power of signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the Messiah’s (see Matthew 11:2-6). Indeed this has resulted in such unity of Jews and Gentiles that the Gentile churches have put together a large contribution in order to assist their fellow-Christians among the Jews, which he himself is about to deliver to Jerusalem, ministering to the saints there. And he asks the Roman Christians to pray for him so that he might be delivered from the enmity of ‘those who are disobedient’ among the Jews (that is, those who have not acknowledged the Messiah), and so that his ministry might be acceptable to the Christian Jews, those who are obedient to the Messiah.


Verse 8

‘For I say that Christ has been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers,’

Thus, in the first place, the Messiah has been made a minister of the circumcision (the Jews) in order to establish among them the truth of God, so that He might confirm to those who have accepted that truth, the promises given to the fathers. Thus the promises are seen as confirmed in that they have been fulfilled with regard to all who responded to the Messiah, that is, to ‘the elect’. This might be seen as confirming that Romans 11:28 b also refers only to the elect. The promises had not been overlooked, they were to be fulfilled in the elect. Note the emphasis on the fact that the Messiah brought ‘the truth of God’. It is only to those in acceptance of that truth that the promises apply (the argument in chapters 9-11).


Verse 9

‘And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written, “Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” ’

And He has also come in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, something which Paul now demonstrates by citing a number of Scriptures which confirm the acceptance of the Gentiles and lead up to their also benefiting from the Root of Jesse. We have in these descriptions shades of Romans 11:16-24. The Root of Jesse has produced the holy branches of the true Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, who will now glorify God together. It is possibly significant for our interpretation of the olive tree that the promises of the fathers are not here linked to the Gentiles (although they are of course elsewhere). It is true that God’s blessing of the nations was a part of those promises, but that is not the point that is being made by Paul. The point being made is rather that the believing Gentiles glorify God and benefit from the Root of Jesse. This may be seen as confirming that the root of the olive tree in Romans 11:16 has in mind the Messiah.

We note again that the four citations cover the three sections of the Scriptures, the Torah, the Prophets and the Holy Writings. The first citation above is taken from Psalms 18:49, where David’s own rulership over the Gentiles as ‘the anointed one’, and that of his seed for ever (Psalms 18:50), are proclaimed, a rulership which results in him and his successors glorifying God before the Gentiles. Paul thus sees it as indicating that the Gentiles will submit themselves to the Messiah, the Anointed One and seed of David par excellence, Who will glorify God to them.


Verse 10

‘And again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” ’

‘And again he says.’ Here the Scriptures are seen as supplying the voice of God (‘He says’). This citation is taken from Deuteronomy 32:43. While there is no Messianic connection there it advances the previous theme of the Gentiles glorifying the God of Israel, while including the extra thought that they will do so along with God’s own people. The two are to be united as one in their praise of God, as indeed they were in the church in Rome. That is why it was important that Jewish and Gentile Christians showed consideration for each other as described in chapter 14.


Verse 11

‘And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.’

This citation is taken from Psalms 117:1. The advance in thought here is concerning the universal nature of the praise. All the Gentiles and ‘all the peoples’ are to praise Him indicating the widespread nature of the spread of God’s truth. So what began as praise being brought to the Gentiles through the Messiah, has been expanded to indicate that both Gentile and Jew will praise God together, and has again been expanded to indicate worldwide praise. Thus what is seen as predicted is the spread of the Gospel through the ministry of the Messiah, first to Gentile nations, then to both Jews and Gentiles, and then to Gentiles worldwide (‘all the peoples’), causing all to glorify God.

Alternately we may see Paul as signifying by ‘all you Gentiles’ and ‘all the peoples’ the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles, but that would simply be to repeat the message of Romans 15:10.


Verse 12

‘And again, Isaiah says, “There will be the root of Jesse, and he who arises to rule over the Gentiles, on him will the Gentiles hope.” ’

Once more, in a citation from Isaiah 11:10 LXX, emphasis is laid on the Messiah, the root of Jesse, and the fact that the Gentiles will look to Him. So Paul opens and closes his citations with a reference to the Messiah. In this verse, however, there is no mention of the glorifying of God which has been the feature of the previous three quotations. Rather the emphasis is on the fact that the Messiah of the Jews will rule over the Gentiles also, and will be the One in Whom the Gentiles ‘hope’, that is, the One to whom they will look for blessing and eternal life. Out of the root will grow the engrafted branches (Romans 11:16-24).


Verse 13

‘Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.’

Having described the hope that the Gentiles will have in the Messiah (Romans 15:12), and the confirmation of the promises to ‘the circumcised’ (the Jews - Romans 15:8), Paul now speaks of God as ‘the God of hope’. In Romans 15:5 He was the God of patient endurance and encouragement (comfort), now He is seen as the God of hope. It is from Him that all His people receive their hope, and it is He Who will, while bringing that hope to completion, fill them with all joy and peace in believing (in the Messiah - Romans 15:12), so that they might abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the feature of being under the Kingly Rule of God is righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), as we look forward with confident hope to the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23-24) in the day of final transformation.

The work of the Holy Spirit was first introduced in Romans 5:5 as shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts in a passage where hope was prominent (Romans 5:2); was underlined in Romans 8:1-26, as He carries out His transforming work in our lives, and makes intercession for us, where again hope was prominent (Romans 8:23-24); was probably in mind in Romans 12:11 where He is the source of our fervency and zeal; is the source of the righteousness, and peace and joy which is a feature of the Kingly Rule of God in Romans 14:17, and is now here in Romans 15:13 the inspirer of our hope through His power. In Romans 15:16 He is the Sanctifier of the Gentiles who believe, and in Romans 15:19 He is the source of the power which brought about the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, and through the power of signs and wonders. In Romans 15:30 He is again the inspirer of our love.


Verse 14

‘And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.’

As in Romans 1:11-12 Paul, as he approaches the end of his long letter, approaches the Roman church tactfully as he is about to speak of his own ministry. He knows that to the majority of them he is unknown, except possibly by reputation, and he recognises that he cannot speak to them in the same way as he could to a church which he has founded. They did not look to him as their ‘father-figure’. Thus he assures them that he has a high opinion of them as those who are ‘full of goodness’ and ‘full of knowledge’ and thus able to admonish one another both lovingly and wisely, in accordance with what he has been describing in chapter 14.

His statements are slightly exaggerated as such statements must be if they are not to be bogged down in a thousand qualifications. The word for ‘goodness’ is a rare one (agathowsunes) and signifies uprightness, kindness, generosity. He sees them as well-meaning and benevolent. When he speaks of them as ‘filled with all knowledge’ he does not, of course, see them all as advanced theologians. Rather he sees them as well taught Christians, soundly based in the fundamentals of the faith. That is why he has felt able to write to them as he has. And it was these two attributes which demonstrated why they were fully capable of admonishing one another so that they did not need his admonishment. Indeed, the list in chapter 16 indicates the quality of their leadership.


Verses 14-21

The Extent And Focal Point Of Paul’s Own Ministry To The Gentiles (15:14-21).

Paul sees his own ministry as an extension of the ministry of Christ, the Messiah (Romans 15:16). He has gone out in the Name of the Messiah to minister the Gospel of God to the Gentiles, offering up to God the Gentiles who believe, as they are made acceptable to God through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. And he has done this as the Messiah has wrought through him by word and deed, and by the power of signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing about the obedience of the Gentiles. The consequence is that the Gospel has been preached in places never before reached.


Verse 15-16

‘But I write the more boldly to you in some measure, as putting you again in remembrance, because of the grace that was given me of God, that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.’

Nevertheless he does see himself as having a right to address and guide them because he considers that he has been appointed as a kind of ministering-priest by God on behalf of the Gentiles, who constituted the majority of those in the church at Rome. This is why he feels that he can write to them with a measure of boldness reminding them, of his God-given ministry. For just as when the Messiah came He was a ministering-servant (diakonos) of the circumcision (compare Mark 10:45), so now he, Paul, was like a ministering-priest (leitourgos - he uses this word because of the sacrificial connotations that follow, not because he saw himself as a priest) of the Messiah Jesus to the Gentiles, fulfilling the prophecies in Romans 15:9-12. For although Jesus had undoubtedly spoken to many Gentiles in the later part of His ministry as he preached in places like Decapolis (Mark 7:24 to Mark 8:10), His main ministry had been to the Jews. Paul’s main ministry on the other hand, on behalf of the Messiah, was to the Gentiles, for he had been officially confirmed as an Apostle (on behalf of the Messiah) to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8-9).

Paul likens his ministry to the Gentiles on behalf of the Messiah as ‘ministering like a priest’ the Good News that has come from God, as he has offered up (as an offering to God) the Gentiles, who have been made acceptable to God through the effectiveness of the Good News, as detailed in Romans 1-11. And they are an offering which has been ‘sanctified (separated off and made holy to God) by the Holy Spirit’. And of course, because they are an offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit, they are accepted and received by Him (Romans 14:3). And it is because we are such an offering to God that we as Christians are to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). We offer ourselves because we are already an offering made to Him.

Paul thus sees the Temple offerings as having been replaced by the offering to God of all who believe in the Messiah Jesus, in the same way as the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by believers offering their spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15), and the Temple seen as God’s dwelling place has been replaced by the whole body of true believers (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16).

‘Because of the grace that was given me of God.’ This is the basis of all that he is saying. He is not boasting of himself, but is making clear the ministry that God in His unmerited active favour has bestowed on him, and wrought through him. It was God Who in His grace chose him from his mother’s womb for this task (Galatians 1:15; Acts 9:15-16). And it was that task that he had sought faithfully to fulfil.


Verse 17

‘I have therefore my glorifying in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God.’

That is why he has something to glory of in the Messiah Jesus (Romans 9:1) in things pertaining to God, because his ‘offering up’ of Gentile believers won through his ministry has been successful and widespread, as the Messiah has wrought through him in his ministry (Romans 15:18).

We should note here that Paul is not seeking to exalt himself, but is rather seeking to lay down the basis of his authority for writing in the way that he has to the Church at Rome. He is presenting his credentials.


Verse 18-19

‘For I will not dare to speak of any things except those which Christ wrought through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ,’

Paul assures them that he is making no claims apart from what pertains to his own ministry. He is only presenting to them the facts of what the Messiah has wrought through him, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles to the Gospel of Christ. Compare for this idea Romans 1:5. It is referring to the obedience that springs from faith.

And he then stresses the widespread and full nature of what the Messiah has wrought through him as a Messianic messenger:

· He has wrought through him in word and deed, that is in preaching and behaviour, and powerful activity (compare Luke 24:19).

· He has wrought through him in the power (dunamis) of signs and wonders, which are confirmatory of God’s powerful Messianic activity through him (compare Acts 2:22; Acts 2:43; Matthew 11:2-6).

· And He has wrought through him in the power of the Holy Spirit (compare Matthew 12:28).

And the consequence of this has been that the Gospel of the Messiah has been fully and effectively preached from Jerusalem and round about, even as far as Illyricum. Illyricum was north and north-west of Macedonia, and was thus apparently the farthest region that Paul reached. We are not told of a ministry there but it is very probable that he preached in Illyricum while journeying along the Egnatian Way on his way from the Adriatic coast to Macedonia. On the other hand he may simply be indicating the southern boundary of Illyricum, beyond which he had not gone.

‘Fully preached.’ He had not just proclaimed the Messiah, he had ensured that the whole truth about Him was conveyed in an intensive ministry.

‘From Jerusalem and round about.’ He is not meaning that he commenced at Jerusalem but that he did at some stage preach the Gospel in Jerusalem and Judaea (Acts 9:26-30; Acts 26:20). As with the other Apostles he saw the Gospel as issuing forth from Jerusalem (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 2:2-4). He may also have had in mind that it was in Jerusalem that he received official recognition of his ministry from the Apostles (Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:7-9).

‘In the power of signs and wonders.’ Compare Acts 15:12 which indicates the importance of ‘signs and wonders’ as a seal on his ministry. ‘Signs and wonders’ were a feature of the ministry of the Messiah (Acts 2:22; compare Matthew 11:2-6)), and of His Apostles in His Name (Acts 4:30; Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12; compare Mark 13:22 where they were a sign presented by false Messiahs). Paul could describe them as ‘the signs of an Apostle’ (2 Corinthians 12:12). There may also have been an intention, both in Acts and here, to link the Apostolic ministry with that of the Exodus, seeing it as continuing the ongoing activity of God in salvation history, for ‘signs and wonders’ were seen as an essential part of the Exodus (Exodus 7:3; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 6:22; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 26:8; Deuteronomy 29:3; Deuteronomy 34:11; Nehemiah 9:10; Psalms 78:43; Psalms 105:27; Psalms 135:9).


Verse 20

‘Yes, making it my aim so to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation,’

Paul declares that his missionary purpose was always to preach the Gospel in places where the Name of Christ had never reached, so that he would not be building on another man’s foundation. This would serve to indicate why his presence in these regions was so essential, and explained why he had never had time to visit Rome.


Verse 21

‘But, as it is written, “They will see, to whom no tidings of him came, And they who have not heard will understand.” ’

And this missionary purpose was in accordance with Scripture as found in Isaiah 52:15 b LXX. Here Paul makes clear his identification of the Messiah with the Servant of YHWH Who would suffer and die on behalf of His people. His proclamation of the Gospel had come to those who had not previously received tidings, and to those who had not previously heard, so that they might see and hear.


Verse 22

‘For which reason also I was hindered these many times from coming to you,’

It was because of his ministry in places unreached by the Gospel that he had been hindered ‘many times’ from visiting Rome. His responsibility to the churches that he had founded had been too great for him to leave them.


Verses 22-33

His Aim To Visit Rome After He Has Ministered To Jewish Believers In Taking The Contributions Of The Gentile Churches To The Church In Jerusalem (15:22-33).

Paul now confirms the unity of Jewish and Gentile Christians by describing his coming ministry to the church in Jerusalem in providing them with a means of sustenance, as provided by Gentile Christians, at a time of great famine. Those who had been converted under his ministry saw the church as one whole as they sought to pay their debt to the church from which the Gospel had come forth to them (Romans 15:19). The engrafted branches of the olive tree were bringing renewed life to the natural branches.


Verse 23

‘But now, having no more any place in these regions, and having these many years a longing to come to you,’

But now things were different. He no longer had any place in these regions. This may have been because of the antagonism that his presence now aroused everywhere, especially because he was so hated by zealous Jews (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:19; Acts 18:5-6; Acts 19:9; Acts 21:27 (‘Jews from Asia’). Note also Acts 23:12-13; Acts 24:1; Acts 24:5; Acts 24:9; Acts 25:3), or it may have been because he had now handed on this responsibility to his trained lieutenants. Or indeed it may have been both. He may well have felt that the regions beyond were being catered for as a result of the activities of fellow-workers, and of the evangelistic outreach of the churches of Macedonia. They were no longer ‘virgin territory’. Whereas Spain was. (Although there is, in fact, no solid evidence that he ever reached Spain).

‘And having these many years a longing to come to you.’ He emphasises again how much he has longed to meet up with Christians in Rome, many of whom were his friends who had gone there before him. We need not doubt his sincerity in this. As the centre of the Empire Rome would necessarily appeal to Paul’s sense of responsibility as the Apostle to the Gentiles.


Verse 24

‘Whenever I go to Spain (for I hope to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way there by you, if first in some measure I shall have been satisfied with your company)—’

In a typically unfinished Pauline sentence, for he regularly changes his direction when writing on a topic, Paul explains that his next aim is to take the Gospel to Spain, and explains that at that stage he intends to visit Rome, and indeed is hopeful of their assistance in different ways in speeding him on his way once he has spent a good time of fellowship with them. Thus he links together his ambition to visit Rome with his intention to reach out further into places where Christ has not been named. To be in Rome is not his ultimate ambition.


Verse 25

‘But now, I say, I go to Jerusalem, ministering unto the saints.’

But first he has a ministry to fulfil in Jerusalem, ministering in material things to ‘the saints’ (compare Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2 and often) there. That he had determined personally to go there indicates his deep concern for the unity of the whole church. To him this enterprise was a way of uniting the whole church, and possibly of fulfilling Scripture (the treasures of the Gentiles being brought to Jerusalem). In Romans 1:16 the Gospel had been ‘to the Jew first’ as a people whose past had prepared them for the coming of the Messiah. Now he is also ministering to the Jews on behalf of the Gentile churches. The Jews, as represented by the elect, were not forgotten.


Verse 26-27

‘For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. Yes, it has been their good pleasure; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister to them in carnal things.’

He then explains to the Roman Christians about the goodwill gesture of the churches which he has founded, towards the Jerusalem church. Partly at the urging of Paul (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-3; 2 Corinthians 9:1-14), they had put together a sizeable sum for the relief of the poor in the Jerusalem church. He was remembering what had been urged on him by the Apostles in Jerusalem years before, ‘to remember the poor’ (Galatians 2:10), and this he sought constantly to do. And the great famine would have made many poor. But he emphasises also the willingness of the Gentile churches in the venture (it has been their good pleasure), before pointing out that it is also a matter of debt, for the Gentiles having been made partakers in spiritual things as a consequence of the ministry of the Jerusalem church (as the source of the Gospel through which they have benefited, and especially through Paul’s ministry), it was right that they should minister to them in physical things. Macedonia and Achaea are probably mentioned as being at the forefront of, and the greatest contributor towards, the ‘collection’. He did not want to go into a detailed list which might have included Galatia and Ephesus.

Paul’s description of the indebtedness of the Gentile churches to the church at Jerusalem, from which the Gospel had first issued forth, (wholly a moral debt, there was no specific obligation) is a further indication by him to the Romans of the attitude which the majority Gentile Christians among them ought to have towards the Jews, an attitude that he had emphasised in Romans 11:18-25, and in chapter 14. This is all a part of his continual emphasis to the Roman church on what their attitude should be towards Jewish Christians and towards Jews in general. Although necessarily having to draw attention to the way in which the Jews had failed in their responsibility towards the Messiah, he has always wanted them to recognise the debt that they owed to them as the preservers of the Scriptures (Romans 3:2) and the source from which the Messiah sprang (Romans 9:5), and of their responsibility to now evangelise them (Romans 11:23-24).


Verse 28

‘When therefore I have accomplished this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will go on by you to Spain.’

He assures them that once he has accomplished this ministry, and has made fully clear to the Jerusalem church both the source of the contribution, and the love that lay behind it, (‘sealed to them this fruit’), he will go on via Rome to Spain. Whether he actually received a reply under seal when he delivered the gift we do not know, but for such a large sum it is quite possible..


Verse 29

‘And I know that, when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.’

Paul feels that once he has delivered the contribution of the Gentiles to the Jerusalem church and has emphasised the love that the Gentile Christians have for the Jews, hoping thereby to have it reciprocated, he will have experienced ‘the fullness of the blessing of the Messiah’, for it was ever the stress of Jesus that believers be as one (John 17:20-23), and to some extent it was a fulfilment of Scripture where the Gentiles were to contribute towards Jerusalem in material things (Isaiah 60:5-7). And in that fullness of blessing he will come to the Christians in Rome, hoping to find the same unity among them.


Verse 30-31

‘Now I plead with you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judaea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,’

This plea, in the context of the whole letter, makes clear (as do the details in chapter 16) that there is no outstanding leading figure in the church at Rome at this time. Here he addresses his plea to ‘adelphoi’ (brothers and sisters) which may indicate the plurality of bishops and deacons, or simply the church as a whole. There would in fact be no single overall Bishop in Rome for another hundred years, something confirmed by the opening words in the letter of Clement dating around 95 AD.

He pleads with them ‘by our LORD Jesus Christ and by the love shed abroad in their hearts by the Spirit’ (Romans 5:5) that they strive together (the word is a strong one - ‘agonise together’) in their prayers for God to him as he seeks to fulfil his ministry in Jerusalem. Possibly he is aware of evil spiritual forces at work. He is concerned about two things, firstly to be delivered from his antagonists (‘those who are disobedient’ i.e. disobedient to the Messiah) in Judaea, and secondly to present the gift of the Gentile churches to the church in Jerusalem in a way which will be acceptable to them. There were still elements in the Jerusalem church who were suspicious of the liberties offered to the Gentiles. As we know, the former fear would be realised, whilst his ministry to the saints would on the whole be successful.


Verse 32

‘That I may come to you in joy through the will of God, and together with you find rest.’

And part of the reason for his prayer is that once those hurdles have been overcome he may be able to come to the Roman Christians with joy through the will of God (which will be determined by whether God answers their prayers), and together with them ‘find rest’. For Paul life had been a constant struggle with the burden of all the churches, and at this current time apprehension as to what might happen at Jerusalem. He hopes to find some relief from this during his stay in Rome, prior to further exertions in Spain. He would in fact find that rest, but in a way totally different from what he expected, when he lived in his own hired house in Rome under guard (Acts 28:30).


Verse 33

‘Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.’

He comes to the end of the main part of the letter with a prayer that ‘the God of peace’ will be with them. We can almost see him relaxing into this idea having asked them to pray for his deliverance from the antagonism of the Jews, and for the acceptability to the Jewish church of the gift from mainly Gentile churches. Foreseeing a tough period ahead he hopes eventually to find rest among the Christians in Rome, in the presence of the God of peace. Compare how ‘the God of hope’ in Romans 15:13 refers back to the hope of the Gentiles in Romans 15:12, although also transcending it.

The same title for God (‘the God of peace’) is used in Romans 16:20. There it indicates what will result when God has bruised Satan under their feet shortly. Here then it has a similar meaning as his hope is that God will do the same in Jerusalem. But as with ‘the God of hope’, the title transcends the individual situation. Thus here it may well primarily indicate that God is the One Who has given them peace with Himself through their being accounted righteous by faith (Romans 5:1). By being accounted as righteous by faith they will have peace with the God of peace.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 15:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-15.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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