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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
A Call To Make Real In The Church And In The World The Righteousness Which They Have Received (12.1-15.33).
This section moves from the indicative to the imperative. Having outlined the ways of God in salvation:
Paul now calls on all Christians as a consequence (‘by the mercies of God’) to totally consecrate themselves to God’s service. It is an urgent call to action in response to what God has done for them. He is calling on them to live out the ‘newness of life’ (6.3) that they have received, something which will result in:
We must not see these chapters as simply moral instruction added on to the main letter, but as in integral part of the letter. They describe the behaviour that will result from following the mind of the Spirit. Without them that would have been incomprehensible to many of them. And we should note how similar exhortation has been made earlier (6.12-23). Here, however, that is expanded on.
The section may be divided up as follows:
1). Christian Living (12.1-13.14).
2). Christian Freedom And Consideration For The Views Of Others (14.1-15.6).
3). The Ministry Of The Messiah Is To Both Jews And Gentiles (15.7-33).
4). Final Greetings (16.1-27).
1). Christian Living (12.1-13.14).
In this passage Paul calls on God’s people so to present their bodies as a living offering to God, through their having died with Christ and risen with Him (6.1-11), that they live lives of total purity and goodness. This is then spelled out in detail, first in relation to the church, and then in relation to the world. And he concludes the section with the requirement that they ‘put on the LORD Jesus Christ’, and make no provision for the flesh.
A Call To Total Consecration (12.1-2).
12.1-2 ‘I therefore plead with you brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And do not be fashioned according to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’
Paul calls on the Roman Christians to perform an act of priestly service (latreian), on the basis of God’s many mercies revealed earlier, by offering their whole beings as a living sacrifice, totally devoted to God (holy), and free from all spot of blemish (acceptable), something which it can be through the righteousness of Christ given to His people.
‘Therefore.’ He pleads with his readers on the basis of the mercies of God that he has been outlining. These have included being accounted as righteous through faith, having received the gift of the righteousness of God in Christ, having been crucified with Christ and having been raised again in Him, having received newness of life, having experienced the power of the Spirit at work within them, and having been conjoined together with Christ and with each other, in the olive tree of the true Israel.
They are called on ‘to present (yield, compare 6.13, 19) their bodies as a holy and acceptable living sacrifice to God.’, being united with Christ in His sacrifice of Himself (6.3-11). They are thus to see themselves:
So this presenting of themselves to God is to be their continual act of spiritual service, evidencing the work of the Spirit within them, and their offering is to be holy and acceptable to God in all that they do. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices had to be ‘holy and without blemish’ so must the Christian sacrifice. Nothing less is worthy of God. Our lives are to be such therefore that at any moment they could be presented to Him and be seen as totally acceptable in His sight.
The words translated ‘spiritual’(logikos) can also mean ‘reasonable’. And this life of dedicated and practical worship is to be lived out in a spiritual and rational manner by not being conformed to this world (or ‘this age’), with its desires and lusts and vanities (thus by not having the mind of the flesh), but instead, by being transformed by the renewal of their mind (responding to the mind of the Spirit, by responding to the life of Christ within them - 6.3; 8.9-10) so that they might demonstrate to the world and to angels and to men, (and to themselves), the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. It is a call to total submission and yieldedness.
The concept of sacrifice must not, of course, be overpressed. Only Jesus Christ could be a guilt offering and an atoning sacrifice. We are, therefore, more to be seen as whole offerings, thanksgiving offerings and freewill offerings, excluding the atoning element that even they necessarily had within them, for in our case, full atonement having already been made by Christ, no further atonement is necessary. The element that Paul has in mind is the total offering of ourselves in ‘new life’, having died with Christ and risen with Him.
‘Present your body.’ This counteracts much of the teaching around at the time among Greek speaking people which considered the body as evil, and but the prison-house of the spirit. According to their ideas it was the release of the spirit by various means that could finally involve them with God through a series of intermediaries. Paul renounces such an idea. He emphasises that we are to offer our bodies directly to God.
‘Do not be conformed to this age.’ The Christian lives in an age when sin is paramount, and when the world is ruled by the desires of the flesh, by the desires of the mind, and by false ambition (the pride of life). See 1 John 2.15. An age when it lies in the arms of evil (or of the Evil One). See 1 John 5.19. Notice the passive voice. The unbeliever is not in control of his life. He is controlled and shaped by the spirit of the age, indeed, ‘the spirit now at work among the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2.2). But the Christian has died to these things in Christ, and has risen to newness of life. He no longer has any part in them. He does not allow himself to be controlled by the world’s straitjacket, but is free to live a pure and holy life for Christ. And this is possible because he has been transformed by the renewal of his mind. He is renewed in the spirit of his mind (8.2-16), and ‘has put on the new man which, after God, has been created in righteousness and true holiness’ (Ephesians 4.23-24). He walks in newness of life (Romans 6.3-4). He no longer sees things as the world sees them. He does not look on the things that are temporal, but on the things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.18). He has ‘the mind of Christ’ illuminated by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2.16). But in saying this we must not overlook the fact that the mind of Christ is especially revealed in His teaching in the Gospels. Anything that is not fulfilling that is not the mind of Christ.
‘Good, acceptable and complete.’ By their minds being transformed they will understand what is fully required by the will of God, thereby ‘proving’ in their hearts 1). what God will see as good, 2). what God will see as acceptable, 3). and what is perfectly in accord with God’s will.
Each Member Is To Play His Appropriate Part In Building Up Christ’s Body (12.3-8).
In 11.16-24 God was seen as ministering to His people in establishing and building up the olive tree which represented Messiah and His people, with branches removed or added according to His purpose. Now we see the manward side of that operation as the branches themselves, the members who are one body in Christ (as they were one in the Messiah as the olive tree), are to cooperate in supplying the needs of all the members (branches), maintaining the health of the body (the olive tree), each being careful to recognise his own position in the scheme of things.
12.3 ‘For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly, according as God has dealt to each man a measure of faith.’
The consequence of being transformed by the renewing of our mind is that we begin to look at everything differently. The arrogance of this world is replaced by a new humility, as we recognise that we have moved into a different sphere. Thus the Christian is circumspect in his attitude and behaviour towards his brothers and sisters in Christ, recognising in all humility his great need to serve God only up to the level of his faith. Great gifts do not make great Christians unless they are exercised in accordance with true faith given by God. If our gifts are not utilised in total dependence on God then they can be a hindrance rather than a benefit.
So Paul exhorts them as one to whom Apostleship has been granted (1.5), an Apostleship accompanied by the gracious activity of God in guiding his thinking. He himself is acting according to his measure of faith. And he warns that the members of the body are to be wary of having too high an opinion of themselves. Rather they are to make a sober assessment of what gifts they have been given and what part they are to play, under God’s guidance, in the maintenance of the body, in accordance with the faith that God has given to each one of them. The criterion is to be, not their natural gifts, but their level of faith and dependence on God.
It is noteworthy that he does not see them as being controlled by the leadership, but as having a certain autonomy as they consider the part they are to play in the body of Christ. There was an element of freedom in their exercising of their gifts. We can compare the same situation in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Nevertheless freedom brings responsibility, so they are to ensure that they act within God’s enabling. It would, no doubt, be seen by Paul as something to be watched over by the ‘overseers (episkopoi), but the Spirit could override the overseers.
12.4-5 ‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.’
There is a clear resemblance between this description of God’s people as a body, and the description of it as the olive tree (11.16-24), the similarity lying in the fact that they are one whole, and yet separate members of one whole. We may see a difference lying in the fact that the olive tree had had included in it the branches of rejected Israel which had been broken off, but the same may be said of the body (John 15.1-6). In neither case is what has been broken off a genuine constituent of the true olive tree and the true body. The other difference is that the olive tree had indicated ideal Israel in its association with the promises of God and with the Messiah. This indicates the living body in which His people are united as one in Christ (Galatians 3.28), in the body which IS Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12), in what is the new nation of Matthew 21.43, in the new Vine of John 15.1-6. Note that the body is never seen as distinct from Christ, for the body is Christ’s body into which the members have been incorporated. It is Christ Himself Who is the body. It is therefore wrong to speak of the church as ‘the body of Christ on earth’. Rather the church has been united with Him in His heavenly body, and is in the heavenlies in Him (Ephesians 2.1-6), while physically operating on earth.
But the consequence of this is that His body has many members, each having his part to play in building up the whole. Each does not have the same office, for differing gifts have been distributed to some throughout the body. But all are to remember that they are one body in Him, and must therefore maintain unity, being members one of another (see 1 Corinthians 12.12-27).
12.6a ‘And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us.’
These gifts are not natural gifts, they are charismata. The naturally gifted may not be spiritual and may become a danger to the church (compare 3 John 9). But these are gifts given by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.8, 11) through the gracious activity of God, as He gives gracious gifts to each. The list is interesting as including in charismata the gifts of giving, and of demonstrating compassion and mercy in works of mercy. These are equally with the others ‘spiritual gifts’.
The gifts are then outlined in detail, together in each case with an exhortation with regard to its use: the gift of service, the gift of teaching, the gift of exhortation, the gift of being able to give generously, the gift of ruling with diligence, the gift of showing mercy and compassion cheerfully through a demonstration of practical love. Note that the gifts are sevenfold indicating their divine completeness. He could, of course, have listed others as is apparent from the list in 1 Corinthians 12. 8-11. But it would appear that the Roman Christians did not have the same tendency to utilise the ‘extraordinary gifts’ that was found at Corinth, although in both cases prophecy is prominent.
12.6b ‘Whether prophecy, (let us prophesy) according to the proportion of our faith;’
The gift of prophecy was an important one in the early church, when there was no New Testament and the Spirit guided men in interpreting the (Old Testament) Scriptures for the benefit of the new community. It was not basically a gift of foretelling the future (although that did occur), but a gift of presenting the truth adequately. And it was not to be uncontrolled. In 1 Corinthians we learn that what was prophesied had to be assessed by other prophets (1 Corinthians 14.29-32). And here he stresses that it should be given ‘according to the proportion of our faith’. But in the New Testament faith is not a nebulous thing. It is faith in a revealed body of truth. So the prophet is both not to go beyond his own spiritual ability, and beyond the true knowledge which results from truly believing in what has been revealed. In other words, beyond the teaching which is in accordance with the traditions of the Apostles as maintained within the early church and finally laid down in the New Testament.
Any prophet or any church which goes beyond what is found there is to be brought back by other prophets and churches to that body of revealed truth. Anything beyond that is speculation.
12.7 ‘Or ministry, (let us give ourselves) to our ministry, or he who teaches, (let him give himself) to his teaching,’
All Christians are to keep themselves to what they do best in accordance with the gift(s) given to them by God. Thus those who serve in the church in different ways are to give themselves to that service, and those who teach are to give themselves to their teaching, fulfilling their God-given responsibilities as to the Lord. The word for service indicates mainly catering to the needs of others in every way, something of which Jesus was the prime example (Mark 10.45). It would include ensuring that all had their needs met (see Act 6.1-6), both spiritual and physical. Teaching involved ensuring that guidance was given in accordance with Scripture and ‘the testimony of Jesus’, in the case of women, often by women (e.g. Titus 2.3-5).
12.8 ‘Or he who exhorts, (let him give himself) to his exhorting, he who gives, (let him do it) with liberality, he who rules, with diligence, he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.’
Exhortation and encouragement (not necessarily just in preaching) was a separate gift, as some were enabled by the Holy Spirit so as to stir fellow-Christians up to obedience, and encourage them in their daily lives, both spiritually and materially. For there were no social services to cater to the physical needs of the members, and Christians were therefore to fulfil this role, especially towards their fellow-members. The church was to provide the social services. Thus the ability to give humbly and unostentatiously in a liberal manner was another gift of the Spirit (compare verse 13).
The word translated ‘liberality’ means ‘with singleness of heart and purpose’. It was to be genuine, unselfish giving. They were not to be like those who, when giving in the Temple, made sure that everyone saw what they were giving. Compare Matthew 6.1-4. The gifts would then be used in the ongoing ministry of the church, including the benefiting of those in the church who were in physical need, and who had no one to care for those needs (see 1 Timothy 5.3-4). In return those who benefited had a responsibility of continuing in prayer (1 Timothy 5.5).
Those who administered the affairs of the church were to do it with due diligence. It is noteworthy that ‘ruling’ was not seen as the primary gift (it comes well down the list), or as making someone especially important. It was to be carried out as a service with true humility, not as something that put the person above others. Meanwhile those whom the Spirit enabled in acts of mercy and compassion (compare 16.1-2) were to do it cheerfully. The whole body were to pull together in their concern the one for the other.
A Call To Fulfil The Law Of Christ And Of The Scriptures. The Working Out Of Love (12.9-21).
Having dealt with what was necessary for the edifying and upbuilding of the body of Christ, Paul now turns to what is required of Christians as they live ‘in newness of life’ (6.3-4). In the terms of chapter 6 we are to be ‘slaves of righteousness’ (6.18). The injunctions appear in one sense to be a miscellany, but they cover various aspects of daily experience, and they present us with a picture of the full-orbed Christian life. We can see behind the exhortations that follow both the teaching of Jesus, and that of the Old Testament Scriptures (specifically in verse 19). They present a general guide for living, and a call for Christians to let their love work itself out, both in the church fellowship, and in the world
12.9 ‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cleave to what is good.’
As befits a depiction of the teaching of Jesus the list commences with the requirement to love truly. We are called on to reveal love in our lives, love for our fellow-Christians, and love for our fellowman, a love that is genuine and true. Note that he assumes that the Christian will ‘love’. It is so basic to being a Christian that it does not have to be ‘required’ of them. Rather his emphasis is on what kind of love it should be. It is not to be like the love of an actor playing a part. It is to be genuine and from the heart. Such love was at the very heart of the teaching of Jesus. For with regard to our fellow-Christians Jesus said, ‘this I command you, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15.12). ‘In this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for the other’ (John 13.35). It is a self-giving love. We are thus to love with a love like the love that Jesus has for us, a love which is sure, pure and permanent, a love which never fails. A good description of this love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.4-8, a passage which we should retain in our hearts. And towards all men we are to be ‘perfect in love’, even towards our enemies (Matthew 5.43-48). We are to love our neighbour, and the stranger who is among us, in the same way as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19.18, 34).
This love will be revealed in our hating of what is evil or injurious, and our clinging firmly to what is good or helpful. This is an important point. Love is concerned always to root out evil, not by being judgmental, but by its own example and purity and determination. It ever strives for the highest good. Thus in Amos 5.15 we are told to ‘hate the evil and love the good’, words which parallel this verse. Compare also Psalm 97.10. Love does not compromise with what is evil or injurious. Rather it hates it because of the harm it does. So what is evil is firmly to be put aside, it is to be abhorred. But in contrast we are to stick firmly to what is good like glue. It is a life choice. We must hate all that causes harm to others. Our whole lives must be directed towards what is good, and honourable, and true. See Philippians 4.8.
Love Expressing Itself In The Family Of Believers (12.10-13).
While the injunctions that follow in verses 10-13 are not necessarily to be limited to benefiting the family, it is clear that love for our believing brothers and sisters is paramount. They above all will benefit by our tender affection towards one another, by our upholding of each other, by our diligent service of the LORD, by our eyes being kept on the future blessings, and by our provision of the necessities of life and of hospitality. Indeed it is they who should be our first concern. But such a spirit will undoubtedly reach out wider into the world.
12.10 ‘In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another, in honour preferring one another,’
With regard to love of our fellow-Christians it is to be a love of ‘tender affection’. This is a word used of strong family affection. As Christians we are members of a family. And we are to show it. Some members may be less loveable than others, but we are to make no distinctions. The same love must be demonstrated towards all, even the unlovely. And one way in which we will do this is by ‘in honour preferring one another’. Our concern will be that others receive the plaudits that they deserve, and get the opportunity of earning them. Compare Philippians 2.3, ‘in lowliness of mind, each accounting the other as better than himself’. There is to be no self-seeking, but a desire for the elevating of others.
‘In honour preferring one another.’ The problem with this translation is that it does not quite accord with the Greek in that the word translated ‘preferring’ really means, ‘going before, leading’ and then ‘setting an example’. Thus we might translate as ‘in honour, setting an example to one another’. In other words by our honourable behaviour being a good example to all.
12.11 ‘In diligence not slothful (in zeal not flagging), fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’
It is necessarily the church which will benefit most by the zeal of God’s people in serving the LORD, for their fellow-members are their prime responsibility, but the wider outreach must not be overlooked. Indeed, while evangelising is of prime importance, it will only usually arise where there is a strong church fellowship. It is significant that this instruction to be diligent and on fire follows the requirement for ‘sincere love’, and does not precede it. The point is that having zeal and fire is good, but that without love it may well be misplaced or even misused. On the other hand if our love is genuine it must certainly express itself in our giving of ourselves in love. Thus there must be no flagging in the diligence with which we go about living out our spiritual lives, no half-heartedness, no holding back. We are to give our all. And it is to be with a spirit that is at boiling point, aflame with love and dedication, a spirit on fire, remembering that we are serving the LORD, not men (compare Ephesians 6.5-8).
Many would see ‘spirit’ here as requiring a capital S, and this would tie in with 8.1-16. Thus we could read ‘fervent in the Spirit’, recognising that it is only He Who can maintain our spiritual momentum. It is through Him and by His direction that we are to serve the Lord. And it is He Who maintains the fervency of our spirits. However, in the parallel use in Acts 18.25 the phrase ‘fervent in spirit’ most probably refers to the human spirit, although as being stirred up by the Holy Spirit. Thus the small ‘s’ is probably correct, but all would recognise that the fervency had to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit.
‘Serving the LORD.’ We may see two emphases here. The first in the fact that all our zeal and fire must have in mind that we are in His service. It is as His privileged servants that we are to live, with all the dedication that that requires, acknowledging that He is ‘the LORD’. But secondly it is a reminder that we are to do all as in His sight. Our zeal must not be misplaced. Our fervency must not be self-directed or group-directed. Our concern must be to please Him. Thus it is the LORD and His concerns that must be primary, not our own particular viewpoints. His will must always take first place, and we should note that that is not being achieved if we fail to honour all our brothers and sisters, eve though they may not see things as we do in every way.
12.12 ‘Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer,’
Having spoken of the upward look (fervent in the Spirit, serving the LORD), Paul now considers the forward look by which Christians remain steadfast in the face of the future, thus maintaining the stability and strength of the church. We are to rejoice because of the hope that is set before us, we must patiently endure in whatever tribulation comes to us, and we must continue steadfastly in prayer, recognising that we can put all in His hands. The way ahead for God’s people will not be easy. That is why we need to walk step by step with the Spirit (Galatians 5.25) with our hearts fixed on the goal, that is on the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3.14). This is our ‘hope’, that one day we will be with Him (1 John 3.1-2). And it will enable us to face all that the future holds, as we recognise that tribulation counts for nothing in the light of our glorious future (8.17,18, 23). Note that in 8.26, where the Godward side was being considered, it was the Spirit Whose intercession on our behalf in the face of tribulation was to prevail. Here it is we who must continue steadfastly in prayer. Both are necessary if we are to prevail, with our prayer being sustained by His.
12.13 ‘Communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to (pursuing) hospitality.’
And as pilgrims on life’s journey (1 Peter 2.11) we are to aid our fellow pilgrims en route, as we ensure the meeting of their necessities (food and clothing) where needed, and provide them with hospitality (Matthew 25.35-36). Thus we aid in the fulfilment of Christ’s promise to His disciples (Matthew 6.33). Note that hospitality has to be ‘pursued with vigour’. It was a privilege that was to be ‘sought eagerly’, and indeed carried the assurance that it would result in blessing (Matthew 10.12-13). In Paul’s day such hospitality was especially important, for on the whole inns were not pleasant places to be, whilst often those who were serving Christ, (and there were many travelling around in His service), were subjected to harassment either by the mobs or by the authorities, just as Jesus had warned (Matthew 10.14). Paul himself had benefited by such hospitality. Thus a welcoming environment was a great blessing to the travelling Christian, even though it could sometimes be costly for all concerned (compare Genesis 19.9-10; Judges 19.22).
Commands To Love All (12.14-18).
Having looked at the needs of believers, Paul now turns his attention to the need for those who have experienced the mercies of God to demonstrate love towards all men, including, of course, believers. These injunctions commence with the requirement that we love even our enemies who persecute us (verse 14), and they end with the need to be seen as honourable in the sight of ‘all men’, and with a desire that believers might be at peace with ‘all men’. They thus summarise our responsibility towards all mankind. However, having said that, included among them are injunctions that seemingly have the church in mind (verse 16 would appear mainly to refer to behaviour and attitude to be revealed among believers, even though more widely applicable).
12.14 ‘Bless those who persecute you, bless, and curse not.’
The first call is to bless those who persecute us, and not to curse them. The first clause basically repeats the teaching of Jesus, where He said, ‘pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5.44; compare Luke 6.28; 1 Peter 3.9), where the intention was to have their well-being at heart. The last three words echo the words of James in James 3.9-11, ‘out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing -- these things ought not to be’. Both can be seen as fulfilling Jesus’ requirement that we love our enemies (Matthew 5.44; Luke 6.27, 35). Such an attitude towards persecution was unknown in the ancient world. Thus the Christian is to respond to persecution with words of love. He is to accept his persecution as from the hand of God. Indeed he is to rejoice in it knowing that great is his reward in Heaven (Matthew 5.11-12).
12.15 ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.’
The Christian should be an expert at getting alongside people in order to share with them their joys and sorrows. Thus he will share in people’s rejoicing, and will feel for the miserable in their misery. This is not an excuse for revelling, even though it was common practise to share in people’s joys by feasting with them. It is rather expressing the importance of entering into people’s feelings, whether cheerful or otherwise. The idea is to share with them in their inner feelings. Compare Job 30.25, and see 1 Corinthians 12.26 where it specifically has Christians in mind. The idea of weeping with those who weep was of course commonplace at funerals, and was encouraged by the practise of having professional mourners. But Paul is applying it to the sorrows of everyday life. The idea here is of expressing consideration and concern for others, and entering into their feelings.
12.16 ‘Be of the same mind one towards another. Do not set your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Do not be wise-minded in your own conceits.’
These three injunctions place great emphasis on how we ‘think in our minds’. They describe an attitude of mind permanently taken up. The first is positive, the second negative then positive, the third negative, describing how we should think, and how we should not think. They would appear mainly to have behaviour within the fellowship in mind, but also have a wider application, for the Christian should never be involved in battles for supremacy in spheres where all are ambitious. Their thoughts should be in another direction. The reason that these injunctions are included in this series of injunctions which have mankind as a whole in mind is probably because it then leads on to the next three injunctions. Peace and unity within the fellowship leads on to a desire for peace and unity in the world
‘Being of the same mind one towards another’, (being harmonious in our dealings with each other), includes not showing partiality, but emphasises more a harmonious attitude towards each other, especially in the case of the strong-minded, both in the fellowship and in the home. We will not always agree with each other, but we should disagree in a state of harmony. Oneness is the key. Disagreement over matters of daily living and daily Christian service, should be in love, and include having a constant desire for such unity. Love should rule over all. Indeed such unity among believers was a main emphasis of Jesus in His final words to His disciples (John 13.34-35; 15.17). His last prayer included a prayer for such unity among those who believed in Him (John 17.20-21). But it also has wider application than just to the fellowship, for harmonious relations should be sought with all men, as verse 18 makes clear.
‘Do not set your mind on high (exalted) things, but condescend to (allow yourself to be carried along by, give yourself to) things that are lowly.’ Ambition to fulfil ourselves through the guidance of the Spirit is good, but in the church it should never have the aim of achieving high position or of being honoured. Self-exaltation is disapproved of. Rather our ambition should be to follow the example of Christ Who was ‘meek and lowly in heart’ (Matthew 11.29). Those who think themselves too good for lowly tasks are not revealing the mind of Christ (see Mark 10.44-45). True Christians will rather therefore involve themselves in lowly things, seeking to fulfil them to their best ability. If God should then determine for them a role of leadership, they will engage in it, but they will engage in it humbly, recognising their own unworthiness. It should never, however, be our ambition. In the Christian fellowship the one who has a high opinion of himself is not suited for the position that he seeks, for he will rely on his own abilities rather than on the Spirit. This is not an excuse for inactivity, it is a warning against overweening ambition. ‘Love does not thrust itself into prominence, is not puffed up’ (1 Corinthians 13.4). Those who are faithful in that which is least, can be entrusted with that which is much (Luke 16.10).
‘Do not be wise-minded in your own conceits (or more literally ‘in the sight of yourselves’).’ Compare Proverbs 3.7, ‘do not be wise in your own eyes (in the sight of yourselves)’, a verse which was almost certainly in Paul’s mind, and is there connected with the need to fear God. The warning here is of being too clever for our own good, or for the good of the fellowship. There is no one more dangerous to unity than the man who thinks that he is always right, and that his way is always the best way. If we cannot carry people along with us in our thinking, perhaps we are going in the wrong direction. Certainly we will cause disunity.
12.17-18 ‘Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honourable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lies, be at peace with all men.’
We might summarise these injunctions as ‘seek to get on with people’. The first warns against retaliation. The second requires that we genuinely reveal ourselves as being honourable. The third calls on us to be at peace with all.
‘Render to no man evil for evil.’ The warning here is against retaliation (compare Colossians 3.13). Rather, as Jesus taught us, we should behave towards them as we would want them to behave towards us (Matthew 7.12). Indeed, He condemned the attitude of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (Matthew 5.38-42), and insisted that we should love our enemies, and pray for those who use us badly (Matthew 5.43-45).
‘Take thought for things honourable in the sight of all men.’ Rather than retaliating and showing ourselves up in the wrong light, we are to put our thoughts into behaving is such a way as to win the approval of honourable men (compare Proverbs 3.4). He is not by this saying that we should follow the world’s viewpoint, but is rather recognising that honourable men exist even in the non-Christian world, and that Christians ought to be even more honourable than them, as, in the last analysis, Christian moral standards are higher than theirs. But the underlying point is that we should never by our behaviour bring the Gospel into disrepute (compare 1 Peter 2.12). Note that it is ‘in the sight of all men’. There is nothing good about doing things of which the world disapproves, except, of course, when that disapproval arises because we are truly following Christ and fulfilling His commands.
‘If it be possible, as much as in you lies, be at peace with all men.’ Jesus said, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (i.e. be seen as behaving like God)’ (Matthew 5.9). Making peace in society is to be the aim of the Christian. ‘Inasmuch as in you lies’, that is, ‘as far as it lies within your ability’. Paul recognises that sometimes the world will not accept our offer of peace. He himself had wide experience of causing contention wherever he went, but it was not because of his attitude and behaviour. It was because men were disturbed by the truth. But his general aim was to be conciliatory. In the same we should make every effort to be on good terms with all men, even with the most obstreperous.
We Are To Overcome Evil By Goodness
Paul finishes his call for lives of true righteousness by stressing that vengeance must be left in the hands of God. It is not for us to take revenge. Rather we should respond to evil with goodness.
12.19 ‘Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath (of God), for it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense, says the Lord.’
Paul advises the Christians in Rome, on the basis of Scripture, that they should leave vengeance in the hands of God, Who will surely recompense men for wrongdoing because He is the righteous Judge. They are not to avenge themselves, but to give place to ‘the wrath’. This is presumably the wrath mentioned in 1.18 and is not therefore limited to the final judgment. (In 13.5 it is exercised by the Roman government). The Scripture is probably taken from Deuteronomy 32.35 where MT has ‘vengeance is mine, and recompense’. This may have been combined by Paul with Jeremiah 5.9, ‘shall I not visit (in judgment) for these things? says the LORD’. Notice that Hebrews 10.30 supports Paul’s rendition, and suggests that the citation could be found in this form somewhere in a current text. (It is found in some Aramaic Targums). It is, however, a reminder that the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5.6). We should therefore give place to God’s wrath, recognising that such judgment is outside our remit. Our concern should be to deliver men from under the wrath of God by bringing them to Jesus Christ.
12.20 “But if your enemy hungers, feed him, if he thirsts, give him to drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
These words are based on Proverbs 25.21-22, and the first part is certainly indicative of the kind of response urged by Jesus towards our enemies. The idea is that we should not only give hospitality to those who love us, but also to those who hate us, and the thought is probably intended to be interpreted more widely as signifying that we should always do good in response to evil.
The problem clearly lies with the meaning of the last clause, “for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” There are a number of suggested alternatives:
12.21 ‘Do not become overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
If a Christian responds to evil by doing evil, he has been ‘overcome by evil’. It has brought him down to the level of the other person. He has been defeated. But if he responds by doing good then he overcomes evil. And not only does he then triumph over evil, he might also triumph over his enemy by bringing him to repentance. There are few who, having a kindness shown to them, do not respond by being ashamed.
The Christian’s Attitude Towards The State (13.1-7).
Having called on Christians ‘not to be conformed to this world’ (12.2), and having indicated that vengeance for wrongdoing lay in God’s hands (12.19 - notice the use of ‘the wrath’ in 12.19 and 13.5), and that Christians should be concerned to be at peace with all men (12.18), Paul now feels constrained both to affirm the need to conform with the systems of justice that were in place (as he had never intended otherwise), and to assure Christians that God was controlling justice through ‘God-appointed’ justices. ‘Not being conformed to this world’ must not therefore be seen as meaning that we are free from all the world’s restraints. Indeed it rather means that we will see the authorities as have been placed there by God. For it is by them that God’s present wrath is executed, and through them that the societies that they represent would know peace.
It is noteworthy that Paul nowhere else deals with this question. (Compare, however, where Peter does in 1 Peter 2.13 ff; 4.15 ff). That may have been because here he sees the church in Rome as at the hub of the Roman Empire, so that their attitude towards the government might be crucial in relations between church and state. Or it may be because he was aware of rumblings in Rome against the current political leadership, and did not want Roman Christians to succumb to them, with its consequent effect on the attitude of the authorities towards Christianity. The reference to paying taxes to whom taxes are due may suggest a connection with the tax rebellion by the inhabitants of Rome which, according to Tacitus, occurred in the middle 50s AD. But however that may be Paul, clearly considers it important to lay down advice on how to react to the Roman authorities.
Christianity at this stage mainly enjoyed the protection of Rome because it was seen as a branch of Judaism and thus as a religio licita, a religion whose rights were protected by the Roman Empire. This had been so from the mid 1st century BC when the Jews had been seen as allies of Rome, and not as a conquered people. They were thus free to practise their peculiarities (e.g. the Sabbath) without hindrance, protected by the Law. Christians, therefore, at this stage mainly enjoyed the same protection. (Even Caligula, although under strong pressure from advisers, forbore setting up his image in the Jerusalem Temple). It would only be later that the Roman authorities, sadly egged on by Jews, differentiated Christianity from Judaism thereby making Christianity a religio illicita, an unofficial religion that enjoyed no protection and that could be persecuted at any time.
13.1 ‘Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God.’
‘Every soul’ simply means ‘everyone.’ Thus everyone is to be subject to ‘the higher powers’, that is the appointed governors and their staff. And this is because men cannot come to power except God allows it, and thus those who do come to power are to be seen as ordained of God. This view is in accord with Scripture, for in Daniel 4.17, 25, 32 we read, ‘the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever He will’, something which presumably Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22.21). He saw it as Caesar’s due that he be rightfully treated in secular matters.
13.2 ‘Therefore he who resists the power, withstands the ordinance of God, and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment.’
The consequence of what has been said in verse 1 is that to resist the secular power is to go against the ordinance of God. In consequence those who do withstand the ruling secular power will themselves receive judgment. The reference to judgment here is probably to the judgment exercised by the higher powers who will naturally deal with those who resist them. And it is to be seen as being of God. On the other hand many see this reference to judgment as signifying the final Judgment, partly on the grounds that in Romans that is what judgment in other circumstances refers to. But it should be noted that those references are in a context where the judgment of God is very much in mind. Here the focus is on judgment by the higher powers.
13.3a ‘For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And would you have no fear of the power?’
And the logic behind this is that rulers are set up by God to control and prevent evil. Thus those who do good will have nothing to fear. It is only those who do evil who will be in terror of the authorities. And this is right, for in the face of justice all should be in fear of the consequences of doing evil. Paul was, of course, writing as one who had himself experienced the justice of Roman appointed governors, and was aware that on the whole Roman justice worked well. He does not deal with the case where the higher power is itself doing gross evil.
In a balanced sentence Paul takes up what he said in verse 3a and its contrast between someone doing good and doing evil. Those who do good will have praise from the one in authority, because he is a servant of God to them for good. But those who do evil have reason to be afraid, for he holds the sword of authority, (or possibly controls the executioner’s sword), and while he is a servant of God, it is in order to be an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. In other words he acts on behalf of the wrath of God and the wrath of the state. Again Paul is assuming a governing authority which is genuinely aiming to maintain justice.
Note the parallel contrasts:
13.5 ‘For which reason you must necessarily be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.’
And it is because the appointed ruler is a minister of God for good that obedience to the requirements of the state, where it does not affect our loyalty to God, is to be seen as necessary. It is a duty not just a convenience. Indeed as Christians our loyalty to the state is for three reasons, firstly because it is an instrument of God for good, secondly because it is the instrument for ‘the wrath’ (of God) against evil, and thirdly because Christians should respond positively towards one who is ‘a servant of God’, for conscience’ sake.
To be in subjection is to respond to legitimate requirements. It does not indicate subservience. The point is that, acting as God’s servant the state authority has a right to make certain demands, and unless they go against the conscience they should be obeyed. Compare Titus 3.1.
13.6 ‘For this cause you also pay taxes, for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing.’
And this is the reason why we can expect to pay taxes. It is because, in a similar way to the Levites, the authorities are ‘ministers of God’s service’, in this case as those who are continually devoted to maintaining justice. Thus just as the Levites received the tithe, so is it right that the state should receive taxes. And that is why the Christian should pay both taxes and respect to those in judicial authority.
13.7 ‘Render to all their dues; taxes to whom taxes (are due), tolls to whom tolls (are due), fear to whom fear (is due), honour to whom honour (is due).’
In words which echo those of Jesus in respect of paying tribute money, ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22.21), Paul calls on the Romans to ‘render their taxes (tribute) and tolls (customs duties)’. Christians should pay their taxes without complaint, recognising that they are in effect paying them to God. And they should also pay the authorities due respect and honour.
Of course in those days protest marches and civil disobedience were in the main not permitted, and would have been seen as rebellion against the state. In our day they are an accepted part of democracy. Thus there are certain things that we can view differently. But the overall principles still apply. Violent protest is, however, still not approved of by God.
The Christian’s Responsibility To Love (13.8-10).
Paul now turns his attention from the Christian’s duty to the authorities, to the Christian’s duty towards the outer world. Jesus Himself stated that the two greatest commandments in the Law (Matthew 22.35-40) were to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6.5) and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Leviticus 19.18), and in the context of Leviticus the latter included loving those who came to live among us (Leviticus 19.34). Paul now takes up this second commandment and expands on it, because in context he is speaking of Christian responsibility to his fellowman.
13.8 ‘Owe no man anything, except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law.’
Having spoken of the Christian’s debt to the state Paul now turns to the question of the Christian’s debt to all men. ‘Owe no man anything’ is not saying that we should not enter into debt on a considered basis, but rather that we should pay our dues. We are not to be dilatory in fulfilling our obligations. But he then points out that there is one debt which we are to owe and which is continual, and that is our debt to love one another. As regards this debt we can never call ‘time’. And the reason for that is that love is the fulfilment of the Law. In other words, if we truly love we will automatically fulfil the requirements of the Law as regards our attitude towards others, for we will desire the very best for them. Note Paul’s indication that we are to fulfil God’s Law in terms of its deepest meaning. But it is as the consequence of our love for Christ and for God, not in order somehow to obtain merit by doing so.
13.9 ‘For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
He points out that all the commandments, some of which he lists, are all really summed up in the command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. For all the things described in the commandments, adultery, murder, theft, coveting, etc. cause hurt to others, and if we love we will not want to hurt. Of course, the Law is a detailed guide as to what we should do in order to reveal our love to others. It has thus become a guide rather than burden (compare James 1.22-25).
13.10 ‘Love works no ill to his neighbour, love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.’
For love is such that it ‘works nothing ill’ for our neighbour. Rather love seeks the very best for them. That is why love is the fulfilment of the Law. It should, however, be noted that if we did not have the Law, especially as expanded by Jesus, we would not have recognised the many ways in which we could harm our neighbour. The law is holy and just and good. It is we who render it helpless as a means of making us acceptable with God.
Living In Crisis Days (13.11-14).
Paul commenced this section in 12.1-2 with the call to present our bodies as a holy and acceptable living sacrifice, not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Now he calls on us, in the light of the possibility of Christ’s second coming, to awaken out of sleep, and to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Note the parallels. ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice’ with ‘awaken out of sleep’. ‘Do not be conformed to this world’ with ‘cast of the works of darkness’. ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ with ‘put on the armour of light’. These parallel statements form an inclusio for the whole section.
In the days when lighting was primitive the dawning of the day was the time for getting down to work. Night in the main resulted in a cessation of work. But night turned into day and then the world awoke to go about its daily business. During the night men partied and drank to excess, they indulged in illicit sex and loose behaviour, they fought and were jealous, but when day approached that was all put aside for the business of the day. They donned their working clothes, or their armoured coats, and went about their duties. Paul pictures the Christian life in terms of the dawning of a new day. We are to arise, and then deliberately ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, and set about the task of daily living.
That to be a non-believer was to walk in darkness, while to be a believer was to walk in the light, was a favourite picture in the teaching of Jesus. He declared that we are to walk in the light, and be the sons of light (those whose lives are lived in the light), thereby knowing where we are going and being in no danger of being tripped up, while to walk in darkness would mean that we would stumble, and would not know where we were going (John 8.12; 11.9; 12.35-36, 46; Luke 16.8). Similarly in the teaching of Paul we are ‘sons of light’, and have been transported out of the tyrannous kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Ephesians 5.8-9, 11-13; Colossians 1.13; 1 Thessalonians 5.4-8).
We should note here that Paul presents a number of consecutive but contrasting pictures in pairs, as follows:
And if we combine them in another way we then obtain two powerful contrasting sequences. ‘It is time to awake from sleep -- the night is far spent -- let us cast off the works of darkness -- not walking in revelling and drunkenness -- do not make provision for the flesh.’ In other words the night of our past lives is over. And on the other hand, ‘salvation is nearer than when we first believed -- the day is at hand -- put on the armour of light -- walk becomingly as in the day -- put on the LORD Jesus Christ.’ The Christian is to walk in the light of God’s ‘day’.
13.11 ‘And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep, for now is salvation nearer to us than when we (first) believed.’
‘And this --.’ Many would add ‘do’, i.e. ‘and do this’, but while that thought is certainly included, the emphasis is more of ‘have this in mind’ or ‘have this attitude because --.’. This may be seen as referring back to what has just been said concerning love for one’s neighbour as a life to be lived out daily, but more probably it has in mind the content of the whole passage 12.1-13.10 with its emphasis on committing oneself to God as a living sacrifice, and being totally transformed, living a life of love. Paul’s aim is to relate this to the vital time in which they and we are living, the period prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the consummation of all things (compare Hebrews 9.28).
The same urgency should be with us today. We live in the time prior to that day when Christ will sum up all things in Himself (Ephesians 1.10). Thus with the Day dawning it is a time for stirring ourselves, and awaking out of sleep. This idea of awaking out of sleep was present in the teaching of Jesus (Mark 13.35-36; Luke 12.35-36), and repeated by Paul (Ephesians 5.14; 1 Thessalonians 5.6). And the idea of awaking out of sleep is that we should rise early and get on with what has to be done, which includes the spreading of the Gospel. It means stirring ourselves into activity because the daytime has come. And this is in the light of the fact that our salvation ( the final redemption of our bodies and enjoyment of the life to come) is nearer now than it was at that time when we began to believe.
The Scripture sees salvation as past, present and future. In the past we entered into salvation when we were accounted as righteous by faith, when we became reconciled to God through Christ (Ephesians 2.8-9). From that moment Christ began in us His saving work. In the present it is a day by day experience as God ‘works in us to will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). We are ‘being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1.18). But in the future it refers to the final completion of our salvation when we are presented perfect before God, and have been made ‘like Him (Christ)’ (Romans 8.29; 1 John 2.2).
13.12 ‘The night is far spent, and the day is at hand, let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.’
The time for sleeping is over, We need to be aroused ready for the new day. The night is nearly past, and in consequence we must put off the works of darkness. The day is dawning in us, we should therefore put on clothes suitable for the day, that is, ‘the armour of light’. The works of darkness are those activities which are performed in the darkness so that no one will see what we are doing, things of which in our best moments we are ashamed. But, as Jesus warned us, we must remember that one day they will be brought to the light of judgment (Mark 4.22; Luke 8.17; John 3.17-20). They are defined in verse 13.
In view of the fact that it is placed in contrast with ‘the works of darkness’, the ‘armour of light’ must therefore include something which results in works performed in the light because they are truly of God (John 3.21). It is to walk becomingly as in the day (verse 13). It is to put on the truth as it is revealed in Jesus. It is to live in the light. It therefore includes living in the light of God’s scrutiny, which protects and guides us as we open up our lives before Him (1 John 1.7). When clothed in the armour of light as a result of His Spirit guided word, we are made aware of encroaching evil so that we can avoid it or repent of it (John 3.18-21). If we constantly come openly to His light, and repent of sin, we will have nothing of which to be ashamed (1 John 1.7-10). The idea is positive as the following contrasts make clear. Indeed putting on the armour of light can be seen as the same as ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’ by faith (verse 14; compare Galatians 2.20). We do so by looking to Him to live through us. We do so by absorbing and understanding His word, and letting Him possess our lives. Such armour makes us successful in the battle of life (compare Ephesians 6.10-18; 1 Thessalonians 5.8), and wards off the powers of darkness.
13.13 ‘Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling (disorderly behaviour) and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy,’
One consequence of putting on the armour of light is that we will walk becomingly as in the day, as men do walk when they are under scrutiny. It is to walk in godliness and purity and true love, eschewing excesses which take place when it is dark. It is to put on the LORD Jesus Christ. Such works of darkness which have to be eschewed include revelling and drunkenness as people let themselves go at parties, they include free unrestricted sexual behaviour, they include being at loggerheads with others, and what results from jealousy of others.
Christians therefore are to ‘walk becomingly, as in the day.’ They have left behind the darkness of night and live in the light of the Day of the Messiah which has dawned. This picture of the Christian life as ‘walking in the light’ is a common one in the New Testament. It was introduced by Jesus in John 8.12 when He said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. There He is revealed as present as the light which is to guide those who follow Him in their walk. And His purpose was that all should come to His light. It was for any who would respond. As He repeated in John 12.46, ‘I am come a light into the world, that whoever believes on me may not abide in darkness’. Thus He called on believers to ‘Walk while you have the light --- while you have the light, believe on the light, that you might become the sons of light’ (John 12.35-36). All this points to seeing Him as the light, in consequence of which, having received from Him the light of eternal life, we are to walk continually in His light and in the light of His teaching. In accordance with this we should therefore all be walking in His light, living our lives in the radiance of the light of His presence, and knowing that all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.
Paul also uses the same idea elsewhere. ‘You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5.8-9). And he adds, ‘You are all the children of the light, and the children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness’ (1 Thessalonians 5.5). Note the paralleling of ‘the light’ and ‘the day’. To walk in the day is to walk in His light. So those who walk as children of the day, as children of light, will produce the fruit of goodness and truth, because if their lives are being lived in His continual light, and in the light of His word, that light, like the sun, will shine on them and produce fruitfulness, and it will allow nothing of the darkness to survive.
John continues in similar vein. However, in his case he recognises, as Paul did in Romans 6-7, that in walking in that light there will be things revealed that need forgiveness, so he assures his readers, ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light, (openly admitting our sin daily), we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son goes on cleansing us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).
Walking in the light is thus to be very much a part of the Christian life. But because of the cleansing of the blood of Jesus we do not need to be afraid of the light. Rather we should embrace it, and, as we come continually to Him day by day, ask that the searchlight of His presence might shine on us continually. Then it will lead the way before us so that all that is of darkness is put away. In that way we will be ready for that Day.
13.14 ‘But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make provision for the flesh, to (fulfil) its lusts.’
Having directed his reader’s thoughts to how they are to respond to God’s light Paul now makes the idea more concrete. They are to ‘put on the LORD Jesus Christ’ Himself. They are to ‘put on His righteousness’ by faith, allowing that righteousness to permeate through them (3.24-28). They are through Him to reckon on themselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Jesus Christ our LORD (6.11). They are to so submit themselves to Him that what He is might shine and operate through them. They are to let Christ dwell in their hearts by faith (Ephesians 3,17), as they live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them (Galatians 2.20). They are to lay claim to the fact that Christ is in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27). They are to align their lives with His, gladly allowing Him the control (Matthew 11.28-30). Comparing this with Galatians 5.16-24. Having in view the contrast with the flesh, it is to be led by the Spirit and to walk step by step with the Spirit, for it is the Spirit Who will make Christ real in and through them (compare 8.1-16). And in so doing they are so to arrange their lives in such a way that they are kept free from anything which could arouse the desires of their sinful natures, making no provision for them in any way. That may involve such things as keeping the television off when suggestive programmes are on, and avoiding going to places where we know that there will be temptations. It may involve avoiding much of what is on the internet. The idea is for Christ to shine through them, thereby revealing themselves as ‘of the day’.
2). Christian Freedom And Consideration For The Views Of Others (14.1-15.6).
Having laid down the principles of Christian living, Paul now moves on to what he clearly conceives of as a problem in the Roman church, the problem of disagreement on the question of religious observance. Such disagreement was inevitable. The Roman church was very much a mixture of people from many religious backgrounds, who had brought with them certain ideas about religious observance, and it especially included a large number of Jews and Jewish sympathisers, many of whom were probably still connected with the synagogue. That this latter meant that relationships between Christians and Jews in Rome were reasonably cordial, so that Christians were not necessarily seen as contrary to Judaism, comes out in the fact that later the leading Jewish elders were quite content to meet with Paul on his arrival in Rome so as to hear what he had to say (Acts 28.17-24, 29). They still saw Christianity as a sect of Judaism (Acts 28.22). But it did mean that the Jewish Christians conformed to the norms of Judaism with respect to clean and unclean foods, and with respect to the Sabbath and to feasts.
The certain consequence would be that many Roman Christians considered the observance of the Sabbath and the observance of Jewish feasts as binding on them, together with the Jewish food laws in respect of cleanness and uncleanness. It was true that the gathering of leading Jewish Christians in Jerusalem described in Acts 15 had given concessions on these matters to Gentile Christians, but these had not been given to Jewish Christians, and even then for Gentile Christians they had stipulated abstention from eating things sacrificed to idols, from eating blood, and from eating things strangled (Acts 15.29). Thus it appears that in Rome there would be many carrying out Judaistic practises.
That the minority involved in what he is describing were of some considerable size comes out in the importance that Paul places on the subject. He clearly saw it as something that could divide the church. This again points to Jewish practises being in mind. While it is perfectly true that on top of this there might be others, such as Pythagoreans, who had their own reasons for vegetarianism (the avoidance of eating what they saw as having a living soul), and converts from other religions who saw certain days as ‘unlucky’, there can really be no doubt that it was aspects of Judaism which were mainly in mind. They themselves saw the laws of uncleanness and the Sabbath as marks of distinction, distinguishing them from the rest of mankind, and Paul the former Pharisee could hardly have referred to unclean meat and the observance of a special day to a church containing as many Jewish Christians as the Roman church did without either signifying them, or making a careful distinction between them and what he was describing. As he did not do the latter we must assume the former. We should in regard to these things recognise that ‘the church of the Romans’ was, like churches in all the big cities in those days, divided up into groups meeting in various parts of the city. And they would have had many different flavours. Thus that Paul addressed the whole church on the subject in such detail suggests that many in those church groups were affected by the issue, and they would contain many Jewish Christians.
Paul was apparently not concerned about abstinence from unclean foods and observance of the Sabbath, as long as such things were not made ‘necessary for salvation’. As long as it did not interfere with their loyalty to Christ he was willing to accept such differences. What he was concerned about, however, was that the church should not be divided over the issue. And he desired not only harmony, but also a position of mutual respect between the parties concerned. It is this that he now goes about enforcing.
Christian Freedom To Be Tempered By Consideration For Their Brothers And Sisters With Regard To Food Fetishes And Sabbath Observance (14.1-23).
Paul now deals with the question of whether to observe a special day to the LORD, and what should be their attitude towards foods. Jesus had declared that He was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2.28), and that only what came out of a man (sin) could render him unclean, not what entered into him (Mark 7.15). And Mark had taken this to mean that by it He declared all foods clean (Mark 7.19). It would appear that Paul held the same position (14.14), but did not want to make a big issue out of it. He therefore stresses the need for tolerance.
14.1 ‘But him who is weak in faith receive you, (yet) not to disputes about scruples.’
He calls on the Roman Christians to be ready to receive any who were ‘weak in faith’, but not in order to argue with them about unnecessary scruples. What they were to do was seek to strengthen each other’s faith in Christ, not undermine each other’s faith over secondary matters. And he deals with two matters which were clearly urgent, and which are of some interest to Christians today. The first dealing with the question of what Christians should not eat, and the second dealing with the observance of a special day to the LORD.
‘Weak in faith.’ That is, they were not strong enough to make the complete break from Judaism. They had not yet realised that in His coming the Messiah had replaced the Old Testament rituals by being their fulfilment. The phrase does not mean that the faith of such believers in Christ was weak, only that their cautious approach indicated that they were not as strong as Paul in breaking free from the past. Their faith could not cope with the idea of Messiah’s people being free from the traditions of the past. They themselves still felt themselves as bound by those traditions, and they saw them as binding on others. Some would see them as binding on Jewish Christians. Others would see them as binding on all Christians. Thus their faith in the Messiah, however strong it was, was not sufficient to enable them to recognise that He had delivered them from all these things. And they thus often passed judgment on those who failed to fall into line.
14.2 ‘One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats herbs.’
He posits the case of two men, one of whom ‘has the faith to eat all things’, and the other who eats only vegetables and herbs. The latter case might especially be true for those who wanted to ensure that they did not eat meat sacrificed to idols, or, in the case of those influenced by Judaism, meat from animals that had not been slaughtered in the right manner, and was therefore not ‘kosher’. We can compare the position of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1.8 ff. Paul has nothing against those who hold such positions, indeed he respects their viewpoint, even though he does not hold it himself. And elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 8 he gives detailed instructions about when meat sacrificed to idols should not be eaten simply in the light of how others might take it.
That the Jewish regulations as to cleanness and uncleanness of foods were certainly affecting the early church is brought out by Mark’s comment in 7.19b (‘and this He said making all foods clean’); by Acts 11.3; and by the coming among the Galatians of Judaising Christians who sought to enforce food laws on Jewish Christians (Galatians 2.11-15). Jewish Christians living in established Jewish communities (and especially those living in Jerusalem and Judaea) would unquestionably observe both food laws and Sabbath, and Paul had no problems with that. He himself could say, ‘to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews’ (1 Corinthians 9.20). There were probably such communities in Rome. What he had problems with was those who sought to enforce their views on the wider Christian church on the grounds that the latter were now part of Israel (11.16-24), (something with which he agreed without accepting that it had the consequences that they suggested). His stance was that, as with circumcision, Christ’s life and death had rendered such ordinances unnecessary for all, both Jew and Gentile.
The fact that all through Romans we have the contrast between Jew and Gentile drawn out, further serves to confirm that this is mainly a Christian Jew/Christian Gentile controversy, something which is confirmed by 15.8-9, where it is the uniting of Jews and Gentiles as a consequence of the correct approach to the situation that is stressed. It is true that there were Gentile sects which advocated vegetarianism on the grounds, for example, of animals possessing living souls, but there are no grounds for considering that these were affecting the church in any deep way. The enforcing of Judaistic ideas on Christians, however, certainly were. And with regard to abstaining from all meats Josephus specifically informs us that certain Jews in Rome abstained from all meats, fearful lest they be unclean. Among many people Christians were simply seen as a Jewish sect (compare Acts 18.12-16). After all they both looked to the same holy book. And as we have seen the early church saw itself as the continuation of the true Israel.
The only thing in question, therefore, was as to what difference had been made by the coming of the Messiah. And the answer was basically that in Him the Sabbath rest, to which the Sabbath had pointed, had now come (Matthew 11.28-30; Hebrews 4.9). The Sabbath had fulfilled its purpose of pointing to the coming rest. That is why as the Messiah Jesus was now able to do His Messianic work on the Sabbath along with His Father (John 5.16-18). It was why strict observance of the Sabbath was no longer necessary, because He was the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2.27-28). Furthermore, in Him the new higher life to which the laws of clean and unclean had pointed (see our commentary on Leviticus), had arrived The pointers were thus no longer required.
14.3 ‘Let not him who eats set at nought him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats. For God has received him.’
But the one who eats anything quite confidently, without a religious qualm, must not despise in any way the one who eats only vegetables, or abstains from certain types of meat (e.g. pork). And the one who has qualms over what he eats must not judge the one who eats anything. Each must recognise concerning their opponent that God ‘has received him’. Thus all whom God had received must love one another.
‘God has received him.’ Compare 15.7-9 where they are to receive one another because Christ has ‘received them’ And He has done it in order to unite Jews and Gentiles, with Jews (the circumcision) who believed being confirmed in the promises of God, while the Gentiles glorify God for His mercy by benefiting in the Root of Jesse (15.12).
14.4 ‘Who are you who judges the servant of another? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for the Lord has power to make him stand.’
And, indeed, if God has received someone, what right has man to pass judgment on him? For just as a servant is answerable only to his master (lord), so also the Lord’s servants are answerable only to Him. In neither case, therefore, is it justifiable for one servant to judge the other, because both are servants of God, and each stands or falls before Him with regard to his own behaviour. It is to Him that they will give account. Furthermore, Paul assures them, each will stand firm in the truth, regardless of their weaknesses, because ‘the LORD’ has the power to make them stand firm. He is watching over them all.
The passage from now on continually refers to ‘the LORD’ without making clear whether it is ‘God the Father’ or ‘the LORD Jesus Christ’ Who is being spoken of. Certainly in verse 9 it is Jesus Christ Who ‘lords it over’ the dead and the living, thus confirming that ‘the LORD’ in verse 8 must be Jesus Christ. And in verse 14 Paul refers to Jesus as ‘the LORD, Jesus’. This would suggest the probability that it is Jesus Christ Who is being referred to in every case (even in the citation). We have seen previously how easily Paul could refer Scriptures which spoke of ‘the Lord’, to the LORD Jesus Christ (e.g. 10.11-13). And this could be seen as confirmed by the fact that Paul’s favourite word in Romans is ‘God’. That being so we might expect him to use it where he could.
14.5 ‘One man esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.’
The second dispute was over whether it was necessary to observe a special day as being ‘holy’, that is, as being something to be set apart wholly for God. In view of the make up of the church of the Romans this had necessarily mainly to do with the question of the Sabbath which all Jewish Christians and their adherents would have observed according to custom, but which had no significance for out and out Gentiles. That is not, however, to deny that others may also have observed other days as religiously special or as ‘unlucky’. Some may well have brought some such ideas from religions in which they had been involved. But the main bulk of the problem would lie between those who observed the Sabbath, as well as the first day of the week and those who merely observed the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (John 20.19; Acts 20.7; 1 Corinthians 16.2; compare the Didache 14.1).
Initially the earliest church would certainly have observed both in different ways. The Jewish church living in Jerusalem and Judea would certainly not want to be seen as Sabbath breakers and would thus continue to observe the Sabbath. But gradually emphasis elsewhere turned to the first day of the week. This controversy would go on for hundreds of years, demonstrating how central it was, but it was certainly in mind as early as Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD). Consider his words in his letter to the Magnesians (c. 110 AD), ‘If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death --’ (9.1). Consider also the following citation from The Epistle of Barnabas (early 2nd century AD), where he declares. “Further, He says to them, "Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure." You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens” (15.9). Thus both saw the Sabbath as being replaced by the first day of the week.
As long as it was not made a condition for salvation Paul did not mind which view Christians took, and certainly slaves who were Christian Jews would not want to lose their privilege under Roman Law, of observing the Sabbath rest. So Paul stresses that each must be left to make up their own mind. One man esteems one day above another. Another esteems every day. Each man must come to his own decision about such matters on the basis of what he believes in his heart.
14.6 ‘He who regards the day, regards it unto the Lord, and he who eats, eats unto the Lord, for he gives God thanks, and he who does not eat, does not eat unto the Lord, and gives God thanks.’
What matters is not whether men observe a certain day, or whether they eat a certain food. What matters is that they do whatever they do ‘to the LORD’. What matters is that they look on themselves as His servants, and obey Him in accordance with what they believe. That it is Jesus Who is in mind in the mention of ‘the LORD’ is specifically indicated in verse 9. But even if it had not been made clear there it would have had to be assumed on the basis of what has gone before in Romans. Thus he recognises that Christian Jews who observe the Sabbath now observe it ‘to the LORD, Jesus Christ’.
It should be noted that what is Paul’s main concern is not whether Christians observe one day above another, or otherwise, or whether they abstain from certain foods, or otherwise, but whether they give thanks to God for all His provision. Each is responsible to God.
Sabbatarians who insist that all should be Sabbatarians, must necessarily exclude the Sabbath from Paul’s argument here, but there can be no grounds for doing so. Had he meant to exclude the well known Sabbath he would have made it quite plain. He was no fool. Who better than Paul knew that both the Christian Jews and the Christian Gentiles in Rome would assume that he was talking about the Sabbath, unless he said otherwise? And besides, one of the reasons why there would have been much concern about such observance among Christians was that while Jews, including Jewish slaves, had, by order of the state, the right to observe the Sabbath according to the custom of their fathers, Gentile Christians did not. No Gentile Christian slave could demand of his master the right to observe the Sabbath, while Christian Jews could by order of the Emperor. Many a Gentile Christian slave, urged on by Christian Jews, must have agonised over the question of the Sabbath, while aware all the time that his circumstances prevented its observance. Christian writers would have been inexcusable in not dealing with the question. And in fact Paul is doing so here. He is giving assurance that such need not be concerned.
That this was the generally held position comes out in that none of the New Testament letter writers ever urge observance of the Sabbath, something inconceivable if the observance of the Sabbath had been seen as essential, if only because the question would have been such a burning issue for Gentile Christian slaves, who were a sizeable minority in the church. Nor did they anywhere give any instruction to such Gentile Christian slaves on how to deal with the question. The only explanation for that must be that it was not seen as an issue, and that things were simply dealt with on the basis that Paul has described.
But the emphasis here is on not despising those who do feel, for conscience’ sake, that they should observe, among other days, the Sabbath. Such people, however, had no thought that Sabbath observance was necessary for salvation, for where such cases did arise Paul had no hesitation in condemning such teaching (Colossians 2.16).
14.7 ‘For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself.’
The underlying reason for his judgment in this case is now given. It lies in the fact that we do not live and die to ourselves. What Paul is signifying by this is indicated by what follows. We rather live and die to the LORD. This is a reminder that our lives should be wholly lived as in His sight. Our lives are no longer our own, whether in life or death. We are rather responsible in all things to the LORD. That being so guidance and judgment on these issues can be left to Him.
14.8 ‘For whether we live, we live to the Lord, or whether we die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.’
The meaning of the previous verse is here made clear. It is to the LORD that we live, and to the LORD that we die, for now that He is our LORD (10.9) our lives and deaths are in His hands. To live to the LORD must here mean living ‘as under His Lordship and as He determines’. To die to the LORD must in context mean dying ‘as under His Lordship and as the LORD determines’. Thus whether we live or die we are the LORD’s and are therefore solely His responsibility and accountable to Him.
14.9 ‘ For to this end Christ died and lived (again), that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.’
Indeed, this was one of the reasons why Christ died and lived again. It was in order thereby to become the LORD of death, which He conquered (‘I have the keys of Hades and of death’ - Revelation 1.18), and the LORD of Life, which He gives (‘he who has the Son has life’ - 1 John 5.12). In other words He died and lived again in order that He might exercise Lordship over both the dead and the living, as the LORD of death and the LORD of life. Notice the interesting expression ‘lived again’. Paul put it in this way in order to turn attention on Him, not so much as the resurrected LORD, but as the LORD of life.
14.10-11 ‘But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you set at nought your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.”
Thus as both we and our brothers and sisters in Christ are under His Lordship both in death and in life, we are responsible to Him for ourselves but are in no position to judge how another reveals his response to his LORD. It is the LORD’s responsibility to take account of that. It should be noted that this is in respect of how each responds to Jesus as LORD, and of how he demonstrates his loyalty to Him as LORD, in things which are morally neutral. We can certainly ‘pass judgments’ concerning those who refuse to submit to His Lordship, and on actions which the LORD has specifically forbidden, for it is then not we who pass those judgments but the LORD.
Even worse is it to set at nought and despise those who are the LORD’s because we consider them not to have appreciated the freedom that we have in the LORD. By doing so we despise the LORD Himself, for they are His, and it is He Who has allowed them to continue in this way. All such judgments should therefore be left to Him. And this in the light of the fact that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Each and every one of us as Christians will have to give account of ourselves to God. We must therefore be concerned to ensure that we ourselves have lived obediently in accordance with what we believe to be right from our study of the Scriptures, rather than concerning ourselves with how others consider that they should respond to the LORD.
The word for judgment-seat here is bema, which was the word used to describe the seat where a justice would sit in order to pass judgment. It is used of the judgment-seat of Pilate, of Herod’s throne, and of Caesar’s judgment-throne (Matthew 27.19; John 19.13; Acts 12.21; 18.12, 16, 17; 25.6, 10, 17). It is not differentiating it from other descriptions of the judgment seat, such as the ‘great white throne’, which could also have been called a bema.
Paul then supports the idea of the judgment-seat of God from Scripture. “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God.” In these words we have the magnificent picture, taken from scenes when men were gathered together to pay fealty to earthly kings, of the whole world bending the knee to God and to Christ, and owning the Lordship of the living God. There will be no unbelievers then, but for many it will be too late. They are there to be judged, not to be received with favour.
‘As I live, says the LORD’ is possibly taken from Isaiah 49.18 (although occurring in various places). ‘Every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God’ is taken from Isaiah 45.23 LXX (‘to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear by God’) ,and introduced by the words ‘I have sworn by Myself --’. In context the former phrase would appear to be introduced so as to link the citation with Christ as the One ‘Who lived’ and as the ‘LORD of -- the living’ (verse 9). It is on this basis that He can judge. The remaining words are applied to Jesus in Philippians 2.10-11. In 2 Corinthians 5.10 Paul refers to this judgment-seat as ‘the judgment-seat of Christ’. Paul saw no difficulty in interrelating ‘Christ’, ‘LORD’, and ‘God’.
14.12 ‘So then each one of us will give account of himself to God.’
And at that awful judgment seat ‘each one of us will give account of himself to God’. The full transcripts of every moment of our lives will be opened, and we will be called to account. But those who are His will have One Who will confess their name before the Father, and Whose righteousness will be their covering. They do not fear condemnation. Their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 20.15). They will, however, receive both reward and reprimand for what they have done.
14.13 ‘Let us not therefore be judging one another any more, but rather judge you this, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.’
In view of this coming judgment-seat, we should not therefore any more ourselves sit in judgment on each other in regard to the detail of our response to the LORD. Rather our judgment should be that we should not put a stumbling-block or occasion for falling in the way of our brother or sister. We should not be looking for faults, but looking as to how we can help. Our aim at all times should be to assist one another so that we none of us stumble. This will be what is the most glorifying to Christ. Paul then relates this principle to the question in hand.
14.14 ‘I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself, except that to him who accounts anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.’
Paul states his own position quite clearly. He knows in his heart, and is persuaded as a result of his experience with the LORD, Jesus, that there is nothing that is ritually unclean of itself. On the other hand he stresses that where someone does believe in ritual uncleanness, then to him such things as he ‘believes are unclean’, are unclean. In other words they are such that if he ate of them he would be sinning, simply because he would be doing what he saw as wrong.
‘And am persuaded in (by) the Lord Jesus.’ Paul may here have in mind the teaching of Jesus as recorded in Mark 7.14-19. On the other hand he may simply be indicating that in consequence of his closeness to the LORD Jesus he had become convinced of it.
14.15 ‘For if because of meat your brother is grieved, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died.’
Thus if the brother or sister who believed it to be wrong ate such meat they would be ‘grieved’, (we might say, conscience-stricken and filled with a sense of having sinned). And if it was of our persuasion, because they were eating with us, possibly at ‘the love feast’ or in a private gathering, then it would indicate that we were no longer walking in love. For we would be destroying them spiritually. So Paul exhorts them, ‘Do not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died’. For us to do so would be for us to harm Christ Himself, for we would be harming one who was ‘in Christ’, one for whom Christ sacrificed Himself. This, of course, applies not only to participating in unclean food, but to any way in which we might cause Christians to stumble. That those for whom Christ died can suffer God’s judgment while still being ‘saved’ is made clear in 1 Corinthians 11.30-32.
14.16 ‘Do not then let your good be evil spoken of,’
Thus we are not to let our good (our knowledge that nothing in itself is unclean) become something that is evilly spoken of because of the harm it does as a result of our insisting that others believe as we do.
14.17 ‘For the Kingly Rule of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’
However, in the ancient world eating and drinking were seen as very much a part of worship and celebration, and the popularity of much worship resulted from the fact of its religious feasts which were seen as in some way uniting the worshippers with their gods. Thus this may have been very much in mind here. Even the coming Messianic kingdom had been seen in terms of a Messianic feast (e.g. Isaiah 25.6), although never in Scripture as anything other than a joyous celebration. For most people feasting was the main source of enjoyment in the past. That makes this an important statement in a wider sense, for it indicates that the Messiah had come, but not in order to satisfy the outward man and provide him with physical luxuries (the belief of many Jews). Rather it was in order to feed men’s hearts (compare Isaiah 55.1-3) and fulfil what was in their inner beings.
This definition of the Kingly Rule of God as consisting in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit mirrors the earlier part of Romans. There righteousness is underlined in 3.24-5.25; 5.15-21, whilst in 5.1 it is our being accounted as righteous by faith which results in peace. And this in turn results in joy (5.2) and all the consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit (in 5.2-5), while later on practical righteousness is required 6.16, 18-19. These are thus the things on which we should concentrate our attention, trying to ensure that they are enjoyed by all. So ‘righteousness, peace and joy’ are to be seen as the hallmark of the Kingly Rule of God because such a Kingly Rule is concerned with man’s inner spirit, not with outward forms. Whether or not we eat and drink certain things has nothing at all to contribute towards the Kingly Rule of God one way or the other (even if some think that it has). On the other hand arguments about it may destroy the righteousness, peace and joy of the weaker brother or sister. Thus we must walk with great care. A similar contrast comes out in Ephesians 5.18-20, ‘Do not be drunk with wine in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the LORD, giving thanks always for all things ---.’
14.18 ‘For he who in this serves Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men.’
So the one who serves Christ in this way, by having a regard for the tender consciences of others, is well pleasing to God. And he is also approved of by men because he does not persuade people to act against their consciences.
Some see ‘in this’ as referring back to the righteousness, peace and joy which result from being under the Kingly Rule of God, indicating that this is what pleases God. But while that thought may be true, it would be to ignore the context, which continues to emphasise the need for us to be concerned about each other.
14.19 ‘So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may edify one another.’
In consequence of this, says Paul, let us follow after the things which make for peace and harmony, and most importantly, the things by which we can edify each other and build each other up. For these things should be our prime concern. The important lesson for us all to gain from this is the great attention we should pay with regard to one another’s problems, so that all might be built up.
14.20-21 ‘Do not overthrow for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who eats with offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor (anything) in which your brother stumbles.’
In contrast to the building up of one another up by our loving concern for one another, is the possibility of throwing down the work of God (destroying the weak believer), and doing it simply over arguments about meat. For while all things are indeed ritually clean, they are nevertheless unclean to the one who believes them to be so (verse 14), and thus to such a person partaking of them would be evil. It would be to sin against conscience. And as a result they would stumble. As Christians we should therefore be concerned to so live that we do not cause others to stumble.
Alternately by the one who commits evil by eating Paul may have in mind the strong believer, when as a result of it he causes offence (a means of stumbling) to weaker believers. The context may be seen as indicating that this is the more likely meaning. This thus results in the situation whereby the eating becomes an evil for such a person, not because it is wrong in itself, but because it demonstrates his lack of regard for others.
So the guiding principle to the Christian must be that he should not partake of things in the presence of ‘weaker brethren’, which would cause such a brother or sister to stumble. The ‘drinking of wine’, first drawn attention to in verse 17, may well refer to abstention from wine on the basis that its source might be ritually unclean. This would again underline that Jewish concerns are in mind. But it may equally well have in mind that excess of wine drags men down (Ephesians 5.18; compare Proverbs 20.1).
The abstention from wine in the presence of others is a good principle to observe when we think of how, especially in this present generation, so many young people are dragged down by drink. If our example causes others to go astray we will not be able to defend ourselves by claiming ‘it was not our fault’, for we should have known perfectly well what our example could lead to. In days when much water in towns was impure (Ephesus was noted for the vileness of its water which caused many stomach problems), the drinking of mild wines was a necessity (1 Timothy 5.23), and it is questionable how far the forbidding of ‘wine and strong drink’ (Proverbs 20.1; 31.4; Isaiah 5.11; 28.7; note also Leviticus 10.9; Numbers 6.3; Judges 13.4; etc.) was intended to exclude mild wines. But it not a question of nicety of argument. The point at issue is that we should abstain from all which, as a consequence of our example, might lead to the downfall of others.
14.22 ‘The faith which you have, have you to yourself before God. Happy is he does not judge himself in what he approves.’
So Paul completes his argument by urging the strong believers to have their faith which allows them to eat or drink anything in the presence of God as something to be enjoyed in private, and thus not when in wider company when ‘weaker brothers and sisters’ may be present. The assumption appears to be that such weaker brothers and sisters would be present at love feasts in most church groups.
‘Happy is he does not judge himself in what he approves.’ This is a general principle which holds good in all circumstances. Whatever we approve of should not have a shadow cast upon it by it being something that we would judge as wrong if we thought about it. For if it is the latter it will destroy our happiness. Thus the strong believer will not approve of acts which cause harm to other people. Otherwise he will in the end have to pass judgment on himself for his action. In contrast such thoughtfulness towards others will certainly contribute towards his own happiness. Thus in order to be happy it is necessary to have consideration towards others.
14.23 ‘But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because (it is) not of faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin.’
But if someone who wavers over whether it is right to eat meat, on the grounds that it may be unclean, does eat of such meat, he brings himself into condemnation. And the reason why he does so is because his act is not one carried out in joyous faith, but is one carried out fearing that it might be sinful. He is doing what he fears might be wrong. Indeed, anything that we do fearing that it might be wrong is sin, for ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.’ So important is ‘not sinning’ that the Christian says, ‘if I am not sure it is right I must not do it. I must only do what I know to be right’, and this because of his hatred of sin and his fear lest he be defiled by it.
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).
15.1 ‘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.
15.2 ‘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.
15.3 ‘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 Psalm 69.9b 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 - Psalm 69.9a). 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 (14.15).
15.4 ‘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).
15.5-6 ‘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; 15.12; 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.
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.
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 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 (verse 12).
15.7 ‘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 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 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.
15.8 ‘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 11.28b 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).
15.9 ‘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 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 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 Psalm 18.49, where David’s own rulership over the Gentiles as ‘the anointed one’, and that of his seed for ever (Psalm 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.
15.10 ‘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.
15.11 ‘And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.’
This citation is taken from Psalm 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 verse 10.
15.12 ‘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 (11.16-24).
15.13 ‘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 (verse 12), and the confirmation of the promises to ‘the circumcised’ (the Jews - verse 8), Paul now speaks of God as ‘the God of hope’. In verse 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 - verse 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 (14.17), as we look forward with confident hope to the redemption of our bodies (8.23-24) in the day of final transformation.
The work of the Holy Spirit was first introduced in 5.5 as shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts in a passage where hope was prominent (5.2); was underlined in 8.1-26, as He carries out His transforming work in our lives, and makes intercession for us, where again hope was prominent (8.23-24); was probably in mind in 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 14.17, and is now here in 15.13 the inspirer of our hope through His power. In 15.16 He is the Sanctifier of the Gentiles who believe, and in 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 15.30 He is again the inspirer of our love.
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 (verse 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.
15.14 ‘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 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.
15.15-16 ‘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 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 7.24-8.10), 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 (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 (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.
15.17 ‘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 (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 (verse 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.
15.18-19 ‘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 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:
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; 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; 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; 2.43; 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; 6.22; 7.19; 26.8; 29.3; 34.11; Nehemiah 9.10; Psalm 78.43; 105.27; 135.9).
15.20 ‘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.
15.21 ‘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 52.15b 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.
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 (verse 19). The engrafted branches of the olive tree were bringing renewed life to the natural branches.
15.22 ‘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.
15.23 ‘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; 14.19; 18.5-6; 19.9; 21.27 (‘Jews from Asia’). Note also Acts 23.12-13; 24.1, 5, 9; 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.
15.24 ‘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.
15.25 ‘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 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 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.
15.26-27 ‘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; 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 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 (3.2) and the source from which the Messiah sprang (9.5), and of their responsibility to now evangelise them (11.23-24).
15.28 ‘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..
15.29 ‘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.
15.30-31 ‘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’ (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.
15.32 ‘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).
15.33 ‘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 verse 13 refers back to the hope of the Gentiles in verse 12, although also transcending it.
The same title for God (‘the God of peace’) is used in 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 (5.1). By being accounted as righteous by faith they will have peace with the God of peace.
4). Final Greetings (16.1-27).
We now come to the close of the letter. This final chapter divides up into three subsections:
1). Final Greetings And Exhortations (16.1-16).
It is unusual to find such a detailed list of people to be greeted in Paul’s letters. Indeed, in most of his letters no specific person is individually greeted. The exceptions are Colossians (‘the brothers and sisters who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church which is in his house -- and say to Archippus --’) and 2 Timothy (‘Priscilla and Aquila and the house of Onesiphorus’). But here in Romans we have a long list. We may thus enquire as to why this is so. The obvious answer is that he was writing to a church which was not known to him personally, and where he wanted to establish his credentials, the situation being that he therefore greeted all those whom he knew by name, knowing that no one who was not mentioned could be offended, for any others who knew him would consider that any omission was due to Paul’s lack of knowledge of their presence in Rome. This explains why he went against his common practise.
He commences the list by commending Phoebe to the church, and he closes it with a salutation from the servants of Christ. In between he gives the names of those to be ‘saluted’. Note the references to ‘house churches’. There were no church buildings, and Christian gatherings would therefore regularly take place in large houses owned by wealthy Christians. Whilst even the largest houses would not accommodate more than around eighty, a much larger number could gather in the courtyards of the house (compare the situation described regarding the High Priest’s house in John 18.15-27). There were clearly a number of such house churches in Rome (many would be unknown to Paul). The first names in the list are of those well known to Paul (verses 2-8), followed by some who are seemingly less well known.
It should be noted how many of the names listed are of women. Paul clearly recognised the contribution that women made in the activities of the church, but their activities appear mainly to be those of expressing compassion and doing good towards all. Thus we have Phoebe, ‘the helper of many, including Paul’; Prisca, the wife of Aquila, Paul’s ‘fellow-workers’; Mary ‘who bestowed much labour on you’; Junia ‘my fellow-prisoner’; Tryphaena and Tryphosa, ‘who labour in the Lord’; Persis ‘who laboured much in the Lord’; Rufus’ mother, who had been like a mother to Paul; Julia; and Nereus’ sister. This serves to demonstrate that any idea that Paul had little regard for women is totally wrong.
16.1-2 ‘I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchreae, that you receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints, and that you assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you, for she herself also has been a helper of many, and of my own self.’
Phoebe may well have been the one who bore Paul’s letter to Rome. Letters of commendation were a regular feature of the times and enabled travellers to find a welcome in places where they themselves were unknown. She is described as ‘a servant (diakonon) of the church which is in Cenchreae’ (8 miles from Corinth), a service being fulfilled by being ‘a helper of many’. This probably refers to compassionate help to the poor and the sick, and possibly ministry among women, rather than to official ministerial help. ‘And to myself’ indicates that the designations are not necessarily to be seen as official. It is doubtful whether at this time there were official ‘deaconesses’ in the churches, but if not, Phoebe clearly came close to it.
She was to be ‘received in the LORD’, that is, accepted as a genuine fellow-Christian, and ‘worthily of the saints (fellow-Christians)’, that is as befits those who love their brothers and sisters. It was clear that she had some purpose in coming to Rome, a purpose that might need assistance from ‘locals’ and he urges the church to supply that need, in view of the fact that she has regularly been a supplier of assistance to the needy, and even to himself.
16.3-5a ‘Salute Prisca and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life laid down their own necks, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles, and the church which is in their house. ‘
Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila were a wife and husband (Acts 18.2) who had ministered alongside Paul and were fellow-tent-makers (Acts 18.3). They were residents of Rome who had been expelled by the Emperor Claudius when he had issued an Edict expelling all Jews from Rome (Acts 18.2). On his death many Jews would have returned there, as seemingly had Prisca and Aquila. Paul had met them in Corinth, in Greece (Acts 18.1-2), and they had later moved with Paul to Ephesus in Asia Minor (Acts 18.18 ff.), where they had assisted Apollos by guiding him into fuller truth (Acts 18.26). They were clearly widely travelled, possibly for business reasons. They were also seemingly fairly wealthy as is indicated by the fact that their house was large enough for a house church (‘the church which is in their house’). It is interesting that, as here, Prisca (Priscilla) is regularly named first. This suggests that she was of superior status to her husband socially. Bearing the name Prisca she may well have been connected, possibly as a freedwoman, with the aristocratic family of that name in Rome (freedmen and freedwomen tended to take the name of the families they were connected with).
Paul commends them as those who had risked their lives for his sake, although he does not tell us how. This may have been why ‘all the churches of the Gentiles’ gave thanks to them, although he may also have in mind the fruitful ministry that they had had among some of them. It is probable that he kept in close touch with them.
16.5b ‘Salute Epaenetus my beloved, who is the firstfruits of Asia unto Christ.’
Epaenetus is mentioned nowhere else. This salutation may indicate that he was the first known convert who resulted from Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor. If so we can understand why he calls him ‘my beloved’ (compare verses 8-9, 12b). A first convert is always a great joy. The fact that he is mentioned separately, with his own ‘salute’, is against any direct connection with Prisca and Aquila.
16.6 ‘Salute Mary, who bestowed much labour on you.’
Mary was a common name both among Jews and Gentiles. He clearly knew her as being someone who gave herself in the service of others. That he knew what she was doing in Rome suggests some correspondence, either with her or with those who knew her (such as Prisca and Aquila).
16.7 ‘Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me.’
Andronicus was a common Greek name. Junia may have been his wife. Or it may be a man’s name, Junias. Either way they were possibly Paul’s relatives, (whilst ‘my kinsmen’ could simply indicate that they were Jews (9.3) Paul here separates some Jews out from others as ‘my kinsmen’, and would thus seem to be indicating a closer relationship. Perhaps they were Benjamites) and interestingly they had become Christians before he did. They were seemingly converted during the first wave of Apostolic ministry, or even possibly through the teaching of Jesus Himself. They may have been Galileans, and among the 120 mentioned in Acts 1.15.
‘Outstanding, of note’ among the Apostles’ may simply signify that they were well known by the Apostles (possibly translating en as ‘in the eyes of’) and held in high esteem by the Apostles as a whole (for a similar use of en which differentiates the one spoken of from those that he is ‘among’ compare 15.9; Luke 2.44; John 1.14; 1 Corinthians 2.2; Galatians 3.1 (in D; G); etc).
‘The Apostles’, when used by Paul without qualification, usually refers to the twelve, plus James, the Lord’s brother, and himself. Whilst Paul occasionally speaks of messengers to the churches as being ‘apostles’ (those sent) in a general way (2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25; 1 Thessalonians 2.6), he nowhere speaks of Apostles as a group except when he is signifying the twelve plus James, and he, of course, included himself as an Apostle (see, however, 1 Thessalonians 2.6 where the significance of ‘we -- apostles’ is debatable). This verse is thus very flimsy evidence for actually making them ‘apostles’, even with its lesser meaning of ‘official messengers’. There is no reason for thinking of the position in 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25 as being more than temporary. Andronicus and Junia(s) had clearly been in prison for Christ’s sake, possibly, although not necessarily, at the same time as, and along with, Paul.
16.8 ‘Salute Ampliatus my beloved in the Lord.’
Ampliatus was a well attested name in Rome, commonly found in Roman inscriptions. It is attested among the imperial household. ‘My beloved in the Lord’ simply indicates a dear fellow-Christian (compare verses 5, 9, 12), usually when he has nothing further to say about them.
16.9 ‘Salute Urbanus our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.’
Urbanus was a popular Roman name indicating ‘belonging to the urbs (the city)’. Note that he is not called ‘my fellow-worker’. Thus it probably signifies someone prominent in Christ’s service rather than someone who has worked with Paul. The name Stachys is attested in Rome, although it is not common. ‘My beloved’ may suggest he was known to Paul, possibly as one of his converts.
16.10a ‘Salute Apelles the approved in Christ.’
The name Apelles is again found in Roman inscriptions. Horace uses it as a typical Jewish name. ‘The approved in Christ’ (one who has endured testing) may indicate that in some way he had suffered for Christ’s sake. He is the only one described in this way. The word can simply mean ‘generally approved’ (compare 14.18, but there it is ‘of men’).
16.10b ‘Salute those who are of Aristobulus.’
It is possible, although not certain, that the Aristobulus mentioned is the one who was the brother of Herod Agrippa I who lived in Rome as a private citizen and was known to Claudius as a friend. Note in this regard that ‘Herodion’ is mentioned immediately afterwards, possibly as a prominent member of that household especially known to Paul. To be ‘of Aristobulus’ simply indicated that they were connected at some stage with his large household of slaves and freedmen. They would carry the name with them when they moved on, probably into Caesar’s household, after Aristobulus died.
16.11a ‘Salute Herodion my kinsman.’
The name Herodion would appear to connect him in some way with one of the Herods, quite probably as a servant or slave. Whilst ‘my kinsman’ may simply indicate a fellow-Jew, it is noticeable that only some Jews are selected out to receive the title. It may thus signify that he was related to Paul in some way e.g. as a Benjamite. It may be through him that Paul knew of the household of Aristobulus.
16.11b ‘Salute those of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.’
The household of Narcissus was another prominent one in Rome if this refers to the powerful freedman of that name. These are slaves and freedmen from among his household who have become Christians. We do not know how Paul specifically knew of them.
16.12a ‘Salute Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord.’
The similar names may suggest that these ladies were twins. Both names occur in Roman inscriptions. Paul clearly knew of their activities as Christians, probably though their work among the poor and needy.
16.12b ‘Salute Persis the beloved, who laboured much in the Lord.’
The name Persis means ‘Persian woman’ and was found in Roman inscriptions. Note that it is ‘the beloved’ not ‘my beloved’. Paul may well have been wary of calling a woman ‘my beloved’. The contrast with verse 12a suggests that in some way she was outstanding. She ‘laboured much’ and was ‘beloved’.
16.13 ‘Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.’
The name Rufus was common in Rome, but the mention of his mother as one who had at some stage ‘mothered’ Paul immediately singles him out. Paul clearly had fond memories of Rufus’ mother. It may well be that this Rufus was the Rufus mentioned by Mark as one of the sons of the one who bore Jesus’ crosspiece, Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15.21). Mark, who wrote in Rome, would have mentioned him precisely because he was well known. That he was ‘chosen in the LORD’ may simply be the equivalent of ‘beloved’. But it may indicate that he had an especially successful ministry.
16.14 ‘Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.’
Nothing direct is known of any of these. Hermes was very common name as a slave name. Hermes was the god of good luck. Patrobas may well have been connected with the ‘household’ of Patrobius, a wealthy freedman of Nero. Hermas was also a very common name. Paul salutes these Christians along with their church group.
16.15 Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
Philologus and Julia were probably husband and wife. Julia’s name suggests a connection with Caesar’s household, as a slave or freedwoman. The name Philologus is also found connected with Caesar’s household. Nereus and his sister may have been their children. The name Nereus is also connected with Caesar’s household. He may never have received information about the sister’s name, but only have known that they had had a baby girl. They too had a church meeting in their house, which suggests some level of wealth, and Paul greets its members. Olympas was seemingly the only one of the members known to him. He was possibly a Christian household servant.
16.16a ‘Salute one another with a holy kiss.’
The kiss, probably usually on the cheek, was a well known form of Christian greeting. Compare 1 Corinthians 16.20; 2 Corinthians 13.12; I Thessalonians 5.26; 1 Peter 5.14. When Judas kissed Jesus it was presumably as a recognised form of greeting among the Apostles. Paul was seemingly encouraging this and perhaps intended it to be carried out at this point during the reading aloud of his letter by one of the leadership.
16.16b ‘All the churches of Christ salute you.’
If the church members had at this point given the kiss of love to one another this salutation would come over with great effectiveness. It was in essence the kiss of love from ‘all the churches of Christ’, that is from all the churches with whom Paul had relations. Coming in a long list of salutes it does not, of course, indicate Rome’s superiority. ‘Salute’ simply indicates ‘greet’. Rather it indicates the warmth of Christian fellowship and a desire to bring the church at Rome within the sphere of all the other churches for which he can speak, as Paul is preparing to visit them.
Warning Against False Teachers And The Final Triumph Of Our LORD Jesus Christ (16.17-20).
That this warning comes at the end of the letter rather than in the main part suggests that such false teachers were not seen by him as a major problem in the church at Rome. Indeed, as we have seen, he knew that the church in Rome had within their leadership people with whom he was well acquainted, and in whom he had great confidence. But he was well aware that no church was free from such false teachers, and that they therefore needed to be on their guard against them. The comment about Satan being shortly bruised under their feet especially suggests that there were some there who were causing trouble (possibly visiting wandering preachers), while not being a major threat.
The false teachers in question may well have been Judaistic ‘Christians’ who were overemphasising the salvation aspect of circumcision, obedience to the Law and the necessity of observing the Sabbath, and holy days and abstaining from ‘meats’ (compare Colossians 2.16; 2 Corinthians 11.3-22). Wherever there were a large number of Jewish Christians such would always arise, for at this time large numbers of Jewish Christians still religiously followed the practises of circumcision on the eighth day, abstaining from unclean foods, and observance of Jewish festivals and the Sabbath (as indeed many do today). It was only a short (but crucial) step from this to making them necessary for salvation. And it might even be that as he was concluding his letter he had received the news that certain Judaistic ‘Christian’ teachers who had continually plagued him, had now arrived in Rome, intending to cause similar problems to those which had occurred in Galatia (2.12-13; 6.12-13), Philippi (3.2-3) and elsewhere.
16.17 ‘Now I plead with you, brothers and sisters, mark those who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which you learned: and turn away from them.’
The false teachers against whom he is warning were teaching ‘contrary to the doctrine which you learned’. There is no suggestion that they were antinomianists (those who taught the licence to indulge in the sins of the flesh). Indeed they were probably calling Paul an antinomian (3.8; 6.1). They were rather those who rejected the idea of salvation through faith alone. They demanded circumcision for all who would be Messianists (2.28-29; Galatians 6.12-13; Philippians 3.2-3), abstinence from unclean meats, and the observance of holy days and sabbaths (Colossians 2.16), all as necessary for salvation. As a consequence they caused division in the churches where they were found, and put stumblingblocks in the way of weak Christians. The church should therefore turn away from them. They were to be ostracised.
16.18 ‘For they who are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly, and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.’
Characteristic of such teachers was that they sought financial gain from their teaching enabling them to live richly (Titus 1.10-11; 1 Corinthians 6.13; Philippians 3.19; 1 Timothy 6.5; 2 Peter 2.3; Jude 1.12), and were smooth and glib tongued (1 Corinthians 2.1; 2 Corinthians 10.10; Colossians 2.4). They were not really serving ‘our LORD Jesus’, but their own bellies (Philippians 3.2-3, 17-19). Others see the idea of ‘their own belly’ as having in mind asceticism and abstinence, allowing themselves to be ruled by what they should eat and drink (14.17).
16.19 ‘For your obedience is come abroad to all men. I rejoice therefore over you, but I would have you wise to what is good, and simple to what is evil.’
In contrast to the teachers who ‘serve not our Lord Jesus Christ’ are the Roman Christians whose ‘obedience’ is spoken of everywhere. This obedience is ‘the obedience to faith among all nations’ (1.5). It indicates that he does not see the church in Rome as having as yet been much affected by such teaching, but is warning them of possible dangers. Thus they are to be wise with regard to what is good, including of course his own letter, but with regard to evil teaching they are to be ‘simple’ or ‘innocent’. That is, they are to let it pass over them without it affecting them.
16.20a ‘And the God of peace will bruise Satan under your feet shortly.’
He is confident that ‘the God of peace’, Who hates division among His people and seeks peace, will in this regard shortly bruise Satan under their feet. In other words he is confident that with God’s help they will reject the teaching of these false teachers who are seemingly coming among them, as God through them bruises Satan’s head. The reference to ‘bruising Satan under their feet’ probably has in mind Genesis 3.15 where God said of the Snake, ‘he will bruise your head, but you will bruise his heel’. That Paul thought in these terms about false teachers comes out in 2 Corinthians 11.3, 13-14, where he spoke of the Snake beguiling Eve through his subtlety. So he is confident that the menace will be fully dealt with in a short period of time. No doubt he sees his own letter as assisting in this, as he has dealt with such matters in the body of the letter.
But as previously in 15.13, 33 the title transcends what has gone before. Thus others are also correct in seeing the reference as referring to the final bruising of Satan at the second coming of Christ, when Satan will be finally dealt with. If it had stood by itself it could well have meant only this. But in view of the previous context it is difficult to avoid connecting it here with the divisions caused by false teachers that he has just had in mind (verse 17), indicating his confidence that the Christians in Rome will not allow them to divide them, especially as they heed his teaching in 14.1-15.7. And this would gain support from the fact that the ‘God of peace’ has already been referred to in a context where division between Jew and Gentile was in mind (15.30-33). But there is no reason for doubting that Paul may have had both in mind, for he believed firmly in the imminence of the second coming and in God’s final triumph, and may well have viewed their triumph over Satan in rejecting the false teachers as connected with the imminence of that event. It was all a part of the final bruising.
16.20b ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’
This benediction looks back to 1.7; 3.24; 5.2; etc. as He seeks that the unmerited favour of our LORD Jesus Christ might be with them as He acts on their behalf. This indeed is why Satan will be bruised under their feet. It is because ‘the LORD’ is with them, the One Who bound Satan and defeated his minions at the cross and will finally bruise his head (Matthew 12.28-29; Colossians 2.15; Revelation 20.2, 10; compare Luke 10.18; 22.3, 31).
Greetings From His Fellow-Workers (16.21-24).
Paul now sends greeting from his fellow-workers. He may well have had in mind the need to establish the authority of those referred to in the service of the Gospel. They were, as it were, his lieutenants.
16.21 ‘Timothy my fellow-worker salutes you; and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.’
Timothy is described as Paul’s fellow-worker. For a time he had been Paul’s constant companion, and his name was regularly included in Paul’s opening address in his letters. He would later have an important role as one of Paul’s deputies. But he was never called an Apostle, and when Paul stated that he himself was an Apostle he made the distinction quite clear, referring to ‘Timothy our brother’ (2 Corinthians; Colossians; see also 1 & 2 Thessalonians; Philippians; Philemon). Apostleship required being a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1.21-26).
Brief Note On Timothy.
Timothy was born of a mixed marriage. His mother was a Jewess and taught him the Old Testament Scriptures, and his father was a Greek (Acts 16.1; 2 Timothy 1.5). He was a native of Lystra (in Asia Minor), and was highly thought of both there and in Iconium (Acts 16.1-2). It is probable that he was a convert of Paul’s first missionary journey and witnessed some of the tribulations (and triumphs) that Paul experienced (2 Timothy 3.10-11). His mother also became a Christian later.
He had close contact with Paul in his early days as a Christian, and when Paul wanted a replacement for Mark it is probable that he chose Timothy for that purpose (Acts 15.36 following), a choice confirmed by prophetic utterance (1 Timothy 1.18; 4.14) and accompanied by the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4.14; 2 Timothy 1.6), which was a symbol of his identification with the work, and of the gift given to him by God giving him enablement in that ministry (2 Timothy 1.6). Whatever the situation he certainly accompanied Paul on his next missionary journey.
Although brought up by a Jewish mother he had not been circumcised, something which Paul saw fit to remedy, presumably because of his Jewish background, so as to make him more acceptable to Jews (he would later refuse to have the non-Jew Titus circumcised when the matter became an issue as a test of orthodoxy).
He accompanied Paul continually and was used by Paul as an emissary to various churches, although clearly, at least initially, somewhat timid, being with Paul during part of his imprisonment and acting again as his emissary (2 Corinthians 1.19; 1 Corinthians 4.17; 16.10,11; Romans 16.21; Acts 20.4-5).
When Paul was released from prison and continued his ministry in the East (assuming that this was so), he apparently left Timothy at Ephesus to supervise the churches (1 Timothy 1.3), commissioning him to deal with false teachers, to supervise public worship and to appoint church officials. When Paul was unable to rejoin him, Paul sent him the pastoral epistles to direct him in these tasks, and possibly in order to strengthen his authority. Timothy himself would later be imprisoned for his faith (Hebrews 13.23).
End of note.
‘And Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.’ Lucius has been identified by some with Lucius of Cyrene, mentioned in Acts 13.1; others have identified him with Luke the evangelist who wrote the Gospel. The latter identification might be seen as supported by the fact that the author of the ‘we’ sections was with Paul at the time (Acts 20.5 ff.), while no other Lucius is mentioned as being with Paul at the time (Acts 20.4). The author Loukas would not, of course, have mentioned himself directly. Lucius was a recognised variant of Loukas. Luke was certainly be present during his imprisonment(s) in Rome (Colossians 4.14; Philemon 1.24; 2 Timothy 4.11). If it was Luke then a comma must separate Lucius from the following two names which were those of Christian Jews (‘my kinsmen’). But in the nature of the case no certainty can be reached.
Jason may well be the Jason who was host to Paul on his first visit to Thessalonica (Acts 17.6, 7, 9), Sosipater may well be the ‘Sopater of Berea’ who was one of the delegates who would take ‘the collection’ to Jerusalem (Acts 20.4).
16.22 ‘I Tertius, who write the letter, salute you in the Lord.’
Tertius was here seen as acting as Paul’s amanuensis, and adds his own greeting to the letter. It is probable, in view of the Pauline style of the letter, that in this case his duties were restricted to writing word by word in accord with Paul’s dictation, although often an amanuensis could have a much greater impact on the style of a letter.
16.23a ‘Gaius my host, and of the whole church, salutes you.’
This Gaius is probably the Gaius of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1.14). He was clearly giving hospitality to Paul, and his description as ‘host of the whole church’ may suggest that he had prime responsibility among Christians in Corinth for acting as host to visitors. (He would have had to have had a huge house indeed in order to be able to act as host to the whole church).
16.23b-24 ‘Erastus the treasurer of the city salutes you, and Quartus the brother.’
Erastus is probably cited as the most influential Christian in Corinth at the time. He was the city treasurer at Corinth. A Latin inscription has been discovered which states ‘Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense in appreciation of his appointment as aedile’. The aedile was appointed for one year and was responsible for the city streets and buildings, and for certain finances. It must be seen as quite likely that a city treasurer (oikonomos) would be appointed to such a post. That Paul was associated with the city treasurer would add greatly to his standing in some Roman eyes. Erastus was a common name, so this is probably not the Erastus mentioned in Acts 19.21-22. Quartus is otherwise unknown. That he is the only one in the list of greetings to be called ‘the brother’ may suggest that he was in fact Erastus’ genuine brother, or it may simply indicate that he was a Christian.
16.25-26 ‘Now to him who is able (tow dunamenow - 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 has been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known to all the nations unto obedience of faith,’
The letter concludes with this final doxology which ties in closely with the opening chapter of Romans. For ‘to Him that is of power’ compare ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (1.16); for ‘by the Scriptures of the Prophets’ compare ‘which he had promised previously in the Holy Scriptures’ (1.2). For ‘made known to all the nations unto obedience of faith’ compare ‘for obedience to the faith among all the nations’ (1.5). There appears to be a deliberate connection with the opening themes.
And the point that Paul is emphasising is that God is able to establish us ‘in accordance with my Gospel’ (compare 2.16) and ‘the teaching of Jesus Christ’. The thought of being ‘established’ was found in 1.11 where it was to be through Paul imparting to them some spiritual gift. Here that spiritual gift is seen to be in the form of ‘my Gospel’. By ‘my Gospel’ he of course means the Gospel that he holds to and has presented, which he elsewhere describes as ‘the Gospel of God’ (1.1), ‘the Gospel of His Son’ (1.9), ‘the Gospel’ (1.16). He is not claiming that it is unique to himself. And he immediately equates it with ‘the teaching of Jesus Christ’, for it was to Him that he looked as the source for what he taught. ‘The teaching of Jesus Christ’ could signify that his Gospel is in accordance with what Jesus Christ taught, and he makes clear in his letters that that was so. But more probably here the ‘teaching of Jesus Christ’ signifies ‘the teaching concerning Jesus Christ’, which is, however, clearly based on His teaching.
He then explains the even earlier source of the Gospel. It is, ‘according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known to all the nations unto obedience of faith.’
The Gospel is revealing ‘the mystery which has been kept in silence through times eternal, but is now manifested’. A ‘mystery is something hidden which is now revealed’. The fact that it has been ‘kept in silence through times eternal’ does not mean that there had been no indication of it previously, only that it had not been openly spoken of and clearly made known. It had rather been presented in veiled form until the time came for it to be fully manifested. The Old Testament Scriptures gave many indications of it, but these indications were expressed in veiled terms the meaning of which only became apparent when their fulfilment was revealed. But now in the Gospel those indications have been turned into clear revelation. The truth that they expressed has now been clearly revealed.
That is why the ‘Scriptures of the Prophets’ can now be called on as witnesses to and explanations of that ‘mystery’ (1.2; 3.21), in order through them to make known to all nations the truth now revealed, so that they might respond in the obedience which springs from faith. It will be noted in this regard that Paul constantly calls on the Scriptures to back his arguments (e.g. in 3.10-18; 4.1-25; 9.25-29. 33; 10.14-21; 11.26-27). And this time of manifestation was not of man’s devising but was the consequence of the command of the eternal God, Who had existed throughout the times eternal when the Gospel had remained hidden. It was the eternal God Himself Who chose the time of revelation (compare Galatians 4.1).
‘To make known to all nations.’ This is what Paul has constantly argued throughout Romans, that the Good News of Christ is for all nations (e.g. 1.14, 16; 4.16-18; 9.25-26; 10.18, 20).
Thus the Gospel is the mystery now revealed, it is based on the Scriptures of the Prophets, and its present manifestation is the consequence of God’s command Who had now determined that that truth should be made known to all nations.
16.27 ‘To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.’
‘To the only wise God -- to whom be glory for ever and ever’. Paul finishes with praise to the One Who is the only God, the One Who is supremely wise (compare 11.32-34), as he considers the wonder of His way of salvation. And this wisdom of God has especially been revealed in His way of salvation offered through Jesus Christ. As he says in 1 Corinthians 1.30, ‘Christ is made to us wisdom from God, even righteousness, and sanctification and redemption’. For ‘the only God’ we can compare 1 Timothy 1.17 where we read, ‘and now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ Compare also Jude 1.18. And that that praise is offered ‘through Jesus Christ’, through Whom alone we can approach God, is emphasised here and is significant. For it is a reminder that central to God’s way of salvation is Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection, and that there is no other through whom we can approach God.
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