Chapter Fifteen

    One unfortunate, even though infrequent, occurrences in the division of the Scriptures into chapters and verses is the break of a thought that obviously carries forward into the next verse or chapter. This is what has happened between chapters fourteen and fifteen. The reason this is unfortunate is because the student who is not careful is very likely to conclude his pursuit of the truth with the end of a chapter rather than continue his search through the entire discourse the writer has actually given on the subject.

Verses 1- 4

1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. 3 For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. 4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

    Chapter fourteen dealt with the relationship of the strong toward the weak, and the weak toward the strong. Paul has just shown how the weak are to be received and nurtured, receiving care with tenderness and concern lest in their weakness they stumble. The strong are to avoid being stumbling blocks for the weak, even to the point of surrendering liberties if need be in order to protect and preserve the sprouting faith of a weaker brother. Verse one of this chapter is an overall conclusion that is inescapable in view of the directives of chapter fourteen. The strong are to bear the infirmities of the weak. One could hardly expect it to be the other way around. The better qualified are to assist the less qualified in order to obtain, retain, maintain and sustain the brotherhood God desires. Neither is to be a self-pleaser, but a pleaser of the other. This attitude has a great deal to do with successfully concluding the problems that arise between the weak and the strong. Those who are determined to have their own way, even at the expense of others, will not contribute to the solution of differences, but will only aggravate them. Again, we would repeat what has been often repeated in the comments of chapter fourteen, that this has to do with matters of indifference and human opinion, not to "thus saith the Lord," and the matters of truth versus error, right against wrong.
    Paul is encouraging brethren to take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate Christian love (seeking the other's highest good). We would better edify and strengthen one another than fight one another over insignificant problems. "Doubtful disputations" have been the cause of many church problems among Christians, and it is wrong to allow them to become divisive factors.
    Seeking the spiritual welfare of our neighbor, especially our neighbor in the Lord, and bearing his infirmity rather than creating strife, is precisely the attitude and action that was characteristic of the Lord whom we profess to imitate. Christ did not come to please Himself. He came to please the Father and be of benefit to mankind. This required of Him tremendous self-sacrifice, even to the point of bearing the reproaches that rightfully belonged upon the spiritual shoulders of those who had committed deeds of reproach. Men reproached God. Christ came to intercede and mediate on man's behalf. Paul makes a direct quotation of the latter part of Psalm 69:9, and makes application of the passage to what Christ did. It is the same sense as the prophecy of Isaiah in the fifty-third chapter regarding Christ and His suffering for man's benefit. The sins of man against God fell on Christ. (Take note once again of the predictive nature of the Old Testament and the fulfillment in the New).
    Having made reference to an old writing, a writing of the Old Testament, a writing made "aforetime," Paul inserts the thought how the things of the Old Testament, the "aforetime" writings, are of benefit still to those who are no longer subject to them but who live under the new and better covenant. Men sometimes make the grave mistake of concluding the Old Testament is really not worthy of much study because we shall be judged by the new covenant. There can be no doubt that the new covenant of Jesus Christ is that to which we are amenable, and we will be judged according to what the Lord expects under that system of faith rather than the system God used in governing men before Christ and His religion. Nonetheless, the value of the old to those living subject to the new cannot be measured because of its greatness. We can and will profit from these writings. They help us to learn certain principles of God's dealing with man. There are principles that transgress the lines of the covenants or dispensations even while the specifics of those covenants apply only to those certain ones who lived subject to them. We shall not just here attempt to identify all the benefits to be derived from the older writings, such as history, principles of faith, obedience, reverence, prophecy, example, love, and the unfolding of God's system of salvation. Suffice it to say that Paul, having quoted from the old, asserts there is great value and spiritual profit even to those who serve God under the gospel system.
    The things "written aforetime" are part of the God-breathed Scripture. Scripture provides us with hope. The hope man has is revealed in Scripture. Man learns to have patience, to be stedfast, and finds comfort from what is written in Scripture. These blessings help mankind through this pilgrimage on earth. Without Scriptural revelation where would man find his hope? It is certainly not to be found in the ways devised by men or derived by man's own calculations and genius. This Paul makes so plain in Romans one and also First Corinthians one. By quoting Scripture and making reference to its value, those who will give heed to what Paul declares cannot escape possessing a great respect for Scripture, old and new. Actually, only when a man has reverence and respect for Scripture, the Word of God, will the message of Scripture have very much significance to him or have much of an impact on his life.

Verses 5- 7

5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

    Paul had just stated that patience (stedfastness) contributes to our hope, and the comfort derived from Scripture also gives us hope. He now acknowledges that in reality God is the source of patience, comfort, and hope. In this way Paul certainly shows that Scripture is from God. What is attributed to Scripture is followed by attributing the same thing to God. It is not difficult to see how God operates on mankind to the accomplishment of man's hope through the use of Scripture.
    God desires that his people be "likeminded," a rather inclusive way of saying that God wants unity and oneness among His people. In this way division is noted as being contrary to what God wants. The matters discussed in chapter fourteen were matters that often create division and disunity among brethren. God does not want that. Through these very chapters God is giving us the remedy for that division. He wants us to be one of "one mind," that is, think alike, consider things in unity, look at the evidence and come to the same conclusions. God wants His people to be, not only of like mind (oneness in thought), but one in action, as is evidenced in the phrase, "one mouth." God's people should talk alike. It is absolutely true that by one's speech one can be identified as being a child of God. God's children will "speak as the oracles of God" (First Peter 4:11), and not after the language of Ashdod, a mixed up, confused speech that mingles truth and error. Brethren ought not imitate the unsaved in the way they attempt to express God's truth. They ought to use words and phrases of God's book to convey their messages from the mind of God.
    Let there be no mistake that only in this united condition can God be truly glorified by His people. Division and strife only brings reproach upon God as well as those who say they love and serve God.
    When there exists the oneness the Lord wants, it is only logical that brethren will receive one another. Christ received the sinners as they became His disciples by casting away that which was foreign to the will of the Lord. Unity, then, must be based upon each one adopting the will of God. Notice, we have been received of Christ for a purpose, and that purpose is to bring glory to God. Surely, this ought be motivation enough for us to seek unity, bear the infirmities of the weak, not become stumbling blocks, seek the other's highest good, despise not one another, nor allow matters of indifference and insignificance disrupt and destroy the cause of Christ in our lives. It is motive enough to bend ourselves to the task of building upon the foundation of truth.

Verses 8- 12

8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. 12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.

    At this point Paul shifts somewhat from the theme of attitudes and actions that has occupied his epistle from the beginning of chapter fourteen, and turns his attention to the theme of the role of Christ with respect to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. Paul is simply returning to an overriding theme of the book of Romans because chapters one through eleven hammered away at how God through Christ sought the salvation of Gentiles as well as Jews, how both needed salvation, and how provision for both has been made through the system of obedient faith that God by His grace and mercy has given through His Son.
    Christ served as "minister" (here the term "minister" means one of authority as well as one who serves) to the Jew who is also called "circumcision" (as the Jews were called in chapters two and four). In rendering His service He was expediting the truth of God. The promises made as far back as Abraham were confirmed or verified by being fulfilled. This statement certainly emphasizes that Christ is the fulfillment and accomplishment of all that God had been saying and promising down through the ages concerning a redeeming Savior for man.
    Not only was the ministry of Christ on behalf of the Jew, but also the Gentile. The Gentiles could know the mercy of God as well as the Jews. Paul shows again that it was always God's intent to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This has been forcefully presented in previous chapters. Paul quotes from several inspired Jewish writings, and they ought to be considered carefully by the student.
    The quotation in verse nine is from Psalm 18:49. The quotation in verse ten is from Deuteronomy 32:43. Verse eleven comes from Psalm 117:1. Isaiah 11:1 and 10 is the source of verse twelve. With this vast array of writings from the old covenant prophets of God, from even among the Jews themselves, it is well established that Christ is and was always intended to be the Savior of all mankind. (Jesse was David's father, an ancestor of Jesus who was born of Mary.)

Verses 13, 14

13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. 14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

    The two verses now under consideration express a pious wish, possibly it is correct to describe them as a prayer, or at least the substance of a prayer. Also, it is an expression of the personal confidence Paul had in the Roman brethren.
    It was Paul's desire that God, the very God that is the source of their hope, would fill them with joy and peace that comes in believing. How does God fill one with joy and peace? This is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just what does this involve? Does God in some miraculous, direct, overpowering way give the believer joy and peace, or does God through the Holy Spirit work through the means of the message that provokes faith and provides hope? The entire tone of Biblical revelation on this point is that the power of the Holy Spirit by which man can enjoy the joy and peace that accomplishes his hope is brought to man through God's Word. As a man hears and believes, continues in that Word, the power of the Holy Spirit brings to pass the fullness of joy and peace. It is Paul's prayer, therefore, that the Word as it is delivered to man by and through the Holy Spirit will have free course in their lives, and be allowed to produce the joy and peace which belongs to the believers.
    Paul also states that he was persuaded, indeed convinced, that their spiritual quality of goodness and knowledge was at a very mature and adequate level. They were quite capable with the goodness and knowledge characteristic of them to admonish one another effectively and sufficiently. The terms, "fill, abound, full, filled," carry the idea of maturity and completeness, sufficiency and thoroughness in these qualities that were manifest in the lives of those Romans brethren. Such is the goal of all Christians in every generation.

Verses 15 - 19

15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, 16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. 17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. 18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, 19 Through the mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

    However mature and adequately supplied they might be or that Paul considered them to be, it is obvious from these words that there was yet, (1) room for growth on the part of the Roman brethren, and (2) the possibility that they could retreat from their position of strength that had warranted the commendation Paul gave them. Because of this two-fold threat or condition, Paul was bold, forthright, and uncompromising in reminding them of various matters. This was his task. This was the job given him by the Lord, to which reference had been made in earlier passages (1:5; 11:13; 12:3) as the "grace given to me of God." His work as an apostle demanded that he write to them as he was doing. He was a minister with authority of Jesus Christ. He was appointed to the task of preaching the gospel to Gentiles in order that the Gentiles might be acceptable before God, that they might be "sanctified," meaning cleansed, set apart, made holy. This sanctification was the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, we raise the question how the Holy Spirit sanctifies? In view of this statement of Paul that the Gentiles are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, plus the statement of Jesus how sanctification is accomplished by the Word (John 17:17), it becomes undeniable that the sanctification of the Holy Spirit is accomplished by and through the Word. As one hears that Word, believes it, obeys it, he is operated upon by the Holy Spirit.
    As for things that pertain to God, which would certainly include fellowship with Deity, forgiveness of sins, service to God, etc., Paul's glory was through Jesus Christ. What a contrast to that upon which the Jews had depended through the years! What a contrast to that upon which Paul himself had once depended! Once a Jew of no little zeal and power himself, he cast all that aside so he might glorify God another way. Although he once approached or attempted to approach God through that system that had been removed, no longer did he rely upon that system (the law of Moses). He no longer spoke of the law of Moses as the way. Now he relied solely on his relationship in Christ in all matters that pertain to God. The mighty signs and wonders, the power of the Spirit, all that had been used to make the Gentiles obedient, every word and deed, it was now only what was wrought through Christ that was in his mind and under consideration. Other matters, regardless of how important they once had been to him, were not even worthy of mention.
    By the power that came through Christ, Paul had been able to preach the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum, the latter a place located northwest of Macedonia, far removed from Jerusalem. This geographical designation covers the wide span of operation of Paul's preaching activities through his extensive journeys. His influence was even wider through the ones he had converted because they in turn went forward preaching the Word. Paul covered more territory with the gospel than any other of whom we have record in the New Testament.

Verses 20 - 24

20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: 21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand. 22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. 23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; 24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.

    However unique and widespread was his labor, a dominant characteristic of Paul's preaching was that it often took place in those localities where the gospel had never been heard prior to his preaching. He did not build on what another had started. He cultivated virgin soil and sowed the seed. He once characterized his labors in the letter to the Corinthians (First Corinthians 3:6) as planting, the work of Apollos as watering, and God giving the increase. He did not refuse to build on another man's work or the foundation another man had laid because he considered himself superior and the other man inferior. Nor did he work in this fashion because he considered himself above watering. He did not feel building on another's foundation was insignificant and unnecessary. He was glad that others had built on the foundation he laid. But it was because of his deeply imbedded desire that the gospel cover the world that he went to territories where the truth had never been heard before. One translation says this was his "aim."
    In Isaiah, chapter fifty-two, the chapter where the beauty of the feet of them that bring good tidings is mentioned, a reference to which Paul had referred back in chapter ten of Romans, there is also a verse that Paul quotes in verse twenty-one. This quotation notes how those who had never before heard would hear. It refers to those who had no opportunity previously to know and understand, but would be given that opportunity. This opportunity was given through such work as was done by Paul taking the gospel to places where it had never before been preached.
    This labor had prevented him from doing some things he otherwise might have done and even wanted to do, such as visiting the brethren in Rome. But now the situation was such that it appeared that Paul would at long last be able to fulfill his ambition of seeing the brethren in Rome.
    The possibility of seeing the Roman brethren would become a reality as he attempted to take the gospel to yet another place where he had not yet gone with it. He was going to Spain. Geographically, Spain was far to the west of Rome and it would be logical and expedient on his way to Spain to make the visit at Rome. He not only counted on seeing them, but he was depending on them to help him make his journey to Spain after he had a full and complete visit with them.
    You may recall in chapter one, verses ten and eleven, Paul had already expressed his intent and desire to go to Rome. As the book draws toward its end, this desire is expressed once again. Does not this also show his love for brethren?

Verses 25-28

25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. 26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. 27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. 28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.

    Before Paul could start on his way to Spain and stop at Rome there was yet another mission he wished to fill. He was to take that which had been given by Gentile brethren for the physical relief of Jewish brethren in Judah. He would take it to Jerusalem and from there distribution would be made. The brethren in Macedonia and Achaia had made certain contributions on behalf of the poor saints in Jerusalem and Paul was to deliver it. Several times in other passages of the New Testament is mention made of such aid and relief being collected and sent (Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; First Corinthians 16:1-3; Second Corinthians 8,9). The gifts had been made because it pleased the Gentile brethren to be able to assist their Jewish brethren. The Gentile brethren felt indebted to the Jewish brethren because it was by and through the Jewish brethren that the gospel had come to them. The Gentile brethren realized how blessed they were because the Jewish brethren had wanted the gospel spread. So they were glad, not for the misfortune and poverty of Jewish brethren, but for the opportunity to return something of the love and goodwill which had brought the truth to them at the first. The Gentiles had been privileged to become partakers of spiritual things of the true God. The least they could do was to provide carnal, temporal, and earthly provisions and necessities to their brethren.
    When Paul finished this task of delivering the contributions, then his attention would be turned again toward his journey to Rome and Spain. At this point, little did he realize that he would see Rome under the conditions he did. It is possible that he eventually went to Spain, but the sacred and inspired record does not reveal as much. There is only a faint indication that he ever had opportunity to do so. Tradition says he made the journey. But he would see Rome, but in a much different set of conditions than he visualized when he wrote this letter. He would go there as a prisoner of the Roman government, having made an appeal to be judged before Caesar, a right that he had as a Roman citizen. This appeal was made necessary to preserve his life from the Jews in Judea who tried to seize control over him. Read Acts twenty-five through twenty-nine in this connection.

Verse 29

29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

    He states with confidence that he was sure when he did come he would "come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ." I understand this to be an expression that means he was among those who were recipients of the marvelous blessings God gives to man through Christ. Also these words indicate that when he would come he would have the blessings of the Roman brethren as well because he was their brother in Christ.

Verses 30 - 32

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; 31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; 32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.

    In this passage Paul makes a solemn request of his Roman brethren. The word, "beseech," conveys the concept of intently asking for something. He was asking, for the sake of Christ, and because of the love they had learned through the Spirit, that they would offer prayers on his behalf. Their prayers, naturally, would be directed to the Father.
    What was it Paul wished for them to pray regarding him? There are four specific matters that he mentions. (1) He asked that they pray that he might be delivered from the unbelievers he would encounter when he went to Jerusalem in Judea. The fact that he expressed this request reveals that there was already some concern and uneasiness on his part that everything might not go just exactly as he would want it. He knew he had encountered heavy opposition from the Jews of that area on other occasions. In fact, wherever he had taken the gospel he met Jewish hostility. Now he was going to the very heart of the Jewish faith (Jerusalem), and no matter that it was from that very city that the Word of the kingdom went out, it was still the religious and political center of all Jewish thought. Although he knew the possibility that he would suffer many things there, he still hoped he would not be hindered from carrying out his future plans. (2) He wanted them to pray that his mission would be successful in the giving of aid to the poor. He wanted to render this service on behalf of the Gentile brethren from whom he had received these funds. He sincerely hoped the brethren in Jerusalem would receive them in the spirit of love and fellowship in which they were given and were being delivered. It is always possible that those you wish to help may misunderstand your motives and even resent your help. Paul did not want to be misunderstood or have anything to upset the good ties of brotherly love and fellowship that would be made and strengthened by this action. (3) He asked that they pray that he might see them as he planned. So many potential hazards would have to be overcome before the fulfillment of that ambition. (4) He wanted them to pray for the spiritual success of his planned visit to Rome. He knew that their association with each other would be of benefit to both of them. He had certain goals in mind as he had expressed in chapter one. Both Paul and the Roman Christians stood to be refreshed, encouraged, benefited, and edified by the forthcoming and anticipated visit.

Verse 33

33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

    Here is a characteristic closing remark from this notable apostle. Although the book is not yet completed, and a few things remain to be said by way of completion and greeting, it seems to me that the inclusion of this most wholesome expression, indeed a prayer in itself, on the part of Paul on behalf of the Roman Christian, only underscores the sincerity and desire he had for their prayers which he had just requested.
    By these last few verses, thirty through thirty-three, among the many worthy points that must be observed, it would be negligent to omit the observation that in the mind and action of this apostle, prayer by Christians for Christians was not only proper, but the order of the day. It should be no less the order in any other generation.

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