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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Romans 15

 

 

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Verse 1

The first 13 verses of this chapter continue without interruption the argument of the previous chapter regarding the problem of weak brethren; but, with one thought leading to another in typically Pauline style, there is first a summary of the arguments already presented, followed by an especial appeal to the example of Christ, an example foretold in prophecy, and with some statements of the apostle concerning the use of the scriptures and the peace and joy of believing, concluding the section. With Romans 15:14, the final section of the epistle begins, wherein Paul wrote a number of personal things concerning himself, his plans, reasons for his hope of coming at last to Rome, also including a request for the prayers of the Christians of Rome upon his behalf. Even in this strictly personal section, Paul dealt with the broad problem of aiding the saints in Jerusalem and the principles upon which he had based the campaign for that collection, that being the duty of Christians to share their material things with needy brethren, and the obligation of those who, having received spiritual benefits, are, as both individuals and communities, debtors toward those who have taught them the truth.

Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

This is a recapitulation of all that was said in chapter 14 but sheds additional light upon the obligation of the strong toward the weak through the use of the word "bear," which is used here, not in the sense of endure, but in the sense of carry. Murray commented thus:

"Bear" is not to be understood in the sense of "bear with" frequent in our common speech but in the sense of "bear up," or "carry."[1]

Thus the strong have a definite responsibility for the week and the obligation to see that they make it. He must, in a sense, carry them in a manner like that of a strong man carrying a little child. In no instance must his personal liberty as a Christian be allowed to interfere with duty toward the weak. The claim which the weak brother has upon the aid and encouragement of the strong is based upon his redemption in Christ and may not be rejected by the strong, regardless of what personal inclinations and Christian liberties of his own should be sacrificed to the fulfillment of that duty.

ENDNOTE:

[1] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), Vol. II, p. 197.


Verse 2

Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying.

These two verses exhibit the positive and negative statements: (1) we should not please ourselves; (2) we should please our neighbor. However, there is a limitation upon the meaning of pleasing neighbors, for Paul wrote:

If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10).

Therefore, it is not right that the Christian should always defer to the whims and wishes of others, not even of believers, the critical issue always being the matter of the weak brother's conscience; and, even when deferring to him upon that basis, the requirement is that such a yielding to his scruples should be practiced not merely for the purpose of confirming him in them, but for the purpose of teaching him out of them. The last two words here, "unto edifying," provide exactly the guidelines that are needed. As Greathouse wrote:

The neighbor may be pleased to his hurt, so Paul adds that he must be pleased for his "good to edification." To afford him pleasure that does not build him up is not for his good.[2]

One may safely follow the rule Paul observed himself in this situation. He wrote:

I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:33; 11:1).

ENDNOTE:

[2] William M. Greathouse, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), p. 267.


Verse 3

For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me.

This quotation from Psalms 69:9 is an appeal to the supreme example of love and unselfishness exhibited by the Saviour of the world. The reference to reproaches is significant, because the reproaches that fell upon Christ resulted from his not pleasing himself. If Christ had been willing to please people, rather than God, he could have avoided the bitter hatreds that fell upon him; but his living for the glory of the Father caused the enemies of God to heap all of their scorn and opposition upon him. By contrast, the sacrifice made by the strong brethren in accommodating themselves to the weak are extremely petty and trivial. The apostle's use of the most exalted and supreme example of Christ for the enforcement of practical duty is characteristic of his writings, other examples being visible in 1 Corinthians 8:12 and Philippians 2:5-8.

This appeal to Psalms 69 stamps that Psalm as Messianic, especially when it is remembered that no less than five other New Testament passages refer to it, these being John 15:25 which quotes Psalms 69:4; John 2:17 which quotes Psalms 69:9; Matthew 27:34 which quotes Psalms 69:21; Romans 11:9-10 which quotes Psalms 69:22-23, and Acts 1:20 which quotes Psalms 69:25.


Verse 4

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.

This verse has left a mighty impact upon the minds of all who ever contemplated it. Adam Clarke, the great scholar of the 19th century, made this the motto of his life's work of a commentary on the entire Bible. The immediate application of the first clause in this verse is to the things writhed in Psalms 69, just cited; but it has a wider scope of application to all of the sacred scriptures, showing that the Old Testament, no less than the New Testament, bears a precious freight of relevance to all people of all ages; and, although many of the forms and shadows of the old order have been replaced by the realities of the new institution of Christ, a proper understanding of those glorious principles which, in the New Testament, have supplanted the types of the Old Testament, is surely promoted and enhanced by the study of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 10:11, and many other New Testament passages affirm such to be the case, as well as the hundreds of New Testament quotations from the Old Testament, as here, and throughout the New Testament. Matthew alone quoted the Old Testament 66 times; and practically all of Hebrews is written with the Old Testament in view.

The patience of the Old Testament heroes of faith provides strong encouragement for Christians who must struggle with many of the problems and situations which confronted them. Glorious comfort is provided in the record of their ultimate triumph. It is a mistake, therefore, for Christians to confine their studies to the New Testament alone. There is many a cup of joy awaiting the careful student of the Old Testament.


Verse 5

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 ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is another of several doxologies in Romans. Romans 11:33-36 is a very special doxology which closed the great doctrinal section of this epistle; and this one seems to have been prompted by Paul's reflections upon the patience and comfort afforded the children of God through the study of the sacred scriptures, making God, therefore, to be the God "of patience and of comfort." Of course, he is also the God of hope, and the apostle threw in another doxology a little later (Romans 15:13), hailing him so. Both this doxology and the one in Romans 15:13 were therefore prompted by the words patience, comfort, and hope, as used in Romans 15:4.

Of the same mind one with another ... is the ideal of unity among brethren in Christ, a state of harmony which is mandatory for Christians, since it is "according to Jesus Christ," that is, according to his will and commandment. The purpose of such unity is that the praise and glorification of God should be uncorrupted by strife and division. "One mouth" and "one accord" are expressions forbidding that strife and contradictions should mar the praise of God by his children, and demanding that absolute unity should be the badge of their loving service.


Verse 7

Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God.

Paul wrote in 14:2 that "God hath received him," and here that "Christ also received you," the same being another example of the manner in which Paul used the terms God and Christ almost interchangeably, and making it absolutely clear that Paul received Christ as deity. (See under Romans 14:10).

The same ground of appeal is stressed here that was stressed in the preceding chapter, namely, that since Christ has received us all as Christians, the least that we can do is to receive each other, at the same time being willing to overlook the mistakes and errors of the weak, just as Christ has forgiven us. Such a toleration of weakness and errors, with special reference to things unessential and secondary, will inhibit strife and division in the church and result in greater glory to God.


Verse 8

For I say that Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, Therefore will I give praise to thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name.

Circumcision ... means the Jews; and the confirmation of "the promises given to the fathers" refers to God's sending, at last, the Messiah, the true "seed" promised to Abraham. Thus, again, the long discussion of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles to God in earlier chapters of Romans came vividly to Paul's mind, suggesting that the problem relating to scruples was related to the long conflict between Jews and Gentiles; and therefore, as a further reinforcement of his commandments here, he returned to the fact of God's purpose of containing both Jews and Gentiles in one body in Christ.

This thought appears also in this comment by Barrett:

The coming of Christ may be viewed in two ways. On the one hand, he came to vindicate God's promises which had been made within Judaism. On the other hand, he came that the Gentiles might, be included with Israel among the people of God. As the Jews glorify God for his faithfulness, so the Gentiles will glorify him for his mercy.[3]

The Old Testament quotation Paul used here is found twice, in 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalms 18:49, and shows that the Gentiles, the heathen, or nations, as non-Jews were variously described, were certainly included in God's ultimate purpose of redemption, "that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace" (Ephesians 2:15).

ENDNOTE:

[3] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1957), p. 273.


Verse 10

And again he said, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; And let all the peoples praise, him. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be the root of Jesse, And he that riseth to rule over the Gentiles; On him shall the Gentiles hope.

These three quotations from Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10, all make mention of the Gentiles, further strengthening Paul's biblical evidence presented for the purpose of showing that God's purpose always had envisioned the redemption of Gentiles as well as Jews. Behold here the manner of Christianity's greatest preacher in the use of scripture. Paul did not hesitate to pile verse on top of verse and to marshal scripture after scripture in support of his thesis. His greatest writings were liberally salted with verses from the word of God; and the deduction would appear to be justified that God's preachers today should base their sermons upon the sacred word and reinforce their every thought by repeated appeals to a "thus saith the Lord." Failing to do this does not elevate men above the supreme preacher Paul, but, on the other hand, exhibits their weakness and ineffectiveness.

Hope ... at the end of the quotations in this verse seems to have reminded Paul of what he had just written in Romans 15:4; and this possibly accounts for the fact that the closing doxology of this section on the strong and weak brethren (next verse) begins with the expression, "Now the God of hope."


Verse 13

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

The Christian era was ushered in with the double promise of peace and joy, the peace being prophesied by Zacharias, thus:

The Dayspring from on high shall visit us ... to guide our feet unto the way of peace (Luke 1:78,79);

and the joy having been announced by the angel of the Lord to the shepherds:

Behold I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10).

Such a glorious peace and joy are available from no other source than the life of faith in Jesus Christ. These priceless endowments of the soul are the Christian's badge of eternal inheritance, his true credentials of heavenly citizenship, and his impregnable defense against all the tribulations and temptations of life. Having peace with God and the joy of the Spirit in his soul, the Christian is redeemed indeed.

Wilbur M. Smith wrote on this subject, thus:

As a result of such a redemption, accomplished with such a sacrifice, the hearts and minds of Christians may forever be kept with the peace of God that passeth understanding. There is absolutely nothing in all the biographies of unbelievers, or rationalists, or modern skeptics, which can present any such testimony to the reality of peace and joy in the human heart, promised in the New Testament. Professor Robert Flint was right when he wrote, in his famous work on Theism, "The heart can find no secure rest except on an infinite God. If less than omnipotent, he may be unable to help us in the hour of sorest need. If less than perfectly benevolent, we cannot fully love him. The whole soul can only be devoted to One who is believed to be absolutely good."[4]

The same author devoted a full chapter to the exposition of this verse; and the paragraph regarding the means of procuring peace and joy has this:

This joy can come only through believing, and I pray you, brothers and sisters, never be drifted away from the child-like faith in what God hath said. It is very easy to obtain a temporary joy and peace through your present easy experience, but how will you do when all things take a troublous turn? Those who live by feelings change with the weather. If you ever put aside your faith in the finished work to drink from the cup of your own inward sensations, you will find yourself bitterly disappointed. Your honey will turn to gall, your sunshine into blackness; for all things which come to man are fickle and deceptive. The God of hope fill you with joy and peace; but it will only be through believing. You will have to stand as a poor sinner at the foot of the cross, trusting to complete atonement. You will never have peace and joy unless you do. If you once begin to say, I am a saint; there is something good in me, and so on, you will find joy evaporate and peace depart.[5]

Wonderful as are Smith's words, as regards the necessity of believing it is not by this "alone" that people shall receive the blessing. As Smith said, one must stand at the foot of the cross, etc., and this is only another way of saying that one must accept and obey God's terms of justification, entering the body of Christ; for it is "in Christ" that all spiritual blessings are bestowed (Ephesians 1:3); and let none think to receive them by any other means than that of being found "in him." Tragically, this expression which occurs no less than 169 times in Paul's writings seems to have gone through many minds without having made any impression at all!

In the power of the Holy Spirit ... is Paul's reminder that only God's children, the baptized true believers "in Christ" who have received the Spirit as a consequence of their sonship shall ever possess this joy and peace. People may forget to tell how they are received, but the apostle failed not to declare it.

[4] Wilbur S. Smith, Therefore Stand (Boston: W. A. Wilde Company, 1945), p. 272.

[5] Ibid., p. 476.


Verse 14

And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

Just having devoted a large section of his letter to questions regarding the maintenance of unity and love in the congregation, Paul, in this verse, said with great tact and consideration that he believed the Christians in Rome were full of goodness and able to handle all such problems themselves without any special admonitions from him. Such a statement on Paul's part was doubtless for the purpose of avoiding any impression that he was critical of their congregations, or that he had been discoursing on the sins of a church which he had never seen. Furthermore, Paul's words here must be understood in the light of their being actually true and complimentary in a very high degree of the body of Christ in the great imperial capital, which never having enjoyed the visit Of an apostle, having come from various lands and provinces, and being a truly cosmopolitan group, had, nevertheless, maintained unity of the faith, not being deficient in any vital knowledge, and truly exhibiting all the virtues and graces of Christianity. One limitation of Paul's word regarding "all knowledge" was noted by Lenski, thus:

"All knowledge" does not mean all possible knowledge, nor does it suggest that the Romans had nothing more to learn; but that they had all necessary knowledge so that they could proceed safely and securely.[6]

I myself also ... shows that others had brought information to Paul regarding the Roman church and that the high opinion of such informants had been well attested to the extent that Paul was convinced of the truth of their favorable report of the Christians in Rome.

With this verse, the last section of the epistle begins, in which there are many things of a personal nature, including greetings from personal friends to personal friends in the great city. This section is full of interest.

ENDNOTE:

[6] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), p. 877.


Verse 15

But I write the more boldly unto you in some measure, as putting you again in remembrance, because of the grace that was given me of God.

This is a continuation of the tactful remarks begun in Romans 15:14 and allows for the fact that the Romans might be assumed already to know many of the things he had written; but he justified his writing on the ground that he desired to refresh their memory of those things. The same device was employed by Peter who wrote:

This is now, beloved, the second epistle that I have written unto you and in both of them I stir up your pure mind by putting you in remembrance, etc. (2 Peter 3:1f).

In some measure ... is capable of two meanings: (1) that of declaring such portions of the epistle as that dealing with weak brethren (14:1-15:15) were bold, and (2) that of suggesting that he had boldly gone beyond the information they already had. As Thomas observed, however:

Whichever view we take of this expression, we again notice St. Paul's courtesy and modesty. His boldness, as we shall see in a moment, is due to his position as the apostle to the Gentiles, but he was fully aware that the discussion of truths already familiar was only part of his design. The Epistle records some of the profoundest thoughts ever expressed by the human mind, and this also was "in part" his aim in writing. Yet, of this, he says nothing, for he is more than content to let them discover for themselves that in writing as he has they have unwittingly, but really, obtained unfathomable treasures of Christian truth.[7]

ENDNOTE:

[7] Griffith Thomas, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 394.


Verse 16

That I should be a minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

The word "minister" here, as Lard noted:

is a sacerdotal term borrowed from the temple service and denotes "to officiate as a priest," or perform priestly duties; but that it is used here in any peculiar sense growing out of that circumstance is not apparent. It means simply to minister, or execute the functions of an apostle.[8]

Paul's metaphorical reference to his work of preaching the gospel is no basis at all for supposing a separate order of priests in God's church. True, the apostle Peter wrote, "Ye are a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5,9); but, in the words of Moule:

Who are the "ye"? Not the consecrated pastorate, but the consecrated Christian company altogether. And what are the altar sacrifices of that company? "Sacrifices SPIRITUAL": "the praises of him who called them into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:5,9).[9]SIZE>

When God called Israel out of Egypt, he promised that,

If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant ... ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5,6).

But, when such a status was offered to all of Israel, the chosen people were not ready for the privilege, and thus it came about that Levi and his tribe alone took the honor representatively (Exodus 32:36). Therefore, even under the Mosaic dispensation, the permission of a separate priesthood was accommodative only (much in the manner of their later permission to have a king), and was a departure from what had been intended. In the new Israel, which is the church, as Moule observed:

The pre-Levitical ideal of the old Israel reappears in its sacred reality.[10]

All Christians, therefore, are priests unto God, and there is only one high priest, even the Christ himself at God's right hand. He made the great atonement and is now enthroned with the Father himself, and is the "one mediator" between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). In this new Israel, all are sons in the Son, and all are priests in the Priest; and never in the New Testament is there any hint or suggestion of anything that could be analogous to Levi or Aaron. As for any notion that any exception to that principle may be found in the verse before us, Moule emphatically pronounced the negative which every student of the scriptures must feel:

No; for it contains its own full inner evidence of its metaphorical cast.[11]

Of further interest in this connection, it should be noted that the gospel is not offered as a sacrifice to God, but preached to people, the offering being the response of people themselves who present their bodies after the manner Paul commanded in Romans 12:1. Thus, it is not the preacher, even though an apostle, who offers people to God; people offer themselves. From this, it must be plain that "ministering the gospel of God" can only mean preaching it; and any concept of Christianity that would establish a priestly office for the purpose of "offering up the gospel" or any such thing is erroneous.

Being sanctified by the Holy Spirit ... was commented upon thus by Macknight:

According to the law, the sacrifices were sanctified, or made acceptable to God, by being salted and laid on the altar by the priest";[12]

but the Gentiles were made acceptable to God through the Spirit of God, as affirmed in this verse, that Spirit being sent by God into their hearts in consequence of their sonship through faith and obedience (Galatians 4:6). Thus, in the new Israel, no priest is needed to salt the offering. Paul performed no such service for converted Gentiles; he did not give them the Holy Spirit; and, whatever examples there are of the Holy Spirit's being given through "the laying on of the apostles' hands," it was still God, and not the apostles, who gave it.

[8] Moses E. Lard, Commentary on Paul's Letter to Romans (Cincinnati, Ohio: Christian Board of Publication, 1914), p. 440.

[9] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd.), p. 410.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 411.

[12] James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1960), p. 131.


Verse 17

I have therefore my glorying in Christ Jesus in things pertaining to God. For I will not dare to speak any things save those which Christ wrought through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed.

I have therefore, ... means, "I do have the right to tell of the things God has done through me." Such a right derived from Paul's desire to enlist the aid and encouragement of the brethren in Rome for his projected missionary journey to Spain. If they were to aid Paul, they were entitled to know of Paul's success; and, therefore, Paul had a right to speak of the success God had given him. Paul freely allowed that others had labored in the conversion of Gentiles, but he would speak only of the things God had accomplished through himself.

Obedience of the Gentiles ... in word and deed ... brings into view the true definition of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith. It certainly was not the "faith only" of Protestant theology, but the "obedience of faith" as affirmed at the beginning and the end of this epistle (Romans 15:1:5; Romans 16:26). If Paul had entertained any part of the theory of salvation by faith only, he could never have written anything like this verse. The Gentiles were obeying God! Indeed, does anything else really matter?

By word and deed ... is usually edited out of this, as having no reference to Gentile obedience, and applied to Paul's actions in preaching the gospel; but the proximity of the word to "Gentiles" and the obvious connection with their "obedience" leaves the overwhelming impression that they apply to the type of Gentile obedience which had been induced by Paul's preaching.


Verse 19

In the power and 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.

McGarvey suggested that people should:

Note the calm, sane way in which Paul speaks of his miraculous powers as a trust from Christ, and a seal of his apostleship, both being mere accessories to that all-important task, the preaching of the gospel.[13]

Moule also spoke of the same tranquil dignity, thus:

(This is) a reference, strangely impressive by its very passingness, to the exercise of miracle-working gifts by the writer. This man, so strong in thought, so practical in counsel, so extremely unlikely to have been under an illusion about a large factor in adult and intensely conscious experience, speaks directly from himself of his wonder-works. And the allusion, thus dropped by the way and left behind, is itself an evidence to the perfect mental balance of the witness. This was no enthusiast, intoxicated with ambitious spiritual visions, but a man put in trust with a mysterious yet sober treasure.[14]

Even unto Illyricum ... This province, under Rome, was part of Macedonia, but it cannot be certain that Paul preached there. He could have done so on the trip mentioned in Acts 20:1; but the book of Acts makes no positive mention of it. McGarvey paraphrased Paul's description of the extent of his labors thus:

Not in any limited field, but far and wide in that great curve of the earth which begins at Jerusalem in the east and ends at Illyricum in the west.[15]

I fully preached the gospel ... may be taken to mean that Paul had declared the full counsel of God, that his preaching had thoroughly covered the great area he had mentioned, and that the full charge of his energies had been utilized in its accomplishment.

[13] J. W. McGarvey, The Standard Bible Commentary (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 539.

[14] H. C. G. Moule, op. cit., p. 412.

[15] J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 538.


Verse 20

Yea, 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; but, as it is written, They shall see, to whom no tidings came, And they that have not heard shall understand.

This is a further point in Paul's legitimate recommendation of himself to the church in Rome, namely, that he had not preached in those areas where others had already preached the gospel, but had sought out the places where the truth had not been taught. Paul had deliberately undertaken to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the entire world which he knew, evidently believing that every city on earth should hear the gospel once before any should hear it repeated. Paul's plan of preaching only to those who had "not heard" was justified by his appeal to Isaiah 52:15, where the glory of the Messiah's extended kingdom was that prophet's theme. This was a wise plan; and, as McGarvey noted:

Had Paul's example been followed what needless overlapping of missionary effort might have been avoided. Sectarianism has caused and committed this sin, and it has been especially reprehensible where it has been done to foster points of difference that are matters of indifference as it is where factions of the same sect compete in the same field.[16]

The manner in which Isaiah's prophecy was fitted to Paul's purpose of quoting it was explained thus by Whiteside:

Till the gospel was preached to them no tidings came to the Gentiles. Paul was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles to turn them from darkness to light, that they might see (Acts 26:14-20). Hence, those who had never heard were made to understand.[17]

[16] Ibid., p. 539.

[17] Robertson L. Whiteside, A New Commentary on Paul's Letter to Saints in Rome (Denton, Texas: Miss Inys Whiteside, 1945), p. 288.


Verse 22

Wherefore also I was hindered these many times from coming to you.

Paul's apology for not already having fulfilled his purpose of visiting Rome is here made to include the fact that he had been in the business of preaching the gospel to people who had not heard it; and, of course, Rome had heard it, as evidenced by the company of true believers to whom this epistle was directed. And, moreover, even the visit projected at that late date had as its major purpose the gathering of support for the planned mission to Spain; although, to be sure, Paul welcomed the opportunity to preach in Rome and visit with the disciples there.


Verse 23

But now having no more any place in these regions and having these many years a longing to come unto you.

This does not mean that Paul was no more welcomed to preach in the great theater of his long and triumphal labors in the gospel, but that, under the rules Paul had laid down for himself relative to preaching the gospel only where it was not already known, he had used up all of the opportunities of the kind he sought. Therefore, he had projected the mission to Spain, including Rome as a necessary way-station, where he planned to request their aid and assistance. Paul's remark here shows how widely the gospel had been diffused throughout the earth at that time, the marvel being that only a little more than a generation had elapsed since Pentecost. Paul could look at a map of Europe with the conviction that there was not a virgin field left in it, except for Spain.


Verse 24

Whensoever I go unto Spain (for I hope to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first in some measure I shall have been satisfied by your company).

Did Paul ever go to Spain? None can say, actually, that he did; although it is allowed that he certainly might have done so. Hodge wrote:

Whether Paul ever accomplished his purpose of rising Spain, is a matter of doubt. There is no historical record of his having done so, either in the New Testament, or in the early ecclesiastical writers; though most of those writers seem to have taken it for granted. His whole plan was probably deranged by occurrences in Jerusalem, which led to his long imprisonment in Caesarea, and his being sent in bonds to Rome.[18]

Brought on my way ... refers to a custom among early Christians of accompanying visitors for a part of the journey when they were departing. The Christians of Ephesus, for example, when Paul was about to leave,

fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should behold his face no more. And they brought him on his way to the ship (Acts 20:37,38).

For other examples of this same custom, see 1 Corinthians 16:6; Acts 15:3; and 2 Corinthians 1:16.

In some measure ... satisfied with your company ... does not imply any limitation of the intensity of Paul's anticipated pleasure of seeing the disciples in Rome, but accepts a limitation upon the endurance of it. Paul's projected visit was to have been a passing one, not designed for any great length of time.

ENDNOTE:

[18] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 442.


Verse 25

But now, I say, I go unto Jerusalem, ministering unto the saints. For it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem.

Paul could not, even at that time, go on unto Rome, for he was committed to the task of delivering the funds which he had helped to raise for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Many commentators have expressed surprise, and even such a thing as disapproval, of Paul's interruption of his great ministry to raise money, take up collections, and personally deliver the funds to the poor in Jerusalem. Thus, Murray wrote:

It may surprise us that Paul would have interrupted his primary apostolic function for what is apparently secondary and concerned with material things. We think so only when we overlook the dignity of the work of mercy.[19]

This noble concern for the poor on the part of Paul was not an occasional or expedient thing with him at all. On the occasion of that confrontation in Jerusalem with Peter, James, and John, the harmonious communique which closed the disputation was summed up thus by Paul:

They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do (Galatians 2:9,10).

An implied disapproval of Paul's fund-raising is in this:

There is a note of pathos in the fact that this apostle who proclaimed so eloquently God's acceptance apart from works should seek to secure his own place among the Jerusalem Christians with his collection for the poor.[20]

Two things of great interest challenge the attention in such a remark as that just quoted. Paul did not preach acceptance "apart from works' but apart from "works of the law of Moses" and "circumcision," Paul's position being exactly that of James that the "obedience of faith" is always absolutely required. Moreover, there is no cause for viewing Paul's fund-raising for the poor as "pathetic." It was not a mere strategy of Paul's to try and win favor in Jerusalem. He accepted the mission of aiding the poor in that city upon the basis that the Gentiles "owed" it to them (Romans 15:2); and his undertaking the personal delivery of that bounty was in order that he might seal "this fruit" to the credit of them that had given it.

Paul had long advocated, encouraged, and promoted the collection for the poverty-ridden Christians in the great Jewish capital, finally delivering the money himself; and it would be impossible to find a nobler example of the scriptural status of a man who raises money for worthy ends than the one given here. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, perhaps the greatest preacher ever to set foot on earth; and he was not above the prosaic business of asking the brethren for money, not for himself, but for others. Ministers of the gospel who are loathe to touch such a thing as fund-raising forfeit all resemblance to the greatest apostle and preacher of them all.

For the poor among the saints ... identifies the object of Christian charity from the viewpoint of apostolic Christianity. It was not the "poor in Jerusalem" but "the poor saints in Jerusalem" who were the objects of this charity, reminding one of the words of Jesus regarding "these my brethren" (Matthew 25:40), such words are limiting the obligation of the church, at least in some degree, to the poor Christians, and not to the poor generally.

Admittedly, where there is ability and opportunity to aid the alien poor, it may indeed be a righteous and effective work of the church; but, as regards the obligation, that begins with the household of God. The Gentile Christians of the ancient Roman Empire were not laid under tribute for the purpose of helping to support the relief load in the city of secular Jerusalem; and, likewise, the church of the present time should plan some nobler work than that of merely carrying the bed-pan for a sick society, a role to which some sociologists would restrict the holy mission of the church.

In regard to the suggestion, already noted, that Paul was in any sense acting out of harmony with his doctrine of justification in the sight of God, apart from works, by his long and difficult fund-raising efforts for the Christian poor of Jerusalem, it must be said that Paul's diligence in the discharge of such a Christian work, even though it seriously interfered for a time with his missionary journeys, demonstrates in the most dramatic manner possible that "faith" in Paul's usage of it was impossible of standing "alone," but required absolutely the type of obedience which alone could validate it as a saving experience. It was precisely for this reason that "obedience of faith" was made by Paul to be both the beginning of this epistle (Romans 1:5), and the validating seal upon its conclusion (Romans 16:26).

[19] John Murray, op. cit., p. 218.

[20] Richard A. Batey, The Letter of Paul to the Romans (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1969), p. 183.


Verse 27

Yea, it hath been their good pleasure; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things they owe it to them to minister unto them in carnal things.

Paul's collection for the poor, therefore, was initiated and executed, not solely out of respect to the needs of the poor Christians in Jerusalem, but also because of the debt of Gentile Christians who had received spiritual benefit from those same poor, thus establishing categorically the spiritual nature of the obligation to charity. The Gentiles needed to give, as much as the Christian poor of Jerusalem needed to receive. The filial bond uniting them as members of the one body in Christ was the basis of Paul's plea for the Gentiles to give, as well as the basis of the right of the Christian poor to receive. Without that filial bond, no obligation is here imposed by apostolic authority. It was not only the need of the poor that entitled them to receive, but their status as "brethren in Christ." This deduction is mandatory because, of the non-Christian poor in Jerusalem, it is not affirmed that the Gentile Christians "owed" them anything.


Verse 28

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

The commentators differ in their interpretations of the sealed fruit. To whom was the fruit sealed, the donors or the recipients? The answer lies in determining whose fruit it was; and there can be no way of making the bounty taken up from the Gentiles to be the fruit of the Jerusalem poor. It was, on the other hand, the fruit of Gentile Christianity; and through the supervision and safe conveyance of it to its intended purpose, Paul, in a sense (for the words are admittedly metaphorical), sealed it to the heavenly credit of them that gave it.

The existence of the aforementioned poor among the Christians in the city of Jerusalem in the sixth decade of the Christian era, when this letter was written, is proof that communal life was not practiced by the apostolic church. The so-called case of communal practice mentioned in Acts 4:32-35 was not really such a thing as communism at all. It was an effort of the Christian community to meet a tremendous need, upon an emergency basis, of the vast throng in Jerusalem for that first Pentecost of the Christian era, many of whom had remained in Jerusalem past the normal time of departure in order to hear the preaching of the gospel. If one should insist, to the contrary, that this incident was indeed communism, then the words of Batey are a thundering reply to it:

The poverty of Jerusalem was not solved by their communal experiment but rather led to an even more serious financial crisis.[21]

The view here, however, is that the so-called communism of Acts 4:32-35 was nothing remotely akin to communism. There were too many differences. In the New Testament situation, each one gave; in communism, the leaders take. In the church, all were free to participate or not; in communism, confiscation is enforced upon all. In the church, they were motivated by love; in communism, fear controls everything. People who draw any kind of parallel between the generous actions of the church in Acts, as compared with modern communism, are plainly mistaken.

ENDNOTE:

[21] Ibid., p. 181.


Verse 29

And I know that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

This verse arouses emotions of sorrow in the heart. Paul did indeed arrive at last in Rome, and none can deny that it was in the fullness of the blessing of Christ; but what dramatic and heartbreaking circumstances marked it! How different the actual experience must have been from what Paul had hoped and intended!

Paul had in mind a great thing. He planned to finish delivery of the money to the poor in Jerusalem, then proceed to Rome, preach there and enjoy the company of the famous Christian community of the great capital for a brief season, and then he planned to be off for Spain where new victories of faith would be won, more churches established, and more territory won for the Master. Paul's plans, as made, were never realized. He was arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem; there was a diabolical plot to murder him; there were tedious delays, dangerous journeys, confrontations with kings and governors during the years of his imprisonment; then, there was an appeal to Caesar, a shipwreck, a poisonous viper on his hand; and, at last, up the Appian Way he came, wearing a chain, as an animal is chained, and walking between the files of pagan soldiers!

Was he indeed arriving in the fullness of the blessing of Christ? However it might have seemed to the grand apostle, it was true. During the years ahead of him in Rome, Paul would plant the gospel seed in the very heart of the pagan empire; that seed would germinate and grow, and at last shatter the mighty empire of the Caesars into fragments. There he would write the letters which, more than those of any other mortal, would define Christianity for all subsequent ages. There he Would indeed teach, not merely Spain, but twenty centuries of the generations of mankind. There he would baptize members of the royal establishment. There he would seal with his blood the truth and sincerity of his matchless life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The blessing of Christ, indeed, not merely Paul's but that of the world for ever afterward!


Verse 30

Now I beseech you brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.

Paul was well aware of the dangers and difficulties that lay ahead, especially in Jerusalem; and this is an earnest plea for the prayers of his fellow Christians. Only God could protect Paul from those enemies whose vigorous hatred made Jerusalem a place of extreme hazard for him. Paul was especially warned by the Holy Spirit through Agabus (Acts 21:10) that bonds and imprisonment awaited him; and one may not accept the proposition that Paul continued his journey because of other considerations except the highest and purest motives. There were holy reasons for that trip to Jerusalem, reasons of the greatest magnitude and importance, not merely for Paul, but for the church of all ages. Those reasons are not all clearly visible from this time and distance; but that they did truly exist is absolutely certain. This appears from the fact of Paul's making the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit to be the basis of his request for the prayers of fellow Christians as he moved to accomplish it.


Verse 31

That I may be delivered from them that are disobedient in Judea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.

Paul had a double concern, not merely his own safety, but the attitude of the church members themselves. Would they be willing to accept the collection which he had gathered through the expenditure of so vast a measure of time and energy? If they did trot, it would jeopardize the unity of the church and possibility destroy the Gentile missions he had worked to establish. No wonder he prayed to God and asked others to join. What if the racial prejudice in Jerusalem had caused the poor Christians to say, "We will not touch a gift from the Gentiles,"! In such a disastrous response, Paul's gift of tears, blood, sweat and money would have been in vain. No wonder he prayed that they would accept it! Where, ever in history, was there another prayer like this? Paul's fears and prayers were more than justified by the swift succession of tragic events which befell his mission to Jerusalem. God, however, had indeed heard his prayers. The Christian poor accepted the bounty of their Gentile brethren; the enemies were foiled, and Paul's life was spared. An army guarded Paul's life as he was transported out of Jerusalem; and, in time, the battlements of Rome loomed upon his horizon. Moreover, the Judaizing of Christianity, taking place at that very instant in Jerusalem, as evidenced by the testimony of the Jerusalem elders that:

Many thousands of them (the Christians) ... are all zealous for the Law (Acts 21:24);

- that Judaizing process God himself would summarily thwart by the utter destruction of Jerusalem within a few short years afterwards.


Verse 32

That I may come unto you in joy through the will of God, and together with you find rest. Now the peace of God be with you all. Amen.

That I may come unto you in joy ... refers to the projected acceptance on the part of the poor Christians in Jerusalem of the bounty provided by the Gentiles. If they accepted it (which they did), Paul would be relieved of anxiety on that score and would come "with joy." Hodge's discerning words on this passage are:

Paul seemed to look forward to his interview with the Christians in Rome, as a season of relief from conflict and labor. In Jerusalem, he was beset with unbelieving Jews, and harassed by Judaizing Christians; in most other places, he was burdened with the care of the churches; but at Rome, which he looked upon as a resting place, rather than a field of labor, he hoped to gather strength for the prosecution of his apostolic labors in still more distant lands.[22]

Now the peace of God be with you all ... Paul had asked them to pray for him; and some have thought that Paul here prays for them, not a long prayer, but one so rich and full of meaning that its single petition includes all others. Of course, this is a beautiful thought; but there are strong reasons for taking another view. This is another doxology, among many in this epistle; and a doxology differs from a prayer in three important particulars: (1) it is addressed to people, and not to God; (2) it does not contain or advocate any request or petition for the forgiveness of sins; and (3) it is not offered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

ENDNOTE:

[22] Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 444.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 15:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/romans-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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