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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Romans 15

 

 

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Verses 1-33

Chapter 15

THE MARKS OF THE FELLOWSHIP (Romans 15:1-6)

15:1-6 It is the duty of us who are strong to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please our neighbour, but always for his good and always for his upbuilding in the faith. For the Anointed One of God did not please himself, but, as it stands written, "The insults of those who were insulting you fell upon me." All the things that were written long ago were written to teach us, so that, through our fortitude, and through the encouragement which the scriptures give, we may hold fast to our hope. May the God who inspires us with fortitude, and gives us encouragement, grant to you to live in harmony with one another as Christ Jesus would have you to do, so that your praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may rise from a united heart and a united voice.

Paul is still dealing with the duties of those within the Christian fellowship to one another, and especially with the duty of the stronger to the weaker brother. This passage gives us a wonderful summary of the marks which should characterize that fellowship.

(i) The Christian fellowship should be marked by the consideration of its members for each other. Always their thoughts should be, not for themselves, but for each other. But this consideration must not degenerate into an easy-going, sentimental laxity. It must always be designed for the other person's good and for his upbuilding in the faith. It is not the toleration which tolerates because it is too lazy to do anything else. It is the toleration which knows that a man may be won much more easily to a fuller faith by surrounding him with an atmosphere of love than by attacking him with a battery of criticism.

(ii) The Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture; and from that study of scripture the Christian draws encouragement. Scripture, from this point of view, provides us with two things. (a) It gives us the record of God's dealing with a nation, a record which is the demonstration that it is always better to be right with God and to suffer, than to be wrong with men and to avoid trouble. The history of Israel is the demonstration in the events of history that ultimately it is well with good and evil with the wicked. Scripture demonstrates, not that God's way is ever an easy way, but in the end it is the only way to everything that makes life worth while in time and in eternity. (b) It gives us the great and precious promises of God. It is said that Alexander Whyte sometimes had a habit of uttering one text when he left some home during his pastoral visitation; and, as he uttered it, he would say: "Put that under your tongue and suck it like a sweetie." These promises are the promises of a God who never breaks his word. In these ways scripture gives to the man who studies it comfort in his sorrow and encouragement in his struggle.

(iii) The Christian fellowship should be marked by fortitude. Fortitude is an attitude of the heart to life. Again we meet this great word hupomone (Greek #5281). It is far more than patience; it is the triumphant adequacy which can cope with life; it is the strength which does not only accept things, but which, in accepting them, transmutes them into glory.

(iv) The Christian fellowship should be marked by hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. It might be thought that hope is the prerogative of the young; but the great artists did not think that. When Watts drew "Hope" he drew her as a battered and bowed figure with one string left upon her lyre. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. It is not hope in the human spirit, in human goodness, in human achievement; it is hope in the power of God.

(v) The Christian fellowship should be marked by harmony. However ornate a church may be, however perfect its worship and its music, however liberal its giving, it has lost the very first essential of a Christian fellowship if it has lost harmony. That is not to say that there will not be differences of opinion; it is not to say that there will be no argument and debate; but it means that those who are within the Christian fellowship will have solved the problem of living together. They will be quite sure that the Christ who unites them is greater by far than the differences which may divide them.

(vi) The Christian fellowship should be marked by praise. It is no bad test of a man to ask whether the main accent of his voice is that of grumbling discontent or cheerful thanksgiving. "What can I do, who am a little old lame man," said Epictetus, "except give praise to God?" The Christian should enjoy life because he enjoys God. He will carry his secret within him, for he will be sure that God is working all things together for good.

(vii) And the essence of the matter is that the Christian fellowship takes its example, its inspiration and its dynamic from Jesus Christ. He did not please himself. The quotation which Paul uses is from Psalms 69:9. It is significant that when Paul speaks of bearing the weaknesses of others he uses the same word as is used of Christ bearing his Cross (bastazein, Greek #941). When the Lord of Glory chose to serve others instead of to please himself, he set the pattern which every one who seeks to be his follower must accept.

THE INCLUSIVE CHURCH (Romans 15:7-13)

15:7-13 So, then, welcome one another as Christ welcomed you, that God may be praised. What I mean is this--Christ became a servant of the Jewish race and way of life for the sake of God's truth, not only to guarantee the promises which the fathers received, but also that the Gentiles should praise God for his mercy. As it stands written: "Therefore I will offer praise to God among the Gentiles and I will sing to your name." And, again it says: "Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people." And, again: "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him." And again Isaiah says: "There shall live the scion of Jesse, even he who rises up to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles set their hopes." May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may overflow with hope.

Paul makes one last appeal that all people within the Church should be bound into one, that those who are weak in the faith and those who are strong in the faith should be one united body, that Jew and Gentile should find a common fellowship. There may be many differences but there is only one Christ, and the bond of unity is a common loyalty to him. Christ's work was for Jew and Gentile alike. He was born a Jew and was subject to the Jewish law. This was in order that all the great promises given to the fathers of the Jewish race might come true and that salvation might come first to the Jew. But he came, not only for the Jew, but for the Gentile also.

To prove that this is not his own novel and heretical idea Paul cites four passages from the Old Testament; he quotes them from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is why they vary from the translation of the Old Testament as we know it. The passages are Psalms 18:50; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 117:1; Isaiah 11:10. In all of them Paul finds ancient forecasts of the reception of the Gentiles into the faith. He is convinced that, just as Jesus Christ came into this world to save all men, so the Church must welcome all men, no matter what their differences may be. Christ was an inclusive Saviour, and therefore his Church must be an inclusive Church.

Then Paul once again goes on to sound the notes of the Christian faith. The great words of the Christian faith flash out one after another.

(i) There is hope. It is easy in the light of experience to despair of oneself. It is easy in the light of events to despair of the world. Someone tells of a meeting in a certain church at a time of emergency. The meeting was constituted with prayer by the chairman. He addressed God as "Almighty and eternal God, whose grace is sufficient for all things." When the prayer was finished, the business part of the meeting began; and the chairman introduced the business by saying: "Gentlemen, the situation in this church is completely hopeless, and nothing can be done." Either his prayer was composed of empty and meaningless words, or his statement was untrue.

It has long ago been said that there are no hopeless situations; there are only men who have grown hopeless about them. It is told that there was a cabinet meeting in the darkest days of the last war, just after France had capitulated. Mr. Churchill outlined the situation in its starkest colours. Britain stood alone. There was a silence when he had finished speaking, and on some faces was written despair, and some would have given up the struggle. Mr. Churchill looked round that dispirited company. "Gentlemen," he said, "I find it rather inspiring."

There is something in Christian hope that not all the shadows can quench--and that something is the conviction that God is alive. No man is hopeless so long as there is the grace of Jesus Christ; and no situation is hopeless so long as there is the power of God.

(ii) There is joy. There is all the difference in this world between pleasure and joy. The Cynic philosophers declared that pleasure was unmitigated evil. Anthisthenes made the strange statement that he would "rather be mad than pleased." Their argument was that "pleasure is only the pause between two pains." You have longing for something, that is the pain; you get it, the longing is satisfied and there is a pause in the pain; you enjoy it and the moment is gone; and the pain comes back. In truth, that is the way pleasure works. But Christian joy is not dependent on things outside a man; its source is in our consciousness of the presence of the living Lord, the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God in him.

(iii) There is peace. The ancient philosophers sought for what they called ataraxia, the untroubled life. They wanted all that serenity which is proof alike against the shattering blows and the petty pinpricks of this life. One would almost say that today serenity is a lost possession. There are two things which make it impossible.

(a) There is inner tension. Men live a distracted life, for the word distract literally means to pull apart. So long as a man is a walking civil war and a split personality, there can obviously be for him no such thing as serenity. There is only one way out of this, and that is for self to abdicate to Christ. When Christ controls, the tension is gone.

(b) There is worry about external things. Many are haunted by the chances and the changes of life. H. G. Wells tells how in New York harbour he was once on a liner. It was foggy, and suddenly out of the fog loomed another liner, and the two ships slid past each other with only yards to spare. He was suddenly face to face with what he called the general large dangerousness of life. It is hard not to worry, for man is characteristically a creature who looks forward to guess and fear. The only end to that worry is the utter conviction that, whatever happens, God's hand will never cause his child a needless tear. Things will happen that we cannot understand, but if we are sure enough of God's love, we can accept with serenity even those things which wound the heart and baffle the mind.

(iv) There is power. Here is the supreme need of men. It is not that we do not know the right thing; the trouble is the doing it. The trouble is to cope with and to conquer things, to make what Wells called "the secret splendour of our intentions" into actual facts. That we can never do alone. Only when the surge of Christ's power fills our weakness can we master life as we ought. By ourselves we can do nothing; but with God all things are possible.

THE WORDS REVEAL THE MAN (Romans 15:14-21)

15:14-21 Brothers, I myself am quite sure that you, as you are, are full of goodness and replete with all knowledge and well able to give good advice to one another. I write to you with a certain amount of boldness, as it were, with the purpose of reminding you of what you already know. My ground for doing so is the God-given grace which made me the servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, and gave me the sacred task of telling the good news, and my aim in doing so is to make the Gentiles an offering acceptable to God, an offering consecrated by the Holy Spirit. Now, in Christ, I have good reason to take a legitimate pride in my work in God's service. I can say this for I will not venture to speak of anything other than the things which Christ has wrought in me, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring the Gentiles into obedience to him. Thus from Jerusalem right round to Illyricum, I have completed the announcing of the good news of God's Anointed One. But it has always been my ambition to announce the good news, not where Christ's name has already been preached, because I want to avoid building on another man's foundation. but as it stands written: "Those to whom the good news has not been told shall see; and those who have not heard will understand."

Few passages reveal Paul's character better than this. He is coming to the end of his letter and is wishing to prepare the ground for the visit that he hopes soon to pay to Rome. Here we see something at least of his secret in winning men.

(i) Paul reveals himself as a man of tact. There is no rebuke here. He does not nag the brethren at Rome nor speak to them like some angry schoolmaster. He tells them that he is only reminding them of what they well know, and assures them that he is certain that they have it in them to render outstanding service to each other and to their Lord. Paul was much more interested in what a man could be than in what he was. He saw faults with utter clarity, and dealt with them with utter fidelity; but all the time he was thinking, not of the wretched creature that a man was, but of the splendid creature that he might be.

It is told that once when Michelangelo began to carve a huge and shapeless block of marble, he said that his aim was to release the angel imprisoned in the stone. Paul was like that. He did not want to knock a man down and out; he did not criticize to cause pain; he spoke with honesty and with severity but always because he wished to enable a man to be what he could be and never yet attained to being.

(ii) The only glory that Paul claimed was that he was the servant of Christ. The word he uses (leitourgos, Greek #3011) is a great one. In ancient Greece there were certain state duties called liturgies (leitourgiai, Greek #3011) which were sometimes laid upon and sometimes voluntarily shouldered by men who loved their country. There were five of these voluntary services which patriotic citizens used to undertake.

(a) There was choregia (Greek #5524), which was the duty of supplying a chorus. When Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides were producing their immortal dramas, in each of them a verse-speaking chorus was necessary. There were great festivals like the City Dionysia when as many as eighteen new dramatic works were performed. Men who loved their city would volunteer to collect, maintain, instruct and equip such a chorus at their own expense.

(b) There was gumnasiarchia. The Athenians were divided into ten tribes; and they were great athletes. At certain of the great festivals there were the famous torch-races in which teams from the various tribes raced against each other. We still speak of handing on the torch. To win the torch-race was a great honour, and there were public-spirited men who at their own cost would select and support and train a team to represent their tribe.

(c) There was hestiasis. There were occasions when the tribes met together to share in a common meal and a common rejoicing; and there were generous men who undertook the task of meeting the expense of such a gathering.

(d) There was archetheoria. Sometimes the city of Athens sent an embassy to another city or to consult the oracle at Delphi or Dodona. On such an occasion everything had to be done in such a way that the honour of the city was maintained; and there were patriotic men who voluntarily defrayed the expenses of such an embassy.

(e) There was trierarchia. The Athenians were the great naval power of the ancient world. And one of the most patriotic things that a man could do was voluntarily to undertake the expenses of maintaining a trireme or warship for a whole year.

That is the background of this word leitourgos (Greek #3009). In later days, as patriotism died, such liturgies became compulsory and not voluntary. Later the word came to be used of any kind of service; and later still it came to be used especially of worship and service rendered in the temple of the gods. But the word always had this background of generous service. Just as a man in the ancient days laid his fortune on the altar of the service of his beloved Athens, and counted it his only glory, so Paul laid his everything on the altar of the service of Christ, and was proud to be the servant of his Master.

(iii) Paul saw himself, in the scheme of things, as an instrument in the hands of Christ. He did not talk of what he had done; but of what Christ had done with him. He never said of anything: "I did it." He always said: "Christ used me to do it." It is told that the change in the life of D. L. Moody came when he went to a meeting and heard a preacher say: "If only one man would give himself entirely and without reserve to the Holy Spirit, what that Spirit might do with him!" Moody said to himself: "Why should I not be that man?" And all the world knows what the Spirit of God did with D. L. Moody. It is when a man ceases to think of what he can do and begins to think of what God can do with him, that things begin to happen.

(iv) Paul's ambition was to be a pioneer. It is told that when Livingstone volunteered as a missionary with the London Missionary Society they asked him where he would like to go. "Anywhere," he said, "so long as it is forward." And when he reached Africa he was haunted by the smoke of a thousand villages which he saw in the distance. It was Paul's one ambition to carry the good news of God to men who had never heard it. He takes a text from Isaiah 52:15 to tell his aim.

"Ye armies of the living God,

His sacramental host,

Where hallowed footstep never trod,

Take your appointed post."

PLANS PRESENT AND FUTURE (Romans 15:22-29)

15:22-29 And that is why on many occasions I found the way to come to you blocked. But now, since I have no longer a sphere for work in these areas, and since for many years back I have had a great desire to come to you, when I shall go to Spain I hope to see you on my way through; and, I hope, after I have first enjoyed your company for a while, to be sped on my way by you. But at the moment I am on my way to Jerusalem, to render some service to God's dedicated people there. For Macedonia and Achaea re solved to make a contribution to the poor among God's dedicated people in Jerusalem. For that was their resolve and indeed they owe a debt to them. For if the Gentiles have received a share in spiritual blessings they also owe a debt to render service to them in material things. When I have completed this business, and when I have duly delivered the gifts to them intact, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I do come to you, I will come bringing a full blessing from Christ.

Here we have Paul telling of an immediate and of a future plan.

(i) His future plan was to go to Spain. There were two reasons why he should wish to go there. First, Spain was at the very western end of Europe. It was in one sense the then limit of the civilized world, and the very fact that it was such would lure Paul on to preach there. He would characteristically wish to take the good news of God so far that he could not take it farther.

(ii) At this time Spain was experiencing a kind of blaze of genius. Many of the greatest men in the Empire were Spaniards. Lucan, the epic poet, Martial, the master of the epigram, Quintilian, the greatest teacher of oratory of his day, were all Spaniards. Above all, Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, who was first the guardian and afterwards the prime minister of Nero, was a Spaniard. It may well be that Paul was saying to himself that if only he could touch Spain for Christ tremendous things might happen.

(iii) His immediate plan was to go to Jerusalem. He had had a plan which was very dear to his heart. He had arranged for a collection to be taken from his young churches for the poor in the Church of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that that collection would be necessary. In a city like Jerusalem much of the available employment must have been connected with the Temple and its needs. All the priests and the Temple authorities were Sadducees, and the Sadducees were the supreme enemies of Jesus. It must therefore have happened that many a man, when he became a Christian in Jerusalem, lost his job and was in sore need. The help the younger churches could give was much needed. But there were at least three other great reasons why Paul was so eager to take this gift to Jerusalem.

(a) For himself it was the payment of a debt and a duty. When it had been agreed that Paul should be the apostle to the Gentiles, one injunction had been laid upon him by the leaders of the Church--that he would remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). "Which very thing," said Paul, "I was eager to do." He was not the man to forget a debt, and now that debt was about to be paid, at least in part.

(b) There was no better way of demonstrating in the most practical way the unity of the Church. This was a way of teaching the young churches that they were not isolated units but members of a great Church extending throughout all the world. The value of giving to others is that it makes us remember that we are not members of a congregation but of a Church which is worldwide.

(c) There was no better way of putting Christianity into practical action. It was easy enough to talk about Christian generosity; here was a chance to turn Christian words into Christian deeds.

So Paul is on the way to Jerusalem, and he is planning a journey to Spain. As far as we know he never got to Spain, for in Jerusalem he encountered the trouble which led to his long imprisonment and his death. It would seem that this was one plan of the great pioneer which never was worked out.

OPEN-EYED INTO DANGER (Romans 15:30-33)

15:30-33 Brothers, I call upon you by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, to strive along with me in prayer to God for me; for I need your prayers that I may be rescued from those in Jerusalem who do not believe, and that the help that I am bringing to Jerusalem may prove acceptable to God's dedicated people there. I want you to pray that by God's will I may come to you with joy, and enjoy a time of rest with you. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

We came to the end of the last passage by saying that as far as we know Paul's plans to go to Spain were never realized. We know for a certainty that when he went to Jerusalem he was arrested and spent the next four years in prison, two in Caesarea and two in Rome. Here again his great character comes out.

(i) When Paul went to Jerusalem he knew what he was doing and was well aware of the dangers that lay ahead. Just as his Master steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) so also did Paul. The highest courage is to know that something perilous awaits us and still to go on. That is the courage that Jesus showed; that is the courage that Paul showed; and that is the courage that all Christ's followers must show.

(ii) In such a situation Paul asked for the prayers of the Christian Church at Rome. It is a great thing to go on knowing that we are wrapped in the warmth of the prayers of those who love us. However far we are separated from those we love, we and they can meet around the mercy-seat of God.

(iii) Paul leaves them his blessing as he goes. It was no doubt all that he had to give. Even when we have nothing else, we can still bear our friends and loved ones in prayer to God.

(iv) It was the blessing of the God of peace that Paul sent to Rome and it was with the presence of the God of peace that he himself went to Jerusalem with all its threats. The man who has the peace of God in his heart can meet all life's perils unafraid.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Romans 15:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/romans-15.html. 1956-1959.

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