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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 15

 

 

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Verses 1-33

The subject of Romans 14:1-23 continues through verse 7 of Romans 15:1-33. We have seen first the Lord's authority in regard to men's consciences, then love toward our brethren a reason for considering their consciences. Now a third reason completes the treatment of the subject - a reason of greatest importance. This care and consideration is for the sake of the glory of God (vv. 5 & 6). When we think of our brethren, do we think seriously and honestly of God's glory? This is the highest, most blessed object that can be set before our souls. Do we have hearts fully set on glorifying the One whose counsel of grace has destined us to be glorified together with His blessed Son? How searching, solemn a question for every child of God! Shall we in practice honor or dishonor the God of glory? It is one or the other. Let the Christian heart soberly reflect on this most serious of all issues as regards responsibility.

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." Does one Christian have the privilege of clear enlightenment whereby spiritual strength is given him? If so, he "ought to bear the infirmities of the weak." It is a moral responsibility (he "ought to"), that he might properly represent "the God of patience and consolation." For our God has seen fit in infinite grace that His glory should be intimately connected with the welfare and blessing of all His people. Blessed truth to contemplate! With such thoughts before us, can we dare to callously proceed to please only ourselves? If we are blessed, it is not in order that we might proudly display ourselves, but in order that we might be a blessing to others.

"Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." This is not the character of the mere "man-pleaser." The object here is not simply to please our neighbor, but to serve his best interests in edification. I must think of the welfare of others more than of my own.

"For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me." How touching, how sobering a word! Do we take time to think much of the lowly Son of Man - He who left the bright glory and majesty of Heaven and came to minister in tenderest compassion and goodness to the need of His creatures? Do we remember that He sought here the Father's glory and the blessing of man - not insisting upon the rights that were by nature His own? Glory, honor, dominion, and power were His, yet rather than asserting these, He would bear the reproaches of them who reproached God. For His love man returned hatred, yet He went on serving man's need. It was not pleasing Himself: it was bearing pain, shame, and sorrow for their sakes - because the glory of God was His object. He fully identified Himself, though in humiliation, with the God whom men reproached. How blessed a testimony to the glory of the living God! Does it not attract the fervent adoration of the Christian heart?

But this wondrous character of His is not only for our admiration. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The Old Testament Scriptures unite in directing our gaze toward the Lord Jesus, that there may be some real effect in our own lives. These things are written for our learning, not for our entertainment. If we marvel at the gracious character of our Lord, do we seek to so learn of Him as to follow Him in the practice of our own lives?

For our learning of Him has this special end in view - "that we through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope." This is endurance in following His steps - not fainting in the day of adversity - but enduring all things in view of the glory to be revealed. This endurance stimulates and makes deeply real in the soul that "hope that maketh not ashamed."

Along with this is "encouragement of the Scriptures." Do we find encouragement in such a quotation from the Old Testament as in verse 3? It refers directly to Christ, - "The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me." Yet, if a child of God is bearing patiently and willingly any sort of reproach or trial for Christ's sake, is this verse not of the sweetest encouragement to him? Ought it not to encourage us to bear much for the glory of God and the blessing of souls?

It is this that verses 5 and 6 apply so tenderly and appealingly. "Now the God of endurance and of encouragement give to you to be likeminded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one accord with one mouth, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." If we would have endurance and encouragement we must look to God who is the source of such virtue, and He can enable us to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, toward one another. This produces, even where there is diversity of opinion and various degrees of progress in the truth, a godly, fervent unity that glorifies the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. How unspeakably blessed when this is the case! To be of one accord, of one mouth, is to have hearts unfeignedly united in honoring and following the Lord Jesus, and not sidetracked by lesser considerations. This is not by any means relinquishing the truth of God, but holding it firmly, while making no issue of small matters that are the affair of the individual conscience.

"Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God." This sums up the entire subject that begins with Romans 14:1. Nothing less than the glory of God must be our object: it was to His glory that Christ received us, and we must receive saints in the same spirit and on the same principle. In His receiving us we see grace and truth perfectly blended. We cannot ignore either if we would act for the glory of God. Receiving promiscuously without godly care and watchfulness would dishonor the God of glory no less than would our refusing souls because their consciences would not conform to ours on minor points. May He give us unwavering fidelity to Him and more tender, real care for His own.

The Propriety of the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles

Another subject occupies us from verse 8 to the end of the chapter. The apostle appeals tenderly both to understanding and to conscience in establishing the scriptural propriety of the gospel of grace going freely out to both Jews and Gentiles - showing too the consideration of one another that this would normally produce by the power of the Spirit of God.

First he speaks of Jesus Christ as "minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." This was truly the prime ministry of the LordJesus. Promises had been made to the patriarchs, and the nation Israel was in line to receive them. These promises could be fulfilled only in Christ, and He came as Himself the fulfillment of all the promises of God. How many received Him is, alas, a different matter, but His ministry has been fully presented to that favored yet rebellious nation.

But this was not the limit of the ministry of Christ. There was also the object "that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy." The Syrophenician woman was not refused when she took the ground of mercy. This was fully according to Old Testament prophecy, however little the Jews would care to notice it. Psalms 18:1-50 is clearly the voice of the Messiah, who says, "For this cause I will confess to Thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name." It is Christ rejoicing in being a blessing to Gentiles, and glory given to God.

Then the word of Jehovah is quoted from Deuteronomy 32:43, "Rejoice ye Gentiles, with His people." This is a prophecy too, of millennial blessing. Gentiles themselves are bidden to rejoice, along with Israel.

Another quotation - again from the Psalms - is a general call to all Gentiles, and all races to praise the Lord. This shortest of all Psalms [117] is most striking in that it speaks only of Gentiles, Israel's salvation being the occasion of the call. It is "merciful kindness" indeed.

From Isaiah 11:10 is taken the fourth and final, - "There shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall reign over the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles trust." This adds greatly to the previous quotations, for it establishes the deity of Him who was to bring the blessing. He was to be "a root" of Jesse, not simply a branch. In the Branch we easily discern the Son of David, He who came of Israel. But in the Root how different a matter. He is both indeed, but as the Root He is the Source of all, and hence His reign extends over the Gentiles, and they find shelter under His wings.

The blessedness of these prophetic scriptures leads Paul to speak of "the God of Hope." Had these prophecies not a voice to fill with hope the souls of Gentiles once "without hope, without God in the world"? "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." Doubtless there is as much voice here for the stricken remnant of Israel as for the stranger - Gentile. Was all hope gone now that the Messiah had been rejected by Israel? Did the godly feel the pathos of it all in hearts that adopted Jeremiah's language - "My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord"? Let them then rejoice in this, that our God is "the God of hope" - able to "fill" us "with all joy and peace in believing." His blessed counsel of divine power and grace give us no excuse for the slightest discouragement, but the title rather to "abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost." Why, alas, do we not respond more fittingly?

Now as we draw near the close of the epistle, the truth having been declared in fullness concerning the counsel and ways of God in grace, the Spirit of God leads Paul to speak of himself and of his own connection with all of this ministry.

Personally he was persuaded that the Roman saints were full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another. It is not as though he wrote with any suggestion of superiority over them, as though he were the only one able to instruct or admonish them. Nevertheless he had written with God-given boldness and the more so because he was confident of them. It was only "in part," for the Word of God has an infinite fullness, and Paul made no boast of communicating everything to them.

God had given him special grace for a special ministry; and by grace he sought to fulfill this ministry. He had been made "minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God."This ministering of the Gospel was the means by which Paul acted as a sort of priest to offer up the Gentiles to God. They had previously had no place of acceptability to God, but now by grace they had; and Paul was the special minister of that grace. Under law the Levites took the place of all the firstborn of Israel, and were sanctified by natural birth for the outward place of nearness to God. Aaron offered them to the Lord for this purpose (Numbers 8:11). But this offering up of the Gentiles had a far higher kind of acceptability, "being sanctified by the Holy Ghost." It was an acceptability for heavenly position and blessing. So it is through Paul's ministry that God publicly accomplished this.

Consequently he had something in which he could glory or boast in Christ Jesus, in those things that pertained to God. This was no boasting in the flesh, but a boldness begotten by the assurance of God's having chosen him for this special work, and it the more moved his heart to glory in the Lord, not to exalt himself as the vessel.

He speaks not of other men's work in which he was privileged to have a share, but of work that Christ had wrought distinctly by him in his going out to Gentiles - words and deeds that had power to bring Gentiles into subjection.

Thus he insists it was the manifest work of the Spirit of God, borne witness to by mighty signs and wonders. This was consistent with God's ways; such signs marked the beginning of every change in God's dispensational dealings. It does not follow that we are to expect the miracle to continue the same throughout the dispensation: this would not be consistent with His ways.

But Paul had traveled from Jerusalem and in a circuit to Illyricum (in the north of Greece), traversing all the intermediate territory, fully preaching the gospel of Christ. It was no half-performed work, for he had been laid hold of by the Spirit of God for this very purpose. His great evangelist's heart had responded with fervent energy to the Old Testament prophecies of the Gospel being declared to those who were afar off and had known no revelation from God. He sought new fields, not generally preaching where Christ had already been introduced by another. It was blessed work, the instrument being equipped, called, and guided by God. This energy of faith is not seen in the other apostles in the same way. Told as they were to preach the Gospel to all nations, they did not leave Jerusalem even when persecution scattered the many believers from the city. Verse 21 is a quotation from Isaiah 52:15, where the prime application is to the glory of Christ being manifested to the nations when He comes in power and majesty. But the gospel brings home to the souls of men an anticipation of that glory, a sight of it by faith before it is revealed. This is what mightily moved the apostle's heart - the Word of God apprehended by faith - a faith that longed to see such faith awakened in souls who had heard nothing of Christ before.

Therefore, he had not yet been to Rome. The gospel had already been established there: there were a goodly number of saints in the city. And though he longed to go there, he considered it of first importance to fulfill his mission in all the parts from Jerusalem to Illyricum. But now his work there was finished, and he anticipated the fulfillment of his great desire of many years to see Rome also.

Yet even now his visit to them he intended to make on his way to Spain, another new field entirely. So he had not become weary of his great pioneer work. But there is no record left us of his ever having seen Spain. The Lord may not have allowed him this fresh field. For we know he was kept long in Rome as a prisoner. And eventually he was martyred there (2 Timothy 4:1-22).

It is touching to note how the heart of the apostle sought the comfort of the fellowship of the saints. He counted on their company being a stimulant and encouragement to his soul for the work he looked forward to in Spain.

But first he was going to Jerusalem - and the reason he gives is "to minister unto the saints." He was to be the bearer of a contribution from the Gentile assemblies in Macedonia and Achaia, for the poor saints of Jerusalem - a famine having occasioned want there. No doubt it was a sweet testimony of affection and unity - so valuable at the time. Yet we may be sure that this was not all that moved Paul's heart. He has already told us (Romans 10:1) of his deep longing for Israel's salvation, and this desire doubtless had much to do with his determination to "keep this feast that cometh at Jerusalem." Why does he not then speak of it here?Can it be that he mentions no spiritual reason for going because he had the presentiment that it would bear no spiritual fruit? Indeed, we know from elsewhere that he did not have the direct leading of the Spirit of God to go to Jerusalem - in fact was warned by the Spirit not to go. The temporal ministry for the poor saints could as well have been carried by another brother.

In all of this however, we may well admire the fervency and zeal of the apostle, while taking warning to our souls that it does not do to so follow our spiritual desires as to leave no ear for the guidance of the Spirit of God. The first is a poor substitute for the latter. And if we determine to act upon our desires, it is one of the deceits of the flesh to use to advantage any circumstance that might seem to justify it. Can it be that this is seen even in the apostle? "Lord, what is man?"

Yet, nevertheless, this temporal fruit of the Gentiles' affection toward the poor saints at Jerusalem, is precious to contemplate: "It hath pleased them verily." This was no mere sense of duty, though duty it surely is for brethren to minister to the need of brethren.

The Gentiles were in some sense debtors to Jerusalem. "Salvation is of the Jews"; and the gospel had originated in this favored though guilty city. So if spiritual blessing had come from there to Gentiles, it is only proper, as well as an opportunity to express thankfulness, that if the Jews are in need, the Gentiles gladly minister to them in carnal things.

But following the performance of this ministry, to the Jews, Paul's heart was set on going to Spain, by way of Rome, where he would stop by the way. He did indeed get to Rome: whether to Spain or not we are not told. But how much intervened that he had not counted upon! After Jerusalem, two years in prison at Caesarea, the hazardous voyage over the Mediterranean with three months at Melita, then a full two years in a Roman prison before release. His intention had been only to stop briefly there, but God had work for him, and he was forcibly detained.

Nor was he disappointed in his confidence that when he came he would come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. Indeed the fruit of his sojourn in Rome is far beyond our ability to measure - not only in the souls blessed there, but through the many inspired epistles he wrote while a prisoner there. If indeed since that time the gospel has been a prisoner in Rome, yet in spite of this it has gone on and prospered in the blessing of multitudes. Blessed testimony of divine power greater than every determination to silence it! "The fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" does not depend on men's favorable attitude.

Now in his desire for their earnest prayers, Paul appeals to their allegiance to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to their love in the Spirit - the first objective, the second subjective. How could the Roman saints resist this tender entreaty? It is their striving together with him in prayer that he seeks: it is a battlefield, and he would press them into active service, that they might be fully united with him in the conflict. If we know anything about prayer, we know it means serious conflict with spiritual enemies. Would we rather cease from praying, and allow the enemy to gain the field?Indeed the results of this would be far more dreadful than any conflict! If we would avoid dire consequences, we cannot excuse ourselves from service on this battleground. Nor, if we have any honest devotedness to Christ, would we want to be excused.

But the apostle anticipated strong opposition in Jerusalem, and well he might, for not only was he well aware of the hatred of the unbelieving Jews against him, but the Spirit of God warned him of bonds and suffering awaiting him if he went there. So he asks prayers for his preservation - and as we know, God answered these in His own wise way.

More than this, however, he asks prayers in connection with his ministry to the saints, that this might be acceptable to them. For we must remember that even the believing Jews at Jerusalem were inclined to be somewhat doubtful of Paul (Acts 21:21), and he evidently desired to use this opportunity to encourage their confidence in him. This temporal gift of the Gentiles was a sweet testimony of Christian affection and unity, and the apostle was most desirous to have it received as such in a gracious spirit of thanksgiving to God.

Then he closes the epistle proper with a word similar to his avowal at the first (Romans 1:10-21) of his desire and intention to come to Rome. He wanted it to be "with joy by the will of God," and so it was, despite his bonds. And he commends them all to the presence of the God of peace.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 15:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-15.html. 1897-1910.

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