Commentary on Romans 15:14-21
14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.
In the original Greek Paul's introduction is emphatic ("And I am convinced, my brothers and sisters, even I myself"). "Goodness" (agathosynes), "knowledge" (gnoseos), and "instruct" (nouthetein) are general terms so we should not attempt to squeeze more specific definitions out of them. There is some hyperbole here for Paul knows the Romans are not perfectly good and knowledgeable. He knows that the Gentiles were arrogant towards unbelieving Jews (11:17-20), that they were ignorant of God's salvation plans for Jews and Gentiles (11:25), and that there were conflicts between the "strong" and the "weak" (14:2-6). Paul is paying them the courtesy of assuming they are relatively mature. Recall that the faith of the Roman Christians was being proclaimed throughout the world (1:8).
15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Is Paul saying that part of his letter was bold or blunt, or is he saying that what he has written is partially a reminder? It could be either. Dunn suggests that Paul means that in a particular part of the letter, namely 12.1-15.13, he has been so bold as to directly exhort an audience he did not convert, though Dunn admits this may well refer to the whole letter. Barrett thinks Paul is saying that he wrote partially to remind the audience. I think this is likely to be correct. Paul surely knew, especially in his argument in chs. 9-11, that he was breaking some fresh ground for his audience, not least because he characterizes what he is doing as the revelation of what previously had been a mystery or secret. So Romans is only in part a "reminder."1
Paul can speak boldly because of the grace given to him by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom 1:5; Gal 1:16; 2:1-10; Eph 3:2, 7-8; Col 1:25). The Roman church is a primarily Gentile church and so lies within the scope of Paul's ministry.
The 'offering' is susceptible of two interpretations: (i) the offering consists of the Gentiles themselves, and (ii) the offering consists of donations made by the Gentiles, that is, their contributions to the collection. The former interpretation, which is adopted by the NIV, is preferable in the light of three facts: (i) that the apostle has already urged the audience to offer their bodies (i.e., themselves) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (12:1); (ii) that he speaks immediately of this offering being 'sanctified by the Holy Spirit', not something that Paul would say about contributions to a collection; and (iii) that Paul was heading for Jerusalem with the collection before his planned visit to Rome and therefore the Roman believers would not have opportunity to donate to the collection to which he refers in 15:25-32.
When, here in 15:16, Paul speaks of the 'offering' of the Gentiles, he uses a word found in only one other place in his letters, in Ephesians 5:2, where he says: 'Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God' (italics added). In this text the word also denotes self-offering (the self-offering of Christ to God) and not something that Christ offers. This provides extra support for the view that 'the offering of the Gentiles' here in 15:16 is correctly portrayed by the NIV translation as the self-offering of the Gentiles. Over this offering Paul presides as a priest to ensure that it is acceptable to God.2
Notice the very natural trinitarian progression here-Paul is a minister of Christ, serving the gospel of God, offering the Gentiles who have been consecrated by the Spirit. Paul clearly sees the divine functions and existence parceled out in three persons and ways.3
17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God.
Verses 17-21 are one long, complex sentence in the original Greek. The "things that pertain to God" are what Christ has wrought through Paul's ministry (vv 18-19). Paul does not boast about his own achievements (3:27; 4:2-3) but, rather, boasts about what God has done through him.
18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
The "obedience of the Gentiles" is the conversion of the Gentiles (1:5; 16:26). "Signs and wonders" refer to miracles performed through Paul (2 Cor 12:12).
It is significant that Paul's reference to Christ working through his ministry to win the obedience of the Gentiles recalls the descriptions of Jesus' own earthly ministry - effected by signs and wonders and through the power of the Spirit. One might say that Paul believed that what Christ began to do in his own ministry he has continued to do through the ministry of his apostles, including himself (cf. Acts 1:1-2).4
We may have expected Paul to say that he preached from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) to Illyricum but Acts 9:28 (cf. Acts 26:20) records that he moved about freely in Jerusalem and spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. However, his preaching in Jerusalem was probably brief (Gal 1:18-19, 22). "The extent of the Roman province of Illyricum is difficult to define as its outer limits changed over time. In terms of present-day geography Illyricum lay along the Adriatic coast and took in present-day Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania."5 Paul did not take a direct route from Jerusalem to Illyricum but, rather, moved about the regions in a circuitous way. When he says he "fully preached the gospel" he probably means that he completed his special apostolic task of planting strategic churches.
20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person's foundation, 21 but as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand."
Generally, Paul preached Christ where there was no worship of Christ at all. He viewed his mission as "planting" churches whereas others "watered" churches (1 Cor 3:5-15). Obviously this was not an absolute rule for in this very letter he is writing to build up a church he did not plant.
The quote is from Isa 52:15 LXX, part of the fourth Servant Song. Other NT writers also identify the servant of Isaiah with Jesus Christ (Matt 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:26-35; 1 Pet 2:22). Paul proclaims the message about Christ, the servant.
Rom. 15:14-21, 30-33 - Richison Exegesis
v. 14: Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14 begins the final phase of the book whereby Paul dealt with personal issues he wanted the Romans to know. He also set forth his philosophy of ministry and his personal plans that came out of it.
PRINCIPLE: Spiritual maturity does not function on reaction but on principle.
APPLICATION: Immature believers operate on a trigger-like reaction to what people say about them or do to them. Maturity does not function by reaction but by principle. Immaturity uses retaliation and vengeance as its method for relating to others. Maturity does not react to poor treatment from others by paying them back in kind. People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be. Some Christians are reluctant to agree to a suggestion because that decision will have to stand the test of performance or further approval.
vv. 15-16: 15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, 16 that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Verses 15 and 16 reminded the Romans that the writing of this epistle was part of a larger mission to the Gentiles.
v. 15: Nevertheless, brethren, Again, Paul used a family term to relate to the Roman church.
v. 16: that [result] I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, The word "minister" means public servanthood carried out as a priestly duty. A priest represents God to man. This was a special ministry given to Paul for the Gentiles.
PRINCIPLE: The only right for any of us to serve the Lord is due to the grace of God.
APPLICATION: None of us deserves to serve the Lord. Paul received his apostleship by grace (Ro 1:5). He deemed himself to be the "least of the apostles... not fit to be called an apostle." However, he could say,
v. 17: Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. In verses 14 to 21 Paul spoke of his past ministry to the Gentiles.
PRINCIPLE: Our only basis for bragging in the work of God is what Christ has done.
APPLICATION: There is an area where the Christian may glory. We glory in the work of God through our ministries. This is a proper pride. Sinful pride is what glories in self. A person has no right to take credit for what someone else achieves. We have no right to take credit for what Christ has done.
v. 18: For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient-
PRINCIPLE: We should glory only in what Christ does through us.
APPLICATION: Believers should be careful regarding to what they draw attention. Christians need to take note of the true source of their work when they assess their ministry. We all should carry a distaste for self-glorification. Although God uses us as the agent, He is the one who does the doing. Our goal is to draw attention to what God does through our ministry. An objective of Christians is to increase the glory of Christ and decrease our own glory. We can take no credit for what Christ does through us.
v. 19: in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
PRINCIPLE: Christian leaders must think strategically about their ministry.
APPLICATION: Strategically Paul ministered first to the cities. If we want to reach the villages, we do it first through the cities. He was a pioneer trailblazer in opening up new geographical areas to the gospel.
vv. 20-21: 20 And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation, 21 but as it is written: "To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand." Paul now turns to reveal his strategy of reaching the maximum number of people for Christ.
v. 20: And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation
Paul's desire was to be a pioneer missionary who opened virgin territory to the gospel. He wanted to go to areas where there were no converts.
v. 21: but as it is written: "To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand."
PRINCIPLE: There are two levels of ambition for every believer.
APPLICATION: Ambition can be good or bad. Many people have a lot of ambition but devote all their energy to furthering their own interests. This is a vice of successful people on the human level; it is not the vice of people with no goals. Biblically, true ambition is to take the gifts and capacities that God gave us and use them for His honor and glory. That means that our chosen career should be lived for Him. Ambition for titles, place, and circumstance is too small for the mature Christian. There is the story of a young man who dedicated his life for the ministry. A vice-president of a large company offered him a wonderful salary to work for him. The young man declined, saying that the salary was large enough but the job was not big enough. When we develop a passion for world evangelism, our career becomes a means to fill that goal.
v. 30: Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, - Paul now turned to a request for prayer from the Romans (vv. 30-33).
Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The Spirit's love motivated and prompted the Romans to pray for Paul. This is a love that looks out for the interests of others. It is a love driven to pray for others.
PRINCIPLE: Our right of prayer rests on the authority of Jesus and the Spirit's love toward us.
APPLICATION: All wrestling in prayer should not rest on the striving in prayer but on our right to pray. In this way we can contend with the hosts that war against us.
v. 31: that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,
PRINCIPLE: Prayer should have specificity
APPLICATION: Most of us pray in indistinct, general terms. However, the greater the specificity or precision in prayer, the more effective the prayer will be. All prayer should have the dual burden: (1) Pray for me and (2) Pray with me. William Carey said, "I am willing to go down into the pit but you must hold the rope." We need to recognize the need for intercessory prayer support. This is especially true when we go into the lion's mouth. We need courage when we go into a dangerous situation. This is dependence on God.
vv. 32-33: 32 that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
v. 32: that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Verse 32 is the third specific prayer request by Paul.
v. 33: Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Previously Paul gave God the title of "the God of hope" (Rom. 15:13) and now he called God "the God of peace." God is the source and giver of peace to the individual soul and among the saints. He can reconcile any issue, whether it is within or without.
PRINCIPLE: We offer prayer under submission to the will of God.
APPLICATION: We should offer our prayers with the willingness for God not to answer them the way we want them to be answered. At time God will answer prayer completely outside of our expectations. John said it like this: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (1 Jn. 5:14-15).
Rom. 15:14-21, 30-33 - BibleRef.com
Context Summary: Romans 15:14-21 begins with Paul's assurance to the Roman Christians that, though he has been bold in instructing them, he knows that they are full of goodness and knowledge. His mission from God is to preach the gospel to the Gentiles who have never heard it before. He is proud of the work that Christ has accomplished through him in bringing Gentiles to faith in Christ. He knows Christ has done this through the power of miraculous signs and the power of the Holy Spirit.
v. 14: This verse begins a new section of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome. It's likley he has not yet met most of his original readers in person. He does know Priscilla and Aquila, who host a house church in Rome (Romans 16:3-5). He knows other people in Rome, as well (Romans 16:5-15), so he likely has received several reports about what's going on among the believers in that city.
Based on this knowledge, Paul can both praise and express his concern for them. Here, he calls them brothers and sisters and tells them that he is satisfied in two things about them. First, he believes the Roman Christians to be full of goodness, meaning they have a reputation for doing the right things and being kind and generous.
Second, Paul understands them to have good knowledge and to have the ability to teach that knowledge to each other. By this, Paul means that he believes they have learned well from their teachers about Christian truths to the point that many of them are even able to teach those truths to each other. Likely, these two ideas are connected. Paul believes the Romans Christians to be full of goodness in their behavior because they are full of knowledge about God and His grace to them in Christ.
Romans 15:22-33 describes Paul's plan to visit the Christians in Rome on his way to preaching the gospel in Spain. He has longed to see them for years. Before he comes, he must deliver a gift of financial aid from Gentile Christians to the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He asks his readers to wrestle with him in prayer about this trip. Paul especially hopes to be delivered from the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders who want to kill him, and that the Christian Jews will receive the gift he is bringing.
Commentary on Romans 15:30-33
30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf.
The fulfillment of Paul's hope to come to the Romans "with the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (v. 29) depends on what will happen when Paul goes to Jerusalem with the collection. And so he "now" "urges" the Roman Christians to pray for him. The word is a strong one, and Paul accentuates it by his twofold qualification: "through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit." The first "through" might be paraphrased "in the name of": it introduces the authority by which Paul makes his request. The second, on the other hand, identifies the ground of the request. "Love of the Spirit" might mean "the love of the Spirit for us;" but, in a context where relations among Christians have been so central, it probably indicates "the love that the Spirit inspires" (REB; cf. TEV); for example, the love that believers have for one another, a love "that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit."1
The words "join fervently" are an athletic metaphor of the striving of an athlete toward a goal (Phil 1:27; 4:3; Col 4:12).
31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.
The prayer for "rescue" (rhystho) refers to the preservation of Paul's life. The "disobedient in Judea" are non-Christian Jews, in particular those who have rejected the gospel (Rom 10:21; 11:30-31). They include those like the pre-conversion Paul who persecuted Christians. Acts notes antagonism against Paul by unbelieving Jews (9:23, 29; 13:45, 50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5-9, 13; 18:12-17; 19:9; 20:3; 21:26-36; 23:12-35). Paul knows his trip to Jerusalem may not turn out how he hopes. Acts 20:22-24 says the Holy Spirit warned Paul that imprisonment and persecution awaited him. Acts 21-28 tell us that he was taken captive after a near riot in the Temple precincts, was subjected to house arrest for two years, and then shipped to Rome.
His request that this service would be 'favorably received' by the Lord's people reflects some apprehension on his part as to whether the Jewish believers in Jerusalem would accept the offerings of the Gentile churches in the spirit in which they were given. For the Jewish believers to do so would involve a de facto recognition of the bona fides of Gentile believers as true members of the people of God, and this was something that some of them had previously called into question (cf. Gal 5:6-10; 6:12-15; Acts 15:1-2, 4-5). According to the Acts of the Apostles, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, 'the brothers and sisters' received him warmly (Acts 21:17), and later, when appearing before Felix the Roman governor in Caesarea and referring to his recent visit to Jerusalem and the collection, Paul said, 'After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings' (Acts 24:17). The indications are, then, that the offering of the Gentile believers was accepted, and his prayers and those of the Roman believers had been answered. Dunn, citing Minear, says: 'Nothing more fully proves the significance of the fund in Paul's eyes than the fact that he judged its safe delivery to be worth the risk of his life'.2
All Paul's plans are subordinate to the will of God as can be seen by the fact his prayer was not answered in the way he had probably hoped. He was rescued from the unbelieving Jews, but only by being locked up by the Romans. He did make it to Rome, but as a prisoner. The refreshment he envisions "stems from the fellowship and joy that exist when members of the church mutually minister one to another."3
33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.
The description of God as 'the God of peace' is one Paul employs a total of six times in his letters (15:33; 16:20; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23; cf. Heb 13:20). He is the God of peace supremely because through Christ he made peace by the blood of the cross (Col 1:20), or as Paul says elsewhere: 'God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them' (2 Cor 5:19). On the basis of the fact that God is the God of peace, and that he has made peace with humanity through the death of his Son, Paul repeatedly invokes God's peace upon the audiences of his letters (1:7; 15:13, 33; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; 6:16; Eph 1:2; 6:23; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4; Philem 3).4
The word ἀμήν (amēn) signifies a desire that the prayer wish will be realized in the lives of the Romans. The benediction placed here is not the sign of the end of the letter, for elsewhere Paul conveys greetings of peace before the letter comes to a conclusion (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16). Thus the prayer wish here precedes the greetings, which dominate chapter 16.5
We come this morning to a new paragraph which introduces the conclusion to Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Before we begin this morning, is there someone who can give me a synopsis of what 14:1 thru 51:13 was all about?
The "strong" were predominantly Gentile believers and the "weak" were unsaved Jews. Paul was calling for the strong to behave in such a way as to be a testimony to the Jews of the reality of the Gospel. This section is not about Christian liberty; it is about evangelism of the elect remnant of Israel.
Alright, after almost 15 chapters of doctrine and application, Paul returns to autobiographical comments that he began in the first chapter. Here we see a much more intimate side of the apostle for here we get a personal look at Paul the missionary. In verses 14-21 we learn Paul's philosophy of ministry. In verses 22-29 we read of Paul's plans for ministry. In verses 30-33 we conclude with Paul's petition for prayer for his ministry.
Let me remind you that Paul had never met the Christians to whom he wrote, so he spends some time here sharing his heart with them. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this letter. That's atypical for Paul, because he usually visited a city like Thessalonica or Corinth, then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city. But that's not what Paul is doing here. Since he had never been to Rome, he felt a special obligation to introduce himself to the Roman believers. It was necessary for him to pave the way for this Epistle by expanding on his relationship to his readers. He had a deep and abiding concern and interest in the spiritual well-being of these Romans.
Paul has no words of rebuke for them, but a sincere commendation:
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14 NASB
Paul knows several of the Christians in Rome, and is confident that they are not off track. Remember how he started this letter:
to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua Christ. First, I thank my God through Yeshua Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Romans 1:7-8 NASB
The phrase "the whole world" is probably used to entail the breadth of the Roman Empire. So Paul says, "I myself also am convinced"-this is a perfect tense, which points to a continuing state of confidence in the Roman Christians. Paul goes on to say that they are: "Full of goodness"-this is from the Greek word agathosune, which carries the idea of generosity; this is how some translate it. Timothy George calls it "benevolence and generosity toward someone else." Generosity may imply financial gifts, but it also suggests the giving of our time and energies to others in practical ways to show our care and concern for them.
Goodness is a product of the Spirt filled life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Galatians 5:22 NASB
Believers are commanded to be good in:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6:10 NASB
Then he says that they are "Filled with all knowledge"-the word "filled" is a passive verb, having been filled with "all knowledge." If the Roman believers were filled with all knowledge, what did Paul have to write them?
Now I think that there is a law of biblical interpretation which everyone knows who's been around the study of the Bible very much at all, but which is probably as rarely practiced as any principle in Bible reading. It's simply this: Read the Bible in the light of its context. Or context is king.
What's the context of what Paul says here? Is it the context of a general theological background? No, I think that Paul is talking about a very specific topic in the preceding section: How the strong are to treat the weak.
So when he says, "I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge," the chances are he means the kind of goodness and knowledge that will constrain the strong, not to despise the weak. He goes on to say, "Able also to admonish one another"-the word here is noutheteo, it means: "to lead someone away from a false path into a true path by warning and teaching." It's a comprehensive word for counseling. Isn't that what the previous section was all about? Paul wants the strong to "counsel," "warn," "instruct" the weak in the truths of Messiah.
Jay Adams has written a book called, Competent to Counsel, which is an attempt to relate Scripture to the psychological process of Christian counseling. And this text, "Able also to admonish one another," is the basis of the title Competent to Counsel. There are many today who would tell us that the only ones competent to counsel are worldly trained psychiatrists and psychologists. They tell us you have to know Freud, you have to know Karl Rogers, or you have to know Yung in order to deal with people's problems. But what the Scripture says here is if you have knowledge of the revelation of God and your life is characterized by goodness, you are competent to counsel. Look at what Paul writes to Timothy:
and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Yeshua. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB
"Teaching"-about God and man. "Reproof"-means to show someone their sin and call them to repentance. "Correction"-setting straight the life. "Training in righteousness"-training in what the Scripture teaches about righteousness. The Scriptures can change lives, they are breathed out from God our Creator.
John Murray wrote, "There is no situation in which we (as men of God) are placed, no demand that arises for which Scripture as the deposit of the manifold wisdom of God is not adequate and sufficient."
Larry Crabb, a psychologist with a Ph.D. said, "There is no such thing as a psychological problem. All problems are either spiritual or physical. Anyone who says there is a psychological problem somewhere in the middle that isn't either physical or spiritual has a low view of sin, doesn't understand what sin is."
Listen believers, our problem is not that we do not have what we need in the Bible, but that we do not have enough of the Bible in us! If you know the Word of God, you are competent to counsel.
In verse 14 Paul is simply expressing his confidence in the Roman believers that they will respond out of what they know to the exhortations that he's been giving to them about how to treat the weak.
But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, Romans 15:15 NASB
"Boldly," which is to say, "rather boldly, or more boldly than perhaps you think I ought to have written, not knowing you and you not knowing me," but I have done it unto you in some points-that literally means: "in parts of the letter," "To remind you again." Paul wrote Romans for the purpose of reminding them of truths they already knew.
The authors of Scripture say this over and over because God's people need to be reminded of what they already know. "He will remind you of my ways" (1 Corinthians 4:17). "For this reason I remind you" (2 Timothy 1:6). "Remind them of these things"(2 Timothy 2:14). "Remind them to be subject to rulers" (Titus 3:1). "Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things" (2 Peter 1:12). "To stir you up by way of reminder" (2 Peter 1:13). "I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder" (2 Peter 3:1). "Now I desire to remind you" (Jude 1:5).
Why did they keep saying this? Because any good teacher knows the principle of forgetfulness, they know that you need to keep reminding people of what you have already said. I realize that what I have said to you in the past you have already forgotten. You know how I know that? Because I have forgotten much of what I have said. I have to keep going back to past teaching that I have done to figure out what I said. So we do tend to forget. And any good teacher knows that you must repeat things. Paul is bold in his reminder to the Roman Christians because he is under divine mandate, "Because of the grace that was given me from God"-the "grace" Paul speaks of here is the grace of apostleship:
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB
Think about it, he was Saul of Tarsus, a blasphemer, an injurious person, and a persecutor and murderer of Christians, and now here he is writing Scripture. How is this possible? Grace-unmerited, unearned favor. It was because of the sovereign grace of God that Paul received the grace of apostleship. An apostleship that he received from the risen Lord as a grace gift. Paul did not choose apostleship as a vocation. God chose him and called him and fitted him for it:
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NASB
Paul is saying, I'm under orders, that is why I'm so bold. I speak for Yahweh, I am His apostle. Paul's words of explanation in verse 15 lead naturally into verse 16-21 about his ministry as an apostle of the Gentiles.
to be a minister of Christ Yeshua to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 NASB
Paul conveys his apostolic role with cultic terms.
"To be a minister of Christ Yeshua to the Gentiles"-the word "minister" is from the Greek leitourgos, which means: "a functionary in the Temple, or [generally] a worshiper [of God]." It is where we get our word "liturgy." It speaks of spiritual service to Yahweh. It is used in Hebrews 1:7 of the service of angels.
Paul is speaking here about his priestly ministry. And he links this with his own devotion to the collection for the Jerusalem saints in 15:25-33. Nickle, in his book, Collection, pp. 74-79, develops the idea that historically leitourgos was used in the context of the Temple tax. The function of the "servants of God" within the Jewish community was to devote themselves to the collection and safe delivery of the Temple tax to Jerusalem.
The term "minister" is used in:
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. Hebrews 8:1-2 NASB
Here it is a "minister in the sanctuary." Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest, and this term is used of his ministry in:
When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. Luke 1:23 NASB
Paul sees himself metaphorically as a priest for Yahweh. He goes on to say, "Ministering as a priest the gospel of God"-"as a priest" is used metaphorically.
Peter tells us that all believers in the New Covenant are priests:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 NASB
That is what we have said historically in our own faith that we believe in the priesthood of believers. We are all believer priests.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16 NASB
As New Covenant priests we offer up living sacrifices. Making certain men priests and calling them priests is a misrepresentation and a violation of the priesthood of the believers and goes against the truth of the Word of God.
We are priests ministering the Gospel of our God! We represent the Gospel in our work, family life, and relationships. Our conversation either glorifies Christ in the Gospel or detracts from the Gospel. The way we treat others either adorns the Gospel or denigrates it. We cannot sit on the fence when it comes to the priestly roles.
Paul further shows this priestly metaphor by the image of "offering of the Gentiles," just as though he were offering them as a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. "So that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit"- the word "offering" here is prosphora, which is another cultic term, as is "acceptable" and "sanctified." The offering that he brings is the offering up of the Gentiles, and he brings them as an acceptable offering, which has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. "Sanctified by the Holy Spirit"-means that the Holy Spirit is the decisive cause in preparing a holy people for the Lord. The Gentiles who come to faith in Yeshua through the ministry of Paul are like a great offering that he's gathered together, and he gives that offering to Yahweh.
And so all of that time, that great cultic system was in force. The Levites, the priests, the high priest, all ministered in that Old Covenant. And they had that valid ministry. Now the apostle, using the same terminology, speaks of his ministry of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant had a temporary validity. The New Covenant has a permanent validity. The Old Covenant really never did take away sin in the ultimate sense. The New Covenant is a ministry that provides a permanent forgiveness of sins.
In the case of the Old Covenant, the sacrifices that the priest offered were the animals. The priests met the person making the offering at the door to the tabernacle and they received the animal from the individual who said, "I've sinned, I need to offer a sin offering." The priest took the offering, he took it over to the altar of brazen sacrifice and he slew the animal. And the benefits of all of that was reckoned to the individual who had brought the animal. In the New Covenant the great sacrifice, the One great sacrifice, is the sacrifice of the Lord Yeshua Ha'Moshiach. The Old Covenant sacrifices were pleasing to the Lord for a time. The New Covenant sacrifice is pleasing to Him forever. The sacrificial animals were animals without spot and blemish, suggestive of the Lamb of God who is without spot and blemish. Those sacrifices were acceptable because they were in accordance with the Word of God, the New Covenant sacrifice is acceptable because it is the sacrifice of the eternal Son.
Therefore in Christ Yeshua I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. Romans 15:17 NASB
It's absolutely crucial to see that Paul's boast is "in Christ Yeshua"-Paul is not boasting in himself, because that would be sinful. Pride is a sin. Paul himself says:
so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." 1 Corinthians 1:31 NASB
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 NASB
So he glories as a priest in what Christ has done as he offers the Gentiles.
Think about this: Before Paul began, neither Asia Minor nor Greece had heard of Yeshua the Messiah; by the time he was writing this letter, there were little communities all over that part of Caesar's Empire. By this stage in his life, he had accomplished many things. He wrote from Corinth during his Third Missionary Journey. He had traveled farther to declare the Gospel than any other apostle. He was the preeminent church planter of his day. He founded churches throughout Asia Minor, along the Mediterranean, and across the Aegean Sea into Europe. His writings were received as authoritative. His suffering for the sake of the Gospel was well known in the churches. Yet Paul found no room for boasting of these things or making much of them. Instead, he wrote, "Therefore in Christ Yeshua I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God." It was in his union with Yeshua that he could boast-and that alone:
For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, Romans 15:18 NASB
Many Christian leaders today find much to boast about: building size, number of people attending services, size of the offering; but Paul's boasting is of another kind. Paul knows that success is the result of divine grace. "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me"-the only thing Paul will talk about is what Christ did through him. You never hear Paul telling how much he has done for God. Everywhere it's what God has done, "Through him":
From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26-27 NASB
All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:12 NASB
After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Acts 21:19 NASB
Paul only took credit only for what God had done through him. That's true humility. True humility is not to deny what the Lord does, true humility is to acknowledge what the Lord does, give Him the credit, but not to step beyond that.
Why did God severely punish king David and his people when he took a census of Israel? That doesn't sound like a very serious crime, does it? So why did God punish David for numbering the people? It represented David's departure from the principle of dependence upon God to be his resource and shift to self dependance.
And what we need to realize is that Paul had plenty of reason to boast. In 1978 Michael Hart wrote a book called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in History." In it he ranked the most important people in the history of the world, taking into account the people they influenced, the movements they started, the impact they made, and the legacy they left behind. Three of the top fifteen came from the Bible-Yeshua, Moses, and Paul the apostle. Paul came in at 6th place, just below Confucius. That Paul should be considered one of the most influential men in history is what you might call a no-brainer. He wrote at least 13 books of the New Testament. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. He, more than anyone else, brought the Gospel to Europe. He was the first great international evangelist. He was the first Christian theologian. He may have been the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity. So you could understand boasting, but Paul only boasted in what Christ accomplished through him. He was truly a man of God.
Hudson Taylor was one of the great missionaries to China, God used him to open up Inland China and ultimately to be the founder of the China Inland Mission. Hudson Taylor said, "One day God said to me, 'Im going to evangelize Inland China, if you will walk with me I will do it through you.'" By the grace of God he was enabled to do that, and God opened up Inland China to the ministry of the Gospel through Hudson Taylor. The only thing we can do that matters is what God does through us.
Then Paul says, "Resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles"-what does Paul mean by "resulting in obedience"? We saw this "obedience" earlier in this letter:
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB
Paul was the apostle to the nations, and his calling was to "bring about the obedience of faith." The significance of the genitive pistis (of faith) is disputed. Some take it as a subjective genitive giving it the sense of: "obedience that comes from faith." It can also be taken as an appositional construction and should be translated as: "the obedience that is faith." Acceptance of the Gospel in faith can be described as an act of obedience.
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" Romans 10:16 NASB
The word "heed" is the Greek word hupakouo, which means: "to obey." Paul uses it four times in Romans, and the other three are all translated: "obey." The parallelism of the two lines reveals that disobedience consists in failure to believe:
Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Yeshua answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:28-29 NASB
It is an act of obedience to God to believe in His Son.
Many Lordship Salvationists use this phrase "obedience of faith" to enforce their view of commitment salvation. Thomas Schreiner writes, "Here Paul simply describes it as 'obedience' since saving faith must include obedience to be genuine." With that in mind let's look at:
And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' Matthew 22:37-39 NASB
Do you know anyone who lives this out? Not to live like this is disobedience, which, according to Schreiner, means you do not have genuine faith. Don't we all live in some disobedience? If so, how much is acceptable?:
For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB
I am seen by God as righteous because of Yeshua Christ; I am in Christ.
When Paul says, "Resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles," he is talking about the Gentiles' obedience of faith, their trusting Christ.
Paul goes on to say, "By word and deed"-this is not a reference to the Gentiles, but the things that Christ has done through Paul in word and in deed. The Spirit of God saves people and transforms them into followers by word and deed.
The word is emphasized in this paragraph at the end of verse 19: "I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ"-that is a reference to the preaching of the word. Verse 20: "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel"-this is the word. Verse 21a: "Those who have never been told of Him"-again the word. Verse 21b: "Those who have never heard will understand"-again the word.
Paul clarifies what the deeds are in the next verse, "In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit." The deeds have a supporting role. They are not the direct means of saving people the way the word is. Deeds cannot tell the story of the death and resurrection of Christ with its saving meaning. Only words can. So the deeds have value as they confirm the word. That's the way Luke explained the relationship between word and deed in Acts 14:3. Paul and Barnabas were in Iconium, and Luke says:
Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. Acts 14:3 NASB
"Speaking boldly" is the word. And "signs and wonders" is deeds. God bore witness to the word of His grace. That was the function of the deeds. They witness to the truth and value of the word.
Now what about today? Should we be expecting the same miraculous confirmations of our witnessing today?
David DuPlessis, a recognized leader in the Charismatic movement, says, "The New Testament is not a record of what happened in one generation, but is a blueprint of what should happen in every generation." This reflects the view of the majority of Charismatics: What happened during the New Testament times should be the norm throughout the Church's history. Many state that everything in the New Testament that was miraculous, remarkable, and characterized by supernatural manifestation should be normative for all of the Church age, including today.
There are several Scriptures that hint at the fact that the signs and wonders were temporary:
how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Hebrews 2:3-4 NASB
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. Mark 16:20 NASB
In both Hebrews 2:3 and Mark 16:20, the main verb is past tense and the participle is relative in time to the main verb, "was confirmed." In both cases the signs, wonders, and miracles are referred to as being in the past-at the time of the writing. All this was past at the time Hebrews was written.
Paul saw his miracles as a special validation of his apostleship. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:12 he says:
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB
So it seems that Paul saw the signs and wonders God worked through him as a special mark of his apostleship. No apostles today, no miraculous gifts today.
The voice of history confirms the temporary nature of the signs. If the miraculous signs of the New Testament age had continued in the Church, one would expect an unbroken line of occurrences from apostolic times to the present. The miraculous signs of the "last days" ceased when the last days ceased.
Chrysostom, a 4th century theologian, testified that the miraculous gifts ceased so long before his time that no one was certain of their characteristics.
Did you notice the Trinitarian bent in these verses? In verse 15 we saw, the grace of God the Father gives Paul; in verse 16, God the Holy Spirit does the decisive transforming work in Paul's converts; in verse 18, God the Son, the living, risen Yeshua, brings about the obedience of faith that Paul labors for.
We see throughout the Scriptures that it is the Father who initiates the plan of redemption in His divine election. It is the Son who carries out the will of the Father by offering Himself up as a redemptive sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. And it is the Holy Spirit who administrates this great work by being responsible for the regeneration of those whom the Father has chosen and bringing them to the knowledge of the Lord Yeshua Christ and the reception of that forgiveness of sins.
in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Romans 15:19 NASB
We typically look at Antioch as the starting point of Paul's missionary labors, and indeed, it was the place that he began his focus on Gentiles. But he preached also in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion. He uses a description of a circle that ran from Jerusalem up through Syria and into Asia Minor (modern Turkey), across the Aegean Sea into Greece and then up the peninsula to Illyricum (modern Albania and the former Yugoslavia) and then back through the Mediterranean. Scholars debate on whether or not he preached in Illyricum because the Scriptures never state that he did. It's very likely that he visited Illyricum during his 18 months in Macedonia and Achaia. Illyricum is our modern day nation of Yugoslavia. That range, as best I can ascertain, is about a 1400 mile span.
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; Romans 15:20 NASB
"I aspired"-a very strong word, strong effort. Paul's drive was to go to virgin territory where the Gospel had never been heard. This is why he had not yet been to Rome. A church had already been founded there.
but as it is written, "THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND." Romans 15:21 NASB
That is an adaptation out of Isaiah 52:15. It's very close to the Septuagint Version, which is the Greek translation of Isaiah. And clearly Isaiah 52:15 is a Messianic prophecy. The context is all about the Servant of the Lord, who is Christ. And many New Testament texts refer this whole section to Yeshua the Christ, the whole Isaiah 52, 53 passage.
Paul is not justifying his efforts to take the Gospel to the unreached with this text, but his view of himself as part of the servant ministry. Here, he deliberately applies a text that speaks of the suffering Servant to Yeshua. For Paul, there is no doubt that Christ fulfills this ministry to the nations, bringing about their forgiveness and reconciliation to God.
If Paul needed to remind the New Testament saints of what they already knew, how much more do we need to be reminded. As we continually read the Word, we are reminded; and as we hear the Word taught, we are reminded; and as we admonish one another, we are reminded. Believers, please understand that we are competent to counsel if we know the Word.
Deffenbaugh - Bible.org
The Structure of Our Text
Romans 15:14-33 contains four paragraphs:
In verses 14-16, Paul explains his reasons for writing this Epistle to the Romans. Verses 17-21 describe Paul's priorities and principles which shaped his ministry up to the time of his writing. These verses explain Paul's absence in the past. Verses 22-29 spell out his plans for the immediate future which will delay him from coming to Rome until he commences his ministry to Spain. He will then be able to visit Rome on his way to Spain. Finally, in verses 30-33, Paul requests prayer for some specific matters, closing this section with the benediction of verse 33.
Paul's Reason for Writing Romans (15:14-16)
14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish122 one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
v. 14: Compliments are not handed out by Paul without good reason. His epistles contain a number of instances with strong words of admonition and rebuke. Paul informs his Roman readers in verse 14 that his reason for writing this epistle is not their immaturity or any serious doctrinal deficiency. I must confess his words take me somewhat by surprise. My mistaken impression was that these Roman Christians were not well taught, and that this epistle was Paul's prescription for their ailment.
According to Paul, these saints scored well in their spiritual attitudes and aptitudes. In verse 14, Paul mentions three specific areas of strength. First, they were "full of goodness." This seems to speak of their disposition toward God and toward men. They had "good will" toward God and others. They were rightly motivated. Second, they were "filled with all knowledge." Doctrinally, they were well taught with no grave deficiencies in their biblical and theological knowledge. Third, they were "able also to admonish one another." There seems to be a sequence to these three commendations. The Roman Christians' "goodness" and "knowledge" qualified them to "admonish" one another.
For those familiar with Dr. Jay Adams and his approach to biblical counseling, this phrase, "able to admonish," is the basis for his book, Competent to Counsel. Several inferences from this text pertain to biblical counseling. First, being "competent to counsel" requires that one be filled with both "goodness" and "knowledge."123 Second, biblical counsel involves more than just admonition, which is but one element of counseling (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15). Third, we would infer from this text that counseling is not the private duty of a very few "counselors." It is viewed by Paul as a "one another" function in which all Christians are to be involved. It is also a reciprocal function-not just a one-way activity. Most counseling of which I am aware, including so-called "Christian counseling," is of a different kind than that which our text describes.
If these Roman Christians did not need to be taught or corrected, why did Paul write this epistle-one of the most extensive, systematic expositions of doctrine in all the Bible? Were his words wasted on this group of saints? Not at all! Paul understood men and their needs precisely. He did not write this epistle to inform as much as to remind. He did not write Romans to innovate as much as to reiterate. The great danger for Christians is similar to that which faces athletes-in focusing on the fine points, one can forget the fundamentals. In their prime, the Dallas Cowboys could pull off a "flea flicker" or a "double reverse," but such plays did not win football games. Football games are won or lost because teams execute or fail to execute the fundamentals of the game.
So it is with the fundamentals of the faith. The great danger for Christians is that we may lose our focus on the fundamentals and begin to pay too much attention to the fine points. In the words of our Lord, we may "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel" (see Matthew 23:24). Paul wrote Romans to remind these growing Christians of the fundamentals of their faith. There is little "new" in Romans, but all of it is vital.
15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Paul was fully aware of his purpose. God made his purpose most evident at the time of his conversion (see Acts 9:15-16; 22:21; 26:15-18). Paul sets out this purpose at the beginning of this Epistle to the Romans:
Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake (Romans 1:5).
Notice that Paul perceived his calling to be a very broad one. He was not just called to evangelize among the Gentiles; his words indicate he was called to bring about "the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles." Paul sensed a responsibility to all the Gentiles, even those he had not seen before and those he had not led to Christ. His responsibility was to minister in such a way as to encourage and facilitate an obedience which stems from faith. Paul's calling included all the Gentiles, encompassing the broad category of discipleship-and not just evangelism.124 This is precisely why he wrote this epistle to the Roman saints: to challenge them to the obedience which stems from faith. This is also Paul's reason for placing so much emphasis on personal convictions-because these are matters of faith.
The imagery in verse 16 is most interesting. Paul speaks of himself as a "priest" who is "offering" a sacrifice to God-the sacrifice of the Gentiles. His desire and motivation is to present the Gentile believers at Rome to God as a sacrifice which is acceptable to God through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. His ministry, whether from a distance by this epistle, or in person, is directed toward the edification and sanctification of the church to the glory of God. We see similar language used elsewhere in Paul's epistles:
And so when Paul speaks of himself as a priest, offering up the Gentiles as a sacrifice to God, he understands that his individual calling as a Jewish Christian is not unique, but typical-typical of the calling of every Jew. Unfortunately it was a calling which the Jews, as a nation, rejected. When the Jews repent and are restored, they will once again play their priestly role among the nations:
Paul's Reasons for His Absence From Rome (15:17-21)
17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; 21 but as it is written, "They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand."
After years of hoping to see Paul, some of the Roman saints may have begun to wonder if he was ever coming at all. Other churches seemed to have questions about his coming as well. Some may have accused Paul of being scatter-brained or fickle. Thus, Paul felt the need to explain his absence not only here but elsewhere (see 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:4).
Paul intends in verses 17-21 to demonstrate that it was his commitment to his calling and ministry that kept him from Rome-his priorities kept him from Rome. Since his ministry is his defense, it is necessary for Paul to describe this ministry. In verses 17-19, Paul points to the success of his ministry, not to boast in his own accomplishments but to give glory to God and show that God's hand of blessing was evident in that ministry. Some use their ministry as an excuse for avoiding other obligations. Paul points to the hand of God in his ministry to show that he was acting in the will and the power of God.
Paul's ministry among the Gentiles bore the evidences of God's blessing and power. His success was the result of God's working through him. And so, as he went about proclaiming the gospel, the Holy Spirit bore witness to God's presence and power by signs and miracles.
This should not be twisted to suggest God's power will always be evident in such miraculous ways. Remember Paul's ministry was that of an apostle. He took the gospel to places where the name of Christ had never been heard. The signs and wonders accompanying his preaching were proof to pagans that God was in their midst and that Paul's message was one to be taken seriously. These "signs and wonders" were God's accreditation of Paul as an apostle:
In the last part of verse 19, Paul indicates his conviction that his task was nearly finished. "From Jerusalem ... to Illyricum" Paul said he had "fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." This is an incredible statement. We might wish that we could say this of our block or our neighborhood. Paul said it concerning a large portion of his world.
Understand that Paul in no way claims to have preached to every single person living in this vast area. Paul is simply claiming to have fulfilled his task as an apostle. His task as an apostle was to lay a foundation. His mission was to preach Christ and to establish churches in crucial locations so that the gospel could then be proclaimed by believers from these outposts. His mission was to set out lights in that darkened part of the world. These lights127 were local churches, strategically placed so that the gospel would resound from these outposts.
Assured that he had fulfilled his mission as an apostle from Jerusalem to Illyricum, Paul's eyes now look to the horizon of his world. His desire was to preach the gospel where it had not been heard before. He did not wish to build on the foundation of another. He found the words of Isaiah 52:15 descriptive of his calling, and thus he quotes them in verse 21: "THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND."
Someone might easily misinterpret Paul's desire not to build on the foundation of another. Is Paul being petty? Is he saying he wants to preach where he has control and where he alone gets the glory? Is he demonstrating some kind of autonomous, independent spirit? Not at all! Paul is reflecting his grasp of his calling as an apostle. He did not wish to build on the foundation of another because his calling as an apostle was to lay a foundation:
Paul's words explain why a visit to Rome was not high on his list of priorities and thus why he had not yet reached Rome. His calling as an apostle was to lay foundations where the gospel had not yet been proclaimed. The church at Rome had already been planted, and the saints there were full of "goodness" and "knowledge." To go to Rome would have been going where the foundation was already laid. Paul was too busy laying foundations from Jerusalem to Illyricum to go to Rome-yet. He is finally considering a visit to Rome in his plans for future ministry as described in the next verses.
Paul's Prayer Requests (15:30-33)
30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul's priorities are seen not only in his previous ministry but in his plans for the future as well. They are also reflected in his prayer requests, recorded in verses 30-32, along with a benediction in verse 33.
We should first recognize that it was not only appropriate, but essential, for Paul to ask the Roman saints to pray for him. Just as Paul was ministering to them in his prayers for them (Romans 1:8-10), they should reciprocate by praying for him (15:13). Their prayers, like Paul's, should be motivated by the Lord Jesus Christ and by the love which the Holy Spirit generates (see Galatians 5:22). In praying for Paul, they are actually participating with him in his ministry; they are, in Paul's words, "striving together with him" (verse 30).
First, Paul requested that these saints pray for him that he "might be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea" (verse 31). He does not ask that they pray for the salvation of these unbelieving Jews. They have had their opportunity. Judgment now awaits them. Paul does not see this journey as an evangelistic campaign among the unbelieving Jews but as a ministry to the saints in Jerusalem (verse 26).
Paul may have already been warned of the dangers which awaited him in Jerusalem, as he would be after he left Corinth:
"And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more" (Acts 20:22-25).
The danger ahead did not deter Paul from pressing on to Jerusalem, but it did prompt him to ask the Roman saints to pray for him. I do not think Paul wanted their prayers for his safety as much for his sake as for the sake of the gospel (compare Philippians 1:19-26).
Second, Paul asked the saints in Rome to pray that his service to the saints in Jerusalem might be effective, that it might be "acceptable to the saints there" (verse 31). The Gentiles gladly gave to minister to the Jewish saints, but would the Jews gladly receive these gifts? Paul asked for prayer that they would.
Finally, Paul asked for prayer that with "joy," and in "the will of the Lord," he would come to them and find "refreshing rest" in their fellowship (verse 32). He did wish to be with them, but this was a lower level priority, not only in his plans and ministry but even in his prayer request. How this prayer was answered is another story recorded in Acts 20-28. Once again, God worked in ways beyond human anticipation. Paul would indeed be delivered from the unbelieving Jews and arrive safely in Rome, thanks to his arrest and the Roman government. God works in wondrous ways.
A benediction is pronounced in verse 33: "Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen."
If Paul had not been able to be with the Romans, and if his coming to them was still to be delayed, they could find great comfort in knowing that the "God of peace" was with them, always. Paul was absent; God was not.
We probably could all agree Paul's excuse should be accepted. In the light of Paul's calling and ministry priorities, the church at Rome must be put lower on the list of Paul's priorities than more pressing matters. The irony is that in his so doing, the whole world has been greatly blessed by the Book of Romans. The epistle to the church at Rome was the result of Paul putting off his visit to Rome. Because of this, not only the church at Rome, but the church throughout the centuries has been blessed by this mighty epistle. It has changed the course of many lives; it has changed the course of history, specifically, through the Reformation. Thank God, Paul knew better than to visit Rome but chose to write a letter instead. In knowing and keeping his priorities, we are the benefactors of this letter.
Paul's Epistle to the Romans teaches us the power of the pen to minister to saints we may never see. His letter was written to a church he had never visited and to many individuals he had not yet seen. It has also ministered to many "unseen" saints throughout the history of the church. Our ministry, like Paul's, needs not be limited to those who are nearby; I know of many who minister to missionaries far away by simply writing to them. I know of those who minister to those in prisons around the country by simply writing. To whom could you and I minister with a letter, if we but had Paul's vision and commitment?
What a commentary Paul's words provide on knowing the will of God! Paul was convinced that it was not the will of God for him to visit Rome until he had completed his mission to the Gentiles and the Jews, from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Paul would not allow his desire to be with these saints to keep him from his mission, his ministry, his calling.
Paul knew the will of God because he understood his calling. While some of his calling was individual and unique to him, much of his calling was common to the calling of Israel as a priestly nation and to all Christians in general. Often we agonize over specific decisions when our general mission and calling make such decisions self-evident. Let us join with Paul in considering our calling and walk in a manner consistent with that calling. In so doing, we shall discern the will of God for most of life's decisions.