This study is in Romans 15. We are about to have a lesson in behaviour that if you are walking in the Spirit, you will NEVER forget – and it will be for your benefit.
I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV2: It isn’t about you – it is for others
1-6: Don’t just please yourself – please others first
7-13: Accept others as Christ accepted us – to the glory of God
14-21: Speak of nothing but what Christ has accomplished
22-29: Share in the spiritual blessings, minister in the material blessings
30-33: Pray for each other’s deliverance, blessing, and rest
As I said, I have titled this chapter, “I isn’t all about YOU! It is for OTHERS.” I took verse 2 as my key to understanding what Paul was saying and what the Holy Spirit was communicating to me through the chapter this time as I read it. In many ways, it was a difficult message, and it made me feel, well, humbled. I want to remind you all of last time, when in our study I said the way of self-denial is truly the Christian path, and not another? This is NOT the popular narrative we see in Popularianity (I mean false Christianity) today. It turns out that Victoria Osteen, Joel’s wife (and I think she’s the more articulate preacher), teaches just the opposite. Let me read you a part of the transcript of her 2014 sermon:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?
And the congregation APPLAUDED! They AGREED with her!!! Now any of you with discernment already know what the Lord thinks of that. And for those of you who may not know the difference, you are about to learn polemically what the response of Scripture is to this kind of loose theology. To put into a succinct sentence, it is the theology of doing your own thing for your own reasons, without regard to what anyone else thinks, especially God.
Let’s have a peek, shall we?
KV2: It isn’t about you – it is for others
Verse 2 reads, “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Many times, we stumble through life just pleasing ourselves, and not caring about what anyone else thinks about what we are saying in normal everyday conversation, doing as normal everyday activity, and we think we’re just fine, but if we were to look behind us, I mean really look honestly, we would see the utter devastation we leave behind us, and the trail of broken and bleeding people – people for whom Christ died, even brothers and sisters in Christ. I have to ask – do you think THAT makes God HAPPY?
Of course not. Rather that behaviour turns you into a little god – but what they don’t tell you in little god theology is that you become a god against God, and all you do is try to benefit yourself by religious means. You all already know why “religion” has a very narrow definition to me, and why it almost a curse word in my thinking. The really dangerous thing is that I’ve seen this theology in full operation recently. Whenever someone virtue-signals how “righteous” they are, that’s doing your own thing for your own reasons. And I think it a rare thing that this EVER pleases God. Let’s get into the chapter and unpack this.
1-6: Don’t just please yourself – please others first
Say what you will about the website and some of the people that give their “conversion” testimonies (and I find some of them a little off or weak as well, but some are okay), but the idea of “I am second” is a reaction against the “me first” culture that we live in today. “I am last” would be better, but I’m not going to knock someone down for being on the right track. If all we are doing is pleasing ourselves by doing our own thing, including “going to church,” “serving justice or mercy,” or even “becoming a ‘minister’,” serious doubts arise from this text as to what you are doing and how it is pleasing to God. I think it may be the opposite of what you think if that’s the case. Please understand, I’m not just trying to be contrary here. I’m not a rebel, I’m just trying to tell the truth about a hard thing I saw about me, and I need you to understand that, because I am about to say some very hard things. Let’s get into the text.
1: Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
- We all (rightly or wrongly) think of ourselves as strong in faith, so Paul is appealing to those who consider themselves strong, and he’s including himself, so hey, we’re all in great company – the Apostle Paul himself. But what is he saying? NOT “do your own thing and be happy,” but instead placing a burden on us to bear the weaknesses of those who are “without strength” and not jus please ourselves. Words of Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
- The word used here for “power” in Greek is dunatos, one who has that miraculous power of God. The word comes from dunamos, the miraculous power of God. We get our English word “dynamite” from it, and it does connote a great potential explosive energy that can be unleashed. Misread, this line has been used to propagate the beating of the sheep on occasion.
- I’ll give an example. I once sat in a chapter summary bible study on this very chapter, and a brother (that some of you have met) shared as his practical application that he needed to invite those “weaker brothers” out for coffee and fellowship more often. Most people said amen to that idea, and I am certain that he meant well. He had just become what we would call an Elder in the gathering, and I really did think his heart was in the right place – right up to the point that the meeting ended, and he made a beeline over to me and invited me out for coffee. It took me a long time to forgive that. I was REALLY angry, because I wasn’t any weaker than he was, but that was his perception of me. I will give him points for the effort though, as I said, his heart was in the right place.
- But what is the Scripture telling us we should bear? “Weakness.” The word is one that speaks of those “scruples which arise though the weakness of faith,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. A “scruple” may be defined for our purposes here as “a moral or ethical consideration or standard that acts as a restraining force or inhibits certain actions,” according to dictionary.com. Wait, what?
- Yep, you heard Paul. He is saying that those who make up religious rules to guide their own ethics and behaviour are the “weaker” ones. Does anyone here see the irony of that? He was making up a rule for himself that would dictate his ethics and behaviour. My brother was being weak and showing it. This verse was NOT, as he had thought, been about trying to encourage struggling saints, but instead is about bearing with people who can’t eat meat or not celebrate holy days, according to the direct context of the previous chapter.
- Now how do we apply that? We don’t make public application and then invite them out for coffee after to be religious, to be sure. We don’t do what I did either, and that was get offended and withdraw from assembling together with the saints because it was frankly getting insulting to me at about that point. No, what are we to do? We are to GENTLY, and with GREAT PATIENCE instruct them in the way of righteousness, as my own calling to ministry as a pastor says in 2 Tim. 4:2: “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” See? And if they never hear it, hey, at least we were faithful to preach the word. Moving on.
2: Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
- See? It isn’t wrong for us to support a brother or sister who is adrift in religiousity, making rules for themselves so they can feel like they are being pleasing to God by following their own made up rules in this way. I like to use Christmas as an example. Some people just have to give the birth of Christ an extra-special effort, and I can understand it. It’s the birth of our Saviour and Lord as a man! But have you ever noticed that the Bible never anywhere gives a date in any form? We can maybe guess at the month from some of the happenings going on in the background, but that still leaves us with two months of the year, October or March, and THOSE are 6 months apart.
- I suspect this is because God knows our penchant for setting up idols. We’ve certainly done it enough throughout our history. He knows that if we have a date, we will all somehow set up rituals that we will have to go through just to feel good about ourselves and feel like we are obeying God, and most of THOSE will be nonsensical and lead people away from salvation on Christ.
- But if a brother or sister wants to celebrate Christmas, hey, I’m all for it. But I try to celebrate the birth of Christ every day. It works the same way with me for Easter, and we DO have a date for that (though it moves around every year). Why? At least they are trying, and there is no season like Christmas to “preach the word – in [the Christmas] season and out of [the Christmas] season. And the rest of the year, I can gently explain that for the Christian, this event is important enough that it should be celebrated every day. This builds up my brother or sister, and that is the very definition of the word “edification.”
- Notice here that the word used here is in fact NOT “brother” or “sister,” but is actually “neighbour.” I have previously explained this, but Paul always calls brothers and sisters “brethren,” “saints,” or some other honourific. He uses the word neighbour to refer to EVERYONE, saved and unsaved alike. He is also speaking about the unbeliever. Something people sometimes forget is that unbelievers are always watching, and we need to make allowances for their (lack of) understanding. Hey, Christmas is really the pagan holiday Saturnalia! You’re right! I cannot and will not celebrate with a human sacrifice of a strong warrior though. First, that idea is dumb. Second, it’s a weeklong drunken orgy. I doubt Jesus would appreciate His children celebrating that.
3: For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on ME.”
- And if you doubt what you can and cannot do in this respect, you can follow the great example of Jesus! You know that well-meaning but off-the-mark saying, “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s almost right – it’s “What DID Jesus Do?” If you follow His example, you cannot go wrong. There is even instruction on this in the Old Testament as it turns out.
- Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 here, which reads, “For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” What is the Lord Jesus saying here? He’s saying that even Christ followed the model of not pleasing Himself – He spend all His time and effort pleasing the One who sent Him, the Heavenly Father! Even when it cost Him reproach. From the first part of the Old Testament quotation which Paul does NOT use here, we see the context for the remark – Zeal for the house of God absolutely consumed the Lord Jesus. He did and said things that completely withered His opposition. He beat them in words when they tried to trap him. He beat them with cords when they tried to run a house of thievery instead of a house of prayer. To shut Him up, they had to give Him three illegal trials and they still couldn’t find legitimate reason to put Him to death – so they had a mob demand it, and the government yielded Him up. Huh. Sounds like the average Newscast these days with the #BlackLivesMatter issue. For the record, it is the job of every Christian everywhere to vigorously oppose injustice wherever they find it – just make sure it’s the right injustice. All I saw for sure is police brutality. I’m kind of colour-blind to the rest of it, because Jesus was colour-blind. All of this “take a knee” stuff I don’t get. Besides, I can’t – too many medical problems with my knees. What I’m rejecting here is the idea of Social Justice in favour of REAL justice, which doesn’t NEED an adjective. And there is enough of it to go around, believe me. We don’t have to make it up.
- So Jesus took reproach and did not please Himself. He was honest, and they had to kill Him to shut Him up.
4: For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
- Paul here is defending his use of the above quote a bit, but it is instructive. First, it is a good model of how to construct an effective argument. State your thesis, make your argument, defend your argument with source material, summarize, and then expect rebuttal, though that wasn’t likely to come from the believers he was writing to here if you ask me.
- Second, such appeals to scripture always have a reason, and that reason is always instruction in our faith in Christ. You see, when we hear a directive explained and used in a New Testament context, we need to apply perseverance (patience applied), and take our encouragement from the Scriptures. This will produce in us a certain future expectation of what WILL happen. Paul has in other places and here called this “hope.”
5: Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,
- And none of this and the fact that we cannot do this in and of ourselves is lost on Paul, so he invokes him in prayer at this point. The first thing to see is that it is God Himself that gives that perseverance and encouragement. It is not in our old nature, in ourselves at all. He was speaking here to believers that have that New Nature given by Christ through the Holy Spirit. God gave us that, and continues to give this to all His people.
- Also, what is Paul’s prayer? That God Himself give us the same understanding of each other in and about Christ. What understanding is that? Well, about anything I suppose, but in context, it is that in matters of conscience we can accept each other and put the other before ourselves as more important than me and my will.
- Now – how often do we really do that? I can tell you that it is not the natural way I think even after 35 years of Christianity. Brother, I can tell you that I have a long way to go, and I suspect we are all in the same boat together from some of our more intimate conversations together or in private. Brethren, we need to repent and walk worthily of our heavenly calling in Christ.
6: so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Do you hear that? We need the same mind and the same understanding of the Gospel so that we may with one voice glorify God the Father. Now – is it possible in a fully literal sense to do so? No. But it is figuratively. I’ve hear this verse distorted to say that we can only sing one note together when we sing. Whey then did God invent harmony? That chord strikes me a bit wrong, if you’ll allow the wordplay. What this is really saying is that our focus should be on the Lord Jesus when we worship together, and it is something that God gives us.
Overall, this section is an explanation of how things ought to work. Paul has explained the right order of how we should be behaving toward everyone. And if it isn’t like this, then saints, we sorely need to repent. We need to stop, acknowledge our sin, and turn away from it, and turn and move towards what Paul has explained as the truth as it is in Jesus. A call to repentance is in order if this does not describe your Christian experience. If you are imagining yourself to be superior to your brothers, for a practical example, who are caught up in the wash of social justice protests, because you have maintained doctrinal purity – you need to repent. You are no better than them if you think that makes you “God’s special elect” so you can sit on your duff and mock them verbally or otherwise. Although I cannot agree with the divisive approach to the Scriptures they take which is rooted in the false gospel of Critical Race Theory nor can I take it, it is the duty of every Christian to fight discrimination in any form. They went overboard, and we should be seeking to gently turn them back to Christ by being gentle and patient with them, speaking (sometimes hard) truth as it is in Jesus. Get off your high horse before God knocks you off and you REALLY get hurt.
7-13: Accept others as Christ accepted us – to the glory of God
You see, we need to be as accepting of others as Christ was of us when He saved us. It is only this way that God is truly glorified in us by our behaviour – by our imitation of His Son Jesus in all things. If we will not do this, then can we truly be even called Christians? Brother Steve Camp wrote a song back in the 1980s called “Could I Be Called a Christian?” In that Song, he said in the second verse, “Could I be called a Christian if my faith I did not show / If I did not go to places where the Lord would have me go / If I do not love the outcast and am not burdened for the lost / if I fail to deny myself and each day take up my cross…” If we do not learn the imitation of Christ, and I’m not talking about that old book by Thomas Kempis, we are not and likelu cannot glorify God in the way of which He is worthy and that He demands. Our whole life is supposed to be an act of worship – it is critical we see this point.
7: Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
- Friends, we can have disagreements. We are not speaking here of never having a divergent opinion on something. I know that I disagree on some things theologically with everyone here. That doesn’t make me morally superior or smarter than you. Life has brought me to different conclusions than you all, and there is no guarantee I’m even correct. I have known a number of godly men that I do not agree with, but I treasure those brothers. For example, did you know that Dr. R. C. Sproul was an Amillenialist? I’m certainly not, but the man was so deep into the grace of God, you just had to listen to him with respect and reverence.
- We are called upon to be like that. We are to accept each other in love, putting the preferences of each other first, just as Christ did. Think about this. Christ had no real reason to die in our place. He could have said no. He would still have been God. He had nothing to gain by doing so, at least on the surface. And yet, He put ourselves ahead of Him, and when on the cross, He became sin, who knew NO sin, so that we should become the righteousness of God in Him! That’s how He accepted us. That is how we are to accept each other, even if we think each other wrong – or even unsaved at times. In doing so, we glorify God just like Jesus did by figuratively dying for another.
8: For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,
- Watch what happens as Jesus put the needs of others ahead of Himself. It tells us first that He became a SERVANT of the people he put first. The word there is diakonos, or if you like, MINISTER. What do we call the pastors of churches? MINISTERS. They are servants of God and work for Him in the congregation.
- A small point here – this is to be distinguished from the word doulos, which is a reference to a servant in relation to his master, while the former is a reference to a servant in relation to his work for his master. Just something I found noteworthy. But we speak here of Christ Jesus.
- To what did the Lord Jesus become a servant? To the circumcision, a reference to the Jewish nation as used here. And it even gives a reason for Christ’s service – on behalf of the truth of God! His specific purpose was to confirm to them the promises given to the fathers, that is, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (some will include Moses also). The word “confirm” may be better translated here as “establish.”
- Jesus came to establish the promise God made to His chosen people through those three men, as He promised each of them in turn – thousands of years before any of this actually happened. But was that all? NO!
9: and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.”
- Christ Jesus also became a servant in the same way for the Gentiles so that God would be glorified for His mercy in saving some of us. And for this, Paul turns to the Scriptures and quotes from 2 Sam. 22:50 which reads, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name.” This is pretty close to the actual text – the nations are a standard way in the Old Testament to refer to all those who are not Israel – in other words, Gentiles, and that word is ALSO used in the Old Testament.
- He gives several other references through the next few verses, because this is a point of contention with the Jewish believers in the congregation, especially among those Paul classed as Judaizers, and whom he condemned so strongly in Galatians. We’ll continue.
10: Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”
- Here, the quote is from Deut. 32:43, but is only the first part of the whole verse. I find it instructive to look at the whole verse because it gives a better context to what was in the mind of the Apostle. I see your hand. Your question is “is Paul cherry-picking parts of verses and proof-texting? I don’t believe so, I think he’s used that part of a verse here in the greater context of the original verse in Deuteronomy. Let’s look at that.
- Here is the entire verse which says, “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.” The first bit is just our direct quote, using the word Nations, that OT reference to the Gentiles. The rest of the verse is about the coming Day of the Lord, where he will carry out vengeance on His enemies, and seal the already completed atonement for His people. The original point of view was seeing the two things as that long-distant final day. Paul’s perspective (and ours) can now see a great deal of time between the atonement for His people and the coming day of wrath for all sinners that will not turn to God in faith. That is certainly NOT out of context with the greater meaning we have to this point revealed in our study of Romans.
11: And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.”
- This time, Paul is quoting the 3-verse Psalm 117, but only the first verse which reads, “Praise the Lord, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples!” This is a divine invitation from God Himself in the Old Testament for the Gentiles to rejoice with earthly Israel. The Psalm goes on to praise the Lord for His lovingkindness which toward us is very great, and how His truth is everlasting [Heb., olam, eternal, long time, remotest days, in perpetuity].
- I make that last definition because of a complete mistranslation I once heard of that Hebrew word. I a book that challenges the existence of an eternal hell, the word was defined as “a really long time,” but suggested that there was a fixed end date for that. The book went on to explain that a rabbinical understanding of the word today destroys any concept of eternity for the ancient scholars that wrote the texts. That’s a series of errors, by the way. You cannot extrapolate into the past with current word meanings, it just won’t work. You must instead seek the meaning that was meant at the earliest usage and bring that forward into modern language. This Hebrew word has a connotation that was attached to the original usage of ongoing in perpetuity, or eternal, everlasting. And if the author of that book was wrong about that, she was wrong about the idea of an eternal hell as well. It’s coming, and it really matters. That’s a handful on purpose.
- The book information: Raising Hell, by Julie Ferwerda, ©2011. Published by Vagabond Group, WY, USA. In case you’re wondering, Ms. Ferwerda owns the publishing company, so the book is really self-published. If you want to read it, be aware she knows how to write well. Have an open Bible and read it prayerfully, with your heresy filters on full.
12: Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And HE who arises to rule over the Gentiles, IN Him shall the Gentiles hope.”
- This time, Paul quotes Isaiah, from a passage speaking exclusively of the Messiah, Isaiah 11:10 which reads, “Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.”
- Now that reads a bit differently, doesn’t it? It means the same thing. The Root of Jesse (aka the root of David in Rev. 5:5) will be the one who the nations (Gentiles) will turn to for rule. He will stand (arise) to do so, and His resting place will be glorious. (In Him will the Gentiles hope.) Think about where the final resting place of Jesus is – the Throne of the Universe! Don’t believe me? Revelation 20:11 – “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” To whom do you think “He who sat upon it” refers? You only have one choice, really. This is a physical thing, and from the description, I can see this being the UN-creation day, where God protects the redeemed (again, or rather still) and then the dead (where are the living?) have no place to stand, nowhere to be hidden from view, all standing before the One who sits on the Throne. Who is that One? I suggest to you all that this is none other than the King of all kinging, and the Lord of all lording, the Alpha, the Omega, the First, the Last, the Saviour, Christ the Lord. Why do I think that? Hebrews 1:3 says, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” Who else could it be? If you have seen Him, you have seen the Father, He said in John 14. Or possibly, it is the full three-in-one Trinity sitting there.
- I have to be careful here. To me, this is such a powerful passage, I could all of a sudden start preaching through the passage and show a whole bunch of things, and we will someday – but suffice it to say here, it is Him – Christ Jesus – Him whom my soul loves, My Saviour, my Lord, My King – none other.
13: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Paul then prays for just that to happen – for God to fill us with all joy and peace as we have faith in Jesus Christ. In doing so, it generates not just a certain expectation of future events, but an abundance of the same, in that it abounds!
How fitting is it that this section ends with the One that it started with? We are to accept each other (Jews accept non-Jews and vice versa, without regard for ethnicity, education, economic status, or essence (gender). We are to have a humble understanding that all believers are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and that their interests are to be put ahead of my own like Jesus did for me – He KNEW I was wrong, and He accepted me in Himself, the Beloved without regard for how deeply I was stained with sin. And He cleansed me and is STILL cleansing me – and will continue to do so right up until He comes back for me, either at the time of my own death, or when He returns for His Church to take us to be with Him forever. Until then, we need to continue putting others ahead of ourselves and our genuine wants and needs.
14-21: Speak of nothing but what Christ has accomplished
This becomes easier when we will make our focus and our message on Him, and not on politics, pet doctrines, or moral principles. None of those things are bad in themselves, but alone, they aren’t enough. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) can be dead fundamentalism. Orthopraxy (right practice) can be dead ritual. I personally believe, and think I can show in this paragraph that to have real life in whatever you are doing, you must have Christ alone. We can tell stories and moralize, or we can introduce all the symbolism and therefore ritual into our services as possible – but if Christ isn’t there, then it serves only vain purpose. They put it to us like this in Biblical Theology – if you can preach your sermon in a Mosque or a Synagogue and not be thrown out, you have a moralistic sermon, and you are doing it wrong. We MUST have Christ, or we have nothing at all. The truly good news is that Paul was speaking to believers and not lost sinners, and that makes a world of difference.
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 admonish one another.
- First things first – Paul could see the evidence of changed lives here. How else would the Apostle been convinced that the believers at Rome were filled with goodness and knowledge and able to admonish each other? And remember, Paul had never met the saints in Rome as a whole just yet. He was writing to them from Corinth. His first imprisonment had not yet occurred. He was convinced sight unseen because he had heard reports!
- Goodness is something that should be seen in a new Christian. Instead of doing the normal sinful things that are our estate before salvation, real goodness shows itself as evidence of justification before God. This is important. If you can recall the conversation that took place between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler, the fellow addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Jesus then replied by asking, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Although there are a couple of ways to read that, I believe Jesus was saying to that fellow that yes, He was indeed Good because He WAS [THE] GOD (John 1:1). As a characteristic of Jesus, it is part of our New Nature that He created for us and gave us so we could follow Him. It is critical that goodness comes to fill us.
- Knowledge is the Greek gnosis, meaning a seeking to know, an enquiry, and investigation, and is used in the New Testament as knowledge, especially spiritual truth. Now this is modified by the adjective “all.” The Word actually means “all” here. Now we are NOT omniscient, that is an attribute only God has and can demonstrate. But because God the Holy Spirit takes residence in us when we are first justified before God by faith in Christ, Jesus told us that His job is in fact to lead us into all truth (John 16:13)
- John 16:13 – “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” Another evidence of salvation is that it is easier to understand spiritual truths, concepts, and principles. The average unbeliever cannot say the same, even though certain so-called scholars like John Domenic Crossan and Marcus Borg claim this. Of course they claim to be believers also, so it’s a bit different – these men are actual false teachers.
- Able to admonish one another. Admonish is the Greek word noutheteo, meaning to confront, admonish, exhort. Another word for it is “warn.” Now, there are some that think this gives them license to confront every sin in everyone’s lives. You know, I don’t think that’s good. There are times I have seen that to be necessary, and I have tried to be faithful to that when called to it – but it does not give ANYONE permission to sift you like wheat. Jesus did give that permission, but it was to Satan regarding Peter, and Christ prayed for Peter so that his faith did not fail. Anyone that thinks they can do this as a leader of any kind needs to go back to leadership school. Warn about the path someone is on, certainly, but taking every opportunity to confront someone about their personal foibles like leaving your socks in the living room overnight or something is just dumb. Remember – GOODNESS!
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,
- Paul is saying here that he is being very bold in this kind of confrontation, but only because the Lord had given that boldness to him to do so. He wasn’t doing this because he could, he was doing this because God told him to do so. And the offences were a little more serious than leaving one’s eyeglasses on the fireplace mantle overnight by mistake and getting them first thing in the morning. I got 45 minutes of extra chores for that as a consequence. Fifteen minutes for forgetting my eyeglasses, fifteen for questioning the consequence based on the logic that they hurt no one and were retrieved first thing in the morning, and fifteen for a bad attitude which was caused by the injustice of it. I did some stonework in front of that home that is still there more than 25 years later. I still don’t agree I did anything worth a consequence. Where was the grace? That was all legalism. I have long forgiven the offense, but it is instructional as to how NOT to do things, so I share it.
16: to be a minister of Christ Jesus 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.
- What instead should be our emphasis in this kind of admonishing? We should instead seek to be ministers of Christ to the nations, just as Paul was. What was HE admonishing people? Well, from the language Paul is using here, I can only reason he was speaking about the Gospel!
- You see, the job of a priest is first to offer sacrifice for the people to God. (Second it is to represent God to the Gentiles, but Paul isn’t mentioning that here.) What have we learned about the kind of sacrifice we are now to offer God? If you said “living sacrifice” and had Romans 12 in mind, you’d be right! This is the only kind of acceptable sacrifice under the New Testament. And because we are all still sinners and often are clueless about how to do that, it is made holy for us by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.
17: Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.
- Besides, as Paul says here, only the things we do in Christ are worth mentioning. Brag if you must, but confine your reference to what Christ has done through your work, and try not to turn it into a commercial about yourself and how righteous you are. Christ Jesus presents the only reason for any talking points you may have on a given subject. See here what Paul has to say.
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,
- Paul simply told it like it was and gave the credit to the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the glory to God. Nothing that he did was worth talking about except how the Gentiles became obedient to the Lord in their words and in their deeds. It is significant that Paul uses the singular forms of those words – it indicates that he was speaking of the principles in general, and was not speaking in specifics, although he could have done so. I’m guessing that’s because the letter may have become significantly longer and because it would have sounded like a commercial for himself, and he was far too humble to do that.
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.
- Paul was all about God’s power, not the attesting miracles the Apostle could and did perform. It wasn’t important to him that he could do these mighty miracles. He didn’t see them as his calling. Rather his focus was on preaching the Gospel of Christ!
- This brings up an important bit for me. You all know I was saved in the Charismatic movement and first attended a Pentecostal church, which I was eventually tossed out of because I actually READ my Bible and understood that things said have context. The group I simply call Charismaniacs are into this “hey, look at me, I can do stuff,” kind of miracles. A great bad example is a gent named Todd White, who “lengthens” legs on people. I actually can do the same parlour trick, there is nothing miraculous about it, and it makes no real change in character, which is what is needed. Things like that, or even funnier to me, Bethel in Redding CA who have healing rooms – that they closed in response to COVID-19! If there was ever a time that all of these so-called faith healers could have really strutted their stuff, it would have been during the pandemic. What did they do? They closed their churches and hid in their basements like the rest of us. Some faith healer.
- Instead, look at the Apostle Paul. He had been over half of the known world at this point, and planted numerous real churches that the Lord Jesus was the head of, and who were adding each day the number of believers that the Holy Spirit brought to Christ through his efforts. Go ahead and compare and tell me who had the right to boast – none of them. God did it all Himself.
20: 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;
- And what did Paul do? He went where no one had heard the good news so that he could preach Christ freely and really do the work. He wasn’t hiding in his basement in Antioch and gathering in his holy huddle. He was going out and speaking with people. Yes, speaking with people. He wasn’t just passing out tracts and saying nothing, or leaving them on the bus. Important note when I say that – that isn’t necessarily bad, God can and has used that kind of ministry to bring people to Himself. But Paul’s primary activity was preaching! And he said that there were two times that were best for preaching. In season, and Out of season. So basically, all the time, because there is no third time you can fit into that.
21: but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.”
- Paul here is again quoting Isaiah to make his point, quoting the last part of Isa. 52:15 which reads, “Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.”
- I think this is Paul giving HIS call to ministry. If we look at the whole verse, the context of this remark lends to his interpretation in Romans of a number of things. First Isaiah says that the Lord will “sprinkle” many nations. Is this a reference to baptism? I don’t think so, I think rather it is God sprinkling His elect throughout all the world throughout all of time. It also says that Kings will shut their mouths on account of the Lord. That has happened over the last two thousand years give or take. And then it says that those who had no news of him would see, those who had not heard would hear – and that they would understand and come to be adopted as sons, just like it said in Romans 11.
It is of this cause that Paul was made a minister, that servant that did the work of preaching about the dead, buried, and risen Christ and the freedom that He brings from the prison of our sinful selves for those that can accept the truth. Indeed, by his own choice, it is all Paul would speak of if he were making boast. He would not boast of how it was himself that did things, it was not his own power, his own knowledge, his own wisdom, nor his own preaching and personality that did this – it was Christ alone, by grace through faith, resulting in justification before God. It was noting else.
22-29: Share in the spiritual blessings, minister in the material blessings
In this next paragraph, Paul turns to practical instruction by way of personal example. Paul has no idea what is about to happen to him, although 2000 years give or take have passed and we DO know what happened to Paul. He gives us a key about how to walk in real joy and peace as we go about doing Christ’s work for ourselves. Let’s dig in.
22: For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;
- What reason is Paul talking about? The preceding verse provides context – he was busy taking the gospel into parts unknown! His involvement in that has often prevented him from visiting the church in Rome. Paul was providentially hindered from doing things in the work, and this wasn’t the first time. I view this COVID-19 lockdown as the same kind of thing. Because I am in more than 3 high-risk categories, I’m supposed to stay indoors, so in an attempt to look after myself (with less than desirable results if you’ve been along for the ride), I have for the most part. It has hindered me in my ministry to a point. It has prevented some church-planting activities that I would like to get on with. That’s what Paul faced here.
23: but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you
- Paul is just stating the obvious. Like Stompin’ Tom, he’d been everywhere, man. Nowhere else to go in these parts. So Paul starts to talk about his long-standing desire to visit the saints in Rome, and do what we all do – dream a little, and make some tentative plans, Lord willing, or course. I wonder what Paul would have thought if he knew what was about to happen. Would have changed anything? Somehow, servant that he was, I doubt it.
24: whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—
- “Whenever.” He just had a burden to go. I don’t thin the “when” actually mattered to him. And “I hope to see you in passing.” Again with the hedged statement. It’s like Paul was used to interruptions in his travel itinerary. Probably because he was. He wanted to visit and stay for a while to enjoy the company of the saints in Rome. Paul would likely have preached the Gospel there too.
25: but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints.
- However, Paul had prior commitments, and he was plain about what they were, to go to Jerusalem and to serve the saints there. Paul made no presumptions, and he tried to set expectations as well as he could.
26: For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.
- Paul is providing some context and reasoning for his delay in coming to Rome. For those of us on this side of those events in history, it gives us a little perspective, and valuable insight into how we ought to conduct ourselves in our walks with our Lord Jesus.
- James said it best in his general epistle – “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.;’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15). To do anything else is presumptuous and evil. And we see no evidence of this in Paul’s remarks here.
- Paul is making plans, but notice the terms he uses: “whenever…” “I hope in passing…” “but now I am [engaged in other service]…” He isn’t saying, “I’m coming.” He’s saying whenever he gets to it, which is quite a different thing.
27: Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
- Paul is giving handfuls on purpose, like Boaz instructed his servants to do with Ruth in the book bearing her name. He has held up the gatherings in Macedonia and Achaia as examples of Christian material support, and he is explaining why this is a good thing. These primarily Gentile gatherings owed the Jewish believers a debt for faithfully opening the way of reconciliation with God to them also. Then Paul points out that because they are now sharers in the spiritual blessings that brings (and we have looked at this in chapters 9-11 – adoption as Sons, the holders of the testimony, the recipients of the promises, etc.), then they (and we) clearly have a duty to support them when they are in material need. In fact, I think that can extend to anyone who has given us a spiritual benefit – we need to give them material support (not always money here) whenever we can (and here it was definitely financial aid).
- It is an interesting principle, because there is no repaying that debt. It is simply too great. We should in response give to others as we are able, HOW we are able. And if providence has it that we are not able, we can still pray for them.
28: Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.
- A couple of interesting notes here – Paul identifies this as fruit that the Macedonians and Achaians had produced. What? They gave financially and that was fruit? Yes! But it wasn’t the money that was the fruit. It was the divine love in the gift that was the fruit. Think back to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And please not that fruit of the Spirit is singular. These are not all individual fruits – any manifestation like this is fruit of the Spirit.
- Now Paul says that He will go on to Spain through Rome after he was done this. How true that was – though not the way Paul expected or planned. He reached Rome as a prisoner, where he lived for 2 years in a rented apartment of sorts, where he received visitors, and boldly preached the gospel to any who would listen. After that, the Church father Clement, who became an Elder in Rome (A.D. 88-99) tells us that Paul was released and preached the gospel, reaching “the farthest limits of the West,” which in those day would have been Spain. From there, he returned to Rome shortly before Nero secretly ordered the burning of the city. We have no biblical evidence, however. It is left somewhat to speculation if you doubt the word of Clement of Rome.
29: I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
- But one thing Paul was certain of – when he did reach Rome, it would be when God got him there. And because of that, he knew it would be in the full blessing of Christ, not by random chance.
What can we take out of this section that fits with our theme? I stated the principle as the section title. We must be those who share in the Spiritual blessings, and minister in the Physical blessings. If all the brethren are indeed one with and in Christ, it means for US that we should reasonably derive spiritual benefit from each other, and therefore we must support each other in whatever way we can, particularly in the physical realm. If you know a brother who is having difficulty putting food on the table, you can either buy him groceries, or take him shopping, for example. If you know a pastor that needs a flock to shepherd, you can either be part of his supportive flock, or pray that he would find one. Whatever the case, I hope you forgive my eminent practicality on the subject, but practical examples are appropriate, are they not?
30-33: Pray for each other’s deliverance, blessing, and rest
Whatever our case or lot in life, as Christians who have believed on Jesus Christ for salvation and repented of our sins (are repenting of?), we should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters, united in Christ by the Holy Spirit, even if we have differing opinions on some things. See what Paul says here.
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,
- Paul “urges” us. The Greek word? Parakaleo, to call or come alongside for aid. The thing the Holy Spirit does for us. Who is he urging? Like I said, US – that is, other believers. He urges us by our Lord Jesus Christ – the full invocation, Kurios Iesus Christos – signifying his seriousness in urgency, and by the love of the [Holy] Spirit, that is the divine love put in us by the Holy Spirit that binds us together in unity and fidelity…
- That we strive together with him in our prayers to God for Paul! This line could easily be limited to Paul for the believers in Rome, at that time. In a historical sense, it should be. However, I think there is a transcending meaning here that applies to all of us now. WE – in that power and authority, bound together by that divine love in which we partake and by which we are united into a spiritual family – should pray this way with and for each other.
31: that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;
- Paul even gives the kind of prayer which we should be praying with and for each other, again in that transcending context of the previous verse. We can pray for each other’s rescue from those who are disobedient. Paul was of course in Judea, and so the request, but for us, that is open-ended. There are those we need to reach, and there are those that would be a hinderance to us in that task. Pray that we would each be rescued from the plots and devices of those who would hinder us by their disobedience.
- Also, we may pray for each other that our service (again, for Paul, in Jerusalem) wherever we are called to serve (just as Paul was) would be acceptable to the saints. This is not the idea of people-pleasing, but is instead that the believers that are being served would receive the intended benefit.
32: so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.
- Paul knew that as long as he was faithful in the discharge of his God-given responsibilities, it would bring joy and refreshing of his spirit. Again in that transcending context with which we have been looking at these verses, when WE are faithful to the duties that God has given US to perform, oversee, lead, partake of, whatever it is, then WE will be filled with that heavenly Joy that God gives according to His will as fruit of the Spirit, and as a natural following consequence, WE will find refreshing rest in each other’s company. Friends and brethren – that’s called the Church. The Universal one that reaches through all time and over the whole earth, that includes people from every nation, family, language, gender, economic status, educational level, and ethnicity. The one that Jesus will gather to Himself as His Bride. Selah [Pause and calmly think on that].
33: Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
- And with all of that said, NOW Paul gives holy benediction – may the God of peace be with you all. What more needs be said?
In many ways, this chapter was very difficult for me personally both to study and to preach. It brings up a lot more of my own past issues (and some present ones) than I care to think about. However, I know that in my own path of sanctification, I MUST deal with these things. If you are like me, and pursuing your relationship with Christ with all the energy you can muster, with all the courage, with all the responsibility, with all the spiritual acumen that you have at your disposal, then this chapter tells you what it tells me: We have a long way to go, and a short time to get there – and this is no beer run from Texarkana. If you didn’t get the reference, it’s from an early 1980s movie named “Smokey and the Bandit.” Like the drivers of those vehicles, this run will take all the courage, skill, patience, cunning, and providence (as opposed to luck, which I don’t believe in) that we have and beyond. And in ourselves and our old nature, we have NO hope of completing the trip in the time required. Guess where we all spend most of our time, like it or not. In the flesh, that old nature.
This is why Paul himself has become by the end of this chapter a case study in walking in the Spirit, almost a how-to for those of us that learn by watching then doing more effectively than wandering around and doing nonsense by trial and error. What we read of Paul here is pure gold, given to us by Paul, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit used Paul, his experience, and his personality, and his quirks and all, to write the very Word of God. And friends, my encouragement here is that if God can take a hardened ENEMY soldier, in fact a persecutor of the Church, and make that man His own representative of that Church to the new outreach to the Gentiles, the most successful outreach in the history of history – then He can make us into His servants also, no matter how long that journey might be. But this will NOT be a walk in the park.
This walk with the Lord to our heavenly home, where our true citizenship is, goes through a great many nasty places before we get there, and all of it through enemy territory. Our only hope is to walk in our New Nature given to us by Christ at our justification by faith, that is sanctified with every step we take, every trial we undergo, every tribulation we suffer, every seemingly hopeless battle we fight, and as we travel step by agonizing step, we are changed and renewed in our mind into that glorious and heavenly image of our Lord Jesus Christ. And praise the Lord, He has not left us alone – He has given us the Holy Spirit that has taken up residence in our hearts, and He has given us each other to be companions on that journey home, praise His name!
And THAT is chapter 15!