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Romans 15:1-16:27

IV.          God's Purpose with Israel - 9:1-11:36

V.            God's Principles for Living - 12:1-15:13

 

A.            The Christian and Life - 12:1-21

B.            The Christian and Law - 13:1-14

C.            The Christian and Liberty - 14:1-23

D.            The Christian and Love - 15:1-13

 

[Rom. 15:1-13 is a continuation of Rom. 14. Let me summarize Paul's primary points in the latter: 1) All things are clean (14:14,20; 1 Cor. 8:8; 1 Tim. 4:4-5). 2) The strong Christian is the one who understands this truth and is able to exercise and enjoy his liberty in Christ without asking questions for conscience sake. 3) The weak Christian is the one who does not understand this truth. He has scruples or qualms about certain activities or foods. He is timid and fearful, afraid that such things are spiritually defiling. He is the sort who is easily influenced by the example of others to violate what his conscience tells him is wrong. 4) The weak brother, says Paul, should not judge his strong brother when the latter chooses to exercise his Christian liberty (see v. 4). 5) On the other hand, the strong brother must not look with disdainful contempt on his weaker brother. More important still, the strong brother must be willing to suspend the exercise of his liberty if his behavior threatens to put a stumblingblock in his weaker brother's path. That is to say, if in the use of his freedom, the weak brother is induced to follow suit, in violation of his conscience, the strong brother should refrain.]

 

 

1.             The Weak and the Strong - 15:1-6

 

a.              an exhortation - vv. 1-2

 

Three observations:

 

1)             Paul clearly aligns himself with the strong. He never concedes to the position of the weak, as if they might be right. The strong, however, are the key to resolving the split. The initiative rests with them. Why? Because the weak are not capable of doing anything else. They are locked in by their convictions. That is why they are weak.

 

2)             To bear the weaknesses of those without strength, Paul does not mean tolerate or endure or put up with them. He is not endorsing condescending acquiescence. That would only worsen matters by fostering a spirit of superiority in the strong. Rather, Paul is calling on the strong to lovingly uphold and carry along the weak brother; take some of the weight off him; educate and encourage him so that his weakness may be transformed into strength.

 

3)             The exhortation not to please ourselves is not intended to rob us of joy in life. Paul does not mean we are always to defer to the whims of others. John Piper explains:

 

"He does not mean we shouldn't seek the joy of edifying others, but that we should let this joy free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us indifferent to the good of others. Love does not seek its own private, limited joy, but instead seeks its own joy in the good -- the salvation and edification -- of others" (Desiring God, 93).

 

b.             an example - vv. 3-4

 

To the objection or protest that such a responsibility is burdensome, unfair, or inconvenient, Paul answers by appealing to the example of Jesus. Whatever inconveniencies or reproach the strong may have to endure in order to help their weaker brethren, it can never compare with what Jesus went through for you.

 

·          In quoting Ps. 69:9, Paul is saying that all the reproach and insults and abuse and hatred that men hurled at God fell on Christ. He willingly became the target of all human hatred of God, for you and me.

 

·          V. 4 has much to say about the use and value of the OT Scriptures for us today.

 

c.              a prayer - vv. 5-6

 

1)             its content - v. 5

 

We should note the relationship between vv. 4 and 5. Perseverance and encouragement come from God. But how does he impart them to us? According to v. 4, it is through the Scriptures.

 

Also, "this can hardly be a plea that the Roman Christians may come to agree with each other about everything, since Paul has been at pains to urge the weak and the strong to accept each other in spite of their conscientious disagreement on secondary matters. It must therefore be a prayer for their unity of mind in essentials" (Stott, 371).

 

2)             its consequence - v. 6

 

2.             The Jew and the Gentile - 15:7-13

 

Why does Paul shift from the weak and the strong to the Jew and the Gentile? Perhaps because the Jew = the weak and the Gentile = the strong. If the Jewish converts in the church at Rome were fearful of abandoning the dietary regulations of the old covenant and believed they were required to observe the various holy days on the Jewish calendar, they may be the weak about whom Paul has been speaking.

 

a.              an exhortation - v. 7

 

If Christ Jesus has received us, what excuse do we have for rejecting one another? If place conditions on our acceptance of one another, we are violating the example Jesus set when he accepted us into the fellowship of the church.

 

b.             an example - vv. 8-12

 

Paul's citation of these OT texts that refer to God's saving work among the Gentiles may have been prompted by the tendency of Jewish believers to doubt whether Gentiles were really on an equal spiritual plane with them. His point is that Gentiles, no less than Jews, are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Whether weak or strong, whether Jew or Gentile, God has accepted us together in Christ Jesus. Therefore, how can we do less?

 

c.              a prayer - v. 13

 

1)             its content - v. 13a

 

2)             its consequence - v. 13b

 

Clearly, Paul believed that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers life in the present and guarantees its future consummation. The presence of the Spirit is attested not simply, or even primarily, by signs and wonders (but cf. v. 19). The Spirit's presence and power are seen when believers live in peace with one another and abound in joy and hope.

 

VI.          God's Providence over Paul's Life - 15:14-16:27

 

A.            His power - 15:14-21

 

1.             His confidence in their character - 15:14

 

a.              their morality

 

b.             their mentality

 

c.              their maturity

 

2.             His purpose in penning Romans - 15:15-16

 

a.              what he wrote - v. 15a

 

b.             why he wrote it - vv. 15b-16

 

Observe the latent Trinitarianism in this verse: "The good news of which Paul is a minister has its origins in God; in taking it to the Gentiles he is a 'priestly minister' of Christ Jesus, the content of this good news; the effectual appropriation of the good news in the lives of Gentiles is the working of the Holy Spirit" (Fee, 627).

 

3.             His basis for boasting - vv. 17-19

 

a.              the message of Christ - vv. 17-18

 

No one hated boasting more than Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31; 4:7). But when it came to boasting in what Christ had done through him, Paul could brag with the best of them!

 

He does not say "I boast about what I have done through Christ," as if he were the subject and Christ merely the instrument. Rather, he says "I boast about what Christ has done through me!" Paul is merely a tool, an instrument, a vessel for the work of Christ.

 

b.             the miracles of confirmation - v. 19

 

It would be best if we began with v. 18b and read through v. 19. In doing so we see how Paul insists that his ministry involves both dimensions of the Spirit's empowerment: "Christ has been at work in him both through 'word' (i.e., by his proclamation of the gospel) and 'deed' (i.e., through signs and wonders). Both together are the result and evidence of Spirit empowering" (Fee, 629). The opening phrase in v. 19, "in the power of signs and wonders," is Paul's way of explaining further what he meant in v. 18b by the word "deed". The next phrase, "in the power of the Holy Spirit," is Paul's way of explaining further what he meant in v. 19a by "in the power of signs and wonders." Thus we might paraphrase in this way:

 

"by proclamation and deed, that is, through signs and wonders, all of which was accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God."

 

Furthermore, there is no evidence that Paul conceived these "signs and wonders" as establishing his apostolic credentials. Rather, "he is in a most matter-of-fact way describing his ministry among the Gentiles, apparently as an appeal for acceptance in this basically Gentile community. There is no hint of any kind that what he describes is limited either to himself or to the apostolic age. This is simply the way Christ has been at work to bring about 'the obedience of the Gentiles'" (Fee, 631).

 

4.             His policy for preaching - vv. 20-21

 

B.            His plans - 15:22-33

 

1.             The plans of Paul under God's Providence - 15:22-29

 

a.              his journey to Rome - vv. 22-24

 

Did Paul ever get to Spain? We can't be sure. Clement of Rome, writing in the early years of the 2nd century a.d., said,

 

"Paul, having taught righteousness to the whole world, having gone to the limits of the west, and having given testimony before the rulers, thus was removed from the world and taken up into the Holy Place, having become the outstanding model of endurance."

 

Some believe "the limits of the west" refers to the western part of Europe, i.e., Spain.

 

b.             his journey to Jerusalem - vv. 25-27

 

Cf. 2 Cor. 8-9.

 

c.              a summary of his plans - vv. 28-29

 

[Paul was not the sort of man who made plans in defiance of God's providence. He knew that his schedule was always subject to divine revision. No one knew better than he that all his travel arrangements were dependent on God's will. And no one knew better than he that God accomplishes his providential purpose in response to the prayers of his people.]

 

2.             The power of prayer in God's Providence - 15:30-33

 

a.              the request - v. 30

 

1)             the stimulus to prayer - v. 30a

 

2)             the struggle of prayer - v. 30b

 

Cf. Col. 4:2. But with what or whom do we struggle? Satan? Cf. Dan. 10. The world? The weakness and lethargy of the flesh? Could it be with God? Whatever the case, we must struggle in our prayers against all hindrances, against all deterrents, against all that would prompt us to give up too quickly.

 

b.             the reasons - v. 31

 

1)             his desire for deliverance - v. 31a

 

2)             his desire for acceptance - v. 31b

 

Paul clearly believed in the power of prayer, or more accurately, in the power of God through prayer. He was persuaded that God had suspended the success of his journeys and mission on the prayers of his people. See also Philemon 22; Philippians 1:19; 2 Cor. 1:8-11.

 

c.              the result - v. 32

 

In the final analysis, it was all subject to the will of God. He didn't presume to know if it was God's ultimate and determinate purpose to bring him to Rome in response to the prayers of these people. We know from the book of Acts, with historical hindsight, that it was. But Paul didn't know that up front.

 

d.             a concluding prayer - v. 33

 

C.            His personals - 16:1-24

 

1.             A commendation of Phoebe - 16:1-2

 

Several observations concerning Phoebe:

 

1)             She probably carried the epistle from Corinth to Rome. It forces one to have great confidence in the providence of God that he would entrust the most important letter ever written to a woman's handbag.

 

2)             She was a "servant" of the church at Cenchrea. The Greek word here is diakonos, from which we get the English term "deacon." The word often refers to one who serves or ministers without any suggestion that he/she holds an ecclesiastical office. Cf. Rom. 12:7; 1 Pt. 4:10-11. In this sense we are all deacons! But might this term also indicate that Phoebe held "office" in the church at Cenchrea? Was Phoebe a deaconess? Cf. 1 Tim. 3:8-13.

 

3)             Paul commends her as his "helper." We do not know in what ways Phoebe helped or served the apostle, but it was significant enough for him to mention and to warrant others receiving her with honor.

 

2.             Greetings to his friends - 16:3-16

 

a.              Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila - vv. 3-5a

 

Evidently Paul lived in their home in Corinth for the 18 months that he ministered in that city. They later travelled with Paul to Ephesus. Note four things about them:

 

(1)           they were his fellow-workers (a term used also of Timothy and Titus; cf. Phil. 4:3; again, a woman was integral to Paul's ministry!);

 

(2)           they risked their lives for Paul, perhaps during the disturbance in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-40);

 

(3)           in the six places where their names appear, four have Prisca before Aquila; it may be that she was more skilled, more effective, or more active;

 

(4)           they loved to open their home for the church (cf. v. 5a; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2); what does this tell us about the nature/meaning of the church?

 

b.             Epaenetus - v. 5b

 

c.              Mary - v. 6

 

If only all of us would be satisfied with being remembered for that!

 

d.             Andronicus and Junias - v. 7

 

Is Junias masculine or feminine? If feminine, then they are husband and wife. Recent examination of extensive Greek literature outside the Bible gives little help. The word Junias turned up only twice as a woman's name and only once as a man's name. If Junias is a woman, do we have reference here to a female apostle? It is possible (though not probable) to translate: "well known by the apostles," rather than "outstanding among the apostles." The point has been made that "since Andronicus and Junias were Christians before Paul was, it may be that their longstanding ministry (reaching back before Paul's) is precisely what Paul might have in mind when he says 'of note among the apostles.' They may well have been known among the apostles before Paul was even converted" (Piper/Grudem, 80). But we can't be certain.

 

More important still is that the term apostle is itself used in four senses in the NT: 1) of Jesus as The Apostle; 2) of the 12; 3) of Paul and perhaps 5 or 6 others (Silas, Barnabas, James; cf. 1 Thess. 2:6; Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 14:4,14); a technical use of a restricted group; and 4) a general use of many individuals who were "sent out" by a church as a delegated representative or messenger (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). Most likely, Andronicus and his wife Junias were "apostles" in this fourth sense.

 

e.              Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys - vv. 8-9

 

These are all common slave names. PT: people from the lowest, least auspicious, least educated, least wealthy levels of society can be quite successful spiritually!

 

f.              Apelles - v. 10a

 

He is described as "approved," pointing to some particularly serious trial through which he had shown himself to be faithful.

 

g.             those of the house of Aristobulus - v. 10b

 

Aristobulus himself is not greeted. He may have been dead. If alive, he was a pagan. Some believe him to have been the grandson of Herod the Great. PT: the gospel can penetrate even into the most unlikely of places - the imperial, royal household.

 

h.             Herodion - v. 11a

 

i.               those of the house of Narcissus - v. 11b

 

History records that after the death of Narcissus, his household passed into the possession of Nero! There were Christians everywhere.

 

j.               Tryphaena, Tryphhosa, and Persis - v. 12

 

These were three women who worked hard. The first two may have been twin sisters. Their names literally mean something like "Dainty" and "Delicate". But they were anything but that when it came to serving Christ!

 

k.             Rufus - v. 13

 

Cf. Mark 15:21; Lk. 23:26. Simon of Syrene, who carried the cross of Jesus, is said to have been the father of Alexander and Rufus. Since Mark's gospel was written for the church at Rome, this may be the same man. Thus from one momentous encounter with Jesus, Simon's wife and son became believers.

 

Paul refers to Rufus' mother as his own, perhaps because she had befriended him in a special way, filling a place that Paul's mother either would not (because an unbeliever) or could not (because dead).

 

l.               Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren with them - v. 14

 

m.            Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympas, and the saints with them - v. 15

 

Lessons: 1) Paul was interested in people, not just principles. 2) Paul's commendations highlight labor, work for Christ. 3) Note the highly visible place of women in his ministry. 4) All kinds of people comprise the church: men and women, young and old, slaves, sisters, prominent figures, etc.

 

3.             A final warning - 16:17-20

 

a.              exhortation - v. 17

 

When the primary truths of the gospel or harmony in the body of Christ are at stake, division sometimes becomes necessary. Paul has in mind people who deliberately and for selfish reasons disrupt the body in defiance of the truths he has already taught them.

 

b.             explanation - v. 18

 

c.              encouragement - vv. 19-20

 

That the God of peace should be the one who crushes Satan under our feet is Paul's way of using apparently antithetical terms to make a theological point. True peace can only come when all evil is eradicated. The God of love is also the God of wrath. See esp. Gen. 3:15; Ps. 91:13; Lk. 10:18-20. Three views of when this will occur have been suggested: (1) It relates directly to the defeat of the people mentioned in v. 17f. whom Satan was using to sow seeds of division in the church. (2) It relates to some unspecified deliverance in the ordinary course of history. (3) It is a promise of the final eschatological defeat of Satan and sin at the return of Christ.

 

4.             Greetings from his companions - 16:21-24

 

D.            A concluding Doxology - 16:25-27