Paul essentially ends Romans with a plea that Jews and Gentiles may, in light of the Gospel, live with one another in harmony.
15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 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.
The beginning of chapter 15 is a good example concerning how the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not divinely inspired! The discussion concerning bearing the weaknesses of others obviously belongs to the discussion in Chapter 14. We already discussed how we should seek the edification of others, and serve others. This does not include sinning ourselves because Christ is our example in this, where He edified others to the utmost: He bore our sins in an act of ultimate obedience and love.
Paul adds the interesting tidbit that what was written in earlier times was for our instruction. This is a rationale as to why verse three was relevant in the time of David when Ps 69:9 was written as well as today. Likewise in 1 Cor 10:10-11 he offers a similar rationale in his warning to the Corinthians to avoid Israel’s idolatry: “Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction.”
Indeed, God’s ways are beyond tracing out. It is amazing to reflect on how the struggle of a nation in the desert, the trial of Job, and Christ’s suffering on the cross all serve a purpose for us. As Paul states, people actually suffer and die because in God’s foreknowledge it would be instructive to us. “What if God…endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy” (Rom 9:22-23)?
In Christ’s case, as He was the only Man ever who suffered without deserving it as punishment for sin, His suffering was similarly instructive. It shows us that we must suffer for the sake of others, even to the point of death, as Christ suffered for us. This is why there are Christian missionaries that preach in Muslim lands and in North Korea, and are killed. Father, increase our faith, show us how to carry our cross and follow your Son!
Aquinas reminds us how this should give us comfort and encouragement when suffering:
For by the instruction from Sacred Scripture that those who suffered tribulations patiently for God were divinely consoled, we receive the hope that we ourselves will be consoled, if we have been patient in them: “If he should slay me, I will hope in him” (Jb 13:15).
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, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that we see Christ’s example, may we persevere by God’s grace in bearing the burdens of others and by doing so staying in one accord with them. This glorifies God.
Also note that God gives perseverance in the faith. God sustains His people so that they may continue to remain in Him.
7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 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, 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.”
10 Again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise Him.”
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.”
Paul’s instructions from Rom 14 until this point were addressing an overarching issue. When he says in verse seven that those in the Roman church should accept one another, that issue is now clarified: the Gentile Christians were causing a rift with Jewish believers over matters of the Jewish Law. In Paul’s judgment, the Jewish Christians of Rome were not unbelieving and unlike the Judaizers in Galatia and Collosae, he sought peace with them. The Gentile believers, however, were goading their superior knowledge and more mature consciences on matters of the Law over the Jewish Christians. Paul would have none of this, because such an attitude is the antithesis of spiritual maturity.
We are to accept one another, despite our imperfections, because Christ did! Christ came to redeem the Jews also, so as the Scripture states in several places the Gentiles should not divide themselves from the Jews, because they ought to worship God together.
Being that amongst Christians, we have divisions over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the veneration of Saints, the use of Creeds, and other doctrines, isn’t clear that God did not will division over this? Paul called “accursed” those who preached another Gospel (Gal 1:8, 9). Yet, when something did not pertain to the Gospel, even if it was wrong, Paul was not willing to break up the Church over it.
In fact, even though Paul once opposed Peter, he by the Spirit won Peter over to the point that Peter commended Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). So, let us not divide among one another, but bear with the weaknesses of others. But, if one’s conscience believes a group of Christians is worshiping improperly, being that this passage pertains to worship, the conscience of the Christian is not to be ignored. We are not compelled to bear another’s burden to the point where we feel we are worshiping improperly, because whatever is not of faith is sin.
For this reason, the Church even had two different dates for Easter and allowed each church to be convinced in their own mind what the truth was of the matter. To this day, Eastern Rite Catholics maintain a different liturgical calendar, as they should. This is not a matter for which there should be division.
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.
This verse indirectly affirms the Deity of the Holy Spirit, and it also shows how hope, joy, peace, and belief are all spiritual gifts from God.
Aquinas sums it up quite nicely:
Hence it is clear that he wishes them to have from God, the giver of hope, not only faith but charity, through which faith works, as it says in Gal (5:6) lest their faith be unformed and dead: “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26). So that by the fullness of these virtues you may abound, by progressing from good to better, not only in hope but also in the power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., in charity, which is poured forth in your hearts by the Holy Spirit, as was said above (5:5); “God is able to provide you with every grace in abundance” (2 Cor 7:8).
Here it also shows that Aquinas did not view James’ interpretation of faith and works as something pertaining to justification, but rather the fruit of real faith which is given to us by the Holy Spirit.
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.
Paul perhaps gives us indication here that though he is correcting a small problem in the Roman church, it was not anything so great that it could not be solved. For all intents and purposes, the Roman church appears quite pious.
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, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Paul makes clear that He wrote boldly by the Spirit of God. So, it is not Him writing, but God by His Spirit. Obviously, this is how Peter understood the letter, as did the Church in copying it and recognizing it as Scripture. Paul hopes that this letter, as the rest of his work in the ministry, might bear fruit among the Gentiles. Being that whatever is not of faith is sin, he prays that his work is sanctified by the Spirit so that it may be legitimate and of God. Supposedly good works not done in accordance with the will of God are not good at all.
It is also worth noting that these verses contain a subtle, Triune formula.
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.
Paul does not boast in what he has done. What he writes is according to the Spirit of God, not his own. All of his work is really the work of God Himself. “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31).
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; 21 but as it is written,
“They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard shall understand.”
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 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 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—
Paul is building up support for his planned missionary journey to Spain. He views it as a Scriptural imperative that the name of God be preached where it was never preached before. Being that the church in Rome was started by men other than Paul, he does not seek to become the premier teacher there, but rather to preach the Gospel elsewhere and use Rome as a launching pad.
We know from Acts of the Apostles that Paul went to Rome…but in chains. However, he apparently went to Spain according Clement: “After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects” (1 Clem, Chapter 5). So, Paul did get his opportunity to at least arrive in Spain, though it is not known if he had any success.
25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 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 unknowingly is on his way to imprisonment in Jerusalem when he brings the offering. But what may we learn from this ill-fated journey? What we may learn is that The offering that Paul brought was raised among those who even in great poverty gave selflessly. The Macedonians even “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (2 Cor 8:2). So, we in any way possible, including money, should give selflessly.
We are indebted to minister, because Christ “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). The Greeks were following Christ’s example with their liberality.
Another observation we may make is that Achaia overflowed with liberality, so that means Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthians that God loves a cheerful giver were heeded!
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. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
It is not entirely clear what Paul means by using the word “seal.” It can simply mean his approval or blessing, but it might also be a literal seal in accordance with ancient practice. A seal’s purpose was to guarantee that only the one that received the package could open it. Of course, this would be very important for a monetary offering in the ancient world that was all cash.
The picture of the seal as something literal is important when trying to understand our salvation. Paul writes to the Ephesians:
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:13-14).
When we hear the Gospel and believe, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. This guarantees our salvation because the Holy Spirit “is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” This shows that a Christian’s salvation is already accomplished upon faith and guaranteed because the importance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. He does not budge for anybody. If He says He is a pledge guaranteeing inheritance, then he guarantees the inheritance of eternal life for all adopted sons of God!
Regarding the blessing of conversion to the faith, he states in whom, namely, Christ, by whose action you also believing, were signed. This blessing is applied to faith since faith is necessary for those who listen. In vain would anyone listen to the word of truth if he did not believe, and the believing itself is through Christ. “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
…He is given with a certain promise, by the very fact that He is given to us we become the children of God. For through the Holy Spirit we are made one with Christ: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of God, does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). As a result of being made adopted children of God, we have the promise of an eternal inheritance since “if sons, heirs also” (Rom. 8:17).
Thirdly, he is termed a pledge inasmuch as he makes us certain of the promised inheritance. Adopting us into the children of God, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of promise who also is the seal of the promise yet to be attained.
…Nevertheless, it can also be called a pledge. For through the Holy Spirit God grants us a variety of gifts. Some of these will remain in the fatherland, as charity which “never comes to an end” (1 Cor. 13:8); while others will not last on account of their imperfection, such as faith and hope “which shall be done away” with (ibid., v. 10). Hence, the Spirit is called an earnest in reference to what will remain, and a pledge with respect to what will be done away with (Commentary on Ephesians, Verses 13 and 14).
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 rescued 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 here asks for prayers, as divisions between the Judaizing party and himself appear to be strong enough that not only does he fear the Jews, he is unsure that his service of giving the Jerusalem church money will be considered acceptable. The Judaizers apparently had some acceptance in this church.
What’s the relation between Paul’s fear of both the Judaizers and the Jews themselves? We have a clue in Galatians. “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:12). In other words, there were false brothers who were essentially selling out the Gospel to make it more palatable to Jews in order to avoid persecution. Paul worried that when he went to Jerusalem, these supposed brothers in Christ would cause him problems because he brought an offering from uncircumcised believers.
Why? Who wouldn’t want money? Sadly, politics might have played a role. If the brothers in Jerusalem accept, then they deal the Judaizing faction a deadly blow. It accepts the legitimacy of uncircumcised believers that do not seek to slavishly follow the Law. So, to maintain their movement, it is in the Judaizers interest to make Paul’s mission to help the Jewish Christian brothers with the offerings a failure.
This political intrigue sounds compelling enough to make an interesting movie. For this reason, Paul requested prayer–he was about to enter the den of vipers. Paul prayed that it would not be so bad so he can leave on schedule and go to Rome well rested and rejoicing. There is a foreboding sense that Paul foresaw his possible imprisonment, and Agabus surely warned Paul of it.
On a fitting note, Paul prays for peace and no division between the Jew and Gentile after finishing two chapters dominated by the subject. The matter is chielf one that pertains to us accepting one another as Christ accepted us. Further, peace between the two groups was a pressing, timely need for Paul personally, given the intrigue in the Church. How important is it for us to pray for peace, unity of mind, and no division? This is far too easily forgotten.
With all of this in mind, we can now see the scope of Paul’s letter. Paul wrote of how all men are under condemnation under the Mosaic and Natural Law, and how salvation comes by faith alone and not by Law. This surely was a slap in the face of the Judaizers. So, the practical application of the doctrinal tenets of the Gospel as discussed in chapters 1 to 11 are the teachings of living with one another in peace, as detailed in chapters 12 to 15. Hence, we cannot see 12 through 15 as addressing a completely separate idea, but rather, a practical application of the Gospel given the division between false brothers and himself during this time.