Read Romans 15:14-16:27
Having completed his thoughts on the righteousness of God and how it applies to the believer’s life, Paul now begins concluding remarks. Though it will take some time to complete the conclusion (as was often common in ancient letters), the tone of this entire section is one of final words and wrapping up.
A) Paul’s Mission Explained (15:14-33)
By way of concluding, Paul now elaborates on his mission to which he alluded in chapter 1. There he wrote,
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (1:13-15).
Here he tells the Romans that though he has written a few things “boldly by way of reminder,” he is confident of the their sincere and mature faith and that they can instruct each other. In writing those reminders, he is simply fulfilling his commission as an apostle to the Gentiles, according to the grace of God given him. This grace has placed him in the position of a “minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, in the priestly service of the gospel.”
A minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul comes to the Gentiles as a representative of Christ. Among the Greeks, the word for minister denoted one who discharged the duties of a public office or public trust at his own expense. As a minister Paul spoke and acted under the authority of Christ, just as Christ constantly said He acted not on His own but under the Father’s authority.
In the priestly service of the gospel. A priest is one who stands before God, representing God to the people and the people to God. He stands in the gap, so to speak. While there is only one High Priest and Mediator between man and God (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:17) who offered a once-for-all perfect sacrifice, Paul again uses the word somewhat figuratively. This can be seen in his use of the phrase “that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The picture he paints here is that of the Gentiles as a group, having heard the gospel and trusted Christ, become a pleasing aroma before God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In describing his ministry, Paul says, “I have reason to boast of my work for God” (v. 17). He is quick to qualify the statement, however, with one of his favorite expressions: in Christ. All that follows is qualified by that expression. In Christ, Paul’s work is acceptable before God. In fact, he will not boast of anything outside of himself, only what Christ has accomplished through Him. Here he presents himself as merely the vessel or agent of Christ’s work.
What has Christ done through him? He has used Paul “to bring the Gentiles to obedience.” Obedience to what? The command of the gospel is that all men “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30-31, 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Thus, Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles is to preach the gospel so that all may hear and obey the command. How was this ministry accomplished? In verse 19, Paul gives his readers the traits that characterized his ministry:
- By word and deed. The overall trait that characterized Paul’s ministry is that it was by word and deed. Not only was the gospel proclaimed but it was lived out. Paul was careful that his actions would be in accordance with the truth of the gospel, as he always exhorted others to do (cf. Eph. 4:1-3).
- By the power of signs and wonders. Signs and wonders were given as a means of authenticating the message of the gospel. Acts contains several specific examples of Paul performing signs and wonders, as well other examples, where they are suggested or implied. It is important to remember that this part of his ministry cannot be divorced from the rest. Signs and wonders cannot be the only authentication for a ministry, since false apostles and false teachers can perform signs and wonders. The ministry of Christ will always produce fruit in keeping with the gospel.
- By the power of the Spirit of God. As he told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:1-5), he tells the Romans. His ministry does not rest in human words or wisdom, but on the power of God’s Spirit.
Finally, Paul tells the believers where his ministry took place. He relates that his work has gone “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum.” Being determined to not build upon another’s foundation, he sought to preach “where Christ was not known.”
It is because of this constant travel and evangelism that Paul has been unable to visit Rome. He has devoted all his time to the gospel. Now, though, no longer having “any room for work in these regions,” he plans to visit them on his way to Spain. In most places where he evangelized, he was forced out by various means (stonings, beatings, judicial action, etc.). Thus, following the Lord’s command, it would soon be time to move to other regions.
First, however, his plan is to go to Jerusalem, bringing aid to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The churches in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia took up collections among the saints there to send by Paul and representatives of the churches. From Jerusalem, then, he plans to stop at Rome on his way to Spain. In his explanation of the collection Paul lays out a principle that churches should cooperate and help one another. As he told the Corinthians, when one part of the body suffers, other parts of the body send resources (1 Cor. 12:21-26).
In addition to that is the principle of “giving back.” The churches of Macedonia and Achaia benefited spiritually from the church at Jerusalem (since that is where Paul originally came from). Thus, Paul says, they should likewise share their material blessings.
Paul closes this section with an earnest appeal for the prayers of the saints. As he prepares for the trip to Jerusalem, his prayers focus on three central requests:
- That he may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. He refers here to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, who would continue to seek opportunities to imprison or kill him.
- That his service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints. By this point in church history there were already some schisms in the church, notably between Jewish and Gentile believers. Thus his concern is that the gift from the churches should be received in the spirit in which it is given.
- That he may, by God’s will, go to Rome with joy and be refreshed in the company of the believers. Here, Paul submits himself, as always, to the will of the Lord. He could almost echo the words of James, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). More specifically, though, he desires to go to Rome to be mutually encouraged and refreshed by the church there.
Most scholars believe Paul reached Rome about AD 62 (approximately five years after this letter). However, it was not as he intended—he was a prisoner on trial, having appealed to Caesar. There is debate on the date of his death; the balance of evidence indicates he was freed and lived another five years. In many ways, then his prayers were answered.
B) Commendation of Phoebe and Greetings to Roman Believers (16:1-16)
Paul now begins to close his letter. In the ancient world, it was common to include greetings in such a letter to individuals, and Paul does so here. First, however, includes an introduction and commendation of Phoebe to the saints.
1. Paul commends Phoebe to the Roman church (vv. 1-2).
When believers traveled to from one church to a church they had never visited, it was common for them to have “letters of commendation,” as a means of introduction—and later it would serve to distinguish true believers in good standing with the church from false believers. Here, Paul calls Phoebe a “servant” of the church at Cenchreae (the port city of Corinth). Whether she held an actual office (deaconess, the Greek word used is the word often translated “deacon”) or was simply someone who served where she was able, he commends her to the church of Rome, asking the church to receive and welcome her “in a way worthy of saints” and to help her with any needs she may have, since she has done the same for others—including the apostle. Since his letter includes this specific request, it is likely that Phoebe delivered the letter to the church.
2. Paul sends personal greetings to individuals in the church (vv. 3-16).
It may seem strange that Paul knows so many people in a church he has never visited. However, it must be remembered that Rome was, for all intents, the center of the world. People came and went from Rome frequently, and may well have encountered Paul in other places (Aquila and Priscilla are prime examples, having encountered Paul first in Corinth, then moving with him to Ephesus, before returning to Rome) In addition, many of those he notes as “kinsman,” may well be relatives.
What this shows about Paul is the fluidity with which he moved among both Jews and Gentiles—making friends with both groups. He was a bridge-builder between people and groups. Though he had great love for his own race and always preached “to the Jew first” in any new city (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10), he also became “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22).
C) Warnings about Divisive Brothers (16:17-20)
As Paul considers himself (and other believers) “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19), he now warns the believers against people who have the opposite goal in mind. He speaks of those “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.”
Since he speaks of these people in general terms (“those who,” “such people”), it is unlikely he has a specific group of people in mind. It is possible (though not certain) that he is thinking of his opponents who have followed him from place to place (Antioch, Galatia, etc.), trying to destroy his message and ministry. Since he may be delayed in getting to Rome, it is possible these people may get there before he does, and he wants the believers to “watch out” or be alert for them.
Such people, the ones who seek to create division and place obstacles in the way of the believer serve not God but “their own appetites.” Elsewhere, in his letter to the Philippians he says about a similar group of people, “Their god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19), referring to more than just physical food. They are out to serve themselves, instead of the Lord and His church.
Paul is confident that the Roman believers will be able to discern these false believers, since the Romans’ obedience has been well-known. Knowing the truth and walking in obedience to the truth is the key to discerning true from false (Rom. 12:1-2). Because God is a god of peace and not unnecessary division, Paul gives them the sure word that the God of peace will soon crush Satan, and blesses them with not only that word but the very grace of Christ.
D) Greetings from Believers with Paul (16:21-24)
In just about every one of Paul’s letters we see that he was not alone when he wrote the letter (for example, Galatians was likely written with at least the elders of the church of Antioch present). As he has greeted many people in the church at Rome, he now sends greetings to the church from those who are with him.
Though we know nothing about Quartus who is mentioned here, we know much about Timothy, Paul’s “own son in the faith.” He was with Paul many years, and received great training under the apostle, soon able to handle important tasks on his own. The kinsmen he names here may or may not be blood relatives (or even Jews, the names are generally Greek and/or Latin). At least, however, they are Paul’s kinsmen through the blood of Christ, and there is no greater bond.
It was common for the scribe (the person who physically wrote the letter) to send greetings, as Tertius does here. Gaius was probably the ruler of the synagogue until converted to Christ. Erastus probably held the highest social rank among any of the believers in Corinth, since Paul plainly mentions in 1 Corinthians that not many were of noble birth or high-ranking.
E) Final Benediction (16:25-27)
Paul closes his letter with a final doxology (an ascription of praise to God). In it, he describes God as “the only wise God.” Throughout his letters, he constantly contrasts the wisdom of God over against the wisdom of the world. This wise God, Paul states, is able to strengthen the believers, according to three things:
- According to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Through the gospel and the cross of Christ, the believer finds strength in the God who pursues him, will never leave nor forsake him, and works all things for good.
- According to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations. The mystery referred to here is likely the mystery of the cross itself-the idea that God Himself will take human flesh and die on a cross to save sinful man. Yet, through the writings of Scripture (which are all prophetic), it has been made known.
- According to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith. The phrase “obedience of faith” here means true faith, which leads to obedience. Biblical faith is always obedient faith. This faith strengthens the believer as he holds fast to the Word of God in faith.
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