We come this morning to a new paragraph which introduces the conclusion to Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Before we begin this morning, is there someone who can give me a synopsis of what 14:1 thru 51:13 was all about?
The "strong" were predominantly Gentile believers and the "weak" were unsaved Jews. Paul was calling for the strong to behave in such a way as to be a testimony to the Jews of the reality of the Gospel. This section is not about Christian liberty; it is about evangelism of the elect remnant of Israel.
Alright, after almost 15 chapters of doctrine and application, Paul returns to autobiographical comments that he began in the first chapter. Here we see a much more intimate side of the apostle for here we get a personal look at Paul the missionary. In verses 14-21 we learn Paul's philosophy of ministry. In verses 22-29 we read of Paul's plans for ministry. In verses 30-33 we conclude with Paul's petition for prayer for his ministry.
Let me remind you that Paul had never met the Christians to whom he wrote, so he spends some time here sharing his heart with them. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this letter. That's atypical for Paul, because he usually visited a city like Thessalonica or Corinth, then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city. But that's not what Paul is doing here. Since he had never been to Rome, he felt a special obligation to introduce himself to the Roman believers. It was necessary for him to pave the way for this Epistle by expanding on his relationship to his readers. He had a deep and abiding concern and interest in the spiritual well-being of these Romans.
Paul has no words of rebuke for them, but a sincere commendation:
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14 NASB
Paul knows several of the Christians in Rome, and is confident that they are not off track. Remember how he started this letter:
to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua Christ. First, I thank my God through Yeshua Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Romans 1:7-8 NASB
The phrase "the whole world" is probably used to entail the breadth of the Roman Empire. So Paul says, "I myself also am convinced"—this is a perfect tense, which points to a continuing state of confidence in the Roman Christians. Paul goes on to say that they are: "Full of goodness"—this is from the Greek word agathosune, which carries the idea of generosity; this is how some translate it. Timothy George calls it "benevolence and generosity toward someone else." Generosity may imply financial gifts, but it also suggests the giving of our time and energies to others in practical ways to show our care and concern for them.
Goodness is a product of the Spirt filled life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Galatians 5:22 NASB
Believers are commanded to be good in:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6:10 NASB
Then he says that they are "Filled with all knowledge"—the word "filled" is a passive verb, having been filled with "all knowledge." If the Roman believers were filled with all knowledge, what did Paul have to write them?
Now I think that there is a law of biblical interpretation which everyone knows who's been around the study of the Bible very much at all, but which is probably as rarely practiced as any principle in Bible reading. It's simply this: Read the Bible in the light of its context. Or context is king.
What's the context of what Paul says here? Is it the context of a general theological background? No, I think that Paul is talking about a very specific topic in the preceding section: How the strong are to treat the weak.
So when he says, "I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge," the chances are he means the kind of goodness and knowledge that will constrain the strong, not to despise the weak. He goes on to say, "Able also to admonish one another"—the word here is noutheteo, it means: "to lead someone away from a false path into a true path by warning and teaching." It's a comprehensive word for counseling. Isn't that what the previous section was all about? Paul wants the strong to "counsel," "warn," "instruct" the weak in the truths of Messiah.
Jay Adams has written a book called, Competent to Counsel, which is an attempt to relate Scripture to the psychological process of Christian counseling. And this text, "Able also to admonish one another," is the basis of the title Competent to Counsel. There are many today who would tell us that the only ones competent to counsel are worldly trained psychiatrists and psychologists. They tell us you have to know Freud, you have to know Karl Rogers, or you have to know Yung in order to deal with people's problems. But what the Scripture says here is if you have knowledge of the revelation of God and your life is characterized by goodness, you are competent to counsel. Look at what Paul writes to Timothy:
and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Yeshua. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB
"Teaching"—about God and man. "Reproof"—means to show someone their sin and call them to repentance. "Correction"—setting straight the life. "Training in righteousness"—training in what the Scripture teaches about righteousness. The Scriptures can change lives, they are breathed out from God our Creator.
John Murray wrote, "There is no situation in which we (as men of God) are placed, no demand that arises for which Scripture as the deposit of the manifold wisdom of God is not adequate and sufficient."
Larry Crabb, a psychologist with a Ph.D. said, "There is no such thing as a psychological problem. All problems are either spiritual or physical. Anyone who says there is a psychological problem somewhere in the middle that isn't either physical or spiritual has a low view of sin, doesn't understand what sin is."
Listen believers, our problem is not that we do not have what we need in the Bible, but that we do not have enough of the Bible in us! If you know the Word of God, you are competent to counsel.
In verse 14 Paul is simply expressing his confidence in the Roman believers that they will respond out of what they know to the exhortations that he's been giving to them about how to treat the weak.
But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, Romans 15:15 NASB
"Boldly," which is to say, "rather boldly, or more boldly than perhaps you think I ought to have written, not knowing you and you not knowing me," but I have done it unto you in some points—that literally means: "in parts of the letter," "To remind you again." Paul wrote Romans for the purpose of reminding them of truths they already knew.
The authors of Scripture say this over and over because God's people need to be reminded of what they already know. "He will remind you of my ways" (1 Corinthians 4:17). "For this reason I remind you" (2 Timothy 1:6). "Remind them of these things"(2 Timothy 2:14). "Remind them to be subject to rulers" (Titus 3:1). "Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things" (2 Peter 1:12). "To stir you up by way of reminder" (2 Peter 1:13). "I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder" (2 Peter 3:1). "Now I desire to remind you" (Jude 1:5).
Why did they keep saying this? Because any good teacher knows the principle of forgetfulness, they know that you need to keep reminding people of what you have already said. I realize that what I have said to you in the past you have already forgotten. You know how I know that? Because I have forgotten much of what I have said. I have to keep going back to past teaching that I have done to figure out what I said. So we do tend to forget. And any good teacher knows that you must repeat things. Paul is bold in his reminder to the Roman Christians because he is under divine mandate, "Because of the grace that was given me from God"—the "grace" Paul speaks of here is the grace of apostleship:
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB
Think about it, he was Saul of Tarsus, a blasphemer, an injurious person, and a persecutor and murderer of Christians, and now here he is writing Scripture. How is this possible? Grace—unmerited, unearned favor. It was because of the sovereign grace of God that Paul received the grace of apostleship. An apostleship that he received from the risen Lord as a grace gift. Paul did not choose apostleship as a vocation. God chose him and called him and fitted him for it:
For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NASB
Paul is saying, I'm under orders, that is why I'm so bold. I speak for Yahweh, I am His apostle. Paul's words of explanation in verse 15 lead naturally into verse 16-21 about his ministry as an apostle of the Gentiles.
to be a minister of Christ Yeshua to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 NASB
Paul conveys his apostolic role with cultic terms.
"To be a minister of Christ Yeshua to the Gentiles"—the word "minister" is from the Greek leitourgos, which means: "a functionary in the Temple, or [generally] a worshiper [of God]." It is where we get our word "liturgy." It speaks of spiritual service to Yahweh. It is used in Hebrews 1:7 of the service of angels.
Paul is speaking here about his priestly ministry. And he links this with his own devotion to the collection for the Jerusalem saints in 15:25-33. Nickle, in his book, Collection, pp. 74-79, develops the idea that historically leitourgos was used in the context of the Temple tax. The function of the "servants of God" within the Jewish community was to devote themselves to the collection and safe delivery of the Temple tax to Jerusalem.
The term "minister" is used in:
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. Hebrews 8:1-2 NASB
Here it is a "minister in the sanctuary." Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest, and this term is used of his ministry in:
When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. Luke 1:23 NASB
Paul sees himself metaphorically as a priest for Yahweh. He goes on to say, "Ministering as a priest the gospel of God"—"as a priest" is used metaphorically.
Peter tells us that all believers in the New Covenant are priests:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 NASB
That is what we have said historically in our own faith that we believe in the priesthood of believers. We are all believer priests.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16 NASB
As New Covenant priests we offer up living sacrifices. Making certain men priests and calling them priests is a misrepresentation and a violation of the priesthood of the believers and goes against the truth of the Word of God.
We are priests ministering the Gospel of our God! We represent the Gospel in our work, family life, and relationships. Our conversation either glorifies Christ in the Gospel or detracts from the Gospel. The way we treat others either adorns the Gospel or denigrates it. We cannot sit on the fence when it comes to the priestly roles.
Paul further shows this priestly metaphor by the image of "offering of the Gentiles," just as though he were offering them as a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. "So that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit"— the word "offering" here is prosphora, which is another cultic term, as is "acceptable" and "sanctified." The offering that he brings is the offering up of the Gentiles, and he brings them as an acceptable offering, which has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. "Sanctified by the Holy Spirit"—means that the Holy Spirit is the decisive cause in preparing a holy people for the Lord. The Gentiles who come to faith in Yeshua through the ministry of Paul are like a great offering that he's gathered together, and he gives that offering to Yahweh.
And so all of that time, that great cultic system was in force. The Levites, the priests, the high priest, all ministered in that Old Covenant. And they had that valid ministry. Now the apostle, using the same terminology, speaks of his ministry of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant had a temporary validity. The New Covenant has a permanent validity. The Old Covenant really never did take away sin in the ultimate sense. The New Covenant is a ministry that provides a permanent forgiveness of sins.
In the case of the Old Covenant, the sacrifices that the priest offered were the animals. The priests met the person making the offering at the door to the tabernacle and they received the animal from the individual who said, "I've sinned, I need to offer a sin offering." The priest took the offering, he took it over to the altar of brazen sacrifice and he slew the animal. And the benefits of all of that was reckoned to the individual who had brought the animal. In the New Covenant the great sacrifice, the One great sacrifice, is the sacrifice of the Lord Yeshua Ha'Moshiach. The Old Covenant sacrifices were pleasing to the Lord for a time. The New Covenant sacrifice is pleasing to Him forever. The sacrificial animals were animals without spot and blemish, suggestive of the Lamb of God who is without spot and blemish. Those sacrifices were acceptable because they were in accordance with the Word of God, the New Covenant sacrifice is acceptable because it is the sacrifice of the eternal Son.
Therefore in Christ Yeshua I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. Romans 15:17 NASB
It's absolutely crucial to see that Paul's boast is "in Christ Yeshua"—Paul is not boasting in himself, because that would be sinful. Pride is a sin. Paul himself says:
so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD." 1 Corinthians 1:31 NASB
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Yeshua Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 NASB
So he glories as a priest in what Christ has done as he offers the Gentiles.
Think about this: Before Paul began, neither Asia Minor nor Greece had heard of Yeshua the Messiah; by the time he was writing this letter, there were little communities all over that part of Caesar's Empire. By this stage in his life, he had accomplished many things. He wrote from Corinth during his Third Missionary Journey. He had traveled farther to declare the Gospel than any other apostle. He was the preeminent church planter of his day. He founded churches throughout Asia Minor, along the Mediterranean, and across the Aegean Sea into Europe. His writings were received as authoritative. His suffering for the sake of the Gospel was well known in the churches. Yet Paul found no room for boasting of these things or making much of them. Instead, he wrote, "Therefore in Christ Yeshua I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God." It was in his union with Yeshua that he could boast—and that alone:
For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, Romans 15:18 NASB
Many Christian leaders today find much to boast about: building size, number of people attending services, size of the offering; but Paul's boasting is of another kind. Paul knows that success is the result of divine grace. "For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me"—the only thing Paul will talk about is what Christ did through him. You never hear Paul telling how much he has done for God. Everywhere it's what God has done, "Through him":
From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26-27 NASB
All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:12 NASB
After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Acts 21:19 NASB
Paul only took credit only for what God had done through him. That's true humility. True humility is not to deny what the Lord does, true humility is to acknowledge what the Lord does, give Him the credit, but not to step beyond that.
Why did God severely punish king David and his people when he took a census of Israel? That doesn't sound like a very serious crime, does it? So why did God punish David for numbering the people? It represented David's departure from the principle of dependence upon God to be his resource and shift to self dependance.
And what we need to realize is that Paul had plenty of reason to boast. In 1978 Michael Hart wrote a book called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in History." In it he ranked the most important people in the history of the world, taking into account the people they influenced, the movements they started, the impact they made, and the legacy they left behind. Three of the top fifteen came from the Bible—Yeshua, Moses, and Paul the apostle. Paul came in at 6th place, just below Confucius. That Paul should be considered one of the most influential men in history is what you might call a no-brainer. He wrote at least 13 books of the New Testament. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. He, more than anyone else, brought the Gospel to Europe. He was the first great international evangelist. He was the first Christian theologian. He may have been the greatest preacher in the history of Christianity. So you could understand boasting, but Paul only boasted in what Christ accomplished through him. He was truly a man of God.
Hudson Taylor was one of the great missionaries to China, God used him to open up Inland China and ultimately to be the founder of the China Inland Mission. Hudson Taylor said, "One day God said to me, 'Im going to evangelize Inland China, if you will walk with me I will do it through you.'" By the grace of God he was enabled to do that, and God opened up Inland China to the ministry of the Gospel through Hudson Taylor. The only thing we can do that matters is what God does through us.
Then Paul says, "Resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles"—what does Paul mean by "resulting in obedience"? We saw this "obedience" earlier in this letter:
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB
Paul was the apostle to the nations, and his calling was to "bring about the obedience of faith." The significance of the genitive pistis (of faith) is disputed. Some take it as a subjective genitive giving it the sense of: "obedience that comes from faith." It can also be taken as an appositional construction and should be translated as: "the obedience that is faith." Acceptance of the Gospel in faith can be described as an act of obedience.
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" Romans 10:16 NASB
The word "heed" is the Greek word hupakouo, which means: "to obey." Paul uses it four times in Romans, and the other three are all translated: "obey." The parallelism of the two lines reveals that disobedience consists in failure to believe:
Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Yeshua answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:28-29 NASB
It is an act of obedience to God to believe in His Son.
Many Lordship Salvationists use this phrase "obedience of faith" to enforce their view of commitment salvation. Thomas Schreiner writes, "Here Paul simply describes it as 'obedience' since saving faith must include obedience to be genuine." With that in mind let's look at:
And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' Matthew 22:37-39 NASB
Do you know anyone who lives this out? Not to live like this is disobedience, which, according to Schreiner, means you do not have genuine faith. Don't we all live in some disobedience? If so, how much is acceptable?:
For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB
I am seen by God as righteous because of Yeshua Christ; I am in Christ.
When Paul says, "Resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles," he is talking about the Gentiles' obedience of faith, their trusting Christ.
Paul goes on to say, "By word and deed"—this is not a reference to the Gentiles, but the things that Christ has done through Paul in word and in deed. The Spirit of God saves people and transforms them into followers by word and deed.
The word is emphasized in this paragraph at the end of verse 19: "I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ"—that is a reference to the preaching of the word. Verse 20: "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel"—this is the word. Verse 21a: "Those who have never been told of Him"—again the word. Verse 21b: "Those who have never heard will understand"—again the word.
Paul clarifies what the deeds are in the next verse, "In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit." The deeds have a supporting role. They are not the direct means of saving people the way the word is. Deeds cannot tell the story of the death and resurrection of Christ with its saving meaning. Only words can. So the deeds have value as they confirm the word. That's the way Luke explained the relationship between word and deed in Acts 14:3. Paul and Barnabas were in Iconium, and Luke says:
Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. Acts 14:3 NASB
"Speaking boldly" is the word. And "signs and wonders" is deeds. God bore witness to the word of His grace. That was the function of the deeds. They witness to the truth and value of the word.
Now what about today? Should we be expecting the same miraculous confirmations of our witnessing today?
David DuPlessis, a recognized leader in the Charismatic movement, says, "The New Testament is not a record of what happened in one generation, but is a blueprint of what should happen in every generation." This reflects the view of the majority of Charismatics: What happened during the New Testament times should be the norm throughout the Church's history. Many state that everything in the New Testament that was miraculous, remarkable, and characterized by supernatural manifestation should be normative for all of the Church age, including today.
There are several Scriptures that hint at the fact that the signs and wonders were temporary:
how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Hebrews 2:3-4 NASB
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. Mark 16:20 NASB
In both Hebrews 2:3 and Mark 16:20, the main verb is past tense and the participle is relative in time to the main verb, "was confirmed." In both cases the signs, wonders, and miracles are referred to as being in the past—at the time of the writing. All this was past at the time Hebrews was written.
Paul saw his miracles as a special validation of his apostleship. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:12 he says:
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB
So it seems that Paul saw the signs and wonders God worked through him as a special mark of his apostleship. No apostles today, no miraculous gifts today.
The voice of history confirms the temporary nature of the signs. If the miraculous signs of the New Testament age had continued in the Church, one would expect an unbroken line of occurrences from apostolic times to the present. The miraculous signs of the "last days" ceased when the last days ceased.
Chrysostom, a 4th century theologian, testified that the miraculous gifts ceased so long before his time that no one was certain of their characteristics.
Did you notice the Trinitarian bent in these verses? In verse 15 we saw, the grace of God the Father gives Paul; in verse 16, God the Holy Spirit does the decisive transforming work in Paul's converts; in verse 18, God the Son, the living, risen Yeshua, brings about the obedience of faith that Paul labors for.
We see throughout the Scriptures that it is the Father who initiates the plan of redemption in His divine election. It is the Son who carries out the will of the Father by offering Himself up as a redemptive sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. And it is the Holy Spirit who administrates this great work by being responsible for the regeneration of those whom the Father has chosen and bringing them to the knowledge of the Lord Yeshua Christ and the reception of that forgiveness of sins.
in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Romans 15:19 NASB
We typically look at Antioch as the starting point of Paul's missionary labors, and indeed, it was the place that he began his focus on Gentiles. But he preached also in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion. He uses a description of a circle that ran from Jerusalem up through Syria and into Asia Minor (modern Turkey), across the Aegean Sea into Greece and then up the peninsula to Illyricum (modern Albania and the former Yugoslavia) and then back through the Mediterranean. Scholars debate on whether or not he preached in Illyricum because the Scriptures never state that he did. It's very likely that he visited Illyricum during his 18 months in Macedonia and Achaia. Illyricum is our modern day nation of Yugoslavia. That range, as best I can ascertain, is about a 1400 mile span.
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; Romans 15:20 NASB
"I aspired"—a very strong word, strong effort. Paul's drive was to go to virgin territory where the Gospel had never been heard. This is why he had not yet been to Rome. A church had already been founded there.
but as it is written, "THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND." Romans 15:21 NASB
That is an adaptation out of Isaiah 52:15. It's very close to the Septuagint Version, which is the Greek translation of Isaiah. And clearly Isaiah 52:15 is a Messianic prophecy. The context is all about the Servant of the Lord, who is Christ. And many New Testament texts refer this whole section to Yeshua the Christ, the whole Isaiah 52, 53 passage.
Paul is not justifying his efforts to take the Gospel to the unreached with this text, but his view of himself as part of the servant ministry. Here, he deliberately applies a text that speaks of the suffering Servant to Yeshua. For Paul, there is no doubt that Christ fulfills this ministry to the nations, bringing about their forgiveness and reconciliation to God.
If Paul needed to remind the New Testament saints of what they already knew, how much more do we need to be reminded. As we continually read the Word, we are reminded; and as we hear the Word taught, we are reminded; and as we admonish one another, we are reminded. Believers, please understand that we are competent to counsel if we know the Word.
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