In Romans 15, Paul completes his discussion of how Christians who are strong in the faith should help those whose faith is weak. He reminds his readers that God is calling the Gentiles to salvation, and that they are the focus of Paul’s ministry. Paul shares his plan to visit Jerusalem with an offering from the Gentiles to give to the Jewish believers.
The strong should help the weak
In chapter 14, Paul explained that Christians who were strong in the faith believed that everything was clean and could be eaten. Those who were weak in faith were cautious about their diet and observed certain days as special. This difference of opinion was a serious problem for the Roman churches, so Paul took a considerable portion of his letter to address it. The cautious Christians should not condemn the more permissive ones, and those who feel free should not cause the weak to sin by pressuring them to do things that their conscience did not yet allow.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (15:1). The people who are confident of their salvation in Christ need to be tolerant of the doctrinal mistakes that others have. Their faith is already weak; we should not challenge them more than they can bear. Paul taught that all foods are clean, but he sometimes restrained his freedom (1 Cor. 8:13; 9:20).
Paul then gives the general principle: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (v. 2). He uses Jesus Christ as the model we should follow: “For even Christ did not please himself…” Paul supports his point by quoting Psalm 69:9, a messianic psalm: “As it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’” (v. 3). Christ was willing to accept persecution, so the strong should be willing to accept a little inconvenience.
Some people might wonder why Paul is using the Old Testament. He has already used it dozens of times, but now he explains: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (v. 4). Paul isolates two lessons we can draw from the Old Testament: endurance and encouragement. We need to endure difficulties, and God is faithful to us.
Gentiles praising God
Paul includes a brief prayer: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 5-6). That is, may God give you the attitude of service that leads to worship together.
Paul concludes: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (v. 7). Just as Jesus gave up his privileges to serve us, we should be willing to give up some of ours, so people will praise God. Reconciliation with God should lead us toward reconciliation with other people.
“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth…” (15:8). Paul mentions this because of the situation in Rome: He is asking the strong (primarily Gentiles) to restrain their freedom when with the weak (primarily Jews). He now begins to defend his ministry to the Gentiles.
Why did Christ serve the Jews? Paul explains: “So that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (vv. 8-9). It is only through Christ that people may be forgiven and thereby receive the patriarchal blessings. But Christ’s purpose extends beyond the physical descendants of Abraham — he also wants Gentiles to bring glory to God.
Paul now presents a series of Old Testament prophecies about Gentiles joining the Jews in worshipping God. He begins with Psalm 18:49: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” Then he moves to the Gentile response to the good news: “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people” (Romans 15:10; Deut. 32:43).
Then the Gentiles join in the praise: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples” (v. 11; Ps. 117:1). Paul concludes with a quote from Isaiah 11:10, showing that this praise comes through the nations accepting the Messiah, the descendant of David and Jesse: “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope” (v. 12).
Then Paul gives another short prayer, a benediction good for believers everywhere: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v. 13). Through faith in Christ, we have tremendous hope.
Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles
With tact, Paul explains why he wrote to the Roman church: “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (vv. 14-16). Since Christ appointed Paul to serve the Gentiles, he felt that he could remind them that basic Christian principles would help them deal with the doctrinal differences they had.
“He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16). Paul uses special terms here to call his mission a work of worship. He is zealous in this mission: “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done” (Romans 15:17-18). Paul is giving the credit to God, not himself.
The results of Paul’s ministry can be seen in the fact that Gentiles are obeying God. This does not mean circumcision, food laws or Sabbaths — the Gentiles are considered obedient without keeping such laws.
How has Christ achieved this result through Paul? “By the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God” (v. 19). Although Acts describes several miracles done through Paul, Paul rarely mentions them. His readers needed to follow him not by doing miracles, but in humility and enduring difficulties.
“So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum [modern Albania] , I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (v. 19). Paul did not preach in every city, but everywhere he preached, he proclaimed all the gospel. He preached in a few cities, and after he left, his converts could then take the gospel to surrounding towns.
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (v. 20). At some point in his life Paul decided that his mission was to go to new areas. He saw his work as a fulfillment of Isa. 52:15: “As it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’ This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (vv. 21-22). This verse does not apply to every missionary, but it described what Paul was doing.
Although Paul had wanted to visit Rome earlier, there was a greater need for the gospel in Asia Minor and Greece. Now, Paul sets his sights farther west — Spain — and that will give him an opportunity to visit Rome. But he had a more important mission to take care of first.
Paul’s travel plans
Greek letters often mentioned the writer’s travel plans, and this letter does as well. Paul begins with an almost humorous exaggeration: “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while” (vv. 23-24).
Paul would never live long enough to take the gospel to all the empire, so he wanted to make a decisive leap westward. He not only invited himself to Rome, he also invited them to support his mission — perhaps even provide some assistants.
But other plans were more immediate — the churches in Greece were sending an offering to the believers in Judea. Paul had urged them to do it, for he felt it was very important to send this token of unity from the Gentiles to the Jews. “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (vv. 25-27).
The Greek Christians had a debt to pay. But what could the Roman Christians do? It was too late for them to join in the offering being sent to Jerusalem. Paul is hinting that the Gentile Christians in Rome should help the Jewish Christians in Rome. Paul wants peace between Jews and Gentiles, whether it is in Rome or in Jerusalem.
“So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (vv. 28-29). Paul viewed this offering as a symbol of the spiritual fruit produced by the gospel among the Gentiles.
The message he wanted to send to the Jerusalem church was this: “See how many Gentiles are now praising God because of the mission you began. They are thankful that your Messiah is also their Messiah, and as the Scriptures predicted (Isa. 60:5; 66:20), they are sending gifts to Jerusalem as a firstfruits offering to sanctify the rest of the harvest among the Gentiles.”
Paul was confident that after he had delivered this offering, that Christ would bless his mission to Rome and Spain. He asks them to help him in his difficult mission by praying for him: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the believers there…” (vv. 30-31).
As Acts 21 confirms, the most dangerous part of the trip was not the voyage, but the disobedient Jews (an ironic contrast to the obedient Gentiles). Paul did not assume that the believers would be glad to see him, either — he wanted prayer that they might accept the offering he was bringing. Some did not want to accept the fact that Gentiles were now in the family of faith.
And after the offering, Paul wanted them to pray “so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen” (vv. 32-33). Paul concludes with a benediction of peace — what the Roman churches needed most. He says “amen,” but he is not yet done. In our next issue, we will discuss the greetings and exhortations of chapter 16.
Things to think about
- What scruples do weak-faith Christians have today, and in what way should we bear with them? (v. 1)
- How do the Old Testament scriptures encourage us? (v. 4)
- In v. 7, Paul uses Christ as a model we should follow. Are there aspects of Jesus that we should not follow?
- Do we “overflow” with hope when we trust in Christ? (v. 13)
- How well do we teach one another? (v. 14)
- If evangelism is a priestly duty (v. 16), does it apply to all Christians?
- Should we assist missionaries who are on their way to another region? (v. 24)
- Are we obligated to share material blessings with the Jews, or should we share with some other parent group? (v. 27)
- Do we pray for missionaries in dangerous areas? (v. 31)
Author: Michael Morrison, 2004, 2011