The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Romans 15

Rom 15:1

Vv 1-13: The unity of the strong and the weak in Christ.

WE WHO ARE STRONG: Paul now openly aligns himself with the "strong", and at the same time suggests that they -- the "strong" -- are chiefly responsible for achieving the unity between the two factions.

OUGHT: This word should not be watered down as though it means the same thing as "should". It speaks not of something recommended but of an obligation: we "owe it"; we "are bound to" (Diag).

BEAR WITH THE FAILINGS OF THE WEAK: In general, as Isa 53:11: Christ bearing the iniquities of mankind. More specifically here, the word "bear" was used earlier when the apostle enjoined the Galatian believers to "carry [bear] each other's burdens, and in this way... fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). Let the strong, then, bear the burden of the scrupulousness of the weaker brethren. But if they do this in a spirit of mere resignation or with the notion that this condescension marks them as superior Christians, it will fail. When the strong bear with the weak, they must do it in love -- the key to fulfilling the law of Christ.

AND NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES: The temptation to be resisted by the strong is the inclination to please themselves, to serve their own self-interest. This is the very antithesis of love. For example, if a strong brother were to indulge his liberty openly in the presence of a weak brother, this would be labeled self-pleasing, for it would do nothing for the other but grieve or irritate him.

In short, the weak need knowledge, and the strong need to develop love. Paul was not saying that the strong must determine to put up with the weak. He meant, 'Those of us who are strong must accept as our own burden the tender scruples of the weak.'

Rom 15:2

EACH OF US SHOULD PLEASE HIS NEIGHBOR: Indeed, the refusal to live a life of self-pleasing should characterize every believer, whether strong or weak, and should extend beyond the narrow circle of like-minded people. What is called for here is not a weak or indifferent compliance with the wishes of others, but rather a determined adjustment to whatever will contribute to the spiritual good of the other person. This is like Paul's stated personal principle of making himself all things to all men in order to win as many as possible to the Lord (1Co 9:19-23).

Paul was not saying that we should be "men-pleasers" and do whatever anyone wants us to do simply because it will please them (ct Gal 1:10,19; 1Th 2:4). The principles of the gospel must never be given up to please others, but matters of personal preference may -- and ought to -- be adjusted to help the weak. In effect, we should not please others rather than God, but we should please others rather than ourselves.

FOR HIS GOOD, TO BUILD HIM UP: The goal to be achieved here is the good of the other person, his "edification" (cf Rom 14:19). This leaves no room for anything like mere ingratiating, or "apple-polishing".

Rom 15:3

FOR EVEN CHRIST DID NOT PLEASE HIMSELF: For the first time in this letter Paul holds Christ before his readers as an example. Christ was faced with the same problem that continues to confront his followers. Should they please themselves, go their own way, speak what people want to hear; or should they resolve to be guided by their commitment to do the will of God? Christ's own affirmation is recorded for us: "I always do what pleases [God]" (John 8:29).

"I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" (John 5:30). "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being found in appearance [form, or status] as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" (Phi 2:5,8). "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1Pe 2:21-23).

THE INSULTS OF THOSE WHO INSULT YOU HAVE FALLEN ON ME: Cit Psa 69:9. Even in Israel, through the years, God's servants had suffered reproach and insult when they attempted to warn their countrymen that their sin and rebellion were inviting the judgment of God. The first half of Psa 69:9 is quoted in John 2:17 in connection with the cleansing of the temple: "Zeal for your house will consume me." To take up the cause of God fervently is to arouse the passions of sinful men.

In Christ we can see the difference between a people pleaser and a people lover. Sacrificing His own preferences for the welfare of others did not make him acceptable to everyone, but it did make him acceptable to his Father. In John 15:25 Jesus cites the same psalm (Psa 69:4), pointing out that human hatred had dogged his steps, but unjustly. Nevertheless, Jesus did not discontinue his faithful work, which was designed to help those around him. Paul wants his readers to realize that similarly they are to seek the good of others even when they are misunderstood or persecuted for doing so.

What does it really mean, to bear the griefs and sorrows of another? As exemplified in Christ, it was more, much more, than a mechanical "burden-bearing". It was a "living sacrifice", a way of life that denied the lusts of the flesh within himself, while at the same time loving and striving continuously for the well-being of his brethren who could not, or did not, so deny themselves. And when they failed, and failed miserably, he bore with their failures and never gave way to "righteous", condemning anger -- but only expressed sorrow and gentle rebuke. Was there ever such a man? "For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3).

Rom 15:4

FOR EVERYTHING THAT WAS WRITTEN IN THE PAST WAS WRITTEN TO TEACH US, SO THAT THROUGH ENDURANCE AND THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE SCRIPTURES WE MIGHT HAVE HOPE: Paul used his reference to David's experience as an occasion to comment on the usefulness of all OT Scripture. It provides motivation for enduring and gives encouragement as we seek to remain faithful in our commitment to do God's will. These Scriptures give us hope because in them we see God's approval of those who persevered faithfully in spite of opposition and frustration.

"My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life" (Pro 6:20-23).

ENDURANCE: Gr "hupomone": an abiding, or holding up, under something. The KJV "patience" is far too passive. "Endurance" is a much better translation: it is active, and it requires strength.

ENCOURAGEMENT: Gr "paraklesis": includes the ideas of comfort and exhortation, as well as encouragement.

" 'A nation unfamiliar with its history is condemned to live it again.' This well-known quotation from George Santayana is certainly true: we should study the past so that we can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before.

"Paul tells us that, 'Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.' History does repeat itself, and the lesson we want to learn from the past is to avoid the same pitfalls into which our forefathers fell. If we continue to make the same mistakes as those who have gone before, then we are not very wise, and we will have to suffer the same consequences. Some mistakes are so costly that we cannot learn from our mistakes; for example, little children need to learn not to play in the street because getting run over is too high a price to pay for this mistake.

"Our young people may question why they must study history because they think it is dry, boring and irrelevant in their lives. They couldn't be more wrong. History is about real people who just happened to be born before we were. History is being written every day, and the things happening today will be found in tomorrow's history books.

"The greatest history book of all is the Bible, for it was written by God about His people and tells us of His promises to them and to us. Without this book we would know nothing of Adam and Eve. We would know that sin existed but would not know why. We would know nothing of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and therefore we would be ignorant of the promises. Paul tells us of those who are strangers from the covenants of promise, and they are if they have not read God’s history book. Other history books may help us to understand things from God's point of view. Other history books tell us what has happened, but only the Bible tells us what has happened AND what will happen. The Bible is the only book that wrote history in advance, and it is the only book that offers hope to a perishing world. What a pity it isn't read.

"It may be interesting to know the history of the French Revolution or the pilgrims that settled New England, but it is essential to know the history of Moses bringing God's people out of Egypt and the promise to David of a son to sit on his throne. The one is nice to know, the other essential. It is like bodily exercise compared to spiritual things. The former profits little but the latter is 'profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.'

"If all the people who study ancient and not so ancient history would only spend the same amount of time studying God's history it would revolutionize their lives. Not only that, but instead of dying at 70 to 90 they would have the promise of everlasting life in the history that is yet to come. If all the people who jog five miles a day or work out 2 or 3 hours at the gym would only spend the same amount of time in Bible study, they would have a mind tuned to God -- which is more profitable than a well-tuned body. Bodily exercise is not to be condemned unless it crowds godly exercise out of our life. Ancient history is not to be condemned unless it crowds godly history out of our life. Many things of themselves are not evil, but whatever takes us away from God and His word is wrong. Let us not be unfamiliar with God's history, or else we be condemned to the fate of those who lived before and died without hope" (MM).

Rom 15:5

MAY THE GOD WHO GIVES ENDURANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT GIVE YOU A SPIRIT OF UNITY AMONG YOURSELVES: The study of the Scriptures, along with the help of God, can provide the strength to do what is right, in this as well as in all things. And to do what is right does not come easy; to endure in doing what is right requires special and continued effort. Unity among believers does not just happen; it must be made to happen by continuing effort.

Is Paul referring to the God WHO GIVES endurance and encouragement, or the God OF endurance and encouragement? Both AV and RSV favor the second of these: "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vv 5,6).

AS YOU FOLLOW CHRIST: Paul continues to emphasize the role and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in bringing about unity.

Rom 15:6

SO THAT WITH ONE HEART AND MOUTH YOU MAY GLORIFY THE GOD AND FATHER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST: Though this unity will help the church in its witness to the world, Paul is more interested here in its effect on the worship of the people of God: that they might continue to glorify the God and Father whom Jesus so wonderfully glorified.

"Our Father in heaven" (Mat 6:9); "Father of glory" or "glorious Father" (Eph 1:17); "Father of compassion" (2Co 1:3); "Father of spirits" (Heb 12:9); "Father of the heavenly lights" (Jam 1:17); "a Father to you" (2Co 6:18); "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:6).

Rom 15:7

ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER: As he moves forward to the conclusion of his treatment of the strong and the weak, Paul pauses to summarize what he has already stated. This repeats the emphasis of Rom 14:1, where the same verb occurs, but here the charge is directed to both groups rather than to the strong alone.

JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED US: Us, strong and weak alike, or Gentile and Jew alike.

TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD: The motivating factor, not personal pride or personal satisfaction.

Rom 15:8

CHRIST HAS BECOME A SERVANT OF THE JEWS... TO CONFIRM THE PROMISES MADE TO THE PATRIARCHS: Vv 8-10 expand the idea of Jesus Christ accepting us. V 8 deals with his acceptance of Jews. He not only accepted Jewish believers but came to serve the Jewish people, as the OT predicted, fulfilling God's promise to the patriarchs (Mark 10:45; Mat 15:24; cf Rom 9:4,5; Gal 3:16). Consequently the typically stronger Gentile believers should not despise their sometimes weaker Jewish brethren.

CONFIRM: Make sure, establish, ratify.

Rom 15:9

Vv 9-12: In a massive effort to persuade Jewish brethren that they should receive their Gentile brethren without scruple, Paul brings together in these vv an overpowering assembly of proof-texts about the essential share which Gentiles must have in Messiah's redemption.

THEREFORE I WILL PRAISE YOU AMONG THE GENTILES; I WILL SING HYMNS TO YOUR NAME: this quotation (from Psa 18:49) pictures David as rejoicing in God for his triumphs in the midst of the nations that have become subject to him.

Rom 15:10

REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE: In Deu 32:43 (following the LXX rendering) Moses saw the Gentiles praising God, along with their fellow-worshipers the Israelites. This would have encouraged Paul's Jewish readers to accept their Gentile brethren.

Rom 15:11

Citing Psa 117:1. Whereas Paul anticipates the time when Gentiles shall be joined with his people, Psa 117 puts Gentile believers BEFORE Jews. Far from being an afterthought, then, the inclusion of Gentiles in the hope of Abraham was a primary object of God all along! So why did not Paul emphasize this even more in his argument? Would not this point have reinforced considerably his campaign of preaching to the Gentiles? Presumably he omitted this useful emphasis for tactical reasons. If the inference were to be drawn that in his gospel Jews must finally take second place to Gentiles, what a vast amount of psychological damage might result!

But it was right that Paul stress to his fellow Jews, to some extent, the necessity that the gospel be preached to Gentiles.

"There has always been a reticence among men to take the Gospel to those outside their immediate sphere. Israel had eyes only for themselves and even when in early NT times the disciples were bidden to go into all nations and to preach to all people they were loathe to do so: so much so that God had to press them into action by special miracles, as is seen in the Acts of the Apostles. Even today, when we are involved in preaching to all people, the work is not entirely free from restraints of one kind or another" (CT).

Rom 15:12


Rom 15:13

MAY THE GOD OF HOPE FILL YOU WILL ALL JOY AND PEACE AS YOU TRUST IN HIM: The God of hope is the God who inspires hope in and provides hope for His redeemed ones. Christians can be joyful because of what God has already done for us and is doing for us. We can also be peaceful as we realize what He is doing for us now and what He will do for us in the future (Rom 5:2; 13:11).

Peace: made (Col 1:20), preached (Eph 2:17), enjoyed (Rom 5:1), filling hearts (Rom 15:13), given (John 14:27), keeping (Phi 4:7), and ruling (Col 3:15).

The gift of the Holy Spirit did not guarantee joy and peace: cp Rom 12:6-8 with Rom 12:16-19.

Rom 15:14

Paul had been somewhat critical of the strong and the weak in the Roman ecclesia (Rom 14:1--15:13). He now balanced those comments by pointing out other strengths in the ecclesia beside the faith of his Roman brethren (Rom 1:8).

GOODNESS: Moral virtue, one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22; Eph 5:9).

COMPLETE IN KNOWLEDGE: Fully instructed in the gospel (cp Rom 6:17).

COMPETENT TO INSTRUCT ONE ANOTHER: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom" (Col 3:16). "And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone" (1Th 5:14).

"Morally, they were 'full of goodness,' intellectually they were 'complete in knowledge,' and functionally they were 'competent to instruct one another' " (Mounce).

Rom 15:15

The apostle gave his readers credit for some knowledge of what he had written in the foregoing chapters. Nevertheless they needed reminding -- as do all God's people.

Rom 15:16

Paul had a special obligation to this primarily Gentile congregation (Rom 1:13), since God had sent him to minister to Gentiles primarily. As a "priest" (cp Rev 5:10), it was his duty to bring people to God with the gospel. He regarded the Gentiles who were coming to faith and growing through his ministry as his special priestly offering to God.

SANCTIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT: As esp manifested in God's Word (John 6:63: 17:17).

Rom 15:18

I WILL NOT VENTURE TO SPEAK OF ANYTHING EXCEPT WHAT CHRIST HAS ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH ME: Although Paul might have reason to boast of his service to God (v 17), he will give all glory to Jesus Christ (cp Gal 6:13,14)!

Rom 15:19

THE POWER OF SIGNS AND MIRACLES: These served to verify the messenger of God and validate the message he brought. It was so in the ministry of Jesus (Acts 2:22) and in that of the original apostles (Acts 5:12). Paul is able to certify the same for himself (2Co 12:12).

FROM JERUSALEM ALL THE WAY AROUND TO ILLYRICUM, I HAVE FULLY PROCLAIMED THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST: Paul's arena of ministry when he wrote this epistle stretched about 1,400 miles from Jerusalem to the Roman province of Illyricum. Illyricum lay on the east side of the Adriatic Sea opposite Italy. This is modern northern Albania and Yugoslavia. There is no record in Acts of Paul having gone there though he may have done so on the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9) or during the third journey (Acts 21:1,2). Paul's claim to have "fully" preached the gospel means that he had faithfully proclaimed it in that area, not that he had personally delivered it to every individual.

Rom 15:20

TO PREACH THE GOSPEL WHERE CHRIST WAS NOT KNOWN, SO THAT I WOULD NOT BE BUILDING ON SOMEONE ELSE'S FOUNDATION: Paul expresses his desire to shoulder the responsibility for blazing a trail for the gospel no matter how great the cost to himself. He longed to preach "in the regions beyond" (2Co 10:16). This man could not be an ordinary witness for his Lord. Somewhat parallel is his insistence on preaching the gospel without charge, supporting himself by the labor of his hands (1Co 9:18). V 20 should be taken in close connection with vv 18,19 as providing a reason for the passing of so many years without a visit to Rome: Paul had been fully occupied elsewhere.

Rom 15:21

THOSE WHO WERE NOT TOLD ABOUT HIM WILL SEE, AND THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HEARD WILL UNDERSTAND: Paul felt deeply his obligation to confront all men with the good news (Rom 1:14). This is confirmed by the quotation of Isa 52:15. Isaiah was a favorite source for Paul's quotations, esp the sections dealing with the Servant of the Lord and his mission. This very preaching effort of Paul was actually prophesied in the OT: this would be an enormous source of comfort to the apostle.

Rom 15:22

THIS IS WHY I HAVE OFTEN BEEN HINDERED FROM COMING TO YOU: Concluding this section of the letter is the observation that Paul's delay in coming to Rome (cp Rom 1:8-13) was the result of his constant preoccupation with preaching the gospel elsewhere. Now his readers will understand why he has not come from Jerusalem, the holy city, directly to Rome, the royal city, with the message of reconciliation and life in Christ.

Rom 15:23

Vv 23,24: The apostle felt that the believers in the areas where he had preached were in a good position to carry on the proclamation of the gospel in their territories. ("No more place to work" probably means: "no more new or unbroken ground"... for surely there were plenty of other kinds of work to be done in these developing areas.) At any rate, he now believed the time was right to look to comparatively unreached fields farther to the west in Europe (cf Rom 1:11,12).

Rom 15:24

SPAIN: Which Paul would see as the "Tarshish" of Isa 66:18,19. Parts of Spain (which in the ancient world included all the Iberian peninsula) had been occupied by Rome since about 200 BC, but it was only in Paul's lifetime that the Romans had fully organized the entire area.

Whether Paul actually reached Spain is not certain. The strongest positive evidence is found in First Clement, a late first-century writing: "He [Paul] taught righteousness to all the world, and when he had reached the limits of the West he gave his testimony before the rulers, and thus passed from the world." Spain would fit the description, "the limits of the West."

AND TO HAVE YOU ASSIST ME ON MY JOURNEY THERE: Not necessarily by money (cp Acts 18:3; 1Co 4:12), but more likely by their enthusiasm and encouragement (Acts 28:14,15).

Rom 15:25

Vv 25,26: The purpose of Paul's collection of money from the Macedonian and Achaian churches was to relieve the poverty that existed among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. A secondary purpose was to cement relations between Gentile and Jewish believers (cf 1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 8; 9).

Rom 15:26

MACEDONIA AND ACHAIA: In the NT Macedonia refers to the northern portion of Greece, Achaia being the southern portion (Acts 19:21; Rom 15:26; 2Co 1:1; 1Th 1:7,8).

Macedonia was the land of the "Makedones", a territory in the Balkan Peninsula, bordered on the west by Illyria, on the east by Thrace, and on the south by Thessaly. Its mountainous terrain is cut by the rivers Axios (modern Vardar) and Strymon (modern Struma), which flow into the Aegean from the north. It is covered today by northern Greece, southern Yugoslavia, and the southwestern corner of Bulgaria. The population was ethnically and linguistically mixed. Here were Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica.

By Claudius' direction, in AD 44 Achaia was governed by a proconsul (eg, Gallio in Acts 18:12), appointed by the Roman senate; the emperor governed his provinces through procurators. The chief cities of Achaia were Athens and Corinth the capital with its seaport Cenchrea, although Sparta to the south and Megara, Thebes, and Delphi to the north were famous from antiquity.

TO MAKE A CONTRIBUTION FOR THE POOR AMONG THE SAINTS IN JERUSALEM: The Philippians, and perhaps others in Macedonia, were especially commended in this regard (2Co 8:1-5).

CONTRIBUTION: Gr "koinonia": fellowship or sharing (see also v 27).

Rom 15:27

The money that Paul was collecting was both a gift of love, and an obligation. He could say that the givers owed it because the gospel had come from Jerusalem and Judea to the Gentiles. Believers in Asia Minor also contributed to this fund (1Co 16:1; Acts 20:4).

SHARED: From Gr "koinonia", literally a "fellowship" or a "sharing".

"Partakers" / "sharers": of root and fatness of olive tree (Rom 11:17), of spiritual things (Rom 15:27), of one bread (1Co 10:17), of sufferings and consolation (2Co 1:7), of God's promise in Christ (Eph 3:6), of inheritance of saints (Col 1:12), of heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), of Christ (Heb 3:14), of the benefit (1Ti 6:2), of the glory (1Pe 5:1), and of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4).

"Such men sometimes think that they give all that is required of them in giving money. This has been one of the great errors of Christendom, the attempt to buy that which is "without money and without price". It is true that the apostle Paul says something regarding spiritual and carnal things which seems to suggest reciprocity in these matters. We must not put his teaching upside down, however. He says that Gentiles who are partakers of Israel's spiritual riches have a duty to minister in carnal matters. He certainly does not suggest that carnal wealth can buy the spiritual treasures. The two kinds of riches are on a different plane. The currency is different and there is no known rate of exchange. The wealthy man who goes to his chapel with a feeling that he can purchase anything and a readiness to give of his abundance if the service pleases him, is not likely to receive any real spiritual food. He is not in the right condition to appreciate it. Possibly husks please him best. If so he can buy what he requires" (PrPr).

Rom 15:28

AFTER I HAVE COMPLETED THIS TASK AND HAVE MADE SURE THAT THEY HAVE RECEIVED THIS FRUIT: Paul evidently anticipated the completion of this project eagerly. The money given was "fruit" in that it was part of the "harvest" of the gospel seed-sowing. Paul as "apostle to the Gentiles" evidently wanted to bring it to the Jerusalem Christians, and affirm its integrity, insuring that they understood it properly.

Rom 15:29

I WILL COME IN THE FULL MEASURE OF THE BLESSING OF CHRIST: The blessing of Jesus Christ in view was God's blessing on Paul by allowing him to reach Rome. The apostle probably also had in mind the blessing that would come to the Romans through his ministry among them. He did not know at this time that he would arrive in chains (Acts 28:15). Yet even that could be a blessing (Phil 1:12-14)!

Rom 15:30

JOIN ME IN MY STRUGGLE BY PRAYING TO GOD FOR ME: He realized that -- in view of the forces antagonistic to his ministry -- energetic praying was necessary (cf v 31; Eph 6:18-20; 2Co 1:10,11).

STRUGGLE: Gr "sunagonizomai": to struggle in company with, ie (figuratively) to be a partner (assistant) in the struggle. The root is "agon", which suggests an athletic competition; it is an intense struggle (cp Engl "agony"): "Our praying must not be a casual experience that has no heart or earnestness. We should put as much fervor into our praying as a wrestler does into his wrestling!" (Wiersbe).

Rom 15:31

He identified two immediate prayer requests. One was safety from the opposition of hostile unbelieving Jews (cf Acts 9:29,30) and the distrust of Jewish Christians. The other was that the Jewish Christians would receive the monetary gift of their Gentile brethren. If they did not, the unity of the body would be in jeopardy.

Rom 15:32

The granting of these two requests would hopefully contribute to the realization of a third goal. This goal was Paul's joyful arrival in Rome by God's will (Rom 1:10) and his refreshment in the fellowship of the Roman believers.

Rom 15:33

THE GOD OF PEACE BE WITH YOU ALL: However strife-torn may be Paul's lot in the immediate future, he wishes for his friends the blessing of the God of peace (cp John 14:27; 17:21; Rom 15:13).
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