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Romans (Series 2)

Life of an Apostle

Romans 15

Lesson audio

It seems at first disjointed – a few things said at the end of the letter. Many scholars hold that Paul actually stopped talking at the end of the chapter; the next chapter being an addition by the man who wrote it down. But there is still something to learn, and we shall try to do just that.

On Hope

Romans 15:1-13 NIV We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (2) Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (3) For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."[1] (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. (5) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, (6) so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (8) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[2]on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs (9) so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

"Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;

I will sing hymns to your name."[3] (10) Again, it says,

"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."[4] (11) And again,

"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

and sing praises to him, all you peoples."[5] (12) And again, Isaiah says,

"The Root of Jesse will spring up,

one who will arise to rule over the nations;

the Gentiles will hope in him."[6] (13) 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.

Strong and Weak (verses 1-3)

If there is any one defining aspect of chivalry, it is this: the strong have a duty toward the weak. Today, of course, the damsel in distress would not await her knight in shining armor but karate chop the living daylights out of all and sundry. This exemplifies the “self-reliance” so valued in America. It also helps us ignore the duty of the strong to the weak.

In the church, that duty is clear: it is to build up your neighbor. If your brother in Christ is struggling with something, your duty as the strong (one not struggling with it yourself) is to help. For example:

  • Is your brother taken in poverty? If you are the rich, what should you be doing?
  • Is your brother suffering from disease or misfortune? Those who are at peace in Christ are to come along side.
  • Indeed, if your brother is taken in sin, who is supposed to help?

The supreme example is that of Christ: He who rules the universe became like one of us to rescue us. The imitation of Christ is still the first rule of Christian conduct.

Acceptance (verses 4-7)

Paul gives us the result of that duty: the unity of the church. He shows us that unity in two ways you might not have thought of:

  • First, there is the unity of endurance and encouragement. If I am suffering and must endure, the unity of the church grows when you come along side to encourage me.
  • There is also the inner unity of heart and mouth. Encouragement which is only lip service is taken politely; encouragement from the heart is welcomed in the heart.

The result of this is that we accept one another wholeheartedly. If I am rich and you are poor, this may be a barrier to unity. But if you come along side in my time of need, the barrier is broken.

Purpose: the glory of God (verses 8-13)

The objective of all this is not just a happy campout on the ranch. It is the glory of God. You can see this in the service of Christ:

  • First, Christ comes as the servant king to us – not so that we will feel warm and fuzzy, but that we may praise God for this incredible gift of love.
  • To this end Christ fulfills the promises made to the patriarchs thousands of years earlier. It is to show the Gentiles (!) that God is faithful – and worthy of praise.

To promise is to look to the future. If you have the hope that comes from the faith, you will give glory to God not just for what he has done; not just for what he is doing in your life but also for what he has promised to do. He is indeed the God of hope!

How does this work out in your life? Hope is not just assurance for the future (“someday things will get better”) but it is also joy and peace now. You know how things will work out; you can therefore at least be at peace now, joyous at the thought of the future. It’s the Indiana Jones principle.

Indeed, if this hope comes through the Holy Spirit (as it should) then you cannot contain it – it overflows. It’s contagious – and an encouragement to others, again aiding the unity of the church. What goes around, comes around.

Ministry to the Gentiles

Romans 15:14-22 NIV I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. (15) I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me (16) to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with 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. (17) Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. (18) 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-- (19) by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. (20) 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. (21) Rather, as it is written:

"Those who were not told about him will see,

and those who have not heard will understand."[7] (22) This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

To the Romans (verses 14-17)

Please note: Paul is writing to the good Christians. When speaking to the idiot or the corrupt, a certain caution is enjoined: you want them to keep listening long enough to hear your plea. But these Romans have already put up with fourteen chapters worth; therefore Paul writes to them boldly. If you’re really good at something, it’s worth having a coach tell you how to become excellent at it.

But boldness carries with it an intrinsic disadvantage. By its very nature it says that the person being bold must be a leader worthy of the title. In short, it’s borderline bragging. In one way this is appropriate to an apostle, the holder of the highest earthly rank in the church. In another way, not so good. Which is the right way, then?

Christ in me (verses 18-19)

The trick is simple: I only brag about what Christ has done in me. It’s not about me; this is not the First Church of the Rock Star. It’s about Christ. Even if I do signs and miracles, I will give credit to the Holy Spirit working in me.

Every Bible teacher understands this. It will eventually happen to anyone who teaches the Scripture to adults: someone comes up after class and tells you what a brilliant insight that was – in fact, you wrote that lesson just for me, didn’t you? I didn’t. The Holy Spirit might have, but I didn’t.

Those who are great in God’s power are often small in men’s sight – which is just as it should be.

Mission and ambition (verses 20-22)

Paul, like all of God’s great leaders, puts his ambition where his mission is. His mission is evangelism – bringing the Gospel to the un-reached. The Romans have indeed been reached; Paul will see them when God gives him the time.

On to Spain

Romans 15:23-33 NIV 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 see you, (24) I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. (25) Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. (26) For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (27) 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. (28) So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. (29) I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. (30) I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (31) Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, (32) so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. (33) The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Passing through (verses 23-24)

Paul does something here which is exceedingly difficult: he recognizes that his work is done. He must move on. He could stay on as father figure to the churches he had established, but that is not his mission.

But where to go? Spain comes to his mind; no one has been there yet. It’s the outer marches of the Roman Empire – and a place of intellectual ferment at the time. On his way, he’ll stop by the Romans.[1]

One thing is certain: Paul was just passing through Rome on his way to his next assignment. God, evidently, had other plans. But the attitude of “passing through” shines here. We all ought to remember that we are always “just passing through.”

Church United (verses 25-29)I

We sometimes forget that the church is one. It is shown here in the gift the Greek churches made to the church at Jerusalem. Paul comments that this is a right thing to do. The church at Jerusalem (the Jews) brought the Gospel to the Greeks; it is only fitting that the Greeks in return would provide for the Jerusalem church in its hour of need.

“They owe it to them.” Each of us should feel that same way. Someone brought you to Christ. Perhaps that someone was sent for the purpose. Think how much different your life is because of their work! Is it really unreasonable to share your blessings with such a person? Those of us in rich America might feel embarrassed to receive such a gift. The church in most places and times did not feel embarrassed, but grateful.

See how Paul presumes this of the Roman church: he knows that he will receive a full measure of blessing from them, once he has been with them for a time. Is he demanding service of them – or does he just know that’s how real Christians react?

Which gives us the question: just how do we react to such things?

Prayers (verses 30-33)

Paul closes this section with a request for prayer. How the great saints always desired the prayers of the faithful! The point is still true today: what more could I ask of you than to go to God Almighty in prayer, seeking his aid and blessing on my behalf? What does he ask, then?

  • First, that he might be rescued from his enemies, so that the work might go on. None of us asks for martyrdom; we just want to keep on doing what we do.
  • Next, he asks that his service would be acceptable. All of us want to be a success; the humble among us realize we are not totally in charge of that.
  • Finally, that when they do meet, the unity of the church will be again revealed in joy.

The church is a band of brothers; the cause of Christ is greater than any one of us, no matter how famous. To God be the glory; to his people unity, charity and joy.

[1] There is some debate about whether or not Paul ever made it to Spain. The Spanish cherish the tradition that he arrived about AD 62; there are several references to the trip in the early church fathers.

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