Paul has been spending time in chapter 15 by highlighting the purpose of God as it relates to the Gentiles. It is very easy to look back into the Old Testament scriptures and conclude (falsely) that God wasn’t concerned with Gentiles and that perhaps not until Paul did God change His focus and direction. However, you can read through Israel’s prophets and find that the Gentiles were to be included all along, yet it was Israel who would be the catalyst for this union of the peoples of the earth. Many today miss that Christ was that catalyst, much like folks back then missed as well. Israel may have failed at their collective obedience and faith, yet it was through their fall, God brought salvation to the Gentiles. God worked all things together for good that in the rubble of Israel’s failure, the Root of Jesse took hold.
Romans 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Paul is very ecstatic about the fact that he is the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), not because Paul is anything of himself, but because God counted Paul faithful and put Paul in the ministry (1Timothy 1:12). Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures and is simply overjoyed that God chose Paul to be the network by which God’s plan for the peoples of the earth would carry forward.
Romans 15:14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. 15:15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, 15:16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
Paul doesn’t believe these Roman believers are not already full of goodness and knowledge and able to admonish one another in grace and faith, but, Paul says he wrote to them nonetheless to drive them further to embrace grace by drawing their attention to all of the truths of Christ (that he’s just laid out in the previous chapters of Romans). Paul once again describes his ministry, that being of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, he is ministering the gospel of God. The word ministering comes from a word that is the idea of a priest. Recall that priests in the service of God did exactly this – they ministered the things of God to the people of God. You can go and study them in the Old Testament law and see how their role was to function. However, just because Paul is on the scene doesn’t mean the need for priests have ceased. There is still the necessity of ministering the things of God to the people of God. Sure, the details of how this ministering is to be carried out has changed since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but the essential need for it remains nonetheless.
So, what is Paul ministering to the people of God? He tells us – it is the gospel of God. Recall back from chapter 1 of Romans that the gospel of God is all about Jesus Christ being declared the Son of God (not simply by some verbal decree) but by an eternal proclamation: His resurrection from the dead. As you read through this section of chapter 15, you’ll see Paul coming full circle from how he started the letter.
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 1:2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 1:3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 1:4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: 1:5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: 1:6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: 1:7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is ministering the reality of Christ, the Son of God, declared by his resurrection from the dead and in this ministering, Paul says he is offering up the Gentiles. Recall that a priest often ministered by performing sacrifices on behalf of the people. Is Paul describing a literally laying of these Romans upon an altar and sacrificing them, physically? No, hardly. But, as a priest, his ministering of Christ to these Gentiles is in order that the Gentiles may be acceptable to God. Remember that many sacrifices are described in the Old Testament has having a sweat smelling savor unto the Lord. Now, instead of sacrificing a lamb or some other animal upon an altar of fire, Paul is offering up the Gentiles upon the altar of grace and through their faith, they are a sweet smelling savor to the Lord. This is important language. When you consider all of the pagan influence from the Roman world and the ritual of actual human sacrifice that existed within it, to hear that they have been offered up to God, by the Spirit of God, and are acceptable to Him and it was made possible by His grace – can you imagine the flooding of thoughts in their minds that would lead to nothing but thanksgiving. You see why Paul would be so excited about his ministry – about what God has called him to participate in?
Romans 15:17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: 15:21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
Paul is resolved to keep his comments to the Romans centered around glorying in what Christ has done, in those things that pertain to God. He is not of the mind to speak of things that Christ has not wrought in and through Paul because it is through that information that Gentiles are made obedient, by the words of Paul and by the deeds of Paul. As we saw in Romans 1 (and reminded above), obedience is not subjecting one’s self to a system of do’s and don’t’s, but is faith itself. Making all nations (Gentiles) obedient by faith is the goal. The moment the Gentiles express faith in Christ, they are obedient. Paul’s work (both written and in action) was to bring Gentiles to this obedience. Paul says that this was accomplished by mighty signs and wonders, which were manifested by the power of the Spirit of God. This can be a verse that some would read over very quickly and not wanting to have to face the reality that Paul used mighty signs and wonders to bring Gentiles to faith. Some have this conception that signs/wonders and faith are not compatible – that either you get signs and wonders or you are expected to have faith, but not both. Yet, Paul doesn’t seem to have a problem with signs and wonders being an agent of bringing folks to faith. Does that mean that you should expect this today? Sure, why not? But, perhaps “expect” is the wrong word to use and puts a certain spin on the question. Perhaps the better question to ask is, if God worked this way through Paul, was it for a specific purpose (that being, to bring Paul’s ministry to fruition and provide the written letters for us to learn from), or, is this the normal operation of God for every believer? I think it is safe to conclude that we are not worthy nor capable of putting God in a box, by which He behaves based on the mandates that make us comfortable with Him. Should God decide to use mighty signs and wonders, how dare we get attempt to get in His way? God is certainly not obligated to make those who are willfully deaf and blind to hear and see. This is a principle throughout scripture. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul summarizes his ministry by quoting (and applying) Isaiah’s prophetic words:
Acts 28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, 28:26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: 28:27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 28:28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
I wonder how often God demonstrates Himself through a mighty act or sign or wonder and we have closed our ears and eyes to it simply because we’ve determined “that’s not how God works today.” Our safer option is to simply let God be God and enjoy what He is doing, regardless of how uncomfortable is makes our theological safety nets.
Paul says from Jerusalem unto Illyricum (most northwestern point of Greece) he has preached the gospel of Christ. Again, from chapter 1, Paul is separated unto the Gospel of God, that Christ is the Son of God by His resurrection, but then in 1:15-16, Paul says he is going to preach the gospel unto them that are at Rome and he calls this the gospel of Christ. Paul says prior to verse 15 that they are of mutual faith in Christ the Son and he addresses them as saints. It is those who are separated (sanctified) by the Gospel of God that Paul wants to inform them of some other good news – the Gospel of Christ. And, as he has been writing here in Romans, he has been laying out all of the good news of what being in Christ means for each believer. But, this isn’t just a message for the Romans, but indeed from Jerusalem unto the reaches of Greece this message has been proclaimed.
Paul also makes mention that he was interested in tilling up new ground and not plowing were others had been. He’s not talking about staying away from Peter’s audience in Jerusalem (for indeed he already claimed he preached the message in Jerusalem). His point is that as he preached, he strove to find new ground for the seed to be sown. Paul quotes Isaiah again as fulfilling Isaiah words:
Romans 15:21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
Isaiah 52:15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
When Isaiah writes of many nations being ‘sprinkled’, the Hebrew word there carries the idea of a spring or a fountain springing forth. In other words, God is use Paul to spring forth fountains of rejoicing in the nations (Gentiles) that Paul is going to. Although Paul often had run-ins with other believers where he worked to encourage them, his real mission was to establish springs of living water in the nations where it was dry and barren.
Paul is wanting to get to these Romans to visit with them. Recall from chapter 1, Paul says that he wants to come see them but because of circumstances, a letter from Paul would have to suffice for now.
Romans 15:22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. 15:23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; 15:24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
Nothing is standing in Paul’s way from a legal sense, but he is extremely busy with his ministry. But, as Paul recognizes that his purpose in the ‘parts’ where he is is winding down and he is anxious to come see them. Whenever Paul then ventures to Spain, he will surely stop by.
Romans 15:25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. 15:26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. 15:27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
However, before he goes to Spain, he is going back to Jerusalem to minister to the saints and notice that he is going to take back contributions he collected from Macedonia and Achaia to give to the poor saints at Jerusalem. This is the absolute reverse of what usually happens with missionaries. Most missionaries try to raise money for themselves to go out to their mission field. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but notice Paul is bringing money back to the saints in need. This demonstrates the oneness that we have in Christ – regardless of where we are or what our function is, we have the opportunity to minister to our fellow saints. Paul’s justification for this is that it pleased them in Macedonia and Achaia to make this contribution for if they (Gentiles) are able to partake in the Jew’s SPIRITUAL THINGS, then why shouldn’t they (Gentiles) freely minister unto them in carnal (fleshly/physical) things? In other words, if the spiritual things of Christ, which ‘belonged to the Jews’ have been ministered to the Gentiles that they can partake (in Christ, through faith), then why not be helpful to the Jews and edify them in their physical needs? Not that it ‘returns the favor’, as it were, but the Gentiles were more than happy to help out.
Romans 15:28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. 15:29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. 15:30 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; 15:31 That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; 15:32 That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. 15:33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Once Paul delivers the collection to the saints at Jerusalem (a collection he calls, fruit), he will then come to the Romans as he journeys to Spain. Paul is confident that he’ll come unto them in the fullness of blessing of the gospel of Christ, but he requests that the Romans strive together in prayer for Paul as there are unbelievers in Judea that still give Paul trouble. Paul doesn’t want their nonsense to become an obstacle for the saints at Jerusalem getting the collection he’s bringing – he doesn’t want the bullies on the playground to take the lunch money he was saving to give to someone else. This seems to be connected to Paul’s ability to come to the Romans with joy. All in all, Paul is looking forward to getting to Spain and thus the Romans to engage in mutual refreshment. But, in the meantime, the God of peace will be with them all.
There is one more chapter in Romans in which Paul greets many of the saints at Rome, by name. It is my contention that Romans 15:33 is the real end to the letter but that chapter 16 is an addendum by Paul – a post-script, if you will. This doesn’t negate chapter 16’s inspiration or truth at all, but is an interesting idea to think about when you consider how he ends chapter 15 and what chapter 16 is all about.
Sadly, Paul will make it to Rome, but will be under house arrest. He’ll never make it to Spain. But, this is by the will of God and regardless of Paul’s desires, he is always at peace with God’s will for himself.
We’ll finish the letter as our story continues…