An Admonition to Patience and Harmony. Rom. 15, 1-13.

Christians should not please themselves: V.1. We, then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. V.2. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good, to edification. V.3. For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me. V.4. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. V.5. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus, v.6. that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the preceding section Paul had spoken of things indifferent and of the consideration which the strong in faith ought to show to the weak in this respect. He now extends the notion of strong and weak somewhat and speaks of the behavior of the Christians in general, with reference to the example of Christ. But it is the duty of us that are strong to tolerate the weaknesses of the weak and not please ourselves. The strong, or able, are the Christians that are enjoying a strong, vigorous Christianity, without, indeed, being perfect; the weak, on the other hand, are the unsteady, the feeble, that are weak in both knowledge and Christian life. Luther says of the latter: “Such weak ones are they that sometimes stumble in open sin, or those that we in German call strange heads and peculiar people, that fly up at a slight provocation or have other weaknesses, for which reason it is difficult to get along with them; as this may happen especially between husband and wife, between master and servant, between government and subjects.” 22) It is the duty of the strong to tolerate, to bear, the weak, to hold them up in their weakness, in their prejudices, errors, and faults, the purpose of such kindness being to aid our fellow-Christian in getting rid of his faults, in being cured of his weakness. For the object and aim of a Christian’s life and conduct is not to please himself, to live only for his own benefit; such behavior as aims only at its own edification is the height of selfishness and smug hypocrisy.

Paul teaches that a real Christian shows an altogether different disposition and conduct: Let every one of us please his neighbor unto good, for edification. Instead of being concerned about their own advancement in spiritual knowledge only, true Christians will always be ready, though not officious, in endeavoring to promote the spiritual life of their neighbors in the Church as well, for the good which we must chiefly have in mind is the religious improvement of others, especially if they have not had the advantages which we have enjoyed by the grace of God. In doing so we are inspired and urged onward by the highest possible example: For also Christ did not please Himself, but He acted according to what was written concerning Him: The reproaches, the vituperations, of them that reproached Thee have fallen on Me. The apostle here quotes from Ps. 69, 9, from a Messianic psalm; for the Savior Himself spoke through the inspired prophet and pictured some of the incidents of His suffering. Cp. John 2, 17; 15, 25; 19, 28; Acts 1, 20. Even Jesus, though exempt from such obligations by the fact of His being true God, did not live for His own pleasure only, did not live merely to enjoy the glory which had been imparted to His human nature, but was concerned without ceasing for the deliverance and salvation of sinful mankind, being undeterred in this object by all the blasphemous reproaches of all the enemies that attempted to frustrate His work. If Christ, therefore, laid aside all consideration of self and made the welfare of sinners the chief aim of His life, surely no Christian will consider himself too good to follow that example and endeavor in every possible way to aid in the edification of his neighbor unto eternal life. There can and must be no thought of burden, but only of privilege.

Paul now justifies his use of the Old Testament passage and shows that the facts recorded in Scriptures are designed for our instruction and may therefore readily be applied in their fulfillment. For all things written beforehand, in olden times, for our instruction were they written, in order that through the patience and through the consolation of the Scriptures we might have the hope, v.4. The reference of the apostle is to the entire Old Testament as it was then in use. The books which were known under the collective title “The Scriptures” were not composed by their authors to serve only their own contemporaries, but the Holy Ghost, the Editor-in-chief, the real Author of the Bible, had in mind the conditions of all times to the end of time. The Bible, therefore, is the teacher, the instructor, of the Church after Christ as well as before Christ. Such an application of Scripture, then, as here made by the apostle is entirely in accord with the purpose of the holy Book; it should serve for strengthening Christians in their faith. One of the aims of Scriptures is named by the apostle, namely, to give us instruction, in order that we through the patience and the consolation which Scripture produces and works in us might have and hold firmly the hope of the future glory. This object may be attained in us because the Bible not only admonishes us to hold out patiently and steadfastly to the end, but also comforts us with the assurance of the help of the Holy Spirit, and thus works in us both patience and consolation to wait and to endure, since the realization of our hope is a matter of only a short time. If we use Scripture regularly and properly, then we draw out of it from day to day more strength, comfort, courage, and confidence, and thus ever keep before our eyes the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

The apostle now concludes his admonition with the cordial wish: But the God of patience and consolation give to you to think the same thing toward one another according to Christ Jesus, that you, of one mind and in one mouth, may praise God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, vv. 5. 6. As the Scriptures were just called the instruction for our patience and consolation, so the same titles are here applied to God: He is the God of patience and comfort, inspiring steadfastness and encouragement in our hearts through the use of the Scriptures in which He reveals Himself. And if these gifts of God are found in us by the gift of God, then we and all Christians will be like-minded toward one another, then there will be God-pleasing harmony among us, then we shall consider one another as brothers and show a true brotherly spirit, free from all selfishness. Such brotherly harmony according to the spirit of Jesus Christ is presupposition and foundation of the mutual bearing, of the mutual furtherance and edification which should be found in every Christian congregation. That is the will of Christ, whose prayer for this gift should always be kept in mind by all believers, John 17, 11. And thus it will follow that those who are really a unit in the Spirit of God will also, with one accord, unite in a chorus of praise to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all these great spiritual gifts are derived, whose love in Christ Jesus has made them possible and transmitted them to us. Note: God is the God as well as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is a most singular relation, assumed, however, for the salvation of mankind.

Brotherly harmony makes the common praise of God possible: V.7. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. V.8. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, v.9. and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written, For this cause I will confess to Thee among the Gentiles and sing unto thy name. V.10. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people. V.11. and again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud Him, all ye people. V.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. V.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! Therefore, in order that such praise might be possible, and that the object of such harmonious praise be attained, receive, welcome, one another; let both parties show the spirit which is in Christ, according to the will of Christ. And this mutual acceptance and kindly treatment should be according to the measure of Christ’s acceptance of us and should redound to the glory of God, the final end of the Christian’s whole life. We Christians are called to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, 1 Cor. 1, 9. The obligation thus rests upon us to cultivate the spirit of harmony. The harmonious life and worship of the believers is now described in detail: For I say that Christ became a servant of the circumcision for the sake of the truth of God, to confirm the promises given to the fathers, v.8; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, v.9a. When Christ came, His first direct service was in the interest of the circumcised people or nation, the Jews; in His ministry He served principally the Jews, because He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. 15, 24, and out of their midst gathered His own little congregation of disciples. And the apostles took up His work where He had ceased: they preached to the Jews first and established congregations in Judea. This work of His prophetic office Christ carried on in this manner for the sake of the truth of God, in the interest of God’s veracity, namely, in order to confirm the promises made to the fathers. The Messiah had been promised to the patriarchs and then to the children of Israel; out of them, according to the flesh, He was to be born; in their midst He was to live and perform His work. This promise of God was fulfilled; the veracity of God was vindicated. And all the true Israelites that have, by faith, become partakers of Christ’s salvation now praise God and extol His glory for keeping His promises to the fathers. But while the Jews praised God for confirming, for carrying into effect His promises, the heathen glorify His name on account of His mercy, because God out of free grace has given them the same glorious gift and benefit as the children of Israel, to whom the promises were entrusted. Thus Jesus Christ became a minister also to the Gentiles, namely, by sending out His messengers to all nations and gathering His Church out of all the people of the world by the preaching of the Gospel. To the faithfulness of God the Jews and to the mercy of God the Gentiles owe their possession of salvation in Jesus Christ.

This last thought is now substantiated by the apostle by a reference to several passages of the Old Testament in which the conversion of the Gentiles was prophesied, thus indicating that the eternal counsel of God was being put into execution in their case. The first reference is to Ps. 18, 49: For this reason I will confess to Thee, glorify Thee exceedingly, among the Gentiles and sing hymns to Thy name. The Messiah, speaking through the mouth of David, praises the wondrous things which God has done to the nations, in the midst of the Gentiles, for their salvation. And the message of salvation provokes the praises of the Gentiles, as the following quotations prove: Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people, Deut. 32, 43; All ye Gentiles, praise the Lord; and praise Him highly, all ye people, Ps. 117, 1. The Gentiles, together with the children of Israel, are urgently invited to sing praises to God for the fullness of His mercy, and thus show their membership in the true, spiritual Israel. The fourth quotation is from Is. 11, 10: There will be the Root of Jesse, and He that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope. Christ, the descendant of Jesse, the offspring of David according to the flesh, will extend His dominion of grace among the Gentiles, through the preaching of the Gospel, and the result will be that the Gentiles will place their hopes in Him as their only Savior and Redeemer. Thus the Church of the New Testament is a communion of believing Jews and regenerated Gentiles, united in the worship of the true God and the Father of Jesus Christ, their Savior. And this harmony shall properly find its expression in the entire relation of the believers toward each other, charitable consideration for the brethren being the motive of all their actions. This ideal, of course, cannot be reached by their own reason and strength; it necessitates the continual assistance of the Holy Spirit. And therefore Paul, in closing this section and the body of the letter, writes: But the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, to make you abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit, v.13. The God who is able to grant, and does give, hope, who keeps the mind of the believers directed upon the great fulfillment of all their desires, is able also to fill the hearts of His children with the greatest joy, with all possible joy, and with that peace which passes all understanding, since these both rest upon, and flow out of, faith in Jesus the Savior. With this assistance on the part of God, the hope of the Christians will not be a wavering and uncertain opinion, but a divine certainty, making them abound in hope, giving them the joyful confidence in the fulfillment of their salvation, in the realization of future glory. This wonderful gift is made possible in us through the power of the Spirit, who causes joy and peace to grow stronger with hope, and thus leads our hearts and minds forward to the blessed goal of our destination.

The Epilog of the Letter. Rom. 15, 14-33.

Paul’s reason for writing: V.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. V.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 or God, v.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. The apostle now, having finished both instruction and admonition to the Christians of Rome, with his usual mildness and modesty adds an explanation to show why he had addressed them in the manner that he did. Giving them the intimate and honoring title “my brethren,” he frankly tells them that he, for his own person, is fully convinced concerning them that they, on their part, are filled with goodness, that they possess the right Christian disposition and excellence. He also is persuaded to an extent which admits of no doubt that his readers are filled with all knowledge, that they have the full and correct understanding of Christian doctrine. This good opinion naturally results in the confidence that they will do what is right and proper under all circumstances. If there is any teaching or exhorting in doctrine and life necessary, they will surely attend to that in an adequate manner. Since Paul was personally acquainted with the leading members of the congregation at Rome, and also knew the power of the Gospel which was preached among them, he could make this assertion in all confidence. His manner of writing would serve as an incitement and spur to them to make rapid progress in both understanding and sanctification.

But in spite of this good opinion which he held of them, Paul had been under obligation to write to them: For I have written to you quite boldly in part, as one that was reminding you through the grace that is given me by God, v.15. There were portions of his letter in which Paul had used much boldness, had brought out his points with striking and telling force. And in this method he was justified altogether; he could not have done differently, since it was his duty to recall to their memory certain things. What the Christians have once learned, know, and understand, they must ever be reminded of again, in order that their knowledge may be furthered and confirmed. The believers of all times will turn again and again to the instructions contained in this inspired epistle, in order to become ever better acquainted with the mysteries of their justification and salvation, to become ever more fervent in faith, hope, and love.

But there was another duty that made it incumbent upon Paul to address this letter to the Christians at Rome, namely, the grace that was given him from God that he should be a servant, a minister, of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, to administer the Gospel of Christ and God, in order that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Ghost, vv. 15b. 16. His office, his apostleship, was a gift of God’s grace, a service of which he knew himself to be unworthy, Eph. 3, 8. But it had been given to him by a special call of God, and he must, therefore, as a true priest of God, administer the Gospel, proclaim it among the Gentiles, in order that by its instrumentality the offering of the Gentiles might be brought about. The heathen themselves, persuaded by the Gospel-message, were a sacrifice unto God, they offered themselves as a living sacrifice to their Lord, chap. 12, 1. Due to the influence and work of the Gospel, then, their sacrifice was well-pleasing, acceptable, to God, Phil. 2, 17; 2 Tim. 4, 6. For the sake of Jesus, God has turned to the former Gentiles in grace. And therefore they are also hallowed in the Holy Ghost, because the Spirit has sanctified, consecrated, their hearts to God. At all times and in all places, wherever the Gospel is preached, the hearts of men are renewed, converted to God, offered up as God’s own; and the purpose of the Gospel is to keep them in the state of sanctification, until hope and faith are replaced by everlasting possession.

Paul’s praise of his apostleship: V.17. I have, therefore, whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. V.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, v.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. V.20. Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation; v.21. but as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand. The apostle is anxious to have his readers understand just what this gift of his apostleship includes, and why it was incumbent upon him to write so boldly in both instruction and exhortation: I have, then, glorying in Christ Jesus, namely, in that which pertains to God. As an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been entrusted, he has reason to boast and to be proud of his work for God, of the call which was given him by God. At the same time he is conscious always that his boasting is in Christ Jesus, is done on account of His grace, and not on account of his personal ability or worthiness for the office. Of what he is proud and in what way, he states very plainly: For I shall not dare to speak anything .of those things which Christ did not effect through me for the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God, so that I from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum have fulfilled, completed, fully preached, the Gospel, vv. 18. 19. The purpose of Christ’s calling has been realized; he has succeeded in doing much for the obedience of the Gentiles, to establish the obedience of faith among the Gentiles. This he has effected by word and deed, mainly through his preaching, but also through the example of his life. Success has come to him through signs and wonders, miracles of various kinds which he performed and which served to substantiate his preaching. But mainly he ascribes the effect of his labors to the power of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost is in the Word of the Gospel and works faith, the obedience of the Gospel, through this very Word. Paul has done successful work through all the countries from Jerusalem to Illyricum. In Jerusalem he had received the command to be God’s messenger to the heathen, Acts 22, 21. He had not hesitated to testify of Christ in the very city which had known him as a blasphemer, Acts 9, 20 ff. And then he had visited all the countries which lie between Jerusalem and Illyricum, forming a sort of semicircle around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Illyricum, the country west of Macedonia, Paul had but recently visited, on his third missionary journey. In all these countries Paul has fulfilled the Gospel of Jesus Christ, completed it, carried out its ministry to the end, preached the full counsel of God for the salvation of men, bringing about an understanding and an acceptance of the Gospel by his work as apostle, Col. 1, 25. That is the business, the aim of the Gospel with regard to all people of the earth, namely, that it be made known and accepted everywhere; and this work of the Gospel Paul has carried out. And yet, in spite of the success which has attended his efforts, Paul would not dare to take credit and to speak of something in a boasting manner unless Christ had accomplished it through him; the real effectiveness and efficiency of Gospel preaching he properly ascribes to Christ alone. Like every preacher of the Gospel, Paul was an organ, an instrument, of Christ and of His Spirit.

In his restless activity in mission-work Paul has another factor in mind, namely, to work only where the Gospel was as yet unknown, so that the evidence of his apostleship might be undeniable: But so I have made it a point of honor to preach the Gospel not where the name of Christ was called upon, in order that I might not build upon the foundation of another man, v.20. Paul was sensitive on this point, not in a spirit of rivalry, but in his ambition to work for the Lord: he had never sought to preach Christ where Christianity had already been established, he had never interfered with another man’s work, had never built upon a foundation which he had not himself laid; he was willing to take the blame for any mistakes, just as he gave all honor to Christ. This maxim of his work he found in Is. 52, 15: The people to whom nothing was proclaimed of Him, they shall see, and they that have heard nothing shall understand. The prophet had plainly said that the kings and nations of the earth would, at the time of the Messiah’s coming, hear and see something which had not penetrated to them before, namely, the glorious news of the Servant of God. Therefore Paul brought the Gospel to such places and countries where it had been unknown before, although this principle did not hinder him from writing to, and communicating with, such congregations as had not been founded by him, that of Rome itself being an example. His office as apostle of the Gentiles made this obligatory.

The reasons which hindered Paul’s visit to Rome: V.22. For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. V.23. But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you, v.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. V.25. But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. V.26. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. V.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. For this reason, because Paul had desired to make Christ known where He had not been preached before, he had been hindered from coming to Rome. This had been so in most cases when there had been an opportunity to make the journey to Rome; his work in the Orient had kept him too busy; at other times there may have been other factors which prevented his coming. But now he has no more room in those regions, his work in the Orient has been brought to an end. Whatever remains to be done can well be taken care of by the congregations that have been founded. Since, therefore, Paul had for many years had the desire, the earnest wish, to come to Rome, he hoped and intended to carry out his plan as soon as he would make his journey to Spain. His intention was, in coming from the East, from Palestine, to journey through Rome, to stop off there for some time in order to see the brethren of Rome, to visit with them, and he expected to be conducted on his way from the capital to his destination by a delegation from their midst, but only after he had enjoyed their company, had had the pleasure of associating with them for some time. This was his plan. Before that could be executed, however, Paul had an important duty to perform. He was now about to make the contemplated journey to Jerusalem in a certain service to the saints, the members of the congregation in that city. For the congregations in Macedonia and Achaia, especially those of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth, had willingly decided to make a contribution of some size for the poor people among the members at Jerusalem. In receiving this collection, the poor in Jerusalem would partake of the abundance of the brethren in Macedonia and Achaia. And that was as it should be, and the decision was only to be commended, because the Gentile Christians were really in debt to the Jewish Christians. In Jerusalem was the mother church of Christendom, and all the spiritual gifts and benefits of Christianity had spread over the earth from Jerusalem. And therefore it was only right and just that the converted Gentiles serve those of whose spiritual gifts they had become partakers with their abundance in earthly goods. This principle might well be remembered in our days, when people are so liable to forget the instruments of God’s grace to them, whether these are individual men or entire communities.

A word in conclusion: V.25. When, therefore, I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. V.29. And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. V.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, v.31. that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; v.32. that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. V.33. Now the God of peace be with you all! Amen. The trip to Jerusalem had to be taken first, that plan could not be changed. But as soon as Paul had brought this business to its end and consigned, safely delivered, into the hands of the members of the church in Jerusalem this fruit of love, as the collection could well be termed, being the outgrowth of faith which was active in love, then he would pass through Rome on his way to Spain. And of one thing he was sure even then, namely, that in coming to them he would come with the fullness of the blessing of Christ and of the Gospel. That he would be supplied with, that he would bring along in rich abundance. For he was convinced that Christ, who through his labors had shed forth such abundant spiritual blessings upon the Gentile believers, would not overlook the congregation at Rome.

But with all his confident promises, Paul cannot help voicing an apprehension, a presentiment of evil. He had suffered so much in persecution on the part of the Jews that he could not quite throw off a foreboding of harm which might befall him in Jerusalem. Therefore he earnestly begs the Christians of Rome, through the Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to wage warfare with him in their prayers to God for him. By the work of Jesus Christ all believers are united in a most intimate communion and may intercede for one another with all fervor. And the love which is planted in the hearts of the Christians by the Holy Spirit urges them to come to one another’s aid in prayer. And so earnest and urgent is their prayer that it partakes of the nature of a battle, a fight against the invisible, hostile powers that are endeavoring to hinder the labors of the apostle. With such prayers to assist him, he may expect to be delivered from the disobedient in Judea, from those that refused obedience to the Gospel. And their intercessory prayer may effect also so much that his service to Jerusalem will be made acceptable to the saints, that they will gladly avail themselves of the assistance which was thus brought to them by Paul and his companions. From Acts 21, 17 ff. we know that the prayer of Paul and of the Christians at Rome was heard, that he was received with joy by the members of the congregation at Jerusalem. And, although Paul did not come to Rome in the way in which he planned to go at this time, he was nevertheless, by the providence of God, brought there in due time, was welcomed by them with great joy, and found some refreshment for further apostolic labors through his intercourse with them. With the earnest prayer, which amounts to a blessing, that the God of peace, He that is reconciled to us through Christ, our Peace, may be with them all, St. Paul closes the epilog of his letter.

Summary. The apostle admonishes the Christians to bear the weaknesses of the brethren and always to live, as a true household of God, in brotherly harmony; he tells them of his plan to visit Rome on his way to Spain, and asks them to remember him in their prayers.