Now Let Us All With One Accord
I. Romans 15:1-7 – These verses concluded the previous discussion of chapter 14. Paul also is beginning a transition to show that the people of God are now truly a diverse group in accordance with the new covenant. Here he completes his argument that the church includes the weak and immature as well as the strong and mature, for the single qualification for being a member of the body is that the Spirit of God has placed one there through the supernatural operation of regeneration.
A. Paul reiterates that the church is no place for the exclusion or the harmful treatment of the weak. Rather the clear moral duty of all is to bear with them for their spiritual growth and the honoring of their tender consciences. The relationship between members of the body is that all receive honor and no harm is to be inflicted on any because of their apparent smallness. The head seeks to honor the little finger, the palms of the hands, and the bicuspids a well as the heart, the liver, and the eyes. Harm to any of these harms the entire body and brings pain to the entire body. Therefore, our goal should be to seek edification of our neighbor, not the prominence and pleasure of ourselves. The mind functions much better when the little toe is not in pain. So, for the sake of edifying the entire body, of which each of us is a part and from which each of us derives benefit as God himself determines, our goal should be the edification and spiritual growth of our fellow members. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Verses 1, 2; compare 14:1 and 14:19
B. Verse 3 – “For even Christ did not please himself”: Here Paul gives the most fundamental theological justification for this self-effacing spirit and conduct in the church. He quotes Psalm 69:9 as fulfilled in Christ’s being reproached for the sake of the glory of God. In that Psalm as David prays that his actions might not cause any shame or dishonor to the people of God (Psalm 69:5, 6) it becomes clear that this spirit of self-forgetfulness in the King will only be brought to perfect fulfillment in a King who genuinely has nothing of which to repent (7-9); and that the question David asked in verse 4, (“What I did not steal must I now restore?) is answered with a “Yes.” Christ restored the honor of God which he did not steal. Christ’s sacrifice allows God to be just and still justify those that have assaulted his honor by continual breaking of his holy law. Why did the greater-King-than-David do this? The answer: “Zeal for your house has consumed me,” (Psalm 69:9) and as a result he took on himself the punishment that should be due those that reproach the Living God. If Christ has consented to resign himself to bear divine wrath for those that reproach God, then giving up our personal freedom for the sake of a brother is at the very core of what faith in Christ is all about. Zeal for God’s house moved Christ to suffer, and zeal for God’s house should move us to be solicitous of the spiritual well-being and joyful conscience of our weaker brethren. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the church the “household of God” in its position as a residence for truth in this fallen world. The writer of Hebrews says (3:6) that Christ was “faithful as a Son over his house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and maintain hope as the source of our joy.”
C. Verse 4 – Paul has given two reasons for his admonitions in verses 1 and 2—one, doing good to our “neighbor” builds him up and thus by implication builds up the entire body. This is a particular application of the second table of commandments, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” in its closest and most intense application. Fellow church members not only are spiritual neighbors, but blood-bought brothers. Two, therefore, points to Christ’s vicarious suffering as the prime paradigm for Christian deportment. Now Paul adds a third, that is, the specific instruction and example of Scripture. Scripture gives us examples of those that endure all things for the sake of the glory of God, particularly as we see how these biblical models point us to Christ and his supreme act of self-giving. Scripture in its narratives about the people of God gives us encouragement with the endurance that God provides through a variety of trials. James pointed to both Job and Elijah (James 5:11, 17-18) as examples and Paul points to a number of experiences of the children of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10; Hebrews 11 serves to focus our attention on the hope that comes from endurance, using a large number of Old Testament examples. If we have hope in the biblical sense, that is a decisive factor in learning to let go of this world in preference for the transcendent glory given us at death and then multiplied at the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25; 1 John 3:1-3; Romans 5:1-5).
D. Verses 5, 6 – Now Paul prays that God Himself will grant endurance and encouragement so that the unity of praise from the whole church will glorify the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His work aims toward our living in harmony reflecting the way that Christ was completely harmonious with, and thus subjected to, the eternal covenantal arrangements that brought about the reconciling work of the cross. The church’s focus on the perfect harmony of Christ’s work with the Father’s will results in a powerful unity of affection toward each other and toward the triune God—“with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
E. Verse 7 – Had Christ not welcomed us, we would not even be involved in this great challenge of achieving unity of purpose and affection among a wide variety of people. In spite of observations, or even negative charges, of homogeneity within local churches, and given some degree of accuracy to the notice in some cases, in reality churches bring together a diversity of persons that in any other case would have nothing intrinsic to their social condition that would draw them together. They come together as redeemed people. But, the fact, is, Christ has welcomed us for the Father chose us in him and gave us to him; in consequence of that, Christ died for us and has redeemed for himself a peculiar people, that is, a people for his own possession that will be characterized by good works (Titus 2:11-14). As Christ, therefore pursued the glory of God, by doing all the things necessary to welcome us sinners into his presence as his brothers and joint-heirs, so we should welcome one another.
II. An even more powerful aspect of the unity that Christ has died to achieve is seen in the inclusion of the Gentiles as the people of God.
A. Christ not only is a servant to the weak and immature, but is a servant to both Jew and Gentile. The promises on the one hand to the fathers (“servant to the circumcision”) and the prophecies on the other concerning the “nations” beyond that nation (“the Gentiles to glorify God for his mercy”) were fulfilled by Christ.
- The first purpose as identified by Paul was to show God’s truthfulness. In confirmation “on behalf of the truth of God,” Paul set forth the universal intent of Christ’s redemptive work. This truth of God pointed to two added results announced in the Scripture, one for the circumcised and another for the uncircumcised.
- Christ’s second purpose in servanthood, therefore, was to the circumcised in fulfillment of the promises to the Fathers. Christ came, because of the promises of God, as a “servant to the circumcision.” He came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. This included, as a matter of priority, the circumcised—“To the Jew first” (Romans 1:16). The promises made to Abraham and perpetuated through Isaac, Jacob, and the descendants of his children found grand fulfillment in the incarnation by the birth of Jesus as a descendant of David. Paul returns here to his introductory thought to this letter as expressed in 1:2, 3.
- His third purpose was to show mercy to the Gentiles also in fulfillment of prophecy (“and also to the Greek”). Paul introduces several scriptural indicators of the inclusion of the Gentiles with the words “As it is written.”
B. Paul gives several examples of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures that show God’s consistent determination to include the Gentiles among his people. Verses 9-12
- The first promise Paul lifts from David’s Psalm is given in full in two places, 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49. This Psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance surely reflects the messianic victory over his enemies, the subduing of people to him, the reward to the king for his righteousness, and the consequent expression of praise and worship among the Gentiles.
- The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 commands the Gentiles to rejoice (verse 10) in the context of the Lord’s provision of “atonement for his land and his people” (Deuteronomy 32 43).
- The shortest Psalm begins with the command, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles.” (Psalm 117:1). It goes on to say that “all you peoples” should laud him on the basis that “his merciful kindness is great toward us.” The Gentile component of the church is a precise fulfillment of this prediction of mercy toward the Gentiles.
- Finally, Paul looks at the great messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11 for the decreed inclusion of the Gentiles. Verse 10 said, “In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek him, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
- Among scores of other places to which Paul could have referred are two statements in the last book of the Old Testament. When lamenting the unfaithfulness of Israel after the restoration, the prophet Malachi says, “My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to my name;” and again in chapter one, “’I am a great king’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And my name is to be feared among the nations’” (Malachi 1:11, 14).
C. Verse 13 – In showing the wonder of God’s truthfulness and his mercies in including the Gentiles, Paul prays that God will fill them with joy and peace and that, by the power of the Spirit they may abound in hope. In a sense this reality of the dependence of both Jew and Gentile on the mere grace of God seals Paul’s appeal for regard for the weaker brother. It also shows that we are dependent on God, not only for the provision of a way of inclusion as his people, and for drawing us to receive this provision, but also for our present perception of its eternal advantages and our appropriation of its blessings of hope, joy and peace. The present operations of the power of the Holy Spirit are necessary for Christians to grow into the spiritual maturity that meditation on these graces gives us. The Holy Spirit continues throughout the life of a Christian to transform his affections and his understanding. He does this on the one hand by chastening for sin; on the other, he does it by increasing our knowledge of the unchanging and inexhaustible glory of our inheritance and expanding our joy in anticipation of it.
III. Paul’s ministry is devoted to God’s fulfillment of the promises to the Fathers and the promises to the Gentiles.
A. Paul recognized the power of the gospel in the lives of the Christians at Rome (verse 14). Even though he had not been their founder and had not been there, the same gospel he preached had been demonstrated in their experience to be, indeed, the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. They were filled with evidences of gospel grace, had received the knowledge of God that comes only through the regenerating and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:15, 16), and were also able to teach one another.
B. Verses 15, 16 – As the apostle to the Gentiles, however, Paul desired to have some fruit among them, and, having heard not only of their positive development, but of some of their difficulties, he wrote to them out of the authority of the office to which God had assigned him. His task specifically was to present the Gentiles as an offering to God, and therefore, though he had not founded the church, he was under a stewardship to give a clear presentation of the Gospel to them and its implications for being a holy people unto the Lord. He also wrote to the Colossians about doctrinal challenges among them, though he had not been the founder of that church (Colossians 1:3-8). We find a strong claim to his designated authority for the sake of the Gentiles in Ephesians 2:19-22 understood in light of 3:1-7. He believed that his exposition to these churches, even through the medium of a letter, the written word, would be an instrument under the power of the Spirit to sanctify them and fit them for entering into the presence of their Redeemer. Paul is speaking (or writing, rather,) not simply as a concerned Christian friend, but as an apostle who has authority in these matters of the faith.
C. The verification of Paul’s authority in these matters and his particular office of apostle to the circumcised is shown in three ways.
- The success of his ministry among the Gentiles shows God’s blessings; notice the phrase, “what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience.”
- The signs that accompanied the work of an apostle were with him—“The power of signs and wonders’ referred to also in 2 Corinthians 12:12. He had preached the same message, and saw conversions as well as the powers of the Spirit manifest through his ministry all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum.
- His insistence on going always into new places, to preach where Christ had not been preached. This was the primary calling of an apostle, according to Paul. He followed-up on churches that had been established through his witness, and he wrote churches that had sprung from another’s witness, but his personal labors were largely aimed toward new areas. He affirmed this through Scripture by citing Isaiah 52:15.
D. His next goal, therefore, is to go to Spain – 22-33
- Verses 22-24 – His desire to see the Romans had always been great but the execution of it had been delayed by his going to places where the gospel was not known. Paul had completed that task as he understood his calling to the area east of Rome. Now he must go west of Rome to a new area where the gospel was not yet known. This journey in fulfillment of his apostolic calling provided the perfect opportunity for him to make a visit to Rome, enjoy their company for a while, and have them assist him on his journey to Rome. Paul later wrote to the Philippians, perhaps during his imprisonment in Rome, about their continued support of him, their partnership with him, as he went from one place to another preaching the gospel. Evidently, they sent him a substantial gift while he was in Rome, and perhaps Paul anticipated using that to go on to Spain if he were released from this imprisonment. He would expect the Roman Christians also to share in that. His visit to Rome, therefore, as far as his plans were concerned, was subordinate to his mission to Spain (cf. 28b).
- Verses 25-29 – Before either of those could occur, however, Paul had to complete the task of taking the gift from the Gentiles to the suffering church in Jerusalem. This had been a major concern of Paul, wherever he went (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Paul wanted to create a sense of mutual dependence and gratitude between the Gentiles and the Jews. From the Jews had come the promises, the Law, the Messiah, and the first evangelists that took the gospel to the Gentiles. The Gentiles had reaped great benefits from the Jews by God’s providential arrangement of events. Now the Gentiles could help the Jews in their time of suffering when they had been ostracized and persecuted by their fellow Jews for their belief in the Messiah and their outrageous willingness to see the Messiah as for the Gentiles as well as Jews. For Paul, this was more than just a material relief fund, this was a spiritual privilege—it was symbolic of the unity established by the reconciling work of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
- Verses 30-33 – He also knew that difficulty could be waiting for him in Jerusalem. This was being constantly predicted (cf. Acts 20:22-24; 21:10-14; also see 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2). He had specific requests that he made of the Romans in which they could join him in the striving of prayer.
- To be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea – This prayer in very instructive because he was being told, by people that were under the inspiration of the Spirit that he would be bound and imprisoned. He still prayed that they might not be successful in opposing his plans for his mission.
- Second, he prayed that the saints in Jerusalem would accept his service of bringing the gift and that the intended result of spiritual bonding between the Jew and Gentile would result.
- Third, that he might then be able to come to them “with joy,” and be refreshed among them.
- Now, subsequent to these events, we see that God did not deliver him from the unbelieving Jews, but they were able to effect his arrest and imprisonment; they were not able, however, to accomplish his elimination (see Acts 21:30, 31) but he was protected by Roman law and eventually sent to Rome by them, heavily escorted. The believing Jews in Jerusalem received him gladly (Acts 21:17-20); Though he might not have come to Rome “with joy” in the way that he had hoped, he did arrive after a severely testing series of events and journey (Acts 21:37-28:10); when he arrived there he was received with joy (Acts 28:11-16).