NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXI)
British Bible scholar John Stott feels that after what Paul says here, we should ask the question: “What is critical for having salvation?” The first thing it requires is a Savior. That’s why Jesus came to earth as a man, suffered, and was crucified so that He could rise from the grave and be accessible as a Savior to all who believe. Another thing is Good News that there is such a Savior in whom we can have faith to save us and that it is made known to the whole world. Then when people hear the Good News, they can put their faith and trust in what it says and call on the name of the Lord for salvation. Once this happens, they should let the trust they have in their hearts for this Savior to be made known by confessing with their mouth that He is Lord.1
Douglas Moo detects an important factor when taking a balanced view of the First Covenant and the Last Covenant in declaring the Gospel of Christ. This was needed because the church in Rome was lacking any direction on this matter. Jewish Christians in the congregation were apparently insisting on adding Jewish customs and celebrations to their Christian faith. Gentile Christians saw no need to burden themselves with these requirements and criticized the Jews for having too little faith. Also, Israelite Christians thought that by being Jewish and observing the Law given to Moses put them in a preferred position in the Kingdom of God. Gentile Christians, saw it differently. Since they threw away their idol and were in the majority, then they should be the ones in leadership. That’s why over the course of the letter Paul develops a balanced view between the old way and the new way of being right with God so that His blessings could flow and make the church even stronger.2
Verses 14-15: But how can they call on Him if they have not put their trust in Him? And how can they put their trust in Him if they have not heard of Him? And how can they hear of Him unless someone tells them? And how can someone tell them if they are not sent? The Holy Writings say, “The feet of those who bring the Good News are beautiful.”3
Here Paul asks four very important questions concerning the salvation of the Gentiles. He knew that for them salvation under the Law was impossible. He also knew they could not receive salvation through Abraham’s heritage of which they were not part. After all, does a father give his riches to strangers, foreigners, and enemies while leaving his own children destitute? The answer to Paul’s questions are simple, powerful and true, it must come through Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of all mankind. So from Paul’s perspective, it was incumbent upon those who received the good news to pass it on. Otherwise, many will be left out in the cold.
What Paul says now gives us a very logical sequence in the propagation of God’s Word. Each one can be reduced to the primary cause: that is, “call,” “believed,” “heard,” “preacher,” and “sent.”4 But let’s reverse the order of this formula, as Paul outlines it in these two verses, and make it a commission: Someone must be sent out with the Gospel message; that preacher must tell them all about the good news of salvation; they must hear and respond to what the preacher says so they can believe in the Savior they are being told about; and then by believing in that Savior they can call on Him to save them.
This desire to get the word out to all the world about the LORD God Almighty was already a desire in the heart of Solomon. In his dedicatory prayer for the new Temple, Solomon prayed: “The foreigner who does not belong to your people Isra’el – when he comes from a distant country because of your reputation (for they will hear of your great reputation, your mighty hand and your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house; then hear in heaven where you live, and act in accordance with everything about which the foreigner is calling to you; so that all the peoples of the earth will know your name and fear you, as do your people Isra’el, and so that they will know that this house which I have built bears your name.”5 The difference between Solomon’s passion and that of the Apostle Paul, is that Paul knew that not everyone around the world would be able to come to the Temple in Jerusalem, so he said that we must go to them. This clearly echoes what Jesus told His disciples before His ascension about going into all the world and preach the Gospel.6
However, when First Covenant evangelist Jonah was sent out to take the word of God to Nineveh, initially he tried to get away from going. We all know the story of the storm and the big fish. But we may have missed what happened on the boat when he reveals who his God was and why He called had called Jonah for this mission. The sailors suspected that this stranger they had taken on board might be a bad omen and it made their gods angry. So they asked him what he did, where was he from, what was his race and nationality, Jonah was honest and told them he was a Hebrew and that he worshiped Adonai, the God of heaven, who made both the sea and the dry land. He also told them that he was trying to get away from the mission God had given him to go to Nineveh and tell them about Him.
So they wanted to know what they could do to get this God that he served to calm the storm. He told them to throw him overboard as punishment for running away and God would calm the sea. Then we read: “Finally they cried to Adonai, ‘Please, Adonai, please! Don’t let us perish for causing the death of this man, and don’t hold us to account for shedding innocent blood; because you, Adonai, have done what you saw fit.’ Then they picked up Yonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. Seized with great fear of Adonai, they offered a sacrifice to Adonai and made vows.”7 So Jonah had two revivals, one on the boat when he was not doing God’s will, and one in Nineveh when he finally did God’s will. But it took hearing about God for it to happen.
So we can ask, “Why did Jesus spend three years teaching His disciples?” Was it to leave them behind in Jerusalem to establish a new “Jesus Center” for Him there, and, like Solomon requested, greet all those who came from around the world to learn more about this wise teacher from Galilee? Jesus may have anticipated this standard Jewish custom carried out by the followers of well-known Rabbis. Mark tells us what Jesus told His followers after His resurrection: “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But those who refuse to believe will be condemned.”8 Luke remembers what Jesus told them as they ate with Him after His resurrection: “It was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day; and that this message of salvation should be taken from Jerusalem to all the nations: There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.”9
Paul was not there to witness this with the disciples. But that didn’t matter, he had his own post-resurrection encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He shared this with King Agrippa while on trial. He shared what His Messiah told him: “You are to tell the world about this experience and about the many other occasions when I shall appear to you. And I will protect you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am going to send you to the Gentiles to open their eyes to their true condition so that they may repent and live in the light of God instead of in Satan’s darkness, so that they may receive forgiveness for their sins and God’s inheritance along with all people everywhere whose sins are cleansed away, who are set apart by faith in me.”10 King Agrippa was so shaken by what Paul was telling him that he asked Paul if he expected him to convert to becoming a Christian. This should prove to all of us what power there is in our own testimony of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
Paul finishes this missionary call with the obvious point: How can anyone go to preach the Gospel to the hopelessly lost unless they are sent? But just saying they were sent is not enough. This was a problem that Jeremiah encountered in his day. It was hard sometimes for the people to know who was a false prophet and who was a true prophet. So God spoke to Jeremiah and told him: “If a prophet has a dream, let him tell it as a dream. But someone who has my word should speak my word faithfully. ‘What do chaff and wheat have in common?’ asks Adonai. ‘Isn’t my word like fire,’ asks Adonai, ‘like a hammer shattering rocks? So, I am against the prophets,’ says Adonai, ‘who steal my words from each other. Yes, I am against the prophets,’ says Adonai, ‘who speak their own words, then add, “He says.” ‘I am against those who concoct prophecies out of fake dreams,’ says Adonai. ‘They tell them, and by their lies and arrogance, they lead my people astray. I didn’t send them, I didn’t commission them, and they don’t do this people any good at all,’ says Adonai.”11
It would have been seen as somewhat pretentious if Paul had gotten up off the ground on the road to Damascus, and started preaching immediately, telling everyone that Jesus had called him for such a mission. But that’s not what happened. While Paul was still trying to recover from the light that blinded him, God spoke to Ananias and told him to find Paul who He had chosen as an instrument to take the Gospel to the nations of the world, then lay hands on him and give him this message: “Brother Paul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit and get your sight back.”12 Then later on at the church in Antioch, while Paul was worshiping and fasting with the brethren the Holy Spirit gave this word of knowledge: “‘Dedicate Barnabas and Paul for a special job I have for them.’ So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them—and sent them on their way.”13
Paul did not take his calling and commission lightly, but at the same time he did not start to think of himself as being special, or the, “pick of the crop,” as we might say. In fact, he told the Ephesians: “Though I did nothing to deserve it, and though I am the most useless Christian there is, yet I was the one chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the Glad News of the endless treasures available to them in Christ; and to explain to everyone that God is the Savior of the Gentiles too, just as he who made all things had secretly planned from the very beginning.”14 If this Apostle who spoke several languages, understood the Scriptures in depth and wrote over half of the New Testament felt that way, how could any of us understand anything other than what he says here?
1 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Isaiah 52:7
4 Taken from the New American Standard Bible
5 1 Kings 8:41-43 – Complete Jewish Bible
6 Matthew 28:19-20
7 Jonah 1:15-16 – Complete Jewish Bible
8 Mark 16:15-16
9 Luke 24:46-47
10 Acts of the Apostles 26:16-18
11 Jeremiah 23:28-32 – Complete Jewish Bible
12 Acts of the Apostles 9:17
13 Ibid. 13:2-3
14 Ephesians 3:8-9