NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXII)
The Apostle Paul was very much aware that when God chooses a vessel, He endows and anoints that vessel for special purposes. Here’s what Paul told the Ephesians: “Some of us have been given special ability as Apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God.”1
That’s why when we recognize a gift and ability in a fellow believer, we should encourage them to give more time and effort to God and the Spirit so they can become even better at what He called them to do. That’s why Paul goes on to say: “Why is it that He gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for Him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity; until finally, we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son, and all become full-grown in the Lord – yes, to the point of being filled full with Christ.”2
To add a blessing to what he just said, Paul calls on the words in Isaiah that tell how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring the good news announcing that salvation is available from God the King. But it’s what is said in Isaiah before this that puts it into full context: “I will reveal My name to My people, and they will know the power in that name. Then, at last, they will recognize that it is I, yes, it is I speaking to them.”3
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve finished a sermon and while shaking hands at the door have had someone tell me how happy they were because of what I said. But when they repeated what they heard, I realized that it wasn’t me they were listening to because I couldn’t remember saying what they quoted. It was the Holy Spirit speaking directly to them through the message God used me to preach.
One of the reasons why Paul chose this quote from Isaiah may have been because it was a message of peace. Not the kind of peace that ends hostilities, disputes, anger, thoughts of revenge, etc. They are meant only to keep warring parties apart so they don’t hurt one another. But the peace the Gospel brings is the inner peace that comes from knowing we are now friends with God. He is our heavenly Father who watches over us, and all is well with our soul when it comes to who we belong to and where we are going when life’s journey is over.
This won’t always be an easy task. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians: “Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up. But to do this, you will need the strong belt of truth and the breastplate of God’s approval. Wear shoes that are able to speed you on as you preach the Good News of peace with God. In every battle, you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. And you will need the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God.”4 No one ever received such armor unless they were trained and ready to go out on the battlefield.
The reason for such training and preparation is because the message we bring should shake things up and is intended to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s why God told Isaiah to be ready. He said to him: “O crier of good news, shout to Jerusalem from the mountaintops! Shout louder – don’t be afraid – tell the cities of Judah, “Your God is coming!” Yes, the Lord God is coming with mighty power; He will rule with awesome strength. See, His reward is with Him, to each as He has done. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will carry the lambs in His arms and gently lead the ewes with young.”5
Perhaps that is why when our Lord announced His anointing and mission He chose Isaiah as His text to confirm His calling. From Isaiah, He read: “The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favor of Adonai.”6
The early church Bishop of Laodicea wonders about those who have heard because someone was sent to bring them the word but still they don’t believe. For instance, many well-educated Jews instead of seeing universal grace for all mankind as good it only hardened their hearts. With closed hearts and minds it made them unable to receive the Good News. As a result, the mission and the message of universal salvation was diverted to the Gentiles. With their hearing the Gospel, the Gentiles were gifted with faith and received their calling. It’s similar to the sunshine that falls on everything in its path, but some receive the light and some hide from it. The same goes for the preaching of the Gospel. For some, it is the voice of God calling them to repentance, but for others, it just sounds like thunder. So no matter how good the messenger is who brings the Good News to them, it has little effect.7
Early church leader Origen sees the need for examining the words of Paul slowly and precisely. This will help eliminate misunderstanding and misinterpretation. He takes it in reverse, supposing that some may come away reading this verse to mean that nobody was able to preach because nobody is sent. So it would then appear that if no one is sent to tell them and they end up not hearing the Good News and being saved, it is the fault of the senders. But it is better for us to understand this as follows. It is as if the Apostle Paul was saying that the heralds and preachers of Christ would not be able to preach, nor would they have any power to proclaim the Good News, if He who sent them was not also present with them.8 In other words, you can have all the training and talent to compose and preach a sermon to those who’ve never heard the Gospel before, but there is little chance it will change their lives unless what you say is under the anointing of the One who is the subject of the Gospel.
Martin Luther gladly endorses this fourfold formula for propagating the Gospel so that even those who have never heard of Jesus can be saved. But the driving force behind any effort at evangelism must be the understanding that it is impossible for anyone to call on the name of the Lord for salvation unless they hear the Gospel. So like Origen said, the entire source and origin of salvation rests on the fact that it is God who must send out true ministers of the Word. Not only that, but Luther makes it clear that anyone who claims to preach the Gospel but has not been sent by God, what they preach is false and cannot even be called preaching. In fact, says Luther, it would be better if those who hear such a false preaching had not heard at all because what they are hearing is full of errors.
This, in turn, causes them to believe a false doctrine which is worse than not believing at all. Furthermore, when those who hear these false preachers spewing out false doctrines would be in error trying to call on the Lord because they would be crying out to a false lord. Luther ties this to what God told Solomon: “They will call Me, but I won’t answer; they will seek Me earnestly, but they won’t find Me. Because they hated knowledge and choose not to show reverence and respect for Adonai.9”10
Fellow Reformer John Calvin sees the importance of knowing that Paul is advancing an idea that can be put this way: If either Jews or Gentiles call on the name of the Lord they show by doing so that they believe in Him and will be saved. But how can this be possible? Just calling out His name is not enough unless you have proper knowledge of who you are calling. And in order to get to know Him, they must first hear the Word of God so it can be explained to them. Hearing of the word produces faith and faith is required to believe.
Furthermore, if they never hear the Gospel then faith is impossible. Not only that, but the preaching of the Word cannot be possible unless someone is sent. But that’s still not all, unless the one who goes is sent by God their preaching will have no effect. That means preachers must first be called before they are sent. So how do we know they have been called and sent? It will be proven in the effectiveness of the Word which will produce the faith needed to believe so that those who then call on the Lord will be saved. So Paul does two things here. He establishes the basis for the effective preaching of the Gospel and that the salvation it brings is universal – for both Jews and Gentiles.11
John Bengel sees these as descending steps from the ultimate to the basic, with each one depending on the other for the goal to be achieved. It comes back to a simple principle: He who tells you what you need will also tell you how to get it. In other words, if it is God’s will that people call upon Him for their salvation, then He will make a way for that to happen. If He wills that they become believers, He will make sure they get what they need in order to believe. And if He wills that they be told the truth so they can believe, He will send someone to tell them the truth. So when we look at what God has willed, we see that He has done all that is required.12
Bengel also sees Paul saying all of this in a future tense because the Gospel was just beginning to be spread to places outside of Israel. Other scholars, however, feel that Paul is already speaking of God’s will for the world to hear, from the time of Abraham. Therefore, he is one of those preachers that God has sent. But, Bengel says, it can be as being meant for just that day or also for a future day.
Adam Clarke also sees the importance of understanding the steps involved in reaching the lost for Christ. But once these steps are followed, and someone does go because they are sent on a divine mission, and those who are sent do preach the Gospel as revealed through Christ, those who end up believing must then call on the name of the Lord to be saved. Why is this so important? Because it is more than their just calling out God’s name, it is also believing that when they call in faith based on that belief then they can expect salvation to come. Professing to believe in Christ, without earnest, pleading in prayer for salvation, can save no one.13 In other words, simply reciting a sinner’s prayer without faith is like plugging a lamp into a socket without any electricity being there to light it up.
1 Ephesians 4:11
2 Ibid. 4:12-13
3 Isaiah 52:6
4 Ephesians 6:13-17
5 Isaiah 40:9-11
6 Isaiah 61:1-2 – Complete Jewish Bible (See Luke 4:17-21)
7 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Proverbs 1:28-29
10 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 149-150
11 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 325
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 206