NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XXV)
Paul was so happy at the Thessalonians’ response to his teaching. When he wrote them he said: “We will never stop thanking God for this: that when we preached to you, you didn’t think of the words we spoke as being just our own, but you accepted what we said as the very Word of God – which, of course, it was – and it changed your lives when you believed it.”1
The pastor of one of America’s largest churches always begins his homily every Sunday by announcing his text but then does not read it to the congregation or those listening on the radio, watching on TV or streaming live on the internet. It is a big step to assume that the millions of viewers and listeners know exactly where to turn to find the text. Instead, he begins by saying, “I want to talk to you today…”
I gladly admit, I adopted my father’s approach of reading the text at the very beginning of my sermons. Then after reading it, I would often ask: Do you know who the writer was who said this? Why do you think the writer said this particular thing to those he was writing to? What point was he trying to get across; what question was he trying to answer; what problem was he trying to discuss? I wanted my listeners to know that everything I said after that was based solely on the Word of God.
Later on, Paul clearly gives God’s Spirit the credit for the effect his message had on those who heard him. He wrote the Thessalonians: “We must forever give thanks to God for you, our brothers loved by the Lord because God chose from the very first to give you salvation, cleansing you by the work of the Holy Spirit and by your trusting in the Truth. Through us, He told you the Good News. Through us He called you to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”2 Even the Apostle James talks about the wonderful message of salvation and how it is able to save souls after it is implanted in the heart.3 And Peter speaks of it as the pure milk of the Word.4
Jesus knew that there were many in the crowds that heard Him who wanted to know more and desired to become part of God’s kingdom. So He told them: “If you have ears, listen! And be sure to put into practice what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand what I’m telling you.”5 And on one occasion when Jesus was speaking to a crowd and performing miracles, a woman in the crowd called out loudly, “God bless the mother who gave You birth and nursed You.”6 Here was an opportunity for Jesus to give His mother a compliment and add to this woman’s request for God’s blessing on her. Instead, Jesus said: “Far more blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”7 In other words, even though Mary was a blessed woman for being chosen by God as the vessel through whom Jesus came into this world in human form, yet Jesus is saying that those who allow Him to live in their hearts are even more blessed.
That’s why Paul felt so strongly that whenever and wherever those who are called share the Word of God in a public setting, they should make sure it’s His word and not their word that is emphasized. He told the Corinthians: “Who is adequate for such a task as this? Only those who, like ourselves, are men of integrity, sent by God, speaking with Christ’s power, with God’s eye upon us. We are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—whose idea of getting out the Gospel is to make a good living out of it.”8 But the writer of Hebrews knew that the Word of God was not a tool that was always meant to make people feel good or happy. He told his readers: “See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart. ”9
A medieval scholar, who was born into a wealthy Arab-Christian family and founder of a school on Biblical exegesis, is struck by what Paul says about how there are two kinds of faith for believers to utilize. First, there is the faith that comes from hearing what the sacred Scriptures have to say. What the Scriptures contain is the teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit. This faith can grow and get stronger and stronger when evidence is shown that it works. Such faith is unshakable, fully committed, and loyal through obedience to what the Word has to say through the “catholic” church.10 He goes on to say that anyone who rejects this is in danger of being in agreement with the devil and is without faith.11 The writer then goes on to mention there is another kind of faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are not yet seen.12 He makes it clear that just hearing is not enough, it must be made certain that what they are listening to is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther puts these verses in context by pointing back to verse 13 where it says that whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. So, then, if the Jews now refuse to obey the Gospel, how can they claim that they have called on the name of the Lord according to the word of the prophet Joel? How could they claim to call on the Lord when the One who came with His Father’s authority they refused to believe in? As the Apostle John said so succinctly: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”13 So Paul was right in using the words of Isaiah to prove that they had not believed the message of salvation as the Word of God through Christ.
Luther then points to verse 14 where it talks about not being able to believe in One whom they have heard nothing about, while in fact they were hearing about Him but were not listening. Also, the excuse that they are not liable because there has been no preacher to come and tell them the truth is also untrue because the Apostles were going everywhere the Spirit led them to preach the Gospel. That’s why in verse 15 those who go are told how beautiful are the feet of those who carry the Word of God to the world. As Luther sees it, Paul is emphasizing the fact that he is speaking of a message which cannot be comprehended by just anyone. It can be only be understood when it is listened to by faith, not logic.
The odd thing is that the Jews accosted Jesus because He could not show them any evidence that He had been sent by a well-known synagogue or renown Rabban.14 Listen to what the great Moses Maimonides said about the Messiah: “In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty. Anyone who does not believe in Him or does not await His coming denies not only the statements of the other prophets but those of the Torah and Moses, our teacher. The Torah testified of His coming.15”16 Maimonides lived between 1138-1204 AD, so he wrote this over a thousand years after Jesus came the first time. But if they did not believe Him then, will they believe Him in the future when He comes again to set up His kingdom? This was the test of a true Messiah. But when Jesus did perform miracles, they still didn’t believe because they didn’t want to believe. So they credited His miracle powers to Satan.17
For John Calvin, Paul introduces the exception claimed by some that they were excused because they hadn’t yet heard. They did so in order to prove that just by hearing does not automatically mean faith will follow. Later, however, Paul does point out the reason for this is because Isaiah made it clear that it would take divine intervention.18 It was another way of saying that there is no benefit from the Word being preached unless God uses it to shine His light through the Holy Spirit into people’s hearts so that they can see sin lurking there. So how ridiculous it is for some to claim that everyone in the world, even if they don’t know it yet, are already saved because the doctrine of salvation is universal. So all God is doing is inviting them to came and partake of their salvation. This in no way proves that salvation is common to all. Rather, that the salvation being offered is common to everyone who receives it as a gift.
In other words, Calvin is saying that just hearing the Gospel is not enough to bring sufficient faith so that salvation may be received. It takes the opening of the mind by the Holy Spirit for the seed of faith to be planted. In this way, it is easy to discern between those who are called and those who are chosen. That’s why not all who are called get chosen. Something happens in between the calling and the choosing. The calling opens a person up to hearing the message of salvation. And as the mind is illuminated through listening, those who reach out in faith and in Jesus’ name to receive their calling will be the ones chosen.
That is why both Jews and Gentiles are given the same opportunity to participate in the eternal inheritance promised to those who believe and obey. Therefore, no one can claim that their salvation came because they were bright or intelligent enough to recognize the call to salvation and made up their own minds to accept the invitation. It would be like a deaf person saying how much they loved the wonderful melody of a Beethoven Symphony because they saw the musical score and recognized that it was a piece of classical music.
Calvin then goes on to say that the efficacy of preaching is the fact that it has the potential to produce faith. But preaching in itself is of no avail unless the Lord uses it as an instrument of His power to save. The voice of man can enter the ear but cannot penetrate the soul without the power of the Holy Spirit. Let no person think that they have the oratory skills to regenerate a sinner’s heart on their own. The flame of the Spirit is stronger and shines deeper than the candlelight of man’s intelligence. Its truth is more subliminal than what can be conveyed by man’s loftiest words. That God can communicate effectually through the voice of a human is a tribute to His genius, not that of any person.
As a child growing up in a Pentecostal preacher’s home and attending numerous revivals and camp meetings, I was always struck with curiosity when I heard adults say after a meeting: “That preacher was certainly under the anointing.” I found out later they were pointing out how many sermons only enter the mind through the ear, but anointed sermons enter through the mind through the heart. They are profound, captivating, motivating, inspiring, and causes the heart to open wide in a desire to hear more of what they just listened to.
1 1 Thessalonians 2:13
2 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
3 James 1:21
4 1 Peter 2:2
5 Mark 4:23-24
6 Luke 11:27
7 Luke 11:28 – Complete Jewish Bible
8 2 Corinthians 2:16b-17 – Living Bible
9 Hebrews 4:12
10 The term “catholic” is derived from the Latin term “catholicus” which means, “universal.” The same the Greek word “katholou,” which means “in general” or “the whole.” This included all the churches established by the Apostles including Paul. But when the papacy was established in Rome, it became the “catholic” church in Rome, then later, the Roman Catholic Church. Since the other churches in Greece, Galatia, Syria, and Israel did not recognize the Pope of Rome as their leader, they became known as the Greek or East Orthodox Church. Since John of Damascus was a part of the East Orthodox Church that was administered from Constantinople, he uses the term “catholic” to mean all churches, not just the one in Rome.
11 John of Damascus: Orthodox Faith 4.10
12 The Fathers of the Church: Vol. 37, St. John of Damascus – Writings, The Fount of Knowledge, Translated by Frederic H. Chase, Jr., New York, 1958, Bk. 4, Ch. 10, p. 348
13 John 1:1; see 1:14; Revelation 19:13
14 Rabban is a Hebrew term for master; teacher (used as a term of address and title of respect for a person ranking higher than a Rabbi).
15 Deuteronomy 30:3-5
16 Maimonides: Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Melachim uMilchamot, Ch. 11:1
17 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 151-152
18 Isaiah 53:1