NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson IV)
Preacher Charles Spurgeon states very eloquently that Christ should be our prime example to follow when confronted by haters. As Spurgeon sees it, Christ placed Himself in the center of the heated battle; He stood unafraid where the fighting was the hottest. He did not seek to lounge among His disciples as a king, surrounded by His troops, guarded and protected in the time of strife. Rather, He went unprotected to the fiercest spot on the field of battle. What Jesus did, should be an example for all who call themselves His followers. No one should find an excuse to join the warfare because they have other interests, but all should remember, we are not fighting just for ourselves, but for our God, our Savior, and our fellow believers.1
For John Stott, Paul’s simple statement here sums up with eloquent brevity both the meaning of the incarnation and the character of Christ’s earthly life. Instead of spending all His time doing what made Him happy, He gave Himself in the service of His Father and of human beings. Stott writes that although He, “being in very nature God,” had the greatest right of all persons to do what brought Him joy, yet “He did not consider equality with God something to be held on to” for His own advantage, but first “gave up all”2 of His glory and then “humbled Himself” to serve3.4
On the subject of doing good for one’s neighbor in an effort to encourage them, one Messianic Jewish writer believes that the “strong believer,” in this context, includes Paul also since it considers both Jews and Gentiles as one in Yeshua. Paul’s instructions are to help the weak with their weakness and be a good neighbor for the express purpose of helping them help themselves to what the Lord has to offer. Again, note that it is the Gentiles he is addressing who have the responsibility, as part of their faith, to understand and respect the halakha,5 even to the extent of modifying their own behavior so as to not offend them as this may permanently drive them away from Yeshua, and even inadvertently turn their backs on the Church and God. The Greek noun oikodomē, meaning “edification, has to do with the “act of building.” This is consistent with Paul’s message here and in his other letters.6 where he is concerned with the Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, coming together as “stones” that build up the body of Messiah. Note that Paul refers to the weak a neighbor of the strong, establishing a link back to Romans 13:9-10.7
15:4 (14:27): Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. Those things were written so that we could have hope. That hope comes from the patience and assurance that the Scriptures give us.
Paul was a firm believer that the fastest way to learn is to accept the lessons of the past. We hear that same thought from German philosopher Georg Hegel who said: “But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”8 So it was with the Children of Israel who entered the Promised Land, in that they forgot what their ancestors were forced to learn in the Sinai desert. Unfortunately, Christians seem to have followed the same path. Paul no doubt remembered what Moses told the children of Israel: “When a work animal is being used to separate grain, don’t keep it from eating the grain.”9 Paul asked the Corinthians: “When God said this, was he thinking only about work animals? No. He was really talking about us. Yes, that was written for us. The one who plows and the one who separates the grain should both expect to get some of the grain for their work.”10
So Paul says to the Corinthians: “The things that happened to those people are examples. They were written to be warnings for us. We live in the time that all those past histories were pointing to.”11 This is the best way to learn from the First and Final Covenants Think about what God was saying to them then and how it applies to us today. Paul had the same message for Timothy: “All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live. Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work.”12
By seeing what has gone before us and learning from saints of the past, we can be better informed and more alert so that our work for God is not only more expedient but also more efficient. Even though it is somewhat hard for English readers today because of 1678 English spelling and grammar, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written to point this out. In the Ninth Stage of pilgrim Christian’s journey when he meets another pilgrim named Ignorance, as they walk along talking, another pilgrim joins them named Hopeful. He must have heard what Christian and Ignorance were talking about and says this:
“Let Ignorance a little while now muse
On what is said, and let him not refuse
Good counsel to embrace, lest he remain
Still ignorant of what’s the chiefest gain.
God saith, those that no understanding have,
(Although he made them,) them He will not save.”13
Here is what I hear Hopeful saying in today’s prose: “Let pilgrim Ignorance take a moment and ponder what Christian said, and then not to refuse to accept good advice given to him so that he doesn’t remain ignorant of what our chief aim as pilgrims is in life. God said that even though a person claims ignorance, even though they are His creation He will not save them.”
The writer of Hebrews also captures what Paul is saying here: “God is fair, and He will remember all the work you have done. He will remember that you showed your love to him by helping his people and that you continue to help them. We want each of you to be willing and eager to show your love like that the rest of your life. Then you will be sure to get what you hope for.”14 But later on, he tells his readers: “Don’t lose the courage that you had in the past. Your courage will be rewarded richly. You must be patient. After you have done what God wants, you will get what he promised you.”15
Early church preacher Chrysostom told his congregation that these things were written so that believers might not be tempted to go back into sin, even though they have many internal and external battles to fight. By being comforted by the Scriptures that hold God’s promises we develop courage so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another – hope allows patience to develop, and patience births hope.16 And to this, we have the thoughts of Pelagius who states that no Scripture is written without reason, for the stories of how the righteous overcame trials and temptations contribute to our being built up in our faith. Their stories inspire us because they also lived for God. Through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we are willing to faithfully wait with great patience in hope that all He promised will come to pass. So by the examples of faith and patience which have been written down, we can hope for encouragement both during present temptations and in our future salvation. For it gives us great cause for confidence if we know that our Lord and His saints have already borne the things which we suffer and made it through victoriously.17
Here Luther makes the point that much of what was written in the First Covenant was designed to introduce Christ. That it was also for our learning so that we could learn to have patience with those around us. But there are those who disagree and think that those sayings were for the Israelites back in their day, and what was written about the Messiah then does not apply to us now. Luther answers them by saying that the Apostle Paul anticipated such an objection. That’s why he said that what is written of the Messiah from the beginning was intended for us as well, in order that we may learn to imitate Him. That’s why we must understand this as something which is presented to us about Christ, not merely in a speculative way, but as an example for us to follow. From this passage, we, therefore, learn the important truth that all that Christ did is recorded for our instruction.
Luther also comments on what Paul says about patience and hope. He sees these two things as a great combination. We have hope through both the patience and the comfort which the Scriptures offer. Hope, of course, is not a tangible thing, for if we were able to see something why should we hope for it? But hope excludes all things that we can see so that by faith we can believe in what we cannot see. Therefore, patience here is necessary. And just so that we do not grow weak as we patiently wait, the Apostle uses the Greek noun paraklēsis (“comfort” – KJV). It can be used four ways to either mean, “summons for help,” “supplication,” “encouragement,” or “comfort,” Thayer in his Greek Lexicon puts it under the same category in which it is used in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and Hebrews 12:5; 13:22. When these Scripture are put in context the one English word that might best define what Paul means here is “assurance.” Blessed assurance gets rid of fear and doubt because it guarantees that everything will work together for our good and God’s good. Luther points out that this should give us plenty of reasons to keep marching forward toward our goal of final salvation. That’s why it is such a grand thing when we totally rely on God’s Word instead of man’s word or even our own word. And this can only be done by those who put God first and foremost in their lives. Those are they who willingly to give up the things of this world for the things of the world-to-come.18
1 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Revised Standard Version
3 Philippians 2:6ff
4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 The root of the Hebrew term used to refer to Jewish law, halakha, means “go” or “walk.” Halakha, then, is the “way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, encompassing civil, criminal, and religious law.
6 See Ephesians 2:21, 4:12, 16, 29
7 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Lectures on the Philosophy of History: by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, translated by J. Sibree, G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., London, 1914, p. 6
9 Deuteronomy 25:4
10 1 Corinthians 9:9b-10
11 Ibid. 10:11
12 2 Timothy 3:16-17
13 The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which is to Come: by John Bunyan, Printed at the Peacock in the Poultrey near Cornhil, London, 1678, p. 151
14 Hebrews 6:10-11
15 Ibid. 10:35-36
16 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27
17 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 210-211