NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson VI)
There are very few things that give Christians and Christianity a bigger black-eye than when conflict erupts between two churches in a community, or even worse, fights among members of the same church. We don’t know if that was the case in Philippi, but Paul did not hesitate to write them and say: “Be sure you live as God’s people in a way that honors the Good News of Christ.”1 He then encouraged them: “Agree with each other and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think.”2 In fact, Paul even singled out two members: “Euodia and Syntyche, you both belong to the Lord, so please agree with each other.”3 He even asks a good friend, he calls Syzygos, to help these women to harmonize their outreach efforts4.
Even the Apostle Peter saw the value of such unified efforts. He wrote: “Finally, all of you, be one in mind and feeling; love as brothers; and be compassionate and humble-minded, not repaying evil with evil or insult with insult, but, on the contrary, with a blessing.”5 After all, they had examples of such unity from on high. As Paul told the Ephesians: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”6 Likewise, he wrote the Philippians: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have the same attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”7 And, of course, we know that even though He co-existed with God, Jesus did not regard such equality as something to hold on to at all cost, and was willing to pay the price for sinful humankind to take hold of something they could not have gotten any other way because it was a gift.
It was certainly God’s desire that all of His people rid themselves of gossip, false rumors, sinful habits, and immoral thoughts so that they could praise Him in unison as their Creator. He told the prophet Zephaniah: “I will transform people, so that they will have pure lips, to call on the name of Adonai, all of them, and serve Him in total unity.”8 Jesus pointed this out to everyone when He said: “My Father Who gave them to Me is greater than all. No one is able to take them out of My Father’s hand. My Father and I are one!”9 The hallmark of the Trinity is their total unity. No wonder it took single-mindedness before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 120 followers of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.10 They have said, and I have seen, that the church is most unified when they experience revival and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. No amount of ecumenicism or denominational associations or extending hands of fellowship to other religions will bring about the kind of unity God wants for His people. It will only come through revival and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Early church writer Pelagius has a good point to make. For him, it takes the Holy Spirit to bring us together in total harmony with our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may glorify God our Father in heaven. They all work together so that we remain steadfast in our faith. We are to live in harmony so that each of us can assist the other as if their salvation was our own. This is what Jesus did by His own death in order to save all of us from death.11 To this Chrysostom points out that Paul wants the believers in Rome to do this not just with one voice but also with one mind. The whole body is united into one, and Paul concludes his address with another doxology, in which he gives the utmost encouragement to unanimity and compatibility.12
John Calvin sees several things that Paul says in these verses, especially the term “God of patience,” Calvin notes that God is called this because of what He produces. The same thing has been ascribed to Him before but in a different sense: God alone is doubtless the author of patience and of assurance; He conveys both of these to our hearts by His Spirit: He employs His word as an instrument to accomplish this; He first teaches us what is true assurance, and what is true patience; then He instills and plants this doctrine in our hearts. No doubt, since God is the author of such patience, Paul now turns and prays for the Roman believers. The sum of his prayer is this: That he would bring their minds to real unanimity, and make them one cohesive unit. He also shows, at the same time, what is the bond of unity, for he wished them to agree together as one with Christ Jesus. Calvin feels that any union that is not connected with God is bound to be unstable and miserable.
Then Calvin sees Paul’s message for the Roman as being also a message for us. It’s his recommendation that whatever we want to agree on, make sure that Christ agrees with us. This is so necessary if we want to glorify God. But unless we all agree in our worship to Him, then our tongues will not join together in unity as we sing His praises. That’s why it is not only important that we praise Him as individuals, but also as a body of believers. God loves it so much when He sees His children join together in giving Him honor and glory. For how can our praises go up to Him in harmony when our hearts are torn by discord and contention. This ought to be enough to make us all willing to take care of our disagreements in love before we try to agree on how to show our love for God.13
Jonathan Edwards speaks about the unity of believers as something that should be both comfortable and comforting. It isn’t always done in worship as they lift up holy hands together and sing hymns of praise with equal enthusiasm. Edwards feels that this desired unity is best express in taking the Lord’s Supper. This is the Christian church’s greatest feast of love. When they gather around their Father’s table as family, to feast on the love of their Redeemer, commemorating His sufferings for them, and His undying and unchanging love expressed to them. When the bread and wine of communion are taken, it seals their love for Him and their love for one another. Edwards believes that what brings disharmony to the Body of Christ is that many who join in the celebration of communion don’t see the true value in what they’re doing. As such, says Edwards, they are what, his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, known as the great evangelical leader of the North Hampton Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,14 “…more of an enemy to the Lord than are the unconverted outside the visible church.”15
Adam Clarke takes what Paul is saying here as a reference to the act of public worship. It is possible that with all the contention in Rome between the Jewish and Gentile believers, it had greatly hindered their joint worship of the Almighty. No doubt that’s why Paul spent so much time in the letter talking about their differences, trying to instruct them and exhort them to pull together before they are pulled apart. That’s why he now pours out his heart and soul in pleading with them to look out for each other instead of looking at each other. How can the world be persuaded to become Christians when they see the fighting and tearing of one another down over the smallest things?16
Robert Haldane has some excellent thoughts here on the Christian’s virtues of patience and comforting. He sees the Apostle Paul having in the preceding verse spoken of the patience and assurance which the Scriptures communicate; he points to God as the One who exemplifies patience and assurance. That’s why Paul told them that he prayed that God would help them to agree with one another so that they can get things done together. And the reason he does so is that God is the author of patience and assurance to His people. Patience is essential to a Christian, as is assurance. But neither he, Paul, nor anyone else can be a better source than God who possesses these graces to perfection. How else will we be able to bear the persecution that comes while carrying our cross without Divine support? These virtues, then, of the Christian character are as much the Fruit of the Spirit of God as faith is His gift. Everything good in the child of God is of God, but their sins are their own. When, therefore, we are in a tight place facing difficulties or troubles, we ought to look to God for patience to grant what He sees as good for us so we can carry our burdens with His blessing. The expression, “God of patience,” shows not only that God gives patience to His people, but that He gives it abundantly, and that there is no other source of this gift.17
On Paul’s prayer that the Roman believers develop the mind of Christ when it came to caring for one another, Charles Hodge is adamant in saying that external teaching is not enough, we need the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit to enable us to receive and conform to the truths and precepts of the God’s Word. That’s why Paul prays that God would give his readers the patience, assurance, and hope which they are bound to use and enjoy. Paul prays that God would grant them that harmony and unity which he had so strongly urged them to acquire and cherish. Hodge also notes that the expression, “to be like-minded,” does not refer to unanimity of opinion, but to harmony of agreement.18 According to Jesus Christ, it means being agreeable to following His example and teachings in a Christian manner. This is why he exhorts them to bond as Christians in unity. This harmony and fellowship among Christians is necessary, in order that they may glorify God the right way. To honor God effectually and properly, there must be no unresolved dissension among His people.19
Frédéric Godet makes a valuable observation about what Paul is saying here. There is a close relationship in a church between the assurance and the union of its members. When all are inwardly assured from above, the way is paved for communion of hearts below. Everyone should be working hard to make sure that the assurance they have with each other here below allows them to have better communion with the One above. It is this common impulse which is expressed by Paul’s term, “like-minded.”20 Godet goes on to explain that when one common goal reigns in the church, secondary aims no longer separate their hearts. And from this internal communion there results common adoration like pure harmony from a concert of well-tuned instruments. This can lead to all hearts yearning for God as one, all mouths yielding praise to Him as one. And why is that? Because it is all focused on one God who alone is worthy of being glorified by all.21
1 Philippians 1:27
2 Ibid. 2:2
3 Ibid. 4:2
4 Ibid. 4:3 – Translated in KJV as “true yokefellow” and in NIV as “true companion”
5 1 Peter 3:8-9
6 Ephesians 5:1-2
7 Philippians 2:4-5
8 Zephaniah 3:9
9 John 10:29-30
10 Acts of the Apostles 2:1
11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Massachusetts Bay Colony lay directly west of Boston
15 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 316-317)
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 280
17 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 611
18 See 8:5; 12:3
19 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 671-672
20 Verse 5
21 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.