NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson VII)
On the subject of unity between God and His people and their unity among themselves, Charles Ellicott advises that this is the temperament Paul is wanting so badly for the Roman Christians. The Apostle prays that along with the spirit of steadfast endurance, God will also give them that spirit of unanimity which proceeds from singleness of purpose. At first, there seems to be little or no connection between the God of patience and assurance and being like-minded. However, they are connected through the idea of singleness of purpose. As Rick Warren, our head pastor of Saddleback Church put it so brilliantly in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, by asking, “What am I here for?”1 For Pastor Warren, we were formed to be God’s family. That’s why we need to work on finding out what we can do to protect and promote unity in the church. I like the way he does this by constantly referring to the church as a “Community.” This certainly agrees with Ellicott who says that the person who is wholly dedicated to Christ, and who, in the strength of that dedication is able to endure persecution will also have a close bond of unity with all those who have set the same goals before them.2
On Paul’s call for all Christians to seek harmony with each other, Charles Spurgeon hears Paul saying that if the Roman believers achieved unanimity in striving for each one to become more and more like Jesus, there would be less and less disagreement over things that they see differently. Spurgeon then becomes very emotional when he says: What a blessed harmony there would be if there would not only be harmony in one church, but harmony in all the churches toward each other even as Christ and the Father are one. That is surely what will happen when Christ returns to gather those who are now scattered around the world. But could we ever hope for it to be that way before He comes? Spurgeon says that he’s not sure it can happen, but at any rate, it is something we should all strive for. At least, we can get started by everyone singing in the same key. Just like praise and worship is so much sweeter when everyone is singing the same song in harmony. That way, we can at least be like-minded with one another as we become like-minded with Christ. But not till then.3
John Stott renders Paul’s petition this way: “May … God … give you a spirit of unity … as you follow Christ Jesus.” This indicates that genuine unity among Christians is found only in their unity in Christ. The person of Jesus Christ Himself must be the focus of our unity and, therefore, the more we agree with Him and about Him the more we will agree with one each other. But what is the purpose of being like-minded? It is in order that we may engage in the common worship of God: so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That way the one mind is expressed through one heart and one mouth. In fact, without this unity of mind about Christ, having unity of heart and mouth in worship is impossible.4
On the subject of unity among believers, Douglas Moo notes that in verse 4 Paul cited endurance and encouragement as two specific traits fostered by the Scriptures that will culminate in hope. He picks up these two words in verse 5 at the beginning of Paul’s prayer to God on behalf of the squabbling Roman believers. Paul prays specifically that God Himself will grant the community the ability to think in harmony.5 In light of his insistence that the weak not change their minds until their own faith leads them to do so,6 it is unlikely that Paul is praying here that all the Roman believers will come to the same opinion on any matter or issue. Rather, he is praying that they may possess a unity of purpose that transcends these differences.7
15:7 That’s why we should accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
The Apostle Paul knows that the first step in creating harmony and unity is to accept others even though they are not as we want them to be. It is an odd sign for the unconverted when they see Christians argue with one another over the hymns they sing, the translations of the Bible they use, or the way they serve communion and baptize. But here is the big question: If Christ is in them and He is in us, then how do we deal with what Jesus said: “Whoever receives you, receives Me.”8 Wouldn’t it follow then, that if you reject them or they reject you, both of you are rejecting Christ as well? That’s because Jesus also said: “All whom My Father has given to Me will come to Me. I will never turn away anyone who comes to Me.”9 Remember, this is all covered by the new Law given by Christ: “You are to love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.”10
When writing to the Ephesians Paul was moved to express his thanks to God for all that He had done on their behalf: “We thank God for His grace to us. He gave this loving-favor to us through His much-loved Son. Because of the blood of Christ, we are bought and made free from the punishment of sin. And because of His blood, our sins are forgiven. His grace to us is so rich. He was so willing to give all of this to us. He did this with wisdom and understanding… We who were the first to put our trust in Christ should thank Him for His greatness. I pray that your hearts will be able to understand. I pray that you will know about the hope given by God’s call. I pray that you will see how great the things are that He has promised to those who belong to Him. ”11 Once we realize all that God did through Christ to bring us together under the umbrella of His grace it should motivate all of us to join hands while we gaze at Him instead of staring at each other.
Early church scholar Chrysostom talks about our bonding with each other as a tight-knit group. This is not only to assist the weak, but it will help everyone. If a believer or unbeliever shows no interest in being a close friend with you, accept their reluctance to show love to you, but don’t do the same with them. Rather, display even more love toward them without expecting anything in return. If anything will begin to build a bridge between you, this will. Remember, they are a member of the body of Christ, a brother or sister to you in the family of God. When the other person disconnects with you, stay connected with them but expect it to be a one-way street. They are under no obligation to accept you, but you are under obligation to God not to throw them away.12 And Pelagius also commented that when we help carry a part of a fellow believer’s burdens, we are honoring Christ who carried our burdens to the cross. If our Lord took us upon Himself while we were ungodly,13 how much more should we, who are like one another, support each other who are saved!14
Reformer Martin Luther comments on what he believes Paul meant by God receiving glory when we receive each other equally as brothers and sisters of Christ. For him, this is a wonderful glorification of God in that He is glorified when we have compassion for believers who have made errors and the weak who need help. It is to His glory when He uses us as His helpers. Therefore, this serves His glory, that is to say, it becomes an occasion to Him to manifest His friendliness when we bring people to Him who need to receive a blessing from Him. Therefore, we should not force those who are hardheaded, holier-than-thou, and conceited to come to Him. In them, He cannot glorify Himself because He cannot impart to them any spiritual blessing, since they, as they see it, are not in need of them.15
At this point, John Calvin sees Paul returning to his exhorting the Roman believers to a higher spiritual level. To do that, Paul uses Christ as the best example. For our Lord did not just accept us as individuals, but as part of His Called and Chosen Community and thereby connects us so that we can cherish one another. This is the only way we can confirm our calling, that is, we are to love one another as fellow believers in Christ. We cannot claim to be in Christ if we do not have love one for another. That’s why it will bring honor to God because it was His plan to save us through His Son. Calvin puts it this way: As Christ has made known the glory of the Father in receiving us with favor when we stood in need of love and mercy, so it is expected of us in order to also make known the glory of the same God in establishing and confirming this union which we have in Christ by accepting one another as He did us.16
John Locke takes this as a forecast of what Paul will say later on about believers accepting one another in a mutual friendly manner.17 He points out that Paul uses the same Greek verb proslambanō in verses 3 & 7. It does not appear that Paul was addressing the fact that the converted Jews and Gentiles were having separate communion or that they had services at different times because of the dispute over meats, drinks, and special days. Therefore, Paul was trying to tell them to understand each other and their preferences but continue to fellowship on all points where they hold mutual beliefs, such as Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, and that salvation came by grace not good deeds and acts of devotion. Paul may have also suggested that when the Jews and Gentiles visited each other in their homes to respect the customs that govern those who live there. So it was a case of Paul telling the Jews and Gentiles to lay aside their differences and to join hands and voices in praising and glorifying God and Christ for their grace, mercy, and salvation.18
Adam Clarke points out that when it came to open arms, Christ led by example and we should follow His example with others. This means, to show them the same cordial affection as Christ did in receiving us into communion with Himself. Not only that, but He blessed us that where two or three of us gather in His name He will be present with them. And as Christ has received us that way to the glory of His Father in heaven, so should we. Jews and Gentiles should cordially receive each other that God‘s glory may be promoted by our harmony and brotherly love.19 I like the way this is expressed by the writer of Hebrews: “So now Jesus and the ones He makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters.”20
1 The Purpose Driven Life: by Rick Warren, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2002, pp. 320-321
2 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 New International Version
6 See Romans 14:23
7 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Matthew 10:40a
9 John 6:37
10 John 13:34
11 Ephesians 1:6-8, 12, 18
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27
13 See Romans 5:6
14 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 211
16 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Romans 15:7
18 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 376
19 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 280
20 Hebrews 2:11