NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XIV)
On the subject of God being the God of hope, Charles Spurgeon preached that our God is called the God of hope, not only because He is the object of hope and the basis of joy and peace, but also because it is He that lights the fire of hope and puts the fountain of joy in our hearts. I like the way Spurgeon says that there is no joy like the joy that comes from the Lord. It starts with Him and ends with Him, and there is no joy worth receiving unless it springs from hope in Him. He goes on to say that God must breathe in our souls or else the storm-tossed waters of our spirit will never rest, nor should they, for peace without God is wishful thinking, joy without God is pretension, and hope without God is speculation. For true believers, their hope, faith, joy, and peace are all the handiwork of God. “Our spiritual raiment is never homespun; we are divinely arrayed from head to foot.”1
Karl Barth has an interesting way of summarizing Paul admonition that Christians learn to get along with each other without one feeling stronger and the other feeling weaker than each other. For Barth, Christ is at the core of our freedom and separation from worldly things. He makes the strong even stronger to the glory of God. But He also uses them to help the weak even more to the glory of God. He is the Messiah of Israel, the Christ of the Church. For every believer – however unsure – who brings to Him their weakness, their hope in Him becomes the object of their faith in the truth of God’s Word. The mercy of God has produced the strong, for they were at one time weak. Truth and Mercy hold together Jew and Gentile, Israel and the Church. Some are strong. Some are weak. But above, before, and behind every human struggle stands – The God of Hope. Says Barth: “To Him, the voices of all who have been found by His Truth and by His Mercy are lifted up in a chorus of jubilation. He beholds weakness in the strong and strength in the weak. With His eyes He sees all, whether they stand on the highest or on the lowest step, sharing in the blessed secret of His Freedom and of His Kingdom.”2
15: 14: My brothers and sisters, I know without a doubt that you are full of goodness and have all the knowledge you need. So you are certainly able to counsel each other.
Even though Paul had never visited Rome, he received enough information about the church there to commend them on being full of goodness, well instructed, and spiritually strong enough to counsel those who needed assistance. Such characteristics were appreciated by the Apostles. To his readers, the Apostle Peter wrote: “I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you already have.”3 And the Apostle John was able to tell his readers: “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth. I have written because you do know the truth and you know that no lie comes from the truth.”4
But Paul wanted more than for these saints of God to simply possess such knowledge and wisdom, he encouraged them to use their gifts for the betterment of the church. He told the Philippians: “I pray that you will be filled with the fruits of right living. These come from Jesus Christ, with honor and thanks to God.”5 In other words, if you are qualified to teach and counsel, begin with being an example yourself before you tell others how to conduct themselves. This was also his message to the Colossians: “I have never stopped praying for you since I heard about you. I ask God that you may know what He wants you to do. I ask God to fill you with the wisdom and understanding the Holy Spirit gives. Then your lives will please the Lord. You will do every kind of good work, and you will know more about God.”6
The Apostle Peter had the same message for those he wrote to: “Do your best to add holy living to your faith. Then add to this a better understanding. As you have a better understanding, be able to say no when you need to. Do not give up. And as you wait and do not give up, live God-like. As you live Godly lives, be kind to Christian brothers and love them. If you have all these things and keep growing in them, they will keep you from being of no use and from having no fruit when it comes to knowing our Lord Jesus Christ.”7
A number of early church scholars write concerning the relativity of human kindness among believers. Ambrosiaster notes that these are words of encouragement. By praising them, Paul is exhorting them to better understanding and behavior. If a person receives encouragement they will strive to be even better at what they’ve been called to do. That’s why Paul did not tell them to lecture one another but that they should inspire each other. Exhortation is often needed when it becomes clear that something or someone is weakening the resolve of the believer and they have grown slack.8
Then we have Chrysostom who preached that we must understand what Paul says in this verse after looking at his exhortation given in the preceding verses. It is as if Paul was telling the Roman believers that it wasn’t that they were cruel or haters of their fellow believers that he gave them the message to be kind with each other and do not neglect or destroy the work that God has started. For he was very much aware that they were tenderhearted people. He didn’t want them turned off because they thought he was scolding them, he was only encouraging them.9 And then we have the thoughts of Pelagius who sees Paul trying to motivate the believers in Rome to make further progress by congratulating them on what they had already done, something any good teacher would do. He was sure they understood that sometimes a teacher must take corrective and disciplinary action to help their students achieve even more than they thought they could.10
Martin Luther feels that Paul may be apologizing here for lecturing the Roman believers as though they were ignorant of these things when, in fact, there were many things for which he could praise them. Luther tells his readers to observe the logical sequence Paul follows by first putting “full of goodness,” and then “full of knowledge.” He’s trying to help them see that without love and kindness, knowledge can easily make someone feel that they are indispensable. Furthermore, those to whom they wanted to impart knowledge will better retain what they’ve learned when it is delivered in love. Furthermore, that will then make them more eager to share what they’ve learned with others. Conceited people only have pleasure in showing contempt for others as they tear them down. But loving, caring people freely share what they know in order to build up the ones who need instruction the most.11
Let me share what I learned from a veteran pioneer preacher named Dr. Houston R. Morehead years ago while attending a minister’s retreat in the Netherlands. He said that apple pie was his favorite dessert. He especially loved it when it was warmed up and vanilla ice cream placed on top. But as much as he loved it, he wanted it served to him on a plate not thrown in his face. The same goes for the teachings of Scripture. Instead of getting in people’s faces and saying, “turn or burn!” we should take them by the hand and invite them to “turn and learn.”
John Calvin also sees this apology by Paul, who expected some push-back from the believers in Rome due to his claim of being an Apostle, as a way of avoiding any offence on his part because they thought they were being unfairly admonished over things that weren’t really that bad. Paul offers an “I’m sorry,” just in case he came across as an uninvited lecturer who did not take into account their wisdom, kindness, and determination to do things right. This way he removed any suspicion of presumption, which quickly becomes obvious when someone marches in to take over when they were never invited to do so in the first place, and begin to criticize what they don’t like or think is wrong. Instead, Paul lets us see how modest he was about what God called him to do. He didn’t mind what they thought of him, just as long as the doctrine he preached retained its authority.12 What Calvin is suggesting is that when Paul addressed the Jews or the Gentiles in the church in Rome, he was not talking about or aiming at one or two particular people. Rather, the surreptitious Jew or Gentile who was the source of all the discussion and debate between the weak and strong believers.
Adam Clarke writes, that Paul does not address what could be a very touchy situation. It appears that this part of his letter is directed toward the Gentiles in the Roman church, something he manages with great care. No doubt that’s why he apologizes for the freedom he used in writing to them about such matters, even though he lets them know that he was using the authority he received with his Apostolic appointment by Christ, an office which commissioned him to deal with them in particular. So why should they feel offended when they found themselves the focus of Christ’s love. This is better understood, says Clarke, when we take into consideration that Paul admitted that they were such an important part in the mind and design of God, relative to their calling and the fruit which they were to produce to the glory of God. This made them well qualified to give one another suitable counsel and encouragement on every important point.13
Robert Haldane sees Paul attempting to try and justify his writing the Roman church as an instructor rather than as a brother seeking information. That’s why Paul makes an extra effort to share his whole reason for writing them as he had done. It was not that he considered them deficient in Christian character and virtues, or misinformed concerning the doctrines and duties of their profession; on the contrary, even he himself was fully persuaded that they were full of goodness. In our sinful nature there is nothing good, but from the work of the Spirit on our hearts, we may be full of goodness. The honor of this reflects as much on God as it does on our faith. If faith is the gift of God, then “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,”14 to the praise, glory, and honor of God. It was He who made us and He will not stop until the work He started in us is finished15.16
1 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 2 Peter 1:12
4 1 John 2:21
5 Philippians 1:11
6 Colossians 1:9-10
7 2 Peter 1:5-8
8 Ambrosiaster: on Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 28
10 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 215
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 282-283
14 Ephesians 2:10
15 Philippians 1:6
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 618