NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XVII)
This should cause each one of us to contemplate this reality: No matter what your calling, career, or profession in life may be if you are a true child of God you have been sanctified for service. That doesn’t mean you should have been called to be a pastor or evangelist or teacher but as a vessel and tool of the Holy Spirit to be used by God according to His will whenever and wherever He may choose to do so. As Paul told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a house of God where the Holy Spirit lives? God gave you His Holy Spirit. Now you belong to God. You do not belong to yourselves.”1 Paul also told the Ephesians: “You are also being put together as a part of a dwelling place for God to live in you by His Spirit.”2 And to the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “May the God of peace set you apart for Himself. May every part of you be set apart for God. May your spirit and your soul and your body be kept complete.”3
Also, Augustine makes the point that the Gentiles are offered to God as an acceptable sacrifice when they believe in Christ and are sanctified through the Gospel.4 And then Pelagius notes that Paul, by his example, was showing that what he performed with such reverence is holy, meaning, it was all done to the glory and honor of his God and his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Augustine said that some people try to pass off as divine what is, in fact, mere human activity with the result that what is meant to be holy starts looking unholy because it is not done in a holy way. But by listening to Paul, however, the Gentiles became an acceptable sacrifice to God, sanctified, and exalted before God, not by fire as the sacrifices were done on the Temple altar, but by the Holy Spirit.5
As to Paul claiming the role of a minister to the Gentiles Martin Luther explains that by using the word “minister,” Paul glorifies most wonderfully his ministry and teaches that we should preach the Gospel as something holy, and with all sacredness and seriousness. Luther acknowledges that Paul is making reference to the ministry of Jewish priests when he talks about offering up the Gentiles as a sacrifice to God through the Gospel. He is proud yet humbled that God chose him for this ministry.6 Luther goes on to note that the words “ministering the Gospel” means to him: Since I am the priest who through the cleansing of the Gospel makes the sacrifice presentable, then those unbelievers who receive this Gospel can then become a sacrifice offered up as God.7
As to Paul’s claim that he was now ministering in the role of a priest, John Calvin points out that nothing is more certain than that Paul here alludes to the holy mysteries which were performed by the priests in the Temple. He then makes himself a chief priest or a priest in the ministration of the Gospel, to offer up as a sacrifice the people whom he gained for God, and in this manner, he labored in the holy mysteries of the Gospel. And doubtless, this is the priesthood of the Christian pastor, that is, to sacrifice people, as it were, to God, by bringing them to obey and be cleansed by the Gospel.
Calvin then states that by instituting the mass, the priests in the Roman Catholic church were offering up Christ to reconcile men to God, instead of preaching the Gospel so that they could bring people into a reconciled relationship with God. Calvin does not believe that Paul is giving the name “priests” to the pastors of the Church simply as a title but intending to commend the honor and power of their ministry. Let preachers of the Gospel then have the view in mind that while discharging the duties of their office they are ministering in a priestly manner: they have been called to bring to God souls that have been purified by faith and the Word of God.8
On the subject of Paul claiming to serve as a priest, Adam Clarke believes Paul simply meant that he was ministering as a priest would do. This is no doubt an allusion to the Jewish sacrifices offered by the priest and sanctified, or made acceptable, by the wine and water poured out on them. He is only comparing himself, in preaching the Gospel, to the priest performing his sacred functions – preparing his sacrifice to be offered. The Gentiles, converted by him and dedicated to the service of God, are his sacrifice and offering. The blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the libations poured out over this sacrifice simultaneously by which it was cleansed, sanctified, and rendered acceptable to God. In the words of Isaiah, “And they shall bring all your brethren for an Offering unto the Lord, out of all Nations,”9 might have suggested the above idea to the mind of the Apostle.”10
Robert Haldane shares his view of Paul’s bringing the Gentiles to God as a sacrifice. As he sees it, the Gentiles became an acceptable sacrifice to God only through faith in the Gospel. It is only by the blood of Christ that sinners can be washed clean from sin, and only through faith in Christ that any sinner is lead to accepting Christ’s blood for cleansing, and only through the Gospel that faith in Christ is produced. All those who attempt to come to God in any other way are unacceptable to Him. This immediately eliminates all the self-righteous individuals hoping to earn that privilege, and of all unbelievers who only take it as a ritual. This also takes away any basis for the doctrine of some who teach that Christ can be called Savior by pious unbelievers with high morals, even though they have never heard of Him. According to the Apostle Paul, the offering of the Gentiles is acceptable only through the Gospel and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. As the sacrifices under the law were typically sanctified externally, the sanctification by the Holy Spirit begins internally and then spreads externally. No person, then, can be acceptable to God who is not sanctified by His Spirit.11
As far as Paul seeing himself as a minister ministering to the Gentiles, Charles Ellicott explains it by pointing to the two different words in Greek which are tied together. However, in their meaning, both refer originally to the liturgical service of the Temple. The first, leitourgos, refers to the entire function both of the priests and Levites. The second, hierourgeō, is assigned to the special function of the priests in the offering of sacrifice. Paul is a “minister of Jesus Christ;” that is, his sacred office was given to him by Christ; it was Christ who appointed and ordained him to it, and his special duty as a priest of the Gospel was to see that all those who became part of the Church of the Gentiles were made fit to be offered up to God as a living sacrifice, made holy by the indwelling of the Spirit and, therefore, acceptable to the One to Whom they were being offered.12
Theologian F. F. Bruce writes concerning Paul’s statement that his presentation of the Gentiles to God as an offering was based on their being sanctified. Bruce notes that there were some Jews, no doubt, who maintained that Paul’s Gentile converts were unclean because they were not circumcised. To such quibble, Paul’s reply is that his converts are “clean,” having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell within them (cf. verse 19, “by the power of the Holy Spirit”). We are the true Jews, he says in another letter, who worship God in spirit, to the honor of Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.13 The Judaizers, who did glory in the flesh (namely, in the privileges inherent in their being born Jews), were less sanctified than Gentiles who had learned to glory in Christ alone.14 Similarly, Peter at the Council of Jerusalem meeting reminds his Jewish fellow-believers how, when Gentiles heard the Gospel, God gave them “the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.15”16
15:17 That is why I have a reason to be elated because of what God helped me do for Him in my service to Christ Jesus.
Paul wants the believers in Rome to know that he is not a grumpy old man who loves ordering people around just to make their lives miserable. Rather, he is a happy servant of God who loves what he’s doing because God gave it to him as his ministry. Here’s how he explained it to the Corinthians: “We thank God for the power Christ has given us. He leads us and makes us win in everything. He speaks through us wherever we go. The Good News is like a sweet aroma to those who hear it. We are a sweet aroma of Christ that reaches up to God.”17 Paul goes on to say: “We know we are not able in ourselves to do any of this work. God makes us able to do these things. God is the One Who made us preachers of a New Way of Worship. This New Way of Worship is not of the Law. It is of the Holy Spirit.”18
As far as Paul feeling like he was of value to Christ Jesus, Origen makes the point that to be proud of one’s work for God without Christ being involved would be like saying one has glory in God’s eyes without having done something right that is worth anything or of any value.19 Ambrosiaster looks at this from a positive view by noting that believing in, and serving, Christ Jesus with a pure conscience is what made Paul worthy in the sight of God the Father. Paul also went so far as to say that nothing that he did to encourage the Gentiles was done without Christ’s help.
What made Paul feel like he was worth anything was that God and Christ chose to use him to perform signs and wonders with their power in preaching of the Gospel to these former pagans.20 Then Pelagius gives his interpretation. For him, Paul is being smiled upon by God as His chosen servant even though he was defamed and attacked by the Judaizers as being a fraud in the public’s eye.21 This is important for those who worry about what the world may think of their dedication and contribution to the work of God. According to secular historians of Paul’s day, he was not worth their time to comment on or quote from. Yet today, their works are rarely read while the penmanship of Paul is the basis for thousands of sermons, Bible studies, and devotions every day.
1 1 Corinthians 6:19
2 Ephesians 2:22
3 1 Thessalonians 5:23
4 Augustine on Romans 8:3
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Romans 1:5
7 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 215-216
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,
9 Isaiah 66:20
10 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 283
11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op cit., loc. cit., p. 620
12 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Philippians 3:3
14 Romans 8:8
15 Acts of the Apostles 15:8-9
16 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 260–261
17 2 Corinthians 2:14-15a
18 Ibid. 3:5-6
19 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.