NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XVIII)
In Paul’s statement that any feeling of worthiness that he may have is the result of his call to this ministry, and is shown to God through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. John Calvin observes, that after having shared about his calling by Jesus so that the Romans might know that he was a true and unquestionable Apostle of Christ, Paul now adds his testimony by which he verifies that he had not only received the ordination as an Apostle conferred on him by God’s appointment but that he had also done his best to make God proud that He had chosen him. At the same time, he records the faithfulness with which he discharged the duties of his office. His calling would have served little purpose if he had not taken it seriously and done all that he was called to do to the best of his ability. He did not make this declaration out of any desire to stand in the glow of the spotlight, but that he laid everything on the table for the Roman believers to see so that they could accept and appreciate the authority by which he shared his doctrine with them. It was in God then, not in himself, that he gloried. He had nothing else in mind except to bring all praise and honor to God.1
John Locke focuses on Paul’s emphasis on doing the things that pertain to God, not to himself. Locke sees this as a reference to what was said in Hebrews, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”2 This, of course, is a reflection on those things that were offered to God in the Temple. For Paul, bringing the Gentiles in from the dark cold world of heathenism into God’s warm house of love, grace, and mercy was the same as a priest bringing an offering to the altar in the Temple. He, therefore, saw himself a part of the priesthood of believers and was so happy to be bringing such a wonderful offering of converted Gentiles and presenting them to the Lord as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God. That’s what Paul lived for; that was Paul’s purpose in life. This, then, becomes Paul’s subject in the following four verses.3
Robert Haldane does not find any contradiction in Paul’s statement that he has a reason to be elated. Paul had written on another occasion, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”4 So it is not a contradiction, then, to say here, “I have a reason to be elated.” There is no contradiction: The joyfulness he feels in what he is saying is based on the acceptance of his ministry by God. His being in high spirits comes from his success in the preaching of the Gospel. And even this is not a glorying himself but glorying in Christ Jesus who made it possible and gave him the privilege of doing what he was called to do. It was the highest honor of his life that his Lord installed him in the office of an Apostle, qualified him to carry it out, and made him successful to God’s honor and glory.
From all the Apostle’s writings, we learn that he was more convinced of this than anything else in his life. He gives thanks to the Lord, who had counted him worthy, putting him into the ministry. But elsewhere he declares, that he had “obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful.”5 In like manner, he gives credit to God for everything he accomplished in his ministry. That’s why he said, “To this end, I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”6 He had every reason to glory in the abundant and unmerited favor of God, but he always carefully avoids speaking of anything that he did that was not Christ working through him as a sacred vessel.7
15:18 I will not talk about anything I did myself. I will talk only about what Christ has done with me in leading the non-Jewish people to obey God. They have obeyed Him because of what I have said and done.
It is clear that Paul wanted to give all the credit for his success to God. If Christ had not met him on the road to Damascus; had he not received the infilling and baptism of the Holy Spirit; had not Christ told him to go to the non-Jews and share the Good News of salvation he would still be persecuting the church as an out-of-control radical Pharisee. I’m sure Paul was aware of the words of Solomon: “Like clouds and wind that bring no rain is he who boasts of gifts he doesn’t have.”8
Paul is clear on how he feels about what God has made out of him. To the Corinthians, he said: “But we will not talk with pride more than God allows us to. We will follow the plan of the work He has given us to do and you are a part of that work. We did not go farther than we were supposed to go when we came to you… If anyone wants to be proud, he should be proud of what the Lord has done. It is not what a man thinks and says of himself that is important. It is what God thinks of him.”9
Paul wanted the Romans to know that he was fully aware of who he was and whose he was. This is the hallmark of all God’s servants. Mark tells us that after Jesus commissioned his followers to go out and preach the Gospel: “The followers went from there and preached everywhere. The Lord worked with them. The Lord showed that the Word of God was true by the special works they had the power to do.”10 It was the same with Paul and Barnabas after they finished their first missionary endeavor that involved all kinds of persecution, even stoning, they gave this testimony to the church in Antioch that sent them out: “They told them everything God had done for them. They told how God had opened the door for the people who were not Jews to have faith.”11 In other words, it wasn’t what “we “ did it was what “God” did.12
Paul was keenly aware that God did not call him and give him the many spiritual and natural gifts that he now possessed to pump up his ego and make himself famous. He followed the same instructions Jesus gave all of His disciples prior to His ascension: “Go and make followers of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do all the things I have told you. And I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”13 That’s why Paul explained to the Corinthians: “We do not use those things to fight with that the world uses. We use the things God gives to fight with and they have power.”14 So to the Colossians Paul reiterates: “Whatever you say or do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.”15 Paul does not mean here to used the name of Jesus like some mantra or to cast a magic spell. Rather, he uses “name” in the sense of given authority. In other words, you do it because Jesus gave you the authority to do it. Just like a policeman can say, “Open up in the name of the law,” so believers can say to a demon, “Come out in the name of Jesus.”
Martin Luther feels that with these words Paul is exempting himself from any presumption of being an upperclass prophet, and at the same time is rebuking those who are preaching to gain popularity for themselves, rather than fulfilling their calling. Luther understands the Apostle Paul saying something like this: I will not dare to speak or do anything unless Christ speaks and works through me. So if I get excited, it’s not because it is I who have done this – making the Gentiles obedient – but because it is Christ working in and through me. That’s what makes anything I feel good about having any validity in God’s eyes.16 I can say without equivocation that Billy Graham never advertised his meetings for self-glorification. They were promoted so that people could hear the Gospel. But it must be admitted that most, if not all, who attended these meetings did so because it was Billy Graham preaching. Paul did not want to become known as promoting himself as an elite emissary of God, but that he was promoting the Gospel and Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Still, I’m sure that many came out to hear him because it was Saul of Tarsus, the converted Pharisee, preaching the Gospel of the One he once persecuted.
John Calvin believes that Paul wanted more than anything to have his ministry approved by the Roman fellowship so that his efforts, when he finally visited Rome, would bear fruit. Calvin feels Paul’s urge to prove that God, by the presence of His power, had given His approval to his preaching, and by so doing has sealed his Apostleship was so that the Romans would receive him as an emissary from God. This left no door open for anyone to doubt that he was appointed and sent by the Lord Himself. The evidences were: word, work, and wonders. So it appears that the term “work“ includes miracles. Paul believed beyond all doubt that it was only through the power of the Holy Spirit that any of these things were done. Paul could not have performed them without the Holy Spirit being the author. In short, he declares that with regard to his teaching as well as he’s doing, he had such strength and energy in preaching Christ, that it was evidently the wonderful power of God and miracles were also added, which were stamps of approval that all of this was from God.17
John Bengel sees Paul in a quandary here. He has a lot to share with the Roman church, but he’s hesitant to go beyond a certain point. He wants to make sure that everything he says is what God has inspired him to say, not necessarily what he personally feels inspired to say. He doesn’t want to tell them about all his success in preaching the Gospel to the non-Jews, even though that may motivate them to believe him even more. He will stick to the doctrines in the Gospel. Bengel says, this was another way of Paul saying: I would never dare to claim that I said or did anything on my own, it was Christ speaking through me. Bengel feels as though Paul could have ended by saying, “That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God!”18
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Hebrews 5:1
3 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 379
4 Galatians 6:14
5 1 Corinthians 7:25
6 Colossians 1:29
7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 620
8 Proverbs 25:14
9 2 Corinthians 10:13-14, 17-18
10 Mark 16:20
11 Acts of the Apostles 14:27
12 See ibid. 15:12
13 Matthew 28:19-20
14 2 Corinthians 10:4
15 Colossians 3:17
16 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 216
17 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 361