NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XIX)
Robert Haldane disagrees with those who claim that the Lord’s servants should never speak highly of things they’ve done for God with Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s help. He notes that Paul never took credit for anything that someone else had done for which they should be recognized as an instrument of God.1 He only spoke of the success which Christ had given him in the work that he did. This shows that although all success is of God, yet that it is an honor and a reason to be commended for having been willing to let God’s Spirit use you. Many have supposed that it is wrong to give any praise to the Lord’s servants on account of their labors, diligence, and accomplishments in His service. They have judged that this encourages a spirit of self-righteousness and of egotistical pride.
But this is not wisdom from God. It is corrupt human logic based on jealousy and tends to dampen enthusiasm in serving Christ. All success is Christ’s success in using us. Why else would Jesus, in His parable, have the estate owner, who represents God, say: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”2 So we see that God gives praise to His servants for their determination and success in His work. It is not wise to blame something as being wrong that God approves of. In this case, the Apostle speaks of what God did with his help, while in other places he also speaks of what he did with God’s help3.4
Charles Hodge proposes that in these verses the Apostle Paul explains more fully what he had intended by saying he gloried or exalted. It was that God had given ample testimony to his claims as a divinely commissioned preacher of the Gospel so that he had no need to refer to what others had done. He was satisfied to rest his claims on the results of his own labors and the testimony of God. According to another view, the meaning could be: I will not speak of anything as being grounds for boasting which Christ has not done by using me. The contrast is not between what he had done and what others had accomplished, but between he had done with Christ’s help and what Christ had done with his help. He would not glory in the flesh, or in anything pertaining to himself, but only in Christ. The conversion of the Gentiles was Christ’s work, not Paul’s, and, therefore, Paul could give praise for it without taking any credit. It is to be remarked that the Apostle represents himself as merely an instrument in the hands of Christ for converting sinners; the real efficiency he ascribes to the Redeemer.5 This should be the attitude of every servant of Christ.
One Christian Jewish writer makes the comment that Paul is reiterating his opening statement from chapter one that his mission to the Gentiles is one of teaching them obedience. The reference to “word and deed” here in verse 18 is the same as taught by Paul earlier in this letter. Also, the Apostle James said: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”6 What will make the Gentiles acceptable is a humble faith that looks to the higher purpose of God, particularly with regard to Israel.7
15:19 And they obeyed Him because of the power of the miraculous signs and wonders that happened – all because of the power of God’s Spirit. I have told people the Good News about Christ in every place from Jerusalem to Illyricum. And so I have finished that part of my work.
Paul was sure that it was not only his preaching of the Gospel but also by the accompanying miracles that caused many to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. This was foretold by Jesus Himself who said: “These signs will accompany those who do trust: in my name, they will drive out demons, speak with new tongues, not be injured if they handle snakes or drink poison, and heal the sick by laying hands on them.”8 Of course, much of these happened under Paul’s ministry.9 Paul reminded the Corinthians of what happened when he was with them: “When I was with you, I proved to you that I was a true missionary. I did powerful works and there were special things to see. These things were done in the strength and power from God.”10 The Galatians also experienced these blessings.11
Paul makes it clear he could not have been used by God to do any of these things without the help and power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself made it clear to those who doubted the miracles He performed: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you!”12 Paul made sure the Corinthians understood: “There are different kinds of gifts. But it is the same Holy Spirit Who gives them. There are different kinds of work to be done for Him. But the work is for the same Lord. There are different ways of doing His work. But it is the same God who uses all these ways in all people.”13 One can not help but notice that Paul includes the Trinity in these operations. Paul then tells the Roman believers that this was the operation of Holy Spirit everywhere he went.
Early church preacher Chrysostom had a great appreciation for Paul travels in spreading the Gospel. He suggests that we count up all the places Paul had been to – not just in the Roman Empire but beyond its frontiers to places like Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia for a start, but also the areas of Arabia, Persia, and Armenia. This is why he said, “as far abroad as Illyricum,” so that you would not only think of the direct route from Jerusalem to Illyricum but consider all the surrounding countries as well.14 And Theodoret puts the same thought a different way when he notes Paul saying, “as far away as Illyricum.” Paul means that he got to Illyricum in a roundabout way via the eastern provinces, the Black Sea region, Asia Minor, and Thrace.15 When you think of the few transportation options Paul had in his day, then look at the map, it should make you shake your head in wonder.
On Paul’s confession that he had no desire to build on another man’s foundation and then claim that it was all his doing, and then pointed out that he purposely went to places were the Gospel had never been preached before, John Calvin sees Paul adding a testimony to explain the reason for the success which followed his preaching that exceeded everyone’s expectations. For who could have started so many churches for Christ without being aided by the power of God? Paul says it started in Jerusalem and spread as far as Illyricum,16 and not by hastening to the end of his course by a straight way, but by going all around and through the intervening countries. The Greek verb plēroō, translated as “fully preached” (KJV), and “fully proclaimed” (NIV), means “to fill up” or “to complete” in the sense of “to abound, to furnish or supply liberally.” Calvin was disposed to explain it this way, – that Paul distributed Christianity, as it were, by providing the preaching of the Gospel as a supplement to what others had begun in order for it to spread even wider.17
Adam Clarke puts Paul’s missionary travels into perspective by naming those places where Paul preached the Gospel. Given the age in which Paul lived and the methods of transportation it makes his efforts even more amazing. Among ancient writers, Illyricum has been known by a great variety of names. Its precise limits have not been determined by either ancient or modern geographers. It seems to have been divided by Caesar Augustus into two provinces, the upper and lower. It now forms part of Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Slavonia of what used to be Yugoslavia. When the Apostle says that he preached the Gospel from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum, he implies his journeys over land. By looking at the Bible map, the reader will see that from Jerusalem the Apostle went around the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and on today’s map would include Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, besides the isles of Cyprus and Crete. And no doubt he visited many other places in between that are not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles or his Epistles.18
Robert Haldane gives us his view of what the term “mighty signs and wonders by the Holy Spirit” meant in Paul’s day. They referred to the deeds through which, as well as by Paul’s preaching, the Lord brought the heathen Gentiles to salvation in Christ, someone they had never heard of. This includes all the miraculous works of the Apostle for the confirmation of the Gospel. By the phrase, “the power of the Spirit of God,” some understand this being the power itself by which the signs and wonders were performed. Some believe that it refers to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel, etc. However, a number feel that it is the spiritual gifts like: gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to discern between good and evil spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.19
Haldane is convinced that it is this later set of gifts that Paul had in mind.20 From the tone and tense of Haldane’s writings, it is apparent to me that he does not speak of such things as the Gifts of the Spirit and miracles as something once in fashion but no longer trending, or possibilities that are no longer probabilities. He talks of them as though they were needed, presently in the church, and practiced by every Spiritual believer. Haldane’s motto for his ministry was: “Christianity is everything or nothing; if it is true, it warrants and commands every sacrifice to promote its influence; if it is not true, let us lay aside the hypocrisy of professing to believe it.”21 One thing is for sure, they were all done through Paul and his missionary team by the power of the Holy Spirit. So if it took the Holy Spirit to do those things back then, is it not reasonable to believe that it would take the Holy Spirit to do them today?
1 1 Corinthians 3:7-9
2 Matthew 25:21
3 Acts of the Apostles 14:27; 15:12
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit., p. 621
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 680-681
6 James 1:22
7 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Mark 16:17-18
9 See Acts of the Apostles 14:8-10; 16:18; 19:11; 28:3-5
10 2 Corinthians 12:12
11 Galatians 3:5
12 Matthew 12:28
13 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
14 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 29
15 Theodoret of Cyr: on Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Covering the area known today as modern Bosnia and Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia
17 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 284-285
19 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
20 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 621
21 Haldane, Robert: in The New American Cyclopædia, ed. By George Ripley and Charles A. Dana, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1859, Vol. 8, pp. 643-644