NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XXII)
Martin Luther has an interesting take on Paul’s desire to drop by and visit the Roman congregation on his way to Spain. In his mind, while all these words fill many pages, yet they were written out of love. The fact that he was inviting himself instead of them begging him to come showed that they would not be all that disappointed if it didn’t work out. Luther then quotes an old German proverb that says: “It is not the stall that longs for the cattle, but the cattle that long for the stall.” So in Luther’s mind, the cattle represents Paul’s. He wanted to see them more than they wanted to see him. Paul says all this to exemplify what he had taught concerning love: “Love does not seek her own.1”2 In other words, Paul was not trying to go to Rome just to brag that He went there, but only out of his desire to help them grow in the truth and knowledge of Christ and the Gospel. Every evangelist knows the difference between an invitation to speak and a burning fire in their heart to go preach.
John Calvin believes that Paul is going out of his way to make sure that the Roman church does not conclude that he is only paying them lip service. He really wanted to spend time with them, not just make his visit a stopover on his way to Spain. Paul is not bashful about sharing how much he looked forward to being the recipient of their kindness. This can sometimes be the best way of letting someone know that you consider such a reception to be one of great honor, of which you are undeserving. For the more a person hears of about how gracious and kind they are the more they want to live up to their reputation. No one wants to be disappointed by finding out that they are not that hospitable and begin to question the good opinion formed about them.3
Adam Clarke feels it is very likely the Gospel had not yet been fully explained to the believers in Rome, even though there are legendary tales about the Apostle James having planted the Gospel there long before this and founded many diocese! But Clarke finds this as unfounded as it is ridiculous and absurd. Things like parishes and bishoprics were not developed until many years after Paul went to Rome and died there. Also, whether the Apostle Paul ever fulfilled his design of going to Spain is unknown; but there is no evidence whatever that he did, and the presumption is that he did not undertake this voyage. Antiquity affords no proof that he fulfilled his intention.4 Many such legends were invented during the Middle Ages as various centers of Catholicism vied with one another for supremacy by claiming the Apostles personally visited them. There’s even a story of the Apostle James being buried in Spain, although the Scriptures say he died as a martyr in Jerusalem.
With regard to Paul’s longing to take the Gospel to Spain, Robert Haldane’s missionary instincts were impacted and point out that the great commission of the Apostles extended to all countries, but they were not always immediately directed with respect to their ultimate field of labor. Sometimes, they made plans they were then unable to carry out. This no doubt was the case because God had more important things for them to do at that time to carry out His own purposes by sending them to the places where He needed them the most. The fact is after Jesus gave His great commission He allowed the Apostles to carry out their mission by the course of their own choosing. However, there were times when Christ, through the Holy Spirit, overruled their choices, which should be an example to all of us. When we make plans according to our own views and desires we often do so without any immediate directions from above. Potential missionaries sometimes err on this point. They sit around and keep waiting for some divine announcement to direct them in going or not going to a certain place and end up going nowhere.5
15:25-26: Now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to God’s people there. Some of them are poor, and the believers in Macedonia and Achaia wanted to help them. So they gathered some money to send them.
Paul now informs the believers in Rome of his plans to go to Jerusalem because many in the churches there were experiencing hardship. It thrilled him to take an offering with him that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia collected and gave him to carry. Achaia was a province in the southern part of Greece, not the name of a city. The church in Antioch also showed compassion about the plight of the believers in Jerusalem and sent an offering there by way of Paul and Barnabas.
When it comes to Paul’s efforts to help the believers trying to cope with the growing threat of a Roman siege of Jerusalem, several early church scholars expressed their views. For instance, Ambrosiaster believes that Paul wants the Romans to understand that they ought to be concerned with this sort of thing because of compassion, and also those justified before God ought to show their devotion to their brothers and sisters in Christ.6 Then Chrysostom sees Paul taking this opportunity to teach the Romans about the importance of charitable giving.7 And Pelagius points out, that in Jerusalem there were saints who sold all their possessions and laid them at the feet of the Apostles, devoting themselves to prayer, reading, and teaching. It’s clear from this text that their character was such that Paul is traveling around in order to appeal to churches in person in hope to be given an offering to carry upon arrival, thereby showing that it’s more blessed to give than to receive8.9
Also, early church theologian Origen makes the point that Paul is subtlety exhorting the Romans to give by first praising the believers of Macedonia and Achaia for doing so. If all these other churches collected offerings, then certainly the Romans were capable of doing likewise? Most people think that Paul wanted the Romans to give with the same purpose as those of Macedonia and Achaia, but this interpretation appears too narrow for Origen. There were poor saints everywhere and Paul wanted the Romans to develop a spirit of generosity toward them all.10 And Pelagius seems to have the same idea. Except when it came to the believers in Jerusalem, perhaps Paul thought it might be a good idea if they took up an offering for the needs of the saints who voluntarily become poor for their benefit.11
In addition, when it came to remembering the poor, Theodoret points out that when Barnabas and Paul took on the task of preaching to the Gentiles, they entered an agreement with Peter, James, and John, promising to encourage Gentile believers to come to the aid of believers in Judea. Paul mentions this in his epistle to the Galatians: When they perceived the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars in the church, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that we go to the Gentiles and them to the Jews; they wanted us to remember the poor, which I was very eager to do12.13
When it comes to Paul giving the Romans an opportunity to emulate the generosity of the Macedonians and Achaians by taking up an offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem, Luther says that Paul does so with the utmost diplomacy. Luther saw no pressing reason for Paul to mention this matter to the congregation in Rome. Rather, he wanted to motivate them by using the example of others rather than demanding they do so. Let it be done out of their own free will without any pressure. Luther hears the Apostle Paul saying that he will demand nothing from them, but would gratefully accept what they were willingly to contribute. Paul encouraged the other Apostles to follow this sense of obligation in the ministry of love14.15
John Calvin makes the point that Paul is serious about how the Roman believers feel about him as a leading Apostle and his honest desire to come and minister to them. But he must guard against them thinking that he’d be able to come right away, so if he didn’t show up in a month or two they’d feel deceived. That’s why he needs to let them know what business he must attend to before the way cleared for him to visit Rome. Truth is, some urgency existed in his needing to go to Jerusalem where things were getting quite bad for the believers there. Some scholars think that the siege by Roman General Titus was already being talked about. This formed part of his plan to take the donations he received from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. Availing himself of the opportunity in this letter to Rome, he proceeds to hint how nice it would be if they were able to add something to help out their brothers and sisters in Judea. In fact, why not accept it as part of their Christian duty since he recommended the same thing to the church in Corinth16.17
John Taylor notes that when Paul talked about his plans of going to Jerusalem to minister to God’s people there, there’s no mention of bringing the Gospel to them but bringing the financial gifts that he collected along the way to help them out in their time of distress. This laid close to Paul’s heart, and for which he had spent extra time and effort to coordinate among the churches he visited.18 This he made clear in his letter to the Corinthians.19 Taylor also points out that the Jews were generally treated as objects of contempt and insult throughout the Roman empire. So he certainly didn’t want the converted Gentiles to adopt the same opinion. That’s why he hoped that this liberal contribution by the Gentile Christians touched the hearts of their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Paul wanted so badly that they all grow together in love and form a solid coalition in spreading the Gospel to the rest of the world.20 It makes you wonder, were Paul alive today he might try the same thing in bringing all the denominations and churches together to preach the same Gospel to the world. Maybe that day is coming in the great last day awakening promised in God’s Word.
1 1 Corinthians 13:5
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 219
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 286
5 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 624
6 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 30
8 See Acts of the Apostles 20:35
9 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc., cit.
10 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Galatians 2:9-10
13 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Galatians :9-10
15 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 219
16 2 Corinthians 9:2
17 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 See 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 & 9
19 See 2 Corinthians 9:12-13
20 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 362