I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson VI)

There are very few things that give Christians and Christianity a bigger black-eye than when conflict erupts between two churches in a community, or even worse, fights among members of the same church. We don’t know if that was the case in Philippi, but Paul did not hesitate to write them and say: “Be sure you live as God’s people in a way that honors the Good News of Christ.1 He then encouraged them: “Agree with each other and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think.”2 In fact, Paul even singled out two members: “Euodia and Syntyche, you both belong to the Lord, so please agree with each other.3 He even asks a good friend, he calls Syzygos, to help these women to harmonize their outreach efforts4.

Even the Apostle Peter saw the value of such unified efforts. He wrote: “Finally, all of you, be one in mind and feeling; love as brothers; and be compassionate and humble-minded, not repaying evil with evil or insult with insult, but, on the contrary, with a blessing.5 After all, they had examples of such unity from on high. As Paul told the Ephesians: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.6 Likewise, he wrote the Philippians: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have the same attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.7 And, of course, we know that even though He co-existed with God, Jesus did not regard such equality as something to hold on to at all cost, and was willing to pay the price for sinful humankind to take hold of something they could not have gotten any other way because it was a gift.

It was certainly God’s desire that all of His people rid themselves of gossip, false rumors, sinful habits, and immoral thoughts so that they could praise Him in unison as their Creator. He told the prophet Zephaniah: “I will transform people, so that they will have pure lips, to call on the name of Adonai, all of them, and serve Him in total unity.8 Jesus pointed this out to everyone when He said: “My Father Who gave them to Me is greater than all. No one is able to take them out of My Father’s hand. My Father and I are one!9 The hallmark of the Trinity is their total unity. No wonder it took single-mindedness before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 120 followers of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.10 They have said, and I have seen, that the church is most unified when they experience revival and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. No amount of ecumenicism or denominational associations or extending hands of fellowship to other religions will bring about the kind of unity God wants for His people. It will only come through revival and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Early church writer Pelagius has a good point to make. For him, it takes the Holy Spirit to bring us together in total harmony with our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may glorify God our Father in heaven. They all work together so that we remain steadfast in our faith. We are to live in harmony so that each of us can assist the other as if their salvation was our own. This is what Jesus did by His own death in order to save all of us from death.11 To this Chrysostom points out that Paul wants the believers in Rome to do this not just with one voice but also with one mind. The whole body is united into one, and Paul concludes his address with another doxology, in which he gives the utmost encouragement to unanimity and compatibility.12

John Calvin sees several things that Paul says in these verses, especially the term “God of patience,” Calvin notes that God is called this because of what He produces. The same thing has been ascribed to Him before but in a different sense: God alone is doubtless the author of patience and of assurance; He conveys both of these to our hearts by His Spirit: He employs His word as an instrument to accomplish this; He first teaches us what is true assurance, and what is true patience; then He instills and plants this doctrine in our hearts. No doubt, since God is the author of such patience, Paul now turns and prays for the Roman believers. The sum of his prayer is this: That he would bring their minds to real unanimity, and make them one cohesive unit. He also shows, at the same time, what is the bond of unity, for he wished them to agree together as one with Christ Jesus. Calvin feels that any union that is not connected with God is bound to be unstable and miserable.

Then Calvin sees Paul’s message for the Roman as being also a message for us. It’s his recommendation that whatever we want to agree on, make sure that Christ agrees with us. This is so necessary if we want to glorify God. But unless we all agree in our worship to Him, then our tongues will not join together in unity as we sing His praises. That’s why it is not only important that we praise Him as individuals, but also as a body of believers. God loves it so much when He sees His children join together in giving Him honor and glory. For how can our praises go up to Him in harmony when our hearts are torn by discord and contention. This ought to be enough to make us all willing to take care of our disagreements in love before we try to agree on how to show our love for God.13

Jonathan Edwards speaks about the unity of believers as something that should be both comfortable and comforting. It isn’t always done in worship as they lift up holy hands together and sing hymns of praise with equal enthusiasm. Edwards feels that this desired unity is best express in taking the Lord’s Supper. This is the Christian church’s greatest feast of love. When they gather around their Father’s table as family, to feast on the love of their Redeemer, commemorating His sufferings for them, and His undying and unchanging love expressed to them. When the bread and wine of communion are taken, it seals their love for Him and their love for one another. Edwards believes that what brings disharmony to the Body of Christ is that many who join in the celebration of communion don’t see the true value in what they’re doing. As such, says Edwards, they are what, his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, known as the great evangelical leader of the North Hampton Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,14 “…more of an enemy to the Lord than are the unconverted outside the visible church.”15

Adam Clarke takes what Paul is saying here as a reference to the act of public worship. It is possible that with all the contention in Rome between the Jewish and Gentile believers, it had greatly hindered their joint worship of the Almighty. No doubt that’s why Paul spent so much time in the letter talking about their differences, trying to instruct them and exhort them to pull together before they are pulled apart. That’s why he now pours out his heart and soul in pleading with them to look out for each other instead of looking at each other. How can the world be persuaded to become Christians when they see the fighting and tearing of one another down over the smallest things?16

Robert Haldane has some excellent thoughts here on the Christian’s virtues of patience and comforting. He sees the Apostle Paul having in the preceding verse spoken of the patience and assurance which the Scriptures communicate; he points to God as the One who exemplifies patience and assurance. That’s why Paul told them that he prayed that God would help them to agree with one another so that they can get things done together. And the reason he does so is that God is the author of patience and assurance to His people. Patience is essential to a Christian, as is assurance. But neither he, Paul, nor anyone else can be a better source than God who possesses these graces to perfection. How else will we be able to bear the persecution that comes while carrying our cross without Divine support? These virtues, then, of the Christian character are as much the Fruit of the Spirit of God as faith is His gift. Everything good in the child of God is of God, but their sins are their own. When, therefore, we are in a tight place facing difficulties or troubles, we ought to look to God for patience to grant what He sees as good for us so we can carry our burdens with His blessing. The expression, “God of patience,” shows not only that God gives patience to His people, but that He gives it abundantly, and that there is no other source of this gift.17

On Paul’s prayer that the Roman believers develop the mind of Christ when it came to caring for one another, Charles Hodge is adamant in saying that external teaching is not enough, we need the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit to enable us to receive and conform to the truths and precepts of the God’s Word. That’s why Paul prays that God would give his readers the patience, assurance, and hope which they are bound to use and enjoy. Paul prays that God would grant them that harmony and unity which he had so strongly urged them to acquire and cherish. Hodge also notes that the expression, “to be like-minded,” does not refer to unanimity of opinion, but to harmony of agreement.18 According to Jesus Christ, it means being agreeable to following His example and teachings in a Christian manner. This is why he exhorts them to bond as Christians in unity. This harmony and fellowship among Christians is necessary, in order that they may glorify God the right way. To honor God effectually and properly, there must be no unresolved dissension among His people.19

Frédéric Godet makes a valuable observation about what Paul is saying here. There is a close relationship in a church between the assurance and the union of its members. When all are inwardly assured from above, the way is paved for communion of hearts below. Everyone should be working hard to make sure that the assurance they have with each other here below allows them to have better communion with the One above. It is this common impulse which is expressed by Paul’s term, “like-minded.20 Godet goes on to explain that when one common goal reigns in the church, secondary aims no longer separate their hearts. And from this internal communion there results common adoration like pure harmony from a concert of well-tuned instruments. This can lead to all hearts yearning for God as one, all mouths yielding praise to Him as one. And why is that? Because it is all focused on one God who alone is worthy of being glorified by all.21

1 Philippians 1:27

2 Ibid. 2:2

3 Ibid. 4:2

4 Ibid. 4:3 – Translated in KJV as “true yokefellow” and in NIV as “true companion”

5 1 Peter 3:8-9

6 Ephesians 5:1-2

7 Philippians 2:4-5

8 Zephaniah 3:9

9 John 10:29-30

10 Acts of the Apostles 2:1

11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27

13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

14 Massachusetts Bay Colony lay directly west of Boston

15 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 316-317)

16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 280

17 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 611

18 See 8:5; 12:3

19 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 671-672

20 Verse 5

21 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Here are some intriguing quotes made over the years. Take a moment and ponder them to see if you agree.

The formula for success: under promise and over deliver. – Tom Peters

We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. – Max DePree

Forgiveness is of high value, yet it costs nothing. – Unknown

Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it. – Cathy Hopkins

Drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence, but by oft falling. – Lucretius

Innovative thoughts and deep thinking is not something we usually do until something provokes us to do so. It’s the difference in what we see when we look at things with the natural eye and look at them again through a telescope or microscope. Just casually peering at things is easy to do, but looking at them more intensely takes time and effort. For me, the question is, do I really want to know all there is to know about a certain thing.

King David, in the Bible, wanted to know more about God, so he wrote that while laying down on his bed at night he meditates on God.1 Another Psalmist says that he does the same thing by eagerly pondering all of God’s handiwork that he sees in the sky and on the land.2 The prophet Jeremiah recommended meditation because the heart can be treacherous when it becomes desperate.3 And the Apostle James says that meditation can help us control our mind because when improper things are allowed to roam freely, it can start in our passions that quickly gets out of control.

So accordingly to the Bible, we are encouraged to meditate on things that are true, righteous, pure, lovable, well-spoken-of, virtuous, and praiseworthy.4 For when we take in such fine thoughts and “sow” them in our mind, we will reap a harvest of beautiful qualities, gracious speech, and warm relationships with others.5 Years ago I read in a book where it said, Prayer is a good form of relaxation that can lead to meditation. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Psalm 63:6

2 Psalm 143:5

3 Jeremiah 17:9

4 Philippians 4:8-9

5 Colossians 4:6

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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A TINY PRAYER WARRIOR’S FAITH

I have lived in parts of the USA where rain was critically needed at the right time for crops that needed planting and right before the harvest so they could ripen better. So when I read this story it sounded familiar to me. But even if you may have lived in the city most of your life, I’m sure you won’t miss the lesson that this story contains.

As a drought continued for what seemed like an eternity, a small community of farmers was in a big quandary over what to do. Rain was important to keep their crops healthy and sustain the way of life of the townspeople.

As the problem became more acute, a local pastor called a prayer meeting to ask God for rain. Many people came, and as they arrived the pastor greeted them at the door and encouraged them to have faith that God would hear their prayers. When it was time to start, the pastor walked to the front of the church to start the meeting and share with the people what he thought would be a good way for them to pray. As he turned to face the congregation, many of them were still chatting across the aisles and socializing with their friends.

When he asked the attendees for quiet, he spotted an eleven-year-old girl sitting quietly in the front row. Her face was beaming with excitement. Next to her, poised and ready for use, was a bright red umbrella. The little girl’s beauty and innocence made the pastor smile as he realized how much faith she possessed. Everyone there had come to pray and believe, but no one else but this girl brought an umbrella. So he thanked all the people who had come expecting to pray, and then pointed to the young girl and said to them, All of you came to pray for rain, but the little girl had come expecting God to answer right away.

When many of us go to God in prayer, we certainly expect Him to hear us, see our need, and answer us according to His will. But how many of us go to Him expecting an answer? It may not be the answer we were looking for, but His answer proved that He was listening. So just remember, as you begin your prayer you might say, “Here I am Lord! You know what blessing I need, and I’ve got my umbrella with me!” – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson V)

Reformer John Calvin sees this as an important passage by which we can understand that there is nothing vain and unprofitable contained in the Word of God; and we are, at the same time, taught that it is by the reading of the Scripture that we make progress in faith and holiness of life. This means that instead of just reading the Scriptures we should research the Scriptures to see what more we can learn. It would be an insult to the Holy Spirit to think that He would waste His time teaching us something that does not concern us or something we don’t really need to think about. He was sent to teach us everything God wants us to know and to remind us of everything Jesus taught us to do and be.1 What Paul says here includes all that is contained in the First and Final Covenants because the same Spirit of God that inspired the First also inspired the Final Covenant. Calvin is especially critical of those who dismiss the First Covenant as not being of any value to Christians today. That’s where the story of sin and salvation begins and the prophecies that were made of how and when the Final Covenant would be offered by the Messiah which would become the basis of our faith.2

German scholar John Bengel points out that this verse assigns the reason for it being here to what Paul said in the previous verse. All that was written in the First Covenant concerning the Messiah was meant for us believers in the Final Covenant. It is designed to show that Christ was an example of patience through all His suffering to give us hope. But in between patience and hope lies blessed assurance. Bengel notes that by the Scriptures testifying of Christ it teaches us by His example what we should take hold of or what we should leave alone.3 Bengel goes on to say that this comfort or assurance found in the Prophets and written records of the past are echoed here by Paul: If we are distressed because of the way things are going, it is the Scriptures that comfort us concerning our salvation. Therefore, if we are comforted, it is to strengthen our blessed assurance which produces in us patient endurance of hardships now because of what is yet to come.4

Englishman Adam Clarke endorses the belief that all things written long ago about Jesus the Messiah are for us today. This not only involves Paul’s quotation from the 69th Psalm but to all the First Covenant Scriptures, especially the Prophets. And, from what Paul says here about them, we learn that God had not intended them merely for those generations in which they were first delivered, but for the instruction of all the succeeding generations of believers.5 Clarke is convinced that through those remarkable stories of patience exhibited by the past saints of God are valid for the present saints of God. Their history was given to highlight the assurance they received from God in their patient endurance of sufferings brought on by their faithful attachment to truth and righteousness. In fact, these records were kept so that we might have hope that we will be as supported and blessed as they were. That our sufferings will become the means for our advance in faith and holiness. Not only that, but, consequently, our hope of eternal glory is even more confirmed.6

For those who dismiss the First Covenant as out-of-date and no longer relevant to our day, Scottish Bible scholar Robert Haldane said that in light of what the Apostle Paul says here, such thinking is blasphemous. Christ quoted the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms some 40 times, as did the Apostles. So who are we to throw it away as being of no use to us? Haldane then concludes that the passage quoted in the preceding verse and applying it to Christ, is not only useful for us but it is, as the Apostle shows, vital as an example. That’s because those who hated and cursed God were now hating and cursing those who stood up for God. So what did God do? He stood by them and assured them that it would all work out for their good. So how can we do any less now than what they did back then? That’s what prompted the writer of Hebrews to declare: “So let us go out to Him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace He bore.7 This is a clear reference to Mt. Calvary outside the walls of Jerusalem were our Lord died. It is also a metaphorical way of saying, Let’s stand next to the cross of Christ and never be ashamed. He did it all to make us strong and resilient, so we must do the same for others.8

The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon points back to what Paul said in the previous verse when he quoted the Psalmist David saying to God that all the disgraceful things people were saying about God were also directed at him. Then Spurgeon supposes some critic in the crowd saying to Paul: Hey, Paul, wasn’t it David who said what you just quoted. “Yes,” Paul replies, “I know that I quoted David and that he spoke of his personal relationship with the Lord. But I’m telling you that what was written a long time ago was also written for our learning.9 Sounds like Paul may have provided Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck the inspiration for his famous quote: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”10

Jewish scholar David Stern makes this observation about some Christians who dismiss the First Covenant as irrelevant for Final Covenant believers. He even reveals that some Christian seminarians sometimes make jokes about “sermons based on Leviticus,” implying that they consider much of the Tanakh11 as unneeded and boring for today’s believers. A number of Christians, including pastors, go even further and don’t even bother to read the First Covenant. They do acknowledge that the First Covenant was inspired by God, but in practice, they ignore most of it. No wonder Jews often regard the First Covenant as the Jewish Bible and the Final Covenant as the Christian Bible. But Christians who value the Final Covenant above the First Covenant not only belittle Paul’s teaching but do the same to other Final Covenant writers and Yeshua Himself. By so doing, they deprive themselves of the encouragement, assurance, and good counsel that the Tanakh offers in helping believers patiently to hold on to their hope of complete salvation. Unfortunately, they are often the ones who not only speak despairingly of the Jews who had Yeshua killed but of Jews today. Don’t they know that by ignoring the First Covenant they remove themselves from three-quarters of God’s inspired Word, which gives the fundamental and unshakable ground for their identifying with believing Jews as God’s people?12

Another Jewish writer notes that the things written a long time ago for our learning are part of the Tanakh (Genesis to Malachi), which was the only Bible available when the Letter to the Romans was written. Paul’s comment resembles that which he made in his letter to Timothy, where he instructed him that the Scriptures were all Timothy needed for his faith.13 Thus, the entirety of faith in Yeshua as the Messiah is based in the Tanakh. The Tanakh was all the disciples used in preaching about Yeshua and His Gospel. When Paul praised the Bereans for checking the Scriptures to see if what he taught about Yeshua was true, it was the Tanakh they were researching14.15

15:5-6 (14:28-29): All patience and comforting come from God. And I pray to God that all of you will agree with one another, as Christ Jesus wants you to. Then you will all be joined together. And all together you will give glory to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Although we have no record of there being any children’s church program in Ephesus or throughout the Galatian province, I’m sure that the Apostle Paul would not have objected to a song we used to sing, lined up in front of the altar after Sunday school, before morning worship: “The more we pull together, together, together; the more we pull together the happier we’ll be.” This was the attitude King Hezekiah he had by sending out couriers throughout Israel and Judah with this message: “Obey the Lord with a willing heart… The Lord your God is kind and merciful, He will not turn you away.16 Although some people just laughed, many of them heeded the King’s letter. As a result, we read: “in Judah God’s power united the people so that they would obey the king and his officials concerning the word of the Lord.17

During the days of Jeremiah the prophet, there was another effort to get the people to work together, even in the face of opposition. So God gave the prophet this message: “I will give them the desire to be one, united people. They will have one goal – to worship Me all their lives. They and their children will want to do this.18 And when the people were scattered abroad after heathen forces invaded because they had fallen into idolatry, God gave Ezekiel this message: “I will bring them together and make them like one person. I will put a new spirit in them. I will take away that heart of stone, and I will put a real heart in its place.19 There are few things that please God more than when His people love each other and work together to spread the Good News of salvation to a lost and dying world.

So we should not be surprised that as Peter and John preached the Gospel in the Temple and many came to believe on Jesus as the Messiah, that in a prayer meeting going on for their safety and release, the place where they were meeting quaked, and they were all empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out and share God’s message of deliverance and salvation without fear.20 That was the same kind of attitude and atmosphere that Paul wanted to exist among the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg all of you to agree with each other. You should not be divided into competing groups. Be completely joined together again with the same kind of thinking and the same purpose.21 But, Paul had to write them again and say: “Brothers and sisters, be filled with joy. Try to make everything right, and do what I have asked you to do. Agree with each other, and live in peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.22 It appears that it had to do with the methods used for personal and joint evangelistic efforts by the church in Corinth.

1 John 14:26

2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 356-357

4 2 Corinthians 1:6

5 Deuteronomy 4:9

6 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 279

7 Hebrews 13:13

8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 610

9 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

10 Otto von Bismarck: “Gedanken und Errinerungen” (Thoughts and Memories)

11 Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym derived from the initial letters of the Hebrew names for the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings which include Genesis to Malachi.

12 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 2 Timothy 3:16

14 Acts of the Apostles 17:11

15 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 2 Chronicles 30:8-9

17 Ibid. 30:12

18 Jeremiah 32:39

19 Ezekiel 11:19

20 Acts of the Apostles 4:31-32a

21 1 Corinthians 1:10

22 2 Corinthians 13:11

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson IV)

Preacher Charles Spurgeon states very eloquently that Christ should be our prime example to follow when confronted by haters. As Spurgeon sees it, Christ placed Himself in the center of the heated battle; He stood unafraid where the fighting was the hottest. He did not seek to lounge among His disciples as a king, surrounded by His troops, guarded and protected in the time of strife. Rather, He went unprotected to the fiercest spot on the field of battle. What Jesus did, should be an example for all who call themselves His followers. No one should find an excuse to join the warfare because they have other interests, but all should remember, we are not fighting just for ourselves, but for our God, our Savior, and our fellow believers.1

For John Stott, Paul’s simple statement here sums up with eloquent brevity both the meaning of the incarnation and the character of Christ’s earthly life. Instead of spending all His time doing what made Him happy, He gave Himself in the service of His Father and of human beings. Stott writes that although He, “being in very nature God,” had the greatest right of all persons to do what brought Him joy, yet “He did not consider equality with God something to be held on to” for His own advantage, but first “gave up all2 of His glory and then “humbled Himself” to serve3.4

On the subject of doing good for one’s neighbor in an effort to encourage them, one Messianic Jewish writer believes that the “strong believer,” in this context, includes Paul also since it considers both Jews and Gentiles as one in Yeshua. Paul’s instructions are to help the weak with their weakness and be a good neighbor for the express purpose of helping them help themselves to what the Lord has to offer. Again, note that it is the Gentiles he is addressing who have the responsibility, as part of their faith, to understand and respect the halakha,5 even to the extent of modifying their own behavior so as to not offend them as this may permanently drive them away from Yeshua, and even inadvertently turn their backs on the Church and God. The Greek noun oikodomē, meaning “edification, has to do with the “act of building.” This is consistent with Paul’s message here and in his other letters.6 where he is concerned with the Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, coming together as “stones” that build up the body of Messiah. Note that Paul refers to the weak a neighbor of the strong, establishing a link back to Romans 13:9-10.7

15:4 (14:27): Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. Those things were written so that we could have hope. That hope comes from the patience and assurance that the Scriptures give us.

Paul was a firm believer that the fastest way to learn is to accept the lessons of the past. We hear that same thought from German philosopher Georg Hegel who said: “But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.8 So it was with the Children of Israel who entered the Promised Land, in that they forgot what their ancestors were forced to learn in the Sinai desert. Unfortunately, Christians seem to have followed the same path. Paul no doubt remembered what Moses told the children of Israel: “When a work animal is being used to separate grain, don’t keep it from eating the grain.”9 Paul asked the Corinthians: “When God said this, was he thinking only about work animals? No. He was really talking about us. Yes, that was written for us. The one who plows and the one who separates the grain should both expect to get some of the grain for their work.10

So Paul says to the Corinthians: “The things that happened to those people are examples. They were written to be warnings for us. We live in the time that all those past histories were pointing to.”11 This is the best way to learn from the First and Final Covenants Think about what God was saying to them then and how it applies to us today. Paul had the same message for Timothy: “All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live. Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work.12

By seeing what has gone before us and learning from saints of the past, we can be better informed and more alert so that our work for God is not only more expedient but also more efficient. Even though it is somewhat hard for English readers today because of 1678 English spelling and grammar, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written to point this out. In the Ninth Stage of pilgrim Christian’s journey when he meets another pilgrim named Ignorance, as they walk along talking, another pilgrim joins them named Hopeful. He must have heard what Christian and Ignorance were talking about and says this:

Let Ignorance a little while now muse

 On what is said, and let him not refuse

 Good counsel to embrace, lest he remain

Still ignorant of what’s the chiefest gain.

God saith, those that no understanding have,

(Although he made them,) them He will not save.”13

Here is what I hear Hopeful saying in today’s prose: “Let pilgrim Ignorance take a moment and ponder what Christian said, and then not to refuse to accept good advice given to him so that he doesn’t remain ignorant of what our chief aim as pilgrims is in life. God said that even though a person claims ignorance, even though they are His creation He will not save them.”

The writer of Hebrews also captures what Paul is saying here: “God is fair, and He will remember all the work you have done. He will remember that you showed your love to him by helping his people and that you continue to help them. We want each of you to be willing and eager to show your love like that the rest of your life. Then you will be sure to get what you hope for.14 But later on, he tells his readers: “Don’t lose the courage that you had in the past. Your courage will be rewarded richly. You must be patient. After you have done what God wants, you will get what he promised you.”15

Early church preacher Chrysostom told his congregation that these things were written so that believers might not be tempted to go back into sin, even though they have many internal and external battles to fight. By being comforted by the Scriptures that hold God’s promises we develop courage so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another – hope allows patience to develop, and patience births hope.16 And to this, we have the thoughts of Pelagius who states that no Scripture is written without reason, for the stories of how the righteous overcame trials and temptations contribute to our being built up in our faith. Their stories inspire us because they also lived for God. Through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we are willing to faithfully wait with great patience in hope that all He promised will come to pass. So by the examples of faith and patience which have been written down, we can hope for encouragement both during present temptations and in our future salvation. For it gives us great cause for confidence if we know that our Lord and His saints have already borne the things which we suffer and made it through victoriously.17

Here Luther makes the point that much of what was written in the First Covenant was designed to introduce Christ. That it was also for our learning so that we could learn to have patience with those around us. But there are those who disagree and think that those sayings were for the Israelites back in their day, and what was written about the Messiah then does not apply to us now. Luther answers them by saying that the Apostle Paul anticipated such an objection. That’s why he said that what is written of the Messiah from the beginning was intended for us as well, in order that we may learn to imitate Him. That’s why we must understand this as something which is presented to us about Christ, not merely in a speculative way, but as an example for us to follow. From this passage, we, therefore, learn the important truth that all that Christ did is recorded for our instruction.

Luther also comments on what Paul says about patience and hope. He sees these two things as a great combination. We have hope through both the patience and the comfort which the Scriptures offer. Hope, of course, is not a tangible thing, for if we were able to see something why should we hope for it? But hope excludes all things that we can see so that by faith we can believe in what we cannot see. Therefore, patience here is necessary. And just so that we do not grow weak as we patiently wait, the Apostle uses the Greek noun paraklēsis (“comfort” – KJV). It can be used four ways to either mean, “summons for help,” “supplication,” “encouragement,” or “comfort,” Thayer in his Greek Lexicon puts it under the same category in which it is used in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and Hebrews 12:5; 13:22. When these Scripture are put in context the one English word that might best define what Paul means here is “assurance.” Blessed assurance gets rid of fear and doubt because it guarantees that everything will work together for our good and God’s good. Luther points out that this should give us plenty of reasons to keep marching forward toward our goal of final salvation. That’s why it is such a grand thing when we totally rely on God’s Word instead of man’s word or even our own word. And this can only be done by those who put God first and foremost in their lives. Those are they who willingly to give up the things of this world for the things of the world-to-come.18

1 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

2 Revised Standard Version

3 Philippians 2:6ff

4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 The root of the Hebrew term used to refer to Jewish law, halakha, means “go” or “walk.” Halakha, then, is the “way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, encompassing civil, criminal, and religious law.

6 See Ephesians 2:21, 4:12, 16, 29

7 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Lectures on the Philosophy of History: by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, translated by J. Sibree, G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., London, 1914, p. 6

9 Deuteronomy 25:4

10 1 Corinthians 9:9b-10

11 Ibid. 10:11

12 2 Timothy 3:16-17

13 The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which is to Come: by John Bunyan, Printed at the Peacock in the Poultrey near Cornhil, London, 1678, p. 151

14 Hebrews 6:10-11

15 Ibid. 10:35-36

16 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27

17 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

18 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 210-211

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson III)

Bible teacher H. A. Ironside, taught about being sensitive to other people’s preferences, especially those weak in their faith. By doing so, we can be a vessel and tool of the Holy Spirit to help them grow and mature. So when you see a believer having trouble dealing with things that weigh heavy on their conscience, ask them to explain and then see how you can help. But under no circumstances, should you start out by lecturing them on how weak they are in their faith and why their spiritual growth has been stunted by the way they think. Remember, you are there to build them up, not tear them down. If you are truly free to make a decision of eating or not eating; drinking or not drinking certain things, then use that freedom to abstain if necessary.

That is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. When He came to earth as the Messiah, the Son of God was under no obligation to obey Mosaic Law, follow the laws of purity, or celebrate the Jewish Feasts, etc. Yet He voluntarily submitted to every precept of the Torah and even went so far as to pay the Temple tax. His reason? “Lest we should make them stumble.”1 By doing this, He was willing to be criticized by those who thought He did not need to pay and was only giving into the Romans out of weakness. But His outward behavior was as blameless as His inward life, yet people still reviled Him as they reviled God.2

John Stott has quite a bit to say about Paul’s opening verses here concerning how those in the church who are spiritually mature should assist and mentor those who are spiritually immature. Since Paul begins with “we who are strong,” he clearly indicates who he is talking to. From the context of what he has said so far, that would be the Gentile converts and any of the Jewish converts who had made the transition from the Law to the Gospel. So what, then, ought the strong to do? What is their Christian responsibility towards the weak? That’s where Paul’s warning comes in. Strong believers may be tempted to utilize their strength to brush off the weak. Paul urges them, instead, to help them carry their load as it pertains to their conscience. Before their conversion, being self-centered and self-seeking was natural to their fallen human nature. But they ought not to use their strength now to their own advantage. Pleasing our neighbor, which Scripture commands,3 must not be confused with pleasing anybody for the sake of convenience4.5

Back in 1842, a young British born man immigrated to the United States with his father. His name was Thomas B. Welch (1825-1903). He attended school in New York and became a dentist. Then in 1859, at the age of 17, he joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church. From their beginning, this denomination was totally against the manufacturing, buy, selling, or drinking alcoholic beverages. As a consequence, they needed a form of grape juice that had not fermented. This was not an easy task to do. Not only that, but there were some in the Church that had no problem using wine, some of which contained 12% alcohol. At the age of 19, Welch became an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Sometime later, Welch decided to use pasteurization to create unfermented grape juice for the purpose of using it at communion. So for those who were totally against drinking fermented wine and those who saw no problem with it, Welch was able to find a compromise that worked. It later became known as Welch’s Grape Juice and was sold in grocery stores in the New York and New Jersey area until it spread across the country and around the world.

On this subject of not letting differences developing into a grudge against one’s neighbor, Rabbi Avraham Saba tells us that the early Rabbis taught that a person should not try to hide any ill feelings from someone else, but it should be brought to the other person’s attention without expressing anger or hate. If a person fails to do so and continues to harbor ill will in their hearts against a neighbor, they are burdening themselves with a sin. However, even if telling your neighbor does not change their ways or cause them to apologize, at least you have unloaded your potential sin so it should not bother you anymore. The worse thing a person can do is try to retaliate so as to get the other person’s attention to show how hurt you really feel. In that case, you become no better than they are and now both of you are at fault. Rather, attempt to replace the bad feelings with good feelings by performing acts of love. Consider the things your neighbor likes and adopt their interests as a way of showing that you like what they like, instead of continuing to point out what you don’t like.6

15:2-3 (14:25-26): We should do whatever helps others to grow stronger in faith because this is what will build them up spiritually. Even Christ did not live trying to please Himself. As the Scriptures say about Him, “Those people who insulted You have also insulted me.”7

The Apostle Paul encouraged everyone in the Roman Christian community to look out for one another because he practiced it in his own life. As he told the Corinthians: “Although I am an independent man, not bound to do anyone’s bidding, I have made myself a slave to all in order to win as many people as possible.8 Paul continues this theme in his letter: “Try to do what is good for others, not just what is good for yourselves.9 I do the same thing. I try to please everyone in every way. I am not trying to do what is good for me. I am trying to do what is good for the most people so that they can be saved.10

But the Corinthians were not the only ones Paul tried to motivate into being helpful to others. He also told the Philippians: “In whatever you do, don’t let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. Don’t be interested only in your own life, but care about the lives of others too.11 Paul had good reason to teach this altruistic approach because he read the words of David: “Lord, you made me understand this: You don’t really want sacrifices and grain offerings. You don’t want burnt offerings and sin offerings. So I said, ‘Here I am, ready to do what was written about me in the book. My God, I am happy to do whatever you want,12 and understood how it applied to Christ his Savior and all those who follow Him.

This attitude is best exemplified in the submission of our Lord Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion: “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me drink from this cup. But I want what you want to be done, not what I want.”13 Then when our Lord fell on His knees a second time He prayed: “My Father, if I must do this and it is not possible for me to escape it, then I pray that what you want will be done.14 This was not the first time that Jesus evinced His total dedication to His Father’s will. While speaking to the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria, Jesus told her: “My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do. My food is to finish the work that he gave me to do.15 And later when Jesus healed the man at the Pool of Bethsaida in Jerusalem, He saw the man again in the Temple and explained to him and others around him: “I can do nothing alone. I judge only the way I am told. And my judgment is right because I am not trying to please myself. I want only to please the One who sent me.”16 Then, after feeding the 5,000 on the shores of Lake Galilee, Jesus told them: “I came down from heaven to do what God wants, not what I want.”17

Early church scholar Ambrosiaster takes note that the Savior says that He did not come to please Himself but God the Father. Because He said I did not come down from heaven to do my will but the will of Him who sent me,18 the Jews objected and put Him to death as a blasphemer. Thus He fulfilled what the Psalmist said “The disgrace of those who disgraced You fell on me.”19 This has been taken by the earliest Apostles as an inference that this Psalm was speaking of Christ who would do the very same.20

Martin Luther believes that Paul is shifting the emphasis of love for ourselves to love for others. He references where Paul says to the Corinthians that love does not focus on oneself.21 Luther then presents his particular view of a saying of Jesus about loving one’s neighbor. He does this without trying to dispute the opinion of others. Yet, despite his high regard for the early church scholars, when they interpreted “having love for one’s neighbor,”22 to mean that by loving one’s neighbor as oneself”23 that one’s love for themselves is the measure of one’s love for their neighbor. This, says Luther, is ridiculous!24 Luther contends that this commandment does not imply that we should love ourselves first and then love our neighbor the same way. Rather, that we treat our neighbor with the same compassion and respect that we would like others to treat us.

As it relates to Paul’s exhortation for the strong believer to encourage the weak brothers and sisters for their own good, John Calvin points out that there are two things emphasized here: In verse two, we are told that we are not to be content with our own judgment, nor give in to our own desires, but ought to strive and labor at all times to work with our fellow believers in settling disagreements. Furthermore, in our efforts to work with our fellow believers we must keep in mind that as far as God is concerned our main aim should be to build up their confidence, not tear it down. To make this work, we must approach it with understanding for what they are dealing with. But under no circumstances should we seek to please them by flattering their foolishness and forget about their salvation. Not everyone has honorable intentions. There are some with ulterior motives and nothing will please them except what gives them complete victory.

1 Matthew 17:26

2 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 Leviticus 19:17-18; cf. Romans 13:9

4 E.g.. Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:4

5 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

6 Tzror Hamor: On Leviticus, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. IV, p. 1394

7 Psalm 69:9

8 1 Corinthians 9:19

9 Ibid. 10:24

10 Ibid. 10:33

11 Philippians 2:3-4

12 Psalm 40:6-8a

13 Matthew 26:39

14 Ibid. 26:42

15 John 3:34

16 Ibid. 5:30

17 Ibid. 6:38; Also see: 8:29; 12:27, 28; 14:30, 31; 15:10; Philippians 2:8

18 Ibid. 6:38

19 Psalm 69:9

20 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

211 Corinthians 13:5

22 John 13:34; Cf. 15:12

23 Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18

24 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 208-209

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson II)

Reformer John Calvin interprets Paul’s call for strong believers not to be dismayed by the shortcomings of weak believers. Some of them don’t think it’s right when a person who matures in the faith is then given a heavier burden to carry, a burden belonging to someone else. However, says Calvin, the opposite is true, The very reason God has nurtured a believer and caused them to grow stronger is so that He can use them to keep a weak believer from falling and giving up. The fact is, God has destined those to whom He has granted advanced knowledge so they can then pass on what they’ve learned to those who still need instruction. That’s the goal of any teacher. In order to do this, the strong may, from time to time, help the weak until their strength improves to carry more of their own burden.1 In this way, there will be fewer and fewer weak believers and more and more strong believers who together can carry any burden the Lord may put on them as a body for the benefit of those who would be helpless otherwise.2

In German theologian John Bengel’s mind, every minute a strong believer spends on their own wants and wishes means one less minute God can use them to help out a weak brother or sister. So what better way to return thanks to God for all that he’s done for us, than to do all we can for those who need help and guidance? Bengel goes on to point out that by saying “to bear a burden,” is just another way of saying “to sooth a burden.” However, the verb sooth and noun burden do not match very well. I would rephrase it to read, “to give a helping hand.” That means more than just dropping something off with instructions on how to use it. Bengel also remarks that when a person is obsessed with meeting their own needs, they have little time to help someone else out with theirs. Being selfish ought to go against the conscience of every believer.3

John Taylor takes issue with the translation of verse 1 from Greek into English. The KJV renders it, “We then, that are strong.” However, the Greek reads, “We who [are] strong.4 Another version puts it, “We, the able.”5 By using the KJV, Taylor thinks that this as an inference from the last part of Chapter 14 where it talks about those who are unsure about what foods to eat or not to eat. If they proceed to eat because they are convinced by faith that it is acceptable to God they can be happy. However, if they go ahead and eat while in doubt, then that is for them a mistake. Meanwhile, when those who are strong decide against taking the opportunity to exercise their freedom, and abstain as a favor to the weak brother or sister, are making the right decision.6

Puritan scholar Jonathan Edwards notes John Taylor’s point and finds no reason to object. In fact, he takes this as Paul’s directions to the strong believers in Rome to always be the one who abstains in favor of their weak believer’s point of view. This makes for peace and harmony. And by doing so, they show who are the stronger ones in the local Body of Christ. It also gives the strong believer the opportunity to build up the weak Christian in holiness and wholesomeness.7 The weak believer has little or no choices because they have not grown that much in the faith. Whereas the more mature believer can walk a lot further by faith. So the choice goes to the strong believer and they cannot lose, because it is better to make your weak believer comfortable at your expense, then to make yourself happy at their expense.8 There is no reason to take Edward’s advice as potentially leading to the weak dominating the Body of Christ. These are things that pertain to a person’s spiritual growth, not their views on fads or fashions.

Several years ago there was a story of an ongoing argument between a husband and wife. The actual subject of the argument is much less important than the process. As was often the case, the husband was certain he was right but couldn’t get his wife to back down and agree. The only thing they could agree on in this matter was to seek the counsel of their pastor. The husband knew that the pastor would side with his position and designate him as being “right.” As they shared their dramatically different perspectives, the husband made mental preparations to declare victory. But to his considerable surprise, the pastor didn’t take sides, gracefully sidestepping the dichotomy of right/wrong, and the “I’m Okay,” “You’re not Okay” that goes with it. Rather, he asked the husband matter-of-factly, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” As a Christian, we can often be forced to make that same decision when it comes to keeping harmony in the Body of Believers.

Methodist scholar Adam Clarke believes the sense of this verse is supposed to be the following: Strong Christians who better understand the liberty brought to us by the Gospel, not only may offer to work with the weak in rectifying their differences, but are bound to do so as a Christian duty. That will not only help the strong to better understand the misgivings of the weak about the things the strong feel free to do but will also ease their consciences by knowing that they will not be forced to approve of what the strong do or to join them, which would go against their better judgment.9

Clarke then offers an account from his own life that happened in the early 1800s. He tells us that the first time he visited the Methodist churches in Italy, he found out that the believers there had no issues about drinking table wine at meals, while the denomination’s stance on alcohol was total abstinence. The brethren in Italy’s decision not to drink wine while he dined with them was their way of saying that they respected the denomination’s stance and could not in good conscience practice what their spirit was in harmony with since it would cause unnecessary grief. I might add, that in January 1969 I had the privilege of visiting some churches that were supported by my denomination in Sicily and found that even to that day table wine at meal time was an acceptable practice, but not back in the United States. So the tradition has continued and their respect for the abstainer remains.

Robert Haldane interprets the Greek word bastazō, which the KJV translated as “to bear,” and what Paul says about helping each other out to denote both to bear and to bear with. As so used, Haldane takes it to mean, to carry. He says it can be illustrated by imagining two travelers who are each carrying a suitcase. The smaller of the two has a suitcase that is excessively heavy, and the bigger one has a suitcase which is fairly light. So the strong traveler tells the weak one to let him carry that heavy suitcase and gives the lighter one to him to carry since they’re both going to the same destination.

Then the two stop at a restaurant to have a meal. The strong traveler orders a beer while the weak traveler orders lemonade. But the weak tells the strong that he is against drinking alcohol and is disappointed that his fellow traveler has such low standards. So the strong traveler immediately cancels his beer and orders lemonade as well. So as far as Haldane is concerned, it is improper to think of bearing another person’s burden to mean that you must put up with, endure, or tolerate any inconvenient thing they may demand of you. But there is no reason not to meet them at least halfway.

It is easy to know what things are in our control and which things are beyond our control to manage, says Haldane. God is the Lord of our conscience. The person who speaks of tolerating the belief of another without making their own known is improper. Just as long as it’s not done to please ourselves at their expense.10 This agrees with Thayer’s Greek Lexicon that gives several English renderings of bastazō such as, 1) “to take up with the hands,” and 2) “to take up in order to carry,” and 3) “to carry on one’s shoulders.” Thayer lists the way it is used here in this verse under number 3.

Charles Hodge feels that by separating this passage from the narrative in the preceding chapter by the numbering system is unfortunate since there is no change in the subject, it makes it more difficult to understand in context. In Hodges’ mind, Paul is making his point on how we should all get along by looking at those things on which we agree rather those things on which we disagree. Paul’s having to point out differences between believers should not be necessary since the law of love, the example of Christ, and the honor of our faith requires that we work together to solve our differences. All Paul is saying is that once we know what the differences are and what our weak brothers and sisters find so disturbing, we must look for ways to come to an agreement on how we can make sure they are not offended by our actions. That is far better than insisting on having things our way that ends up being a double loss. We lose because our stubbornness may cost us their friendship and their respect11.12

French theologian Frédéric Godet sees Paul’s intent to foster harmony in the Roman church this way: He is fully aware of those Jews in the church who still have their ties to the synagogue and attachment to their former laws, rites, and rituals, and those who came into the church with none of these things and are celebrating their liberation from paganism and idolatry. So Paul must find a way to advise both sides on how to accommodate each other and still maintain harmony in the church. So he starts with the Gentiles who have been freed and are no longer bound by the laws of self-righteousness and tells them to respect their Jewish brethrens’ uneasiness about eating food sold in the local market that also sells meat to be offered to the idols in the town’s shrines. Their conscience would be hurt if they found out they had mistakenly eaten such contaminated food. That’s why he starts out this chapter by saying that some of them who have no problems with this should be sensitive and patient with those who do.13 This can be taken as another way of saying that there never has been nor will there ever be a time when every Christian on earth is in total agreement about everything they believe, say, and do. But one uniting factor that all believers possess is the love of God in their heart. So, if we cannot agree on how we do this or that, at least let us agree that what we do is all for the glory of God.

Charles Spurgeon preached that when a believer reaches the point where they feel free to say and do what their conscience allows them to do, they still must be careful that they don’t offend other believers who have not matured to that same level. Consider their handicap and do not make fun of it, but try to see things from their point of view. After all, we should not take advantage of our liberty just to please ourselves and leave them to struggle alone on how to stay true to God, their conscience, and the Law. Under no circumstances should we put their faith at risk just because it might cause us some inconvenience and extra time to sort out the differences.14

1 The Greek adjective dynatos translated as stronger suggest being more able to cope with adversities that face believers.

2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 356

4 New Living Translation Interlinear by Tyndall

5 Scripture for All Greek Interlinear Bible (NT)

6 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 359

7 See 1 Thessalonians 5:11

8 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 315)

9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 278

10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc, cit., p. 608

11 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 669

13 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

14 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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