Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the most closely reasoned and compelling book of the New Testament. Its massive theology, so ably argued in the first eleven chapters, logically proceeds from the statement of the gospel in the opening verses in chapter 1 to the need for the gospel because of man’s sin in chapters 1-3. Next it describes the provision of the righteousness that comes by faith in chapters 3-4. Then our position in Christ is beautifully described in chapter 5. The secret of spiritual victory is mapped out in chapters 6-8. And finally, in chapters 9-11, a vindication of God’s work in history is provided. As Paul concludes his argument, his foundational theology gives way to an appropriately rousing doxology in 11:36 – “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” There is simply nothing like the first eleven chapters of Romans.
Then what follows is the properly compelling call to practical Christian living in chapters 12-15. In logical succession Paul encourages us to practice our theology by using our gifts to serve one another in love. We are to subject ourselves to the authority over us, living by the law of love in the Church, offering all of life to God. This section also concludes with a doxology: “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (15:33). Then, as we saw in the last chapter, Paul gives his greetings to all the saints in Rome and closes with another doxology: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (16:20b). These are the magnificent structures of the greatest theological treatise ever written. There is nothing like the book of Romans!
Now comes the end. His friends have chimed in with their greetings, and Paul takes the pen in his own hand and writes the last few lines. What did he write? Another doxology, of course, the longest of all his doxologies and one of the most beautiful Paul has written. Paul’s final praise is a model for all times, a model for our song in the Lord. Essentially there are two broad categories of praise: (1) praise for God’s work (vv. 25-26) and (2) praise for God’s wisdom (v. 27).
Paul begins by praising God for His work in strengthening His children (v. 25a). The thrust here at the end of the great theological foundation of Romans is that spiritually God is able to make us stand strong and steadfast. He props His people up so they will not fall. Perhaps Paul is considering his readers’ life in Rome now and in the future, seeing their struggles. Though he cannot do anything for them, he knows God is able to make them stand, and for this he offers doxology. God can establish us and make us strong and steadfast in any circumstance. When He so chooses, He demonstrates this in the physical realm as well.
As Paul further expresses his thought in verse 25, he tells us how God establishes us: “according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” We were established initially through Jesus Christ, and we are maintained continually by Him. The key to standing is making Jesus the center of everything. Moreover, the story of Jesus should be our constant meditation, as it was for Paul. Then we will be able to stand, for it is Jesus who establishes us. If you have been teetering, focus on Jesus, read about Him, think about Him, and make the Gospels your spiritual meat and potatoes, the sustenance of your life.
The second aspect of our being established is given in verse 25b where Paul says, “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” In other words, we are established when and as the ancient mystery is opened to us. How is this so? Part of the answer lies in the word “mystery,” which in the New Testament does not mean mysterious (as the English word suggests) but rather a secret that was once kept dark but is now revealed.
Here in Romans a great and ancient secret has been thrown wide open to believers by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the mystery of Jesus, which Paul calls the “mystery, which is Christ” in Colossians 1:27. God has given Jesus to us through the virgin birth, through His absolutely perfect earthly life, through His vicarious death for us, through His breaking the bonds of death and ascending to the right hand of the Father. Thus the mystery has been opened to us. We cannot understand everything, for even in eternity the wonder of it will continue to unfold. There follows from this the grand mystery of the Church, which is like marriage. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” The marriage relationship illustrates the great mystery of the personal relationship that exists between each believer and Jesus.
The spiritual understanding of the mystery of the Church, the inner secret that was hidden and now is made known, can be more fully apprehended by meditating on the tiny word “in.” Paul uses this word twelve times in the first fifteen verses of Ephesians concerning us and Jesus Christ: “in Christ Jesus” (v. 1), “in Christ” (v. 3), “in him” (v. 4), “in the Beloved” (v. 6), “in him” (v.7), “in Christ” (v. 9), “in him” (v. 10), “in him” (v. 11), “in Christ” (v. 12), “in him” (twice in v. 13), “in the Lord Jesus” (v. 15). This amazing reciprocal truth is the signature of the Christian life: I am in Christ, and He is in me. No other religion knows anything of this. It is our mystery. The mystery is nothing less than a miracle. God’s salvation extends to all races, and those who receive it are “in” Christ, and He is “in” them. Moreover, all Jewish and Gentile believers are brothers and sisters together.
What a mystery, what a miracle, and what a call to praise God! God is able to prop us up. Actually He is able to do even more. He is able to establish us. His way of doing this is Jesus! When Jesus is the subject of our proclamation, our conversation, our meditation, we stand! And as we live and grow in Jesus, the mystery opens wider and wider, and we become more firmly established. The unfolding mystery of God Incarnate assaults our souls and draws us up to glory. Thus we stand strong! The mystery of our union in the Lord Jesus Christ as bride and groom opens wider and wider. This is not hopeful thinking. This is no pious rhetoric. It is true! Jesus is in me and you, and we are in Him. And this mystery that makes us stand is for all the world. Through Christ, believing Jews and Gentiles stand together and will be established for eternity. This is Paul’s doxology!
Paul fittingly ends Romans with praise to God for His wisdom (v. 27). Our God is the only God. There is none but Him. He is incomprehensible. Our God is also the only wise God. In affirming this, we are reminded that whatever God is He is infinitely. Therefore, God is infinite wisdom. Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by perfect means. This our God does without limit. In His wisdom He made it possible for those who were once bound to earth by their own sinful depravity to be loosed from their sins and to know the throne of God as eternal home. He has made it possible for men who were lower than the angels to rise higher than the angels. He has made it possible for us to become His own sons and daughters. For all this there can only be doxology – “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
Romans 16:25-27 Study Questions:
What main themes from the whole letter, reviewed in verses 25-27, have stayed in your mind and heart the most?
What has changed in your life since studying the letter to the Romans?
Spend time praying through verses 25-27. Praise God for all He has done. Praise God for specific ways in which He has changed people through this study.
What does Scripture seem to indicate about Paul’s activity after he wrote this letter?
Paul is more forceful here in verses 17-20 then he has been so far in his approach to the Romans. Paul briefly suggests three protective measures that need to be taken by a Christian church. First, in verse 17a he says: “watch out for those who cause divisions.” Paul has no sympathy with theological sleepiness. Christians are to make a mental note of those who are off-base. Second: “avoid them” (v. 17b). Heretics are to be spurned. Third: “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (v. 19b). This is an echo of Jesus’ saying in Matthew 10:16: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This is good advice because our tendency is to be as wise as doves and innocent as serpents.
This no-nonsense advice eloquently demonstrates the second aspect of Paul’s horizontal love: it is protective. The connection is clear: When you really love people as much as Paul loved the Romans, you protect them. This is a great example for all of us. We need to love in such a way that we really put it on the line for others and speak the truth in love. Paul’s heart is a loving, protective, and contagious heart.
I picture the scene in chapter 16 like this: As Paul nears the end of dictating his letter to the Romans, his friends gather around him in the home of his gracious host, Gaius. Tertius is writing down Paul’s words, and Timothy, Jason, Lucius, and Sosipater really get into the long recitation of greetings to real people. Their hearts are warmed, and all three interrupt: “Say hi for.” “Me too!” So Tertius writes verses 21-23. We see here that a heart that is filled with love is by nature contagious.
Though Paul was the supreme intellect of the Early Church, and though Paul had a heart that burned for the glory of God, as few have in the history of the world, he would not have been used like he was if he had not had a heart for people. The truly revolutionary heart is not just a visionary heart with great dreams, but a heart that loves people, a heart that remembers names, a heart with a good word for his brothers and sisters, a protective heart, and finally a contagious heart.
The beautiful Greek and Latin names in Romans 16 were names of real people. Each name had its joys and sorrows, its cares, its hope, its trials. All drank of the common cup of human experience. These were, and are, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Someday we will walk with them in radiant white. One of the primary human reasons this is so is that Paul loved them. May we have such a heart so that future generations may say the same of us!
Romans 16:17-23 Study Questions:
What is the main point Paul wants the church in Rome to understand in verses 17-20?
How can we use Paul’s guidance here to discern “false teaching” in the church today?
Paul sends greetings in verses 21-23 from friends of his to the Roman believers. How might these greetings have affected the Roman church?
What has Christ accomplished through you? How have others encouraged you as you have served the Lord?
None of our lives would be as they are today had it not been for the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul. As we continue the study of Paul’s great heart, we should bear in mind the four qualities we have already considered (liturgical, glorifying, visionary, and praying) were essentially vertical, whereas in this chapter we will see the horizontal aspects of his missionary heart.
The first characteristic of Paul’s heart described in this chapter is that it overflowed with personal love. If the long list of names and greetings in these verses teaches us anything, it is that Paul had a diffusive love for people. The word “greet” appears nineteen times and seventeen of them are by Paul. Our text features thirty-three names. Twenty-four were in Rome (seventeen men and seven women). In addition, the apostle mentions two households, the mother of Rufus, and the sister of Nereus. Nine of the people mentioned were with Paul in Corinth (eight men and one woman). Obviously Paul maintained a remarkable amount of affectionate relationships.
We may not normally think of Paul this way. We may naturally assume that though he was a great man, his greatness made him a forbidding companion. Having read through Romans, and knowing of his massive intellect, most of us would feel somewhat intimidated if we knew we were to spend an evening alone with him. We probably would spend a day brushing up on memory work, wading through the Minor Prophets, or clarifying some points in theology. No doubt such time would be well spent, but our fears unfounded, for Paul was a “people person” par excellence. Moreover, he did not determine his friendships on the basis of intellectual capability or theological literacy.
As we look at the list of greeting and the kind words in the first sixteen verses, we cannot escape the sense of genuine affection contained there. In verses 1-2 Paul mentions Phoebe, whom he gives four endearing names: “sister,” “servant,” “saint,” and “a patron.” In verses 3-4 he greets Priscilla and Aquila, who had “risked their necks” for him in Ephesus. This graphic phrase undoubtedly recalled a warm flood of memories in Priscilla and Aquila. In verse 5 he greets Epenetus, his first convert in Asia. What Christian worker can forget his first convert? In verse 7 Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who spent time in prison with him. In verse 10 he greets Apelles who is approved in Christ. Tryphena and Tryphosa in verse 12 were probably twins who were given names that go together. Their names mean “dainty” and “delicate.” Paul employs some playful irony here because he calls them “workers in the Lord,” using a word that means to labor to the point of exhaustion. Dainty and delicate, yes – but dynamite comes in small packages.
Who was the “Rufus” of verse 13? Mark 15:21 identifies Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Couple this with the fact that Mark wrote his gospel to Rome and we conclude that Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross. The parade of names in closing chapter of Romans repeatedly affirms Paul’s affection for his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome. The best exposition of this horizontal affection was given by Paul himself in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.
How Paul loved the Church! Paul’s loving example challenges us. If our hearts beat with something of the pulse of the Apostle Paul, we will be “people persons” who are affectionate to each other. This is the plain meaning of verse 16, which completes Paul’s individual greetings to Rome: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It is Biblical to express love and affection, even to the point of an embrace and a kiss. What a difference authentic Christian affection can make in a cold and indifferent world.
We must note before we move on to the next section that though Paul was a great giver, it all came back to him! In Galatians 4:15 Paul testifies that there were some in the Church who loved him so much they would have plucked out their eyes for him. Here in verse 13 of our text, when he greets Rufus and also greets Rufus’s mother, who he says “has been a mother to me as well.” When did she “mother” Paul? In Antioch when he was getting started? In some small town after a beating? At times Paul no doubt felt he could use a little mothering. Paul received back more than he gave. The richest people in town are always those who love the most. “People persons” – the affectionate – those who remember names and pray for them – receive the most. So we see from the list in verses 1-16 that Paul’s heart overflowed with a diffusive love.
Romans 16:1-16 Study Questions:
What observations do you make from the list of greetings in verses 1-16?
What do you notice about the house churches in Rome and their leadership?
Phoebe is the letter-bearer, entrusted with the fullest and most remarkable letter of Paul. What can be learned about Phoebe from verses 1-2?
The “holy kiss” (v. 16) became a key feature of Christian liturgy very early on, but it was not meant to replace normal expressions of affection; in many parts of the Middle East and elsewhere a kiss on both cheeks is a normal greeting between men as well as women. How does even this simple gesture reinforce the main themes Paul has written about throughout Romans regarding the Church?
Part of Paul’s missionary heart is in glorifying God. In verses 17-19 Paul does some sublime boasting, sublime because he is boasting about God. Paul mentions here at least three marvelous happenings in his life: (1) Gentiles came to belief, (2) signs and wonders accompanied his ministry, and (3) he himself preached the entire 1400 miles from Jerusalem to Illyricum, which is present-day Yugoslavia. Not bad – especially in sandals! But Paul takes no credit. Christ did it through him. Paul made this very clear to the Galatians: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14), he also told the Colossians that Christ “is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18). God was everything to Paul. That is the way it has been for the great missionary hearts that have followed in Paul’s footsteps as well. If we are to have lives like Paul’s, our hearts must not only see our ministry as entirely sacred, but we must give all glory to God. This is so fitting, so right; it is the way we were designed to live.
Another aspect of Paul’s missionary heart is that it dreams. We must first note that Paul had dreams and visions of incredibly large proportions (vv. 20-21). Basic to Paul’s dream was the obsession to preach where the gospel had not been preached. He voices this explicitly in 2 Corinthians 10:16. This was an immense obsession, in verse 24 of our text he indicated he even wanted to go to Spain. No one really knows why – probably because Spain and Britain were seen as the end of the world.
Verses 23-29 relate Paul’s dreams to real life. If Paul had his way, he would have immediately set sail for Rome. However he first had to complete the important business of taking an offering to the poor in Jerusalem that he collected from the Gentile churches. His main motive in this was to cement the relationship between Jewish believers and new Gentile converts. The Book of Acts tells us that things didn’t go as planned, however. He did deliver the offering with great success, but he was almost killed by an unruly mob and escaped by night with Caesar’s soldiers. Then he underwent shipwreck and deprivation before arriving in chains in Rome. As to his vision to go to Spain, we really cannot say for sure whether he ever got there. Modern scholarship inclines to say that he did not, though church tradition says he did.
It is important that we have hearts with dreams and great visions of what God can do with us. We need our “castles in the sky” – our Spains. We need to dream of victories and accomplishments for God. Not all of us will meet our dream’s end, but that is all right because God is more interested in the process than the prize, in the journey than the road’s end. May we learn to travel as Paul did.
Paul concludes this section on a positive note: “I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (v. 29). Such optimism! Paul was sure he would come to Rome in blessing. Little did he know his arrival would be in chains, and yet it was in joy. What a way to go – “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”
The final aspect of Paul’s missionary heart is, he believes in prayer. Verses 30-32 contain his call to prayer. He asked two things: (1) “that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea” and, (2) that his service in Jerusalem “may be acceptable.” Both prayers were answered. In Acts 21:17-20, it records his offering’s joyous reception and the resulting solidarity of the churches. In addition, Paul was granted a spectacular deliverance that could only be attributed to God, as Acts 21-23 makes clear. The prayers of the Roman church brought great power to bear in Paul’s life. Paul called them “to strive together with me” in prayer – literally “to agonize together with me” – and that is what they did.
To those with Pauline hearts, the request, “Brother, pray for me,” is not a cliché, and neither is the response, “I will pray for you.” The missionary heart is a heart that believes in prayer.
To summarize this study: A missionary heart is a heart that sees its mission as entirely sacred. The sacredness of the work comes from seeing oneself as a priest offering up his or her service as a fragrant offering to Christ. Therefore, it regards its own life, however mundane, as a liturgy. Let us ask God to help us see all of life as glorifying Him. A missionary heart is a heart that gives God the credit for everything. Let us pause for a moment and give God the glory for what is happening through us. A missionary heart is a heart that is visionary. Do we have a dream – a Spain? If not, let us ask God for one. A missionary heart is a heart that prays passionately. In God’s Kingdom the great heart passionately strives in prayer. Nothing would be the same for any of us were it not for Paul’s remarkable heart for God.
Romans 15:17-33 Study Questions:
There is no evidence that Paul ever got to Spain. But his desire to go there and, perhaps, establish a new “home base” was one of the reasons he wrote the letter to the Romans. Paul may not have gotten to Spain, but what mattered then, and has mattered enormously in the whole history of the Church, is that, as part of his plan to go to Spain, he wrote Romans. What lesson is there for us in the fact that Paul wrote Romans in preparation for a dream that he may never have realized?
How does the collection for the poor Christians of Jerusalem reinforce what Paul has been saying throughout Romans about the Church?
What does it mean for Jewish Christians to be family with Gentiles and Gentile believers to be family with the Jewish believers?
Why is it so crucial for Paul to enlist the prayers of the Roman church for the journey ahead of him?
Have you ever come to the end of something that has been exceptionally nice and found yourself feeling a bit sad about it, like maybe a vacation? We have something like that now. We are coming to the end of our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In it Paul has unfolded the Christian doctrine of justification by faith in all its many ramifications. He has demonstrated its necessity, described what God did to bring it about through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, explained how it works itself out by the power of the Holy Spirit in individual lives to give a permanent and sure salvation, and answered objections rising from the failure of the majority of Jews to believe the gospel. He has unfolded practical applications of this theology in such areas as yielding our minds to Jesus Christ, a proper evaluation of ourselves and others, matters of church and state, how believers are to live in light of the imminent return of Christ, and the need for Christians to accept and value one another.
With Romans 15:14, Paul begins to wrap this up, turning in his final paragraphs to his reasons for writing the letter, suggesting what his future travel plans might be, and sending greetings to people he knew in Rome. But even though he is ending, he still has quite a bit to say. Paul tells the Roman Christians in the opening sentence of his personal remarks that they are doing all right and that he is convinced this is so (v. 14). Paul said something along these lines in the first chapter when he took note of their strong faith and of the fact that it was being talked about all over the world (Rom. 1:8).
He is renewing his comments along these lines because he had been developing his doctrinal arguments fully and forcefully – the next verse acknowledges that he had written “quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again” – and he knew that they might think that he somehow considers them to be deficient. Paul is aware that his confidence in these believers, whom he has never seen, might nevertheless be misunderstood. So he compliments them directly, using the terms appearing in verse 14: “full of goodness,” “complete in knowledge,” and “competent to instruct one another.” If this is Paul’s way of complimenting the Roman church on being what a church should be, then he is also giving us three criteria by which we can evaluate ourselves or any local gathering of believers.
Christianity has only one priest, Jesus Christ. He alone has made atonement for our sins by His death on the cross, and He alone makes intercession for us before the Father. That is why the church’s preachers, pastors, or ministers are never called priests in the New Testament. In light of this we find something very striking in verses 15-16. Here Paul is writing of his ministry to the Gentiles, a ministry given to him by Jesus Christ, and he speaks of his “priestly duty.” This is striking because the words are not used in that way elsewhere and also because in other places Paul explicitly disclaims interest in what are usually thought of as normal ministerial functions. He is making a contrast between what priests are normally thought of as doing and what he was actually called to do as minister to the Gentiles. Priests stand between men and God and offer sacrifices. The priestly duty to which Paul refers is to proclaim the gospel.
Verses 15-16 teach that the nature of the Christian ministry is to proclaim the gospel. The positive expression of what Paul was doing appears in his words to the believers at Corinth: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1). This does not mean that Paul only preached so-called salvation messages or that he failed to relate his teaching to what the Corinthians were dealing with as part of their culture. But he did not attempt to add to Christ’s work. He preached Christ and Christ only.
In this text Paul writes about the goal of his ministry: “so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Gentiles were considered to be unclean by Jews, but, according to Paul, they are to become an offering sanctified to God by the Holy Spirit. The word sanctified means to be set apart to God and dedicated or concentrated to Him. Paul said this at the very beginning of the letter (Rom. 1:7). How are people sanctified? The first way is simply by their becoming Christians, for all who become Christians also become saints, since Christians are by definition people set apart for God. The second way is by their offering their bodies to God “as living sacrifices,” which is what Paul urged at the start of this final section of the letter (Rom. 12:1). We sense what Paul has in mind is a dedicated, effective, hardworking, God-glorifying Gentile Christian church.
Romans 15:14-16 Study Questions:
Paul moves in verses 14-24 to consider his longing to visit the Roman church and his calling as an apostle. How does Paul see himself as an Old Testament “priest” in ministry of the gospel?
What is Paul’s special calling and vocation?
The situation in Rome was a bit complicated for Paul. There were Jewish Christians who had left Rome some years previously and had now returned. Some of them had been members of churches Paul had founded and had actually worked alongside Paul as trusted friends and colleagues. Some of them, though, were native Roman Christians who had embraced the faith when it had been previously proclaimed by others, perhaps even Peter. What seems to be Paul’s concern in coming to visit and minister in Rome?
What are some areas in which you have Christian freedom but need to exercise more restraint? What are you prepared to sacrifice for the sake of others?
How could Paul be so sure the Roman Christians were capable of teaching each other in the faith?
The quality of our unity either attracts or repels the world. Unfortunately, while the Apostolic Church had some brilliant successes regarding unity, it failed miserably in many places. The church in Galatia was ravaged by legalism. The church in Corinth chose up sides as to what to do about one of its members who was committing incest (1 Cor. 5:1-3). Pergamum was being divided and diluted by Christians’ marriages to unbelievers (Rev. 2:14). And the Lord said in effect that the church at Laodicea made Him sick (Rev. 3:16). The Apostolic Church sometimes fell far short of Christ’s explicit teaching and prayer.
Paul now turns to the supreme example, our Lord Jesus Christ in verses 1-6. Paul writes to the Roman church: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (vv. 1-2). If you are prone to judgmentalism and exclusiveness, this is a big pill to swallow. If you are the kind of person who is sure he is right and must have his way, you will not like this at all. The call here is to please others and not ourselves is directed to the “strong” – those who have a broader, more Biblical understanding of their freedom in Christ. This, of course, does not mean the “weak” are exempt from the responsibility of accepting and being patient with the strong, because verse 7 subsequently indicates that both strong and weak are to be accepting. In God’s household strength denotes obligation. An unwillingness to forgo our rights for others indicates we are not so “strong” after all.
We are not to try to be “nice guys” who accommodate men’s sinful ways. There are many who would be pleased if we would flatter and patronize their wrongdoing. So what does Paul mean by pleasing others? It is a determined adjustment of our lifestyle that will contribute to our brother’s “good, to build him up” (v. 2). This is not to be done with a spirit of resignation or an air of condescension. It is to be done with humble love, sympathy, and patience. Such a path is not optional. Our text says we “have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak” (v. 1). Perhaps God has been speaking to you about something you need to change in your lifestyle, and you are sensing it is your obligation. If so, do it by all means!
So intensely concerned is Paul that we be willing to forgo our rights for the sake of unifying and building up our brothers and sisters that he does something he has not done in any of the preceding fourteen chapters of Romans. He holds up the example of Christ to enforce his argument: “For even Christ didn’t live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, ‘The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me’” (v. 3). How was it that Christ didn’t please Himself? Though Christ existed in indescribable glory from all eternity and was daily rejoicing in the fellowship of the Godhead in perfect holiness, He left all that for the sake of lost humanity.
For Paul, Christ’s example carried immense power. The problem for many of us is that we think Christ’s earthly actions are not quite real to us. But what Christ did is really true! This is what Jesus was, and is like! He really didn’t please Himself. He really did “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (v. 2). And we are called to follow His example. What is even more remarkable is that He is not only the pattern, but the power. We can do this by Jesus’ power. Thus if we say, “I cannot” we are saying, “I will not.” If God is calling us to change something in our lives for the sake of Christian unity, we can do it through Him.
Paul has made his point powerfully. But having mentioned Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament in Psalm 69:9, he cannot resist adding how helpful the Scriptures are in verse 4. The application is inescapable: believers are to be well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. The ultimate result will be “hope,” that which most strikingly distinguishes the true Christian from his pagan neighbor.
Then in verses 5-6 Paul returns to his main theme with a prayer-wish. First he prays for unity, then for worship. Verse 5 contains his desire for unity. The emphasis here is not that we see everything eye to eye, but rather that we regard one another with minds that are filled with and focused on the Lord as we follow Jesus Christ. In verse 6 his prayer-wish is expressing his desire for unified worship. The apostle understands that worship will not be what it is meant to be unless there is unity. We impoverish our worship and offer poor praise to God by stubbornness and lack of love to fellow believers. But, oh how beautiful the worship is when we worship together in unity. It’s no small thing to be asked to forgo legitimate rights for the building up of brothers and sisters. This is demanding, but perfectly reasonable and possible because Christ did it. And, secondly, it is indispensable to true worship.
In concluding this long exhortation on Christian unity, which began in chapter 14, Paul moves from the call to be willing to deny ourselves in order to please others to the call to accept one another. Again Christ is the example (v. 7), and the primary example here is Christ’s acceptance of the Jews (v. 8). Christ’s becoming a “servant” to Israel reveals the length to which He went to meet the Jews’ needs. But He also accepted the Gentiles. In verses 9-12 Paul quotes four Old Testament Scriptures that predicted that the Gentiles would respond to God’s grace and acceptance.
Christ’s astounding example gives mighty force to Paul’s challenge to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (v. 7). How did Christ welcome you and me? He welcomed us with our many sins, prejudices, and innumerable blind spots. He welcomed us with our psychological shortcomings and cultural naiveté. He welcomed us with our stubbornness. This is how we are to welcome one another. Christ made us one by His willingness not to please Himself.
Are there some legitimate, good things, rightful things that God is asking us to forgo for the good of our brothers and sisters? Then by all means let us forgo them. Are there some believers whom we have been unwilling to accept because they are not our type? God says we must accept them and love them. Let each of us covenant to do this now!
Romans 15:1-13 Study Questions:
In verses 1-6, Paul continues his line of thought from chapter 14 about the “strong” and the “weak.” In this context how does Paul exhort us to follow the example of Christ?
Because he draws on a passage from the Old Testament (Psalm 69:9), Paul briefly discusses his view of the role of Scripture. What is that role?
What do the Old Testament references in verses 7-13 have in common? (They are found in Ps. 18:49, Deut. 32:43, Ps. 117:1, and Isa. 11:10.)
How do these truths, especially as seen in verse 7, help us to mutually welcome Christians from different backgrounds, values, cultures and ethnicities?
In verses 19-20 Paul reiterates much of what has been already said, but also introduces the idea that we are to pursue the benefit of others in the exercise of our Christian liberty. In the exercise of our freedom, we must always ask ourselves if what we are doing is building up others, especially those younger and less experienced in the faith. If we cannot answer in the affirmative, we must refrain. Paul concludes in verse 21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” This is a fine summary statement and even finer if we translate the word “good” in its root sense of “beautiful”: “It is beautiful not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to stumble.”
Such behavior or thought is beautiful because it shows there is love among the brethren. It is beautiful because arrogance is gone. It is beautiful because it is unselfish. It is beautiful because it means one has a finely tuned sense of spiritual proportion, recognizing secondary issues for what they are. It is especially beautiful because it puts others first.
During the war when vessels had to be convoyed across the Atlantic because of the U-boats, all ships had to proceed at the speed of the slowest ship. This is something of what Paul has in mind here. The strong brother could stride ahead, but his love will not permit it. The shepherd must pace the flock to accommodate the weakest lamb. The Christian must regulate his freedom to take into account the feeble conscience of a weaker brother or sister. We must actively pursue those things that make for peace and mutual building up of one another. This is never easy, but it is the way of love.
What else must we do to insure unity? Paul gives advice to the strong regarding the use of his conscience in verse 22 and advice to the weak in respect to his conscience in verse 23. First, the advice to the strong: The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves (v. 22). Paul is saying, what you believe about neutral things is between you and God. Keep it that way. Moreover, you are a happy (blessed) person if in exercising your liberty you do not condemn yourself by harming another. You are blessed if your exercise of freedom is free from doubt. You are blessed if no one is being scandalized and led toward sin by you. You are blessed because you feel God’s pleasure.
Secondly, Paul gives advice to the weak: But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23). Conscience is not an infallible guide, but it is wrong to go against one’s own conscience. We ought to never sin against our conscience, no matter who pressures us to do so.
The apostle Paul has detailed four “do’s” if we are to build unity amidst our diversity. First, we must determine never to be a source of stumbling. Second, we must live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, concentrating on the eternals rather than the externals. Third, we must actively pursue that which benefits other believers. Fourth, we must do all that we do with a clear conscience. We are a diverse lot – there is no doubt about that. Diversity is one of the glories of the community of Christ. But our unity is supremely glorious. Let us seek to enhance it with all that we are!
Romans 14:19-23 Study Questions:
What are some issues that cause division in the church at large? Are these issues in your own church as well? How might these be handled better?
Why is the stronger believer responsible to change his or her behavior so as not to offend the weaker brother or sister?
What would help us turn our focus to justice, peace and joy?
Why is it difficult to suppress our own point of view in order to help those who are weaker in the faith?
Sit in silence and ask God to show you how you have piled snow on another person’s path. Spend a few minutes praying silent prayers of confession over the things that God brings to mind.
We have seen that the God-given diversity in the Body of Christ can conflict with our Lord’s high call to unity. Diversity and unity are in natural antithesis because we humans tend to criticize and censor those who do things differently from us. Judging one another according to our little lists is one of the favorite sports of Christians today.
In answer to this problem, Romans 14 tells us three things we need to know if we are to maintain unity amidst diversity. First, genuine acceptance of one another is the only option available to believers. The tendency of the liberated Christian to look down on his less broad-minded brother and the tendency of that brother to judge his less restricted brother must be put away. Second, individual Christians can disagree over customs and social habits and both be perfectly right with God. Third, we must submit to the Lordship of Christ and refrain from judging others because we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give account of ourselves to Him. These three elements are essential if we are to maintain Christian unity amidst our amazing diversity.
In this study we will see what we need to do in order to experience unity in diversity. Perhaps we have understood and accepted the logic of Paul’s argument against passing judgment. However, the extremely delicate conscience of the “weak” brother remains. What are we to do? The apostle’s choice of words in verses 13-15 calls for a complete determination not to be an obstruction because the word for “stumbling block” means something carelessly left about over which someone stumbles, whereas “hindrance” means something deliberately left to ensnare another. We must determine not to be a witting or unwitting cause of a weaker brother’s stumbling as we exercise our Christian freedom. Our Christian lives must be salted with refusal to do anything that will harm the spiritual life of weaker brothers.
Paul views any behavior that distresses another’s conscience as unconscionable (v. 15). “What you eat” alludes to one’s petty insistence upon having meat regardless of the consequences to others. The idea is flaunting or deliberately shocking the weaker brother with a display of Christian freedom. Paul is horrified at the thought. Rather, the key to exercising Christian freedom in all matters is “walking in love” (v. 15). Christian liberty does not mean flaunting your freedom and doing as you please. As Christians, we are all immensely free in Christ. Our only bondage is the bond of love to our fellow believers. It is our Christian duty, when exercising our freedom, not only to think about how our actions affect us but others. We must always remember that it is not our display of Christian freedom that commends our faith to the world, but our demonstration of agape love. The strong, mature Christian voluntarily limits his freedom out of love for his weaker brothers and sisters.
Not only ought we to determine not to be stumbling blocks, we should also live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Here in verses 16-18 Paul, with finely tuned pastoral insight, lifts the entire discussion to a higher level than mere eating and drinking. The Kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals (how one eats, drinks, what one wears etc.) but of eternals – “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The primary eternal element of God’s Kingdom is “righteousness.” The experience of God’s righteousness in our lives produces as infinite longing for holiness, a driving desire to know Him better, an intense thirsting in the inner parts. David’s longing is expressed in Psalm 42:1-2a: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Jesus enjoined the pursuit of righteousness as the recommended pursuit for all humanity in Matthew 5:6 –“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Properly following the eternal element of righteousness is “peace,” that profound inner satisfaction that only God’s presence can give. Peace with God is the secret of peace with one another. Kingdom peace is an inner unflappability that remains undisturbed by minor irritations, a quiet assurance that God is at work.
Lastly, there is the eternal element of “joy in the Holy Spirit.” This joy is the outward mark of Christ’s presence. When joy flies as the flag over our lives, the world knows the King of Heaven is in residence in our hearts. The Kingdom of God consists not of externals but of eternals. How wonderful it would be if we would concentrate on these things. How easy it is then to forgo some external freedom for the sake of another believer.
Paul concludes this thought in verse 18. We are then acceptable to God who sees our hearts and approved by men who see our actions. The overall principle here is this: whether we be “weak” (limited in freedom) or strong (more liberated), we make a great mistake if we focus on externals. The weak shrivels his Christianity by seeing the externals as a road to greater righteousness. The strong trivializes his faith by insisting on his rights to the externals. If we flaunt our freedom, we are far less emancipated than we imagine.
The Kingdom of God is not operative in your life if your rights are so important to you that you are willing to separate from a brother who does not agree with you. The fact is, the man who feels he must demonstrate his emancipation on every possible occasion is a slave in spite of his apparent freedom, for the need to prove his liberty has become a tyranny. Whether we are strong or weak, we are to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, focusing not on the externals, but on the elements of eternity – “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 14:13-18 Study Questions:
Paul says in verse 14 that nothing is unclean in itself, but how does he say something can become “unclean” (vv. 13-23)?
Paul is concerned that Jewish Christians, returning to Rome, may see Gentile Christians doing things that, from their point of view, were associated with paganism, and they may look on in horror. They might even conclude that they had made an awful mistake, call down curses on this new movement (v. 16) and give up the faith altogether. How might believing in accordance with love prevent this from happening?
What were, and are, the essentials of faith and practice about which there should be no compromise?
Paul is explicit in verse 1 that the one “who is weak in faith” is not weak in basic Christian faith, but is weak in assurance that his faith permits him to do certain things, such as eating meat. These “weak” are to be wholeheartedly accepted – they are not to be accepted with the ulterior motive of straightening them out. There is to be no phony condescension on the part of the strong, no hidden agenda, but rather simple, unqualified acceptance.
Moreover, the acceptance is to be mutual on the part of both the strong and the weak (vv. 2-3). This mutual acceptance lays bare the psychology behind the rejection of the strong or the weak. The strong, Paul says, “despise” those who do not eat. The idea here is distain. The human tendency is always to despise whatever or whoever we consider weak. To despise the Christian who has a narrower morality – such an attitude is not Christian. On the other hand, because the weak are inclined toward judgmentalism, they are told not to “pass judgment” on meat eaters. The weak tend to be censorious, to pigeon-hole other believers according to their checklists. Too often you and I are guilty of both these errors. Whether we are “weak” or “strong” believers, there is to be mutual, wholehearted acceptance of one another.
According to Romans 14 you must accept your Christian brother and sister who differs. If you are an abstainer, you must not judge the participator. If you are a participator, you must not disdain the abstainer. This call to acceptance comes to us as a command of God. If we are to obey Him, we have no choice. Is this a call to become a bunch of wishy-washy Charlie Browns? Not at all! We are not talking about basic doctrines such as sin, the deity of Christ, salvation by faith, or clear Scriptural commandments against adultery or lying. We are talking about non-essentials.
We are all called to a profound acceptance of one another. This is not optional. Verses 5-6 give us the second element of understanding. The controversy over days in these verses probably involved Sabbath observance. The Christian Jews’ conscience demanded that they observe it. The Christian Gentiles’ conscience argued that every day is equally devoted to the service of God. Paul’s advice to both is simply, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Each believer is to use his or her powers of reasoning that have at least begun to be renewed by the gospel under the authority of God’s Word and act accordingly. The same is true of eating or abstaining from meat. The evidence that both the “weak” and the strong have right hearts is that they both give “thanks” to God. That is, both do what they do with the intention of serving the Lord. Paul’s indisputable point here is: people with opposing viewpoints on non-essentials can both be perfectly right with God. We need to take this to heart: if the Lord convicts you that something is wrong in your life, you had better not do it, even if other Christians are doing it!
The Lordship of Christ is the foundational truth for the unity of the Church amidst diversity of opinion (vv. 7-12). Verses 10-12 emphasize that we will all answer to Him for our lives. Paul twice uses the term “brother” to emphasize the unity that “weak” and strong Christians have. He is saying in effect, “Stop trying to be God to one another. You ‘weak,’ why do you pass judgment on your brother? You strong, why do you look down with contempt on your brother? Remember, all of us are going to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. There your works as believers will be judged. There God will judge your motives.” We are not to judge our brothers and sisters in things on which the Bible does not directly speak! One thing we will certainly have to answer for will be our judgmental attitude. Isn’t wonderful that final judgment is up to God, and His evaluation will be perfect? Our reward will be exactly what we deserve, as will our brother’s and sisters.
This whole section is part of an extended commentary on the command of Jesus to love one another, and this has been the subject since Paul began the practical section of this letter. In chapter 12 we saw that the nature of love is to serve. In chapter 13 we discovered that love must be submissive. Now in chapter 14 we are learning that love must be patient and tolerant of other people’s views. May we allow God to give us the wisdom to see what is essential and what is not.
Romans 14:1-12 Study Questions:
Who does Paul consider to be the “weak in faith” and, by implication, the “strong in faith”? What attitude are the two groups to have toward each other?
How is Paul attempting to break down barriers between ethnic groups in verses 1-6?
Over what issues in today’s church are we in danger of judging one another because of things that Paul would declare to be unimportant? Where are we prone to build walls of division on cultural or ethnic lines where Paul would gently but firmly insist that we are all serving the same master?
What is Paul getting at in verses 7-9? How can condemnation become a consequence of differing opinions (vv. 7-12)?
What is the overriding perspective that the Christians in Rome need to learn in dealing with differences with each other?
How can we as believers know on which issues we can live with differences of opinion and which we cannot?
Romans 13:8-14 contains a profound call to love our fellow man, to develop a deep horizontal love, to love on the level. Paul says in verse 8: Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” On the one hand he encourages us to get out of debt while on the other hand he tells us we have an ongoing debt of love. The Christian is always a love-debtor, no matter how much love he gives.
Every time we meet someone we ought to say to ourselves, “I need to show him or her the love of Christ. I have a great and wonderful debt to pay.” If you have ever had a personal debt, be it ever so small, you know that the first thing that enters your mind when you see that person is that you “owe” them. We need to truly see ourselves as spiritual debtors. When we go to church, town, work, shopping, school – wherever we go, whoever we meet, we owe love. This is our debt – loving on the level.
Paul concludes verse 8 with, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law.” How does loving one’s neighbor fulfill the Law? The Ten Commandments contain two divisions, sometimes called the two tablets. The first division gives us vertical, Godward commands such as, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The second division contains horizontal commands that pertain to human relationships. Each division can be summed up with a single commandment, just as Jesus explained in Matthew 22:37-40. Keep both the vertical and the horizontal commandments and you will keep the Law! Here in his letter to the Romans, Paul is assuming that his readers have a vertical love for God, but do they have a horizontal love for others? If so, they are fulfilling God’s Law.
When we love our neighbors we will refrain from breaking the horizontal-relational commands. Paul gives some examples in verses 9-10. When you love your neighbor you will refrain from adultery. When you love your neighbor you will regard his life as inviolable. When you love your neighbor you will respect his ownership of property. Just think how irresistible Christianity would be in everyday, uneventful life if Christians truly loved their neighbors as themselves. If we were to consistently see ourselves as love-debtors, just think how the gospel would spread! We would be living out the Law, and the authenticity of our inner spirits would sound wide the ring of truth to the needy world.
Paul does not view this call to horizontal love as a casual matter. He sees it as having utmost urgency (vv. 11-12a). Paul’s sense of urgency is stressed by the word “time” in his opening phrase: “Besides this you know the time…” What kind of time is it? The New Testament calls it “the last days” – not in the chronological sense but qualitatively. These “last days” began with Christ and could culminate in “the day” (v. 12a) of His return at any moment, but that is not the point here. Paul was telling his hearers, and us, that we are living in “the last days.” This brings urgency to this matter of loving on the level. Believers are to wake up from spiritual lethargy and love their neighbors while they have opportunity to do so.
Paul next tells us there is something we must put off and something we must put on if we are going to succeed at loving on the level: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 12b). Paul is specific about “the works of darkness” we are to discard: Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy (v. 13).
First, there must be no “orgies and drunkenness.” These words used together picture drunken individuals having a so-called “good time” and disturbing the citizens of the town. The Christian who wants to love must set aside such pursuit of harmful pleasures. Second, there is to be no “sexual immorality and sensuality.” Sexual immorality” is a Greek word that can simply be translated, “bed,” and the word rendered “sensuality” is one of the ugliest words in the Greek, describing one who is not only given to immorality, but is incapable to feeling shame. The Christian who wants to love must understand that one cannot both love people and live for sex. The third specific is to abstain from “quarreling and jealousy.” This phrase describes someone who cannot stand being surpassed and grudges others their success and position. Tragically many believers act as if it is their holy duty to keep others in their place. Such behavior can never exist in a heart that truly loves a neighbor.
There is much that must go if we are to love on the level. May none of us be so naive as to think any of this is irrelevant. These evils are the precise reason there is too little love in the Church and in the world. However, there is a glorious positive side to this, given in verse 14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” It is true that if we are Christians we have already put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27). But our text here in Romans has reference to a practical day-to-day, repeated putting on Christ. We are to embrace Him again and again and again.
Paul emphasizes that it is “the Lord Jesus Christ” that we put on. We bow to His Lordship. He is King of all or He is not King of all. This is where we gain the capacity to love. Loving on the level comes from the negative (putting off the works of darkness) and the positive (putting on Jesus Christ day-by-day). We must constantly do this. Our ability to love vertically and on the level comes from God’s love to us (1 John 4:19). His agape love reaches down to us in Christ, it is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we return it back to God and to those around us. His great love is the source and motivation of our love.
God’s sacrifice for us, His love lavished upon us, ought to make us completely dependable in our showing love to the world. Let us cultivate a sense of debt. Just as when we owe someone money and our debt is the first thing we think of when we see him, so it may be with our debt of love. Let us enlarge our definition of neighbor as, “My neighbor is not necessarily someone like me. It is any person God has put in my way whom I can help.” Let us cultivate a sense of the time – “It is later than it has ever been before.” Let us consciously put off the works of darkness (we individually know what these are) and put on Jesus – every day!
Romans 13:8-14 Study Questions:
Verses 8-14 show Paul using the idea of fulfilling the Law through love. How can love fulfill all of the Law?
Why does Paul use the image of day in verses 11-14 to explain the behavior that he expects Christians to engage in and the image of night for what they shouldn’t do?
In verse 13 Paul notes three pairs of activities Christians should avoid. How are bad temper and jealousy just as destructive in a Christian community as drunkenness and sexual immorality?
Paul’s solution to avoiding the activities of the night is to “put on the Lord Jesus” (v. 14). How are we to do this?
In what ways does this entire chapter set a course for the Church to live attractive lives in the local community, surrounded as they are by the watching stares of puzzled pagans?
Think about your Christian community, your church or a small group. In what ways can your community live in a way that is more attractive to the surrounding culture?