ROMANS 14:1—15:3. THE CONTEXT
Chapter 15 grows out of the conflict addressed in chapter 14—conflict between “weak” Christians (14:1-2) who felt an obligation to abstain from eating meat and other Christians who felt no such obligation. There was also conflict over the observance of certain special days (14:5-6) and drinking wine (14:21).
The “meat” issue had to do with the fact that much of the available meat came from animals sacrificed in pagan rituals. “Weak” Christians felt that eating such meat would compromise their faith. Some of them felt obligated to observe Jewish dietary rules. Presumably, most of these “weak” Christians were Jewish, because Jews would be more sensitive to dietary issues than Gentiles.
Other Christians felt that since idols have no substance, there is no reason to abstain from meat that was sacrificed to idols. Such meat is simply meat with no special meaning attached. They felt that Jesus had released them from Jewish dietary restrictions. Presumably, most of these “strong” Christians were Gentiles.
Paul said that these issues of food and special days are unimportant in themselves, but are nevertheless important because of their potential to create division in the church or to inflict injury by one Christian upon another. He states two principles:
• The first principle is that “nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14).
• The second principle is consideration for other people. Paul says, “Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died…All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating” (14:15, 20).
In 15:1-3, Paul continues this train of thought by saying, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (15:1). We should please our neighbor “for that which is good, to be building him up” (15:2). He holds up Christ as the model. “Christ didn’t please himself,” but instead bore insult for our benefit (15:3).
Understanding that background, it becomes clear why Paul emphasizes living in harmony (15:5), glorifying God with one voice (15:6), welcoming one another (15:7), and respect for Jews (15:8) and respect for Gentiles (15:9b-12).
However, Paul would not have us sacrifice principle for harmony. He was quite capable of decisive judgment when significant issues were at stake. When he learned of a man who was living with his father’s wife, he demanded that the church “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). In Romans 15, however, he advises Roman Christians to distinguish between crucial and non-crucial issues—and to be flexible with regard to the latter for the sake of others.
ROMANS 15:4-13. TO THE JEW FIRST
“This reading reinforces the theme that has dominated Romans since 1:16-17, namely, the gospel as revealing God’s righteousness for all people, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Brueggemann, 16).
ROMANS 15:4. WHATEVER THINGS WERE WRITTEN FOR OUR LEARNING
4For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
“For whatever things were written before“ Paul means scripture. He knows nothing of what we now call the New Testament, so he is referring here to Jewish scriptures—our Old Testament.
“were written for our learning“ (see also 2 Timothy 3:16). This does not mean that Christians are subject to Torah law, as Paul makes clear elsewhere (6:14-15; 7:4). It does mean that God intends the Old Testament to benefit Christians. It means that we need to avail ourselves of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. The Old Testament relates the story of God’s history with his people from the very earliest times. It reveals God’s power, faithfulness, and love. It provides the foundation for understanding the New Testament as it looks forward to the Messiah who is to come. We can learn from the faith of God’s people—and from their faithlessness as well. We can be inspired by their stories—comforted by the Psalms—and judged by the prophets. We can gain hope from the promises that we find in scripture.
“that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope“ The scriptures help us to endure (“steadfastness”). They help us to survive the difficult times of life, knowing that God redeems the faithful. They encourage us in many ways: By helping us to know what is right—by assuring us that God is with us—by telling us how God loves us—by relating the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—by promising that God created us for life eternal. All of these things work together to bring us hope. It is no accident that the word, hope, appears four times in this lesson, including the climactic last verse. The God of hope (v. 13) gives us hope.
ROMANS 15:5-6. THAT WITH ONE ACCORD
5Now the God of patience and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, 6that with one accord (Greek: homothumadon—with one accord) you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Now the God of patience and of encouragement“ (v. 5). In verse 4, Paul related steadfastness and encouragement to the scriptures. Now he relates them to God, the giver of steadfastness and encouragement.
“grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus“ (v. 5)—literally, “grant you the same mind among one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.” It is clear from Paul’s call for mutual acceptance in chapter 14 that he does not expect Christians to agree on every detail. Instead, he calls us to have our first loyalty to Jesus, which will also help us to overlook differences with Christian brothers and sisters–to focus on points of agreement rather than disagreement.
“that with one accord (homothumadon) you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ“ (v. 6). The word homothumadon combines homo (one, the same) and thumos (mind, soul, passion). Believers who are homothumadon will agree on their purpose and find ways to work together and to respect each other even in the presence of differences.
We see this prayer answered in the early chapters of Acts, where this word homothumadon is used on several occasions to describe the “one accord” of the early church (Acts 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 7:57). The purpose of this “one accord” is that the faithful might form a great chorus to sing in perfect harmony the glory of God.
We need prayers for “one accord” today. Divisions bleed the church’s energy and diminish its ability to carry out its mission, which is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have often heard the following:
“In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, diversity.
In all things, charity.”
Of course, the great problem is to determine what is and is not essential. If we could do that, the rest would be much easier. Sadly, Christians differ widely on the question of what is essential.
The church is divided in many ways today: liberals vs. conservatives—one denomination vs. another—charismatics vs. non-charismatics—those who favor traditional worship vs. those who favor contemporary worship. Many congregations are predominantly white or black, giving rise to the comment that eleven o’clock is the most racially segregated hour of the week. We have much for which to repent in this regard—and much for which to ask prayer.
ROMANS 15:7. ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER
7Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.
“Therefore accept one another“ The word, “therefore,” links this verse to “be of the same mind one with another” (v. 5) and “that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify…God” (v. 6). By living in harmony, speaking with one voice, and welcoming one another, we give God glory.
Earlier, Paul admonished “strong” Christians to “accept one who is weak in faith” (14:1). Now he calls all Christians to welcome one another—weak and strong—Jew and Greek—slave and free—male and female (see Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 11:17-22; Galatians 3:28).
“even as Christ also accepted you“ This is a reminder to Roman Christians that the one who calls them to show grace is the one who has shown them grace—the one who calls them to love is the one who has loved them—the one who calls them to welcome others is the one who has welcomed them.
Presumably, many of these Roman Christians are Gentiles, and until recently were on the outside looking in—unwelcome. Now Christ has “broke down the middle wall of partition” that kept them out (Ephesians 2:14). Now Christ invites them to the hospitality of his table, and expects them to be hospitable to one another.
“to the glory of God“ Our purpose as Christians is to glorify God. We cannot effectively glorify God while fighting among ourselves. By living in harmony (v. 5), speaking with one voice (v. 6), and welcoming one another (v. 7), we render effective witness—we give God glory.
ROMANS 15:8-9a. CHRIST HAS BEEN MADE A SERVANT
8Now I say that Christ has been made a servant (Greek: diakonon) of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9a and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
“Now I say“ (v. 8a)—shorthand for “Listen up! This is important!”
“that Christ has been made a servant (diakonon) of the circumcision, for the truth of God“ (v. 8b). Diakonon is our word for deacon, and signifies humble service.
Circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and the mark of a Jew. God said, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It will be a token of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:11).
Christ came into this world as a Jew, and performed his ministry in a Jewish context. If, as seems likely, the “strong” Christians of chapter 14 are primarily Gentiles, Paul reminds them that they have been saved by a Jewish Messiah who came first to save “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
“that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers“ (v. 8c). The greatest promise to a patriarch is the covenant that God made with Abraham. God said, “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (Genesis 12:1-3). In that covenant, God promised to bless Abraham, but the last phrase of the covenant makes it clear that God also had in mind from the beginning blessings for “all of the families of the earth”—Gentiles.
“and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy“ (v. 9a). As noted above, it was God’s intent from the beginning to save Gentiles.
ROMANS 15:9b-12. THEREFORE WILL I GIVE PRAISE TO YOU
9b “As it is written, ‘Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, (Greek: ethnesin—from ethnos) and sing to your name.’
10 ‘Again he says, ‘Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.'”
11 “Again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Let all the peoples praise him.'”
12 “Again, Isaiah says, ‘There will be the root of Jesse, he who arises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will hope.'”
Paul cites four scriptures in support of his contention that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised for the benefit of circumcised and uncircumcised alike (vv 8-9). These quotations are linked by their references to Gentiles. Praise (or rejoicing) is common to the first three.
There is a sense of progression in these four verses:
• In the first quotation, David confesses/praises God to the Gentiles.
• In the second, the Gentiles do the rejoicing.
• In the third, Gentiles and “all the peoples” praise God.
• In the final quotation, “the root of Jesse” rises to rule the Gentiles and to give them hope. Wright says that verse 12 “sums up the entire letter” (Wright, 748).
The net effect of these four verses is to show that the salvation of the Gentiles has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning.
“As it is written, ‘Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, (Greek: ethnesin—from ethnos) and sing to your name'” (v. 9b).
Paul quotes Psalm 18:49 (LXX). [LXX is an abbreviation for the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament that was widely used in Paul’s time, especially by Jews who lived outside Israel. The word Septuagint is derived from the Latin word for seventy in honor of the seventy translators who created it.]
The word used for Gentiles in these quotations is ethnos (in its various forms). Ethnos can be translated “Gentiles” or “nations.”
Psalm 18 is a Davidic Psalm in which David praised God for delivering him from his enemies, exalting him above his adversaries, and delivering him from the violent (18:48). Because God gave him victory over Gentiles, David vows to confess God to them—by which he apparently means that he will bear witness to them regarding God’s mighty deeds—will proclaim to them God’s love and faithfulness. Given our understanding of Christ as “son of David” (Matthew 1:1, etc.), it seems likely that Paul intends to put these words in Jesus’ mouth—to have Christ proclaim, “I will confess you (the Father) among the Gentiles.”
“Again he says, ‘Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people'” (v. 10).
A number of scholars say that Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX) (Morris, 505; Mounce, 262), but Romans 15:10 is quite unlike Deuteronomy 32:43 in the NRSV. Not having access to the LXX, I will defer to the scholars. Calvin thought of 15:10 as coming from Psalm 67:5, to which it bears substantial correspondence in the NRSV.
As noted above, Paul’s first quotation had David (and possibly Jesus) praising God’s name to the Gentiles. This quotation has the Gentiles doing the rejoicing.
“Again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Let all the peoples praise him” (v. 11).
Paul quotes from Psalm 117:1 (LXX).
“Again, Isaiah says, ‘There will be the root of Jesse, he who arises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (v. 12).
Paul quotes from Isaiah 11:10 (LXX). Jesse, of course, was David’s father—the root from which David sprang—and therefore the root from which Jesus, the son of David, ultimately sprang.
Note that the root of Jesse (Jesus Christ) will rule over the Gentiles, but will be received gladly by Gentiles who will find in Jesus their hope.
“to rule over the Gentiles”—can be translated “to rule the nations.” The fact that Paul is writing this epistle to Christians in Rome, where the emperor considers himself to be the ruler of nations, makes this verse highly inflammatory—potentially treasonous.
With this verse from Isaiah, Paul concludes his argument (15:13 is a benediction, and chapter 16 is personal greetings and other closing notes). Verse 12 drives home one last time that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16)—which we could consider to be the point of this epistle.
ROMANS 15:13. ABOUND IN HOPE, IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
13Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“hope…joy…peace” In this short benediction, Paul returns to the idea of hope. The God of hope makes it possible for us to abound in hope. The person who has no hope will be profoundly depressed, and depression is nearly epidemic today (we must acknowledge that depression has both physical and spiritual causes). The person who is genuinely hopeful, however, can be joyful—can have peace. His/her life is in God’s hands. The world is in God’s hands. Even when things look dark, there is reason for hope if we are in God’s hands.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Achtemeier, Paul J., Interpretation: Romans, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985)
Barth, Karl, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933)
Briscoe, D. Stuart, The Preacher’s Commentary: Romans, Vol. 29 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 9-16, Vol. 38B (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Gagnon, Robert A. J., in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Knox, John and Cragg, Gerald R., The Interpreter’s Bible: Acts and Romans, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954)
Luther, Martin, Commentary on Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1976)
Moo, Douglas, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996)
Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)
Mounce, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Romans, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)
Sanday, William and Headlam, Arthur C., The International Critical Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1977)
Witherington, Ben III with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary,(GrandRapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004)
Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Copyright 2004, 2011, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan