A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
By now you see that Paul has answered the three major theological questions for all mankind in his Letter to the Romans. They are
1. Why do we need a Savior? (Chapters 1-3)
2. What has our Savior done for us? (Chapters 4-8)
3. How should we respond to our Savior? (Chapters 12-15)
In addition, he’s clearly defined the relationship between Israel and the Church in God’s overall plan (chapters 9-11). We’ll complete this study now with a look at Romans 15-16.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” [Psalm 69:9] For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:1-6)
By applying this quote from Psalm 69 to the Lord, Paul shows us the connection between the Old and New Testaments. This is something that many Christians would do well to learn. God didn’t change during the intermission between the two halves of His book. He’s the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)
Speaking of events in the national life of Israel several thousand years ago Paul wrote, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11) Those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. When we ignore the lessons taught through Israel for our benefit, we do so at our peril. For instance, name any one of Israel’s many sins, and you’ll find it repeated in the Church.
“Wait a minute,” you say, “The Church didn’t kill the Messiah.” Oh, really? Ask the liberal denominations, from which many of us sprang, to describe Jesus and you’ll get almost every answer but the correct one. The real Jesus used to exist in those places but no longer does. He’s been replaced by someone with the same name but lacking His power. He’s now dead to them. With the Documentary Hypothesis they dealt Him a mortal blow and with Modern Rationalism they finished Him off.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” [2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49]
Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” [Deut. 32:43]
And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” [Psalm 117:1]
And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” [Isaiah 11:10]
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:7-13)
Jesus came to the Jews, but it had always been God’s plan to bless the Gentiles as well. Isaiah recorded a conversation between father and son that confirms this.
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Notice He didn’t say the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles instead of the Jews but along with them. As Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus His purpose was to make one new man out of the two and reconcile both of them to God through the cross. (Ephes. 2:15-16)
Paul the Minister to the Gentiles
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” [Isaiah 52:15]
This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. (Romans 15:14-22)
Paul saw himself as the agency through whom Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled. Although he longed to bring those of his own race to the realization that Jesus is their Messiah, and would ultimately be imprisoned for his efforts to that end, he was the Apostle to the Gentiles. And while being from the tribe of Benjamin he could never serve as a priest in Israel, he described proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles as a priestly duty.
Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome
But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.
Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. (Romans 15:23-29)
Paul eventually did visit Rome, although perhaps not in the manner he expected. Acts 20-26 records how he was arrested in Jerusalem, brought before the Sanhedrin who plotted to kill him, and imprisoned by the Romans in Caesarea where he would be safe. Over the next two years he stood trial before the governors Felix and Festus and then King Agrippa. Although Agrippa had made up his mind to set Paul free, Paul’s appeal for a trial before Caesar required that he be sent to Rome.
On the way he was shipwrecked and cast ashore on Malta where he spent three more months. Finally they set sail again for Rome, about three years after Paul promised to visit. Once there he waited under house arrest for Nero to find a convenient time to try him. While awaiting trial, in addition to almost daily preaching to the ever expanding groups who sought him out, Paul wrote the so-called prison epistles, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. One day he was brought before a mid-level bureaucrat and released without argument, having been under house arrest for two years since his arrival in Rome.
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. (Romans 15:30-33)
As you can see from the summary of Paul’s “adventures” on the way to Rome things turned out differently than he intended. Some say this was because Paul disobeyed God by going to Jerusalem, citing Acts 21:1-15 as their authority. Others say that Paul’s prayer was answered, just not in the way he anticipated. He was after all delivered from the Jews, his service was acceptable, and he did make it to Rome despite all the obstacles and roadblocks placed before him. Regardless of your opinion on this, no one can argue with the results that the Holy Spirit achieved through Paul during this time.
(Verses 1-16 contain a list of people in Rome that Paul that wanted the Church to greet in his name. We’ll omit these verses as being irrelevant to our study.)
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:17-20)
If ever there was a time for the Church to heed this admonition, it’s now. Paul would soon give the elders from Ephesus the same warning, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30) He was alerting them to the coming Gnostic Error.
But the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is now. It wasn’t enough that the main line denominations fell prey to the savage wolves of false doctrines like the Documentary Hypothesis. That had the effect of creating the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the 20th Century and returning Spiritual gifts to the Church. And the Modern Rational heresies led to the Jesus movement of the 70’s and a mass exodus from denominationalism.
These were savage wolves that came in among us, but the Church responded to each one with growth. Now some from our own number have arisen and distorted the truth and this time the growth is in their ranks, not ours. The Church is again being ravaged by false doctrine in the form of the Emergent Church movement and some of our most highly regarded leaders are caught up in it. It’s the beginning of the falling away that Paul also wrote about in 2 Thes. 2:3. The great apostasy is upon us.
We began Paul’s Letter to the Romans from the perspective that we’ll soon be gone and we’ll end on the same note. The apostate church is alive and growing, another clear sign that the full number of Gentiles will soon be aboard and we’re about to be dispatched to our ultimate destination. It’s mankind’s most exciting journey ever. I pray that our study has left you better prepared at its end than you were at its beginning.
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)