Exhortation for the Strong to Help the Weak, 1-6

15:1 But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up. 15:3 For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 15:4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.

This verse links the present passage with the teaching of chapter 14.

We who are strong – Paul clearly identifies himself with this group.  As the previous chapter indicates, the ‘strong’ are those with robust consciences, and the ‘weak’ are those with sensitive consciences that will not allow them to discard the ritual law.

We…ought to bear with the failings of the weak – Barrett says that the word translated ‘bear’ is as ambiguous in the Greek as it is in English.  So it could mean ‘endure’ or ‘carry’ (or perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, and both senses are intended. Specifically, we ought to ‘bear the burden of the scrupulousness of the weaker Christians.’ (EBC)  Cf. Mt 8:17; Gal 6:2.  We do so by limiting our liberty so as not to cause offence.

‘Their weaknesses are their special practices, their abstinences from meat, wine, and the like, erroneous in themselves and troublesome to their fellow Christians.’ (Barrett)  Or, as Hodge puts it, they are ‘the prejudices, errors, and faults which arise from weakness of faith.’

The strong must support the weak

As Christ will not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking flax (Isa 42:3/Mt 12:20), so we must not.  In fact, as Calvin says, ‘Just as God appoints those to whom he has given superior learning to instruct the ignorant, so he commits to those whom he makes strong the duty of supporting the weak by their strength…The stronger we are in Christ…the more we are bound to support the weak.’

Don’t reject those whom Christ welcomes

‘It is a conjunction of impiety, injustice and uncharitableness, to thrust back those that Christ would have admitted. It is impiety, to rob Christ of his church-members, and diminish his visible flock, and wrong those whom he values as his jewels, and is tender of as the apple of his eye. It is great injustice, to defraud men of their due, in so great a matter as his church-privileges and helps to heaven. It is greater injustice, than to turn them out of their houses and lands; for the benefits are greater. It is uncharitableness, to deal so cruelly with us, in matters of such consequence.’ (Richard Baxter, Works, Vol 14, p517).

Not to please ourselves – Not to promote our own interests; not putting ourselves first.  Paul is not teaching asceticism; he is not urging us to take no delight in God’s good creation.  1 Cor 10:33.

A special challenge today

Edwards remarks on how challenging it is for us, living as we do in an individualistic, materialistic, consumerist culture, to seek the good of others above self.

Self-denial – the first lesson

‘We must not make it our business to gratify all the little appetites and desires of our own heart; it is good for us to cross ourselves sometimes, and then we shall the better bear others crossing of us. We shall be spoiled…if we be always humoured. The first lesson we have to learn is to deny ourselves, Mt. 16:24.’ (MHC)

Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up – There is possibly an echo of Lev 19:18 (“Love your neighbour”) here: a text the is explicitly cited in the similar teaching of Paul in Gal 5:13-6:2.

This applies to both groups: to the ‘weak’ who were judgmental, and the ‘strong’ who were contemptuous.  It the latter group, however who are mainly in his sights.

‘Though no part of the truth of  God is to be sacrificed to peace, yet everything consistent with truth ought to be done to avoid giving offense, or stumbling weak brethren.’ (Haldane)

We do not so with a spirit of mere tolerance or resignation.  Nor do we seek to please the other merely in order to maintain ‘a quiet life’, or to indulge him (or to indulge our own sense of superiority), but for his good, in order to build him up; for his spiritual edification.  It is not good, but bad, not edification, but rather demolition (cf. Rom 14:13, 15, 20f), to indulge the other person while stoutly denying God’s will for him or her.  This is one aspect of ‘loving one’s neighbour as oneself’ (Rom 13:9).  ‘This protects the virtue of forbearance from being reduced to “niceness.” We may, for example, be nice when we should be just, or be agreeable when we should be truthful, or be flattering when honesty and integrity are demanded. The good, as any physician will tell you, is not always what the patient wants to hear, and a Christian, as well as a physician, is worthy of the name only where the good of the other prevails over any other interest.’ (Edwards).  The point is that we are seeking to build, and not to destroy, to win hearts, and not simply arguments.

‘Christians are not only not to “offend” one another, that is, to stumble, to tempt, to give occasion to sin, they are to seek to please each other. The strong Christian is, by every means consistent with truth and duty, to endeavour to keep on good terms with his weak brother. It is only thus that he is likely to be really useful to him. If a man has not confidence in our friendly regards, he is not likely to listen to our counsels.’ (John Brown)

‘Not in every thing, it is not an unlimited rule; but for his good, especially for the good of his soul: not please him by serving his wicked wills, and humouring him in a sinful way, or consenting to his enticements, or suffering sin upon him; this is a base way of pleasing our neighbour to the ruin of his soul.’ (MHC)

‘The point of it all is not simply being able to live in peace and quiet without squabbling. That would be, so to speak, simply clearing the ground of rubble. The point is to build: and what needs to be built is the common life of praise and worship.’ (Wright)

Cf. Php 2:4.

Gal 1:10 indicates that there is a pleasing of others, an attempt to flatter them or to curry their favour, that is actually evil.  Stott distinguishes between ‘neighbour-pleasing’ (here) and ‘man-pleasing’.  As Moo puts it: ‘What is involved is not the “pleasing people” rather than God that Paul elsewhere condemns (Gal 1:10; Col 3:22; 1 Thess 2:4; Eph 6:6), but a “pleasing” fellow believers rather than ourselves.’

‘What is the pleasing others that Paul enjoins then? It is a determined adjustment of our lifestyle to whatever will contribute to the spiritual good of the other person. We are not to cater to the narrowest member of our fellowship, or to Christians who have over the years hardened themselves in sub-Biblical legalism, or to allow ourselves to be dominated by disordered persons. But there are times when for the sake of others we forego a course of action to which we are perfectly entitled.’ (Kent Hughes)

‘How amiable and comfortable a society would the church of Christ be if Christians would study to please one another, as now we see them commonly industrious to cross, and thwart, and contradict one another!’ (MHC)

John Brown illustrates with reference to a band of pilgrims.  Though none possesses perfect health and strength, some are stronger and more robust than others.  These should not stride on ahead, but should adapt their pace to their weaker brethren.  ‘They are not, indeed, in order that the whole company may appear alike, to pretend that they also are weak and heavy laden; still less, if possible, are they voluntarily to reduce themselves in these respects to a level with their brethren; but they are patiently to submit to such inconveniences as arise out of their connection with such companions, and while using every means to have their diseases cured, and their strength increased, and their burdens removed or lessened, they must not at present attempt to make them move faster than they are able, as that would be likely to produce stumbling and falling.’

John Brown points out that ‘the command “to please” has its limits. These are indicated by the end to be sought—“For good to edification.”…They were to seek to please so far as, and no further than, is consistent with the spiritual improvement of the weak brother. He would have been best pleased by the strong adopting his views, and professing a belief that the Mosaic restrictions were still in force; but this would not have been to “please him for edification.” We must not seek to please men by flattering their prejudices. When men can be both pleased and profited, it is very right they should be pleased. But it often happens that the two things are utterly incompatible. Even good men cannot always be pleased and profited at the same time. To please, you must sometimes do what would injure them; and to profit them, you must do what is likely to offend them. The apostle does not here contrast pleasing men with profiting them, but pleasing others with pleasing ourselves. Instead of pleasing ourselves, we are to please others, so far as that is calculated to promote edification.’

Even Christ did not please himself – Christ, who of all people had the greatest right to please himself.  ‘The self-denial of our Lord Jesus is the best argument against the selfishness of Christians.’ (MHC)

Christ our example

ReferenceAdmonition, in substanceLink to teaching concerning Christ’s person and work
Rom. 15:2, 3Please the neighbor“for Christ also pleased not himself.”
Rom. 15:7Extend a hearty welcome to each other. (Receive one another.)“just as Christ also welcomed (received) you.”
2 Cor. 8:7–9Abound in the grace of giving to the needy“for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that through his poverty you might become rich.”
Eph. 5:2Walk in love“just as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us.”
Phil. 2:3–8Be humble and unselfish“which (disposition) is also in Christ Jesus, who … emptied himself … took on the form of a servant … humbled himself and became obedient even to the extent of death; yes, death by a cross.”
Col. 3:13Forgive“just as Christ has forgiven you.”
(Hendriksen) See also Jn 13:34

‘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. John 8:29 records Jesus as saying, “I always do what pleases him.” And in John 4:34 he says, “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me.” And in John 6:38 he tells us, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”’ (Kent Hughes)

‘He did not consult his own worldly credit, ease, safety, nor pleasure; he had not where to lay his head, lived upon alms, would not be made a king, detested no proposal with greater abhorrence than that, Master, spare thyself, did not seek his own will (Jn. 5:30), washed his disciples’ feet, endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, troubled himself (Jn. 11:33), did not consult his own honour, and, in a word, emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation: and all this for our sakes, to bring in a righteousness for us, and to set us an example. His whole life was a self-denying self-displeasing life. He bore the infirmities of the weak, Heb. 4:15.’ (MHC)

How true is this!

  1. View him in his incarnation: Was it to please himself that he left “the bosom of the Father,” and divested himself of all “the glory that he had with the Father from all eternity?” Was it to please himself, that, “when he was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant?” Was it to please himself that he was “made in the likeness of sinful flesh,” partaking of all our infirmities, and being “made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted?”
  2. View him in his life: Was it to please himself that till the age of thirty he worked as a common carpenter: and that, from the time he took upon him his ministerial office, he was subjected to evils and distresses of every kind; being from first to last “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” as his daily and hourly companion? So poor was he, that he had not a place where to lay his head: and so hated, that he was “a sign spoken against,” a butt of contradiction to all the people of Israel. There was not any thing he either said or did, that did not subject him to fresh reproaches, and prove an occasion of offence to all around him. Incessantly was he represented as a deceiver, a blasphemer, and a devil, yea, as one who should not be suffered to live. His very first sermon would have been his last, if he had not miraculously withdrawn himself from his persecutors. Was all this undertaken and submitted to, to please himself?
  3. View him in his death. Was it to please himself that he consented to drink the cup of bitterness which his Father put into his hands; or that he was bathed in a bloody sweat in the garden of Gethsemane; or that he endured the hidings of his Father’s face, and expired under all the shame and agonies of crucifixion? No: at no one moment of his life do we find him consulting his own pleasure: his only object, his very meat and drink, was to do the will of Him that sent him.
Charles Simeon (numbering and emphasis added).

‘Whenever we crush the bread of Communion between our teeth and swallow the cup of his blood we cannot escape the fact that he did not please himself.’ (Kent Hughes)

As it is written – Interestingly, Paul does not appeal to any specific episode in Jesus’ life, but rather to a psalm (Psa 69:9).  ‘It is quoted to show that Christ was so far from pleasing himself that he did in the highest degree displease himself. Not as if his undertaking, considered on the whole, were a task and grievance to him, for he was very willing to it and very cheerful in it; but in his humiliation the content and satisfaction of natural inclination were altogether crossed and denied. He preferred our benefit before his own ease and pleasure.’ (MHC)

“The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – “Me” = Christ.  “You” = God.  The ‘insults’, in Paul’s thinking, were probably those hurled at Christ at the time of the crucifixion, Mt 27:44/Mk 15:32.  (Psa 69 is frequently referred to in the NT in connection with the crucifixion – Mt 27:34; Jn 2:17; 15:25; cf. Acts 1:20; Rom 11:9.

‘He was grieved for the hardness of people’s hearts, beheld a sinful place with sorrow and tears. When the saints were persecuted, Christ so far displeased himself as to take what was done to them as done against himself: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Christ also did himself endure the greatest indignities; there was much of reproach in his sufferings.’ (MHC)

Moo quotes Chrysostom: ‘He had power not to have been reproached, power not to have suffered what he did suffer, had he been minded to look to his own things.’

In context, Paul’s meaning is: ‘If Christ could go to such lengths, could endure such suffering, for the sake of others, then we should be able to accommodate the dietary scruples with the same attitude.’  If Christ could endure so much, then we can endure a little.

‘This seems to come in as a reason why we should bear the infirmities of the weak. We must not please ourselves, for Christ pleased not himself; we must bear the infirmities of the weak, for Christ bore the reproaches of those that reproached God. He bore the guilt of sin and the curse for it; we are only called to bear a little of the trouble of it. he bore the presumptuous sins of the wicked; we are called only to bear the infirmities of the weak.’ (MHC)

Christ our example

Paul does not appeal to some general ethical principle, nor even to Christ’s teaching (see Mt 5:43-46; Acts 20:35).  He appeals, rather, to Christ’s example (see 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 8:9; 10:1; Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:5 f.; Col. 3:13).  Christ himself did the same,  Matt. 11:29; 16:24; 20:27, 28; Mark 10:42–45; John 13:15.  See also 1 Pet 2:21.  As Hendriksen urges, we should avoid the two extremes of viewing Christ as only an example (and not as Saviour), and seeing him as Saviour but not example.  Our Lord is Saviour first and foremost, and then, most assuredly, he is our example.

Cf. Ps 69:9; Php 2:4.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us – In these verses we move from authority (Scripture, v4), to belief (shared thinking, v5), to worship (glorifying God, v6).

The point of Paul’s short digression here is to claim that the use he has just made of the Old Testament is entirely fitting.  ‘The Old Testament, though no longer a source of direct moral imperative (Rom 6:14f; 7:4), continues to play a central role in helping Christians to understand the climax of salvation history and their responsibilities as the New Covenant people of God.’ (Moo)

Matthew Henry offers on this verse what could almost be a statement of his own approach as a commentator: ‘We must therefore labour, not only to understand the literal meaning of the scripture, but to learn out of it that which will do us good; and we have need of help therefore not only to roll away the stone, but to draw out the water, for in many places the well is deep. Practical observations are more necessary than critical expositions.’

‘This passage…provides an excellent refutation of the fanatics who maintain that the Old Testament is abolished, and that it has no relevance at all the Christians.’ (Calvin)

We might have hope – We might have expected Paul to say, ‘…that we might have faith [in God’s purposes and promises]’.  But hope, for the Apostle, is precisely faith pointing towards the future.  ‘Hope,’ says Edwards, ‘is the claiming of Christ’s coming triumph and reign by saving faith (Rom 8:24–25).’

Pate thinks that Paul has the story of Israel in mind here: ‘Israel’s sin and exile (“endurance,” hypomonē) will give way to restoration (“encouragement, comfort,” paraklēsis) and therefore hope (elpis).’  The restoration now includes the Gentiles (see Rom 15:9-12).  And the hope consists, in large measure, of an assurance that the God who has been behind this story will bring it to its completion.

‘Hope,’ writes Moo, ‘is especially needed by Christians when facing suffering (cf. Rom 5:25; 8:20,24f).’  As MHC puts it: ‘patience and comfort suppose trouble and sorrow; such is the lot of the saints in this world.’

Moreover (as Moo points out), ‘the strong’ (most of whom were Gentile Christians) needed to remember that it is precisely they who had been far distant from God and his covenant promises (Rom 11:17-24).  They had, in fact, been ‘without hope’ (Eph 2:12).  But the teaching of the Old Testament strengthens their hope, while reminding them that this hope is for the one people of God: Jews and Gentiles, ‘weak’ and ‘strong’.

The Old Testament: written to teach us
Having made reference to Christ’s fulfilment of Ps 69:9, Paul makes a brief digression concerning the nature and purpose of the OT scriptures.

Following Edwards and others, we may observe that the Old Testament is approached in many different ways:-

  • some reject it and its God as violent and immoral
  • some approach it merely as literature; as a collection of ancient stories and poems
  • others approach it in order to understand how the various layers of oral and written tradition were compiled into the writings we now have
  • still others read it as an account of Jewish social history
  • some read it as a book of preparation and prediction, now superseded (in whole or in part) by the gospel

Paul did none of these things: for him, the scriptures were read and studied in order that they might be lived from.

John Stott identifies the following truths about Scripture from the present verse:-

1. Its contemporary intention. Although written in the past, the Scriptures were intended to teach those who came after.

2. Its inclusive value. Although Paul has only quoted half of a verse, he is persuaded that ‘everything’ is of value to us.

3. Its christological focus. Paul has just applied Psa 69 to Christ. The Lord himself explained to his disciples ‘what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’, Lk 24:27.

4. Its practical purpose. Its brings ‘encouragement’ which nurtures ‘endurance’, so that ‘we might have hope’. It lifts our thoughts above present sufferings to future glory. See 2 Tim 3:15-17.

5. Its divine message. The same qualities (endurance and encouragement) which in v4 are said to be produced by Scripture are in v5 attributed to God. For it is God himself who speaks through Scripture.

(Stott, Authentic Christianity, 97f)

15:5 Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, 15:6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This has been called a ‘prayer-wish’, combining as it does prayer to God and exhortation to the church.  For other examples, see 2 Thess 3:5; 2 Tim 1:16; Heb 13:20–21.

But note that this unity does not come from within: it is a gift from God.  The same God who gave the Scriptures (v4) will grant a spirit of unity.  ‘What Paul is calling the Christians to do, he asks God to supply—a typical instance of the divine—human interplay involved in Christian living.’ (NBC)

‘Faithful ministers water their preaching with their prayers, because, whoever sows the seed, it is God that gives the increase. We can but speak to the ear; it is God’s prerogative to speak to the heart.’ (MHC)

A spirit of unity is not merely an attitude of ‘agreeing to disagree’; of ‘live and let live’.  The expression, lit. means ‘to think the same’ (Edwards, Moo and others), and this is confirmed by Paul’s desire for his readers, notwithstanding their differences, to glorify God ‘with one heart and mouth.’  They may agree about everything, but they are to have the same outlook.

Stott thinks that this is a prayer for agreement on essential matters: ‘This can hardly be a plea that the Roman Christians may come to agree with each other about everything, since Paul has been at pains to urge the weak and the strong to accept each other in spite of their conscientious disagreement on secondary matters. It must therefore be a prayer for their unity of mind in essentials.’

Moo agrees that Paul’s prayer is not for them to come to a common mind on those issues on which they currently disagree.  ‘He is, rather, asking God to give them, despite their differences of opinion, a common perspective and purpose.’

For Wright, the agreement which Paul urges in this verse is specifically an agreement about mutual submission in Christ – which is, of course, his main practical focus in this passage.

‘The method of our prayer must be first for truth, and then for peace; for such is the method of the wisdom that is from above: it is first pure, then peaceable. This is to be like-minded according to Christ Jesus.’ (MHC)

As you follow Christ Jesus – lit. ‘according to Christ Jesus’, which could mean ‘according to the will of Christ Jesus’ (NBC; cf. 2 Cor 11:17).  But, since the context stresses Christ as an example, this is the more probably meaning here.

With one heart and one mouth – Better: ‘with one mind and one voice’.  The unity of mind ‘probably involving the “strong” not looking down on the “weak”, and the “weak” not judging the “strong”‘ (Kruse)

With one heart – Edwards says that the expression used suggests again that the unity of which he is speaking comes from outside.  ‘Demosthenes once used the term to describe the sort of oneness that results when a group of soldiers is attacked by an enemy; whatever their differences, the threat of destruction welds them into a fighting unit. So it is that grace draws us into a new relation with God and one another, making the church into something that it was not before, namely, a family of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (so Eph. 3:14–15).’

So that…you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – ‘When the strong receive the weak, and the weak the strong, they are in the most significant way glorifying God.’ (Barrett)

‘Corporate worship should involve more than a group of isolated individuals who happen to come under the same roof at the same time of the week. It should be a union of like-minded people, all dedicated to God and to each other.’ (Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans)

‘How strange, said Luther, is the glory of God, for God is glorified when believers of differing persuasions accept one another and when the strong bear the burdens of the weak! (Lectures on Romans, p. 411).’ (Edwards)

‘The glory of God is the supreme goal, and the Romans were endangering this purpose through their disunity. Moreover, if the church is truly praising and glorifying God, dissension will not occur. In fact, there might be a deliberate allusion to 1:21, where depraved humanity did not glorify him as God. In their conflict, the Romans were acting like the pagans.’ (Osborne)

‘Only when the Roman community is united, only when the Christians in Rome can act “with one accord” and speak “with one voice,” will they be able to glorify God in the way that he deserves to be glorified.  Divisions in the church over nonessentials diverts precious time and energy from its basic mission: the proclamation of the gospel and the glorifying of God.’ (Moo)

Exhortation to Mutual Acceptance, 7-13

15:7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory. 15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 15:9 and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” 15:10 And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 15:11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” 15:12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.”

This passage (vv7-13) is also ‘strikingly resumptive’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary) of chapters 9-11.  It may even be seen as a conclusion to the entire letter, rehearsing as it does many (but not all) of the main themes.  So Dunn and others.  Wright agrees, sees it as a ‘return to the home key’: a recapitulation of the theme that was first set out in Rom 1:1-15.

But it is perhaps best to see this section as the climax of the passage running from Rom 14:1-13:13.  Paul does indeed draw on some of the themes from the body of the letter: but he does so ‘as a means of buttressing his final appeal to the “strong” and the “weak”.  He sets the local conflict in Rome against the panorama of salvation history in order to stimulate them to obedience…This exhortation to the two groups in the Roman church is not the main driving force of the letter: but it is one of the key converging motivations that led Paul to write about the gospel the way that he has in Romans.’ (Moo)

Deleting Scripture?

Derek Flood (Disarming Scripture, p61f) finds it ‘highly significant’ that Paul omits from his quotations from Psalms and Deuteronomy any mention of violence to the Gentiles:-

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: “I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—to the LORD, but he did not answer … He is the God who avenges me, who puts the Gentiles under me… Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” [quoting Psalm 18:41–49]

Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.” [Deuteronomy 32:43]

‘This,’ writes Flood, ‘constitutes a major redefinition of how salvation is conceived: Instead of salvation meaning God “delivering” the ancient Israelites from the hands of their enemies through military victory (as described in Psalm 18, which Paul is quoting from), Paul now understands salvation to mean the restoration of all people in Christ, including those same “enemy” Gentiles.’

Flood thinks that the pre-Christian Paul would have embraced the violent character of these OT scriptures: ‘Surely Paul had formerly read these passages, which clearly speak of the slaughter of Gentiles, and used them to justify violence in God’s name. So it is no coincidence that he now picks these same passages to declare God’s love and grace towards Gentiles with his radical editing of these texts.’

Paul could easily (suggests flood) had cited more peacable portions of the OT to make his point.  ‘Instead, he quotes the very passages that speak of bloody vengeance and slaughter of Gentiles. Is Paul deliberately subverting these passages—converting them away from violence, just as he had been converted by Christ?…Paul is deliberately reversing the meaning—turning the tables in order to provoke his audience.’

Accept one another – Or, ‘welcome one another’ (F.F. Bruce, who expands: ‘take your fellow-Christians to your hearts as well as to your homes.’)  This returns to the opening phrase of the present section, Rom 14:1.  Whereas the plea of Rom 14:3 concerns the strong, the present one broadens it to a double acceptance – the strong should accept the weak, and the weak should accept the strong.

Here is is,

  1. a plea – ‘accept one another’
  2. the basis for that plea – ‘just as Christ accepted you’
  3. the purpose of the plea – ‘in order to bring praise to God’.

This is not primarily about accepting people from different ethnic backgrounds (contra Cornerstone Bible Commentary), or with different preferences regarding public worship.  It is, rather, about accepting people who have sincerely-held, but none-essential, differences in belief or practice.  It is about those whose faith is strong recognising as Christian brothers and sisters those whose faith is weak, and vice-versa.

‘Let the strong stop despising the weak; instead, after Christ’s example, let them bear their weaknesses even at risk of insult (Rom 15:1–3). Let the weak stop judging the strong for their perceived lawlessness; instead, let them show them the mercy which the covenant God granted to lawless Gentiles (Rom 15:8–12).’ (J.K. Chamblin, DPL, art. ‘Freedom/Liberty’)

‘Paul wants the Roman Christians to accept one another as fellow members of a family, with all the love and concern that should typify brothers and sisters.’ (Moo)

We can accept one another’s persons, even when we cannot accept all their doctrines.  We can accept them ‘in Christ’, even though we may different from them in so many ways.

‘”Acceptance” is a popular word today, and rightly so. Theologically, God’s acceptance of us is quite a good contemporary term for justification. But we should be cautious about modern talk of ‘unconditional acceptance’, as when the concept of an ‘open church’ is canvassed, in which membership is offered to everybody, with no questions asked and no conditions laid down. For though God’s love is indeed unconditional, his acceptance of us is not, since it depends on our repentance and our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to bear this in mind when we consider that we are to accept the weak (Rom 14:1) since ‘God has accepted him’ (Rom 14:3), and to accept one another ‘just as Christ accepted’ us (Rom 15:7).’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 264)

‘Jesus’ death for human sin meant that each person could find his or her true identity. This would not be by claiming superiority over other people, but by accepting their status first as a sinner, and then as a forgiven sinner, a child of God in union with the Son of God and all other children of God in Christ. Paul’s message was, ‘Accept one another as Christ has accepted you.’ When we belong to God’s people, our culture and nationality, once a source of pride, have to take second place.’ (Christopher Sugden)

‘Sometimes the prejudices of the weak Christian make him shy of the strong, as much as the pride of the strong Christian makes him shy of the weak, neither of which ought to be. Let there be a mutual embracing among Christians.’ (MHC)

As Christ accepted you – In Rom 14:3, it was God’ who had accepted them.  So ‘here we have yet another instance of Paul’s close association of God and Christ in this part of Romans.’ (Moo)

‘Each of us must recognise that we have been “received” by Christ, as a matter of pure grace; and that same grace has reached out and brought into the kingdom people from all kinds of aces, nations, and backgrounds, and with all kinds of prejudices.  Such differences should never be allowed to disturb the unity of the church.’ (Moo)

Kent Hughes asks: ‘How did Christ accept you and me? He accepted us with our many sins, prejudices, and innumerable blind spots. He accepted us with our psychological shortcomings and cultural naiveté. He accepted us with our provincialisms. He even accepted us with our stubbornness. This is how we are to accept one another.’

‘Can there be a more cogent argument? Has Christ been so kind to us, and shall we be so unkind to those that are his? Was he so forward to entertain us, and shall we be backward to entertain our brethren? Christ has received us into the nearest and dearest relations to himself: has received us into his fold, into his family, into the adoption of sons, into a covenant of friendship, yea, into a marriage-covenant with himself; he has received us (though we were strangers and enemies, and had played the prodigal) into fellowship and communion with himself.’ (MHC)

In order to bring praise to God – this probably attached to the first clause (‘accept one another’) rather than to the second (‘as Christ accepted you’).  So Moo and others.

Principled and unprincipled comprehensiveness

John Stott urges us to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials in the Christian faith.  This may sometimes be difficult to do, although a safe guide is to assume that where Scripture speaks with clear and repeated voice, we are among the essential things.

Stott adds: ‘Some people glory in the so-called ‘comprehensiveness’ of certain denominations. But there are two kinds of comprehensiveness, principled and unprincipled.

‘Dr Alex Vidler has described the latter as the resolve ‘to hold together in juxtaposition as many varieties of Christian faith and practice as are willing to agree to differ, so that the church is regarded as a sort of league of religions [a sort of ‘United Religions’, he might have said today]. I have nothing to say for such an unprincipled syncretism.’ The true principle of comprehension, on the other hand, he writes, ‘is that a church ought to hold the fundamentals of the faith, and at the same time allow for differences of opinion and of interpretation in secondary matters, especially rites and ceremonies …’.
p 375 In fundamentals, then, faith is primary, and we may not appeal to love as an excuse to deny essential faith. In non-fundamentals, however, love is primary, and we may not appeal to zeal for the faith as an excuse for failures in love. Faith instructs our own conscience; love respects the conscience of others. Faith gives liberty; love limits its exercise. No-one has put it better than Rupert Meldenius, a name which some believe was a nom de plume used by Richard Baxter:

In essentials unity;
In non-essentials liberty;
In all things charity.

Paul further underpins the plea issued in v7 by affirming that Christ himself has, and continues to, reach out to Jews (v8) and Gentiles (v9) alike.

Verses 8 and 9 provide a succinct summary of the main thrust of the epistle as a whole.

The context suggests that he regards the Jews (or many of them) as ‘the weak’, and the Gentiles (or many of them) as ‘the strong’ (so Edwards and others).  But the equation is at best approximate, since he has included himself –  a Jew – among ‘the strong’ (v1).

Christ has become a servant of the Jews – Lit. ‘to the circumcised’.  ‘This brief statement epitomizes the earthly ministry of our Lord, who announced that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24) and restricted the activity of his disciples during those days to their own nation (Mt 10:5–6)’ (EBC).

Barrett observes that the use of the expression ‘the circumcised’ to denote the Jews identifies them as ‘the most awkward and irritating of scrupulous persons’.  But Christ was (and is, as the perfect tense indicates) their ‘servant’.

On behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs – This intentional limitation of ministry in the days of his flesh ‘was in the interest of “God’s truth” in the sense of God’s fidelity to his word, especially his promises made to the patriarchs (cf. Rom 9:4–5).’ (EBC)  A number of commentators see in this expression an allusion to God’s covenant faithfulness.

The implication of this verse is that Gentile believers should not disparage Jewish believers.

On Christ as a servant, see Mk 10:45.

‘The terms “truth” (v8) and “mercy” (v9) recall hesed, the Old Testament term for God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham and Israel.’ (Pate)

So that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy – This picks up the theme of Rom 1:16b (‘first for the Jew, then for the Gentile’) and chapter 11.

‘The coming of Christ may be viewed in two ways. On the one hand he came to vindicate God’s faithfulness by fulfilling the promises which had been made within Judaism. On the other hand he came that the Gentiles might be included with Israel among the people of God. As the Jews glorify God for his faithfulness, so the Gentiles will glorify him for his mercy.’ (Barrett)

As it is written – ‘The inclusion of the Gentiles is not to be regarded as a happy afterthought; it was foretold in Scripture.’ (Barrett)

The quotations from the OT (Ps. 18:49 / 2 Sam. 22:50; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1; Isa. 11:10; drawn therefore from the Torah, Writings, and Prophets) in vv9-12 confirm that it was God’s purpose all along to save Gentiles, along with Jews.  Therefore, the two groups must live together in unity.  ‘They share a common theme of praise of God by a joint chorus of Jew and Gentile.’ (Edwards)

EBC observes ‘an element of progression in Paul’s quotations from the OT in vv.9–12. The first (Ps 18:49) pictures David as rejoicing in God for his triumphs in the midst of the nations that have become subject to him. In the second (Dt 32:43, in the LXX), the position of the Gentiles is elevated to participation with Israel in the praise of the Lord. The third and fourth quotations no longer picture the Gentiles in relation to Israel but in their own right, praising the Lord (Ps 117:1) and hoping in him whom God has raised up to rule over the nations (Isa 11:10).’

Regarding these OT quotations, Pate remarks:-

The words of 2 Samuel 22:50 // Psalm 18:49 come from a psalm of David in praise of God for victory over the Gentiles. As Douglas Moo points out, Paul interprets the psalm typologically of Christ: Christ has conquered the Gentiles by converting them and including them in his messianic rule.
As Thomas Schreiner observes, Deuteronomy 32:43 comes at the end of Moses’ song against Israel containing the threat of the covenant curses. But these curses, Moses predicts, will drive Israel and the Gentiles to God.
Psalm 117:1 calls on Gentiles to praise the Lord. As Moo notes, the reason for such praise is that the Gentiles will also experience God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel (Ps. 117:2).
Isaiah 11:10 is the prophecy of the Messiah, the Davidic “branch” who will deliver Israel. Moreover, Isaiah is famous for his prediction that Gentiles will be converted to Yahweh at the end of time in connection with Israel’s restoration (e.g., Isa. 2:1–4; 12:4–5; 17:7–8; 19:18–25). For Paul, Jesus is that messianic branch who is restoring Israel and converting the Gentiles.

The root of Jesse – Edwards calls this the ‘humblest’ of all Messianic designations, and entirely in line with Paul’s description of Jesus as not pleasing himself.

Edwards finely says: ‘The God who once defended the cause of an abandoned slave people in Egypt, and later defended the cause of the sojourner, widow, and orphan in its midst, now advocates the cause of the distant Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–13). And the same Lord who draws them into salvation builds bridges between them in the community which bears his name. The weak must not condemn the strong, but rather permit them their freedom of conscience; and the strong must not press for victory, but rather convert their power into advocacy for the weak.’

…will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations – Possibly connoting Christ’s resurrection.  Because they share the same root, they can overcome their differences (Osborne).

15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The God of hope – is ‘the God who inspires hope in his children’ (EBC).  See Rom 5:2; 13:11.

Moo agrees that ‘the phrase ὁ θεὸς τῆς ἐλπίδος probably has this general sense (cf. REB; TEV; and, e.g., Cranfield) rather than, e.g., “the God in whom we hope” (Calvin), or “the God who both gives hope and in whom we hope” (Murray; Dunn).

‘This hope is supernatural, and thereby distinguished from the heathen’s hope, which, with the rest of their moral virtues, so far as any excellency were found in them, came from God, (to whom every man that cometh into the world is beholden for all the light he hath, John 1:9,) and is but the remains of man’s first noble principles; as sometimes we shall see a broken turret or two stand in the midst of the ruins of some stately palace demolished, which serves for little more than to help the spectator to give a guess what goodly buildings once stood there.’ (Gurnall)

Memorise this verse!

Wright says: ‘Verse 13 is one of those summary verses which says so much in such a short space that it would be worth learning it by heart, mulling it over again and again, and turning it into prayer, prayer for our own churches, prayer for the worldwide church today and tomorrow, prayer for God to be glorified in the life of his people.’

Pate observes that Rom 14:1-15:13 can be understood to be about ‘adiaphora’ (lit. ‘things indifferent’; those non-essential matters about which Christians may disagree, without disuniting them.  Following Moo, Pate summarises the theological principles that emerge from this passage:-

  1. Paul was a realist; he knew that we have to deal with people where they are (in the case of Rom 14:1–15:13, Jewish scruples about ritual practices).  We should not violate their sensitive consciences, for ‘whatever is not done on the basis of faith is sin’, Rom 14:23.
  2. Christians who do not feel obligated by the scruples of their weaker brothers and sisters should nevertheless be willing to limit their liberty for the sake of fellow believers and for Christ’s sake.  Otherwise, they may find themselves tearing down, rather than building up.  And their incentive for doing this is nothing less than the example of Jesus Christ himself.  This does not mean that the ‘strong’ need always refrain from behaviours that the ‘weak’ would disagree with: but they should do so if there is a risk of harm being done.
  3. Paul’s bottom line in adiaphora is the unity of the church.  Since ‘Christ is Lord’ (Rom 14:4-9) we owe absolute allegiance to his command and to his example.  ‘The weak are not to condemn the strong, and the strong are not to look down on the weak (Rom 14:10). Rather, the unity of the church must be preserved in all areas where it is a matter of openness (that is, where it does not impinge on a cardinal doctrine).’ (Osborne)

Osborne also follows Moo at this point, suggesting that the biblical material may be contextualised at the specific level (food laws, holy days, and so on) or at the more general level (non-essential doctrines and practices).

Paul’s Motivation for Writing the Letter, 14-21

15:14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15:15 But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 15:16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
15:17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 15:19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 15:21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

Illyricum – The area on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, extending from NE Italy to Macedonia (the former nation of Yugoslavia).

v20 ‘It has been said that he suffered from spiritual claustrophobia – the fear of being confined in an enclosed space. He was in the grip of an insatiable passion for advance. He was haunted by the regions beyond. His vision knew no horizons.’ (J.O. Sanders)

On Paul’s ambitions, see 2 Cor 5:9 n

Paul’s Intention of Visiting the Romans, 22-33

15:22 This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 15:24 when I go to Spain. For I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will help me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

When I go to Spain – Although there is a point on the Mediterranean coast of Spain where Paul is said to have landed, there is no firm evidence that he ever achieved his wish to visit that country.

15:25 But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 15:26 For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 15:27 For they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 15:28 Therefore after I have completed this and have safely delivered this bounty to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 15:29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

A contribution (koinonia) for the poor – ‘which indicates that koinonia can take on a concrete form as a generosity which clothes itself in practical action, and is so applied to the collection for the saints of the Jerusalem church in their poverty-stricken condition.’ (cf. 2 Cor 8:4) (NBD)

‘One of the significant aspects of the ministry of Paul was the collection for the saints which he solicited from Greek Christians in order to bring aid to poor Christians in Jerusalem. In this collection the apostle, who otherwise was wholly devoted to the proclamation of the gospel and sought nothing for himself, (1 Cor 9:3-15; 2 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Thess 2:9) nonetheless understood the ministry of proclamation and the ministry of collection as joined in service to Christ in the power of the Spirit. Thus in Rom 15:26 he speaks of the collection as a koinonia in which the spiritual legacy of Israel and the material assistance of the Gentiles are a unity. In 2 Cor 8-9 Paul speaks of the spiritual significance of the money which the Greeks are giving. It demonstrates genuine love, (2 Cor 8:8) follows in the pattern of the self-giving Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 8:9) and honors the Lord. (2 Cor 8:21,23 9:13) The love of God rests upon the cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7) whose giving is a “good work” (2 Cor 9:8) which issues in thanksgiving (2 Cor 8:16 9:11-12,15) and manifests grace.’ (2 Cor 8:1,6,19-20 9:14-15) (DPL)

15:30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 15:32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 15:33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

The love of the Spirit – An unusual expression, but reminding us that love characterises God in his trinitarian fullness, cf. Jn 3:16 Gal 2:20.

By God’s will– ‘The purpose of prayer is emphatically not to bend God’s will to ours, but rather to align our will to his. The promise that our prayers will be answered is conditional on our asking ‘according to his will’. Consequently every prayer we pray should be a variation on the theme, ‘Your will be done.’’ (Stott)

‘Paul’s reference to the will of God in relation to prayer is very significant. He has prayed earlier that ‘now at last by God’s will the way may be opened’ for him to come to Rome (1:10). Here he again prays that by God’s will he may come to them. His use of this qualifying clause throws light on both the purpose and the character of prayer, on why and how Christians should pray.

‘The purpose of prayer is emphatically not to bend God’s will to ours, but rather to align our will to his. The promise that our prayers will be answered is conditional on our asking ‘according to his will’. Consequently every prayer we pray should be a variation on the theme, ‘Your will be done.’

‘What about the character of prayer? Some people tell us, in spite of Paul’s earlier statement that ‘we do not know what we ought to pray for’ (Rom 8:26), that we should always be precise, specific and confident in what we pray for, and that to add ‘if it be your will’ is a cop-out and incompatible with faith. In response, we need to distinguish between the general and the particular will of God. Since God has revealed his general will for all his people in Scripture (e.g. that we should control ourselves and become like Christ), we should indeed pray with definiteness and assurance about these things. But God’s particular will for each of us (e.g. regarding a life work and a life partner) has not been revealed in Scripture, so that, in praying for guidance, it is right to add ‘by God’s will’. If Jesus himself did this in the garden of Gethsemane (‘Not my will, but yours be done’), and if Paul did it twice in his letter to the Romans, we should do it too. It is not unbelief, but a proper humility.’ (Stott)