Week of December 18, 2005
Bible Passage:† Romans 15:14-24, 30-32.
Biblical Truth: By helping to advance the gospel, believers have the power to make a positive difference in the world.
Your Purpose 15:14-16.
 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.  But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God,  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. [NASU]
At this point begins the concluding part of this epistle, devoted to encouragement, explanation, greeting, and the final doxology. Paul begins by expressing his confidence in his Roman readers . He is simply assuring them that he knows and appreciates their qualities: their goodness, their extensive Christian knowledge and their proven ability to teach and admonish one another. Goodness is that virtue opposed to all that is mean and evil and includes uprightness and kindness of heart and life. The knowledge is the understanding of the Christian faith and is particularly related to the capacity for instruction. Goodness is the quality which will constrain the strong to refrain from what will injure the weak and knowledge is the attainment that will correct weakness of faith.
If then they are such fine and gifted Christians, why has Paul thought it necessary to write to them as he has done? He supplies two reasons. First, I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again [15a]. The apostles attached great importance to their reminding ministry. They kept reminding the churches of the original message and calling them back to it. All of us need to be reminded continually of the central truths of the Gospel because we are so prone to forget. Paulís second reason for having written had to do with his unique ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles, to which he has already referred three times [1:5;11:13;12:3]. I have written because of the grace that was given me from God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles [15b-16a].
For the next seven verses Paul elaborates the nature of his ministry, drawing his readersí attention to three salient features of it. First, Paulís ministry was a priestly ministry [16-17]. Paul uses five terms that, directly or indirectly, all have priestly and sacrificial associations: minister, priestly duty, offering, acceptable to God and sanctified. So what is Paulís priestly ministry, and what sacrifice does he have to offer? The answer clearly has to do with the gospel and the Gentiles. Paul regards his missionary work as a priestly ministry because he is able to offer his Gentile converts as a living sacrifice to God. This was in fulfillment of Isaiahís prophecy [66:20] that Diaspora Jews (of whom Paul was one) would proclaim Godís glory in distant lands and bring people to Jerusalem from all the nations as an offering to the Lord. All evangelists are priests, because they offer their converts to God. Indeed, it is this truth more than any other which effectively united the churchís two major roles of worship and witness. It is when we worship God, glorying in his holy name, that we are driven out to proclaim his name to the world. And when through our witness people are brought to Christ, we then offer them to God. Further, they themselves join in his worship, until they too go out to witness. Thus worship leads to witness, and witness to worship. It is a perpetual cycle.
Your Power 15:17-19.
 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.  For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed,  in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. [NASU]
 The acceptable offering up of the Gentile converts in verse 16 results in [therefore] Paul boasting in the things pertaining to God. Paul condemns boasting in oneís own achievements but Paulís priestly ministry to the Gentiles is not of his own doing, it is the work of Godís grace in his life. Thus he boasts in the central role God had called him to in the preaching of the gospel of Christ .
[18-19] Second, Paulís ministry was a powerful ministry. This is a very valuable statement of Paulís own understanding of his ministry. The repetition of the word power in verse 19 signifies that his ministry is a powerful ministry. But clearly the power comes from the divine enablement of his ministry [what Christ has accomplished through me]. Paul alludes to at least five features of his ministry.
1.††† Paul describes the objective of his ministry as being to lead the Gentiles to obey God. His emphasis is on obedience, presumably because it is the indispensable consequence of saving faith, and is a vital ingredient of Christian discipleship.
2.††† Paul refuses to recount his own exploits. All he will dare to talk about, he says, is what Christ has accomplished through me.
3.††† What Christ has accomplished has been by what was said and done, literally by word and deed. This combination of words and works, the verbal and the visual, is a recognition that human beings often learn more through their eyes than through their ears. Words explain works, but works dramatize words.
4.††† Christís ministry through Paul was by the power of signs and miracles. This expression brings together the three commonest biblical terms for the supernatural. Signs indicates their significance (especially in demonstrating the arrival of Godís kingdom), powers their character (exhibiting Godís power over nature) and wonders their effect (evoking peopleís amazement). Their chief purpose was to authenticate the unique ministry of the apostles.
5.††† Paulís ministry was also through the power of the Spirit. It is he who takes our feeble human words and confirms them with his divine power in the minds, hearts, consciences and wills of the hearers. Every conversion is a power encounter, in which the Spirit through the gospel rescues and regenerates sinners.
It is noteworthy how in verses 16-19a Paul weaves his teaching around the distinctive relations to and functions of the three persons of the Godhead. Minister of Christ Jesus, gospel of God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus, pertaining to God, Christ has accomplished, power of the Spirit. This shows how Paulís thought was conditioned by the doctrine of the trinity and particularly by the distinguishing properties and prerogatives of the three persons in the economy of salvation.
Your Plan 15:20-24.
 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another manís foundation;  but as it is written, ďThey who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.Ē  For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;  but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you  whenever I go to Spain Ė for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while. [NASU]
[20-22] Third, Paulís ministry was a pioneer ministry. It was his goal to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named. His strategy was to evangelize the populous and influential cities, and plant churches there, and then leave to others the radiation of the gospel into the surrounding villages. His own calling and gift as apostle to the Gentiles were to pioneer the evangelization of the Gentile world, and then leave to others, especially to local, residential elders, the pastoral care of the churches. It is important to recognize that this was Paulís desire, but not an absolute rule. For in pursuing his pioneer church-planting ministry, Paul would often have to engage in other ministry activities or to work with churches that he did not himself found (e.g., Antioch). In verse 21 Paul draws support from Isaiah 52:15. This text is derived from a context in which the world-wide effects of the Messiahís sacrifice are in view and the appropriateness of the application to the apostleís Gentile ministry is apparent. In verse 22 we have a virtual repetition of what Paul had said in 1:13. The significant difference is that now he tells the reason why he had been so many times hindered from fulfilling his purpose to go to Rome. This is the force of but now of verse 23.
23-24 He was hindered by the necessities of fulfilling his ministry in the regions more adjacent. He could not leave until he had fully preached the gospel in the territories in which up to date he had labored. But now the case is different. Having fulfilled the gospel he has no more place for this kind of activity in the regions extending from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Hence he is now free to cast his missionary eyes on more distant horizons. It is all-important, in view of Paulís declared plan in verses 20-21, to observe how Rome relates itself to this projected outreach of apostolic labor. It is the region far beyond Rome that comes within his ambition and, as subsequent considerations will show, Rome is envisaged as a resting point on the way. In verse 24b he intimates the kind of visit he planned for Rome. It was to be, in his design, a passing visit, though not by any means so brief or casual that he would not impart to believers there and derive from them that of which he spoke in 1:11-13. Perhaps the most significant element in this verse is the clause to be helped on my way there by you. Paul refers to Spain. He expects from the church at Rome a sending forth with commendation and blessing comparable to that experienced earlier at the hands of other churches. How close was the bond of fellowship between the churches and the apostle in the discharge of his specifically apostolic commission!
Your Prayers 15:30-32.
 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,  that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;  so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. [NASU]
It is characteristic of Paul to solicit the prayers of the saints. He makes Christ Jesus his plea for compliance with his request. Paul appeals to them by our Lord Jesus Christ (our common Lord) and by the love of the Spirit (our common love being the Holy Spiritís fruit). As Godís love inspires and validates hope, so the Spiritís love should incite to prayer. The term strive together is suggestive of the wrestling which prayer involves; it is to be persistent and earnest. Prayer is a means ordained of God for the accomplishment of his gracious designs and is the fruit of faith and expectation.
For what, then, does Paul ask their prayers? It concerns his visits to Jerusalem and to Rome. With regard to Jerusalem, he mentions two topics for their prayers, which relate to believers and unbelievers respectively. The first concerns the opposition of unbelievers [31a]. Paulís second concern for his Jerusalem visit relates to the believers, the Jewish Christian community [31b]. Paul longs that Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the body of Christ may be strengthened by the Jewish Christiansí acceptance of the tangible symbol of the offering. That is why he asks the Romans to pray both that the believers will accept the gift and that unbelievers will not be able to prevent either the giving or the receiving of it. Paul now requests prayer also for his visit to Rome. Indeed he sees the two visits to be inseparably connected. Only if his mission in Jerusalem succeeds will his voyage to Rome be possible.
Paulís reference to the will of God in relation to prayer is very significant: by the will of God. 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 Godís 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. What about the character of prayer? 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 Godís 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 Ďby Godís willí. It is not unbelief, but a proper humility. This is based upon the recognition that God is sovereign and that the coming to pass of these events is dependent upon his sovereign will. Note here how God did answer Paulís prayer. Paul indeed made it safely to Rome but certainly not in the ways that he had hoped for or anticipated; for he arrived there in Roman chains as a prisoner. The lessons for us to be derived from these verses are numberless.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††† Why is it important that believers be reminded of the central truths of the Christian Faith and of the need to be consistent in our obedience to our Lordís commands? List ways that believers can take advantage of the various reminders that are available to us (e.g., faithful attendance at worship, bible studies, systematic devotional readings through books of the bible, etc.).
2.†††† Discuss the importance of the phrase resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed. Paul saw this obedience as the result of the work of Christ in his ministry. Why does he place so much importance on obedience? What is the significance of both word and deed for our obedience to our Lord?
3.†††† Why does Paul continually weave his teaching around the distinctive relations and functions of the three persons of the Godhead? What does this tell us about the way we should relate to the Trinity in our daily Christian living?
4.†††† What does Paul teach us about prayer in verses 30-32? Why is a reliance upon the sovereignty of God so important for our prayer lives?
The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.
The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.
Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker Books.
Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.