BOLD GOSPEL MINISTRY MANDATED BY GOD’S GRACE SEEKS THE GROWING MATURITY OF THE SAINTS DESPITE CONFIDENT COMMENDATION
Frank Thielman: The argument of 15:14–33 unfolds in four steps. The “now” (δέ) with which 15:14 begins signals the start of a new major section, just as it did in 14:1, and introduces the first step in the new section (15:14–16). Here Paul tells his Roman audience why he felt compelled to write the letter and particularly the “very bold” section of 14:1 – 15:13, in which he has given straightforward advice on their internal affairs. He begins this section apologetically with a strong statement of his confidence in their own goodness, knowledge, and ability to instruct one another (15:14), but then defends his decision to write as a reminder to them of what they already know (15:15). His authority to do this among gentile believers, he tells them, comes not from himself but from God (15:16).
Thomas Schreiner: The flow of thought in these verses can be sketched in briefly. Even though the Romans are full of knowledge and able to instruct one another (v. 14), Paul has written boldly to them on a number of points because of his apostolic call (v. 15). This call focuses on the gentiles. Paul is a minister who serves as a priest on their behalf so that the offering of the gentiles will be acceptable to God (v. 16).
R. Kent Hughes: Paul’s heart is ﬁrst a heart that sees its mission as entirely sacred. Here Paul appropriates the vivid imagery of a Hebrew priest ministering at the altar in the temple. . . The imagery here is remarkably forceful because the word translated “minister” is the same root word from which we derive the word liturgy. The word even sounds like it—lietourgon. This is most signiﬁcant, because Paul could have used other words to describe himself. For example, he could have used the common term doulos to indicate a servant of Jesus Christ, or he could have used diakonos, which means “servant” or “minister.” But he chose lietourgon because he saw his missionary work like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God.
John MacArthur: Really, verses 14 to 21 is in defense of Paul’s boldness. The whole section is written to defend the way in which he spoke to the Romans. You see, he had never been to that church. He did not found that church. He never pastored that church. He did not personally know that church or fellowship with that church. And yet, throughout this tremendous epistle he had spoken to them with great boldness. Very forthrightly, shoulder to shoulder, nose to nose, he had confronted them on some very crucial issues, not the least of which was the matter of the stronger and the weaker in chapters 14 and 15. But he had been very bold in speaking to them and his boldness needs an explanation. How can one whom they have never met, who has not founded that church, nor pastored that church be so bold with them? . . .
So, this is all very personal as he gives them his heart. And it’s important for him to do that because, having written so boldly, he doesn’t want to ruin the relationship with them before it can even get started. He doesn’t want to undermine their association because he wants to go to Spain and he sees this church at Rome as a key point to stop off in, collect some supplies so he can go on and evangelize Spain. And he wants a conciliating spirit. He wants them to know not only his doctrine but his heart so that they will not misjudge his confidence and boldness as if it was insensitivity and an unloving spirit.
Everett Harrison: Paul now reflects on the character of his readers and what he can expect his letter to accomplish for them.
I. (:14) CONFIDENT COMMENDATION OF THE CHURCH IN ROME
A. Target of Paul’s Instruction = My Brethren
“And concerning you, my brethren,”
Matthew Henry: He clears himself from the suspicion of intermeddling needlessly with that which did not belong to him, Rom. 15:15. Observe how affectionately he speaks to them: My brethren (Rom. 15:14), and again, brethren, Rom. 15:15. He had himself, and taught others, the art of obliging. He calls them all his brethren, to teach them brotherly love one to another
B. Three Areas of Confident Commendation
“I myself also am convinced that you yourselves”
Frank Thielman: The phrase “I myself ” (καὶ αὐτὸς ἐγώ) is emphatic and is followed by an equally emphatic and contrasting “you yourselves” (καὶ αὐτοί).
Mounce: Morally, they were “full of goodness,” intellectually they were “complete in knowledge,” and functionally they were “competent to instruct one another.”
Wuest: I have been completely persuaded with the result that I have arrived at a settled conviction.
- Moral Makeup
“are full of goodness,”
John Murray: “Goodness” (cf. Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; II Thess. 1:11) is that virtue opposed to all that is mean and evil and includes uprightness, kindness, and beneficence of heart and life. . . 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.
- Intellectual Insight
“filled with all knowledge,”
Matthew Henry: Goodness and knowledge together! A very rare and an excellent conjunction; the head and the heart of the new man.
- Mutual Ministry [Remember book by Jay Adams = Competent to Counsel]
“and able also to admonish one another.”
James Dunn: νουθετέω (constructed from νοῦν τίθημι = “put on the mind, instruct”) denotes basically the well-intentioned attempt to influence mind and disposition by apposite instruction, exhortation, warning, and correction (TDNT 4:1019). . .
Almost as though the whole sweep of the argument from 1:16 to 15:13 had been one long parenthesis, Paul returns to the theme and mood of 1:8–15. The warm congratulatory tone of v 14 echoes the similar note of 1:8. He addresses them as “my brothers,” although he had never met the bulk of them; such was the feeling of belonging to a family, with Christ as eldest brother (8:29), which Paul had enjoyed in so many congregations round the Great Sea and which transcended the old ties of blood and kinship, that Paul could take it for granted that the Roman Christians would share a similar depth of feeling and mutual regard. The fulsome language is of course exaggerated, in the way that courteous compliments in the East tend to be. Paul would not expect it to be taken literally and phrases the first two items in deliberately vague and nonspecific terms—“full of goodness, filled with all knowledge.” But the third and climactic phrase has more point—“able to admonish one another.” For this is Paul’s way of stressing his confidence in the maturity of the congregations to which he writes: they are able to engage in the delicate business of mutual instruction and correction among themselves; they do not need any help from Paul on that front. Here Paul will have in mind the mutual interdependence of the members of each church (it is no mere coincidence that 15:15 echoes 12:3): they have the resources in the Spirit’s engracing through one another to cope with all their problems.
John MacArthur: “You are competent to counsel.” They can act without Paul, is what he is saying. You can act without me. With all you know, having all knowledge revealed by God, with all you are, having true goodness of life, you are able to counsel one another. You are able to admonish one another. And the word here is nouthete. It means to lead someone away from a false path into a true path by warning and teaching. It’s a comprehensive word for counseling. And, of course, in our particular culture today we hear so much about who is competent to counsel. And there are those people who would tell us that the only ones competent to counsel are worldly trained psychiatrists and psychologists. I heard that day after day after day after day during the trial of the lawsuit in which I was engaged, that people in the ministry are utterly incompetent to counsel, that there’s no way we can handle quote-unquote “psychological problems,” that there are problems far beyond the purview of anyone treating it with the Word of God. You have to know Freud, you have to know Carl Rogers, you have to know Jung, you’ve got to know all this and have all kinds of worldly information in order to deal with people’s problems. But what the Scripture says here is if you have all knowledge of the revelation of God and your life is characterized by being full of moral purity, you are competent to counsel, in spite of what the world may say. And it’s tragic that even in some church circles and some theological circles and within some Christian institutions, the line has been sent out that no one without worldly, humanistic, psychological training is competent to counsel, and that’s not true. We are competent to admonish one another within the family of God based upon the quality of our life and the knowledge of the revelation of God.
II. (:15-16) MINISTRY MANDATE BY GOD’S GRACE JUSTIFIES A BOLD APPROACH
A. (:15a) Purpose of Paul’s Bold Approach = Growing Maturity of the Saints
- Reality of His Bold Approach
“But I have written very boldly to you on some points,”
Ray Stedman: Now, you would think that a church that was theologically knowledgeable, able to instruct and counsel one another in the deep problems of life, and filled with a spirit of goodness and compassion, would hardly need anything more said to them. Yet it is to that kind of a church that Paul addressed his letter to the Romans.
Grant Osborne: It may have seemed bold of him to write in this manner to a church he had not founded, but he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and it was in that capacity that he wrote to them.
- Reminders Were Necessary to Continue on the Path to Maturity
“so as to remind you again,”
Frank Thielman: Paul issued a straightforward set of ethical admonitions to the Romans in 12:1 – 15:13 and emphasized what they already knew, because urging gentile believers to persevere in their commitment to the gospel was an important part of the assignment God had given him.
Thomas Schreiner: The reason Paul wrote “rather boldly” (τολμηρότερον, tolmēroteron) “on some points” (ἀπὸ μέρους, apo merous) was not due to the inadequacy of the Roman community. . . He wrote for the purpose of reminding them of truths they already knew. Such reminders were part of the common stock of early Christian paraenesis (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2:8, 14; Titus 3:1; Heb. 13:3, 7; 2 Pet. 1:12; 3:2; Jude 5, 17). What Paul emphasizes is that his reminders are rooted in apostolic authority, the grace that commissioned him into the apostolic office (cf. Rom. 1:5; 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2, 7–8; Col. 1:25).
John MacArthur: You remember how Paul tells Timothy to keep teaching sound doctrine over and over and reminding the people and nourishing them in it. And you remember how Peter writes in 2 Peter 1 and says, “I keep telling you these things so that after I’m gone you’ll hear their echo the rest of your life.” I want you to remember. I want you to remember. You see, any good teacher knows two things. Two things you have to recognize in teaching. One is familiarity and the other is forgetfulness. Those are two things we have to take in to account. I realize the principle of forgetfulness. That is to say what I have said in the past you have already forgotten. I don’t like that principle but it’s true. If I were to quiz you on this morning’s service, I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to see your answers, but I realize that what I have said you have forgotten. You know how I know that? Because what I’ve said I’ve forgotten. And people sometimes say, “Do you ever listen to your tapes?” And I have a standard answer, “Only to find out what I believe on things.” And that’s the truth because I can’t remember how I interpreted a passage either, if you go back far enough. So we do tend to forget. And any good teacher knows that you must repeat things. That’s why throughout the teaching of our Lord there is the repetition of many great truths, and the same with Paul. His epistles intersect over and over again with the same truth. You have to understand forgetfulness.
The second thing you have to understand is familiarity. While reminding them you cannot say things in the way you’ve always said them or they don’t hear them because the terminology is so familiar they think they understand what you’re saying and it’s water off the duck’s back. So the challenge of teaching is to repeat to your people the same stuff over and over again in ways they think they’ve never heard. Now you know. That’s the big secret. But that’s the challenge. People say, “Do you use notes when you preach?” Of course I use notes. If I didn’t I’d revert back to saying the same thing in the same way every week and you’d all be gone. And so in order to stay fresh, that’s the challenge of the ministry, that’s what puts me in the study 30 hours a week, to stay fresh so that what I say to you, though we may understand the general truth, comes to you in terms you’ve not heard before in passages you’ve not studied before.
B. (:15b) Privilege of Paul’s Calling = a Gracious Gift from God
“because of the grace that was given me from God,”
Frank Thielman: “grace” (χάρις) here refers to the vocation God had given to Paul of calling the gentiles to believe the gospel (1:5, 16–17).
John MacArthur: So the thing that energized his ministry was God’s outpoured grace. And by that he means the power and flow of the energy of God that compelled him to serve, which he saw as grace because it was undeserved, because he was unworthy of it. . .
So, in defense of boldness Paul says if you’re going to be upset, don’t be upset with me, call heaven, I’m under orders. I mean, after all, he really didn’t write Romans on his own, did he? Was it not that he was compelled by the Spirit of God? In Romans 1:1 he identifies himself in the opening of the letter, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and separated unto the gospel of God.” And in verse 5: “By whom we have received grace and apostleship.” You see, God graciously made him an apostle, he’s under mandate. He has a duty. And this is a compelling thing with him, as it must be with anyone who speaks on behalf of the Lord.
C. (:16a) Purpose of Paul’s Ministry as Apostle to the Gentiles
- Focused on Bringing Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
“to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles,”
Grant Osborne: The Greek word here is leitourgon, meaning “public servant.”
- Functioning as a Priest in Proclaiming the Gospel of God
“ministering as a priest the gospel of God,”
James Dunn: The immediate explanation of what Paul’s commissioning means for him (“minister of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles”) would inevitably strike Paul’s audience very powerfully by virtue of its intense concentration of cultic terminology—“officiating priest,” “serving as a priest,” “sacrificial offering of the Gentiles,” “set apart as a sacrifice”). Such a concentration of imagery can be neither unintentional nor casual. This is Paul’s way of underscoring his theological exposition of the gospel (1:16 – 15:13) in its outworking in his own missionary vocation. For one thing it brings home the continuity between his ministry and the whole revelation of Israel, centered to such a degree as it was on the law and the law of the cult: Paul claims to be wholly in continuity and succession with the main line of salvation-revelation in the OT, not excluding the law. But more striking still is the way he transforms and transcends all that had hitherto been bound up in that cultic language. By applying it to his own noncultic ministry of preaching the gospel he confirms that for him the cultic barrier between sacred and secular has been broken through and left behind. And by speaking of the Gentiles as themselves the sacrifice, Gentiles who could not even approach the altar of sacrifice in the Temple, who were instinctively regarded by the typically devout Jew as outside the covenant, unclean, Paul confirms that for him the cultically defined barrier between peoples, between Jew and Gentile, had been broken through and left behind. In view of the tensions within their own congregations on matters of ritual purity (14:1 – 15:6), the Roman readership would not need reminding that cult and ritual served then (as ever) to express group identity and to mark out group boundaries. Nor would they need reminding that their weekly meetings without priest and without sacrifice or libation were highly unusual phenomena for their time. Paul’s purpose seems to be to underline the eschatologically new fact that within God’s redefined people (“set apart by the Holy Spirit”) all ministry on behalf of others is priestly ministry (as in Phil 2:25), and that cultic sacrifice has been replaced by the sacrifice of committed day-to-day living in personal relationships (12:1).
D. (:16b) Presentation of the Gentiles as an Acceptable, Sanctified Offering
- Acceptable Offering
“that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable,”
Frank Thielman: Within the context Paul’s focus is on his role as one who offers sacrifice to God, and a secondary reference to the gentiles also offering something to God would complicate the imagery. Paul, then, speaks metaphorically of himself as a priest offering the gentile believers to God.
John Murray: The expression “the offering up of the Gentiles” is without precise parallel in the New Testament. But it has its parallel in Isaiah 66:20: “And they shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an offering unto the Lord”. It may be that Paul derived this concept from the Isainic passage which appears in a context of blessing to all nations and tongues (cf. Isa. 66:18).
- Sanctified Offering
“sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
Thomas Schreiner: What Paul emphasizes here is his divine commission to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Grace was bestowed on him (Rom. 15:15) so that he would serve as God’s priestly minister in serving up the gentiles as an offering. Since Paul had this calling as a priest, his offering of the gentiles is “acceptable” (εὐπρόσδεκτος, euprosdektos) to God. Another cultic term, “sanctified” (ἡγιασμένη, hēgiasmenē), describes the suitability of the offering that consists of the gentiles. Such an offering is specially set apart for God, pleasing to him because it has been set apart “by the Holy Spirit” (ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, en pneumati hagiō).
Matthew Henry: Paul preached to them, and dealt with them; but that which made them sacrifices to God was their sanctification; and this was not his work, but the work of the Holy Ghost. None are acceptably offered to God but those that are sanctified: unholy things can never be pleasing to the holy God.
Douglas Moo: The epexegetic genitive suits the context better. In other words, Paul pictures himself as a priest, using the gospel as the means by which he offers his Gentile converts as a sacrifice acceptable to God. But, like the animal sacrifices of the old economy, these new sacrifices also must be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” if they are to be acceptable.