FULFILLING GOD’S CALLING COMPELS US TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS TO PRODUCE ABUNDANT GOSPEL FRUIT
Michael Gorman: Paul does three main things in this particular thanksgiving, all of which help to establish his relationship with the Roman faithful. He speaks of gratitude, prayer, and hope rooted in a sense of Christian mutuality. . . Prayer has been Paul’s substitute for presence thus far in his relationship with the Roman house churches. Now that intercession will be supplemented with a letter as a prelude to an anticipated visit. With these words of introduction, gratitude, and explanation written, Paul proceeds to “proclaim the gospel” to those in Rome.
Michael Bird: The background story here is that Paul sees himself as playing a key role in God’s plan to extend his salvation to the ends of the earth. Just as Isaiah looked ahead to a time when the returnees from exile would be sent abroad as ensigns to the nations, going as far as Greece, Libya, and Spain (see Isa 66:19 – 20), in a similar way, Paul may have envisioned his apostolic ministry as taking the shape of an arc that went from Jerusalem to northern Greece to Rome to Spain; then, who knows, perhaps back along the North African coast and finally to Egypt and home to Jerusalem (see Rom 15:17 – 24). Just as the Psalter called Israel to sing God’s praises among the nations and make them seek out God’s blessings (see Pss 57:9; 67:2 – 4; 96:10), so too Paul believed that he was sent out to the Greeks and barbarians of the world with the good news that God would bless them in Israel’s Messiah. Paul was driven by the fact that in the Bible he read that God intended to make Abraham the father of many nations (see Rom 4:17 – 18). God’s salvation reaches out to the world through the revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel, a righteousness that proves God’s faithfulness to Israel and brings mercy to the nations (see Ps 98:1 – 3).
Douglas Moo: Paul continues to adapt the ancient letter form to his own purposes. Letters often featured an expression of thanks to the gods in the “proem,” the second main part of a letter. Paul gives thanks to God for the Roman Christians and assures them that he often prays for them. He uses his petition for his own ministry among them as a transition to a brief description of his plans and motivations. The section is marked by a certain hesitation and deference on Paul’s part, as he seeks to avoid “lording it over” these Christians whom he did not convert and has never visited. He writes diplomatically in an effort to win a hearing for his presentation of the gospel.
R. Kent Hughes: vv. 8-17 — Paul describes what is behind his own burning motivation to minister at Rome. They encourage us to go for it! In verses 8–10 Paul writes that he had heard of the Romans’ faith and its widespread fame. This prompted him to make unceasing requests to visit the Christians in Rome.
In verses 11–17 he gets down to the speciﬁcs of his motivation.
- First (in verses 11–13), there is the motivation that springs from the prospect of mutual encouragement.
- Second, in verses 14, 15 there is the motivation that comes from a sense of obligation.
- Third ( 16, 17), there is the motivation that grows from his conﬁdence in the power of the gospel.
As we examine these, we will see that they intensify so that the ﬁnal motivation (his conﬁdence in the gospel’s power) is by far the supreme driving force behind his ministry. As we examine this text, we need to keep in the back of our minds that everyone can enlarge his or her spiritual vision by internalizing the elements of Paul’s motivation to minister to Rome.
I. (:8) THE EVIDENCE OF GOSPEL FRUIT EVOKES THANKSGIVING
A. Priority of Thanksgiving to God
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all,”
James Dunn: The μου (“my God”) does not, of course, signify “mine and not yours”; it is simply a way of stressing the fervor of his devotion, his deep personal commitment (so Phil 1:3; Philem 4; used regularly in the Pss—3:7; 5:2; 7:1, 3, 6; 13:3; 18:2, 6, 21, 28–29; 22:1–2, 10; etc.).
Douglas Moo: Paul’s thanksgiving is expressed to “my God” and is mediated “through Jesus Christ.” Christ has created the access to God that enables Paul to approach him in thanksgiving.
B. Proclamation of Faith Worldwide
“because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
Michael Bird: The early church seemed to have possessed a clear awareness of being a worldwide network. The first Christians did not, despite all of their diversity, see themselves as isolated and introspective congregations each keeping to their own. On the contrary, there was what Michael Thompson called a “Holy Internet,” with believers travelling widely, visiting each other, writing to one another, and sharing each other’s literature.
Frank Thielman: Paul enjoyed both hearing and passing along reports of the faithfulness of believers in various parts of the world because these reports encouraged other believers by providing examples for them to follow (2 Cor 8:1–5; 9:1–4; 1 Thess 1:6–8; 2 Thess 1:3–4) and by providing a reason to praise God (2 Cor 9:11–14). Paul believed that other Christians took encouragement from the knowledge that even in Rome, the greatest city in the world as they knew it, there existed a vibrant community of people who had believed the gospel. This is why he thanks God.
II. (:9-12) THE PROSPECT OF ABUNDANT GOSPEL FRUIT MOTIVATES US TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS
A. (:9-10) Reaching out in Concerned Prayer
- (:9) Regular Pattern of Concerned Intercession and Thanksgiving
a. Referencing God as Corroborating Witness
whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son,
is my witness”
James Dunn: This is one of the relatively few instances where Paul uses πνεῦμα for the human spirit (see also particularly 8:16; 1 Cor 5:3–5; 16:18; 2 Cor 2:13; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 1 Thess 5:23; Philem 25), referring to that part, or better, dimension of the person by which he/she is related to God (cf. particularly 8:16; 1 Cor 2:10–13). That it is thus through the human spirit that the Spirit of God acts upon and communicates with the human being results in some experiential ambiguity (1 Cor 14:14, 32; 2 Cor 4:13; and cf. Rom 1:9 with Phil 3:3; elsewhere, e.g., Mark 14:38; James 4:5);
John Toews: Paul introduces God as a witness that he regularly intercedes for the churches in Rome. Unable to prove it from a distance, Paul invokes God to underline his deep concern.
John Murray: Why does Paul use an oath in this instance? It is for the purpose of assuring the Roman believers of his intense interest in them and concern for them and, more specifically, to certify by the most solemn kind of sanction that his failure hitherto to visit Rome was not due to any lack of desire or purpose to that effect but was due to providential interference which he later on mentions (vs. 13; 15:22-25). This shows the solicitude on Paul’s part to remove all possible misunderstanding respecting the delay in visiting Rome and his concern to establish in the minds of the saints there the full assurance of the bond of affection and esteem by which he was united to them lest any contrary suspicion would interfere with the response which his apostolic epistle should receive at their hands.
b. Testifying to Persevering Prayer
“as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,”
Michael Bird: Paul routinely reminded his audiences of the constancy of his prayers for them (1 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:4; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Thess 1:3; Phlm 4) and how he regularly makes petitions for their growth in the faith (Eph 1:16 – 19; Phil 1:9 – 11; Col 1:9 – 11; Phlm 6). These prayers are windows into the theocentric piety, Christ-centered devotion, and pastoral heart of the apostle.
F. F. Bruce: That Paul should pray regularly for his own converts is what wemight expect, but it is evident from this passage that his prayers went beyond his immediate circule of personal acquaintance and apostolic responsibility.
- (:10) Request for a Face-to-Face Visit
a. Ongoing Desire
“always in my prayers making request,”
b. Overcoming Obstacles and Delays In Accordance with God’s Will
“if perhaps now at last by the will of God
I may succeed in coming to you.”
James Dunn: The piling up of adverbs indicates his concern not to be misunderstood. The more he stresses that his desire to visit the Roman congregations is of long standing, the more he is open to criticism for not coming sooner. Hence the equal stress on divine initiative; the slave cannot order his life in accordance with his own wishes (so also v 13).
Michael Bird: Whatever obstacles had hitherto prevented Paul from coming to Rome, Paul now thinks that they are sufficiently cleared out of the way as to enable him to head to Spain via Rome. Sadly, the events narrated in Acts 21:28 show that Paul had no idea about the many misfortunes that were about to befall him and would yet hinder his missionary plans. He would make it to Rome several years later only after first being mobbed, arrested, enduring a lengthy imprisonment and trial, and surviving a shipwreck!
Frank Thielman: The word Paul uses for “asking” (δεόμαι) means to plead for something and has an air of urgency about it (e.g., Ps 29:9 LXX [30:8 Eng.; 30:9 Heb.]; Isa 37:4 LXX; Jdt 8:31; Acts 8:22, 24), especially when combined with the emphatic expression “if . . . somehow, at last” (εἴ πως ἤδη ποτέ). Paul was communicating to the Romans the great strength of his desire to visit them. As the prayers themselves show, if this is to happen God must remove any hindrances, including the hindrance of further work for Paul in the region stretching from Jerusalem to Illyricum, work that up to this point took priority over Paul’s own desire of many years to visit Rome (15:19, 22–23). So, if Paul is to visit Rome, it must be the will of God (cf. 15:32).
B. (:11-12) Reaching out in Personal Ministry
- (:11a) Passion for Face-to-Face Visit
“For I long to see you”
- (:11-12) Purpose of Face-to-Face Visit
a. Edification of the Believers in Rome
“in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you,
that you may be established;”
Frank Thielman: This is the only one of Paul’s six uses of the verb that is in the passive voice (“be strengthened” [στηριχθῆναι]), something that most translations miss but is nicely preserved in the NAB (“so that you may be strengthened”). The passive contributes to the deferential tone of the passage, slightly diminishing the role of Paul himself and leading to the next thought in which Paul clarifies what he says to remove any misunderstanding that only the Romans and not Paul himself will benefit spiritually from his visit.
b. (:12) Encouragement Mutually
“that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
Frank Thielman: He communicates his desire for mutual encouragement in three ways.
- First, he affixes to his characteristic term “encourage” (παρακαλέω) a preposition that means “together with” (σύν) to show that he will experience encouragement together with them.
- Second, he says that their faith will be an encouragement to “one another” (ἀλλήλοις).
- Third, the conjunction he uses to join “yours” (ὑμῶν) and “mine” (ἐμοῦ) “serves to unite complements” and so emphasizes the equity between the two parties: he will be encouraged by their faith just as their faith will be encouraged by his.
Steven Tackett: In the Gospel of John, the Lord says that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, is a Comforter, but what does the Holy Spirit use to bring comfort? He uses the Scriptures as His number one source of comfort. Look at Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to bring comfort and the way He brings comfort is through the Word of God. Our comfort is through the hope we receive from the Scriptures. Paul wants to be comforted from the Scriptures together with the believers in Rome by their mutual faith in the Gospel of Grace. Another way the Holy Ghost brings comfort is through the fellowship of other like-minded believers. The encouragement, admonishment, and sharing one receives from other believers is another way the Holy Spirit works today.
Timothy Keller: Verse 11 teaches us to use whatever gifts the Lord has graciously given us to make others stronger in their faith. Verse 12 teaches us to allow others to use the faith and gifts the Lord has given them to build us up. We should never leave our church meetings, having spent time surrounded by beloved, distinctive people of faith, without feeling encouraged!
III. (:13-15) THE OBLIGATION OF GOD’S CALLING COMPELS US TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS
John Harvey: Paul’s Planned Visit to Rome (1:13–15)
- Paul’s intention to visit (1:13)
- Often planned
- Circumstantially hindered
- With an eye to fruit
- Paul’s reason to visit (1:14–15)
- Obligated to all humankind
- Eager to preach the gospel
A. (:13) The Compulsion to Minister in Rome
- Previous Plans to Come to Rome
“And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far)”
James Dunn: Rome, the capital of such a mighty empire, Rome, to which all roads led, would naturally be a magnet for Paul. In his strategy for the universal outreach of the gospel (1:5—“all the nations”), he must often have considered the importance of a strong Christian grouping there and the desirability of his linking up personally with it. What it was which “prevented” him, he does not say, nor when he repeats the claim in 15:22. It is certainly possible that he thought the repeated hindrances were of demonic/Satanic origin (as in 1 Thess 2:18); and the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius in 49 would certainly have provided a strong disincentive. But with someone like Paul, who threw himself so unreservedly into his work, it might simply be that ever fresh opportunities and the particular problems of his already established churches, not to mention the organization of the collection (15:22–29), made unceasing demands on his time which he could not easily ignore.
- Pastoral Purpose in Coming to Rome
“in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also,
even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
Frank Thielman: Paul qualifies this desire [to visit Rome] in three ways.
- First, he corrects any notion that he thinks his visit to Rome will be one sided—they will encourage him just as he will encourage them in the faith (1:12).
- Second, he makes clear that he would have visited them earlier, but God hindered him from doing so (1:13).
- Third, he explains that his strong desire to visit Rome arises from his conviction that the gospel cuts across the humanly imposed social barriers of culture and education (1:14).
B. (:14) The Obligation of God’s Calling Extends to All Men without Partiality
- Burden of Paul’s Ministry Obligation
“I am under obligation”
Timothy Keller: Paul is “obligated” to everyone, everywhere. God has shared the gospel with him. But God has also commissioned him to declare it to others. So Paul owes people the gospel.
- Scope of Paul’s Ministry Obligation
a. Regardless of Level of Culture
“both to Greeks and to barbarians,”
John Toews: The object of the obligation embraces the entire Gentile world. Both pairs, Greeks and barbarians and also wise and mindless (JET), represent a Greek perspective on the categories of humanity. “Greek and barbarian” differentiates those Gentiles who possess Greco-Roman culture and the rest of the Gentiles, especially Orientals, which would include Jews. “Wise and also mindless” is an explanation of “Greek and barbarian”; it distinguishes those who are intelligent and educated from those who are not. In Rome this ethnocentric division of humanity was directed especially against immigrating “barbarians” from the Orient, which would include Jews and Jewish Christians returning to the city following the expiration of Claudius’ edict of expulsion. Paul’s apostolic obligation relativizes all cultural barriers between people. As an apostle of Messiah Jesus Paul crosses the conventions and prejudices that divide the world.
b. Regardless of Level of Sophistication and Insight
“both to the wise and to the foolish.”
James Dunn: These are the categories of self-conscious Hellenism rather than the words most natural to a Jew. For the Hellenist, conscious of rich cultural and intellectual heritage, the world could be categorized into Greeks and all the rest as uncultured barbarians, and society could be divided into those who use their minds and those who do not, intellectuals and nonintellectuals. The significance then is that Paul, in elaborating his sense of call to evangelize the Gentiles, deliberately looks at the world through the eyes of a Gentile, from the perspective of sophisticated Hellenism. His commission as apostle to the Gentiles embraces all races, both those whom Hellenism owns and those it despises, and all levels of society, both those highly regarded within Hellenism and those disregarded. The obligation laid upon him in his commissioning by the risen Christ was to take the gospel to all Gentiles without regard to Gentile distinctions of race and status.
Frank Thielman: The gospel, Paul says, is for everyone: gentiles, Greeks, barbarians, sophisticated, foolish, and Jew (1:14–16). People from all these groups and more lived in Rome, and the gospel collapsed the barriers between all of them. Some of these barriers had made their way into the Roman church (11:18; 12:3; 14:1–15:7; cf. 16:17), and Paul believed that God had called him to proclaim the gospel in Rome in such a way that its implications for their dissolution became evident (11:13; 15:15).
Frank Thielman: For any upper-class Roman among Paul’s first readers, the thought of the apostle being under some “obligation” to barbarians must have seemed absurd. Barbarians were obligated to serve the Romans as slaves, as their ill breeding dictated. For Paul, however, the gospel cut through all this and leveled the social landscape. The gospel insisted that all humanity stood before God on equal terms: all had rebelled against him (1:18–3:20) and all received the free offer of a right standing and relationship with him through the atoning death of Christ (3:21–4:25; cf. Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). Paul’s apostolic commission was to preach this gospel, and so he was under obligation to all.
C. (:15) The Proper Response is 100% Eagerness to Fulfill God’s Calling
“Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
James Stifler: In accordance with this acknowledged obligation Paul declares his readiness to preach at Rome. He is master of his purpose, but not of his circumstances.
James Dunn: It is simply that if any one verb sums up his lifelong obligation it is this one—“to preach the gospel”—so that its use can embrace the whole range of his ministry, including his explication of the gospel, as in this very letter. Certainly it is the case that Paul elsewhere uses εὐαγγελίζεσθαι in the sense of “evangelize,” a preaching which aims for conversion (10:15; 15:20; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:16, 18; 15:1, 2; 2 Cor 10:16; 11:7; Gal 1:8, 9, 11, 16, 23; 4:13; so also Eph 2:17; 3:8; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; and regularly in Acts). But Paul did not confine his apostolic “set-apartness to the gospel” (1:1) or “service in the gospel” (1:9) to “first time” preaching of the gospel, or restrict the gospel simply to the initial impulse on the way to salvation (1:16), and 1 Thess 3:6 is sufficient evidence that his use of εὐαγγελίζεσθαι was not narrowly fixed (against Zeller, Juden, 55–58).
Douglas Moo: Paul has been given a commission from the Lord to be “apostle to the Gentiles,” and it is this divine mandate, not any personal benefit or emotional satisfaction or marketing strategy, that impels Paul to travel ever farther afield.
Transition to next section: The only thing that would hold us back is lack of confidence in the gospel.