The Walk Of The Christian In Relation To His Fellow Believers And To Men Of The World
We come now to consider the practical bearing of all this precious truth, which the Spirit of God has been unfolding before our astonished eyes. In this last part of the epistle we learn what the effect should be upon the believer who has laid hold, by faith, of the truth of the gospel. We may divide this third part, roughly, as follows: subdivision 1, Romans 12:1—15:7, God’s good and acceptable and perfect will unfolded; subdivision 2, Romans 15:8-33, which divides into two parts the conclusion of the matter and his own service; subdivision 3, Romans 16:1-24, salutations and warning. Verses 25-27 form an appendix to the entire epistle.
The first two verses of chapter 12 are the introduction to this entire practical part of the letter, based upon the revelation given in chapters 1-8. For we may very properly consider chapters 9—11 as a great parenthesis, occasioned because of the necessity of clearing the mind of the believing Jew in regard to the ways of God.
The opening words necessarily link with the closing part of chapter 8: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren” (12:1). The “therefore” refers clearly to the magnificent summing up of Christian standing and eternal blessing in the eighth chapter. Because you are in Christ free from all condemnation; because you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; because you are sons by adoption, because you are eternally linked up with Christ; because you are the elect of God, predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; because you are beyond all possibility of condemnation, since Christ has died and been raised again and sits at God’s right hand; because no charge can ever be laid against the believer that God will hear; because there is no separation from the love of God for those who are in Christ Jesus—“I beseech you [to] present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your [intelligent] service!” (v. 1). Christ gave Himself for us—a sacrifice in death. Like the firstborn in Egypt, redeemed by the blood of the lamb, you are now to be devoted to Him.
As the Levites were afterward presented to God to live sacrificial lives in place of the firstborn, so each believer is called upon to recognize the Lord’s claims upon him and to present, or yield, his body as a living sacrifice, set apart and acceptable unto God, because of the price that has been paid for his redemption (see Num. 8:11-21; Dan. 3:28). How much do we really know of this experimentally? We who once yielded our members to the service of sin and Satan are now called upon to yield ourselves wholly unto God as those who are alive from the dead. This will involve sacrifice all the way, the denial of self, and the constant recognition of the divine claims upon us.
The second verse makes clearer the meaning involved: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
The cross of Christ has come in between the believer and the world. To conform himself to the ways of this present evil age is to be unfaithful to the One whom the world has rejected but whom we have owned as Lord and Savior. “I would give the world to have your experience,” said a young woman on one occasion to a devoted Christian lady. “My dear,” was the reply, “that’s exactly what it cost me. I gave the world for it.” The loyal heart exclaims with gladness, not grudgingly,
Take the world, but give me Jesus;
All earth’s joys are but in name;
But His love abideth ever,
Through eternal years the same.
Moved by the “expulsive power of a new affection,” it becomes easy for the soul to say with Paul: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, [by which] the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). We are not to suppose that nonconformity to the world necessarily involves awkwardness of behavior, peculiarity of dress, or boorish-ness in manner. But the entire world system is summed up in three terms: (1) the lust of the flesh; (2) the lust of the eye; and (3) the pride of life, or the ostentation of living. Therefore, nonconformity to the world implies holding the body and its appetites in subjection to the Spirit of God, subjecting the imagination to the mind of Christ, and walking in lowliness of spirit through a scene where self-confidence and boasting are the order of the day.
In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read that, “We all, beholding as in a glass the glory of the unveiled face of the Lord, are changed [or transformed] into the same image by the Spirit of the Lord “ (literal rendering).
And so here we are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That is, as the mind is occupied with Christ and the affections set on things above, we become like Him who has won our hearts for Himself. Walking in loving obedience, we prove the blessedness of the “good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Through the rest of the chapter we have God’s good will in regard to our relations, particularly to fellow believers; in chapter 13, the will of God for the believer in relation to human government and society in general; in chapter 14 and the first seven verses of chapter 15, the will of God in regard to the believer’s relation to those who are weak in the faith.
We note, then, that the believer is here looked upon as a member of the body of Christ, and this, while speaking of wondrous privilege, nevertheless involves grave responsibility. It might be well to point out here that the body of Christ is looked at in two very distinct aspects in the epistles. In Ephesians and Colossians we have the body in its dispensational aspect, embracing all believers from Pentecost to the return of the Lord for His church. Looked at in this way, Christ alone is the Head, and all are united to Him, whether as to their actual condition they be numbered among the living or the dead. But in 1 Corinthians 12 and here in Romans 12, the body is looked upon as something manifested on the earth, and, therefore, the apostle speaks of eyes and ears, and so forth, as in the body here below. The absurd deduction has been drawn from this that the church of the book of Acts and of the early epistles of Paul is not at all the same thing as the church of the prison epistles. This view is pure assumption, based upon a farfetched dispensationalism that destroys a sense of Christian responsibility to a very large degree wherever it is fully embraced. In Corinthians, and in Romans, too, the body of Christ is viewed on earth. Inasmuch as there are those set in the church who speak and act for the Head in heaven, it is quite in keeping to use the figures of the eyes, ears, and so on. “[If] one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor. 12:26) could not be said of saints in heaven. Their sufferings are forever over. But as long as there is a suffering saint on earth, every other member of the body of Christ shares with him in his affliction.
I remember well, as a boy, gazing with rapt admiration upon a regiment of Highlanders as they marched through the streets of my native city, Toronto, Canada, and I was thrilled when I was told that that regiment had fought in the battle of Waterloo. It was quite a disappointment to me afterward to learn that not one man of them all had been in that great battle. I was gazing on the regiment as then constituted, and the battle of Waterloo had taken place many years before. But it was the same regiment, just with new recruits taking the places constantly of those who passed away. So it is with the body of Christ on earth. Believers die and depart to be with Christ and join the choir invisible above. Others take their places here below, and thus the church continues from century to century.
Now as a member of Christ’s body I need to realize that I am not to act independently of other members, nor am I to think of myself as exalted above the rest but to think soberly as one to whom God has dealt a measure of faith, as He also has to every other Christian. As there are many members in the human body and no two members have the same office, so believers, though many, together constitute one body in Christ and are all members one of another. But our gifts differ, and each one is to use whatever gifts may be given to him according to the grace that God supplies. If he have the gift of prophecy, he is to speak according to the proportion of faith. If his place be characteristically that of service, let him serve in subjection to the Lord. If he be a teacher, let him teach in lowly grace. If an exhorter, let him seek to stir up his brethren, but in the love of Christ. If he be one to whom God has entrusted earthly treasure that he may give generously to relieve the need of his brethren or to further the work of the gospel, let him distribute with simplicity not ostentatiously as drawing attention to himself or his gifts. If he be fitted to rule in the assembly of God let him be a diligent pastor or shepherd of the flock. If it be given him to show mercy to the needy or undeserving, let it be with cheerfulness.
Above all things, let love be genuine without pretense or hypocrisy, abhorring that which is evil but cleaving to that which is good.
How much we need the simple exhortations of verse 10: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.”
Elsewhere he writes: “Be ye kind one to another” (Eph. 4:32). How rare a virtue true kindness is! How often pretended zeal for truth or for church position dries up the milk of human kindness! And yet this is one of the truest Christian virtues. Dr. Griffith Thomas used to tell of an old Scotch pastor who frequently said to his congregation: “Remember, if you are not very kind, you are not very spiritual.” And yet how often people imagine that there is something even incongruous between spirituality and kindness! How differently would Christians speak of one another and act toward one another if these admonitions were but kept in view.
The first part of the eleventh verse is better translated, “Not remiss in zeal.” It is not to be taken as a mere exhortation to careful business methods, but whatever one has to do should be done zealously, with spiritual fervor, as serving the Lord.
It is hardly necessary to take up each verse in detail. The exhortations are too plain to be misunderstood. In verse 16, however, it may be as well to point out that the apostle is not really inculcating condescension, as though of higher beings to those of less worth, but what he really says is: “Mind not high things, but go along with the lowly.” The last five verses possibly have the world in view rather than fellow Christians, and yet it is unhappily true that even in all dealings with fellow believers the same admonitions are needed. It is not always possible to live peaceably, even with fellow saints, let alone with men of the world. Therefore, the word, “If possible, as much lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (v. 18). Some have had difficulty over the meaning of the expression, “Give place unto wrath,” in verse 19. What I understand the apostle to say is this: “Do not attempt to avenge yourselves, but leave room for the judgment of God. If wrath must be meted out, let Him do it, not yourself” For it is written: “Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord” (v. 19).
Savonarola said, “A Christian’s life consists in doing good and suffering evil.” It is not for him to take matters into his own hands, but rather to act upon verses 20-21 in simple confidence that God will not suffer any trial to come upon him through others which will not eventually work out for good.
This is not natural, but it is possible to the man who walks in the Spirit. A young nobleman complained to Francis of Assissi of a thief. “The rascal,” he cried, “has stolen my boots.” “Run after him quickly,” exclaimed Francis, “and give him your socks.” This was the spirit of the Lord Jesus “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23), and for hatred ever gave love.
No one can fail to see how like are these exhortations to the teaching of our blessed Lord in the so-called Sermon on the Mount. Yet the difference is immense. For there His words were the acid test of discipleship while waiting for the coming of the kingdom which is yet to be displayed. But here we have exhortation to walk in accord with the new nature that we possess as children of God. It is not in order that we “may be the children of [our] Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:45). It is the manifestation of the Spirit’s work in those who belong to the new creation.
The Will Of God As To The Believer’s Relation To Government And To Society, And The Closing Sections
The position of the Christian in this world is necessarily, under the present order of things, a peculiarly difficult and almost anomalous one. He is a citizen of another world, passing as a stranger and a pilgrim through a strange land. Presumably loyal in heart to the rightful King, who earth rejected and counted worthy only of a malefactor’s cross, he finds himself called upon to walk in a godly and circumspect way in a scene of which Satan, the usurper, is the prince and god. Yet he is not to be an anarchist nor is he to flaunt the present order of things. His rule ever should be: “We [must] obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Nevertheless, he is not to be found in opposition to human government, even though the administrators of that government may be men of the most unrighteous type.
As we come to the study of this thirteenth chapter, it is well for us to remember that he who sat upon the throne of empire when Paul gave this instruction concerning obedience to the powers that be was one of the vilest beasts in human form whoever occupied a throne. This ruler was a sensuous, sensual brute, who ripped up the body of his own mother in order that he might see the womb that bore him. He was an evil, blatant egotist of most despicable character, whose cruelties and injustices beggar all description. And yet God in His providence permitted this demon-controlled wretch to wear the diadem of the greatest empire the world had yet known. Paul himself designates him elsewhere as a savage beast when he writes to the young preacher Timothy, “God delivered me out of the mouth of the lion” (see 2 Tim. 4:17).
While the powers of the emperor were more or less circumscribed by the laws and the Senate, nevertheless his rule was one that could not but spell ruin and disaster for many of the early Christians. What faith was required on their part to obey the instruction given by the Spirit of God in the first seven verses of this chapter! And if under such government Christians were called upon to be obedient, surely there is no place for sedition or rebellion under any government. “The potsherds of the earth may strive with the potsherds of the earth” (Isa. 45:9, author’s translation) and one government may be overthrown by another, but whichever government is established in power at a given time, the Christian is to be subject to it. He has the resource of prayer if its edicts are tyrannous and unjust, but he is not to rise in rebellion against it. This is a hard saying for some of us, I know, but if any be in doubt let him read carefully the verses now before us. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
This is not to seek to establish the doctrine of the divine right of kings, but it simply means this: that God, who sets up one man and puts down another for His own infinitely wise purpose, ordains that certain forms of government or certain rulers shall be in the place of authority at a given time. As the book of Daniel tells us, He sets over the nations the basest of men at times as a punishment for their wickedness. But in any case, there could be no authority if not providentially permitted and therefore recognized by Himself.
To resist this authority, the second verse shows us, is to resist a divine ordinance. But it would certainly be farfetched to say that they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation, if by “damnation” we mean everlasting punishment. The word here as in 1 Corinthians 11 means judgment, but not in the sense of eternal judgment necessarily. Rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Even a Nero respected such as walked in obedience to the law. The reason he persecuted the Christians was that they were reported to be opposed to existing institutions. He, then, who would not be afraid of those in authority is called upon to walk in obedience to the law—to do good—and thus his righteousness will be recognized. After all, the ruler is the minister of God to each one for good. But he who does evil, violating the institutions of the realm, may well fear, for into the magistrate’s hand has been committed by God Himself the sword, which he does not bear in vain. He is set by God to be His minister in the government of the world and to execute judgment upon those who act in a criminal way.
So, then, the Christian is called upon to be subject to government, not only to avoid condemnation, but also that he may himself maintain a good conscience toward God. Let him pay tribute, even though at times the demands may seem to be unrighteous, rendering to all their dues, paying his taxes honorably, and thus showing that he desires in all things to be subject to the government.
It will be observed that all the instruction we have here puts the Christian in the place of subjection and not of authority. But, if in the providence of God, he be born to the purple, or put in the place of authority, he, too, is to be bound by the Word of God as here set forth.
The balance of the chapter has to do with the Christian’s relation to society in general, and that in view of the coming of the Lord and the soon-closing up of the present dispensation. He is to maintain the attitude not of a debtor but a giver—to owe no man anything but rather to let love flow out freely to all. For every moral precept of the second table of the law, which sets forth man’s duty to his neighbor, is summed up in the words: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He who thus loves could, by no possibility, ever be guilty of adultery, murder, theft, lying, or covetousness. It is impossible that love should be manifested in such ways as these. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). It is in this way that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, as we have already seen in looking at Romans 8:1-4.
Every passing day brings the dispensation of grace nearer to its end and hastens the return of the Lord. It is not for the Christian, then, to be sleeping among the dead but to be fully awake to his responsibilities and privileges, realizing that the salvation for which we wait—the redemption of the body—is nearer now than when we believed. The night when Satan’s sway bears rule over the earth has nearly drawn to its close. Already the light of day begins to dawn. It is not, therefore, for those who have been saved by grace to have aught to do with works of darkness but rather, as soldiers, to have on the armor of light standing for that which is of God, living incorruptly as in the full light of day, not in debauchery or wantonness of any kind, neither in strife and envying, but having put on the Lord Jesus Christ, having confessed themselves as one with Him, to take the place of death with Him in a practical sense, thus making no provision for the indulgence of the lust of the flesh.
It was these two closing verses of this thirteenth chapter that spoke so loudly to the heart of Augustine of Hippo when, after years of distress, he was fearful to confess Christ openly, even when intellectually convinced that he should be a Christian lest he would find himself unable to hold his carnal nature in subjection, and so might bring grave discredit upon the cause with which he thought of identifying himself. But as he read the words: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (vv. 13-14), the Spirit of God opened his eyes to see that the power for victory was not in himself but in the fact that he was identified with a crucified and risen Savior.
As he gazed by faith upon His blessed face and the Holy Spirit showed him something of the truth of union with Christ, he entered into the assurance of salvation and realized victory over sin. When in an unexpected way he came face to face with one of the beautiful but wanton companions of his former days, he turned and ran. She followed, crying, “Austin, Austin, why do you run? It is only I.” He replied as he sped on his way, “I run, because it is not I!” Thus he made no provision for the flesh.
In chapter 14 and the first seven verses of chapter 15 the Holy Spirit emphasizes the believer’s responsibilities toward his weaker brethren. He is to walk charitably toward those who have less light than himself.
The weak in faith, that is, those whose uninstructed consciences cause them to be in trouble as to things indifferent, are to be received and owned as in this full Christian position and not to be judged for their questionings or doubtful thoughts. The principle is a most far-reaching one, and indicates the breadth of Christian charity that should prevail over the spirit of legality into which it is so easy to fall. Light is not the ground of reception to Christian privileges, but life. All those who are children of God are to be recognized as fellow members of the body and, unless living in evident wickedness, to be accorded their blood-bought place in the Christian company. Wickedness and weakness are not to be confounded. The wicked person is to be put away (see 1 Cor. 5), but the weak brother is to be received and protected.
Of course, it is not reception into fellowship that is here in view. The one who was weak in faith was already inside. He must not be looked upon coldly and judged for his doubtful thoughts (see margin), but received cordially and his weak conscience carefully considered. It might be one who is still under law as to things clean and unclean or one who has difficulty regarding holy days. In the former case, the brother who is strong in the liberty that is in Christ believes he may, as a Christian, eat all things, raising no questions as to their ceremonial cleanness. The weak brother is so afraid of defilement he subsists on a vegetable diet rather than possibly partake of what has been offered to idols or is not “Kosher”—that is, clean according to Levitical law.
The one who is “strong” must not look with contempt upon his overscrupulous brother. On the other hand, the weak one is forbidden to accuse the stronger of insincerity or inconsistency.
Or, if it be a question of days and one brother with a legal conscience possibly still holds to the sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath, while another sees all days as now alike and to be devoted to the glory of God, each must seek to act as before Him and be “fully persuaded in his own mind” (14:5).
Who has given one servant to regulate another? Both are accountable to one Master, and He recognizes integrity of heart and will uphold His own. Where there is sincerity and it is the glory of the Lord that each has in view, both must endeavor to act as in His presence. There can be no question but that the principle here enunciated if firmly held would make for fuller fellowship among saints and save from many heart-burnings.
We do not live for ourselves. Whether we will or no, we are constantly affecting others for good or ill. Let us then recognize our individual responsibility to the Lord, whose we are and whom we are to serve, whether in life or in death. “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, … that he might be Lord both of the dead and living” (v. 9). The words, “and revived,” are a needless interpolation omitted from all critical versions.
At the judgment seat of God (according to the best reading), where Christ Himself is the Arbiter, all will come out, and He will show what was in accord with His mind. Until then we can afford to wait, realizing that we must all give account of ourselves to Him. In view of this, “Let us not… judge one another any more” (v. 13), but let there be individual self-judgment, each one striving so to walk as not to put any occasion to fall in a weak brother’s way.
Even where one is clear that his own behavior is consistent with Christian liberty, let him not flaunt that liberty before the weak lest he “destroy [one] for whom Christ died” (v. 15; see also 1 Cor. 8:11). It is of course the ruin of his testimony that is in view. Emboldened by the example of the strong one, he may venture to go beyond the dictates of conscience and so bring himself under a sense of condemnation, or he may become discouraged, thinking others inconsistent, and so drift from the Christian company.
After all, questions of meats and drinks are but of minor importance. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink”—that is, has not to do with temporalities as have all merely human kingdoms—but it is spiritual in character and has to do with “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy [Spirit]” (v. 17). Where one is exercised as to these things (even though mistaken as to others), he serves Christ and is acceptable to God and approved of men.
Every right-thinking person appreciates sincerity. “Let us therefore follow after the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (v. 19).
It is far better to abstain from ought that would trouble the conscience of a weak brother than to turn him aside by insisting on liberty, and so be responsible for his failure and the breakdown of his discipleship.
If one has faith that he can safely do what another condemns, let him have it to himself before God and not flaunt it flagrantly before the weak. But let him be sure he is not self-condemned while he professes to be clear. For he who persists in a certain course concerning which he is not really at ease before God does not truly act in faith, and so is condemned (not “damned” of course—for this word properly refers to eternal judgment), because “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (v. 23). That is to say, if I act contrary to what I believe to be right, even though there be nothing morally wrong in my behavior, I am really sinning against conscience and thus against God.
He sums it all up in the first seven verses of chapter 15. The strong should bear the burdens of the weak—as sympathetically entering into their difficulties—and not insist on liberty to please themselves. Rather let each one have his neighbor’s good in view, seeking his building up and not carelessly destroying his faith by ruthlessly insisting on his own personal liberty. True liberty will be manifested by refraining from what would stumble a weaker one.
In this Christ is the great example. He who need never have yielded to any legal enactment voluntarily submitted to every precept of the law, and even went far beyond it, pleasing not Himself (as when He paid the temple tax, giving as His reason, “Lest we should [stumble] them” [Matt. 17:27]), thus taking upon Himself the reproaches of those who reproached God. His outward behavior was as blameless as His inward life, yet men reviled Him as they reviled God.
Verse 4 stresses the importance of Old Testament Scripture. “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Link with this 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11. “All Scripture is not about me, but all Scripture is for me,” is a quotation well worth remembering.
He closes this section by praying that “the God of patience and consolation” (v. 5) may give the saints to be of one mind toward each other, with Christ whose blessed example he has cited, that all may unitedly glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mind and mouth must be in agreement if this be so. And so he exhorts them to receive one another as Christ also received us to the glory of God. If Christ could take us up in grace—whether weak or strong— and make us meet for the glory, surely we can be cordial and Christlike in our fellowship one with another. Again, I repeat, it is not the question of receiving into the Christian company that is in view here, but the recognition of those already inside.
Properly speaking, the epistle as such—the treatise on the righteousness of God—is brought to a conclusion in verses 8-13. All that comes afterward is more in the nature of postscript and appendix.
What has really been demonstrated in this very full treatise? “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (vv. 8-9). That is, he has shown throughout that our Lord came in full accord with the Old Testament promises. He entered into the sheepfold by the door (as John’s gospel tells us in chap. 10) and was the divinely appointed minister to the Jews, come to confirm the covenanted promises. Though the nation rejected Him, this does not invalidate His ministry, but it opens the door of mercy to the Gentiles in a wider way than ever, though in full accord with the Jewish Scriptures. And so he cites passage after passage to clinch the truth already taught so clearly, that it was foreknown and predetermined that the Gentiles should hear the gospel and be given the same opportunity to be saved that the Jew enjoyed. That this “mercy” actually transcends anything revealed in past ages we know since “the revelation of the mystery” (16:25), to which he alludes in the last verses of the next chapter.
But his point here is that it is not contrary to the predictions of the prophets, but entirely consistent with what God had been pleased to make known beforehand. And so he brings this masterly unfolding of the gospel and its result to a close by saying, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy [Spirit]” (15:13). In believing what? Why, simply in believing the great truths set forth in the epistle—the tremendous verities of our most holy faith—setting before us man’s ruin by sin and his redemption through Christ Jesus. When we believe this, we are filled with joy and peace as we look on in hope to the consummation of it all at our Lord’s return, meantime walking before God in the power of the indwelling Spirit who alone makes these precious things real to us.
The balance of the chapter takes on a distinctly personal character as the apostle takes the saints at Rome into his confidence and tells them of his exercises regarding them and his purpose to visit them. From the reports that had come to him he was persuaded that they were already in a very healthy spiritual state, “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another” (v. 14). So he had no thought of going to them as a regulator, but he felt that he had a ministry, committed to him by God, that would be profitable for them. Besides, Rome was part of that great Gentile world into which he had been sent and to which his ministry specially applied, “that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy [Spirit]” (v. 16). Israel was no longer the one separate nation, but the gospel was for all alike.
It was therefore to be expected that he should visit them whenever the way was opened, and as it seemed to him that his mission to those in Asia Minor and eastern Europe was now in large measure fulfilled, he purposed shortly going westward as far as to Spain and hoped to visit them on the way. Meantime, he was going up to Jerusalem to carry an offering from the saints of Macedonia and Achaia to the needy believers of Judea. As soon as this was accomplished he hoped to leave for Spain, visiting them en route. What a mercy that the near future was sealed to him. How little he realized what he must soon be called upon to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” And He had quite other plans for His devoted servant—though they included a visit to Rome, but in chains!
Sure that in God’s due time he would get to them and “come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (v. 29), he beseeches them to pray for the success of his mission to his own countrymen and that he might be delivered from the unbelieving Jews. The prayer was answered, but in how different a manner to what he anticipated!
Chapter 16 consists largely of salutations to saints known to him now dwelling in Rome and from others who were in his company. The first two verses are in the nature of a letter of commendation for Phoebe a deaconess of the assembly in Cenchrea, a town just south of Corinth in Achaia (see Acts 18:18). She would doubtless be well-known to Aquila and Priscilla (who are mentioned by name—in inverse order—in the next verse). But he does not leave her to depend upon her friends’ recollections of the past, but by this letter assures the saints of her present standing in the church.
Priscilla and Aquila were to him as members of his own family—so intimate had been their association. He cannot forget how they had put themselves in jeopardy for his sake. It was in their house that one of the assemblies in Rome met. Another of the saints from Achaia was there also, Epaenetus, firstfruits of his mission to Corinth.
As we go over the long list and note the delicate touches, the tender recollections, the slight differences in commendation, we feel we are drawn very close to these early believers and would like to know more of their history and experiences. We are interested in learning that there were relatives of his, Andronicus and Junia, who, he says, were “in Christ before me” (v. 7), and we wonder if their prayers for their brilliant young kinsman may not have had much to do with his remarkable conversion.
Another kinsman is mentioned in verse 11, Herodion by name, but whether converted before or after him we are not told.
There is a very human touch in the thirteenth verse: “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Somewhere on his journeys this Christian matron, though unnamed, had mothered the devoted and self-denying servant of Christ, and he remembered with a peculiar gratitude her care for him.
All the names are of interest. We shall be glad to meet them all “in that day” and learn more of their devotion to the Lord and their sufferings for His name’s sake, though we cannot linger over the record here.
Before sending messages from his associates he puts in a warning word against false teachers in verses 17-18: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” The evildoers here referred to are not Christian teachers, even though in error. They are ungodly men who, as Jude tells us, have crept in from the outside. They are not servants of Christ but tools of the Devil, brought in from the world to corrupt and divide the people of God. It is a fearfully wicked thing to apply such words to real Christians who, however mistaken they may be, love the Lord and yearn over His people, desiring their blessing. In Philippians 3:18—19 we learn more of those “who serve their own belly,” that is, who live only for self-gratification: “Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” These are identical with the wretched division makers of our present chapter. Let us be exceedingly careful how we charge true servants of Christ with being of this unholy number, even though we may feel that truth compels us to take issue with them as to some things they do or teach.
Though he warns the Roman saints of the danger of listening to men of this type he lets them know that he has only heard good things of them, but he is jealous that they should maintain their excellent record. Alas, how soon did this very church open its doors to just such false teachers as he warned them against, and so by the seventh century you have the Papacy itself enthroned in Rome!
He would have us simple concerning evil and wise unto what is good, not occupied with error but with truth. That truth will triumph soon when the God of peace shall bruise Satan under the feet of the saints.
The closing salutations from Paul and his companions are given in verses 21-24. Timothy and Luke were with him. We now learn for the first time that Jason was a near relative (see Acts 17:5-9), which accounts in measure for his reception of and devotion to Paul upon the visit to Thessalonica. Sosipater, also a kinsman, is linked with him.
Tertius, the scribe who acted as Paul’s amanuensis, adds his greeting. Apart from this we should never have known the name of the actual writer of the letter.
Was the “Gaius mine host” of verse 23, the same as the Gaius who received the traveling brethren and was commended by John for his Christian hospitality in his third epistle? We do not know, but he was at least a man of the same spirit. Of Erastus we have heard elsewhere (Acts 19:22; 2 Tim. 4:20), but Quartus is not mentioned in any other passage. Both the names Tertius and Quartus would indicate that those who bore them were probably slaves at one time—their names just meaning the third and the fourth respectively. Slaves were often named simply by number.
The benediction of verse 24 concludes the epistle and marks it as genuinely Pauline (see 2 Thess. 3:17-18). “Grace” was his secret mark, so to speak, that attested his authorship. Significantly enough it is found in Hebrews 13:25 and in no other epistles save in his.
Verses 25-27 are an appendix, in which he links his precious unfolding of the gospel with that “mystery,” which it was his special province to make known among the Gentiles and which is unfolded so fully in Ephesians 3 and several other Scripture passages.
Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the [ages] began, but now is made manifest, and by [prophetic writings], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. (vv. 25-27).
To Paul was committed a twofold ministry—that of the gospel (as linked with a glorified Christ) and that of the church—the mystery hid in God from before the creation of the world but now revealed by the Spirit. See this double ministry as set forth in Colossians 1:23-29 and Ephesians 3:1-12.
“The mystery” was not something of difficult, mysterious character, but a sacred secret never known to mankind until in due time opened up by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul and by him communicated to all nations for the obedience of faith. It was not hid in the Scripture to be brought to light eventually, but we are distinctly told it was hid in God until such time as He chose to manifest it. This was not until Israel had been given every opportunity to receive Christ both in incarnation and resurrection. When they definitely refused Him, God made known what had been in His heart from eternity—that from all nations, Jews and Gentiles, He would redeem and take out an elect company who would, by the Spirit’s baptism, be formed into one body to be associated with Christ in the most intimate relationship (likened in Eph. 5 to that of husband and wife, or head and body), not only now but through all the ages to come.
This great mystery of Christ and the church has now been manifested and made known by prophetic writings—not as translated here “by the scriptures of the prophets.” But the meaning clearly is, made known by the writings of inspired men, New Testament prophets, in this day of gospel light and testimony.
Nor is it just a beautiful and wonderful theory or system of doctrine to be held in the intellect. It involves present identification with Christ in His rejection and, hence, is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. It is not developed in the epistle to the Romans, for here the great theme, as we have seen, is the Righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel. But it is touched on here in order to link the unfolding of the gospel in this letter with the revelation of the mystery, as given in the prison epistles particularly. This is not to say that we have new and higher truth in Ephesians and Colossians, for instance, than in Romans and earlier letters. All form part of one whole and constitute that body of teaching everywhere proclaimed by the apostle through his long years of ministry, but not all committed to writing at one time. The “mystery” of Romans 16:25 is the same as that of the later epistles, and ever formed an integral part of his messages. It would not be necessary to say this were there not some today who would divorce completely Paul’s ministry in Acts from that which he embodied in the last of his letters written after the rejection of his message by the Jews in Rome as recorded in Acts 28. The appendix to the Roman letter is the complete denial of this. It is here added to manifest the unity of his ministry of the gospel and the church, though twofold in character.
And with this we conclude our present somewhat cursory study, trusting that our review of the epistle has not been in vain but will be for increased profit and blessing as we wait for God’s Son from heaven.
To God only wise be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.