Part V: Paul’s closing Remarks (15:14-16:1-27)
In this letter to the Roman church, Paul has already presented the gospel of the righteousness of Christ (chapters 1-8). Next, he addressed the question of the present Jewish rejection of their gospel (chapters 9-11), and urged the church in their spiritual growth through a life of sacrifice and devotion to Christ (12:1-15:13). And then, in the last passage, he concluded with two benedictions (15:5, 13).
It would not be surprising if Paul ended his letter at this point. But instead, Paul returns to the subjects he raised at the beginning of the letter (1:8-13). He also becomes very personal by speaking directly to the Roman Christians (notice the “I-you” dialogue). He wants to explain why it has taken so long to visit them, expecting this will soon change. He also tells them of his future missionary plans and hopes they will help in this work.
However, Paul is also concerned he might have offended some Christians in Rome. At times, he has written very boldly to them and wonders if he might have upset them in any way. Had this authority been undermined because he had not started the church in Rome, nor had he visited, even after many years of ministry? Or, had he somehow judged them to be defective in their faith? To deal with these concerns, Paul now opens himself up personally, first to explain the ministry for which he was responsible, but also to show his care and affection for them; they are not far from his heart and mind, and God willing, he would soon visit them.
Although Paul had not been to Rome, it is clear from this verse and others, he personally knew many of the leaders of the church (“I myself”). Of course, their reputation had spread throughout the world. And so, Paul thanked “God through Jesus Christ for all of you” (1:8) in the opening of his letter. There he had commended them for their “faith,” and now he praises them for their “goodness,” “knowledge,” and ability to “instruct one another” (cf. Hebrews 15:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Paul, therefore, had not written to them because he thought they were not living a fruitful life for Christ or they could not teach and admonish one another. The following two verses contain the reason Paul wrote to the Roman church.
Paul’s real motive in writing to them was to remind them of “some points” they might have forgotten. It certainly is true that spiritual truths can be forgotten (2 Timothy 2:14). Other New Testament writers also understood this concern (2 Peter 1:12; 3:1; Jude 5).
He does acknowledge that this reminder was “very bold” or bolder than it might have been. The humility of Paul is evident. Although bold, his instruction, exhortations and warnings were done in affection and concern for a brother in Christ. However, Paul was given the responsibility by Jesus to boldly proclaim the gospel to all, both unbelievers and believers. His humility is an example for all teachers who have felt the need to ‘preach to’ their church.
Paul states that he could speak boldly “because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus.” This, again, echoes his statements at the beginning of the letter (1:1). Paul not only had the authority to teach the gospel but was uniquely sent by Jesus to do so (Acts 9:15; 22:21). Paul uses the word “minister,” which in this context, refers to the office of a priest (Hebrews 8:2). However, Paul is using the word in a figurative sense. As a New Testament priest, Paul is “offering” the Gentiles as a symbolic sacrifice, a sacrifice “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (cf. 12:1; see also Exodus 28:38). This is the meaning of the phrase “in the priestly service of the gospel of God.” Paul is offering the Gentile believers themselves to God as an acceptable sacrifice. Normally, a sacrifice was purified with water to prepare for the altar. Here, the Gentile believers are made holy – set apart for service to God – by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such an offering is pleasing to God. Paul is always very careful to attribute salvation to God and not to his preaching or any other method of evangelism. Although preaching the gospel is necessary to communicate the gospel (10:17), salvation itself is entirely a work of God through the power of the Spirit.
The Gentiles had been entirely excluded from the temple in Jerusalem. But now, because they were sanctified, they are able to enter the true tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11; cf. Hebrews 13:11) since they have become a holy and acceptable offering to God. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that diaspora Jews, which Paul certainly was, would “proclaim God’s glory in distant lands and bring people to Jerusalem from all the nations ‘as an offering to the Lord’” (Isaiah 66:20).
It is worth noting, this is the only place in the New Testament that associates the work of a priest with a minister of the gospel. Paul describes this relationship figuratively because ministers are not mediators between the church members and God. As Charles Hodge states, “their only priesthood is the preaching of the Gospel, and their offerings are redeemed and sanctified men.”
Paul now reflects on the ministry God had given him; that is, he was “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). He has fulfilled this ministry only “in Christ,” and so has “reason to be proud of my work for God.” However, if anyone thinks Paul is speaking of self-pride, he immediately explains what he means by this boast.
Paul now (“for”) gives the reason why he is “proud” of his “work for God.” He states that he would not “dare to speak” (kjv) of anything except what Christ had accomplished through him. What Christ accomplished was to bring “the Gentiles to obedience.” This last phrase means the conversion of the Gentiles. This is similar to the phrase “obedience of faith” Paul used at the beginning of his letter (1:5). Conversion of the Gentiles was God’s work, not Paul’s. However, Paul uses “obedience” in a broader sense which includes obedience that demonstrates their faith was genuine.
Paul also lists how his ministry was effective among the Gentiles. First, it was “by word and deed.” Christ accomplished the salvation of the Gentiles through Paul’s preaching of the gospel, which expressed itself in the moral integrity of Paul’s life. Both “word” and “deed” must come together as a proclamation of the gospel. “Deed” does not necessarily refer to miracles. Instead, it relates to a life reflecting the truth of the “word.” In Jesus’ earthly ministry, some of the most powerful ‘messages’ were not his miracles but his interaction with those around him:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14).
And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)
When the church cares for those who cannot care for themselves, it does so “in deed,” validating “the word.”
Second, God also accomplished “signs and wonders” through Paul. These miracles confirmed the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 12:12). Luke, the historian, recounts many such miracles (Acts 2:43; 4:40; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). These unique works of God are intended to demonstrate the “power” of God to accomplish salvation and judgement (Exodus 7:3-5).
Paul’s ministry was “by the power of the Spirit of God.” It was through the Spirit, all his words, deeds, and miracles were done. Again, Paul wants to ensure the reader knows he was only an instrument of God through which the salvation of the Gentiles was accomplished.
Given all this, Paul can now declare that he has “fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” for which he was commissioned. He is quite specific in stating that his ministry results from “Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.” The gospel of freedom and salvation to the Gentiles, which Paul preached and defended (see Galatians chapters 1 and 2), began in Jerusalem and reached far and wide, including Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. Paul must include Jerusalem since his commission by Jesus, although primarily to the Gentiles, was also to the “children of Israel” (Acts 9:15; cf. 9:26ff).
When Paul says, his ministry is “fulfilled” (v. 19) and the gospel has gone out to all these regions, he does not imply, everyone has heard the gospel. He means that his ministry was “not where Christ was named” (kjv); that is, where there were already Christians. Paul’s apostolic mission was to plant churches where no one had heard of the gospel and where there were no believers. He does not want to preach in a region where some other evangelist had already planted a church. This is the meaning of the phrase, “lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” We can then understand Paul’s claim to have fully preached the gospel to mean he has planted churches in all the major towns. He expected the new believers would continue the work of the gospel in the smaller villages. Paul understands his commission to proclaim Christ, where no one had previously heard of him from Isaiah’s prophecy to the Gentiles (Isaiah 52:15).
Until now, Paul had not given a reason for not being able to visit Rome. Of course, he had planned many times to come but to this point was prevented (1:13). Now, he states that it was because of his policy to first preach the gospel to regions having never heard of Christ. Although we cannot be sure how and when the church began in Rome, we know it was not through Paul. And since it was his policy not to “build on someone else’s foundation,” he would not go to Rome until there was “no longer room for work in these regions.” Paul then reiterates his desire to visit them (1:13) –“since I have longed for many years to come to you”– and he is now free to travel to Rome. However, because the church in Rome is already established, he does not expect it to be an extended visit. He plans only to see them “in passing as I go to Spain.”
vv. 23-24 Plan to visit Rome
Paul provides three reasons why he can finally visit Rome. First, his work is complete, and there is “no longer room for work in these regions.” Although this might seem surprising, Paul means that the foundation had been laid and work could continue with local believers. Second, Paul does want to visit them. This has been a long desire of his. It was not just a superficial wish but a sustained hope, someday he would be able to visit. And third, although he expects to “enjoy your company for a while,” he does not just want the visit to be social, but he also wants to be “helped on my journey” to Spain. The word “helped” encompasses food, money, companions, and other necessities for travel (bdag).
vv. 25-27 Plan to visit Jerusalem
However, before going to Rome, he must first travel to Jerusalem. This trip was to “bring aid to the saints,” who were the poor Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem. The aid is a collection from the churches in “Macedonia and Achaia.” These churches were “pleased” to contribute to the welfare of the Jewish Christians. Moreover, they understood they “owe it to them.” They were obligated to the Jews in Jerusalem because they had benefited spiritually from them. Therefore, they were required to reciprocate in prayers for them and in “material blessings.” This contribution was, in a sense, a debt the Gentiles owed the Jews. Salvation had come through Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, and because Israel rejected him, the gospel went to the Gentiles (11:11-24). Paul views this financial contribution to the Christian Jews as a symbolic demonstration of this debt.
Paul does not state why the Jewish Christians were so poor. When the church began, it seemed to be doing very well, and everyone was cared for (Acts 2:42-47). Although there was some dissension, that too was dealt with (Acts 6:1-7). Some commentators have speculated on the cause, but no clear answer is given. However, this was a major concern for Paul. He encouraged the churches to make good on their commitments (1 Corinthians 16:1ff; 2 Corinthians chapters 8-9) and was also willing to make the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem to deliver the contribution.
vv. 28-29 Plan to visit Spain
Paul now looks past his task of delivering the financial contribution to Jerusalem to Spain's missionary journey. He had been planning a trip like this for at least two years (2 Corinthians 10:16). We can only speculate how far Paul planned on taking the gospel—to Germany or Britain? Of course, there is no definitive proof Paul made it to Spain. He could have gone there after his release from prison in Rome. The only reference we have is from a pastor in Rome. Clement of Rome, around ad 96, wrote:
“having preached righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the extremity of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he departed at length out of the world, and went to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience.” (1 Clement 5:7)
In verse 29, Paul, again, reflects on his planned trip to Rome. He states that after his work in Jerusalem, he will come in “the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” This thought is similar to the beginning of the letter when reflecting on his coming to Rome when he stated, “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (1:11-12). Of course, we know that when Paul did get to Rome, he came as a prisoner (Acts 28:16). So, the “fullness of the blessings of Christ” did not mean a life without troubles and difficulties. What it meant was peace and joy in the Spirit. Difficult outward circumstances did not mean much to Paul. As he wrote to the Philippian church:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13; see also 2 Corinthians 12:10).
At the beginning of the letter, Paul states, “that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers” (1:9-10). So it is only reasonable for them to pray also for him. Paul knew how valuable it was for believers to pray for him and his work. He asks for prayer many times in his letters (2 Corinthians 1.11; Ephesians 6.18-20; Philippians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Philemon 22). And so, he also “appeals” to them as “brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ” and “by the love of the Spirit” to “strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.”
The words “urge” and “strive” are very strong words. The first, “urge,” was used in 12:1. The word “strive” is used in Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane was his concern to do his Father’s will. However, his desire to do God’s will overcame his own human will (Luke 22:42). Paul knew there was a need for fervent prayer for himself and his gospel ministry. Paul does not want the Romans in their prayers to be conformed to how the world thinks about such issues. Instead, he desires that his and their minds be set on the Spirit so they would be able to test and discern God’s good, acceptable and perfect will. And not only to know God’s will but, like Jesus, be able to embrace it for their lives.
Paul gives two reasons for these prayers. First, he “may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea.” And second, “that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” Paul was undoubtedly justified in being concerned over these issues. We can look ahead and know what happened to Paul when he arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-28:16). The unbelieving Jews tried to kill him and accused him before the Roman governor, resulting in his imprisonment for two years in Caesarea. It was only in chains that he was finally sent to Rome.
Paul’s concern was not only for the unbelieving Jews; he was just as concerned for the Jewish Christians who did not believe Christ’s death and resurrection had fulfilled the Mosaic law (Acts 21:17-24). These Christians were still “zealous for the law” and were greatly concerned about Paul’s preaching of gospel freedom to the Jews (Acts 21:21). The kindness, compassion and acceptance of Paul are evident in calling these Jewish Christians “saints.” He wanted them to accept this financial gift with gratitude and with recognition of the kindness the Gentiles felt towards them.
Paul also gives a third reason for these prayers. He wants it to be “God’s will” that he goes to Rome and if it is “with joy and be refreshed in your company.” The word “refreshed” does not mean relaxing as one would on vacation but refers to Christian fellowship and joy when believers worship together.
He ends this appeal with a prayer for them: “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Although Paul understood the difficulties he faced and those of the Roman Christians, he also knew God was the only source and provider of peace. The word “peace” means inward confidence that God’s will is done. This is why Paul begins this final request with “by God’s will.” Knowing God’s will is done is the assurance of inward peace.
1. [15:14] By what authority does Paul have to write the way he does? Why is he concerned that he might be misunderstood? Should today’s pastors speak the same way?
1. [15:16-17] What unique symbolic role does Paul take on in these verses? How does he apply it to those who become believers?
2. [15:18-19] What did Paul mean by “word,” “deed,” “power of signs and wonders,” and “the power of the Holy Spirit”?
3. [15:20-22] Why do you think his calling was only to those who had not heard before?
4. [15:23-24] Why is Paul free to visit Rome? How do you understand his reasoning?
5. [15:25-27] Why was Paul so determined to God to Jerusalem?
6. [15:28-29] Paul was always looking for new opportunities to preach to those who had never heard the gospel. Do you think he made it to Spain?
7. [15:30-32] What do “urge” and “stive” mean concerning prayer? List the things Paul wants the Roman Christians to pray for.
1. Give an example of where you spoke the truth in love to someone but were misunderstood. Did you explain to the person your concern about being misunderstood the way Paul did?
2. What role do you and the Holy Spirit have in leading someone to Christ?
3. How do you understand the integration of “word” and “deed” in mission today? What importance and purpose are “signs and wonders” today? Give an example of each of these.
4. Do you think we are still indebted to Israel? What is your definition of Israel? Is it Israel's current country and people or some other aspect or part of Israel?
5. What does it mean to “strive” or “struggle” in prayer? How does this relate to God’s will?
6. Paul prayed for the unbelievers, the weak believers and Christian fellowship. How does this compare to your prayers?
7. Do you think God answered Paul’s prayers for protection and acceptance in Jerusalem and joy and refreshment in Rome? How does this relate to “God’s will”?