William Kelly Major Works Commentary
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.Romans Chapter 15
It is well known that between Romans 14 and 15 certain old editors inserted (according to the testimony of many copies, versions, and fathers) the doxology of Romans 16:25-27. It was not surprising that Matthaei, etc., keeping close to Constantinopolitan manuscripts, adhered to them in this. But there is no sufficient reason to disregard the weightiest witnesses of the ancient text, confirmed as it is by the internal evidence. The Sinai, the Vatican (1209), the Parisian palimpsest, the Clermont, and the St. Germain Greco-Latin Uncials, with several good cursives (16. 80. 137. 176.), the Vulgate, Peschito Svriac, Coptic, etc., give the passage at the close of the epistle. The Alexandrian and the Porphyrian with some other authorities have it in both positions, a corrector of the Clermont MS in neither; while Boerner's Uncial, now in Dresden, leaves a vacant space at the end of Romans 14 - the Augian of Cambridge has a similar vacancy at the end of Romans 16; as opposed to Passionei's Cod. Angel. (L, now belonging to the Augustinian monks at Rome), backed up by about two hundred cursives, etc. The insertion here is resisted by the connection of the chapters; it is perfectly suitable at the end. The first seven verses of our chapter conclude the subject under discussion, with five transitional verses following which prepare the way for the notices of his ministry among the Gentiles to the end of the chapter.
The apostle identifies himself with the strong, as indeed might have been gathered from the latter part of Romans 14:14-23. He had no difficulty himself as to any creature of God; nevertheless be maintains the claims of conscience inviolable in the weakest of the saints, and, as we have seen, is anxious to settle, not so much questions, as souls. He puts them all in direct responsibility to Christ as Lord and in view of the judgment-seat. Nevertheless the judgment he had received by grace he does not withhold. Having stated it however, he returns to the exercise of love. It would be wretched and a mere triumph for the enemy to make things in themselves indifferent an occasion of stumbling and of sin. "But we the strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves." (Ver. l.) To press our own convictions is neither the divine nor the human way to convince: not the human, because will only provokes will, and defers the end we most desire; not the divine, because it is not the way of faith either on our part or on theirs whom we hurry. How much better to walk in faith and leave God room to act! He can and will give efficacy to His own grace and truth. "Let each of us please his neighbour for good unto edification." (Ver. 2.) Love is better than knowledge, seeking not its own things but those of others. "For the Christ also pleased not himself, but even as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me." (Ver. 3.) Such was the perfection of devoted love in Christ. He identified Himself with God even as He was God. The zeal of His Father's house ate Him up, and as the image of the invisible God He bore the brunt of all that touched God. How wondrous that we should now stand in a similar place! Yet it is most consistent with the grace which has made Him our life and given us the family interests in all respects.
Thus, if we are called to be imitators of God as dear children and walk in love even as Christ loved us, so also to bear the world's enmity against God, as feeling for Him and with Him in the midst of a gainsaying generation. By grace we are one with Christ In practice too we are to cherish His portion here below; and thus, what the Old Testament says of Christ, the New says of the Christian. Hence all scripture is not confounded but interwoven, and every scripture becomes of the deepest interest and profit, to us above all who are brought into such an identity of place with Christ. "For as many things as were written before were written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Ver. 4.) How gracious is God and how rich His provision! We might have been unprepared and disheartened otherwise. We are here shown that the path of love is the path of Christ, and that patience as well as comfort are meant to be the pathway in which we have our hope. Christ was the perfect pattern of all patience. Near but how far off, yet comparatively nearest to Him, come the apostles, notably Paul himself. May we seek this. It is the proof of power, and in the most excellent way. In the world as it is, it is ever called for, in heaven no longer needed. "May the God of endurance and comfort," says he, "give you to be of the same mind one toward another according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one accord, with one mouth, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ver. 5, 6.) If Christ Jesus engages the thoughts and mind of each, there will be the same mind, and the God who made Him the channel, as He was the only full expression of endurance and comfort in a world full of misery, can give us to glorify Him thus. Oneness of mind or feeling is an illusion otherwise. Such unanimity glorifies the creature, the first man, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We want no other motive, no object but Christ. This alone glorifies God. "Wherefore receive one another, even as the Christ also received you unto [the] glory of God." Certainly Christ did not receive souls for settling points of difference. He who died and rose for us is above the controversies and the scruples and the self-importance of men. Our best wisdom is to worship and serve Him, who glorified God here below and is now glorified by Him on high. But His glory is a safeguard no less than a motive: for, if it blot out by its brightness the questions which are apt to vex Christians in the inverse ratio of their intrinsic importance, it displays the true significance of what is involved in that which otherwise might seem of no moment. Who without it could have conceived that the truth of the gospel was compromised by Peter's no longer eating with Gentile believers, after certain came to Antioch from James? Who would have written so peremptorily to the elect lady and her children if one sought to visit them who brought not the doctrine of Christ? To receive such would have been to God's dishonour as distinctly as saints are to be received to His glory. Christ, not this question or that, abides the only unerring test. To receive one in His name is to God's glory, as surely as to reject those who plead that they are Christians so as to deny the Christ of God.
"For* I say that Christ became a minister of circumcision for [the] truth of God to confirm the promises of the fathers, and that the Gentiles should glorify God for mercy, according as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among [the] Gentiles, and will sing praises to thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, Gentiles, with His people; and again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles, and land him, all ye peoples. And again Esaias saith, There shall be the root of Jesse, and one that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles: on him shall [the] Gentiles hope." (Ver. 8-12.) It is plain here that we approach the same twofold line as we have seen from the beginning, where Jesus is viewed is Son of David according to flesh, Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead. He had been made a minister of circumcision for God's truth in order to confirm the promises made to the fathers; but also that the Gentiles should glorify God for mercy. For the one there were definite covenant grounds on which God entered with Israel: not so with the others, who were dealt with in pure grace. To some the latter may seem vague and insecure as compared with the former; but this only because God is feebly known. In fact His grace flows without limit when the people who had the promises rejected Him in whom alone they can be made good; and as there is no limit to the mercy of God, so there is no question of claim, competency, or desert in our own. Thus, while it did not become the Gentile believers to slight the Lord's connection in flesh with Israel, it was of great moment for the Jewish believers to note that the ancient oracles testified of that further outgoing in mercy when the truth was overlooked by, and unbearable to, self-complacent unbelief. The Psalms, the Law, and the Prophets bore concurrent witness to that mercy toward Gentiles which the Jew found it so hard to allow, save on conditions exalting to the first man instead of to the praise of the Second. None goes so far as to teach the one body of Christ in which all distinctions should disappear. This was the mystery kept hid from the ages and ages. But prophecy did declare mercy to Gentiles, and joy with Israel, and Messiah their object of hope as well as Governor. The first citation is general; the second joins them in gladness with Israel; the third asserts the universality of the nations' praise; the fourth speaks distinctly of Messiah's ruling Gentiles and of their hope founded on Him. The apostle makes no comment: the suggestion was plain, the bearing on the actual state at Rome full of instruction to such as had ears to hear, clenching his previous exhortation. He was led only to add the prayer, "And may the God of peace fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope by [the] power of [the] Holy Spirit." (Ver. 13.) Thus He who saves the believers already justified to have peace with Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ is entreated as "the God of peace" to fill them with all joy and peace in believing. Settling points of conscience however wisely could effect no such result; whereas, when hearts are thus filled with divinely-given happiness, not only do questions disappear without controversy, but the power of the Holy Spirit vouchsafes abounding hope, instead of a fleshly contest between the past prestige of the Jew and the present privileges of Gentile saints. He who goes forward with the revealed future in view will desire that whatever he does now, even in such matters as eating or drinking, may be to God's glory, not occupying those who are to share it with debates, but diffusing the joy and peace which fill himself in believing.
*Much the weightiest authorities give γάρ, not δέ like the received text, which breaks or alters the connection.
The application we have seen of the Old Testament to the actual call of Gentiles as well as Jews is the transition to a delicate, dignified, and withal affectionate apology, if such it may be called, which the apostle gives next. He explains why he had thus written to the Christians in Rome, and why he had not yet visited them, intimates what was in his heart as regards his work in relation to them, and asks their prayers, adding his own.
"But I am persuaded, my brethren, even I myself, concerning you, that yourselves also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. But I have written more boldly to you [brethren] in part, as putting you in mind because of the grace given to me by God that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, carrying on sacrificially the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by [the] Holy Spirit. I have then my glorying in Christ Jesus in the things that pertain to God." (Ver. 14-17.)
Thus the apostle lets these saints know, though a stranger to them as a company, his own personal assurance, spite of his strong expostulation and earnest caution throughout the epistle, of that which grace had already wrought among them in goodness and knowledge as well as in ability to admonish one another. As the apostle John tells the babes in his first epistle, he had written, not because they did not know the truth, but because they did. Yet he wrote the more boldly in part as reminding them, because grace had given him to be an official servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. They therefore came within his domain; but what tender consideration of others, what confidence in the precious fruits of grace and truth, and what a contrast with that haughty assumption which was most of all to go forth from that very city when at a later day she should sit as a harlot queen and make men drunk with the wine of her fornication!
It will be observed that there are energetic figures employed here, as where the apostle describes himself as λειτουργὸν Χ. Ἰ., and yet more, ἱερουργοῦντα τὸ εὐ. τ. Θ., and again, ἵνα γ. ἡ προσφορὰ τ. ἐθ. We can easily understand how ritualism catches at such phrases to eke out the semblance of a sacerdotal character for a servant of the Lord Jesus. But it is vain. Far more distinctly and with less ambiguity does the Spirit assert a priestly place for every Christian as such, as we may see not only in words but in the standing and functions to which all are called expressly; as in Hebrews 10:19-22, 1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6. The apostle once more magnifies his office; and if the Roman saints felt his weighty words, they must think of him as a public servant of Christ Jesus, occupied with presenting the Gentiles, that it might be an offering acceptable to God; as Aaron of old offered the Levites before Jehovah for an offering of the sons of Israel, the Christians being sanctified by the Holy Spirit as the Levites were by birth and ceremonial rites. The truth is that in this context the apostle uses λειτουργῆσαι of the Gentile believers serving the Jewish saints in carnal things, as he has λειτουργία in speaking of the service of the Corinthian and Philippian saints. (2 Corinthians 9:12, Php 2:17; Php 2:25; Php 2:30.) Hence there is not the smallest ground for confounding ministry with priesthood, or for the notion that scripture admits of a sacerdotal caste between the Christian and God. On the other hand no intelligent believer will weaken either the perpetuity of christian ministry, or the extraordinary place of apostles, above all of him who was apostle not from men, nor through man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead. Paul then had his ground of boasting in Christ Jesus in the things regarding God.
"For I will not dare to speak of any of these things which Christ did not effect by me for obedience of Gentiles by word and deed, in [the] power of signs and wonders, in [the] power of [the] Holy Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about Illyricum I have fully set forth the gospel of Christ; and so zealously aiming to preach the gospel, not where Christ hath been named that I might not build upon another's foundation, but according as it is written, To whom it hath not been told concerning him, they shall see; and they that have not heard shall understand." (Ver. 18-21.)
Here he comes to matters of fact and how far the mighty offering of the Gentiles had been waved before the Lord. In a few pithy words and with the most genuine modesty he sums up his life of labour in the gospel. Truly it was Christ who effected it by Paul in the power of the Spirit. His principle was to preach Christ where His name was unknown, according to the word of Jehovah in Isaiah 52:15. The Roman saints then could understand why he had been labouring elsewhere rather than in the great city where from the beginning of the gospel some seeds of the risen corn of the land had taken root and borne fruit. Labouring in the vast field where none had been borne he adds, "wherefore also I have been often hindered from coming unto you; but now having no longer place in these regions and having a longing to come unto you for many years whenever I go unto Spain; for I hope when I go through to see you and by you to be sent forward thither if first I be in part filled with you [i.e., your company]. But now I go unto Jerusalem ministering to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a certain contribution for the poor of the saints that [are] in Jerusalem. For they have been pleased, and they are their debtors; for if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they ought also in fleshly things to minister to them. Having finished this then and sealed to them this fruit, I will go away by you unto Spain; and I know that on coming unto you I shall come in fulness of Christ's blessing."
There is a time for all and a place for each, of which the Lord only is absolute judge; but He does not fail to give the sense of it to His servants: according to the measure of their spirituality they will gather it. The object which the Master had in view through the apostle being now achieved, he had no longer place in the East; and the old longing to visit the saints at Rome, often hindered, came up again when he proposed to go onward to Spain. For, it will be observed, Spain, not Rome, was the point sought, doubtless according to the measure of the rule which God apportioned him. His eye was on the regions beyond, but he hoped by the way to see the Roman saints and by them to be sent forward thither "if first I be in part filled with your company," for he will not allow that any time could exhaust his love for them or enjoyment of converse with them: hence he says, if I be in part "filled with you." Meanwhile he was engaged in an errand of compassion for the poor of the saints at Jerusalem. The saints of Macedonia and Achaia (at that time the two provinces into which the Romans long before separated Greece politically) had raised means to help their brethren; and this the apostle treats rather as a debt of love than its simple outflow. If the Gentiles were partakers in the spiritual privileges of the Jews, ought they not to remember their poor saints in fleshly things? They were pleased, he repeats, but they are their debtors. Grace pleads powerfully, for it sees with single eye and desires the reciprocation of love which exercises and unites the heart in all that are of God. The least things as well as the greatest afford the materials; and he who does not think a deacon's service beneath an apostle was inspired to write of all for our edification, assured of a fulness of Christ's blessing for saints at Rome when he came. Whether he attained his desire to visit Spain may be a question, as many have doubted it, though one may not be prepared to affirm it. Much depends on the point so much contested of a second imprisonment in Rome and that which filled up the interval of the apostle's free labours after the first. Certain it is that he came to Rome, when he did, differently from his expectations, a prisoner of Jesus Christ; but was it with less blessing?
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed." (Ver. 30-32.)
It is sweet to find the earnest desire of the great apostle for the prayers of the saints, even of those he had never visited. But the knowledge of Christ, whilst it fills the soul with happiness, knits us up with all that are His, and enhances in our eyes the value of their prayers, always effectual on the part of godly men of all ages. Again, the Spirit, as He comes the witness and power of divine love in its perfection, so produces unselfish working of affection Godward as well as toward man. He sought their striving together with him in prayers to God for him: first, that he might be saved from those that believe not in Judea, ever implacable toward him who was once a leader of their unbelief, now a champion of the grace they hated; secondly, that his ministry for Jerusalem might be acceptable to the saints, for alas! the unbelief of believers, especially the Jewish ones, wrought deeply against the apostle, and none the less because he loved them so well and laboured for the relief of their need, in which this ministry of his consisted (Gal. 2); and both these, in order that he might come in joy to the saints at Rome by the will of God, "that I may be refreshed with you" (not merely you by me) added and most truly felt. How forcibly he closes this with "May the God of peace [be] with you all. Amen." (Ver. 33.) To seek the peaceful blessing of others is the happy pathway where the God of peace is with us. May we and all saints have Him thus!
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
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; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
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 Ghost.
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.