Pleasing Others, Not Ourselves (15:1-6)
1 In this verse, those who are strong are believers whose faith is strong. The weak are those whose faith is weak.
Those who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak. Not only must the strong bear with the failings of the weak, but they must also help to actually bear them. That is, the strong must encourage and strengthen the weak, not just tolerate them!
For example, suppose a weak brother has a problem controlling his temper. When he gets angry, his weakness is displayed. His weakness (quick temper) is a burden not only to himself but also to the church. Because when he gets angry, the members of the church also are troubled and embarrassed; they, too, are forced to “bear” his burden.
What is our responsibility toward a weak brother like this? Is it to rebuke and criticize him? No. That is not the answer. Our duty is to be patient with him, and to support and help him. In other words, our duty is to help him carry his burden (see Gal-atians 6:2 and comment).
Yes, one or two older brothers should privately, in love and humility, admonish and counsel the weak brother. It is the responsibility of older brothers and sisters in the church to admonish and correct the younger and weaker members. And the weak brother will listen to the older brothers, because they have come to him in love and for his good. However, more important than correcting that brother is to bear with him in love (see Ephesians 4:2 and comment).
Paul says we are not to please ourselves. Christ did not please Himself when He bore our sins on the cross. Let us behave toward our brother as Christ has behaved toward us (see 1 John 3:16 and comment).
2 Each Christian should please his neighbor, not himself. Here neighbor means a brother or sister in the church. We must please our “neighbor” for his good, to build him up (see 1 Corinthians 10:33). How do we build him up? Byrebuk-ing and criticizing him? No. We build him up by “pleasing” him.
In Chapter 14, Paul gave the example of eating meat. He taught that we must not rebuke or look down on the weak brother who thinks he should not eat meat. Instead, we must say to such a brother, “Okay, I won’t eat meat either.” Instead of pleasing ourselves, we must please our brother. In this way we can support and strengthen our weaker brother. In the end, because of our love, his faith will grow stronger. But if we argue with him and rebuke him, he will completely reject our counsel and friendship and become hurt and angry. We will have done nothing for his good—or for ours.
It is not necessary for us to advise and correct our brother in everything. Let us leave some place for the Holy Spirit to advise and correct him! Our main work is always to bear with our brother in love.
3 Paul here quotes from Psalm 69:9, which is written about Christ. Christ is an example for us. The Psalmist writes (as though Christ were speaking) that the insults that sinful men have given God “have fallen on me” (Christ). In other words, the insults or sins that we men have committed against God, together with the punishment that we should have received on account of them, have all fallen upon Christ. Christ has borne our punishment; He has died for our insults (sins). From this we know that Christ did not please himself, but instead “bore with the failings” of weak men (verse 1). Because of our wickedness, Christ received from us insults, hatred, and death. In view of this, can we not bear with a few failings of our weak brother!
4 Why does Paul quote so much from the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament?80 The reason is because the Scriptures have been written to teach us (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and comment). When we read in the Old Testament about men like Abraham, Moses and David, or when we read the prophecies of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, then we learn to have the endurance which these men had, and from their example we receive encouragement, and from encouragement, hope (Romans 5:3-4).
5 It is God Himself who gives us endurance and encouragement through the Scriptures—which are, of course, His own living word. And in addition to that, He gives us endurance and encouragement directly through the Holy Spirit living within us.
Through the Holy Spirit, God also gives us a spirit of unity. Paul prays that the Roman Christians might be “of one mind” among themselves (see Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2 and comments).
The expression, as you follow Christ Jesus, can also mean “in Christ Jesus.” Our unity of spirit is always “in Christ.” Only if we remain in Christ can we be “of one mind.”
To have “one mind”—or one heart and mouth (verse 6)—means to be in agreement on important and essential matters. But on small non-essential matters it is quite all right to have different ideas. For example, let one man eat meat and another not. That is not an essential matter. But on important issues our minds should be united. For example, our minds should be united in our love for God and for our neighbor. With one mind—with one heart and mouth—we must strive to serve and glorify God and Christ. With one mind we must bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (Galatians 5:2223). As an illustration, the branches of a tree grow as if they had “one mind,” and they bear the same tasty fruit. So should we do likewise!
6 Why is it so essential for us to be “of one mind”? It is essential because only when we are of one mind can we glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are not of one mind, if there is quarreling and division among us, then we cannot glorify God. There are over sixty New Testament verses written on the subject of unity among believers; if our unity is so important to God, it should also be important to us!
Let us remember that unity among Christians is not just an external matter; it is also an internal matter, a matter of our minds. In order to have outward unity, there must first be inward unity. Oneness of mind rests on two foundations: first, faith in Christ; and second, mutual love and humility. Remember that wherever there is disunity of mind among Christians, sin will be always present; because only sin can destroy our unity.
Is there anybody today with whom we are not of one mind? If there is, then let us quickly do whatever is necessary to become united with that person, so that with one heart and mouth we might glorify God together.
The Gospel Is For the Gentiles Also (15:7-13)
7 How can we be of one mind? By accepting one another. Paul says here: Accept one another.81 When we fully accept each other, our minds and hearts will be united. Does this mean that we must also accept another person’s sins and mistakes? Yes, it does. Because that’s how Christ accepted us. Christ fully accepted us—together with all of our sins and faults.
If we do not accept one another, how can we possibly glorify God? When we reject each other, we also reject Christ, who is present in every believer (see Matthew 10:40 and comment).
This accepting of one another must be from the heart, not just with the lips. We must accept one another as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. In this way our Lord will be glorified.
In Paul’s time, the Christians of Jewish background had great difficulty accepting Christians of Gentile background, because the Jews, from their childhood up, had been taught to despise Gentiles. In a similar way, high-caste Christians have trouble accepting low-caste Christians, and educated Christians have trouble accepting uneducated Christians. The rich have trouble accepting the poor; the healthy have trouble accepting the sick. We all must fully accept and welcome each other. We are all in Christ’s family.
Therefore, in verses 8-9, Paul explains that Christ came into the world not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles—that is, for all people equally. The Jews have no grounds any longer for rejecting the Gentiles.
8 Christ came to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs—that is, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. The promises were the prophecies in the Old Testament which told of a Savior who was to come. But Christ not only “confirmed” the promises; He Himself was the fulfillment of the promises. Christ Himself was the Messiah,82 the Savior, the One who was to come. Christ was the great king whose reign would never end. Christ was Abraham’s offspring, or seed, through whom all nations on earth [would] be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Christ was first a servantof the Jews,83 and His work at first was to show the Jews the way of salvation. Christ was a servant on behalf of God’s truth, who, byful-filling the promises in God’s word, proved to the world that God’s word was true.
9 But Christ was not only a servant of the Jews; He also brought salvation to the Gentiles who believed in Him, so that the Gentiles also might glorify God for his mercy.
Here Paul quotes from Psalm 18:49. “Therefore I (Christ) will praise you (God) among the Gentiles.” Here the Psalmist, King David, prophesies that the Gentiles will receive Christ’s Gospel.
10 Here Paul quotes from Deuteronomy to show that the Gentiles will rejoice with his people—that is, with the Jews (Deuteronomy 32:43). The Gentiles will rejoice with the Jews, because they too have been given the chance to receive salvation through Christ.
11 Paul again quotes from the Psalms to show that the Gentiles will praise the Lord because of the salvation they have received in Christ (Psalm 117:1).
12 Jesse was the father of King David, from whom Christ was descended. Therefore the expression, root of Jesse, means Christ Himself. Christ arose to rule over all the nations, including the Gentile nations. Therefore, the Gentiles will hope in him—that is, in Christ (Isaiah 11:10).
13 The term God of hope means “God who gives hope.” God gives us hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. What hope does He give? The hope of obtaining salvation, or eternal life.84 Paul prays here that the Roman Christians might be filled with all joy and peace. Paul doesn’t pray just for a little joy and peace; he prays for all joy and peace.
This joy is the spiritual joy given by Christ through the Holy Spirit; it is not the joy that comes from the world (see John 15:11 and comment). Likewise, this peace is the spiritual peace given by Christ through the Holy Spirit; it is not the peace that comes from the world (see John 14:27 and comment). No amount of trouble and suffering in this world can take away this spiritual joy and peace.
For the kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). A man will never find all joy and peace in any kingdom but the kingdom of God, in any religion but the Christian religion, in any god but the God Jesus Christ.
Let us not cease to pray for one another that we might be filled with all joy and peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul the Minister to the Gentiles (15:14-21)
14 If Paul wrote a letter addressed to our church today, how would he describe our church? Would he write about us, as he wrote to the Romans: … you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Is that a description of our church? If not, it should be!
Christ wants us to have both goodness and knowledge together. Those who possess goodness and knowledge need to share those gifts with others.
At the time Paul wrote this letter, he had not yet been to Rome. But he was ready to believe good things about the Roman Christians. We, too, must always be more ready and eager to hear good things about each other than bad things.
15-16 Paul again reminds his readers that he has been given special grace (verse 15)—that is, a special anointing and power (see Romans 1:5; Ephesians 3:7 and comments)—for proclaiming the gospel of God.
What is the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel? The purpose, as stated in verse 16, is that those who accept the Gospel might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 12:1). If we have not been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we cannot be an offering acceptable to God. And only by the work of the Holy Spirit living in us can we be sanctified (see 1 Corinthians 6:11 and comment).
That men and women might become sanctified offerings acceptable to God is the one chief purpose and goal of all preaching. Preaching is not a matter of dry discussion, explanation, and teaching. It’s a matter of persuading hearers to receive new life from Christ, and then to give their lives to Him in obedience and love.
17 Notice that Paul does not glory in himself, but in Christ Jesus.
18 Paul speaks only of what Christ has accomplished through [him]. Christ, through Paul’s preaching, led the Gentiles to obey God. Obedience is the main sign and proof of true faith.
Notice that Paul says that the Gentiles have been led into obedience to God by what he (Paul) has said and done. Christ’s ministers must serve not only by word but also by deed. People will of ten be more influenced by what we do than by what we say. However, they will be most influenced when we mix both words and deeds together.
19 The Holy Spirit worked mightily in Paul’s life (see Acts 19:11; 2 Corinthians 12:12). Through the power of the Spirit Paul accomplished so much! We can say that Paul, through the Spirit, accomplished more than Jesus accomplished during His time on earth! Jesus had said: “… anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). This is because only after Jesus went to the Father did He send the Holy Spirit to His followers. It is through the power of the Spirit that Paul was able to do all the things he did. And we too, through the Spirit’s power, are able to do as much as Paul did!
The Holy Spirit works not only in the lives of believers; He also works in the lives of those who hear our words of testimony, our preaching. Our own words alone do not bring people to faith in Christ; it is the Holy Spirit, working in the hearts of those who hear our words, who brings them to Christ.
Illyricum was a province of the Roman Empire lying northwest of Greece. Today it is part of the modern nation of Yugoslavia.
20 Christians are not all called to the same work. Some Christians, like Paul, are called to travel from place to place. Other Christians are called to remain working in one place. Some Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel in new places where Christ [is] not known. And other Christians are called to build on someone else’s foundation—that is, to teach and strengthen believers, to “water the seed” that someone else has planted (see 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 and comment). But the important thing to learn from this verse is that Christians should not compete with each other. We must never put another Christian down in order to advance our own work. We must never try to draw Christians away from other churches in order to make our own church bigger. We must never take for ourselves the honor or credit that belongs to someone else (2 Corinthians 10:15-16).
21 Here Paul quotes a prophecy of Isaiah, in which Isaiah says that those who have never heard of Christ will see and will understand (Isaiah 52:15). It was Paul’s desire to help fulfill this prophecy by going and preaching to those who had never heard of Christ.
Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome (15:22-33)
22 When Paul wrote this letter he had not yet visited Rome (Romans 1:13), because he had been busy preaching the Gospel in places where Christ was not known (verse 20).
23-24 Paul hoped to go to Spain, the westernmost part of the European continent. In Paul’s time, Spain was a province of the Roman Empire. The Gospel had never been preached in Spain; that’s why Paul wanted to go there.
Paul hoped that the Roman Christians would help him on his journey to Spain. In Paul’s mind, the church in Rome was ideally situated to become a new center from which the Gospel could spread into western and northern Europe.
Paul had been longing to see the Roman Christians (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:11-12). Paul wanted to enjoy their company, their fellowship. However, a few years later when Paul finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner (Acts 28:16), these same Roman Christians refused to take his side; instead, at his trial, they all deserted him (2 Timothy 4:16).
25-26 Jerusalem85 was the chief city of the province of Judea, the southern province of Israel. In New Testament times, all of Israel had fallen under the control of the Roman Empire. The saints (believers) in Jerusalem were very poor. Most of them had originally been Jews, but after becoming followers of Christ they had been opposed and persecuted by the other Jews around them. It’s likely that many lost their property or businesses because of their faith in Christ. Probably many of them had to forfeit their inheritance. For these reasons, then, the Christians in Jerusalem were poor.
Twelve years earlier during a time of severe famine, Paul and Barnabas had taken up a collection in all the Gentile churches and had delivered that collection to the believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 11:28-30).
Now Paul was again on his way to Jerusalem to take to the Christians there a similar collection raised by the churches of Macedonia (northern Greece) and Achaia (southern Greece); the Jerusalem Christians were again in need of financial assistance from the wealthier Gentile churches of Greece (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:1-2).
27 The churches of Macedonia and Achaia had been pleased to make a contribution. Yet in another way the Gentile Christians of Greece were under some obligation to help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Why were they obligated? Because in the beginning the Gospel had come from the Jerusalem church. From Jerusalem the Gospel had been carried from one province of the Roman Empire to another—including, of course, the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. Therefore, since the Gentile Christians in Greece had shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they certainly should be pleased to share with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem some of their material blessings, their money. Indeed, Paul says, the Gentile Christians owe it to the Jews (Jewish Christians) to give them material help in exchange for the spiritual blessings they have received.
28-29 It is not known whether or not Paul ever reached Spain. However, we do know that when Paul finally arrived in Rome, he arrived as a prisoner of the Romans (Acts 28:16). But even though he was a prisoner, Paul came to Rome in the full measure of the blessing of Christ (verse 29). Wherever Paul went, in whatever circumstances he found himself, he always experienced the full measure of the blessing of Christ. Can we say that about ourselves?
30-31 Here Paul asks the Roman Christians to pray for two things on his behalf. First, he asks them to pray that he might be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea (verse 31). Paul was on his way to Judea to take the gift of the Gentile Christians to the believers in Jerusalem. But among the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem Paul had many enemies. They would certainly try to kill him. And, indeed, shortly after Paul arrived in Jerusalem they did try to kill him, and almost succeeded! (Acts 21:27-32). Therefore, Paul asks prayer for his safety in Jerusalem.
Paul’s second prayer request is that his service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there. Why should Paul have to pray for that? Why wouldn’t his service be acceptable to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem? The reason is that the believers in Jerusalem, being Jews, had never fully accepted the Gentile Christians. Furthermore, they were not happy that Paul, himself a Jew, had become an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul feared that these Jewish Christians in Jerusalem might not accept his service—this gift he was bringing from the Gentiles.
32-33 Paul writes that if these two prayer requests of his are fulfilled, then he will be able to come to Rome with joy (verse 32). But from reading Acts Chapters 21-28, we know that in Jerusalem things did not work out as Paul had hoped and prayed for. Paul prayed; but at the same time, he left his life in God’s hands.