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XVI. Unity and Mission (Romans 15:1–16:27)

15:1-4 Paul is still musing on the idea of weakness and strength (the theme of chapter 14) as he begins chapter 15. But now he includes an example to help bolster his case. Each one of us is to please his neighbor (15:2) because even Christ did not please himself (15:3). If Jesus used his strength to bear with our weaknesses, how much more should we who are strong . . . bear the weaknesses of those without strength (15:1)? Patience for others should flow from our understanding of how patient Jesus has been toward us.

15:20-22 At a moment’s notice, Paul was able to offer up his mission statement in a single line. Paul’s aim was to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named (15:20). I wonder how many of us have the same confidence about God’s call on our lives. It may be that we have not, as James would say, because we ask not (see Jas 4:2). Have you asked God to show you your role in his mission? Have you prayed, “God, it’s all yours. I won’t tell you ‘never.’ I’m here to do whatever you ask”? Ask God to ignite his fire in you and to direct you to his mission. I promise you: it’s worth it.

15:23-24 Paul does not just preach about the importance of Christian community. He lives it out. As he discusses his travel plans with the Roman believers, he candidly admits that he has strongly desired for many years to come to them (15:23), and that he hopes to be assisted by them for his journey to Spain (15:24). Paul may have been the greatest missionary of his—or any—generation, but he knew he needed help. Even the strongest saints need each other, to enjoy the company of other believers for a while (15:24).

15:25-29 One of the many tasks Paul undertook during his travels was collecting money for the poor. On his way to Jerusalem, he had with him a contribution for the poor among the saints there. It had been generously given by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (15:25-26).

Churches always have been, and always should be, the primary organization for alleviating poverty in communities. When we assume that someone else should take care of the poor, not only do we harm those in poverty, but we also send out a terrible false message about our Lord, who “though he was rich, for [our] sake he became poor (2 Cor 8:9).

15:30-33 Paul had a keen sense of God’s unique call on his life; he had a vision of the united church; he had a passion burning in his bones to be a minister of the gospel. But even Paul knew that the power for ministry comes through prayer. He thus appeals to his Roman brothers and sisters . . . to strive together with [him] in fervent prayers to God on [his] behalf (15:30). This is not false modesty. Paul knows that he will fail if not sustained by prayer. We have the same need Paul did. Do we have the same conviction?

16:1-2 Paul begins his greetings with mention of Phoebe, called a servant of the church (16:1). The word Paul uses for “servant” is the same root word that is translated “deacon” in other parts of Scripture. Therefore, Phoebe—whose name means “bright” or “radiant”—had an official capacity as a deaconess in the Roman church, showing that women have critical roles to play in church leadership under male authority. They too work toward accomplishing God’s kingdom program. Those women among us who serve the church are to be welcomed in the Lord and assisted in whatever matter [they] may require . . . help (16:2).

16:3-16 We don’t know much about most of the people in this list, yet what we see here is an example of unity within diversity. There is ethnic diversity: Prisca and Aquila (16:3), Andronicus and Junia (16:7), and Herodion (16:11) are all Jewish believers; they are included in this list right alongside the many Gentile believers. There is diversity of gender, as several prominent women are named—Phoebe (16:1), Prisca (16:3), Mary (16:6), Junia (16:7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (16:12), and Julia (16:15). There is even a diversity of class: Aristobulus (16:10) and Narcissus (16:11) are called heads of “households,” indicating a high position in society; they are in this list with others who probably owned nothing at all. While diverse in their backgrounds, origins, and skills, all of these people co-labored with Paul in the ministry of the gospel. As Paul says repeatedly, they worked very hard in the Lord (16:12).

16:17-18 Unity in the church, however beautiful, is fragile. Even as Paul delightfully sends greetings to his unified brothers and sisters in Rome, he knows that a threat lurks. Thus, he warns them to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles (16:17). “Keep your eyes open,” he says, “for those who are actively seeking to split people up instead of bringing them together. You can recognize them by what they say and whom they serve.” Indeed, they speak words that are contrary to the teaching that you learned (16:17), and they do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites (16:18). Even though they have smooth talk and flattering words (16:18), they are deceivers who will destroy the unity of the body of Christ.

16:19-20 Deceivers in the church are not merely annoyances. As Paul hints here, they are tools of Satan. The good news is that Satan loses: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (16:20). The more the Word of God goes out and the church is built up, the harder God drives his heel down on Satan’s neck.

16:21-27 The book of Romans began with a declaration that Paul’s message was not his own, but is the gospel of God, promised in the Scriptures. It ends in much the same way, as Paul prays that God would strengthen . . . according to [the] gospel (16:25), a gospel that was revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures (16:26). This is part of Paul’s closing benediction, in which he points everything back to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ. In other words, history is his story, and our lives exist to bring him glory forever (16:27).

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