Today we complete Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul’s “therefore” of 12:1 is the conclusion of all he has said thus far in the letter. We are all sinners justified by grace. We are all dead to sin and alive unto Christ. We are all the same as God’s elect, whether Jew or Gentile, and make up the true, spiritual people of God. Therefore, the only rational thing to do is give our whole selves to God and live our whole lives unto Him (12:1). Since we are called out of the world and have been made new, we need to stop thinking and acting like the world and discern God’s will for His people (v. 2).
This begins with humility. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, no matter the gift(s) God has given us (vv. 3-8). We are all a significant part of the body of Christ. We should try to outdo each other in humility, and do all things out of love (vv. 9-10 – see 1 Corinthians 13). We are to serve Christ and rely on Him even as we meet each other’s needs (vv. 11-13). When we rely on Christ, we can be patient in our trials (v. 12) and bless even our enemies (v. 14). Within the church, we are to rejoice together and mourn together (v. 15). Christianity is not an individual’s religion. We are to do all things as one, always considering each other (vv. 16-18). We should leave vengeance to God and minister to even our enemies (vv. 19-20 – see Matt 5:43-47), overcoming their evil by our good (v. 21).
We are, as the church, to submit to the earthly governments God has placed over us (13:1-2). God has placed these authorities over us to keep order and punish wrongdoing (vv. 3-4). We are to pay the government the taxes due to them, and show them the respect due to them (vv. 6-7). This is lost in today’s western society. But look at the history of Israel. God used even weak, wicked, arrogant, and selfish leaders to accomplish His will. He still does this today. We are to trust Him and just do what we are called to do: love. This fulfills the whole law (vv. 8-10). And we need to do this now. Time is short. Christ is coming soon (v. 11). Let’s live like it (v. 12), by living unlike the world (v. 13 – see 12:2) and unto Christ Who saved us (v. 14 – see 12:1). Remember, in this life we fight against the remaining sin indwelling us (see chapters 6-7). Let us, then, be careful not to put ourselves in situations that will arouse this indwelling sin (v. 14).
We are to lift up the weak in faith, not argue with them (14:1). Let’s not dispute over non-essential matters, leaving it between the Christian and Christ (vv. 2-6, 10-12). But Paul warns to do what we do – even when we differ – for Christ’s sake (vv. 7-8), which means considering each other – especially those weaker in faith – lest we tempt them to sin against their own conscience (vv. 13-15, 23 – see 1 Corinthians 8). We should give up our rights to do even what is good if it negatively affects a brother or sister (v. 16, 20-21 – see 1 Cor 10:23). The kingdom is not about exercising our rights (v. 17), but serving Christ and each other (vv. 18-19). Again, what we believe is right is between us and God (v. 22), and this is enough for the strong in faith, so we should not endanger those weak in faith (v. 23).
Paul then points to Christ as the ultimate example of living like this. We should cater what we do to those weaker than us to build them up (15:1-2), just as Christ did for us by taking our sin upon Himself (v. 3 – see Ps 69:9). And the Scriptures (the Old Testament) should be an encouragement to us to live this way (v. 5), because that is what they were written for (v. 4 – see 1 Cor 10:11). We should consider our brothers and sisters before ourselves, just as Christ considered us (vv. 6-7 – see 12:9, 14:19).
Paul then reminds us that Christ is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. Once again, salvation came through Israel (v. 8) to the Gentiles (v. 9). This is what he discussed at length in chapters 9-11. And Paul again shows how this was God’s plan all along by giving us encouragement from the Old Testament (see v. 4), quoting 2 Sam 22:50, Deut 32:43, Ps 117:1, and Isa 11:10 (vv. 9-12). As Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles (v. 16), he has the calling to instruct the Romans (vv. 14-15), just as he has preached to other Gentiles where the Gospel had not yet reached (vv. 18-20) in fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah 52:15 (v. 21).
Because Paul has been busy fulfilling his calling, he has, as of yet, been unable to come to Rome (v. 22). But now that the Gospel has been spread in the east, Paul will come to Rome on his way to Spain as he spreads the Gospel to the Gentiles in the west (vv. 23-24, 28-29). Spain was literally considered the end of the earth to the west (see Acts 1:8). But Paul will first go to Jerusalem (which is where we left off in Acts 21:15-16) to bring the offering for the poor Jewish Christians he collected in Macedonia and Greece (vv. 25-26 – see 2 Corinthians 9). And Paul here says why he is collecting for the Jewish saints from the Gentile saints. Since Gentiles received the Gospel through Israel (their rejection and salvation – see chapter 11), they should help the Jewish Christians with their material needs (v. 27).
Paul then asks the Romans to pray for him (v. 30): that when he gets to Jerusalem he will not be opposed by the unbelieving Jews (v. 31) and be hindered from coming to them (v. 32). We will see that Paul is opposed by the unbelieving Jews, and yet is not hindered from coming to them. God works all things out according to His will…
Paul tells the Romans that Phoebe, a Greek woman from Cenchreae (the port city just east of Corinth – see Acts 18:18), will be coming to them from him (16:1). She is here called a “servant” of the church. The word for “servant” in Greek is where we get our word “deacon” (the word used in 1 Tim 3:8). Many have used this verse to claim that it proves women can be deacons1. However, the word is usually rendered “servant” (like in Matt 23:11 or just before this in Rom 15:8). I do not believe Paul means to say anything more than Phoebe is a good Christian woman who lives out the applications in the previous chapters, and he wants them to welcome and serve her in return (v. 2).
Paul tells the Romans to greet Priscilla and Aquilla, who are apparently back in Rome (vv. 3-5 – see Acts 18:2). Paul sends greetings to various other brothers and sisters who have made it to Rome (vv. 5-16). In verse 7, we have “Junia” who is “well known to (or among) the apostles (or Apostles).” Many point to this to dispute those (like me) who say the Bible forbids female elders in the church. The argument is that Junia is a female and she is numbered among the Apostles (interpreting “well known among the Apostles” to mean she is included in their ranks). First of all, in the Greek, the name is Junion, which could be male or female. Second, the “to” or “among” are both valid translations. Third, is Paul speaking of little-a apostles (Greek for messenger or envoy) or big-a Apostles? Once again, I sincerely doubt that Paul is trying to communicate church polity here. If he is, he left it awfully ambiguous.
Paul then gives his final instructions. They should separate from those who are divisive or who preach doctrine contrary to Paul’s (v. 17), because they serve themselves rather than Christ (v. 18). The Romans should be innocent, but not naïve (v. 19). He then encourages them by telling them that Christ will complete His plan of salvation though them (v. 20). Paul sends greetings from those with him (v. 21, 23). Paul’s amanuenses, Tertius (a Latin military term for an officer third-in-charge), sends his own greeting to the church (v. 22).
Paul ends by recapping what he has written in the form of a doxology. His Gospel reveals the mystery (Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way – see 11:25) that was God’s plan all along (v. 25), and is now so clear in the Old Testament (v. 26), and now revealed to be for all nations (or Gentiles), so all should through justifying faith obey God (see 1:5, 12:1), and bring Him glory (v. 27). Amen!
1 I personally do not see the Bible anywhere excluding women from this role.