Our high school band, in which I played the trumpet, marched in several parades each year. If I were to look in my high school annual for a picture of our band marching, I could almost guarantee that one of our band members—a trombone player named Pete—would be out of step. Almost every picture of our band caught Pete out of step. I can still see Pete shuffling his feet, trying to get back in step with the rest of the band.
Marching requires unity—people doing the same thing at the same time. Although a band or an orchestra has many instruments and many different parts, it must have a central unity for a harmonious end result. The same is true of a choir. Our text in Romans 15 finds Paul speaking of the church of our Lord as though it were similar to a choir. The great task and privilege of this unique choir is singing praises to the glory of God. For this to be accomplished, there must be both unity and harmony.
Because these verses are Paul’s closing statement concerning our convictions and the exercise of our liberties within the body of Christ, they are significant. They represent Paul’s formal conclusion to the argument of the entire Epistle to the Romans. Although the remainder of chapter 15 and all of chapter 16 are important and are related to Paul’s previous teaching in Romans, for all intents and purposes Paul completes his argument in our text.
This vitally important text is like the last chapter of a mystery, for this chapter tells us where Paul has been heading since his first introductory words in chapter 1. Listen closely to his final words, asking God’s Spirit to make their meaning clear to our minds and hearts to the glory of God.
The topic of Romans 14:1–15:13 is love and Christian liberty. Paul is addressing the conflict which differing convictions have brought into the church. The strong tend to look down on the weak, and the weak often condemn the strong because of their liberty. Paul forbids all such judging, whether by the strong or the weak (14:1-12).
In 14:13-23, Paul urges the strong not to become a stumbling block to the weak by exercising liberties which might cause the weak to stumble. If they are walking in love, the strong will gladly surrender the exercise of their liberties for the good of the weak. The benefits which our liberties offer are so small, and the blessings for limiting our liberties are so great that this should not be an agonizing decision.
Christian love is not just negative. It requires much more than the giving up of judging and certain liberties. On the one hand, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). But this is not nearly enough, and so love not only “abhors what is evil,” it clings “to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Love refuses to do that which is harmful to others, and it aggressively seeks to do “good” and “what is right in the sight of all men” (see Romans 12:9-21).
In Romans 14, Paul’s emphasis is negative. He urges us not to judge one another regarding our differences in convictions (verses 1-12). He also exhorts strong believers not to offend a weaker brother by exercising any liberty which might cause him to stumble by doing likewise, against his convictions (verses 13-23).
Paul’s shift to a more positive emphasis begins in Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
In chapter 15, this positive thrust becomes the primary emphasis. Two major topics dominate verses 1-13: pleasing others instead of ourselves (verses 1-3) and praising God in unity and harmony (verses 4-13).
Another shift of emphasis in our text is not readily apparent. Throughout chapter 14 Paul speaks of the Christian’s relationship to his fellow-believers, using the most frequent term “brother.” In Romans 15:2, Paul sets the term “brother” aside and employs instead the term “neighbor.”109 Thus, Paul broadens the application of his teaching on love and liberty.110 Love not only requires that I do good to my “brother,” but that I do good to my “neighbor,” including my enemy (see Romans 12:17-21; Matthew 5:43-48).
In considering these verses, let us listen and obey God’s instructions here for all who would live according to love.
1 Now we who are strong111 ought112 to bear113 the weaknesses of those without strength and not just114 please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.”
Christianity turns the world’s thinking upside-down concerning the “strong” and the “weak.” The world thinks those who are strong should use their strength to take advantage of the weak—the vulnerability of another is seen as an opportunity for the strong to gain at the expense of the weak. Such thinking and behavior may wear the garments of social respectability, but it is evil.
The Bible turns this mindset inside-out. It requires a transformed mind regarding the strong and the weak. Those who are strong have an obligation to the weak. They are not to victimize the weak but to come to their aid. This mindset is evident in the Old Testament Law where the widows, the orphans, and the aliens were given special consideration, protection, and benefits. Not only were these helpless people not to be taken advantage of, they were to be helped.
Jesus taught the same truth. The leaders of the nation Israel were to serve the people and to protect the helpless. They did not do so. In the Gospels, Jesus has strong words of rebuke for Israel’s leaders who abused their power (see Matthew 23). He taught His disciples that while the Gentile leaders misused their power, causing the weak to serve them, His disciples were to use their power as leaders to serve others just as He Himself did (see Mark 10:35-45).
Both Peter and Paul taught this same perspective on power. Peter instructed elders not to “lord it over” the flock, but to be “examples” to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). Paul instructed those who had once been thieves to steal no longer, but to work with their hands so that they could give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). If nature demonstrates the “survival of the fittest,” the gospel emphasizes the obligations of the strong to the weak. The strong should not prey upon the weak to prevail over them, but instead should come to their aid. We see this same principle evident in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given to each believer so that each may minister out of his strength to those who are weak in this area (see Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
The strong, Paul tells his Roman readers, are not to harm the weak (by judging them and causing them to stumble—chapter 14) but to help them. The strong are to bear the weaknesses of those who lack strength. Rather than putting the weak down, the strong are to bear up the weak, in their areas of weakness.
Such service must be sacrificial, a denial of self-interest and of self-serving. This should come as no surprise (see Romans 12:1-2). If we are to “bear the weaknesses of those without strength,” we must not and cannot “please ourselves” (15:1).
Whether, then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).
In the context of these two chapters in Romans, how might Paul have wanted us to understand “pleasing ourselves”? We could please ourselves by avoiding those whose convictions differ from our own, even to the point of excluding them. We could also please ourselves by accepting them, but only for the opportunity to judge, to criticize, and to try to change their convictions.
Paul’s command here to please others may seem to contradict his statements elsewhere which condemn pleasing men:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God, Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts (1 Thess. 2:4).
How do we resolve this tension? When is it right to please men, and when is it wrong? The solution to this problem is very simple; it is found in the alternative to pleasing men. When we must choose between pleasing others or pleasing ourselves, it is right to please others. But when the choice is between pleasing others and pleasing God, pleasing others is wrong. Here, Paul instructs us to please others and not ourselves.
Before considering what Paul does say about pleasing others, let us note what he has not said. He has not said we should please our neighbor in any way our neighbor dictates. We are to please our neighbor as God dictates. We are not instructed to make our neighbor feel good about himself, to make him comfortable, and to fulfill his desires or expectations. God is the One who defines what is pleasing to our neighbor—not our neighbor. As we shall soon see, doing what is pleasing to our neighbor may not “please” him at all. Paul is speaking of pleasing in a long-term, eternal sense—not in a short-term way.
We can see then that Paul’s instruction to please others needs clarification. Our text provides that clarification as Paul defines what pleasing others means by setting down three qualifications in verses 2 and 3. We please others by
(1) … working toward the good of others
(2) … working toward the edification of others
(3) … pleasing others as Christ Himself pleased men.
The first qualification for pleasing men is that we must please our neighbor for his good. The “good” of our neighbor must be understood in the light of God’s eternal purpose for His elect as spoken of in Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Seeking the “good” of our neighbor must first begin by seeking his salvation, for only those who love God and are the “called according to His purpose” can expect or experience His eternal good—His salvation and His kingdom. This “good” is not to be confused with our neighbor’s comfort or his pleasure. In order to enter into all the goodness of God, we must endure suffering and tribulation (see Romans 5:3-11; 8:12-39).
Our neighbor’s “good,” which begins with salvation, should then press on to his edification. We must cease and desist from every attitude and action which would tear down our neighbor, pressing on with those things which will build him up in his faith (verse 2; see also 14:19-20).
Paul turns our attention to the example of our Lord in verse 3. We are not to please ourselves, but to please others just as Christ has done. He did not please Himself, but instead sacrificed Himself so that He might bring about both our good and our edification.
The text which Paul chooses to prove his point is most interesting: “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.” This text comes from Psalm 69:9. Two things are striking about this Old Testament quotation.
First, it is an Old Testament quotation. Why did Paul not refer to the historical event of Christ’s self-denial and self-sacrifice as he did in Philippians 2? Why does Paul prove his point from prophecy rather than from history? Because inspired prophecy is as good as history. When God said something would happen, it was as good as done. One can rely on prophecy as though it were history.115
Second, Paul’s reference to Psalm 69:9 is fascinating because Christ’s gracious, saving work is spoken of in this psalm as that which was not pleasing to men. His work was done to please God and men, but only those who trust in Him by faith find His work of atonement pleasing. Thus many responded to His grace with reproaches rather than with praise and gratitude.
When we seek to please men, we must do so as our Lord did. We must begin by giving up any effort to please ourselves. We must further seek to do that which will lead to the salvation and building up of believers in Christ. But in so doing, let us not fool ourselves by thinking that most men will be pleased by our efforts to please them. If we seek to please men as our Lord did, our efforts will often be as happily received as a child’s effort to please his mother by “weeding” the garden, pulling up all the flowers in the front yard.
To apply Paul’s words in the context of Romans 14 and 15, we please our neighbor by putting up with the reproaches of those who would criticize our convictions and seek to change us, rather than to accept us. Pleasing others includes putting up with the grief others bring to our lives. This surely was true of our Lord who endured the reproaches of men and pressed on to bear our burdens on the cross of Calvary.
From the example of our Lord, we see that pleasing our neighbor is not easy nor is it immediately rewarding. Co-dependency is the topic of great discussion these days. I have many misgivings about the overuse of such terminology and thinking, but I believe our Lord’s example clearly demonstrates that pleasing others as God requires is not at all like the man-pleasing of those who are “co-dependent.”
Those who are co-dependent in today’s thinking, as I understand the term, must have the approval of others. Consequently, they are constantly trying to please those whose approval they feel they desperately need. The “good” they do to please another is determined by the whims and wants of that other person, whether good or evil, whether right or wrong. The “good” which the Christian should do to please his neighbor may very well produce not only disapproval but even reproach. Pleasing others as Paul teaches is nothing like the man-pleasing which is really selfish and self-serving co-dependency.
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Thy name.” And again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” And again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine).
Before beginning our exposition of verses 4-13, some preliminary observations on these verses as a whole may be helpful. First, verses 4-13 are not only Paul’s conclusion to his teaching on love and liberty in chapters 14 and 15, they are the conclusion of his argument in this Epistle to the Romans.116 Second, note the strong emphasis on the Scriptures; a substantial portion of this passage is made up of Old Testament Scriptures which Paul cites. Third, there is a strong emphasis on Jews and Gentiles, and especially on the unity of their combined praise of God. Finally, there is a strong emphasis on hope. Verse 4 speaks of the hope which comes from perseverance and from the Scriptures. Hope is found also in verses 12 and 13. In verses 4-13, Paul begins and ends with the subject of hope.
Keep in mind as we study verses 4-13 that we are reading Paul’s closing argument. He is drawing together in these words all that he has been trying to say throughout the entire epistle, and also in the final section on love and Christian liberty. Paul’s words here cannot be understood apart from the message he has been seeking to convey throughout this epistle.
Paul’s overall message and emphasis is the relationship of the Jews and the Gentiles to the gospel. No wonder he concludes with a recitation of Old Testament texts, speaking of the combined, harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles as they glorify God together! To form a backdrop to Paul’s conclusion, let us briefly review the recurring theme of the Jews and the Gentiles through Romans.
Paul, a Jew, is called as an “apostle to the Gentiles.” It is because of this calling that he desires to visit Rome but has thus far been prevented. He expresses his concern for the Roman saints by writing this epistle to them to build them up in their faith. This letter ministers to them in his absence and announces his commitment to come to Rome as soon as other obligations are fulfilled.
Paul demonstrates that both the Gentiles and the Jews are sinners, under sentence of divine condemnation due to their rejection of the revelation God has given them. Both the Jews and the Gentiles are equal in their lost and helpless condition. Neither can save themselves by their own efforts.
What no man is able to do to save himself from sin, God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was without sin, died in the sinner’s place, bearing his punishment, and thus satisfying the holy wrath of God aroused by sin. The righteousness God requires is available in Christ to anyone who will receive it by faith. This salvation by faith has always been the way God has made men righteous, so that He could save and bless them. It was so with Abraham, and everyone who, like Abraham, believes in God’s promise of salvation. By faith, one becomes a son of Abraham. Circumcision and Law-keeping did not save Abraham; faith did. So it is for all men, throughout all times.
The salvation God offers to all men, in Christ, is more than temporal—it is eternal. Having been justified by faith, we have great joy, and the certain hope of glory, the hope of God’s promised kingdom. We also have hope in the midst of trials and adversity. What God has done for us in Christ gives us hope for the future and hope in present distress.
The righteousness God has provided in Christ is not just positional—something judicially decreed. Salvation in Christ paves the way for a practical demonstration of righteousness in our daily lives. This is possible because Jesus Christ has reversed the effects of the fall of Adam, for all who are in Him. Thus, we need not, indeed we dare not, continue to live in sin. Since we died to sin in Christ and have been raised to newness of life in Him, we should live a new kind of life, a life of righteousness.
Daily righteousness can no more be accomplished by human effort than salvation could be earned by works. As Christians, we agree with God’s standards as defined by His Law. We even delight in His Law. But we cannot, in and of ourselves, live up to the standards set by the Law. The problem is our flesh, which is weak and constantly overcome by sin’s power. Even though we want to do what is right, we fail to do so. Though we try not to sin, we persistently fail and fall into sin. We are as helpless (in and of ourselves) to live righteously as Christians as we were helpless to save ourselves as unbelievers.
The solution to our sin, weakness, and inability to live according to God’s standards is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for sin for those who are in Christ. Our sins as Christians find the same forgiveness we found initially at the time of our salvation. What we cannot do in the power of our flesh, God has enabled us to do as His sons, by the power of His Holy Spirit who now indwells us. His Spirit indwells and empowers us and assures us that we are His children. Until that day when His kingdom is established on the earth, His Spirit works in us, assuring us of our future hope and interceding for us as we groan in the imperfections of this present world.
Neither the license of the Gentiles nor the Law-keeping of the Jews is pleasing to God. The righteousness God requires of us as Christians comes as a result of being in Christ and walking in His Spirit. The righteousness of God in Christ is provided to replace the unrighteousness of lawless Gentiles and the self-righteous legalism of unbelieving Jews.
From eternity past, the plan of God was to save men from every nation. Israel was promised God’s blessing, and part of her blessing was that she was to be God’s channel of blessing to the other nations. Through Israel, God’s Law and the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures were revealed. Through the seed of Israel (and his descendants, including Judah and David), the Lord Jesus came to save men. Through this Jewish Messiah, Israel and the nations are saved, by faith.
Israel, as a nation, rejected Jesus and brought about His death, with the help of the Gentiles. Not only did the Jews reject the gospel, they opposed it so that wherever Paul and the apostles proclaimed it, the church was persecuted. Paul himself was a leader of this opposition until his conversion.
As far as the Old Testament Scriptures are concerned, Israel’s unbelief comes as no surprise. Not all of the seed of Israel were chosen, and thus not all were saved. Indeed, often only a small remnant was preserved, thus assuring Israel’s hope of a future salvation and blessing. Israel’s unbelief has not terminated God’s plans for Israel nor has it frustrated His promises.
Indeed, Israel’s unbelief has fulfilled the Scriptures. And her unbelief has become the instrument through which God has brought the gospel to the Gentiles. Israel’s unbelief and opposition to the gospel only served to promote the gospel among the Gentiles. If her unbelief has brought such blessings to the Gentiles, one can only wonder what blessings her belief and obedience will bring.
When God’s purposes and promises for the Gentiles have been fulfilled, He will cause the Jews to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus as the Messiah; thus both the Jews and the Gentiles will experience forgiveness and God’s blessings. God’s way of accomplishing this is far beyond human wisdom. What a wonder the wisdom and the grace of God is to the believer!
Such grace and mercy should overwhelm the true believer, inspiring him to offer himself to God in grateful, sacrificial worship. This worship is not just the kind which occurs in church; it is the kind of worship which is evident in daily living. We serve God by serving others. The manifestation of this service is best summed up by the word love. We are to love God first, and then others, including our enemies. Love is reflected in our pursuit of what is good and our hatred and avoidance of what is evil. Love manifests itself toward fellow-believers, toward our unsaved neighbors, and toward our enemies. Love manifests itself by our doing no harm to others and by our actively promoting their good.
Walking in love is evidenced by the way in which we hold and practice our convictions. In our desire to cling to the good and abhor what is evil, we must seriously consider the Scriptures and their implications, determining those liberties which we can exercise in good conscience and faith. We must not judge our brother concerning his convictions nor seek to change them. We should, however, surrender the use of our own liberties whenever this would result in our brother’s stumbling by following our example, contrary to his faith and conscience.
We should not allow differences in convictions concerning Christian liberties to create friction with a brother or the fall of a brother. Even more than this, love prompts the Christian to come to the aid of a weaker brother and to bear with him and his weaknesses. Love prompts us to bear the burdens of our brother’s weakness.
It is God who gives grace to deal in this way with a weaker brother. His grace enables us to persevere. His Scriptures give us hope, hope for endurance and perseverance in this life, and the hope of experiencing His blessings in eternity. The Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly speak of that future day when Jews and Gentiles will worship and praise God together, in unity and harmony. This certainty encourages us to live in unity and harmony with our fellow-believers today, even though we may have many differences.
Paul’s teaching on love and liberty in Romans 14:1–15:3 sets down three obligations of the strong toward their weaker brothers. First, the strong are not to judge their weaker brother concerning his convictions (as the weaker brother is not to condemn the strong, 14:1-12). Second, the one who is strong is not to cause a weaker brother to stumble by the exercise of a Christian liberty (14:13-23). Third, the strong are to use their strength to sustain and uphold the one who is weak, rather than to tear him down (15:1-3). How can any one do this? What enables the Christian to give up pleasing himself in order to please his neighbor? Paul provides the answer in Romans 15:4-13.
In verse 3, Paul has just quoted Psalm 69:9 to illustrate how our Lord did not please Himself but pleased others, for their good. That citation seems to be in Paul’s mind as he writes the words of verse 4:
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The cluster of four Old Testament quotes in verses 9-12 seems to follow up on verse 4.
Old Testament Scriptures are biblical accounts of those things which happened before our time. This biblical history is more than history, however. It was divinely inspired and preserved so that we might have hope. Hope, according to verse 4, is the result of two things: (1) perseverance and (2) the encouragement of the Scriptures.
Hope is the result of perseverance, as Paul has already demonstrated in chapter 5:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).
The same hope which comes from perseverance is also produced and promoted by the Old Testament Scriptures.117 How do the Scriptures encourage us so as to produce hope? In two ways, I believe. First, in those Scriptures which are historical, we are taught that God never failed to fulfill His promises to His people. The Scriptures teach us the faithfulness of God and the certainty of His promises.
Second, the Old Testament Scriptures contain prophecies. Some of these prophecies have already been fulfilled, just as God promised they would take place. Other prophecies are still awaiting the day of their fulfillment. The promises and prophecies of the Old Testament give the child of God hope, because hope is our expectation of that which is future and not yet seen (see Romans 8:23-25).
Hope which comes from the Scriptures encourages us in such a way that we will suffer present persecution and deny ourselves of short-term pleasures (pleasing ourselves) because we are certain of the eternal blessings which lie ahead for us as God’s children.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Both perseverance and hope come from God who supplies them to His saints (verse 5).118 Perseverance and hope are not man-made; they are a gift from God. So it is also with unity. Unity is not something we are to produce. Unity is that which God has produced by the work of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Unity is that which we are to preserve and to practice (Ephesians 4:3).
The goal of this unity is the harmonious praise of God, by both Jews and Gentiles, singing together to the glory of God which Paul seeks to emphasize in verse 6 (and extended in verses 7-12). If personal convictions become the basis for conflict and discord, our unity and harmonious praise will be adversely affected.
The tone of verses 7-12 changes from the tone of verses 5 and 6. In verses 5 and 6, Paul looked to God to supply perseverance, encouragement, and hope. These verses are a kind of benediction or blessing. Paul does not look to us to accomplish these things, but to God. And there is no doubt in his mind that God will provide them.119 Verses 7-12 focus, once again, on the Christian and his responsibility to trust and obey. The “wherefore” at the beginning of verse 7 indicates that the exhortation or instruction which follows is the outcome, the result of what he has been saying. It is Paul’s conclusion, his practical application, his final application.
Verse 7 returns to the matter of accepting the weaker brother, introduced initially in 14:1: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”
In chapter 14, the emphasis falls upon the purposes for which we are not to accept others. We are to accept our weaker brother, but not to argue with him about his convictions or to judge him for them. We are also not to accept our weaker brother, only to cause him to stumble by the irresponsible exercise of our own liberties. In Romans 15, Paul turns to the positive purpose for which we should accept our weaker brother. We are to accept others for the glory of God.
Once again, Christ is our example. His life and ministry provide us with both the motivation and the means for accepting those who are weak. Our Lord accepted us, for the glory of God.120 Our Lord became a servant. He was a servant to the Jews, in order to confirm the promises God had given to the patriarchs, the fathers (verse 8). He was also a servant to the Gentiles, for our good, and ultimately for the glory of God, due to His mercy (verse 9).
All of this comes as no surprise. The salvation of the Gentiles is not some alternative plan, required by Israel’s unbelief and rebellion against God. This is all in accordance with the plans and purposes of God, determined in eternity past and repeatedly revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Verses 9-12 contain four Old Testament quotations. In verse 9, Paul cites from 2 Samuel 22:50 (repeated in Psalm 18:49). Verse 10 comes from Deuteronomy 32:43; verse 11 from Psalm 117:1; and verse 12 from Isaiah 11:10.
Why four quotations? First, Paul wants us to understand that he is not desperately grasping for proof texts here. God’s purpose to have the Jews and the Gentiles joining in harmonious praise is frequently repeated in Scripture and not merely dredged up from some obscure text. Second, this eternal purpose was revealed throughout the Old Testament in different passages, at different times, and in different ways. These four quotes encompass virtually every part of the Old Testament: the Law (Deuteronomy 32:43); the historical books (2 Samuel 22:5); the Psalms (Psalm 117:1); and the prophets (Isaiah 11:10).
There may well be some individual emphasis provided by each text. There may also be a progression of thought through these four quotations. For our purposes, we should simply note that the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly and emphatically stress the divine and eternal purpose to save both Jews and Gentiles, thus bringing about their united, harmonious praise of God.
There is a common thread running through each of these four Old Testament quotations, which give a unity to Paul’s argument. The praise of God is the central theme and focus. The participants in each case are both Jews and Gentiles. Their praise is united and harmonious.
Paul’s words are very much related to the context and to the argument which he is pressing here. Consider, in context, the impact of what he is saying to us.
(1) This is what God purposed from eternity past. The combined and harmonious praise of Jews and Gentiles is God’s will.
(2) This is what will be—a certainty—in eternity. These verses Paul has drawn from the Old Testament are a description of what heaven will be like. Prophecy will become history. Prophecy is as sure and certain as history.
(3) This is a description of what should be evident now in the church of Jesus Christ. Here is the ideal for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unity and harmony should be one of the evidences of the grace of God in our lives, the result of His work on the cross of Calvary.
(4) This is why we must walk in love and not let our convictions become the basis for conflict and strife. If unity and harmony between Jews and Gentiles is God’s purpose, God’s will, a certainty in and for eternity, the standard and ideal for the church today, then walking in love is a necessity. Specifically, we dare not accept others in order to judge them or in order to cause them to stumble; we must accept others in order to build them up so that we may all, in unity and harmony, praise God according to His purpose and for His glory.
Verse 13 contains Paul’s final words of his formal argument in Romans. They are a benediction. They look to God and not to men for fulfillment and realization. May the God of hope fill each believer with all joy and peace, so that we may abound in hope.
Paul’s hope is that God will fill the believer with all joy and all peace. There is no joy nor peace which does not come from God. And the joy and peace which come from God are experienced by faith. Thus, Paul says that we are filled with joy and peace “in believing.” Nothing in the Christian life is pleasing to God which is not by faith. Being filled with all joy and peace is no different, for it comes by “believing” in God as well.
An additional Source of hope is introduced here—the Holy Spirit. God is the God of hope. He produces hope through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures. He also produces hope through the Spirit who indwells us (see also Romans 5:5; 8:1-27).
These closing verses of Paul’s argument in Romans are both similar to and different from his other concluding remarks elsewhere in Romans. Let us refresh our memories concerning his two earlier conclusions:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
The similarity between our text and those above from Romans 8 and 11 is that in every instance, Paul’s argument concludes in praise. Paul speaks to us first about avoiding evil and then about seeking our neighbor’s good. But he concludes with the emphasis on His glory and the praise which this should inspire. In our text, as he often does elsewhere, Paul sees all good things as coming from God, as their Source. He sees all good things taking place through God, as their means. He sees all good things as being unto God, for His glory and praise. This is what Paul has said in Romans 11 above. It bears repeating:
Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:35-36, emphasis mine).
Is it not interesting that we Christians are eager to get to the application? I fear that often this is because we are self-centered. Application focuses on us—we think. If we think this, we are wrong! Paul’s application focuses our attention on God and our praise toward God. That is where it belongs. That is where our focus always belongs. That is where our focus eternally will be. That is where our focus should be now.
There is also a difference in the praise of God found in our text when compared to Paul’s previous praise in Romans. Before, Paul was praising God; we could identify with him in his praise, but it was his praise. We could even join with him in praise. But here, in this final word of praise, it is the combined praise of all the saints from all ages. It is the combined praise of both the Jews and the Gentiles. It is that yet to be fulfilled in eternity. It is that which should warm our hearts now and turn our hearts toward God, where we find salvation, peace, joy, hope, love, and all that is worthy of praise.
It is not our convictions which should consume us. Nor should it be the differences we have with our fellow-believers. It is God who should consume us. May we be caught up—lost in Him—in His glory, honor, wisdom, and power. Let us not leave this text without joining Paul and all of the saints of all the ages, in praising God. To God be the glory, great things He hath done!
109 This term, rendered “neighbor,” is used by Paul in Romans 13:9-10; 15:2; Galatians 5:14; Ephesians 4:25. In my estimation, the term “neighbor” is more general, referring to one’s fellow-man. It would include one’s “brothers” in Christ as well as unbelievers.
110 In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul’s emphasis falls much more heavily on our obligation toward unbelievers. Paul speaks specifically to the Corinthians about how he surrenders his liberties for the sake of the gospel, so that he will not hinder any from coming to faith in Christ.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
“Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).
111 It is interesting that Paul includes himself among the strong. Rightly so. But I am not convinced that the “strong” here are necessarily those who are “strong,” but perhaps only those who think themselves to be strong. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor” (1 Cor. 4:10; see also 2 Corinthians 13:9). Paul’s argument might go something like this: “All right, so you think you are strong and your brother is weak. Let me tell you your obligation to the weak, if you are indeed strong.”
112 “Ought” indicates obligation. Obligation has been a prominent theme, especially in Romans 12:1 and following. Love should be our primary obligation, the basis and source of all legitimate obligations (Romans 13:8).
113 The term “bear” has more than one connotation. It sometimes means “to endure” or to “put up with.” Elsewhere, it means “to carry.” In our text, I believe both meanings are intended. We are both to accept, or put up with, the weaknesses of those who are without strength, and we are to help bear their burdens. I believe our Lord evidences both types of “bearing” in His earthly life as recorded by the Gospels. He not only put up with our weaknesses (often with a sigh—see Mark 7:34; 8:12), but also by bearing our sins on the cross.
114 The word “just” in verse 1 has been supplied by the translators of the NASB. It is not found in the NIV nor in the KJV. I think this is one of the few times the NASB has gone too far. Literally rendered, Paul’s words make good sense. “We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not please ourselves.” When Paul gets to the example of our Lord in verse 3, the word “just” is not supplied. Why not? Because Jesus did not seek to please Himself at all, just as we must not seek to please ourselves. Pleasing self and pleasing others are mutually exclusive. Either you do one or the other, but not both. (The same should be said of loving oneself and loving others.)
115 Indeed, this is the reason for the frequent use of the “prophetic perfect” in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. A past tense verb is often employed to speak prophetically of a future event. God spoke of future events in the past tense because they are as certain as history.
116 The remainder of this epistle is profitable reading, but his formal argument seems to end at Romans 15:13. Romans 15:14-33 focus on Paul, his purpose and calling, his past ministry, and his plans for the future. Romans 16:1-33 contains Paul’s final greetings and exhortations.
117 See also, in a similar context, 1 Corinthians 10:11.
118 Notice the clue to Paul’s structure here. Verse 5 is a kind of invocation or benediction. So too is verse 13. Both verses begin in the same way: “Now may the God of …” (see the marginal note in the NASB at verse 5).
119 Because of the form of the verbs in verses 5 and 13, some have referred to these as Paul’s wish. In a sense, they are. But the term “wish” has become too wishy-washy (if you will pardon the pun). It is too iffy. Paul does not doubt, either that God can accomplish this or that He will. Therefore, it is more a pronouncement of blessings than a wish for God’s blessing.
120 Compare 1 Corinthians 10:31.