Conclusion, or Purpose, Plans and Praise in Connections with the Dissemination of Righteousness (15:14—16:27)
Twelfth Bible Class
VI. Conclusion, or Purpose, Plans and Praise in Connections with the Dissemination of Righteousness
A. Paul the Minister to the Gentiles (15:14-33)
As Paul leaves the doctrinal section of the book he picks up the personal note with which he began the epistle, in which he expressed his desire to visit Rome.
Paul was convinced of their maturity in the faith; but he wrote boldly to them on some points because of the grace that God had given him to be a minister to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel. Here he adopts the language of the Levitical priesthood and the Temple to stress the point that he was to make the Gentiles an acceptable offering to God, sanctified by the Spirit. Paul gave the Gospel; the Lord gave the Spirit when they believed. It is hard for us today to understand the tensions of this ministry by a Jew to Gentiles; but because of it we who are Gentiles have entered into all that the Gospel implies.
So in verse 17-22 Paul affirms that his main task has been to preach the Gospel, that his ministry is Christ-centered. He glories in Christ and what Christ has done, and will take no credit for himself. Many ministers today could learn from this. Paul does not lack conviction or confidence; but there is no personal assumption in it—he has it only in relation to Christ. God gave him the ministry as an apostle; and God gave signs and wonders to them as credentials for the early church. If Paul raised someone from the dead, or healed, or converted the Gentiles—that was the work of the Lord through him.
Paul had no spirit of competition with other ministers; he was not interested in taking over works that others had started. To him there were so many Gentiles who had not yet heard, that he knew his calling was to preach the Gospel to them. This is the point of the quotation from Isaiah 52:15. The implication for the Church of Rome is that it apparently had no apostolic founding apart from Paul who preached to those who migrated to Rome and formed a church. If another apostle had founded it, Paul would not have been eager to write to them or visit them to preach the Gospel. Thus, Paul was probably the apostle of influence for the Roman Church.
Paul’s plans are disclosed in verses 23-29. He was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the money collected for the poor there, and then he was going to go to Spain. On his way to Spain he planned to stop in Rome and enjoy some fellowship with them. Paul had a particular concern to help the believers in Jerusalem who were facing hard times—before his conversion he had wasted that church with his persecutions. He insisted on taking the gift to them personally (see Acts 24:17 as well as 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). The reasoning for the contribution was that if the Gentiles had shared in the spiritual blessing that came through the Jews, then they should contribute to the needs of the Jews in return. This was foreign missions in reverse!
But he needed their prayers. This was a difficult journey. He could be in danger from the unbelievers, the Jews who wanted to destroy him. And his gift from Gentiles might not be well received by the believers. Paul is probably full of uncertainties about his escaping alive; he therefore wants them to agonize in prayer—strive earnestly—over this issue. Of course the prayer was answered, his life was spared, he finished his course. He did come to Rome—after he spent two years patiently in jail at Caesarea, then endured a shipwreck at Malta, and then finally arrived in Rome—in chains (Acts 28:16-31). Did Paul find joy and peace and refreshment when he came to Rome. Yes, but not as he had hoped. His joy was full while under house arrest in Rome. Paul knew God’s peace down in a prison, in chains, or in shipwreck. In Rome he could write,
“I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
B. Relationship of Christians to One Another Demonstrated (16:1-27)
The last chapter of the book is an extensive list of personal greetings with many explanatory comments included. It has been said that Paul here leaves the mountain peaks of doctrine to come down to the pavement of Rome. Here is witness to the fact that the faith was being lived out by these people.
1. Commendation to Phoebe (1,2)
Phoebe is the first believer mentioned in this list. She was a Greek woman. She was the bearer of this epistle—she was entrusted with the whole future of Christian theology! She receives here several commendations: she was a sister in the Lord, a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea (9 miles from Corinth), and she was most helpful in the work of the Lord.
2. Christians in Rome Greeted (3-16)
First of the Roman Christians are Priscilla and Aquila—Paul’s fellow workers. At great risk to themselves they worked in ministry, discipled young Christians, and opened their home for the church to meet in. When Claudius had sent Jews from Rome, they had come to Corinth where they met Paul, and accompanied him to Ephesus where they taught Apollos. Here they are back in Rome, either in defiance of the edict or after it had ended. Because of the order of their names, it is likely that Priscilla was the most forthright in active ministry.
According to verse 5, an assembly of believers met at their house. Also there was Paul’s first convert in Asia—Epenetus.
Verse 7 mentions Andronicus and Junia, fellow prisoners with Paul, Jews. Some debate persists here over the name Junia. Junia can be either masculine or feminine, and so we really do not know if this is a man or a woman. Those who argue for its being a woman’s name contend that here we have a woman who was a fellow apostle, because they were said to be “outstanding among the apostles.” But while some take this to mean that they were apostles, that also is not very clear. The line could easily mean that they had an excellent reputation among the apostles. Paul had apparently met them in one of his prison terms; they were wonderful believers with high regard by the Church.
The rest of this section has an extended list of names of people that Paul knew, loved, and appreciated for their stand in the faith and service to the Lord. There is much interest in the meanings of the names and the identification of these people. For example, Bishop Lightfoot identified Aristobulus of verse 10 as the grandson of Herod the Great. The people mentioned here than might have been slaves of his household. Narcissus was a well-known freedman who was put to death by Agrippina. These were probably slaves who belonged to him and had therefore taken his name.
Rufus (v. 13) was probably the son of Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21). Mark wrote for the Romans and Rufus was well known in the Roman Church. The father of Rufus had carried the cross for Jesus; the mother of Rufus had been a mother to the apostle Paul. What a family!
Paul tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss. Men kissed men; women kissed women, as a Near-Eastern expression of love and unity. Many customs today of believers greeting each other and sharing the peace come dangerously close to overstepping some bounds of propriety.
3. Defense of the Faith (17-20)
The saints are commended to the unity within Christ. There were people causing divisions and scandals contrary to sound doctrine. They were to be avoided. The specific form of these descriptions suggests that Paul had something definite in mind—and they would know it. A troublemaker is to be avoided in the church (compare 2 Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 1:10). These were clever people, smooth talking, flattering “saints” as they appeared; but they were self seeking. Note the irony of his words: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under his feet. In the meantime Christians are to resist the Devil, be sober and vigilant.
4. Christians with Paul send greetings (21-24).
Timothy, of course, is well-known to us. Tertius is the man who wrote down the letter Paul was dictating. Paul probably wrote Galatians in his own hand; but elsewhere he employed an amanuensis.
5. Concluding Benediction (25-27)
This is the third and final benediction of the book. The focus of it is the gospel—”Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” Here is the means by which God changes lives. The mystery is probably the present age of the gospel when God is taking both Jew and Gentile and fashioning them into one body. This has been Paul’s concern in much of the book, as indeed in much of his ministry. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, the “prophets” mentioned here as “now” revealing this truth are likely the New Testament writers. Paul then returns to his theme of the wisdom of God—all of it, from beginning to end, is the divine plan that is beyond our comprehension. We can only stand amazed at the wisdom of God. “To God alone wise” means that God sets the standards of wisdom. In fact, the cross is the wisdom of God, even though it seems foolishness to mankind. Paul affirmed that he preached Christ—the power of God and the wisdom of God, for the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:21-25).
Things to Consider
1. What are some of the “doubtful things” that have become issues in the churches or areas of Christianity in which you have moved?
2. Can you think through some of modern Christianity with its many splinter groups and discover what has divided Christians into denominations. Which of them were probably legitimate reasons for separating to different forms of Christianity (whether or not they did it with peace or animosity)? Which of them were disgraceful reasons and likewise were handled poorly?
3. Think of all the ways in the New Testament that Christian love will manifest itself. You might have to get the help of a concordance. But what would Christianity look like if all the saints in the churches manifested genuine love for one another? Get a Bible concordance and look up all the New Testament verses with “one another” in them. You may wish to start in these chapters with the ideas of relinquishing rights, mutual edification, collection for the poor, and the like.
4. Some time you should write your own Romans 16. Make a list, as if in corresponding, of all the Christians who have had an impact on your spiritual life—no matter how small, or how great, whether you knew them, or just heard about them. The list will grow and grow—but it will reveal how the Lord works through the different parts of his body, to bring about unity in the faith through spiritual growth.
5. When you think through the way that God calls people and gives them spiritual gifts and uses them in his program, that calls for some evaluation and commitment. So, what should we do, next, now, today? Always ask yourself, “Why am I on earth and not in heaven?” The LORD obviously has something for us to do here before taking us to glory.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)