Romans 12:1-15:13 sets out the moral and ethical demands of the Good News. God’s gift of salvation in Christ requires a response. God is not satisfied simply with forgiving our sin. He wants to transform our lives. Most of what Paul teaches concerning the moral duties of believers is paralleled in other letters. However, it also seems clear that he has chosen issues pertinent to the situation in Rome; most notably the dispute between people who are weak in faith and people who are strong in faith. So, based on God’s mercy Paul entreats believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices, meaning their should use their bodies to serve and obey God. Being holy means to be set apart. And this is how we worship Him. Paul urges all of us to not be conformed to this world. Instead of being molded to the values of this world believers should be transformed by renewing of the mind. Spiritual transformation begins in the mind and heart. A mind dedicated to the world and its concerns will produce a life tossed back and forth by the currents of culture. We can resist the temptations of our culture by spending time with the Lord, meditating on His truth, and letting the Holy Spirit guide and shape our thoughts and behaviors. This is how we learn God’s will for us. A renewed mind begins with thinking soberly about ourselves. God has given each one of us one or more gifts that can be used in service to Him. These gifts are not the result of our praying or asking for them. Instead, God simply gives everyone gifts to strengthen the church. The parallel between the human body and the church; the body of Christ, is also found in 1 Corinthians 12. This is a picture of both unity and diversity in the church, the body of Christ.
The Greek word “charismata” refers to God given abilities that should be used to build up other members in the church. Although these gifts are irrevocable and do not change, they are to be pursued and developed. And we are called to use those gifts to the best of our abilities, not for our glory but for the Lords, whatever that might look like. The gifts Paul mentions here are prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, and leading. Paul also addressed love and it’s manifestation. We are called to love those both inside the church and those outside of the church. There are at least four greek words for love, not all of which are used in the New Testament. The highest form of love is agape love. This is self sacrificial love and it involves seeking the best for another besides ourselves. There is also philos love which is often called brotherly love. There is family love or affectionate love, and finally Eros love which is physical love. This does not appear in the New Testament. The greatest proof of the truth of the gospel message and of the reality of Jesus’ love is the love believers show to each other. Jesus is the model for sacrificial love. Paul calls all of us to love one another with the love found in a healthy family. He calls us to be passionate about our faith and eager to fulfill our ministry to others within the church. Christians should not offer their service half heartedly or in a lazy manner. Verse 12 holds three commands: rejoice in confident hope, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Being ready to help is of the same vein as hospitality which in Greek means love of strangers. There is a progression in this verse which leads us from serving our fellow believers to eventually having the opportunity to serve strangers. And it is more than just meeting needs. It is about entering into fellowship with people.
The exhortations in verse 14 are similar to two sayings of Jesus (Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27-28). It is possible that the commands in this verse were so well known that Paul didn’t need to specify the source. What we will see is that the teachings of Romans 12-13 have many parallels with the teachings of Jesus. We are called as believers to treat everyone the way we would like others to treat us, friends and foe alike. Paul also reminds us that we as believers are one body and when one part hurts everyone feels the pain. When one is joyful, everyone can rejoice. We cannot be indifferent. When Paul speaks of good he is referring to morally good. A Christian should not repay evil for evil. In other words we focus on what is good and not what is evil. Paul also recognizes that our efforts to live at peace with others will sometimes be frustrated by our own moral constraints or by other peoples unwillingness to be reconciled to us. A simple act of Christian kindness can often bring a hostile person to repentance before God and restore fellowship between people.
The basic command of 13:1-7 is to submit to governing authorities. In God’s ordering of the world, we answer to those in position of authority. Our submission to them will usually take the form of obedience. But God stands over all governments, so our submission to governing authorities must always be in submission to God. Paul is writing to Romans who are living under Nero’s madness but the Lord is still ruler over Nero and they were to submit because that authority was ordained by God Himself. These authorities do not strike fear in those who are doing right. Paul presented a positive picture of the governing authorities, describing them in terms of what God has appointed them to do. He does not touch on situations where leaders punish those who do good and reward those who do evil. Paul speaks of the appropriate response to governing authorities who live according to their calling. Servants are typically referring to Christians who serve God in various capacities. But it is also used to refer to a Greek civic official. Whether they know it or not, governing authorities are serving God when they administer justice. Paul’s reference to the sword is that the sword was the symbol of Roman authority. Usually the sword was an instrument of death. Governments have the right to impose capital punishment in certain circumstances, as well as to wage war. Believers obey governments because it is their civic duty and their spiritual duty before God. Paul also addresses paying taxes. At the time he was writing there were tax revolts in Rome and many of the Christians were participating. Again, when Paul wrote about something it meant that he was addressing something that was already happening. Christians are to give to everyone what they owe them. This owe no one anything refers mostly to respect and honor. Christians always owe love to their neighbors. Love is a debt that is never paid in full. We are reminded that debts are not sinful but when they are incurred they should be promptly paid back so the believer is free to serve in love. This teaching closely follows Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:34-40. Paul pictures believers as asleep or inactive but salvation is coming. This is the final victory over sin and death. When Paul speaks of night he means the present age where the prince of darkness reigns, while day is the beginning of a new life with Christ in His glorious reign. Because believers belong to the day (or light) we are called to be living out these values, avoiding the dark deeds that are typical of nighttime.
With chapter 14 Paul moved on to a specific issue that was causing conflict in the church at Rome. The issue was a dispute between people who were weak in their faith and those who were strong regarding practices. Throughout this chapter Paul instructs believers to be tolerant towards others and their practices. He is convinced that people on both sides of the issue are genuine believers, and he doesn’t think the issues they are fighting over are essential to the faith. Being weak in the faith means having scruples against doing certain things that Christian liberty would allow. In Rome most of the weak in faith were Jewish Christians whose consciences did not give them liberty from certain requirements of Jewish law. It seems that believed they should eat only vegetables, like Daniel in Babylon. Many Jews did this in pagan cultures because they could never be sure where meat had been slaughtered, for what purpose, and by whom. These people were looked down on by those who were strong and prided themselves in their enlightened freedom in Christ. And the weak looked down on these folks because of their laxness. They are all genuine believers, welcomed by God into His family so they have no right or place to treat each other as if they didn’t belong. The whole issue of some days being more important than others most likely referred to Jewish festival days and the sabbath. But with Christ’s provision of salvation, observation of the sabbath in its original form is not required of Christians. Paul reminds us that as believers we belong to the Lord. We live and die in relation to Him. Because of that, we should aim to please Him because ultimately it is God, and not other Christians who will judge all of us. Only sovereign God has the right to stand in judgement. One day everyone will submit to God’s authority.
Verse 13 acts as bridge here. Let’s stop condemning each other summarizes 14:1-12 while the concern about causing another believer to stumble and fall becomes the major emphasis of 14:14-23. Originally this meant literal objects that could trip people as they walked, or it was a trap into which a person might fall. But here in the New Testament it is used metaphorically about behavior that might bring spiritual harm to another person. Much of this discussion centers around food; specifically that which is considered clean or unclean by the Jewish Christians. They were still concerned about ritual purity laws. The truth that no food is wrong to eat was not easy for pious Jews to accept because they had been raised to honor God by avoiding certain foods. Paul urged those who are strong in faith not to force others to violate their consciences. And by insisting on their freedom to eat whatever they wanted, strong Christians might cause sensitive Jewish Christians for whom Christ died to turn away from the faith.
When Paul references the work of God he is referring to both the spiritual life of other Christians and to the Christian community itself. The strong with their dogged insistence on doing whatever they want create division and disrupt God’s intention to build a healthy and united community of believers. The Jews also sometimes abstained from wine to avoid the appearance of ritual contamination because wine was also used in pagan religious celebrations. Paul didn’t contest the freedom of the strong believers, but he instructed them to limit the expression of their freedom out of love for fellow believers so that the whole Christian community could be built up. Finally, Paul tells us that if we do anything that we believe is not right we are sinning. God’s Word defines sin for us but sin also involves violating our conscience. The weak Christians in Rome did not yet believe in their own hearts that they could eat meat, drink wine, or ignore Jewish holidays. Their consciences were still weak. Therefore they should not violate their consciences on these matters. Nor should the strong, by the power of their example or by their scorn force weak Christians to do so. Paul aligns himself with the strong but cautions that not all of the Jewish Christians were weak and not all of the Gentile Christians were strong. But Paul didn’t want the strong to simply put up with the weak. They and we are encouraged to help the weak to become strong. Love for others should govern the conduct of people who are strong in the faith. Then Paul points to Psalm 69:9 which evokes just a small portion of Jesus’ suffering. Things like this were written in the scriptures long ago to teach us, especially in regards to God’s plan of salvation.
We are called to accept each other and that means accepting other believers with all of their flaws and sins, into our fellowship and treat them as family, just as Christ has accepted us with all of our flaws and sins into his fellowship and family. It was through Christ that God made it possible for Jews and Gentiles to join together to give glory to God in the new covenant people of God. Verses 9-12 are a series of Old Testament quotes, all of which emphasize God’s promise that Gentiles would join with Jews in praising God. From 15:14 through the end of Romans we see common elements of New Testament letters: a discussion of travel plans, requests for prayer, references to ministry associates, greetings, and a doxology. Only the warning about false teachers is a non standard feature. Paul praised the Roman Christians as he did at the beginning of his letter, demonstrating a gracious manner toward a church he had neither founded or visited. He emphasized that his role as apostle and teacher was because God had chosen him to lead in the formation of the Christian church. His ministry had a priestly nature but he also stressed the Gentile flavor of the church. Paul was sure the work of evangelism was not done in the region but he also knew enough churches had been planted in major population centers that those churches could carry on the work by themselves. Paul knew his work in that region was done. He also wanted to go to Spain. That was his final target in fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 66:19-20. Spain was so far away from Paul’s previous sending church, Antioch in Syria, that he hoped the church in Rome could serve as the logistical base for this future evangelistic effort. But first, he needed to go to Jerusalem to take the offering from the Gentiles churches, to the poor in Jerusalem. And he reminded the church that the Gentile Christians owed their spiritual existence to God’s work among the Israelites. Paul asked for prayers from those in Jerusalem who were disobedient to the Lord, but God preserved Paul’s life and used the circumstances to take him precisely where he wanted to go…Rome.
Some final comments on chapter 16. Paul commended and greeted 27 Roman Christians, ten of whom were women. Cenchrea was located eight miles from Corinth and functioned as it’s port. Paul could have been writing his letter from there on a winter-long stop near the end of his third missionary journey. Phoebe appears to have been a wealthy patron who used her wealth and influence to help people and causes. Priscilla and Aquila were Paul’s good friends. They became his co-workers for an extended time in Corinth and Ephesus. These two had a house church that met in their home in Rome. The two who were in prison with Paul, Andronicus and Junia, had been Christians longer than Paul. No one knows where or when they were in prison together. Amplias, Urbanus, and Stachys were common slave names and Aristobulus was probably the same man as the brother of Herod Agrippa I. He was a member of the Roman aristocracy. Tryphena and Tryphosa are generally considered sisters and Rufus could well be the one mentioned as the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross. There was one more warning, this one against false teachers. These people usually caused division . Sometimes they came from without the church and sometimes from within. In verse 20 Paul alludes to the curse that God pronounced upon the serpent after he had deceived Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Christ , the offspring of Eve, will crush the evil one under the feet of the church. Timothy was one of Paul’s closest ministry associates. Tertius was the scribe who wrote the letter as Paul dictated. Most ancient letter writers employed such a scribe.
The doxology makes a very appropriate conclusion to this letter with Paul touching on many of the same themes he presented at the beginning of the letter. At the beginning Paul expressed a desire to visit to the church in Rome so he could impart some spiritual gift to them so they would be established. Now he praises God who is able to do it. God used the gospel, which is the preaching of Jesus Christ, to establish the Roman believers. The mystery Paul spoke of is that the church will consist of both Jews and a Gentiles, united in one body of Jesus Christ.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W