Our comments on the epistle to the Romans have brought us to chapter 15. Paul, the apostle, now concludes this important section on mutual Christian love and consideration with another linking reference to the theme of God’s purposes towards both Jews and Gentiles. Christ, he says, ‘has become a servant of the Jews … so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy.’ Let us remember he was writing to a ‘mixed’ church, Jews and Gentiles, living and serving together in a spiritual fellowship. He quotes from Samuel, Psalms, and Isaiah again, ‘”Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles”, and “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” Then, quoting Isaiah about ‘the Root of Jesse’ in whom the Gentiles will hope, Paul rounds off this section of writing with the precious doxology, ‘May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’

From verse 14 to 33 of Romans 15 Paul says something about himself, his standing among the churches of God, and his unfulfilled ambitions in service for his Lord. His opening gambit here is both diplomatic and sincere. ‘I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.’ He accepts that he has written to them in a forthright way being, as he says, ‘a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles … so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, God had used him mightily ‘by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.’ In ministering from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum (which interestingly was in the area of Albania and former Yugoslavia) his gospel had been outreaching, deliberately ‘where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation’.

One result had been that he was hindered from visiting Rome. Now he hoped soon to satisfy his longing of many years standing to see them. But not just to meet them and enjoy their fellowship; no, he had even more in view. His visit to Rome was also to be ‘when I go to Spain’. Tireless, and with ever extending horizons for Christ, this faithful, dedicated man, though no longer young, had undimmed vision. There is no evidence that Paul ever got to Spain, but we feel shamed by his thrusting spiritual purpose. First, he is on his way to Jerusalem to bring the needy saints there the love-gift of the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. ‘For,’ he says, ‘if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings’. When, as he devoutly hoped, he did reach Rome, he would come ‘in all the full measure of the blessing of Christ’.

But this devoted servant of Christ was nothing if not a realist. ‘Join me’, he pleads with the Roman disciples, ‘in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed’. Some think Paul was speaking of Christians in Judea who were not showing due obedience to the Word of God through the apostles. But, whatever the precise nature of the opposition, Paul took it seriously and knew the power of prayer, his and theirs, in dealing with it. He could also see the possibility of being misunderstood by the Jerusalem disciples. Thankfully, the indications in the Acts of the Apostles are that this latter danger was avoided. Paul could well do without any such misunderstanding, considering the rough time he expected from the religious Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and which he duly received.

Romans chapter 15 concludes with the words, ‘The God of peace be with you all. Amen’. A short, succinct, but very precious greeting. Was this, some have asked, really the conclusion of this monumental treatise by Paul? Does chapter 16 of Romans really ‘belong’ as part of the epistle? In our conclusion we will consider this as we look at the apostle’s remarkable series of greetings and winding up exhortations, and his final ascription of praise and adoration to the eternal God.