Romans 15:4-13


In chapter 14 Paul gave instructions as to how Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, were to deal with each other in the area of adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden. A key verse in the chapter is found in verse 15: "By what you eat don't ruin him for whom Christ died." There are weak Christians in the Church, people who have erroneous opinions about doctrine and practice. The strong must bear with these weak Christians.

Chapter 15 continues the theme of the weak and strong but the application is now wider than to adiaphora. Read verses 1-3. The strong are those who are well-grounded in Scripture and also in practice. The weak are not so well-grounded. Paradoxically, the weak often consider themselves stronger than those who are actually strong. And the truly strong, who trust in the Lord and His Word, see their own weaknesses much more readily than do the weak.

This situation is often attended by difficulties, disappointments, and misunderstandings. It is sometimes quite difficult for Christians to live with Christians. That is what our text is talking about.

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

"For" points us back to verse 3, where we have the words of Christ in prophecy, Psalm 69:9. Christ did not please Himself. Nor should the Christian. That is impossible for mere human beings who are sinful. Left to myself I please only myself. Left to myself I do not please and edify my fellow Christian. I cannot do it. And that's why we have verse 4. It speaks of the written Word of the Old Testament.

Why did God have the Scriptures recorded? For our learning. That learning is carefully spelled out. The verse shows the purpose for which the Scriptures were recorded. The clause implies that we are in great need of endurance and consolation. Why are we in need of these two items? Because, like Christ Himself, we encounter so very much grief, even among fellow Christians.

Arndt paraphrases this verse thus: "The Old Testament was written for our instruction that we might learn patience, be given comfort, and retain our blessed hope."

On "patience" see Luke 21:19, and verses 16-18 of this chapter. The Christian is enabled to live through and survive betrayal and hatred. Why? Because the Scriptures give the Christian consolation. Think of Psalm 23: Isaiah 1:18; 43:1-2; 53:1-12 and many, many other passages.

The last part of the verse means "so that we might continue to have hope." The Scriptures console us, help us to endure and keep our grip on our eternal hope in Christ. Hope is the child of faith. Luther refers here to Romans 8:24 and then says:

Hope therefore removes all material things. Hence we need patience. And in place of material things God gives us the Word of comfort by which we are sustained so that we do not lack in patience. Look at Luke 14:33; 1 Corinthians 7:31.

Romans 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,

Notice that the same qualities are attributed to God as to Scripture, verse 4. It is God who makes the Scriptures effective. In verse 4 the two phrases means "equipped with." In this verse the same to nouns inform us as to what kind of God we are dealing with, how He is minded toward us. The nouns have the articles in both verses 4 and 5 because they are abstract. In Christ, God gives us endurance and consolation. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, a wonderful passage.

"Endurance" is the consolation of the Gospel. "Encouragement" is what the Gospel causes us to do, endure, endure under great difficulties. "May the God . . . give you" is an optative wish. Paul is praying that God may give to you that you are like-minded among yourselves in keeping with Christ Jesus. Why does Paul pray thus? Because like the Prophets, Christ, and Paul, we must constantly do battle with errors in doctrine and practice. And, when we do so, very often we are not appreciated but, like Christ, are reviled. No wonder Paul prays that God gives us consolation and endurance so that we are like-minded.

What is the standard of like-mindedness? Christ. He prayed that we do one. John 17:11. He died for us and gathered us so that there be one flock. John 10:16. This phrase means far more than Christ as mere example.

Romans 15:6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This verse is a purpose clause modifying the verbal noun "unity." "One heart", found only here in Paul, and eleven times in Luke, is an adverb which denotes unity in faith. "One mouth" denotes the resultant unity in confession. "Glorify" means "to cause a good opinion about someone." Our unity in faith and confession cause people to have a good opinion about God.

God is Jesus' God according to Jesus' human nature and Jesus' Father according to His divine nature. The first began when Jesus became incarnate. The second is from eternity. On this title look at 2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3.

Bengel: Christ has a double relationship to God and the Father, above us; we also have a double relationship, through Christ, John 20:17.

Before we leave this section, we note that the Formula of Concord quotes Romans 15:4 twice with reference to the article of election. See Tappert 618.12 and 632.92.

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

The previous section ended with a prayer, verses 5-6. Likewise this section will end with a prayer, verse 13. The first prayer is that God would give them consolation and endurance so that they could glorify God by their harmony. The second prayer asks that the God of hope would confirm them in their hope.

Back to verse 7: The circle has widened. In chapter 14 we were dealing with adiaphora. In 15:1-6 apparently the discussion about the weak and the strong involves more than adiaphora. And in verses 7-13 surely the application is wider. It was not easy for Jewish and Gentile Christians to accept each other. Compare the Synod at Acts 15.

"In order" points back to verse 6. It practically means "in order that God might be praised." Note the tense of the verb, in the middle voice, you yourselves should receive just as Christ Himself received. How did Christ Himself receive you? By suffering and dying. And that death glorified God. Read John 17:1-15. And that death cost Jesus dearly. But the cross, more than any other symbol, glorifies God. Paul is implying that when you yourselves truly receive each other (Christians), it may cause suffering in the sense that we have to give up our own prejudices.

Romans 15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs

There is a sense in which verses 8-12 explain the "in order to bring praise to God" at the end of verse 7 and the example of Christ in the same verse. "For I tell you" means "by way of explanation I'm saying." Christ is the great example of people receiving each other in the church. He received both Jews and Gentiles. That reception clothes God in splendor.

Christ has not ceased to be the servant of the Jews. He has not broken His covenant with them. God is faithful to His promises. Christ made God's promises to the patriarchs come true.

Romans 15:9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name."

There might be two translations for this passage. "And (by way of explanation I'm saying that) the Gentiles praise God for His mercy." Or: "And also to enable the Gentiles to praise God for his mercy." In any case, the point is clear: Christ truly received both Jew and Gentile to Himself, the former to keep His covenant and promise, the latter simply because He had mercy on them.

Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:24, and Christ dealt mainly with Jews. The apostles continued this policy but also turned to the Gentiles according to Christ's own directive in Acts 1:8.

Lenski: Already the Old Testament saw Jews and Gentiles joining in praise to the Lord. This JOINT PRAISE is the subject of the quotations, coming from one heart and one mouth, one unanimous, harmonious chorus. These passages are carefully selected and built up as a whole: 1) David brings Jehovah to the Gentiles; 2) They are told to praise God with his people, 10; 3) All nations and peoples, Jews and Gentiles, are to join together in praise of their own accord, 11; 4) And the cause of all this praise is 'the shoot of Jesse' the Jews' own, yet the Gentiles' ruler and hope, 12.

Note that in the first (Psalm 18:49) and the fourth (Isaiah 11:1,10) verses 9 and 12, Christ is very prominent. In the first, Christ is praising God among the Gentiles. In the fourth, Christ is described as the King of the Gentiles, the One in whom the Gentiles hope. In the second, Deuteronomy 32:43, and the third, Psalm 117:1, verses 10 and 11, both Gentiles and Jews, in prophecy, are being told to rejoice together.

The congregation in Rome was made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians. When this Epistle was first read to them, they must have sensed the joint worship of Jews and Gentiles in the first three prophecies and that Christ was in the midst of this joint worship. The remarkable thing about verse 9 is the words "among the Gentiles." According to what is said in verse 8, one would have expected a prophecy in which the covenant people are prominent.

Romans 15:10 Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."

The emphatic word here is "with." The Gentiles, in prophecy, are told to rejoice right along with God's people. Verse 11 explains itself and hardly needs further comment.

Romans 15:11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples."

Romans 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him."

"Root of Jesse" and "one who will rule" are the same person, Christ, from two different standpoints, that of the Jew and that of the Gentile.

Luther: Christ according to the flesh has His root in David and the patriarchs, from whom He has arise, but according to the Spirit He Himself is the root from which has arise and universal church.

Isaiah 11:20 reads: "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign (standard, flag, banner) of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his rest shall be glorious." Paul is here quoting the LXX, the Greek edition of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Jesse was the father of David. The thought is a very humbling one. The royal house of David had been cut down. Its glory had vanished. Jesus was a small root, insignificant compared to the great glory of the Davidic kingdom. But the converted Gentiles were no ashamed to be associated with this Jesus. He arose from Jesse to be their Ruler, their glorious King.

The last line of verse 12 implies the faith of the converted Gentiles: "On Him they rest their hopes," their hopes of forgiveness and everlasting life. Read Hebrews 6:13-20. Our hope in Christ is like an anchor.

Arndt: The words in verse 12 indicate that the root of Jesse is not intended merely for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Compare verses 5 and 13. How can the strong bear the weaknesses of the weak? How can the strong cease to please themselves by bearing the weaknesses of the weak? Paul said: "Look to the Old Testament Scriptures which will give you the consolation and endurance and will cause you to cling to your eternal hope.

And then in verse 5 he speaks of the God who is behind this strength which the Scriptures give. Verse 5 is the source. Verse 6 gives the purpose.

Christians grieve over their lack of bearing the weaknesses of the weak, and the preacher should not be surprised to find this in his congregation. The preacher himself is probably grieving as he is reading this. He thinks of the many times when he has NOT borne the weaknesses of the weak as he should have. But that is just why we have this text.

The Scriptures give us consolation and endurance. They offer us forgiveness of sins, hope, everlasting life.

And now we come to the second prayer in verse 13 which follows the section which told us to receive each other exactly as Christ received all of us (both Jew and Gentile) to the glory of God. In what sense is God the God of hope? He gives hope in Christ Jesus. Read Hebrews 6:13-20 again.

"May He fill you." With what? "All joy and all peace." That's pretty strong language. When you have the Gospel you have all joy and all peace, though you may not feel it as much as you'd like.

"By believing" which here means "as a constant gift which He is giving you." He fills you by faith and the result is that "you abound in hope," the sure conviction that you are safe in His arms and on the way to everlasting life.

God wants to be praised by the united belief and confession of converted Jew and Gentile. But God gives them the resources. That's what this verse is talking about.

Franzmann: They can meet the severest demands made on their love with kindly evenness of mind.
Arndt: When the power of the Holy Spirit is mentioned Paul of course does not refer to an irresistible power but to a power working through the means of grace.
Kretzmann: This idea, of course, cannot be reached by their own reason and strength; it necessitates the continual assistance of the Holy Spirit.

True. It is hoped that the hearers, sitting before the preacher, are like a bunch of baby birds with their mouths wide open. They so much need the Gospel which offers them peace, joy, and hope.

Bengel: 'The God of Hope' a name glorious to God, before unknown to the Gentiles. For Hope had been a false divinity, whose temple at Rome, Livy says was struck by lightning, and was consumed.
Luther: What a wonderful title! But this is the sign by which the apostle distinguishes between false gods and the true God. For false gods are demons, gods of material things, because they possess those people who in their reliance on material things do not know how to hope. For he who relies on the true God, when all material things have been taken away, lives by pure hope alone.

Judas abandoned the true God and died in hopeless despair. Peter repented and trusted in the true God of hope. On the whole text read Ephesians 2:11-22.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp.5-8. Used with permission.

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