Neighbor Love – Romans 15
Read the Passage: Romans 15
Paul’s Exhortation (15:1–13)
Earlier, in Romans 14 Paul addressed the issue of Christian liberty, as he primarily wrote to those known as stronger brothers—that is, believers with a mature faith, full knowledge of the Bible, and a developed Christian conscience—and encouraged these mature brethren to “not put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our [weaker] brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13). Now, in Romans 15:1–13, Paul concludes his earlier discussion as he exhorts his readers, writing, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1). As was noted earlier, few believers think that they are a weaker brother. Yet, Christians can discern their fraternal status by their willingness (or their lack thereof) to sacrifice their Christian liberty for the sake of not offending another brother. An unwillingness to do so is a sure sign that one is, in fact, a weaker brother.
Regarding non-essential morally indifferent practices, in Rom. 15:2 Paul gives a reason why stronger brothers are to accommodate weaker brothers—that is, because such forbearance will result in edification. Said differently, displaying long-suffering toward immature weaker brothers will help turn them into mature stronger brothers. In Rom. 15:3 Paul gives another reason why stronger brothers must bear with the scruples of the weak—namely, because of the model set forth by Christ. Note Paul will return to Jesus’ example in Rom. 15:7f; however, the idea Paul appeals to here is forthright. Simply put, Jesus, who is the ultimate stronger brother, set aside His divine liberty in heaven and took on flesh to redeem weaker brothers in the world (cf. Phil. 2:5–8). In reference to this act Paul cites Ps. 69:9, as he notes in regard to Jesus, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me.”
Rom. 15:4 is an important verse that gives New Testament believers a proper perspective on the Old Testament. This verse reads, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” The Old Testament is not a dry history book about Israel but is the record of God and His dealings with His people. Since Christians are God’s people, the Old Testament is their family history. As such, it was written for their benefit and reading it will give believers patience, comfort, and hope. Note Paul’s later teaching at 1 Cor. 10:11, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” By reading Scripture, then, which births faith (cf. Rom. 10:17), believers’ character is conformed to God’s character, and God is glorified.
Paul’s Ministry (15:14–21)
Although the Roman church was likely made up of mostly Gentiles, it began with Jews or Jewish proselytes who had been present on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:10). Therefore, Paul demonstrated in Rom. 15:7–13 that it was always God’s plan to save Gentiles. In Rom. 15:14–16 Paul explained to his readers a that main reason for his boldness in writing is that he was called by God to be a minister to the Gentiles. Given Paul’s Jewish heritage and training (cf. 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:4–6), this may seem both surprising and inefficient; yet, God’s pattern throughout history is one of choosing the weak things of the world to confound the wise (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27). Because of his own weaknesses Paul dared not boast of his ministry, but he freely boasted of what Christ did in him. Paul knew that his calling was to preach the gospel to the lost, which he understood to be a fulfillment of Isa. 52:15.
Paul’s Travels (15:22–33)
In Rom. 15:22–33 Paul disclosed his desire to visit the church in Rome (cf. Rom. 1:10), to fellowship with them for a while, and to eventually travel to Spain. Before he engaged upon this trip, Paul needed to travel to Jerusalem in order to deliver an offering to the afflicted and struggling Jerusalem church. Although Paul did not know all of the details when he wrote, Paul would eventually visit Rome as a prisoner, after his arrest in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21–28). Scripture does not record if Paul ever traveled to Spain, but church tradition reports that Paul did visit Spain after being released from his first Roman imprisonment. At Rom. 15:27 Paul gives an important biblical principle—namely, that those who receive spiritual support are to materially support those who minister to them. While Paul did not partake of this benefit, he does reiterate this teaching elsewhere in his writings (cf. 1 Cor. 9:11; 1 Tim. 5:17).
- How important is the idea of neighbor love (cf. Matt. 22:39)? Why is it sometimes difficult to love our neighbors, even if they are believers?
- Have you ever had to sacrifice your own Christian liberty for the sake of a weaker brother? If so, what was the result of this sacrifice?
- In doing Bible study, how often should believers study the Old Testament, if at all? How should New Testament Christians view the Old Testament?
- Are you content to diligently serve God, striving to “lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Tim. 2:2); or, do you desire public praise and notoriety?
- Do Christians have a moral duty to financially support those who minister to them spiritually (cf. 1 Cor. 9:11; 1 Tim. 5:17)?