"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
The epistle for general distribution probably ended with the blessing in 15:13. In that case 15:14-33 looks like a postscript addressed to the Roman Christians, and 16:1-27 might be a postscript addressed to another church. The main body of the letter therefore ends with an appeal for unity, and in particular the need for Jewish Christians and those from other nations to welcome one another. From a previous letter we know that the welcoming was to "the Lord's supper" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-26). This seems to have been a weekly gathering on Sunday (as in Troas, Acts 20:7). John's Gospel suggests that Jesus chose the first day of the week to eat with his disciples after the resurrection (John 20:19, 26; perhaps 21:12; see Acts 10:41).
The strong were those who have the freedom to eat any kind of food (14:2), but they needed to find a way to build up those who were not yet ready for this kind of freedom. Here the five references to Gentiles (15:9-12) may be chosen for the Jewish Christians in Rome who were still finding it difficult to welcome non-Jews to their fellowship. In a previous letter to the Corinthians the divisiveness reflected loyalties to different teachers (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
15:3 Paul knows from his own experience that loving people of other nations is very costly. So he uses a quotation from Psalm 69:9 which illustrates the principle of substitution both in the ministry of Jesus and in ours as we follow him. Any kind of loving involves first putting oneself in the place of the other, seeking to please the other, and then accepting the cost of that identification. This is still a necessary part of welcoming people of other races to our fellowship.
15:4 The early Christians used the Old Testament books to encourage them. We have the additional example of Christ, and all the New Testament writings including this epistle to the Romans. They give us the hope we need to fuel our costly loving (see 5:2-5; 15:13).
15:5-7 This hope gives us the encouragement we need to live in harmony with others, and that will enable us to praise God who has made this kind of loving possible. The fact that Christ loves and welcomes people who are so different from one another should encourage us in the difficult task of welcoming others who are so very different from us.
15:8 Paul describes Christ as the servant of his own people (the circumcised) to "confirm the promises" given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that all nations would be blessed (see 9:4, 5). Isaiah's said the fulfillment would be through the Messiah: "My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations" (Isaiah 42:1 is quoted in Matthew 12:8; see also Isaiah 51:5; 52:13).
15:9-12 Paul uses three texts to illustrate his point about God's purposes for the nations. And the fourth (Isaiah 15:9) is designed to remind the readers that all God's purposes for the nations are accomplished through the Messiah from the line of Jesse's son David (see Romans 1:3).
In the Introduction we saw how the Epistle to the Romans pivots around the sixteen references to the power of the Spirit in Romans 8. That suggested that this was "the power of God for salvation" that Paul preached as good news for both Jews and other nations (1:16). This blessing at the end of the main argument of the epistle exactly summarizes the model we have been using to clarify and unify Paul's thinking throughout the commentary.
We have seen how Paul takes the Old Testament hope in the power of God (Abraham in Romans 4), focuses it like the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass on the Son of God. He lived, died, and was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; see also Luke 1:35; Hebrews 9:14). And a result of his death and resurrection, the power of the Spirit has been poured out for all nations to live by the same power. As we experience the fruit, gifts, inspiration , supernatural love, and empowering of that Spirit in our lives we abound in hope.
15:13 Faith is not just believing some things, or making a decision, but a direction of faith looking to the power of God. This gives us the joy and peace of a certain hope for the future, but it also empowers us now for living our lives by the Spirit in costly sacrificial loving.
It seems that this section is Paul's postscript with the letter to the Christian church in Rome. He tells them of his apostolic work among the non-Jewish peoples along his 1500 miles route from Jerusalem to Illyricum (present day Croatia). He also expresses his hope to visit them in Rome, and be sent on by them to Spain. But his present task is to complete the collection for the Christians who are now destitute in the Jerusalem area.
15:14-15 Paul is sure that the Roman Christians are able to teach others by the Spirit (see John 14:26; 16:13; Hebrews 5:12). But he wanted to remind them "on some points" which they might forget. In the Introduction we guessed that the reminder was to prevent the disaster that had occurred among the Galatians who reverted from faith in the power of the Spirit to an attempt to perfect themselves by their own fleshy efforts. One result of turning back to legalism would be to make the church into a Jewish sect. That would exclude people of other nations unless they were circumcised, and obeyed the Mosaic law including abstaining from the usual foods eaten among Mediterranean people. If our guess is correct, then Paul's emphasis on both Jews and other nations living by the power of the Spirit was to encourage them to welcome one another with all their cultural differences to the same Lord's table.
15:16 Paul views his ministry as priestly service to help the Gentiles offer themselves for the Holy Spirit to sanctify them. In the ancient world priests served in a temple, and Paul wants a temple of the Spirit in each place to serve the people in that area (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21).
15:17-19 In speaking of what Christ has done through him Paul is very conscious that all his work has been through "the power of the Spirit of God" (see 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
In Paul's case this totally supernatural empowering resulted in fully proclaiming the good news (fully evangelizing) the whole area from Jerusalem to present day Croatia. This was done by planting churches in Syrian Antioch, Tarsus, Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and no doubt other smaller cities.
15:20-24 Paul's ambition was to proclaim the good news in areas where no previous church had been established. An exception was the church in Rome, which was already established, either by believers who returned from the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), or by the visits of Peter or other apostles.
15:24-27 Paul's immediate agenda was to complete the collection of funds for Christians in the area of Jerusalem who were in dire need (see 2 Corinthians 8:10-9:5).
15:28-29 Having completed his aid mission, Paul looks forward to visiting the Christians in Rome, after which he hopes to go on into Spain. He expects to come "in the fullness of the blessing of Christ," which according to our model means he is confident of being mightily empowered by the Spirit for this visit.
15:30-32 Finally he asks the Roman Christians to pray for him. A later epistle refers to "your love in the Spirit" (Colossians 1:8), which could refer to love as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Paul could also be thinking of the Spirit praying within us prayers that express the love of God. (8:26). The main opponents are "the unbelievers in Judea," who rejected the Messiah and Paul's ministry of the Spirit among the Gentiles (Acts 9:29).
He also wants them to pray that his collection for the Christians in Jerusalem would be accepted in the spirit in which it was lovingly given. As we know from modern mission history, those who receive aid can feel demeaned and come to resent those who give it. A third item for prayer is that Paul himself might come to them with the joy he has prayed for them (14:17; 15:13). Perhaps he is hoping to be given joy and refreshment by their oneness in the Spirit (as in Philippians 2:2).