Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 (52) Vindication for Writing

Romans 15:17–21


Scripture

17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.


Commentary


17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.

The verse may be restated this way; “Bearing in mind that I have received this office from God, and that I have been appointed a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles, I have confidence and I rejoice in Jesus Christ.” As, in the previous verses, Paul had asserted his divine appointment as an apostle, he shows, in this and the following verses, that the assertion was well founded, as God had crowned his labors with success, and sealed his ministry with signs and wonders. He, therefore, was entitled, as a minister of God, to both encourage and reprimand his brethren with the boldness and authority which he had used in this epistle.

I have therefore whereof I may glory through ("in") Jesus Christ

Here the apostle gives some clarification regarding himself and His ministry. Having mentioned his ministry and apostleship, he goes on further to elaborate on the effectiveness of his office, and to give glory of God for the great success of his ministry and for the wonderful things that God had done through him to encourage the Christian church at Rome; that they were not alone in professing Christianity, although, when compared with the huge number of their idolatrous neighbors, they were just a little flock, and yet, up and down the country, there were many that were their companions in the kingdom  of Jesus Christ.

If Paul engages in boasting, it is not in himself that he glories, but in Christ Jesus. And it is not in his accomplishments but in what God has done through him as a minister to the Gentiles. A humble servant of Christ does not engage in unseemly boasting, but rather he is conscious of the fact that God is using him to accomplish His purposes. Any feeling of pride is tempered by the realization that he is nothing in himself, that he has nothing except what he has received, and that he can do nothing for Christ except by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here we have two more reasons which justify Paul’s pride: (1) it is “in Christ Jesus” and not in himself (2) it is “in things pertaining to God;” things that do not contribute to his own advantage and interests, but instead they add to the effectiveness of the gospel, which he has just described as an offering to God.

Glory. As used here it denotes “the act of boasting.”

Through Jesus Christ. Refers to the assistance of Jesus Christ; the apostle attributes his success among the Gentiles to the aid which Jesus Christ had given him.

in those things which pertain to God.

The things of God are the things of religion; the preaching and success of the gospel, the things which God has decreed, and which pertain to his honour and glory. They were not things which pertained to Paul, but to God; not fashioned by Paul, but by Jesus Christ; however, he could rejoice because he had been the means of dispersing those blessings. The success of a minister is not intended for his own praises, but for the honour of God, and his success does not come by way of his skill or power, but by the aid of Jesus Christ; yet he may rejoice that through him such blessings are conferred on men.

18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,

Paul does not presume to speak of what Christ had done through the ministry of others. He confines himself to the way the Lord had used him to win the Gentiles to obedience, both by what he said and by what he did—that is, by the message he preached and by the miracles he performed.

For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me,

It is evident from verse 20 that he had in mind the fact that others were engaged in gospel work besides him.

Paul wanted them to rejoice with him over the extent and effectiveness of his ministry, of which he speaks not only with the greatest regard possible for the power of Christ, and the powerful working of the Spirit in the brethren; but with an affirmation of the truth of what he said: “I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me.” He would not boast of things that were accomplished by others or take the praise that belonged to another man’s work, as he might have done when he was writing to distant strangers, who perhaps could not contradict him; but (he says) I do not dare to do it: a faithful man would not dare to lie, no matter how great, or how terrifying, the temptation might be, yet he dares to be true regardless of how terrified he might be at the time.

For I will not dare to speak. I should be restrained; I should be afraid to speak, if things did not happen as I have stated. I should be afraid to make any claims that are not strictly in accordance with the truth.

Which Christ hath not wrought by me. I confine myself strictly to what I have done. I do not lay claim to what Christ has done through others. I do not exaggerate my own success, or take credit for what others have accomplished. Notice how Paul ascribes all of his success to the activity of the living Redeemer, working in and through him.

to make the Gentiles obedient,

To make the Gentiles obedient to the gospel, that is, to bring them to obey God by means of the gospel. The obedience of which Paul speaks is the sincere obedience of the heart and life. The same form of this expression occurs in Romans 1:5; “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.” Paul regards his calling as a heavenly gift. The purpose of his apostleship is “for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.” Paul wants to bring the nations of the world, both Jew and Gentile, into obedience to the faith (i.e., the body of doctrine which he teaches).Paul had previously stated that the conversion of the Gentiles was Christ’s work, not his; and therefore Paul could glory in it without self-exaltation. The apostle represents himself as merely an instrument in the hands of Christ for the conversion of men; he credits the Redeemer with the real effectiveness. This passage, therefore, reveals evidence that Paul regarded Christ as still exercising control over the souls of men, and making the labors of his faithful ministers effective. The sacred writers never attribute such power to any being but God.

by word and deed,

These words may refer to the doctrines which he taught, his preaching, and to the miracles which he accomplished among them. So they became obedient to the doctrines, on the evidence of the miracles with which they were accompanied.

He said that he was only an instrument in the hands of Christ; that He was the cause of the Gospel having an effect on men that resulted in their conversion to the faith. It was not only by the truth as presented in the word, but also by the persuasive inward operation of His power, that Christ converted men. The deeds, that is, the lives of Christian ministers are often as successful in bringing men to Christ as their public ministry.

In the next verse, the apostle explains why his preaching and working have been so effective.

19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

The Lord validated the apostle’s message by miracles that taught spiritual lessons and that inspired amazement, and by various demonstrations of the Spirit’s power. The result was that he had fully preached the gospel, beginning at Jerusalem and extending in a circle to Illyricum (north of Macedonia, on the Adriatic Sea). From Jerusalem ... to Illyricum describes the geographical extent of his ministry and not the chronological order.

Through mighty signs and wonders,

 “A sign,” is “a token or indication, whether given by man to man, 2 Thessalonians 3:7[1]; Matthew 26:48[2]; or selected by God to be observed by man, as circumcision was, Romans 4:11[3]; or whether given by God in natural phenomena, Luke 21:25[4]; or in the manner of human affairs, Matthew 16:3[5] ; or through His Son, John 2:11[6]; 20:30[7]; or His servants, Acts 5:12[8]; 7:36[9]; or whether given by Satan through his agents, Matthew 24:24[10]; 2 Thessalonians 2:9[11]; Revelation 16:14[12].”

A wonder is “something strange or exceptional, causing the beholder to marvel. ‘Sign’ expresses the purpose and appeals to the understanding; ‘wonder’ describes the effect upon the observer and appeals to the imagination.”

This more fully explains the preceding clause; “to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed.” Through the power of the Holy Ghost he was enabled to work signs and wonders among the Gentiles; so that they were fully convinced that both his doctrine and mission was Divine; and therefore they cheerfully received the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

The glorious miracles preformed by the apostles served to authenticate that they were from God and that they were who they said they were—actions speak louder than words.

by the power of the Spirit of God;

Paul’s purpose is to indicate that Gentiles as well as Jews will be included in the family of God. The goyim (Heb for Gentiles) will put their trust in the Root of Jesse (the Lord Jesus) the same as believing Jews will. Although there are many differences between these two groups of believers, nevertheless their common bond is faith in Christ. As a result, Paul’s prayer is, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13). Compare this verse with 1 Corinthians 2:4; “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:” and then compare what is said in these two verses with what is found in this clause and verse 18.

The Holy Spirit was the agent not only in the preaching but also in the signs and wonders. The effectiveness of gospel ministry depends, then, not upon the human power of eloquence, but upon the Lord, who brings about all His works by the Holy Spirit.
Here the term ‘Power’ declares the source to be supernatural;

so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Jerusalem was the center around which Paul could be found preaching the Gospel and teaching his brand of doctrine. He means to say, that throughout an extensive region, I have successfully preached the gospel. Jerusalem was not the place where Paul began to preach, (Galatians 1:17, 18[13] ) but it was the place where the gospel was first preached, and the apostles began to reckon their success from that point. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). God had given His seal of approval to Paul’s apostleship, by making him abundantly useful.

I have, fully preached, expresses no doubt, and shows that he was confident that he had preached the entire Gospel. He brought the Gospel to the Gentiles (i.e., the preaching of it) to accomplish God’s plan for it, see Colossians 1:25—“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God.” The apostle had preached in this wide circuit; starting churches, and advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom, and as He did it He gave such convincing evidence of divine cooperation that He left no grounds for doubt that he was a divinely appointed minister of Christ.

Round about unto Illyricum—Among ancient writers this place has gone by a variety of names, Illyria, Illyrica, Illyricum, Illyris, and Illyrium. It was a country in Europe, extending from the Adriatic gulf to Pannonia: it may have extended from the river Arsia to the river Drinius, hence including Liburnia on the west, and Dalmatia on the east. Its precise limits have not been determined by either ancient or modern geographers. It seems, according to one inscription that was discovered, to have been divided by Augustus into two provinces, the upper and lower. It now forms part of Croatia, Bosnia, Istria, and Slavonia. When the apostle says that he preached the Gospel from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum, he is speaking of his land journeys chiefly; and, by looking at a map showing his travels, you will see that from Jerusalem the apostle went round the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and that he passed through Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Pontus, Paphlagonia, Phrygia, Troas, Asia, Caria, Lycia, Ionia, Lydia, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia; besides the isles of Cyprus and Crete. And no doubt he visited many other places which are not mentioned in the New Testament.

Observe; although there were many triumphs already in the life of the apostle about which he may boast, Paul is careful to give the praise to the Lord Jesus. His only glory is through Jesus Christ. Through the grace of God Paul has preached the gospel of God with mighty signs and wonders in a wide radius from Jerusalem through Macedonia to the area round about Illyricum, the Roman province bordering the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. What God has chosen to do through Paul gives him justification for writing to a church he has never visited.

__________________verse 19 notes________________________

[1](2 Thessalonians 3:17) “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.”
[2](Matthew 26:48) “Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.”
[3](Romans 4:11) “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:”
[4](Luke 21:25) “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”
[5](Matthew 16:3) “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”
[6](John 2:11) “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”
[7](John 20:30) “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book”
[8](Acts 5:12) “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.”
]9](Acts 11:36) “He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years”
[10](Matthew 24:24) “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect”
[11](2 Thessalonians 3:9) “Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us”
[12](Revelation 16:14) “For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty”
[13](Galatians 1:17,18) “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” Paul avoided Jerusalem and emphasizes his independence of the other apostles.

20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:

In following this route, Paul’s aim was to preach the gospel in virgin territory. His audiences were composed primarily of Gentiles that practiced idolatry and witchcraft, and devil worship, and who had never heard of Christ before. Thus he was not building on anyone else’s foundation. (2 Corinthians 10:13-18)[14]  Paul made it his ministerial ambition to break up fallow ground with the gospel. He wanted to be a missionary as well as a theologian, scholar, and soul-winner. His intent was to lay a foundation where other men had not labored and for this the Lord drew him to various metropolitan centers such as Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth. Each time Paul encountered first-time hearers of the message he bore.

Paul’s example in pioneering in new areas does not necessarily bind other servants of the Lord to the same strategy. Some are called to move in and teach, for example, after new churches have been planted. Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, so he regarded it an honor to preach it, and especially to proclaim it among the heathen; not building on another man's foundation—not watering what another apostle had planted; but cheerfully exposing himself to all kinds of dangers and hardships, in order to start new Churches. This work was particularly adapted to the passion, zeal, energy, and bravery of such a man as Paul. Every man has his proper gift; and there are some particularly fitted to set up and establish churches; others to edify and comfort them. (See footnote #14). The apostle chose the higher honour, involving the most danger and responsibility; but still any office involved in building up the church is honourable.

21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.

Paul’s initial work among the Gentiles was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (52:15 [15]) that the Gentiles who had never previously been evangelized would see, and that those who had never previously heard the good news would understand and respond in true faith. This quotation, from Isaiah 52:15[15], confirms the statement with regard to the scope of the apostle’s ministry.

The apostle had great success in making the Gentiles obedient. The gospel was designed to cause people to be obedient; it is not only a truth to be believed, but a law to be obeyed. This apostle Paul, in all his travels; aimed at not his own wealth and honour (if he had, he would have sadly missed his aim), but his heart was centered on the conversion and salvation of souls. Now how was this great work produced?
1. Christ was the principal agent. Paul does not say, "Which I worked,’’ but "Which Christ wrought by me,’’ (see v. 18). Whatever good we do, it is not we, but Christ that does it through us; the work is His, the strength His; He is all in all, he works all our works, Philippians 2:13[16]; Isaiah 26:12[17] . Paul takes all occasions to admit this, so that all the praise might be transmitted to Christ.
2. Paul was a very active instrument: By word and deed, that is, by his preaching, and by the miracles he performed he was able to confirm his doctrine. Those ministers that preach both by word and deed are likely to win souls; their converts showing the power of the truths they preach. This is according to Christ’s example, who began both to do and teach (Acts 1:1[18]).—through mighty signs and wonders:—by the power, or in the strength, of signs and wonders. These made his preaching of the word exceedingly effective; they were the appointed means of causing the conviction leading to conversion, and they were also the divine seal affixed to the gospel-charter (see Mark 16:17, 18[19]).
3. The power of the Spirit of God made the miracles effective, and crowned them all with the desired success (see verse 19).
a. The miracles were accomplished through the power of the Spirit in Paul (the Holy Ghost), as in the other apostles—“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8) -- therefore criticizing the miracles is called blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Or,
b. The power of the Spirit in the hearts of those to whom the word was preached, and who saw the miracles, is what made these things effective to some and not to others. It is the Spirit’s operation that makes the difference. Paul himself, as great a preacher as he was, with all his mighty signs and wonders, could not make one soul obedient without the Spirit’s power working in the sinner’s heart. 
 

                                 ________________________verse 21 notes____________________________

[15](Isaiah 52:15; The New Living Translation) “And he will again startle* many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not previously been told about; they will understand what they had not heard about.” Before Christ, the Suffering Servant, the nations of the world are rendered speechless as they observe this almost unbelievable demonstration of God’s love. They stand in reverent awe before the divine Son of God Who “loved them and gave himself for them.” These are they who were not the people of God, but the Gentiles (gōyim). It is no wonder that a gentile believer has written that great hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains!”
[16](Philippians 2:13) “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” For it is God which worketh in you. For God is the one continually working effectually in you. This word is used in Galatians 2:8 (wrought effectually) and in I Thessalonians 2:13 (effectually worketh). We are God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10). Both to will and to do. To keep on willing and to keep on working. God is the source of all we need. The Holy Spirit dwelling within makes the abundant life a reality (not merely a possibility). The energy of God enables a Christian to desire God’s will and replace the Christian’s weakness with the needed power. “Paul has no sympathy with a cold and dead orthodoxy of formalism that knows nothing of struggling and growth. He exhorts as if he were an Arminian in addressing men. He prays as if he were a Calvinist in addressing God, and feels no inconsistency in the two attitudes. Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both.” 
[17(Isaiah 26:12) “LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.”
[18](Acts 1:1) “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”
[19](Mark 16:17-18) “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

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