From Pastor’s Notebook

Summary and Background on Sermon for Oct.11, 1998

Text: Romans:1617—20

There’s a lot to learn from these intervening verses, even thought we have left behind the doctrinal section. Paul shares that a major hindrance to his coming to Rome earlier has been the need for instruction in the regions he has evangelized. As an apostle and missionary his primary task is to convert sinners and to deliver them out of bondage to Satan—it is left to pastors to do the teaching Christians need to master "all things, whatsoever Jesus has commanded. Paul sees Rome as a way station on his planned mission to Spain. If this mission took place, as tradition has it, it would have transpired between his first and second Roman imprisonment.

For now the burden of helping the distressed in Jerusalem, the collection that Paul is taking from the Gentile churches to the Jewish Christians, seems the most compelling work to the Apostle. It is a striking statement of the interdependence all Christians have within each local body, and between local churches—the stronger bearing with the weaker. The same rationale applies to mission giving today.

When Paul arrives at Rome, he expects to come in the "full measure of the blessings of the gospel of Christ" (KJV). We take this to mean full of joy, peace, the fruits of the Spirit—all of which make up the chief ingredients of Christian blessing. (v.29) Then Paul urges them (v.30) by the love that the Holy Spirit produces in them through the operation of His personal power and influence to pray earnestly with him—to pray as a matter of strongest exertion and fervency. Why? That his life might be spared through the opposition of unbelievers. Paul is quite willing to die for Christ but wisely prays for the prolonging of his life so as to accomplish more for the Kingdom of God! After all, it is life that makes service possible. Paul knows full well that the Gospel is salvation to some, but an object of hatred to those who refuse to believe. We moderns need to be reminded that much of the abuse we receive as Christians is a direct consequence of the unbelief of its detractors. Chapter 15 ends with the happy thought that our God, having laid aside His wrath (because He has made peace by the blood of His Son on the cross) breathes only peace and grace to those who affirm faith in Jesus Christ!

There follows a lengthy section of conventional greetings in Chapter 16.

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As two doctrinal sidebars, I would note that Romans 15:30 contains a Trinitarian form. All three persons of the godhead are referred to (the Lord Jesus, the Spirit, and God, as the Father to Whom our prayers ascend).

Secondly, there is the matter of the service rendered by Phoebe to the church in Cenchrea. Those who read this as an indication that Phoebe was a Deacon, an office typically reserved to men, presume upon the formal use of the word diakonon. There is nothing in the text which demands interpretation by formal use. The informal usage, which seems to me safer and more compelling, simply means that Phoebe distinguished herself as a "servant," an impressive people helper. I find this usage compelling because the reference appears outside the doctrinal portions of the letter and because it is contrary to the plain meaning of other scriptures which limit the office to married men. That women were encouraged to serve the indigent, and members of their own gender is beyond dispute. This is an important ministry, one worthy of commendation and honor.

SHR