Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (see links below).

Romans 15:14-21

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers,[a] that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”


Last week’s entry featured Paul’s conclusion on the general responsibilities stronger brothers have towards weaker ones.

He then cited passages from Scripture supporting God’s plan for Christ to be the hope of Jews and Gentiles alike.

His last theological lesson in Romans is dedicated to the Gentiles.

Recall that Paul had not yet visited Rome. He did not know the members of the church there. Yet, he always had a deep fondness for it and an earnest desire to reach the city to meet those Christians.

His letter to the Romans, whilst full of theology and doctrine, never takes the Christians to task there for any great sin. Contrast that with his letters to the Corinthians.

He states that they are good and knowledgeable people who can teach each other, building themselves up in faith (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this is quite the compliment:

Goodness and knowledge together! A very rare and an excellent conjunction; the head and the heart of the new man. All knowledge, all necessary knowledge, all the knowledge of those things which belong to their everlasting peace.

That said, Paul makes it clear that he wrote ‘boldly’ — strongly — to reinforce certain doctrinal points (verse 15).

Paul did this because, through the grace of God, he became a minister to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel to them to win their souls, that they might be sanctified by the Holy Spirit (verse 16).

Henry explains the depth of those verses (emphases mine below):

Observe here, (1.) Whose minister he was: the minister of Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 4:1. He is our Master; his we are, and him we serve. (2.) To whom: to the Gentiles. So God had appointed him, Acts 22:21. So Peter and he had agreed, Galatians 2:7-9. These Romans were Gentiles: “Now,” says he, “I do not thrust myself upon you, nor seek any lordship over you; I am appointed to it: if you think I am rude and bold, my commission is my warrant, and must bear me out.” (3.) What he ministered: the gospel of God; hierourgounta to euangelion–ministering as about holy things (so the word signifies), executing the office of a Christian priest, more spiritual, and therefore more excellent, than the Levitical priesthood. (4.) For what end: that the offering up (or sacrificing) of the Gentiles might be acceptable–that God might have the glory which would redound to his name by the conversion of the Gentiles. Paul laid out himself thus to bring about something that might be acceptable to God.

The use of the word ‘offering’ is also complex:

Observe how the conversion of the Gentiles is expressed: it is the offering up of the Gentiles; it is prosphora ton ethnon–the oblation of the Gentiles, in which the Gentiles are looked upon either, [1.] As the priests, offering the oblation of prayer and praise and other acts of religion. Long had the Jews been the holy nation, the kingdom of priests, but now the Gentiles are made priests unto God (Revelation 5:10), by their conversion to the Christian faith consecrated to the service of God, that the scripture may be fulfilled, In ever place incense shall be offered, and a pure offering, Malachi 1:11. The converted Gentiles are said to be made nigh (Ephesians 2:13)– the periphrasis of priests. Or, [2.] The Gentiles are themselves the sacrifice offered up to God by Paul, in the name of Christ, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, Romans 12:1. A sanctified soul is offered up to God in the flames of love, upon Christ the altar. Paul gathered in souls by his preaching, not to keep them to himself, but to offer them up to God: Behold, I, and the children that God hath given me. And it is an acceptable offering, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. Paul preached to them, and dealt with them; but that which made them sacrifices to God was their sanctification; and this was not his work, but the work of the Holy Ghost. None are acceptably offered to God but those that are sanctified: unholy things can never be pleasing to the holy God.

John MacArthur looks at the meaning of the Gentiles as priests. It means is that we can approach God directly:

… all believers are priests. In 1 Peter 2:5, “You also as living stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” Verse 9, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own that you should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” All believers are priests. That is what we have said historically in our own faith that we believe in the priesthood of believers. We are all believer priests. That is to say we do not have to go through some other mediary to get to get to God, right? We don’t go through some human person.

Bearing those two verses in mind, Paul says that he is pleased with his work for God, through Jesus Christ (verse 17).

He describes his ministry as one where he added no extra teaching, only that which Christ revealed to him, in order to bring the Gentiles to Him in obedience through word and deed (verse 18).

Paul alluded to the great journeys he made, his preaching ministry fortified by the additional gifts of the Spirit of signs (e.g. the angel unlocking the prison in Acts) and wonders (healing people). He had fulfilled his ministry from the starting point in Jerusalem to faraway places, such as Illyricum, which was to the north west of Macedonia.

He went on to say that he did not concentrate on places where there were established churches, as he did not wish to build on someone else’s work (verse 20).

Instead, he went to places that had not yet received the Gospel, recalling Isaiah 52:15 (verse 21):

so shall he sprinkle[a] many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.

Henry says that Paul was the great church planter:

He broke up the fallow ground, laid the first stone in many places, and introduced Christianity where nothing had reigned for many ages but idolatry and witchcraft, and all sorts of diabolism. Paul broke the ice, and therefore must needs meet with the more difficulties and discouragements in his work. Those who preached in Judea had upon this account a much easier task than Paul, who was the apostle of the Gentiles; for they entered into the labours of others, John 4:38. Paul, being a hardy man, was called out to the hardest work; there were many instructors, but Paul was the great father–many that watered, but Paul was the great planter. Well, he was a bold man that made the first attack upon the palace of the strong man armed in the Gentile world, that first assaulted Satan’s interest there, and Paul was that man who ventured the first onset in many places, and suffered greatly for it. He mentions this as a proof of his apostleship; for the office of the apostles was especially to bring in those that were without, and to lay the foundations of the new Jerusalem; see Revelation 21:14. Not but that Paul preached in many places where others had been at work before him; but he principally and mainly laid himself out for the good of those that sat in darkness. He was in care not to build upon another man’s foundation, lest he should thereby disprove his apostleship, and give occasion to those who sought occasion to reflect upon him. He quotes a scripture for this out of Isaiah 52:15, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see. That which had not been told them, shall they see; so the prophet has it, much to the same purport. This made the success of Paul’s preaching the more remarkable. The transition from darkness to light is more sensible than the after-growth and increase of that light. And commonly the greatest success of the gospel is at its first coming to a place; afterwards people become sermon-proof.

MacArthur has more on Paul’s apostleship:

Look at verse 20. “Yes,” he says, “so as priest and preacher I have strived” a very strong word, strong effort “to preach the gospel not where Christ was named.” And you can underline that in your Bible. That is a key to understanding the role of an apostle. That is the key to understanding the role of an evangelist. Always the message is the same, preach the gospel. And always I have done it with strong effort, but also always I have endeavored to preach where Christ was not named. Virgin territory is my calling. Virgin territory is my calling.

Paul was fearless for the Lord.

He always had a new place he wanted to go. Find out more next week.

Next time — Romans 15:22-29