Romans 16:17-27
War And Praise

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated On May 1, 2000

1.  We have come to the last section in "The Epistle To The Roman Disciples," which we have stuck through and read together.  In the place we read last time individual greetings from Paul were in the text, but in today's passage greetings from Paul's co-workers are recorded in the text.  It is the section beginning with verse twenty-one.

2.  Timothy joined Paul in his travels while Paul was already into his second missionary journey (Acts 16:3), and he eventually became an associate of Paul in the work.  We can tell how much Paul relied on him by the fact that his name is frequently cited in other epistles. Next comes Lucius; some even identify him as Luke the gospel writer, but we don't know that for sure.  We can find the same name of Jason in Acts chapter seventeen.  If he is the same character, he is the one attacked by the mob in Thessalonica for receiving Paul into his house.  Next was Sosipater, they say he was probably Sopater (Acts 20:2) who carried the donations with Paul and went to Jerusalem.  Next, Tertius the secretary, who took the notes for this epistle, tacks on a greeting.

3.  As for Gaius in verse twenty-three, he appears in the epistle to the Corinthians as a person Paul helped baptize, (First Corinthians 1:14).  It seems that his house in Corinth became a meeting place.  Perhaps Paul himself might have stayed over at his house.  Finally, the letter ends with a greeting from Erastus, who held a high position in the town, and his brother Quartus.

Please Watch Out

4.  Well, the salutatory messages from Paul and his co-workers are recorded in the text as we have seen above, but there is a message of exhortation recorded in the text beginning with verse seventeen as if it were wedged in between them.  It is written in a very strict tone.  It seems as if out of harmony with its context.  Why would Paul have so abruptly added on such a strict sounding sentence as this at this point in the text?

5.  I suppose we probably need to go back over what is written just before this.  There it says, "You, too, please exchange greetings with one another with a holy kiss.  All of the churches of Christ wish you well," (16:16).

6.  While holding an imaginary picture of the church at Rome Paul must have dictated this text orally.  In [his mind's eye] Jews and Gentiles are exchanging greetings with one another with a holy kiss.  Both the wealthy and the poor, the masters and the slaves are exchanging greetings with one another with a holy kiss.  While he imagined this figure of them, he must have spoken this joyously; for, their becoming one and living in harmony together is really the figure of the church living the new life united in Christ and is a sign of the kingdom of God.

7.  However, he is not some simple minded optimist.  He isn't thinking that relationships where people exchange greetings with one another with a holy kiss will automatically be preserved without changing.  He also knew that since the interaction1 in the church was a work of God through the Spirit of God, an evil power was toiling away trying to destroy that work.  In reality, it is the power of Satan that destroys the fellowship.  Therefore, we have peace but at the same time war in [the fellowship].  The church at Rome had not yet experienced that war at full speed.  But, Paul had a feeling that the time when a crisis would come was on its way because there were already many churches experiencing that battle.

8.  The church at Corinth was one of them.  Paul sent this epistle from Corinth.  What kind of church was the church at Corinth?  We can figure out the situation there from the two epistles addressed to the disciples of Corinth which have survived in the Bible2.  It was a church that was given rich spiritual gifts.  It was a more active church than any other church.  Yet, how Paul's epistle to that church was so filled with sorrow and sighs!  There were divisions in it.  There was confusion.  There was sexual immorality.  It even had open criticisms against Paul.  At root to all of these things was not a people problem related to human nature.  The problem lied in their mistaken understanding of the gospel.  There were truly "persons who went against the teachings they had learned and caused disharmony and stumbling."

9.  It is believed that at the point in time when Paul wrote Romans all these problems had not been resolved.  He was still sensitive to the many sores of the church at Corinth.  Thus, Paul couldn't help but add [them into his letter] as he kept thinking about the future of the Roman church.  The tone of his letter was unavoidably harsh because he wrote it during a painful time. He cries out to them, "Watch out!"

The Bringers Of Disharmony And Stumbling

10.  Let's read once more from verses seventeen and onward.

 "O brothers, I exhort you.  Watch out for those who go against the teaching you have learned and cause disharmony and stumbling.  Keep far from them.  People like that are not serving Christ our Lord, but serve their own belly.  And they deceive the hearts of the unsophisticated with their skillful and sweet words and by their flattery.  Your obedience is known by everyone.  So, I rejoice over you.  Furthermore, I hope you are wise in good and ignorant in evil," (verses seventeen through nineteen).

11.  When it says, "those who go against the teaching you have learned and cause disharmony and stumbling," what kind of people is that actually pointing to?  It doesn't say specifically here in the text.  But, some think that when you read the other epistles Paul wrote, the ones Paul had in mind were mainly either the gnostic antinomians or the Jewish legalists or maybe even both.

12.  The gnostic antinomians had brought confusion to the church of Corinth where Paul was.  They showed off their own personal spiritual experiences and they claimed they were "perfect persons" who had obtained special knowledge (gnosis) and perfect freedom.  Many were attracted to them.  As a result of that, the ministries and the order in the assembly were lost.  While leaders puffed up with pride came on the scene the weak got stepped on and trampled down.  Furthermore, by their mistaken claim to freedom a confusion through their sexual license was brought in.  At first glance the church looked spiritual, but it was truly at a crisis of collapsing from within.

13.  Then, on the other hand there were the Jewish legalists.  We understand clearly as we read Galatians how confused the early church was on account of them and how much Paul agonized.  They came in after Paul had departed from the church at Galatia.  They claimed that Gentile Christians could not be saved unless they were circumcised like the Jews and observed the law of Moses.  This mistaken understanding of the gospel lead to producing a serious schism in the church.

14. [There were] non legalists and legalists, that is, antinomians and law keepers.  [They] seem to be exactly opposite to each other.  But there was a common point among them.  According to Paul's message, it was that "[they] are not serving Christ, but serve their own belly."  "To serve your own belly" means none other than "to serve your own desires."

15.  We can probably easily understand this matter of the gnostic antinomians "serving their own desires."  On the one hand they had a desire to wish for unusual mystical experiences and ecstatic experiences.  They wanted to have supernatural power and special knowledge.  And, these particular desires of theirs had very much something to do with their insuppressible sexual desires which lead to a licentious lifestyle that is totally different [from the mysticism they sought].  Their root is the same.  Even in modern times, in those places impassioned for mysticism often times sexual scandals are found too.  That is no coincidence either.  This kind of thing happens because in the ultimate sense it is that "they are serving their own belly" and they are not serving Christ.

16.  However, it is not necessarily easy to understand how legalists "are serving their own belly;" for, we think abstinence is more likely to accompany legalism.  However, as we carefully consider this, human piety and abstinent behaviors are not necessarily unrelated to human desire.  That's because they are only the outward expression of the desire that seeks for "pride in oneself" which often accompanies abstinence3  They obtain salvation by keeping the law.  It must be a serious endeavor [they are making].  But, it may merely be that they want to preserve their pride that says, "[Look at] me keeping the law so as to acquire my salvation."  If that is true about them, then [their pride and law keeping] are not serving Christ.  To be truthful, they are serving their own belly. Perhaps this may be going on within many serious and devout Christians today.  They may not want to serve Christ because what they want is the rating by themselves and by others of being a serious and devout Christian [and also what they want] is only the self pride that accompanies that [rating].

The War With Satan

17.  Paul thus knew the threat from the teaching that leads to "not serving Christ, but serving one's own belly."  He knew people were easily attracted to that because a message that promotes "service to one's belly" appeals more to the ear.  It comes to the naive as "skillful and sweet words and flattery."  It doesn't mean that the message which separates a person from the gospel, separates a person from Christ, and causes disharmony and stumbling, will come in a form that is obvious to see.  It is often times like the fruit on the tree that was in the midst of the garden of Eden, "How delicious it seems, it attracts the eye, it makes one desire to be wise," (Genesis 3:6).  It seems to promise spiritual satisfaction and a fulfilled faith life.  By such words as these a person easily ends up not serving Christ but "serving his or her own belly."

18.  That's why Paul tells them to watch out.  In order to be on guard, they must know by heart what the gospel is that the church has told them.  In order to be on the lookout for the things which "go against the teachings you have learned" they must have learned the teaching before hand.  They have to stand firmly in the truth.  For that very reason Paul had lectured in detail in this epistle to the Roman disciples on what the gospel is.  It is for that reason that we have read this together for almost two years.  And the reason we will continue to hear the message of the gospel repeatedly in the future just as we have done so to this moment is so that we will more perfectly know the truth of the gospel and live in it.  It is so that we will thus be a church that continues to live in the truth of the gospel.

19.  However, such a task may often times seem too simple.  The endeavor to correctly understand the gospel will not necessarily always be accompanied by great variety visible to the eye, intense experiences, or soul stirring excitement.  But, such a simple task as this indeed has great significance in the war with Satan.  We are at war over this with Satan, who comes to separate people from the truth of the gospel, cause disharmony and stumbling, and destroy the church.  This war will continue on till the last day.  Indeed, there may be a real battle [in your life] right now.  But, there is no need to be driven by the feeling that all is lost.  God has already won the victory over Satan in Christ.  Therefore, Paul gave the Roman church encouragement when he said, "God the source of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you," (verse twenty).  We too will believe this promise and continue to fight.

In Order To Offer Up True Praise

20.  And so as it reaches its end, this epistle is concluded with words of praise.  It's not that way in [my version of the Bible]4 but this is one long message of praise that originally went as one complete sentence to "the one and only wise God" in verse twenty-seven.  This praise is truly appropriate for the end of this epistle.  Isn't it?

21.  Everything had been moving towards this praise for God.  But, we come to understand this [only] after having read through The Epistle To The Roman Disciples.  Praise, we know, is not just something we offer up with our words and beautiful singing voices.  The praise we can offer up is our very lives themselves [when] we live the new life because of the gospel that God has given us.  And [praise is offered up by] the very reality of the church which is made alive in that new life and is made as one.  [Praise is truly offered up by] the very joyous "obedience according to the faith" which has been given by the gospel.  From here on let's offer up such praise.  With all this in our thoughts, in conclusion, let's join our voices and read together these words of praise aloud.

22.

"God is able to strengthen you by my gospel, that is, by the preaching of Jesus Christ.  As for the gospel, he is revealing his plan which has been hidden for ages and kept secret.  His plan is now being manifested and is being made known to all the the Gentiles to lead them into obedience according to the faith through the writings of the prophets by the command of the eternal God.  To the one and only wise God be the glory without end for eons and eons through Jesus Christ.  Amen."

End Notes

1 "Interaction or fellowship." "Majiwari" is a word made up by missionaries in Japanese just to describe Christian fellowship.  Even in English the word "fellowship" is not readily understood.

2 Scholars say Paul must have written at least four letters to the Corinthians.

3 The words "abstinence, kinyoku/Ö~" and "desire, yokuboh/~]" show a stronger logical connection to each other in Japanese because they both use the same kanji "yoku" in their compound structure.

4 Literally, it's not that way "in Japanese."

 
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