Romans 15:1-13: Those who cannot in good conscience eat certain foods, or who wish to observe certain ritually pure days, should follow through, for to act against conscience and against one’s understanding of faith is sin according to Paul (14:23). But for those who don’t feel bound to former rules about food or drink or days, one should still be careful to monitor the effects of one’s behavior on others. While one should not abandon one’s own happiness completely, neither should one’s short-term pleasure be the final arbiter of one’s actions. We need to consider what might build up our neighbor as well as our own good. We have our example in Christ. Here Paul uses a scripture to interpret part of the meaning of Christ, noting that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” This same attitude toward the scriptures might be emulated by us. We read them for our instruction, to be formed in faith. This has little to do with views of the Bible as inerrant and infallible. Paul’s interpretive method is more pragmatic and open-ended.
Whatever the specific controversy – food or no food, ritually pure days or no – God is a God of steadfastness and encouragement whose hope is for God’s people to live in harmony with one another. It is in joining voices together that we most glorify God. If the glory of God is a human person fully formed (Irenaeus, an early Christian theologian), perhaps the glory of God is also human community living in harmony. We get to this by welcoming one another, welcome others as we have been welcomed in Christ. Paul searches the Hebrew scriptures to find texts that paint a vision of the human community united across typical divides – in this case, Jew and Gentile. Paul uses another benedictory phrase to end this section of his letter. The words are beautiful and could be a prayer for our lives and our church. 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. For all his ability to look at the dark and difficult side of the world and human life, Paul is joyfully hopeful and sees joy, hope and peace at the center of the Christian faith.
Romans 15:14-33: Remember, Paul has never visited this church. Here he offers kind words to the recipients of his letter – telling them that he is sure they are filled with goodness, and have the knowledge to instruct each other. This may be seen as Paul appealing to their own good sense. He tells them that what he has written is really a reminder of what they already know, even if he has written boldly. Paul claims that he writes boldly, in part, because of the way the Spirit of God continues to work in his life to reach out to Gentiles. He has focused his work on sharing the gospel in places where it has not been shared, and claims that this is part of the reason he has not yet been to Rome. Paul goes on to share his hopes and itinerary. Paul asks for their prayers and wished them God’s peace.
Romans 16:1-16: This final chapter is comprised primarily of greetings to Paul’s friends and coworkers now in Rome. “There are Jewish, Greek and Latin names, the majority of which are slaves or freed-persons, although some are nobility” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). There are women and men mentioned among these leaders in the early Christian movement.
Romans 16:17-20: In the midst of sharing greetings with trusted friends and colleagues in the work of ministry, Paul offers a warning against those who might come teaching, but offer teaching that leads the church away from God, not toward the God of Jesus Christ. Such teaching has as its purpose dissension and offense, and those who offer it seek to enhance only themselves. Paul is confident in God’s triumph over evil.
Romans 16:21-27: Paul now continues with names, this time persons who are with him who send their greeting to Rome. He ends the letter with a long doxological statement. It is a statement of trust in a wise God who is able to strengthen people in their faith. As we read through the New Testament, may this wise God strengthen us in faith, hope and love.