The two great themes of the book of Romans are salvation and service. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1 of the “gospel of God,” the “gospel of His Son,” and the “gospel of Christ” (1:1,9,16 KJV); and these “gospels” summarize the book. The gospel of God was promised before, through the nation of Israel by His prophets concerning the seed of David (1:3). Thus this gospel concerning that nation specifically is in Romans 9-11. The gospel of His Son is the faith these and all Gentiles “throughout the whole world” (1:8) can have in the Son of God as seen in Romans 1-8. The gospel of Christ is “the power of God unto salvation” for in it the righteousness of God is revealed by a life of faithful service. This righteousness (the things that are right) is found in Romans 12-16. It is in the service of this faith that we are to live in a fallen world, “for the just shall live by faith” (1:17). “For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).
This article is about those services of faith found in Romans 12-16. Chapter 12 is our reasonable service; chapter 13 is our political service; chapter 14 is our responsible service; the first part of chapter 15 is the service of Christ, the second part is the service of Paul; and chapter 16 is the summation of the service of others who are in accord with the Word of God.
Romans 12 – Our Reasonable Service
The body is simply the instrument of the spirit, the desires of the mind and reason; hence presenting our bodies “a living sacrifice” is our reasonable service to His mind and will (12:1). The renewing of our mind is by knowledge of His Word (Col. 3:10), so we can put to test what truly is “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (12:2), and not be fooled by religious pretension.
This service is a corporate one – “your bodies” (plural) being offered as “a living sacrifice” (singular). This sacrifice is spiritual first. How much better to “be still and know” He is God as Mary did, instead of being cumbered about by much activity as Martha was (Ps. 46:10; Lk. 10:40). Then, as our minds are renewed, we can tell what activity is ours for Him. It is through careful self-examination and humility that we learn what spiritual gift God has intended for us (12:3-6). We should continue with that gift and not step outside our bounds and take up another’s work, for one part of the body can’t be another part of the body (12:5-8). Thus we yield our bodies to work in that great body, the Church, a living sacrifice. It is out of the greatest love, which is “shed abroad in our hearts” (Rom. 5:5) by the Spirit, that comes the greatest service: the purity of love (12:9-10), the activity of love (12:11-15), and the humility of love (12:16-21).
Romans 13 – Our Political Service
As Christians we have a responsibility to the government that is over us. Our political service here is prerequisite to a higher calling. The first step is to obey the government (13:1-5) and pay our taxes (13:6-7); the second is to love our neighbor (13:8-13); and the third is to put on Christ (13:14). How can we possibly be ambassadors for Christ in this world if we disobey the laws of the land, cheat on our taxes and think ill of everyone else? As 13:2 puts it, resisting government powers is really resisting God. If we don’t resist and still suffer from the government, we are to endure it patiently (1 Pet. 2:20).
Is our motive in obeying the laws simply to avoid the consequences of not doing so, or is it to maintain a good conscience toward God (13:5)? We are told not to cheat the government because it is there for us (13:6-7). We are also told to “owe no man anything, but to love one another” (13:8). The Christian owes the debt of love to all, since Christ loved the world, including us. We who belong to Him should have the same mindset. The rich young ruler (Lk. 18:18-27) didn’t really love his neighbor; he went away sad having no power in him to do it, but we have the power in us by His Spirit.
The most important political service we have is to God, and that is by attending to His Word; we are called to “awake” then, as He is about to come (13:11-12). Would you meet your country’s president in the condition you are now in? We are called to cast off “the works of darkness” by putting on “the armor of light” (13:12). Isn’t the armor of light our understanding of His Word? With our understanding of it we put on Christ, and seek to act the way He acted in this world. The world hated Him without a cause yet He responded divinely in love. How do we act when treated the same way?
Romans 14 – Our Responsible Service
Romans 14 considers our service to each other. We are responsible for each other’s conscience as well as our own. On disputable matters we are called to hold our judgment (14:1). Now that’s a servant’s place! The examples Paul uses are common: what we eat and what we do (14:2-5). We should not put a burden on others by telling them what they should do, how they should act – that’s what the Pharisees did. Likewise if someone tells us what we should do, we should not condemn him, because God doesn’t (14:3). If he can stand before God, can’t he stand before us (14:4)? Whatever we do in these gray areas, we do to God and give thanks for it (14:6).
In this liberty we need to be careful not to offend a fellow believer (14:13). If what we do – even though fully persuaded that we can give God thanks for it – causes grief to another, then we’re not walking in love (14:15). The kingdom of God consists of these things: righteousness (Godward), peace (manward) and joy (selfward) in the fruit of the Spirit (14:17). If we know someone doesn’t approve of something, we shouldn’t do it. If we go ahead and do it anyway our fruit is not of love. What we consider good becomes evil when it’s done without considering our brother (14:21).
In all these areas we should serve Christ, because that is “well pleasing to God and approved of men” (14:18). A conscience based on God’s Word is the guide; “faith” is never greater than conscience, therefore our faith in the liberty of God is not license to induce a condemning conscience in another (14:22-23).
Romans 15:1-13 – Christ’s Service
This chapter first considers the example of Christ’s service. He did not please Himself, but instead bore our infirmities (15:3). Likewise, we should bear each other’s problems and shortcomings. Even if it means taking the blame and being used without defend- ing ourselves, we should seek to edify others (15:1-2). This is hard and depressing, but Scripture always gives comfort and hope (15:4). No matter the outcome, we can glorify God (15:6). If we receive others and accept them in the doubtful things, this also glorifies God just like He received us to His glory (15:7).
Also Christ’s service was to bring both Jew and Gentile to God (15:8) – to the Jews to confirm the promises to their fathers, to the Gentiles to confirm God’s mercy (15:8-9). “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). Paul brings in many Old Testament verses to confirm that Gentiles can glorify God as well. They were written for our hope, that when we see Him we shall be like Him. What joy and peace this is! This is the power of the Spirit, that today we may abound in hope (15:13).
Romans 15:14-21 – Paul’s Service
Paul did mighty signs and wonders to preach Christ (15:19). His service was exclusively his. He had that grace given him to write what was necessary for the Gentiles even though they were full of goodness, filled with knowledge and able to admonish each other (15:14). He reminds them again of the things he’s writing, specifically the gospel of God to the Gentiles (15:15). He does not even dare to mention what God is accomplishing by other means (15:18). He simply strives to preach the gospel (15:20). God used mighty signs and wonders to make that gospel known to the Gentiles, and Paul finds himself a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:15: “As it is written, ‘To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see; and they that have not heard shall understand’” (15:21).
Romans 16 – Others’ Service
In order not to be exemplified too highly, he concludes his letter to the Romans by mentioning 35 others whom the Lord has used to produce the unity of the Spirit. Those who work to divide rather than unite are to be marked and avoided (16:17). They do not serve Christ even though they may claim to, but instead serve themselves (16:18). Obedience is the key to everything – from salvation to service (16:17-19). Wisdom must be present as well, to know the things that are worthy of obedience, and those things which are really evil. Satan is deceiving Christendom with his leaven (Mt. 13:33), which is made up of those doctrines similar to God’s Word, but are in reality against the kingdom, so he will be locked up shortly in the pit under your feet (16:20).
The summation of all is: The grace of Jesus Christ, by preaching the gospel in obedient faith for salvation and service, gives glory to the only wise God through Jesus Christ (16:24-27).
By Tom Steere
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org