Paul’s Priestly Service
“On some points I have written to you very boldly … because of the grace given me by God 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” (vv. 15-16).- Romans 15:14-16
Roman Christians who read Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome could easily have interpreted some of what the Apostle says in his letter as a sharp rebuke. For example, Paul’s exhortation not to separate over minor issues and his warnings to the Gentiles not to boast in their position relative to the Jews might have been received as stern scoldings that charged the Roman believers with full engagement with these sins (Rom. 11:17-24; 14:1-15:7). Yet that was not at all how the Apostle viewed the Christians in Rome, which is why he reassures the original audience of his epistle as he begins to bring his letter to a close.
We find these reassuring words in today’s passage. Despite everything that has been said, Paul was not worried that the problems to which he has alluded would be ongoing struggles for the Roman church. He affirms his conviction that his readers are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14). “Goodness” translates a Greek term that refers to moral uprightness as well as kindness and generosity. Essentially, Paul says that the Roman Christians exhibit those fruits of the Spirit that promote unity in the body of Christ that is grounded in the truth of Scripture and the love of God (see Gal. 5:22-23). In addition, Paul speaks of the Romans as full of all knowledge, which does not mean that they know everything there is to know about God and His truth. Instead, his point is that they are well grounded in the gospel, that they know the core of their faith inside and out. Paul has helped them learn to apply what they know about Christ in their context, but he has not presented them with a gospel that is foreign to them.
Paul’s sensitivity to his audience and his desire that they not misinterpret his attitude toward them does not stem from any lack of confidence in his own authority. As an Apostle of Jesus the Messiah, Paul knows that he has the right and duty to instruct the Romans even though he did not plant the church in Rome (Rom. 15:15). More specifically, Paul is given the grace to exercise priestly ministry unto the Lord for the sake of the Gentiles (v. 16). The Apostle speaks metaphorically here. He does not endorse an ongoing system of priestly mediation such as we find in the Old Testament; rather, his work in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles so that they will believe and be acceptable to the Lord is like a priest’s work in offering up sacrifices to God. In being used of the Spirit to bring the Gentiles to faith, Paul hands them over, as it were, to God as His precious possession (see 1 Peter 2:9).
Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1 to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. The Apostle’s words in today’s passage indicate that it is also possible to offer others to the Lord. When our Creator uses us and our ministry to bring others to faith and to grow them in Christ, He will receive these as a kind of sacrifice that we have made to Him. Our ministry is never in vain, and the Lord will reward us as we offer up such sacrifices.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 2:7