After 51 studies we’ve come to the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is our 52nd and last study in the book of Romans for the time being at least.
Last time we began to look at the final chapter and we reached verse 20. And if you glance back, you can see again that chapter 16 began with Paul commending Phoebe to the believers in Rome; it seems that Phoebe was travelling to Rome — in fact she was perhaps the person who delivered the letter to the Romans — and Paul wanted the believers in Rome to welcome her and to help her. And then in verses 3 to 16 Paul sent greetings to various believers in Rome; some of the names are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, but many of them are not and we know nothing about them. And then, in verses 17 to 20 Paul broke off his greetings to issue a warning to the believers about false teachers and deceivers who can divide the church and who can cause believers to stumble. ‘So, watch out for them!’, says Paul.
Why did Paul issue that warning at this point of his letter? Well, perhaps having referred in verse 16 to all the churches of Christ, he began to think of the damage which false teachers and deceivers can do whenever they get in among the churches of Christ. And no doubt Paul could think of specific congregations which had been spoiled by false teachers and deceivers. And so, knowing the damage they can do to the churches of Christ, Paul wanted to warn the church of Christ in Rome to be alert and to watch out for them.
Verses 21 to 24
But having issued the warning, he resumed the greetings in verses 21 to 24. But this time he was passing on, not his own greetings, but the greetings of those who were with him. And you can see all the names there in front of you. I’ll just mentioned Tertius who tells us in verse 22 that he wrote down the letter; Paul, of course, dictated the letter; and Tertius was the scribe, the secretary, who wrote it all down. And perhaps all of these different people were sitting with Paul while he dictated this letter to Tertius; and as Paul reached the end, they asked him to pass on their greetings.
Verses 25 to 27
But then we come to verses 25 to 27, which is a fairly complicated sentence. However, if you look at the first three words in verse 25 — ‘Now to him’ — and then look down to verse 27 where it says, ‘to the only wise God be glory for ever’ you’ll see that this is a doxology, an expression of praise to God.
So, Paul is finishing his letter with praise:
Glory be to God. Praise be to God.
So, that’s our starting point to help us make sense of this long, final sentence. And what is Paul praising God for? Well, in verse 25 he refers to God’s power. Look what he says:
Now to him who is able to establish you….
Or, to put it another way:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you….
He’s able to strengthen us because he’s powerful. And then, in verse 27, he refers to God’s wisdom. He says:
to the only wise God be glory for ever.
So, this final sentence is an expression of praise to God; and Paul is praising God for his power and for his wisdom.
This really is a fitting way to end the letter. It’s fitting, of course, because God deserves our praise and that’s what Paul is doing here. But it’s also fitting because Paul has mentioned God’s power and God’s wisdom before. Right at the beginning of the letter, Paul spoke about the power of God. Do you remember? In verse 16 of chapter 1, Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel. Why not? Because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. God works powerfully through the message of the gospel to save sinners. And in chapter 1 to 8, Paul outlined why we need salvation in the first place and what God has done to save us by his Son. And then in chapters 9 to 11 Paul outlined God’s great plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. And at the end of that section, do you remember? He began to praise God for the depths of the riches of his wisdom and knowledge.
So, Paul has already written to us about God’s power and about God’s wisdom. And right at the end of the letter, he praises God. And he praises God for his power and for his wisdom. So, this is a fitting conclusion to the letter.
Let’s look at what Paul says here about these two things. First of all, God’s power. God is the one who is able to establish you. He’s able to strengthen you. Now Paul, only a few verses before, referred to the danger posed by false teachers and deceivers who divide churches and who cause believers to stumble. Well, since they’re able to cause believers to stumble, then we must look to God to strengthen us and to enable us to stand firm so that we do not stumble or fall away from Christ. Yvonne planted a cutting in the back garden a couple of years ago; it grew quite tall and there are lots of branches; and it was beginning to topple over; so we needed to strengthen it. And believers need God to strengthen us so that we’re don’t stumble and fall.
But how does God strengthen us? Paul tells us in verse 25:
to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ are really the same thing, because wherever he went, Paul proclaimed the gospel message of Jesus Christ. And, as we’ve seen from chapter 1, the reason he proclaimed the gospel message of Jesus Christ was because he believed the gospel message is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. He believed that God uses the preaching of the gospel to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ.
However, not only is the gospel the power of God for salvation, but Paul now teaches that the gospel is the power of God for establishing and strengthening believers. We need the gospel at the beginning of the Christian life to convert us so that we will believe. But we also need the gospel throughout the Christian life to strengthen us so that we will keep believing.
Now, in order to understand this, we need to be clear on what the gospel message is. Some believers think the gospel message is:
You must be saved.
If you tell someone they must be saved, then you’ve told them the gospel. But that’s not the gospel; that’s the reason we need the gospel: we need to be saved from God’s wrath. And the gospel isn’t telling someone to believe in the Lord Jesus; that’s the proper response to the gospel: having heard the gospel, will you believe?
So, what’s the gospel? The gospel is about God and Jesus Christ. Specifically it’s about God’s willingness to pardon whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’re to believe in him because he’s the one who lived for us and who died for us and who was raised for us and for our salvation.
And believers need to keep hearing that message throughout our lives, because God uses this gospel message about Jesus Christ, not only to convince and convert sinners, but to strengthen believers. He uses this message to remind us, whenever our conscience accuses us, that he won’t hold our sins against us, because Christ has paid for all of them. And he uses this message to re-assure us that we can always trust in him, because he’s no longer the judge who condemns us, but has become our Heavenly Father who cares for us. He uses this message to comfort us and to lift us up when we’re downcast, because it speaks to us of the greatness of his love for us. And he uses this message to correct us whenever we’re tempted to rely on our own good deeds and not on Christ’s death and resurrection. He uses this message in many ways to strengthen our faith and to enable us to persevere.
When we pray for our Sunday services, we sometimes only pray for those who don’t believe; and we ask God to convert them. And it’s vital that we ask for that. But we also need to pray to God to use the preaching of his word, the preaching of the gospel, to help the believers. We need his help to stand firm every day and to keep trusting in Christ. And God uses the preaching of the gospel to enable us to do that.
Paul teaches us that God is able to strengthen us by the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ. And then he adds that the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ are according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings.
Now, this is quite complicated. So, let’s take it slowly. First of all, a mystery in the Bible is some truth about God which we couldn’t ever know by ourselves; and we couldn’t ever work it out by ourselves; God has to reveal it to us if we’re to know this truth. Secondly, Paul says this mystery was hidden for long ages past. So, for a long time in the past, this mystery was hidden from the world; the world didn’t know it or understand it. Thirdly, Paul says this mystery has now been revealed. And fourthly, Paul says that it has also been made known through the prophetic writings, by which Paul means the Old Testament.
So, the secret to this mystery is found in the Old Testament; however, for years and years it was hidden from the world. But now it’s been revealed and made clear.
What’s Paul talking about? Well, he’s referring to what he’s been writing about throughout the book of Romans. Back in chapter 3:
For all [Jew and Gentile] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
And back in chapter 11:
For God has bound all men [Jew and Gentile] over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all [Jew and Gentile].
This is the mystery which was found in the Old Testament, because throughout the Old Testament God was promising to save both Jews and Gentiles. And, of course, right throughout Romans, we’re seen how Paul kept quoting from the Old Testament to show that this has always been God’s intention. But this mystery was hidden for years and years, because through the Old Testament period, the Jews didn’t understand it; and the Gentiles didn’t know it. But now, this has been revealed and made known clearly, because after the Lord’s resurrection he commanded the Apostles to go and to make disciples of all nations, because whoever — Jew or Gentile — whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God’s willingness to pardon whoever believes — whether Jew or Gentile — is the mystery which is made known in the Old Testament Scriptures, but which was hidden for long ages past, but which has now been revealed. And in accordance with that mystery which has now been revealed, Paul the Apostle proclaimed the gospel message of Jesus Christ to all.
And look at the middle of verse 26: this is ‘by the command of God’. In other words, the revelation of this mystery — and therefore the proclamation of the gospel message of Jesus Christ to all — is God’s will. He has commanded it.
And the end result is there at the end of verse 26:
so that all nations might believe and obey him.
Do you remember in chapter 1 where Paul referred to the obedience that comes from faith? Well, he closes his letter with the same idea: the gospel is proclaimed throughout the world so that people in every nation will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And having believed, we are to live in obedience to all that God has said, seeking to walk in his ways, and to do his will. It’s an obedience that comes from faith in Christ.
Paul praises God for his power, because God is able to strengthen believers so that we will stand firm and not stumble and fall. And he strengthens believers by means of the proclamation of the gospel message about Jesus Christ. And the proclamation of the gospel message about Jesus Christ is in accordance with God’s mystery which is God’s willingness to save whoever believes — whether Jew or Gentile — because God’s will is for people in every nation to trust in his Son and to live obediently before him.
Paul praises God for his power. And he praises God for his wisdom, because God is the one who has worked out this marvellous plan for our salvation. He’s worked it out in every detail; he’s thought of everything; and he’s left nothing out. This marvellous plan displays God’s wisdom to the world.
And so, we ought always to give glory to God and to praise him for his wisdom by which he worked out our salvation; and we ought always to give glory to God and to praise him for his power by which he keeps us safe for ever. And God’s glorious wisdom and God’s glorious power are made known to the world through Jesus Christ the Saviour who lived for us and who died for us and who was raised for us so that we too might be raised to live with God for ever; and where for ever and for ever we will praise him together.
And, of course, since this is God’s plan, then we can trust in him to do all that he has planned, and to enable people throughout the world to trust in his Son and to live lives of obedience to him. And we should pray to him, asking him to do all that he has planned; and to do it in such a way that he gets all the glory and the honour and the praise.