Paul the Partner In Faith
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another. But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, (15:14–15)
Paul wrote this letter with full apostolic authority (1:1). But, as just noted above in regard to 1:10–15, he also knew that, in himself, he had the same personal needs and limitations that are common to all Christians.
In this context, Paul’s addressing his readers as my brethren not only indicates his recognition of their salvation but also their maturity. At the beginning of the letter, he thanked God for their faithfulness, which was “being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8).
The apostle now acknowledges again that, completely apart from his influence, the Roman believers are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another. He is saying, in effect: “In spite of all that I have written to you in this letter—with strong reminders that you were saved solely by God’s grace, made effective by your faith in His Son, with the admonitions for obedience to the Lord, for mortifying the flesh, for holy living, for exercising your spiritual gifts, for serving each other in love and humility, and all the other teachings—I am fully aware of your spiritual maturity and moral virtue, and I commend you for it.” The only other church he praised so highly was the one in Thessalonica (see 1 Thess. 1:2–10).
The first commendation was for their goodness, their high moral character and living. As Paul makes clear in Galatians 5:22–23, all virtue is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit can bear fruit only in the lives of believers, such as those in Rome, who are submissive to His divine will and power. They were not perfect, but neither were they spiritually deficient. In this letter Paul makes no reference to particular problems in the church, either individual or corporate. Those believers genuinely hated evil and loved righteousness, and they lived accordingly. They were obedient to the Lord and were kind, generous, and humble. By their moral goodness, they gave abundant evidence of their spiritual transformation and of the good works in which God ordains all believers to walk (Eph. 2:10). The apostle could say of them what he said of the Colossians:
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth. (Col. 1:3–6)
Second, Paul commended the church at Rome for being filled with knowledge. He is not, of course, speaking of broad human knowledge but of the deep knowledge of God’s truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers in this church were doctrinally sound. They were well on their way to “attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2–3).
Virtue and truth, here referred to as goodness and knowledge, are inseparable. Paul could have described those believers as having “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5; cf. v. 19). They knew God, they knew His truth, and, by the power of His Spirit, they were committed to living holy lives.
Such goodness and knowledge are possible for all believers to possess and live by. The Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, also works to teach and purify every believer. As Paul has already declared, “From [Christ] and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). It is by the Lord’s doing that we “are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30; cf. Eph. 1:8–9).
The third virtue for which Paul commends believers in Rome is a product of the first two. Christians who are full of goodness and filled with all knowledge are able also to admonish one another.
Noutheteō (to admonish) carries the ideas of encouraging, warning, and advising. It is a comprehensive term for counseling. In this context, it refers to coming alongside other Christians for spiritual and moral counseling. Paul is not referring to a special gift of counseling, but of the duty and responsibility that every believer has for encouraging and strengthening other believers.
Tragically, many Christians today have been convinced that competent counseling can only be accomplished by a person who is trained in the principles of secular psychology—despite the fact that the various schools of psychology are, for the most part, at extreme odds with God’s Word and frequently with each other. Although they may profess that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), many evangelicals—both those who give and those who receive counseling—do not rely on the full sufficiency of God’s Word.
There is no such thing as a psychological problem. All personal problems are either spiritual or physical. Anyone who suggests that so-called psychological problems can exist apart from or between those two realms of human existence does not understand either the nature of man and the power of sin or the nature and power of God’s Word and Spirit.
It is obvious that some Christians are uniquely gifted for giving encouraging counsel, just as some have special gifts and abilities in other areas of ministry. Paul has earlier made clear that, “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [we should] each exercise them accordingly” (Rom. 12:6). His broader point in 15:14c is that, through His Word and His Holy Spirit, God had provided the church at Rome—and will provide every godly congregation of believers—with everything needed to live faithfully, effectively, and joyfully for Him. His specific point is that, apart from particular gifts of the Spirit, all faithful Christians are divinely equipped to admonish one another as needs and opportunities arise among them. The Romans had set an example for others in this.
Paul emphasized the same general truth in his letter to Colossae, of which J. B. Phillips’s paraphrase is especially helpful.
As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God Himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as Christ has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues. Let the harmony of God reign in your hearts, remembering that as members of the same body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.
Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts. And whatever work you may have to do, do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through Him. (Col. 3:12–17)
When God’s Word rules our hearts, His Holy Spirit makes us “rich in the true wisdom” and prepares us to admonish one another, to “teach and help one another along the right road.”
The place for Christians to counsel and be counseled is in the church. That is not, of course, to say that it must be done in a church building, but that it be Christian counseling Christian. That principle applies to general admonitions among fellow believers, as Paul mentions in this text, as well as to counseling regarding more serious and prolonged problems confronted by a biblically oriented and spiritually gifted Christian minister.
After that brief but touching commendation, Paul begins the defense of his boldness in writing the letter, which some readers might have considered to be presumptuous. I have written very boldly to you on some points, he explains, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God.
Paul was characterized by boldness and courage. Luke reports that, “at Damascus,” Paul “had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27), as he also did in the cities of Galatia (13:46; 14:3) and in the synagogue at Ephesus, “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (19:8).
As already noted, unlike some of Paul’s other letters, the book of Romans contains no rebukes or reprimands. But it does include some serious cautions. He admonished believers in Rome to “consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” and not to “let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (6:11–13). He reminded them, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (8:9). He cautioned Gentiles in the church against being proud because they were now fully accepted into God’s New Covenant:
If you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches [Jews] be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved. (11:24–25)
Paul warned every believer in the church “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (12:3), to “be in subjection to the government authorities,” all of whom “are established by God” (13:1), to pay taxes and customs that are assessed, and to have proper respect for those to whom it is due (v. 8).
He gave the church many other commands and admonitions too numerous to repeat here, but all of them were given in a spirit of love as well as boldness, so as to remind them again. He was not teaching them things they had never heard but was reminding them of truths they did know. He did not speak forcefully because those believers were untaught and immature but, to the contrary, because they were spiritually strong and well-equipped. He was not bold because they were carnal and vacillating but because they were uncompromising and steadfast.
A good teacher must keep in mind the opposing problems of familiarity and forgetfulness. Even for the best of minds with the sincerest devotion, that which is not kept familiar eventually will be forgotten.
Paul instructed his beloved Timothy to keep reminding the brethren under his care of the truths of the gospel, in order that Timothy himself, as well as those fellow believers, would be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Tim. 4:6). In his second letter to this young protégé, Paul again admonished him to continually remind his flock of the central truths of the gospel (2 Tim. 2:8–14). He advised Titus to remind those under his care “to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed (Titus 3:1). In his second letter, Peter assured his readers that he would always be ready to remind them of the important truths of the gospel that they already knew (2 Pet. 1:12) and explained that the very purpose of that epistle was to stir up their sincere minds “by way of reminder” (3:1). A major responsibility of every pastor is to keep teaching his people truths they already know in ways that refresh and reinforce.
Because of the grace that was given to him by God enabling him to do so, Paul boldly reminded the Roman Christians of truths they had long known and accepted. He was not speaking of God’s saving or sustaining grace, but of the grace of his divinely-bestowed apostolic mandate and authority to proclaim the Word. He did not write this epistle to express his own beliefs and wisdom or to fulfill a personal desire or plan. He wrote under divine orders to teach divine truths. Paul was “a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” from whom and for whom he had “received grace and apostleship” (Rom. 1:1, 5). He explained to the church at Corinth that, although he considered himself to be “the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle,” he nevertheless could say that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain” (1 Cor. 15:9–10).
In less specific ways but just as certainly, every believer, whatever his spiritual gifts may be, is under divine compulsion to obey and serve the Lord “according to the grace given to [him]” (Rom. 12:6).
Having reintroduced, as it were, the subject of his divine calling as an apostle, Paul now defines his threefold role in fulfilling that office—as priest (v. 16), as preacher (vv. 17–19), and as pioneer (vv. 20–21).
Check-Off Points for a Good Church
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Have you ever come to the end of something that has been exceptionally nice and found yourself feeling a bit sad about it? Maybe a vacation? Or a night at the opera? Children feel sad when Christmas is over, though their parents are usually rejoicing.
We have something like that now. We are coming to the end of our study of Paul’s great letter to the Romans. In it Paul has unfolded the Christian doctrine of justification by faith in all its many ramifications. He has demonstrated its necessity, described what God did to bring it about through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, explained how it works itself out by the power of the Holy Spirit in individual lives to give a permanent and sure salvation, and answered objections rising from the failure of the majority of Jews to believe the gospel. He has unfolded practical applications of this theology in such areas as yielding our minds to Jesus Christ, a proper evaluation of ourselves and others, matters of church and state, how believers are to live in light of the imminent return of Christ, and the need for Christians to accept and value one another.
With Romans 15:14, Paul begins to wrap this up, turning in his final paragraphs to his reasons for writing the letter, suggesting what his future travel plans might be, and sending greetings to people he knew in Rome. But even though he is ending, he still has quite a bit to say.
How does this last section fit in? We can understand the outline of Romans best if we think of it as a doctrinal treatise wrapped up in a letter. The letter began with the first seventeen verses of chapter 1. Everything since has been Paul’s treatise. But here, in verse 14 of chapter 15, Paul resumes the letter format and actually harks back to some of the things he wrote about in chapter 1. The words “my brothers” (Rom. 15:14) show that he is speaking personally now and from a concerned Christian heart.
Those Roman Christians
Paul tells the Roman Christians in the opening sentence of his personal remarks that they are doing all right and that he is convinced this is so. The full text says, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Paul said something along these lines in the first chapter when he took note of their strong faith and of the fact that it was being talked about all over the world (v. 8).
He is renewing his comments along these lines because he had been developing his doctrinal arguments fully and forcefully—the next verse acknowledges that he had written “quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again”—and he knew that they might think that he somehow considers them to be deficient.
Of course, the fact that he has written as he has, far from being a thoughtless slight or criticism, is actually a compliment. Nothing is clearer than that the letter is for people who take their faith seriously. Yet it is not the mere fact of the letter that is a compliment. Paul is aware that his confidence in these believers, whom he had never seen, might nevertheless be misunderstood. So he compliments them directly, using the terms appearing in this verse: (1) “full of goodness,” (2) “complete in knowledge,” and (3) “competent to instruct one another.” John Murray says of this verse, “He could scarcely have devised a combination of words that would more effectively convey to them his own personal conviction of the fruit of the gospel in their midst.”
If this really is Paul’s way of complimenting the Roman church on being what a church should be, then he is also giving us three criteria by which we can evaluate ourselves—or any local gathering of believers.
Full of Goodness
Paul begins with goodness, and he says that this is something of which the Roman church was full. This is a rather rare word, not found in classical Greek but used in the Septuagint, elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and by some later church writers, no doubt because of its use by Paul. The word is agathôsunê, and it is significant because it refers to moral or ethical goodness as well as to what we would most naturally think of—namely, kindness, thoughtfulness, charity toward the poor, and such.
This is important, of course, especially when we remember what Paul had to say about goodness in the earlier chapters. In his study of the nature of fallen man developed in chapter 3 he quoted Psalm 14:1–3 and 53:1–3 as teaching that “there is no one who does good, not even one” (v. 12). Even worse, not only do we fail to do or practice good; we also actively do evil, and that continuously.
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
How, then, can Paul speak in chapter 15 of the Roman believers being filled with goodness? The answer, obviously, is that they had become Christians, having been turned from their sin to faith and righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is true, as Robert Haldane writes, that “in our flesh there is nothing good.” But it is equally true that “from the work of the Spirit on our hearts we may be full of goodness.” This is to be a normal condition. It is not a matter for some superclass of Christians, what some branches of the church call saints.
We need to remember that Galatians 5:22–23 lists goodness as one part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” and that, according to Ephesians 2:10, doing good works is the necessary outcome of our having become Christians: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” If we do not show any evidence of God’s goodness in our lives or if we do not do any good works, it is evidence that we are not Christians. So goodness is a check-off point not only for a good church, but for whether we are genuine followers of Jesus Christ.
Let me illustrate what we should be with this example. Less than two hours before I wrote this paragraph I received word that one of the leading members of our church had died. His name was Cornelius Phillips, and he had blessed many people because of his faith, strong testimony, and good works. When I heard of his death I immediately pulled out a letter that a man I did not even know had written about him a year and a half earlier. It read:
I’m writing regarding one of your church members at Tenth Presbyterian Church. He’s in the hospital now, and I’m sure the folks at church are praying for him. What I wanted to say was that he is a fine Christian. He cares about the Lord; he cares about his family, and also about his church.
I met Cornelius Phillips last August when my father was ill and passed away. He lent a great deal of peace and caring to our family at that time and still does today.… Your church has a good reputation, and I would have to say that people like Cornelius and his wife and others like them are part of the reason for that reputation. Cornelius in his humility would be the first to say, “Praise the Lord.” I would echo that statement and say, “Praise the Lord” for people like him.
That is genuine Christianity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a church filled with such people? I dare to say I am part of such a church and that there are many like them. I would say of them, as Paul said of the Roman congregation, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness.”
Yet we must not presume along these lines. We must constantly be asking, Am I such a person as Paul describes here? Am I filled with God’s goodness? Would anybody ever use Paul’s words to describe me? If we cannot answer yes to those questions, it is time for self-examination and for doing what Peter had in mind when he wrote, almost immediately after having spoken of the need for goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love among Christians, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10–11).
Complete in Knowledge
The second check-off point for a good church is the phrase “complete in knowledge.” This does not mean learned in an academic sense but rather a sound, practical understanding of the Christian faith that will issue in wholesome, helpful conduct.
At this my mind goes back to our studies of Romans 12:1–2, especially the part where Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I made the link between thinking like a Christian and acting like a Christian. I said that you will never act like a Christian unless you begin to think properly.
That is what is wrong with American religion, of course. Pollster George Gallup has described America as richly religious but ethically impoverished. In an interview with Reformed Theological Seminary Journal he said:
Religious belief is remarkably high—certainly, the highest of any developed nation in the world. At the same time, American religious life is characterized by a series of gaps. First, an “ethics gap” exists between Americans’ expressed beliefs and the state of the society they shape. While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial; it does not change peoples’ lives to the degree one would expect from their level of professed faith. In ethical behavior, there is very little difference between the churched and the unchurched.
The problem is found in the second gap Gallup mentions, a gap between faith and knowledge. “Related to this is a ‘knowledge gap’ between Americans’ stated faith and the lack of the most basic knowledge about that faith. Half of those who say they are Christians do not know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount,” Gallup says.
We would like to think this is a problem only for nominal Christians or perhaps, speaking as evangelicals, for liberals. After all, liberals do not even believe the Bible, we think. But it is a problem for us too.
Some time ago I read a book by David Wells, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor of historical and systematic theology, called No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Wells has a simple but very disturbing thesis: Evangelicalism as a religious force in American life is dead or is in the process of dying because it has abandoned any serious commitment to truth. He is not saying that evangelicalism is dead as a sociological force or presence, for evangelicals have large churches, many members, and a great deal of money. But since they no longer really care about the truthfulness of the gospel and the Christian faith as a whole, they are ceasing to make any significant difference.
I can hear many questioning that. It is the evangelicals, rather than liberals, who believe the gospel, they say.
Well, there is a great deal of difference between what we say we believe or even think we believe and what we believe practically. To judge by what evangelicals do rather than by what they say, which is what Professor Wells is attempting, evangelicals actually believe in Madison Avenue techniques or miracles for evangelism, psychology for Christian growth and sanctification, spiritual voodoo for discerning the will or God, and the power of politics, wealth, or numbers for making an impact on society. This is not what the followers of Christ did in an earlier age, when they proclaimed and trusted in the truth of the gospel.
What is happening to evangelicals is what happened to the liberal church earlier in this century, though most evangelicals are unaware of it. They are losing faith in the power of the truth of God, blessed by the Spirit of God, to make a difference. They are in fact becoming quite worldly. It can hardly be said of most of today’s evangelical churches that they are “complete in knowledge,” meaning a sound and significant knowledge of the truth of God’s revelation, even though they may be proficient in launching and developing churches.
Sadly, if this comparison holds, the prognosis for the future of the evangelical church is prefigured by the history of the liberal denominations that once had plenty of members and money but have been losing both quite rapidly.
Churches will lose their significance, too. In order to influence society, a person or a movement must be different. But Christians will never be different unless they understand, believe, and act upon the revelation of the character and ways of God that we have in the Bible. A while ago I asked the faculty at Gordon-Conwell Seminary what changes they had noticed in seminary students in recent years.
David Wells was present at this gathering, and he replied that he had noticed four things. First, each entering class was more biblically illiterate than the last. Second, each class seemed to be filled with more individuals who were swamped with their own personal problems and thus were thinking mostly about themselves rather than about their studies or how they might help others. Third, they had a greater sense of their own personal rights or entitlements; they expected everything to be done for them. And fourth, they were sold out to and mostly uncritical of the surrounding secular culture.
I find that frightening, now and with a glance to the future. Can it be said of us that we are “complete in knowledge”? We should be. The church in Rome was. What is going to happen to us if we are not?
Competent to Instruct One Another
Finally, Paul says in praise of the Roman church that the believers in Rome were “competent to instruct one another.” The Greek word translated competent is based on the word dynamis (actually dynamenoi), which has the idea of being powerful or effective. Dynamis was the word used in the phrase “by the power of the Holy Spirit” in verse 13. Instruct is nouthetein, which carries the idea of admonishing another person in order to correct something that may be wrong. In the New Testament the word occurs only in Paul’s writings plus once in a speech of his recorded in Acts 20:31.
In Acts 20 Paul has arrived at Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor near Ephesus and has sent for the elders of the Ephesian church in order to say good-bye to them and give them his final admonitions and encouragements. As part of this helpful instruction he brings forward his own example when he was with them earlier, saying, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).
He constantly had the health and well-being of the Ephesian church in view and always did everything possible to build it up. Thus, he was always speaking to them about God and the gospel and encouraging them to go forward steadily and boldly in the Christian life.
Do we love the Lord enough to talk about him naturally and often? Do we love others enough to bring spiritual truths into daily conversation? Do we care for Christians enough to point them in the right direction when we see that they are deviating from or falling short of it?
And do we sometimes talk about difficult things, though kindly? Once Donald Grey Barnhouse was sent an appraisal of a man who was under care of the church’s session as a candidate for the ministry. It had been prepared by a mature Christian under whom the candidate had worked and was, as Barnhouse said, “a dissection of his spiritual anatomy.” Barnhouse met with the candidate and started to review the appraisal with him. He had hardly gotten beyond the first paragraph of the four-page document before the young man reacted strongly. Barnhouse told him to jot down his disagreements while the letter was being read and they would discuss them, which they did. It was easy to see that he was deeply agitated and wounded.
When Barnhouse finished, the man demanded, “Do you agree with this?”
Barnhouse did not reply to that question, but he said, “I do not know when I have ever read a paper that more clearly reveals a heart of love in the man who prepared it. If I were to write a title, I would call it, ‘How to Salvage John Jones for the Lord Jesus Christ.’ ”
That is what the apostle Paul was doing in Ephesus and what he was complimenting the Roman believers as being able to do with one another, not to tear them down or expose each other’s faults, but with the goal of training them and encouraging them for the work of Jesus Christ.
If these things can be said of us, thank God. We are not capable of developing these things in ourselves. They are his work. If they cannot be said of us, then they are goals that we can work for: (1) that we might be full of goodness, (2) that we might be complete in knowledge, and (3) that we might be competent to instruct one another. At that point we will have begun to be a mature church, having attained “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
14 First he mentions the “goodness” (agathōsynē, GK 20) of the Roman Christians. Having just written of the Holy Spirit, Paul undoubtedly has in mind the goodness that is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). So it is not a native disposition but the moral excellence wrought into the texture of life by the Spirit’s indwelling. Paul may give it prominence as the preeminent quality needed to carry out the recommendations directed to both groups in the previous discussion.
Desire to do right and personal goodness are essential, but “knowledge” is also essential. Paul speaks of his readers as being “complete in knowledge” (peplērōmenoi pasēs [tēs] gnōseōs; lit., “filled with all knowledge”). Paul regards them as “competent to instruct one another.” Such language shows his confidence that the Roman church, which had been in existence for at least a decade, had been well taught (cf. 6:17). At the same time, this relative maturity did not make his contribution superfluous, because Paul confirmed what they knew, underscored it with apostolic authority, and made them the more capable of instructing each other. Noutheteō (GK 3805) reflects more than the imparting of information; it connotes the giving of counsel, reproof, or warning (cf. NASB, “admonish”; cf. Col 3:16; 1 Th 5:14). The members of the Roman house churches were under mutual obligation (“one another”) to exercise such a ministry among themselves. Paul’s use of the term at this point reflects the admonition he had provided in the preceding chapter.
14 Paul’s address, “brothers and sisters,” signals the transition to a new topic. After exhorting the Roman Christians at length (12:1–15:13), Paul now commends them for their spiritual maturity. Undoubtedly Paul walks on eggshells in his desire not to offend the Christians in Rome by assuming an authority over them that they would not recognize. But there is no reason to think that Paul is insincere in what he says of them here.12 Through trusted co-workers (e.g., Prisca and Aquila; cf. 16:3), Paul had access to good information about the Roman Christian community—information about both its problems and its strengths. Thus he can say, emphatically, “I myself am convinced”14 that “you yourselves are full of goodness, being filled with all17 knowledge.” “Goodness” translates a rather rare word that can denote general “uprightness” in conduct or, more specifically, “kindness” and “generosity” toward others. In so general a commendation, it should probably here be given the broadest possible meaning.19 The Roman Christians’ “goodness” flows from their comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith (“all knowledge”). Indeed, so complete is their understanding that they are “able to admonish one another.”
14 At this point begins the concluding part of this epistle, devoted to encouragement, explanation, greeting, and final doxology. In earlier portions there is oftentimes the severity of rebuke, correction, and warning. But the apostle would not have this feature to be interpreted as implying a low estimate of the attainments of the church at Rome. At the outset he had paid his compliment to the believers there for their faith and for the encouragement which they would impart to him when he would achieve his desire to visit them (1:8, 12). But now again in stronger terms he gives his assessment of their virtues. The bond of fellowship is expressed in the address “my brethren” and he could scarcely have devised a combination of words that would more effectively convey to them his own personal conviction of the fruit of the gospel in their midst: “I myself also am persuaded of you”. They were, he believed, “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge”. This complementation and the fulness in each case show the maturity which characterized the Roman community of believers. “Goodness” (cf. Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:11) is that virtue opposed to all that is mean and evil and includes uprightness, kindness, and beneficence of heart and life. The “knowledge” is the understanding of the Christian faith and is particularly related to the capacity for instruction reflected on in the next clause. It may not be extraneous to suggest that the reference to these two qualities in particular may have been dictated by their relevance to the subject dealt with in the preceding section (14:1–15:13). Goodness is the quality which will constrain the strong to refrain from what will injure the weak and knowledge is the attainment that will correct weakness of faith. The treatment of differences in 14:1–15:13 was not hypothetical; there must have been a situation requiring it. But we must not exaggerate the situation; the church was “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge”. Thus the believers there were themselves able to instruct and admonish one another.
15:14 / The apostle Paul is commonly thought of as a theologian—perhaps a rather forbidding one. A theologian he was, but his first calling was to be a missionary pastor to the churches he founded. Both his missionary passion and pastoral devotion surface in an opening statement laden with emphasis, I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. By goodness Paul is probably thinking not of ethics in general, but of a specific moral commitment to heal the breech between strong and weak, with knowledge of the gospel (e.g., 15:3) undergirding it. Considering the tensions that existed between Jews and Gentiles (e.g., chs. 9–11; 14–15), some readers may suspect Paul of being unduly optimistic in verse 14. Others may suspect him of flattery, and perhaps even of insincerity. Granted, Paul was a master of social propriety when he needed to be (see his appearance before Agrippa in Acts 26, his appeal to Philemon [Philem.], or his impression on captain and crew in Acts 27). The declaration of verse 14, however, is more than social decorum. It is quite literally a testimony to the priesthood of all believers and to the goodness and knowledge on which that priesthood depends.
14. I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are rich in goodness, amply filled with knowledge, and competent also to admonish one another.
Paul does not make use of flattery. He feels, however, that in view of the fact that he has pointed out certain weaknesses pertaining to groups and individuals within the church, he should now emphasize that these blemishes do not diminish his high regard for the church as a whole. He says, “I myself am convinced that you yourselves are rich in goodness”; that is, in kindliness, generosity of heart and action (cf. Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:11). He adds, “filled with knowledge,” practical discernment of every kind. He even credits them with being able independently—that is, without the help of Paul or anyone else—to caution one another against specific faults.
Today the word “counseling” is heard again and again. Ever so many books and articles have been written about it. Well, the apostle here reveals that also in this respect “there is nothing new under the sun.” There was mutual counseling already in his day, and it was of a high character. By and large the members of the Roman church were “competent to admonish one another.”
What makes Paul’s remark even more heart-warming is the fact that in making it he addresses the members as being his “brothers.” For this term of affection see on 1:13 (p. 52) and 7:1 (pp. 214, 215). Note strengthening modifier “my” (“my brothers”) here (15:14), adding to the cordial nature of a passage which shows how filled to overflowing with love was this heart of Paul; better still, how rich were the fruits of the operation of the Holy Spirit in his life.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 326–331). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The New Humanity (Vol. 4, pp. 1845–1851). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 218). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 887–888). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Murray, J. (1968). The Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 208–209). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (p. 344). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 484–485). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.