Gospel Salutations (vv. 21-23)
As a humble and warm-hearted man, our apostle – for he is the “Apostle to the Gentiles” – was quick to recognize and praise the faithfulness of those who labored with him in the gospel. He never sought to monopolize over the affections of the church. Here he sends salutations from his gospel son and helper, Timothy, who was with him for a time in Corinth, as well as Lucius and Jason. Sosipater is one of several of his kinsmen who worked with him. What a comfort it must have been to him to be surrounded and assisted by gospel-loving family members! Tertius, Paul’s amanuensis, sends his greetings also. Either because Paul’s handwriting was poor or his eyesight bad, which may have been residual effects of his Damascus Road blinding and his “thorn,” he utilized men who wrote his letters for him, either by writing as he spoke or cleaning up his own poorly written copy (Phil. 4:23; Col. 4:18). He often certified his letters with a distinctive signature (1 Cor. 16:21; 2 Thess. 3:17). Though we know nothing else of Tertius, he will be forever dear to our hearts for his work in faithfully transcribing this wondrous letter. Gaius, whose hospitality is singled out, also salutes the Romans. He was likely that Gaius whom Paul baptized, an early convert in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14). Erastus, the city treasurer of Corinth, and therefore a Gentile, as well as “Brother Quartus,” likewise sends his greetings in the Lord. They still send their greetings to us, now from heaven, for “he who believeth in me shall never die.” All believers are living and united in Christ the Head. As part of the faithful cloud of witnesses, they urge us to be zealous disciples of our Lord Jesus and to do our part to promote his glory in the world.
Twice Commended to our Savior’s Grace (v. 24)
Again the apostle commends them to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 20). We cannot hear often enough that we have no strength in ourselves but that our Savior is mighty in us (John 15:4 w/ Phil. 4:13)! The world remains much the same today as in the days of these Roman believers: blind, alienated from the life of God through ignorance and hardness of heart, and determined to pursue its mad course of rebellion against God and his Christ. The world of unbelieving men is “led captive by Satan to do his will” (John 8:44; 2 Tim. 2:26). The Roman church lived at the heart of the emperor cult, which would spell persecution under Nero. Paul likely anticipated that the Roman powers would not long remain passive toward those who served “another King, one Jesus;” a clash is inevitable when statism and man-worship begin to be more self-conscious and consistent with their ultimate commitments. These believers are thus commended to the power and safe-keeping of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our steadfastness in serving God against the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil does not depend upon our strength but upon our Savior’s.
What does it mean for the grace of Jesus Christ to be with us except for Jesus Christ himself to be with us? Paul closes most of his letters with this these words (1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; 2 Tim. 4:22; Phm. 1:25). They combine a prayer, a blessing, and a promise. The parallel in 2 Timothy 4:22 makes explicit the connection between the grace of Christ and his presence. His “grace unto grace” is all the blessings of life and salvation that has obtained for us by his life, death, resurrection, and continuing intercession at God’s right hand. These are sealed to us by his indwelling Spirit. They are inexhaustible, refreshing, and empowering. They are part of that “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It is his life in us that preserves us against the onslaught of sin and Satan, gives us grace and peace in trusting and obeying our Father, and fills us with his indomitable hope. We must pray daily for our Savior’s grace to keep us in the right way, deliver us from evil, and preserve us holy and blameless in his sight. If we would but avail ourselves of this promise, we should be more fervent in spirit, contented in his providence, and diligent in serving him. What were his ascending words? “And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Because he is with us, we are strong, for he is strong in us. We are God’s chosen in him, the favorites of heaven, protected by angelic hosts, and kept by the power of God so that no matter how many trials through which we must pass on the way to God’s eternal kingdom, we shall overcome them all and persevere to the end of our race.
Final Dedication of the Letter to the Powerful God (vv. 25-26)
We come now to the end of the letter, and it concludes as it began, with glory and praise to the Lord our God for all that he has done for us. These lines are in the form of a dedication of the whole letter to God. As all streams have a fountainhead, so the gospel has its springs in the mercy of God. And in a fundamental sense, we cannot think of God without immediately thinking of ourselves. We are bound to him, as he is to us. All that he is, he is for us. He is our God in the fullest, deepest sense of the phrase. As the powerful God, he keeps us. Whenever we think of his power, we must always think that his power is constantly exercised in watching over us. This is a great comfort, for otherwise we should be tossed by our troubles, fall prey to Satan’s schemes, and never be “settled and immovable.” Yet, since we are supported at every hand by the power of God, we may have good confidence and joy that everything that happens to us is according to his will and intended for our good. What a wonderful God and Father!
Any consideration of God’s power must lead us straight to his gospel, for it is his power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Through the gospel of his Son, he raises us to new life. We are joined to Jesus Christ our Head, our Life, the living Vine from whom we draw justifying righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and fullness of grace unto holiness. He is the main subject of the gospel, for God’s promises are “yes and a-men” only in him (2 Cor. 1:20). He is also the main preacher of the gospel. His dying hope and his living work is to “proclaim the name of the Father in the midst of his brethren” (Ps. 22:22; Heb. 2:12). He uses weak men, to be sure, but this is to test our faith and to lead us away from trust in men so that our faith stands in the power and faithfulness of God (1 Cor. 2:5). Thus, whenever we hear the gospel, we must know that it is our Savior who is preaching to us, by his Spirit, through men whom he has sent to us. Is it any wonder that we should be “careful how we hear” (Luke 8:18)? We shall profit far more from the preaching of the gospel if we remember that a sermon is not an entertainment, a diversion, or a lecture to be critiqued. If it is the word of God, it is the living voice of Jesus Christ preaching the everlasting gospel to us!
Because this gospel was not known in ages past, it is called a “mystery.” Save from one people and a few isolated Gentiles, it was kept hidden or secret. The old world was largely left alone, to be pillaged and ruined by man’s sin until in the “fullness of time God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4). In him, the power of God is made manifest and his grace has appeared (Tit. 2:11). This is not to say that the gospel was completely unknown, for God sent “his servants the prophets” to proclaim it to the Jews. Through them God gave his Scriptures to his people of old. They spoke by the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:11), pointing the faith of God’s people to believe in him and to long for his appearing. Thus, everything in the Old Testament set forth Christ to come and had its proper fulfillment in his saving work and his mediatorial reign over the nations. The Old Testament should never be read apart from the light now afforded with the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. But in those days, the full light was not yet revealed, only glimmers of the coming dawn. Now, the mystery has been unveiled. God’s grace and power to save men and nations is no longer secret, his purposes no longer hidden. He intends to gather all things into one under Christ the Head, his Beloved, the only Savior of sinners, and King of the nations.
It may seem to us that God waited long before making this mystery known, especially when the Jews to whom God gave his covenant of grace were largely disobedient to the word and suffered horribly for their unbelief and ingratitude. When they should have been a blessing to the nations (Deut. 4:6-8), “the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of them (Rom. 2:24). Yet, God’s purposes are deep and his patience infinite. He was preparing the world for its Savior by revealing sin’s horror and the irremediable bankruptcy of man’s philosophies and programs to save himself: vain philosophy, idolatry and perversion, militaristic globalism and every form of statism, and mysticism. Sin’s full, bitter regimen was tried and shown to be a miserable failure and the source of incalculable heartache and tyranny. Then, to an obscure family in Nazareth, to a stump of David’s family, God revealed his grace in his promised Son, the seed of the woman, the true Covenant, Jesus Christ. According to God’s commandment, that gospel is now being sent to all the nations that they may believe and obey him. His saving grace was never intended to be limited to the Jews. All men are sinners and in need of the Savior from sin. God has sent him. We must believe in him to have everlasting life. He quenches all our thirsts brought on by sin and separation from God. He holds the key to the treasures of true wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3-8). He raises dead men and nations from the grave of sin and judgment. He is the Heir of the covenant, the Prince of Peace, the Savior and Judge of all men. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
We are secure because we are in covenant with the God of our salvation. His throne is our shield. “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). Regardless of the hostility these early believers would face for obeying God’s gospel, as his power brought salvation to the world, so his power would establish them, make them strong, and enable them to overcome all opposition raised against God’s Christ. When in our own day we see the church tossed and troubled by “every wind and wave of doctrine,” savaged by howling wolves, or deceived by those who arise within her ranks that try to draw away disciples after themselves, we must trust our God and Father. His wisdom will prevail, and his gospel purposes to bring all nations to the obedience of the faith will be realized. Look at what he has already done. History does not stretch for eons behind us, chance and change, without any clear purpose or direction. The hand of God directed every age, every moment, and every man. He did so in such a way that his Son would be brought into the world and that his everlasting commandment to “repent and believe the gospel” would be proclaimed to every nation under heaven. Can his purposes be frustrated? Can evil men overthrow the Rock of Ages that was cleft for us and upon which our faith is so securely grounded that if Satan hurled every single missile and unleashed all his legions upon the earth, he could do nothing beyond what God allows. The simple gospel armor that God has given us would be sufficient to make him tuck tail and run. This is the age in which we now live: the gospel and kingdom age, the reign of God and of his Christ. His kingdom will never cease increasing, but from age to age will grow stronger and more pervasive until every knee bows and tongue confesses that he is Lord. This is the God who sustains us. His zeal will perform what he has designed. He does not change; his purposes are joined to his power so that no weapon formed against his church will prosper. He fears no man-grasshoppers; he holds all the heathen in derision. He has set his King upon his holy hill in Zion.
To God be the Glory Forever (v. 27)
Our security and steadfastness lie in this closing dedication! To this God, the only true God, God only wise will be glory forever. What an astounding claim! These believers lived in the seat of the beast, the Roman Empire and its cult of emperor worship. A subtly tolerant environment it was. As long as you made your obeisance to the emperor, all was well. Very soon after this letter was written, the high cost of discipleship would become apparent. The circus would be filled with the blood of the martyrs. How were these believers to prepare themselves? To God alone be the glory. He will be glorified through Jesus Christ. His Son and our Mediator will go from strength to strength, victory to victory, conquering and all-conquering. Each believer must determine to live in gratitude and constantly glorifying the God of our salvation. It matters not when we live, how the hounds of hell are baying, or the bitter warfare we have with our own sinfulness. God will be glorified. He is the only wise God. He did not crucify his Only Begotten only to have his church and kingdom fail. “The pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand,” his royal hand (Isa. 53:10), his actively reigning hand. It is true that we must suffer a little while before entering his eternal kingdom, but along the way, he will never leave or forsake us. He will gather the nations. The gospel is the preaching not of the “crucified in weakness” but of the “living by the power of God” Lord and Christ. He will prevail. We shall overcome in him, by believing in him and keeping God’s commandments (Rev. 14:12). This is our patience. It is our shield. It is our guarantee of victory. Jesus Christ is. His enemies today can no more resist his voice than they could when he walked on earth. “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). He still speaks. He is reaping the nations.
If the church would but recover the conviction that she is armed with the everlasting gospel, walks Jeremiah’s old paths, and live by God’s holy word, she would find her voice again. Doubt would give way to certainty, fear to courage, compromise to fidelity. God would be glorified. We should see the gospel going forward in our own land. We would see more clearly that the path of gospel progress is not worship circuses that attract the masses but humble believers speaking God’s truth and preachers that see themselves as speaking only God’s word in the power of Jesus Christ. God honors the faith of his church, her loyalty to his word, her patient endurance of suffering for his sake. Let us labor to recover some sense of God’s greatness, his sovereignty over history, the certainty of his promises to his Son, and his unshakable purposes. He is the only wise God. All other philosophies and programs are doomed to failure. We must trust his wisdom, that he uses the weak to confound the strong, the foolishness of preaching the cross to trounce the wisdom of this world. Faith in the God who will glorify himself, living for his glory in all we do is the way to please him. It is the way his kingdom comes and his will is done. He will prevail. This is his world. Jesus Christ is his Beloved and his King. He will build his church. He will preserve us until we hear his “Well done.”