What does Romans 15:4 mean?
ESV: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
NIV: For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
NASB: For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
CSB: For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.
NLT: Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
KJV: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
NKJV: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Verse Commentary:
Paul seems to take a bit of a detour from his main point with these words. In the previous verse, he quoted from Psalm 69 to support the idea that because Christ did not please Himself in this life, self-gratification should not be the main priority of Christ-followers.

Now Paul seems to comment on his practice—seen in Romans and throughout his other letters—of quoting Scripture to support his teaching about Christ. For the modern reader, Paul's references are from what we now call the Old Testament. It is true that Christians have died to the law in Christ and have been released from any obligation to obey the requirements of the law (Romans 7:4–6). That does not mean, however, that the scriptures from the "former days" have stopped being valuable.

Paul insists that those older Scriptures were written to teach modern Christians, not just those who read them in the former times. Those Scriptures are for us, too, to bring encouragement and hope to God's people in every generation. They help us to endure, even in and through suffering.

This verse serves as an answer to modern Christians who ask, why even bother to read the Old Testament? Regardless of age, those writings remain the revelation of the heart of God. The fact that we have been freed in Christ from following the law does not stop those 39 books from being the Word of God, full of truth, wisdom, history, and great encouragement for believers. Paul insists that we place value on those Scriptures and seek out encouragement and hope from them.
Verse Context:
Romans 15:1–7 concludes Paul's teaching on how Christians with strong faith, those who understand their freedom from the law, should live with those of weaker faith. All Christians must please each other and not themselves. After all, Christ didn't come to please Himself. With God's help and encouragement, everyone in the church can live together in harmony and glorify God with one, unified voice, as they serve each other ahead of themselves. They must welcome each other as Christ has welcomed them.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 15 begins with Paul's encouragement to those strong in faith: to please other Christians before themselves so the church can be unified. Christ came to fulfill God's promises to Israel and about the Gentiles. Paul is satisfied with the faith and practice of the Roman Christians. His work of taking the gospel to unreached regions of Gentiles in his part of the world is completed, and he longs to come see them. First, he must deliver financial aid to Jerusalem, a trip about which he asks them to pray along with him.
Chapter Context:
Romans 15 concludes Paul's teaching that those strong in faith ought to sacrifice their own desires to live in harmony with other believers. Paul shows that God always planned to welcome the Gentile nations, and his mission is to introduce Gentiles to the message of salvation by faith in Christ. He longs to visit the Christians in Rome and plans to do so as soon as he delivers financial aid to poor Christian Jews in Jerusalem. He begins Romans 16 by greeting many friends and acquaintances in Rome by name, as part of a drawn-out ending to this letter.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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