Romans 15:4, “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.”
Early in its history, the church confronted a heretic named Marcion who believed, among other things, that the God revealed in the Old Testament is not the same deity who sent Christ to save us from our sins. As a consequence of that belief, Marcion also denied that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture, and he even cut out the references to the Old Testament found in those New Testament books that he did accept. Few professing Christians today would so blatantly deny the Old Testament as God’s Word to His people. Nevertheless, certain Marcionite tendencies remain alive and well in the covenant community. After all, many believers treat most, if not all, of Genesis–Malachi as an afterthought and less worthy of our study than the New Testament.
Whatever the reasons for this neglect of the Old Testament, such attitudes find no justification in the teaching of the New Testament itself. Old Testament allusions and direct quotations of the Law, Prophets, and Psalms/Writings are part of the warp and woof of the New Testament (Luke 24:44; Acts 18:28; Rom. 1:1–2). In fact, the Apostles tell us directly that the old covenant Scriptures continue to have value for those who live under the administration of the new covenant. Today’s passage features one of these reminders.
We know that Paul refers to the Old Testament in today’s passage because it is a comment on his citation of Psalm 69:9 in Romans 15:3. The Apostle quoted Psalm 69 to support his point that since Christ bore the insults of others as He suffered for our salvation, we should willingly endure the lighter suffering we undergo as we put up with the inconvenience of not exercising the fullness of our Christian freedom in front of immature believers. Psalm 69 and the rest of the Old Testament, Paul tells us, give us the encouragement we need to have hope. In seeing that the writings of the old covenant prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, we find assurance that Christ is who He says He is and that our hope of salvation in Him is secure. Moreover, the Old Testament Scriptures remind Gentiles especially that before Christ, we were people without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12). Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the prophetic hope that the Gentiles would serve the only true God— Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel (Isa. 11:10)—those who are not Israelites according to the flesh are now full members of God’s covenant people in Christ. Thus, we possess all the rights and privileges our heavenly Father gives to His children (John 1:9–13).
Certain books and passages of Scripture have played greater roles in the history of theology than others; thus, it’s no surprise that some portions of the Bible are read more often than others. However, we must not make the mistake of thinking that there is any unimportant part of Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired it all, and it is all given for our edification (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Let us therefore study the whole counsel of God and not just isolated portions of it.