NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part X)
Verses 9-10: For God, whom I serve in my spirit by spreading the Gospel about his Son, is my witness that I constantly remember you in my prayers; and I always pray that somehow, now or in the future, I might, by God’s will, get to visit you.
Reformer Martin Luther felt strongly about praying for others. So he wrote: “Christian prayer is complete only when we intercede for the common good of all and not merely for ourselves. The Apostle in his prayers makes mention of his hearers always and without ceasing. If we should begin everyday tasks with prayer and intercession before God, then how much more must we undertake spiritual matters in this way.”1 And commentator Albert Barnes has the same understanding: “This evinced his [Paul’s] remarkable interest in a church which he had never seen, and it shows that Paul was a man of prayer; praying not for his friends and kindred only, but for those whom he had never seen. If with the same intensity of prayer all Christians, and Christian ministers, would remember the churches, what a different aspect would the Christian church soon assume!”2
Nineteenth-century Bible commentator Charles Hodge points this out: “This reverent appeal to God as the searcher of hearts is not uncommon in the apostle’s writings.3 It is an act of worship, a devout recognition of God’s omnipresence and omniscience. It was a long-standing tradition to appeal to God to validate one’s claims of piety and righteousness. Even the patriarch Job called on God to be a witness for him by saying: ‘Even now, my witness is in heaven; my advocate is there on high.4”5
Adam Clarke, a fellow theologian with John Wesley, believes that Paul is emphasizing that his appeal to God is not casual but filled with genuine feelings for them. Clarke has Paul saying: “‘I not only employ all the powers of my body in this service but all those of my soul; being thoroughly convinced of the absolute truth of the religion I preach.’ Probably St. Paul opposes, in this place, the spiritual worship of the Gospel to the external, or what some call the carnal, worship of the Jews. Mine is not a religion of ceremonies, but one in which the life and power of the eternal Spirit are acknowledged and experienced.”6 I’m sure if Clarke could come back from the grave and visit churches today, he would see how much of their worship has become a religion of carnal ceremonies.
Calling out the names of those he knew, and the communities of believers that he felt responsibility for, was part of Paul’s prayer life. When writing to the Ephesians Paul said: “That is why I always remember you in my prayers and thank God for you. I have done this ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.”7 Then to the Philippians Paul wrote: “I thank God every time I remember you. And I always pray for all of you with joy.”8 And Paul tells the Colossians: “Since the day we heard these things about you, we have continued praying for you. This is what we pray: that God will make you completely sure of what He wants by giving you all the wisdom and spiritual understanding you need; that this will help you live in a way that brings honor to the Lord and pleases Him in every way; that your life will produce good works of every kind and that you will grow in your knowledge of God; that God will strengthen you with His own great power, so that you will be patient and not give up when troubles come.”9 It is obvious that Paul was a praying man of God. But Paul brings up an important point to remember in prayer. What if you heard the testimony of a person who is credited with saving another person from a burning car, and they said, “While I was trying to get them out of the car I kept praying, ‘O Lord, help me not to get burned doing this. Help me not to injure myself so that I will miss work or have to go to the hospital.’” Certainly, you would question why they were only praying for themselves and not the person they were trying to save?
In commenting on Paul’s service to God, early church writer Ambrosiaster offers his view on Paul’s attitude as he serves: “In my spirit, says Paul, not in the circumcision made with hands, nor in new moons, nor in the sabbath or the choice of foods, but in the spirit, that is, in the mind. Because God is a spirit, it is right that He should be served in spirit or in the mind, for whoever serves Him in his mind serves Him in faith. This is what the Lord said to the Samaritan woman in John.10 Ambrosiaster goes on to say: “He [Paul] prays without ceasing for them, remembering them in his prayers in order to sow brotherly love among them; indeed, he makes this his desire for them. For who would not love someone when he hears that that person remembers him? For if they had willingly listened to the teaching brought to them in the name of Christ by those who were not sent, how much more would they want to listen to him who they knew was an apostle and whose words were accompanied by power!”11
Chrysostom also has something to say on this subject: “When Paul says ‘whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of His Son,’ he shows us both the grace of God and his own humility, the grace of God because He entrusted such a great task to Paul, and his own humility because Paul imputes it all not to his own zeal but to the help of the Spirit. The addition of ‘the gospel’ shows what kind of ministry Paul had. For there are many different kinds of ministry … one man serves God and labors by believing and ordering his own life in the right way, another undertakes the care of strangers, and another takes care of those who are in need. Even in the apostle’s own time, Stephen’s colleagues served God by looking after widows, while others (including Paul) taught the Word and served in the preaching of the gospel. This was the kind of ministry to which he was appointed.”12
In Paul’s prayers, we see a formula that made his prayers very effective. He tells the Philippians: “Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need. But don’t forget to give thanks for what you already have.”13 When you do this, says Paul, “The peace of God is much greater than what our minds can comprehend. This peace from Christ Jesus will guard your hearts and minds.”14 This was important to Paul because visiting Rome had been on his mind for a long time.15 But Paul did not want to make any plans unless he knew it was part of God’s will.16 And once he was convinced that is was, when others tried to persuade him otherwise, they knew it was futile.17
John Calvin also speaks about Paul’s prayers for the believers in Rome: “He still further sets forth the zeal of his love by his very constancy in praying for them. It was, indeed, a strong evidence, when he poured forth no prayers to the Lord without making mention of them. That the meaning may be clearer, I render [the word] ‘always;’ as though it was said, ‘In all my prayers,’ or, ‘whenever I address God in prayer, I join a mention of you’… He then speaks peculiarly of those prayers, for which the saints deliberately prepare themselves; as we find to have been the case with our Lord Himself, who, for this purpose, sought solitude. He at the same time intimates how frequently, or rather, how unceasingly he was engaged in such prayers since he says that he prayed continually.”18 Calvin goes on to say: “By saying, A prosperous journey by the will of God he shows, not only that he looked to the Lord’s favor for success in his journey, but that he deemed his journey prosperous if it was approved by the Lord. According to this model, all our wishes ought to be formed.”19
British scholar Charles Hodge makes this point about Paul’s appeal for God to make it possible for him to visit Rome: “In the passive voice, it is, to be prosperous, successful, favored. In the present case, as Paul had neither commenced his journey, nor formed any immediate purpose to undertake it,20 his prayer was not that his journey might be prosperous, but that he might be permitted to undertake it; that his circumstances should be so favorably ordered that he might be able to execute his long cherished purpose of visiting Rome [without any problems]. Knowing, however, that all things are ordered by God, and feeling that his own wishes should be subordinated to the Divine will, he adds, by the will of God; which is equivalent to, If it is the will of God. ‘Praying continually, that, if it be the will of God, I may be prospered to come unto you.’”21
Then Charles Spurgeon gives us something to think about here: “Paul wanted to go to Rome; but I do not suppose that he ever thought that he would go there at the expense of the government, with an imperial guard to take care of him all the way. We pray, and God gives us the answer to our petitions; but often in a way of which we should never have dreamed. Paul goes to Rome as a prisoner for Christ’s sake. Now suppose Paul had gone to Rome in any other capacity, he could not have seen Caesar, he could not have obtained admission into Caesar’s house. The prison of the Palatine was just under the vast palace of the Caesars; everybody in the house could come into the guard-room and have a talk with Paul if they were minded so to do. I suppose that, whatever I might be willing to pay, I could not have preached in the palace of the Queen [of England], even in this nominally Christian country; but Paul was installed as a royal chaplain over Caesar’s household in the guard-room of the Palatine prison. How wonderfully God works to accomplish his divine purposes!”22
Douglas Moo has a very insightful exegesis on how we are to understand Paul’s emotional involvement in the burden he carried for the believers in Rome: “Before stating what it is that he calls God to witness, Paul digresses [by using] a relative clause that affirms the sincerity of his service of God. The word Paul uses for ‘serve’ focuses attention on his service in its vertical aspect as an offering of worship to God. Paul qualifies his worshipful service of God as being ‘in my spirit’ and ‘in the gospel of His Son.’ The former phrase is particularly unclear. A few take ‘pneuma’ as a reference to the Holy Spirit, but Paul’s use of ‘pneuma’ qualified by a first or second person pronoun is against that. Others suggest that the phrase may denote prayer, the inward or ‘spiritual’ aspect of Paul’s ministry, but this, too, is unlikely. What fits Pauline usage and makes sense in the context is an emphasis on the engagement of Paul’s ‘deepest’ person in the ministry to which he has been called. As this inward part of Paul’s person is the instrument of his service, the gospel of God’s Son is the sphere of that ministry. ‘Gospel’ has an active sense here: Paul’s service consists particularly in preaching the good news about God’s Son.”23 Dr. Moo points out an important aspect of interpreting the word “spirit” in any text taken from the Holy Scripture. Make sure you know if the writer is talking about any spirit, his spirit, or God’s Spirit.
1 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 38
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 See 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8
4 Job 16:19 – Complete Jewish Bible
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Ephesians 1:15-16; See 3:14-19
8 Philippians 1:3; Cf. 1:9-11
9 Colossians 1:9-11; Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon1:4
10 John 4:23-24
11 Ambrosiaster: op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 2
13 Philippians 4:6
14 Ibid. 4:7
15 Acts of the Apostles 19:21
16 Ibid. 18:21
17 Ibid. 21:14
18 John Calvin: op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Ibid. Verse 10
20 See Romans 15:25-29
21 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
22 Charles Spurgeon: op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 58