NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXX)
Verse 26: The Holy Spirit also helps us. When we are very weak, the Spirit joins to help us with our weakness. When we don’t know how to pray as we should, the Spirit Himself speaks to God for us. That way, He intercedes with God for us. Sometimes, He even speaks to God with feelings too deep for us to express with words.
Paul now indicates that his call for patience is not dependent on the believer’s faith and strength alone. When things began to weigh the believer down and there is more to worry about than to celebrate, Paul says that God has supplied a resource for each believer to draw from and be invigorated by – the Holy Spirit. It is easy to testify and proclaim our faith in God when things are going right. But the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he had no interest in bragging about what he had accomplished, but to openly acknowledge that the Spirit used his weakness for God’s glory.1 He goes on to say: “I am glad to be a living example of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own strength and abilities.”2
The writer of Hebrews saw it this way: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave into them and sinned. So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.”3 In other words, God is not requesting from us any more than He demanded from His own Son. We are not pioneers cutting a new path through a jungle of trials and tribulations. No! Since our Lord Jesus blazed the trail ahead of us, we are only asked to follow in His footsteps.
It is important for us to understand the critical place Christ fills in our daily lives. When we encounter difficulties and meet opposition we have a tendency to ask God for things that are not in our best interest or His. He is the one who called us out of darkness. He is the one who placed our feet on the road leading to our destiny. So knowing what He wants for us is better than always asking for what we want. Two of Jesus’ disciples learned this the hard way when they and their mother came to Jesus asking that they are promised thrones next to Him in His Kingdom.4 In his letter, James made this point: “The reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask you don’t get it because your whole aim is wrong – you want only what will bring you enjoyment.”5
Therefore, says Paul, we need some guidance when we pray for answers to our questions on how to best navigate life’s stumbling blocks involving problems and challenges, turning them into opportunities and possibilities as stepping-stones. Paul’s answer is very clear. The Holy Spirit knows the mind of God to the point where there are no secrets between them. Therefore, the Spirit is the One best equipped to help believers in knowing God’s will. Even King David expressed this confidence: “Lord, you know the hopes of humble people. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort their hearts by assisting them.”6
All of this is possible, says Paul, because we are God’s children. And as His sons and daughters, He has place Christ’s way of thinking in our hearts, so that when we speak to Him we do so as a member of His family. This allowed Paul to tell the Ephesians: “Now all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, may come to God the Father with the Holy Spirit’s help because of what Christ has done for us.”7 Later on, Paul advised them: “Keep praying. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes. Plead with Him, reminding Him of your needs, and continue to pray for all Christians everywhere.”8
The Apostle Jude shared this same thought: “But you, dear friends, must build your lives even more secure on the foundation of our holy faith, learning to pray in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy is going to bring you.”9 Jude goes on to explain that this is important when we encounter those who argue against us. It will help us to be merciful to those who doubt us. By doing so, we may save some by snatching them from sure destruction. And for others we know, help them find the Lord by being kind to them. But be careful that we ourselves are not pulled along into their errors. This will help us hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.
However, the Spirit does this all in complete confidence. It is amazing to imagine how the Spirit performs such a ministry on behalf of each believer regardless of language. But it is so needed because life can be both trying and confusing. Listen to King David’s prayer: “Pity me, O Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, for my body is sick, and I am upset and disturbed. My mind is filled with apprehension and with gloom. Oh, restore me soon. Come, O Lord, and make me well. In your kindness save me. For if I die, I cannot give you glory by praising you before my friends. I am worn out with pain; every night my pillow is wet with tears. My eyes are growing old and dim with grief because of all my enemies.”10 And in another prayer, by the descendants of Korach, we hear this plea: “As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find Him to come and stand before Him? Day and night I weep for His help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. ‘Where is this God of yours?’ they scoff.”11
But that was under the first covenant. Paul wanted the Roman believers to know that it is different under the last covenant with Christ serving both as our Savior and High Priest. We can go directly to the Father and have Christ intercede for us. And with the Holy Spirit helping us, we can share our need and then trust God to supply that need according to His will.
Many early church scholars have much to say on this subject. For instance, Origen likens the weak believer to a sick person who often asks the doctor for things that only make them worse than things that can make them better.12 Then Novatian, an early church theologian, says that the Holy Spirit is constantly talking into the divine ear of God on our behalf. He does so sometimes with what Paul says here are “sighs too deep for words.” In so doing, the Spirit discharging His duties as our advocate by rendering His services in our defense. He has also taken up residence in our bodily temple to bring about our sanctification.13 And Ambrosiaster says that our prayers are ineffective because we ask for things contrary to reason. That’s why Paul shows us here that this weakness in us is compensated for by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us for that purpose. In other words, the Holy Spirit helps because He refuses to allow anything we ask to be given to us before the proper time or against God’s will.
Ambrosiaster also makes the comment that Paul indicates that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, not with human words, but according to His own language. That’s because what comes from God speaks like God. That’s why the Spirit speaks the same way as the One who sent Him. Yes, the Spirit given to us pours out our prayers so that whatever our inadequacies and lack of foresight may be, by His actions and communication with God will acquire those things that will benefit us the most.14 To put this another way, it is like the mother or father whose child cannot express him or herself properly, who intercedes and tells the person taking the order what the child is actually asking for. They make it clear that maybe this is not what the child really needs, and suggests something more nutritious and healthier.
We hear early church preacher Chrysostom’s telling us that Paul says it is not possible for us human beings to have precise knowledge of everything we need. That’s why we should joyfully yield to the Creator of our nature and with great relish accept those things He has decided to give us. We should not keep staring at the events around us or those coming our way but look at the choices and options the Lord is offering us. As Chrysostom sees it, God knows better than we do what is for our benefit. Not only that, but He also knows what direction we must go as we look ahead to that glorious day of our final salvation.15
Then, when we look at Augustine’s writings, he says that it is clear from what comes next that Paul is saying here that there are two reasons we do not know what we ought to pray for. First of all, we do not know what the future holds for us nor if we are headed in the direction we should be going. And secondly, many things we take for granted in this life may not be what we should long for since they don’t really meet our needs. Not only that, but it can be the other way around. By His love, the Spirit sighs by making us sigh, thereby, kindling in us the fire of hope for the future life. Do the Scriptures not say, “The LORD your God is testing you to see if you truly love Him with all your heart and soul?”16 That should help us understand that there is nothing that escapes God’s notice.17
Pelagius also believes that the Holy Spirit helps with those things that are part of our future hope so that the things we request can relate to our spiritual needs not only our physical needs. That’s because we are still weak in the flesh and need all the help the Spirit can give us. We are still having trouble seeing what’s up ahead.18 This causes us to ask for things that are harmful instead of helpful. That’s why our requests must not be granted if they are not God’s will for our lives.19.20 And then Bishop Theodoret cautions us not to be so misled as to think that everything we want can actually help us. We don’t know as much about what is good for us as God does. Then early church scholar Pelagius encourages believers to give themselves to the One who holds the keys to the universe. Even if we can do nothing more than groan under the impulse of the grace that dwells within us, God will handle our affairs wisely and will ensure that we get what we need to remain steadfast and secure.21
1 2 Corinthians 12:5
2 Ibid. 12:9
3 Hebrews 4:15-16
4 Matthew 20:20-22
5 James 4:2-3
6 Psalm 10:17
7 Ephesians 2:18
8 Ibid. 6:18
9 Jude 1:20-22
10 Psalm 6:2-7
11 Ibid. 42:1-3
12 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Novatian: The Trinity 29.16
14 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Chrysostom: Homilies on Genesis 30.16
16 Deuteronomy 13:3
17 Augustine: On Romans 54, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 See 1 Corinthians 13:12
19 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
20 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.