NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXII)
One thing that God appreciates highly and what fellow believers hold dear is when a person is faithful and trustworthy. Paul expressed this to the Colossians: “I pray that God’s great power will make you strong and that you will have joy as you persevere and remain patient in every situation.”1 And to the Thessalonians who were concerned about missing the coming of the Lord should they die before His return, Paul wrote: “We thank God for you all the time and pray for you. While praying to God our Father, we always remember your work of faith and your acts of love and your hope that never gives up in our Lord Jesus Christ.”2 And when he wrote them later, Paul had this to say: “We are proud of you and tell the other churches about you. We tell them how your faith stays so strong even when people make it hard for you and make you suffer.”3
Then when Paul wrote young Timothy, he advised him to stay right with God, to live a God-like life, and be willing to remain strong. Then said Paul: “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the life that lasts forever. You were chosen to receive it. You have spoken well about this life in front of many people.”4 When Paul received word on how Timothy was doing, he wrote him again and suggested that he follow his example: “You know what I teach and how I live. You know what I want to do. You know about my faith and my love. You know how long I am willing to wait for something. You know how I keep on working for God even when it is hard for me.”5
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster talks about the power of joy and how even during times that do not allow us to speak publicly about our faith, nevertheless, we can still rejoice in tribulation. The world does not understand how believers can have sadness bring joy. It is the joy that comes from hope that helps believers to endure tribulation, knowing that the things which are promised to those who suffer are much greater than anything they may have to surrender down here. But joy is still not enough, it must be fortified with constant prayer.6 And Gennadius is certain that God’s mercy does not abandon His people under such circumstances. We can all be sure that He will constantly be there to help us persevere through all things.7
In the 95 theses that Luther posted on the Wittenberg Castle Church door, the last one reads as follows: “And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22). Of course, Luther was speaking out against the sale of indulgences to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that was leading the people to believe that they could avoid any punishment for sins committed and help dead relatives escape some of Purgatory’s punishment for a few coins dropped into a tin box.
Adam Clarke agrees with Ambrosiaster by adding that we must never forget that everything we suffer as Christians we suffer for Christ‘s sake. Our steadfastness and faithfulness are to His honor. It also brings honor of our Christian profession when we suffer with a calm mind.8 To this we can add Albert Barnes’ note that believers are sustained by the influence of their hope in the coming future glory to all who endure until the end. We even get excited that the day is coming when we will live where there shall be no more death, and where all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes.9”10
Robert Haldane gives an exposition on being patient when troubles come our way. First of all, since we have been provided with such good hope through grace, this should help us to be patient while going through their afflictions. What more do believers need to enable them to bear calamities than knowing in advance the happy ending? And what can equal the expectation of every Christian who must go through the fiery furnace of persecution than the fact they will emerge as pure gold? So we can see that a believer’s afflictions are not only necessary for being tested and tried, and that to do so brings honor and glory to God. And as Paul himself said, there is a crown that awaits the faithful servant.11
As we learn from Scripture, the afflictions of the righteous, which are but for a moment, work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal abundance of glory.12 Furthermore, God’s Word tells us that the trial of our faith is much more precious than that of gold, though it is tried with fire, and will provide praise and honor and glory in the day Christ returns.13 Afflictions are allowed by God in order for His people to increase their patience.14 It is true that on account of the sin that remains in this world it will continue to have an effect on our minds and bodies. But remember, behind the clouds we have this rainbow of hope from our Lord Jesus: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.15”16
Karl Barth again shares what he sees. For him, trials and tribulation are an ethical issue. For how can we prove our true allegiance and Christian patriotism to the Kingdom of God unless we are persecuted? This then allows us to glory in tribulation.17 To be oppressed can be seen as a positive human action. When believers endure their tribulation with patience, it is their way of protesting the way of the world. Patience gives us the strength to love those who oppress us. And when the world sees Christians express their faith in God during times of hardship without seeing Him, it impresses us to have faith in the One we cannot see because we believe He is there. As such, our faith and patience is what makes tribulation an ethical action because it helps us advance in our Christian faith.18
Verse 12c: Always keep your prayer life proactive.
The Apostle Paul was not as interested in praying for things that happened and getting God’s guidance on how to deal with them, as much as he was in praying in advance for what one planned to do so that God’s guidance could help in navigating through any problems that might be encountered. The Greek verb proskartereō that Paul uses here speaks of keeping something going, a constant activity with no downtime or convenient breaks. It also means to be diligent in maintaining such activity. In this case, Paul focuses on the believer’s prayer life. Thayer, in his Lexicon, places the way the word is used here as a dative verb that means: “giving constant attention to a thing,” and here he points to prayer.
We see it used the same way when the disciples and others were in the Upper Room awaiting the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us: “These all devoted themselves single-mindedly to prayer.”19 And when the disciples needed to chose those who would take care of the everyday affairs of the early church in Jerusalem, they explained: “We ourselves must give our full attention to praying and to teaching the Word.”20 And when Paul wrote the Colossians, he requested they: “Keep praying. Keep watching! Be thankful always. As you pray, be sure to pray for us also. Pray that God will open the door for us to preach the Word.”21
Paul also wrote the Thessalonians and told them: “Never stop praying.”22 Under no circumstances should this verse be misconstrued as telling believers never to get off their knees, but to remain in prayer as long as humanly possible. It simply suggests that prayer should be an integral part of their life and ministry. We certainly see that this was practiced after Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and the church in Jerusalem was formed. Luke tells us: “They were faithful in listening to the teaching of the apostles. They worshiped and prayed and ate the Lord’s supper together. Many powerful works were done by the Apostles.”23
Although there is little said by the early church scholars on Paul’s admonition to keep one’s prayer life active, there are volumes filled with the prayers of early church leaders. Tertullian did write on prayer. He does not believe that God, who demands prayer, has ever denied a prayer coming to Him through spirit and truth.24 On the other hand, how many inspiring stories have we read, and heard, and believed, that convince us that God answers prayer? Prayers in the First Covenant period resulted in The way the ancients prayed, freed them from fires,25 and from beasts,26 and from lack of rain.27 And think, that happened before prayer was taught by Christ. So how much more effective is Christian prayer now!28 Did not Jesus tell us that when we face any opposition and need help to strength our faith, that whatever we ask for in prayer to believe it is ours and we will receive it?29 And listen to what Paul to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”30
Martin Luther calls this a loud alarm that all Christians, especially ministers, should heed and consider. Paul is calling on complete dedication as demanded by true prayer. His request is not without merit. Did not an ancient church believer say: “There is no work quite so difficult as praying to God.”31 Genuine prayer works well with a humble and repentant mind. But it also excels when joined with an uplifting, victorious spirit.32
1 Colossians 1:11
2 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
3 2 Thessalonians 1:4
4 1 Timothy 6:12
5 2 Timothy 3:10
6 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Gennadius of Constantinople: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 244
9 Revelation 21:4; 7:17; compare James 1:4
10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 2 Timothy 4:8
12 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
13 1 Peter 1:7
14 James 1:3
15 John 16:33
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 567
17 See Romans 5:3
18 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Acts of the Apostles 1:14a – Complete Jewish Bible
20 Ibid. 6:4
21 Colossians 4:2-3
22 1 Thessalonians 5:17
23 Acts of the Apostles 2:42-43
24 John 4:24
25 Daniel 3:26-27
26 Ibid. 6:19-23
27 1 Kings 17:1; 18:42-45
28 Fathers of the Church: On Prayer, Tertullian, Ch. 29
29 Mark 11:24
30 Philippians 4:6-7
31 Luther’s exact quote is hard to pinpoint among the sayings of the early church fathers since Luther wrote in German and quoted from Latin. Yet, he may have been referring to the one by the desert monk Abba Agathon that goes like this: “I consider no other labor as difficult as prayer.”
32 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 176