NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXIII)
John Calvin also saw the importance of prayer. For him, we might describe it as a form of spiritual hydration. Prayer, like water, allows God to pour in us the needed spiritual moister up to optimum levels. Our body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Our body loses water through breathing, sweating, digestion, and elimination. Water does more than just quench our thirst and regulate our body’s temperature; it also keeps the tissues in our body moist. We know how it feels when our eyes, nose, or mouth gets dry. In comparison, we can see how prayer affects our spiritual health.
In fact, Calvin suggested that during times of trouble we schedule regular prayer times so that God can keep us from fainting and becoming depressed, or be broken by adverse events. That’s why Paul not only encourages us to pray but do not let other things get in the way or praying. Little battles may be won, but the war is not over. New conflicts rise daily, and without proper sustenance, even the strongest cannot endure unless they are frequently renewed. This will help up not to grow weary. And the best remedy for a tired soul is an hour of prayer.1
On the subject of constant prayer, Robert Haldane believes that no Christian can perform their duties without this. It is especially necessary during times of hardship. How can any believer discharge their various duties without looking through the Word and communicating with their heavenly Father for guidance? How else will He make known His will and provide the strength needed for them to carry out their mission? Our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge contains the strongest encouragement to perseverance and persist on getting an answer through prayer.2 The Lord commanded His disciples to pray always on account of the power of their spiritual enemies who constantly sought their destruction.
As far as Haldane is concerned, any Christian who undertakes anything without prayer is neglecting their primary duty and not taking advantage given to them as children of God. Who can say they are walking with God when they fail to communicate with the One whose ears are open to the prayers of the righteous? There are occasions when time does not allow much deliberation, and when immediate decisions are critical. But the same way you can drive a car and talk to a friend next to you, we can walk and talk with God at the same time3.4
Adam Clarke also encourages an active prayer life. He calls it “Making the most fervent and intense request to the throne of grace for the light and power of the Holy Spirit.” Most believers need all the help they can get to shun evil, do good, love their neighbors, keep hope alive, patiently endure the trials of tribulation, and deal with the afflictions of life. Since God has His arm outstretched and His hand open to us, why not take hold of Him so He can take hold of us?5 Albert Barnes calls it patient prayer.6 For him, Paul’s directions are this: that in order to discharge the duties given us as Christians while maintaining a joyful hope and being sustained in the midst of afflictions, it is necessary to actually cherish going to God in prayer so that we feel closer to Him.7
Then Barnes feels that there are several rules to guide us in the direction we should go. First, we should not “wait” to find time to pray, but “take” time to pray. It doesn’t have to be in church or even on one’s knees. God’s ear is open to us at any time, anyplace, whether we are with others or alone with Him. Secondly, don’t expect it to be easy, or even possible, to maintain a vibrant Christian life without a daily habit of contacting God in prayer. Thirdly, no believer should start their day without stopping to thank God for the opportunity to live for Him and serve Him that day before they go out into a world in turmoil to do their duties, face trials, and deal with temptations that are sure to meet them. Fourthly, beside thanking Him for His covering on the way to work and back home again, and bowing one’s head to say grace over their meal, no day should be allowed to end without stopping to thank Him for His protection, provisions, and providence, but most of all, that you love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind. And fifthly, there are few things that can add any super-charge to prayer than to combine it with Scripture. Even a devotional guide could well provide the inspiration needed. It goes without saying that during times of anxiety and perplexity, in moments of despondency, in times of danger, and want, coping with disappointments, and in the loss of loved ones, we will feel the need of drawing near to God, and of pouring out our heart before Him. But prayer doesn’t always need to wait until that happens.8
Barnes then repeats the lyrics from a hymn sung back in his time:
“In every joy that crowns my day,
In every pain I bear.
My heart will find delight in praise,
Or seek relief in prayer.
“When gladness brings my favored hour,
Your love my thoughts will fill,
Resigned when storms of sorrow cower,
My soul will meet your will.
“My lifted eye, without a tear.
The gathering storm will see.
My steadfast heart will know no fear,
My heart at peace in thee.”9
Charles Spurgeon preached that joy and patience have healing properties, but they must be taken with a glass full of prayer so they will be wonderfully efficient. Spurgeon wonders how anyone can “rejoice in hope” if they know nothing about prayer to the God who gives hope? Whenever the light of hope begins to dim and the sunshine of joy starts to fade, the way to get them shining again is going to our knees in prayer. Let the Spirit remind us that hope can be sustained through prayer, then joy is sure to brighten again.10
Karl Barth continues his exposition of this section by commenting on prayer. Before, he said that trials and tribulations were an ethical issue, but here he calls prayer an ethical activity. For some, prayer is a primary act of worship which presupposes later action. But it can also be a secondary act of worship which requires that we put in action what we are praying for. To make this clearer, as a primary act of worship we pray to God giving thanks and praise for His kindness, grace, love, and mercy to us. But as a secondary act of worship, we pray to God for strength to show kindness, grace, love, and mercy to others.
Barth continues by pointing out that it is hard to imagine living as we do in a world of misery and often feeling oppressed without calling on God for grace and mercy. When we read the hymns of the Psalmists we see where they saw things as they really were, and in their misery cried out unto God for help. So is it beneath us do otherwise than submit ourselves to Him, our merciful and compassionate God? Who would not want God to continue to be their God? The sight of a band of praying Christians is an uncomfortable sight to the doubters of this world. The energy of prayer presses into their minds the probability that there may be a prayer-answering God. Some consider the action of praying men and women to be an intrusion into their world. When that happens, then prayer can also become an ethical issue. But it is an issue for them, not for the praying believer.
However, when prayer becomes persistent, then questions may begin to arise as to why Christians seem to be constantly engaged in praying to God. Only when it persists and prevails does prayer become an ethical action. When Paul said we should continue in prayer he was not referring to a great number of prayers, but of believers holding firm to the direction and purpose of their prayers. It means that those who are insistent on praying are seeking something that they feel is part of God’s will and worthy of prayer. Sometimes, such intense prayer goes from the groaning of our spirit to the groaning of the Holy Spirit interceding for us to our Mediator in order to reach the heart of God11.12
But we must not let ourselves be misled by how we pray, when we pray, or why we pray. Prayer is basically communication in which we express gratitude, praise, requests, joy, need for help or assistance, etc. Therefore, this communication can be done through praying, singing, meditating, verbally or non-verbally, physically or spiritually. Even listening to praise and worship music or listening to a taped or broadcast sermon or testimony gets us thinking and letting the indwelling Spirit take our thoughts and inspiration to God as a way of thanking Him for His Word.
Verse 13: Take time to assist God’s people who need help. Practice being hospitable.
Paul continues with another proactive admonition. Giving has always been one of the most prominent hallmarks of Christian communities. Countless charities, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, and food banks were spawned by Christians. But Paul makes sure that the believers in Rome knew that charity begins at home. What would you think of a father who earned a reputation around town for being a generous man who spent a great amount of time and money feeding and clothing the poor children in his neighborhood, but it was discovered that he did nothing for his own kids?
The Psalmist made it clear: “How blessed are those who care for the poor! When calamity comes, Adonai will save them,”13 but not at the expense of his own family. Paul no doubt knew that there were many in Rome who had converted to Christianity that was rejected and shunned by their families, especially among the Jews. So he encouraged the church leadership there to look out for and take care of them as much as possible. As he wrote this, perhaps Paul remembered what he told the leaders from Ephesus: “In every way, I showed you that by working hard like this we can help those who are weak.”14 Paul then notes what the Lord Jesus said, “We are more happy when we give than when we receive. Although this quote of Jesus is not found anywhere in Scripture, the Bible tells us that Jesus did many things that weren’t recorded verbatim.15 It is obvious that either one of Jesus’ followers told Paul about what Jesus said, or else he learned it from Jesus Himself.16
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Luke 18:1
3 See Nehemiah 2:4, 8
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 567-568
5 Adam Clarke: On Romans. op. cit., loc. cit., p. 244
6 See Colossians 4:2
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 While Thee I Seek, Protecting Power, Poem by Helen M. Williams, 1786; Music by Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859), Redacted R. Seyda with more modern words of expression.
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Romans 8:27
12 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Psalm 41:1
14 Acts of the Apostles 20:35
15 See John 21:25
16 See Galatians 1:11-12