NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XXIV)
John Calvin also senses that Paul was anxious to finally go to Rome and share with them all that Christ shared with him. For Calvin, when Paul says, “I know that when I visit you,” may be explained in two ways: First, that he is expecting the Gospel he brings to produce plenty of fruit. That’s because when the Gospel produces the Fruit of the Spirit it will then continue to grow into even greater blessings of the Gifts of the Spirit. Secondly, in order that his going there will be even more fruitful, he tells them it is the result of a long-held desire to see them and share his knowledge of the Gospel with them. But such an outcome would depend partly on his ministry and partly on their faith. That’s why he promises, that his coming to them won’t be a waste of time. He will be well-prepared when he comes to distribute all that he received from Jesus the Messiah by the grace of God. And he plans to do this with all the insights which their minds are prepared to receive.1
Robert Haldane comments on Paul’s use of the term “seal the fruit,” and defines this in several ways. For some, the meaning appears to be that the word “fruit” means the results of having faith in what the Gospel says. Another interpretation suggests that by saying “fruit,” Paul is thinking of the outcome and results of his visit. This would include their growth in understanding the Word better and the changes it will make in their attitude toward sinners outside the church and saints inside the church.
As to the “sealing of this fruit,” it is to be remarked that a seal was used to stamp anything as genuine and to distinguish it from a counterfeit. Now, such spiritual fruit gave convincing evidence that their faith proved real, and that the Gentiles received the Gospel, not in name only, but in truth. Today, we might think of this idea of sealing fruit by observing the process called “canning,” by which fruit is sealed in glass jars after placing them in boiling water and then pouring in wax on top before the lid is applied. As the jar cools it creates a vacuum inside and prevents contamination from the outside. The main reason such fruit, and even vegetables, are canned this way is so that later on in the year when fresh fruit and vegetables are no longer available, a family may still enjoy them during the winter. Sometimes, in our preaching and teaching, we offer fresh fruit from the Word of God then sealing with God’s power to make sure its fresh for them to use in the future, especially when times get tough.
For others, the contribution of the Gentile churches to the poor in Jerusalem served as fruit of their faith in Christ. The Apostle sealed this fruit when he delivered it to the Jewish believers as gifts from their Gentile brethren. It represents him as personally undertaking responsibility of transporting this contribution to not only make sure that it got there but that all of it got there. But Paul expressed an even higher expectation of his taking this love offering to Jerusalem than distributing the gifts and money. He wanted this compassionate expression by the Gentiles to remove any doubts and disarm the jealousy of the Jews with respect to their being part of the Church. Haldane feels that no other object of sufficient importance might detain Paul from visiting Rome and Spain but the joy of bringing the Jews and Gentiles together in unity of spirit and fellowship. Paul placed the union among Christians before the carrying of the Gospel to new areas.2
One Jewish writer gives his view of the “full blessings” of Christ. It is found in the key term, “the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel.” Although the congregation in Rome knows Yeshua, they still lacked having the full knowledge of what the Gospel promises to believers. Paul felt they needed to comprehend the message of the relationship of their faith to the destiny of Israel. It is interesting how many lessons are taught in churches based on this letter of Paul to the Roman church. The Epistle to the Romans is considered by many to be the doctrinal stronghold of the Christian faith. The message for Christians is taught primarily out of chapters 1-8 and 12-15. Rarely, if ever, does one hear a sermon preached on the themes found in chapters 9-11 that deal with the Gospel and the Jews, or one on any part of Romans as interpreted in the context of that section. The “fullness” of the Gospel seems to be lost and replaced by something Paul would not recognize. For him, Yeshua became the faith and hope of Israel.3
15:30 Brothers and sisters, I beg you to help me in my work by praying to God for me. Do this because of our Lord Jesus and the love that the Holy Spirit brings into us.
Now Paul solicits the prayers of those in Rome not only for his sake in carrying out the plans he made but also for Jesus’ sake. As he told the Corinthians: “We do not preach about ourselves. We preach Christ Jesus the Lord. We are your servants because of Jesus… Every day of our life we face death because of Jesus. In this way, His life is seen in our bodies.”4 This was the attitude of the Psalmist who wrote: “Teach me to do Your will, because You are my God; Let Your good Spirit guide me on ground that is level. For Your name’s sake, Adonai, preserve my life.”5 And Paul captured this same thought when he wrote the Philippians: “Therefore, if you have any encouragement for me from your being in union with the Messiah, any comfort flowing from love, any fellowship with me in the Holy Spirit, or any compassion and sympathy, then complete my joy by having a common purpose and a common love, by being one in heart and mind.”6
Paul was fully aware of the power of prayer. As he told the Corinthians: “You also help us by praying for us. Many people thank God for His favor to us. This is an answer to the prayers of many people.”7 He also requested prayer from the Ephesians: “Pray for me also. Pray that I might open my mouth without fear. Pray that I will use the right words to preach that which is hard to understand in the Good News.”8 And Paul sent this word to the Colossians: “Epaphras says hello. He is one of your people and a servant of Jesus Christ. As he prays for you, he asks God to help you to be strong and to make you perfect. He prays that you will know what God wants you to do in all things.”9 And twice he asked the Thessalonians for prayer.10
When it came to Paul’s request for prayer on his behalf, several early church scholars write a number of things. Ambrosiaster, for instance, makes the point that Paul asks for their prayers. He did not do this because he felt deserving of them but because he followed the principle that the church ought to pray for its leaders. That’s why when many ordinary people join together in prayer and agree with one another on what they are praying about, God will not ignore their prayers. Therefore, if the Romans desired a visit from the Apostle, then let them pray earnestly that the door opens to him so that they may receive him in the joy of brotherly love.11
Early church scholar Pelagius adds that Paul asks the whole church to pray for him because he knows that when many people pray together their prayers produce results. When the Jews had James the brother of John killed in Jerusalem, Peter was set free from prison by the prayers of the brethren at the same time. They prayed not so much for his good as for their own, so that they might be strengthened by his teaching.12 Spiritual love leads us to pray for one another.13
In response to Paul’s request for the Roman church to pray for his safety, John Calvin notes that it is well-known from many passages how much ill-will prevailed against Paul among his own Jewish brethren on account of false reports about what he taught the Gentiles. In particular, that the Torah no longer applied when it came to the rites, rituals, and ceremonies of Jewish customs – especially circumcision. These ceremonial laws were being devalued as not useful or necessary in order to be a Christian. He knew of the slander being attached to innocent Gentile believers, especially by those Jewish believers carried away with fanatic zeal for the old way. Add to this the testimony of the Holy Spirit which forewarned him that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem.14 The more the danger, the more he asked for prayer.15
John Bengel takes notice of Paul’s request for prayer and observes that prayer is a form of striving, or contending, especially when people meet resistance. Paul is the only one of the Apostles who asks for the prayers of believers for himself. He often does this at the conclusion of his epistles, but not without reason or cause. For instance he writes this way to those he treats as his sons or children with the dignity of a father such as Timothy, Titus, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. He also requests prayer from those he treats as his equals as a brother would do to a brother, such as the Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, and, therefore, so also the Romans. Some feel that this is another reason to believe that Paul is the author of the Book of Hebrews.16 His requests for their prayers are introduced with great elegance.17”18
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards makes a very important point here concerning the love we have for one another as children of God. For him, the natural human love that we all share with our family and friends is not good enough when it comes to loving our brother and sister in Christ. The Scriptures speak in many places of Christian love as being the same as the love the Spirit placed within them. As Paul told the Philippians, “If there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.”19 Perhaps the reason why there is so much discord and disharmony among church members and denominations lies in the fact that the love they claim to have for sinners does not apply to their fellow believers. Obviously, such love does not flow from the Holy Spirit as its main source.20
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 627
3 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 2 Corinthians 4:5, 11
5 Psalm 143:10-11a
6 Philippians 2:1-2
7 2 Corinthians 1:11
8 Ephesians 6:19
9 Colossians 4:12
10 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1
11 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See Acts of the Apostles 12:2-10
13 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Acts of the Apostles 20:33
15 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Hebrews 13:19
17 See 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Philemon 1:22
18 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 363
19 Philippians 2:1-2
20 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 324-326).