NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XXV)
Robert Haldane is struck with Paul’s concept of the love of the Spirit in this verse. Some understand this to be the Spirit’s love for Christ’s followers. Others see it as their love for one another which the Spirit brought in with Him.1 The expression make sense either way. The love of God may be either God’s love to us, our love to God, or our love for each other. Accordingly, in the Scriptures, it is sometimes used in one sense or the other, but never signifying the three separately at the same time, only in unity. It is always the relationship between the person and the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, along with circumstances that determine the meaning. In other words, you never read where it says, the Father loves you, and the Son loves you, and the Holy Spirit loves you, in the same verse.
In any case, the love that the Spirit brings with Him into our hearts that helps us then to love one another is the most probable meaning here. Now, from this principle of pure love, Paul entreats the Romans to pray for him. Love is not the fruit of a person’s natural heart. People are by nature tolerant of one another. The closest they come to love is called infatuation brought on by attraction. When sinners believe in Christ and are redeemed, the Holy Spirit produces in their hearts love for one another. So this phrase, whether it refers to the love which the Spirit produces in believers, or that which God and Christ and the Spirit have for them together clearly implies the Trinity.2
Paul’s statement to the church in Rome suggesting that he might be in severe danger in Jerusalem may make them wonder why he didn’t come visit Rome and Spain first and then go on to Jerusalem after things quieted down. But his request that they pray for him should be a motivating factor for them to ask God for his protection so that he eventually makes his way to Rome for their benefit. As we know from the story in Acts of the Apostles, Paul did get to Rome, and the prayers of the believers in Rome no doubt played a large role in his surviving a long journey in chains, shipwreck, being bitten by a serpent, and weathering strong storms at sea. God fulfilled Paul’s dream and the Roman’s excitement over his coming but not exactly in the way they thought it would.
Robert Haldane wants to know what was the thing for which the Apostle requested the prayers of his fellow Christians? Was it that he be delivered from death and danger in the discharge of his duties as an Apostle, especially by those who despised him back in Jerusalem? This shows that no matter how willing we may to be to sacrifice our lives for Christ’s sake, yet we should be attentive and not lose our lives out of carelessness. Life is too valuable to be thrown away. The Apostle is not ashamed to admit to his fellow believers in Rome that he is anxious about falling into the wrong hands, that’s why he requests in the most fervent way that they pray for his protection and preservation from death. He was not inviting this persecution and danger, but he sensed that it was on its way.
Haldane remarks about how different this is from the attitude of Ignatius who was born a few years after Jesus’ ascension, and later became Bishop of the church in Antioch. He seemed to call for the prayers of his brethren that he might be honored with a crown of martyrdom, not to be shielded from his enemies. In one of his letters he wrote: “I came bound from Syria for the sake of Christ, our common hope, trusting through your prayers to [that I be] permitted to fight with beasts at Rome, that so by martyrdom I may indeed become the disciple of Him who gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”3
Haldane agrees that Christians ought to be willing to give their lives for Christ rather than deny Him or refuse to do any part of His known will. But it is not only lawful but proper to use every means possible to stay away from danger unless it is necessary for the Gospel sake. If even an Apostle, in the cause of Christ, seemed so desirous of preserving life, what are we to think of those today that seem to have no respect for the life God gave them and act carelessly, almost with indifference. It’s like they don’t really care if they throw it away. This does not just mean doing some daredevil stunt or driving too fast on a curvy, narrow road in the winter time, but by not being careful about what they eat and drink.4
15:31 Pray that I will be protected from those in Judea who refuse to accept our message. And pray that this offering I’m bringing to Jerusalem may be looked upon favorably by God’s people there.
There is no reason to believe that Paul was speaking about any of the Apostles in Jerusalem or the Council over which James the brother of our Lord was in charge, as the ones who were a threat to him. Instead, it could be those mentioned in Acts of the Apostles chapter fifteen that were former Pharisees, like Paul, who did not like the fact that he did not insist on male Gentile converts being circumcised. And we also know from Acts twenty-one that there were many Jews that felt offended by Paul’s preaching in the synagogues in Asia Minor, who might be in Jerusalem for their pilgrimage, and word got to Paul that they were out to get him.
We catch a glimpse of this in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “It was the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the early prophets. The Jews made it hard for us and made us leave. They do not please God and are working against all men. They tried to keep us from preaching the Good News to the people who are not Jews. The Jews do not want them saved from the punishment of sin.”5 And in his second letter Paul to the Thessalonians he asks for prayer because of non-Christians who were very much against his ministry.6 Then there were those who formerly worked with Paul, like Demas, but turned against him.7 In any case, we know that Paul would not leave Jerusalem a free man. God’s plan meant getting the Apostle to Rome as a great learning experience for all.
In Paul’s request that through their prayers he might be saved from the persecution by opposing forces from Judea currently in Jerusalem, Chrysostom believes that Paul was more aware of the danger facing him than he admitted. This is no doubt this was one of the reasons he asked so earnestly for their prayers.8 Such a thought is not illogical since through his ministry the Holy Spirit prompted Paul on many things. We might say that Paul sensed bad things coming his way but did not mention it openly to prevent his followers and those praying for him from becoming discouraged. It is also within bounds to believe that Paul remembered how he persecuted the church and knew all the forces that were available to those who continued to do so.
When it comes to Paul’s claim that he feared for his life upon going to Jerusalem, Luther agrees that the Apostle Paul knew of the persecution awaiting him. We read what he faced while staying at Philip the evangelist’s house in Cæsarea on his way to Jerusalem.9 From such facts, it is clear that this letter was written some thirty years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, namely, during the time of Roman Emperor Nero.10 On the other hand, John Calvin points out that Paul dealt with slanderers from the beginning of his ministry. That’s why he wanted to be humble in his approach to the Romans, showing that he would be willing to do all he could to come to them, even if it meant he may not be accepted by all. Calvin feels that this disposition of mind is something we all should imitate, so that we may not cease to do good to those of who are not happy about our ministry, to begin with.11
John Bengel writes that Paul’s encouragement of the Gentile Greek and Jewish Roman believers to support their Christian brethren back in Jerusalem was an important matter. Not only because it provided needed sustenance and relief, but also it might unite the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers in closer bonds of love. Bengel feels that Paul wanted the Jewish believers in Rome to be impressed by the generosity of the Gentiles, which they were demonstrating for the sake of Jesus’ name. This certainly would afford the Jews plenty of proof of the truth and power of the Christian faith, and of the rightful place of the Gentiles in the Christian church12.13
In this verse, Robert Haldane sees a possible hidden factor that could make the whole thing blow up in Paul’s face when he read the line: “May be looked upon favorably.” It might seem strange that Paul would say something like that. Why would he fear that a love offering brought to help supply the wants of the distressed would not be acceptable to them? Yet Paul makes it a matter of the most earnest prayer for himself and his brethren to whom he writes, that the saints at Jerusalem might be disposed to receive the gift cordially. This certainly shows that after all these years there were still plenty of Jewish members of the Church in Jerusalem and Judea who were not happy with so many Gentiles joining the church who did not share their commitment to Jewish ceremonial laws, especially doing away with the requirement of circumcision. So it might be possible that they view these offerings as charity rather than a gift from their fellow believers. And no Jew would accept a handout from a Gentile?
Would it be wrong if we expected more out of the early church in those days? In the Apostolic churches at that time, we indeed see none recognized as members who were not believers in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. But just like today, there were believers with every degree of weakness, both in knowledge and in character.14 Calvin understands Paul’s doubts with respect to the acceptableness of the gift of the Gentiles, to involve prejudice against himself on the part of the believing Jews. But this provides no defendable foundation for him to fear them. Furthermore, there are ways to prevent such danger without exposing Paul to persecution from the opposition. Why not send the money by the hands of others? That’s certainly one way to guard against the supposed prejudice of the misguided brethren in Jerusalem, and thereby prevent the danger of death with respect to Paul from the hands of unbelieving Jews.15
1 See Romans 5:5
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 629
3 Ignatius: Letter to the Ephesians, Ch. 1
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 630
5 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16a
6 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
7 2 Timothy 4:10
8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 30
9 Acts of the Apostles 21:7-14
10 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 220
11 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 2 Corinthians 9:13
13 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p 364
14 See 3 John 1:9-10
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 631