NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIFTEEN (Lesson XXVI)
On the subject of Paul’s request for prayer that his goal may be realized and he would be granted the right by God to visit Rome, Robert Haldane suggests that we may learn from this that when we are sent by the Holy Spirit on an errand of importance, and we need plenty of prayer for success in our journey, how much more do we need prayer in our daily lives! God certainly encourages the exercise of prayer, especially that we pray for success when we do His work. Another aspect of what we read here in this passage is that it is one of the strongest defenses against the theory, by some, who propose that prayer is a useless exercise because God will not change His mind. We see here that Paul believed it was not only lawful and proper to pray to the unchangeable God, but that it is our duty to pray to Him to cope with whatever difficulties we may run into while trying to do His unchanging plans. We’re not praying that He won’t change His mind, but that we won’t change our mind.1
Charles Hodge summarizes what he sees as Paul’s concerns about his impending visit to Jerusalem. He notes that there are three objects for which he particularly wished them to pray: his safety, the successful purpose of his mission and that he might afterward come to them with joy. There were many reasons for Paul to dread the violence of the unbelieving Jews, evidence is found in the history of this visit to Jerusalem written by Luke.2 They started by trying to destroy his life, then accused him in front of the Roman governor, and ended up having him imprisoned for two years in Cæsarea. It didn’t get any better because he was eventually sent to Rome in chains. The unbelieving Jews were not the only ones he worried about. Even some narrow-minded Jewish Christians there, who were prejudiced against him as a preacher to the Gentiles and advocate of the liberty of Christians from the yoke of the Jewish Ceremonial Laws, were unforgiving in their hostility against him. That’s why he pleads with the Roman believers to pray hard that the mission he was on to help the suffering believers in Jerusalem might be accepted by all the saints there.3
Preacher Charles Spurgeon remarks that he too recognized Paul’s dilemma concerning extremely biased saints in Jerusalem who hated the fact that uncircumcised Gentiles were allowed equality in the Church. They were still tied to their Jewish bonds, and Paul was a little afraid that when he told them the offering he was bringing was from Gentile churches in the west, it might not be graciously accepted by them. So by asking the Roman believers to pray about that matter, he hoped the news of their support might change some minds back in Jerusalem. For Spurgeon, this raises this question: Is there anything about which believers may not pray? For instance, it would be ludicrous for anyone to pray that a Christian girl sexually assaulted by a criminal suffer a miscarriage because the one who committed the assault was a sinner. In God’s eyes, there is no need for that infant to suffer the punishment of another person’s crime. So we should only bring to Him in prayer those things He approves of. So Paul asked the Christians in Rome to pray about his journey to Jerusalem and also to pray for the door to open for him to visit Rome.4
Jewish scholar David Stern notes that Paul told the Thessalonians, who some of the disobedient people in Jerusalem were,5 and that it was the Judean nonbelievers who took issues with Paul ministry to the Gentiles.6 His answered prayer proved more literal than Paul wished,7 and it turned out to play a major role in him eventually realizing his desire to visit Rome.8
Stern then goes on to talk about Paul’s second request, that his mission to bring them some relief would be accepted by the saints in Jerusalem. Why would they refuse such a heartfelt gift? Aside from the humiliation of being seen as charity cases, resentment among believers at Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles remained even though the Jerusalem leadership stood solidly with him. The relationship between Paul and some of those not in leadership positions produced plenty of friction, and his temper may have added to the heat. Yet, it is reasonable to infer that the Messianic community in Jerusalem gladly received the fruit of his labor that he brought with him9.10
15:32-33 Then, if God wants me to, I will come to you. I will come with joy, and together you and I will be refreshed. The God who gives peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul always left things in God’s hands. More than once God sent Paul to places not in his plans and prevented from going to places he wanted to visit. But in his mind, if God expressed His will this way, then let His will be done. So we see that when they put Paul in chains and Agrippa and Festus decided to send him to Rome, he accepted it without question.11 Paul did not take being in prison as a negative. In fact, he wrote the Philippians and said: “Christian brothers, I want you to know that what happened to me helped spread the Good News. Everyone around here knows why I am in prison. It is because I preached about Jesus Christ. All the soldiers who work for the leader of the country know why I am here. Because of this, most of my Christian brothers saw their faith in the Lord made stronger. They have more power to preach the Word of God without fear.”12 I like what Dr. J. Vernon McGee said about this. He hears Paul speaking very emphatically to the Romans. For instance, when the believers in Philippi heard that Paul was in prison, they sent a message to him by their pastor, Epaphroditus, and it probably went something like this: “Oh, poor brother Paul, we feel so sorry for you. Now your great missionary journeys are curtailed; you are in prison, and the Gospel is no longer going out!” McGee imagines this as Paul’s reply: “Look, I want you to know that the Gospel is going out, and the things happening to me won’t curtail the Gospel being preached, but actually furthered the Gospel.”13
On Paul’s closing remarks to this chapter, a number of early church scholars share several thoughts. For Ambrosiaster, because Paul’s mind is dedicated to delivering the gifts to Jerusalem from the Gentile churches he visited in the West, he wants their mind to be open and receptive to his mission, seeing it as their fellow believers’ love for them. That way, they could join together in one accord to give thanks to God on their behalf. Let them rejoice that because of the ministry God gave him, there were many made happy and now praising God, who otherwise would be lost in darkness forever. The God of peace is Christ, who said: “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.”14 This is what he prays for them, knowing that the Lord said: “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”15 Paul therefore wants them to be the kind of people in whom the Lord Jesus Christ dwells, who showed them His spiritual presence will take away all the discord caused by human logic. And since they willingly received the truth, they may now live peacefully in that truth.16
Then Pelagius sees Paul arriving in Rome some years later and telling the believers there how his offering from the Gentile churches was accepted at Jerusalem and will then speak the Word of God with peace of mind. There are few things more difficult to overcome than heaviness of heart when trying to teach the Word of God. That’s because the God of peace dwells only in those who are peacemakers. It is good that Paul concluded this chapter with peace, because things go so much smoother when everyone is in peaceful agreement with each other.17 And Theodoret is convinced that Paul harbors no desire to do anything apart from God’s will. Paul called God, “the God of peace” for a reason, he was concerned about those at Rome who were battling one another or at least who were suspicious of one another. He wanted them to be at peace with each other because of the controversy which they were having over the observance of certain Jewish ceremonial laws.18
In response to Paul’s closing benediction, Martin Luther comments on the need for invoking the abiding presence of the God of peace. This will help everyone understand that the “God of peace” means the God who is worshiped in peace, just as the “God of hope” means the God who is glorified through hope. Idols and images are gods of contention. Luther then goes on to question whether the Apostle Paul ever got to Spain. He quotes from a work by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (circa 1455–1536),19 a French theologian and humanist who referenced a passage from an apocryphal document saying that he did.20 However, Luther doubts that such evidence is genuine.21
With regard to Paul expression that he longed to visit the believers in Rome, John Calvin notes that Paul suggests that prayer would be profitable for them also, as they prayed that he not be killed in Judea. The same goes for Paul’s wish to come to them in joy. It certainly would be advantageous to the Romans for him to come to them in a cheerful state of mind and free from all grief, that he might work among them with more energy and enthusiasm. And by using the word “refreshed,” again it shows how fully persuaded he was of their brotherly love. The desire of this all being part of God’s will reminds us of how necessary it is that we be diligent in prayer, for God alone directs all our ways by His wisdom.22
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 631
2 See Acts of the Apostles 21
3 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 686
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
6 See Acts of the Apostles 21:27
7 Ibid. 21:32ff
8 Ibid. 28:16
9 Ibid. 21:17-19; 24:17; see also verse 28
10 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Acts of the Apostles 27:1, 41-43
12 Philippians 1:12-14
13 J. Vernon McGee: Thru the Bible, loc. cit.
14 John 14:27
15 Matthew 28:20
16 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Stapulensis was one of the leaders of the reform movement in France.
20 See Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages
21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 220
22 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.