Romans 15:30-33 (14)
In this conclusion to the great letter, this masterfully inspired treatise of Paul, we have a very beautiful recapitulation of Paul’s purpose and longing to come and preach the Gospel also in Rome. We have taken note of the rule according to which Paul labored. He always labored where none had preached the Gospel before him. This occasioned that Paul could not up till this time come to Rome. He had been prevented many times.
Now it seems that judging by this rule of Paul’s labors, and if all things are equal, Paul will be able to come to Rome, if and when he passes through en route to Spain. There is, however, as we have seen, still the matter of the collections which were given by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia which must be “sealed to the saints” in Jerusalem.
How keenly Paul is aware of the difficulties with which his path is strewn, even in the bringing of the gifts to Jerusalem, appears from the last three verses of Romans 15. These difficulties are not only because of the enemies without, the Jews at Jerusalem. Paul also foresees the difficulty that the very gifts themselves will not be interpreted as being the “fruit” of grace. Should the latter be the case Paul would not “seal this fruit(karpon) unto them.”
What utter dependency Paul here exhibits upon God and His Christ!
On the other hand we also see here the truth of the matter that God grants us what we need upon our prayers. In this case the question may well arise whether God heard and answered Paul’s prayer, so that what Paul longs to perform is fulfilled!
But we are anticipating.
Let us read the text as given in the verses 30-33. It reads as follows:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that are disobedient in Judea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints; that I may come unto you in joy through the will of God, and together with you find rest. Now the God of peace be with you all.”
We must not ever say that “‘prayer changes things”! We are promised that whatsoever we ask in Christ’s NAME it will be given unto us. And what does not belong to that Name is withheld from us. We do not know how to pray as we ought as far as the details of our life are concerned. For prayer is not a means to persuade God to do our bidding, but it is the chief part of thankfulness to God, in which we acknowledge that he is God, and that all things are so in His hand that the very devils themselves cannot so much as move, except by God’s decree and providence.
Thus it is also here in this passage under consideration.
Paul would have the believers at Rome “strive together” with him in his behalf in their prayers to God.
The term “strive together” is a composite verb: sunagoonizoo. The term “agoonizoo” means: to enter a contest; contend in the gymnastic games (I Cor. 9:25). It is used of contending with adversaries, fight. John 18:36. Jesus employs this term here before Pilate when He says, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, (eegoonizonto) that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence.” And thus the term is further used figuratively: to contend, to struggle with difficulties and dangers, antagonistic to the Gospel. See Col. 1:29 where the term is used and closely associated with much “labor.”
It is remarkable that Paul would employ such a term of “striving,” fighting, a contest, and enjoin this upon the saints in Rome. Their prayers are to be in the nature of a “contest.” The question is: against whom? And the answer is: really not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the world-usurpers in high places. And this comes to manifestation indeed in flesh and blood. These wicked powers of the demon-world come to manifestation in men and women, in flesh and blood! And Paul “strives” in his prayers with God against these powers in flesh and blood. And these enemies of the Cross are either inside or outside of the church. They are the avowed enemies of the Cross, outside of the church, and they are the “flesh” in the church, which will not wholly live from the principle that the middle-wall of the partition has been broken down by the blood of Jesus on the Cross.
Such is the stage, the arena in which Paul battles.
And in this battle the saints in Rome are to join him.
Paul wrestles with God that He be delivered in the providence of God from these enemies of the Cross who seek his life; and he “beseeches” the saints at Rome to join him in this “battle” against the powers of Judaism in Jerusalem.
The apostle cites a twofold motivation for this injunction that they join him in this battle in prayer.
The first is the more objective and comprehensive motive. It is all that “our Lord, Jesus Christ” stands for. Is he not “Lord” of the living and of the dead? And has He not promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”? Is this fact that Christ is Lord, at the right hand of God, not the most powerful “motive” to wrestle in prayer for Paul. Is the Lord not able powerfully to deliver and pluck Paul out of the hands of these evil Jews? The Romans certainly cannot counter that it is useless to pray. For is not, ours the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ? It is “through” this Christ, and the impulses that He gives to prayer, that Paul pleads with the saints to strive with him. That is the more objective side, motivation.
The other is the more subjective motivation. It is the motive of the “love of the Spirit.” The terms here indicate, evidently, the “love shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit which he hath given us.” Romans 5:5. The Spirit takes the love which is in Christ as in the Head of the church, and works this love in our hearts as living members of the church. This is the love which energizes faith. Gal. 5:6. And thus this faith, which is rooted in the love wrought by the Holy Spirit, wrestles with God together with Paul in Paul’s behalf.
Hence, both the objective and subjective motivations.
The one is based upon and rooted in the other!
Two things they must request from God in this battle in prayer.
In the first place, they must pray that Paul be “delivered” from those who are disobedient among the Jews. These were men who had heard the Gospel, and who would not allow themselves to be persuaded by it. They willfully rejected it. The term “disobedient” is a very strong term. It is not the same as “not yet believing”! It refers to those who perish in their sins. Notice, too, that Paul does not pray that such “disobedient” be given repentance. Nay, these are they whose “eyes are shut, and whose ears are heavy.” They are those “who hear, indeed, but understand not, and who see, indeed, but perceive not.” And in their blindness they are full of zeal for the “law”, yet not according to knowledge. Compare Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27. Does not John say in Chapter 12:39-40, “For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again: He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and should turn and I should heal them”?
From these Paul desires to be “delivered.” This prayer was answered. We read of this in Acts 21:27-36 of these disobedient Jews and of the providential deliverance of Paul by the Roman Chief Captain and his soldiers and centurions. It was through much political maneuvering on the part of those in power, that Paul was nevertheless “protected” from the wrath and fury of the Jews. It was a long road of imprisonment. Paul would be “a prisoner in the Lord.” And some of the great parts of the Bible come to us from Paul’s pen during that time of his life. How wondrous are the ways of God! Paul often refers to these enemies who would kill him, and prays God that he be protected. Think of II Thess. 3:1-2. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men: for all have not faith.”
We may, therefore, safely state that God did answer the “wrestlings” of Paul in prayer for his deliverance, only it would be in keeping with the prediction of God as already given to Paul when he was called to the ministry, and “Jesus Christ was revealed in him.” Do we not read in Acts 9:15-16, “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Yes, his prayer is heard; he is delivered! However, yet in his whole career, he will learn how many things there are in this divine list of sufferings. He shall learn this by degrees and by experience. Just a glance at the catalogue of woes which Paul endured shows the unique manner of God’s deliverance out of afflictions by causing him to pass through them!
And it is also clear that the latter part of this prayer was heard by the Lord. The collections taken by them of Macedonia and Achaia were well-received. They were received as the “fruit” of the love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of the Gentile Christians. Do we not read in Acts 21:17: “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” Thus writes Luke, the historian.
The “God of peace” had, indeed, done marvelous things. In Christ, who is our peace, the middle wall of the partition had been removed. Both are now made one new man in the Spirit. Jew and Gentile together are one. With one voice they praise God. In Acts 21:19-20we read: “And when he (Paul) had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry. And, they, when they heard it, glorified God . . .”
Paul may now enter upon a new and different era of his work; he will be bound, yet the Word of God is not bound.
Years later, Paul may write jubilantly: “Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the Gospel, so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole pretorian guard, and to all the rest . . .” Phil. 1:12-13.
Thus the “God of Peace” went before Paul in his quiet majesty. And the Word of Jesus is fulfilled: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end (consummation) of the world.”
Forsooth: the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church!