Grace For The Journey
This morning we will be concluding our study of Romans chapter 15. Yesterday we saw Paul’s passion and plans in verses 14-29. Today we will examine his prayer requests. These requests are not something tacked on to the end of his discussion as a sign of piety. That may be the way that some people treat prayer, but not Paul. His prayer requests are an integral part of his passion to reach new places with the Gospel of Christ and of his hope of seeing his plans for fulfilling that passion completed. Romans 15:30-33 declare, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find [refreshing] rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Paul’s urging here is the same as in 12:1. It is more than just a request to do something. It is a beseeching or an entreaty calling the brethren in Rome to the action of striving together in prayer with him about his ministry in Jerusalem and eventually coming to Rome.
The basis Paul gives for his entreaty for prayer
Is the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit.
While a personal relationship with those you are
Praying for is helpful so that you know better what
To pray for, the real basis for our praying for one
Another is our common relationship to the
Lord Jesus Christ and our mutual love for one
Another that arises out of the work
Of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Christians desire to see Jesus glorified and
Know that this is accomplished
As He works through His people.
We are to pray for one another with that end in view. We want to see the proper honor and praise given to our God for what He is doing in the lives of others. In addition,
because Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, we share a mutual familial love for one another. This is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Paul wants them to “strive together with” him in prayer. The word “strive” comes from a root word meaning “to struggle or fight.” We get our English word “agonize” from it. The idea of striving in prayer with someone is a very active work. Prayer can too often be done in a half-hearted almost passive manner, but it should be an active spiritual struggle. In Colossians 2:1 Paul refers to his prayers as a “great struggle” on behalf of those at Colosse and at Laodicia. In Colossians 4:12 Paul commends Epaphras to them because he was “always laboring earnestly for them in his prayers.”
Prayer as a Weapon.
The Importance Of Prayer.
Prayer is part of our spiritual battle. In Ephesians 6:18-20 Paul brings this idea out even more, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Looking at the context you will see that verse 18 is not the start of a new paragraph, but rather the conclusion of what precedes it. Remember that the punctuation in your English translation as well as the verse divisions have been added in by men. Koine Greek did not have such punctuation or verse divisions. The meaning here will be a little more clear to you if will change the period at the end of verse 17 into a semi-colon and then go on with verse 18. Next pencil in above the word “with” the phrase, “by means of,” for that is the sense in which it is used. Putting this all together you have Paul’s final comment in this section dealing with spiritual warfare as follows, “And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; with (‘by means of’) all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit….” The rest of the section transitions to the specifics of also praying for all the other saints.
Prayer is in a sub-ordinate phrase to verse 17, but that does not mean it is sub-ordinate in its importance in spiritual warfare. Verse 18 actually takes us back and connects with verse 14 and the various aspects of spiritual armor Paul details in the verses following. It is “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth . . . etc. …by means of all prayer and petition. It is through prayer that we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. It is with prayer that by faith we put on the whole armor of God –
the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
Paul states in verse 18 “all prayer and petition.” “Prayer” is a general term while “petition” refers to specific entreaties brought before God. We pray with both general and specific requests. We ask God in reference to both general and specific needs. In general we would ask God to help us serve and live for Him today. Specifics prayers would include asking Him for His help as we witness to another person or in dealing with some moral or spiritual weakness in ourselves.
Praying In The Spirit.
Paul also says here that we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” All prayer is to be made in accordance with the Holy Spirit. How else can we pray and know what it is within the will of God unless we pray in the Holy Spirit? But what does that mean? We live in a day when there is a lot of confusion about this caused by the Charismatic Movement. I would prefer not to digress, but I need to make sure you understand what the Bible itself says about praying in the Spirit.
Contrary to what those in the Charismatic Movement advocate, praying in the spirit is not speaking in tongues nor is it some private prayer language. Let me quickly dispel these myths. First, Speaking in tongues is not “ecstatic utterances of glossolalia” – or in laymen’s terms – “gibberish.” Acts 2:8-11 could not be more clear on this. The other tongues that were spoken when these people were filled with the Holy Spirit were other languages known to those who heard the languages that are listed in the text. They spoke in a tongue unknown them, but which was known to the hearer.
Second, speaking in tongues was not for the benefit of believers but for Jewish unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 Paul states, “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.” Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11 in which the Lord pronounces a curse against Israel and gives them a sign of His condemnation of them. When they would hear people from other nations speaking in other languages coming to them with God’s message they would know they had been judged. The speaking in tongues was a sign of God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel.
Third, the context of the immediate passage as well as that of the whole book of 1 Corinthians is a correction of their selfishness. Every spiritual gift is for the purpose of the edification of the whole body and not for yourself (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16). Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:4 that “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church,” is one of condemnation, not commendation. They are wrong in their practice. His statement in verse 2 that only God would know what they were saying is again, not one of commendation, but one of sarcastic condemnation that they have not given any consideration to the other believers around them. Verses 3 and 16 make the same point. What they are doing is not good, for without having their mind present, then they could easily fall into blasphemy instead of prayer. That was what was happening in Corinth (12:2,3) even while they were claiming to be doing it by the Holy Spirit.
Others have tried to use Romans 8:26 as the basis for claiming that praying in the spirit is to pray in an unknown tongue. Such argument shows a lack of basic Bible study skills. We examined this verse some weeks ago. The verse says, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” This is the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf, not us praying. And if the groanings are too deep for words, how can that then be claimed to be the prayer language of the man? Something that is too deep for words is something that is left unspoken.
What is praying in the Spirit?
It is praying under the control of the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done. A person who prays in the Spirit is seeking out God’s will and glory above all else. What they may suffer is secondary to God being glorified by their life.
- It is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethesemane – “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).
- It is Paul praying and striving to go to Bythinia and being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit to see that the Lord wanted Him to go to Macedonia instead (Acts 16:7-10).
- It is Paul praying three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but being satisfied with the answer from God that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As I have already pointed out from 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 to pray in the spirit is not to leave out the mind. Certainly there are times, as noted in Romans 8:26, when we just do not know what to pray and there is a deep groaning within us, but that does not mean that our mind has been cast aside.
I think of Paul’s dilemma in Philippians 1 where he recounts his longing to depart and be with Christ but at the same time desiring to remain and be with them that he might still be used of God in their lives. Don’t you ever feel that way. I am tired, I am weary, and this old sinful world gets to me. I long so much to cast aside all the cares of this life and be in heaven with my savior. But at the same time, I have a great yearning to remain with precious my wife and work with her in encouraging and equipping our daughter and grandchildren in godliness. I long to continue laboring for the Lord as long as the Lord will find me useful. There is a conflict with in and I don’t know what to pray. So I leave it with the Lord. He knows my heart and He knows what is best for His kingdom. How do you pray in such a situation? Sometimes it is very difficult, but there is comfort to know that the Spirit intercedes Himself on our behalf right then.
Praying for Others.
As I pray and petition the Lord for my own life to serve Him faithfully and walk in holiness with all my armor on, I also pray for fellow saints, their service and their walk. I am not the only one involved in a spiritual battle. So are all my brothers and sisters in Christ, so as Paul says in the conclusion of verse 18, “with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” The essence of this type of
intercessory prayer is that I take part in the spiritual battles that other people are involved in through my prayers and petitions to the Lord on their behalf. We need to be praying for each other on a regular basis for both the common and the special things of life. How? Let me give a few quick suggestions based on each piece of spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6:14-17:
“Girded with the belt of truth:” Pray for one another to be controlled and directed by truth, that Satan’s lies would be exposed and his slander against God would be revealed.
“Having put on the breastplate of righteousness:” Pray for one another that we would not be carried away by our emotions but would instead by seeking after holiness in all things regardless of how we might feel. That we would deal with other people with grace and mercy instead of anger and revenge. That marriage relationships would be kept pure and that parents would be modeling godliness to their children. That honesty would control us in all our business dealings and that each of us would set and keep the priorities God has set for us rather than what our flesh and pride might seek after.
“Feet shod with the gospel of peace:” Pray that God’s peace would control us regardless of circumstances. That we would seek out and rejoice in our relationship with God and not neglect it in anyway. That each person would grow in the knowledge of God and His love for us.
“Taking up the shield of faith:” Pray for one another that each would become stronger in faith having it tested and proven to be true. That we would counter each fiery dart of the devil with a trust in God that exposes Satan’s lies and grips the hand of the Lord even tighter.
“Taking up the helmet of salvation:” Pray for one another that each would live according to the new nature given to us at salvation and would live with salvation’s hope moving us forward. That we would view life from eternity’s view and no longer live for the pleasures of the moment. That our minds would be renewed and every thought would be taken captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“The sword of the Spirit:” Pray that each one would handle it with accuracy and not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, but become mature and firm in understanding and convictions based solidly on the Scriptures. That in our usage of the Scriptures we would be adept at using them to defend ourselves from Satan’s attack as well as using them to help others to come to Christ.
These are brief examples, but I trust you get the idea of how we can pray for one other and at the same time remind ourselves to keep our own armor on. These are all general examples, but Paul makes specific request both here in Ephesians and in Romans 15.
Paul’s Specific Requests.
Verses 19-20 says, “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Think about that for a moment. The apostle Paul is asking people to pray that he would be bold. Paul who began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus only a few days after he was saved (Acts 9:20), who then a few weeks or months later is boldly doing the same thing in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), who some three years later goes on a missionary journey through Asia Minor to places where the gospel had not been preached before, then not long after getting back from that adventure he does it again, but this time going to Macedonia and Greece as well, who stood up in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens to proclaim Jesus to the philosophers (Acts 17:22), who proclaims Christ without hesitation to the mobs that try to kill him (Acts 21). This Paul asks people to pray that he would be bold? Yes, he does, and so how much more should pray for one another.
Back in Romans 15:31, Paul asks them to pray concerning two specific areas. First, that he “be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea,” and second, that his “service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.” Paul is writing this letter to the Romans as he was nearing the completion of his third missionary journey. On that journey Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, then went to Macedonia, and then spent 3 months in Greece before returning to Macedonia. This would be when he collected the contribution from them for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul sailed from Philippi to Troas and then down the coast to Miletus. We know from Acts 20:22-23 that by this time the Holy Spirit had revealed to Paul that bonds and affliction awaited him in Jerusalem. Paul did not know what would happen to him there, but it is apparent from his prayer request here in Romans 15 that Paul was already aware of this at the time he wrote this letter.
It is a normal prayer request to be delivered from trouble you may be facing. However, Paul does not request that. He asks instead to, “Be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea.” Again, Paul already knew by the Holy Spirit that bonds and affliction awaited him in Jerusalem. The prophet Agabus told Paul in Acts 21:11 that he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. Many of his companions begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem because of this. Paul’s own attitude is recorded in Acts 21:13, “For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Paul was resolute toward what would happen to him when he got to Jerusalem. He would not shirk his obligations in order to protect himself. He would leave himself and his safety in the Lord’s hands. This was neither foolhardy, fatalistic, or irresponsible in any way. On the contrary, Paul was being responsible in trusting God to work His will in whatever lay ahead. While we are not to seek out danger as a means of proving our trust of God, for we are not to put God to the test (Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16), neither are we to cower in fear from the dangers we will face in serving the Lord. Whenever it is clear that some action is according to the Lord’s will, then we should do it regardless of the negative consequences we might suffer because of it.
Too often Christians will shy away from their responsibilities in declaring the truth of God in word and deed because they are afraid of the negative reactions they will get. Too many Christians want to avoid suffering so much that they will compromise their professed faith. That ought not to be. The strength and reality of our faith is only proved by what we are willing to suffer for it.
Paul is not trying to avoid the afflictions he knows will come, but rather to be delivered from those Jews that were disobedient to God and seeking to hinder the Gospel. Paul knew these people well because he once had been one of them. They had zeal without knowledge, and so in their blindness they thought themselves to be serving God when in fact they were opposing Him.
Why did Paul want to be delivered from these people? Because, as verse 32 tells us, Paul’s desire was still to go to Rome and fulfill the plans and desires that were still on his heart. He already stated back in chapter 1 his desire to impart some spiritual gift to them, help establish them, be a source of mutual encouragement and obtain some fruit from among them (1:11-14). Yesterday we also saw from 15:24 that he wanted to see them, enjoy their company for awhile and be helped by them on his way to Spain.
Paul’s second prayer request was that his, “Service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.” Essentially, Paul wanted them to pray that he would be able to complete his current ministry task regardless of any opposition. He wanted to be a blessing to the saints there. He did not want any opposition to cause the gift from the Gentiles to be offensive to the saints in Jerusalem. He wanted them to receive it with the same attitude of love with which it was given. This desire was not mixed with any thought of personal glory. Paul had long before humbled himself before God to be a simple bond-servant. All glory belongs to the Lord. It would be against Paul’s character to seek to take away from that for himself.
If the Lord was gracious in answering these requests, then Paul knew that he would be able to go to Rome “in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” There would be joy in Paul’s heart over being able to both complete his present ministry task of delivering the offering from the gentiles and having it accepted by the Jewish saints in Jerusalem and in being able to fulfill his desire to go to the saints in Rome. None of this could happen except that it would occur by the will of God. That is why their prayers on his behalf were so important to Paul. He did not want to be outside of the will of God in the least little bit.
Paul then ends this section before going on in chapter 16 to bring personal greetings and some final instructions, “Now may the God of peace be with you all. Amen”
God is the only source of true peace, for only in submission to His will in our lives can there be harmony with our creator. Only in Christ can we find the meaning and purpose of our existence. Until a person is reconciled to God through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, they remain under God’s condemnation and wrath. Paul could express this desire for their benefit only because he already knew it himself in the midst of all the troubles and afflictions that he faced in serving Christ. He knew that they could experience that same peace because of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior.
How is your prayer life? Are you active and diligent in praying for others? How do you want people to pray for you? How are you praying for them? Are you praying in the Spirit of God to see His will accomplished in yourself and others? Are you praying for good things to happen as well as for evil things to be avoided? Pray for one another just as Paul requested prayer for himself. Pray for one another to be bold in living for Christ. Pray for deliverance from those that would seek to stop us from completing our ministry responsibilities or carrying out our ministry plans.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”