15:30 — Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me .…
God loves to answer the faithful prayers of believers that are offered on behalf of other believers. Paul, the great apostle, frequently asked others to pray for him. God wants us praying regularly for each other.
Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, (15:30a)
A fifth implied characteristic of a person who faithfully fulfills his divine calling is that of having a clear purpose in his service for the Lord. The preposition by has the sense of “on behalf of,” or “with regard to.” Now I urge you introduces the exhortation to the readers to pray for his protection and ministry. Before giving that exhortation, Paul declared unequivocally that the overriding purpose for his request was to glorify our Lord Jesus Christ. He told the believers at Corinth, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), which is to say for Christ’s sake, the source and power of the gospel. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31).
In a following letter to Corinth Paul declared, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.… For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:5, 11). “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses,” he confessed, “with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake” (12:10). In his closing remarks to the Galatian churches Paul wrote, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). And to the Philippians he said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
The faithful Christian witnesses for the sake of those who need the Lord and he serves for the sake of those who need help, but his supreme motive always should be to serve His Lord and Savior, in whose name and by whose power he ministers to others.
Paul rejoiced in the fact that, if he succeeded in reaching Jerusalem with the contribution of the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, Christ would be glorified, within the church and before the onlooking world. The Lord would be glorified by the willing and loving generosity of the Gentile contributors as well as by the grateful reception of the gift by the Jews to whom it was sent. Christ is always honored and glorified when His church is unified in His name and in His service.
Not only did Paul minister on behalf of the glory of Christ but also for the sake of the love of the Spirit. This phrase and the idea it expresses are not found elsewhere in Scripture. Some have interpreted this phrase as meaning the Holy Spirit’s love for Paul. As part of the Godhead, the Spirit certainly has the same love for the world as a whole and for believers in particular as do the Father and the Son. The context, however, seems to indicate that Paul was speaking of his love for the Spirit, rather than the Spirit’s love for him. Paul’s great love for God obviously included love for the Holy Spirit as well as for God the Father and God the Son. David expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God; let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10, emphasis added). In both instances the Holy Spirit is praised and, by implication, is loved.
Devotion to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and love for His Holy Spirit should be the foremost and ultimate motive for all Christian living and service. In gratitude for the divine grace by which Christ saved us and for the divine power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, everything we think, say, and do should express our love for them and bring them glory and honor.
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. (15:30 b–32)
Perhaps the cardinal characteristic of a person who faithfully does the will of God is prayer. And Paul now urges his fellow believers in Rome to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.
Sunagōnizomai (to strive together) is an intensified form of agōnizomai, which means to struggle or fight and is the term from which we get the English “agonize.” The word was originally used of athletic events, especially gymnastics, in which contestants, such as wrestlers or boxers, struggled against each other. Jesus used the word when He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting [agōnizomai]” (John 18:36).
Prayer is often a battle. Sometimes the “opponent” is our old self, which continues to wage “war against the law of [our] mind, and [makes us] a prisoner of the law of sin which is in [our] members” (Rom. 7:23). Prayer is always, in one way or another, a struggle against sin and evil, whether in us or around us. Sometimes, as Isaiah attests, it is necessary to arouse ourselves, as it were, and “take hold of” God (Isa. 64:7). Although we do not wrestle with the Lord in the way that Jacob did (Gen. 32:24), the spiritual struggle of prayer may sometimes be equally intense. Paul’s struggle on behalf of believers at Colossae and Laodicea doubtless included many hours of agonizing prayer on their behalf, that they would be rightly taught “a true knowledge of God’s mercy, that is, Christ Himself,” and would be protected from those who wanted to delude them (Col. 2:1–4). Near the end of that letter, Paul sent greetings from Epaphras, who was from their fellowship, and who was “always laboring earnestly for [them] in his prayers, that [they might] stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12).
Our finite minds cannot reconcile the power of prayer with God’s absolute sovereignty. As with the Trinity, and many other clearly revealed but humanly unfathomable teachings of Scripture, we simply acknowledge their absolute truth. Any seeming inconsistencies are due to the limits of our human comprehension. We know from His own Word that God is sovereign and immutable. Yet we also know from that same Word that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). We have our sovereign Lord’s promise that “everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened” (Luke 11:10). Any theology that belittles the power of prayer or intensity in prayer is heresy.
Although he asks for protection while in Judea, in this present passage Paul is not speaking primarily about struggling in prayer against the forces of evil. His emphasis here is rather on earnestly struggling along with his brethren in Rome in their prayers to God for him. He makes many similar requests in his letters. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit,” he counsels the Ephesians, “and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf” (Eph. 6:18–19). During his first imprisonment in Rome, he implored the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well” (Col. 4:2–3). In his second letter to Thessalonica, he said, “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1).
At the beginning of the letter to Rome, Paul assures believers there that “God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers” (1:9–10). Now he asks those brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him: for his safety in Judea when he visits Jerusalem (15:31a), for success in his ministry to the saints there (v. 31b), and for personal satisfaction, as he anticipates fellowship with his readers when he eventually reaches Rome (v. 32a, c).
that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, (15:31a)
Disobedient is from apeitheō, which carries the basic idea of being obstinate and unpersuadable. In this context it refers to Jews who obstinately refused to believe the gospel and therefore were disobedient to God, whose Son, the Messiah, they rejected. It is therefore rendered “do not believe” in the King James Version. The same verb is translated “disbelieved” in Acts 14:2 (nasb), referring to Jews who “stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren,” specifically, Paul and Barnabas (see 13:50).
From the time that he first “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’ ” (Acts 9:20), Paul was marked for death by Jewish leaders in Damascus (v. 23) and shortly afterwards by Jews in Jerusalem when he began preaching the gospel there (v. 30). By the time he wrote the letter to Rome, he already had endured ridicule, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, and even stoning by Jews who fiercely opposed him and the gospel he preached (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 11:23–25; Acts 14:19; 18:12; 20:3, 19).
Paul’s request to be delivered was not for the purpose of his being spared further persecution or even death. He unselfishly wanted to be delivered only to the extent necessary for him to complete the ministry the Lord had given him. Long before he arrived in Judea, he knew that trouble awaited him. While his ship laid over at Miletus, he told the elders from Ephesus who came out to meet him, “Now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself,” he continued, “in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22–24).
When Paul and his companions reached Caesarea, they stayed a few days at the house of Philip the evangelist. While there, “a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us,” Luke reports, “he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’ ” (Acts 21:10–11).
Paul’s prayer request to be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea was therefore answered positively, to the extent that the unbelieving Jews in Judea were not allowed to take his life. He was beaten and imprisoned, but his life was divinely spared. While being held under guard by the Romans in Jerusalem, “the Lord stood at his [Paul’s] side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also’ ” (Acts 23:11).
and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; (15:31b)
Paul’s second prayer request was that, regardless of what dangers might befall him, his service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints. In other words, he wanted his ministry to benefit the Lord’s people there, at the birthplace of the church. He was not concerned for what might be called professional success. He once warned the Galatian believers that, “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.… For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:8, 10).
Because he and his Gentile companions from Macedonia and Achaia were bringing a financial contribution to the church at Jerusalem, which was still largely Jewish, the service which Paul mentions doubtless referred, at least in part, to that offering. He wanted the saints in Rome to pray with him that the gift would not offend Jewish believers in Jerusalem but rather would prove acceptable to the saints there. He wanted it to be received with loving gratitude for what it was, a gesture of brotherly love and conciliation.
Paul’s prayer for success in Jerusalem also was answered. “When we had come to Jerusalem,” Luke says, “the brethren received us gladly.… And after [Paul] had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God” (Acts 21:17, 19–20).
so that I may come to you in joy … and find refreshing rest in your company. (15:32a, c)
This is Paul’s most personal prayer request of the three. Looking forward to the time when he finally would be able to come to the church in Rome, he hoped that he might do so in joy. He already had told them, “I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while” (15:24).
In the closing comments of his first letter to Corinth, he said, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours” (1 Cor. 16:17–18). He rejoiced in the blessings and joy of others. “Besides our comfort,” he later wrote to the same church, “we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Cor. 7:13).
Paul’s personal desire to minister in Spain was never realized, but he did reach Rome and found the joy and refreshing rest in their company for which he longed. When he and his companions arrived in Rome, “the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 27:15).
Again we note that above all else, Paul was committed unalterably to the will of God. Soon after he and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit from the church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 13:2–3), Paul preached in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (v. 14), in Asia Minor. Twice he referred to David’s obedience to God’s will. Quoting 1 Samuel 13:14, he reminded his Jewish audience of the Lord’s word concerning this greatest king of Israel: “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (v. 22). Later in that sermon he noted again that “David … had served the purpose of God in his own generation” (v. 36). From the moment of his conversion—whether as priest, prophet, or pioneer (see Rom. 15:14–21)—Paul sought to do nothing but the will of God, in order that, like David, he also might be a man after the Lord’s heart.
Throughout his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle attests to that desire. As in the present text, he makes clear that his hope to visit Rome in person was qualified by its being in “the will of God” (Rom. 1:10). He previously has declared that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to intercede “for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27), and urges believers, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God,” and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is” (12:1–2). He praised believers in Macedonia because they “gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5). He cautioned believers in Ephesus not to “be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17), and admonished slaves to be “obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (6:5–6).
In the opening verses of his two letters to the church at Corinth, his letters to the churches at Ephesus and Colossae, and his second letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he was “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” The supreme focus of his personal life and of his public ministry was always the will of God.
When the believers at Caesarea begged Paul not to continue on to Jerusalem because of the dangers he would face there, he responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13; cf. 20:24). What happened to him was unimportant, as long as he was following the Lord’s will in doing the Lord’s work.
When he testified about his conversion and calling before a large crowd of Jews in Jerusalem, he recounted the words of Ananias, who had said to him, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth” (Acts 22:14).
As Paul has already testified in Romans 15, because of his ministering in the will of God, he knew spiritual triumph and could say with perfect humility, “In Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed” (vv. 17–18). By ministering solely in the will of God he experienced the supernatural power “of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit” and could claim “that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (v. 19).
Pray for Me!
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.
In the last study we looked at how confident Paul was that when he came to Rome it would be “in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” I ended by listing the requirements for such blessing, the basis for Paul’s confidence, based on Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15. Yet Paul undoubtedly also prayed for God’s blessing on his pending visit to Rome and asked other believers to pray too. Paul was confident of God’s richest blessing on his ministry because he had asked God for it.
In the final paragraph of Romans 15 Paul passes to the subject of prayer, urging the Christians at Rome to pray for him. This is not unusual. It was Paul’s regular practice to request prayers for himself and his ministry. We can think of many passages where he does it: 2 Corinthians 1:10–11; Ephesians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3–4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2. But this is a strong and very impassioned plea, undoubtedly because of the difficulties Paul foresaw in going to Jerusalem. In these verses Paul describes prayer as a struggle and brings in each member of the Trinity: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (v. 30).
John Murray says of this verse, “God answered the prayers but not in the ways that Paul had hoped for or anticipated. The lessons to be derived from verses 30–33 are numberless.” I agree with John Murray, for none of us prays as well, fervently, or with as much understanding as we should.
Prayer Is Not Useless
One of the reasons why we do not pray as we should is that we do not realize the seriousness of what is going on or our part in it. According to Ephesians 6, we are embroiled in fierce spiritual warfare, and prayer is our weapon. Paul realized that intensely, which is why he engages the believers at Rome to join his struggles by praying to God on his behalf.
A great Bible teacher of the early part of this century, Reuben A. Torrey, was at a Bible conference in St. Louis. Another minister was speaking on “The Rest of Faith,” saying that Jesus has won all spiritual victories for us and that all we need to do is rest on Christ’s work. There is a sense in which that is true, of course. But the preacher overextended himself when he exclaimed, “I challenge anybody to show me a single passage in the Bible where we are told to wrestle in prayer.” Torrey was on the platform, and he says that although one speaker does not like to contradict another, this was a challenge he had to take up. So he said softly, “Romans 15:30, brother.” Fortunately the other speaker was honest enough to admit that Torrey was right. For what Romans 15:30 says is that we are to struggle together in prayer and that much depends on it.
It is helpful to know that the Greek word here is synagonizomai, which is a compound made up of the preposition meaning with (syn) plus the word from which we get our words agony, agonize, and antagonist (agonizomai). An agon was an athletic contest. Thus, agonizomai described the struggle that took place in an athletic contest and by extension in any other conflict as well. Jesus used the word when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight …” (John 18:36). His word for fight is agonize. In Luke 22:44, this is the word that is used to describe our Lord’s fervent prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” To return to Paul, both the noun and verb occur in Paul’s summation of his ministry, where he says: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7).
This, then, is why prayer is not a useless exercise. We are engaged in a great spiritual struggle against the devil and his schemes, and prayer is the only way we can participate in it.
Prayer Is Effective
The second lesson of Paul’s important paragraph about prayer is that prayer is useful. As James says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
It had to be if it was going to help Paul. In verse 31 of this section Paul asks the Roman Christians to pray for two things: first, that he would be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and second, that his service in Jerusalem might be accepted by the saints there. There was ample cause for his anxiety on both counts. Paul was aware of how intensely he was hated by the Jews. They saw him as a Jewish renegade and heretic who was teaching a disastrous theology and undermining Judaism. The proof of their hatred (and of the danger to which Paul was exposed) was seen in their reception of Paul when he arrived in the city and was making his way to the temple. His enemies saw him and stirred up the masses of the people, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). This last charge was untrue, but it was effective in causing the people to seize Paul and try to kill him. He was saved from the mob only because the commander of the Roman garrison sent soldiers into the crowd to take him into custody. Yet even as they did, the people kept crying out for his death (v. 36).
What about Paul’s second area of concern, that his service (he means the offering that he had received from the Gentiles) might be acceptable to the Jerusalem saints? We might wonder how any offer of financial assistance could be unacceptable, but we need to remember how fiercely many Jewish Christians felt about the Mosaic law and how fanatically they opposed Paul’s insistence that Gentiles should not be subjected to its strictures. Paul wanted the Gentile offering to heal this division, but it was possible that it could have had a directly opposite effect. It could have been seen as a bribe and only have intensified the hostility.
So what was the outcome? Well, in the first instance Paul was indeed delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, though not in the way he would have wanted or expected. When the riot occurred, he was rescued by the soldiers. And though he spent the next two years in custody in Caesarea and at least two years as a prisoner in Rome, he did at last get to Rome and possibly to Spain as well.
There is also reason to believe that the Gentile offering partially healed the breach between Jewish and Gentile Christianity, for the leaders thanked Paul for his concern and praised God for his ministry, while reminding him that God was also working among them to save many Jews and bless Jewish Christianity (see Acts 21:17–20).
Does prayer work? Yes, in the sense that it changes us. But it also works in the sense that it is God’s appointed means to spiritual victory and right ends. Charles Hodge wrote in connection with these verses, “Prayer (and even intercessory prayer) has a real and important efficacy; not merely in its influence on the mind of him who offers it, but also in securing the blessings for which we pray. Paul directed the Roman Christians to pray for the exercise of the divine providence in protecting him from danger, and for the Holy Spirit to influence the minds of the brethren in Jerusalem. This he would not have done, were such petitions of no avail.”
Earlier I cited James 5:16 to show that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Another verse from that letter, James 4:2, shows that the reason we do not experience the full measure of the blessing of Christ is that we do not ask for it: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Unfortunately, we are often woefully deficient in this area.
Let me tell you how Dwight L. Moody became an evangelist. Moody was a shoe salesman who was also the teacher of a boy’s Bible class in Chicago. He was there at the time of the Great Chicago Fire, and after he had done his part in getting together some money to help the poor and buy a building for his own work, he went to England for a rest. He did not intend to preach. He only wanted to hear Charles Spurgeon, George Mueller, and some others. But one Sunday he was invited to preach in a Congregational church in north London, and he accepted.
Sunday morning did not go well. Moody said that he had “no power, no liberty; it seemed like pulling a heavy train up a steep grade.” It was so bad that he tried to get out of preaching the evening service, for which he had also been invited, but the minister would not let him off.
That evening it was quite different. Moody felt unusual power, and when he got to the end he decided to give an invitation. He asked all who wanted to accept Christ to get to their feet, and about five hundred people did. Moody thought there must be some mistake, perhaps they just didn’t understand him. So he asked them to sit down. Then he said, “After this meeting there will be an after-service in the vestry, and I invite all who are serious about receiving Christ to come to that meeting.” There was a door to the vestry on each side of the pulpit, and when the service was over the people began to stream through.
“Who are all these people?” Moody asked the pastor. “Are they yours?”
“Some of them are.”
“Are they Christians?”
“Not as far as I know,” was the reply.
Moody went into the vestry and repeated the invitation in even stronger terms, and the people all once again expressed their willingness to become Christians. Moody still thought there must be some mistake. He said, “I have to go to Ireland tomorrow, but your pastor will still be here and if you really mean what you have just said, come tomorrow night and meet with him again.” A few days later, when he was in Ireland, Moody received a telegram from the minister saying, “There were more people here on Monday night than on Sunday. A revival has broken out in our church, and you must return from Ireland and help me.” Moody did return, and what happened in those days was the basis for the invitations that later took him back to England and then over the whole world as an evangelist.
That alone is a remarkable story, but here is the rest of it. There were two sisters in that north London church, one of whom was a bed-ridden invalid. After the morning service at which Moody had first preached the healthy sister came home and reported that a Mr. Moody had been there that morning.
“Mr. Moody of Chicago?” asked the sister. When told that he was the one who had preached, the sick sister said, “I have read about him in the newspapers and have been praying that he would come to London and that God would send him to our church. If I had known that it was he who would be preaching this morning, I would have eaten no breakfast and have spent the time praying instead. Now leave me alone. Don’t let anyone in to see me. I am going to spend the rest of the day and evening fasting and in prayer.” That is what she did, and the revival in north London resulted.
Is prayer effective? Indeed it is! What is more, it is the only thing that is effective in this great spiritual struggle for the minds and souls of men and women. It is God’s appointed means to revival.
Prayer Is Necessary
The third point this passage teaches is that prayer is necessary. It is not only effective, it is the only thing that is effective. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that we pray to see individuals saved and experience other spiritual blessings and results. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”
I include this point on the basis of Paul’s reference to the will of God in verse 32: “so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.” Does that mean that prayer gets God to change his will so that he conforms to our wishes, or does it mean only that we are changed to accept what he is going to do anyway?
There are two common errors at this point. The first is the error of a superficial Calvinism, which understands that God is sovereign and that his will is always done. It errs in deducing that because this is true, prayer is virtually unimportant except in regard to how it changes us. The second is the Arminian error, which makes God somehow weakly dependent on us. William Evans, in Why Pray, writes, “Prayer does not change God’s purposes and plans; but it releases them and permits God to do in, for and through us all that which his infinite love and wisdom want to do, but which because of lack of prayer he has not been able to do.… Prayer gives God the opportunity to do for us what he wants to do.… [We should not] think that God can do whatever he wants to do without our aid. He cannot.”
Cannot? Unable? Give God the opportunity? Anyone who knows anything about the majestic sovereign God of the Bible knows that there is something terribly wrong with this approach.
The answer is a better understanding of true Calvinism, which realizes that God does not only appoint the end to be obtained, but he also designates the means to attain that end. Therefore, if God has appointed a widespread revival or the salvation of an individual or any other blessing and if he has determined that the means by which that blessing shall be received is prayer, then it is as necessary that we pray as it is that this predetermined blessing come about. Prayer is inseparably linked to election, just as witnessing and the preaching of the Word are linked to it. If God has determined to do something in response to the prayers of his people, then his people must pray. Indeed, he will lead them to do so.
John Calvin said, “The phrase through the will of God reminds us of the necessity of devoting ourselves to prayer, since God alone directs all our paths by his providence.” Torrey declared, “Prayer is God’s appointed way for obtaining things.” He concluded that the major reason for all lack in our experience, life, and work is prayer’s neglect.8
Prayer Is Difficult
So why do we neglect prayer? Maybe because we do not believe that what I have just said is true or important, but perhaps also because prayer is so difficult. It must be difficult, because Paul calls it a struggle. People who pray well know what that means.
The next question is why prayer is difficult. One reason is that prayer is a spiritual battleground. Our enemy is the devil, and we cannot expect things to be easy when we are struggling with Satan for the souls of men and women. Again, prayer is difficult because we do not know God or God’s ways as we ought to know them. Therefore we often do not really know what to pray for. Paul understood this problem well, for he wrote earlier in Romans, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). In other words, one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to pray for us and with us and so make up for our great spiritual ignorance and deficiencies.
But let me suggest one other reason why prayer is so difficult for us based on what we find in Romans: We are too self-centered in our prayers. Have you noticed how unselfish Paul’s prayer requests were? They were for his safety and success in Jerusalem, but not simply that he might have an easy time. He wanted his service to be so well received that it would help heal the breach between Gentile and Jewish Christianity. He wanted to be delivered from the unbelievers in Jerusalem so that his ministry among the Gentiles might be continued with God’s blessing. Indeed, the last verse of our passage says, “… so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (v. 32).
I am reminded of the story of a little girl who had been to a Sunday school lesson on prayer and had been taught that Jesus said, “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:23). The child could see a large mountain from her bedroom window, and the next day her mother came by her room and heard her praying that God would cast the mountain into the sea. “Why do you want to pray a prayer like that?” her mother asked. “Why would you ever want that mountain thrown into the sea?”
“Oh,” said the little girl, “I’d love to see the big splash it would make when it came down.”
Unfortunately, many of our prayers are only a little less selfish than that. And since selfishness is sin and sin is a barrier to prayer (see Isa. 59:1–3), it is not surprising that we find prayer difficult and that our specific prayers often go unanswered.
Prayer Is Commanded
Paul’s words are a command: “Join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued.”
Jesus also taught us to pray. Remember his story about the unjust judge and persistent widow who kept coming to him until he finally gave her what she wanted (Luke 18:1–8). Jesus did not teach that God is an unjust judge; but he wanted us to know that we “should always pray and not give up” (v. 1). Jesus prayed! So did the apostles. So have all the saints through all the ages. Can we neglect it? Reuben Torrey was right when he said that whatever else we may learn on this subject, what we must certainly learn is this: “I must pray, pray, pray. I must put all my energy and all my heart into prayer. Whatever else I do, I must pray.”
30. Now I beseech you, &c. It is well known from many passages how much ill-will prevailed against Paul in his own nation on account of false reports, as though he taught a departure from Moses. He knew how much calumnies might avail to oppress the innocent, especially among those who are carried away by inconsiderate zeal. Added also to this, was the testimony of the Spirit, recorded in Acts 20:23; by which he was forewarned, that bonds and afflictions awaited him at Jerusalem. The more danger then he perceived, the more he was moved: hence it was, that he was so solicitous to commend his safety to the Churches; nor let us wonder, that he was anxious about his life, in which he knew so much danger to the Church was involved.
He then shows how grieved his godly mind was, by the earnest protestation he makes, in which he adds to the name of the Lord, the love of the Spirit, by which the saints ought to embrace one another. But though in so great a fear, he yet continued to proceed; nor did he so dread danger, but that he was prepared willingly to meet it. At the same time he had recourse to the remedies given him by God; for he solicited the aid of the Church, so that being helped by its prayers, he might find comfort, according to the Lord’s promise,—“Where two or three shall assemble in my name, there in the midst of them am I,” (Matt, 18:20;) and, “Whatsoever they agree in on earth, they shall obtain in heaven,” (Matt. 18:19.) And lest no one should think it an unmeaning commendation, he besought them both by Christ and by the love of the Spirit. The love of the Spirit is that by which Christ joins us together; for it is not that of the flesh, nor of the world, but is from his Spirit, who is the bond of our unity.
Since then it is so great a favour from God to be helped by the prayers of the faithful, that even Paul, a most choice instrument of God, did not think it right to neglect this privilege, how great must be our stupidity, if we, who are abject and worthless creatures, disregard it? But to take a handle from such passages for the purpose of maintaining the intercessions of dead saints, is an instance of extreme effrontery.
That ye strive together with me, &c. Erasmus has not given an unsuitable rendering, “That ye help me labouring:” but as the Greek word, used by Paul, has more force, I have preferred to give a literal rendering: for by the word strive, or contend, he alludes to the difficulties by which he was oppressed, and by bidding them to assist in this contest, he shows how the godly ought to pray for their brethren, that they are to assume their person, as though they were placed in the same difficulties; and he also intimates the effect which they have; for he who commends his brother to the Lord, by taking to himself a part of his distress, do so far relieve him. And indeed if our strength is derived from prayer to God, we can in no better way confirm our brethren, than by praying to God for them.
31. That my ministration, &c. Slanderers had so prevailed by their accusations, that he even feared that the present would hardly be acceptable, as coming from his hands, which otherwise, under such a distress, would have been very seasonable. And hence appears his wonderful meekness, for he ceased not to labour for those to whom he doubted whether he would be acceptable. This disposition of mind we ought to imitate, so that we may not cease to do good to those of whose gratitude we are by no means certain. We must also notice that he honours with the name of saints even those by whom he feared he would be suspected, and deemed unwelcome. He also knew that saints may sometimes be led away by false slanders into unfavourable opinions, and though he knew that they wronged him, he yet ceased not to speak honourably of them.
By adding that I may come to you, he intimates that this prayer would be profitable also to them, and that it concerned them that he should not be killed in Judea. To the same purpose is the expression with joy; for it 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 in a more lively and strenuous manner labour among them. And by the word refreshed, or satisfied, he again shows how fully persuaded he was of their brotherly love. The words by the will of God remind us how necessary it is to be diligent in prayer, for God alone directs all our ways by his providence.
And the God of peace, &c. From the universal word all, I conclude that he did not simply pray that God would be present with and favour the Romans in a general sense, but that he would rule and guide every one of them. But the word peace refers, I think, to their circumstances at the time, that God, the author of peace, would keep them all united together.
30 At the time of writing, Paul was aware of Jewish opposition to him and his work. The attempt on his life when he was about to leave for Jerusalem (Ac 20:3) clearly shows that his apprehension was justified. Paul had received prophetic warnings of what awaited him in Jerusalem (21:11), and he seems to have had a premonition of what lay ahead (Ac 20:22–25). He had experienced deadly peril before and knew that prayer was the great resource in such hazardous times (2 Co 1:10–11); so he requests prayer now—the kind involving wrestling (“join me in my struggle”) before the throne of grace, that the evil designs of his enemies may be thwarted (cf. Eph 6:18–20). In doing so, he enforces his request by presenting it in the name of him whom all believers adore, “our Lord Jesus Christ”—and adding “by the love of the Spirit.” This is a subjective genitive and could mean the love for one another that the Spirit inspires in believers (Gal 5:22). But since the phrase is coupled apparently equally with that of the person of Christ, it is probably better to understand it as the love that the Spirit has (cf. 5:5). The warmth of the expression is enough to warn us against thinking of the Spirit rather impersonally as signifying the power of God. Paul had already affirmed the Spirit’s deity and equality with Father and Son (2 Co 13:14).
31 The request for prayer includes two immediate objectives. One was deliverance from unbelieving Jews in Judea. This group had forced his departure from the city at an earlier date (Ac 9:29–30), and there was no reason to think they had mellowed. The other objective concerned the attitude of the Jerusalem church to the mission that was taking him and his companions to the Jewish metropolis. Evidently the opposition of the Pharisaic party in the church (Ac 15:5) had not ceased, despite the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:19–29). This opposition, as it related to Paul, was nourished by false rumors concerning his activities (Ac 21:20–21), so there was reason for concern. It would be a terrible blow to the unity of the church universal if the love-gift of the Gentile congregations were to be spurned or accepted with only casual thanks. The body of Christ could be torn apart into Jewish and Gentile churches.
32 These two items are intimately related to the successful realization of his hope of reaching Rome safely, coming “with joy” because of the goodness of God in prospering his way, and being “refreshed” (synanapausōmai, GK 5265) in the fellowship of the saints. Yet he knew that all of this, as with everything, was conditional and depended on “God’s will” (cf. 1:10). As it turned out, this meant that he would reach Rome, but not as a free man. Yet that very circumstance enabled him to demonstrate the all-sufficient grace and power of Christ (Php 1:12–14; cf. 2 Ti 4:17).
30 The fulfillment of Paul’s hope to come to the Romans “with the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (v. 29) depends on what will happen when Paul goes to Jerusalem with the collection. And so he “now” “urges” the Roman Christians to pray for him. The word is a strong one,8 and Paul accentuates it by his twofold qualification: “through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit.” The first “through” might be paraphrased “in the name of”: it introduces the authority by which Paul makes his request. The second, on the other hand, identifies the ground of the request.10 “Love of the Spirit” might mean “the love of the Spirit for us;” but, in a context where relations among Christians have been so central, it probably indicates “the love that the Spirit inspires” (REB; cf. TEV);12 for example, the love that believers have for one another, a love “that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Paul’s request is that the Roman Christians “strive together” with him in prayers. Paul’s use of the metaphor of fighting or wrestling may imply something about the nature of the prayer that he is requesting: that it involves a “wrestling” with God; or that it must be especially diligent.16 But Paul’s use of the language of “striving” to describe his own ministry might suggest rather that he is inviting the Roman Christians, through their prayers, to participate with him in his “struggle” to complete his ordained missionary work. Though so many are unknown personally to him, Paul can nevertheless ask the Roman Christians to identify with him in his own struggle so that they might sincerely pray on his behalf.18 As Calvin remarks, Paul “shows how the godly ought to pray for their brethren, that they are to assume their person, as though they were placed in the same difficulties.”
31 The first thing that Paul wants the Roman Christians to pray for is his personal safety: “that I might be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea.” “The disobedient” refer to unbelievers; and that Paul had good ground for this request is clear from what happened when he did reach Jerusalem with the collection: the Romans had to take him into custody in order to keep the Jews from killing him (Acts 21:27–36).
But Paul is also concerned about his reception by believers in Jerusalem. Therefore, his second request is that the Roman Christians pray that “my ministry for Jerusalem might be acceptable to the saints.” As the parallel language in v. 25 shows, “ministry” (or “service”) refers to the collection. And it is possible that this second request might be closely related to the first. For Paul might think that it would be pressure put on the Jewish Christians by their unbelieving fellow Jews that would lead them to reject the collection. But Paul does not draw this connection; and the distrust about Paul and his law-free gospel among Jewish Christians themselves was great enough to give him ample reason for the concern he expresses here.22 For, while Paul’s relationships with the Jerusalem apostles were apparently cordial enough at this point, his own letters reveal that various conservative Jewish-Christian groups continued to be hostile toward him.24
32 The purpose clause in this verse could be a third prayer request, parallel to the two in v. 31, but it probably expresses the ultimate goal of those requests:26 that Paul might “come in joy28” to the Roman Christians and find refreshment there with them. “Through the will of God” probably modifies “come” rather than “find rest”;30 but, in either case, Paul thereby reminds his readers that all his plans and hopes are subordinate to the will of God. We find a somewhat ironic confirmation of this in the way in which God “answered” Paul’s prayer here. He was delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, but only by being locked up by the Romans for two years. The collection was, apparently, accepted by the Jewish Christians (or at least most of them [cf. Acts 21:17]), but Paul’s subsequent arrest in the temple precincts must have raised Jewish Christians’ suspicions about him again. And Paul did get to Rome and experience some measure of joy and refreshment (cf. Phil. 1:12–19; 2:25–30), but he arrived there in Roman chains.
15:30–33 / After completing the relief offering, Paul hopes at last to be free to pursue his Spanish mission, stopping in Rome en route “in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (vv. 28–29). Paul was under no illusions about latent hostility awaiting him in Jerusalem. Neither (apparently) was anyone else. He had already escaped one plot on his life there (Acts 9:29–30), and omens of yet another awaited him (Acts 20:22–25; 21:10–11). It is for good reason that Paul hopes to be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea (v. 31). In no uncertain terms he reckons with the possibility of losing his life at the hands of Jews who were opposed to the messiahship of Jesus. So ominous were impending events that in this, the only direct personal appeal to his readers in the epistle, he solicits their aid in his struggle by praying to God for me (v. 30). In going to Jerusalem Paul was quite literally risking his life for the unity and equality of Gentiles and Jews. In this too he needed prayer, not only that his life would be spared, but that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.
Events in Jerusalem, of course, transpired quite differently from the hopes of verse 28. Paul fell victim to a misconceived plot and was nearly beaten to death in the temple precincts by an angry mob of Jews (Acts 21:17ff.). After an anxious rescue by Roman soldiers, he languished two years under as many governors in jail in Caesarea. Paul eventually reached Rome, but not as a pioneer missionary. He arrived as a prisoner in chains, and our chief source for these matters, the book of Acts, closes with his awaiting trial under Caesar in Rome.
Whether Paul ever made it to Spain we do not know. The nt leaves no record that he did. The traditional view is that Paul died at the hands of Nero shortly after the end of the narrative of Acts (ca. a.d. 62). There is, however, at least one brief though tantalizing piece of evidence that Paul may have fulfilled his goal of reaching Spain. The early record of 1 Clement (ca. a.d. 95) that Paul “taught righteousness to all the world” and gave his testimony “when he had reached the limits of the west” (5:7) is no negligible witness. It is, of course, possible to take “limits of the west” to mean Rome, but that is rendered less likely considering the fact that Clement wrote from Rome, which was the western limit of neither the empire nor Europe. What 1 Clement says implicitly, the Muratorian Canon (also from Rome, though a century later and of less value) says explicitly: “from the city (of Rome) [Paul] proceeded to Spain.” Whether Paul actually reached Spain is, in the final analysis, of no material consequence for our understanding of Romans. It is largely a point of historical curiosity. Nevertheless, 1 Clement and the Muratorian Canon caution us against foreclosing the question too hastily. Even if Paul fulfilled his goal of preaching “the gospel where Christ was not known” (in Spain), however, he must have been arrested again a few years later and executed in Rome, for tradition is unanimous that he died there sometime during the latter years of Nero’s reign (ca. a.d. 64–68).
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ro 15:30). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 538–541). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 223–224). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.