3 Jan 2019
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 15: 30-32. 4) Paul requests prayer for his visits.
*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* (30). Towards the beginning of his letter Paul assured the Roman Christians that he was constantly praying for them (1:9f.). So it is entirely appropriate that he should now ask them to pray for him. Besides, he and they are *brothers* in the family of God. He is also able to appeal to them *by our Lord Jesus Christ* (our common Lord) and *by the love of the Spirit* (our common love being the Holy Spirit’s fruit) (Gal. 5:22).
He goes on to refer to prayer as a *struggle*. It is natural that readers who are familiar with the Old Testament should recall the occasion when Jacob ‘wrestled’ with God (Gn.32:24ff.). But there is no suggestion here of such a struggle with God. It is more likely that Paul is thinking of our need to wrestle with the principalities and powers of darkness (Eph.6:12). In point of fact, however, the apostle does not specify any adversary with whom we are to strive. It may be, therefore, that he is simply representing prayer as an activity demanding great exertion, a struggle in fact with ourselves, in which we seek to align ourselves with God’s will (cf. Col. 2:1f.; 4:12).
For what, then, does Paul ask their prayers? It concerns his visits to Jerusalem and to Rome. With regard to Jerusalem, he mentions two topics for their prayers, which relate to believers and unbelievers respectively. The first concerns the opposition of unbelievers. *Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea* (31a). He is aware that he has many enemies among the unbelieving Jews, who will doubtless plot and scheme for his downfall, even his death. He knows he is in danger, even for his life. He will shortly say, when *en route* for Jerusalem, ‘I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ (Acts 21:13). But he asks the Romans to join him in prayer for his protection and deliverance from his opponents.
Paul’s second concern for his Jerusalem visit relates to the believers, the Jewish Christian community: *Pray…that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there (31b). He realizes that it may be difficult for them to accept the offering, not in the general sense that we all find it hard to receive gifts which place us in other people’s debt, but in a much more specific sense. In accepting the gift from Paul, Jewish Christian leaders would be seen to endorse Paul’s gospel and his seeming disregard of Jewish law and traditions. Yet if his offering were to be rejected, this could cause the rift between Jewish and Gentiles Christians to widen irrevocably. So Paul longs that Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the body of Christ may be strengthened by the Jewish Christians’ acceptance of its tangible symbol. That is why he asks the Romans to pray both that the believers will accept the gift and that unbelievers will not be able to prevent either the giving or the receiving of it.
Paul now requests prayer also for his visit to Rome. Indeed he sees the two visits to be inseparably connected. Only if his mission in Jerusalem succeeds will his voyage to Rome be possible. So he asks the Romans to pray that he may be protected and his gift accepted in Jerusalem, not only because these things are important in themselves, but also *so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed* (32). Whatever reception he is given in Jerusalem, he anticipates that afterwards he will be in need of the joy and refreshment which fellowship with the Roman Christians will bring. This time he does not mention his further plan to go to Spain.
Tomorrow: Romans 15:30-32. He requests prayer for his visits (continued).