Pastor David B. Curtis


Striving Together in Prayer

Romans 15:30-33

Delivered 02/17/2013

In our last study we saw that Paul has finished relaying his plans to the Romans; he wanted to come to visit them, but first he has to go to Jerusalem taking the love offering from the Gentiles. Once he finished that he would be on his way to Rome:

Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. Romans 15:28 NASB

Verse 30 is the beginning of a new paragraph that runs from 30–33. This text is a call to prayer. This is Paul asking the Roman Christians, whom he had never met, to pray for him. He wants them to pray that the plans he had just told them about would be successful. In this text we find instruction on: how to pray, encouragement, and why we should pray.

What comes to mind when someone brings up the subject of prayer? Is it guilt over prayerlessness? All of us know we need to pray more than we do. We all feel the need for a deeper, more meaningful prayer life.

What is prayer? Prayer is too often associated with a ritual that makes us feel better, rather than seeking the face of a gracious God. Catholics pray the rosary, repeating memorized prayers with each bead on the rosary. Muslims have similar prayer beads by which they mindlessly utter memorized phrases to Allah. Some organizations teach prayers to memorize and pray on certain occasions. However, in most of these situations, prayer is comparable to a lucky charm.

Let me give you a definition of prayer: Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God, I need you” or “Thank you God for helping me!" We ask God's forgiveness, because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer, because we know that whatever we are, or have, has come from Him. We petition Him, because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and that prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God, I can't do this, so, I come to you acknowledging my need." There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer.

We glorify God by prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.

A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn't know Clark Kent is on board.

There are two spiritual activities that should never cease in a believers life: the reading of God’s Word and prayer. When we pray, we speak to God; when we read His Word He speaks to us. The Bible and prayer make up the interchange between man and God. Scripture says we are to be unceasingly involved in both activities.

Paul asks the Roman believers to pray for two concerns: that the unbelieving Jews in Judea would not kill him and end his ministry; and the Jewish Christians would accept the financial gift from the believing Gentiles. So Paul urges the Roman Christians 1,000 miles from Jerusalem to ask God not to let that happen:

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Yeshua the Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, Romans 15:30 NASB

“Now I urge you”—this could be translated as: “exhort or encourage.” It’s the idea of someone coming alongside another person, perhaps someone running in a race, and urging them to persevere. Paul wanted the Romans to join him in prayer, but he did not resort to guilt-techniques to get them to pray. His motivation for them to pray is:

“By our Lord Yeshua the Christ”—this evokes all that has been said of Yeshua and His saving work in this letter. Consider the redemptive work of Yeshua by which you were delivered from bondage to sin (Rom 3:24). Yeshua did that work willingly, as He laid down His life for you (Rom 5:8). Consider how faith in Yeshua transforms the worst sinners into saints. Consider how you have peace with God through Yeshua the Christ (Rom 5:1). Consider the reign of grace that has come through our Lord Yeshua the Christ (Rom 5:21). This should be the motive behind everything that we do—for Yeshua’s sake:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Yeshua as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Yeshua's sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5 NASB

For Yeshua’s sake is for His glory and honor. For the Lord Yeshua’s sake is always the goal of any ministry. Why do we teach? Why do we pray? Why do we give? Why do we serve? Why do we do anything? Why do we comfort people or build them up or strengthen them? Why do we do any of that? It should all be for the sake of the Lord Yeshua the Christ.

“And by the love of the Spirit”—this is a very unusual phrase, not used anywhere else in the New Testament. There’s some discussion among New Testament students as to the meaning of this phrase. Does it mean: “by the love which the Spirit engenders within us as believers”? Or does it mean: “by the love which the Spirit has shown to us as Christ’s followers”? Or does it mean: “by the love which the Spirit displays through us toward others”? I suppose the ambiguity of the phrase can leave us with all of these meanings. Paul had written earlier:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 NASB

This love gives us a constant assurance of God’s favor and kindness toward us.

So their motives to pray for Paul are for the sake of Yeshua and because of the love of the Spirit.

“To strive together with me in your prayers to God for me”—when we think of the Apostle Paul we think of a man who was a strong believer in the doctrine of predestination, election, divine foreknowledge, foreordination, and divine calling. No one speaks of these things more than Paul except, possibly, the Lord Yeshua. And yet at the same time the apostle was a fervent believer in the efficacy of prayer.

Paul is thoroughly convinced that his ministry would be a complete failure without prevailing prayer, and not just his own petitions, but those of the saints in various churches on his behalf.

He asks the believers to “Strive together”—this is the Greek verb sunagonizomai, which is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It is a compound word from, “Sun,” which means: “together,” and “agonizomai,” which means: “to agonize or to fight or to struggle.” The word was used in both athletic and military writing to describe the conflict or struggle that takes place in those activities. It could be translated: "to fight." Striving together in prayer is not merely reciting rote prayers that you learn as a kid. Do you understand what it is to agonize in prayer? Have you ever done that? Paul sees prayer as great conflict:

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. Colossians 4:12 NASB

“Laboring fervently”—is the Greek word agonizomai, a form of the word Paul used in our text in Romans. Here we see Epaphras agonizing for the Colossian believers in prayer.

Paul often solicited prayer. He called on people to pray for him repeatedly because he knew how dependent he was:

Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 Thessalonians 3:1 NASB

Notice what Paul says in our text, “To strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” So Paul is praying for himself and exhorts the Roman believers to join with him in the struggle. So we might ask, “If he is praying, why does he need more people praying?” This may also cause us to ask,” Why do we have prayer meetings? Why have a prayer group on facebook? If God is God, and it is His power that makes a difference in answering prayer, why does it matter how many people ask him?” I think Paul answers that for us in:

you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11 NASB

So the more people there are praying for something, and thus depending on God for mercy and power, the more people will give Him thanks and glorify Him when the answer comes. We join together to declare our dependance upon Yahweh. And then we corporately thank Him when he answers our prayers.

Did you notice the Trinitarian bent of this verse?

“Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Yeshua the Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” (Romans 15:30 NASB)

Paul uses Trinitarian language in this call to prayer. The Godhead is involved in hearing and answering our prayers.

Though the word "Trinity" is never found in the pages of Scripture, it is a doctrine that is taught throughout the Scripture. "Trinity" is a word used to express the unity of God subsisting in three distinct persons. It is a word describing the unity of the Godhead as three co-eternal, co-equal Persons, each having the same substance, but distinct persons. It is a word that describes a purely revealed doctrine, indiscoverable by reason, but clearly taught in Scripture.

As Christians, we affirm that there is one eternal being known as Yahweh. Yet this one eternal being exists in three individual persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Logically, in our human minds we cannot entirely understand how one Being can exist in three persons. Yet, as Christians, we affirm both truths to be true. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 3 states:

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him. (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6 )

The Trinity is one of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Now, the Bible is crystal clear that there is only one God. One divine being:

'See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Deuteronomy 32:39 NASB

But the same Bible that says that there is only one God also says that the Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. So these persons must be the one true God.

If you look at Paul's letters, he starts almost every one by saying, "Greetings in the name of God the Father." So we know that the Father is God. But there are also a bunch of verses that teach that Yeshua is God. In a prophecy about the coming Messiah, Isaiah calls Him "Mighty God":

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NASB

Do you remember the story of doubting Thomas? Do you remember what he said when he saw and touched the risen Christ for the first time?:

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 NASB

And Yeshua did not rebuke Thomas for calling Him God because He is God.

And there are also a few verses that teach that the Holy Spirit is God. You remember in Acts 5 when Ananias an Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money they gave to the church? Remember what Peter told them?:

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." Acts 5:3-4 NASB

So lying to the Holy Spirit is the same thing as lying to God, because He is God!

So the Bible is very clear that there is one God, eternally existing as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now how we explain this to people? Let me caution you by saying that there is no way that feeble human beings can know all that there is to know about God. You can go to the largest theological library you can find, and read every single one of the books, and you would still barely scratch the surface of what Yahweh is all about. Isaiah put it this way:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 NASB

The bottom line is that it is very hard for a human being to totally comprehend the Trinity. It's too big for us. And all analogies really break down.

I accept the doctrine of the trinity, not because I can completely understand it, but because I can see that it is taught in the Word of God. The Word of God doesn't stop being true just because there's something in it we don't understand. The Word of God is true whether we understand it or not. I'm perfectly alright with the fact that there are mysteries and puzzles in the Bible. I'm okay with that. I've got enough on my plate with things that I DO understand! I'm more concerned about doing what God says than I am in figuring out all that He is.

Who is Romans 15:30 directed to? It is written to the first century Roman believers. Does it apply to us? Are we to pray for Paul? No, we must understand who the original audience was. We learn principles of prayer from this text, but it is not written to us.

Alright, so Paul urges the Roman believers to strive with him in pray for Christ’s sake and because of the love of the Spirit. Then he tells them exactly what he wants prayer for:

that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; Romans 15:31 NASB

Paul uses two purpose clause: the first with a conjunction showing two purposes, and the final one as the ultimate purpose. First, “Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.” Notice the purpose, “that” or ‘in order that,’ connected with the conjunction, showing dual purposes.

That’s very specific. Paul had two concerns:

1) that the unbelievers in Judea would not kill him and end his ministry;

2) that the Jewish Christians would find the Gentile offering acceptable, thus showing the unity in the church of Jew and Gentile.

The implication here is that the will of the unbelievers to hurt Paul and the will of the believers to disapprove of Paul's ministry are both in the power of God to change. There would seem to be no point in praying for these two things if God could not do them. In both cases the wills of people are involved, and the answer to the prayer is going to involve God changing those wills—in the one case so that the ill-will of unbelievers is restrained, and in the other case so that the good will of believers is assured.

Matthew Henry put it like this: "As God must be sought unto for the restraining of the ill will of our enemies, so also for the preserving and increasing of the good will of our friends; for God has the hearts both of the one and the other in his hands."

“That I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea”—Ignatius, the early church father, prayed that he might be crowned with the honor of martyrdom. Not Paul. He says pray that I may be rescued. The word “rescued” here is the Greek word rhuomai, Paul used this word earlier in:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB

“Set me free” is our word for rhuomai. So Paul wants to be set free from the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem. Remember, it was the same Jewish leadership in Jerusalem hounding Paul that ultimately brought about the death of Christ. It's the same hostility.

Notice that Paul says, “...those who are disobedient in Judea”—the word “disobedient” here is the Greek word apeitheo and is translated as: “unbelievers” in most translations. The word literally means: “disobedient.” the Greek Lexicon by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo. "Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their Gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning: "disbelieve, be an unbeliever" (BAGD, p.82).

That is what Paul means here by “disobedient”; they have rejected the Gospel. They are disobedient to the call to believe on the Lord Yeshua the Christ.

Pau knew well the hostility of these disobedient Jews. They followed Paul wherever he went, harassing him, accusing him, trying to kill him from the time of his conversion to Christianity.

The early part of Acts 9 is the story of Paul’s conversion, then in verse 20:

and immediately he began to proclaim Yeshua in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." Acts 9:20 NASB

To a Jew, saying that He is the Son of God was to say that He is equal with God. So if you want to see hostility, go to a synagogue and preach that Yeshua of Nazareth, who was crucified on a cross, is God's Son. And what was their response?:

When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; Acts 9:23-24 NASB

Paul had hostility from the Jews from the very beginning:

And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. Acts 9:29 NASB

Paul knew the dangers that awaited him in Jerusalem; that’s why he wanted prayer for deliverance:

"And now, behold, bound by the 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. Acts 20:22-23 NASB

Paul is saying that he doesn't know how it will happen, but everywhere he goes the Holy Spirit says, "When you get to Jerusalem, you're going to be in trouble." That would be enough to make me go in the opposite direction, maybe to Spain. But that was not Paul’s response:

As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, 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 NASB

And when everybody heard it, oh they begged him (verse 12) not to go to Jerusalem, “Don't go.” And Paul said:

Then Paul answered, "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 Yeshua." Acts 21:13 NASB

If Paul was ready to die, why did he ask them to pray for deliverance? He wanted to be delivered so he could keep on ministering. He wanted God's people to pray that he would complete his task and his ministry.

It was not uncommon for Paul to face danger. In fact, it was a way of life. He was in danger most of the time. He continually asked for prayer because of that. In writing to the Corinthians he says:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NASB

Whatever happened in Asia almost killed Paul. Notice what Paul goes on to say:

you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11 NASB

They helped Paul through their prayers. That is what Paul wanted to happen in Jerusalem, he wanted to be delivered from the disobedient Jews so he could continue on with his ministry.

Paul’s second request was, “And that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints”—this was very important. Paul wanted the Jewish Christians to accept the monetary gift of their Gentile brethren. If they did not, the unity of the body would be in jeopardy. The acceptance of the collection would signify solidarity between Jews and Gentiles, which would symbolize that the promises made to Abraham are being fulfilled.

Were these prayers answered? Was he delivered from the hostile Jews? Well he made it to Jerusalem; in Acts 21 Paul meets a very hostile city, just as he expected. While worshiping in the temple, a group stirred up a mob who tried to kill him:

Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. Acts 21:30-31 NASB

This doesn’t look like an answer to prayer. Paul must be thinking, “Are those Romans praying for me?” Well God moved upon the will of a Roman commander to rescue him:

At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Acts 21:32 NASB

Maybe he should have requested prayer for no beatings. Well, they didn’t kill Paul, he was rescued by the Roman army. So the evil will of the disobedient in Judea was restrained, they were forced to stopped short of killing Paul, and the prayers of the Roman Christians were answered.

Then the Jews made plans to trick the commander to bring Paul back to the Sanhedrin where forty men had taken a death oath against Paul. The Lord moved upon Paul’s nephew, who just happened to be in the right place to hear of the plot, and quickly went to report it to Paul. Then God moved upon the commander to take Paul by night to Caesarea:

And he called to him two of the centurions and said, "Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen." They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor. Acts 23:23-24 NASB

Who is protecting Paul from the Jews? Yahweh is! He is using the power of Rome to protect Paul. This is a heavily armed infantry, 470 soldiers armed to the gills to protect Paul from forty men and to escort him out of town.

They safely brought him to Caesarea, and literally the whole Roman guard guarded him for two years to keep the Jews from killing him. They got the whole Roman army together to just answer that prayer.

Then Paul appealed to Caesar regarding the charges the Jews had made against him, and Yahweh moved upon the provincial Governor Festus to send him to Rome. That’s where he wanted to go anyway! It just did not go as he had planned, taking place two years later than anticipated. In God’s sovereignty, on the way to Rome Paul was shipwrecked, ending up on the island of Malta, where he testified of Christ. Finally, he made it to Rome:

When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Acts 28:16 NASB

So Paul finally got to Rome, a little beat up, but he’s there. The book of Acts ends with these verses:

And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. Acts 28:30-31 NASB

Other than being under house arrest, he was unhindered. While in Rome he met with the brethren and continued his Gospel ministry with such effectiveness that he could tell the Philippian church that the Gospel became well known throughout the whole praetorian guard:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, Philippians 1:12-13 NASB

The praetorian guard was the Imperial Guard of Rome. It had been instituted by Augustus and was a body of ten thousand picked troops. The Lord made the whole praetorian guard captive to Paul. What do you think the topic of conversation was? It was the Lord Yeshua the Christ and the Kingdom of God. Paul’s message became well known, and those of the praetorian guard were being converted.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household. Philippians 4:22 NASB

Did God answer their prayer for Paul? Yes! Did He answer it in the way they may have wanted? Probably not, but God accomplished greater purposes through Paul in the process. He changed the will of unbelievers to answer the believer’s prayer.

What about the other request? Was the offering acceptable? The tension between Gentile and Jewish Christians remained a critical issue in the early church. Unless the Lord influenced the will of these Christians, they might have persisted in prejudice against the generosity of the Gentile believers. But God answered that request also:

After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. Acts 21:17 NASB

Was he successful in presenting the Gentile offering? Yes, he was successful. Yeah, when he got there they received him gladly! Well that's the testimony to the power of prayer:

so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Romans 15:32 NASB

As we just saw, Paul made it to Rome and was refreshed by their company. As a prisoner in Rome he wrote the Philippians. And in writing to the Philippians, he talks about the difficulties, chains, and the people that are criticizing him and so forth and so on. And he says that doesn't matter:

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, Philippians 1:18 NASB

He is in Rome rejoicing as the Gospel goes out.

Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:33 NASB

“God of peace” is Paul’s favorite title for God. He lived in the peace of God in the midst of the worst circumstances. Paul knew God as the “God of peace.” According to the Bible, peace is synonymous with salvation. Paul is asking prayer for deliverance, and then he calls Yahweh “the God of peace/deliverance.”

Believers, don't neglect the amazing influence you have in the world for good through prayer. By prayer God calls us to join Him in shaping history. By prayer we are to influence the wills of presidents and kings and senators and governors and mayors (1 Timothy 2:1–2). May Yeshua’s church wield the power of prayer.

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