Romans 15: 14 – 33.
The Apostle Paul often solicited prayer for himself and his ministry in his epistles to the churches, although he rarely goes into details (1Thess 5:23-25; 2Cor 1: 8-11; Eph 6:18-20; Philemon 22). The Letter to the Romans, written in 57 AD in Macedonia towards the end of his third missionary journey, recorded a more particularised prayer. The emphasis that Paul resorted to in his request is unmistakable, “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” (Rom 15:30). Plainly, Paul is saying that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for you and the Holy Spirit’s love that is in you, I invite you, through your prayers, to participate with me in my struggle to complete my ordained missionary work. This prayerful mode in believers exemplifies a love expressed for the Body of Christ in the secret place of our prayers; a praying that is heartfelt, impassioned, beseeching, enthusiastic and determined, as though we are placed in the same difficulties (c.f., Matt 6:5-15; Luke 18:1-8). What specifically did the Apostle want prayers for?
Paul was visiting the northern Greek churches in Macedonia after having collected love offerings from the Achaia churches in southern Greece. These gifts were to alleviate the poverty Jewish believers were facing possibly as a result of the ongoing persecution in Jerusalem. He intended to finalise collections in Macedonia before returning to Jerusalem. The justification for the collections: since the Gentiles benefited from the Jew’s spiritual blessings in Christ, they are to share their material blessings with them now. After that, he planned to drop by Rome on his evangelistic visit to Spain (Rom 15:25-28). In addition, Paul’s relationship with the Sanhedrin and Jews had been jeopardized as a result of his conversion and attempts were made to harm him. Hence, one of his requests for prayer was for his safety during his upcoming return to Jerusalem (Rom 15:31a; c.f., Acts 9:28-9; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:4-6; Acts 21:27-36).
On top of that, there were antecedent animosities from conservative Jewish-Christian groups on the issue of circumcision of Gentiles despite the Council at Jerusalem’s determination on it earlier (Acts 15). So, Paul was concerned that the gift that he was bringing from the Macedonian Gentile churches might not be acceptable to the Jewish believers in the mother church (Rom 15:31b). Thankfully, the monetary gift was accepted by the Jerusalem church. In a similar vein, our leaders and pastors need prayers that they may be spared from the most prejudicial and harmful hostility and disapproval from believers and non-believers, both within the church and outside her. Secondly, that their sacrificial ministry to God is appreciated and respected among believers, especially from their congregation, and they remain faithful to their calling (Heb 13:17-19). When we recognise our leaders and their calling, we will pray for them.
The Apostle was unambiguous about the facilitating power of prayer in his ministry to the Gentiles, as he aspired to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that he did not build on someone else’s work (Rom 15:20-24). And since there was a preexisting church in Rome, the Apostle was looking forward to dropping by in joyful fellowship with them in his forthcoming missionary journey to Spain, if God wills! The Apostle’s vision was always cast further afield, and this formed the model for our intercession that the churches’ horizon ought to be expanding and inclusive of a wider circle to be reached by the gospel. Paul reminded his readers that all his plans and hopes are subordinate to the will of God. On hindsight, we read from the records an ironic confirmation of this when God ‘answered’ Paul’s prayer by delivering him from the Jewish authorities who had plotted to assassinate him, and locked him up for two years before he got to Rome in chains, but nevertheless, free to fellowship in joy with Roman believers (Acts 21:15-28:24). At times, God does not answer our prayers according to our expectations, as He is infinitely more interested in us as beings moulded in the likeness of Christ and walking in step with His Holy Spirit. Invariably, our testimony at the end of the day will always be, to Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen (1Peter 5:10-12; 2Cor 1:20).