Scripture reading: Acts 23:12-22
Sermon Title: Paul’s Prayer Requests
Sermon Text: Romans 15:30--33
Key verse: Romans 15:30 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
This manuscript is provided as a courtesy. It is not always followed word for word during the message. This document is not developed for publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proof read. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipling people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
We continue our study of the closing of the letter from Paul to the church in Rome. We are finishing chapter 15 this week. Last week we looked at Paul’s travel plans in verses 22-29. This week we will look at Paul’s request for prayer.
Let’s read the passage.
Romans 15:30-33 30 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, 31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
What we seek to accomplish this morning is written in the main idea. We will seek to learn truths and principles about prayer from Paul’s requests to the Romans, with the goal of applying these truths to our lives.
We will first look to see what we may learn from Paul’s asking the Romans to pray for him. Next, we will review the content of the prayer requests. Lastly, we will look at how we may apply this passage in our lives.
The prayer plea is in verse 30. Paul urges the Romans to strive in their prayers for him. Paul said to the Romans he has unceasingly made mention of them in his prayers. Paul is now asking that they pray for him.
In our exposition of the book of Romans, we have not talked a lot about prayer. We did see in Romans 12 (12:12) that we are to be devoted to prayer. What then is prayer?
Prayer is conveying a message to God intentionally. Prayer is not necessarily communicating with God. Communication implies a talking back and forth; we talk to God, and He talks to us. God talking to us is never called prayer in the Bible. When God communicates something to us, we call it revelation or illumination, not prayer. We are not biblical when we speak of prayer as though God literally speaks to us.
When we speak to God, there are different messages we may convey. I like to use the acronym: ACTS.
Prayer is intentionally conveying a message to God. The message may be Adoration, Confessing sin, expressing Thankfulness, or making Supplication to God.
In verse 30, Paul is requesting that the Romans join with him in making supplications to God on his behalf.
Paul not only tells the Romans to join him in speaking to God, but he urges the brethren to pray. Paul is strongly encouraging the brethren to pray for him; he is urging them. “Please pray for me, I beseech you to pray.”
Not only is he urging them to pray, but Paul also tells them the manner in which they should speak. Paul is asking that they not casually, nonchalantly, and indifferently enter into prayer. He is asking them to strive in prayer. The word used for “strive” literally means to engage in conflict together. The word in the Greek is a combination of union and agonize. He is asking the Romans to agonize in prayer in union with Him.
Scripture gives examples of people agonizing in prayer. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night and told the Lord “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Moses lay prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights begging God not to destroy the Israelites (Deuteronomy 9:25-26). The most memorable example in Scripture is when our Lord prayed fervently in the Garden the night before His crucifixion.
Paul calls upon the Romans to not pray half-heartedly in their communication with God. Paul asks they have a heart of prayer which is agonizing and laborious in nature.
There is a basis for which they should strive in prayer. Paul provides two reasons for striving with him in prayer. “I urge you to pray by our Lord Jesus Christ and I urge you to pray by the love of the Holy Spirit.”
In this passage, Paul refers to Jesus as our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle seldom uses the full title for Jesus. Paul is deliberate with how he names Christ. For example, when the passage speaks of obedience, Paul typically refers to Jesus as Lord, indicating it is our obligation to obey our master. When a passage speaks of salvation, Paul typically refers to Jesus as the Christ, which means he is the Messiah.
He appeals to his readers to pray based on the fullness of Jesus Christ. Pray because Jesus is Lord and it is right to pray in obedience to Him. Pray for regard for Jesus sake, because you love Him and desire ministry which is done in His name brings glory to Him. Pray, the work of Jesus will prosper. Pray by Christ, the Messiah and anointed Savior. Pray because the title of Christ gives access to the very throne of God. It is the blood of Christ which gives us boldness before the throne of God, to whom we take our supplications.
We pray in the name of Jesus. The primary reason for praying in Jesus’ name is because He gives us the authority to go before the throne of God. Without Jesus, we have no access. Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through Him. We pray because Jesus brings us to God, and we pray for the glory of Christ.
Paul asks they strive in prayer for him by the Lord Jesus Christ. The prayer is for Paul, but ultimately it is for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Pray by the love of the Spirit. We are filled with the love of our Father which has been poured out within our hearts through His Spirit. The love of the Spirit influences our relationships with one another. It is because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we know how to pray and are willing to pray.
Those who are filled with the Spirit of God are moved to love, encourage, and sacrifice for others by the Spirit’s leading. Paul asks for them to strive in prayer because the love of the Holy Spirit is poured out in their hearts, and that love gives all the compassion and urgency needed. As Romans 8:26 teaches, the Spirit helps us in our weakness to pray to God as we should.
Paul asks they pray to God. The pattern of Scripture is to pray to God the Father. This is what Jesus taught us. There are no prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and there are only a few instances of praying to Jesus in the New Testament. For example, the dying Stephen in Acts 7:59 called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
God is our Father and provider of all good. He is the source for all we need, and He alone sovereignly directs the Universe. Prayer should be directed toward God the Father.
After Paul’s prayer plea, he gives the Romans specific requests to pray for. Paul gives prayer petitions.
A petition is a request. Paul gives specific petitions he desires the Romans pray for his behalf.
Paul first asks for safety from those who oppose the Gospel. Paul is not a stranger to persecution. The Lord told Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
Numerous times in the book of Acts we read of Paul being persecuted at the hands of the Jews. Paul is referring to the unbelieving Jews when he says “those who are disobedient in Judea”, and they pursued Paul with intent to kill or cause him harm in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Ephesus, and throughout Greece.
Paul suffered at the hands of the Jews already in Jerusalem. This trip will be his fourth journey to Jerusalem. Just a few years after his conversion, after spending time in Damascus, where he was going to persecute Christians, Paul returned to Jerusalem, and the disciples there were afraid of him. Barnabas had to bring Paul to the apostles and relay his story of his conversion. After that, Paul went about Jerusalem boldly proclaiming salvation in Christ, until the Hellenistic Jews got wind of it and attempted to put Paul to death. The disciples helped Paul leave Jerusalem and sent him to Caesarea.
As far as Paul was concerned, it wasn’t just in Jerusalem but in every city he faced danger. He told the Ephesus church elders that the Holy Spirit testified to Paul that in every city bonds and afflictions were waiting for him (Acts 20:23). In going back to Jerusalem, Paul knew there was a danger. He was well known there, and he knew he faced danger in entering the Jewish capital of the world.
Paul was going to Jerusalem for the primary mission of bringing a gift of benevolence to the poor Jewish Christians. He knew such a gift might not be well received and possibly even rejected. Paul asks the Romans to pray and ask God to work in the hearts of the Jews to receive the collected money from the Gentile churches, and the gift would be acceptable to the Jews. Some of the Jewish Christians had difficulty receiving Gentiles. For thousands of years, the Jews were told to distance themselves from Gentiles. The Jews were supposed to bless the world. It was hard for them to fathom being on the receiving end of charity work. The Jews had a superiority attitude, a nationalistic pride, which might interfere with their receiving the gift.
Imagine having to report back to the Gentile churches that the Jews turned up their nose to the gift the Gentiles had so generously and sacrificially given. Paul desired the gift of alms would be well received and understood by the Jewish Saints.
Paul tells the Romans why they should pray for these requests. He has a specific outcome in mind. Paul wants to go to Rome with a joyous heart. He doesn’t want to go to Rome knowing his delivery of the collection for the poor was an abject failure. He desires to go to Rome with a joyous heart, and not look back at the trip to Jerusalem as a catastrophe.
At this point in his missionary work, Paul has spent 20 years as a missionary and has traveled thousands of miles and stayed in around 50 different cities. He has preached the Gospel and planted churches like no other man during his time, and possibly like no other in the history of the church. It is very understandable that Paul desires to go to Rome and find refreshing rest. It seems as though Paul sees the church in Rome as a place he can go and be rejuvenated.
The Roman church desires for Paul to visit, and knew that it would be a time of mutual encouragement. Many of the people in the church know Paul and have ministered alongside him. We can certainly understand Paul desiring an outcome such as this.
It is as if Paul is saying, “Pray for me so our time together will not be negatively impacted by an unsuccessful trip. Pray, I am delivered from the disobedient Jews, and I do not end up in prison or perhaps even killed for the Gospel in Judea. Pray, I make it out of Jerusalem, so I can be with you and enjoy a time of mutual encouragement before I go to Spain to continue my work.”
Paul declares the outcome of prayer is dependent upon God’s will. He is telling them to pray while keeping in mind his coming to them in joy is only granted by the will of God. We will talk more about the will of God in our prayers when we look at application.
Paul ends with a prayer for the Romans that the God of peace will be with them all. Almost every letter from Paul begins and ends with a granting of peace. The Apostle frequently refers to God as the God of peace. He uses it as a way to close the letter like we might say, “blessings” or “sincerely.”
Paul’s closings are full of meaning, and one which is intended to bestow upon the soul of the readers the very best which may be offered. What more could a person ask for but bask in the presence of the God of peace?
It is a beautiful blessing which would warm the heart of any who read the letter.
As with all Scripture, these verses are profitable for our use. God’s word accomplishes its purpose. God’s word has an intended purpose for us, and God would have us learn and apply His word in our lives. This morning we will look at principles to apply from the Apostle Paul’s prayer requests.
It may be possible for someone to look at the amount of space in the letter which talks of prayer and draws the conclusion that, because there are only a few lines in the closing, prayer is not important to Paul. This conclusion would be dead wrong. Paul writes in his letters to the churches we need to be devoted to prayer. He talks of himself praying without ceasing. Scripture describes the early church, including Paul, as being devoted to prayer.
Scripture is clear that the lack of prayer is grievous to God. The prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 12:23) said it would be a sin for him not to pray to the Lord God.
Scripture passages imply that failure to ask deprives us of what God would otherwise have given to us. We pray, and God responds. Many passages teach prayer is God’s appointed method for us to obtain what God has for us. Jesus said to receive from God we are to ask of God. Jesus emphasizes a direct connection between asking and receiving (Luke 11:1-13). If we don’t ask, we may not receive. James is very clear; we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).
Think about this. Would Paul ask the Romans to pray if he did not think it was worthwhile? Would he ask the Romans to strive in prayer because he did not think it mattered? Of course, Paul believed it matters. Prayer is essential. Prayer is a means God uses to fulfill His will. Our prayers are an integral part of God bringing about remarkable changes in the world. If we pray little, it is probably because we do not believe that prayer accomplishes much at all.
I love how in this verse the Trinity is involved in our prayers. This is a good illustration of the fullness of prayer. We pray to God the Father. Our prayers are empowered by the love of God poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And the object of our prayers is the Son of God. Our access to the throne of God is given by the Son of God, and the outcome of our prayers is for His glory.
Pray to God, empowered by the love of the Holy Spirit, and pray by our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we pray by our Lord Jesus Christ, it is helpful to understand why we may pray “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers. We are all familiar with Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23). Scripture does not teach us to add the phrase, “in Jesus’ name” after every prayer as a magic formula that gives power to our prayers. Jesus did not say, “If you ask anything and add the words ‘in Jesus’ name’ after your prayer, I will do it.” In fact, none of the prayers recorded in Scripture have the phrase, “in Jesus’ name” at the end.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to recognize we are before the throne of God, and asking because Jesus paid the price for us to be there. We are under His authority. It is as if we carry a letter of authority signed by Jesus. From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. We are asking God to glorify Jesus in answering our requests.
God appreciates and commends prayer which is earnest. James writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” He then gives an example of what effective prayer looks like. He says effective prayer looks like Elijah’s prayer. He says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:16-17). Striving to pray is praying earnestly.
Striving to pray doesn’t mean we are to offer up more and more words. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes (5:2) that we should not be rash with our mouth, and we should be slow in uttering words before God. It is best not saying anything and everything which comes to mind, but instead being deliberate in our word choice. The Bible tells us not to be hasty in bringing words before God, for God is in heaven, and we are on earth. We need to let our words be few. We are better remembering God is the King of kings sitting upon the Throne of thrones. We would prepare a statement if we had to go before a governor or a president, and in the same way we should be thoughtful and not flippant in our prayers to God.
Prayer should be anything but nonchalant or casual. We are to strive in prayer. Scripture teaches the nature of our prayer, the urgency and earnestness, reflects our heart.
Paul recognizes the sovereignty of God in his prayer and we should as well. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. We need to pray knowing God’s will is going to be accomplished.
Our prayers need to reflect a knowledge of God’s will. Knowledge of Scripture is a tremendous help in prayer. For example, we never need to pray and ask God if it is His will for us to obey the Scripture. For example, we should not pray “God, show me whether or not I should love my neighbor.” Of course, it is God’s will for us to love our neighbor. His will is that His Word is obeyed and that His commands kept. We might instead ask for help in loving a difficult neighbor.
There are many situations in life in which we may not know how to apply Scripture. We might pray and ask God for a certain job. We might explain our reasoning as to why the job may be good for us, but we need to acknowledge this might not be what God desires. In our prayer, we need to express a willingness to receive and live by God’s decision.
Some Christians object to adding the phrase “if it is your will” to our prayers by saying it is not praying in faith. It sounds like a cop out. Lord, deliver Paul from disobedient Jews in Judea, if it is your will. That way, if Paul isn’t delivered, I know my prayers are answered either way. If the Romans had enough faith in believing, God would deliver Paul. If they don’t have enough faith, their prayers will fail.
This is not what praying in faith is all about, and neither is this what praying God’s will is all about.
The purpose of acknowledging God’s will in our prayers, such as praying as Paul did that he may come to visit the Romans by the will of God, acknowledges God knows best, but Paul is going to ask anyhow.
If a child asks their father to take them to get ice cream, but then adds, “but only if you think it’s right, Dad” it is a recognition that the father knows what is best. I like what C.S. Lewis says, “That wisdom must sometimes refuse what ignorance may quite innocently ask seems to be self-evident.”
Psalm 84:11 says God does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly. The verse is very specific and says, no good thing does God withhold from those who are obedient to Him. The positive way to say this verse is God always, every time, every day, gives all the good things, without ever holding any good thing back, to those who walk uprightly.
When we pray and ask God, “if it is Your will,” we are saying, “God, I would like this, but I know you only give me what is good and promise to give me what is good. Therefore, I know that if it is Your will, whatever I ask for will be given me if it is good for me. If Your will is that I will not receive what I ask for, I know and trust it is because You know it is not for my good. I trust You Lord that the fulfillment of my request will be based upon what is ultimately good for me.”
For us to pray in faith means, we pray knowing and believing God has our only good in store. Our faith is in the character and ability of God. This is what it means to pray in faith. We pray in faith, trusting God will do what is good, trusting God knows the best timing and trusting God is able to provide. The object of our faith is not the positive outcome of our prayer, but that we are asking a wise, loving Father, who knows how best to answer.
Pray knowing the outcome is subject to God’s will.
What about Paul’s prayer requests? Were they answered?
We don’t know if the offering for the poor was well-received and approved. Scripture doesn’t provide an answer to that prayer request. This often happens with our prayer requests. We often don’t know how they turn out.
We read in Acts during the Scripture reading of how Paul was rescued from the disobedient Jews. If we continue reading in the passage we see how God not only provided rescue from those who wanted to kill Paul, but God also had Claudius command two Roman centurions put together 200 hundred foot soldiers, 200 men with spears, 70 men on horses, and a horse for Paul, all of which was to be used as an escort to bring Paul out of harm’s way and send him on to Caesarea.
Paul did arrive in Rome. FF Bruce writes of how it was a joyous occasion when Paul arrived in Rome. The Roman Christians were waiting as far as 40 miles outside the city on the Appian Way to welcome Paul upon his arrival. The answer to prayer is not likely what the Romans expected considering Paul arrived in chains. Paul arrived nevertheless, and it was truly a joyous celebration despite Paul’s imprisonment.
Prayer is a mystery. Remember how Paul pleaded with God three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)? God did not remove the thorn because, as Paul tells us, God had better plans. It was good for Paul to have the thorn in the flesh because it taught Paul about the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayer requests because we ask wrongly. God knows the reason we ask is not for the good of Christ, but to fulfill our own fleshly passions (James 4:3).
Sometimes the answer to prayer is that we must wait. We see that when the souls of those who were slain for the Gospel are before the throne of God asking for God to judge those who spilled their blood, and God tells them to wait a little longer (Revelation 6:9-11).
The best advice I can give regarding prayer is summed up in one word. Pray. Ask God for His help. Ask God for His face to shine upon you. Don’t fret over the outcome of prayer. Focus instead upon trusting God as our Father in Heaven. Have faith God seeks to help and to do good for us. Have faith God’s denial of our request is for our good. And have faith God wants us to approach Him earnestly, diligently, sincerely, and unceasingly.