As we’ve studied the last four chapters in the letter to the Romans, we end this chapter with a request from Paul. “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in prayers to God on my behalf. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, and that, by God’s will, I may come to you with joy and be refreshed together with you. May the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.” (Rom 15:30-33)
Paul’s requests that the Christians in Rome pray with him about three specific things. He’s told them his plans. He intends to deliver financial aid to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and, once that task is completed, to travel to Rome to visit the Christians there. Paul uses strong words in asking his readers to pray for him. Paul wants these believers to strive or wrestle with him in prayer to God on his behalf.
The first thing he wants them to ask God for is that he will be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. Paul has learned by repeated experience that the religious Jews want to kill him (Acts 14:9; 23:12; 25:3).
Paul’s second request was that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would receive the gift of financial aid he was delivering from the Gentile believers. Why would they not? Perhaps tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians was running high. Perhaps the Christian Jews would reject the gift out of fear of the unbelieving religious Jews. Maybe Paul was concerned about being robbed or imprisoned on the way. In any case, he wanted desperately for the gift to be received.
God answered both prayers, though God’s answer to the first request did not likely come as anyone would have expected. Paul was indeed attacked by a murderous group of religious Jews and would likely have been killed. He was rescued by Roman soldiers—who arrested him (Acts 21:27–36). Paul ended up spending the next two years in prison!
That only delayed the answer to Paul’s third request found in this verse. He asked his readers to pray that, by God’s will, he could come to them with joy and be refreshed in their company. This did eventually come to pass, in a sense, though Paul traveled to Rome as a prisoner and was shipwrecked along the way. That saga is found in Acts 27–28.
God always answers the prayers of His people. Sometimes He says no. Sometimes He says yes, but in entirely unexpected ways that we could never anticipate. Paul’s life demonstrates that God often does not follow our idea of what He should do, even as He acts for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28). His request here is that these other believers join him in wrestling in prayer because Paul knows that our battle is fought and won in prayer (James 5:16), so it’s wise to follow Paul’s example and be specific.