The Prayers of Paul: For Ministry Opportunity and Success

 

We will be studying two verses in this blog post—Romans 1:9–12 and 1 Thessalonians 3:10.

From my co-teacher Julie Sumner, “I love these two verses because they demonstrate how much Paul genuinely loved the people in these churches, but they also demonstrate his generosity of spirit, longing to impart “spiritual gifts” and things they may have “lacking” in their faith. In short, it shows that Paul is a grand spiritual father, mimicking his Father in heaven (Matt 7:11) in giving good gifts. He wants to make sure his spiritual children have all that they need to grow in knowledge and love of God.”

Julie goes on to share, “It’s telling to note, again, what Paul does not pray for them—no mention of material provision, safety, fulfilling relationships, increasing numbers of converts. For this Apostle, his success in ministry is something that springs from his deep love of God and God’s people, and so his prayers reflect that. Note that in the verse that precedes 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of God because of you?” How would you feel if one of the church leaders told you that?

In these two verses, we also find Paul praying “without ceasing.” This Greek phrase literally speaks of a tickle in the throat. “In other words, to pray without ceasing means to go through the day praying as often and as reflexively as you would cough to suppress a tickle in your throat.”[1]

The prayer in Romans is also unique as we find the Apostle praying for strangers. Paul had not traveled yet to Rome, yet he extends his prayers “without ceasing” to people whom he’d never met. We see a compelling example of the Apostle’s love for people and joy that they have, in spite of persecution and cultural pressure, joined him in faith in Jesus Christ.

The critical phase in the Romans prayer is, “God, whom I serve in my spirit.” Latreuō is the Greek verb meaning “to serve. It’s often used in the New Testament and either translated “serve,” “service,” or “worship.” As pastor John MacArthur points out, “The greatest worship a believer can offer God is devoted, pure, heart-felt [sic]ministry.”[2]Paul is a giving servant in ministry. He knows that he will receive far more, and the ministry will succeed if his first thoughts are to give.

Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13 brings to mind a story from William Barclay’s commentary:

It is told that once a servant girl became a member of a church. She was asked what Christian work she did. She said that she did not have the opportunity to do much because her duties were so constant; but, she said, ‘When I go to bed I take the morning newspaper to my bed with me; and I read the notices of the births and I pray for all the little babies, and I read the notices of marriage and I pray that those who have been married may be happy; and I read the announcements of death and I pray that the sorrowing may be comforted.’ No one can ever know what tides of grace flowed from her attic bedroom. When we can serve people no other way; when, like Paul, we are unwillingly separated from them, there is one thing we can still do—we can pray for them.[3]

In 1 Thessalonians 3:11 and 12, Paul tells the people that God will “guide our steps to you.” Paul uses the Greek word kateuthuno, which means guide or directing. It’s intentional guidance, not merely a lazy pointing gesture indicating direction. Paul is trusting God to lead and guide his every step through persecution, jail, and rough roads.

In Paul’s mind success equaled service and loving one another in unity. The material didn’t matter to Paul. Numbers did not define success. To the Apostle, success meant saved lives and people praying for each other. He fully believed the Lord would cause the increase. It is a complete dependence on Him and His way. Paul could brag about all he or the other people accomplished, but he chooses to pray that God would cause growth.

 

 

 

[1]Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Applicational Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 868

[2]John F. MacArthur, Jr., Romans, Vol. 1, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 37.

[3]William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rded. Fully rev. and updated, The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 226.

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