9.For God is my witness, etc. He proves his love by its effects; for had he not greatly loved them, he would not have so anxiously commended them to the Lord, and especially he would not have so ardently desired to promote their welfare by his own labors. His anxiety then and his ardent desire were certain evidences of his love; for had they not sprung from it, they would never have existed. And as he knew it to be necessary for establishing confidence in his preaching, that the Romans should be fully persuaded of his sincerity, he added an oath — a needful remedy, whenever a declaration, which ought to be received as true and indubitable vacillates through uncertainty. For since an oath is nothing else but an appeal to God as to the truth of what we declare, most foolish is it to deny that the Apostle used here an oath. He did not notwithstanding transgress the prohibition of Christ.
It hence appears that it was not Christ’s design (as the superstitious Anabaptists dream) to abolish oaths altogether, but on the contrary to call attention to the due observance of the law; and the law, allowing an oath, only condemns perjury and needless swearing. If then we would use an oath aright, let us imitate the seriousness and the reverent manner exhibited by the Apostles; and that you may understand what it is, know that God is so called as a witness, that he is also appealed to as an avenger, in case we deceive; which Paul expresses elsewhere in these words,
“God is a witness to my soul.” (2 Corinthians 1:23.) (30)
Whom I serve with my spirit, etc. It is usual with profane men, who trifle with God, to pretend his name, no less boldly than presumptuously; but the Apostle here speaks of his own piety, in order to gain credit; and those, in whom the fear of God and reverence for his name prevail, will dread to swear falsely. At the same time, he sets his own spirit in opposition to the outward mask of religion; for as many falsely pretend to be the worshippers of God, and outwardly appear to be so, he testifies that he, from the heart served, God. (31) It may be also that he alluded to the ancient ceremonies, in which alone the Jews thought the worship of God consisted. He then intimates, that though he retained not observance of these, he was yet a sincere worshipper of God, according to what he says in Philippians 3:3,
“We are the true circumcision, who in spirit serve God,
and glory not in the flesh.”
He then glories that he served God with sincere devotion of heart, which is true religion and approved worship.
But it was expedient, as I have said, in order that his oath might attain more credit, that Paul should declare his piety towards God; for perjury is a sport to the ungodly, while the pious dread it more than a thousand deaths; inasmuch as it cannot be, but that where there is a real fear of God, there must be also a reverence for his name. It is then the same thing, as though Paul had said, that he knew how much sacredness and sincerity belonged to an oath, and that he did not rashly appeal to God as a witness, as the profane are wont to do. And thus, by his own example, he teaches us, that whenever we swear, we ought to give such evidence of piety, that the name of God, which we use in our declarations, may retain its sacredness. And further, he gives a proof, even by his own ministry, that he worshipped not God feignedly; for it was the fullest evidence, that he was a man devoted to God’s glory, when he denied himself, and hesitated not to undergo all the hardships of reproach, poverty, and hatred, and even the peril of death, in advancing the kingdom of God. (32)
Some take this clause, as though Paul intended to recommend that worship which he said he rendered to God, on this account, — because it corresponded with what the gospel prescribes. It is indeed certain that spiritual worship is enjoined on us in the gospel; but the former interpretation is far the most suitable, — that he devoted his service to God in preaching the gospel. He, however, makes at the same time a difference between himself and hypocrites, who have something else in view rather than to serve God; for ambition, or some such thing, influences most men; and it is far from being the case, that all engage cordially and faithfully in this office. The meaning is, that Paul performed sincerely the office of teaching; for what he says of his own devotion he applies to this subject.
But we hence gather a profitable doctrine; for it ought to add no little encouragement to the ministers of the gospel, when they hear that, in preaching the gospel, they render an acceptable and a valuable service to God. What, indeed, is there to prevent them from regarding it an excellent service, when they know that their labor is pleasing to God, and is approved by him? Moreover, he calls itthe gospel of the Son of God; for Christ is in it made known, who has been appointed by the Father for this end, — that he, being glorified, should also glorify the Father.
That continually, etc. He still further sets forth the ardor of his love by his very constancy in praying for them. It was, indeed, a strong evidence, when he poured forth no prayers to the Lord without making mention of them. That the meaning may be clearer, I render παντοτε, “always;” as though it was said, “In all my prayers,” or, “whenever I address God in prayer, I join a mention of you.” (33) Now he speaks not of every kind of calling on God, but of those prayers to which the saints, being at liberty, and laying aside all cares, apply their whole attention to the work; for he might have often expressed suddenly this or that wish, when the Romans did not come into his mind; but whenever he had previously intended, and, as it were, prepared himself to offer up prayers to God, among others he remembered them. He then speaks peculiarly of those prayers, for which the saints deliberately prepare themselves; as we find to have been the case with our Lord himself, who, for this purpose, sought retirement. He at the same time intimates how frequently, or rather, how unceasingly he was engaged in such prayers, since he says that he prayed continually.
9. My witness indeed is God, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that I unceasingly make mention of you, always requesting in my prayers,
10. That by some means now at length I may, through the will of God, have a free course to come to you.
“In the gospel,” may either mean “according to the gospel,” or, “in preaching the gospel.” [Hodge ] prefers the first. The particle ει clearly means “that” in this connection. That it is used in this sense in the New Testament there can be no doubt; see Acts 26:8; Hebrews 7:15