Romans 1:9 – a challenging question for self-examination in Lent

Yesterday’s NT lesson from the Lent daily office lectionary passages was from Romans 1:1-15. It’s a passage I know well, and all too often, it’s tempting to skip over the greetings section of the Pauline epistles, eager to jump into the “meat” of the letter.

However, it was a verse in Paul’s greetings at the beginning of Romans, verse 9, which I’ve often passed by quickly, that yesterday stopped me in my tracks as I read it and which prompted some prayerful self-examination:

“God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son is my witness how constantly I remember you …” (Rom 1:9, NIV 1984)

OK, leaving aside the issue of how much I pray for people I’m discipling (do I CONSTANTLY remember them in my prayers as Paul said he did the Roman believers…?) what about those five small words: “serve with my whole heart.”

I couldn’t get past those words yesterday.  Am I serving the Lord with my WHOLE heart?  The Lord challenged me to look at some areas of compromise, areas where I was not wanting to count the cost or surrender fully to the Lord, not offering Him ALL of my time, energy, talents, myself, wanting to hold back some of my time and energy for myself.

I pray for myself and each of our readers that this Lent would be a time when we surrender more of our hearts and lives to the Lord so that we are able to say like Paul that we serve Him with our whole heart, an undivided heart.


P.S. I perhaps should note that the Bible I was using for my devotions yesterday while reading Romans 1 was the 1984 version of the NIV.  Other versions, including the new NIV and the ESV do not use the “with my whole heart” phrase, instead using “serve with my spirit” or “serve in my spirit.”  Only the less literal New Living translation still uses a similar phrase to the 1984 NIV.  (You can read the 1984 NIV version of Romans 1 here.)

Commentaries I browsed today suggest that the Greek meaning of the phrase in verse 9 now most common translated “serve in my spirit” refers to priestly devotion offered from our inmost soul, cross-referencing Romans 12:1.  You can look at the Stromg’s Concordance Greek Lexicon references here. (I serve) and here (in my spirit).

You also might enjoy looking at alternate versions’ translations of Rom 1:9 here.

Here’s a brief commentary on Romans 1:9 from the Pulpit Commentary, found at the Bible Hub site.

Verse 9.For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers. A like solemn asseveration is made with a like intention (Philippians 1:8; cf. also 2 Corinthians 11:31). It expresses the writer’s earnestness, and is in place for attestation of a fact known only to himself and God. The word λατρεύω, (“I serve”), when used in a religious sense, most usually denotes “worship,” and specifically the priestly services of the temple (Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 13:10). St. Paul’s λατρεία intended here is not ceremonial function, but a spiritual one (ἐν τῷ πνεύματί μου) – an inward devotion of himself to God’s service in proclaiming and furthering “the gospel of his Son.” A similar view of the essential λατρεία of Christians is found in Romans 12:1; Romans 15:16; Philippians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 9:14.

Obviously it’s good for in depth study to look at the best highly literal modern translations (such as ESV), and verify alternate translations, and not get too focused on a single phrase in a single translation.  But I’m glad yesterday I was reading the older version of NIV and thus read the phrase “with my whole heart” – it got my attention in the way that the ESV translation might not have, and prompted a good prayer time.


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