9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
1901 ASV Translation:
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers
There are no textual varients in this verse.
1. The "for God is my witness" implies a sensed-need by Paul of some reinforcement for the claim he is about to make. This implies that his claim would normally be taken as hyperbole or an outright lie. He apparently felt that it would be remarkable if anyone claimed to be doing what he was about to claim, or, at least, the Romans might feel that it would be remarkable. This raises a few questions. Why would it be "remarkable" for Paul to pray every day for the Romans? Then, why would Paul feel compelled not only to pray for the Romans, but also to tell them that he is doing so? The answer to the latter part of this question is most likely that he was seeking to establish the reality of his genuine interest in them in their minds as a basis for a willingness on their part to give heed to his words. The answer to the former part of the question is most likely that he was aware that since the Romans were doing "his" job (he had been assigned with the task that they were fulfilling), he could at least "help" them do it through prayer.
a. This focus on calling upon God as his witness implies that Paul felt a significant level of pressure from those who rejected his apostleship and wanted to blunt its impact in respect to the Romans.
b. The complexity of "authority issues" was no less severe in the first century than it is today. Anyone can claim to "have the Truth". The claim does not the reality make. The bottom line is the integrity of the message and that is only established in a final sense by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of men. In the final analysis, man has no hope of accuracy in Truth except for the gracious ministry of God in the heart where conviction is born. This is one of the reasons Paul put no confidence in the "power of persuasive words". The Gospel must come in the power of the Holy Spirit in order for men to be converted.
2. Then Paul says that he "serves God in his spirit". What does he mean?
a. Is this a technical statement that his service arises out of his spirit, or is this a figure of speech that means "genuinely" as in "worship Him in spirit and in truth"?
1) Philippians 3:3, written by Paul, is a declaration that the true people of God are those who are characterized by three things: a) they serve God "in spirit"; b) they "boast" in Christ Jesus; and c) they have no confidence "in flesh". This makes it a fundamental reality that true believers relate to God "in spirit".
2) Romans 12:11 calls upon believers to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord"...using "spirit" as the root of service and calling for "zeal" in that arena.
b. Is this a declaration that the spirit of man can be free enough from the inherent sin problem that man can "serve" God acceptably? If so, what is the specific ministry of the Holy Spirit as a new provision for acceptable service? If not, what does he mean?
1) It seems very clear from Paul's doctrine that one can only produce the "fruit" of the Spirit by walking by the "Spirit".
a) He claims that it is "Christ Who lives in him"...that his life is one of the Holy Spirit.
b) He claims that the "normal" Christian life is one of the "Spirit".
2) But it seems also clear that pre-Pentecost believers (even unbelievers, if Paul's claim in his letter to the Philippians to be without fault as an unbeliever is taken seriously) were able to "do" the works of Law "blamelessly" because Zacharias and Elizabeth are attributed with this accomplishment.
3) The bottom line seems to be that "external" actions are produced by the human spirit; but, the "internal" motivations have to be produced by the Holy Spirit if the actions are to be legitimate from the perspective of both motive and action.
4) This being the case, Paul's claim to be serving God with his spirit may be nothing more than a claim to be "doing" what is clearly the will of God by revelation. "Why" he was doing these things depended on the internal issues of the fruit of the Spirit. Interestingly, Paul's concept of the "fruit" of the Spirit is not "activity" oriented: the fruit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, ... etc. These are attitudes, not actions. Mere service is most likely action-related whereas true service also involves the reasons for the activities.
a) This may be a part of the reason Paul called upon God as witness: anyone can "do" the external things; but purity of motive can only come by the Spirit.
b) It it true that Paul's doctrine of the Holy Spirit included supernatural physical abilities such as speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing, miracles, prophecy, and all other abilities which the human spirit does not have. But, it is also true that when Paul got down to the actual "life" of the Spirit, it boiled down to the motivation issues that are wrapped up in "love". In fact, Paul castigated the Corinthians, who were "doing" many of the "spiritual" actions, for being "fleshly" even in the performance of those "spiritual" actions. This would mean that they were doing the right thing for the wrong reasons--i.e. using their spiritual gifts in the service of sin. Can this be? How can an ability imparted by the Spirit be used sinfully? Could it be that "spiritual gifts" are actually given to believers so that they do not require the Holy Spirit to exercise them? Is the "gift of tongues", for instance, a hard-wired brain thing that, once imparted, no longer requires the active involvement of the Spirit? Could it be that the ability to heal was a "thing given" and, once given, was independent of the personal activity of the Holy Spirit? Could a person be given the gift of "prophecy" so that he/she could accurately prophesy without the direct input of the Spirit? The question, then, is this: are the gifts of the Spirit actually given, or are they merely resident in the body by reason of the Spirit's presence there also? If they are actually "given", they can be abused by the person to whom they are given. If they are not actually given, but are simply resident by reason of the Spirit's presence, they are retained under His dominion and cannot, then, be abused. The implications of Paul's confrontation of the Corinthians for their lovelessness are that the "gifts" are "given over to the person" as a part of his makeup as a person. If this conclusion be right, this explains Paul's statement at the opening of the "love" chapter (I Corinthians 13) that one might actually "have the gift of prophecy" and "have not love". This makes sense in view of God's extension of grace and the subsequent summons to give an account of the way the grace was "used". This would mean that the interpretation of his words cannot be relegated to the merely hypothetical but, rather, involve real possibilities. One conclusion that this line of thinking brings is this: the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the gifts He bestows are not a guarantee of sinlessness in the individual to whom the Gift/gifts are given.
3. Paul adds "in the Gospel of His Son" to emphasize the particular realm of his "service" to God. What this means is that Paul saw himself as given over to the proclamation of the Gospel of God regarding the Son of God. This was his "calling" and his "assignment". He was to take the message of the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ for sin to sinners among all the nations.
4. And, finally, Paul identifies the thing that he seeks God's "witness" for: his continual efforts in prayer for the Romans.
a. This opens the door to the entire issue of "prayer" and what part it has in the overall task which God has "given" to the children of men.
b. How did Paul see "prayer" as a "mechanism" of the accomplishment of the will of God? It was a part of his theology that even the Spirit of God "prayed" to the Father on behalf of the believer. What is this thing called "prayer"?