Paul opens this new section of his letter to the Romans with a revelation about himself so shocking he feels the need to assure them he is not lying or self-deceived. He says, I am telling the truth in Christ, meaning he is conscious that Jesus will judge the truthfulness of what he is saying (Gal 1:20). Then he adds that both his human conscience and the Holy Spirit within him bear witness its true. And what is this revelation about himself that needs such confirmation for us to believe it? It is that he lives in a constant state of grief over Judaisms widespread rejection of Christ. He says his compassion for his brethren is so strong it led him to do the unthinkable. There had been times when he tried to bargain with God on their behalf asking that whatever curse had fallen on Judaism be transferred to him so they would again be given mercy. If it could be done (which it cant) he would have willingly forfeited his own eternal life in order to save his brothers, his kinsmen according to the flesh. His literal words are, For I was praying myself to be accursed (anathema) from Christ on behalf of my brothers
. Knowing how confident he was of eternal life (Ac 9:3-8; 2Co 12:1-4; Php 1:21-24) the thought that he would even consider such an exchange is breathtaking. Few of us love even family members to this degree, let alone our persecutors.
Paul is basically saying, I would be willing to take their place in hell if my doing so would save them. Before we go any further with this discussion lets answer the terrible question that this passage raises: Are we supposed to love like this? No, this is a step too far. Paul made an impossible request which God could never honor. Only Christ can carry our curse (Gal 3:13), and Paul is certainly not recommending that we follow his example, but the depth of his unreasonable love does challenge us to examine our own hearts. He forces me to ask, who do I long with such passion to see saved, and what am I willing to do to help that happen?
Moses example (Ex 32:30-35)
As unreasonable as Pauls love may be, it should be noted that he was following Moses example.
Though God rejected Moses offer, He was pleased with his attitude. He would meet with him and speak to him as a man speaks to his friend (Ex 33:11). But when Moses stopped loving the people this way, later on after he grew bitter over their grumbling and disobedience (Nu 20:1-13), God said he was no longer a suitable leader to take them into the promised land. So theres a deep connection between a genuine longing for souls and spiritual leadership
and even when we have such love it must be guarded or it can grow cold.
What is the source of Pauls love? Why is he able to love so profoundly those who have persecuted him so violently? What we are seeing in him goes far beyond tribal loyalty. It arises from his faith. He understands:
1) Gods love for them: Paul loves them because God loves them. When he lists the great gifts God has given Israel, the message is He loves them and blessed them throughout their history.
Adoption as sons
Covenants (Ge 15:1-21; Ex 24:1-8)
Promises (Ge 12:1-3)
Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob)
2) Gods plan for them: Their calling as Abrahams children is to be a source of spiritual blessing to all the families of the earth (Ge 12:3), primarily by being the ones through whom the Messiah came into the world (Ge 22:18), but also as the apostles, prophets and teachers of the young church. They who knew the Word and understood basic holiness were meant to instruct the Gentile converts who knew nothing except theyd been born-again.
3) The horror of the destiny they had chosen by rejecting Christ: The words Paul uses are unmistakable. He says, For I was praying I myself to be anathema (cursed, devoted to destruction) from Christ on behalf of my brothers (Ro 9:3). Hes willing to take their place in hell because thats where they are headed unless they repent. Remember, the man who says this has actually seen heaven. Theres not the slightest doubt in his mind it exists (2Co 12:2-4)
nor that theres eternal torment ahead for those who exercise their terrible freedom to say no to God. That reality wont let him be complacent. It motivates him to do everything he can.
Our source of unreasonable love is the same as Pauls. We too must understand:
1) Gods love for them. We must get it settled in our hearts once and for all, that God passionately loves the most troubled sinner.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all
For the Scripture says, Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him, for whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Ro 10:11-13).
2) Gods plan for them. Gods desire for all is that they believe, and if they believe He has laid out a plan for them, before the foundations of the earth (Ro 8:28-30).
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Erdman, 1975, pp.14-15.
3) The horror of the destiny theyve chosen by rejecting Christ. Living with this truth is very uncomfortable for me. If I dwell on it, it becomes more than I can bear. If I forget it my compassion for those without Christ declines. So I revisit it when I must.
Enduring in love is not something we do easily. The heart requires constant tending or it grows cold. Here are three influences that extinguish love:
1) We allow self-pity to accumulate. We expected to be thanked and loved in return for our service of people.
2) We nurture a root of bitterness. We become offended and keep a record of wrongs to prove how bad someone is.
Love is patient (long suffering)
it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered
(1Co 13:4, 5).
3) We become detached from the Vine.
John 15:4, 5 Abide in Me, and I in you; as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
There is nothing good in us. All goodness comes from God. We never (this side of the resurrection) become loving by ourselves, but when we draw close to Him He puts His heart in us.
Luke 18:18, 19 Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
We must stop trusting our own heart and desperately depend on God to supply what we need, everyday, in every situation. Knowing this will change the way we pray.
Where do we start?
1) Commit to prayer. God warms our heart toward those we pray for.
2) Do something loving. God will fill in the substance if we build the form. This is faith, not hypocrisy.
1) If there is someone you love so much youd be willing to die for them, who is it (they)?
2) Who are you earnestly praying for to be saved?