World English Bible translation
9:1I tell the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience testifying with me in the Holy Spirit, 9:2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers’ sake, my relatives according to the flesh, 9:4 who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises; 9:5 whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen.
Today's Scriptures begin a new division of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. Actually, it is not so much a new topic as a return to the original topic of Chapters 1-3. Paul had begun by declaring that a righteousness was being revealed that was by faith. This righteousness was available to all, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. During Chapters 1-3 he wrote about the purpose of the law and the response of man to the law. Now he returns to this subject.
Paul begins by declaring that his heart is sorrowed for the sake of his "relatives according to the flesh", the Jewish people. Throughout his life Paul considered himself a devout Jew. There was no distinction in his mind between the devotion to God of a proper Jew and the devotion to God that all Christians should have. In Paul's day, the question of the day was, could one be a follower of Christ and be a Gentile? In our day, there are those who would frame the question, can one be a follower of Christ and be a Jew? I believe that Paul would have thought that both questions miss the point.
Paul expresses the depth of his concern for his people when he writes that, if he could switch places with them, he would sacrifice himself and let himself be accursed from Christ if it would mean that they would be saved. Perhaps some have thought that this concern and offer is more rhetorical in nature than it is genuine. But when we study the life of Paul as we have it recorded through his letters and the Book of Acts, I believe that these expressions are deeply sincere. Everywhere Paul went he took his message to the synagogues and to the meeting places of the Jewish people. Invariably, the majority rejected him and then he took his message to the Gentiles where he was more warmly received.
The anguish of Paul's heart was that more of his countrymen did not embrace their Savior. His anguish was compounded even more because he had, prior to the revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus, been one of those who had steadfastly persecuted Christians. Paul was raised in the strictest of Jewish traditions. He considered himself to be the product of the most pious and orthodox traditions.
But when the revelation of God's grace came to him, Paul's perspective completely changed. Paul realized that God was revealing Himself through the living presence of His Son in the world. All that Paul believed he understood about the world and his role in it was altered by his new revelation of Christ.
The desire of Paul's heart became to express what God had revealed to him. But like the Old Testament prophets, when Paul spoke, his "relatives according to the flesh" refused to listen. Paul only wanted to tell them about God. But the more he wanted to tell them, the more they did not wish to hear.
Despite the pain and loneliness that this caused Paul, he is our model. Each of us comes from a nation whose people refuse to hear what God is saying. Many of us have family members and friends that we work with or know that refuse to hear the message of the grace of God that is in Christ the Lord. We may not be able to persuade them and we certainly can't force them to listen, but we must never turn our hearts from their plight.
Until the end of his life, Paul continued to work for the salvation of his people. He continued to hold out his hand in hope that some would reach out for Christ. Even when he was reviled and blasphemed by one group, he would begin anew with a new group of people in the next city. He continued to preach Christ to the lost and yet he kept the perspective that he was only a servant set to a task. The message and the responsibility for its success are in the hands of his master, Jesus Christ.
Who has God placed on your heart? Who are your "relatives according to the flesh?"
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