Five Minute Devotions: Romans 9
Romans 9 begins Paul’s anguished cry over the people of Israel. Even though Paul has been designated by God as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s burden toward his own people is heavy. While we could spend time outlining Paul’s breakdown of the situation and his specific arguments to his fellow Jews, what I think Christians often overlook is Paul’s impassioned zeal.
We think of Paul as the cerebral pastor. Even Peter writes in his epistles that Paul is sometimes difficult to understand. Paul’s use of logic and philosophy and his structured way of arguing is much different than the emotionality of, say, a James or a Peter.
But there are certain areas that ignite Paul’s fire. There are certain topics where his emotions bleed through onto the page. This happens nowhere more strongly than here in Romans 9, where Paul goes on a rapid-fire defense of the faith and an intense indictment of Jewish unbelief.
His passion is so great, he mentions in verse 3:
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,
Paul seems willing to make an all-or-nothing trade. His passion is so great that he would, if it were possible, give his own life for their salvation. If Jesus’ death made it possible, Paul’s would make it mandatory.
Of course, Paul realizes that this is unwise and impossible. Yet, it does not stop him from what he feels or how he expresses it. Since he cannot accept Christ on the behalf of others, all he can do is lead them to Christ and let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.
Paul’s Holy Burden
What would our society look like today if every Christian had this burden for their people? Not even their ethnic race. What if a student went to school, sat in a classroom, and had a burden for the people of that classroom the way Paul did for the Jews? What if an employee had that same zeal for their company? What if a pastor felt that way about the people in the pews? How would that change our world? How would that change our faith?
Paul here is not just expressing a theological argument, he is expressing a visceral hope that we are meant to imitate. The same Spirit that drove Paul is the Spirit that drives us. The same passion that drove Paul should also drive us.
Now for the reality check. All of Paul’s passion and zeal could not convert his Jewish brothers. A vast majority of them simply would not believe, they would not accept. Your passion for God and your passion for people will force people to take notice, but you cannot force them into salvation. That is their own free choice.
The anguish that Paul feels here is only but a small part of what God feels when humanity rejects him. I know of a child who shall remain unnamed. She is an orphan from a country I shall also leave unnamed. Those in charge of her at the orphanage taught her horrible things about American adoptive families: that they would use her as a slave, that they would sell her for body parts, and so on. In this country, at a certain age, the orphan must consent to the adoption. A family worked for months and months and spent thousands of dollars to adopt this girl, only for her to say “No.”
Can you imagine that feeling? Can you imagine being that family? The anguish they felt is the same Paul’s anguish over his people. But rejection should not reduce your passion. You do not give up in the face of adversity. A year later, for another family, this young girl said “Yes” and is now a daughter, a sister, and loved.
Pursue your godly passions. Do not back down in the face of adversity. Do not give up amidst rejection. What you feel is the heart of God breaking through your heart to impact this world. Paul’s passion and influence has spread the world over. We owe much of our New Testament to him. He is humanly responsible for much of our spiritual education. But that is only because he allowed his passion to be a conduit of the Spirit’s passion and allowed the Spirit to work through him.