In the next three chapters Paul answer some of the inevitable questions any thinking mind, which has followed through this great plan of redemption, will ask. First, the question of the sovereignty of God that is magnificently treated in this chapter. God is a sovereign being, and his sovereignty answers the question of why I am part of Christ’s body and not someone else.
The whole matter of election and the predestinating choice of God, helps us to see this whole problem as it really is. We tend to think of ourselves as in a neutral condition before God, and depending on how we live or act, or what choices we make, we will either fall off on the side of being lost or go on to be saved. However, this is not the case.
This chapter shows us that the whole race is already lost, lost in Adam; we were born into a lost race. When he sinned, we lost our right to be saved in Adam, and we have no rights before God at all. Therefore, only God’s grace saves any of us. No one has any right to complain to God if some are saved—and when none have any right to be saved. Paul sets before us in a most powerful way, the sovereign power and choice of God.
Now, before we dig too deeply into the sovereignty of God, we need to understand more clearly what has happened between us—the nation of Israel—and God. Paul begins with the nation of Israel:
You need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. It’s the Israelites . . . If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them (Romans 9:1-5)
Do you hear Paul’s hunger and pain? He anguished—he distressed for his own people. Why? Because they were not saved—they were alienated from God. Paul was saying, “I love Israel. They are my people. I care for them. I am concerned for their welfare. I am concerned for their spiritual destiny. I have great sorrow, unceasing grief in my heart. I want them to be saved.”
That is how our hearts should cry for our family and friends who are lost. We should care enough about the people we work with, live with, and see every day on the street. Our hearts should be burdened for their spiritual welfare. This is the exact opposite of what we see most often in our life and the lives of those around us. This self-seeking, self-serving, self-centered love.
Paul experienced a thorough and radical transformation on the road to Damascus. He was affected to such an extent that he said, “I have an unceasing, unquenchable burden in my soul for those who don’t know Christ.” The reason that Paul was now so concerned was because Christ had changed his heart. And it is because Christ has changed our heart that we can have genuine love for others.
Paul said, in verse 3, “If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him . . .” The word he uses for cursed is the word anathema, which means destined for destruction, or destined for perdition. In other words, Paul was saying, “I would willingly go to hell if, by doing so, it would cause the salvation of Israel. I would be willing to suffer eternally in hell if they could only be saved.” That is far more than being simply burdened for someone. How many of us could make such a statement?
Moses was like this. God called him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses became frustrated a few times during their journey. He would complain to God and say, “God, are these my children? Did I bear them? Here I am, out here in the wilderness and they are complaining to me every time I turn around. They are complaining about the food; they are complaining about the lodging; they are complaining about my leadership; they are complaining about everything!”
I can imagine God saying, “Mo’ I know all about that. How do you think I feel . . .” I love Proverbs 19:3 from The Message: “People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does GOD always get blamed?” Many times God was frustrated with Israel as well. At one point, God told Moses, “You step aside, Moses, and let me destroy the people. I will raise you up another people to lead.” Now I don’t blame God for feeling that way . . . But not Moses. His heart was compassionate. One time when the people really screwed things up, Moses prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Moses cared enough that he was willing to lay down his very life for the people.
Paul cared enough that he was willing to lay down his very life, eternally, for the people. Why did he care like that? He cared that much because he was inhabited by One who cared that much. Jesus was the One in history who was willing to leave His eternal throne of glory, be made a man and die a horrendous death on the Cross-, because He cared about people like you and me. Christ is the real source of this kind of love.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome