February 23, 2003
"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:1-5).
"I'm telling the truth...I'm not lying...my conscience bears me witness..." Why should Paul so speak and so strenuously insist upon the sincerity of his sorrow? He was beholding his "kinsmen according to the flesh" as they were missing out on the greatest blessing ever offered! It brought no joy, but only anguish of heart, as he watched the once favored nation fall. His ministry to the Gentiles in no way meant Paul had turned his back upon Israel . But these statements of Paul have puzzled Bible commentators ever since? Did he mean what he seems to be saying, that he would forego eternal blessings of Christ and the gospel if only Israel could receive their blessing?
Could such an outbreak of unrestrained feeling be consistent with the Apostle Paul? But are we correctly understanding his words? Is he wanting some Israelites to be saved? That was already happening for in some areas, Jewish converts outnumbered Gentiles! Did he want more Israelites saved? or was he longing for all Israelites to be saved?
We are left with but one conclusion; that the burden of Paul's heart was salvation of the nation, that is, for their national restoration to the lofty position they had lost! His wish expressed could not suggest the loss of his eternal salvation. But he could soberly and sincerely contemplate exchanging his present glorious position in the body of Christ, if, and only if, at that time he could come with Israel into their promised covenant blessings!
In this light Paul seems neither irrational nor contradictory to the persuasion expressed only moments before, that nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, his Lord.
Ivan L. Burgener