Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 12, 1991
Purpose: To challenge us to greater concern for the lost and greater faithfulness in witnessing.
A church was looking for a pastor, so they invited several candidates to come and preach for them. One candidate preached on the Scripture that says, "The wicked shall be turned into Hell." The head elder was not in favor of him at all and discouraged the rest of the board from recommending him to the congregation for a vote.
A few weeks later, another preacher came, and would you believe it, he used the very same Scripture as the basis for his sermon. This time the head elder responded enthusiastically: "This is the man we need. Let's call him."
The other board members were surprised, and one of them asked, "Why did you like him so much? He used the same text as the first man."
"True," replied the chairman. "But the first man seemed to be happy about it. This one says it with tears in his eyes and concern in his voice. It sounds like it's breaking his heart" (Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1981).
That second candidate could have been the Apostle Paul, in view of what we see next in his letter to the Romans. We get a little glimpse into his heart. And it is, without a doubt, a soul-winner's heart.
The Revelation of Paul's Concern for Israel
A Description of Paul's Concern (Romans 9:1-3)
Romans 9:1-3. "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh."
Paul is talking about Jews. They were his "kinsmen according to the flesh." But why does he begin with such a strong statement about telling the truth. Why would he lie about his love and concern for the Jewish people? Why would anyone think he's lying?
Probably because he had said some pretty strong things about them in this book. For example, he called them hard-hearted and impenitent (Romans 2:5). And the very fact that he became the apostle to the Gentiles caused some Jews to think he despised them (refer to Acts 21:28; 24:5).
So he makes it very clear--he's not faking it, his conscience bears him out, and the Holy Spirit is his witness. Because the nation as a whole has refused to believe in Christ and has rejected her Messiah, he feels deep sorrow and grief in his heart. Paul had heart trouble. But it wasn't the kind caused by high cholesterol or blocked arteries. It was the kind caused by people he cared about being blinded to the truth of the gospel and headed for hell. And the pain just wouldn't go away; it was constant. He wasn't the kind of person who would say, "It hurts me to have to tell you this, but I'm only telling you because I love you"--then proceed to cut you to shreds (Stedman, From Guilt to Glory, Volume II, 11). He truly felt pain because people around him didn't know Christ.
That next statement proves it without a doubt. Read Romans 9:3 again. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh."
"Accursed" means "devoted to destruction." What an incredible thing to say. Paul says that, if it were possible, he would be willing to suffer eternal condemnation in order to bring the nation of Israel to Christ. The way he put it ("I could wish") indicates that he knew it was impossible.
A true Christian can never be separated from the love of God in Christ. He just taught us that in chapter 8. But that didn't diminish his desire one speck. If the granting of his wish depended on the depths of his love for the Jewish people, it would have been granted in a minute. The most precious thing in life for Paul was his eternal relationship with Christ, yet he would be willing to give it up if it would bring others to Christ.
I don't think I could say that. There are people whose salvation I care about so much that I would probably be willing to give my life to see them saved. But there's nobody I care about so much that I would be willing to give up my eternal life to win them. I have to tell you, this is a tremendous challenge to me. And I would assume, to you as well.
Moses once said something like this, you remember. When the people of Israel made a golden calf and worshipped it, Moses pleaded with God to forgive their sin, but went on to say, "...but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written" (Exodus 32:32). It wasn't any more possible for Moses than it was for Paul, but it reveals again how much some people care about the eternal destiny of others. How much do you care?
The late evangelist, Gypsy Smith, used to tell the story of how his Uncle Rodney came to Christ. Among gypsies, it was not considered proper for a young person to address his elders unless spoken to. So young Gypsy prayed and waited for his opportunity. One day, Uncle Rodney said to him, "How do you account for the fact that the knees of your trousers have worn nearly through while the rest of the suit is almost like new?" "I have worn the knees through praying for you, Uncle Rodney," he answered. Then he added with tears in his eyes, "I want so much to have God make you a Christian!" It wasn't long before Uncle Rodney put his faith in Christ for salvation (Tan, 5878).
I wonder if we care enough about anyone's salvation to wear out the knees of our pants praying for them. Paul cared even more than that. He would willingly give up his own place in heaven if it could bring the nation of Israel to Christ.
But what's this all about anyway? Why is he so concerned about the nation Israel? And why does the nation assume such a prominent place in this letter? Having seen a description of his concern, let's look at the people for whom he was concerned.
The People for Whom Paul Was Concerned (Romans 9:4-5)
Many Bible teachers say chapters 9 through 11 are a parenthesis in the book. And if you skip over to chapter 12, you will find that the flow of Paul's thought does makes perfect sense without these chapters. He has just taught us in chapter 8 about the glory that shall be ours as sons of God. In chapter 12 he goes right on and urges us to live in this world in a manner that is consistent with our future glory. So why insert all this information about Israel?
Let me tell you why. He's been writing about the believer's security in Christ, how nothing can separate those whom God has chosen from His love. But he no sooner writes that than a dark cloud drifts in over his soul. And he knows the Jews who are reading his letter are thinking the same thing he's thinking. Didn't God choose the nation Israel too? Weren't they the objects of His love as well? And yet, here they are in unbelief, rejecting their Messiah, not enjoying God's blessings in Christ. Does their rejection of the Messiah mean that God has rejected them and separated them from His love? If He did that to them, what makes us think He won't do it to us? That's what gets him into a discussion of the nation Israel.
So this is not a digression or a parenthesis. This is an integral part of the argument of the book. So look at his description of these people.
Romans 9:4-5. "...Who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen."
What an eloquent description of the people of Israel and their vast spiritual privileges! They had eight great advantages.
- The adoption. God chose them to be His special people. He called them "Israel is My son" (Exodus 4:22). It's difficult for most people to understand why God should choose the nation Israel. As one budding poet put it, "How odd/Of God/To choose/The Jews!" (Stedman, 13). But He did.
- The glory. That's a reference to the Shekinah glory, that hovered over the tabernacle and later filled the temple, the symbol of God's presence with His people.
- The covenants. His covenants with Abraham, with Moses, with David, and especially the New Covenant which promised the nation forgiveness of sins.
- The law. That lofty revelation of God's high and holy standard for His people, written by His very hand.
- The service of God. Referring to the temple worship with its elaborate ceremonies, sacrifices and feasts, all of which pointed to the holiness of God in vivid and unforgettable pictures.
- The promises. Especially promises of a coming Messiah who would pay for their sins and usher them into His glorious kingdom on earth.
- The fathers. A reference to the patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, great men who knew God.
- The Christ. Their crowning glory--they were the people through whom the world's Savior entered human history and acquired human flesh. (Incidentally, this is a powerful declaration of Christ's deity.)
But none of these things are of any value to them apart from faith in their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. And they had rejected Him. Where does that leave them? Does it mean that God has not kept His Word, that God has failed to deliver on His promises? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
It was not God who failed to keep His Word. Paul uses those very words in Romans 9:6a (NIV)--"It is not as though God's Word had failed." It was Israel that failed. They had developed two serious misconceptions, and that was the reason for Paul's concern.
The Reason for Paul's Concern for Israel
They Thought Their Physical Descent Secured God's Blessing (Romans 9:6-9)
Romans 9:6b-7. "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called.'"
They thought that just because they were Abraham's offspring they would automatically inherit God's promises. But God never intended it to work that way. Abraham actually had eight children in all--Isaac, Ishmael, and six by another wife named Keturah whom he married after Sarah's death (Genesis 25:1-2). But only Isaac received the promises.
Every Jew agreed with that. None of them thought that the descendants of Ishmael (the Arabs), or the descendants of any of those other children had any inheritance with the descendants of Isaac. By their own admission, then, physical descent was not enough. And if God could exclude some of Abraham's descendants from the promised blessings, He could exclude others as well. Only Jews with Abraham's faith are his true spiritual descendants who will inherit God's promised blessings.
Romans 9:8-9. "That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: 'At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.'"
God made a promise to Abraham--that Sarah would bear a son even though she was long past the age of child-bearing. And God kept His promise. Isaac was born as a result of supernatural, divine intervention, sovereign power and grace. He was the child of promise.
And that's the way we get into God's family and experience the blessing of eternal life--not by pure breeding and the right parentage, but by believing God's promise. He promised that all who would believe in His Son would not perish but have eternal life. And when we do that, we are born into His family by His sovereign power and grace.
Some of us here today may be making the same mistake that those Jews were making--thinking that we can receive God's promise of eternal life because of physical descent.
Ask the person on the street why he thinks he is a Christian, and you may hear, "Well, I was born into a Christian family. My great-grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher. My parents were good people; they took me to church, had me christened, confirmed, and raised as a Christian. I have a wonderful family heritage."
Some people put far too much weight on their family stock. Like the Princeton graduate who applied for a job with a major department store in Philadelphia. The personnel manager wrote to one of the fellow's references and received a lengthy reply, detailing the applicant's fine social standing and family background, from Pilgrim stock. "Sir," the personnel manager responded, "I think you misunderstood. We want to employ the young man for business purposes, not breeding purposes" (Reader's Digest, August 1989, p.14).
And our primary concern as we look into God's Word here today is not breeding qualifications. We're interested in eternal salvation. And that has nothing to do with physical descent. It has to do with believing God's promise. Have you put your faith in God's Son and in His sacrificial death on Calvary's cross?
Paul uses another illustration as well to show that not all of Abraham's descendants are heirs of God's promised blessing--Jacob and Esau. But this one exposes another misconception the Jews had as well.
They Thought Their Righteous Deeds Secured God's Blessing (Romans 9:10-13)
Romans 10-13. "And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.'"
A case could be made to justify God's choice of Isaac and not Ishmael, because Isaac was the son of Abraham's wife, Ishmael his concubine. But Jacob and Esau were twins, born of the same parents, at the same general time and under the same circumstances. Yet before they were even born, before they had done anything good or bad to deserve favor or blame, God ignored the natural rights of the firstborn and chose Jacob.
By the way, to hate Esau--that's a quotation from Malachi 1:2-3--in Eastern thought does not mean God harbored personal animosity toward him, but simply indicates a rejection of Esau's rival claim to blessing (refer to Luke 14:26). Jacob would be the one through whom the blessing would be given. It would also be helpful to understand that Paul is talking here not talking the individuals; he's talking about the nations which descended from them. Esau never served Jacob in their lifetime, but Esau's descendants served Jacob's descendants. (That conclusion is also confirmed in the Malachi account). But God's choice of Jacob over Esau not only reinforces Paul's point that physical descent does not secure God's blessing, it illustrates the truth that good works do not either. That was the thing he pointed out, you see--before they were born and had a chance to do anything good or evil.
Which son of Isaac was better, Jacob or Esau? Neither one of them was very good. Esau was an immoral man--a profane man, the Scripture says--and Jacob was a liar. But if our backs were up against a wall and we had to choose, we'd probably choose Jacob. His life was slightly better than Esau's. But just in case we think it was Jacob's slightly better lifestyle that secured for Him God's blessing, Paul reminds us that God made His choice before they were ever born and had a chance to do good or bad. It was strictly on the choice of God's own elective purposes, Paul says.
Now I know that the doctrine of election bothers some people, and we'll talk about it more as we move on through these chapters because Paul talks about it. But right now, let's just zero in on this important Biblical truth: God's promised blessings are not secured by being good.
That is very clear from what the apostle Paul says. And the Jews needed to understand that. They continued to insist that they deserved God's blessing because they were such good people and obeyed God's law. Well, they really didn't, but that wasn't the point. Paul has made it abundantly clear in this book how God's eternal blessing is assured: It is by FAITH, and faith alone (refer to Romans 3:21-30; 4:5, 13, 16; 5:1). "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Faith. Trust in God's finished work through His Son.
Now as you probably know, that is another point on which many modern Americans are greatly confused. George Barna, who heads a marketing research company in Glendale, recently wrote the book, The Frog in the Kettle: What Christians Need to Know about Life in the Year 2000. Great book--I would recommend it to you. He makes this statement as a result of his research: "Amazingly, only about one out of every five individuals say Christianity has to do with the acceptance of, or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Many more people associate being a Christian with life-styles and behavior; loving other people, helping others, being a good person, etc. Some equate the term with a general belief in God. Still others say it has to do with religious practices such as attending church or 'being religious.'"
Isn't that incredible? Four out of five people think eternal salvation has something to do with living the good life rather than trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Those are the prevailing opinions. But in this case, on the authority of God's Word, the majority is clearly wrong.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
So the question before us today is: Have you acknowledged that your good deeds cannot earn for you eternal life, and have you put your faith in God's Son as your eternal Savior? God's Son and His work at Calvary alone. Nothing else. No one else. Have you made that decision? If there is any question about it, we urge you to do it today.
Eternity is at stake. Oh, God wants you to live a good life. God wants you to obey His word. God wants to transform your life. But that transformation begins when you acknowledge your sinfulness, and that you deserve nothing from God. And nothing you can ever do except to receive from His gracious hand the gift that His Son paid for in full at Calvary. Have you trusted Him as your Savior?
But I want to go back to the beginning as I bring this message to a close. I must admit to you, I get a little impatient and sometimes perturbed when I hear people tell me they think they're going to heaven because they were raised in a Christian family, or because they have attended church all their lives, or because they've been good neighbors. I get perturbed especially when I hear that from people who've been sitting in this church listening to the truth of God's Word expounded week after week for years. That really bother me.
But, you know, I don't detect any impatience or agitation at all in Paul's heart, and that's been a challenge to me. All I see here is an intense love for these people; a deep concern for them; a powerful urge to tell them the truth of God's Word.
I don't like to tell you this, but I have to say, there have been times when I didn't want to be disturbed or distracted from something I was doing in order to share a word of witness with someone. There have been times when I was sitting on an airplane reading a book, almost thinking--"almost," you notice how I protect myself--I hope that person sitting next to me doesn't strike up a conversation because then I might have to stop reading my book.
Isn't that awful? But I can remember times when that thought went through my mind. I tell you, Paul's heart for souls is a tremendous challenge to me. By God's grace, I want to have a soul-winner's heart. I want to love lost people. I want to pray for them fervently. I want to be ready always, at a moment's notice, to share graciously and kindly a word of witness. I want to have a soul-winner's heart. Do you?
Let's bow together in prayer. Do you really want a soul-winner's heart? Of course, it begins with our love for the Lord, living in His daily fellowship, being filled with His Spirit. It has to begin there or you really have nothing to share. But are you willing to begin? Will you make that commitment--to yield yourself fully to Him, to live in His fellowship and in His word, and then, by God's grace, to cultivate a love for lost people? Would you make that commitment right now?
If you're here this morning without the assurance of your eternal salvation, we want to give you an opportunity right now in these moments to make that decision. The Scripture says, "These things have I written unto you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. Know. That's assurance.
And if you don't have that assurance, we want you to. What a joy and blessing it is to know that your sins are forgiven, that God is your Father, and heaven in your eternal home. Assured. Not because of anything you did or can ever do, but because of what Jesus did at Calvary.
Would you make that commitment this morning? A commitment of faith. Just in the quiet of your own soul, you express it to God.
"God, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me. Lord, come into my heart right now and save me from sin."
Lord, you know what our needs are right now. You know the commitment we need to make. Help us to be faithful, we pray, just as others before us have been faithful. I pray that you will transform us into a congregation of soul winners. Not overbearing people who turn others off, but those who love lost souls and courageously, but lovingly, share the Lord Jesus with them. And I pray for those this morning who have made for the first time that commitment of faith and have put their trust in Jesus Christ as their eternal Savior. God, transform their lives, and give them new peace, new joy, new purpose, new assurance in You. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 18: Is That Really Fair?