A Heart for the Salvation of Others
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but he never stopped being a Jew. His heart’s desire was that his own people should come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Christ Jesus himself was born a Jew according to the flesh, ministered to Jews and even said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Paul acknowledged in this very letter that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16), and followed this divine order throughout the Book of Acts, preaching to the Jews first in every city he visited. But there was a problem—a glaring problem—which still exists today, and that problem was, quite simply, that the vast majority of Jews had not accepted the Messiah who came for them nor his gospel which Paul preached. And even more ironically, the Gentiles had.
So the question had to be asked: What does this mean? After all, to the Israelites belong the adoption (that is, God had chosen them above all other peoples), the glory (God’s presence among them throughout their history as illustrated throughout the Old Testament), the covenants (with Noah, Abraham, the Patriarchs, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, David), the Law and the worship (revealed in Exodus through Deuteronomy), and most of all, the promises of which the prophets spoke (from Genesis 3:15 through Malachi 4:5-6) of a coming Messiah, and so many other blessings. Jesus himself told a Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
So how could they have rejected the Christ and the gospel which is the fulfillment of the very promises made to them as God’s covenant people? It seemed so absurd! Well, as we shall see, Paul was sure that God’s word in the Law and the Prophets was still God’s word, and that God had failed at nothing; His will would be accomplished, and this is the matter which Paul tackles in chapters nine through eleven.
But what I wish to focus on here is Paul’s heart, his actual statement: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” It is reminiscent of Moses’ plea before God after the episode with the golden calf, “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exodus 32:30-34). But God would have none of it. Still, though I cannot say that a Christian should wish to be parted from Christ for any reason, the sentiment is laudable. May we have an equal desire to see others come to Christ.