Grace For The Journey
How important is the salvation of others to you? How much are you willing to give of yourself in seeking to see others rescued from their sin and its eternal damnation? In today’s blog we will look at an example that will challenge us to think more seriously and be more giving toward the salvation of others.
Our tendency is to look at those mentioned in the Bible, such as the Apostle Paul, as somehow so different from us that their example is unattainable. We think that it is impossible for us to do the kinds of things that they did. Yet, we are told to look at their examples and follow accordingly. 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that the Old Testament was recorded as an example for our instruction. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul tells us to be imitators of him, just as he was of Jesus Christ. The truth is that Paul, the other apostles, the prophets, and the others mentioned in the Bible were people just like us. There was much they did not know. They had their own fears. They often failed, but they also succeeded in ways that sometimes make us wonder what is wrong with us. That is why we tend to think that their examples are unattainable. However . . .
I think the only real differences
Boil down to their priorities.
They understood and lived
With the right priorities in view.
Why was Paul able to accomplish so much in the service of the Lord?
It was his heart and mind
Set for sacrificial service.
That heart and mind set are clearly expressed in our passage of study this morning, Romans 9:1-18.
Paul’s Passion – Verses 1-5.
Paul’s expression of his heart’s desires for the salvation of his fellow Jews is so strong that he prefaces it by making three declarations of its validity. He is telling the truth in Christ. He is not lying, and his conscience is bearing him witness in the Holy Spirit of the truth of his statement. Paul is not making an exaggeration here for the purpose of stressing his point. This is an expression of how he actually feels. He has great sorrow and unceasing grief over the lost state of is kinsman.
The word “sorrow” expresses the heaviness of heart that comes with sad news. The disciples had this after Jesus had told them He was to be crucified (John 16:6, 20-22). It is also the sadness that comes upon a person when they recognize they have sinned. Godly sorrow produces repentance while worldly sorrow produces death (2Corinthians 7:10). Here we find that Paul had great sorrow over the lost state of his brethren. Paul also had “unceasing grief.” “Grief” is the pain that one is plunged into when there is something bad that has happened. The verb form is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to describe the grief of having a loved one die. Paul says here that this is the emotion he is continually feeling in his heart as he considers the state of the unsaved Israelites.
These emotions are so strong that he even states that he could “wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren .” In other words, if somehow my own damnation could result in the salvation others, then I would wish that. Of course, that cannot happen. You may be able to save other’s physical lives at the cost of your own physical life, but
you cannot save them spiritually by the sacrifice of your own spiritual life. Yet, Paul would even long for that if it could happen.
That is an extremely strong statement
About his love for others.
The heart of true love is
The willingness to sacrifice oneself
For the benefit of the one loved.
The reason that Paul was used
So mightily in the Lord’s service
Was because of this
Heart of sacrificial love.
That is the challenge to us in imitating Paul. It is not doing all the things that Paul did as an apostle – the various miracles, traveling all over the world, and establishing churches everywhere. We can only do what God calls us to do according to the particular gifts He has given us, and no one here is an apostle. That would require you to be an eyewitness of the Lord’s life (Acts 1:21f). What Paul does ask us to imitate about his life is his passion and character. Live in righteousness and be passionate about serving the Lord.
No wonder that we tend to be intimidated by Paul’s example. How many of us would dare say that we could wish ourselves accursed if it would result in the salvation of our relatives? We demonstrate our hardness of heart towards others by our hesitancy to speak to them about Christ, or to give of our time, talents, and finances in serving the Lord in our areas of giftedness or supply for the needs of others so that they can better serve the Lord with their gifts. The answer to your hesitancy is not in making out Paul’s example to be unreasonable, but rather to repent of your selfishness and then, asking the Lord to help and change your heart, step out in faith to give a little more of yourself, to be in situations that make you uncomfortable, to even risk the rejection and persecution of others because they do not want to hear the truth from you. Paul’s example is a realistic one to follow, and those who share his passion for the lost will follow it.
Paul’s Kinsmen – Verses 4-5.
Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 11:13), but he understood that the gospel was to the Jew first (Romans 1:16) and he still had a great passion for their salvation. In verses 4 & 5 Paul makes it clear that it is to his “brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from who is the Christ according to the flesh.” The identification is clear here as is also the blessing that God has poured out on them including the fact that the Christ, the promised Messiah is also of the lineage of the Jews, and at the mention of Christ, Paul cannot contain the praise, and so he proclaims Him as the one “who is over all, God blessed forever, Amen.”
The Jewish people have received great and wonderful blessings from God as His chosen people. They are the ones that have received God’s promises. They are the ones through whom God has manifested Himself and His glory. But in bringing them up, there immediately rises several questions concerning God and His dealings with the Jews . . .
- Why did they receive these blessing instead of some other group?
- If God has chosen them, then why aren’t they responding to the gospel?
- How do the Gentiles fit in?
- What is Israel’s future?
- Will God keep His promises to them?
Paul will be answering those questions in chapters 10,11, and 12. They are important questions for us too, not only because they reveal how we Gentiles fit in, but also because they reveal the character of God in both His choosing of His elect and His faithfulness to keep His promises. This morning we will only be working out way down to verse 18, but in doing so we will find out why God chose Israel and begin to understand His nature in choosing His elect.
True Israel – Verses 6-13.
Children of the Promise – Isaac – Verses 6-9.
The first thing that Paul points out is that the word of God has not failed. The Bible says in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” What God says is true and will be fulfilled. Paul pointed out earlier in 3:3 that their unbelief does not nullify God’s faithfulness. In Romans 11:1-2, Paul makes it clear that God has not rejected His people, for He always keeps for Himself a remnant even when the vast majority reject Him. When God’s sends His word out, it will accomplish what He desires (Isaiah 55:11). Failure in people to respond properly to God does not reflect a failure on God’s part.
Paul states at the end of verse 6 that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Paul had explained in 2:28,29 the spiritual application of this statement in that having physical descent as a Jew is not enough to make a person a Jew spiritually. That belongs to those who are circumcised of heart by the Holy Spirit.
Here in Romans 9:7, Paul traces the truth of his statement in its physical application by starting with the lineage from Abraham. This is a very important point for us to understand in our own day due to the constant tension in the Middle East between the Jews and Arabs. The basic conflict between Jews and Arabs has also engulfed America and is the major reason for the terrorist activities against us.
What is this basic conflict? It is a question of who has God given His promises to? Who are the people that have inherited God’s covenant with Abraham? Who are the ones that have received God’s adoption as sons, the covenants, the laws, the promises, and through whom does the savior come? Paul said in verses 4 and 5 that this belongs to the Jews. Islamic Arabs claim that it belongs to them through Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael.
Paul’s first point in tracing the correct lineage is that it belongs only to the children of the promise, and not to all physical descendants of Abraham. Abraham actually had many sons. Ishmael was his first born through Sarah’s maid, Hagar. Isaac was his only child through Sarah herself. And then after Sarah died, Abraham took Keturah as a wife and she bore to him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Four of these eight sons became fathers of nations. Did all of them inherit God’s covenant with Abraham? If not, which one did?
Paul quotes Genesis 21:21 (verse 7) and 18:10 (verse 9) as two of the passages that make it clear that Isaac is the son of the promise. It is Isaac through whom Abraham’s descendants would be named. Even today, it is only the Jews’ that freely boast about being the “children of Abraham.” Arabic apologists will trace their lineage to Abraham, but they are more likely to stress their descent from Ishmael or their forefather of the Arabic tribe than to Abraham.
Another strong passage proving that Isaac is the son of promise is Genesis 17. In that chapter God establishes His covenant of circumcision with Abraham. In the process, God also changed the name of Sarai to Sarah and promised that she would bear a son, even though she was already 90 years old. Abraham actually argues with God in verse 18 saying, “Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” In other words, Ishmael is enough, let the covenant be through him. God’s response is recorded in verses 19-21, “But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.”
So contrary to Arabic and Islamic claims, the promises belong to the Jews and the land belongs to Israel because of that. Even the claim of the so called “Palestinians” is a false one, for up until the modern establishment of the nation of Israel and even into the 60’s, it was the Jew who was called a “Palestinian” and not those of Arabic descent. The Jews have had a presence in the land for over 3,000 years. Those who are called “Palestinians” now of Arabic descent are only recent immigrants into the land.
This claim of descent is also important to us who are Christians, because God’s covenant to Abraham traces through to Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of the blessing promised. This means that Muhammad has no legitimate claim to be a prophet of God. He is in fact a false prophet of the false god, Allah, not of the true God, Yahweh.
Children of the Promise – Jacob – Verses 10-13.
Paul further narrows the children of the promise in verses 10-13. It is not even all the children of Isaac, but only those of Isaac who trace their lineage through his son, Jacob. In verses 10-12 Paul refers to the story told in Genesis 25 about the birth of Isaac’s twin boys, Esau and Jacob through Rebekah. It was while both boys were still in the womb that the Lord said to Rebekah, “And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” The subject of the prophecies are the nations that would arise from these two boys and what the relationship of those two nations would be. There is no Biblical or extra Biblical evidence that Esau himself actually ever served Jacob, but there is plenty of evidence of the nation that came from Esau (Edom) being in subjection to and serving Israel.
Paul’s quote of Malachi 1:2-3 is also in reference to the nations that came from Jacob and Esau rather than the individuals themselves, for that it is the context both in this passage and in Malachi.
It is important to note what Paul says in verse 11. God’s choice in this was done before these boys were born, before they could do anything either good or bad. The choice was made simply by God’s sovereign purpose as He decided and not upon any work either boy had done. The impact of this is made even stronger when it is considered that the prophecy was dealing with the nations that would arise from them that had not yet even been conceived, much less born to take some action, good or evil.
That truth tends to make people uncomfortable, especially us Americans because we value our supposed autonomy so much. We don’t want others telling us what to do, and we certainly do not want people deciding our destiny without our say so in the matter. There almost seems something unfair about it. Why should one be chosen for blessing and the other placed in subjection especially when neither has done anything to either warrant the blessing or the hardship?
There are several things about this truth people do not like. First, we tend to focus more on the negative aspect than the positive. We look at the one that received a hardship or did not receive the blessing as unfair. If we look at the one who got the blessing, we see that as good for them, but don’t tend to think of it as being unfair to them, only unfair to the one that did not get it. Second, we don’t like the fact that God is sovereign in His choices and He does not always explain the reasons why He does something in any way that makes sense to us. As a result, people tend to skew the interpretation of these passages to produce a god they can understand rather than One that is beyond their comprehension and to Whom they must humbly bow.
The nation of Israel was chosen to be God’s people on the same basis that Jacob was chosen to receive the blessing instead of Esau. Cultural tradition demanded that Esau receive the blessing and that the younger should serve him, yet God’s choice was the opposite. God is not bound by the cultural traditions of any people. The Old Testament gives us several insights into the choosing of Israel to be God’s people. The Lord says in Deuteronomy 4:37-39, “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in [and] to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” Deuteronomy 9:5-6, adds, “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.” Deuteronomy 10:14-15 states, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.”
Putting all of these verses together, we find that the Lord did not choose Israel for anything commendable about them. Even their possession of the land was due to God’s judgement upon the wickedness of the people before them and not as a reward for something good about them. God chose them simply as an act of His own gracious love in keeping the promises He made to Abraham through which God would glorify Himself. His choice of you is the same. It is an act of His own gracious love for His own purposes.
The illustration given here of the Lord’s love for Jacob and hatred for Esau demonstrates further God’s sovereign choice in His own mercy and grace. Again, the context of this passage and of Malachi 1:2-3 from which the verse is quoted, is of the nations that came from Jacob and Esau. There is no Scriptural indication of any divine hatred against Esau the man, but God’s hatred of Edom, Esau’s descendants is clear. They were an idolatrous and rebellious people whom the Lord chastised and eventually destroyed. But Israel was also often idolatrous and rebellious against God. God also chastised them and even had them taken away into captivity, yet God also preserved a remnant and brought them back to the land. This was done only because of God’s mercy and grace extended to them while He was working out His plan of redemption. The nation of Israel exists today only because of God’ grace upon them in working out His future plans for them.
God’s Mercy – Verses 14-18.
Verses 14-18 further bring out this point, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
No Injustice with God – Verse 14.
First, though many people would react and claim this, there is no injustice with God. Deuteronomy 32 records Moses’ song to the Israelites. In verse 4 Moses declares of God, “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Elihu wisely said in Job 32:12-15, “Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave Him authority over the earth? And who has laid [on Him] the whole world? If He should determine to do so, if He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” There is no injustice with God. He has authority over all things and would be just and righteous if He decided to withhold His mercy and grace though that very act would result in the destruction of all flesh. The Lord’s judgements are always true and righteous (Revelation 16:7).
God’s Sovereign Mercy – Verses 15-16.
God is sovereign with His mercy. The quote in verse 15 is from Exodus 33:19 when Moses requested to see the Lord’s glory. It was an act of grace and compassion for the Lord to allow Moses to see the goodness of the Lord pass before him. When God did do that He proclaimed of Himself, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).
That is the character of the Lord our God. The extension of the Lord’s mercy to someone is not dependent upon what they desire or how well they work at being good. It is dependent on the Lord’ mercy to them, for no man seeks God (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-12), and even a man’s best effort to do a work of righteousness falls far short and is filthy before our holy God (Isaiah 64:6).
God’s Sovereign Hardening – Verses 17-18.
God is also sovereign in hardening of the hearts of those that resist Him. Paul brings up the example of Pharaoh during the time of Moses to illustrate this. Some have incorrectly taken these verses to mean that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the sense of it being done as an act of predestination or election to condemnation. This is the idea that this is something that God did to Pharaoh who was a passive recipient to God’s
decree. However, the quote in verse 17 is taken from Exodus 9:16. By this point in time, Pharaoh had already endured six plagues. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened when Aaron’s rod became a serpent and ate up those that Pharaoh’s magicians threw down (7:13). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened at the turning of the water into blood (7:22). Pharaoh hardened his heart at the plague of the frogs (8:15). His heart was hardened at the plague of gnats (8:19) and he hardened his heart again when Moses removed the plague (8:32). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again when the Egyptian cattle died (9:7). It is not until the plague of boils that we find that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” It is only after this that God tells Pharaoh through Moses, “But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go.”
Pharaoh was responsible for his actions. He continued to harden his heart until finally God sealed His fate and confirmed the hardening so that there would be no repentance. God did exalt Himself through Pharaoh as the rest of the plagues were poured out on Egypt culminating in the Passover, the exodus and the destruction of Egypt’s army in the Red Sea. Those are all events which are still celebrated to this day to the glory of God.
God has mercy on who He has mercy and He hardens who He hardens. It is God’s sovereign choice, yet man is still responsible for his own rejection of God and refusal to seek refuge in Christ.
To those that are already saved, Jesus revealed no one could come unto Him unless God the Father draws him (John 6:44). We do not come to Jesus Christ because we choose Him, but because He chooses us (John 15;16). We love Him only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Yet to the unsaved, Jesus gives warning and an invitation in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am He [Messiah], You shall die in your sins;” in John 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God;” and in Matthew 11:29-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
The interaction of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is not understood by man. Those who have been saved simply turn with greater praise to God that He would extend His grace and mercy to them. You do not have to know what God has chosen for you in order to respond to His invitation to salvation. If you respond with belief in Christ’s atonement as the payment for your sins, then you receive God’s mercy. If you reject it, then you are responsible for your sin, but be warned if you think you can sit on the fence and put off a response to the invitation to salvation. There could come a point in time when God seals you in your rejection and hardens your heart so that you cannot repent and turn to Christ. Neither you nor I know when that could be. It is not a risk worth taking. Don’t leave here today without making peace with God.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!