Romans 9:1-3, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Today we come to chapter 9 of Romans, in which Paul begins to deal with the unmentioned “elephant in the room” that was staring his original audience in the face. In Romans 1-8, the Apostle repeatedly stresses that although justification comes to believers in Christ apart from the works of God’s law, this way of gracious justification is nonetheless revealed in the law (3:21-22; 4:1-8; 8:1-4). The gospel that proclaims we are accounted righteous in Christ through faith in Him and apart from all our works is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus is the promised Messiah, the hope of Israel’s salvation realized through the imputation of His righteousness to His people (1:1-7; 4:13-25; 7:7-25). Given these truths, the question for the Romans was this: If Jesus is the Savior for whom the Jews have eagerly waited, why have most Jews not received Him as their Messiah?
Since most of us worship in churches that are made up almost entirely of Gentile believers, we may not feel the real weight of this question, but it is certainly an issue that would have troubled the first Christians who read this letter. We have noted that although the Roman church to which Paul wrote was predominantly Gentile, a sizeable number of Jewish believers also made up the congregation. These Jewish Christians, many of whom had suffered rejection from Jewish family and friends on account of their faith, certainly wondered why the Jews had not turned en masse to Christ Jesus. Furthermore, the Gentile believers seemed to have thought that their majority status in the church meant that they were due certain privileges that the Jewish Christians did not share. After all, did not the Jews’ failure to follow Jesus mean that God had rejected Israel and that the Gentiles are now favored at the expense of the Jews?
Paul answers with an emphatic “no” in Romans 9-11 as he explains Israel’s rejection of its Messiah. The key thing to note in today’s passage is the degree to which the Jewish rejection of Jesus caused the Apostle great sorrow. In language reminiscent of the prophets’ laments over Israel for its lack of belief during the old covenant era (Jer. 4:8), Paul expresses his tremendous sorrow for the failure of his kinsmen to trust in Christ. The Apostle even remarks that he would pray for God to curse him in order to save his fellow Jews if it were possible, permissible, and effectual to pray such a prayer. Clearly, Paul had a self-sacrificial love for his own people that went far beyond anything most of us can imagine.
Paul’s teaching on divine election throughout the rest of Romans 9 shows that he knew that it was impossible for God to reject him—an elect person—for the sake of the reprobate. However, Paul’s love as displayed in his asking to be cut off for the sake of the Jews is still an example for us. It models the love of Christ, who was willing to be rejected Himself so that His people could be saved. Let us ask the Lord to create in us self-sacrificial love for our friends, family, and neighbors.