Summary: In Romans 9:1-5 the Apostle Paul bares his soul and shows us how to respond to those who reject the gospel.
It is difficult for any of us to receive a hard truth, however necessary it may be for us to hear it. But it is always much easier to hear it if it is told in love.
Pastor and author Ray Stedman tells of a congregation that had dismissed its pastor. Someone asked a member of the congregation why they had dismissed the pastor.
“The pastor keeps telling us we are going to hell,” the church member answered.
“And what does your new pastor say?”
“He keeps telling us we are going to hell, too.”
“So what’s the difference?”
“Well,” the church member replied, “when our first pastor said we were going to hell, he sounded like he was glad. But when our new pastor says it, he sounds like it is breaking his heart.”
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5)
Paul has just finished writing chapter 8 on the note of supreme joy that we who are Christians have in God’s salvation. He has written at the end of the chapter in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And at the conclusion of that we say, “What great joy!”
But immediately Paul continues in Romans 9:1-2, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” And at that we say, “What great sorrow!”
Why the difference? Paul is now introducing his readers—and us—to several questions that relate to the Jews. Chapters 9-11 are very important chapters in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I will spare you the various technicalities and questions that arise in these chapters; we shall address them in turn as we get to them in our upcoming studies of chapters 9-11. Suffice it to say at this point that Paul’s dominant theme in Romans 9-11 is Israel’s rejection of the gospel, together with the questions it raises.
Today’s lesson, Romans 9:1-5, is in a sense an introductory prologue to the rest of chapters 9-11. In these five verses the Apostle Paul bares his soul and shows how we are to respond to those who reject the gospel. Using an outline borrowed from James Montgomery Boice, we see in Romans 9:1-5:
1. Great sorrow for a great people (9:1-3), and
2. Great privileges for a great people (9:4-5).
I. Great Sorrow for a Great People (9:1-3)
First, let’s notice great sorrow for a great people.
This is how Paul expresses it in verses 1-3: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
The Jews saw Paul as a traitor and an enemy. They believed him to be a false prophet and a liar. Why? Because he was proclaiming that God’s love and salvation are for all people and not just for the Jews. A person no longer had to become a Jewish proselyte in order to know God and be saved (cf. Romans 10:12-13). To the ordinary Jew, Paul was a heretic. He was a man to be utterly distrusted. They hated and despised him, and wanted to kill him and do away with his message.
Paul pleads with his people, the Jews, to believe what he is saying. He says, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (9:1). He carries on and expresses great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart (9:2). Despite the rejection and ill treatment he has received from his fellow Israelites, Paul deeply loves his kinsmen. And he has a deep desire for them to grasp the truth of the gospel.