There’s no doubt about it, the apostle Paul loved his countrymen. For a time, he was a flag waving, chest thumping, red-blooded Israelite. However, when he surveyed the spiritual landscape of his people it didn’t bring him joy, instead it brought him “great sorrow and continual grief” in his heart (Rom 9:2) because they had not accepted God’s righteousness through His son Jesus. Paul’s so loved his countrymen, and was so concerned with their spiritual wellbeing that he “could wish that he was accursed from God” if it meant that his countrymen would be saved (Rom 9:3). But he couldn’t. Even though he couldn’t condemn himself so they would be saved this didn’t stop him from doing what he could to save his countrymen. Notice what he did:
Paul’s belief in God’s promises moved him emotionally – Paul was a man of great faith and belief in God and His promises. Paul believed in God’s promise of salvation to any and all who would call on His name (cf. Rom 10:13). He also believed in God’s promise of wrath and condemnation would come to any and all who would not believe in His son, Jesus the Christ (cf. Rom 5:9, 8:1; 2 Ths 1:3-12). It was Paul’s belief in God’s promise of “eternal destruction” (2 Ths 1:9) on those who would not submit to the “righteousness of God” (Rom 10:3) that he had “great sorrow and continual grief” (Rom 9:2) in his heart for his unfaithful countrymen. So first he allowed himself to be moved emotionally by God’s word and his countrymen’s lack of faithfulness.
Paul prayed often for Israel’s salvation – Paul’s “great sorrow and continual grief” were not some set of emotions that simply existed in a vacuum, instead they were strong, motivating emotions that permeated his prayers and his work. Paul’s heartfelt desire and prayer to God was for Israel to be saved (Rom 10:1) because he knew they weren’t and because he believed God’s judgment was upon them for their unbelief. He allowed his sorrow and grief over his countrymen to provoke his spirit to action, first by praying without ceasing and then by…
Paul took the message of Christ to his countrymen – Paul didn’t just hide behind his prayers for his countrymen, he prayed and acted by taking the message of Christ to his people. It was Paul’s custom that whenever he went into a city that he first went to the synagogue to preach Christ to the Jews (Act 17:2). Even when he was under house arrest in Rome, Paul called for the “leaders of the Jews” to come to him so he could declare to them the “hope of Israel” which is Jesus Christ (Act 28:17-29).
We see in Paul a deep love for Israel, his countrymen. His deep love for them and their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah caused him great sorrow and grief that lead him to earnestly pray and teach them the gospel of Jesus.
I think it’s safe to say that there are people in your life that have not accepted Jesus as their Savior. There’s no doubt that their lack of faithfulness to the Lord causes you great sorrow and continual grief because you know eternal punishment awaits them. Just like Paul, I know that you have often said “I wish I could take their place.” Perhaps you’ve prayed for the Lord to condemn you if it meant they would be saved. You know He won’t (and it’s to your souls benefit that He won’t), but that doesn’t mean you are left powerless. Let me ask you question… what are you doing with your sorrow and grief? Are you burying it deep down in your soul, trying to medicate it somehow with wishful thinking? OR are you allowing it to provoke your spirit to praying for them and seeking to teach them the gospel of Jesus? Friend it is only through prayer and teaching that your loved one will come to the accept Jesus as their Savior. So please let me urge you, be about the work of prayer and teach before it’s too late. I pray that you’ll learn from Paul and follow his example.
I would love to hear from you about your efforts to save a loved one that is dear to you. Would you share you story with me? You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I look forward to hearing from you. God bless you in your efforts.