Lately, it seems I've referred an awful lot to the following passage of Scripture. Perhaps that is just because it is so utterly striking. Frankly, to me, it is in some ways quite incomprehensible: "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh," (Romans 9:1-3, NKJV).
These words of Paul will haunt conscientious readers for as long as the world stands. In bemoaning the stubbornly rebellious attitudes of so many of his fleshly brethren, the Israelites, Paul expresses his unending grief. It pained him that, without their penitence, they would be lost. Who among the body of Christ has not also felt the deep and abiding pain of knowing and loving people who choose to remain lost?
The most striking portion of the passage is Paul's affirmation that, if he could, he would accept the curse so that his brethren could be saved: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh ..." If I understand Paul correctly, his grief affected him so profoundly that he hypothesized on the impossible. He looked in vain for any solution to his countrymen's salvation even if it would have meant the sacrifice of his own. This statement's formulation calls to mind two vital lessons from Scripture.
First, the Lord expects compassion from His people. Those on whom the Lord has had compassion are to extend that compassion to others. The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day were proud of their religiosity, but blinded to their hardness of heart. They prayed and fasted (Luke 18:9-14) but demanded a woman's life just to test and discredit the Christ (John 8:1-11). May the Lord's people never forget that conversion to following Him is inextricably intertwined with a commitment to compassion for fellow Christians and for those yet lost.
Similar to Paul, Moses had such compassion that he was compelled to ask to take the penalty for the Israelite people: "Yet now, if You will forgive their sin; but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written." (Exodus 32:32) However, God replied, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book." (Exodus 32:33) No matter how sacrificial a soul may feel, no one can substitute his soul for the salvation of another. God is just, and judges each individual (2 Cor. 5:10) on the standard of Christ's word (John 12:48). Compassion is great, and ever so needed, but reality recalls the thinking to the idea that God justly recompenses each individual.
Thus, the second lesson of the passage is called to mind. Paul's hypothetical wish reminds us that a judgment of being lost helps no one. There is nothing noble in refusing to become a Christian. One hears, in the course of years of work, many excuses for denying Christ's salvation. Some of these vainly aim at an air of nobleness. The impenitent will say, "At least I'm not being a hypocrite," but is there really anything upstanding about remaining lost? Is there really integrity in holding to sinful practices, as long as one is honest about his lifestyle? Others will cite loyalty to long-gone relatives: "If Grandma's religion was good enough for her, it's still good enough for me." Loyalty to loved ones is, indeed, a splendid quality. Judgment of their souls is in the hands of God, though. If one finds the truth, remaining in error out of loyalty gains nobody anything neither the admired nor the admirer.
Oh, that Christians may feel compassion similar to Paul's. May such concern manifest itself in evangelistic action. Oh, that those yet outside of Christ would realize the compassion felt for them and humbly come to the Lord. 30 Tarrytowne, Washington, WV 26181. firstname.lastname@example.org
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