Romans 9:1-5
Grieving for the Lost

Truth Contenders Sunday School Class
Two Rivers Baptist Church
Nashville, TN, USA

For Sunday, 17 August 2003


Chapters 9-11

  • Answer several questions raised by the exposition of the gospel in chs. 1-8
  • Reveal God's worldwide design for saving both Jews and Gentiles

Chapter 8 was filled with cause for rejoicing, culminating in our complete victory in Jesus. God's love for His Son is fixed irrevocably on all who are in Christ, motivating Him to work through even the worst events to prepare us to receive the ultimate honor in the universe: conformity to the image of the Lord of all. No matter what happens to us, we win—and not by the skin of our teeth—we win decisively! Through disease, famine, and torture, even execution by horrible means, we conquer overwhelmingly. Hallelujah!

The next thing Paul says is that he is sad. Not just sad but in deep sorrow, and continual grief. How can this be? Is he manic-depressive? Did he ignore his own counsel to the Philippians (4:4) to "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, 'Rejoice!'"? Or is he glad and sad at the same time? Yes, at the same time but not in the same relation. With a view toward God, he rejoices continually. With a view toward his lost brothers, he grieves continually.

Paul grieved over Israel because:

  1. They were accursed. This comes through the text as Paul's willingness to be accursed in their place.1 As a nation, they had rejected the Messiah, and so were cut off from the blessing. John 1:11 "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
  2. They were his family according to the flesh, his blood kin. It's appropriate to grieve over lost family. The Mel Gibson film portraying Jesus' crucifixion has provoked accusations of anti-Semitism. Ever since Peter openly accused the Jews of crucifying the Messiah, they have been highly sensitive about it (Acts 2:22-23). In grieving over unbelieving Israel, Paul never absolved them of their guilt. Our grief for the lost should never cause us to minimize the severity of their condition, the gravity of their guilt, nor to deny the certainty of their destiny. Paul is about to say things that will greatly upset the Jews. He wants them to know that he is not being hateful. He loves them as Moses loved the disobedient Israelites (Ex 32:31-33), and as Jesus loved unbelieving Jerusalem (Matt 23:37).
  3. They had fallen from a privileged position:
    1. Israelites by name - includes all of the below.
    2. Adoption as God's children - not the same as the adoption in chapters 6 and 8.
    3. Witnesses of God's glory. Shekinah, the visible manifestation of God's glory to the nation of Israel, especially as the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that led them in the wilderness, and the cloud that rested in the Holy of holies, and that filled Solomon's temple.
    4. Party to special covenants that God made with no other people.
    5. Custodians of the Law, special knowledge and wisdom direct from God. Ps. 147:19-20
    6. Servers in God's temple. Routinely performed rites symbolizing the means of redemption in Christ.
    7. Receivers of special promises not given to any other nation. Faith in the promises of God is the means of justification, and is at the core of the gospel.
    8. Descended from the fathers of the faith. Many people can claim descent from Abraham, but only Israel can claim descent from Isaac, and Jacob. God confirmed the promise to Isaac: Gen 26:24; and made new promises to Jacob: Gen 28:10-15. The patriarchal blessing passed down from Abraham only to Isaac Gen 21:12, and from Isaac only to Jacob: Gen 27 & 28.
    9. Genetic line through which the Messiah came. It is the greatest honor bestowed upon the Jews that the only begotten Son of God is himself, in his human nature, a Jew.

Paul's chief purpose in listing these special privileges is to explain why Israel's rejection2 is particularly tragic and painful. It's tragically sad for anyone to die in their sins, even knowing only as much of God's goodness as may be seen in the design of the natural world, and in day to day experiences of fresh air, sunshine or rain, tasty food, sound sleep, and so on. How much more grievous for someone who has been part of the covenant community of God's people, to witness His specific goodness, mercy, love, and glory, to hear the very Word of God proclaimed, and still to die in unbelief. It is only right that we should grieve over them.

Each of Israel's privileges has a
higher parallel in the Church:

The Hebrews: Israel of the flesh The Church: Israel of the Spirit
Named by God: Israel means "Contender with God" or "Prince with God" (Hodge p. 298) Reign with Christ - Rom 5:17, II Tim 2:12; Rev 5:9-10
Called out from Egypt as God's chosen people, the objects of His special favor Named by God: Church [Grk. ekklesia] means "called out" from the world as God's chosen people, the objects of His special favor, I Pet 2:9-10
Adoption: underage children of God, Ex 6:22, Deut 14:1, Gal 4:1-6 Adoption: heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ
Witnessed God's glory Destined to participate in God's glory
Covenant of Law Covenant of Grace
Carried the Law, which commanded obedience to a code of outward conduct Carry the gospel: which commands obedience to a message of inner faith, II Thes 1:8, Rom 15:17-18
Service of ritual Service of love
Promises of temporal deliverance Promises of eternal deliverance
Born of the sons of Jacob Born of the Spirit, John 1:12-13; 3:5-8
Messiah came from them United to Messiah

1v. 3 - "I could wish" is in imperfect indicative tense, which always expresses something that is actually impossible (according to C. Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans) Thus, he's not expressing an actual desire to be accursed, but rather expressing his willingness, which demonstrates his love.
2It should be noted that Israel's rejection is temporary, and for the sake of the Gentile elect. There will come a day when all living Israel will turn their hearts to God and receive the Messiah. That's made clear in a later lesson. For now, I don't wish to leave anyone with the impression that I think God has rejected Israel forever.

I am especially indebted to commentators John Calvin and Charles Hodge for the general ideas in this lesson. John Murray's and William Newell's commentaries also contributed.

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL