Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
It is the lot of reformers to be twitted as renegades, and to be exposed to the taunt of indifference to the welfare of their old companions. So the apostle was charged with noxiously subverting ancient customs, and he found it necessary to justify himself even to Jewish Christians against the reproach of wanton molestation of the hopes of Israel. It is difficult for prejudice in its blind conservatism to see that the change proposed is intended for the furtherance, not the injury, of what is held most dear - the emancipation of the spirit by the transformation of the body. The apostle lays bare his heart to attest his intense yearning for the spiritual good of his traducers.
I. WHY DID THE APOSTLE LONG SO ARDENTLY FOR THEIR SALVATION? He could not forget that the Saviour died to draw all men unto himself. A sinner unsaved lessens the reward of the "travail of his soul" and detracts from the possible glory of the atonement. But further, these men were his fellow-countrymen. Surely the condition of our "kinsmen according to the flesh" must be uppermost in our thoughts, and each man's efforts naturally commence at his own house, his own neighbourhood, his own nation. Then, they were the descendants of men signally honoured in the past. Their lineage was so distinguished, that Paul could not calmly witness the exclusion from the kingdom of God of these sons of patriarchs and prophets. They were in a special sense the "brethren" for whom Christ died. What more affecting today than to witness religious apathy in the families of the godly, to see the place of the fathers unoccupied by the children in the house of faith? And the apostle had visions of the splendid results that would ensue if the veil were removed from their hearts, and they should recognize in the Nazarene their wished-for Messiah. What should the receiving of them into the Church be but "life from the dead"? The same reason impels us to seek the conversion of many around, whose talents and earnestness might be of such signal service in our ranks. As Saul the persecutor became Paul the missionary, so we may look upon a bigoted opponent as a potential future enthusiast in the cause of Christ.
II. HOW DID THE APOSTLE'S CONCERN EXPRESS ITSELF? We answer - In his preaching. He ever visited first the Jews and the synagogue in his tours. It was God's design that the gospel should be first preached to his ancient people, that by rejecting or receiving the message they might either fill up the measure of their iniquity and crucify the Saviour afresh, or free themselves from the guilt of their nation and welcome the breaking down of the partition wall between Jew and Gentile. And the writings of the apostle evince his unabated regard and anxiety for the Jews. He declared that he could wish himself "anathema" from Christ, if that self-sacrifice could procure their redemption. We are reminded of the supreme act of self-abnegation by Moses on the mount, when rejecting Jehovah's offer to create from him a new people in the stead of that corrupt and obstinate generation. The apostle's language breathes the spirit of the cross of Christ it is an emanation to the disciple from the Master's self-immolation for the good of men. The prayers of the apostle showed the genuineness of his affectionate solicitude. Prayer is a thermometer that gauges the warmth of our desire to save men from misery and ruin. Does not the teacher bring the members of the class before God in earnest petitions, and the parent his children? We care little for those who are never mentioned in our supplications. Let us remember them where it most avails.
III. WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO MAKE THIS DEEP CONCERN SO NOTEWORTHY? It was prayer for men who hated and maltreated him. With rancorous unceasing enmity did the Jews pursue the apostle. They were the chief cause of his imprisonments and tortures, they did their utmost to mar his success and embitter his labours, and at last secured his death. Thinking of their attempts to overthrow the faith of Christian converts, the apostle could use strong language for their discomfiture; but on his knees, in the solemn presence of the God and Father of all, larger and more generous thoughts possessed his soul, and he forgot all his personal annoyances in the o'ermaster-ing impulse to seek their salvation. If wronged by any, take the matter to the throne of grace, and you shall begin to pity and then pray for him that did the wrong. It was prayer for those who had proved obstinate, and whose salvation seemed little likely. No acquaintance with the decrees of God, nor the fact of God's forethought and foreordination, could hinder the apostle's entreaties. What a lesson for us not to despair, not to faint! Our mistrust too often paralyzes our intercessions, our human reasonings "limit the Holy One of Israel." This was a benefit conferred which they had no power to refuse. Prayer is a kind office which we may render to men who would accept nothing else at our hands. This they cannot hinder. - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.