NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson I)
Verse 1: Brothers and sisters, what I want most of all is for the people of Israel to be saved. That is my prayer to God.
After presenting his case and laying down his reasons why his fellow Jews are in such a dilemma for having rejected the Messiah, Paul announces his great concern for his fellow Jews and their tendency to stumble over the Rock Christ Jesus that was laid in Zion. This could well be emulated today by our own compassion for those among us who have a form of Christianity, but not according to a full and accurate knowledge of God’s Word. People who adhere to a moral standard, and practice a code of self-righteousness, but that is not enough to meet God’s requirements for salvation. They build their own little kingdoms and set up their own private rewards for adhering to the stringent and unrealistic rules that have become stumbling blocks instead of stepping stones to a greater knowledge of Christ and becoming more Christ-like. Christ is our righteousness, it cannot be improved upon. It is He whom we should glorify and imitate, not any human who see themselves as holier-than-thou idols, to be copied. They spend so much time trying to impress and gain favor with each other that they have little time for the One they should try to please, Christ Jesus.
No doubt this compassion and willingness to consider self-sacrifice on Paul’s part was born within his heart and soul, but it does bear a close resemblance to what happened with Moses when he came down off Mt. Horeb in Sinai only to find the people worshiping their handmade idol, a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God not to destroy His people in haste and out of anger, to remember from where He brought them and where He intended to take them. So in the name of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses pleaded with God for mercy and forgiveness. Willing even to have his name blotted out of the book of life for their sake.1
The prophet Samuel also went through a similar heart-rending experience after he felt rejected by the people of Israel who wanted a king like the other nations. Somewhat out of desperation, Samuel asked them if they could remember any time that he stole from them or defrauded them; could they recall any time when he oppressed them or took a bribe. They could find none. Yet, Samuel told them when they finally got their king, “As for me, far be it from me to sin against Adonai by ceasing to pray for you! Rather, I will continue instructing you in the good and right way.”2 When God eventually told Samuel that He regretted making Saul king, Samuel did not respond with amusement as though it was some type of vindication. Scripture tells us: “Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard what God was saying, that he cried to the Lord all night.”3
And who can forget the scene where Jesus was told by some Pharisees that He needed to get out of Jerusalem because King Herod was after Him in the same way that he had gone after John the Baptizer. But instead of responding in anger or fear, our Lord cried out: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city that murders the prophets. The city that stones those sent to help her. How often I have wanted to gather your children together even as a hen protects her brood under her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”4 So this was not the first time God had sent one of His servants to the children of Israel and they came away brokenhearted because of their spoiled attitudes and misperceived special place with God so that they did not need a savior. But what Jesus knew that they didn’t know was that in about 35 years after they crucified Him, the entire city of Jerusalem would be destroyed, its inhabitants killed or carried away, and the House of God be torn down, never to be rebuilt. That should have been enough to make anyone cry.
Some early church scholars added their comments to what they felt Paul was trying to say here. For instance, Ambrosiaster sees no hatred for Judaism by Paul. All Paul wanted was for the Jews who were still tied to the Law expecting salvation, to be freed so they could follow Christ who came to offer them salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, the law was like a veil over their faces. He wants them to take it off so they can see Jesus, the One who came to give them everlasting life. In fact, Paul speaks affectionately of the Jews and has many good things to say about the law. But they needed to know that time for trying to fulfill every demand of the law in order to earn salvation was over. What more could he do to show his love and concern for his fellow countrymen? If only they would listen to him and not assume that he was their enemy.5
Another early church scholar, Chrysostom, is also struck by Paul expressing this as his heart’s desire and prayer. He admired the fact that Paul continues to demonstrate his deep-seated compassion and goodwill toward the Jews. He does not harshly criticize them for their being lost and wandering aimlessly in search of salvation. In fact, he compliments them for what they already knew about God, the law, and the Messiah. But in the end, he is forced to tell them the facts and how things really were.
That was something he couldn’t change.6 Early church theologian Augustine also sees Paul making an appeal to them by speaking of his hopes and prayers for his fellow Jews. Especially in the church in Rome because he didn’t want the Gentiles to misunderstand and turn backs on the Jewish believers in any condescending way. He knew that just as the pride of the Jews had to be dealt with because they thought so highly of their good works, so the Gentiles would need to curb their pride in having been preferred over the Jews as God’s new Israel.7 Pelagius likens what Paul does here as being so burdened for his fellow Jews that he not only prays for them with his tongue but also with his heart.8
Reformer Martin Luther agrees with Augustine’s assessment in that Paul is here speaking of the hope that still remains for the Jews in order to dampen the possibility that the Gentiles in the church at Rome might think of themselves more highly than they should. And just as Paul had to reject the arrogance of the Jews based on their good works he must likewise oppose the Gentiles so that they don’t become overbearing. God may have opened the door for them to hear the Gospel, but this is no reason for them to think they are more loved or preferred by God over the Jews.9
Fellow Reformer John Calvin views the same thing, but from a different perspective. He sees Paul going out of his way being as unoffensive as he could so that his soft words could help cushion the sharpness of his mannerism that might offend his fellow Jews and less harmful to the cause of winning them over to Christ. He wants them to know that this is not a last minute apology he has come up with to keep them from treating him so badly. This burden has been on his heart since the day he was converted because he personally understood what a dilemma they were in. The only thing Paul wanted for his efforts and appeal was their salvation. Such feelings arise only from genuine love. No doubt Paul had other reasons why he felt it necessary to appeal to their sense of fairness in accepting what he had to say. If they ever concluded that he was out to destroy them or make it hard for them to survive, like he did to Christians before his conversion, it would have eliminated any opportunity for him to try and explain to them the Gospel of Christ. Not only that, but such a reputation would have caused the Gentiles to become suspicious of his love for them. In addition, it’s one thing to explain what you now understand to be the errors of your former religion, but to turn your back on it and trash it just because they won’t agree with you would suggest that you are acting out of hatred, not love.10
Adam Clarke sees Paul expressing his heart’s desire for reconciliation between the Jews and God over their rejection of Jesus the Messiah. Although Paul knew that the Jews were now in a state of rejection, yet he also knew they had fallen into this state out of their own stubbornness. Nevertheless, God is still a gracious God, slow to anger, and full of mercy. So he hoped and prayed that they still might come to their senses and repent and turn back to God. And what more evidence could he offer than what he said about his willingness to become a sacrifice, even a curse, for their salvation and reconciliation with their Father in heaven.11
Robert Haldane points out that whenever the Apostle Paul refers to others as his brethren, he rightly talks about his fellow Jews and fellow Christians. In fact, Paul felt compassion for both and sought their salvation through Christ by faith. This is truly expressed in his prayer to God. Many of his Jewish brethren were enemies, yet he earnestly prayed for them. For Haldane, while the salvation of his countrymen was the greatest desire of Paul’s heart, and while he exerted every effort that he could to call their attention to the Gospel, he never neglected taking time to bring them and their need before God in prayer. This is a wonderful example for us all. We should never pass up any opportunity or become weary in our prayers for those we earnestly desire to accept Christ as their Savior. Even when we may lose contact with them, or they indicate no desire to see us, just remember we always have access to God in prayer. Not only that, but we have been given to Holy Spirit to help us express our heart’s desire for their salvation.
That’s why Haldane encourages every believer to never cease praying for those they love and want to see saved by God’s grace. Even when they tell us to leave them alone and have no interest in hearing the Scriptures we want to read them or form some untrue opinions about our efforts. So never give up on them by not giving up on God’s ability to reach them through the Holy Spirit. Remember, there are things God knows about them that we don’t know. He knows whether or not they are already on His “Call List” list.
Just look at Paul. There was no one among the Jews that was more opposed to the Gospel than Paul. And every believer who remembers their own feelings about being witnessed to back when they were rebellious against God and His Word, knows just what they may be up against. But there is another side to this. There are those among our acquaintances and friends who claim to be believers but are not. If we feel that we must lighten up on them because it wouldn’t look good, and we might be accused of attacking another Christian, we ought not be fooled into thinking that God would understand and take them off our prayer list.
1 Exodus 32:11-14
2 1 Samuel 12:23 – Complete Jewish Bible
3 Ibid. 15:11
4 Luke 13:34
5 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 17
7 Augustine: On Romans 66, loc. cit.
8 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 145-146
10 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit.
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 201