NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson II)
We should never become upset when others we pray for reject our love. That would only eliminate one more intercessor before God on their behalf. It also might give them a false sense of eternal security. God gave us patience through the Fruit of the Spirit for just that reason. That’s why we should count it all joy to have such a powerful tool as patience to remain faithful to God for any who reject the Gospel. Knowing what you are and what God has made you to be in Christ should be enough to convince you that it’s by the grace of God that you are what you are and to be thankful that you are not what you used to be. Instead of this making you proud, it should make you even more humble and gentle. To know that you are one of God’s elect should give you peace of mind about your salvation. In turn, this should release you from worrying about yourself and give you more time and energy to care for others. No doubt this is what was on Paul’s mind when he said to the young Timothy: “I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen1.2
Albert Barnes is impressed with how the Apostle Paul begins this chapter in such a tender and caring manner. This was no doubt necessary because he had just gotten through outlining and defending what most Jews would find offensive and belittling, and that was their being rejected by God in favor of the heathen Gentiles. So the best thing to do was show that this in no way diminishes God’s love and affection for them. Paul did not do this just to take heat off himself, but because he was always under pressure, to tell the truth. Paul was not fooled. Many Jews considered him a traitor to the Jewish faith. After all, wasn’t he on his way to Damascus to persecute the new sect in Judaism announcing that Jesus was the Messiah? Did he not return to Jerusalem preaching the very message he tried to stamp out? Then he had the gall to claim that this Jesus met him on the way and commissioned him to take this news to the Gentiles. Yes, this Jesus they had crucified, was now being proclaimed as the Savior of both Jews and Gentiles.
So how could they trust Paul? But perhaps more than anything, Paul was driven to get the news of salvation to them because he was fully aware of the painful and dreadful condemnation that was on them. That’s what broke his heart and caused him to have such tender compassion and concern for their welfare. That’s why he earnestly prayed to God for their eventual salvation. Everyone should see in Paul’s actions the proper feelings of a minister of the Gospel when declaring the most upsetting truths from the Bible. Paul was tender, affectionate, kind, and convincing. He was not harsh when stating the obvious truth. He also poured out his earnest desire to God that they would avert the impending doom. So shouldn’t these awesome doctrines be preached by all the ambassadors of God?3
This was also the opinion of Bible scholar Adam Clarke, especially when he saw the compassion in Paul’s prayer for their salvation. It wasn’t something Paul said or did out of feeling sorry for his fellow Jews, but something he cherished deeply in his heart. And that’s how he expressed it to God in prayer. Paul did not want to see his countrymen destroyed that way. In fact, he did not preach about their rejection with any joy or excitement. To him, it was one of the most dismaying doctrines he had to defend. It wasn’t his decision to call the Gentiles to take the Jew’s place, that was God’s decision. But that still didn’t keep him from praying for their spiritual welfare and yearning for them to return to God by accepting Jesus as the Messiah. I agree with Clarke that all ministers should take no pleasure when proclaiming the truth that some people may never be saved. They know that the preaching of the Gospel will not be accepted by everyone. No matter how bad it may make the evangelist feel, just knowing that some who hear them will never come to salvation. But it should not inhibit any preacher from declaring the love and mercy of God to everyone who believes. Not only that, but they should also not be excluded from our prayers that all may come to know the truth and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. After all, it’s not our decision, but God’s.
Bible teacher H. A. Ironside also admires what the Apostle Paul is attempting to do here. He wants to make it clear that even though he supported the fact that God was morally right in setting Israel aside as a nation, the Lord did not do so arbitrarily but because of their unbelief. Paul also saw the value in this because now it opened the door to the Gentiles during the new dispensation of grace. No more salvation by works, but by faith. That’s why Paul was anxious for the Jews to know that God’s deflection away from Israel as a nation did not mean He was ruling out or rejecting individual Jews or Israelites from coming to Him for salvation. Israel, as a nation, had long ago ceased to have a true covenant relationship with God. The prayers of the Pharisees where the prayers of hypocrites. The sacrifices in the Temple had been abused to the point God no longer accepted them.4 And spoken laws of the Rabbis had replaced the written law of Moses. And this ill-standing would continue until they came under the Last Covenant. And according to prophecy, that would not take place until the beginning of the millennium when “a nation will be born in a day.”5 So although Paul sees Israel as a lost state, he still expresses his burning desire and prayer that they may yet be saved, like the lost sheep Jesus told about in His parable.6
For Charles Hodge, what Paul says here was meant to assure the Jews that he had no pleasure in foretelling the trials and tribulations that were coming down upon their heads. He wants them to know that his earnest prayer is that in spite of all they’ve done and their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, eventually they will be saved. Paul knew that many of them, and Israel as a nation, would not turn to Jesus as their Messiah in his lifetime, so he was looking toward the future with his prayer.7
Charles Spurgeon sees Paul’s prayer here as one we can adopt as our own. In fact, he encourages that Christians pray for Israel’s coming to God. It is well known, that in the last couple of centuries, much pain, sorrow, persecution, and destruction have visited God’s ancient people even down to the present day. No matter where they were scattered, they were treated as an unwanted minority. And now that they are back in their homeland, they are still the targets of hate and murder on a daily basis. Anyone with a heart must be touched by their grief and sorrow. So let it be everyone’s deepest desire and daily devotion for Israel to finally accept Jesus, whom they rejected long ago, as Messiah. But just as Paul was teaching here, it must be done by faith. We must remember, that for Paul it was even more than that. They had persecuted him in the most severe and humiliating ways. The very ones he prayed for were opposed to him and would be happy to see him die a horrible death. No matter what city he visited, some of these paid agitators would follow him and try to turn the Jews living there against him. Whenever and wherever they could, they tried to tear down whatever he built in honor of Christ.
So what was Paul’s response? He openly shared his heart’s desire and prayed that they might be saved. This should serve all of us as an example to never grow tired or cold in our hope to see those among us we love turn to Christ as their Savior. It is blatantly unchristian to wish bad things upon people who do not share our faith and beliefs. If we do so, how can we then try to witness to them and tell them of our desire to see them born-again? So instead of looking for ways to get back at them for their mean words, criticism, and gossip, we should be looking for ways to show them the love, mercy, and grace of God that lives in our hearts.8
Professor F. F. Bruce also likes what he sees in Paul’s heart. Here was a man who knew that his own people, the Jews, were bound for destruction, but yet he prayed fervently for their salvation. And of all people, he was the most qualified to do so because he understood their state of mind more than most. He confessed to having had the same “unenlightened zeal for God” they were dealing with that caused them to so fanatically oppose him. But Paul also knew about the change that comes to anyone who meets the risen Christ and accepts Him as their Lord and Savior. No one needed to tell Paul what it was like to have such dedication for Jewish traditions, customs, and manners that it compels them to go out and hunt them down in order to bring an end to their heresy and infidelity.9 A true Jew gave themselves to the constant practice of the Jewish religion at all cost. And that is the very reason why Paul could understand that the steppingstone put in position by God for salvation had indeed become a stumbling-block. That was until the scales fell from his eyes and his life was re-orientated.10
Now that same consuming ambition caused him to travel the world to magnify Christ and bring others to know Him. So, if it could happen to him as a Jew, why couldn’t it happen to other Jews. But everywhere he went, he ran into their blind commitment to earn salvation by works so that they could establish a righteousness of their own making. Nevertheless, after Christ found Paul and he accepted the work of Christ on the cross it brought an end to such a senseless pursuit. The authority of the law died to him. And as a follower of Jesus, he had all the authority given to him through grace to live according to the will and word of God. This was the way of faith, not the way of works.11
English evangelical preacher Charles Simeon of the late 1700s makes the point that Paul was very much aware of his Jewish brethren’s zeal to serve God. But he assessed it as “misguided zeal.” There were three things that led them astray. First, they really did understand God’s plan devised for justifying sinners – they were trying to do it all on their own. Secondly, in doing so, they discarded the unmatchable work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Thirdly, when the true way to become right with God was shown to them they would not accept or trust in it because they felt being saved that way was humiliating and beneath their dignity.
These were their errors although they professed to be following the Law. They couldn’t grasp that Christ was the fulfillment of the law in becoming right with God. All of the Jewish rites, rituals, and ceremonies were pointing to Christ but they couldn’t see Him in the details. This required that they accept it by faith.12 They were more interested in approaching their salvation on a lower moral level than a higher spiritual level. How true this is of our fellow believers stuck in nominal churches today. As long as they go by the church rules they feel safe in their salvation. Their one biggest error is that the Church cannot save them nor guarantee their salvation. It still takes faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lord, Savior, and Master for a sinner to become right and stay right with God.13
1 2 Timothy 2:10
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 499-500
3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Isaiah 1:11
5 Ibid. 66:8
6 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 518
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Cf. Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:6
10 Acts of the Apostles 9:18
11 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 198–199
12 See Galatians 3:10; 23-24
13 Charles Simeon: On Romans, op. cit. loc. cit., Vol 15, p.375