Commentary on Romans 9:2

30 Mar

2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

Paul tells us in verse two that his emotional state is one of great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart. He still hasn’t told us why, but he will start to get to that in verse 3. What we find in verse 2 is a further unfolding of Paul’s emotional state. Verse 1 showed Paul making a strong statement about his integrity in sharing what he is about to share, verse 2 reveals the depths of his emotion in what he is about to share. In what we are going to hear in chapters 9-11, we have the coming together of truth and passion. We’ve all heard truth presented coldly and we’ve all heard passion without truth. Both are distasteful and ineffective. Sharing spiritual truth is not akin to a performance. But at the same time the value of what we are sharing should move the person sharing it inwardly and that will usually manifest itself somehow outwardly.

Paul again arranges his words intentionally under the Spirit’s inspiration. A direct reflection of the Greek word order would read like this, “that sorrow to me is great and anguish unceasing in my heart.” When we read it like that, we see the focus Paul is putting on sorrow and anguish. What is the difference between sorrow and anguish? The Greek words are words which both refer to physical pain as well as emotional pain. But there is a distinction when referring to physical pain which gives us some insight into the distinction between the two. The word for “sorrow” is lupn. It refers to general pain. The word translated “anguish” is the word odune. When this word is used with reference to physical pain it refers to a sharp pain. So think of the distinction as the difference between arthritis and appendicitis. But here is where it gets a little strange. In light of the distinction in meaning between the Greek words, I would have expected Paul to say I have unceasing lupn and great odune. In other words my sorrow is unceasing and my anguish is great. I always have this aspect of my life marked by sadness but at times it rises up in seasons of great anguish. But Paul says the opposite. The sorrow is great but the anguish is unceasing. This may reflect the fact that on the emotional level Paul was consistently distressed about his people but in his core his trust in God’s plan kept him from being in a constant darkness over his people. The sorrow was deep and real but God’s power was deeper still.

Paul hasn’t yet told us what is bothering him, but whatever it is we know from verses 1 and 2 that it is intense. We get the answer in verse 3, but we have to work a little to get it . . .

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