Commentary on Romans 9:3

30 Mar

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

In verse 3, Paul expresses a wish that, in light of all he has said in chapter 8, is amazing. It is a hypothetical wish, he knows it can’t come true, but he wishes it could. That wish is to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers, his kinsmen according to the flesh. Here he is talking of course about the nation of Israel. And what he is saying is that if he could, he would be cut off if they could be saved. He doesn’t specifically say outright here that he wishes they could be saved, but he makes it clear that he would wish to be accursed for the sake of his brothers, the clear inference being that they would be saved as he would take their curse. But knowing only Jesus can carry their curse, Paul knows his own sacrifice for his people’s sin is impossible. In his anguish he uses the word anathema, which means “cursed” and which Paul sometimes uses of those who preach a false gospel, like in Galatians 1. The discussion that will follow makes it plain that by and large he considers his brothers according to the flesh, this nation of Israel, to be lost. He outright states in chapter 10 verse 1 that his heart’s desire is that Israel would be saved. So that is the overarching message of verse 3 and the explanation for the intensity of Paul’s feelings in verses 1 and 2. Paul would give anything to see the people of Israel turn to their Messiah, Jesus.

Israel was made to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation but instead the chief priests and elders of the people were instrumental, along with the Romans, in putting Jesus to death. And in the days that followed Paul had been part of the group of religious leaders who first persecuted followers of Jesus.

In Acts 9, Paul went from “Breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Paul “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus” so that he might take any believers found there “as prisoners to Jerusalem” to where, just eighteen verses later, Paul “began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” Paul, the former persecutor of Christians, really had to believe that what he had written in Romans 8 was true, that nothing, not even his own brutality against followers of Jesus, could separate him from God’s love.

We can see clearly in the book of Acts that Paul never forgot his brothers and sisters in the flesh. He was commissioned to reach the Gentiles but whenever he ministered in a city, he always tried to start in the Jewish synagogues. I believe this was not only because of missionary strategy but also from a genuine love for his brothers in the flesh.

When I read this verse I thought about Moses in Exodus 32 when, in the aftermath of the golden calf incident, Moses asks for his own name to be blotted out of the book of life as he is interceding for his people.

Paul’s heart’s desire was that he could call his brethren according to the flesh also his kinsmen according to the Spirit.

But the problem is that most of his fellow Jews were not his kinsmen according to the Spirit. This is at the core of Paul’s anguish. NT Wright said it is like Paul is driving at the head of a convoy and he takes a fork in the road and then watches in horror as most of the other cars go down the other road. They think Paul’s wrong and he is sure they’re wrong. He knows the road he has taken is the only path to the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. So what will happen to all those who took the wrong road? And why did they go that way? Why did they ignore all the signs they had received that pointed to God’s plan? Has God’s plan failed? Is God unrighteous or unfair in the way He has carried out His plan? This are the kinds of questions Paul will be addressing in the next three chapters.

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