Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
Paul’s prayer was to see his Jewish brothers turn to Jesus and get saved.
The New Living Translation paraphrase states: “Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is that the Jewish people might be saved.” Compare with Romans 9:1-3 which states: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.”
Question: Was Paul’s prayer that only a secretly elect group be saved?
Answer: Paul’s prayer was that all of his lost Jewish brothers would be saved.
John Calvin comments on Paul’s feelings according to Romans 9:1-3: “It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was founded on the election of God, which cannot by any means fail. The more passionate emotions plunge impetuously on, without heed or regard for anything but the object on which they are fixed. Paul, therefore, did not add the election of God to his prayer, but put it out of mind, and gave all his attention on the salvation of the Jews.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.192, emphasis mine)
According to Romans 9:3 and Romans 10:1, Paul is praying for the salvation of his lost Jewish brothers. Calvin takes offense and calls it “impetuous” because it means that Paul is praying for the salvation of those perhaps whom God has chosen not to save. In other words, Calvin sees Paul’s prayer as a subtle attack on God’s sovereign Election. But what Calvin doesn’t realize is that Jesus wanted the same thing! (Matthew 23:37) Now if Jesus and the Father are “one” (John 10:30), then God must be challenging His own, alleged, “secret election.” However, Paul didn’t have to temporarily put Calvinism “out of mind” because it wasn’t there to begin with!
Calvin comments on Paul’s feelings: “To mitigate any harshness which there was in his interpretation of the rejection of the Jews, he continues as before to affirm his goodwill towards them. He proves this by its effect, viz. that their salvation was a matter of concern to him before the Lord. Such affection arises only from unfeigned love. He was also under the necessity of affirming, perhaps for another reason, his love towards the nation from which he was descended, for his doctrine would have never been received by the Jews had they considered him to be their avowed enemy.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.220, emphasis mine)
Not only did Paul genuinely love the Jews, but according to Acts 21:1-11, Paul was willing to die, if that meant more Jews becoming saved. Now explain that in light of Calvinistic Election, in which some will inevitably be saved, no matter what, and some will inevitably be lost, no matter what.
Acts 21:1-14: “When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’ When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!’”
Now if you believe in a kind of Election where some will be saved, no matter what, and some will be lost, no matter what, then why did Paul go down to Jerusalem, despite the warnings given by the Holy Spirit? Paul saw a direct correlation between the preaching of the Gospel, and the lost being saved. But, if as a result of going down to Jerusalem, despite the Holy Spirit’s warnings, no net change took place, in terms of whether or not more people got saved, then why did he go down there? Is it because he was commanded to do so? No. He was warned against it. But he went anyway. Why? Because he knew that people’s eternal souls were at stake. He put their souls above his own well-being, and the people that were saved in Jerusalem, through his testimony, not only themselves entered into heaven, but became the evangelists who would reach others for Christ as well. It’s a chain reaction of souls being saved. He saw this; he knew this; and he was so committed to Christ, he was willing to lay down his life so that it might become a reality. So if, according to Calvin, that Paul put Calvinism out of mind in his prayers, so too must he have put Calvinism out of mind in his evangelism.