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.
This refers to Israel, and sets the tone for Paul’s message about the unbelieving Jews, insomuch that he has their best interests at heart for what he is about to say. The problem is that the unbelieving Jews didn’t fully realize their need for a Messiah who would conquer sin, since after all, they are God’s covenant people, and moreover, they have the Law. But the purpose of the Law was to show, not that they are saved, but that they are in need of saving, and that being God’s covenant people is not by birth alone through Abraham, but by acceptance through faith, as their ancestor Abraham had done. Paul provides examples of both Ishmael and Esau to make the point regarding the insufficiency of natural birth through Abraham, and then also the insufficiency of the works of the Law to invoke God’s grace, and ultimately the message of the hardening, which is set up by invoking the name of Pharaoh, in which no Jew would have deemed God unjust for having hardened, though without realizing the fact that God had greater cause to harden the Jews than Pharaoh, since the Jews had more light. Romans 9:1-3 sets the tone for this entire message.
Adrian Rogers comments: “The apostle Paul made one of the most profound statements recorded in all of Scripture in Romans 9:3. There he states his willingness to be cut off from Christ and be cursed if it would result in the salvation of his Israelite kinsmen. While that is a rhetorical expression only (Paul could in no way ‘die’ for the salvation of his Hebrew brothers), it still raises important issues: his passion for the lost, and the question of God’s plan of salvation for all men.” (Foundations For Our Faith, Vol.II, A Study In Romans Chapters 5-9, p.115, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers likens this statement to what Jesus stated at John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Adrian Rogers states: “Paul said, ‘I’d be willing to take their Hell if they could take my Heaven.’ That’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus had a sacrificial concern for souls.” (Predestined to Hell? Absolutely Not!)
Adrian Rogers adds: “In verse 2 he says, ‘I have continual sorrow.’ That is, he didn’t blow hot and blow cold. Night and day, everywhere, the thing that drove him and impelled him and gave him no rest, was his concern for the lost, and he even had a sacrificial concern. He says in verse 3, ‘I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ.’ … What Paul is saying is that I would be willing to go to Hell if they could be saved. That was impossible. Jesus had already died for them. Jesus had already baptized His soul in Hell. But this is the Spirit of Christ that was in this man. He’s concerned, and what he is primarily concerned about are his brothers and sisters in the flesh.” (Predestined to Hell? Absolutely Not!)
Leighton Flowers comments: “The apostle emphasizes the fact that his feelings are in full agreement with that of the Holy Spirit Himself, as distinguished from his own limited human emotion or opinion, as some may attempt to suggest (ref. 1 Cor. 7:12). This divine pleading, patience, and longsuffering toward the nation of Israel is reflected in this context and throughout all of scripture (Hosea 3:1; Rm. 9:22; 10:1, 21, 11:1, 11-14; Mt. 23:37; Lk. 19:41-42). Paul begins and ends the very next chapter by clearly expressing this same divine intention: ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation… But as for Israel He says, “ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE”’ (Rm. 10:1, 21). Even in light of Paul’s clearly expressed desires to perish in the place of these hardened Jews, some Calvinists teach that Christ does not share Paul’s expressed intentions. One has to assume that ‘five point Calvinists’ believe Paul was more merciful and self-sacrificial than the Savior who inspired these very words. It is inexplicable, given Paul’s Spirit-led appeal of self-sacrificial love, to promote a doctrine that teaches Jesus did not intend to sacrifice Himself for these hardened Jews (1 Jn. 2:2; 2 Pt. 2:1).” (The Potter’s Love: Commentary on Romans 9:1-5)
Calvin comments: “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)
“Put it out of mind”? Is Calvin actually suggesting that Paul’s prayer was not because of Calvinism, but in spite of Calvinism? What an admission!
Since Paul idolized Jesus, and is so overwhelmed by Him, and so driven to be like Him, then why does Paul express a doctrine at Romans 9:1-3 that is so fundamentally distinct from Calvinism? In other words, if Calvinism were true, and Paul mimics Christ in his thinking, then we should see Paul reflect a concern that is less broad, and more focused on only Calvinism’s elect. But here we see that the scope of Paul’s concern were of all Jews. So if Calvinism were true, then Paul is reacting incorrectly to it. Taking the Arminian perspective instead, if God loves all, and Paul soaks in such thinking, then Paul’s comments at Romans 9:1-3 makes more sense.
The fact of the matter is that Paul’s “emotions” were acted out by Jesus Himself who was “cursed” for the love of us sinners. Galatians 3:13 states: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” Having taken upon Himself the “sin of the world” (John 1:29), being crucified on a cross and “separated” from His Father as described at Luke 16:19-31, Jesus literally lived what Paul felt. Therefore, Paul’s compassion was Christ-like. Now does Calvin wish to call Jesus “impetuous” as well for what He said regarding His Jewish kinsman? Jesus stated: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:37-38) Did Jesus put the “Election of God” “out of mind” as well?
Calvin also writes: “The same solution applies to Moses and Paul, desiring to be deleted from the book of life (Ex 32:32; Rom 9:3) : carried away with the vehemence of their grief, they prefer to perish, if possible, rather than that the Church of God, numerous as it then was, should perish.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.152, emphasis mine)
Perhaps the motive is grief, but it is also love that moved him to want to see them spared. Moses could have easily said, “Yeah, let’s do it. Make a new nation starting from me.” It was love that motivated him otherwise, and God was delighted, because it was love in action, which is the God of love that Christ Himself had, who is a Mediator as well.
Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 84:11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
The Bible says that “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11), and “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) That being said, if the desire of our heart is the salvation of the lost, and if we pray for someone’s salvation, but they are not one of Calvinism’s elect [in the Father], then God cannot keep His promise in either Psalm 37:4 or Psalm 84:11, or else the wrong person [someone who allegedly not chosen for salvation] is liable to believe in Jesus and become saved. Therefore, to avoid defying Calvinistic Election, you would think that we should limit our prayers to only those whom God has chosen for salvation, and yet here at Romans 9:1-3, we see something that appears to run counter to Calvinism. Immediately, however, the Calvinist will recall John 17:9, in which Jesus specifically did not pray on behalf of the world, but only on behalf of those whom God had given Him. However, John chapter 17 describes those given as being those who had been with Jesus in His ministry. (John 17:12) In context, as Christians, we similarly do not pray that unbelievers will go to heaven, but rather that unbelievers become believers and as a result of giving their heart to Christ, will become saved. For instance, I do not pray that a godless man like Ted Kennedy will be in heaven. Rather, I prayer that Ted Kennedy will give his heart to Christ and get saved, so that he can go to heaven. Was Paul’s prayer any different? Paul wants the lost Jews to know Christ as he did, and experience transformation as he had. Did that happen? For many it did, since Paul’s ministry in various towns often started by preaching in the local Jewish synagogues, resulting in the conversion of many Jews who then aided him in evangelism. When Paul says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1), it becomes clear that the reason why Paul didn’t pray like a Calvinist because he wasn’t a Calvinist, and nor did he write like a Calvinist. If you know anything about Calvinists, you know that they are obsessed with Calvinism, even comparing it to the Gospel, as had Charles Spurgeon, who also happened to comment that some Calvinist preachers were so obsessed with Calvinism that they were like 5-tune pianos, whose sermons often only played one of the five tunes of TULIP Calvinism. So if Paul was anything like these, why didn’t he write like a Calvinist, in addition to not praying like a Calvinist?
The book of Romans is written with a Jewish focus for evangelism and conversion. Romans 2:17 specifically addresses his listeners or readers as “you” who “bear the name Jew,” and the book of Romans is filled with historical examples of Jews, to try to encourage potential Jewish converts that the Law is not necessarily the way to God, citing Abraham, David and Moses, and at Romans 9, really reinforces Jewish concepts by naming several prominent figures in Jewish history, and then goes on to reference a hardening, that is, a “partial hardening” of the Jews (Romans 11:25), which is the hardening of the unrepentant Jews, to serve as a warning, in order to make them aware of the situation, and to drive them to introspection about their standing with God. How people could read the book of Romans and not see a decidedly Jewish theme, especially Romans 9, is quite odd, when considering that Paul starts out the chapter of Romans 9 with a very specific address made towards fellow Jews.
At Romans 9:1-3, Calvinists are left with two options. They can either suggest that Paul intended only Calvinistically elect Jews, or like John Calvin, suggest that Paul was not speaking on behalf of the will of the Holy Spirit. Calvinists could refer to this as the Revealed Will vs. Secret Will. The problem is that according to Calvinism, everyone that God wants to save, gets saved, by imposing an irresistible grace. So if the Holy Spirit shared Paul’s passion, the Holy Spirit could have just as easily given all of them an irresistible grace, and not just some of them. Calvinists have their theories on why God would not want to do this, but suffice it to say, this is what the Holy Spirit could have done, and therefore, could not join with Paul’s passion, and hence, John Calvin suggests that Paul put Calvinism out of mind, when uttering the words of Romans 9:1-3. The problem, of course, is that it would put the credibility of all of Paul’s writings in crisis. Calvinists would be left to pick and choose which statements are from Paul, and which are from the Holy Spirit, and perhaps, only the ones that line up with Calvinism, would be the ones that are inspired. This is not something that lends credibility to Scripture, and we know that Scripture is credible, so that leaves one option. Paul was speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit.