Say what you want about the Apostle Paul, but one thing is certain: he was not a boring writer. As the Holy Spirit inspired his words, much of Paul’s passion and emotion bled through onto the parchments.
Romans 8 ends with a grand, ringing cry: a great reminder that those who belong to Jesus will be victorious over sin, darkness, and persecution, for through the love of Jesus we are more than conquerors and nothing is big enough, powerful enough, or dangerous enough to separate us from Jesus’ love.
The sureness of faith’s victory and the eternal security of our salvation is not found in us or any human strength, but in the strength and might of the Strongest and Mightiest. So Paul could write with such great boldness.
And then in Romans 9, Paul’s emotions swung in another direction. He wrote of his anguish over his kinsmen, his fellow Jews, rejecting Jesus who came as the Messiah of the Jews. Then in 9:3 we get a glimpse of how powerful this emotion was:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers and sisters, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
On the one hand, Paul labored under the sure belief that he was eternally secure in Christ and destined for the joys of eternity. On the other hand, he felt such sorrow over the lostness of other Jews that he wished hell upon himself if it meant their salvation.
Let that thought sink in for a moment.
Hell is described throughout scripture as a place of eternal torment—darkness and the unquenchable fire of God’s wrath against sin. There is nothing delightful, nothing desirable about hell. Hence, to curse someone with the words go to hell is the greatest insult one could make.
Yet here was Paul, one among the group of Jews who believed in Jesus, staring out across those who did not. Their rejection of Jesus meant hell, he knew. This disturbed him so much that he essentially said, “I would take hell that others might have heaven.”
This drove him in his ministry. Later he would call himself “an apostle to the Gentiles [or: nations]” (11:13). This didn’t mean that he neglected or rejected the Jews on his missionary journeys. No, throughout Acts we see time and time again how he went to his fellow Jews in city after city with the hope of the gospel. Some believed, others rejected, and upon that rejection he would then take the same message to the diverse non-Jewish populations. Even this he did hoping “to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them” (Romans 11:14).
Paul operated under the belief that one person, Jew or Gentile, without Jesus was one too many. So he shared the gospel with all he could, and though he trusted in God’s strength and love to secure his salvation, he wished himself accursed in hell if more, especially his fellow Jews, would be saved.
What about our passion? Do we feel the same burden for those without Christ, Jew or Gentile? Do we invest ourselves so much in the spread of the gospel and seeing people come to Jesus that we would cry out for our own condemnation if it meant their salvation? Do we grasp the reality of hell and long for everyone we know to taste heaven?
Like Paul, we should know that if we belong to Jesus then our salvation is assured and condemnation is long buried in our past. Yet this wonderful truth should not make us complacent. Instead, knowing that such is only by the grace and love of God, we should do what we can to spread the knowledge of his grace and love to those around us.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.