Paul has a deep sorrow. In the following verses he tells us what people he is sorrowing for. He speaks of his sorrow in a special way. It is like he is taking an oath to show how deep his feelings are. He says I am telling the truth in Christ.
Paul is in Christ. This tells us that everyone who is in Christ, every Christian, must speak the truth at all times. He is speaking to the saints at Rome, and to us today.
When he speaks, he says my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit. We can read Paul’s words, but God knows his heart. The Holy Spirit knows that what Paul says is true because the Holy Spirit knows what is in Paul’s heart. When we speak to others and tell them that what we say is true we should always remember that the Holy Spirit knows whether we are telling the truth. He knows our heart.
Paul says I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. Paul’s sorrow was “great”, and it was always in his heart. He wants the Roman Christians to know of this sorrow.
Paul shows his love for these people by describing them in wonderful words. They are Israelites according to the flesh, and they are Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh. These were Paul’s people. And they were the kinsmen of Christ because He was born a Jew.
Also, God adopted the Jews as His sons in a way no other people were. They were given the glory of the special times when God appeared to them and showed His great power. The covenants are all the covenants God made with them, including the promise that the Christ would come from a descendant of Abraham. The giving of the Law was a great event when even Mt. Sinai shook and the Law was given to them. The temple service was the special worship at the temple. This was given by God and showed that God loved them and that they were His special people (John 4:22). God gave promises of material things such as the land of Canaan, and the promise of the Messiah for the blessing of all nations. The fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons) were their fathers. It was through them that the Christ is according to the flesh.
He ends by saying, God blessed forever. In those words he shows his great thanksgiving to God for these great and true things.
Paul writes these things to prepare his Jewish readers for what he is going to say next. They are not going to like what he writes. He does not like it either. He is very sorry that his brethren are lost. When he says I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, he implies that they are lost and that they are accursed and separated from Christ. Of course, he has already in this letter showed that they are guilty before God and that they are lost. But here he is dealing with their pride. Pride was the great wall which kept them from seeing their true condition before God.
Paul does not say that he does wish himself accursed from Christ for their sake. Paul could not save the Jews by being cut off from Christ. He is teaching that, if it were possible and he could do it, he would wish himself accursed in order that they could be saved. I have never known of another person who had such an unselfish love for others. Even Christ was cut off from God for only a moment to make possible our salvation, (Note: It is not necessarily true that Jesus was cut off from God even for an instant. His statement, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” is a quotation from the beginning verse of Psalm 22. Jesus may have quoted it to cause us to understand that His death on the cross fulfilled that prophecy. PKW) and for Paul to say that if it were possible he would wish to be forever cut off from Christ shows feelings of unselfish love which I am not able to understand.
Paul wants the Israelites to be saved, but He is not blaming God for their lost condition. It is not as though the word of God has failed. Even though most of fleshly Israel had rejected the Christ, the word of God’s promise did not fail. There is an Israel to which the promise does apply. It is spiritual Israel. When God speaks about Israel what He says sometimes applies only to those fleshly Israelites who became Israel in the spirit. Paul shows that this is easily understood when we see that God limited the promise He made to Abraham. They are not all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. Abraham’s first son was Ishmael, yet the promises were not fulfilled through him. It was through Isaac that Abraham’s descendants were named. Here was an election of God, and the Jews could see that it was just.
Here Paul makes a difference between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise. It is only the children of the promise who are going to be the children of God.
The promise was given to Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old and after Ishmael had been born. God told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son, and the next year she did. You will remember that Abraham and Sarah had tried to help God fulfil His promise that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. Sarah was getting old and was not able to have children. So Sarah gave Abraham her handmaid Hagar, and to Abraham and Hagar were born Ishmael. But Ishmael was not the son of promise. The plan of Abraham and Sarah was not God’s plan. Ishmael was not the fulfilment of the promise.
If the only thing that mattered was that the son should be born to Abraham, then Ishmael would have fulfilled the promise. But Paul is showing that fleshly descent is not how one becomes the son of God.
God made a further choice. He decided that the promise should not go to both of the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and that it should not even go to Esau, the first one born. God chose Jacob. The Jews were the sons of Jacob. They did not say that God was wrong when He chose them instead of the sons of Esau. They recognised that God had the right to choose Jacob and not Esau. Paul is using this example to show that God has the right to choose to save the Gentiles. God has the right to choose the ones He wants.
God chose Jacob instead of Esau when the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad. God chose because of His plan, not because Jacob or Esau did anything good or bad. God did not even choose the one born first, which was almost always the custom. God said, “The older will serve the younger.” This promise was fulfilled in a literal way because the nation of Edom which came from Esau served Israel which came from Jacob. But the important thing about God’s statement to Rebekah is that the seed which had been promised to Abraham would come from the younger son instead of the older.
Esau and Jacob both did things which were bad. Jacob and his mother deceived Isaac in order to get the blessing which Isaac wanted to give to Esau. Esau traded his birthright for some food. They lied and deceived, but everything they did only caused God’s purpose to be fulfilled, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand. The purpose of God stands. It stands because He has the right to choose.
Note this: Paul is not here discussing the election, or choosing, of a person to be saved. He is talking about God’s right to choose a people for Himself. He had the right to do this when the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad. God does not choose a person to be saved or lost before he is born. We are chosen by the gospel when we believe and obey that gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Malachi 1:2-3 says, “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” This shows how God fulfilled His promise concerning the descendants of Jacob and Esau. God showed less love for Esau’s people than for the people of Jacob. God first chose Jacob, and then He blessed Jacob’s people.
God “hated” Esau and “loved” Jacob. Was this “injustice” (not being fair or just)? Paul denies that God can ever be unjust!
Here is a great problem with Calvinism. Calvinists teach that God chooses which persons will be saved and which persons will be lost before those people are born. When God chose Jacob and did not choose Esau, He did not decide that one would be saved and the other lost. He decided only that the promise He gave to Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob. If God chose to take Jacob to heaven and to condemn Esau to hell even before they were born, then God would have been unjust. God does not do that because there is no injustice with God. Every man is saved or lost because of his own choices.
God had to make a choice between Jacob and Esau. Christ could not come through both of them. God chose that the Christ should come through the nation which came from Jacob, not from the nation which came from Esau.
When Moses asked God to show him His glory, God said , “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exodus 33:19).
When God gave Israel the land of Canaan, he was “having mercy” on them. The Israelites did not drive the Canaanites from the land because Israel was more powerful. God was with Israel, and that is why they were able to conquer the land. This was the working of God after the counsel of His own will. Paul speaks of Jewish Christians in Ephesians 1:11: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will”. God purposed to redeem man through Christ. God was working out that purpose when He chose the Jews to be His people. The decision to call the Jews to be His people was God’s choice alone. It did not depend upon what the Jews wanted or what they did.
The scripture Paul refers to is Exodus 9:16 where God said to Pharaoh: “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth”.
God did not raise Pharaoh up and allow him to remain king because He wanted to do a kind thing to him. Pharaoh was only an instrument God used to carry out the purpose of God. The Jews understood this and they understood that God was right to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
How does God harden a person’s heart? In the Exodus record Moses says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (7:3), that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (8:19), and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15). How can it be that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart?
God does not harden a person’s heart directly. Pharaoh hardened his heart by his stubborn attitude. God hardened his heart by sending the plagues. If Pharaoh had not been stubborn, his heart would have been softened by the terrible things God sent on the Egyptians. God did not make him evil, and He did not force him to harden his heart. God simply used Pharaoh’s evil to produce what God wanted to happen.
God said that the plagues which He sent on Egypt came in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. God used evil Pharaoh in such a way that God was glorified.
Paul now sees an objection which the Jews could make. Paul is proving that God has rejected the Jews as His people. But the Jews might say, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” The Jews might say, “After all, God chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Israelite nation. Since no one can resist His will, why does God find fault with us now? We are only what He has chosen us to be”.
Paul’s reply to this thought is important to us today. God is the Supreme Creator. Everything which is now in existence was made by Him. Since He makes us, He has the right to do what He wants with us. We do not have the right to complain against God.
Paul illustrates this by the example of the man who makes things from clay (the potter). He makes the vessels for the uses he wants to make of them. So God has the right to decide how to use what He has created.
This whole passage talks only about God’s choice to use some individuals and nations to carry out His purpose to save man (vessels of honour) and His choice to use others who are not carrying out His purpose (vessels of dishonour). Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel were vessels of honour.
The potter does not ask the clay what it wants to be before he makes a vessel. He makes what is needed, either a vessel of honour or of dishonour. Even so God chose the Israelites in order to bring about His plan to save all men through Christ. They had nothing to do with the choice, either by being good or bad.
God did not make the vessels of dishonour evil. They were simply those people who did not have the honour to be part of the people through whom Jesus came. They were no more evil or good after God selected the Israelites than they were before.
Calvinism (the religious system started by John Calvin) has greatly misused this passage. It has tried to use these words to teach a horrible doctrine—the doctrine that God has chosen which ones are to be saved or lost before they are born. We must not use Paul’s words to teach what he is not talking about in this passage.
Here Paul reaches the point he has been reasoning toward. He has said that God chose certain persons to carry out His plan for bringing Christ into the world and for blessing all the nations through Him. Now he asks: If the Gentile nations in the past, and Esau, and Pharaoh were all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and the Jews were chosen to be vessels of honour, why find fault with God? There was a time when the Jews were God’s chosen people and the Gentiles were “vessels of dishonour”. But the Jews were chosen to bring about God’s plan. They were not chosen because they were better than the Gentiles.
Why did God endure with patience the vessels of wrath (the Gentiles, Esau, Pharaoh, etc.) who were prepared for destruction? He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. The whole purpose of calling the Jews and rejecting the Gentiles was to make known the riches of God’s glory upon vessels of mercy. The vessels of mercy are the ones whom God has called to salvation—both Jews and Gentiles. Spiritual blessings for all the called are what we have now.
This is what God was working toward when He chose some to be vessels of honour and some to be vessels of dishonour. These were temporary things. The permanent things are the spiritual blessings which we have today. God did not choose the Jews to be His people in order to save them, nor did He choose that they should always be His people. He chose them in order to bring about salvation to all who believe.
Notice that Paul specifically says that the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, are the heirs of the riches of His glory. The Jews had received the riches of His goodness in the past (2:4); now both Jews and Gentiles are receiving the riches of His glory.
Here Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 to show to the Jews that God planned to give His blessings to the Gentiles. The prophecy proves what Paul has been saying—that God planned all along to make Gentiles His people.
This was the best way for Paul to finish his argument to the Jews. They believed the Old Testament. They believed, and rightly so, that the scriptures were inspired by God. Therefore a clear prophecy that the Gentiles should be called ‘beloved’ ought to settle the matter.
Paul appealed to the scriptures as the highest and final argument. We should do the same today. Every position we take and every doctrine we teach should be based on the statements of the inspired scriptures. When we teach and defend those doctrines we should do so by showing that the scriptures teach those things.
But the Jews rejected what their own scriptures said. In John 5 we read that Christ rebuked the Jews for rejecting Him and He presented a series of evidences to show that He was the Son of God. Then He appealed to what God had said to Moses and then said, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47) Now Paul is using the scriptures, and the same things would be true. All that Paul wrote would be useless if they would not believe what Hosea wrote.
There is an important difference between what God called the Jews of the Old Testament times to be and what He calls the Gentiles to be today. The Jews were God’s children only in a physical sense, while those who are God’s children today, both Jew and Gentile, are His spiritual children. They had physical blessings—a land, an earthly kingdom, etc. But we have the promise of heaven! How we should rejoice because this is true!
Think about the condition of the Gentiles before Christ and then think about their condition today. Then, they were without Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12) Now, in Christ, we are no more foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. Then, we were not the people of God; now, we are His people, not by fleshly birth but by spiritual birth.
Here we find Paul joining the Jew and Gentile together, showing that God blesses both together, as he had shown in chapter one verses sixteen and seventeen. But what is the real position of the Jews under Christ? This becomes the next thing which he writes about:
This quotation from Isaiah 10:22-23 contrasts the few Jews who accepted Christ with the great number who rejected Him. The few who will be saved are the remnant, while the great number who will be lost are as the sand of the sea. The work which the Lord will execute is the work of saving the remnant. It can be called the work of righteousness, or the work of justifying all those who believe and obey the gospel. The Lord will do what He has promised upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.
God did not want bad things to happen to those who do not obey the gospel. He did not force anyone to disobey Him. He is not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The reason the great number of Jews are lost is that they rejected the Lord of their own free will. They were unwilling to obey Him as their Lord and Redeemer. (Luke 13:34)
The main reason why the Jews did not accept Christ, and why they do not accept Him today, is that Jesus did not come to be the kind of Messiah which they thought the Messiah should be. They wanted an earthly, powerful king who would raise a powerful army and destroy their enemies. It is amazing that some Christians have the same idea about the Messiah. They say that Jesus will come again, raise a big army and destroy His enemies. The Bible does not teach this.
This is found in Isaiah 1:9. The “posterity” is the “remnant”, the few Jews who would be faithful to God. If there had been no faithful Jews, then they would all have been destroyed, like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).
The Lord of Sabaoth means He is the Lord of hosts (armies). The expression is used also in James 5:4. It is used to emphasise the power of God to destroy and punish. He had the power to destroy all of the Jews, but He left a posterity (remnant).
These words must have hurt the Jews very much. They tell the true condition of both the Jews and the Gentiles. They explain why the Gentiles received righteousness and why the Jews did not. Paul talks first about their conditions before the gospel was given. Now their conditions are reversed by the gospel.
This is an example of the truth that it is easier to teach a person the truth when he is free of wrong ideas about God and how to please Him than it is to teach one who has false ideas. The Jews were very hard to teach because they had the wrong idea about the Messiah. They were looking for a king to rule on earth and fight the Romans. Their wrong idea caused them to reject Jesus as the Messiah.
Further, they had a wrong idea about how to be right with God. They thought that if they kept the law of Moses and the traditions of the fathers they would be righteous. Therefore they rejected salvation by faith through Jesus. They tried to be justified by “a law of righteousness”, that is by a law through which they thought they could be righteous. Therefore they rejected the only way of righteousness, which is faith in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, the Gentiles were not seeking righteousness. They had no idea about righteousness or how to find it. But when the gospel was preached to them, they accepted it and obtained the righteousness from God. They did not have a wrong idea of how to obtain righteousness, so they were open to the truth when it was preached.
It is true that the Gentiles, especially the Greeks, searched for wisdom. This is why most of the “wise and noble” were not among the called of God. But seeking after wisdom was not as big a stumbling block to the Gentiles as seeking after righteousness by the law was to the Jews.
This letter together with Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives the complete answer to the problem of the Jews. In Galatians Paul gives a short and direct answer, showing clearly that the law of Moses never brought salvation and that men must be saved by the gospel of Christ. In Romans Paul uses a longer and more indirect argument which continues through the first twelve chapters.
The Jews thought that by keeping the Law they could find righteousness, which Paul also calls justification and salvation. But they did not keep everything in the Law. They broke the Law, and therefore they failed to attain to the righteousness which is through law. The Gentiles were not trying to get righteousness through the Law, yet they received righteousness through the gospel— the system of faith—when they believed and obeyed it.
In chapter four Paul clearly shows that all men are justified by faith. Here he is telling what happened to the Jews because they did not seek to be justified by faith. They tried to get justification, but by the works of the Law, which they failed to keep completely. Therefore, Paul says they are not being justified.
But why did they not seek justification in the place where they could find it? First, they made a mistake in thinking there could be justification by the Law. Secondly, they rejected Him through whom justification could be received. Instead of Jesus being their Saviour, He is to them a stumbling stone.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block…” (1 Corinthians 1:23). They stumbled because they did not see in Him the Messiah they were looking for. And the reason they did not see was because they were looking for a Messiah who would be an earthly ruler and would rescue them from the Romans. When the Messiah came to rescue them from their sins, they could see no use in that. They thought their law delivered them from their sins.
In so doing they made two mistakes: the Law could not do what they wanted it to do, and Jesus did not come to do what they wanted the Messiah to do. Therefore they failed completely in what they tried to do through the Law and in what they expected the Messiah to do.
God did not lay the stumbling stone because He wanted them to stumble. Jesus was the stone of stumbling because of their stubbornness. There is a remnant of Jews who believe. To them Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. God wills that all should believe, but when the Jews in their stubbornness refused to see the wisdom and power of God, Jesus became a stone of stumbling to them. Jesus said that those who found no occasion of stumbling in Him were blessed (Matthew 11:6). This means that no blessing rests on those who found in Him an offence.
In conclusion, let us notice that Paul’s teaching in this chapter on the subject of election was for the purpose of taking away the false ideas of the Jews. They were wrong in thinking that they were righteous because of the Law. And they needed to understand that the Gentiles are heirs of salvation together with the believing Jews. In every instance of election which Paul wrote about, nothing pointed to an election of those people to salvation or damnation. Their election was only to bring about God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. If we fail to understand this, we will think that God elected some to salvation and others to condemnation regardless of what they did or were going to do. This would mean that God is guilty of saving or condemning people whether they follow Him or not. The book of Romans makes it clear that only those who obey by faith (1:5) will be saved, and that it is up to each one of us to make up his own mind to believe and obey. On the other hand, God has the right to do what He wishes to do. We must recognise that He has made choices of people in carrying out His will.