Paul’s Sorrow

Israel on the outside

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life,
nor angels nor principalities nor powers,
nor things present nor things to come,
nor height nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 3:38-39

I tell the truth in Christ,
I am not lying,
my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.

Romans 9:1-2

What a contrast in tone and emotion between the above passages! Great exuberance and joy at the close of Romans 8, followed by heavy sadness and heartache at the beginning of Romans 9. Why the sudden change in mood?

The end of Romans 8 is the crescendo to the first half of the epistle. As you may recall, Paul began his discourse on the glorious gospel with a somber discussion on the guilt upon all mankind but quickly turned to the wonderous propitiation and justification in Christ Jesus. On these concepts, he built the magnificent realities of the newness of life in Christ and the marvelous deliverance from bondage and condemnation, culminating with a view of the believers’ security in God’s purpose for them. At the pinnacle of his discussion, Paul’s exuberance fairly leaps off the page at his acclamation of the grandeur of God’s love.

His tone and level of exuberance would be fitting for the setting of a celebratory party! One can imagine the prodigal son experiencing a comparable level of joy and delight in the festive feast his father gave upon his return. The similarity of rejoicing is understandable since both had discovered that their father’s love was greater than they had imagined.

There is another similarity between Paul and the prodigal son that might help us understand Paul’s sudden change of mood in the above passages.

Like the prodigal son, Paul also had an older brother who remained outside of the celebration in the father’s house, preferring isolation from the father over taking part in the festivities. Paul’s older ‘brother’ was the nation of Israel. 

Like the prodigal son’s older brother, the nation of Israel had all the benefits and privileges of staying true to what was upright. As the father withheld nothing from the older brother, God withheld no good thing from the nation of Israel (Romans 9:4-5). 

However, as Paul looked outside from the festivities, he caught a glimpse of his brother’s form in the gathering shadows. He saw, as did everyone, that the nation of Israel was outside of the abundant blessings in Christ. Their situation broke Paul’s heart, even in the midst of his joy.

This is why we see such a dramatic change of mood.
God chose the nation of Israel to be His people by the word of a covenant (Genesis 17:7-8). He brought them out of Egypt and abundantly blessed them (Romans 9:4-5). Why, then, were they outside of the blessings in Christ? Did God’s word of covenant fail?

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