Sorrow for Those Who Do Not Know Christ
My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! —if that would save them.
The transition from Romans 8 to Romans 9 is a sharp and surprising one. Paul has just affirmed the incredible good news of God’s love for us, a love that will never be taken away from us. But then he changes gears dramatically, admitting “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief.” Why? Because so many of his Jewish brothers and sisters have not recognized what God has done in Jesus Christ. God’s own “adopted children” (v. 4), those who had received his manifold gifts as his chosen people, did not see in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s plan for them. And this fills Paul’s heart with grief because he cares so deeply for his fellow Jews.
As we make our way through Romans 9-11, we’ll reflect further on the playing out of God’s faithfulness to the Jews. For now I want to focus on Paul’s grief for those who don’t know Christ. This anguish comes, in part, from Paul’s compassion for the Jewish people. It also stems from his experience of God’s love in Christ, that which is, for Paul, the most wonderful thing in all creation. Thus Paul aches because he wants those he loves so much to know the inestimable love of God in Christ.
Many of us know this sort of sorrow. It comes when dear friends or family members don’t know the love of God in Christ. Because we love them so much, we want them to experience the wondrous love of God. I have spent many times as a pastor with parents weeping over their children who aren’t Christians, or with husbands aching because their wives don’t know Christ. Paul’s example suggests that this kind of sorrow is not to be neglected. Rather, it moves us to be faithful in praying that those we love will come to know the Lord. It also encourages us to be a channel of God’s love to others, so that they might be drawn to Christ through us.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Are there people in your life for whom you have sorrow because they are far from the Lord? What do you do with this sorrow?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, when we experience the joy of knowing you, we want others to feel that same joy. When we delight in the assurance of our salvation, we want those we love to have this same confidence. Thus when our loved ones do not recognize you, our hearts are heavy. Like Paul, we are filled with sorrow, wanting so very much for those we love to know your all-surpassing love for themselves.
I expect, Lord, that our sorrow is like your own sorrow in some small way. You created us to be in relationship with you, to know your love and live our lives in service to you. But we have wandered far away from your love. And so many have never returned, like the Prodigal Son, to your forgiving embrace. So as we feel sorrow for those who don’t know you, we are sharing a bit of your heart.
May this sorrow not leave us until those we love come to know you. Instead, may it motivate us to prayer and to living in a way that your love is evident in us. O Lord, may those in our lives who don’t know you see your grace in us. May they be drawn to you. Reach out to them, dear Lord, even today. Amen.