Watching a loved one make foolish choices which you know will end in his pain or complete devastation is heart-wrenching. You watch as your loved one abuses drugs or alcohol, refuses to take care of his health by overeating, gives himself to sexual immorality, pays no attention to warnings about how he is treating his spouse, or a myriad of other things. He stubbornly refuses to hear good counsel. If there were something more you could do to turn him around, to shake him out of it, to change his heart, you would do it. The last thing you want to see is this destructive pattern to continue and end where you know it will end.

Love desires what is best for the beloved. Love causes great grief and unceasing sorrow when you see your beloved destroying himself.

Israel according to the flesh, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is on a destructive path. The majority are stubborn, refusing to hear the gospel; the gospel that proclaims that all of the hopes given to their patriarchs have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. If they don’t turn to Christ, they will suffer an eternal hell as disinherited children to whom belonged sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, the promises, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh (Rom 9.4).

This is Paul’s family. He loves them. He loves them so much that he would pray that he himself be anathematized from Christ for their sake (Rom 9.3). That is, if Paul could suffer eternal punishment so that they would turn to Christ in faith, he would do it. That is a burden. That is love.

This love is not unprecedented. Paul is echoing what Moses did when YHWH threatened to destroy Israel at Mt. Sinai because of the worship of the golden calf. Moses interceded on behalf of Israel saying, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin--but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod 32.31-32). Paul is a new Moses who is recognizing the sins of his family in rejecting their God. YHWH has revealed himself in the man Christ Jesus, who is God blessed forever (Rom 9.5). Israel is doing now what they did at Mt. Sinai, and destruction is imminent. Paul, like Moses, is standing between God and Israel praying that he himself be cursed for the sake of his family.

What concerned both men is that God’s own name, his righteousness, was at stake. How can God not fulfill his promises to his people? How could God reject the entire family? What would the nations say about God if they saw this?

As we are concerned about the people we love, God’s own righteousness must be what motivates our prayers. For instance, as you pray for the salvation of your children, one of the motivations of your prayers is that these baptized children bear the name of our God. If our children grow up to be unfaithful, God’s name is blasphemed because of them. We can pray for our children on the basis of God’s righteousness, pleading with him to honor his own name in their lives.

No matter how deep our concern for others, our concern should never move us to compromise God’s judgments. There are times that we care about others so much, that we may begin to think, “I know that God says that people who live the way my loved one is living will not inherit the kingdom of God, but I believe he has a good heart. I believe that somewhere, deep down, he really trusts Christ. He will be alright with God.”

This is not the way Paul thought. Even though all of these privileges belonged to Israel according to the flesh, because they refused allegiance to Jesus as Lord, they were on the road to hell. No amount of Paul’s desire could change that fact. His concern could not compromise the truth of the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His burden only deepened because of the truth.

So it should be with us.

In his providence, God has put us in proximity to people to cultivate a love for them. Blood family, friends, and neighbors are all people for whom we should be burdened. While we might not be able to be anathematized for the sake of those whom we love, we can point them to the one who was anathematized for their sakes, who now calls for their allegiance with the promise of life eternal.