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Scripture Text (NRSV)

Romans 9:1-5

9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit--

9:2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;

9:5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.



First impression: Verses 4-5 contain ideas sometimes used to butress Christian support for Jews and the state of Israel. Applied critically they can be part of an argument against anti-semitism. Given the current environment in the middle east, however, these concepts are sometimes used to justify unequivocal support for the state of Israel. Would this text be an appropriate opening for a teaching sermon that helps people think more critically about the struggle in the Holy Land? The biblical mandate for justice means we can (and need) to be critical of the government of Israel while not encouraging hate of Jews as a people or religion. There's much to say to the Palestinians too, but much of our trouble in this area stems from a tendency to conflate the biblical narrative of the chosen people, the campaign against anti-semitism, and support for modern Israel into a single idea. If I undertake such a sermon it will try to define such cocepts as the origins of the Jewish people, the origins of the religion of rabbinical Judiasm in relation to Christianity, Zionism and the modern state of Israel. Comments?

Jim in IA

Jim in IA,

I hear you. I can't argue with anything you've said, rather I affirm it, and the only thing I can do is add my thoughts.

When I read this text, my heart immediately goes to Paul's stated anguish. Paul is a Jew, and he has always felt himself privileged to be part of "them," for "to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah."

He does not want to lose his kinship with "them," in fact "could wish [to be] cut off from Christ" for the sake of "them."

But he cannot. He must proclaim the truth, no matter how much he longs for the days of the past, and the certainty of his own salvation within the covenant of the Torah.

Paul longs to reclaim kinship with them, but "they" will not accept his radical new views. So Paul is forced to choose between Christ and his own past.

One comment comes to mind that is more closely related to your posting, and that is the difference in our views of two words sometimes used to describe the same people... What is the difference between our understanding of an Israeli, and a Jew?


Jim and Michelle, a couple of thoughts to toss in to your discussion of the modern concepts tangled into our understanding of Paul's statements.

In high school, I was introduced to the writings of Chaim Potok, in particular, his book "The Chosen." Written about 2 young Jewish men growing up in New York in the 1940s, it includes a description of the conflict within Judaism that the subject of Zionism created. Other reading in the years since then has affirmed that there may have been a feeling, especially among some of the more Orthodox groups, that the creation of a Jewish state was something that should be left to the Messiah and that for men to try to bring it about would be almost blasphemous, like trying to force God to send the Messiah. As in everything else, what may seem like a good idea to one might not be such a good idea to another, depending on your viewpoint.

Just an observation. Maybe someone has more information that would shed more light on this.

Mike from Soddy Daisy, TN

Certainly this text has been and will be used to discuss the relationship between the Christian church and judaism. However, I think I will bring to bear the attitude of Paul toward the relatives, friends and neighbors he must see not accepting what God has intended for them. I know so many Christians who are in anguish over some "kinsman" or friend who was raised in the church to be a Christian but has let the "faith of their fathers(mothers more often)" fall by the wayside. Every church I have served is full of folks pining for some loved one to come into the promise they were pointed toward early in life.

I know this will touch a chord with many but I hesitate to bring it up for I truly do not know what advice to give to those who suffer so for others' salvation. Any ideas?

I am currently at the library because my computer went down. Will check back hopefully for your good thoughts later in the week. thanks in advance for any help, tom in TN(USA)

Tom in TN,

My best advice:

1. Tell them to keep praying, God can work even when our best is shoved aside.

2. Tell them to be the best example it is in their power to be.

3. Some might be able to extend a personal invitation: "Will you come and sit with me at Church this Sunday?" ...afterwards, "Thank you. It means so much to me."

For what it's worth...


This very text is good news for those who agonize over "unsaved" family & friends. Paul is really speaking here of the faithfulness of God, and makes it clear here & in the rest of the Romans text on this subject that he has not given up on his people because he believes in God's faithfulness, in the God who keeps his promises. That's the focus of the sermon I'm preparing now, and my sermon title will be, "The Promise Keeper." This is the source of hope for those who pray for, carry a burdened heart, for those beloved family members & friends. God is faithful to hear our prayers, and is at work in the lives of those people. Ken in WV

About the comments thus far: I think it would way too much to have to deal with the difficult theology of the topic of chapters 9-11,the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, and load on top of the situation in the middle east. Unless this is the first of a long series of sermons. Yes, Ken, the focus IS on God's faithfulness. I think it might be appropriate, though, to say something of the Christian's tendency consider him or herself superior to the Jews. Clearly, in the scope of these two groups (not of individuals), Paul thinks both groups equally have a place in God's election. In fact, chap. 11- which we'll have next week- Christians are grafted into and are supported by the root which is Judaism. The problem arises because Paul believed that over time, Jews would come to see that salvation by grace was the fulfillment of the law and they weren't "shamed" into the position Paul took. Then what, if God's redemption is for both groups? C. H. Dodd, the famous commentator on Romans, answered that by saying that in the end God's salvation was universal, that the Jews were no different from the rest of the world which at the end of time would be redeemed as God has foreordained. NOne of us, of course, knows the mind of God, however as Ken stated, clearly the OT covenant has not "expired" - promises are promises - and what we can do is show a little more awe and reverance for all the heritage that Paul outlines in verses 4 and 5 and the people who lay claim to it. - AEA

Difficult passage, but what is the practical matter here? One has to understand Pauls heritage, upbringing, his Jewish-ness and then his conversion that brought about his great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his brethren according to the flesh. The Holy Spirit's love spread abroad in the heart caused this self-abandoning love for a certain group of people. This passage has nothing to do with politics or our view of modern Israel. This is a matter of love towards ones own race and nation, of whom rejected the Christ in exactly the same manner Saul, now Paul, had done. He knew his past as a Jew and where he once stood in relation to the Savior. We now, as he, know where we once stood in our sins and how the LORD, by His great love where with He loved us, saved us. The Holy Spirit has in this passage taught us "how to pray". We can, we must, pray for those individuals who are as we once were. The drug addict saved and delivered from his sin now prays with great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for those bond by the same kind of addiction. Each of us must pray for those who are as we once were. If I never committed murder I cannot pray as the christian who once was a murderer. I can pray for those who I can relate to by "once being" as some now are who are yet unsaved. Who else can pray effectively except those who are kindred, either by birth and/or in figure by being "once like as some now are"? Paul prays ernestly because he came out of Judaism and hated this Christ; with a broken heart he can thus pray for the Jews. Toward who or what group or type of persons am I able to pray broken heartedly for, effectually for, and God is moved from heaven to work upon those heaerts?!? This is specific work by a specific people for a specific people.