Paul’s Continual Anguish
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
It is wonderful to revel in Romans 8, to celebrate God’s love for us, but Christianity requires more than self-interest. Due to the grace-gift we have in Jesus, it is incumbent on us to do all we can to share it with others.
Even as Paul basked in the sunlight of Romans 8, a cloud suddenly darkened his thoughts. His kith and kin were not responding to God’s love offered in Christ. Most Israelites were refusing to accept Jesus as Messiah.
This was almost more than Paul could carry. He bore a burden for his kin, loving them with a love as deep as life itself. The weight was so severe that it brought from Paul one of the most mind-boggling claims ever made.
Romans 9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience
is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit.
The claim coming in verse three is of such staggering proportions that Paul prefaced it with preparatory remarks. Knowing some would challenge his assertion, Paul built to it gradually. He first of all made a threefold oath.
“I speak the truth in Christ”. He spoke as one united to Jesus. “I am not lying”. There was no stretching of the truth here; he wasn’t exaggerating.
“My conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit.” Paul was confident enough to name the Holy Spirit as a witness to the reality of his love. Based on his threefold oath, we are confident Paul’s next statement reflected the true feeling of his heart.
Romans 9:2 that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my
Here we find the key that unlocks the secret of Paul’s soul winning ability. Paul suffered “intense sorrow”, words used of people mourning with a pain that is nothing less than agony. He was tormented by “continual anguish.” He bore a consuming grief that was unremitting, never ceasing.
Paul was a good soul winner due to his burden for the lost. A passion to bring others to Christ should be second nature to believers. Pray God will intensify our burden. It is the main thing lacking in our soul winning efforts.
God’s best servants have always been those whose hearts blaze for people outside Christ. John Knox would pray, “Give me Scotland, or I die.”
John Hyde, a missionary, prayed 4 hours a day begging God for souls to be saved in India where he served. David Brainerd, missionary to native Americans, died of TB at age 29, yet his life was so filled with God’s power that John Wesley required all Methodist preachers to read Brainerd’s diary.
Brainerd wrote, “I cared not whether or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could gain souls to Christ. While asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke the first thing I thought of was this good work. All my desire was for the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God.” He worked ceaselessly, though suffering constant fever, cold sweats, nausea, and weariness, plus pains in his head, chest, and back.
Dying of TB, he agonized on his knees in the snow, praying for the Indians. They long remembered the white man who coughed blood on the snow while praying for them. Brainerd preached standing up as long as he could. Then he preached from a chair. Eventually the Indians carried him on a pallet to their meetings and listened while he spoke from a reclining position. When he became too sick to be carried, he had the Indians come to his house to hear him preach from his bed.
When his voice gave-way, he whispered his sermon in the ear of an Indian who would then convey the message to all. When they took him to Jonathan Edwards’ home for treatment, he wrote letters to the Indians. When this failed, he whispered dictation for letters to them.
When he could only mumble, those attending him said he was praying for the Indians. Near death Brainerd said, “I declare, now I am dying. I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world.”
“Sorrow” and “anguish” for the lost are missing today, replaced by cold lethargy. We need the Lord to plow through our complacent souls.
There is a Heaven to be gained, and a Hell to be shunned. We should live all of life as if hearing the woos of Heaven and the woes of Hell.
Paul knew how wonderful it is to be saved. This made him all the more aware of how terrible it is to be lost. Paul enjoyed so much in Christ that it made him sorrowful over what his own kindred were missing, sorrowful to the point of being willing to say…
Romans 9:3 For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the
Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.Paul communed so closely with Jesus that he ingested compassion similar to what took Jesus to a cross for people. Paul was ready to stand in the place of Jews and endure their heavy punishment. He was willing to be separated forever from Christ if it would cause the salvation of his nation.
Paul knew his wish could not be fulfilled. He had just said he could not be separated from the love of God in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
Paul also knew he could not be a substitute for the sins of Israel. His words were merely a way of strongly expressing what he felt within.
Love is not bound by cool logic. I like to say illogical things to Ruth. “I love you more today than yesterday, and yesterday was a record day. I will treasure you till death, and then cherish your memory. I want to be your roommate in Heaven.” When a heart is full of love, the boldest hyperboles are insufficient. Paul was trying to describe an indescribable emotion.
Paul verbalized one of love’s strongest traits, a desire to take suffering into one’s own self that it might not touch the beloved. All love is in a way substitutionary. Longing to suffer in place of the beloved is a law of love.
What parents have not stood by a baby’s bed and longed to take the children’s raging fever into their own body? What parents would not prefer receiving the knife to having to watch their child be taken into surgery?
Judah, loving his dad Jacob, begged to be a slave in Egypt in place of his baby brother Benjamin (GN 44:33). David cried, “My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 SM 18:33).
Love peaked in substitution. Moses, Paul, and Jesus are the only 3 men in the Bible who asked God to substitute them to pay for others’ sins.
Moses offered to be forgotten by God if it would keep wrath from falling on Israel. “Now if You would, only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written” (EX 32:32).
Paul sensed the nation had again made a deadly error. Israel was once more perched on a precarious precipice. They had again renounced YHWH, this time by building not a golden calf, but a cross. Having rejected God’s Son, Hell was gaping before them.
Moses and Paul understood a need for love expressed in substitution. They wanted to endure the curse that others might escape it, to suffer pain in place of others. Moses and Paul wished to be substitutes, but only One was eligible to do this. The Substitute for our sin had to be pure and spotless; only One fit that description. What Moses and Paul wished to do, Jesus did.
Focus on Him who did die as our Substitute. May the lost receive His compassion, and may the saved imitate it. Only Jesus can give us the love and salvation we need. Both require a miracle of grace. God grant us a burden that motivates us not only to talk about the lost, but also to the lost.
We need a heaviness that puts the lost on our prayer list, and us on their doorstep. Love for the lost is soul winning’s most effective tool. It drives us to do our duty, and melts the hearts of those we seek to win.