The apostle Paul was not a Jew-hater. He himself was a Jew, and he expressed his love for his fellow Jews in this unique manner: “. . . I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2,3). Yes, Paul was “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), but he preached with intenseness to the Jews, too.
What was it that Paul wanted to happen in the lives of his fellow Jews? “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). There you have it: Paul wanted the Jews to be saved. Many were. The majority, however, were not, and that troubled Paul, causing him sorrow and grief (9:2).
Paul was not silent about his heart’s longing for Israel’s salvation. He communicated that desire to the saints in Rome (10:1), he expressed that desire in prayer to God (10:1), and he told the Jews face to face that he preached Jesus to them so they could receive the forgiveness of sins through Him (Acts 13:37-39). What about you and me? Do we express to lost people that we care about their souls? Paul prayed for the Jews to be converted. Do you and I pray for those whom we love to be saved? The time to offer such prayers is now, while both they and we are still alive. Once that loved one or friend has left this world, there is no benefit in praying for them. After their exodus, our actions or words on earth have no bearing whatsoever on their spiritual condition. In fact, it is disturbing to think that a Christian would ask God to have mercy on and forgive a dead person of his/her sins, knowing that that person never obeyed the gospel on earth. While a person is still alive – that is the time to pray for them. While a person is still living on earth – that is the time for them to submit to the Lord and obtain His mercy.
Paul’s desire for the Jews’ salvation was limited in its power and influence. What does that mean? Simply this: Paul could not override or negate the desire of the Jews themselves. The apostle’s will was for all Jews to become followers of Jesus. However, that would and could happen only if they wanted to do it. Paul longed for the Jews’ salvation and he prayed about it, but he could not force the Jews to receive the gospel. God wants all people to be saved, too (1 Timothy 2:4), but His desire does not remove a person’s freedom of choice.
What else could Paul do to help bring about the salvation of the Jews? He could put his desire into action, which is exactly what he did. Paul did more than pray and talk about the Jews being saved – he gave his best effort to teach them the good news of Jesus’ salvation. Any person, Jew or non-Jew, can be saved only through Jesus (Acts 4:12). Paul knew that the gospel is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16), so he taught the Jews what they needed to hear, the only message that could educate them properly and save their soul. Check him out. There he is preaching to Jews in crowded synagogues (Acts 17:1-3). There he is reaching out to a group of Jewish women at the riverside in Philippi (Acts 16:13-15). There he is talking with anyone who would listen in the marketplace in Athens (Acts 17:17). There he is standing on the stairs and speaking openly to Jews in Jerusalem about Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 21:40- 22:21). You get the picture.
Again, I ask, what about you and me? How much effort are we putting forth to try and help others have an opportunity to hear the gospel? After we think about their salvation and pray about it, there is still one thing left to do: open our mouths and teach God’s word like the early saints did (Acts 8:35).
Paul’s eyes were open to the spiritual needs of lost people. He once told King Agrippa, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29). We can understand why he felt so strongly about his brethren in the flesh, but he zealously brought God’s gospel to lost Gentiles as well. It is good for us to focus on particular individuals and make a concentrated effort to reach out to them with the gospel. At the same time, we must be mindful of teaching opportunities that come our way when we are not even searching for them. The lost are the lost, regardless of their gender, skin color, or nationality.
Over fifty years ago, Dusty Springfield had a hit song in which she sang that “Wishing, and hoping, and thinking, and praying, planning and dreaming each night . . .” will not secure that nice young man in which a girl has special interest. When it comes to lost souls, that principle is true as well: we need to put our desire for people to be saved into action, telling them of a great Savior.
— Roger D. Campbell