It’s hard to care.
I don’t mean that it’s hard to care about life in general, though I’ll admit sometimes it is difficult to muster excitement about daily necessities like making lunch, paying the bills, or scrapping my car windshield. What’s really hard to care about, though, is other people.
Let’s face it. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking of ourselves. We think of what we have to do, what we are currently doing, what we have to do tomorrow, what we wish would happen for us… you get the idea. We’re selfish.
Some of the reasons we’re so self-focused aren’t really even that bad. We have things to get done. However, the ramifications of always living and thinking that way are devastating.
In Romans 9, Paul talks about how much he cares for his own people. And (spoiler alert) he cares a lot.
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Did you catch how intensely concerned Paul is for his friends? He says he has “great sorrow and unceasing grief” in his heart for them. That’s more than just a cursory thought or prayer. He cares. He is sick to his stomach thinking about the fact that they don’t have a relationship with Christ.
This passage is talking about Paul’s “kinsmen,” the Jewish people of Israel who hadn’t accepted Christ as the Savior. Added to his deep anguish is the fact that those very Jewish people were brought up in the same faith as Jesus. To them belonged the blessings of God. Jesus came to bless them in particular, as well as the rest of the world. But instead, they rejected Him. This is what makes Paul’s heartache so much.
He then goes on to say that he wishes he himself were “accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of (his) brethren.” In other words, he is straight-up saying he would gladly give up his own salvation in order for them to know Christ themselves. All I can say is “Wow.” I can’t think of deeper concern than that.
Another story that comes to mind when thinking of sacrifice for someone who doesn’t deserve it is the Prodigal Son. Even after the “prodigal” bad-boy son leaves his father’s house (with his early inheritance that he demanded) to party and live it up, his father still waits for him in hopeful expectation that someday his son will return. When the son finally does return after wasting all his father’s money, the father not only accepts him back but throws a huge party celebrating his return. That’s love. That’s sacrifice.
In the Prodigal Son example, obviously, the son returns. But imagine if he never did. The father would be up waiting on the front porch, night after night, hoping for any glimpse of his lost son. That’s heartbreaking to think about, but it’s also how I think Paul felt when he was thinking about his lost brothers and sisters who had rejected Christ. He knew how much Christ had to give them, how much Jesus loved them and wanted to welcome them in, but also knew as the time went on how far they were drifting from ever coming to know Him at all.
I don’t know about you, but that kind of heartbreak and realization does not sound fun to think through. I would much rather put up my blinders and act like I can’t tell what’s going on around me spiritually. But when we open our eyes like Paul did, we see the hurt and anguish that’s coming if people continue to reject Christ. That kind of realization should change something in us. It should make us want to show people how much we care because we know how much God cares for them even more.
Paul had “anguish in his heart” and would have gladly traded his own salvation for the sake of his people. Can you say the same? It’s a tough question.