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Theology Plus Sympathy Builds Bridges

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 9:1–5

Past privileges are no substitute for personal faith, as Israel’s experience teaches us. Yet Israel’s faithlessness does not alter God’s eternal plan. Jesus Christ will be honored forever. Let us be sure that through faith in Him we are part of honoring Him both now and forever.


In an article in a Christian journal, the author recounted an incident that occurred in her church. One Sunday morning, the pastor announced from the pulpit that a young elementary school boy named Crockett had trusted in Christ as his Savior just a few days earlier. A little boy in the audience, around the age of five, jumped to his feet and shouted, “Hooray for Crockett!” It was totally spontaneous excitement and joy over the news of his friend’s salvation. Everybody in the church turned to stare. The boy’s mother was embarrassed, and she pulled him back to his seat and told him to be quiet. The author wrote that that was too bad. The entire congregation should have stood up with him and shouted, “Hooray for Crockett!”[1]

There was nothing that made the apostle Paul happier than seeing someone come to faith in Christ. And there was nothing more tragic to him than someone refusing to accept the Lord Jesus.

As we sail into Romans chapter 9, we are going to catch a glimpse of the heart of Paul. He has seen his own Jewish nation as a whole reject their Messiah. He knows that many people are now wondering if God will abandon Israel. Will the Jewish people lose their status as God’s chosen people? These are the questions Paul addresses in this chapter.

But Paul begins by revealing his own heart—and his deep love—for his people, his fellow Jews, as he begins this chapter:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (verses 1-3)

I have read that people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Paul seems to embrace the idea expressed in that statement. Before he lays out his theology, he reveals his sympathy for the lost.

Can you imagine someone willing to trade places with the lost? Well, I guarantee you, Paul has everyone’s attention now—because he cares that much for his people.

What we find next is an exhortation from Paul for the Jewish people to recognize their unique position and blessing from God. So, beginning in verse 4, Paul just sort of unpacks Israel’s identity and history and then assures them that God still has a special plan for the nation of Israel.

The apostle spells out eight blessings here, and the first one is “adoption.” Paul writes in verse 4, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption.”

This is the only time in the New Testament where Israel is said to be the adopted sons of God. Paul is simply stating that the nation of Israel still retains a special position with God as His chosen nation.

Second, Paul writes that Israel experienced the special presence of God. He says that to them belongs “the glory.” This is the glory of God—the doxa. That Greek word gives us our word doxology. Paul is referring to the visible glory of God seen by Israel. From the time of the exodus from Egypt, they saw God’s glory as a great fiery cloud separating the fleeing nation from the pursuing Egyptian army.[2] What a blessing this was to the nation.

Third, Paul says Israel has “the covenants.” The word can be translated “agreements.” God had personally entered into covenant relationship with Israel. The Abrahamic covenant and the covenant of an eternal kingdom and throne through David set out God’s unconditional promises to Israel. Though Israel has been temporarily set aside in God’s plan while God builds His church, these unconditional covenant promises to the nation will be fulfilled in the future.

Fourth, Israel received “the giving of the law.” The law revealed God’s holiness and God’s requirements for His people. Already back in Romans 3:2, Paul wrote that it was a great advantage to the Jews that they had been “entrusted with the oracles of God.”

But the treasure of God’s Word was not just for them. It was also to be a blessing to the nations of the world.

The fifth blessing is that Israel had received “the worship.” “Worship” refers to the entire system of temple worship under the law with its sacrifices, priesthood, ceremony, and principles of atonement, which clearly pointed to the final, atoning sacrifice of the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, the people of Israel were given the path to approaching the very presence of God.

The sixth blessing Paul mentions here in Romans 9:4 is “the promises.” These promises are the prophetic truths about the coming Messiah, beginning in Genesis 3:15 in the garden of Eden. These prophetic truths were fulfilled in Jesus.

Seventh, Israel had the blessing of a godly heritage. Paul writes in verse 5, “To them belong the patriarchs.” These are men of faith like Abraham, Moses, and David, who demonstrated great faith in God.

Now Paul moves to the climax of blessings with number 8: “From their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” The Messiah has come from the Jewish nation. Christ, the Anointed One, had Jewish blood flowing through His veins. Jesus is a Jew!

And notice what Paul does here. He just starts to celebrate with hallelujahs and hoorays for this greatest of blessings, Jesus the Christ—the Anointed One, the Messiah!

Paul writes his hallelujah here at the end of verse 5: “Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Beloved, this is one of the clearest, most irrefutable statements in all of Scripture regarding the deity of Christ: “Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.”

Now, let me wrap up our study with two observations. First, it is possible to have the right amount of theology when sharing the gospel with others, without having the right amount of sympathy.

What about those lost people in your life? You do not build a bridge to them with knowledge; you build it with love. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers that if you understand all mysteries and have all knowledge yet you are without love, you are just a loud cymbal—all people hear is just a bunch of noise (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Second, it is possible to experience spiritual privileges and miss having a personal Savior. This was the case with Israel. Think for a moment: do you know about Christ today? That is a wonderful privilege. But what have you done with Him? Have you come to know personally that Jesus Christ is God, blessed forever?

I saw a bumper sticker some time ago that read, “Try Jesus.” Too many people are doing just that—giving Jesus a try. My friend, you do not try Jesus. There is no such thing as trying Jesus. You do not try Him; you trust in Him! Why? Because Jesus Christ is God over all, blessed forever and ever.

Now if you are a Christian, you have immeasurable, eternal blessings from God. It is possible to take them for granted. Maybe you are demanding that He give you something you want; maybe even today you are beginning to wander away from the Lord because He does not seem to be delivering what you desire.

Even though your heart might be heavy with some burden right now, will you, by faith in your Savior, stop and thank Him for what He has given you and trust His wisdom for what He has not given you? Stop and enter into the hallelujah of Paul, and say with him, “My Lord Jesus Christ is over all things. He is God blessed forever and ever and ever and ever. Amen.”

[1] Adapted from Craig Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations (Baker Books, 1998), 50.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 3 (Baker Book House, 1993), p. 1027

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