As Christ-followers, we are obligated to spread the gospel – it’s not a choice, it’s a command. But this is not a command that we should react to as if someone had just told us to go scrub the toilets … this is a command we should react to with passion.
We see this in Romans 10:1 and Romans 9:1-4, which read, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”
Paul didn’t treat this command casually … he passionately wanted to share the gospel with the lost. We see four aspects to his passion:
First, it was his heart’s desire. This isn’t talking about a “Sure, I want people to come to know the Lord” attitude. This isn’t a casual wish that you make over your birthday cake before you blow out the candles. This is Paul’s single-most fervent desire in his heart. The thing that drove him to get up in the morning and gave purpose to every action. The thing he dreamed about. The thing he wanted more than anything else in the world.
Second, it was his prayer to God. You get an image here of Paul yearning for those who have not received Jesus, on his knees praying his heart out to God for their salvation. Our heart’s desire will always come out in our prayers, so it can be a good exercise to listen to yourself praying … what are your requests? What do you focus on? What do you bring up most frequently? Why might you find it difficult to imitate Paul in unceasing prayer for the lost?
Third, it caused him great sorrow and unceasing anguish. Go back to that picture of Paul. He’s on his knees praying his heart out … and he’s crying. Not just a few tears slipping down his cheeks … he’s sobbing, and his heart is breaking. You can imagine him even crossing his arms over his chest, trying to control the gut-wrenching sobs that are wracking his body. I have to stop and tell you that this image puts me to shame. Do I feel that way about the lost? Except for occasional moments, I don’t think I do … but I should. This image of Paul shows us clearly his tenderness of heart. You don’t cry for someone else unless you really care about them.
Finally, it made him wish that he himself were cursed for their sake. This, beyond the other points, shakes me to the core. Paul is literally saying that he wishes he could go to hell so that other people might be spared that fate. He states that he would be willing to be separated from God and tormented forever, if only the lost could be saved.
Do I love people that much? Could I echo Paul’s words? I think I would be hard-pressed to do so … which shows me that I still have a long way to go in learning to really love the way Jesus loves us.
Because that is, essentially, what Paul is saying here. He is indicating that he shares Christ’s love for the lost, to some measure of the degree that Christ infinitely loves us. He knows he can’t suffer for anyone else … but Someone else did. Christ did exactly that: took the punishment so that we could be saved. Paul was so close to Christ’s heart that his heart beat in the same pattern – the pattern of self-sacrificing, self-less love for the lost.
Consider today: how do we grow in this kind of love? What can we do to become more like Paul in this matter, as he was like Christ?