To them belonged the covenants.  Paul uses the plural word, because there was more than one covenant involved with Israel, and certain members of that family.  The promise that all nations would be blessed in him was given to Abraham, the great patriarch of the clan.  The old covenant, based upon the Ten Commandments, was given to Israel at Mount Sinai.  God’s covenant with David, that He would from his seed raise up Christ to sit on his throne, came through the nation of Israel.  More than that, the promise of the new covenant, in which God would wash away the filthiness and idols of His people and give them new hearts, upon which was written His law; that everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David, was given to the people of Israel through their prophets.  This was a great privilege indeed!

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The giving of the law, already mentioned, was given to them.  This law was so great as to be the envy of other nations, according to the Lawgiver Himself.  To have the word of God in their midst, with His commandments and ordinances, His specific instructions for daily living, for community affairs, and for worship, was an honor which Israel constantly and tragically undervalued.  But it was to the seed of Abraham alone that God appeared in terrible majesty to give His law, and this must ever be enumerated as among their greatest privileges.

 

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The people of whom Paul spoke he thus described: they were Israelites, those of the stock of Abraham, the same nation and family as himself.  He then proceeds to enumerate their privileges, which were many and impressive, to all who have a spiritual mind and spiritual tastes.  To them pertained the adoption, a word that probably refers back to God’s words to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”  God had chosen the Hebrews out of all the nations of the world to be His own peculiar people, His own family, His children.  To none other did this privilege belong, but to Israel alone.

To them also belonged “the glory.”  This goes a step further, and deeper, for “the glory” here must refer to the great manifestations of glory which God had shown to His people.  To Israel alone did God reveal Himself in great majesty and terrors to give them His law; to Israel alone did the Shekinah glory appear, and rest upon the tabernacle, and then later the temple.  Only Israel enjoyed the presence of God in their midst, and even saw visible outbreakings of it.  Truly, this is a privilege whose value would be hard to overstate.

Paul’s next words are incredible, almost beyond belief.  They form one of the most shocking utterances in holy scripture, for the words themselves seem terrible beyond description.  Paul says that he could wish that himself were accursed from Christ in order that his kinsmen according to the flesh might be saved.  The mind reels at the boldness and fervency of the statement, and most of us must readily confess that we have never felt quite so deep an evangelical fervor as the apostle experienced for his kinsmen.  There is only one similar statement in all the word of God, and that was uttered by Moses, during the event of the golden calf, when God threatened judgment against His people.  That great man of God pleaded with the Lord to forgive their sin, and added, “And if not—blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” The requests seem very similar, a prayer that they themselves might be damned in the stead of their kinsmen.  Truly, no people could have greater friends to their souls than Moses or the apostle Paul.

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It is thought by many that the initial impression of Paul’s words is slightly misleading, and that he is not genuinely saying that he was willing to be damned if it might effect the salvation of his kinsmen.  Some think that he is saying this was his attitude when he was still an unbeliever and enemy of Christ, that he would have willingly have traded his own soul for the welfare of his kinsmen.  This seems to me far-fetched and utterly unwarranted by the context.  Others think he is speaking hyperbolically of his great desire for the salvation of his kinsmen, and yet others think that he is saying that his fervor for their salvation was so great that he almost came to the point where he would have asked for his own damnation in exchange for the salvation of his nation.  This last seems the most plausible to me of all interpretations which seem to mitigate the bluntness of the statement.  Indeed, I do not think Paul’s words at all infer that he had asked God to damn him if only He would save Israel; the great apostle knew that was a thing impossible.  Yet, in spite of all that has been said and written, it is difficult for me to escape the impression that the apostle is saying that, if it were possible, he would have exchanged his interest in Christ for the salvation of his people.  It is a thing hard to be understood or believed, when we consider what the scriptures say about hell and the state of the damned, and when we remember those ringing words of our Lord, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Yet, it appears to me that this is indeed the apostle’s meaning.  It makes this one of the most overwhelming passages in all the Bible, and one which makes me and doubtless many other Christians ashamed of our comparative lack of spiritual desire for the salvation of others.

 

Preached Unto the Gentiles

In I Timothy 3:16, Paul speaks of “the mystery of godliness,” and proceeds to mention several items central to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  One of those items which I think we too often overlook is that Christ was “preached unto the Gentiles.”  A careful study of the book of Acts shows us how difficult it was, in spite of the plain command of Christ, for the early Jewish church to realize this was an important part of their marching orders.  In the event, however, the preaching of Christ unto the Gentiles brought about an unimaginable expansion of the religion of Christ.

This sermon considers “preached unto the Gentiles” under three heads: that the going out of the gospel to the Gentiles was the subject of prophecy, that it was part of God’s eternal plan, and finally that the success of the gospel in the Gentile world is one of the strongest evidences of the supernatural power behind the Christian religion.

Having concluded his brilliant and impregnable argument concerning the security of the believer in Christ, the apostle Paul turns now to a different subject, and one with which he is affected most deeply.  It probably would be incorrect to say that it is an entire departure from the theme of the other chapters, for many of the subjects that come up in this new section (chapters 9 through 11) were touched upon in the preceding pages of the epistle; the unbelief of the Jews, election, the spread of God’s message of grace to the Gentiles, etc.

With respect to connecting it to what has gone before, I think that the apostle is about the business of answering questions and objections, which is one of the consistent methods he employed in penning this letter.  Having read and understood his doctrine concerning the perfect security that the believer in Christ enjoys, those well acquainted with the scriptures, the Jews in particular, would be led to ask, “But what of Israel?  We are God’s people, bound to Him in covenant, and yet it appears many Jews will be cast off because they are rejecting Christ.  What then becomes of God’s election, God’s faithfulness, the security that you say the chosen of God enjoy in Him?”  This, I think, helps to explain at least partially why the apostle enters into this lengthy discussion of the unbelief of the Jews, the role of Jew and Gentile in God’s economy of salvation, and the future of God’s dealings with the sons of men.

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The personal importance of this subject to the apostle Paul is evident from the very beginning, for he affirms in the strongest language the deep grief he was experiencing due to the unbelief of his kinsmen.  He says, perhaps by way of vow or affirmation, that he is saying the truth, and saying it “in Christ,” which is an absolute confirmation that what he is about to utter is unvarnished truth.  He adds also, “I lie not,” and then extends it yet one step farther with the words, “My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.”  Clearly, considering the he found it necessary to affirm the truthfulness of what he was about to say three times, this must have been a subject upon which Paul felt most deeply.  Beyond that, it probably indicates that there was talk abroad among the Jews that Paul was a traitor to his own people, and no longer cared what befell them, because most of his time and energy was now devoted to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.  By the most solemn utterances possible, Paul wants all Israelites to know that there is not a grain of truth in such accusations, but that he is as loyal and patriotic as any Jew could possibly be, and yearns with the greatest fervor for their redemption.

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All of this was concerning the great heaviness and continual sorrow felt in his heart, over the lost estate of the vast majority of his fellow Israelites.  Without question, the great application to be made for us is, do we feel any similar grief and longing for the salvation of those bound to us by ties of blood, and are we willing to pray and labor for their salvation?

 

Sexual Abominations

Contrary to the dangerous doctrine abroad today, that we should unhitch our faith from the Old Testament scriptures, the New Testament affirms the moral code set forth in the law of Moses.  Carefully considered, the sexual ethic proclaimed by Christ and the apostles is precisely that set forth in the law of Moses.

Therefore, in teaching upon the 7th Commandment, and dealing with the subject of sexual abominations, I chose to go through Leviticus 18, which is the most comprehensive list of such transgressions to be found anywhere in the scriptures.  Each category mentioned in the chapter is dealt with, with particular emphasis being placed upon homosexuality, since it is beyond doubt the most celebrated sin of our age.  The true Christian, knowing the damning power of sin, must be willing to lose liberty or even life (like John the Baptist) as the penalty for denouncing these soul-destroying sins, and calling the practicers of them to repentance.  That is the object of this message.

Nothing in the heights above, nor in the depths beneath, can affect our salvation, nor cause us to lose it.  Most likely, Paul is saying that there is nothing unknown to man in the heights of heaven, or in the depths of the earth, which shall suddenly appear to accomplish the ruin of our souls.  Nothing discovered by astronauts in outer space, nor lurking in caves or the watery depths, can accomplish our ruin, for they too are under the absolute governance of Him Who loves us.

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Almost as if he was afraid he had forgotten to mention anything else, Paul adds, “nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If anything else not covered in Paul’s two lists may appear to strike terror in the hearts of one of God’s children that he may be divided from the love and salvation of Christ, Paul wants him to know that the fear is groundless.  Our salvation is perfect, it is secure, and nothing, including ourselves, nothing in time or eternity, nothing in earth or heaven, can separate us from the perfect salvation purposed by God in eternity and wrought out in time by Jesus Christ.