If God has predestined some to eternal life, does prayer have value? If God is sovereign what is the purpose of prayer? In this section Paul teaches that prayer is a sacred ordained by God in the salvation of the lost. May He stir our hearts in passionate intercession for precious souls!
God’s Plan For Israel
(g) Paul’s Prayer For Israel
In ch9 Paul has principally taught that the Jews have rejected Christ and that they are morally responsible for their actions. He is comforted by the knowledge that God is sovereign and has allowed this to happen, and in so doing has brought the Gentiles to faith. Paul is furthermore consoled by the hope that the God who chose Israel has a future planned for his ancient people. These various strands of thought come into focus as we come to Chapter 10.
It is truly significant that the 3 three chapters which deal with God’s plan for Israel each commence with an expression of Paul’s great burden for his countrymen. Despite Jewish unbelief the Apostle never gave up praying for and loving their souls. Here in Ch.10 he commences with prayer immediately after stating that the Jews had stumbled over Christ, the chief cornerstone. Notice carefully that his belief in God’s sovereignty never prevented him having a desire for Jewish souls.
John Murray on this point wrote:
“We violate the order of human thought and trespass the boundary between God’s prerogative and man’s when the truth of God’s sovereign counsel constrains despair or abandonment of concern for the eternal interests of men.”
God chooses some, he passes others by, he permits men to continue in their sin, but this never negates our duty to love, to pray, to seek, and to evangelise.
George Muller understood this when he prayed for two men for 60 years . When asked about his persistence he replied,
“Do you think God would have kept me praying all these years if he did not intend to save them.”
One was converted at one of his last services and the other a year after Muller’s death. In the mysteries of Providence God executes his will through a people who seize their responsibility to pray for souls.
Therefore Hudson Taylor said:
“that it is possible to move men, through God, by prayer alone.”
As well as ordaining the end God also ordains the means whereby men are saved: Prayer and Preaching. In Ch.10 we observe the means clearly as Paul writes about faith, missionary endeavour and the love of God for sinners. It is appropriate that this chapter which deals with the means whereby God will save Israel should begin with prayer. What does he pray for?
1: Salvation for Israel
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
Of all the petitions we can offer for our families, our friends, our society, our nation and our world there is nothing as important as salvation. This is highest of all prayers. Certainly there are other topics we ought to bring into our prayers such as our material well being (“give us this day our daily bread”) and religious liberty (I Timothy 2:1-2). Christ, however, said that a human being will be the loser if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul. Therefore on this account we must focus on the souls of men and women in our petitions.
2: Knowledge for Israel
For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
The v2 gives us an insight into the means which God uses to save those that are lost. The Jewish people had a zeal which was not according to knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge here is “epignosis” which is knowledge with godliness or understanding. The word is not “gnosis” which means factual or head knowledge. Knowing the facts and understanding the facts are quite different. While knowing the theory is an important basis in any discipline that knowledge is useless without the ability to apply the theory in a practical sense. The Jewish people had a zeal but they did not have the full understanding and this is where they fell short. Therefore Paul prayed that they might receive the full understanding of the Gospel. Christianity is principally a teaching religion. We win people by teaching and preaching. This is the only means of evangelism recognised in the New Testament. We must remember this in an age when new and novel methods are being introduced into Church circles to “connect” with people and attract numbers.
3: Righteousness for Israel
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
The final aspect of Paul’s prayer relates to the great deficit in the Jewish faith and indeed in mankind generally. The human race is essentially unrighteous. Yet the term righteousness must be understood because the Jews and indeed many in our own society consider themselves to be righteous. In our society righteousness is an ethical virtue. Biblical teaching is quite different, however. Righteousness has nothing to with what we do, it has everything to do with our legal standing with God. Leon Morris wrote
“The man who is ultimately righteous is the one who is acquitted when tried at the bar of God’s justice”.
When we pray for souls we must pray that they might be justified, that they might be made righteous through faith in Christ in Christ alone. A full understanding of the Gospel is required if we are to pray intelligently for souls. In so doing Paul brings us back to his theme, “Justification by Faith Alone” which he further expounds in the following verses.