In Romans 9:3 Paul writes, “For my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters.* I would be willing to be forever cursed – cut off from Christ – if that would save them.” Paul loved his fellow country folk that much.
But willing to trade in his eternity for them? Paul must have meant what he said, though, because of the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” he felt seeing his fellow Jews treat their God privileged status like dirt (verses 2, 4-5).
But where did such depth of feeling and love for those thick-headed, rebellious, opportunity rejecting life wasters come from? It certainly didn’t come from within Paul’s naturally loving personality, because he was anything but loving. In today’s terms he’d more likely be labelled a psychopath, because he was “obsessed” with hunting down Christians and having them thrown in prison where he tried “to force them to blaspheme,” Acts 26:10-11. And in 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul admits he was “a persecutor and a violent man,” incapable of any feeling or sympathy for the families and lives he’d destroyed.
But in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 he writes: “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
That’s a dramatic change. And it wasn’t created by therapy, medication or courses in anger management. It was purely because, in Paul’s own words, “Christ Jesus our Lord treated me with undeserved grace and greatly blessed my life with faith and love just like his own,” 1 Timothy 1:14.
Paul knew exactly what had happened to him. He’d been supernaturally transformed into the likeness of Christ himself. No wonder, then, that he, Paul, had such a depth of love and feeling for his fellow Jews. It had all come from God.
Paul used the analogy back in Romans 9:21 of being in the hands of a master potter transforming a mere lump of clay into an object of practical use or beauty. But Paul went further than that in verses 22-23, because he knew why God had supernaturally transferred him: it was to “make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy.”
It was to show Paul the “riches” of God, in the depth of feeling and love God had for undeserving humans like himself. Which helped Paul realize that God was now extending that same mercy and deeply heartfelt love of his to supernaturally transform undeserving non-Jews too, verse 24, because in God’s eyes we Gentiles are his “loved ones” as well.
Is it any surprise, then, that we too, in coming to realize the depth of God’s love and feeling for us, find such love and feeling for our fellow humans growing in us as well? It happened to Paul, and now through the Holy Spirit transforming us into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) it’s happening to us.
Which probably means, again like Paul, that we’ll feel “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” at times too, because of the hurt our fellow humans are suffering for not seeing the depth of God’s love and feeling for them.
God hurts for them, and the more we become like him the more we hurt for them too. Instead of judging and condemning people for their God-rejecting behaviour, we deeply feel for them, therefore, because the same potter is at work in us, supernaturally transforming our eyes now into seeing people as he sees them.
And like Paul it feels overwhelming at times, when we see so much hurt in the world and in our families, and we feel it so much more now too. But there’s also joy in it, just as Jesus, “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), “endured the cross with joy” (Hebrews 12:2), knowing the Holy Spirit would be supernaturally transforming all sorts of thick-headed, rebellious, God rejecting life wasters into his likeness in the future.
And the change in people would be as dramatic as it was in Paul, when not only would they, like us, realize God’s love and feeling for them personally, but deeply as well. Such are the “riches of God’s glory” at work “in the objects of his mercy.”