by Harry Banks, June 13, 2017: This Sabbath at In His Steps Community Fellowship we arrived at Romans chapter 9. We had just spent the past two or three weeks strolling through the exaltation and unbreakable confidence of the last part of Romans 8.
Romans 8 – God’s Love
You know, the part where Paul rhapsodizes on the love of God for us….
“37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)
Romans 9 – Paul Experiences Anguish for His People
Anyway, here we are starting Chapter 9 and there is Paul saying….
“1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race” (NIV).
At first I didn’t get why he had to say he wasn’t lying, and why the Holy Spirit was involved…
Then he started easing into his announcement by talking about his sorrow and anguish…
Then…. “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ….”
What!!! “…cursed and cut off…” Whoa! What are you sayin’, Paul!?!?
We paused and listened again to the words…. I could feel Paul’s body responding viscerally to his anguish and sorrow….
It reminded me of C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, where he observes, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. … The same fluttering in the stomach, the restlessness…” (pg. 7).
Which got me to thinking about Luke 10 and the Samaritan parable…. Remember the guy that got beat up and left along the Jericho road…. A while back I noticed that the Samaritan, whom the Jews detested, is characterized as having “compassion.”
Did you know Jesus is the only other person described with that kind of “compassion”?
Word Study Construction Zone Ahead
(Warning: word study ahead – sorry, but I didn’t see an English equivalent)
Body Sensation Words
I happened to notice that the word underneath “compassion” is…
Hang on… take a deep breath… here we go…
(OK, just fake it and give it your best shot) σπλαγχνίζομαι,
and if you spelled it with our alphabet it would look like this: splagchnizomai
It doesn’t exactly look like “compassion,” does it? It only occurs 12 times in the whole New Testament…
An Odd Pattern
I thought, “That’s odd.” With the help of these new Bible online tools, only a click or two and there were all 12 verses… Hmm… Most of them referred to how Jesus felt about crowds or people he encountered, or described characters in his parables. Never did it refer to a feeling that any of the disciples felt toward anyone.
Hmmm… So this splagchnizomai stuff must be kind of special…
So I dug a little deeper… another click or two brought me to a note about the Strong’s Number 4697… (you remember James Strong, who published The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible in 1860, with an index to 8,674 Hebrew root words, and 5,624 Greek root words)
The Strong’s number assigned to this search was 4697 for splagchnizomai.
In Word-Studies there is an entry: 4697 splagxnízomai – “from splanxna, ‘the inward parts,’ especially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. These gradually came to denote the seat of the affections” (WS, 111).
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament offers “to be moved as to one’s bowels”;
New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible says “to be moved in the inward parts”
“inward parts,” “nobler entrails,” “one’s bowels”…
I’ve often puzzled over these visceral references not only in the Greek but in the Hebrew–these references to emotions and feelings which are experienced in the body sensations. Sometimes I think our Western rational language misses the “gut” reaction these ancient words refer to. I also find that my “body sensation” vocabulary is fairly limited, and I feel I don’t really “know” what the word is describing as a body sensation that I have personally experienced.
Less Visceral Compassion (at least in my mind)
In contrast, our English version of “compassion” comes out like this…
Merriam-Webster defines compassion with…
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
Digging under compassion there is this…
Middle English, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compassion-, compassio, from compati to sympathize, from Latin com- + pati to bear, suffer
End of Word Study Construction Zone
(you may now resume speed)
By the time I got done looking at these references, I ended up thinking that the Greek word had more “guts”;
and the English translation, “compassion,” while it is noble and sensitive, is more cerebral and has less whole body engagement.
Sorry for all that detail but the bottom line is…
Caring from the Gut
It appears that Jesus experienced a deeper, “gut” passion of care that moves past our English “compassion” idea of “sympathy.” And the whole-body, deep, gut-level, care for his creation is unique to Jesus, and not necessarily a natural characteristic of those who need redemption. Not even his disciples were ever described with that word.
Compassion and Eternal Life
A glance back at Luke 10: the young lawyer’s original question was about, something… as important as… Ready…
…and ends up with a focus on instruction to engage at a gut level in our care for fellow human beings.
Gut Level Care for Humanity May Not Be Optional (or denominational)
Which makes one wonder if we really can afford to ignore the Luke 10 instruction to “go and do likewise,” especially when you remember the sheep and goat scene of Matthew 25. Remember… cups of water, visits in prison…
I once heard of a young man who was riding on a train and survived a near-death experience. A bomb exploded in the luggage rack above his head… He said, “Death is non-denominational.”
When I look at the Samaritan story, the sheep and goats parable… It almost makes one think that God’s determination to save his creation is non-denominational as well. (OK, so denominations can give structure and focus to the redemptive mission. This is not meant as a case for non-denominationalism, but rather as a call to see beyond our denominational walls, and see ourselves as part of the humanity in need of redemption; and then bear a Spirit-filled witness to that redemption at a human level.)
So the trick question is… If we use our preoccupation with policy, or denominational branding, to avoid changing lanes and stopping on the Jericho road to render assistance… Are we putting our eternal life aspirations at risk? Just thought I’d ask…
Back to Romans Chapter 9
Remember Paul… He was saying he had great sorrow and anguish of heart for his people… And when you hear the echo of 1 Corinthians 13, where he discards all those big official churchy performances as nothing… and he says it all boils down to love…
When I think of all that, I can feel Paul’s “fluttering in the stomach” as he agonizes over the condition of his people.
The Sermon I’ve Never Heard
HMS Richards used to talk about sitting on his bed reading through his Bible to “recharge his batteries” and as he would read, he said, verses would call out to him, “Preach me! Preach me!” So when I ran across this passage where Paul so vividly expresses his passion for his people… I found myself wondering why this verse had not flagged down some preacher in my past and insisted, “Preach me!”
Which brings me to the sermon I have never heard…
I have never ever heard a pastor, lay leader, conference, union, or General Conference official preach about Paul’s wish that he were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his people. I have never heard church leadership so Spirit-filled (don’t forget the introductory verse) that they wished so desperately they could sacrifice for the benefit of their people.
Somehow, corporate and political leadership seems to be offered as a substitute for Spirit-filled, gut-wrenching passion to save, even at high personal risk.
Every time we talk like this at In His Steps, Larry starts reciting Philippians 2.
“3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (NIV)
I’m just wondering who will pick up Paul’s chapter 9 introduction and make it his or her life sermon.
“1b …I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people.” (NIV)
This sermon cannot be an intellectual exercise. This sermon will have to be a Spirit-filled sermon from the “gut”… Maybe that’s why I have never heard this sermon…
But I’m listening…
Dr. Harry Banks lives in Willow, Alaska, and is a faculty member at the University of Alaska and board member for Alaska Family Services. A life-long Adventist, he also participates in an informal, non-denominational congregation that meets on Saturdays.