1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
3 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.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
1901 ASV Translation:
1 Brethren, my heart's desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
4 For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth.
I. Paul's Desire For His Kinsmen According to the Flesh.
A. The "desire".
1. The word so translated indicates a certain emotional commitment to something that would be very desirable to the person in view (see the article in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). It is used by Paul in the heavily theolgical opening verses of Ephesians to indicate what it is in the background that causes God to "predestine" (1:5) and to "make known" (1:9). That deliberate predetermination is a result of God's "good pleasure" shows that there is some strength to the "desire". He also used it in Philippians 2:13 in his declaration that God works "in" people to "will" and to "do" His "desires". Thus, we can conclude that Paul is not dealing with a casual attitude.
2. The "desire" is said to be "emphatically of my heart". My use of "emphatically" is rooted in a Greek word that remains untranslated in this text that is called by the Logos Library System "an emphatic particle" that "shows affirmation or concession". It shows up sometimes as "indeed". Paul is deliberately pulling back the curtain that typically covers the heart so that others cannot see what is in it. He, for some reason, wishes for his "brethren" to be very clear on what his attitude is toward the Jews.
a. In a sense, this declaration is redundant. Paul had already said in 9:1-3 that he was willing to be accursed from Christ for the sake of his kinsmen. This is no small claim (as evidenced by his insistence on his truth-telling). It is such a claim as to make most people doubt it. Thus, for Paul to later say "the desire that is emphatically of my heart" is, of necessity, lesser, and in this sense redundant and less impressive.
b. However, readers are easily led astray from what they read and this is even more the case when what they read is not easily swallowed. Thus, to make sure that his readers are still plugged into the fact that nothing he writes is to be construed as coming out of a person whose heart is antagonized by those about whom he writes, he reiterates his attitude, albeit in a lesser form. The point of doing this is one: his doctrine, which does not put Israel in a good light in any sense, is "truth", not propaganda generated by antagonism.
c. That the desire is attributed to his "heart" signals that it is a resident part of his settled value system. All of us are driven by the things we value so that Paul's declaration that the desire "of his heart" signals a motivating element of both his doctrine and his actions.
B. The "prayer".
1. The word translated "prayer" is one of several found in the New Testament. Its meaning is easily seen in the Lukan record of Gabriel's promise to Zacharias that that for which he had "prayed" for years was about to be fulfilled. This is no small petition. It is a settled longing evidenced by a regular approach to God to see it fulfilled.
2. The "prayer" is exactly what we would expect after the words regarding the "desire". What does one do with an overwhelming "desire"? If he has an ounce of brains, he takes it to God. Given the fact that "the God" is a reference that has "power" as its most basic attribute, this is exactly where men of good sense take their powerful desires.
3. The "prayer" has an objective: "salvation". That the vast majority of Paul's kinsmen were not saved raises this question: why would Paul utter a prayer that his own doctrine seemed to undercut? He is the one who quoted the Old Testament that "even if Israel grew so that the number of them was like unto the number of grains of sand at the seashore, it would only be a remnant that would be saved" (9:27). It was his use of the Old Testament declaration that God put a stumbling stone in Zion so that many, if not most, of his kinsmen would stumble over it so as to not be saved. Do his declarations undercut his desire and prayer? The answer is found in 11:26 ("all Israel shall be saved"). Paul's prayer was necessarily generic; he did not even know the vast majority of his kinsmen. Thus, it was not the individuals that captured his heart, but the nation itself. And it was an integral aspect of his theology that God has a plan for the nation and that plan is for "all Israel to be saved". Here we fall back to Paul's earlier declaration that "not all who are of Israel, are 'Israel'" (9:6). Paul was not burdened to pray for a result that was to be denied by his "God". He was, rather, praying for the eventual outcome that fit "the good pleasure of His will" (Ephesians 1:5).
a. In regard to "prayer" for what God has declared will be, there is this question: what is the point of asking God to do what He has already said He is going to do?
b. The answer may well be that we need to adjust our thinking about "prayer". Humanity tends in the direction of thinking that "prayer" is a form of "taking control of the agenda". This notion is even advanced to some degree by the words of Jesus in Mark 11:24, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." However, not even Jesus, by praying, was able to "get the Father" to remove the cup from Him. So, most of us recognize that there are some built-in boundaries to those words of Mark 11. Even John, when he wrote about "...whatsoever we ask, we know that we have..." (1 John 5:15) qualified his words with "...if we ask anything according to His will..." (1 John 5:14). Thus, if we are willing to adjust our thinking about prayer to a notion that is not related to "taking control of the agenda", we might understand a bit more clearly. This different notion is this: "prayer" is for ourgood, not God'sworks. It is by prayer that we are compelled to give thought to what He has said. And if we give thought to what He has said, we are "corrected" in whatever matter it is wherein we might want something that is not "according to His will". In other words, "prayer" is about getting our ducks in a row, not directing God to get His in a row. Note what Jesus said to the disciples at the very time when He was not getting the Father to "remove the cup": "...pray that ye enter not into temptation..." (Matthew 26:41). Here He revealed that "prayer" keeps us sensitive to God's desires and functions as a medium of the strength to pursue them. The fact is, there is nothing very significant about most of the "things" for which we pray. The really significant issue is whether we find grace sufficient to deal with the way things happen (Note Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). In other words, it is not our circumstances that are in serious need of change; it is our attitudes.
1) In the light of this "new notion", there is a significant danger: thoughtlessness in prayer. If the attitude we take is that "prayer" is "what we do" -- so that "prayer" becomes a "discipline" of the Christian life -- we will find ourselves simply "praying" ... thoughtlessly uttering words into the air. This totally subverts the point of prayer.
2) If we buy into this "new notion", we will begin to see "prayer" in the light of "real conversation" with God in which we give some thought to what it is that we are saying to Him Who listens.