Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Romans 10:1
If there was ever a man who had reason to be bitter against his kinsmen, it was Paul. Without a doubt, his very kinsmen constituted the biggest opponents to his evangelistic ministry.
Many times in the book of Acts he came face to face in confrontation with unbelieving Jews, who out of envy stirred up riots in cities where gentiles in their numbers gladly received the good news of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet this great apostle does the most unusual thing. Instead of being bitter against them, he prayed for them!
Earlier on in the previous chapter—Romans 9:1—3 – he had revealed his heart for his brethren the Jews in very moving words. His own kinsmen whom he loved had largely rejected the Gospel and were outside the Kingdom. Moved with compassion, the Apostle lamented their rejection of God’s provision of Salvation in Christ Jesus and wished that he would be accursed, so that they might be saved in his stead. Clearly, Paul’s anguish is almost contagious in the graphical way in which he expresses his deep longing for the salvation of his kinsmen the Jews.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Have you ever felt like you were at your wits end in desperation over a loved one who persistently turns a deaf ear to the Gospel? How do we react to people who are close to us who are not saved?
If you have experienced anything close to what is described above, it is comforting to know that you are not alone. This is the exact situation which occasioned Paul’s writing our opening verse. The good news is that the inspired Apostle shows us the way to reach out to unbelieving persons, especially those who are close to us. Let’s see what we can glean from his example.
Pray For Them
Paul had a deep longing and desire for the salvation of the Jews, but it didn’t end at that – he prayed for them. The role of prayer in soul winning cannot be over emphasized. It is only God who can save a lost soul. Therefore it is crucial we engage in prayer on behalf of loved ones who don’t know the Lord. Scripture teaches us that Satan as the god of this world holds captive all who are not in Christ, causing them to walk after the course of this world, after his dictates (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Furthermore, the scriptures reveal that Satan blinds the minds of the unsaved, keeping them from seeing the light of the Gospel which leads to salvation:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2Corinthians 4:3-4).
This is why we need to pray for the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of all who are not saved. Until they are set free from Satan’s clutches and the veil removed from their hearts and minds, they cannot be saved.
Patiently Win Them
Paul’s teaching in 1Corinthians 2:14 provides tremendous insight into evangelism, particularly to those close to us. He writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Paul here draws our attention to the fact that conversion is a spiritual battle and needs to be approached as such. He, like all the Biblical writers, rightly diagnosed the state of the mind of the unsaved when he said they are unable to understand spiritual things, because spiritual things are spiritually discerned. This means it doesn’t take great brains to understand and believe the gospel; it takes the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We need to therefore patiently explain the Gospel to those we reach out to, trusting that God through the Holy Spirit will grant them understanding. Katherine Hankey aptly wrote in her hymn:
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child, for I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Every good parent will agree that it takes lot of patience, with gentleness to communicate effectively to children. This is the principle that is conveyed here.
A careful study of Paul’s approach from the entire book of Romans will further reveal that one needs to guard against their emotions when evangelising loved ones. Regardless of the love we have for them, our loved ones cannot come to Christ because of the reciprocal love they have for us; for then their conversion would not be genuine. They need to believe the Gospel from the heart in order to be set free from sin (Romans 6:17-18).
Too often, many Christian parents make the mistake of thinking their children should naturally grow up to become Christians. But this notion is erroneous and one that is not supported by the scriptures. One’s faith cannot be transferred to their offspring, nor forced on them; for that will only lead to rebellion and resentment. True Christian faith is not produced by either of these. Instead, parents need to gently hold their hand and show their children the way of the Lord; and pray for their hearts to be opened to the truth of the Gospel, just as we read of Lydia of Thyatira, the first convert in Asia whose heart God opened to believe when she heard the gospel (Acts 16:14).
Like Paul, all of us who desire for the salvation of the lost, especially of those close to us, will do well to take a cue from his example. Once we have done our part in faithfully presenting the Gospel to them, we simply have to leave the results to God, and trust Him to bring about the conviction in their hearts that will lead to repentance and salvation.