ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
My Heart's Desire
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" -Romans 10:1
As we read the words to our text we receive great insight into the very heart of this beloved apostle. In this verse of scripture Paul bears his soul unto his brethren at Rome. Paul's desire was that his people, the Jewish nation, could share in the salvation that he had found in Jesus Christ. I believe that this desire of the Apostle should be the heartfelt desire of every disciple of Jesus Christ: the desire to lead others to Jesus. Granted, this text does not mean that everyone is called to be an Apostle, but the desire is commendable and right, even for God's people today. As Paul was to the Jew, we should be to the Gentile: "brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved."
As we read this verse of scripture we find several prominent characteristics which typify the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Embedded within this verse we find evangelism, a true desire to reach out to others with the gospel. We also find a genuine love for God's elect, a care for the lives and souls of other children of God. We also observe a heartfelt desire to share the most wonderful thing that Paul had ever known in his life: Jesus Christ. And then we find salvation. Of course, we would find none of these if it were not for the love that Paul had for his Lord and Master.
If there has ever been an evangelist in the New Testament church, Paul was it. There was a fire shut up in his bones to spread the message of Jesus Christ everywhere and to everyone who would listen. We find Paul disputing "in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him" Acts 17:17. Any where and any place was fair game to Paul. No one could tell him "don't talk Bible tonight". His many journeys bear witness to his "hearts desire" and his success evidences his evangelical gift. He followed Jesus and became a fisher of men.
According to the New Testament, evangelism is a gift. When Christ "ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." These gifts were different and numerous. "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers -Eph 4:11. Paul had received several of these gifts. He was "appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" -2 Tim. 1:11. Paul was keenly aware of the gift of evangelism and its necessary role in the work of the ministry. It was Paul who instructed Timothy to "watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry" -2 Tim. 4:5.
We find another evangelist recorded in the New Testament by the name of Philip. On one of Paul's journeys they "entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him"-Acts 21:8. Philip was one of the first seven deacons of the New Testament church (Acts 6:5). Philip was first a deacon, then an evangelist.
An evangelist is a person who "declares or brings glad tidings". Of course, the good tidings they bring is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. In one sense, we observe the spirit of evangelism in anyone who proclaims the message of Jesus Christ. But more specifically, the true gift of evangelism is found in one whom God has called to chart unknown territory.
As we trace the travels of the Apostle Paul we find a sprinkling of new converts and churches springing forth from his labors. On Paul's first evangelical journey, he traveled from Antioch through the regions of Selucia, Cyprus, Paphos, Perga, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. This area is known today as Turkey and the isle of Cyprus. The journey was about 1800 miles round trip by primitive travel. The weariness and suffering he endured from the elements, not to mention the persecutions from people, are a perpetual witness to Paul's 'hearts desire'.
Even though there are many who refer to these labors as Paul's 'missionary journeys', the word 'missionary' and 'mission' is not found in the Bible. Those who first spread the gospel in the very morning of the New Testament dispensation were not considered by the early church as 'missionaries'. They were called "evangelists". The scriptures are silent concerning a gift of the 'missionary'. I bring this to your attention, not to cast an undue criticism upon other Baptists, but rather to magnify the truth. It was never the intent of the Apostle Paul to populate heaven through his labors. Paul's intent was to evangelize; to spread the 'good news' of Jesus Christ and Calvary; to spread the fact that the Messiah had come; that Israel (spiritual Israel) had been delivered; that the victory was accomplished; that the captives were free, and the elect were secure. Even though this journey was a monumental task, it would be sad to think today that the only people that were going to heaven in the days of the Apostle Paul were the few people on the earth that Paul and his fellow laborers reached with the gospel; those who lived in the small country from which the gospel sprang. Indeed, the gospel did not then, nor shall it ever, penetrate every crack and crevice of this globe. Paul made it clear that the gospel brings "life and immortality to light" -II Tim 1:10. The gospel was never designed to give life. The desire of the true evangelist is not to take the crown off of Jesus and do His work. The job of the evangelist is to share the message of what Jesus has ALREADY done.
To be an evangelist does not necessarily mean that one must cross oceans and continents, although this is included in the work. Evangelism is necessary for the up building of the cause in our local assemblies. Beloved, let us never forget this. As I hope to reveal later in this article, every member of the church plays a role in this effort. Has the world robbed you of your faith? Have you begun to doubt the power of this message? When the spark to evangelize and spread this message dies away, so shall we.
I believe this gift will be found in the church until the Lord Jesus comes back to claim His own. Its importance can never be measured even though it can be confused and misunderstood. This gift begins in much the same way that any gift of the ministry begins. First comes the burden from the Lord, then comes the attempt to exercise the gift. If God is in the matter, the gift will reveal itself in time and God will bless the efforts with fresh converts. This gift is to the unconverted as the gift of the pastor teacher is to the flock. As Unger has written "the calling of the evangelist is the proclamation of the glad tidings to those who have not known them, rather than the instruction and pastoral care of those who have believed and been baptized." Without this gift, the New Testament church would have gone no further than Jerusalem. By the wisdom of God, this gift has been given to men and used to herald the gospel from town to town and from country to country. During times of persecution this gift was instrumental in the diffusion of the gospel into uncharted areas as it gave the gospel wings to fly into regions unknown.
PAUL'S LOVE FOR OTHERS
As we read the words to our text, the word 'Israel' is of great significance. It is the key which unlocks the secret of Paul's heartfelt desire: his love for his kindred. It was to these people that Paul first exercised his gift as "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues". Of course, these were the synagogues of the Jews, places that Paul was very familiar with. As Paul preached, he "increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus." Paul was a chosen vessel unto God "to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel"-Acts 9:15. It seems that it was the practice of Paul to enter into the Jewish synagogues and wait for the opportunity to be called upon to speak (Acts 13:14-16). On many of these occasions, Paul was blessed to reveal the message of Jesus Christ to many of his kindred in Israel. Even though Paul was "the apostle of the Gentiles", the book of Acts abounds with his efforts to save his people from law to grace, from bondage to Christ.
Paul's love for his kindred was not affected by their many rejections. On one occasion, "when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming". At this point, it seems that Paul had had enough of the envious Jews as "Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" -Acts 13:46. As we read this, it seems that Paul was ready to forsake the Jews altogether and preach to the Gentiles only, but then we read just a few verses down and we find once again "that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" -Acts 14:1. Paul continued to labor among his brethren. As we read the book of Acts, Paul's ministry continues to say "my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved."
It is for certain that Paul could not 'bear record' for the Gentiles, for they had none. Paul's heartfelt desire was first to his family and kindred of Israel. Paul had lived among these people all of his life. He grew up in their midst, being taught at the feet of one of their most learned teachers: Gamaliel. Paul was of "the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews." Paul could 'bear witness' that God had a people among the Jewish nation. It is very probable that Paul was well acquainted with people like Nicodemus. It is also possible that Saul of Tarsus was standing among the Pharisees as Jesus upbraided them saying "woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" The popular opinion of much of the religious world today is that every Jew is a child of God. But Paul made it clear in the ninth chapter of the Roman letter that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel". That means that they are not all spiritual Israel which are of the natural family of Israel. The spiritual Jew, the family of God, is not born after the flesh, the seed of Abraham, nor are they born as a result of keeping any part of the law. The spiritual Jew is born after the spirit, the seed of Christ "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" Romans 2:28-29. The circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, is the new birth, when we are born from above. Paul's desire, was to find those lost sheep of the Jewish nation. Paul was looking for the spiritual Jew among the natural Jew, that he might lead them to Jesus Christ. This was Paul's "hearts desire".
The desire to save others is truly a reflection of Jesus; to care for the lives and souls of other people. This desire is according to the second great commandment "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" -Matthew 22:39. As we observe in the life of Paul, evangelism first begins at home, within one's own sphere of acquaintances, wherever God has placed us, and then it branches out to others. We find this pattern in many places. It was Andrew who "first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias." EVANGELISM! Andrew "brought him to Jesus". Who was the first person that Andrew brought to Jesus? It was his brother! Andrew didn't just tell Simon Peter the time and place of the meeting; he "brought" him. There is much more to evangelism than an invitation. But the point is this: his 'hearts desire' was first for his immediate family. Where else would we start? Jesus "came unto his own, and his own received him not" -John 1:11. Who would it be that you would be willing to sacrifice life and limb to save? Who would be the first person you would name to be baptized in the name of Jesus? I feel sure that most of you are thinking of a member of your family.
But what about others? Should we not be concerned with those beyond our immediate acquaintances? Does God not have others who could enjoy this blessing? I say yes! It is this desire, to find the spiritual Israelites among the Gentiles, that causes preachers to preach, to do whatever they can to reach the elect. Sharing the message of Jesus Christ is not like the child with the cookie. There is enough of Jesus to go around for every house, every church, every family, every child of God. I remember when I first opened my business. I thought that if I could put everyone else out of business that my business would thrive. I even wrote out the strategy to do just that and placed it in my files. But later, when my business was suffering and it seemed that I would lose everything that I owned, I began to think about my selfish motives. I began to think about my former attitude, how it would have been for other store owners to go home to their families and tell their wives and children that they had lost everything they had in this world. I began to pray for my competitors, pray that God would provide enough business for them as well as for me, that we could all pay our bills and make a living for our families. My point is this: God can bless every church to the harm of none and it should be the heartfelt desire of every lover of Jesus Christ, to see others share in this wonderful blessing of deliverance; to go to the meetings of our sister churches and pray that God would touch the heart of one of his children and add to the church, 'that they might be saved'. Have you tasted His goodness? If you have, wouldn't you like to see others partake of this "living bread which came down from heaven"? Should not this be OUR "hearts desire"?
A HEARTFELT DESIRE
Desire.....this word tells it all. There are many desires we may experience in this life. Some of them are carnal. Some are very dangerous. But Paul's desire is divine. It is not a carnal desire; not a selfish desire; not a desire to promote self or selfish ideas; but rather a desire to see others share the most wonderful thing that Paul had ever known or experienced in his life: salvation in Jesus. Paul had found something in his life that was so wonderful that he wanted to tell everyone. He was in love with Jesus and his "heart's desire" was that Israel would be too. The word 'desire' means "satisfaction, delight, good pleasure, or wish." As we view the commitment of this beloved man of God, his desire is reflected in his life. When we read of his labors and his sufferings, we view a man carrying out the 'delight' of his life: preaching Jesus. He received great satisfaction from this work, so much that he was willing, yea, desirous, to suffer for this cause. I feel sorry for people who preach or witness Jesus Christ out of legal bondage. Telling others about Jesus should be a pleasurable experience, a time of satisfaction and a time of delight.
Paul's desire to share the testimony of Jesus Christ was so intense that he was "in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" -II Cor. 11:23-27. If you are looking for an evangelist, you will find a man who is willing to place his life and his all on the line for the testimony of Jesus Christ. You will find a man who is willing to be punished by the very people he desires to save; you will find a reflection of Jesus.
Paul wrote "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" - Romans 9:2-3. Paul is saying "my 'hearts desire' for my brethren is so great that I am willing to swap places with them; willing to be accursed, cut off and cast out from Jesus if they could be grafted in; I am willing to die to God that they might live. This is strong language, but it is accurate. Many of the afflictions brought upon the apostle Paul were the actions of these very people, the Israelites. Paul's 'hearts desire' was more than an attitude, it was a way of life.
THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED
Some people could read this verse and think that Paul is saying that his desire is that Israel "might" go to heaven. Beloved, the eternal destiny of God's elect is not a 'might' be thing. Jesus is not a 'might be' savior! The eternal destiny of the elect is as sure as Christ for "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" -Romans 8:32-33. The eternal salvation of God's elect was finished and secured by Jesus Christ. But there is another salvation found within God's word: the salvation which is found from learning who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for his people. It is sad that many religions only preach one salvation and that particular salvation will not be enjoyed until a future time after their death. But I am happy to publish the "good news" that "THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND"; salvation which is found in Jesus Christ is enjoyed by multitudes today. How important is this salvation? Does it merely mean that we change religions? We can spend so much time trying to convince people that our eternal salvation is the work of Jesus Christ, we can forget the importance of the salvation which comes by the gospel, to learn of Jesus. The value of it can not be measured by gold or silver nor compared to the transitory pleasures of this life. For me, it has been 'marrow and fatness' in a starving world and I can say with the Psalmist "Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips" Psalm 63:4-5. I know that "the king hath brought me into his chambers". As Paul reveals his heart's desire, I can truly say that I share this desire, to see other children of God find Jesus Christ in their life.
LETTERS FROM FRIENDS
(these letters are of great encouragement to me and are full of Godly sentiment. It is for this purpose that I share them with you)
Dear Brother Sonny, I just received your last letter, and I have been greatly encouraged by the study on witness. It is certainly a subject that we have overlooked in preaching. I feel that because of the way other churches use the idea of witness we have backed off and left it alone. I am thankful that men like you, as well as others, are willing to take a bold stand for the Word of God. Many of the things you brought forth are in harmony with Elder Holders book, "James: the Battle for the Tongue". The thing that really caught my attention was the four reasons people do not witness. I fully understand those reasons, especially fear and ignorance. That hit my case. Down deep over the years I knew I was not doing what I should be doing, but I was afraid and did not know how to do those things I felt needed to be done. An example of this is family devotions. I have felt condemned because I did not do this and the reason I did not was I did not know how. I often used the excuse that I was not taught, and in some respect this is true, but, still, the responsibility was mine as the head of the house and I should have applied myself to find out how. The end result was that we watched TV and I pretended that it was family time. God be merciful to me a sinner! Is it any wonder the church is not being blessed today? Again, "thank you" for your efforts and I pray that God will continue to bless your efforts. I am excited about the prospect of a church in Malvern. -from Texas
Precious brother in Jesus Christ, Yes, blessed be the tie that binds our hearts, that through His wonderful name and purpose we are gathered together to be so near in spirit and in faith. I am so glad and thankful of your concern here (Philippines) and your desire to share your monthly publications to us. I appreciate this very much, and see it a great help to the ministry. I would like also to extend my love to the brethren (the congregation) as well as to your family. Also, I would like you to know that I am not an elder yet, but just a brother that needs to be discipled further. Lastly, I pray that the Master will bless His servant a bountiful harvest till He comes. Amen. -from the Philippines.
Thank you for your kind letters of encouragement. When I learn that these efforts have been a blessing to God's people, it only make me want to labor the more for the cause. The blessings that you receive from the "Pastoral Letter" are my blessings; your joy is my joy; and your fulfillment is mine. I love you all in Christ and pray that our Lord will bless His kingdom wherever it may be found.