Twice in Scripture the apostle Paul paints a picture of a time when he should or would experience the curse of God. In both cases he uses the strong word anathema, which speaks to the curse of God, the wrath of God.
In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul boldly declares that if he or an angel preaches a different gospel, he should be cursed. Paul was so protective of the gospel, so alarmed by an attempt to change it by adding to it, that he declared a curse on himself if he ever wandered from heralding the good news of Jesus and turned to another gospel, which is really no gospel at all. His intense love for the gospel and his hatred for the effect on the church when a false gospel is preached caused him to desire a curse on those who change the gospel, even if he were among them.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Galatians 1:8-9)
In his letter to those in Rome, Paul expressed an intense desire for his own countrymen—the Jews—to receive Christ. His heart broke for them. He longed for them to taste the goodness of Christ, to know Christ. So he chose the strongest language to express the anguish in his soul, essentially saying, “If it were possible (and it is not because I am in Christ), I would be cut off from Him and experience wrath so they could know Him.”
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit—that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood. (Romans 9:1-3)
Paul, of course, never experiences anathema. Christ keeps Paul to Himself, and Paul faithfully fulfills his ministry. He fights the good fight, finishes the race, and keeps the faith. But Paul’s use of anathema shows his passion for two things: the gospel and people.
These passages are deeply challenging. Do we feel that strongly about the message of the Christian faith? Do our hearts break for those who have not yet received Christ’s forgiveness? Are the gospel and people the overarching passion of our lives? My life?