“And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29, ESV)
When I was a young adult, I became involved with sport target shooting. Ultimately, I would shoot on our collegiate rifle team and several State Matches in Pennsylvania. I would spend hours a week in practice to hone down the skills. This included developing the muscle tone for holding the rifle steady, dry firing without ammunition, and hours on the range in live fire. It was my passion so to speak and the passion drove me to work hard to excel in this sport. This happened, as eventually I won matches and the league trophy. I attribute this success, not to natural ability, but the passion I had to be the best in the sport I loved.
While the passion I had for this sport has long faded away, it taught me a critical lesson in life. We will generally excel in that about which we are the most passionate. Paul here makes a statement that reveals his passion. “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am.” The phrase, “I would,” is the first-person singular of the verb euchomai. The verb that refers to prayer is in the optative mood, which expresses desire. Paul’s heart was that everyone who heard his proclamation of the gospel would believe just like he did. He was passionate about reaching people with the gospel.
Paul was so passionate about reaching people with the hope found only in Jesus that he counted everything in his past accomplishments as rubbish. He willingly left them to pursue the glorious purpose to which the Lord called him. That calling was to take the hope of the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. He sacrificed to do this. He gave up on prestige. He endured persecution. He experienced great peril. To this end, Paul made some passionate statements.
“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:21–22, ESV)
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3, ESV)
The big question is this. Where is our passion? Paul’s passion was bred from his great compassion for the lives of people. It was the same compassion for people that took our Lord to the cross. All of us have passions in our lives, things that drive us. We just need to look at our lives and assess the things that we love and pursue. While it is not wrong to enjoy hobbies and a variety of things as long as they fall under the realm of God’s moral law, the real question is this. Do we truly love God and love the people for whom Christ died? If we do, we will have the compassion that drives our passion. This passion will be to see people come to faith just as Paul desired.