Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, also known as the curate of Ars, was born in France just prior to the French Revolution. He was appointed curate of Ars-en-Dombes, an obscure village near Lyons. Overwhelmed by the task of shepherding his parish, he tried to resign three times, but continued to serve until his death at the age of 73. In one of his prayers Vianney asked: “My God, grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer all my life whatsoever it may please thee to lay upon me; yes even for a hundred years am I prepared to endure the sharpest pains; only let my people be converted. My God, convert my parish.”
The apostle Paul shared a similar passion for the conversion of his people. Although he had been appointed “the apostle to the Gentiles,” he never lost his zeal for reaching those who were the physical descendants of Abraham (11:13). Paul never wavered in his conviction that the gospel was the power of God to save everyone who believed, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). This was reflected in his method of evangelism, often preaching first in the synagogue and then turning to the Gentiles with the gospel (Acts 13:14).
When preaching to the Jews, Paul emphasized the spiritual descent. Abraham’s true descendants are those who obtain the promises made to their forefather by faith. Israel was privileged to be the recipient of divine revelation, but that did not guarantee that everyone would respond to it. From the very beginning God emphasized the importance of faith, justifying Abraham by faith and declaring that the just will live by faith (Gen. 15:6, Hab. 2:4). As proof that God did not determine the children of promise merely by physical descent, Paul points to the case of Isaac and Ishmael, as well as to Jacob and Esau. Although all were physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were both chosen by God to receive the promise before they did anything to deserve it (see Gen. 21:12, Mal. 1:2).