May 30, 2004

The Gospel and Gentiles (Rom. 11:13-36)

[I believe this may be the last of the Romans sermons, at least for now, since the summer hiatus is nearly upon us. It looks like the last one in Romans 11, anyway, and that was about as far as I originally wanted to transcribe this series.]

"Israel the Olive Tree" is a symbol familiar to readers of Old Testament prophecy, particularly Jeremiah and Zechariah; just as the maple leaf symbolizes Canada, so the olive tree symbolize Israel. Paul here pictures an olive tree with some of the branches broken off - those Jews who, having heard the Gospel message and rejected it, have themselves been rejected for a time because of their unbelief. But this gave the Gentiles an opportunity to receive the Gospel; cf. Acts 13:46 and 18:6, where Paul turned away from preaching to the Jews to preaching to the Gentiles and discovered that many of them believed.

However, this led to a spiritual problem developing in the Church as the Gentiles began to outnumber the Jews. They started to become conceited. Hence Paul here warns them not to become arrogant (11:18, 20, 25).

  1. Spiritual pride needs to be pruned.

    How do we know if we are getting too proud? Paul provides five indicators:

    1. You think salvation is all about you. (vv. 13-14)

      Rick Warren begins The Purpose Driven Life with this sentence: "It's not about you." He's right. Paul ministered to the Gentiles partly in hope that by so doing he would arouse a godly envy in his fellow Jews, and they would be saved.

      Too often we have a "cul-de-sac Christianity" mentality where everything flows to us for our benefit. Rather, we should cultivate a "boulevard Christianity" where we receive the blessings but send them farther along the line.

    2. You fail to appreciate your spiritual roots. (v. 17)

      The root of the olive tree is the patriarchs, in particular Abraham, the father of all the Jews. Paul is reminding the Gentile Christians that they are not the roots, they are some of the branches - off a different tree, at that.

      We must never lose sight of the fact that we have been grafted onto a great root, and it is the root that supports the branches, not the other way around. We must appreciate Christianity's Jewish roots. This does not mean that we need to become Jews or obey the Jewish law (see Rom. 10:4), or that we must unequivocally support the state of Israel. What it does mean, however, is that anti-Semitism is also anti-Christian.

    3. You get careless about God's kindness. (v. 19)

      The Jews have lost their place of spiritual privilege for a time, while the Gentiles have been given God's favour. Gentile Christians need to remember that this is only by God's grace that they are in this place right now. But if they move to unbelief, they too will lose their place.

      Gentile Christians must not become careless or conceited, lest they get in trouble with God. The Bible says we may be confident of our salvation (see Rom. 8:30), but this does not mean that we can become complacent about it. Those who are truly saved, will truly abide - persever - in their faith. But there are those who are grafted into the Church that are not truly born again, and they can be cut off again.

    4. You forget your wild side. (v. 24)

      The Gentiles were not naturally a part of the family of faith (Eph. 2:11-12); it is by grace that we have been grafted in (Eph. 2:13). Some of us have a wild background that lets us appreciate what we have been given in Christ. But all Gentiles, though they may not realize it - maybe we've been a Christian all our lives, for example - have a wild side.

    5. You stop marvelling at God's mercy. (vv. 31-32)

      Whether Jew or Gentile, we only believe at all because of God's mercy, not because there is something innate to our nature. We must never forget the wonder that God let us into the family.

  2. A spirit of praise needs to bloom. (v.36)

    Rather than arrogance, the proper response to God's mercy is gratitude. A spirit of pride needs to be pruned so that a spirit of praise can bloom.