From Romans 11-13
Paul likens the people of God to an olive tree. The people of Israel are the original and cultivated tree. The Gentile nations are the wild shoots. Some of Israel been cut off because they have rejected Jesus as the Christ. Gentile’s are now coming to faith in Jesus Christ and being grafted in. Paul warns the Gentile believers not to become proud. They too can be cut off like the unbelievers of Israel were.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Chapter eleven of Romans is a continuation of chapters nine and ten. In these chapters Paul is addressing the plight of his fellow people (the Jews) and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. Paul mourns the unbelief of Israel.
Chapter eleven begins with Paul recognizing a minority of Jews have always been reserved by the LORD to remain faithful to him. They do not bow down to foreign gods and they have been chosen by grace, not by the works they do. Paul returns to discussing the plight of those who have failed and were hardened (Rom 11.1-10).
This is where our passage picks up.
11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Rom 11.11-15)
Paul says the inclusion of the Gentiles is intended to make Israel jealous.
Can jealousy be a good thing?
Paul has a Deuteronomic prophesy in mind when he says this. He’s referring to Dt 32.21 which he mentioned earlier (Rom 10.19). From his point of view, the inclusion of the Gentiles (‘the world’) is part of a sequence of events predicted by Moses. This is from an earlier post.
- Many Jews reject Jesus as Christ provoking God’s jealousy.
- They are cut off and through their trespass, Gentiles are included in Israel.
- The Gentile inclusion in turn provokes the jealousy of the Jews.
- The jealous Jews want to be part of this so they turn to God.
- The acceptance of these Jews into Israel will be the penultimate event for Christ’s return and the general resurrection.
Paul turn to speak to the Gentiles. Merely saying this, suggests Paul has been speaking to a larger audience of Jews and Gentiles and now he switches to the Gentiles specifically.
Paul’s calling and ministry is specifically directed at the Gentiles (e.g. Acts 9.15; 22.21; Rom 1.5; 15.15; Eph 3.2,8). But he is still a Jew and cares deeply for their welfare as well (cf. Rom 9.1-5). He hope through his ministry his fellow Jews will believe Jesus is the Christ as well.
16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Rom 11.16)
Paul uses a couple images to describe the people of God – Israel. Dough and the roots of an olive tree. Its probably important to note dough is the early form of a lump of bread, roots are the nourishing part of the whole tree.
Its the beginning and nourishing part of the whole that makes it holy. So what makes us holy?
This is where interpretation of the chapter gets a little tricky and in scholarly circles there are a few debates. At the moment Paul is speaking about ethnic Israel. The chosen people of God.
Paul is about to focus a bit more on Israel using the imagery of an olive tree. The key terms are described together like so. The whole tree is described as an ‘olive tree’. Better still a ‘cultivated olive tree’. The beginning and nourishing part of the whole tree is the ‘nourishing root’. The root extends to the ‘branches’. The branches consist of ‘natural branches’ and ‘wild olive shoots’. Some of the natural branches have been cut off because they did not bear fruit and the wild olive shoots have been grafted in.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Rom 11.17-18)
Not all Israel believed Jesus was the Christ. They rejected God and the messiah. Consequently some of the branches were broken off (cf. Jn 15.1-6).
The nourishing root is God. They were connected to the root but they fell away.
This in turn enabled others to be grafted into the church. These are the Gentiles and they now share in the nourishing root – God.
This may lead the Gentiles to become arrogant and disdain the Jews. Paul is speaking all this to ward off a potential problem. Fellow branches, Jews and Gentile both need to remember God does not need them, it is God who supports them.
19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Rom 11.19-21)
Membership in the people of God is about what people believe and put their trust in.
Paul warns against arrogance and pride. He warns the Gentiles about the power of God. They should fear him because it is possible he could do the same to them.
22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree? (Rom 11.22-24)
Paul encourages the Gentiles to ‘continue in the kindness of God’, to believe and trust in him. The gift of Jesus and the gospel demonstrates God’s immense kindness to all believers. Its a warning too.
Do not take God’s kindness in Jesus for granted.
According to Paul, branches that have been cut off can be grafted in again. God exercises his power in the world when he saves people. This applies to the Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Christ. If they come to faith (by the power of God) at a later date they can be grafted back into the people of God. This will be ‘much more’ easier for him that it is when Gentiles are saved.
Words for Believers
Paul’s statements reflect the current affairs of his time. Jews were rejecting Jesus as their messiah. Gentiles heard the gospel and came to believe Jesus is the Christ, the king. He gives some encouragements and warnings that apply at all times. Even ours.
We should fear God because he can cut us off. Every so often we need a spiritual check up. How is your Christian life going? Sin and unbelief are serious issues we should not be unconcerned about.
Paul’s says people who were once part of the olive tree can be cut off, that is fall away. Presumably he is talking about Jews in his time who never believed Jesus was the Christ in the first place. They haven’t lost faith in Jesus, but they were cut off from what Paul understood is the people of God.
Generally I expect many would grieve if someone fell away from church. Paul warns against possible arrogance and pride resulting from persevering in the faith when others don’t.
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