40. Romans 11:17-24
Broken and grafted branches
Paul has just explained that Israel's rejection has meant that Gentiles have been brought into salvation. The Gentiles' new status as believers, furthermore, is intended to make Israel envious and thus motivate them to turn back to God. Paul also asks us to consider the future reality that if Israel's rejection has meant the riches of salvation for the world at large, their eventual return to God will result in riches for the world so great that the general rejoicing and glory will be on the scale of rejoicing over resurrection from death.
Now Paul restates and expands his thesis by using a metaphor. Instead of speaking directly about Jews and Gentiles, he uses the image of an olive tree which has had branches broken off and wild branches grafted in.
In Jeremiah 11:16 God foretold that Israel, whom he called a thriving olive tree, would be set on fire with the roar of a mighty storm and would have its branches broken off. In John 15:1-2 Jesus explained this metaphor more precisely. Instead of using the picture of an olive tree, however, He used the image of a vine. He compared Himself to a vine, and he called His followers the branches. The Father, he said, would cut off all the branches that do not bear fruit. He continued by admonishing His hearers to remain connected to the vine so they could bear fruit.
The image of branches being cut off a main trunk describes people claiming to belong to God but being disconnected from the nourishing sap of that trunk. This internal disconnect results in the branches drying up and becoming completely unproductive. Further, Jesus said that God the Father Himself is the One who cuts off the unfruitful branches.
At Pentecost, Peter preached to the assembled Jews and told them that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be given to those who repented. This promised gift, he said, is both for the Jews listening to him and for those "who are far off"-the Gentiles. In fact, it is for all whom the Lord would call.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also uses the words Peter used. "But now," he says, "in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (see Ephesians 2:11-13).
The branches in Romans 11:17 which have been broken off are those Jews who rejected Jesus the Messiah. The grafted wild branches are the Gentile believers who, after Pentecost, became the primary responders to the Gospel. They are grafted into the olive tree symbolizing the people of God and take their places among the natural branches who remained-the remnant who trusted God's promises and accepted the Messiah.
In verse 17 Paul further states that the Gentiles, those who have been "grafted in", now "share in the nourishing sap from the olive root". In verse 16 Paul has defined the "root" of the olive tree as the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of them, the whole tree is holy.
To explore the metaphor of the olive tree fully, we need to identify the trunk as well. The patriarchs were promised descendants and blessings for the world. They understood God to be saying that they were the physical fathers of God's promised offspring. The New Testament reveals that Jesus was the promised "Seed" (Galatians 3:16) Who was to fulfill God's promises. Jesus descended from Israel, the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Further, the branches of this olive tree are partially broken off, while wild branches are grafted in. Branches grow from or are broken off the trunk of a tree. The branches, we have seen, are Jews and Gentiles. Those broken off in this passage are unbelieving Jews; those wild branches grafted in are believing Gentiles.
The trunk, therefore, represents Jesus, the Seed of the patriarchs and the One in whom all people must be hidden in order to belong to God's people. All of us must be grafted into Christ in order to belong to the olive tree.
Through Jesus flows the nourishment that is pumped up from the roots. This sap is something that originated with the roots, or the patriarchs. Genesis 15:4-7 give us a glimpse into the identity of this nourishing sap. God promised Abraham heirs and land and His continuing sovereign presence. God's promises were His gift to Abraham, and Abraham believed God's promises.
In Genesis 15:12-18 God further promised Abraham His blessings for future generations, His mercy and patience toward the wicked Canaanites, and God's ultimate overthrow of wickedness and wicked people and the installation of His people in the land. His promises to Abraham were the certainties he could expect for his descendants because they were the fruit of God's unilateral covenant with Abraham. Abraham had nothing to do with ratifying God's covenant with him; God made the covenant without Abraham's participation, and He keeps His promises of that covenant.
In Genesis 17:2, 4-8, God confirms His promise which He made in Genesis 15, and he gives Abraham and his descendants the sign of circumcision. This sign was the external mark on all Jewish males that symbolized their inclusion in God's covenant with Israel. It was a sign that reminded them of the holy, sacred Seed God had promises would come from them.
Genesis 21:12 show God's choice of Israel as the reckoned "offspring". Romans 9:6-8 reveals the previously hidden mystery that not all of Abraham's offspring are genetic. Rather, Abraham's true offspring are people, both Jew and Gentile, who have faith in God's promises. They are not natural children but are children of promise, born of God. Belief in God's promises and surrender to Him is the mark of a true descendant of Abraham and the identifying sign of a tree securely attached to the trunk of the olive tree.
The nourishing sap flowing up from the roots which all branches share represents God's completely faithful promises which He made to the patriarchs, promises to give Seed, land and a universal blessing through them. Because His promises are based only on His own word, they are sure. His promises still nourish the true branches.
Further, the sap may be identified as being the faith of Abraham, the faith which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) and which holds firmly onto God's promises.
The patriarchs were the foundation of the olive tree representing God's people. God's sovereign choice established them as the patriarchs, and His unfailing promises defined their mission and their legacy. Their faith in God's words is part of their legacy to their descendants. God's promises and the patriarchs' faith in them are inextricably linked. The package of God's certain word and the patriarchs' gift of faith in that word comprises the nourishing sap which all the branches, Jew and Gentile, share when they become grafted into the trunk. It is only by being attached to the trunk that the branches can receive that sap, and that sap had its origins in the patriarchal roots which God established by His divine fiat.
The entire olive tree is the result of God's calling into existence a people who did not otherwise exist. By His sovereign choice He established the patriarchs, and His sovereign decree made Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the root from which both Jewish and Gentile heirs receive their inheritance from God. God elected to make Jesus the promised offspring from that root, and through Jesus all nations of the earth are blessed and may share the patriarchal nourishment.
Supported by the Root
When God made His covenant with Abraham, he promised him an heir that he could not have had naturally. The birth is Isaac was the result of divine intervention. Although the promise made no common sense to Abraham, he believed God's promise, and God credited his belief as righteousness (Genesis 15:4-7). By this act of God, Abraham became the model and the spiritual father of all who trust God and surrender to His promises.
Abraham was not intrinsically righteous, nor did he have greater faith than other humans who trust God. God, however, demonstrated His mercy to mankind by counting Abraham's belief in Him as righteousness. As the recipient of God's promises which outlined His program for the salvation of the human race-Seed, land, and blessing-Abraham's faith (which was really faith from God [Genesis 17:17-22]) became the foundation and inheritance of God's people.
The promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the foundation upon which Israel grew. They are also the foundation upon which the church stands today. What God promised the patriarchs, He has and is fulfilling through Jesus in the lives of Jews and Gentiles who believe Him.
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, He reminded her that the Samaritan's worshiped what they did not understand, but the Jews worshiped what they did understand. "Salvation is from the Jews," He reminded her (John 4:22). The Samaritans were descendants of the Jews from the northern 10 tribes dispersed during the Babylonian captivity and the Gentiles among whom they settled. They honored the Torah as their sacred writings, but they rejected the rest of the Old Testament because the prophets had been from among God's people in Judah. While they believed in the One True God, their knowledge of Him was limited because of their limited Scriptures and their mixing with pagans.
The antipathy between them and the Jews was legendary, and while Jesus called the woman at the well to follow Him, He reinforced the fact that the Samaritans' religious traditions would not lead them to salvation. Salvation was from the Jews, said the One who was the fulfillment of the promises God made to the patriarchs. Jesus, the One True Israelite, was the only one who could save the world.
Years before Isaiah had prophesied about the "last days" when the mountain of the Lord's temple would be established, and all nations would stream to it. The God of Jacob would teach the world, Isaiah said. The law would go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-3). God's promises to the patriarchs that their Seed would bless the nations, and they would inherit the land would yet be fulfilled in the last days, Isaiah foretold.
Paul stresses in the book of Romans that the Jews had great spiritual advantages. They had the very words of God, and even if they are unfaithful, God is still faithful to His word and His promises (Romans 3:1-2). In Romans 9:4-5 Paul emphasized that the Jews historically carried the advantage of having the adoption as God's sons, of having the divine glory among them, of receiving the covenants and the law, or having the great living metaphor of the temple worship services; of being the recipients of God's promises; of being able to claim the patriarchs as their heritage, and of carrying in their gene pool the human ancestry of Christ.
All of God's promises for mankind He made to the patriarchs and revealed progressively through the lives and the prophets of Israel. After the cross, God revealed-largely through the work and words of Paul-the mystery that had always been true but had previously been hidden: Gentiles were now being included as fellow citizens of God's people and members of God's household (Ephesians 2:19). They were being grafted into the olive tree of God's people not by becoming circumcised as Jews but by placing saving faith in the Person of Jesus and His sacrifice and resurrection.
The new Gentile believers, however, were never to think that God had changed His requirements for His people nor rejected His earlier promises to Israel. On the contrary, their very inclusion in God's people was partial fulfillment of God's promises to the patriarchs that the whole world would be blessed through their offspring.
God's promises to the patriarchs are now revealed as the foundation not only of Israel but also of the church. In the church-those Jews and Gentiles who trust Jesus by faith and are born from above-God is demonstrating His faithfulness. Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of the promised offspring, has blessed all the nations of the earth. Even though we are not yet living in the eternal kingdom of God, still spiritually all believers enter eternity in Christ through the Holy Spirit's indwelling. Through the church Jesus is present in all nations and is revealing the truth about Himself through His people.
Paul wants the Gentile Christians to understand that God has not abandoned His previous plans with Israel because of their unbelief. Rather, He is still fulfilling His promises to the patriarchs. The church is built on God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The continuity of God's consistent work in His people is not a result of His faithfulness to Israel or even to the patriarchs. His faithfulness is to Himself and His word. God has complete integrity. He cannot break His own word, and He is faithful to His own promises.
His promises to the patriarchs were not based on mutual agreement. God unilaterally ratified His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), and God cannot lie or break His word. We can trust God's integrity and faithfulness to complete His promises to us just as He is still completing His promises to the patriarchs.
As the church, we stand on the solid shoulders of the patriarchs faith and trust in God's promises. God's program has not changed; it is just being progressively revealed. As Christ-followers we are part of an unbroken train of people who, since Abraham, have surrendered their doubt and trusted God with their lives. The faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in God's eternal promises to them is the root that supports the entire tree of God's people. For eternity those who honor God will trust Him by His gift of faith, and they will live and rest in His promises which He cannot break.
Warning against unbelief
Paul now warns the grafted Gentiles not to be arrogant about moving into the olive tree and filling holes the broken branches left behind. Israel's problem had been pride in their "chosen-ness", and Paul reminds the Gentile believers that Israel had been cut off because of their unbelief, while the Gentiles have been included and remain in the tree because they stand by faith.
In Romans 9:30-32 Paul has already explained that Israel did not arrive at righteousness because they pursued it by works. The Gentiles, however, did attain righteousness even though they did not pursue it; they received it because of their faith.
In his first letter to Timothy Paul more specifically discusses the problem of arrogance and the sense of entitlement. He tells Timothy (6:17) to command those who are rich not to put their hope in wealth or to be arrogant. He is to teach them to put their hope in God who richly provides everything they need.
The writer of Hebrews gave several warnings for people not to have sinful, unbelieving hearts that turn away from God as Israel's had when they rebelled in the desert (Hebrews 3:12-19). They did not enter God's rest because of their unbelief. It's impossible, the writer continues, for those who have once been enlightened and shared in the Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, to be brought back to repentance if they fall away (Hebrews 6:4-8).
Paul's point to the Gentiles is not to take their position among the people of God casually. If their conversion is not sincere, if their commitment is merely intellectual and not a deep heart surrender of their whole lives, they will not be faithful. Even if they move among God's people for a time, they will be cut off if they are not born from above and allowing the nourishing sap of the tree to change them. Just as many from among Israel were cut off because they did not have saving faith, so the Gentiles will also be cut off if they do not have saving faith.
Unbelief can exist even when a person functions as one of the church. Without a heart surrender, an intellectual conviction of truth will not suffice to make one righteous before God. Being counted righteous means giving up one's control and rights to one's life and allowing Jesus to change and teach her instead.
Fear of God
Many of us were taught that where the Bible commands us to "fear God", the meaning of "fear" was more akin to "awe" or "reverence" than to being afraid. While it's true that awe and reverence are components of true fear of God, still we cannot be casual about God. In order for our awe to be warranted, God must be far bigger and more powerful than we are, and His kindness and His justice must surpass anything we can muster. His wrath is real, and it is worthy of our fear.
C.S. Lewis described this kind of fear well in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in his Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy asked the Beavers about Aslan, the lion who represents Jesus in the series.
"Is he a tame lion?" Lucy asked.
The beavers responded abruptly that of course he wasn't tame; he was a lion, after all. "But he is good," they concluded.
The Bible makes many references to fear of God. Genesis 20:11 records Abraham's comment when he entered the land of Gerar and encountered Abimelech the king. Abraham feared that Abimelech would have him killed in order to sake his wife Sarah, who was beautiful, for himself. Hoping to forestall such a ploy, Abraham and Sarah agreed that they would both represent Sarah as his sister.
Abimelech, believing Sarah was Abraham's sister and therefore available, took her, but God prevented him from sleeping with her and warned him in a dream that Sarah was really Abraham's wife. Abimilech was horrified and outraged and demanded to know why Abraham had deceived him.
Abraham's reasoning is recorded in verse 11: "There is surely no fear of God in this place." He was certain of his eventual death if the king decided he wanted Sarah.
Abraham reasoned that the pagan king Abimelech would not know or fear the wrath and power of God and would have no moral compunction against killing Abraham.
Paradoxically, the pagan king responded immediately to God's intervention, and Abraham himself, the chosen patriarch who believed God's promises, took control into his own hands and apparently suspended his own fear of God's faithful discipline and demand for truth.
Proverbs 3:7 states what Abraham failed to do: fear the Lord and shun evil. God does not allow anyone to sin successfully forever, and without a healthy fear of God's righteous justice, we will denature Him in our own minds and begin to see ourselves as sovereign over our lives instead of Him.
In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul says Christ-followers must continue to work out their salvation "with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure." This verse seems paradoxical. It clearly states that God Himself is in charge of our sanctification. He causes us to want to behave in a way that pleases Him. At the same time, we are not to slack off our vigilance to do what God asks us to do. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling does not mean that we fear being lost , nor does it mean our work saves us. It means that we must never assume an unwarranted familiarity with God that lulls is into thinking we know what He wants and Who He is as well as He knows.
In other words, we are never to lose sight of God's claim on us. Our diligence is to be a response of awe and reverence for God's calling of us. Our responses to Him are to be acts of reverence and single-minded devotion to God in gratitude for His saving us. Our lives are to be single-minded responses to God and to His work and prompting in us.
Hebrews 4:1 warns that we be careful not to be found to have fallen short of God's promise of rest in Christ. We are to take seriously God's calling of us to surrender to Him. If we hold back from surrendering our lives and hearts to Him, we will miss His work of grace and will not enter the rest of salvation in Him.
Peter speaks of fearing God in the context of having respect for authority. "Show proper respect," he says. "Love the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king." He continues by exhorting slaves to submit to their masters, even if they are difficult. It is commendable, he says, to bear up under unjust suffering "if one is conscious of God" (1 Peter 2:17-19).
Christ-followers are to be people who respect those in authority over them and also their peers in the body of Christ. Whether or not bosses or government leaders are Christians, we are to honor and respect them for their position of authority. Similarly, we are to fear God. We are to have reverence and respect for Him, and we are to have a proper fear of His ultimate authority. At the same time we can know Him and love Him, but we must always remember that we cannot contain Him nor second-guess Him. His power is absolute, and His justice is as much an eternal attribute of His as is His mercy.
The fact of God's eternal justice as well as eternal mercy underlies Paul's comment that we must consider both the "kindness and sternness of God". Many of us grew up in a church that taught us God's justice had limited effect. There truly was no such thing as "eternal punishment"; God "wouldn't do that." The wicked would be annihilated. This attitude often created a sense of unconcern about whether or not people knew Christ and even became a mental way of escape when thinking about one's own salvation. If we never "got good enough" for heaven, at least it would all be over quickly!
The Bible, however, teaches something very different. No one has the right to think of himself either as more worthy of God's favor than another or as less worthy. Romans 2:1-6 addresses those who consider themselves more worthy. The Jews thought themselves superior to the Gentiles because they had God's revelation in the law. Paul, however, articulated the solemn fact that they were guilty of the same things for which they judged the Gentiles. Their possession of the law and their being descendants of Abraham didn't make them more qualified for God's grace. In fact, by harshly judging the Gentiles, they were showing contempt for God's kindness, tolerance, and patience. Because of their hard, unrepentant hearts, they were storing up judgment for themselves.
Romans 1:18-20 puts the human condition in perspective. All men are without excuse, Paul says, because God has revealed Himself through what has been made. Yet men suppressed the knowledge of God by their wickedness and are storing up wrath for themselves. Because of their stubborn wickedness, God has given them over to immorality (v. 24), shameful lusts (v. 26), and depraved minds (v. 28).
Paul pleads with the Roman Christians not to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking and darkened understanding, separated from God because of hardened hearts given over to sensual indulgence (Romans 4:17-19).
The Psalms commented on Israel's condition which sounded strangely similar to that of the Gentiles described in Romans 1. Because of their hardened hearts, they would not listen and submit to God. Had they listened and responded to God, He would have subdued their enemies.
Jesus also emphasized that those who served Him would be rewarded, and those who didn't would be punished eternally. In the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 24:45-51 Jesus describes the faithful servants eventually being praised and put in charge of many things. The unfaithful servant, however, would be cut in pieces and thrown to the place of hypocrites where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the next chapter, Jesus utters the heart-breaking prophecy that after inviting those who honored Him to enter His presence, God would turn to those whom He did not know and tell them to depart from Him into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41-46).
God's kindness is miraculous and real. God's sternness is equally real. Those who do not accept Jesus the Sin-Bearer as the Lord of their lives will forever experience the horror of God's stern judgment. None of us has any room to boast or feel entitled to God's kindness. By nature we are objects of wrath and under a curse. We deserve to die.
When we place our trust in Jesus and become born from above, filled with His Spirit, we experience a miracle no words can explain. Our response needs to be humility and gratitude. Our hearts honor Him by witnessing of Him to others who need Him. Never do we have the right to disdain those who do not know Jesus. His heart-break over the unrepentant Israelites is the heart-break that we need to feel for those who do not know Jesus. His kindness and sternness are both eternal, and He asks us to take them equally seriously.
Jesus calls us to live in His kindness. If we turn our backs on Him, we will experience His sternness.
Grafted back into the tree
As the final part of his warning to the Gentiles not to be arrogant about their inclusion in the olive tree at the expense of Jews who were cut off, he reminds them that God "is able to graft them in again" if they do not persist in unbelief. The metaphor of cut branches being grafted back into the tree is contrary to the ways of horticulture. Arborists prune unproductive branches from otherwise healthy trees, and they do not later re-graft them back. The message here, however, is that God can bring life back to what was dead. Just as He brought the Gentiles into the people of God and cut off the Israelites, so He can restore the Israelites as well.
How can such an unnatural process take place?
2 Corinthians 3:15-16 says that "even to this day" whenever Moses (the law) is read, a veil covers people's hearts, but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
If Israel does not persist in her hard-heartedness and turns to the Lord, God can graft her back into the living tree of His people. In Matthew 19:25-26 and Mark 10:24-26, the disciples ask Jesus who can be saved. He has just told them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and their response is to wonder who could ever warrant entry into heaven. With man this is impossible, Jesus replies, "but with God all things are possible."
In other words, how someone is saved is a mystery of God that no human can dissect.
In Luke 18:26-30 Jesus adds to his declaration of God's sufficiency by telling his disciples that no one who has left home or children or wives or brothers or parents for the sake of the kingdom of God "will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life."
These texts tell us that if Israel (or any person) turns to the Lord and is willing to forsake everything they know and love for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His kingdom, God will honor their commitment. He will bless them a hundred fold in this life, and they will also gain eternal life.
Exactly how chronically resistant people turn to God and embrace Him with soft hearts is a mystery we cannot explain. Such conversion is an act of God's power whose secret is hidden in Him but whose effect is visible and iconoclastic to those watching. Only God can bring about the conversion of a human heart. No man can accomplish it by his own desire and effort.
This promise that God will re-graft the cut-off Israelite branches into the olive tree is a metaphor that goes against nature. In horticulture, grafting involves placing cultivated, high-yielding branches onto a root from wild stock. The wild plants tend to be hardier and more resistant to disease; hybridized plants tend to have larger, more productive fruit or blossoms, but they often have weak rootstocks and lose disease resistance. Hence, grafting a cultivated shoot into wild a rootstock produces a healthy, longer-lived, high-yielding plant.
God, who "gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17), reverses the procedure. God builds His tree on cultivated root stock-the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whom He chose and established as the fathers of His people. As the tree grew, it became unhealthy, and the natural branches, Israel, were largely cut out of the tree. In a surprising act of sovereign grace, God grafted wild branches-believing Gentiles-into the tree, and against all odds, they became productive and healthy, nourished from the sap of God's promises given to the cultivated root.
That the Gentiles were "wild branches", not originally part of the tree, is clear from Scripture. They were formerly "separated from God, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenant of the promises, and without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12). They had been far away from God and His people" (Ephesians 2:17), but now they are "no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizen with God's people and members of God's household" (Ephesians 2:19).
Isaiah prophesied that God would one day have compassion on the wayward Israelites and would bring "aliens" to join them and unite them with the house of Israel (Isaiah 14:1). In Isaiah 65:1 God says He revealed Himself to those who did not ask for Him or seek Him nor call on His name. Yet he beckoned them, "Here am I"
Galatians explains how those wild branches that were not God's people came to be included in the olive tree. In Galatians 3:6-9 Paul says that those who believe are children of Abraham. Further, he says that Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. This foreshadowing first occurred when God told Abraham that all nations on earth would be blessed through him. All those with faith-Jew and Gentile, Paul explains-are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Verses 28-29 expand on the reality of Gentiles and Jews both being grafted into the olive tree of God's "program". There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, man or woman in Christ. When people are in Christ-grafted into the tree-they are equally God's children. No social or cultural distinctions affect their standing and blessing in Christ. All are equally His. They are equally heirs of God according to His promise.
Galatians 4:28-31 compares all those who live by faith-Jew and Gentile-with Isaac, the son of promise. All those who live by the law and their own works are compared to Ishmael, the son born "in the ordinary way" to Sarah's slave. This passage commands us to "get rid" of the slave woman and her son-the penchant to live by works of the law-because the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance of the son of promise.
In a remarkable upset of all Israel had traditionally believed about themselves, God through Paul reveals that even natural Israel-those directly descended from Isaac-can, in a spiritual sense, be children not of the promise but of Ishmael-the son of the slave woman. Just as God's promises to Abraham foreshadowed that the Gentiles would also share in the inheritance of faith, so now Paul reveals that Jews are not necessarily children of promise.
Faith, not genetics, is the determining factor for inclusion in Abraham's descendents. In order to be part of God's olive tree, each individual must respond to God's promises fulfilled in Jesus by faith. Being born into the family tree does not qualify one for inclusion in God's people. Being born of the spirit and abandoning dead works of the law is what identifies God's true children and Abraham's true descendents.
When God created Israel, the Gentiles were outside His covenant. They were strangers from God, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12). By His sovereign grace, however, God planned to bring even the Gentiles into relationship with Him. Israel, God's chosen and miraculous people, refused repeatedly to live by faith in Him. As a result, when the nation of Israel finally rejected the Messiah, God cut the unbelieving ones out of the olive tree of His purposes and His people. Against the ways of nature, then, He grafted the Gentiles-people with no history with or revelation of God's purposes and promises-into the cultivated tree rooted in His promises to Abraham. Because the Gentiles welcomed the news of Jesus and His salvation accomplished for them, they embraced God and were born from above. They, wild branches with no natural claim to the riches of relationship with God, became His people while a large percentage of natural Israel was cut out of the tree of God.
According to human understanding, Gentiles had no affinity for the cultivated tree of God's revelation and relationship. They were unrelated, far away from God and His program. Yet by divine grace, they became spiritually open and accepted the unnatural grafting of their wild heritage into the nurturing environment of the cultivated tree nourished by God's revelation and covenant with His people.
God calls us and disciplines us. As the wild branches grafted into the olive tree of God's program and God's people, our attitude can only be one of humility. When we look back at Israel, we know that God will not deal more "preferentially" with us than with them. We can expect to experience the restraint of His discipline and the warning not to fall away from faithfulness just as Israel received those things from God.
It's important, first of all, to remember that when we are in Christ, when we have truly surrendered ourselves to Him in faith, our salvation is secure; nothing can take us from His hand (Matthew 10:28). The warning of this passage, however, is directed toward those who have an initial, enthusiastic response to the gospel and even respond in intellectual and emotional ways. Like the seeds that fall on poor soil in the parable of Matthew 13, they spring up quickly with what looks like a real Christian experience, but they don't put down roots. Consequently, when pressure comes upon them, they wither and die.
If you are such a person-intrigued by the gospel and drawn to the Christian community but unwilling to surrender, this warning is for you. Don't be arrogant; you may have joined the church and may even be active, holding offices and engaging in ministry. If you haven't surrendered your heart to Jesus, however, you are in danger of falling away.
If you have surrendered, this passage is a call to humility and perseverance. God will not leave you where He finds you. Like a good Father, He will persistently bring you face to face with your self-serving, unsurrendered behaviors and attitudes.
As you deepen in Jesus, He will bring to your attention the areas in your life where you struggle with arrogance, flattery, and fear. Jesus asks you to be willing to know the truth about yourself in these pockets of your life, and He will continue to bring you into circumstances which trigger these reactions in you. His call to you is not to exert strong will to squelch these impulses; rather, it is to surrender your natural desire for control and for gratification.
God allows us to come face to face with the weaknesses of our own personalities in order that we will learn to trust Him and surrender our emotions, circumstances, and outcomes to Him.
God has grafted you into His olive tree. This grafting is a miracle,, and the same power that took you from death to life in Jesus will continue to bring you more and more into truth and surrender in the deepest places in your heart.
Ask God to guard your heart against flattery, temptation, and deception. Ask Him to reveal to you the wounds and weaknesses in you that He wants to heal and strengthen with His Spirit. Ask Him to dwell in you richly and to change you by His Spirit in the core of your person. Pray that you will deepen in Jesus and that He will become more real to you than your fears and dreams.
He is faithful.
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, that Christ may dwell in your hearts richly through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and that you may know this love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:15-19, NIV).
Wild olive shoot
Paul has just explained that Israel's transgression and fall from grace has meant that Gentiles have been brought into salvation. Their new status as part of God's people, Paul further says, is designed to make Israel envious so they will be motivated to turn their attention back to God. He also directs us to ponder the fact that if Israel's rejection of Jesus has meant the riches of salvation for the world at large, their eventual reconciliation will result in riches for the world so great that it will generate rejoicing and glory akin to resurrection from death.
1. Who are the branches that have been broken off the olive tree, and who are "the others" among whom the wild olive shoots have been grafted? (By implication, who are the "wild olive shoot[s]"?)(see Jeremiah 11:16; John 15:2; Acts 2:39; Ephesians 2:11-13)
2. In lesson 39 we learned that the root of the olive tree consists of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What is the "nourishing sap" from the olive root in which the wild grafts now share? (see Genesis 15:4-7, 12-18; 17:2, 4-8; 21:12; Romans 9:6-8; Hebrews 11:17-19; 28:10-15)
3. What does Paul mean when he says to the Gentile Christians, "the root supports you"? (see Genesis 15:4-7; John 4:22; Isaiah 2:1-3; Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5)
4. Paul warns the Gentile believers against arrogance, reminding them that the "natural branches" were cut off because of unbelief, but they themselves stand by faith. What is Paul's point here-against what is he warning the Gentiles? (see Romans 9:30-32; 1 Timothy 6:17; Hebrews 3:12-19; 6:4-8)
5. What does Paul mean when he tells the Romans to "be afraid" (verse 20)? (see Genesis 20:11; Proverbs 3:7; Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 4:1; 1 Peter 2:17-19)
6. Why does Paul stress that we must consider both the "kindness and sternness of God"? (Romans 2:1-6; 1:18-21, 24, 26, 28; Ephesians 2:2-5; 4:17-19; Psalm 81:11-14; Matthew 24:45-51; 25:41-46)
7. What does Paul mean when he says to consider God's kindness to them, "provided that you continue in his kindness"? (see 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossians 1:22-23; Hebrews 3:6; Matthew 13:16-23)
8. How is God "able" to graft the Israelites into the olive tree again? (see 2 Corinthians 3:15-16; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:24-26; Luke 18:26-30)
9. Paul uses a horticultural metaphor to describe the Gentiles' grafting into the olive tree of God's people. In real life, nurserymen use wild roots, because of their hardiness, as the grafting base for cultivated, high-yield branches. Paul stresses that the opposite is true in regards to the olive tree of God's people: the root is from the cultivated plant-the Jews-and the grafted branches are wild-the Gentiles. In nature this arrangement would produce a plant with vulnerable roots and branches with underdeveloped fruit. Similarly, in nature, broken branches would not be able to be re-grafted into the tree. What does Paul mean when he says inclusion of the Gentiles in the family of God is "contrary to nature"? (see Ephesians 2:11-12; 17; 19; Isaiah 14:1; 65:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Romans 4:16-17; Galatians 3:6-9; 28-29; 4:28-31)
10. How have you experienced God's kindness and His sternness in your life?
11. God warned the grafted branches against arrogance about their position in Him. On a personal level, what issues is God bringing into focus repeatedly in your life? What underlying fear or flattery or arrogance is He asking you to surrender to Him?
12. Ask God to guard your heart against deception, temptation, and flattery. Ask the Spirit to strengthen you to see clearly the wounds and weakness God wants to heal in your life. Pray that He will give you the desire to be healed and the willingness to surrender whatever He clarifies that you must give up. Thank God that He is faithful to complete what He begins in you, and praise Jesus that He is already forming His likeness in you.
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