Not Final but Temporary Part 2 A Warning to Gentile Believers – Romans 11:16-22
Pastor Mark Hardy August 18, 2013
The category 5 killer storm named “Hurricane Camille” literally decimated the city of Pass Christian, Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico, late on the night of August 17, 1969. Earlier that night a group of twenty or so people were having a “hurricane party” at the posh Riche-lieu Apartments, which were directly in the line of danger since they faced the beach less than 250 feet from the surf.
The wind was howling when Police Chief Jerry Per-alta pulled up after dark and ordered the people to leave immediately, for the storm was getting worse. But they just laughed, boasted in their ability to ride out the storm, and dared him to arrest them. Since they refused to leave he made sure he wrote down their names and next of kin.
Later that night at 10:15 pm the front wall of the storm hit shore and the scientists who clocked Camille’s wind speed said it was more than 205 miles-per-hour, the strongest in recorded history. Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between twenty-two and twenty-eight feet high. News reports later showed that the worst damage came at the little settlement of motels, bars, and casinos known as Pass Christian, Mississippi, where some twenty people were killed at a hurricane party in the Riche-lieu Apartments. Nothing was left of that three-story structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five-year-old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.
What a tragic example of arrogant pride! Arrogance is the sinful attitude of being puffed up in pride, thinking more highly of yourself that you ought, boasting in yourself, and looking down on others with contempt. Arrogance not only leads to physical death, but also eternal death, as we will see in the passage we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 11.
In Romans 11:16-22 we see three facets of Paul’s stern warning to Gentile Christians to not be arrogant toward believing and unbelieving Jews. The first facet is:
I. The Illustrations that Set the Scene (v. 16)
A. Look at v. 16: If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.
1. This verse is a transitional verse in that it concludes what Paul said in vv. 11-15 about Israel still having a future and it also introduces what he will be talking about in vv. 17-24. Thus, Paul furthers his argument that Israel’s rejection of Christ is not final but temporary by giving two parallel illustrations that drive home this point.
2. Paul’s first illustration is, “If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also,” which was taken from Numbers 15:17-21. In this illustration it is best to see the “first piece of dough” as representing the patriarchs.
3. God established His permanent relationship with Israel through His covenant with Abraham, and reaffirmed it also with Isaac and Jacob. This is confirmed in v. 28 where Paul says that Israel is “beloved for the sake of the fathers.”
4. Now the patriarchs are “holy” (hagia) in that they were set apart or consecrated by God as the recipients and transmitters of the promises of God.
5. The “lump” then represents the descendants of Israel, who have come from the patriarchs. Thus, they were set apart or consecrated as a people in the consecration of the patriarchs.
6. The principle is this: the first part sanctifies the whole (Lev. 19:23-25). In other words, the patriarchs sanctify Israel as a whole.
7. Paul is not here asserting the salvation of every Israelite but the continuing special identity of the people of Israel in the eyes of the Lord. Therefore, the unbelief and rejection of Christ by the Jewish majority cannot annul the continuing holy purpose of God destined for His people as a nation.
B. Paul’s second illustration has to do with an olive tree. He says, “…and if the root is holy, the branches are too.”
1. Since this illustration is parallel to the first, the “root” suggests the very foundation of the people of God and also represents the patriarchs and the covenant promises that God gave to them. And the “branches” also represent the descendants of Israel, the nation as a whole.
2. It is in the character of Israel as a covenant people, whose “root” (the patriarchs) is “holy” (set apart or consecrated by God) that Paul sees future hope for the “branches” (the nation as a whole). In other words, the believing forefathers of the Jewish people sanctify the whole people in the sense that they are destined to fulfill God’s purpose as a covenant nation.
3. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “Thus both illustrations make the same point: the election of the patriarchs sanctifies Israel as a whole. Ethnic Israel is not cast off but still remains the elect people of God because of the promise made to the fathers (vv. 28-29).
4. Therefore, for God to forsake Israel would be for Him to renege on His covenant promises to the patriarchs. This is something His holy character will not allow.
5. Paul then goes on to expand this second illustration of the root and branches in vv. 17-24. He does so by comparing the people of God to an olive tree that has both natural and wild branches.
C. Look at v. 17 where Paul speaks directly to Gentile believers saying: But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree,
1. The olive tree was the most common and most useful tree in the Mediterranean world. In the Old Testament Israel is identified as the olive tree (Jer. 11:16-19; Hos. 14:6-7), and here the olive tree represents the true, spiritual people of God.
2. Now Israel with its root being the patriarchs and God’s promises to them is viewed as the cultivated olive tree and the wild olive tree is the Gentile world. In this verse we see that the cultivated olive tree has experienced both a pruning and a grafting.
3. First, Paul says, “some of the branches were broken off.” Although the word “some” here refers to the unbelieving Jewish majority that rejected Christ and His gospel, Paul is simply stressing that not all the natural branches have been cut off.
4. Again Paul is showing that Israel’s rejection of Christ is not total but temporary, for God has always preserved for Himself a remnant. Here, the remaining natural branches are Jewish Christians.
5. Second, Paul states, “…and you (speaking about Gentile believers), being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” The wild olive tree was notoriously unfruitful, and thus, this was a good symbol of Gentiles prior to God’s grace in their lives.
6. Now concerning the grafting process, Paul knew very well that what he was talking about was not the “normal horticultural process” of grafting, for he says in v. 24 that this is, “contrary to nature.” Normally, grafting was done by taking a healthy fruit-producing branch from a cultivated olive tree and grafting it into a wild olive tree to invigorate it to produce fruit.
7. However, Paul reverses the process here in saying that wild olive branches are grafted into the cultivated olive tree. The historian William Ramsey states that this reverse process was also practiced “in exceptional circumstances. . . to reinvigorate an olive tree (cultivated) which is ceasing to bear fruit.” (Stott pg. 300)
8. But Paul wasn’t so focused on stating the correct process as he was in getting his point across. Thomas Schreiner states, “That Paul was uninterested in adhering to the actual practice of grafting in his day is apparent since he speaks of re-grafting branches that were previously broken off” in vv. 23-24. (pp.604-605)
9. Therefore, Paul’s point is that the grafting of wild olive branches into the cultivated olive tree refers to the Gentile believers who have been incorporated into the true, spiritual people of God. Now who did this breaking off and grafting in?
10. The one Greek word translated “were broken off” (exeklasthesan) and “were grafted in” (enekentristhes) are both in the passive voice. These are what is called “divine passives,” indicating that it is God Himself who has done this without explicitly using His name.
11. God has pruned or broke off the branches of the Jewish majority from the olive tree and grafted in the branches of Gentile believers. Now Paul says that we as Gentile believers, who once had no natural relationship to the patriarchs and the promises given to them, were “grafted in among them” referring to the remaining branches of believing Jews or the remnant.
12. Notice that we also “became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” As Gentile believers, we are now fellow sharers in the rich root—the spiritual strength and nourishment God has provided in His covenant promises given to the patriarchs. This will be described further in the next verse.
13. Now the major force of all this imagery is to set the stage for the second facet of Paul’s stern warning to Gentile Christians, which is this:
II. The Command to Not be Arrogant
A. Look at v. 18: do not be arrogant toward the branches; (Stop there)
1. Now the “branches” that Paul commands Gentile Christians to not be arrogant toward are both the unbelieving Jewish majority who has been broken off and the Jewish Christians whose branches remain in the tree.
2. The word “arrogant” (katakaucho) means to pridefully boast against or brag. It speaks of arrogantly seeing oneself as better and superior to others and looking down on them with contempt.
3. Now why were Gentile believers arrogant toward the Jews? Douglas Moo describes this well, saying, “These Gentile Christians appear to have concluded that the unprecedented degree in which the doors of salvation were open to Gentiles after the coming of Christ meant the closing of those same doors to Jews. At the same time, these Gentile believers were apparently convinced that they belonged to a new people of God that had simply replaced Israel. Those Jews who believed, they apparently assumed, could become part of their community and on their terms (14:1-15:13).” (pg. 704)
4. Certain Gentile believers saw themselves as especially prized in God’s sight since He exerted so much effort to include them as wild branches into His family. So since they (wrongly) perceived themselves as replacing the Jews, they were therefore better than and superior to them.
5. So in essence they were saying, “Junk those old branches we are the new branches!” But in doing this they fell into the same sin as the Jews, which we saw earlier in Romans.
6. Just as the Jews boasted over the Gentiles because of their heritage as God’s chosen people and their God-given privileges, so the Gentiles were doing the same thing as they arrogant boasted over the Jews because of their privileged position!
7. Arrogance of any kind is always sin. And this sinful attitude is the complete opposite of a humble and loving heart toward others that is to characterize God’s people. For Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
8. And Philippians 2:3-4 states, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
9. The third facet of Paul’s stern warning to Gentile Christians is this:
III. The Reasons why Arrogance is Wrong
A. The first reason is because Gentile believers are: Dependent on the root. Look at the end of v. 18: but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
1. Paul isn’t saying here that every Gentile Christian in Rome was arrogant toward the Jews; he is simply stating that “if” this is a present problem then deal with it! Here’s one thing to do: “…remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.”
2. Understand that to arrogantly boast over the Jews is to demonstrate an attitude of superiority and contempt for the Jewish heritage. Yet it is this very heritage upon which every Gentile believer depends for his or her spiritual standing.
3. Jesus said in John 4:22 that “salvation is from the Jews.” As wild olive branches, we as Gentiles had no spiritual life in ourselves apart from the root.
4. Yes, the Jews are as sinful as everyone else and deserve eternal punishment, as we saw earlier in Romans. And yet, we are dependent on the root!
5. It was only by God’s grace that He grafted us into the one tree of His redeemed people. It is the root that continually supports (present tense) every believer as we receive spiritual strength and nourishment in the covenant promises of God given to the patriarchs of Israel.
6. For it was God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
7. We as Gentiles are blessed by God because we have been grafted into the covenant of salvation that God made with Abraham and now graciously offers to all who believe in Abraham’s God. For Abraham is called “the father of all who believe” (4:11-12, 16-17; Gal. 3:6-9, 13-14).
8. Therefore, Charles Hodge rightly states, “…the Jews were the channels of blessings to Gentiles, and not the reverse.” (pg. 369)
9. We who are Gentile believers are truly indebted to Israel; Israel is not indebted to us.
B. The second reason arrogance is wrong is because Gentile believers are: Secure only by faith. Look at vv. 19-20: You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. (Stop there)
1. Anticipating what an imaginary Gentile believer might say to justify his feelings of superiority over the Jews, Paul states a hypothetical objection in v. 19: “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
2. What arrogant pride! This person actually sees God as specifically taking people out in order that he can be inserted into their place.
3. This is how important and special he sees himself to be. Now although God did intend to graft in Gentiles as the Jews were broken off (v. 11), notice the real reason that Paul says they were included into the people of God in v. 20: Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith.
4. The real reason Gentiles were included is because of the Jews “unbelief.” It is the issue of faith in Jesus Christ that makes all the difference; it is the decisive factor.
5. Whereas unbelief or lack of faith in Christ led the Jews to being rejected by God; it was faith in Christ led the Gentiles to being accepted by Him. Never forget that our salvation, our secure standing before God, is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
6. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” ( 3:27)
7. Because we stand before God only by faith, Paul then gives two more commands at the end of v. 20: Do not be conceited, but fear.
8. In essence he is saying, “Stop your proud high-minded way of thinking, and instead, have the proper attitude of fearing God in your daily life. The word “fear” (phobou) means reverential awe and respect for Almighty God.
9. The fear of God is the antidote to pride. And this kind of fear is an essential attitude for holy Christian living (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:17).
C. Paul now goes on to explain why every Gentile Christian should fear God in v. 21 and then gives the specific content of this fear in v. 22. Look first at v. 21: for if (if and it’s true or since) God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.
1. We as believers should fear God because if He did not tolerate unbelief and spare judgment upon the natural branches, His own chosen people Israel, what makes us think that if we as wild olive branches do the same thing that He is going to spare us?
2. John Murray rightly declared, “The same judgment will overtake the Gentiles if they fall into the same kind of self-righteous confidence (9:32-33; 10:3, 21).” (pg. 87)
3. Therefore, the fate of the natural branches could so easily become that of the grafted-in branches.
D. Paul then further describes what this fear of God is in v. 22: Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.
1. These are very scary words! But this is a warning passage against false security; it is not meant to give believers insecurity but rather biblical security.
2. Notice how in this verse God’s kindness precedes His severity. The kindness of God refers to His goodness, mercy and grace in sovereignly grafted into the true, spiritual people of God, the cultivated olive tree, a great number of Gentile branches who put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
3. While the severity of God refers to His wrath and judgment upon all those who reject Christ. This flows from His perfect holiness and justice.
4. Thomas Schreiner wisely observes, “The kindness of God cannot be truly appreciated as a gift of his grace unless the severity of God is contemplated as the just penalty for forsaking him.” (pg. 608)
5. Now notice that Paul then reverses the order and says, “…to those who fell, severity.” Again this refers to the Jewish majority who has rejected Christ and His gospel, and as a consequence receives God’s severe judgment upon them in that they are broken off from the tree.
6. Then Paul states, “but to you, God’s kindness.” This refers to God’s saving grace to every Gentile believer.
7. But just because people “profess” to be Christians doesn’t mean they are! Notice the warning statement, “…if you continue in His kindness.”
8. Now it is important to understand that Paul isn’t saying a true Christian can lose his salvation, but rather those who are truly saved will never completely walk away from the Christian faith.
9. Paul often warns “professing” believers of the necessity of continuing in the faith in order to be saved (1 Cor. 10:1-12; Gal. 5:2-4; Col. 1:23; 1 Thess. 3:1-5; also Jn. 8:31; 15:5-6; Heb. 3:6, 14).
10. The reality of true saving faith is tested and affirmed by its continuance. It is the perseverance of the saints that gives evidence of their genuine conversion.
11. Concerning this warning, John Murray states that this “…is a reminder that there is no such thing as continuance in the favor of God in spite of apostasy; God’s saving embrace and endurance are correlative.” (pg. 88)
12. And Douglas Moo is correct in saying, “For the goodness of God is not simply a past act or automatic benefit on which the believer can rest secure; it is also a continuing relationship in which the believer must remain.” (pg. 706)
13. Therefore, for true believers who continue in God’s kindness there is God’s kindness. But what if they are not?
14. Paul says at the end of v. 22, “…otherwise you also will be cut off.” Those who do not continue in the faith reveal that they were never truly saved to begin with.
15. For 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” And in doing so, they will ultimately receive the severe judgment of being cut off.
In closing, God will keep His covenant promises to the patriarchs, and because of that God is not finished with Israel. There is a bright future ahead for Israel, as we will see next time.
But we as Gentile believers must remember that our God is the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6; Matt. 22:32). Therefore, we who have been blessed by God and His grace to be grafted into the one root and one tree of the true, spiritual people of God have no reason whatsoever to boast over the Jews. There is absolutely no place for arrogant pride in the life of any believer. We are what we are solely by the grace of God. May our hearts simply be full of humble gratitude and praise to God for all He has done for us in Jesus Christ in saving us from our sins.