Unity In Times of Disagreement
“Pride goes before a fall.” People who have never even read the Bible know that famous verse from Proverbs 16:18. We’ve heard it quoted in about every context possible. When a person achieves fame, fortune, or notoriety and then experiences a tumble from the top of the heap–newspapers, magazines, and television talking heads utter the famous quotation from Solomon, “Pride goes before a fall.”
In our Scripture for today, found in Romans 11:16-32, Paul warns the Gentiles who have been showered with God’s grace and mercy not to become arrogant or boastful about what God has done. Let’s read our Scripture together and then we will get started.
16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! 25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:16-32 NIV)
In the Scripture that we are taking a look at today Paul is continuing to try and explain God’s plan for His Chosen people to his readers. I’ve mentioned to you that there were many people who were wondering if God had washed His hands of His Chosen people and was finally through with them. Paul makes it very clear that God has not forgotten His promises to His Chosen people, but He has set them aside, for a time, so as to turn His attention to the Gentiles.
Paul’s message to the believers in Rome is desperately needed in our own day because there are many Bible teachers who are teaching that God is indeed done with His Chosen people. They teach what is known as “Replacement Theology.” “Replacement Theology” teaches that the Church has taken the place of the Chosen People and that God is done with the Jewish people. I do not know how anyone could read Romans 9-11, as we have done over the past several weeks, and arrive at that conclusion.
Paul warned those of his day, “do not boast” (vs. 18), “do not be arrogant” (vs. 20), and “so that you may not be conceited” (vs. 25). I would put even more weight on the words of the Apostle by saying “God warned” instead of “Paul warned.” Yet, have we heeded the counsel of God? Absolutely not.
The “Replacement Theology” of our day, which has gained a lot of acceptance, is nothing new at all, but it is rooted in an old, ancient, heretical teaching which has done so much harm to hinder the relationship of our Jewish brothers and sisters with the Body of Christ. Like all other false teaching that you and I hear today, if you will dig a little deeper you will find that it isn’t new at all. Solomon wrote,
9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 NIV)
In the early Church there were many Jewish believers in Jesus who still frequented the synagogue after their conversion to Jesus. They saw themselves as an extension of Judaism and not separate from it. They had a great desire for their own people to come to know Jesus as their Messiah just as they had. As time rocked along there were events that took place that widened the divide between the Jewish people and Christians.
Before Jerusalem came under attack by Titus and was destroyed in 70 A.D., Jewish Christians fled the city and went to Pella in Perea. During the Second Jewish Revolt of 132-135 A.D., Jewish Christians refused to fight against the Romans. A Jewish man named Simon Bar Kokhba led the revolt and claimed to be the Messiah. Well, Jewish Christians were followers of Jesus, they could not support a false Messiah, but they were viewed by Jews as traitors. Emperor Hadrian slaughtered almost 500,000 Jews and destroyed nearly all of Judea during the Second Revolt.
A few years later, Justin Martyr (160 A.D.), led the charges in defining the Church as the replacement of the Jewish people. Justin taught that the promises of God were for the Church and no longer for the nation of Israel.
Justin Martyr was a converted Gentile philosopher. In his second century Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, he went so far as to say that the Jews were separated from other nations and “justly suffer.” He wrote that all of the tragedies that have come upon the nation of Israel are because “you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him, and now you reject those who hope in Him.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 16).
Throughout the centuries we have witnessed this mindset held by many Christians towards the Jewish people. It has been witnessed in Catholics and Protestants throughout the ages. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, was known early in his life as a friend of the Jews. He felt that the Catholic Church was no friend of the Jews so he wrote, in 1523, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In that work he states,
If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life, but only subject them to popishness and monkery…If the apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles … When we are inclined to boast of our position [as Christians] we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are…If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.(Martin Luther, That Jesus Was Born a Jew.)
Twenty years later Luther’s attitude towards the Jewish people had changed, radically changed. In 1543 he wrote, On the Jews and Their Lies. Luther died just three years later, in 1546. How tragic it is that someone who was used by God so powerfully to lead others back to the Scriptures earlier in his life, ended his life as a hater of God’s Chosen people. In, On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther wrote that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burned to the ground, Jewish people run out of their homes, their prayer books and Talmudic writings burned, and rabbis should be forbidden to preach or teach. Martin Luther, a German, also said that German Jews should be confined to their own homes and neighborhoods. When you jump forward in history about 400 years, in the nation of Germany, you will see that what Luther suggested is exactly what Adolf Hitler did.
Pride and arrogance are devilish devices that will inevitably cause us to lose sight of God’s glorious grandeur and grace and become consumed with ourselves. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” (C.S. Lewis)
We are not to become arrogant, conceited, or boastful. But about what? Let”s go back and take a look at vss. 16-21. Paul says,
16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. (Romans 11:16-21 NIV)
Paul uses the illustration of an olive tree to demonstrate how God has “grafted” in the Gentiles who have become followers of Jesus. The use of the olive tree is an interesting choice by Paul. Paul had an incredible knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and so he knew about God’s use of the olive tree as a description for His people in times past. In Jeremiah 11:16-17 we read,
16 The LORD called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken. 17 The LORD Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done evil and provoked me to anger by burning incense to Baal. (Jeremiah 11:16-17 NIV)
Here in Jeremiah we read about branches being broken off because of the evil that God’s people had done. In a second Scripture, in Hosea 14:4-9, we see the use of the olive tree again, but this time God says that He will restore His people and they will be fruitful once again. Let’s read together.
4 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; 6 his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. 7 Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.” 9 Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:4-9 NIV)
In these two instances the olive tree is without a doubt the nation of Israel, but Paul begins his discussion of the olive tree in Romans 11 by saying, “if the root is holy, so are the branches.” Paul goes deeper than merely talking about the tree, he starts with the root. There are various ideas about just who “the root” is supposed to be. Some say the root is the Messiah. Donald Grey Barnhouse said that he has uncovered at least six different interpretations of this passage of Scripture. Well, we’re not going to go through all of the various interpretations, but I will tell that I believe that the root is representative of the Patriarchs, especially Abraham. Abraham was “set apart” by God, he was chosen by God, and there are implications of God’s choosing for Abraham’s descendants. Paul says that if the root is “holy” then so are the branches.
We need to understand the word “holy.” If you ask people what the word means today they will most often tell you that it means you a religious freak. It is a descriptive word used to identify someone who wears their hair in a bun, carries their Bible around with them all of the time, and has a bunch of religious bumper stickers on their car. That is the caricature of holiness in our day, but in actuality the word means, “set apart.” Abraham was set apart for God’s purposes. Those who are “in Christ” are set apart for God’s purposes. Our lives are not our own. If Abraham is set apart, so are his descendants.
Paul tells us that some of the branches have been broken off and some “wild olive branches” have been “grafted in.” One of the problems in using illustrations is that you can push them too far and make too much of them until you actually lose the point you were trying to make. Let’s not make that mistake. Let me just give you one example so you can see what I am talking about. We say that Abraham is the root. Well, we are not “supported” by Abraham, we are supported by God, but it is God’s choosing of Abraham, making promises to Abraham and his descendants, etc. that gives us the very foundation for our faith.
Paul tells us that some of the branches have been broken off. Because most of God’s Chosen people hardened their hearts to God and rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God “broke them off.” Let me give you an example of what Paul means by this phrase. In John 12:37-41 we read about Jesus doing many miracles and how many of the Jews still refused to believe. John writes,
37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. (John 12:37-41 NIV)
This “blinding” of their eyes and “deadening” of their hearts is only temporary and not all Jewish people have rejected Jesus. Paul teaches us in Romans 9-11 that God is not finished with His people, but as His people turn away, God has turned to the Gentiles. He has showered us with His grace and mercy, He has opened our eyes to the salvation that He has made available to us in Jesus, the Messiah, and He has called us to be His ambassadors to a lost world. In so doing, God also reminds us, through Paul, not to become conceited or arrogant.
We have been grafted in. We are not Jews, we are Gentiles. We are wild olive branches that have been grafted into a cultivated olive tree. Paul describes us Gentiles in other ways in his other letters as well. In Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, he reminds his Gentile readers of what they once were before they came to know Jesus. Paul writes,
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV)
That is a pretty desperate state is it not? Yet, in our state of desperation, separated from God, without hope, without Christ, foreigners to the covenants of promise, pagan through and through, God came to us! We didn’t go seeking Him, He sought us out, rescued us through His Son, redeemed us by His blood, is sanctifying us moment-by-moment, and has sent us out into this lost world to spread the Good News! Now, can you see why Paul urges us not to be conceited!
In verse 20, Paul says, 20 “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.” (Romans 11:20 NIV) Instead of being arrogant we should be “afraid?” What does that mean? I think it is pretty clear. We should know that if the Jews, the Chosen people of God, with all of the blessings God showered upon them, were able to turn away, harden their hearts, and suffer God’s judgment, then most certainly it can happen to us as well. After all, what was it that led to Israel’s downfall? Was it not arrogance and pride? If we know that we are vulnerable to pride and that God has dealt harshly with those who have been so blessed in the past who have acted in that manner then it will make us much more attentive to making sure that we remain humble.
In Romans 11:25, Paul reiterates his exhortation once again. Don’t do it! Don’t give in to pride and arrogance. Paul says that he is explaining this mystery to us, this inconceivable, unbelievable plan that God is executing so that we will not be ignorant and become arrogant. What a powerful statement! Ignorance is at the root of so much of the ethnic, racial, and class problems that we have today is it not? If we understood who we are, that we are all created by the hand of a gracious God, then none of us would look down on others. Paul writes,
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25 NIV)
God’s dealings with His Chosen people and His subsequent showering of those who were not a people with His grace and mercy are a mystery for sure! Just last week we learned that God’s plan is to use what He is doing among us Gentiles to stir the Jews to turn to Jesus at some point in the future. Who could have ever thought such a thing could happen? Who, in our day, could even imagine that something like this will happen? Our minds just don’t work like that do they? Paul says that he wants us to understand this mystery so that we may not be conceited. The New American Standard version of the Bible translates the phrase as, “lest you be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 11:25 NAS) That is what happens to us when we listen to ourselves instead of listening to God. We value our thoughts more than we value the truth of God’s Word. In the next chapter of Romans, Paul writes,
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3 NIV)
In Romans 12, Paul’s comments are not specifically aimed at Christian’s perception of Jews, but they are intended to challenge our estimation of all people. Our humility concerning our relationships with others should begin with God’s Chosen people for sure, but it must not stop there. We can’t hold the Jews in high esteem and express our gratitude for all that we have inherited from them while at the same time looking down on other people groups.
God has called you and me to see all people as people of incredible worth and value for no other reason than that God has created them. He has given them life, He has a purpose for their lives, and we are to live in such a way that they might see God working in us and turn to Jesus the Messiah.
What an incredible lesson for all of us. In a world where arrogance is applauded, where ringing our own bell is seen as a strength, God calls us to be people of great humility. We are not called to be great in the world’s eyes; we are called to be servants of the world so that they might come to know Jesus as Lord of their lives.
Let me tell you that this type of life, the life that God has called us to live, is impossible apart from living in Christ. If you want to live the life that God has called you to live then you and I must surrender our pride, our arrogance, our will to His. Cry out for Jesus to come into your heart and remove any arrogance that resides there. I can say without a doubt that this statement pertains to all of us. There is nobody who hasn’t experienced any form of arrogance. There is nobody here this morning who does not know what it is like to look down your nose at someone else because of what they have done or failed to do or because of what you have done or refused to do. Some of the most arrogant people I have ever known are self-righteous Christians who look down upon those who are still trapped in their sinful ways. I’ve heard Christians talk about others who do not know the Lord or are not walking with the Lord in such a way that you would think they died on the Cross for sinners. There is no place for pride at the foot of the Cross my friends.
In our society we have deemed some sins worse than others, but for God we are all sinners who are desperately in need of His saving grace. Once our eyes have been opened to His grace we should experience a brokenness for those who are yet to know. Our brokenness should lead us to their side to love them, pray for them, and share with them the transforming love that is available in Jesus our Lord.
How about you? Is there someone here this morning who knows that they are a sinner desperately in need of God’s grace? If so, then welcome to the club. I’m the President of that club and I’ve come to tell there that there is hope for you, but it is only found in Jesus. Won’t you invite Him into your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 24, 2014