I wish I could say I understood every last nuance of Romans 11 (link). I don’t. Paul is at his most Baptist self here, as he connects rhetorical questions with Old Testament quotes and covers history from Abraham to his present day, including his own heritage. He has a point, but he also has a half-dozen sub-points.
I think we need to note something about those sub-points. I believe the Bible to be completely correct, truth without any mixture of error, God’s Word. However, I do not accept that we can cut out a phrase and claim that, absent its context and authorial intent, it means something odd or obscure. We need to be careful: Paul is not attempting to clear up every question the Romans hold on any theological issue that comes to mind.
He is focused on a single big question here: “God has not rejected His people, has He?” (Romans 11:1)
That is the point under consideration here. Now, we may accurately draw from this passage other ideas, but we need to not put words in Paul’s mouth here. Not simply because it’s unfair to Paul, but because the Holy Spirit did not inspire them, so we ought not add them in.
Now, back to the passage. Paul is discussing why it is that Israel has even been permitted to stumble. He has, over the past few chapters, expressed the depth of his concern for his people, Israel, and their rejection of Jesus.
We get into Romans 11 and we find Paul explaining why Israel was allowed to reject Jesus. Quite frankly, they were allowed to stumble in rejecting Christ because of us Gentiles.
They were, quite literally, failing for us.
If you read through Acts, you will see that the primary times the Gospel message went beyond the original audience of Jews and synagogues was when that audience rejected the message. Even the early examples of Gentile converts to Christianity were connected to Judaism: proselytes, God-fearers, and Samaritans.
As Paul is driven from the synagogues, though, he takes a more direct approach to moving the Gospel beyond those boundaries. The first recorded conversion to Christianity in Europe is of Lydia—a Greek woman who was praying by the river. I cannot, in the space of a blog, tell you all the ways in which that twists traditional religion.
The point Paul is driving at is this: be careful knocking down those who were instruments in God’s work in your life, even when they appear to have rejected Him. Why?
First, because oftentimes there is a history of godliness that are current generation may be ignoring. It would have been easy for the Gentiles to act superior, but the reality was that God had worked through the Jews for millennia. Just because there is an older generation not like you does not make them wrong…or fools.
Do you ever criticize former generations without truly considering what has changed since then?
Second, because there was a wisdom in their rejection. God used the rejection by the Jews to bring salvation to a lost and dying world. How could one criticize the very action that brought life? It would be akin to coming out of heart surgery and complaining about medical dissections of cadavers: you live because of what you mock.
Do you recognize the gains in your life that have come from other people’s losses?
Third, because grace is enough. Paul highlights that even though there was some rejection of Christ, there were also those from among Israel that accepted Him. Grace is enough, for once and for always.
Do you rely on God’s grace so much that you know it must be what holds the world together?