Paul's letter to the Romans
God will be gracious to all
Well then, has God given up on his people? I can't believe
it! I am an Israelite myself, of the seed of Abraham and
the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected the people he once
chose. Do you remember what the scripture tells us about
Elijah, how he complained to God about Israel: 'Lord they
have killed your prophets, they have torn down your
altars. I'm the only one left, and they are after me too
to kill me.' But what did God say to him? 'I
still have seven thousand who have not bowed down to Baal.
(1 Kings 19:10,18)' It is the same now.
There is a 'remnant' chosen by the grace of God. And if by grace
then it is not because of deeds done, or grace would not be grace.
Israel as such has not yet found what it was looking for. Only a few chosen ones have found it. The rest have been made impervious to the truth, just as the text says: 'God has afflicted them with a dull spirit, blind eyes, and deaf ears. (Is 29:10)' And they are like that to this day. A psalm underlines the point: 'Let their own table become a snare for them, a stumbling-block and a punishment! Let their eyes become so dim that they cannot see at all. Let their back be bowed for ever. (Ps 69:22,23)'
My question is, is their failure their final downfall?
In no way! Because they went astray salvation has come to the
Gentiles, to make Israel envious. But if their straying
has brought blessing to the world, and if their fault has enriched the
Gentiles, imagine what it will mean when they are themselves brought
Paul has had a lot to say about the 'remnant' and the theme returns here. When Elijah complained that the cause was totally lost God reminded him of the remnant. That was not to say that the remnant constituted Israel from then on. In due course the greater part of Israel would be added back onto them. Paul sees the present Jewish Christian community as the remnant of his day, and he is confident that God is planning to add to them the larger Israel.
Now here is something I want to say especially to you as Gentiles. I am a missionary to Gentiles. But I do particular honour to that ministry when through it I try to move my own people to emulation, and so save some of them. If their rejection has issued in reconciliation for the world, what will come of their acceptance? Life from the dead!
If the offering of first fruits is holy so is what it represents. If the root is consecrated so are the branches. If some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive, have been grafted in among them, so that you have come to share the same root and sap as the olive, don't assume that you are superior to the other branches. It is not you who sustain the root: the root sustains you. You may want to say that branches have been taken out so that you might be grafted in. All right. They were removed for lack of faith, and because you do have faith you keep your place. But let go of your pride, and watch yourselves. If God didn't spare the original branches he certainly won't be indulgent to you.
Be aware of both the kindness and the severity of God -
severity to those who fell away, and kindness for you if you continue
in his kindness. If not you too will be cut out. And
those others, if they don't continue in their faithlessness,
will be grafted back in. God can do it. If you can
be taken from a wild olive and grafted unnaturally into the cultivated
tree, it will be easier still for God to graft those other branches
back into their own stock. [13-24]
We do have to admire Paul for the careful way he has built up to this point. His letter is intended as an 'evangelization' of a community that owes him nothing - he was not their founder. He does have something important that he needs to say to them. He has been hinting at it, but only here does it fully emerge, to become the basis for some quite practical instruction in the final chapters.There is a hidden reason in all this that you need to understand, so that you won't get the wrong idea. One part of Israel has become blind only until the Gentiles have been brought in in strength. Then the rest of Israel will be saved as well. For the scripture says: 'The Deliverer will come from Zion to remove Jacob's wickedness. And this is the covenant I will make with them when I take away their sins. (Is 59:20; 27:9)'
In the course of the spread of the Gospel they have been treated as God's enemies for your benefit. Nevertheless they are God's friends because of the patriarchs. God's grace and God's call won't be rescinded. You yourselves were at one time disobedient to God. But now, in the time of their disobedience, you have come to know God's mercy. While you stand in God's favour they remain disobedient, but only so that at last they too may receive mercy. God has let everyone be caught up for a time in rebellion, only in order to be gracious to everyone.
How amazing the profundity of God's wealth and wisdom and
knowledge! 'How far beyond our understanding his judgments and
his ways! Whoever could know the mind of the Lord, or give
or lend him anything? (Is 40:13)' Everything
comes from him, lives through him, and finds its goal in
him. To him be glory for ever. Amen.
So now, if they have been receptive to his argument, the Gentile Christians of Rome can be in no doubt that their destiny is intimately bound up with that of their Jewish Christian neighbours. (Early Christian writing that came out of Rome after the time of Paul doesn't actually give the impression of preserving much that was specific to him. But that was a couple of generations later. By that time hardly anybody in all Christendom was still holding fast to Paul's special insights.)
paraphrase and notes by Evan Lewis