Romans chapters 9-11 of Paul’s letter to the Gentile followers of Jesus Christ in Rome, is God’s definitive word about Jews and Israel in the New Testament. At the same time it voices some admonitions to Gentiles about potentially negative attitudes on their part – some significant “Don’ts” that we do well to avoid.
Romans 9-11 follows one of the clearest statements in the Bible about the confident security of our eternal salvation that we have as the beloved people of God. Romans 8:31-39 proclaims: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now if this is true of us who confess Christ, and we most certainly do believe it is, then what are we to make of the “everlasting covenants” that God has promised to the Jews? Are they no longer in effect? Have they been so completely fulfilled in Christ that they have no continuing validity for Jews? Has God, in fact, totally rejected the Jews because of their sin, unbelief and disobedience? Paul answers these questions in Romans 9-11.
In summary, Paul connects God’s continuing work with the Jewish people with Isaiah’s prophecy concerning “the remnant.” “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”
Paul further identifies himself with this “remnant” when he says, “I ask then, did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people. …So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” Finally, Paul sees the “remnant” as being the present continuation of the faith of the Patriarchs and the covenant community that he identifies as the “root” in the Olive Tree metaphor of Romans 11:17-24.
Paul tells us in Romans 11:25, the Olive Tree metaphor is a mystery. What is this mystery? The mystery now being unveiled is that Gentiles who believe are now grafted into the “root” or the “remnant.” In Ephesians 3:6 Paul states the new mystery relationship this way, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” We must note that believing Gentiles do not become physical Jews in this new mystery relationship, however they do have a spiritual “citizenship in Israel – fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” This new mystery relationship appears to be what Paul is referring too when he speaks of the “Israel of God.”
However, in the Olive Tree metaphor of Romans 11:17-24, Gentile believers are referred to as a “wild olive shoot” that has been “grafted in” to the original olive root, in other words, the believing Jewish remnant. It is at this point that Paul gives his admonitions against negative haughty attitudes evidently existing in his day and expressed by believing Gentiles toward Jews. In giving these admonitions he is anticipating these same attitudes that are pervasive today among Gentile believers. There are four admonitions.
The first, “do not boast,” is found in verse 18. This speaks to a prideful attitude that sees Gentile believers or Christians as superior to Jews and in some cases as having replaced them as the covenant people of God. Paul declares that no such replacement has taken place. He further clarifies by saying in effect, “let’s get one thing straight,” “You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” That is to say, we as Gentile believers are dependent on our Jewish spiritual linkage, not vice versa.
The second, “do not be arrogant,” is found in verse 20. The word used here means “high minded” or having a superior and condescending attitude on the part of Gentiles to Jews. Paul’s warning here is indeed a stern and solemn one. God did not put up with arrogant, disobedient and obnoxiously unbelieving Jews in the past. Be careful! He will put up with you only if you continue in His kindness and grace.
The third, “do not be ignorant,” is found in verse 25. Here the Apostle is calling for knowledge and understanding of the “mystery.” What mystery? Clearly the context is speaking of the mystery of the Olive Tree. Paul is obviously referring to the mystery, heretofore unknown, but now revealed, namely, “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Paul is speaking to a problem that pervades the Gentile believing community today and it is one of ignorance. We simply don’t have the first clue that we are inseparably linked to our Jewish root. As such we are like an orphan who doesn’t know who his parents are. It is a matter of gross ignorance based on lack of clear knowledge from God’s Word.
The fourth, “do not be conceited,” is also found in verse 25. Literally the words mean, do not be “wise in yourself” or have an attitude of “self-exalting wisdom.” The question is, about what? The answer is, about the role and goal of salvation for both Israel and the Gentiles. Paul refers to both when he says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” That is to say, the day is coming when the remnant of Israel will be significantly enlarged by ethnic Jews and will include the full number of Gentiles that have come in, and in this way, “all Israel will be saved.”
Until that time, Paul’s admonitions to Gentile believers remain in effect. Basically, these admonitions or “Don’ts” are directed against a willful and prideful ignorance on the part of Gentile believers in Christ regarding their vital and inseparable connection with Jews as a people as well as the believing Jewish remnant. Since it is impossible to know what Jews will ultimately constitute that remnant, we are exhorted to follow Paul’s further admonition:
“Just as you were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they to have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.”
Of all the plans to enlarge the Jewish remnant, proactively showing them mercy appears to be the Biblical means of moving them to jealousy and envy and avoiding the “Don’ts” of Romans 11.