What Part Do You Play?

Lesson 47: Romans 12:6-8

What Part Do You Play?

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was always the little agile guy who could wiggle and squeeze into small tight places where my bigger friends could not go. This was in the days when there were no computer game consoles. It was even before to old original Atari. When we played soldiers we had to put together the battle plans, and do all the running and crawling on our own. There were no computer generated characters to do it for us. We had to fall down and grimace when we were shot. Thankfully, by our own rules, the medics could heal anything and we would immediately be back in action.

Living in the steel plant community of South Buffalo, we were not rich. We had to improvise and use our imaginations when we waged pretend war. We did not have all the plastic weapons, walkie talkies, and toy helmets that were on the market for kids back then. However, that did not bother us much. So what if our combat sidearms were silver and had the name “Roy Rodgers” stamped on the side, or that our combat helmets strongly resembled the hats we wore playing baseball, or even that our grenades looked suspiciously like clumps of hardened mud (a fact not so much appreciated by our parents after a battle in the basement or attic).

When our guns fired, the most skilled of us could do a reasonable sound effect with our mouths. We even got grenade sounds down fairly well. This was done way before the time of George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic Company.

Being the size I was, I was always the one who had to crawl through the small basement window into enemy territory, then stumble my way through the coal bin to make a surprise attack while the rest of my larger buddies made a much easier assault down the basement steps.

In such times my smallness and bendability was appreciated, and I became a daring hero. We all had our talents and we were glad to use and develop them in our back yards, alley ways, basements, attics, and along the streets to help our side win the war. We were a team, and everyone had an important role.

God also uses even the least of us as important parts in the work of his Kingdom. When talking about all the different kinds of people in the church, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:22 “… those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

In our previous study of verses 3-5 we saw that every Christian needs to maintain a healthy view of how he fits into the whole family of God. Paul used the example of the human body. Every part has a purpose so that together they make one whole functioning person.

Christians organized in to a spiritual family called the Church are like the members of a body. When a believer becomes centered upon himself instead of upon the Lord he develops a destructive attitude. If he esteems his own abilities too highly he forgets how all that he accomplishes is a gift of grace, and he tends to be less considerate of the work of others in God’s plan. If he tends to always pity himself, or put himself down, he fails to respect the promises of the God who calls him to his particular place. These wrong attitudes produce depression, discouragement, and crippling self-injury.

Instead, the Christian should learn to love his own calling in life. He must pursue that calling with the diligence of thankful obedience and humble gratitude toward his Savior. He needs to appreciate his own duties, and the uniqueness of every member in the church.

Paul then listed some of the gifts God was giving the church at that time:

Romans 12:6-8, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This list is just a sampling to illustrate the principles he had just explained. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list. The Apostle gave us other lists when he wrote to other churches too. When he listed some of the gifts for the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12 he even made the same comparison between the human body and the church as here in Romans 12. In Ephesians 4:11 he listed still other special duties from God for specially called individuals in the church at that time.

Keep a few ideas in mind as we look at this list of seven abilities God puts into his church.

  1. Since these gifts, abilities, and opportunities are given by God’s grace, there is no cause for self-glory.
  2. They are to be used together for the benefit of the whole family of God.
  3. They are for the church as a whole body, and apply to every area of life, not just in the areas of worship and acts of mercy. Our gifts are to be used in our homes, at school, at work, in the community, and with friends.
  4. It is the gifts that are spoken of in this list, not just specially gifted individuals. Sometimes the same gift appears in the same person, or many gifts are needed in one situation.

We each have gifts that differ. Each must be used responsibly for the good of the whole body

1. God had given to some the gift of prophesy.

When Paul wrote this book to the Romans the Bible was not yet complete. God was still speaking by special revelation directly to his Apostles and prophets. This special gift to the church was necessary until God completed his written word.

In Ephesians 4 he listed more of these special gifts. In verse eleven he said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,”

We do not have apostles and prophets in the church today. Their unique job of receiving new revelation from God for the church is now ended.

The work of evangelism, pastoring and teaching continues primarily in the office of Elder. This is the office of overseeing the application of what God had already revealed. In every age of the church, the Elder embodies these last three duties. Though some Elders may be more gifted than others in one of these skills or another, they do not represent three different offices of the church.

These are special callings, not things in which every believer engages. Even the special gifts were for the benefit of the whole family of God.

In Ephesians 4:12-13 he explained the purpose of these special callings, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Today God’s revelation is complete, and is available to us all in our Bibles. We do not have Apostles and Prophets to add to it. We do have specially called Elders to promote the gospel, shepherd and teach God’s people. These spiritual leaders are enabled to more competently understand and report God’s truth to the church.

There is a sense in which all believers carry out the work of the prophet. We each ought to be ready and able to give an answer for the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be ready to tell what God has said to others when the opportunity comes. We tell about the prophetic word in the Bible.

So the warning and admonition for the prophetic work applies to us all too. The prophetic work is to be done according to the proportion of faith God has given us. The biblical faith must be presented in confidence for what it is, the very word of God. If God puts you in a situation where you can help a person find out what God says, do not imagine you are incompetent. God gifts us for the jobs he brings our way.

Do your humble best to help the person find out what God has said in his word. You do not have to be an expert. The Samaritan woman at the well was no trained expert. She just invited the people of the city to where they could hear the word of Christ. If you do nothing more than invite the person to church, to hear the word taught you have done a wonderful service for the kingdom.

You need to be careful not to say things if you are not sure what God has said. Do not guess or go by your feelings about what is right and true. Stay with what you know the Bible says. Beyond that, help the person find answers as you learn along with them. Ask your Pastor or Elder for some direction as to where to get good help. This is what it means today to limit the prophetic work according to the proportion of faith. Stay within what God has made you sure of by his written word. The teller of God’s word must love the truth, and trust its promises.

2. God sometimes gifts us for the work of ministry.

This is the work of a servant, humbly helping others, particularly the needy. When there is a need among those in the church, God calls his people to meet that need.

Our lost world sees no value of the work of being a servant. Their goal is to be served. Humble service is a most “Christ-like” and honorable duty. In Luke 22:25-27 Jesus said to his disciples, “… The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”

The word used here for “ministry” is the same as the root word for Deacon. These specially called officers lead the church in being humble servants of Christ. They do the kinds of daily jobs that are often not highly rewarded or appreciated. However, without such things the church of Christ would be crippled and hampered.

Under that leadership, all believers are called to this work of service. When you have an opportunity to serve others for the glory of Christ, do it. Follow the lead of those specially gifted in this way. Learn from them as they follow the lead of Jesus Christ. Do not wish your job was something else, something more honorable, with more authority. Humble service is a wonderful, Christ like behavior, and gift of God to his church.

3. God sometimes gifts his people to be teachers.

The prophets were those who received the word of God. Teachers apply what God has said and help others to learn and obey.

Again, all believers must tell God’s truth and present his gospel at every opportunity. God has called some to set aside other things in their lives and become teachers. God is not just concerned with teaching about Bible stories and salvation. His word also has guidelines for how we view history, science, politics, and every other area of life. There are principles that effect us every day. Parents are specially called to teach their children. It is a special and holy calling. Elders are specially called to be the teachers in the church and to oversee all its educational work.

In using these talents, we must communicate God’s truth clearly. Our goal is to make it understood to the best of our ability to all of God’s children. If you have the opportunity, be doing it. Teach, and teach well.

4. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of exhortation.

This is the job of exciting believers to their duties, and dissuading them from sin. Pastors, parents, publishers, writers, artists, Sunday School teachers, and youth workers all need to be diligent to use every opportunity, every ability, to encourage believers zealously to apply God’s revealed truth in their daily living. When you can be an encouragement to godly living, do it.

5. God sometimes gifts us for the work of giving.

God gives us many things. What we have is entrusted to us to use for God’s glory. The first 10% of what we earn is the Lord’s for his church. That is what the word tithe means. That giving ought to be done obediently before we look at our own expenses and desires. The work of the church requires physical means to operate and to care for its people. That would not be done if we keep for ourselves, or give to charities, what belongs to God.

What remains ours is to be managed to provide for our needs and those of others. Sometimes we give thank offerings to the church to show God our gratitude. Sometimes we use our means to help family, friends or neighbors in times of need.

In all of our management, we ought to try to be able to give as it says here, “with liberality”. That means freely, not grudgingly or holding back. The word here literally means “with simplicity”. We give without qualifications, excuses, or grumbling. Giving must be done with devotion and joy for the work of Christ. There must be no “ulterior motives” or “giving for personal honor or reward”.

This is a work to which some are better suited than others. By the gifting of God, some are able to do much more than others. Being a godly and successful businessman or investor is a gift of God. Without such the body of Christ would be lame.

Our goal should be to have enough to help out with our giving as God enables us. Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

6. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of leadership.

There is a broad principle of headship in Scripture. Some are called to rule. Husbands are called specially to manage the homes, and parents to manage their children. Bosses are to responsibly oversee their businesses and workers. Governors of various sorts are to rule in society for God’s glory. Elders are to rule in the church representing God’s principles of operation.

Where God has given the authority to rule it must be done with diligence. Leaders must be faithful to their duty and submissive to God’s moral law. They my use the talents of others, but they are not to pass off their responsibility. It is their duty to see that the work they oversee is not done poorly. Those in charge must put forth a good effort, relying on God’s enablement. Godly leadership, conducted in love, is a wonderful gift to develop at every level.

7. God sometimes gifts us to do the work of mercy.

This is the compassionate and personal care of those in need. In some ways this is a job for all of us. Every believer should want to care for the sick and the sad. The office of a deacon is specially a calling to the work of mercy. They lead the rest of the congregation in this service too.

All who are called to show mercy, must do it with cheerfulness, not as a chore. Attitude is very important in our obedience to Christ. John Calvin, showing his pastor’s heart, wrote, “nothing gives more solace to the sick or to anyone otherwise distressed, than to see those cheerful and prompt in assisting them …” And he warned of what happens to the needy when cheerfulness is lacking, “… so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given makes them feel themselves despised”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”

What part do you play?

Do you serve faithfully and gladly, however God calls you to serve in his family? Do you serve according to the faith God gives you? according to your confidence in what he says in his word? with obedience to your calling at the moment? with singleness of mind? with diligence? with cheerfulness?

Love for God and his mercy, sincere gratitude, is what drives us as we function as a body. There are no unimportant jobs in the church, no dispensable members. The simple acts of praying for needs, inviting people to worship, and encouraging the discouraged are each a part of how God works in us to promote the health of the whole body of his church.

As a good, faithful and humble member of the body of Christ never despair your own inadequacy as if God might have made a mistake in putting you there at that time. On the other hand, never become puffed up as if God should be thankful to you for your own skills.

Use every skill and opportunity as a wonderful opportunity to show your love to God. He will be glorified in your life.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Parts of the Whole

Lesson 46: Romans 12:3-5

Parts of the Whole

by Bob Burridge ©2012

My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was a railroad Engineer on the Lackawanna Railroad. He was also quite a handyman and a hobbyist in mid 20th century electronics. In his basement he had drawers full of old vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, coils and every imaginable part of that era’s technology. I would follow him into his workshop and sit on a stool watching him work with his testing probes and soldering iron — bringing old radios back to life or making inventive circuits.

He showed me how to make a crystal radio out of just a stone, a needle, and scrap parts. I slowly learned how each of the strange looking components worked. I’d ask, “What does that little thing do? Why’s it important?” In his quiet, patient way he would explain as he went about his work.

Of course the parts were all important. No decent circuit designer would include components that didn’t serve a purpose. Some parts took a weak signal and made it much more powerful. Some stored up a charge, then fed it back through the circuit at regular intervals. Some would choke out certain frequencies and enhance others. Some held back the flow of electricity in one wire, making it flow more easily in another. Every little part, no matter how small or strange looking, was there for a reason.

Together they did what the circuit designer wanted to accomplish. By itself, each piece was just a puzzling little component in a drawer.

When our Lord gathers his people to form a church family, each part has a purpose. When individuals fail to see that they fit into the larger picture they easily can get discouraged. Paul warned the Roman Christians to appreciate how each person has a purpose in making the body function well.

Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Paul was well aware that his message was not his own. It was given him by God’s grace. He was saved by the same grace that he had in common with all believers. His Apostolic office and duties were a special grace by which God used Paul to minister to the church.

He warned that we should have a healthy view of ourselves. We live in an age where self-gratification is considered the purpose of everything. Self-centeredness can make the quest for self-esteem become a disastrous obsession. That attitude never satisfies and usually leads to self-defeating abuses. We are warned here that we should not exalt ourselves unduly. We need to remember that we are each an important part of something much larger than ourselves.

The sin of self-exaltation, self-centeredness,
can show itself in two different ways.

The first is self-importance. Remember that you are just one small part of a whole work far greater than what you see. Our sinful hearts can so easily forget God’s grace which alone has enabled us whenever we succeed. It becomes easy to think of our abilities as works of our own raw efforts bettered by opportunities that come along randomly.

Every Christian needs to keep his successes in perspective. Maybe you have earned enough money that you are able to contribute to the church beyond just your tithes. Perhaps you have helped by counseling someone in Christ, taught a really good lesson, spent time to work on the church grounds, or have come to understand some profound biblical truth. If so, guard against becoming puffed up in your attitude. These are wonderful things to accomplish for the Lord, but never imagine that you accomplished them on your own, or that there is no one as valuable in the church as yourself. Guard against thinking you deserve special recognition or honor.

Pride can also show itself in self-pity. This is a more subtle symptom of self-centered thinking. At first glance, putting yourself down may seem the opposite of a high view of self. In reality, it maybe the more common way self-absorption shows itself. Even great prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah and Jonah had times when they struggled with this sin. To think that there is none so miserable, or ill treated and deserving of pity as yourself is a slight against God who has made you for what you are called to be and to do.

This self-centeredness sees God’s work only as it effects you. It diminishes the value of your gifts and contributions as if God has failed to give you enough. Professor John Murray said, “by underestimating, we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of others.”

Self-pity can make you neglect what God has given you to be doing for his glory. A paralyzing self-deprecation ignores God’s enablement and diminishes the importance of his assignments for your life. You tend to not see how you are an important component in God’s plan.

In either case — self-importance or self-pity — we focus too much upon ourselves. We each need to take our place in the church, what ever it is, and to do it faithfully and diligently for Christ’s glory.

Paul then tells us that we should use sound judgment in serving Christ. That expression in this verse is translated in different ways. They each help us understand the flavor of Paul’s words. The King James and the New King James translate it, “think soberly.” The New American Standard has, “have sound judgment.” The New International combines the two ideas saying, “with sober judgment.”

The sound and sober judgment about our place in God’s Kingdom work is allotted to each with a measure of faith. It is God who not only gives us the gifts, but also our confidence to exercise them. We need to rest upon God’s revealed word to show us how to use our gifts, and to direct us to trust in his promise to enable us. We are to see our work as an important part of the whole.

When my grandfather taught me to fix old radio circuits, the first thing was to find the broken part. Sometimes it was a burned out vacuum tube. I remember taking a whole bag of glass tubes down to O’Malley’s Drug Store to test them on the tube testing machine. My parents came to trust me to do that job when electronic things broke down at our house. I learned to put each one into the machine, test the filament, test the vacuum of the glass tube, and then set the dials to check the performance of the component. Sometimes it was a bad capacitor, or resistor, or a shorted out coil. Just one of those little things would stop the whole TV, Radio, or Phonograph from working.

When we look at our lives we need to find out what elements need repair too. To serve Christ in the best way we need to have God diagnose the problem for us so we can turn to him to fix it. We pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;” (Psalm 139:23). Then we need to trust his power to mature us spiritually so that our part in the work of his Kingdom will be done well. When we are functioning as we should, we bring greater health to the whole church.

When we fail to trust God in our work, when we get too focused on how our little part is making us feel, we may be crippling the best functioning of the church of which God has made us an integral part. We must be at our best for the sake of the larger job that is to be done.

By faith we must follow God’s instructions, and boldly do what we are given to do. We should avoid worrying about how others may judge us, or how we measure up to others. Our concern should be how faithfully we carry out our own little job to advance God’s glory and to encourage other believers.

Awhile ago I got one of those e-mail stories that presented a very good little parable. A man who lived off in a remote cabin was told by the Lord that he had a job for him to do. He was shown a large rock in front of his cabin and told to push against the rock with all his might. The man obeyed day after day for many years. He would put in time every day pressing his shoulder against the rock and pushing with ever ounce of strength he could put into it. After a time the man became discouraged. The rock remained unmoved. He started to wonder what the point was. Why should he keep up the efforts when obviously it was doing no good. The man was troubled about his doubts and prayed to the Lord saying, “I have labored hard in your service, putting all my strength to do what you told me to do. But after all this time I have not budged the rock at all. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” The Lord’s compassionate response was this, “I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength. This you have done. I never said I expected you to move it. You have not failed. By obeying me, your arms, back, and legs have become strong, your heart and lungs are healthy. You have not moved the rock, but I had not expected that. When the rock is to be moved, I will move it.”

Our job is to do the specific duty God calls each of us to do, no matter how small or large it may seem. We should not let our own self-importance get in the way of obeying the Lord. We should neither become discouraged that we are not recognized by others for what we do, nor descend into self-pity that we do not have a more important place in God’s Kingdom. We cannot see how all things fit together just yet. When we make judgments like that we dare to be judging God.

When you wonder why you keep working so hard for little recognition, or when others seem to do better, or when you cannot see immediate success, remember; just push against the rock. The healthiest outlook is to keep in mind what God calls and enables you to do. Then do it diligently and humbly for his glory out of gratitude, and by the power of the Risen Savior.

Self-obsession only produces depression and discouragement. It is often self-destructive, even suicidal, when we dare to stand as judges over God’s success in what he does with us.

I recently read a number of suicide notes published in a psychology journal. They were written by young people, teenagers. I found one theme in them all that seemed to be the factor that drove these particular ones beyond reason. They became obsessed with introspection, with trying to understand themselves and life itself. They wanted to know how it all fit together and how they fit in. Being driven to madness by expecting to know what was beyond their finite abilities they tragically took their lives.

Paul learned to rest in the revealed promises of God as he went through hard times. He was ridiculed, forced to live under hardships, beaten, arrested, and hated. But he kept on because, as he said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our duty is to keep pushing on the rock God has set before us.

Paul goes on to remind us that
we are not alone in our work

Romans 12:4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

Paul compares the working of the Church with our physical bodies. One organism is made up of many members, many parts. They all differ in function, but each one is important.

The parts are mutually exclusive. That means that each has a unique job to do. In the human body we have eyes, ears, hands, feet, liver, lungs, heart, brain, and so on. No two are exactly alike. Each is suited to a particular task.

It is the same way in the body of Christ. God has given each of you your own unique background, resources, opportunities, and talents. Some are good at providing well cooked meals as nourishment for God’s people, with others we are glad they don’t cook. Some are good at repairing things, treating wounds, teaching classes, providing transportation, tutoring children, mowing lawns, pouring concrete, creating internet web sites, counseling, selling and buying, protecting, governing, showing tenderness, etc..

Regardless if your job is stirring souls, or stirring soup, each has his special place. Some get more attention and honor than others. Some get more reward and blessings. Each person should do his job to glorify God. Each has his rock to push against.

Together the parts are jointly exhaustive. This means that together they accomplish the larger goal. The digesting of food includes the work of each tooth, the enzymes in your mouth, stomach and intestines. Speaking is the work of lips, larynx, teeth, and tongue, as well as that of the brain which figures out what to say. The body would be rather immobile without each toe and the ankle tendons. All the organs, all the members work together to make up a fully functioning organism.

So also is the body of Christ. God blends together all the little components, each humble servant, to bring him glory. You might ask, “How does my little part help?” All are called to pray and attend worship. Some spend most of their days going to work or to school. Some mow the lawn, wash the windows, or drive a disabled person to the store or to a church service.

Do not look so closely at self that you miss how what you are called to do fits together with all the others. God’s kingdom is made up of many jobs, many parts. Together, we display the wonders of our Creator, the grace of the Redeemer, the kingship of the King, the tender care of the Good Shepherd.

Each of our churches is but one congregation adding its own work to that of all the other true churches here on earth in the 21st Century. We are each part of the larger work spanning the ages of history. This includes the congregations in Jerusalem under King David, in Antioch in the 1st century, or in Geneva in the 16th century under Calvin. Each is to do its part obediently pushing against the rock assigned by God.

What God enables you to do or to give must be done with joy, devotion, and competence. It must be done for God’s glory, for the good of the whole church. As servants of Christ’s kingdom, you must push on the rock with all your might, what ever rock God has set for you to push against. In God’s time he will move it. Our duty is to be faithful servants, using our gifts diligently for the honor of the King.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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God’s Olive Tree

Lesson 43: Romans 11:11-32

God’s Olive Tree

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I had a good friend when I was growing up. Gary and I did just about everything together. He was the type who always got the highest grades in the class, but was rather quiet. Gary loved the outdoors, and always said he would grow up to be a forest ranger. The last time I saw him was in 1963 when my family moved from Buffalo to live in Florida. I have no idea what became of him.

One of the many things we did together was to learn how to graft tree branches. He got some books from the library about it which he read carefully, then showed me. With some practice, we learned to carefully shape the cut end of a removed branch so it could be inserted into a notch in a tree, take in nourishment, and grow. I suspect there are still some strange trees with branches that are not natural to them scattered throughout the woods in Western New York.

In vineyard cultures grafting is a normal part of producing a good crop. I talked with a young man from Italy who grew up on a vineyard. He said that some trees have a healthy root system and supply nutrients better than others. So the most healthy and productive branches are cut off from the weaker trees and grafted onto the stronger ones. This would have been much more common in the culture of the New Testament than it is in our modern world. When Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he used grafting as an illustration to bring together some profound spiritual truths.

The point Paul had been making was that a dramatic change had taken place. The old symbolic worship of Ancient Israel had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As predicted, the Kingdom of God was expanding beyond just the Jews. Included in this expansion, was a judgment upon Ancient Israel for her apostasy and unbelief.

Paul wanted the Jews to understand that this did not mean that God’s plan had failed. This had been his plan from the beginning. God saves all of those he had eternally foreknown, those with whom he had made his promise. God was still saving Jews. Paul was one of them. However, even among the religious the number actually redeemed and kept by grace is small. The rest of humanity is hardened. They receive what we all justly deserve.

God had a greater purpose in the rejection
of Israel than just her judgment.

Romans 11:11-15, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

There was a purpose in the spiritual stumbling of Israel that went beyond her fall and impending judgment. It was to stir up apathetic Israel by seeing God’s grace at work in his bringing the Gentiles into the covenant.

God’s grace toward the Gentiles, was used to provoke Israel in two ways. Some responded with anger and persecution. Their hatred of the message of Jesus and the coming in of the Gentiles demonstrated the lostness of hearts not truly redeemed. Though they had been privileged as a nation, they no longer as a whole believed the promises of God’s covenant.

On the other hand, some Jews were provoked to come repentantly in humble faith trusting in the promise of Christ. These elect Jews showed they were among God’s people, foreknown from eternity past.

God had called Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. The judgment of the Jews as a nation gloriously opened the door to the Gentiles. How wonderful that the elect from among the Jews believed in God’s true plan of redemption. It was a testimony to God’s work on their hearts. Judgment is surpassed by the wonder of regenerating grace.

Paul’s ministry was being magnified by this expansion of grace as some Jews were being provoked to believe God’s work of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Paul calls this return of repentant Jews, the “fulness” of Israel. The original word here is plaeroma (πληρωμα). It describes something that had come to its completeness.

Paul had been explaining this since the beginning of chapter 9. Outwardly, Israel had been the physical organization of God’s covenant nation. Scattered among those of the physical Jewish nation were those who made up “spiritual Israel”, God’s elect individuals. He distinguished them from the rest of Israel by using several titles in this section: “the children of promise” — “the remnant” — “the chosen” — “those foreknown.” Israel’s “fulness” is her coming to completeness as these elect Jews are converted to Christ, and those of other nations were brought into the covenant family of God.

To illustrate these ideas, and to bring them together
Paul introduces some examples.

Romans 11:16-24, “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

First Paul reviews the covenant idea shown in the law of the first fruit. This was introduced in Numbers 15:18-20, “… When you come into the land to which I bring you, then it will be, when you eat of the bread of the land, that you shall offer up a heave offering to the LORD. You shall offer up a cake of the first of your ground meal as a heave offering; as a heave offering of the threshing floor, so shall you offer it up.”

The first dough made from the grain harvest was made into a single cake offered to the Lord. It represented the whole harvest as being consecrated thankfully to God who made it grow. Paul said, “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy.” The holiness of the first piece had nothing to do with innocence from sin. Grain does not sin. Holiness here is “covenantal holiness.” It identifies something as being set aside and consecrated as “special.” That is the meaning of the word “holiness”.

This is the holiness God promised to Israel as his Covenant Nation. It did not mean that all Israelites were made innocent of sin by God’s choosing the Jews. It meant they were set aside as the Lord’s. They were consecrated for a special purpose. They were to show God’s glory to the world. When they sinned, God’s justice was demonstrated. When they were forgiven and protected unworthily, God’s mercy was shown. Within that special nation there were also God’s chosen children, the elect. When they were redeemed it showed God’s election of Grace.

The same is true of the church as God’s covenant people today. The church was established by Jesus and the Apostles as an organization under Elders. Not all belonging to it are true spiritual children of God. Yet the church as a whole is given advantages and duties to perform as God’s chosen people. That is why it is so serious when those in the church live with disregard for the Lord. They specially offend Christ because they bear his name falsely to the world.

Next, Paul gave the illustration of the Olive Tree: It shows the process God uses in perfecting his church. This section has been the subject of many careless interpretations. It effects our view of Israel, the church, the end times, salvation, and many other issues. Many become confused in this section because they fail to see that Paul speaks of two olive trees, and four distinct kinds of branches.

1. There is the good root stock, the healthy root (16), the rich root (17). The healthy tree represents the Outward Covenant Nation of God. They were counted as holy, consecrated by the promise of God’s covenant. They grew up within the advantages of the influence of God’s word and blessing. However, this was not a holiness of moral or judicial innocence. They were not all automatically saved from condemnation for their sins. It was a holiness of duty. They were set aside specially to represent God to the world.

2. The other is the wild olive tree (17), the poor root stock. They are the Gentiles, born and growing up outside the covenant influence. They are not holy because it grew from a root which was wild, not set aside by God’s choice. They had no outward covenantal advantages. The Gentile Roman Christians Paul was writing to were from this tree. They were not natural branches of the Holy Root of God’s people. Their repentance, belief and obedience could only been produced by one thing: God’s grace.

The two different olive trees in this example each had natural branches. From the Good Root came the Jews at that time, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the Wild Root came the Gentiles, born outside the covenant in paganism

There was a hidden quality not seen in the natural branches. Some branches growing on the Good Tree of Israel were of God’s elect, the rest were not. Even growing on the Wild Tree of the Gentiles, some were God’s elect, the rest were not.

God was cultivating the Holy Root-stock. Two processes were at work to make the good olive tree produce the best crop. These show the two processes God uses to perfect his Church for his greatest glory.

First is the process of God’s judgment. The unbelieving Israelites were being cut off. By rejecting and killing the Messiah, many of the Jews showed that their faith was not real. They were outwardly God’s holy nation, but inwardly remained spiritually dead. John explained this in his First Epistle 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” The unbelieving Israelites were being purged, pruned away as defective branches.

Second is the process of evangelism. Believing Gentiles were being grafted in. Though they were born of the wild tree, some of them were God’s eternally chosen children. When they believed they were grafted into the good olive tree. They became part of God’s covenant people.

These two processes continue today as God cultivates his church. The wild olive tree is the pagan world outside the professing church, just as it was with the nation of Israel back then. The good olive tree of course is no longer limited to Israel. Today it is the church of Jesus Christ. Its natural branches are those born into covenant families. The grafted in branches are those outside the church who join by professing the gospel. By evangelism God is grafting in pagans as they come to believe. By his judgments he is removing false branches from his church.

There is also a warning here for all individuals as branches in the church today. When members show that they are false believers God may remove them.

Some of the natural branches born and raised in the church may not truly be Christ’s. Also, some false Christians are among those grafted in from paganism. They join a church for wrong, selfish reasons. They come thinking that joining the blessed tree would redeem them from sin. They come looking for a way to find peace by self-effort or by the minister’s efforts. Or they come to get social or material benefits from the church. Their fraudulent christianity is exposed by their unwillingness to submit to the ways and true teachings of Christ.

The process of removal is carried out practically in one of two ways.

Some defect on their own by leaving the true church. Israel as a nation became apostate and rejected the Messiah. They walked away from the message God had delivered to them. They established congregations based upon false teachings. Israel as a nation had become what the Bible called a “synagogue of Satan”. The liberal churches today have confused what Messiah is and came to do. Some individuals hear things in church they don’t like, so they leave to find a church that adjusts its message to what is more comfortable to them. They abandon what the Bible teaches to find a place where they hear what they prefer over God’s truth.

Some must be removed from the church by the Elders through church discipline. In Matthew 18:17 Jesus summarized the process explained throughout Scripture. Those who continue in disobedience to Christ, and who will not submit to the church, are to be removed from membership and barred from the Lord’s Table. This is one of the major duties God in the New Testament entrusts to the local church Elders. They do not judge a person’s salvation or their hearts. However, based upon their lives, testimony, and actions, these are removed
to defend the purity of the church.

By this process of evangelism and judgment God gathers his people, and perfects his church. New branches are grafted in by faith, and unfaithful branches are cut off. At the return of Christ, the completed Church will be presented to the Father.

Paul then adds a serious warning against arrogance. If God has cut off even the natural branches of the tree for their unbelief, those who are grafted in from paganism should understand that if they are not truly his, they too will be removed.

There was also a promise to the Jews. This is that special blessing Paul enjoyed in his Apostleship. Those from the rejected tribes of Israel who come to Christ in humble repentance and faith will be grafted into the church, back into the good olive tree.

This was the point Paul started with back at the start of chapter 9. The true promised seed of Israel is never abandoned by God. It is those who say they are his, but are not, who are in grave danger of judgment. God will cut them off from his church, and will abandon them to eternal torment. By seeing this process of evangelizing pagans, and cutting off the falsely religious, it becomes all the more clear that salvation is by grace alone, unearned, undeserved.

This manifests the severity and goodness of God (11:22). His severity is shown in his judgment, by removing the unbelieving branches. His goodness is shown in his redemption and restoration of the repentantly faithful.

So the hardening of Israel in Paul’s time
was partial, not total.

Romans 11:25-32, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

Paul was explaining a mystery, a truth God was just then revealing more fully. A hardening was happening to part of Israel. As we saw in our last study, this “hardening” was the spiritual dulling of the heart and mind. God was giving some of the Jews over to their own hatred and perversions.

This would continue “until of the fulness of the Gentiles (the non-Jewish nations) has come in”. During the first century, the Jews were the greatest antagonists to the gospel. It was the apostates among the Jews who stirred up the Romans to hate the Christians by slandering them. As more of the Gentiles came into the church, the olive tree became less “Jewish”. This fulness of the Gentiles marked the end of physical Israel as God’s people. God even used pagan Rome in 70 AD to crush Jerusalem, to destroy the temple the Priests had defiled, and to mark the final end to the special privilege of the physical seed of Abraham.

It is by this process that all Israel will be saved. The words describe the process by which God’s true Israel will be saved. It is not a prediction of some yet future event. Those who see here a future promise for the abandoned and apostate nation of Abraham, are missing Paul’s point about what constitutes the truly good olive tree.

It is not just Physical Israel. It is the outward Covenant Family of God. In the time between Abraham and Jesus, the tree was the nation of the Jews. In the time after Jesus, the tree is the Apostolic church, God’s Spiritual Israel (see Romans 9:6). As the elect from all nations are evangelized and brought in, the tree grows toward fulness. As the apostate and unbelieving are removed, the tree improves in purity. It is in this way that all of God’s true Israel will be saved. The New Testament Church does not replace Israel. The church is Israel in her completed form.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 which promises that “The Deliverer will come to Zion,” and that God will, by his covenant, “take away their sins.” Clearly this is not national Israel, for no such promise was made to all Jews. God’s promise was to redeem the elect of Israel, then to add to them the elect from every nation, and to remove the ungodly in his judgment. This is the process shown in the illustration of the Olive Tree.

God had not yet finished with his people. As explained in chapter 9, God’s promise to Abraham was not to save all his children, but only those who were of the promise, those of his son Isaac (Romans 9:7). And of the seed of Isaac, God chose Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:13). So God’s promise to the fathers continues. The apostate children of Israel were never more than outwardly consecrated to God. At the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, God was using his grace toward the Gentiles to provoke the elect among the Jews to believe. When they see such grace that redeems even the pagan, these will understand that salvation is not a reward of merit, descent, or of human choice It is a special act of the Holy Spirit alone based upon the merit of Jesus Christ. They will all be redeemed who are God’s true Israel, the children of the spiritual promise. Therefore, even the disobedience God permits, will become a dramatic lesson of mercy.

Each person who has submitted to church membership under the care of shepherding Elders, is one of the branches of the good olive tree which is God’s covenant nation on earth.

What kind of branch are you? Some of those in the church are natural branches. They were born into covenant families, raised to know God’s truth, his promises, the principles he commands by which we are to live, and the gospel that alone makes us able to believe and obey. Some were grafted in by professing faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and its offensiveness to God. Those grafted in were once ignorant of the truth until mercy set them free. However, regardless of how someone becomes a part of the good olive tree of God, they become branches of it.

Each should ask himself, “Am I a blessed branch? truly humbled by grace? bearing fruit for God’s glory in my life? Or am I a fruitless branch? self-proud? drawing from the tree’s sap ungratefully? enjoying outward benefits but not truly transformed by the work of grace?

This is a serious warning. Consider your attitude about God’s grace and your love for him. Are you hardened, dull, and uncaring about the mercy that God shows to you? Is the fruit of your life selfish and empty of humble service for God? Many false christians deceive themselves and elude the discipline of the church Elders.

When our Lord returns for his church, any dead branches which remain will be identified and removed. He will present up to the Father a church purified and complete. When the final unfit branches are trimmed away at the coming of Jesus Christ will you be preserved or cut off? God’s church will be perfected. Make certain you are among its branches, bearing fruit by Christ’s power in you, and moved by your gratitude for the Savior’s grace.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

Lesson 32: Romans 9:1-5

The Tragedy of the Superficial Church

by Bob Burridge ©2011

While I was pastoring a church here in Florida, I took a sad phone. Unfortunately it was not all that unusual. A woman was looking for help from a church. She asked how our denomination (the PCA) differed from other Presbyterian denominations. I wasn’t sure at that point if she was concerned about certain issues, or if she just saw different designations in the phone book.

At first I gave her a rather simple answer. I explained that we have great respect for the Bible’s authority and teachings. I told her that we hold to the conviction that it is God’s word filled with encouragement and help for the lost through the work of Christ. We try to follow what God tells us there about what we should believe, and how we ought to worship and live. Then I added that by grace alone God forgives things we have done in the past, and makes us his children by his unfailing love and infinite power made possible by only one thing, the death of Jesus as our Savior.

She said she didn’t care about any of that. All she wanted to know was did we have a large budget and active committees. She said she wanted a church to care for her financially, particularly for a family member’s psychological care.

When I explained about pastoral care, the biblical counseling we offer, and the importance of a church family, she politely said that was not what she needed, and that she would keep looking. That ended the call. She was not interested in what the Bible had to say. She wanted material benefits. That is what she thought the church was all about. She reflected a tragic fact about what is often seen as “Christianity” today. The biblical concept of the church is to a large degree lost.

Confusion about how God deals with his people has existed in every era of human history since the fall in Eden. We see this sad distortion of God’s promises in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. It is tragically there today. Many churches which call themselves “Christian” simply are not according to how God himself defines it in his written word.

Four Kinds of Confusion

There are basically four major ways in which what is commonly called the church often becomes confused about itself. The same ancient errors Paul was addressing among the four sects of Jews in his era, are reflected in the world today. This is the focus of the section of Romans we now come to in this series of studies, chapters 9-11.

The first group is like the ancient sect called the Saducees.
Today, most of the large denominations believe the Bible is a flawed book. They say that we can find encouraging ideas in the Scriptures anyway. They see Jesus as just a great teacher, leader, and example of love, but not as God who took on human flesh to pay the price of sin for his people. They believe that social action and community involvement make up the real gospel. They see our belief in salvation as nothing more than bigotry and superstition. To them the most evil doctrines are those that teach that God holds us accountable for our sins, and that trust in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

This is classic religious liberalism and post-modernism. They worship a god who is not much more than an undefinable cosmic force. They put their faith in the physical sciences, psychology, sociology, and politics, yet throw in enough mysticism to keep the congregations feeling they have spiritual help.

I remember talking with a young man studying for the ministry in one of the large main-line denominations. He said he did not believe there was a real God, but he would talk about God to his congregation because most people need that kind of belief to face their struggles.

These humanistic churches believe that man is the center of all values and concerns, not God. They empty religion of any real truth and spiritual life. Yet for some reason they like to call themselves “Christians.” They confuse the watching world, and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

A second group today is like the Pharisees.
They believe that man determines his own future by his choices and decisions. They see God as a beggar for our souls, pleading to make his work on the cross successful. They emotionally sing about the Holy Spirit, but to be consistent they ought to be singing about their own permission which is really why they believe God blesses some and not others. To them grace is a good word, but its meaning has been lost, because it goes against what they would rather believe about themselves and about God.

They are moralists, mystics, religious humanists believing that man dictates to his Creator. Yet they claim they are the true Christians. They confuse the watching world with a message that makes them feel in charge of their eternal future.

Today many openly reject most of what is revealed in the Old Testament by saying it was just for the Jews. That makes it easier for them to deny the plain meaning of the New Testament texts that go against their theology. They ignore the fact that Jesus, the Apostles, and the New Testament writers all quoted the Old Testament as God’s support for their teachings. To them it is as if God regretted his first attempts to reveal himself, so he instituted a new body of believers. They see the New Testament as one more attempt by God to succeed with lost mankind.

Some recent fundamentalist groups have gone way beyond the fundamentals. Like the Pharisees they make up long lists of sins, even longer than what God reveals in the Bible. Personal decisions and abstinence from a list of things forbidden replace the fruit of the Holy Spirit as evidences of regeneration. They have lost the idea of true religion as James describes it. Instead of hearts transformed by grace into being humble servants submitting to God’s revealed principles and provisions, they live for emotional mysticism set in motion by man’s own choices and material self-denials. They do not believe in a God who is the Sovereign Lord over all.

The third group is like the ancient cult of the Essenes.
They are the isolationists who will not submit to the church authority God himself places over them. They look to independent Bible studies, radio or TV preachers, and books for their spiritual guidance. They see membership in a local church as optional, or even hypocritical. They quickly and ignorantly dismiss biblical church order as mere “denominationalism”. They are left to disobey the many commands in the New Testament which require believers to respect and submit to Elders ordained to shepherd God’s church (Hebrews 13:17).

When they do come together to form churches, they use the methods of democratic-socialism. They water down the biblical offices to make them mere servants of the majority.

While saying they have “no creed but the Bible”, they have many man-made dogmas about the end times, what they consider worldliness, how to dress, and the arts, none of which are supported by a study of the Bible alone. Instead of being the salt of the earth, they fail to become involved in the world around them. They leave the movie industry to Hollywood, government to Washington, schools to the state, and TV to the Gallup polls.They form a closed culture, and just pull back ignoring the world as much as they can.

They are like the Essenes of Jesus time who went off into monastic desert camps. They are isolated cells calling people to come in, but then avoiding their duty to the world. Yet many see these extreme separatists as being Christians. They confuse the watching world about what Christianity is really about.

A fourth group is like the ancient Zealots.
Some have become violent revolutionaries. They become impatient with God’s timing and take the law into their own hands. They disobey police and defy the courts in illegal public demonstrations. They show anger and hatred but little mercy, no real humble repentance or trust in God’s grace. Some even set off bombs to kill unbelievers. They desecrate God’s holy law.

They justify breaking good laws because they want to protest bad ones. They will not represent the fruit of the Spirit toward those they perceive as the enemy. They will not even love their neighbor if the neighbor’s needs might inconvenience them. They judge others without biblical authority and reduce the glory of Christ’s kingdom to mere material victories limited to this fleeting world of our present age.

Yet these too are represented by the media and others as being “Christians”. They confuse the watching world and desecrate the honorable name of the Savior.

Many churches today are like those of the Jewish nation in the time of the first century.
Jesus contended with the popular preachers and the successful synagogues of his day. The Apostles were condemned, beaten, jailed and put to death by those who claimed to be the chosen people of God.

There are Super-Churches, growing in leaps and bounds. Tragically, many of them abandon God’s ways, trading them for what appeals to the values of those who will increase their numbers and budgets. They have the means to provide the programs and fun activities so many prefer over the true teachings of the word of God. They quote many portions of the Bible, but use them in ways that compromise their true message. They strongly appeal to expectations rather than to real spiritual needs. They are not super in honor or obedience when compared with God’s word. They are super in only one way, they are Super-ficial.

What is the True Church?

This next section of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 9-11) deals with this problem directly. What is the true church? What is wrong with what most people think of as the church? What can we do to redeem the name of Christ from the disgrace of those who distort his church? What importance is the church to be in the lives of individual Christians and their families in very real daily struggles?

In Paul’s time Israel had fallen into a spiritually diseased condition. Though the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots had all twisted God’s truth in serious ways, there were also those who still hoped in a suffering Messiah who would redeem men from sin. They understood the message of the Bible as it was intended. They were scattered throughout the Jewish world, and were not very popular. It was these faithful Jews who were rapidly becoming Christians forming the early church.

The rest of the Jews strongly criticized Paul as he corrected their distorted views. Paul was originally a Pharisee,
a Jew by birth, and a rabbi by training. When he discovered that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the large majority of the Jews thought he had rejected all that God had said before. This was far from the truth.

He was rejecting the artificial teachings of a superficial church. He rejected their twisting of the law and prophets which led to their cultish ideas and ways. He had discovered by God’s grace, the fulfillment of the ancient promises in Christ. Real Judaism had been lost by the majority. Paul had found it again. More accurately, it had laid hold of Paul by the work of God’s marvelous grace.

In the first 5 chapters of Romans Paul showed that according to Scripture all were lost, and in need of redemption, Gentiles and Jews alike. He explained how the human race had fallen when Adam, who represented them, sinned.

He then showed that the only hope of being restored to fellowship with God was that the promised Messiah had come as a perfect Redeemer, that he died representing those God promised to bless, that in their place he satisfied all that God’s justice demanded. He found that aside from these ancient promise, there was no other way to be made right with God.

In chapters 6 through 8 Paul explained how Jesus Christ gives victory in the believer’s continuing struggle with sin. It is not by the works of the priests and the keeping of the law, but by spiritual transformation of the soul by grace. Real spiritual change produces repentance, a true faith, and a desire to live in God’s ways.

This did not mean that Paul was now an enemy of the Jews. Far from it. He was calling them away from their corruptions back to the original promises. He wanted an end to the confusing sects and their distorted denominationalism. He wanted them to understand his passion for them to become Christians, followers of the promised Messiah.

Paul was struggling with a sincere and deep grief in his heart over their condition. He was about to tell them something very hard for them to accept. Their distorted ways were bringing down the condemnation of God. They were confusing the world about what God’s Covenant was all about. Soon God was going to end their national privilege.

Paul’s Sorrow for the State of the Church

Romans 9:1, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,”

He begins this section of the book with a series of affirmations. The Jews needed to hear the truth. They needed to understand that there was something they had been missing, something good, something that could re-unite them around the gospel promise of a gracious covenant.

Paul wanted them to know how personal his compassion for them was.

Romans 9:2-3, “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

Paul uses the Greek word anathema (αναθεμα) which is here translated “accursed”. Literally it means something separated from something. The most common use in the Bible is of something condemned and rejected as offensive.

Paul is not saying that he really expected to redeem them by his becoming accursed by Christ. The original grammar here sets up an hypothetical condition: If it was possible for him to give up the greatest blessings God gave him, he would do it for the Jews, because of his deep concern for them as God’s covenant people.

Words should not be pressed beyond their obvious intended use. It would be foolish to think that Paul actually considered such an exchange to be possible. The plain meaning is sufficient when taken for just what it says and no more.

God’s blessings had been corrupted by the covenant people

Romans 9:4-5, “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

Israel had been entrusted with great national privileges and blessings, but she had not honored God with them. She had perverted them and confused them. Israel was set up by God to display his glory to the rest of the nations. She was to preserve the promises and covenant to prepare the world for the coming of Messiah. However, by the time Messiah came she had for the most part corrupted what God entrusted to her. [We will look into the specifics of these blessings in our next studies.]

The same is sadly true of many who call themselves the Christians today. They promote a different gospel and a different God. They hold forth beliefs, agendas, and values other than what is revealed in Scripture by God. Yet this is what the media, educators, our neighbors, and the world at large think of as Christianity. This is tragic! The message is so confused.

What did Paul do in this situation? The masses of Jews had totally distorted the message and the worship of God. Did he get depressed and give up? Did he learn to live comfortably with the unbelief of the Saducees? Did he give-in to the Pharisee’s man made rules and dogmas that implied man’s ability to manipulate God? Did he withdraw like the Essenes to create a little community wrapped up only in itself? Did he turn to revolution and join up with the Zealots?

There is a better way. He told the truth with great compassion and persistence. That is what we need to do too. We need to work on reforming God’s church. It is not enough to guard our own worship, feed our own family spiritually, make correct statements about morality and spiritual birth. We must represent the transforming work of Christ with true compassion to the lost, to our neighbors, families, co-workers, and to others who are part of the family of the Redeemed at large.

If God calls his people his “family”, there must be similarities with our earthly families. We manage our homes to protect against things that will do harm to our loved ones . We do not defend germs that might creep in. We try to keep things clean and healthy. We guide chidren as they grow up, rather than let them take dangerous or foolish chances. We do not allow guests to bring illegal things into our homes. Similarly we should love the church so much that we do our best to guard against wrong beliefs about the Bible, or having teachers who have a poor understanding of God’s word and ways. We should not tolerate clearly sinful behaviors that go uncorrected.

The church is Christ’s family. It is to be organized and run for the benefit of the children he loves. It is to preserve the dignity of God, and the principles he teaches us as the Father of our spiritual family.

The True Church in Romans 9-11

In these next studies in Romans 9 through 11 we will see a view of the church which is very different from the one that most see today, perhaps different from what we ourselves expect to find.

Our goal and duty is to come to God’s word ready to be taught, ready to abandon every idea not found in his written testimony. We should be ready to faithfully trust in, and to boldly obey what ever we find in our Bibles, ready to improve our understanding of the wonderful message we have for the world.

Our job is to lead others to the shelter of the faithful church of Christ. That is where God promises to administer true peace and comfort to his children.

Our own little children do not need candy for food, lies to built their dreams upon, or pain killers instead of doctors to make them feel healthy when symptoms come. Neither do people need churches with entertainment instead of worship, false but comfortable doctrines, or promises that cater to their feelings only. They do not need churches considered to be good simply because they have big budgets and big committees. They need a gospel with a big Savior and a church that humbly trusts in him.

We do not help hurting sinners with promise God has never made. They need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We cruelly deceive the lost struggling soul if we offer deadly pacifying substitutes. People may want to be entertained, but they need the blessings of the Covenant of Grace.

Let us make Christ’s church what God wants a church to be. We are commissioned to diligently call others to join us in a restored worship of Christ as a faithful and thankful family of God, upholding one another in the promises which cannot fail.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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