Lessons from the Olive Tree
by Joseph Franks
In Romans 9-11, the Apostle Paul was addressing the work of God amongst His Jewish and Gentile people groups. At that point in history, the hearts of most in the Hebrew race had grown very hard. Most were antagonistic against Christ, his Gospel, and his Church. Consequently, according to the plan of God, the Holy Spirit and Paul transitioned and focused on ministering to those outside Israel, and a bountiful harvest was enjoyed.
However, four temptations were common amongst the converted Gentiles, and Paul addressed them in his letter to his Roman friends:
Romans 11:17–36 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
First, Gentile Christians should not be arrogant about their position in Jesus Christ. God is the one who elects. God is the one who troubles the soul. God is the one who perseveres until revival breaks forth. God is the one who grants faith. God is the one who grants repentance. God is the one who loses not one of his own. What is left to cause man to be boastful of self? Gentile Christians — especially of the Reformed variety — should be the most humble worshipers on the planet.
Second, Gentile Christians should not become apathetic in their sanctification and perseverance. According to Paul, Christians should “stand fast” and “fear.” God is severe to those who do not continue in His kindness. From a systematic study of Scripture, it is clear that those who fall away and stay away are not individuals whose names are eternally written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The statement is true, “If saved always saved.” But it is also true that man who claim salvation prove themselves to be frauds by their refusal to worship and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
Third, Gentile Christians should not be apathetic in their evangelism of Jews. Frankly, they ought not be apathetically evangelistic towards anyone, but especially not of those of Hebrew descent. Jews are not farther, but closer to the Gospel. They are not eternally anathematized because of their race, and as a consequence the believer should have no anti-Semitic bias or hopelessness in regards to Jews coming to Christ. Paul loved them; he reached out to his brothers and saw many of them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And despite their current cold response, Paul expected a future Jewish revival when “natural branches” would be ingrafted back into “their own olive tree.” Therefore, while Christians should offer no hope to our Jewish friends who continue to reject the Messiah, they should not be hopeless regarding the hardness of heart currently prominent in Jewish circles. God continues to save any Hebrew friend who bows their knee to King Jesus, and it appears He will cause many of them to buckle and submit in future days. Those in the Jewish race are still “beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”
Finally, Gentile Christians should not see a division in the family of God. According to Paul, “All Israel will be saved.” Yet students of Scripture know that there were many in Israel that were lost; Jesus said so. Therefore, Paul was redefining the term “Israel.” Israel is synonymous with the Chosen People. Israel is synonymous with the elect. Israel is comprised of those, regardless of ethnicity, who call upon the name of the Lord and are saved. God no longer makes soteriological distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. There is one body. There is one family. There is one church. There is one kingdom. There is one sheep-fold. There is one bride. And there is only one tree.
Therefore friends, let us hear the admonition of Paul and adjust our thinking and practice today.
- Let us be humble.
- Let us be pure.
- Let us be evangelistically active and hopeful.
- Let us abandon Dispensationalism which treats Christ as a polygamist. There is one church made up of every people, nation, tribe, and tongue. May we pray along with Jesus, “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it already is in heaven.”