The Kindness And The Severity Of God
Re-Translated In March 2000
1. Today we read from the thirteenth verse. Paul wrote this section as he thought about the Jews his fellow countrymen and women who had obstinately rejected the gospel. Because of their unbelief he had unending pain in his heart, (9:2). Paul was praying wishing from his heart that they would be saved, (10:1). But, it was not to the Jews who were remaining in their unbelief that he was directly speaking to in this text. It was to the Gentile Christians. "Well, I say to you Gentiles," (verse thirteen). They were the ones standing by faith, (verse twenty). But, he says in verse eighteen to them like that, "Don't brag." In verse twenty he tells them, "Don't be high minded." It was not to the Jews, but the Gentile Christians. It meant there was an ever present danger in mistaken pride and high mindedness. Also, this is not just for other people. Mistaken pride and high mindedness are definitely a great peril for us as well.
But Rather Fear
2. To begin, let's read from verses seventeen and following.
"However, though a certain branch has been cut off, you the wild olive should not brag against the cut off branch saying you were engrafted in its place and have come to receive the abundant sustenance from the root. You might have boasted, but you are not supporting the root, rather the root is supporting you. So, you say, 'The branch was cut off so I would be engrafted in.' It's like you said. The Jews were cut off because of their lack of faith, but you will stand by faith," (verses seventeen through the first half of twenty).
3. The cut off branch stands for the Jews who rejected the gospel. The engrafted wild olive tree is the Gentile Christians. The text is talking about the situation in verse eleven wherein it is stated that "On the contrary, the result of that is that by their sin salvation has been brought to the Gentiles." Originally, it was the Jews who were given the promise of salvation. It was the Jews who were also given the hope of the messiah. In spite of this, they rejected the messiah and refused the gift of grace furnished by God. On the other hand, the Gentiles, who had no tie at all to the hope that had been promised in the Old Testament and who were not even waiting in hope for the messiah, came to partake of the grace of salvation. It says in the scriptures that they "have come to receive the abundant sustenance from the root."
4. There is nothing wrong with living as the branch that receives abundant sustenance. But, when that branch began to boast against the branch that was not connected to the olive tree it fell into error. It had forgotten that it had been supported by the root. It had forgotten that living by receiving abundant sustenance was nothing to get boastful about. This kind of thing happens even among what you might call "good Christians." They take notice of the unbelief of those around them. They take notice of the obstinacy which rejects the gospel. And unlike Paul praying for the salvation [of others], it is possible without even realizing it to become proud in comparing oneself to others and become a cold critic.
5. The Jews certainly had been cut off for their lack of faith. The Gentile Christians were standing by faith. Paul himself acknowledges this fact. But, what then must we not think? We should not think high mindedly. Paul says instead we should have fear.
6. Israel was God's chosen people. They are the people of whom God had even said, "Israel is my son, my first born son," (Exodus 4:22). But, as we read the Old Testament, we come to find out how God severely confronted these people. When they were high minded, when they would not respond to his calls to humble themselves, repent and turn to him, we know through the scriptures how a severe word of judgment came against them. Also, when they ultimately refused the word of God given to them through the character of Jesus the messiah and his death and resurrection, God cut them off from the tree trunk of salvation. However, as we see the truth that the branch which grew naturally, the branch which ought to have originally been connected to the tree trunk, had been cut off from the tree trunk of salvation, we shouldn't say things like, "God rejected them for their obstinacy." We might be next tomorrow. Paul says, "Perhaps he might have mercy on you."
7. "Therefore, please think about the kindness1 and severity of God," (verse twenty-two). We really should give some thought to the severity of God. But, that doesn't mean we live nervously in fear of the judgment of God. Paul ventured to say "the kindness and austerity." How should we go about not being high minded but rather having fear in us? We stay in the kindness of God. "As long as you remain in the kindness of God, his kindness is there towards you," says Paul.
8. In verse twenty-three appears the phrase, "if you don't remain in unbelief." But, there is significance in that Paul did not go out to say in this text "to remain in the faith," but had written "to remain in God's kindness." The person who confuses faith with strong will power2 begins to boast that "I am remaining in the faith." But, the person who knows he or she only just "remains in the kindness of God" can't boast. And such a person would not dare to live cutting oneself off from God's kindness. He or she would not want to live apart from the crucified Christ and apart from the table partaking of the broken flesh and the shed blood, that is, apart from the grace of holy communion in the Lord's Supper. "If you do not remain, you will be cut out too," (verse twenty-two). Those who are not high minded but rather have fear must understand what these words of Paul mean.
9. Also, on the other hand, it says that he is not through with the branch cut off by unbelief. "If they too do not remain in unbelief, they will be engrafted in. God is able to re-graft them back in," (verse twenty-three). God is able. That is where Paul's hope lies. Paul did not see a cut off dead branch. He saw a branch re-engrafted in by God, taking abundant sustenance from the root and growing, and putting out a lot of fruit. In verse twelve it seemed he was saying, "How wonderful it would be were they all to take part in salvation!"
To Provoke Them To Jealousy
10. Well, we've read this far, but let's go back to verse thirteen. What was Paul wanting to say in the first place?
"So, I say to you Gentiles. As I am an apostle for the Gentiles, I consider my duty an honor. [But] one way or another I want to provoke my countrymen and women to jealousy and save some of them," (verses thirteen and fourteen).
11. Paul calls himself "an apostle for the Gentiles." Many Gentiles believed on Christ and became Christians because of his proclamation of the gospel. Paul says he certainly holds this duty in honor. But, nonetheless for it, the work of Paul [with Jews] did not come to a dead stop because Gentiles were becoming Christians. There was more ahead. Paul expresses what was yet to come like this, "One way or another I want to provoke my countrymen and women to jealousy and save some of them."
12. Paul does not say here that "I want to save all of Israel." In the places that consistently have to do with his work, [Paul] affixes the phrase "some of them." But, the place to which he always looked with his eyes of faith was at the salvation of all of Israel. This was not just some sympathy that came from a similar consciousness with his countrymen and women. What Paul persistently pictures in his mind is the plan of God aiming for and moving towards the the last day. The scriptures put it like this in verse fifteen, "If their being discarded results in the reconciliation of the world, what will their being accepted be but not life from the dead?," (verse fifteen).
13. Because of their unbelief the Jews became cut off branches. However, the plan of God could not be set back by human unbelief. God is [the kind of] being who can make use of both unbelief and human obstinacy to advance his plans. The Lord Jesus was directly crucified by the lack of faith of the Jews, but reconciliation between God and humankind was given through that cross. Furthermore, they were cut off through faithlessness, but from that the wild branch was engrafted in and the gospel went past its Jewish case and flew out beyond it. It included in the Gentiles and became a guide leading the world to reconciliation with God, and the work of salvation which flowed out to the world in this way is heading for a consummation that is according to God's plan. The salvation of the Gentiles is tied into the soon to be salvation of Israel. Israel has been put aside but it isn't over for them. The time is coming when they --that is all of Israel-- will be accepted by God. Paul calls that "life from the dead." This is an eschatological expression. This is none other than the promised resurrection at the last day. In other words, it is the consummation of salvation.
14. Consequently, Paul expresses this hope as follows, "If the first fruit of the wheat is holy, then all its dough is too. If the root is holy, so are its branches," (verse sixteen). The first fruits of the wheat and the root surely mean the forefathers of Israel, especially Abraham. God chose Abraham and called him. It all began from there. "Holy" means to belong to God. The history of all of Israel belongs to God since it began when God called Abraham to be His. Therefore, the consummation of the entire world's salvation at the end times lies precisely in whenever all of Israel turns back to God.
15. Paul spoke on this matter to the Gentile Christians. Why did he do that? Because he wanted them to know where the fact that they were made Christians was to fit in. And it was really because he wanted them to understand they were [still] along the way in the history of salvation. They needed to know that their salvation was not at its "terminal point." They should not be looking down on the stubborn Jews as if they themselves had arrived and should not say things like, "Those [Jews] were rejected by God." They should not forget that the reason they were made Christians is for the salvation of those who look like they are currently against it.
16. So then, the wish of Paul was to arouse jealousy in the Jews, his fellow countrymen and women. As he speaks on what involves salvation, he makes use of this thing called "jealousy," a word that smacks of humanness. But, we've got to understand clearly that God uses even realities tainted with our humanity and advances his plan of salvation [through such things as well]. Even though God's plans are not prevented by human beings, they are not advanced forward either except with a connection to humans. "Jealousy" -- This means to be moved emotionally. In this case, for example, we might even be able to substitute the words "become envious." Paul is looking at Gentiles participating in the grace that was originally promised to Israel and is wishing for the Jews to feel envious and jealous.
17. In addition, since God makes use of the work of the human heart after such a manner for salvation, I suppose it is the form the Christian lives which will ultimately be held accountable. Because "jealousy" takes place not just by words but the actual form visible to the eye. But, that does not necessarily mean that Christians are required to do fine deeds or become ennobled persons of character. That is not necessarily so, but rather what is necessary is that they live truly making the hope and joy of salvation given by the cross and resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit as their own. This is precisely what it means "to remain in [God's] kindness."
18. "I don't want you to condemn the faithless Jews as abandoned by God, but rather I want you to provoke a jealousy within them through your daily lives wherein God has given you peace with himself!" That's the cry I feel I hear in Paul's heart. Because of the way he feels about this, as I read to you earlier, his message afterwards "Don't boast" and "Don't be high minded" continues on.
19. Well, such "boasting" and "high mindedness" were not only a problem for the Gentile Christians who used to be near the Jews, but is our problem today as well. As Paul says, we need to very carefully consider the kindness and severity of God. Also, I think we ourselves above all should carefully discern between the meaning of remaining in the faith and remaining in the kindness [of God].
1Kindness or goodness, mercy, love, affection, lovingkindness.
2"Strong Will Power" or "Shinnen" is a hard word to translate. For instance, imagine a man of strong will. He believes a certain idea and is confident with it. He has conviction. And he keeps on doing things according to this idea. We call him "Shinnen no hito" and say about him "kare wa shinnen wo motte iru (He definitely has "shinnen"). In Japan many people confuse strong faith with strong "shinnen" and there is also a kind of "Health & Wealth" Christianity which claims that if you believe strongly enough and don't give up, you can do anything and be a success, which further adds to the confusion. Unfortunately, it seems there are many who boast of having a strong faith centered on self and not on grace.