(Read the series so far.)
At this point in his argument, Paul changed his tone a bit. He saw a problem emerging that has become profound over the centuries—the conceit of pagans who come to Christ in the face of rebellious Jews who await a promised return to God. Paul warned we of the church must walk…
Not with Conceit: There Is Danger!
There is a temptation to see what God is doing in US as the apex of what God desired to do in the ages. Every figure, when painted onto the canvas, can begin to feel as though the whole picture frames only them. Paul made the problem clear:
If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? (NASB, Rom. 11:16-24)
God delights in using broken people and broken things. All of us who have a walk with God know that we don’t deserve His love—and we can easily make as big a mess out of our lives as any of our lost neighbors are doing right now. We are not better than others. We are not more loveable. We are not more stable. We know ourselves…
Here is the truth: A walk with God brings delight—but it can also bring arrogance. We can look down on others because we feel a specialness that was designed for our encouragement, not for our hard-hearted exclusion of others. We see ourselves as the center of God’s plan—but we must also be wary that we don’t make more of ourselves than we ought!
In the history of the church, it is obvious that those from a pagan background felt superior to the Jewish people, probably as an initial reaction to the Jewish attacks on the early faith. We must admit this history of Anti-Semitic tradition within the church and move to seeing them again as a people of future promise. That was Paul’s point.
At the same time, we must apply that principle to many others around us. God is at work in people that we may easily disdain. That philandering man at the office, now on his fourth wife and seeking yet more “action on the side” is falling through life trying to find happiness in the bedroom—but it isn’t there. That gay neighbor who believes their whole being is somehow tied to their feelings of attraction may not seem a likely candidate for a close friendship, but God is at work there. The lonely and fearful prisoner, sitting in a jail cell and surrounded by strangers may not seem the best investment of your time on earth, but if God leads—you would be wrong about that! That young hyperactive child with the frazzled and underpaid single parent may not seem like fertile ground for the gospel—but you are wrong. God has already planned a spouse and five more children for a family of the future that will be an example of godliness in their future neighborhood.
What is missing from the recipe? Your participation!
Let’s face it: People who are too good to get involved in the lives of other people are of little good to the Kingdom. The church of our day needs to take this to heart. People are the center of God’s outreach plan. Those of us with a walk with God are the people assets of outreach, and lost people are object of God’s affection. If we get so busy running the church programming to suit the believers, we can forget that the church wasn’t given to the believer to give him a place to feel at home—it was primarily given to the community so that a people of witness would be equipped. We are left on earth for those who do not know Him, but desperately need to know Him. He is there only hope for fulfillment now and “forever peace” in the future.
Let’s not get arrogant about God’s work in us—and become more focused on God’s work through us. The Jewish people have a future because God declared it so. Yet, so do a great many others—if we will not be too good to reach into their lives! The tricky part about God’s work is this: It is often…
Not Obvious: There Is a Secret!
Paul knew his people were going to be renewed to a walk with God. Yet, he knew that believers who only looked at the current attempts of Jewish leadership to discourage and dissect the early church could not see the bigger program of God. He saw it, because his view wasn’t based on the news—but on the Word of God.
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:25–36)
A biblical world view allowed Paul to see what others could not see—that God was at work carefully painting another layer on His picture of human history! God was working an intricate plan, and believers who took their cue from the news would not see what God was doing. That is still a major problem with the church of Jesus Christ.
Many in the church see Israel as replaced—but verses twenty-five to twenty-seven make no literal sense in that scenario. Others focus on current Jewish opposition to the Gospel and conclude that because they are hard to reach, the efforts would be better spent elsewhere—but that doesn’t take into account Paul’s answer in verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine.
Here is the simple truth: God doesn’t give up on His plan. He keeps steadily working it out. He works it out when even the believers don’t believe. He plods ahead, unaffected by our doubt and complaint—because He knows what He is doing. He knows where it all ends—in His glory.
Let me ask you a serious and important question before we leave this lesson: “What role do you play as the Artist does His work on the canvas?”
This past week I read an article by a man who was part of a team of managers tasked with revitalizing failing departments in the business world that were badly under-performing. He made a remark like:
“One of the first things we did was sit around and watch. A simple seat near the water cooler helped me understand the workers in the office. They were in every office! There was the:
- Gossip - Did you hear about so and so?
- Whiner - Did you know the other department got a raise? Can you believe…
- Murmurer - I can’t stand our boss. I hate this company…
- Lazy - Between the restroom and the water cooler, my morning is all booked!
- Thief - You can go, I will clock out for you later…
He said: “Every area had its gossip, its whiner, its rebel leader in the making, its hiding lazy person, its thief. I was no industry genius; all I had to do was watch. If I paid attention—people made their own reputation, day by day.”
Let me ask you plainly again: What is your role in God’s outreach work? Are you busy doing Kingdom work, or hiding on the golf course and whining at the political media desk? People aren’t won to Christ by outrage—but by loving engagement. Yet, it seems, many prefer to spend the time consuming the next story that will fuel their outrage rather than spending their time engaging in love the people God placed all around them.
Last week is gone. You cannot recover it. What will this week bring? Are you walking away from this short lesson in the Word anticipating that God wants to work through you?
God is working a plan to show Who He is through His people—and it is being artistically sculpted from materials that do not look now like they will look when He is finished.
Isn’t that the best news you have heard in a long time? You may not look the way you will when God is done transforming you, but God is at work on you, just as He is on the whole picture He is making.
You may not know her name, but Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 - April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer with a remarkable career. Her influence on modern dance has been compared to Picasso’s on modern visual arts, Stravinsky’s on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s on architecture. Her career longevity was also impressive. She danced and choreographed for over seventy years! Professional dancers experience the same physical wear and tear as other professional athletes. Martha Graham surpassed every standard. Her success and acclaim extended beyond the dance world when Graham was the first dancer ever to perform at the White House and travel abroad as a cultural ambassador. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown, and the Key to the City of Paris. Her most famous quote was: “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others” (adapted from Rev. Kelly Mitchell, sermoncentral.com).
Would you be open to the idea that God is still at work on the canvas, because so many are still lost? So many still need to see your life, hear your story and know your God. Some of them are the Apostle Paul’s distant relatives—and a great promise awaits them someday soon!