Saturday, 19 October 2013
Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. Romans 11:20
Paul’s pre-emptive argumentation (and what could possibly be based on the spoken sentiments of that time by some counted among the faithful) continues in today’s verse. He noted that some of the branches of the olive tree were broken off, thus allowing the gentiles to be grafted in. Surely they must be more favored than the broken off branches, right? But Paul dismisses such a notion.
“Well said” is an adverb meaning “rightly” or “true.” In essence, “Yes, they were broken off and you were grafted in; that is correct.” He is being extremely tact in his wording, granting a portion of their logic. “The thought is true, and I grant you that, but…” He will thereby make a deflection from their own thought in order to bolster the true intent of the matter. And so he continues – it was “because of unbelief they were broken off.”
These natural branches, which were born into the main root of the tree, were broken off because they failed to accept and believe in God’s provision. Having viewed these verses concerning the “branches” thus far, it needs to be questioned whether what is being discussed is concerning the process of election and salvation of individuals or rather the calling to salvation of select groups, meaning “Jew” or “Gentile.” Based on the entirety of what has been given by Paul, it must be speaking of the second view – the calling of salvation to these larger categories.
Why is this important to know? It bears heavily on the doctrine of “replacement theology,” a concept held among older denominations and also held among cults. Older denominations believe that they have replaced Israel and are thus entitled to the entire scope of blessings and promises which were given to Old Testament Israel. Another example is the cult known as the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” who claim that a certain portion of their members are the “144,000” mentioned in the book of Revelation. However, in Revelation this group is divided by the names of the tribes of Israel.
If the type of salvation Paul is speaking of is individual rather than by group, how could they be re-grafted back into the tree (as is noted in verses 23 and 24) if the intended process of restoration is something that will come about at an unknown and distant point in the future (as is noted in verses 25 and 26)? Replacement theology overall, and the mindset of such lesser cults and sects, makes no sense when looked at in the larger context of Paul’s words here.
Using the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for example, how could they make such a claim about being the 144,000 if they were broken off branches? They wouldn’t be a people now if the promises were future. The same is true with other replacement theology ideas. How could they claim to be a part of the “currently saved” if they were claiming to be the very branches that were broken off. Either the branches are national Israel, or they aren’t. If they are, then God has an intention for national Israel in the future. If those branches aren’t national Israel, then there is no group now in God’s favor according to the gospel because the people who claim to be Israel are the broken off branches. There is no soundness in reason concerning this passage when replacement theology is the consideration.
Rather, the gentiles, who are currently grafted in, have been so grafted because they “stand by faith.” We cannot claim superiority over the Jews. They were cast off for disbelief; we are grafted in by faith. The playing field is level and we all stand or fall by faith alone. And so Paul gives his warning to those who feel so elevated, “Do not be haughty, but fear.” He is telling us to not be smug or over-confident, but to accept our position with humility. We have been saved by God’s grace and there is nothing to boast of concerning this favor. Paul will explain this further in the verses ahead.
Life application: How were you saved? By deeds that made God happy? No. Rather, you came to God through Jesus Christ with empty hands and a rent heart. Don’t forget the mercy which was lavished upon you. Remember your salvation with humility and gratitude.
Heavenly Father, when I read the pages of Your word, I tremble at the beauty and majesty of Your plan. When all seemed hopeless, You sent Jesus. Through Him, I don’t need to know if I am “good enough” or have “done enough” to be pleasing to You. Instead, He stands in heaven’s court on my behalf – “This one is mine.” What a wonderful feeling, I am defended by Jesus! Amen.