Those who understand Paul’s teachings in Romans 11, know he likened Gentile disciples of Christ to wild olive branches, who through Christ, are grafted into a cultivated tree, a symbol of ‘spiritual Israel’.
In the Middle East and southern Europe where olive groves abound, it’s very noticeable how harshly cultivated trees are pruned in order to produce better fruit. Cultivated olive groves have lines of well-ordered and pruned trees, whereas wild trees grow everywhere on the hillsides, straggly and wild, producing lesser fruits. The harshness with which cultivated trees are pruned, even using chainsaws to cut off major branches is significant when considering Paul’s parable in Romans 11.
Why, because Gentile branches should expect to be pruned and trained as the host tree is. If Gentile believers are grafted into the cultivated tree, becoming spiritual citizens of the commonwealth of Israel, they too should expect to do as the Lord requires of Israel. Otherwise we risk falling into the trap of wanting to have our proverbial cake and eat it. We want the blessings that Israel receives without paying the full price of commitment and obedience. Jesus makes clear: love = obedience to His word, all of it! This is not out of legalism (a trap into which Israel has fallen) but out of love for our Father in Heaven.
God placed laws and commandments for the Israelites to follow with the counsel that great blessing or cursing would come too, depending on whether they obeyed or rebelled. The Western church majors on the doctrine of grace, a doctrine which has been placed on such a high pedestal that many believe they can live as they wish and grace will still carry them home. But this is not true. Yes we do live under a dispensation of grace in terms of salvation, but this is by no means licence to sin or indeed disobey the laws, commands precepts and ordinances of God.
“What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means…” Paul in Romans 6:1
Jesus was expressly clear about this. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)
Matthew Henry states it well:
‘Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God’s holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian’s rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ’s disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct.’
The law is the Christian’s duty says Henry.
If you were blessed with a good relationship with your earthly father, the chances are you willingly obeyed him and followed his counsel, advice and house rules out of love and respect. This should be the mode of thinking with regards to God’s laws too. For God is a God who does not change. We should seek to obey Him out of love and reverence, hence “seek first the kingdom of heaven”. Seek what it is the Father wishes for His children.
So if wild Gentile branches are grafted into the cultivated tree, whose own rebellious branches were cut out to make space for us, should we not seek to grow as the tree grows as desired by the Lord? For Paul is clear, if the wild branches go on to boast or rebel against the tree, they can be cut out and the original branches re-grafted back in.
Branches cut out are thrown to the fires – of hell.
Do not overlook the seriousness of what Paul teaches in Romans 11, it’s a passage of great significance, encouragement, but also warning.
Emmaus Group – May 2017