Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:16-24

16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 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[a] of the olive tree, 18 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. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 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. 23 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. 24 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.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s explanation of why the Gentiles were brought into the Church and his delight in ministering to them.

Now Paul tackles a very important topic: our attitude towards the Church and other people, especially the Jewish community and those with no faith.

Paul begins by speaking of the ancient offering of the firstfruits, referencing Numbers 15. John MacArthur explains this ceremonial part of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

Follow verse 16 to begin with, and Paul’s logic here is unarguable. “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” Now let’s just take the first little analogy he gives. If the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy. Now this comes from Numbers chapter 15, back in the Pentateuch, verses 17 to 21. And I’ll just read you a portion of that. “Of the first fruits of your dough.” D-o-u-g-h, referring to that which they would use to make bread. “Of the first fruits of your dough you shall give to the Lord an heave offering in your generation.” In other words, the objective was that each time dough was prepared for baking bread among the Jewish people, a little piece of that dough was pulled off the larger portion and that little piece of dough was to be given to the Lord, which is to say it was taken to the temple or it was given to the priest. And it became sustenance for the priest. But it was an offering given to the Lord. It was a first fruits. You pulled off a little and you gave it to the Lord. God was always teaching them how that everything really belonged to Him. Everything really was consecrated to Him. Everything was set apart to Him. And when they took off a little piece of that larger lump and gave it to the priest, it was a symbolic way of saying, “Yes, I offer all of this to the Lord. I want this all to be set apart unto Him. I want it all to be consecrated to Him and this symbolizes that desire.” All the dough then was dedicated in the act of giving a small portion. It was a way of saying, “Thank You, I realize this is Your provision, all of it. I offer it back to You in the sense that as it nourishes my body, I offer myself to You. I want it to nourish me to do Your will and Your purpose and the things that would honor Your holy name.” And each little piece was a symbol of the dedication of the whole. And that’s what he’s saying. If the first fruit is set apart, and “holy” here means set apart, consecrated, devoted to God, separated, if you will, the idea of consecrated from profane use to the use of God, he says if the first fruits is set apart then the whole lump is consecrated. See that? If the first fruits is set apart, it is saying, the whole lump is consecrated. That is the sense.

Now the second analogy in verse 16 is this. If the root is set apart, so are what? The branches. It’s the same idea. If one part of a thing is consecrated to the Lord, so are the branches. If you go out in your field and you say, “I’m planting this tree and I’m putting this little seedling in, as its roots go down I dedicate it to the Lord,” then all that comes out of that is going to be dedicated to Him as well. “I put it there for Your glory, for Your honor, I want everything that comes from it to nourish me that I may serve You more fully.” And so in the dedication of the root, there is the implication that the branches belong to God as well. So when any small part is devoted to the Lord, it is emblematic that the whole is devoted to the Lord. That’s essentially a principle that was very much a part of Jewish thinking.

For example, when they came and gave the first fruits of their grain to the Lord, they were saying, in effect, “This is but a representative token of the fact that I dedicate all my grain to You.” When they gave the Lord the first fruits, as it were, of their week and they came in on the Sabbath day and they say, “We want to give our…this day to You, we want to acknowledge that time belongs to You and worship belongs to You,” it was like consecrating all of their time. When they gave an offering of money to the Lord it was like saying, “This is but emblematic that all of that which I possess would be for Your glory,” see. And I trust that you think that way when you give as well.

That idea also appears when some Christians bring food to be blessed by a priest on Holy Saturday for their dinner on Easter Sunday. In the Polish culture, it is a long-standing, traditional practice.

Paul goes on to say that, when some of the branches of an olive tree — his analogy for the Church, the community of all believers — go bad, they are replaced with grafted on branches which are healthy (verse 17). Paul is referring to the Gentiles as being the grafted-on branches.

Matthew Henry explains the profundity of that verse:

Those that are grafted into the good olive-tree partake of the root and fatness of the olive. It is applicable to a saving union with Christ; all that are by a lively faith grafted into Christ partake of him as the branches of the root–receive from his fulness. But it is here spoken of a visible church-membership, from which the Jews were as branches broken off; and so the Gentiles were grafted in, autois–among those that continued, or in the room of those that were broken off. The Gentiles, being grafted into the church, partake of the same privileges that the Jews did, the root and fatness. The olive-tree is the visible church (called so Jeremiah 11:16); the root of this tree was Abraham, not the root of communication, so Christ only is the root, but the root of administration, he being the first with whom the covenant was so solemnly made. Now the believing Gentiles partake of this root: he also is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9), the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles (Galatians 3:14), the same fatness of the olive-tree, the same for substance, special protection, lively oracles, means of salvation, a standing ministry, instituted ordinances; and, among the rest, the visible church-membership of their infant seed, which was part of the fatness of the olive-tree that the Jews had, and cannot be imagined to be denied to the Gentiles.

Paul then counsels the Gentiles to avoid pride in being grafted in (verse 18). Instead, they should be thankful for the immense privilege they have received in becoming members of the Church. That holds true today. He says that, as members of the Church, we do not support the root; rather, the root supports us!

Therefore, we should realise that faithless branches were removed so that we could be grafted on (verse 19).

Henry extends this all the way back to Abraham, who along with his descendants, incidentally, features largely in the readings from Genesis in the season after Pentecost this year (2020, Year A). He is our father in faith. Henry says:

Abraham, the root of the Jewish church, is not beholden to thee; but thou art greatly obliged to him, as the trustee of the covenant and the father of many nations. Therefore, if thou boast, know (this word must be supplied to clear the sense) thou bearest not the root but the root thee.”

MacArthur agrees with that and has more on Abraham and his descendants:

who were the first fruits? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the fathers, the patriarchs. And I believe he has, of course, here mainly in mind Abraham. And if God set apart the first fruits, then He was setting apart the whole lump. And if God set apart the root, who was Abraham, then He’s setting apart the branches. In other words, this is Paul’s way of saying, “You Jews know very well that a part of a thing consecrated intends to say that the whole is consecrated. And if God sets apart the root and God sets apart the first fruit in the case of Abraham and the fathers, it is to say that He has consecrated to Himself the whole.” It’s a beautiful thought.

This is why Israel will come to be grafted into the Church, which Paul explains later in Romans 11. Jews have been coming to Christ throughout history, of course, but, as I wrote last week, mentioning MacArthur’s citation of Revelation 7, the day will come when 144,000 of them, drawn from all twelve tribes of Israel, will believe in Christ then evangelise en masse throughout the world.

Paul goes on to say that, although faithless branches were removed so Gentiles could be grafted on, the Gentiles should consider this in fear — awe (verse 20). We should never take our standing in the Church for granted.

If we become faithless, God can cut us off, too (verse 21).

Henry sounds this warning, which seems apposite, considering the state of today’s churches which worship political movements instead of the Lord:

The patent which churches have of their privileges is not for a certain term, nor entailed upon them and their heirs; but it runs as long as they carry themselves well, and no longer. Consider, (1.) “How they were broken off. It was not undeservedly, by an act of absolute sovereignty and prerogative, but because of unbelief.” It seems, then, it is possible for churches that have long stood by faith to fall into such a state of infidelity as may be their ruin. Their unbelief did not only provoke God to cut them off, but they did by this cut themselves off; it was not only the meritorious, but the formal cause of their separation.

Paul counsels us to remember God’s kindness in grafting us onto the Church. His kindness extends to us as long as we are faithful (verse 22).

If we lose our faith, Paul says, God can remove us from the Church and graft on those who were previously mired in unbelief but who later came to believe (verse 23).

Matthew Henry offers this summary:

The sum of our duty, the condition of our happiness, is to keep ourselves in the love of God. Fear the Lord and his goodness. Hosea 3:5.

Paul says that Israel will be grafted on to the Church. They are the natural branches of the tree God created for Himself, whereas Gentiles are wild branches (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

The final restoration then, listen, of Israel is guaranteed by the consecrating love of God for Abraham. It is implied in God’s love of Abraham and His setting Abraham apart as a covenant progenitor …

And if there’s to be no future for the nation Israel, then what Paul is saying here is just not true. But it is true and there is a place for Israel.

MacArthur concludes his sermon by putting the emphasis on faith:

What is the issue here? The issue is one simple thing. Faith, isn’t it? Jew or Gentile, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re grafted into the place of blessing, where the life of God flows through and produces fruit. … Those Jew and Gentile, along with all the others of all the ages who have come to faith in God, who have embraced the Savior, are grafted in, be they natural branches or unnatural, they’re in the place of blessing. The issue for you is faith. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? … I hope you do. Let’s bow in prayer.

Father, we… We even said more than we intended tonight but oh how wonderful it is. Your Word, we love it, thank You for it. Thank You for the great confidence in our hearts that faith is the issue. O we know You’re a sovereign God and we know that You make choices out of that sovereignty, but, Lord, You repeat so often that faith is the issue and “Him that comes unto Me,” said Jesus, “I will in no wise cast out.” And so anyone coming with faith to embrace Christ will be received. We thank You for that. We pray there might be hearts even now opened in faith to Christ. Now, Father, do send us from this place with happy hearts, fulfilled because we have been participants of the kingdom, we have been branches of blessing, to bear much fruit for the glory of the Father. May we be all that You want us to be. Fill our hearts with love for You and for those that need to know You, and we’ll thank You for what You’ll do in each life, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

I haven’t read this passage from Romans privately for a long time. Henry’s and MacArthur’s exegeses have helped me to realise how profound Paul’s words truly are.

Let us pray for those who have not yet converted that they may see the Light that is Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever.

Next time — Romans 11:25-28