Remain seated until you have God’s best.
Back in the days before we were all conditioned to sit through long Marvel superhero flicks, lengthy features would have an intermission. I wonder if anybody ever got up and left, thinking the show was over. If so, they would have missed all the plot resolutions, and explanations. The movie they saw wouldn’t have been the movie the director made.
Some Christians detect such an intermission in Romans chapter 9, as though Paul down-shifted from the gospel to an irrelevant dissertation on Israel and the church. They think it’s time to check out. The latter chapters seem to pale in comparison to the exciting first half, where we got out of wrath into grace, out of Adam into Christ, and out of the flesh into the Spirit.
When Paul starts talking about getting out of the world and into the church, we glaze over, especially in a generation where it’s common to hear people talk about de-churching.
If you stop at Romans 9, halfway through the gospel of God and minus the corporate aspect of God’s people, you’ve stopped short of a setting for the gospel to grow.
In Romans 11:24, Paul says we started off in a wild olive tree. And “wild” aptly describes the world in which we once lived. That is where we made up our own rules, and our own morality. No governing principles operated there.
Not too long ago, the prevailing controversy was whether a man was as morally justified in marrying a man as he was a woman. Now he has difficulty knowing whether he is a man or a woman. The world has lost its grip on reality, obeying instead the sinner’s subjective authority and whatever he or she judges normal.
But the verse says we were “cut” from that natural wildness when we believed in Christ, and were grafted into a cultivated olive tree. “Cultivated” means fastidiously cared for. The worker wraps twine around the tender graft to hold it in place. He checks on it to make sure it takes. After all, it is “contrary to nature” and clumsy. No one immediately feels comfortable among God’s people. We often resist the faith community, preferring the natural wild.
Still, we “were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (v. 17).
The root represents the beginning of God’s people—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even the tiniest, newest graft in the tree begins to absorb the spiritual riches that germinated in these three. That’s why when we read their stories, something resonates in us.
We intuitively recognize the blessed experience of faith in Abraham, the inheritance of grace in Isaac, and the painful but ultimately glorious transformation in Jacob. It is the template of God’s work in His Trinity, active in the earliest stages of the faith community. And it all develops in a setting among other branches.
You don’t want to opt out of something like that.
Olive tree graphic by Clarence Larkin, The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World, 1920.