No Prejudice AllowedPrepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 11:11a (Holman) I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall?
Israel by and large rejected Jesus. Did this mean only despair and gloom could result from it? Is every Jew automatically condemned? Will God let the final chapter be only destruction and cruelty? “Absolutely not!” The Lord can overrule people’s evil, and providentially produce good from it anyway.
Romans 11:11b On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to
the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.
Two positive results will come from Israel’s national rejection of Jesus. One, salvation will spread rapidly among the Gentiles. Had Jews been converted en masse, ethnic prejudice may have slowed the spread of Christianity. Also, the Gospel message might have been diluted with ceremonial requirements. Israel’s rejection of Jesus made the international spread of the Gospel much easier.
Two, this widespread conversion of Gentiles will in turn be used of God to attract and evangelize those who are the elect in Israel. Gentiles are not to view Jews as rivals, but to live in such a way as to win them to us, and thereby to Jesus.
Romans 11:12 Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their
failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number
Israel’s rejection of the Gospel proved to be the means of spreading spiritual wealth among Gentiles throughout the world. In this, Paul saw the possibility of an even greater occurrence. If good had been brought forth out of tragedy, how much more could He accomplish if many of the Jews eventually did receive Him?
Paul loved Gentiles. Paul loved Jews. His tender heart yearned for both groups to join hearts and hands as true brotherhood. In the following verses he attacked that barrier, the wall of prejudice. Every wall has two sides, and Paul dealt with both sides of the prejudice wall.
Romans 11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I
am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry.
Paul’s main thrust will be to attack Gentile prejudice against Jews. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. “I magnify my office” pinpointed the fact he was unashamed of this title. He gloried in being a preacher to Gentiles, though many of his own kinsmen vilified him because of his efforts among Gentiles.
Paul’s concern for Gentiles was the very thing that often caused Jews to hate him. They tolerated his lectures and doctrines, but hated his appeal to Gentiles (eg. AC 22:21-22). Though it made him a reject among his own people, Paul opposed bigotry against Gentiles.
Romans 11:14 If I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some
In this and the following verses, Paul fought an insidious anti-Jewish sentiment among Gentile believers. He was not writing to lost people. His audience was Christians.
The tendency to despise and downgrade Jews has been an ever recurring one throughout history. It was almost universal in the Roman world, and evidently some of that prejudice had infiltrated the church.
In addition to this “natural” prejudice that existed among non-Christian, other factors sometimes made “Christian” prejudice the worst of all. The Jews were by and large rejecting Jesus, whom believers served as God. The Jews were also persecuting Christian leaders. As a result, some within the Church evidently wanted to wipe their hands of all Jews, and count them as abandoned of God. It was a notion as ancient as Paul’s day, and as modern as Hitler’s day.
Paul would have nothing to do with such prejudice. He loved all people, and wanted Gentiles to know he hoped his efforts among them would cause more Jews to return to God. He hoped Jews would become jealous and imitate Gentile believers.
His efforts among Gentiles were not to be interpreted as a rejection of Jews. In all his labors among Gentiles, Paul was still keeping one eye on the Jews. He was concerned for Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles had no cause to be envious or fearful regarding the conversion of Jews. The salvation of Jews would not make the condition of Gentiles worse. In fact, it would enhance matters.
Romans 11:15 For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what
will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
Paul loved his kith and kin. He could envision nothing more glorious than a widespread conversion among the Jews. To him it would be as wonderful as receiving a loved one back from death.
It would be like the Prodigal Son coming home and hearing the father say, “My son was dead and is alive again” (LK 15:24). It would be like a re-visit to the valley of dry bones (EZK 37), which pictured Israel. They were woefully saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished” (v. 7). Then sinew, flesh and skin were added (v. 8). Finally, a breath entered them, and they lived (v. 10).
Paul wanted it to happen again. He hoped masses of Gentile Christians would live such holy, beautiful lives that Jews would be attracted to Jesus. He hoped blessings of salvation would be obvious within the Church, thereby making the Gospel “appealing” to Jews.
Sadly, “Christianity” has been a cloak under which the vilest, cruelest, and most violent anti-Semitism has taken place. “If the Church had set out to intensify the hardness of Israel against Jesus Messiah it could not have succeeded better, and on the whole it is as unconcerned for its sin as it is for Israel’s salvation” (G. R. Beasley-Murray, in “Review and Expositor”).
Paul hoped Gentile believers could change the Jews’ attitude toward Jesus. The Jews had changed their opinions about leaders before. The Jews first rebelled against Moses, but later viewed him as their greatest national leader. Elijah was forced to flee for his life, but the Jews eventually recognized him as a might servant for YHWH. Jeremiah was so disliked by the Jews that they tried to kill him. Eventually, however, his writings were included in Holy Scripture.
Paul obviously hoped the Jews would have a similar turnaround in their attitude toward Jesus, but it has not happened, and much of the blame falls squarely on Christians. “A Christian church and a supposedly Christian society which have consistently through the centuries exposed the Jews to varying degrees of discrimination and persecution, and still nourish a smoldering element of distrust and hostility, have concealed, and still conceal from the Jew, the face of Jesus Christ!” (James D. Smart, Doorway to a New Age, pp. 145-146).
Paul saw no dichotomy between winning people of different ethnic backgrounds to the Lord. There should never be any ill feeling toward reaching out to people who are “different.” The winning of those in one group does not hurt any other group. The mandate given the Church is to try and win everyone.
Jonah hesitated to win Ninevites, Peter balked at preaching to Gentiles, and today, Christians are still slow to reach those who are “different.” There is a hesitancy in our handshake, and pause in our greeting, a reluctance in our smile. God forgive us all, and God help us all to do better.