Pride is a problem, even for Christians, or should I say, especially for Christians. And this problem goes all the way back to the first century. In Romans 11, Paul addresses Gentile believers with the purpose of humbling them which can be seen in the direct prohibition, “do not become proud” (v. 20) and in the purpose statement for his teaching, “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery” (v. 25).
But what particular form of pride is Paul concerned with? Specifically, Paul is seeking to eliminate the arrogance of Gentile believers toward Jewish unbelievers so he states, “do not be arrogant toward the branches [ethnic Israel]” (v. 18)
Relevance for Today
But what does this got to do with us today? Do we still have the problem of Gentile arrogance toward Jewish unbelievers? That depends on where you live. And it depends on your understanding of what it means to be a Christian. But, at the very least, we can all admit that pride continues to be a problem for Christians.
Gentile believers acting arrogantly toward Jewish unbelievers was extremely bothersome to Paul so he combats it with several assertions.
- Israel has stumbled, but Israel has not fallen (v. 11). There will be a future inclusion of Israel (vv. 12, 15, 26). In fact, “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). And that is the result of God’s power to graft in branches that have been broken off (vv. 23-24). Israel isn’t out for the count. They will be joining you in the future.
- Israel’s stumbling is purposeful—to bring salvation to the Gentiles (v. 11). And Israel’s hardening is only temporary—until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (v. 25). God is sovereign and he’s working out his plan of salvation in world history even in the face of human disobedience, even in the face of the disobedience of his own people.
- Like Israel, Gentile believers may also be cut off because of unbelief (vv. 21-22). To phrase Paul’s point as a question, “Do you really think you’re any better than they are?”
- Israel’s hardening is only partial (v. 25). There is a remnant of Israel who believes (vv. 1-5). And the remnant consists of people who have been chosen by God’s grace (vv. 5-6). Once again phrasing Paul’s point as a question, “Don’t you recognize that there are believing Jews? And don’t you realize how you attained your status as God’s people?”
- The people of Israel are beloved for the sake of their forefathers (v. 28). What God promised to Abraham and his descendants cannot be revoked (v. 29). God is faithful to his ancient promises.
- At one time, you too were disobedient to God, but God had mercy on you (v. 30). Likewise, God will have mercy on them. God’s plan is to have mercy on all (v. 32).
God’s Character and Purposes
By looking over Paul’s assertions, we can see that while this particular problem may seem irrelevant to some today, it impinges on questions of God’s character and God’s purposes in the world.
- Does God keep his promises?
- How do we become God’s people?
- What is God’s plan for ethnic Israel?
- What is God’s plan for the entire human race?
- Does human rebellion thwart God’s purposes?
In conclusion, we shouldn’t act arrogantly toward unbelieving Jews or any other non-Christians for that matter. After all, we haven’t earned our status; it is the result of God’s mercy. And God’s plan is to have mercy on all.
[This post is part of a series on Paul.]