Therefore Consider the Olive Tree

“Therefore Consider the Olive Tree”

Romans 11:11-24

11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their [a]fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their [b]fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and [c]fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, [d]goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Here begins a new section of the discussion, lasting to the end of the chapter. Paul has shown that the rejection of Israel was never total; he now declares that it is not final. A time is to come when a remnant of Israel shall believe, and be restored to the Church.  God has reserved this remnant according to His promise. The gospel could not be preached to the Gentiles until it had first been offered to and rejected by the Jews. Their rejection opened the door for the rest of the world.

Paul uses the illustration taken from the practice of those who ingraft trees. The useless branches, or those which bear poor fruit, are cut off, and a better kind inserted.

The olive-tree was sometimes cultivated, and that cultivation was necessary in order to render it fruitful. The cultivated olive-tree is “of a moderate height, its trunk knotty, its bark smooth and ash-colored, its wood is solid and yellowish, the leaves are oblong, and almost like those of the willow, of a green color. The wild olive is smaller in all its parts.” The wild olive tree was unfruitful, or its fruit very imperfect and useless. The ancient writers explain this word by “unfruitful, barren.” This was used, therefore, as the emblem of unfruitfulness and barrenness, while the cultivated olive produced much fruit. The meaning here is, that the Gentiles had been like the wild olive tree, unfruitful; that they had grown up in the wild and according to their sin nature. The Jews had been like a cultivated olive tree, long under the training and blessing of God.

The process of grafting consists in inserting a young shoot into another tree. To do this, a useless limb is removed; and the ingrafted limb produces fruit according to its new nature or kind, and not according to the tree in which it is inserted. In this way a tree which bears no fruit, or whose branches are decaying, may be recovered, and become valuable. The figure of the apostle is a very vivid and beautiful. The ancient root or stock, that of Abraham, was good. The branches had become decayed and unfruitful, and so broken off. The Gentiles had been grafted into this stock, to restore the decayed vigor of the ancient people of God; and a fruitless church had become vigorous and flourishing. But the apostle soon proceeds to keep the Gentiles from boasting on account of this.

It is true they were broken off; but in order to show that there was no occasion for boasting, he adds that the Jews were not rejected in order to admit others, but because of their unbelief, and that their fate should have a beneficial impression on the Gentiles, but who might be rejected for the same cause.

Paul says to these believers, “You stand by faith” – The continuance of these mercies to you depends on your fidelity. If you are faithful, you will be preserved; if, like the Jews, you become unbelieving and unfruitful, like them you will be also rejected. This fact should repress any kind of boasting, but produce in you the fear of the Lord. Paul says, “do not be haughty” – Do not be prideful of your privileges, so as to produce vain self-confidence and boasting. But fear – This fear stands opposed to the spirit of boasting and self-confidence, against which he was exhorting them. It does not mean terror or horror, but it denotes humility, watchfulness, and solicitude to abide in the faith.

If God did not refrain from rejecting the Jews who became unbelievers, assuredly he will not refrain from rejecting you in the same circumstances. He will be quite as ready to reject the ingrafted branches, as to cast off those which belonged to the parent stock.  Therefore, regard, or contemplate, for purposes of your own improvement and benefit, the dealings of God. We should look on all His dispensations of judgment AND of mercy, and derive lessons from both to promote our own steadfast adherence to the faith of the gospel. Consider both His goodness and severity.

Regard His goodness – The benevolence or mercy of God toward you in admitting you to His favor. This calls for gratitude, love, confidence. It demands expressions of thanksgiving. It should be highly prized, in order that it may spur us to diligence to secure His continued goodness.

Regard the severity of God – The word “severity” now suggests sometimes the idea of harshness, or even of cruelty. (Webster.) But nothing of this kind is conveyed in the original word here. It denotes “cutting off,” apotomian from ἀποτέμνω apotemnō, to cut off; and is commonly applied to the act of the gardener or vine-dresser in trimming trees or vines, and cutting off the decayed or useless branches. Here it refers to the act of God in cutting off or rejecting the Jews as useless branches; and not of injustice, cruelty, or harshness. It was a just act, consistent with all the holiness of a good and just God. It indicated a purpose to do what was right, though the inflictions might seem to be severe.

What’s Paul telling us? We need to learn from the example of the Jewish people and consider their ways, walk in the fear of the Lord removing all haughtiness and boasting, and be faithful. This is a real warning in Scripture. Why are people so quick and willing to believe the promises and blessings of God, but so easily dismiss the warnings? These are real and serious warnings to the people of God.

The very first thing that Paul wants us to know is that we need to consider the natural and fruitless olive tree.  Consider- Gk word “eido” meaning “to know, be aware, have knowledge of, understand”.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a very similar story: Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 4:1-13

Has anyone ever told you a story and prefaced it with, “Pay attention to the story I am going to tell you and do not do what this person did?” I have that testimony in my past. I told my kids my sinful ways, the people I hung out with, that bad company corrupts good morals, the sin that I gave myself over to, the statistics of early drinking and alcoholism and sexual deviancy, the things I did to end up in jail and the precarious situations I put myself in. I told my kids: consider my life and the destruction I reaped from a life lived for myself and my own pleasures. Understand that the wages of my sin created nothing but death in my life. They know about my past sexual sin and drug abuse. I overdosed and almost died. Be honest with your kids and stop trying to make your past look pretty and inviting. Don’t romanticize your sin. The Word does not glean over sin. If you don’t have my history, send your kids to me. I have sat down with some of the kids in this church to share my nastiness that led to destruction.

If we do not learn from the failures of Israel, we are doomed to fall into their same sins. What were their sins?

1 Cor 10:1-12 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us [a]tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now [b]all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our [c]admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Lust for evil things- long for, covet, desire anything that God has said is not for you. If God said “do not touch” then you do not touch. But Jesus went a step further, He not only said, “do not touch”; HE said keep your heart pure from even thinking about it. You would do well to remember that Satan fell not for what he did- but for what was in his heart.

Idolatry- setting anything above or equal to God or His Word, this includes idolatry of self, self-confidence and exaltation, your own ideas about something, worldly philosophies

Sexual Immorality- ANY sex outside the marriage covenant of one man and one woman

Tempt Christ- to test, scrutinize, prove. To try the Lord, means to let it come to the point whether He will show Himself to be God; in this case: whether He will punish. It’s the “I can do this because I am under grace” people.

The Israelites had, by their longing after the things left behind in Egypt, tested God so that God had asserted Himself in visiting them with punishment, and so Christians must be on their guard not to tempt the Lord by lusting after worldly and physical pleasures from which He by His death has delivered us.  Some of the Corinthian Christians seemed by their conduct, as regards eating and drinking and indulging in sensuality, to long for that liberty in reference to things which they had enjoyed before conversion, instead of enjoying the spiritual blessings and feeding on the spiritual sustenance which Christ had provided for them.

Complaining- murmuring and grumbling; the very opposite of thanksgiving. Complaining shows God we are not satisfied with His provision and is the opposite of gratitude. Do you realize that murmuring will destroy a church? Murmur is a half-suppressed or muttered complaint. It is often a “veiled” complaint under the guise of “I am concerned”. We had a bunch of mutterers when we started a building campaign, “do you know what the pastor did with that money!?” Why do you even care? You are responsible to give- the pastor is responsible to the Lord. Once it’s out of my hands, I don’t care.

The apostles Jude while describing apostates and false teachers:

Jude 16 These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.

People do not consider this severity. God is holy and therefore His punishment is just.

 After I told my kids to learn from my mistakes, I told my kids consider the goodness the Lord has shown me, of which my children are reaping a harvest from my faithfulness. His goodness to forgive all my sins and make me a new creation. His goodness to give me a loving and faithful husband, and allowing me to have children after so wrecklessly treating my body. His goodness to use me in His service and giving me beautiful gifts. It makes me want to weep how good He has been to me, knowing I do not deserve any of it. Continue in this same goodness and live a life of gratitude. I hope that I have modeled a life lived in gratitude and faithfulness to the Lord. I love Him with all my heart for all He has forgiven me.

After we come to a full understanding of what happened to Israel, it should squash any ounce of haughtiness or pride, but instead produce in us the fear the Lord.

Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate.

Paul says, “do not be haughty, but fear”. The fear of the Lord is more than just a respect for God. It is a reverential affection and love for Him and at the same time a hatred for all sin and evil. Godly fear, is consistent with strong faith, great joy, and true courage; is opposite to pride and self-confidence, and is accompanied with real holiness; it takes its rise from the grace of God, and is greatly increased and promoted by the discoveries of His love and goodness.

If you do not hate evil, hate what God hates, sin and unrighteousness, you lack the fear of the Lord. There can never be a truce between the kingdoms of light and darkness, if we are a friend of one we are an enemy of the other. When you do not keep a tight rein on your lips, sins of speech: speaking lies and deceit; slandering, murmuring and complaining you lack the fear of a holy God. Do you realize when you lie, you show kinship to Satan? You are never more like the devil than when you lie. Did you know the word slander is gk “diabolos”? Just because you would say something to someone’s face does not mean you should. God takes our words very seriously and we will give an account. God hates the perverted mouth.

Here’s just a few things of what the fear of the Lord brings:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The fear of the Lord brings instruction. The fear of the Lord prolongs life, is a fountain of life and leads to life. The fear of the Lord is a treasure. The fear of the Lord is strong confidence. The man who fears the Lord is blessed, has riches, honor and life. The fear of the Lord keeps you from sinning. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The fear of the Lord keeps you from envy.

Lastly, be faithful. God requires that His servants be found faithful and fruitful.

I MEET A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT SAY THINGS like, “I USED to do such and such for God”. And I ask, “why the USED to?” Normally, they “used to” because someone offended them and they left their church. They “used to” because they got tired of people being mean and being rejected. Welcome to following Christ. They “used to” just because they don’t want to anymore. My favorite: They “used to” because “God told me to stop”.  I don’t buy it. I know people that used to believe in the Bible, and used believe God but because of a tragedy or some unanswered prayer, they no longer believe.

Faithfulness to the Lord is until the end. There is no “used to”. The “used to” is death.  

Your gifts are not your own. You are only a steward of those gifts. It belongs to the Lord and He has entrusted you with that gift’s care. You cannot do with it what you want. It is meant to bless others and bring glory to the Father. God expects you to use those gifts until death.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Rev 2:10 

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” I Corinthians 4:2

There’s that word that keeps popping up again and again in the life of a saint. You must be found faithful until the end. The unfaithful servant is given the title “wicked”.

Matthew 24:45-51 “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food [a]in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. 47 Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But if that evil (Gk wicked) servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying [b]his coming,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, 51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The word “wicked” here is not represented of an initial character as in other Scriptures, but rather means “a degeneracy from original virtue, diseased”. In the parable of the wicked servant, he stops doing that which is good right pure and true and begins to sin with the rest of the world. He stops being faithful.

Jesus is returning for a faithful church. It is required in stewards that one be found faithful. “Faithful” is translated in the Greek as one word in every single Scripture it’s mentioned and it’s defined as “trustworthy, sure, true”. It’s from a root word meaning “to have confidence in”; therefore it’s meaning is that God Himself finds you trustworthy and He has confidence in you. How marvelous is that! The Creator of the universe will one day say to His trustworthy people, “Well done good and faithful servant”. Faithfulness includes a fidelity to the Lord Himself and to His Word.

God’s people are clearly commanded in Scripture to live in a manner distinct from the surrounding culture. The goal is not to “fit in” but to “stand out” as people who live by a moral standard given by God.

The greatest thing about faithfulness is that it takes zero talent to be faithful. You don’t have to be highly intelligent and blessed with awesome traits. You don’t have to sing well, preach well, write well, or teach well. You just have to be faithful. Stewardship is until the end. Be honest. What are you letting get in the way? Are you selfish with your time? Have you been offended? Get over yourself. You were an offense to God and therefore have no right to harbor an offense toward anyone. Are you letting pride get in the way?  Humble yourself. Get planted in the church and stop uprooting yourself every few years. You are destroying your ability to produce a good crop. Paul never stopped preaching even from prison and he died alone, with most people forsaking him. Yet he never stopped. Faith is precious and must be protected at all costs. Faithfulness requires discipline, to guard your heart and your mind. Discipline to guard the Word of God. Once you start to distrust God’s Word, you will be cut off. Consider the olive tree. I want to leave you with this story.

John Akhwari was a marathon runner who represented Tanzania in the Olympic marathon in 1968.  He didn’t win a medal. In fact, he came nowhere near. But, in defeat and in pain, he came to represent something much more profound and enduring than many sportsmen achieve in illustrious careers.

Akhwari was never likely to win the marathon, but his chances were wrecked when, perhaps because of the effects of the high altitude, he succumbed to cramps that slowed his progress. If that was painful, then worse was to come after he was involved in a melee of athletes jockeying for position.

Akhwari fell to the ground, gashing his knee and also causing a dislocation. He also smashed his shoulder against the pavement. Most observers, seeing his injuries, assumed he would pull out and go to hospital. Instead, he received medical attention and returned to the track to continue his race.

His pace, of course, was now much lower, but his resolve to complete the event remained intact. Eighteen of the 75 starters had pulled out; he did not wish to add to that number.

And so, more than an hour after the winner, Akhwari crossed the line in last place, cheered home by a few thousand spectators who had remained in the stadium after the sun went down. By the time he reached the stadium, he was limping and the bandage around his leg was flapping in the breeze. He was asked why he’d carried on, and his response has gone down in sporting history. “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,” he said. “They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

2 Timothy 4:7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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