NUGGETS OF WISDOM

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BELIEVING WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

David recollected that as a young lad, with long unruly hair and a ruddy complexion, sleeping out in an open pasture under a starry sky after watching his father’s sheep all day long; how he would take his little harp and sing to the God above all gods. Looking up, he saw the sky as a huge tent with the sparkling stars as lights that lit up the night. He may have even tried to count them once or twice. But what really impressed him was that each night every star was in exactly the same place, not one of them was missing. He was so overcome with awe that he penned a hymn to the creator of that starry universe.

O my LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius, as You display Your grandeur all over the heavens for all the world to see. For through these small and tiny dots of light You communicate as a way of countering those who don’t take You seriously; yes, You do this to silence the doubter and unbeliever. When I look up into the sky and see the galaxies Your hands created, the stars and the moon You put into orbit I ask, “What role do humans play in this vast universe; why do You care and fuss over them?” Then I realized, You created them a little short of being angels; endowing them with attributes of honor and dignity; making them the smartest and most influential creatures on earth; putting them in charge to being stewards of Your handiwork, even taking care of the animals, both domestic and wild, including the birds that fill the sky and the fish that fill the sea. O LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius for all the world to see.” Psalm 8:1-9

Reflection: Back in the days of the hippy movement I sat in a coffee house in Stuttgart, Germany talking with a long-haired flower-child about God. The young man was respectful but adamant about his doubts concerning God’s existence because he couldn’t see Him or talk to Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration, so I pointed to a picture hanging on the wall beside our table and asked the young man if he believed that picture came into being due to an accidental collision of paint and paper. He laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous; that picture was painted by an artist.” I responded that I wasn’t convinced because I couldn’t see the artist in the picture; how did I know that maybe one day it just appeared on the wall by accident. The young fellow looked at me for a moment and then admitted that even though I couldn’t see the artist in the painting, I had to accept the fact that an artist painted the picture because it just makes sense. I told him that in the same way, one must exercise faith to believe an unseen talented artist created such a beautiful portrait, we can also believe an unseen God created the beauty of the universe. The magnificence of God’s creation shows His responsibility for man’s existence, and man’s responsibility to acknowledge God’s handiwork. The young man smiled somewhat embarrassingly as he bowed his head and said, “Okay, you got me on that one.” I asked him if we could have prayer for him to have faith, but he wasn’t sure. As he went away I asked the Holy Spirit to go with him and open his eyes to the truth.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXII)

On the subject of firstfruit, lump, root, and branches Stern lets us see this from a Jewish perspective:

The firstfruit is those of Israel established by faith through Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. (re: verse 28).

The lump/root are the same and represent the restored faithful remnant in Yeshua, and/or Yeshua Himself.

The unbroken branches consist of those Israelites who received Yeshua and accepted Him as the Messiah and those Gentiles who were grafted into the faith via Yeshua.

The broken branches consist of those Israelites who are rejected Yeshua and refused to accept Him as the Messiah.

Stern then continues with the “unbroken branches” that are set apart for the Lord, such as the Apostles, in their service to the Gentiles, vicariously suffering for the Gentiles, who are supported by the “root” (and not the other way around). This suffering may be compared to Psalm 44 which speaks of exiled Israel’s suffering, not as punishment, but as suffering for the sake of God’s name. The “root” is also a reference to the “Root of Jesse,” the ruler and hope of the Gentiles in the Congregation of Israel among whom they worship, as Paul brings this up later in this letter.1 Paul calls the unsaved Gentiles a wild olive tree as:

Wild olive trees were unproductive and bore no fruit (i.e., Ephesians 2:10-13).

The wild olive tree was a symbol in the Greek/Roman culture of these Gentiles.

Paul stands up for Israel (i.e. Romans 10:2), by showing the cultivated tree as the community rooted in Judaism.

Some Gentiles incorrectly believed Israel had rejected its restoration through Yeshua, and, therefore, has been rejected by God. Paul makes it clear, beginning in verse 18 and forward, that they are treading on sacred ground.2

I have found it to be true in my ministry, especially in chaplaincy work in hospitals and nursing homes, that I was able to establish a very cordial and respectful relationship with Rabbis when I treated them like friends instead of enemies. It gave me an opportunity to witness to them without their fearing that I was proselytizing or putting them down. As fellow chaplains, I accepted them as brothers in the family of Abraham. It was amazing how many times they were willing to listen instead of thinking of how they were going to counter what I said in defense.

Verses 19-21: You might say, “Branches broke off so that I could be grafted into their tree.” That may be true, but remember, those branches broke off because they stopped believing. As you continue to be part of the tree because you are a believer, don’t become arrogant. Rather, be advised of this: If God did not let the natural branches of that tree to remain, He will not let you remain if you stop believing.

This is a good wake-up call for many today who feel that since they are the newest branches on the tree planted in Antioch centuries ago, they have priority on all the nutrients and sunshine provided to this tree by the Holy Spirit. Just as church history shows that branches sprout and then are either cut off or die, so this will be their fate if they don’t recognize who the keeper of the orchard is. It is also a good lesson for some today who think that they are the Church instead of them being part of the Church. They feel that the body of Christ survives only by their presence, instead of their survival depending upon the church being present. It’s quite a simple equation; the Church existed before they came along and will do so long after they’re gone. Their input did not matter until they became part of the church, yet they still believe that if they ever leave, the sourceless flame of the Church will die. Jesus said that nothing, not even a direct assault by the forces of hell will keep His Church from surviving and continuing to sprout new branches which will go on to produce new fruit.

And this is the point that Paul brings to the surface now. The Jews, as branches, were broken off the sacred tree because they no longer sought their strength and fruit-bearing resource from the God who planted them in His orchard. As Paul told the Jews when he arrived in Antioch in the country of Pisidia, that he came to them first to preach the Good News. But, because they bushed him aside and would not believe, he told them he must then take this message of hope and salvation to those who were not Jews.3 So now that the non-Jews were firmly planted in the House of the Lord, Paul wanted them to know that what faith brought them, faith will use to sustain them. As Paul told the Corinthians: “We are not trying to dictate how you must live out your trust in the Messiah, for in your trust you are standing firm. Rather, we are working with you for your own happiness,4 he is now telling the Romans.

He wanted them to accept the same formula he shared with the Colossians: “Have your roots planted deep in Christ. Grow in Him. Get your strength from Him. Let Him make you strong in the faith as you have been taught. Your life should be full of thanks to Him.5 Paul did not want the Roman believers to become self-confident in their own abilities to be all God wanted them to be and do all that God wanted them to do. As David said in his Psalm: “For even if the Lord is honored, He thinks about those who have no pride. In other words, as you are thinking about God as He receives all the praise, glory, and honor for those things He accomplished through you as a vessel of His service, He is thinking about you. So Solomon had this admonition for those who wanted some of the glory: “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who lives by wisdom will remain safe.7 Even the prophet Habakkuk gave this proverb: “As for the proud one, his soul is not right in him. But the one who is right and good will live by his faith.”8 So Paul did not want the non-Jewish believers in Rome to go off on a tangent and act as though they were the favorite among God’s children.

Paul wanted to convince the Corinthians to adopt the same attitude. He told them: “We break down every thought and proud thing that puts itself up against the wisdom of God. We take hold of every thought and make it obey Christ.9 The reason Paul was so adamant about believers not assuming a position of superiority among their brethren and purporting that their wisdom and knowledge of God is greater than all others is that this is the spirit of the Antichrist. He tells the Thessalonians: “For the Day [of the Lord] will not come until after the Apostasy has come and the leader of those who separate themselves from the Word has been revealed. He is the man of sin. He works against and puts himself above every kind of god that is worshiped. He will take his seat in the house of God and say that he himself is God.10 We have seen in our own generation how such people have become leaders of a cult that look up to them as being a god.

As a result of such pride and arrogance, Paul tells young Timothy: “They will not love each other. No one can get along with them. They will tell lies about others. They will not be able to keep from doing things they know they should not do. They will be wild and want to beat and hurt those who are good. They will not stay true to their friends. They will act without thinking. They will think too much of themselves. They will love fun instead of loving God. They will do things to make it look as if they are Christians. But they will not receive the power that is for a Christian. Keep away from such people.11

Instead, says Paul, we should always have the deepest reverence and highest regard for our Lord God. Solomon said that he noticed that those who get away from the Word applaud what worldly people are doing while those who stick to the Word will speak against such people.12 That echoes what God told Isaiah: “Says ADONAI: The kind of person on whom I look with favor is one with a poor and humble spirit, who trembles at my word.13 Contained within this admonition to the non-Jewish Christians now part of the church was Paul’s inference that if God was willing to bypass the Jews because of their pride and unbelief, then the Gentiles should beware that the same thing does not happen to them. It was his way of saying the same thing that God told the children of Israel through Jeremiah: “For this is what Adonai says: ‘Those who do not deserve to drink from this cup will have to drink it anyway (in Paul’s mind this would be the Jews), so should you go unpunished? No, you will not go unpunished; you will certainly drink it (to Paul this would be the Gentile believers).14

Early church scholar Ambrosiaster continues his view of why some branches of the original olive tree – Israel, were allowed to break off. He is not pleased when a believing Gentile says that they can rejoice that the Jews did not believe, saying that their condemnation made room for the Gentiles. But the Jews were not condemned by God in order to let the Gentiles in. They condemned themselves by rejecting God’s Son that He sent as a gift, and by doing that, God then gave the Gentiles an opportunity to be saved. Paul wants to stop this boasting, so that we might rejoice in our salvation rather than insult the weak. For the man who insults a sinner is easily deceived.15

Starting in the early church era, down through the middle ages, and into modern times there are still Christians who look smugly down on the Jews as though they and their ancestors play no positive role in the Church being what it is. In the early 1500’s some branches that had been grafted in fell off because of unbelief, and so branches from the wild tree of Protestantism led by Martin Luther were grafted in. Then again, some of those branches fell and branches from the wild tree of Revivalism led by John Wesley were grafted in. And when some of those branches fell off because of unbelief, the branches from the wild tree of Pentecostalism were grafted in. So the question for us today would be, if some of those branches fall off, what wild branches will God find to graft in? Many Bible scholars will tell you that when this happens then God will harvest all the fruit of those branches still remaining and then regraft the branches of Judaism back in.

1 Romans 15:12

2 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 Acts of the Apostles 13:46; See 18:6

4 2 Corinthians 1:24

5 Colossians 2:7

6 Psalm 138:6

7 Proverbs 28:26

8 Habakkuk 2:4

9 2 Corinthians 10:5

10 2 Thessalonians 2:4

11 2 Timothy 3:3-5

12 Proverbs 28:4

13 Isaiah 66:2 – Complete Jewish Bible

14 Jeremiah 49:12

15 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXI)

Haldane then points out that whenever Gentile Christians felt disposed to boast with respect to the Jews, let them remember not only that the Jews were the first people of God, and that the first Christians were also Jews. The Jews received no advantage from the Gentiles; but, on the contrary, the Gentiles have received much from the Jews, from whom the message of the Gospel went out. The initial preachers were Jews, even Jesus Christ Himself was Jewish by His mother’s heritage. The Gentile believers became the children of Abraham, and all the blessings they now enjoy are due to that relationship. That’s why the covenant includes all believers;1 yet they keep believing it was only to belong to the houses of Israel and Judah.2

It is obvious that the Church during the Middle Ages forgot all about Paul’s admonition. Unfortunately, they attacked the Jews in every way possible, sowing the seeds of animosity that ended up being carried out in WWII concentration camps. Albert Barnes notes that the tendency of some people is to rejoice over someone who falls from grace and is humiliated. The danger of pride and boasting on account of privileges is not less in the church than elsewhere. Paul saw that some of the Gentiles might be in danger of exultation over the fallen Jews, and therefore cautions them against it. It is clear from this, that the Apostle regarded the Church as one; and that the Christian organization is only a continuance of what God started with Abraham. The tree,3 even with a part of its branches removed. and others grafted in still retains its identity as the one God planted, and should never be regarded as different or something new.4

Charles Hodge has a similar interpretation that the Gentiles joining to Jews as the people of God. It was not to confer good on them but to receive good from them. By this Paul wants to point out that the graft does not impart life and vigor to the tree, but the reverse. There is no necessity for departing from the common view. The Gentiles are saved by their introduction into that church of which the patriarchs were the root.5 Hodge goes on to say that the Gentiles should remember that they were brought into fellowship with the patriarchs, not the patriarchs with them. Therefore, salvation was through the Jews. The truth that the Jews were the channel of blessings to the Gentiles and not the opposite, was adopted to prevent all ungenerous and self-confident exultation of the latter over the former.6 But it must be remembered that the Gentiles were grafted into the stock of Abraham not through Moses and the Law, but through Christ Jesus and the Gospel.

French theologian Frédéric Godet points out that the Greek verb katakauchaomai Paul used to warn the Gentiles not to “boast” (KJV), should be understood more as telling them not to “despise” the Jewish branches, in the sense of resenting that they are still there. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon says this word defines the act of “glorying against, exulting over, boasting one’s self to the injury of a person or thing.” In fact, the KJV renders this word three different ways: “boast,7 rejoice against,8 and glory.”9 Godet says that it is not unusual for people to look with disdain on those whose place they have been called to fill. This is especially true when the vacancy was due to someone being fired in disgrace.

The fact that the Jews, as branches, were broken off the tree planted as part of God’s covenant with Abraham and replanted in the Promised Land, some Christians have ended up treating them with supreme contempt. In fact, this disdain was even seen among Gentile believers in the church in Rome. Godet thinks this is, perhaps, the reason why Paul simply uses the Greek noun kladosbranches,” in verse 18 without adding the term “broken off,” that he employed in verse 17. It was every person who is identified as, a Jew, which Paul wished to put under the protection of this warning.10

Charles Ellicott warns that the admission of Gentiles to the privileges of the Jews is no ground for boasting on their part. It is merely an admission. The Gentile is, as it were, a branch grafted in temporarily as an experiment without any effort on their part. Nor is their position absolutely granted to them. It is held conditionally on their tenure of faith. They ought, therefore, to anxiously guard against any failure in faith. For the moment, God has turned towards Gentiles the gracious side of His providence, while towards the Jew He has turned a less benevolent side. But it has been promised by God that one day this will be reversed and the Jew received back into the favor of God which they once enjoyed.11

John Stott shares that Paul’s warning to the believing Gentiles is clear. The olive tree has experienced both pruning and grafting. Some branches have been cut out of the cultivated tree. That is, some Jews have been rejected. And in their place a shoot from a wild olive tree has been grafted in. That is, some Gentiles have believed and been welcomed into God’s covenant people. Do not boast over those branches. This is the warning, which Paul corroborates with a number of arguments. First, he says, you must remember your dependence on the root, for branches have no life in themselves.12

It is interesting that Stott mentions Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1859-1939), a Scottish born Englishman known primarily for his brilliant work in archaeology and outstanding New Testament scholar, who wrote an article on this subject of grafting that said:

As regards Palestine, but no other Mediterranean country, he [Professor Fischer] points out that the process which St. Paul had in view is still in use in exceptional circumstances at the present day. He mentions that it is customary to reinvigorate an Olive-tree which is ceasing to bear fruit, by grafting it with a shoot of the Wild-Olive, so that the sap of the tree ennobles this wild shoot and the tree now again begins to bear fruit. It is a well-established fact that, as a result of grafting, both the new shoot and the old stock are affected. The grafted shoot affects the stock below the graft, and in its turn is affected by the character of the stock from which it derives its nourishment.

Hence, although the old stock had lost vigor and ceased to produce fruit, it might recover strength and productive power from the influence of the vigorous wild shoot which is grafted upon it, while the fruit that is grown on the new shoot will be more fleshy and richer in oil than the natural fruit of the Wild-Olive. Such is the inevitable process; and it is evident from the passage in Romans, even without any other authority, that the ancients had observed this fact and availed themselves of it for improving weak and unproductive trees.

The words of Romans 11:17 show the whole process employed in such cases; the tree was pruned, and after the old branches had been cut away the graft was made. The cutting away of the old branches was required to admit air and light to the graft, as well as to prevent the vitality of the tree from being too widely diffused over a large number of branches.13

Douglas Moo also makes some interesting points. He points out that the context in which these verses fall reveals that the Gentiles were guilty of an arrogance toward Jews in general that extended to both the Israel of the First Covenant and to Jewish Christians of the Last Covenant as well. Paul shows why such arrogance is wrong. He makes two basic points. First, Gentile Christians only received the spiritual benefits they enjoyed because of the Jews. They were grafted into the olive tree of Israel, the people of God. But the roots of that tree consisted of the Jewish patriarchs. The Gentiles did not “replaced” the Jews in God’s plan, they were only added to it.

Secondly, Gentile Christians did not earn the right to be grafted into the olive tree. Their arrogance in having been chosen over the Jews not only took the form of bragging but also of boasting that this being added to the olive tree was due to their own accomplishment. Their attitude, so it seems, is that they somehow were so important and deserving that God removed Jews in order to include them, that’s why the rejection of Jews led to the salvation for Gentiles. But Paul insists that was not because of any merit in the Gentiles themselves that God did what He did. It was, rather, entirely a matter of God’s grace and mercy.14

Jewish scholar David Stern makes points similar to what we have already read as a message to the newly grafted Gentiles. He hears Paul telling the Gentiles: “However, if you do boast, for whatever reason — carelessness, thickheadedness, or actual malice — it ought to help if you stop and remember that you are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting you.” To make Paul’s point as clear as possible, Stern says that whether the root is Yeshua, Abraham, the Patriarchs, the Messianic Jews or all the Jews, it is a Jewish root, and no one should forget it! When examining the Jewish community in Rome it draws a portrait of Jews, who came to faith in Yeshua, as someone doubly unwelcomed. That’s because they were rejected both by other Jews and by the Gentile majority in the Church. It’s easy enough to understand why a Messianic Jew might be rejected by some in the Jewish community, but why did the image of their being rejected by the Church even arise? It came from Gentile Christians who forgot Paul’s warning and regarded the Jewish believer in their midst a natural branch of the olive tree into which they were grafted, but no longer wanted or needed.15

1 Jeremiah 31:31

2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 538

3 The parable of the three trees can be found in Judges 9:1-21. Israel is referred to as a vine (Isaiah 5), a fig tree (Matthew 21), and as an olive tree (Romans 11).

4 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 572

6 Hodge: ibid., p. 573

7 Romans 11:18

8 James 2:13

9 Ibid. 3:14

10 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 The Expositor, sixth series Vol. 11, (January 1905), The Olive-Tree and the Wild-Olive, by Sir William Ramsay, pp. 19-20

14 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

15 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Successful businessman and Motivational Writer, Max De Pree, in one of his books makes this statement: “In the end it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.1 How true that is, especially when we consider the fact the hardest thing for some people to do is change, especially their habits. From the way they comb their hair, brush their teeth, put on their shoes, cut their meat with a knife in their right hand while holding a fork in their left hand, they laying down the knife and shifting the fork to the right hand so they can put the meat in their mouths.

Benjamin Franklin once said that being uneducated is not as big a shame as being unwilling to learn. In other words, it’s hard to motivate the unmotivatable. William Shakespeare’s famous line, “To be or not to be,2 can be expressed this way, “To change or not to change,” that is the question. Psychologists tell us that as humans, we typically hate change. We would rather stay the same than dive into the unknown. There is a feeling of safety in what is familiar; we are more comfortable in environments and relationships that we are used to than in those that require us to shift. This is true, even if what is familiar to us may be unhealthy or unfulfilling.

They go on to say, that to avoid change we frequently lie to ourselves. We tend to blame other people for undesirable aspects of our lives or for our uneasy feelings. For example, we may blame our unhappiness on a laundry list of external factors and people – our spouse, boss, job, children, health, lack of money, weight, childhood upbringing, or education. Or, we may create reasons to justify why we cannot change – we don’t have time, energy, strength, desire, confidence, or willpower to do anything differently. We may even try to control our environment and other people to make ourselves feel safer. When that doesn’t work then are prone to act passive-aggressively in our relationships when we don’t get our way.

Around Easter time it is not uncommon to hear a sermon on the last seven sayings of Christ from the cross. But I doubt if you’ll ever hear one on the last seven words of a loser in crisis: “I’ve never done it that way before.” If there ever was a group who personified this attitude, it was the Jewish sect of the Pharisees that Jesus had to deal with. They were so embedded in Jewish culture, that when Jesus began His ministry they gave Him no thought other than to criticize. They held power and prestige among the people and were granted certain privileges by the Romans and didn’t want to lose it by changing.3 When John the Baptizer and Jesus began to challenge their position it became evident a conflict would take place. It was not the design of our Lord to target the Pharisees, Jesus came to “seek and save that which was lost.4 The problem was, they refused to admit that they were lost.

Let’s admit it, we’ve missed many an opportunity because we were unwilling to give up something we had been accustomed to in order to accept something different. Since God is eternal, He lives neither in the past or future, but only in the present. And for us humans, while the past can’t be changed and the future is still to be formed, we do have to opportunities to change in the present. Our future is not always dependent on our past, but it is greatly influenced by our willingness to change now. Remember what De Pree said, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Max De Pree: Leadership is an Art, Published by Crown Business, 1987

2 William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

3 John 11:48

4 Luke 19:10

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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ANOTHER EXCITING MILESTONE IN MY LIFE

Today I complete my eightieth trip around the sun. I always knew that there was a chance I might become an octogenarian, but I had no guarantee where I would be or what I would be doing when I got there. I was convinced that growing old was mandatory, but growing up was my choice. So I set as my goal to grow up before I got too old. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was when I decided to follow Jesus and not the path others picked out for me. Was it easier? No! Was it worth it? Yes! But what makes it so exciting is that my journey down here on earth is only the beginning, and the place where I am headed has no end.
I choose not to focus just on my birthday itself but to celebrate what God has done in my life since my birthday. To thank Him for bringing me this far by faith. To also thank all those around me who have contributed to my reaching this occasion in good health and growing more content every day. At this age, when I read certain lines about the elderly that would have caused me to frown when I was younger, they now make me smile and laugh as I nod my head in agreement.
For instance, I read where someone said, “As you get older, your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either!” And I also heard years ago the as you grow older, you want everyone to think that you are younger because of the way you look. But once you reach old age you want people to know just how old you are and have them tell you that you don’t look like that old at all. Also, when you’re young, the world looks so big, and you want to explore every inch of it, but as you advance in age, your world gets smaller and you are so glad that your exploration days are over.
But the most significant dimension in my life influences and affects my human nature is my spiritual nature. I am still not finished learning how to please and serve the One who saved me and brought me out of the darkness of ignorance about sin and Satan, and ushered me into the light of His Word as my Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible today is just as exciting as it was when I started years and years ago. I want to please my God by giving Him more and more of my time and energy. By loving and learning about Him more, has helped me to love and learn more about those closest to me. My wife, my children, my grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.
So now that I am 80 years old, is that enough? Oh No! I’m excited about the next year because God has great plans for me and my wife, the one I hold most dear and close to my heart. Do I know everything that will happen? Of course not! Am I afraid of what will happen? Not in the least. When you walk hand-in-hand with Jesus and the Holy Spirit every day, there is no spirit of fear, only confidence that all things will work together for good to those who love God, and those He has called for a purpose. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

THE WOMAN WHO MAKES ALL MY BIRTHDAYS SPECIAL
MY GIFT FROM THE LORD
MY BEAUTIFUL WIFE

My Aurora

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XX)

Isaiah had a similar vision of this sanctified tree and its possible demise. He writes: “When its branches are dry, they are broken off. Women come and make a fire with them. They are not a people of understanding so their Maker will not have pity on them. The One Who made them will not show kindness to them.”1 In other words, the tree that was meant to be fruitful and sustaining, its branches had become good for nothing but firewood. In fact, things became so bad that the whole tree was used for firewood.

Jeremiah lamented: “The Lord called you, ‘A green olive tree, beautiful and with good fruit.’ But like a clap like thunder, He set fire to it, and its branches were destroyed. The Lord of All, Who planted you, has said that bad will come to you because of the sin of the people of Israel and of the people of Judah.” As most people know, when a tree becomes infected with a fruit-killing disease, the best thing to do is either cut it down or burn it. This section is beginning to sound like the seven letters that Christ commissioned the Apostle John to write to the seven Churches.2

As we know, when Jesus went to enter Jerusalem and saw a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit, He condemned it and it began to wither. He used it as an illustration of Israel who had become a tree with leaves only to decorate themselves as a sign of their religion, but beneath the leaves were barren branches. So Jesus said: “I say to you, because of this, the holy nation of God will be taken from you. It will be given to a nation that will give fruit.3 Later, Jesus would tell His disciples that He now is the true vine and they are the branches.4 And so Paul is telling the Roman Christians that this is exactly what happened and why God has now turned His attention to the Gentiles so they too can become part of the tree that He planted.

Paul explained it to the Ephesian Gentiles this way: “Do not forget that at one time you did not know God. The Jews, who had gone through the religious act of becoming a Jew by man’s hands, said you were people who do not know God. You were living without Christ then. The Jewish people who belonged to God had nothing to do with you. The promises He gave to them were not for you. You had nothing in this world to hope for. You were without God. But now you belong to Christ Jesus. At one time you were far away from God. Now you have been brought close to Him.”5

This idea of grafting branches from one tree to another was already part of Jewish lore. We find in the Mishnah where it says: “They grafted [male branches of] palm [onto female] trees all day [of the fourteenth which allowed them to grow dates].”6 But Paul takes it a step further by saying that God took branches from wild olive trees and grafted them into the sacred olive tree so that they may produce sweet fruit. O how far the Jews had come from being able to say with David: “I am like a leafy olive tree in the house of God; I put my trust in the grace of God forever and ever.7 That’s why God had to send Paul out to find branches from wild olive trees so they could be grafted into the sacred tree in the house of the Lord. Unfortunately, many who sit in church pews today have become fruitless branches. They are like potted plants, wanting only to be fed and pampered but not required to bear any fruit.

With that in mind, now Paul addresses these grafted branches and tells them not to feel they are better than the other branches on the tree. After all, Solomon warned: “Pride goes before destruction, and arrogance before failure.8 This is what almost caused James and John to be marginalized because along with their mother they asked Jesus that when He came into His kingdom to put one of them on one side of His throne and one on the other side, as if they were better than the other ten disciples.9 Little did they recall that everything they were and stood for was not because of them, but because of the One who called and chose them to be His disciples.

That’s why Paul tells them that the tree is held up by the roots and supplied with nutrition by the roots, it’s not the other way around. Paul hints at this when he tells the Galatians: “If you belong to Christ, then you have become the true children of Abraham. What God promised to him is now yours.”10 And he reminded the Ephesians: “From now on you are not strangers and people who are not citizens. You are citizens together with those who belong to God. You belong in God’s family. This family is built on the teachings of the missionaries and the early preachers. Jesus Christ Himself is the cornerstone, which is the most important part of the building.”11 Too often, there are believers who think that it is because of what they made out of Christ and His teachings that should bring them special praise, but it is just the opposite. It is what Christ made out of them and the teachings He gave them that should always be the object of praise, honor, and glory.

Early church theologian Jerome writes about Paul’s illustration of the tree and branches. He reports that every time he sees a synagogue, the thought of the Apostle always comes to his mind. It reminds him that we, as grafted branches, should not boast or say anything against the olive tree whose original branches were broken off to make room for us Gentiles. For if the natural branches have been cut off, how much more should we who have been grafted from the wild olive tree fear lest we become like them.12

And Ambrosiaster makes the point that it displeases God if someone rejoices at the misfortune of others, as Solomon says.13 In any case, the Jews were not rejected for the sake of the Gentiles. Rather, it was because they were rejected that they gave an opportunity for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. If you boast against those onto whose root you have been grafted, you insult the people who have accepted you so that you might be converted from bad to good. You have no future if you chop down the tree into which you were grafted with criticism and disdain.14

John Calvin points out that whatever glory the Gentiles received it was from their new ingrafting, not from their old stock. Calvin agrees that there was then no reason for the Gentiles to glory in their own dignity in comparison with the Jews. We may also add, that Paul wisely tones down the severity of the case, by not saying that the whole top of the tree was cut off, but only that some of the branches were broken, and also that God took some branches from here and there from among the Gentiles, whom He grafted into the holy and blessed trunk of the sacred olive tree.15 It isn’t that the Gentiles were grafted to take the spot left after a natural branch was cut off. That place remains as is until God causes that branch to return to its rightful place. As a result, instead of the new branches replicating what the tree originally looked like, it added to the tree many branches that otherwise would have never been there.

Calvin goes on to make the point that Gentiles could not contend with the Jews when it came to the excellence of their race without contending with Abraham himself. That would have been extremely unbecoming since he was like a root from which they sprouted and were nourished. As unreasonable as it would be for the branches to boast against the root, so unreasonable would it have been for the Gentiles to glory against the Jews, that is, with respect to their special standing as a chosen nation out of so many. Paul always wanted the Gentile to remember that it was from the Jews that the origin of their salvation began. And we know that after Christ pulled down the partition-wall,16 the whole world partook of the favor which God had previously conferred on the chosen people. It hence follows, that the calling of the Gentiles was like an ingrafting and that they could not have grown into being “the called” as God’s people if they had not been grafted into the stock of Abraham.17

Adam Clarke also sees the need for the grafted Gentiles not to become disdainful of their Jewish brethren in the Lord. If the present nation of the Jews, because of their unbelief, are still cut off from the blessings of God and the high honor and dignity of being His chosen people, then how can we Gentiles, being part of a grafted wild olive branch, and who had no knowledge of the true God that produced nothing but the fruit of unrighteousness, were, nevertheless, grafted in among them. Thus we became part of the original Abrahamic stock, having been made partakers of his faith and consequently of his blessings. This allowed us to enjoy, as the people did who sprang from Israel, the fatness of the olive tree – the promises made to the patriarchs, and the spiritual privileges of the Jewish people.

While we are ready to acknowledge that we are included in the covenant God made with Abraham, and are now partakers of the same blessings with him, we must not brag about it, much less insult the branches, Abraham’s present descendants whose places we now fill, according to the election of grace. Remember, we are not the root, nor does the root spring from us, but it’s the root that bears us. We have not been ordained to pour out blessings on the Jewish people. It is through those very people, the ones some Christians are tempted to despise, that all the blessing and excellencies which we now enjoy have been communicated to us.18

On the subject of the Gentiles thinking that they were better than the Jews Robert Haldane believes that based on what is said here by Paul, that even during his time the Gentile believers were beginning to exhibit an overbearing disposition towards the Jews, and a complacent feeling of self-preference. At all events, the sin against which they are thus warned well describes the spirit that has long prevailed among the Gentiles who profess Christianity. What howling ignorance, folly, and vanity, are often displayed even in God’s people! Nothing but the constant lessons of the Spirit of God will teach them that all spiritual differences among God’s people are allowed by His grace.

1 Isaiah 27:11

2 Revelation 1:19-3:22

3 Matthew 21:43

4 John 15:1-8

5 Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6

6 Mishnah: Second Division Mo’ed, Ch. 4:8

7 Psalm 52:8 – Complete Jewish Bible

8 Proverbs 16:18 – Complete Jewish Bible

9 Mark 10:35-37

10 Galatians 3:29

11 Ephesians 2:19-20

12 Jerome: Homilies on the Psalms 11

13 See Proverbs 24:17

14 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

15 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

16 Ephesians 2:14

17 Calvin: ibid.

18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 221

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XIX)

Charles Hodge notes that the Greek word phyrama (“lump” – KJV) used here by the Apostle Paul, means any substance mixed with water and then kneaded to make a clump or “batch” of dough.1 Paul used this same figure of speech in his letter to the Corinthians,2 There is no reason not to believe that Paul was aware of what Jesus said about how the presence of yeast can change the complexity of the whole loaf.3 The end product can only be of the same essence as its source.4 When we see it this way, it is clear that no Jew could claim to be a spiritual descendant of Abraham unless they exhibited the same faith and obedience he did. This is also true of those who claim to be spiritual children of God. Their testimony is false unless they also display the same faith and obedience of God’s firstfruits, the Apostles.

Charles Ellicott sees a prophetic application to the firstfruits and loaf. For him, it serves as one of the strongest reasons for believing that this is pointing to the reconversion of the Jews. Their forefathers were the first recipients of the promise, and it was only natural that their hope was that their descendants would become heirs as well. When a piece of dough is taken from the lump to make a consecrated cake, the consecration of the part extends over the whole; the character which is inherent in the root of a tree shows itself also in the branches. So we may believe that the latter end of Israel will be like its beginning. The calling to God’s service that was imparted to their forefathers was expected to be carried on by their descendants. It is only that now there had been an interruption for a certain span of time.5

H. A. Ironside notes if by exiling the Jews for a season would bring about the reconciling of the rest of the world to Himself, then would not His bringing the Jews back to Himself be anything less than the same as raising the dead to life? That is, as they wandered among all the nations, a disappointed and weary people by order of the God of their fathers, the message of grace would going out to the Gentiles, with a small remnant of Jews also receiving and accepting the message of Christ. So what will it mean to the whole world if the entire nation of Israel were to turn back to Jesus and accept Him as the Messiah so that they could then return to being His holy people again and be used by Him as witnesses to all nations everywhere?6

F. F. Bruce gives his comments on the roots and branches. He notices that Paul has changed the figures of speech from firstfruits and loaf to tree and branches. Since a tree is of the same essence throughout,7 the holiness of the root sanctifies the branches. It is natural for Jewish believers to think of the patriarchs as constituting the root of the tree whose branches are the Israelites of the Christian era. This interpretation would be in line with Paul’s later reference to contemporary Israel as “beloved for the sake of their forefathers” in verse 28. Probably, in this transition of thought as Paul passes from the one figure to the other with the firstfruits and loaf recognizing Jews as looking back at their forefathers for their claim to holiness, while the roots and branches are representative of the Christians looking back to Christ as their claim to holiness.8

John Stott also shares what he sees here. The Apostle uses these two little metaphors to construct a proverb. One taken from the ceremonial life of Israel, and the other from the agricultural. Both are clearly intended in some way to justify Paul’s confidence in the spread of blessings which he has been describing. We must also recognize in verses 15 and 16 there are “if” clauses. If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy.9 Perhaps this should be interpreted as follows: When a representative piece is consecrated to God as a token, this indicates that the whole belongs to Him. So when the first converts believed, the conversion of the rest can be expected to follow. Next, if the root is holy, so are the branches, perhaps meaning that as the Jewish patriarchs belong to God by covenant, so do their descendants who are included in the covenant. It seems to be this root and branches concept now leads Paul to develop his allegory of the olive tree.10

Then Douglas Moo gives his interpretation by saying that we should take verse 16 as being transitional. It supports the hope Paul has expressed in verse 15 by arguing that the blessings Israel has already received will lead to even greater blessing in the future. Paul uses two metaphors to make his point, each of which uses the logic of “if the part, then the whole” to anchor Paul’s confidence about a great future for Israel. The first one is drawn from Numbers 15:17–21. The “whole batch” refers to Israel as a whole, but to what does “the part of the dough offered as firstfruits” refer? Since Paul uses the word “firstfruits” for the first converts in a region,11 he may have in mind the remnant of Jewish Christians of his own day.12 The salvation of the remnant shows that God still considers Israel “holy,” with all the hope that this idea of holiness implies.13

Then Moo goes on to treat the subject of the roots in Paul’s illustration. For him, the “root” almost certainly represents the patriarchs. Jewish authors referred to the patriarchs as the “root,14 and Paul himself in this context bases Israel’s future hope on God’s promise on the patriarchs.15 This being the case, it is more likely that “firstfruits” also refers to the patriarchs. God’s promise to the patriarchs has not been revoked; their descendants remain “holy.” By this Paul does not mean that all their descendants will be saved. Rather, “holy,” as in the First Covenant and 1 Corinthians 7:14, means that the people continue to be “set apart” by God for special attention to be used in His service.16

Another Jewish theologian gives us his perspective. If the challah offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole loaf. Today, challah describes the special braided loaves of bread served in Jewish homes on the Sabbath and during festivals. In the Bible the word describes a small “cake” baked from dough set aside for God; this must be done first (hence the term ‘firstfruits’). Only afterwards may the loaf made from that dough be eaten, so that the loaf is then “holy” in the sense of being usable at all.17 In the Talmud tractate of Hallah (or Challah), consisting of four chapters, we find the details of the whole procedure.18

David Stern goes on to say that Paul now illustrates the same principle in reverse. If the branches are holy, then so must the root be holy. Since they are connected to the root, the same nutrients that flow from the root go up to the branches. But in Paul’s metaphor, who or what is the root, or, in the earlier metaphor, the firstfruits? There are three distinct possibilities: (1) The believing remnant of Israel that is truly Israel (Romans 9:6–7), that is, the Messianic Jews (Romans 11:1–5). (2) Abraham (Romans 4:12) or all the Patriarchs (Romans 11:28). And (3) Yeshua the Messiah (Romans 8:29),19 who alone makes Israel holy.20

And finally, Stern speaks of the branches and loaf. Who are the branches growing from this root, the loaf made from the dough from which the firstfruits came? Four options are: (1) Every single Jew, past, present and future. (2) Every single Messianic Jew, past, present and future. (3) The Jewish people, as a nation, though not necessarily every Jew. (4) All believers, Jewish and Gentile, past, present and future.”21 Stern believes that later in verse 26 we will find out why it must be the third of these, the Jewish nation. But for now, Paul begins to explain in the next two verses what he is driving at with all this talk about roots and branches.

Verses 17-18: However, when some of the branches were broke off, and branches from wild olive trees were grafted into those trees, then these wild branches should not feel as though they are better than the branches that are still there. Nevertheless, if you do feel good about it, remember that you are not supporting the root, the root is supporting you.

It is clear that Paul now turns his attention to the Gentiles in the congregation in Rome. He has said a lot about how the Jews were passed over in their favor, but such favor should not be taken as flattery. So he continues with his metaphor of the sanctified tree – representing the Jews, and how some of the original branches fell off because they no longer received the life-giving nutrients that caused them to bud, blossom and bear fruit. So God, not being satisfied with such a barren tree, decided to break off those dead branches and graft in some new branches taken from wild trees – representing the Gentiles.

The Psalmist has an excellent story of how all this took place. He writes: “You brought a vine out of Egypt. You drove out the nations, and You planted it. You cleared the land for it. And its roots went deep and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shadow. And the tall trees were covered with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea, and its new branches to the River. Why have You broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its fruit? The wild pig from among the trees eats it away. And whatever moves in the field eats from it.22

This, of course, recalls God bringing Israel out of Egypt and planting them in the Promised Land. But they did not remain true to Him and His Word. So instead of remaining pure, the Israelites began to take on the character and customs of the heathens around them. So the Psalmist prays: “O God of heaven’s armies, we beg You to return. Look down from heaven and see. Take care of this vine. Take care of the root Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You have raised up for Yourself.”23 But there is little evidence that the Psalmist knew exactly how God was going to take care of keeping this vine vibrant, growing and producing, for His honor and glory.

1 See Exodus 12:34

2 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9

3 Matthew 16:11-12; Mark 8:14; Luke 12:1

4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 569

5 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

6 H. A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Ccf. Matthew 7:16–20; 12:33; Luke 6:43–44

8 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, Vol. 6, p. 215

9 Cf. Numbers 15:17ff

10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 Romans 16: 5; 1 Corinthians 16: 15; 2 Thessalonians 2: 13

12 Cf. Romans 11:7

13 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

14 E.g., 1 Enoch 93: 5, 8; Philo, Heir 279

15 See 11: 28; cf. 9: 5

16 Moo: ibid

17 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

18 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im Masekhet Hallah

19 See 1 Corinthians 15:20

20 Stern: ibid.

21 Stern: ibid.

22 Psalm 80:8-13

23 Ibid. 80:14-15

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XVIII)

We must also keep in mind that it is also correct to accept what Paul is saying here in a metaphorical sense so that the bread and root apply spiritually to the Jews and Gentiles in order for them to understand how truth is found in Christ. For instance, the Bishop of Paul’s hometown of Tarsus says he understands that the words “first fruits” and “root” both refer to the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets. Also, that the words“branches” and “loaf” refer to the whole Jewish nation out of which Christianity was born.1

Then Ambrosiaster offers his interpretation. For him, it is clear that they are one and the same substance, so it is impossible for the offering to be holy and yet the loaf be unclean, seeing that the offering comes from the loaf. In this same manner, Paul shows that those whose ancestors believed God’s promises cannot be regarded as unworthy to receive faith, for if some of the Jews have believed, why can it not be said that their children may also believe?2

However, a later early church scholar sees it a different way. For him, that word “first fruits” refers to Christ and the “whole loaf” to the Jewish people, since Christ was part of them according to the flesh. The “root” refers to Abraham, for he is called the “father of many nations” on account of his faith, and the “branches” are those who, coming after him, held the same faith as he did.3 Other early church scholars such as Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyr, and Gennadius of Constantinople agree with this interpretation.

Martin Luther says that Paul is trying to supply evidence that will magnify God’s grace and destroy the arrogant Jewish boasting of self-righteousness by means of a twofold analogy. In nature this is true: if the firstfruits is good, then also the whole harvest will be good; and if the root is good, then also the tree is good which grows from it. The same here. Were it not for the fact that divine grace is to be glorified in each individual, then people as a whole would not share in the same dignity.4

In other words, if Christ, as the firstfruit of the resurrection, is considered holy enough to be presented to the Father in heaven, then certainly the whole loaf of His spiritual body, which is the Church, must be holy enough to stand before God as being made right with Him. So our holiness is not something of our own making, but all the holiness we have is because of Christ the Holy One living in us. If Christ is no longer in control of our lives, then we cease to be holy. So it doesn’t matter how many Scriptures we read, or how many prayers we pray, or songs we sing, or services we attend, or even if we pay our tithes and offerings, that is not what makes us holy. We are holy because He is holy.

John Calvin offers similar thoughts on Paul’s use of the piece of bread and the whole loaf, as well as the root and branches of a tree to prove his point. One of these illustrations is taken from the ceremonies of the Jewish law, and the other borrowed from nature. If a part of anything is considered to be holy, then it only follows to reason that the whole from which it came must be holy. So it is with the patriarchs and their posterity which springs from them like branches on a tree. Furthermore, if the tree from which the branches is holy then the roots of the tree must also be holy.

So Calvin doesn’t think it is strange that the Jews thought they were holy because their ancestors were holy. Calvin also believes that we will not have any difficulty understanding that the word “holiness” here refers to the spiritual nobility of the nation and that indeed it did not trace its roots back to the nature of human genealogy but to back to Abraham through the Promised Son who was part of the covenant between God and Abraham. Calvin agrees that it is only fitting that the nation of Israel be referred to as a holy nation in that they came into being through a miracle son born to Abraham and Sarah. But those who are part of the holy nation who have ceased to believe, cannot call themselves holy just because they are still part of the nation. If that is true of Israel, then it must certainly be true of the Church.

The problem was that over time they had allowed corruption to develop until the whole loaf was now moldy and unusable for God’s glory. So a new loaf had to be created for Abraham’s offspring and that required another miracle son to be born. Thus Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and so all those who are born-again in Him are holy due to His being holy.5 Therefore, in Calvin’s mind, it is only proper for those whom God has called and elected to be His own can only be call holy because it is a supernatural privilege, not a natural accomplishment.6

John Bengel hints at the possibility that we might take what Paul says here about the firstfruits to be understood as the Patriarchs being the roots, Christ is the tree, and the disciples are the branches, and the believers are the firstfruits. It is true that the Patriarchs were Jewish and so were Jesus and the disciples, and those won to Christ on the Day of Pentecost. But when these branches failed to produce the proper fruit, they were broken off and branches from the wild olive tree were grafted in and brought in a harvest of fruit that represented all of mankind.

Adam Clarke gives his insight on the relationship between the holy root and branches. First, he suggests that the word “holy” in this verse be taken in the same way it is frequently understood in the First and Last Covenants – namely, that which is consecrated and set apart for sacred use. It must not be forgotten that the first converts to Christ were Jews. These formed the root of the Christian Church: these were holy, consecrated to God, and those by whom the Gentiles were brought to Christ by their missionary efforts which were also consecrated. But the chief reference is to the ancestors of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And since these were devoted to God and received into His covenant, all their posterity, the branches which proceeded from this root, became entitled to the same privilege.

Since the root is still recognized as a valid source for the children of God, the branches also, the descendants from that root, are, therefore, children of God. They are still entitled to all the blessings of the covenant. Nevertheless, because some of the branches became infected with the virus of doubt and sin, the fruit from these then became corrupt. So it follows that any further fruit borne by the seed of this infected fruit was also useless. The virus was caused by stubborn unbelief, so their access to the blessings was suspended. Even when they appealed for restitution on the grounds that they were still included in the First Covenant, it was denied. The only way back was to undergo regeneration in order to be sanctified and this virus removed so that, like their root, Abraham, they could become obedient to God by faith, and God accounted to Abraham a right standing with Him because of his obedience based on faith. That’s the way it was, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be.7

Robert Haldane also comments on Paul’s use of the first-fruits and the branches as an illustration of how holiness is imputed to all believers. By using the term “first-fruit” some understand this as a reference to the first Jewish converts. But Haldane takes the term “first-fruit” and the “root” refer to Abraham, as the first-fruit to God, and the root of the Jewish nation. As Abraham was separated to the service of God, so, in the sense of a relative holiness, all his descendants in the line of Isaac were holy. This put their standing with God in an external relationship as no other nation ever stood.

But Abraham was also chosen by God to be a holy vessel through which the Promised Son would come. And so there were many who followed Abraham that God also chose for His personal service. However, there were many who still claimed to be holy as their forefather Abraham was, just because they were part of the chosen nation Israel, even though they did not obey God as Abraham did, and did not accept the second Son of Promise as the Messiah.8

But Jesus had an answer for those Jews who came to protest His evangelization of the nation of Israel and made these same claims as children of Abraham. Jesus basically told them that the only way they could prove to be children of Abraham is if they followed Abraham’s example of obedience by faith.9 So He rejected their claims because with Abraham being the good root which had grown into a good tree, that good tree could not bear bad fruit. As a result that tree and its branches must be cut down and thrown away as kindling wood for the fire that was to come.10

Albert Barnes also shares his notes on this subject. He points out that the root of a tree is the source of nutrients necessary for its growth, and gives the character of the seed to the tree. If those nutrients are strong and healthy, we can expect the same of the branches. A root bears a similar relation to the tree that the first-fruit does to the loaf of bread. Perhaps there is an allusion here to Jeremiah 11:16, where the Jewish nation is represented under the image of a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit. In this place, the reference is doubtless to Abraham and the patriarchs, as the root or founders of the Jewish nation. If they were holy, it is to be expected that the distant branches, or descendants, would also be regarded as holy? The mention of the root and branches of a tree gives the Apostle occasion for an illustration of the relation at that time of the Jews and Gentiles to the body of Christ.11

Lutheran Bible scholar Paul Kretzmann sums it up this way: The root of the true Israel, of the body which is and always will be consecrated to the Lord, are the patriarchs, and the branches are the true spiritual children of the patriarchs. But some of the branches only had the appearance of true branches, but their deceptive nature was discovered in time, with the result that they were removed. The olive-tree, therefore, represents the entire mass of the true spiritual children of Abraham, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, of all times. Every person that accepts the Messiah by faith is fruit borne by these branches of this tree’s trunk or body. As such, they become partakers of the divine promise and blessings as long as they remain attached to the tree.12 So with nutrients being the source of a tree’s growth, livelihood, and fruit-bearing capabilities, we can easily relate this to the role of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ. The Spirit must remain the life and energy by which the Church grows and multiplies. If access to the Spirit is ever interrupted or cut off, then any subsequent branches or fruit will be of no use to feed those who are hungry and starving to receive the Bread of Life that comes by way of the Gospel.

1 Diodore: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

2 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

4 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 See Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16

6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 221

8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 534

9 John 8:39

10 Matthew 7:19

11 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann, 1922, loc. cit.

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