NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXV)
So it became the anthem of the early disciples as they encouraged the followers of Christ to seek His blessings through obedience instead of trying to avoid His discipline because of unbelief. Luke tells us: “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. When he went to Antioch and saw how God had blessed the believers there, he was very happy. He encouraged them all, saying, ‘Always be faithful to the Lord. Serve Him with all your heart.‘”1 Later, as Barnabas traveled with the Apostle Paul, they continued this encouragement: “In those cities they helped the followers grow stronger in their faith and encouraged them to continue trusting God.”2 It certainly could be that their message of staying true and honest with the Lord was as much based upon God’s goodness as it was on what happened to Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God and the Holy Spirit.3
Later, Paul went to Corinth to establish a church there and then heard later what was going on among some of their members, he wrote them: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want you to remember the Good News I told you. You received that Good News message, and you continue to base your life on it. That Good News, the message you heard from me, is God’s way to save you. But you must continue believing it. If you don’t, you believed for no reason.”4 The Greek adverb eikē (“vain” in KJV) that Paul uses here means to learn something without a purpose so as to encourage failure. Just like it would be futile for a person to read and study a map without any intent on using it as a guide to get them to their destination.
That’s why Paul encouraged the Galatians to never give up doing what God had given them to do. He told them: “He who is taught God’s Word should share the good things he has with his teacher. Do not be fooled. You cannot fool God. A man will get back whatever he plants! If a man does things to please his sinful old self, his soul will be lost. If a man does things to please the Holy Spirit, he will have life that lasts forever.”5 And when Paul heard about some problems that had developed among the Thessalonians, he wrote them: “I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid the devil had tempted you. Then our work with you would be wasted… It is life to us to know that your faith in the Lord remains strong.”6
Now, these admonitions to remain faithful and steadfast would have no meaning if there were no consequences for disobedience. That’s why God warned Ezekiel about his mission after He called him to be a watchman over the people of Israel and promised to give Him the message He wanted them to hear. He told him: “If I say to the sinful man, ‘You will die for sure,’ and you do not tell him of the danger, and try to turn him from his sinful way so that he may live, that sinful man will die in his sin. But you will be guilty for his blood.”7 Of course, God goes on to say that the opposite is true: “If you tell a sinful man of the danger he is in, and he does not turn from his sins or from his sinful way, then he will die in his sin. But you will have saved yourself.”8
Later on, another appeal would be made to the people of Israel not to fool themselves by thinking there was another way to please God in faithfulness. We read: “Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ But it is their way that is not right. When the right and good man turns from his good way and sins, he will die for it. But when the sinful man turns from his sin and does what is right and good, he will live because of it.”9 All of this was told the Jews, not to condemn them without a purpose, but to shock them into the realization that it was either God’s way or no way, and they had to choose which one they would follow and accept the consequences.
Ambrosiaster continues his explanation of the balance between reception and rejection by God of those Jews who believed and those who did not. He sees Paul’s testimony that God is being good to the Gentiles, even though they worshiped idols and deserved to die, as evidence that He waited for them with great patience in spite of their not seeking after Him, He called them and forgave their sins out of His own good will. But God is stern with the Jews for their own good, but it blinded them with resentment so they rejected the gift of His Son.10 There are those who disagree with Ambrosiaster on the subject of God blinding the unbelieving Jews so they could not see the truth. Most scholars accept the fact that God sent the Way, the Truth, and the Light to them, but because they did not accept what they saw and heard, they were blinded by their unbelief.
Bishop Theodore believes we need to look at this more closely. He thinks that Paul is trying to tell us that we ought to learn from both the Jews and Gentiles how great God’s love for us is in that we have been counted worthy through faith. We ought to become ever more eager to live a godly life bearing in mind how God rejected the Jews because of their unbelief and do everything in our power not to fall into the same trap.11 In other words, those who did believe and did accept the Light, should not let pride blind them and mislead them into thinking that they are invulnerable to failing and falling.
Martin Luther minces no words on how he feels about those who think they are too good to fail. He says that we can learn from these Scriptures that when we see the fall of the Jews, heretics, and others, we should not concentrate on the fact that they fell from grace, but instead, what God does in response to them, so that we may learn from their example so that we will reverence God and not boast arrogantly in any way.12 But Luther goes on to say that in spite of such lessons, many continue to exalt themselves in an “amazingly stupid manner,” and call the Jews either dogs or accursed, or they insult them with other abusive words, though they themselves do not know what kind of people they are and what is their standing in God’s sight. They want to convert the Jews by force or insult. May God resist them.
What is amazing to me is that the Church that grew out of Luther’s reformation would one day side with a dictator named Adolf Hitler and persecute the Jews as though they were the scourge of the earth and treat them with biased contempt, blaming them for all the social, financial, and political woes that plagued Germany in the early 20th century. The final insult came when Jews were herded on railway boxcars into concentration camps where they were gassed, hung, shot, and used for scientific experiments to further the cause of the Aryan Race ideology. Apparently, the fact that no one learned a lesson from Paul’s admonition in Luther’s day, was repeated some 380 years later in the same country.
John Calvin, who wrote during the same period of the Reformation as Luther, gives us his view from a French perspective. His full commentary on this verse is too voluminous to record here, but there are some things that are worth noting. By Paul laying his case before the Gentile’s eyes he more clearly and fully confirms the fact that the Gentiles had no reason to be proud of themselves. They saw in the Jews an example of God’s sternness, which ought to have terrified them; while in themselves they had evidence of His grace and goodness, by which they ought to have been motivated to thankfulness. It should have resulted in exalting the Lord and giving Him all the glory.
Paul’s words were meant to convey the fact that if a believer exults over another believer’s calamity, think first what you used to be, and how God’s reaction should have merited you no favors. Then consider what you are now. For God’s offer of salvation will not continue to be valid unless you humbly recognize the mercy of God. If you were to forget what you deserve and arrogantly celebrate the ruin that has come into other people’s lives, remember, the same thing can happened to you. It is indeed not enough for you to have once embraced the favor of God, unless you follow His call through the entire course of your life. Those indeed who have been enlightened by the mercy of the Lord ought always to think of persisting in perseverance through faithfulness. No one will continue to enjoy the goodness of God, who having for a time responded to His call but later begin to grow tired of being part of the kingdom of heaven, and because of their ingratitude justly deserve to be blinded again.13
John Taylor sees Paul using two extremes to teach a lesson. He compares the Goodness of God to the believing Gentiles with the Grimness of God toward the unbelieving Jews. It is very obvious that this was God’s reaction to the Gentiles’ acceptance in the face of the Jews’ rejection. So for the Gentiles, it can be seen when they received the Gospel message of salvation that came to them;14 when they were enriched by being made beneficiaries to the promises of Abraham;15 when they were grafted from the wild olive tree into the True Olive Tree;16 when they became the objects of God’s Mercy;17 and when they were listed among the Called and Chosen.18 Taylor goes on to mention their being justified freely by the Grace of God by faith and their inclusion in the Kingdom of God, making the case for faithfulness even greater.19
Puritan Jonathan Edwards preached that when a believer turns their back on their faith by not following Christ’s voice and refusing to follow Him, they will be plucked out of Christ’s hand. When this happens they will face eternal life apart from God. That’s because possession of eternal life is a gift and faithfully holding on to that gift is what keeps it in effect.20 Furthermore, believers must persevere in their faith by abiding in Him as necessary to maintain a continuing union with Christ. This results in His abiding in them to assure their salvation.21 Because if that union is not maintained as a grafted branch in the True Vine, then no life can flow between the vine and the branch so that fruit can be produced. Once that connection is broken, then the branch can no longer survive and it will fall off on its own.22
1 Acts of the Apostles 11:23-24
2 Acts of the Apostles 14:22
3 Acts of the Apostles 5:1-11
4 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
5 Galatians 6:6-8
6 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 8
7 Ezekiel 3:18
8 Ibid. 3:19; See 18:24
9 Ibid. 33:17-19
10 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Theodore of Mopsuestia: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 160
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 See Verse 11
15 See Verse 12
16 See verse 17
17 See verse 30
18 See Romans 9:24
19 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 344-345
20 John 10:27-28
21 Ibid. 15:4-5; 9-10
22 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 256-259).