The Olive Tree
Boast Not Against The Branches

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 54a of 83


17  And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18  Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee…” (Romans 11:17-24).

Romans chapter 11 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible.

The most prevalent opinion today about this chapter is that it teaches us that God has not rejected Israel permanently. According to this opinion, there will come a time when God will deal distinctly with Israel as a nation again.

But we have seen that Israel as a nation is no longer the people of God. In fact, the apostle Paul is not really dealing with what will happen to Israel in the future in this chapter. He is concerned, rather, with what was happening in Israel in his own time, and throughout the whole period of time until the Last Day when Christ returns. This chapter has five major paragraphs.

The first paragraph is from verses 1-10. Here, the apostle Paul insists that though the nation of Israel is under the judgement of God and is no longer the covenant people of God as a whole, yet, there is a remnant according to the election of grace, whom God would save.

The second paragraph is from verses 11-16. Here, the apostle reminds us that in God’s plan, Israel has fallen in order that His elect Gentiles might be brought in to the fold. But the church may expect great blessings whenever a Jew in the flesh is converted, and therefore we should pray for their conversion even if we should not expect a national conversion of the Jews.

In our previous study, we noted how the apostle Paul is sure that for the sake of the fathers of the faith in Israel, there will always be an elect remnant whom God will save. He says:

“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches” (Rom 11:16).

We saw how the second metaphor refers to a tree. The tree is an organic whole, so if the root of the tree is holy, then the rest of the tree is holy.

In our present, follow-up study, we would like to enter into the third paragraph where we see the apostle Paul expanding on the metaphor of the tree, which he now speaks of as the Olive Tree.

This paragraph contains essentially three lessons.

·    First, Paul reminds us not to boast against the natural root and branches of the Olive Tree. That is to say, we must never look down upon the Israelites, whether they are believers or unbelievers (v. 17-18). The key phrase in this paragraph is: “Boast not against the branches” (v. 18).

·    Secondly, Paul would have us learn something of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel in order that we may know how we ought to conduct ourselves as members of the church (v. 19-22). The key phrase in this paragraph is: “Behold the goodness and severity of God” (v. 22).

·    And thirdly, Paul wants us to know again that Israel is not completely cast off. We can expect a remnant to be saved, and therefore we should pray for them (v. 23-24). The key phrase in this paragraph is: “God is able to graft them in again” (v. 23).

Let’s consider the three lessons using the three phrases as sub-headings.

1.  Boast Not Against the Branches

… if the root be holy so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

What is Paul saying? Well, it is clear that he is addressing the Gentile believers. We are Gentile believers. Paul is reminding us that we do not naturally belong to the Olive Tree. The Olive Tree was originally Jewish. “Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn 4:22) says our Lord. Some of the branches were broken off because of unbelief, and we have been grafted into the tree in place of them.

We originally belong to the wild olive tree says Paul (v. 24). Wild olive trees are not very productive or valuable. The tree is small and thorny. The fruit is small, and you can’t get much oil out of it.

Therefore, farmers would often graft branches from some good cultivated tree unto them in order to get a harvest from these wild olive trees. But here Paul is speaking of something contrary to nature. The branches of the good olive tree have been lobed off and we who are wild olive branches have been grafted in. We do not at all deserve this great privilege.

Therefore, we must not boast against the natural branches—whether they have been cut off, or still remain on the tree.

What is it to boast against the branches? It is to look down upon them, to gloat over them, or worst, to persecute them.

We must never look down upon the Jews, or gloat over them or persecute them. Anti-Semitism is hateful to God. Though the Jews crucified our Lord, we must for the sake of the fathers, who are the root and trunk of the Olive Tree, seek the good of the Israelites. It is sad that in the history of the church, there have been very strong anti-Semitic feelings. We are talking not just about Adolph Hitler or the Muslims, we are talking about Christians. Even Martin Luther was known to have persecuted the Jews.

It is true that the Jews often provoked their own persecution by their arrogance, stubbornness and greed. But still Christians must never be anti-Semitic, for we have been grafted into the tree whose root and branch comprise of Jewish fathers united to Christ our Lord.

This is the first lesson that we must learn: Boast not against the natural branches of the Olive Tree. Let us learn, rather, to pray for them.

The Second lesson, —which we must spend a little more time on, —is encapsulated in the words: “Behold the goodness and severity of God.”

…to be continued, next issue

—JJ Lim