The Olive Tree
God Is Able To Regraft Them

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 54c of 83


“… 23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree.” (Romans 11:17-24).

[We have seen how the Olive Tree in Paul’s analogy is a reference to the Visible Church Universal at a particular point of time. With that in mind, the apostle would have us do three things: First, he reminds us not to boast against the natural root and branches of the Olive Tree (v. 17-18). We considered this reminder in our first instalment of our exposition of the passage under the heading: “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). He wants us to “behold the goodness and severity of God” (v. 22). We saw this in our second instalment. In this final instalment, we will consider Paul’s reiteration that Israel is not completely cast off. —JJL]

3.  God is Able to Graft 
them in Again

The Olive Tree, as we mentioned, was originally Jewish. This is why Paul speaks of the Olive Tree as being the Olive Tree of the Jews (v. 24b). Most of the Jews according to the flesh have been cut off from the Olive Tree. But that does not change history. The Tree started to grow with the fathers of Israel.

Now, if God could graft the wild olive branches of the Gentiles into the good olive tree—which is contrary to nature,—then how much more could He graft back the branches which were originally cut off from the good Olive Tree.

Paul is, of course, speaking metaphorically. He is not saying that those branches that have been cut off and have been consigned to fire could ever be grafted back to the Tree.

He is saying rather, that God has not forsaken the Jews in the flesh completely. For the father’s sake there is an elect remnant amongst the Jews that are still outside the church. If God can add elect Gentiles to the Olive Tree, how much more could he add elect Jews who are especially beloved for the fathers’ sake?

When we look into the church, we see that the vast majority of the members are Gentiles. And when we turn our heads to look at the Jews, we see how hardened they are against the Gospel. Therefore, it is easy for us to be tempted to think that God has forsaken Israel altogether. It is easy for us to be persuaded that none of the Jews will be saved.

But Paul is telling us that this is not the case. “Blindness in part is happen to Israel” (v. 25), therefore, the larger part of the Jews have remained in unbelief. But that does not mean that there are no elect Jews.

If we can expect Gentiles to be converted, we must also expect the Jews to be converted. The Jews may be very hardened to the Gospel, but we must believe that God will save some of them for the father’s sake.

We must therefore not give up on the Jews. We must pray for them. And if we are able, we should send missionaries to them.

We should not have the romantic and unrealistic hope that there will be a national revival of the Jews. But we can expect some conversion amongst the Jews. Therefore, if you have contact with the Jews, do give them a tract. Do talk to them about Christ. Do pray for them.

Conclusion

But how else should this passage affect us—seeing very few us will ever get to meet a Jew? Well, let me suggest two simple applications.

First, let us remember never to be proud and boastful.

We must never boast against the Jews although they are outside Christ. In the same way, you must never boast against our non-Christian colleagues, neighbours or relatives

We must never look down on them or say hurtful things about them.

We ought, rather, pray for them that they will be saved. We must pray for the Jews that they will be saved. And we must also pray for our non-Christian friends, neighbours, colleagues and relatives that they will come to know the Lord Jesus as we know Him.

Secondly, the apostle Paul teaches us that the church is like an Olive Tree. The unbelieving Jews have been cut off from the tree and Gentile Christians have been grafted to the tree.

While adult believers are grafted to the Olive Tree, their children grow on it. These have a great privilege of being members of the Church of Christ. They must be reminded not to despise the goodness of God, and warned lovingly that if they do not bear fruit for Christ, then they will one day be cut off from the Tree.

What fruit must they bear for Christ? They must bear the fruit of obedience, and of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Gal 5:22).

How can they bear these fruits? By repenting of their sin and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. By praying and reading God’s Word and listening to His word carefully!

And how can they begin to do these things sincerely except the Lord first change their heart. Shall we not therefore pray earnestly for them that the Lord will work grace in their heart even as we remind them of their covenant responsibilities.

Oh may the Lord grant that the branch of the Olive Tree to which we are attached may be verdant and fruitful beginning with ourselves and our children, that the name of Christ may be highly exalted. Amen.

—JJ Lim