Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week we take a look at the importance of working together as one body. Paul writes to the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome and encourages mutual acceptance as he acknowledges the full authority and call of the Gentile Christians. They were different people from different backgrounds but serving the same God. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
There are a number of ways we experience acceptance. Self-acceptance, social acceptance, and expressed acceptance are just a few. The Gentile and Jewish Christians at Rome needed each of these to work together in their time. That much certainly has not changed for Christians today.
Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is written approximately 57 Common Era. When this letter is written, the Jewish Christians had been expelled from Rome about eight years earlier by Emperor Claudius (New Interpreters Study Bible). When Emperor Claudius died in 54 CE the edict lapsed and Jewish Christians began returning to Rome. They returned to a different and mostly Gentile church. In this letter Paul is writing to Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians who have different religious practices. Some of the central points he writes about are righteousness, justification, grace, sin, and the Holy Spirit. It is his longest letter and considered foundational to Christian doctrine today.
In this eleventh chapter keep in mind that Paul is an Israelite. He does not reject his Jewish religion yet he understands and supports the growth and development of Gentile Christians who would have different religious practices. Part of chapter eleven deals with Paul calling the Gentile and Jewish Christians toward mutual acceptance. While he accepts the Gentile Christians as full partners in the Christian faith, he also acknowledges the centrality of Judaism as its origin. Even still, many Israelites have rejected Jesus and Paul’s hope and desire is that they will be won to Christ.
Some important words to consider in this chapter include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week was the second of four lessons in Romans. The text came from Romans eight and focused on the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. The lesson began with a rejection of condemnation for Christians who walk after the Spirit. In other words there is no condemnation for Christians who walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Chapter eight answered the question of how to deal with the inadequacy of the Law.
We were reminded in Verse three of the weakness of the law and the flesh. In other words, no one can keep all of the rules of the Law. We need a righteous savior and the answer to that need is Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh as the eternal answer for a fallen and sinful humanity.
Verse four reminded us that righteousness is required, yet the requirement is fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit. So then, the law is a guide to righteousness but a guide that no one could perfectly follow. Verse five reinforced the point that the flesh is concerned about the things of the flesh and the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
Verses six through eight dealt with the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. We were reminded that Christians should be governed by the Holy Spirit, not by our own lustful, self-serving desires. In fact, Paul writes that being governed by the flesh is death but being governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
Verses ten and eleven helped us understand that it is the Spirit of God that brings life through righteousness. Paul begins to wrap-up his thoughts on life in the Spirit beginning in verse twelve. He reminds us that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God”.
This week we consider how Paul encouraged unity between the Jewish and Gentile Christians as well as the call of the Gentiles. Townsend and Boyd’s, Commentary title this week’s lesson The Call of the Gentiles. Standard Commentary titles it Called to Mutual Acceptance. The Scripture text comes from Romans 11:11-24.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
This chapter begins with Paul writing directly to the Jewish Christians. They are a minority group in the Roman church. This first part of chapter eleven is sympathetic to their plight and he writes using Israelite history that will resonate with them. Paul mentions Elijah and how God had reserved a remnant of 7,000 when Elijah thought he was alone. These Jewish Christians in Rome could identify themselves as a remnant also. These words are no doubt comforting to the Jewish Christians. They are a minority in their own religious family. For the Jewish Christians in Rome that included being a minority in their Christian faith as well as a minority from the broader Jewish faith.
Our text picks up at verse eleven. Here Paul continues by asking “have they (his Israelite nation) stumbled so as to fall”? Paul is referring to the broader Jewish religion. He continues “By no means”! Paul tells the Jewish Christians that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous”.
Paul switches to address the Gentiles in verse thirteen. He declares himself the Apostle to the Gentiles and writes “I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them”. Here, Paul hopes to use jealousy of the Christian’s salvation to win some of his Israelite nation to faith in Jesus Christ. If jealousy works, if envy works, then Paul is prepared to use it. I am reminded of Paul’s writing in I Corinthians 9:22: “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some”.
Verse fifteen repeats the idea of Israel stumbling but offers hope that acceptance will be life from the dead. Verse sixteen continues with a literary device using the first fruits of dough and the root of a tree as a metaphor. This metaphor paints a mental picture that shows how both the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are Holy through their connection to the Jewish religion which was God’s first covenantal family.
Verses seventeen through twenty-four uses a different metaphor. In these verses both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are branches. Whereas the Jews were broken off, the Gentiles were grafted in to the tree. In verses eighteen through twenty Paul asks the Gentile Christians not to boast that they have been grafted in. Rather, they should recognize that the Israelites were broken off because of their unbelief. After Paul notes the kindness and severity of God he closes this metaphor with a note of hope that the “natural branches would be grafted back into their own olive tree”.
A metaphor is “a figure of speech by which one thing is spoken of in terms of another”. For example Paul uses the metaphor of a part of dough to explain how the Jewish Christians at Rome are a remnant that can make the entire lump of dough holy. Metaphors are used in everyday language to help paint a mental picture and often to emphasize a point. It’s raining cats and dogs, she’s sharp as a tack, or these instructions are Greek to me. These are all metaphors that people understand are not literal but figurative.
In the text today, Paul uses figurative language to make his point. The broader Jewish community had rejected faith in Jesus Christ as savior. Paul writes in Chapter ten that his “hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved”. Paul is writing to the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome but He wants all of Israel to be saved along with the Gentiles. Although this writing is figurative, it gets the point across in ways the Jews and Gentiles understood then and in ways we still understand today.
Key Characters in the text:
Paul – Originally known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity. He was the most influential leader in the early days of the Christian church. Paul was a primary instrument in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles. His letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).
Gentile – A term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin. In the Old Testament, “the nations” is used.
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Apostle – One sent to act on the authority of anther. Refers to the earliest, closest followers of Jesus.
Pharisee – A Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moss and its unwritten law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3). They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2). Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31).
Israel – The nation of Israel as descended from Jacob (Gen 32:28), after whose twelve sons the twelve tribes of Israel were named.
Judaic – Pertaining to Judaism or the Jewish people.
Judaism – The religion and culture of the Jewish people.
Jew – A term for one who is of Hebrew descent or who adheres to the Jewish faith, or both.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
- Teamwork makes the dream work.
- Ubuntu – I am who I am because of who we are.
Metaphors can help get the point across in easily understandable and sometimes humorous ways. List some commonly used metaphors.
Israel, Israeli, Judean, Judaic, Judaism, and Jewish are all terms used in various degrees to describe the Hebrew people, their religion, their descendants or their nationality. Sometimes the same term is used to describe ethnicity while at other times nationality or religion of a person or group of persons. An article that explains some of these differences can be found here. It’s important to use the right term because they are not synonymous although many people use them synonymously simply because they don’t know the difference. There is also the risk of being misunderstood as anti-Semitic when using the wrong term.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week is our final lesson this month on the book of Romans and the final lesson for the Spring quarter. We study the twelfth chapter of Romans where Paul “turns the corner” from the doctrinal portion of writing to practical application. Last week Paul used metaphor as a literary device. This week he returns to a paradox as he begins to explain how we are called to new life in Christ and called to be transformed.