J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Kindness and Severity – Romans 11:13ff

This audio for this sermon will appear at online in a day or two.

The best parents are those who understand and demonstrate all the characteristics necessary for every measure of life.  What I mean is yes, moms and dads need to be loving and gracious above all, but they also need to be fair, just, and be able to think and demonstrate wisdom at a moment’s notice.  Essentially, a wise parent knows where to be along all parts of the spectrum at the appropriate time.  They know when to be kind and they know when to be severe.  Sometimes, a parent can even be both simultaneously.

For example, I remember one time when my parents asked if they could sit down and talk to me for a few minutes.  I guess I was 16 or 17 at the time.  They respectfully sat down in my room and calmly and quietly expressed to me that there were some things in my life of which they did not approve.  They didn’t throw out accusations or threaten, but instead they spoke about my life in light of my professed faith in Christ in also in light their expectations of me.  They emphasized their love and care for me, and above all, they emphasized that they trusted me.  There were no demands of quick change or else, but instead they were very clear that they thought I could and would make good decisions.

Looking back at that conversation, my parents were brilliant and wise in their approach to me.  They obviously had been good and faithful parents, and we already had a good relationship prior to that conversation.  But what I think I understood most after walking away from that time with them was kindness and severity.  They were clear that there was sin in my life and that pursued sin can have clear and obvious consequences.  But they were also incredibly kind and gracious towards me living out the promises of Romans that tell us, “It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.”

Well, this week as we return to our study of the book of Romans, we are going to see both of those characteristics of God, kindness and severity, emphasized.  We are going to see a God who is rightly and equally both.  In that study, we hope to answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  What does it mean to celebrate the kindness and severity of God?

11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

I know it has been a month since we looked at the book of Romans, so let me remind us of where we left off so we don’t miss the context of the passage this Sunday.  In the beginning of chapter 11, Paul encouraged us to consider the faithfulness of God.  In fact, in that, we saw that God is more faithful to His people and to His promises than any picture of faithfulness that we could ever imagine.

We saw that emphasized in several ways.  God faithfully destroyed the false prophets in Elijah.  Then to insure that His promise of creating a people came to fruition, God protected and gifted faith to 7,000 of the children of Israel.  Those 7,000 never worshiped Baal or any other false God.  Paul then goes on to promise that even today, God protects His children to insure that they believe.  This is true of the children of Israel and this is true of all who profess faith in Christ today – including you.  It is God who faithfully keeps and protects those who have faith in Jesus so that there is always a body of Christ believers who call out in faith both to Him and to this world.

Well, verse 13 picks up where that passage left off.  After speaking of God’s faithfulness to the physical descendants of Abraham, he speaks to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, the Gentile believers in Jesus Christ.  Paul makes an incredible statement.  He speaks about the fact that part of what makes his ministry so great is two things: God is taking faith in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and God uses the jealousy that arises from Jewish believers who see God working among pagans to bring them back to Himself.

Take that in for a minute.  I know we don’t live in such a culture where the concept of Jew and Gentiles is very prevalent so let me explain what that looked like then and how it looks now.  In Paul’s culture, the Jewish people were raised religious and had an air of superiority over and above anyone who was not.  If you didn’t grow up going to the temple and observing the law, you were almost seen as subhuman.  That was what the Gentiles were to most Jewish people – subhuman and sometimes even called dogs.  But when the Jewish people didn’t respond in faith, Jesus took His message to the non-religious people and God did a great work among them.

God used that in two ways:  God was glorified by transforming people who neither knew Him nor wanted to know into Godly people.  God also wanted to save and transform people who were outwardly religious but lacked a true saving faith.  By taking His work to the “pagan” God accomplishes both.  God righteously inflames jealousy in the hearts of people who do not get the Gospel when they see God doing great things.  Through that, God saves some of the Jewish people who did not believer.

Let’s ask ourselves what that would look like here in Sovereign King.  What would it look like for God to be doing such a great work bringing in so many “pagans” that it would cause dead churches in our area that wouldn’t know Jesus from a hole in the wall to start calling us and asking what we are doing?  I think that would look very much like Paul’s and Jesus’ ministry.  With great boldness, love, and grace, we would take the message of a forgiving and gracious Jesus Christ to the areas where the light of the Gospel rarely goes.  We would have to step outside of our normal patterns and habits.  We would have to go to places that Christians never go, and love people that Christians never love, and offer the hope that Christians never offer.  And if God would bless, so many people would come to know Christ that these churches that never speak of sin, salvation, and Saviors would wake up and ask us what we are doing.  When they do, we can say, “We just like telling people about Jesus.”  Awesome.

And when God brought in the Jewish people through this divine jealousy, look what happens in verse 15.

15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

If God brings salvation to the nations by the rejection of the Nation of Israel, what would it mean if the Nation of Israel believed in Jesus by large numbers?  Paul says that is nothing less than resurrection from the dead.  God uses the spiritual death, apostasy, and rebellion of His people to His glory by ultimately bringing them back to life.  How does God do this?  Well He is faithful to His covenantal promises.  Verse 16 uses this analogy to explain that.  Paul says

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Now, I’m no chef or baker.  I’m not even a candlestick maker but I see where Paul is going with this.  Let me explain.  Some folks who bake Amish Friendship Bread make these starter kits.  When they prepare the dough, they make extra and then give it to friends.  The idea is if you take this starter kit, you can make bread, but you can’t really make the bread without someone hooking you up with the starter kit.  If the starter kit is good, the bread is good.  If the starter kit is bad, the bread is bad.  Paul says something similar here.  If the beginning is holy, then the harvest will be holy.  If the root is holy then so will be the branches.

Now, we sit here with the possibility of a tremendous amount of meaning within this passage but we need to understand what the first fruits and the root which are synonymous mean.  Whatever it is, it has to be something with a pure and unflinching righteousness for it to produce holiness as the verse says it produces.  That eliminates a lot of options.   The first fruits and the root can’t be anything that is sinful and it can’t be anything that lacks holiness so the first fruits cannot be people or sinful actions.

What then could be the first fruits or the root and how does it relate to the promises of the gathering in of the people of God?   Well, obviously, only God is holy and His covenants are eternal, holy, and undying in relation to both you and the people of God.  That’s why Galatians and other books relate the gift of faith in Jesus and the outworking of faith in Jesus to the initial covenant made with Abraham.  In that covenant in Genesis, God promised to make a portion of the physical descendents of Abraham His people and in Galatians we see that all of the spiritual descendents of Abraham His people.

The holiness of God that is the harvest of the first fruits is the work of God on your behalf to bring you in relationship with Him.  Whenever you struggle with whether or not holiness will ever exist in your life as you struggle with sin, remind yourself that it is God’s holiness at the onset of your relationship and His pledge of holiness to you that brings and assures you that you will live in and possess the holiness of God.

Look how this plays out in the relationship with Israel and you in verse 17.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.

Covenantally, the physical descendents of Abraham were in relationship with God but that did not insure that they would possess saving faith.  That mean that they were born and raised under the protection of God and lived under the blessings of the law and God.  However, they still had to grow into a saving faith in God that hoped for a Savior.

Many of them did not and have still not.  So, they were branches on the root of Christ but since they were covenant breakers, they were broken off so that the wild olive shoot (that’s you) might be grafted in.  Basically folks, God broke off the Jewish people so that you could believe in Jesus Christ.  Your salvation comes at a greater cost that just the death of Jesus Christ – as if that wasn’t enough – it also comes at the cost of many Jewish people.

The simple response to this truth.  Don’t Be Arrogant.  Arrogance is as far from the Christian life as this place is from the Crystal Cathedral or I am from a military haircut.  We can’t be arrogant because we don’t support the root; the root supports us.  We don’t support Jesus and the promises of God; Jesus and the promises of God support us.  No one, and I mean no one, who has faith in Christ, should ever be arrogant, but instead you should have a healthy fear.

Quote ESV Study Bible:  Fear is the appropriate response, for God will not spare anyone who does not continue to believe, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Fear here does not refer to a paralyzing fear. Rather, it is the kind of humble fear that does not take God or salvation for granted, or think lightly of his displeasure.

21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

You know it is a rare believer, rare pastor, and rare church that can note both the kindness and severity of God at the same time.  Most usually lean more towards one than the other.

If you emphasize God’s kindness all the time, you get a Jesus who does all the wonderful works of healing and mercy but never actually gets around to telling anybody that they are sinning or that they should repent.  (I never have figured out why that Jesus had to die).  This kind of living, preaching, and serving makes people feel great, but it often leads to lives full of everything but change and repentance.  This kind of preaching makes people feel great, offends no one, and produces almost no kingdom advancement.

If you emphasize God’s severity all the time, you get one of two things.  You either get a bunch of people who hate God because He is a mean SOB or you get a bunch of people who live each and every moment in the fear that God hates them, so they serve Him but they don’t really love Him.

Noting the kindness AND the severity of God means you weigh and understand that God absolutely hates sin and punishes it.  In fact, there is no sin on the face of the planet, be it thought, deed, or word that He does not punish.  God either punishes that sin on Jesus on the cross for His children or He punishes the sins of those who do not believe in hell.  Yet, God is also kind to the extent that He gave His very son to pay for the debt of sin.  Jesus’ payment of sin is so complete that the one who has faith in Him will not only have his sin removed, the severity of God will be removed, AND as Paul promised before, the believer lives a changed life.

If that is not who you are, covenantally, you will be broken off.  Just as in the OT, today we are baptized into the covenant of God.  That baptism does not guarantee that everyone is a believer.   If a person proves that they do have faith and they do evidence a changed life by the work of the Holy Spirit, then they rest assured in God’s kindness.  If a person underneath the covenantal protection of God does not exhibit real faith and does live a changed life, then they will not be spared.

23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

But anyone Jewish person or anyone else for that fact that was raised under the covenantal protection of God who expresses faith in Jesus will find salvation.  God will bring back the natural branches ultimately because God finished what He starts.  So God is both:  kind and severe.  How do we live in light of a God who is both wonderfully severe towards sin yet kind to those who faith in His son, Jesus?  The answer is found back up in verse 20:  Stand fast through a faith that notes the kindness and fears severity of God.

Let me give you a super practical example of what that looks like.  There are several bible verse that speak to both kindness and severity at the same time.  In Matthew 10:28-31 Jesus warns and comforts his disciples:  [First, the severity] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 [Then the kindness] Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

  • The fear of God’s severity should send us flying to God’s kindness.  (from John Piper)  When it does that, kindness casts out anxious fear. This is a rhythm in the Christian life.   It’s true that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18 ). But none of us is perfected in love yet.   Therefore, fear of God’s judgment will continue to have a good effect in our lives and waken us again and again to think clearly about the preciousness of his kindness and drive us away from all false and deceptive hopes into the arms of God.
  • Fear deepens and makes serious the joy of our faith in God’s kindness and helps to keep it from being trivial. It keeps faith from turning into mere morals or mere human relationships or mere doctrine or mere tradition or mere formalism.  One breaking wave of the fear of hell over your soul will do the depth of your faith more good than many seminars on how to live for Jesus. God is not to be trifled with.   And his severity is a gift to waken us from the slumbers of superficiality and triviality and game-playing.
  • Fear is a kind of sweetness in faith itself. It doesn’t just send us flying to faith in God’s kindness. And it doesn’t just deepen the joy of our faith in God’s kindness. It is in itself a kind of sweetness in our faith.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.  Read it there and help me earn a penny.

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December 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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