God Wants You To Be Humble (Romans 11:25-36)
Sermon for May 3, 2020
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Dear New Cut Church,
Our Scripture reading is Romans 11:25-36. Romans 11:25-36 concludes this section of Romans. Here, Paul continues to address the Gentiles. Paul’s desire in these verses is for believers to be humble concerning their relationship with God and relationships with one another because of God’s sovereign, self-sufficient, and independent will. We will begin by reading the passage, Romans 11:25-36. Hear now the Word of God.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
In the preface of the classic work, The City of God, Augustine writes about the central importance of humility in the Christian life. He writes,
For I am aware what ability is requisite to persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility, which raises us, not by a quite human arrogance, but by a divine grace, above all earthly dignities that totter on this shifting scene. For the King and Found of this city of which we speak, has in Scripture uttered to his people a dictum of the divine law in these words: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5) … And therefore, as the plan of this work we have undertaken requires, and as occasion offers, we must speak also of the earthly city, which, though it be mistress of the nations, is itself ruled by its lust of rule.
God wants you to be humble. Humility is a chief virtue of the Christian life, so much so, that Augustine starts out the giant, classic work, The City of God, with the controlling idea of humility and continues that theme for hundreds of pages. Humility is central to the Christian life.
The problem of pride goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis. We see how pride is at the root of apostacy from God in Genesis 3:4-6:
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
There is the pride at the first fall. Eve and her husband desired independent, self-sufficient knowledge, apart from God. They desired knowledge in a way that only belonged to God. In their pride, they sought to be in God’s place, determining right from wrong, good from evil. They were proud.
Proverbs 3:5-7 says,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and shun evil.
Adam and Eve chose the opposite of humbly trusting in the LORD. Instead, they proudly chose to lean on their own understanding. They did not submit to God’s will, knowledge, and wisdom. Therefore, their path was crooked. They were wise in their own eyes, making themselves the standard for right and wrong. They didn’t fear and respect the Lord. Proverbs 3:34 also shows the importance of humility in contrast to pride, which says, “He mocks proud mockers, but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”
This emphasis on humility is brought forward into the New Testament when James quotes Proverbs 3:34. James writes, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.’” Peter also emphasizes the importance of humility. The Word of God says in 1 Peter 5:5-7,
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
But shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
There is no Christianity without humility. Humility is central. No person is perfectly humble. However, it is by God-given humility that you accept the gospel in the first place. The gospel is good news. The good news for whoever puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ is that Jesus paid for sins on the cross. He then rose from the dead, conquering death and sin. Now, a part of trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is acknowledgement of sin. It took humility for you who trust in Christ to have acknowledged your sin and your need for a savior. That’s why in Romans the first three chapters of Romans start out with a large emphasis on sin. Paul convicts one kind of sinner in chapter 1, then another kind of sinner in chapter 2, and then sums up in chapter 3 by writing, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God.” In order for someone to trust in Jesus for salvation, that person needs humility to know that he or she needs salvation. Humility is central to the gospel. Humility is central the Christian life.
Hence Paul writes in Romans 11:25, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not become conceited.” Here, Paul continues to speak to the Gentiles. He wants them to be aware of some particular knowledge, for the purpose of keeping the Gentiles from conceit. Other translations help us to understand and feel what Paul is saying here. While the NIV says, “that you may not become conceited,” the ESV says, “lest you be wise in your own site,” and the NLT says, “so that you will not feel proud about yourselves.” The language, “to be wise in your own site,” takes us back to Genesis, when Adam and Eve first fell away from God, by being proud, and wanting to be the standard of right and wrong. They wanted to wise in their own site, to be wise in of themselves. “To be wise in your own site” also takes us back to Proverbs. In Proverbs, it is emphasized over and over again that wisdom doesn’t come from within. Wisdom comes from God. God is the source and standard for good and evil, right and wrong. Dear Christian, God wants you to be humble. God wants you to seek humility. God wants you to cultivate humility. Humility is central in the Christian life. Don’t make yourself the standard for right and wrong. Look to God. Humbly rely on God. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. But think of yourself in light of God’s grace. All good things in you, whether wisdom or might, or anything else, don’t come from within yourself. No good thing is merited by you, but is a free gift of God. This is true for salvation. This is true for any good thing that you have and enjoy, and any gift, skill, or capability that you possess.
Here in Romans 11:25, Paul emphasizes the importance of humility. He specifically speaks to the Gentiles. However, what Paul says about humility is applicable to any Christian today. In v. 25, he picks up the teaching on humility that he had started earlier in the chapter. Paul had also emphasized humility earlier in v. 18: “Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you.” Paul’s point here to the Gentiles, that is, the non-Jewish people, is that they ought not to be arrogant of their current special relationship with God, particularly in comparison to the Jewish people. There may have been a massive falling away with the Jewish people in that time. But Paul reminds the Gentiles, that by way of salvation history, the Jewish people are the root that supports the Gentiles. It is through the Jewish people being chosen and God working through the Jewish people that Jesus came into the world in the first place. So, the Gentiles had no reason for being arrogant towards them.
How can this aspect of humility apply to you today? Of course, you ought not to be arrogant towards anyone, Jewish people included. But think about the many people who have supported you in coming to Christ. God doesn’t work in a vacuum. The root supports you. You don’t support the root. Likely, you have been supported in coming to and walking with Christ by many Sunday school teachers, church members, role models, and friends. Likely, you have been supported and nurtured by a church. Now maybe one of these persons or a group of people has a fault, a short-falling, or a sin. Don’t be arrogant towards them. Don’t be arrogant towards someone who has supported you, but has sinned, maybe even fallen away. If they did fall away, consider that God worked through them for your good. Consider also that God may bring them back in a season, just as Paul points towards the future restoration of the Jewish people in Romans 11.
Paul warned the Gentiles not to be arrogant towards their Jewish forerunners who had stumbled. Now, in v. 20, he reminds the Gentiles that they stand by faith, and therefore ought not to be proud. V. 20 reads, “Granted, they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble.” Faith and pride don’t go together. Faith, trust in God, means saying, “I don’t have what it takes to make myself right with God. So, I am trusting, putting my faith in something outside myself, namely Jesus Christ.” Faith excludes pride and boasting. It is only by grace that anyone stands. When you know that you are only saved by grace through faith, you have no cause for pride, but only cause for humility.
Now, humility does not mean self-hatred or self-deprecation. Humility means to think of yourself rightly in the light of God’s grace. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Paul writes
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Paul gives a good example of humility here. He doesn’t cite any worthiness within himself. Neither does he deprecate the good things that he has done. He attributes those good things to God’s grace that was with him. Humility isn’t some nasty thing that consigns you to a life of misery. Actual humility, seeing one’s need for God, and God’s grace in one’s life, leads to a joyful praise, worship, and adoration towards God. The Bible is clear. Humility isn’t some nasty thing that makes your life miserable. Actually, pride is nasty and makes life miserable. Pride is what leads to sin and hurt. But humility is good. Humility is central to walking with Christ.
Now, in Romans 11:25, Paul seeks to engender humility in the Gentiles by revealing to them a mystery. The word “mystery” is not working in this passage the same exact way that it works for us today. Today, when we hear the word “mystery” the main idea is that something is incomprehensible or impossible to understand. But the idea of mystery here relates to God’s revelation. Mystery means that there is a certain truth that is unknown, and is only known when God reveals that truth. Paul reveals the mystery meant to bring humility in vv. 25-26, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.”
So what’s the mystery, the new revelation, here in these verses? It’s not the partial hardening of Israel. That has already been shown earlier in Romans 9-11. But when we see the word “until” in this passage, the mystery is being revealed. There was a hardening. A remnant remained, but the hardening was temporary, “until” a certain time. God will again bring the Jewish people as a group into favor with him. They are not cut off forever! Furthermore, this event of inclusion will take place after the full number of Gentiles has come into the Kingdom of God. The Gentiles are not to be proud in their position in relation towards the Jewish people because God still has a special plan of redemption for Jewish people.
What does this mean for you as Christian now? For the most part, we are not in the same cultural circumstances that the Jews and Gentiles were in during Paul’s time. However, the principles still apply to us. Dear Christian, don’t be proud towards anyone or any group in regard to your relationship with God. You never know what plan of redemption God has for that person or for that group. While a person may be cut off from a relationship with God at the time, remember that God may have other plans, and that God can work incredibly in people’s lives.
Now, before we continue on with the theme of humility in this passage, it is necessary to say a little more about vv. 25-26 for the purpose of understanding the passage. “All Israel” can mean three different things. “All Israel” can refer in some instances to both Jewish and Gentile believers. But that meaning is not likely here in Romans 11. If Paul was using “all Israel” in this way, he would be undercutting his whole point about Gentiles in relation to the special inclusion of the Jews. “All Israel” could be a reference to the remnant that Paul refers to earlier in the chapter. “All Israel” referencing the remnant is possible, but Paul has shifted gears in these verses, and most likely, Paul is referring to a massive redemption of the nation of Israel at the second coming of Christ. This means that this group, the nation of Israel, as a group, will turn towards Christ at the second coming.
A brief word of caution about interpreting vv. 25-26. The caution is against something called bi-covenantal theology. This is the view that the Gentiles are in a different covenant than the Jewish people. This view proports that Gentiles need Christ for salvation, but Jews can be saved without Christ. Verses 25-26 are sometimes used to support this view. However, while there is no explicit reference to Christ in these two verses, to say that there is a way to eternal life without Christ would undercut everything else that Paul has written and everything else in the New Testament. The Christian message is clear: the only way to receive eternal life is through faith in Christ.
So, we just covered what “all Israel” means and cautioned against bi-covenantal theology. What significance are these matters to us now? When we think about what Paul means by “all Israel,” it can relate to the theme of humility. Paul was addressing the Gentiles to prevent them from pride concerning their relationship with God in comparison to the Jewish people. Now, at the climax of Paul’s argument, he points towards a massive end-time turning of the Jewish people to a favored relationship with God. If the Gentiles were struggling with arrogance towards the Jewish people, this massive end-time inclusion of the Jewish people would have certainly humbled the Gentiles. And isn’t the passage humbling now? You may be frustrated with someone who is not walking with God. You may have written someone off. Or you may have written off a whole group. But don’t underestimate how awesomely God can work in someone’s life or a group of people for redemption.
And why is the issue of bi-covenantal theology important to us? This issue sometimes comes up in modern interpretation of Romans 11. The issue is very important. It’s as simple as this: people need Christ, and as Christians, we shouldn’t say otherwise. If we know our own need for Christ, if we know our own depravity and sin, if we know the Word of God, then it is easy to see that any and all people need Christ and we ought, as Christians, to be representatives of this truth. If we know what Jesus has saved us from sin, if we know how near and dear Christ is to our hearts, then it isn’t something that we should keep to ourselves, saying it is just for us. Rather, the gospel is something that we should share with every type of person. As our New Cut mission statement says, “Caring Enough to Share the Gospel.”
So, Paul shared this mystery, this new revelation, that there would be a massive turning of the Jewish people towards God, for the purpose of engendering humility in the Gentiles. Then, as Paul often does, he brings support from the Old Testament for what he is saying. He quotes Isaiah 59:20-21,
The deliverer will come from Zion;
He will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
When I take away their sins.
This passage predicts the future turning back of Israel towards God, with Jacob the patriarch as the representative of Israel. This passage highlights God’s faithfulness towards his people. Paul is pointing out here in Romans 11, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21, that God has not turned away from his faithfulness to his covenant with Jacob. God doesn’t forget his people.
Paul then supports his point that there will be a full inclusion of the people of Israel with election. He writes in vv. 28-29, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” When Paul says that “as far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake,” he is referring to what he had said earlier in Romans 11. There was in fact a hardening and stumbling of Israel. This hardening is what God used to bring the inclusion of the Gentiles. Paul is not shying away that the Israelites are alienated from God. But he is not shying away either from God’s promise to them when he refers to their election. God elected, God chose the Israelites, so he will not un-choose them. As Paul says, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable”
What Paul is saying here, is that it is solely God’s choice to save, and God will do what God will do. When we embrace God’s will in this way, it engenders humility in us. We know that it was solely God’s independent decision to bring us to salvation. He was not required to save us by some good in us. He was not required to save us by some action that we did. It was God’s sole decision. We can’t respond with pride then, but only with humble praise. This is true concerning how we think about other people as well. It is God’s sole decision to save. We can pray. We can share the gospel. But it’s God’s decision. It is ultimately up to God. If we think we can convert and change people, we are wrong. Someone may be apart from and rebelling against God. And we can acknowledge that person’s separation from God to be what it is. But we don’t dictate what God will ultimately do. In humility, we know that just as God changed us, God can change that person. In humility, we acknowledge that we too would falter apart from God’s grace.
Seeing how God does and will work in peoples’ lives doesn’t bring out pride. Rather, it brings out humble praise. So, the passage concludes with vv. 33-36,
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
We only know what God reveals to us. God is above us. His paths are beyond tracing out. We don’t have access to the mind of God. We don’t counsel God. God counsels us, because he is above us, and is the standard for what is right and wrong. We cannot give to God as if he needs anything from us. God is self-sufficient. God created all things and upholds all things. Pride has no place. So we offer God humble praise.
Grace and peace,