Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Waiting for Slow People
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 11:16-25
It’s so easy to give up. We may start out with high hope that a family member or friend will soon receive Jesus but as time passes those expectations weaken and may even die completely. We’ve prayed and tried to share our faith, but all our attempts have been rebuffed repeatedly. The fact is some people are really… well, let’s say slow to believe. They actually seem determined to refuse the gospel and may even grow defensive and angry at the slightest mention of Jesus. And that’s when the danger arises: we too become defensive and angry and decide we don’t care anymore. If we aren’t careful our attitude may degrade one step further as we decide that God doesn’t care anymore either. After all, that person has been given more than their fair share of opportunities, if they don’t want to go to heaven, so be it! They’ve made their choice, now it’s time for us and God to move on.

This is the problem Paul is trying to prevent in this passage. Gentile believers in Rome were growing proud and starting to look down on Jews for refusing the gospel. He suspects they’re beginning to think that God is as frustrated as they are, and has stopped loving Jews and abandoned His covenant with them. Paul’s solution is remarkable: He unveils a great mystery. He showed us what was happening from God’s perspective. Actually, a divine plan was underway designed to bring in more Gentiles and Jews. Far from giving up, God was still mightily at work. Paul’s basic message is this: Please don’t stop loving. No matter how hard someone may appear, God doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and neither should we.

What does Paul say? (Ro 11:16-25)
(v16) Paul wants his readers to keep in mind that in spite of their response to the gospel Jews still receive special treatment because of God’s covenant with Abraham. Those individuals who refuse to believe the gospel are not saved, but they are still loved, and God will continue to reach out to them (Ro 10:21). That’s because all future generations of his children were present within Abraham. When God said, “I will bless you” (Ge 12:2) it meant He would not only bless the man, but all the generations of children within him. To illustrate this Paul reminds us of the “first fruits” offering in which the first loaf of bread from a new harvest was thankfully offered to the Lord (Nu 15:17-21; Neh 10:37; Eze 44:30). Another way of illustrating this same truth is the olive tree which is a biblical symbol for Israel (Isa 11:1; Jer 11:16). Abraham and Sarah are the root of this family tree so all who are descended from them are included, to the measure each will allow, in their promises.

(v17) Though God’s commitment to bless Abraham’s descendants remains unchanged, the arrival of the gospel had left those who rejected it in a worse spiritual condition than before. Paul makes it plain that most Jews in his day had heard and understood the gospel (Ro 10:18-21). And by their choice to deliberately reject Jesus they had crossed a threshold and placed themselves under divine judgment. Up to that moment they had been unaware or misinformed about Him. But when they deliberately refused what they fully understood, a line was crossed and their claim to Abraham’s blessings ended, that is until they repent. Like fruitless branches they were now broken off from God’s “olive tree.”

(v18) By the time Paul wrote this letter far more Gentiles than Jews were believing the gospel, so he warns his Gentile readers not to develop an attitude of superiority. Yes, Gentiles were proving to be far more responsive than Jews, but it had been through the faithfulness of untold numbers of Jews over the course of millennia that made it possible for the promise to reach down to that present generation. And it was through Judaism that God’s Savior had come into the world (Jn 4:22), so thankfulness, not pride, was the proper attitude.

(vs 19-25 see DBS on other side)

How to wait for a long time
Paul reveals some amazing truths here but his real purpose behind this passage is pastoral. He’s pleading with Gentiles not to stop believing, hoping and loving Paul’s own people who had admittedly been frustratingly slow to believe. If we listen carefully to what he tells them we find he’s teaching us too, how to wait for someone for a lifetime. Let’s listen to this passage again with that in mind:
1. (v16) Remember God’s promises
Did God give me a promise for that person a long time ago? Are there promises in the Bible that apply to my situation that I can stand on in faith?
2. (v18) Remember the blessings I’ve received from that person
Over the years I’ve noticed I’ve received some gift of insight or benefit from almost every person I’ve known well, even those where the relationship ended badly. Something they said or modeled has become part of my own thinking and made me a better person. In the case of family and close friends this is remarkably true. If I focus on the negatives that’s all I’ll see, but if I choose to be fair I’ll have to admit there’s been real positives as well.
3. (v19) Resist the temptation to feel superior
I’m not a believer because I’m a better person. In fact, I may have been far worse. I’m saved by grace alone. I simply repented and trusted and God forgave me.
Religious pride is a poisonous temptation. I can find myself always relating to others from a position of moral superiority… always scolding or instructing. This gets very tiresome for those who live with us.
4. (v20) Remember: I didn’t earn or deserve anything
I’m still no better than they. I stand only by faith.
5. (v21) Focus on myself
What I need to give my attention to is keeping my own faith strong and modeling Christ’s love, not criticizing their lack of faith.
6. (v22) It’s healthy to keep God’s justice in mind
Each of us must walk in faith for a lifetime. This is what Paul means when he says elsewhere, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Php 2:12). He doesn’t mean try to earn it, he means don’t grow complacent. Nurture and guard your faith to keep it strong.
7. (v23) Don’t lose hope
They may still repent. God hasn’t given up, don’t you.
8. (v24) There’s a calling, a purpose still waiting for that person as soon as they turn to Jesus
9. (v25) Beware of analyzing the situation
There is a divine plan at work which I will never discover by using my own powers of human reasoning. God may or may not choose to reveal His plan to me. If He does, it will be for one reason: to encourage me to keep believing, keep hoping, keep loving…

Some practical observations
1) Keep prayer simple. Long, wordy intercessions and emotional spiritual warfare will wear you out. Just mention that person regularly and give thanks that God is faithfully at work. Decide to keep praying as long as you or they are alive.
2) Keep believing. Remember God’s promises when doubt comes to tempt you. Don’t try to arm-wrestle with doubt, flee to the promises and get in the Spirit.
3) Keep your own spiritual life healthy. Never decide to stop growing spiritually so you won’t “get too far ahead.” When you are in the flesh the “old you” returns and any hope of a witness by your example is gone. Seeing Christ change you is an undeniable proof God will use to draw people.
4) Keep loving. People are seldom, if ever, argued into faith. They’re won over by unreasonable love and the clear evidence of God in your life. The greatest battle lies here: we may stop respecting that person, and when that happens it’s very hard to keep loving. To do so we must learn to draw on God’s love for that person.

By believing, hoping and loving, we keep ourselves part of God’s plan to win that person. We refuse to shut the door to abandon, to hate, or to doubt God’s faithfulness. And though this path can be a difficult one to walk, if we walk it, we’re likely to be amazed at who’ll join us in heaven forever.

1) Did you believe quickly when you heard the gospel, or did you wait a long time? In either case, tell us why.
2) Have you waited for a long time for someone? What attitudes have you struggled with? How has God helped you overcome these?
3) If you’ve seen an example of someone who came to Christ after a long period of years, tell us, it’s very encouraging. 

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