Thesis:We must buy into a certain level of determinism.
Introduction:In our last few studies of Romans 11 we have considered Paul's "large picture" view of God's dealings with men as it focused upon the principle of addressing the essence of man's "zeal". The major problem with man's "zeal" is that its core belief is absolutely corrupt. "Zeal", by definition, is "intense commitment". This is illustrated by John 2:17 in its context. But when "zeal" is produced by a false grasp of Reality, the actions it sponsors will be enormously evil. This is illustrated by a comparison of Philippians 3:6 and 1 Timothy 1:15. Thus, if God actually intends to address the essence of man's "zeal", He must use a method that has some hope of effectiveness. God, Paul argues, has settled upon this method: I will establish certain people in Eternal Life to a degree that is sufficient to produce a testimony of blessedness so that those who observe their condition will be challenged to reconsider the "belief" that drives their "zeal". This is what we have seen in our studies thus far and it establishes a necessity upon us to consider whether what we are doing is sufficiently "of Eternal Life" to challenge what others are pursuing.
This evening we are going to move into another aspect of Paul's explanation of God's method. It is introduced in 11:16 and consists of his claim that "if the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump: and if the root is holy, so are the branches" (1901 ASV). Our questions are these: what in the world does this mean and how does it contribute to Paul's on-going explanation of the Truth?
I. The Details.
A. If the firstfruit is holy, so is the lump.
1. This is not a mixed metaphor, though it appears to be.
a. The term "firstfruit" literally means "from the beginning" and was predominantly used in an agrarian setting to refer to the initial produce from things which "produce" (wombs, planted fields, labor -- pretty much anything seen as a "cause" in the cause-and-effect sense).
1) It is the tie to the agrarian mentality that creates our sense of a mixed metaphor.
2) But the word always did mean "the production that was first" and did not have to be tied to the agricultural picture.
b. The term "lump" literally means "the kneaded combination" and was used in settings in which a desired "end" was sought by the means of a mixing of elements that would become a "producer" for that "end".
1) This meaning is illustrated by Galatians 5:9 where the introduction of water and yeast and, perhaps, some other ingredients were kneaded together to produce bread.
2) But Paul, in Romans 9:21, also used it in a near context to our study to refer to a kneaded mixture of water and clay from which a potter would form a desired piece of pottery.
c. Thus, what Paul was saying was that if the result of a prior mixing and manipulation of elements was "holy", then that kneaded mixture was also "holy".
2. This was an argument from effect backwards to cause.
B. If the root is holy, so are the branches.
1. This declaration has no complications in that it arises from an uncomplicated plant-life reality.
2. But, this declaration is the reverse of the previous statement in that it is an argument from the cause to the effect.
II. The Problems.
A. The statements only actually work in a mechanical universe where there are no "personality" factors.
1. If we ask the stated principle to explain the absence of "holiness" and the presence of Satan, it falls all apart.
2. It is only in a closed, mechanical, system that specific results are as tied to specific causes as Paul claims.
B. Paul's statements seem to undercut his own "bottom-line" principle.
1. He admits/claims in the very next verse that "some branches were broken off".
2. This seems to belie the idea that if the root is holy the branches will be also (Why break off "holy" branches?).
III. Some Solutions.
A. First, we must recognize that, as James says, what works in a mechanical world does not always play out the same way in a personal world (James 3:10b-12).
B. Second, we must try to understand why Paul would pull a "mechanical world" reality into his "personal world" efforts.
1. To understand, we must realize that what Paul is doing is to attempt to persuade believers (particularly Gentile ones) to relate to God's working methodology in a way that will permit it to be effective.
a. God's methodology, as we have seen, is to give the blessings of Eternal Life to people so that their enjoyment of It will create a willingness in others to evaluate the belief system of their "zeal".
b. If the heirs of Eternal Life sufficiently frustrate It's demonstration by practicing forms of rebellious unbelief that contradict It's blessedness, no one will have any reason to evaluate the belief system of their "zeal". (If it doesn't work for you, it won't work for me, so why should I "believe" when you obviously don't?)
c. If Paul can use an illustration from the shadow world of mechanical reality to challenge believers to practice the Truth in their personal reality, and they respond to him, some will "be saved".
2. To understand, we must also realize which particular attack upon Eternal Life is in his mind.
a. Paul reveals the essential problem in 11:18 and 11:20.
1) In 11:18 he insists that the in-grafted branches not "glory over" the broken-off branches.
2) In 11:20 he insists that the in-grafted branches not "be highminded".
b. Paul had already revealed the consequential problem in respect to God's "method" in 2:24.
1) The Jews had turned their privileged status into the basis for a "high-minded boasting".
2) Consequently, the Gentiles had reacted with blasphemy rather than a thoughtful evaluation of the belief system of their "zeal".
3. To understand, we must also realize that Paul believed in a certain amount of overlap between the principles of a mechanical universe and a personal one.
a. In a mechanical universe, ends are invariably achieved by the application of the proper means.
b. In a personal universe, ends are always "iffy" because they depend upon the loves, beliefs, choices, and actions of "persons" who may, or may not, have certain deficiencies in any/all of those areas.
c. In a combination universe where certain ends are established as essential, there will be an interplay between persons that utilizes some "mechanical forces" and allows a certain degree of unimpeded personal determinations.
4. To understand, we must finally realize that the profound corruption that Sin brought with it into our world is so far beyond human capacity to defeat that God simply set boundaries that will not be permitted to be set aside in any case.
a. This is Paul's doctrine of election.
b. This is Paul's declaration that God will accomplish His ends regardless of whether any of God's children cooperate with His deposit of Eternal Life or not.
c. This is Paul's appeal and rebuke to the children of God to make their "zeal" a matter of deliberate humility and faith.