Romans 11:13-29 – Pruning and Grafting

olive tree

I [Apostle Paul] am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, if you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

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. (NIV)

The letter to the Romans reminds me of two siblings going at it, always at odds with each other. Gentile and Jew both together in one church and constantly arguing, bickering, and never stopping to listen to the other. The Apostle Paul, their spiritual parent, had enough of it. So, he wrote a lengthy tome, often alternating between speaking directly to Brother Gentile and then to Brother Jew.

Wisely, Paul never took sides and avoided favoritism even though he himself was Jewish. In today’s New Testament lesson, Paul speaks forthrightly to the Gentiles in the church. He gets to the issue of Brother Gentile’s attitude and view toward Brother Jew. Father Paul’s instruction to Brother Gentile is also instructive for us, as we navigate a pluralistic world and diverse church.

Brother Gentile tended to look down on Brother Jew as stuck in the past, too concerned for tradition, and unwilling to change. Brother Gentile thought it was high time Brother Jew understood that all that Jewish stuff is no longer needed and that the Gentiles were the future of the church. For Brother Gentile, God has accepted him, and Brother Jew has been rejected. But Father Paul would have none of that kind of talk; he was not going to allow Brother Gentile to eviscerate Brother Jew of his identity.

Notice Father Paul’s reasoning to his son, Brother Gentile, utilizing the lesser to the greater argument:

  • Brother Jew’s stumbling and bumbling has already caused Brother Gentile to come to faith in Christ.
  • Brother Gentile’s deliverance and acceptance will cause Brother Jew’s jealousy to kick in.
  • Brother Jew’s response will bring even greater spiritual blessing to the world.

Paul insisted that Brother Jew still has a prominent place in the family, and that a time is coming when the entire human family will have their socks blessed off because of him. Just as an olive tree can and does experience pruning and grafting of branches, so Brother Gentile needs to understand he was not originally part of the tree but was grafted in later. There is no place for arrogant pride. Grafted branches can and do get broken off and pruned; and, pruned branches can and do get grafted back on the tree, too.


So, Father Paul wanted his sons to understand and appreciate one another as the one tree in God’s family. There is room for neither Brother Gentile’s complacency nor Brother Jew’s despair. Both brothers share together in one equitable tree of life, enjoying the blessings of renewal and restoration.

It is imperative we take these lessons to heart in our interactions with folks who are different from ourselves. There is no room in God’s rule and reign for simpletons who fail to see beyond the end of their noses. Instead, we are to appreciate our brother who looks, thinks, and lives differently. It seems the only things God does not tolerate is intolerance and injustice toward those distinctly offbeat from our own path. Just because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, this does not give any follower of Christ a license to misinterpret, misrepresent, and mistreat another group of people who subscribe to various jots and tittles other than me.

Neither you nor I are the Gardener. We do not get to do the pruning and grafting. That is God’s job, not ours. Love is our business, while the Lord will show both his kindness and sternness when and to whom he will. Simply assuming we are always on the right side of things only produces a lack of listening, a lack of like-mindedness, and a lack of love. It creates a worldly system of demagoguery, inattention to suffering, and narrow policies, procedures, and laws which benefit only one brother, not all the siblings.

As Father Paul said earlier in his letter, “God doesn’t have any favorites!” (Romans 2:11, CEV)

As Father James said in his letter, “Don’t treat some people better than others.” (James 2:1, ERV)

As Father Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35, CEB)

As the witness of the Old Testament says, “Cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he is the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, MSG)

For our failure to realize that the whole world is a family, that Christ is all and in all: O Lord, forgive.

For our prejudice and self-consciousness of race, color, or language: O Lord, forgive.

For our indifference and lack of concern for our neighbors living in poverty and unemployment and for children who are ill-clothed, illiterate, and ill: O Lord, forgive.

For our unwillingness to understand the needs and problems of other people, the bitterness of those without power, and the groans of the oppressed: O Lord, forgive.

For our readiness to acquiesce in the ways of the majority, to seek the path of least resistance, and to prefer popularity to fairness: O Lord, forgive. Christ have mercy on us all. Amen.

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