Romans Lesson 113 - Green with Envy
Throughout the ages Christianity has inspired many ill feelings in its adversaries, such as hatred, persecution, anger, and contempt. But this seems ordinary enough, given Christ's promise that 'all who desire to live godly in the world will suffer persecution.' In this message, however, Stephen discusses an ill feeling which Christianity is inciting that isn't quite so ordinary. It's neither anger nor contempt . . . but envy!
Green with Envy
Today is a foundational study that is necessary to understand Romans 11.
Within the evangelical world there are two major systems of interpreting the Bible.
One is known as covenant theology and the other as dispensationalism.
Covenant theology is a system which spiritualizes the covenant promises to Israel and applies them to the church. In their view, there is no future place for the nation Israel; no rapture of the church and, for many, no literal kingdom on earth.
Dispensationalism is simply a title for interpreting scripture in a way that recognizes distinctive periods of time throughout human history where God made certain demands on humanity and humanity was responsible to God in certain and special ways.
It approaches the scriptures historically, grammatically and theologically in order to consistently discover what the Bible meant to its first readers and then, what it means to us.
Frankly, I have never met a Christian who wasn’t in some way a dispensationalist. In fact, if you’re wearing clothing that mixes cotton and wool – you evidently believe God is holding you to a different requirement during this period of time, than the Old Testament Jew who wasn’t allowed to worship God wearing mixed fabrics.
Furthermore, if you ate some ham sometime over this past holiday, you evidently believe God is no longer holding you responsible to the dietary laws of the old economy – the old dispensation.
In addition it all that, if you also decided to ask God to forgive some sin you committed this past week by simply praying to Him through Christ, and you didn’t show up this morning with a turtle dove or a goat or some flower or meal to sacrifice for that sin, you’ve proven in all of this that you at least believe in 3 dispensations.
-One after Adam and before Moses;
-One after Moses and before Christ;
-And one after Christ’s death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, thus ending the sacrificial requirement of the earlier dispensation.
Add to that the fact that Paul used the word oikonomia to refer to a future dispensation of management under God’s authority, that I’m sure you all believe in, when he wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 1 verse 9. He (God) made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him, with a view to an administration (there’s the word) . . . with a view to a dispensation suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.
In other words, if you believe you’ll no longer live one day under the restraints of the flesh but will have a glorified body and live in heaven, in the literal presence of God, embodied in Christ, then you also happen to believe in yet another future eternal dispensation.
So you’ve got at least 4 distinct, different epochs of administration or management where God required certain things from mankind, and mankind, by obedience to God’s word, responded by faith.
Whether you realized it or not, you were benefiting by the application of dispensational truth.
One of the arguments used by our Christian friends within the covenant theology camp, is that dispensationalism is something relatively new.
But the word itself (dispensation) is actually found 9 times in the New Testament. It is the Greek word oikonomia and it’s often translated stewardship or management.
The Apostle Paul used the word several times to refer to this present dispensation known as the age of grace or the dispensation of the gospel or of the church; he writes in Ephesians 3:2 of “the dispensation of the grace of God.”
In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about the stewardship (oikonomia – dispensation) of the gospel that has been entrusted to him as he preaches. (I Corinthians 9:17)
The charge that ‘dispensations’ is a new idea is simply unfounded.
It happens to be a New Testament concept.
Study the response of the early church to this idea – travel back to Justin Martyr who lived in 110-165 who spoke of this “present dispensation.”
Or Irenaeus who lived 50 years later and spoke of the dispensations of God and especially the Christian dispensation.
Still later, Clement of Alexandria who led the church in 200 A.D. distinguished 3 different dispensations.
How could anyone criticize dispensationalism as new when the great thinker and church leader, Augustine, wrote these interesting words in the fourth century, and I quote, “The institution of sacrifice was suitable in the former dispensation, but is not suitable now. God, who knows infinitely better than man what is fitting for every age, is ordering all events in His providence until the beauty of the completed course of time, each part of which are the dispensations adapted to each successive age, shall be finished, like the grand melody of some wise master of song.”
Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Moody Press, 1965), p.68
The idea of dispensations is anything but new.
However, the charge of newness comes from the fact that the different dispensations presented in scripture became organized into a system of interpreting scripture in the 17th – a system known as dispensational-ism.
Most often, the finger is pointed at John Darby of the early 1900’s as the founder of Dispensationalism; which is erroneous. 200 years before Darby, John Edwards published two volumes of nearly 800 pages, entitled, “A Complete Survey of all the Dispensations.”
Ibid, p. 72
Isaac Watts, the famous hymn writer and theologian came along in the mid-1700’s and wrote an essay entitled, “The Harmony of all the Religions which God ever Prescribed to Men and all His Dispensations Towards them.”
In this essay, Isaac Watts went on to outline his dispensational theology. That outline was later given one additional point and then printed in the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. In other words, Scofield did not use Darby’s outline – he used Isaac Watts.
Now here’s where it really gets interesting.
Our friends and brothers in Christ, the covenant theologians, write off dispensationalism because it’s new; however, a study of the development of Covenant theology reveals that it also was organized as a system of interpreting scripture by a few key men . . . men like Johannes Cocceius in the mid 1600’s and Hermann Witsius who popularized it in the 1700’s
Roy Zuck, Editor, Vital Prophetic Issues: The Hermeneutics of Covenant Theology (Kregel Resources, 1995), p. 35
The interesting thing is that both dispensational theology and covenant theology were organized as systems of interpreting scripture within 100 years of each another.
In fact, around the same time that the Westminster Confession of Faith was written (a document revered by covenant theology), a reformed theologian Pierre Poiret published a six-volume set in which he presented a “fully systematized teaching on premillennial dispensationalism with six distinct dispensations.”
Vital Prophetic Issue, p. 35
In other words, both systems were developed around the same time in church history.
Today we might wonder, why all the hubbub and deliberation over systems of interpreting scripture. And why then?
The reason is this, as James Orr pointed out in his book, The Progress of Dogma or Doctrine – the church throughout her history has studied the great doctrines almost one at a time, not all at once.
Apologetics, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation and finally, after the reformation, the doctrine of future events.
In order to interpret prophecy, especially, the church needed a system of interpretation. Think about it, if you’re going to study mathematics, you need a system of measurements and rules and formulas.
Likewise, in order to study prophecy, the church developed what it would need – a system. What ended up happening is two different systems were developed for interpreting scripture and, especially, prophecy – one known as covenant theology, and the other as dispensationalism.
You ask, “Which one’s right?”
Actually, the answer to that question is another question. “What do the scriptures say?”
Is there a literal rapture . . . a literal kingdom . . . a literal beginning to a kingdom and end to a kingdom . . . a literal tribulation . . . and so on? Will the moon really turn blood red and hailstones fall weighing 100 pounds each? Or is it mystical, spiritual truth to be viewed merely metaphorically – and not literally?
I believe the scriptures support the literal, grammatical, historical theological system of interpreting scripture – a system known as dispensational interpretation.
Now let me deliver a word of warning. To all of us, regardless of whether or not you are a covenant theologian or a dispensationalist – both systems are evangelical. Both systems exalt the grace of God. Both systems revere the scriptures; both systems hold high the Lord Jesus and His sovereignty.
In other words, this is a family debate.
I say that as a reminder that we’d better be careful of charging something as wrong simply because it’s been organized in the last few centuries.
And by the way, that is exactly the argument used by the Roman Catholic church against the evangelical church. “You’re new. So you can’t be right . . . you Protestants got organized in the 16th century and we’ve been around since the 3rd century, so we’re right and you’re wrong.”
That’s their argument . . . I’ve heard it over and over again from Roman Catholics I’ve shared the gospel with.
“You’re new and we go all the way back to Rome.”
Listen, if something in the church is wrong – which the reformers attempted to change in the 16th century – it doesn’t slowly become right over time. It just becomes old error.
I lie that’s been around a long time is still a lie. In fact, now it’s just an old lie.
By the way, John Calvin and all the other reformers faced again and again this charge of being “new”.
They answered that just because something was taught in the 3nd century didn’t make it right, and the fact that something was not taught until the 17th century doesn’t make it wrong.
The axiom of truth is not, “old is better . . . purer.”
If old is better than new, than we all need to be Amish . . . think of the anxiety it would have saved us during all the panic of Y2K. You remember that phrase. Were you ready for the year 2000?
The Amish were Y2K ready!
If old is better, than why not go back to the days of Whitefield and Wesley. We’d have ridden our horses to church this morning, and we’d all be sitting on benches without backs and ushers would be walking the aisles during my sermon with a long reed to crack over kid’s heads who were fidgeting and poke adults who were sleeping. I actually like that idea.
The question to ask is not, “Is it old?” but, “Is it Biblical?”
By the way, that question relates to much more than dispensationalism and covenant theology.
That question impacts every aspect of your life.
How are you going to raise your children? What does the Bible say?
How are you going to relate to the opposite sex? What does the Bible say?
How are you going to spend your money? What does the Bible say?
How are you going to make decisions regarding lifestyle and holy pursuits? Does the Bible say anything about that?
That’s the issue – not, what’s the latest Christian fancy, or what did your grandparents do, but what do the scriptures say?
Now as it relates to these two systems of interpretation, the key division between covenant theology and dispensationalism is the issue of Israel.
Covenant theology says God is finished with Israel as a nation. There’s no future for the nation.
Dispensational theology says God is not finished with Israel as a nation. There is a future for the nation.
The question remains . . . what do the scriptures say?
The key passage that addresses this question of national Israel’s future is found in the Book of Romans. Chapter 9 has dealt with Israel’s past; chapter 10 deals with Israel’s present; and chapter 11 where we left off our study before the Christmas season, deals with Israel’s future.
Is Israel finished or does it have a future?
Romans 11:1 I say then, God has not rejected (the idea of permanency) God has not permanently rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite . . .
Sounds pretty clear to me.
Look over at verse 11. I say then, they (Israel) did not stumble so as to fall then, did they? (Answer) May it never be.
In other words, the fall of Israel is not final. Their disobedience does not destroy their covenant with God and all the literal promises to her are not transferred to the church. They still belong to Israel.
Look at verse 25. For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
In Acts 15:14 we’re told that God is at this moment taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself.
Israel’s hardening is partial, not total. And it’s temporary, not permanent.
After God redeems Gentiles from every nation, tongue and tribe, Israel will have the blinders removed and their hardening of their hearts replaced with faith when they see the Son coming in the clouds at the end of the tribulation, the One whom they pierced, and Israel as a nation will be saved – verse 26 says it’s true.
Many within Israel will not believe, according to the judgment of Jewish rebels at the beginning of the Kingdom, but the nation as a whole will be saved.
In Romans 11 beginning with verse 11, Paul explains what God intends to do during this temporary setting aside of Israel and the temporary dispensation of the church age. And there are at least two purposes of God
1) to proclaim salvation to Gentile nations by means of the church.
2) to provoke jealousy in the Israelite nation because of the church
Now let’s read the paragraph beginning with verse 11. I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression (that is, rejection of the Messiah) salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12. Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be? 13. But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (Paul is saying that he’s thrilled to be an ambassador of Christ to the Gentile people). 14. If somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15. For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead.
In other words, when they return to God it will be like the prodigal son who returned to his father and the father said, “This my son was dead, but now is he alive.”
2 Things are Happening in this text:
1) salvation is being proclaimed to Gentile nations by means of the church.
The church composed of Jew and Gentile is now the conduit of God’s redemption for the nations.
2) jealousy is being provoked in the Israelite nation because of the church
The word for jealousy isn’t entirely negative. On one hand it means a form of envy (some translations put it) envy in wanting something for themselves that they see someone else having. On the other hand, Paul used the same word to encourage the believer to earnestly long for spiritual gifts that will edify the body of Christ.
So the Jew will earnestly long for what he envies in the believers life. Things like personal communion with God . . . freedom from the guilt of sin, assurance of eternal heaven, to name a few of our riches that Paul implies in Romans 11:12.
In other words, you could say that these riches of joy and communion and forgiveness and security of the believing Gentile makes the Israelite nation green with envy.
They’ve gotta have it!
We know that during the tribulation, period as God shifts to the calling back of Israel as a nation, millions of Jews will be saved and the leading evangelists will be 144,000 Jews who blaze a trail for the gospel like none other before them.
I want to make some points of application from our study and from this text . . .
Much of what God is accomplishing today among the Jewish people, is taking place behind the scenes.
I’ve never had a Jewish man or woman come up to me and say, “I am so jealous of you Christians . . . I’m green with envy.” Yet I’ve had Jews come to me after the fact and say, “I came here to this church to find out what you believed because I was intrigued – and I now believe in Christ too.”
Maybe you’re an unbelieving Gentile today or maybe a Jew, and you’ve come in here today to check this thing out . . . listen, there are no gimmicks here. There are no tricks . . . no cure-alls to sell, there is no slick side-show.
We are a congregation of sinners who are banking everything on what God has said – for our present help and our future hope. We too, are people of the book. And God has promised us in His book, salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
We’re risking everything on the basis of His word.
2) Everything of what God has promised the nation Israel, will one day be seen as a public spectacle of God’s unchanging word.
It is little wonder why Satan and His kingdom would launch such violent attacks on the Jewish people. They are clearly part of God’s future kingdom plan.
Even now, in Europe, the tide of anti-Semitism is once again rising at an alarming rate.
Once again the lies of Jews being the agents of Satan are being promoted. This ridiculous, yet dangerous false doctrine is once again taking root in the soil of Europe. This view teaches that the Jewish people are literal descendants of the Devil. They propagate the lie that Satan and Eve were involved in an illicit liaison in the Garden of Eden, which led to her expulsion. They believe that Cain was the result of that union, making the Jews then, descendants of the devil.
Israel My Glory, August/September 1991, p. 24
As ridiculous as this is, it is more than that – it is the lie of the enemy, promoted among his true children who are blinded to the truth of the gospel and at war with God. This is the kind of false doctrine that leads to extermination programs.
As hard as it might be to imagine by most people living in rural America, there is a world of European youth in this current generation who are once again being exposed to these false lies, and are being openly desensitized to the horrors of the past holocaust.
One article I’ve had for a few years talks about the Neo-Nazi video games which are becoming more and more popular, although their callousness toward the Jew seems inconceivable. Already popular in Germany are video games that allow the player to relive the concentration camps of Hitler and kill Jews.
You remember the video game that was exposed recently in the news that allowed a person to relive and actually take part in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – you remember the public outcry? As well there should be!
The Simon Wiesenthal Center counts around 140 such video games in existence today. In one of the games, “KZ Manager,” players manage the Treblinka death camp where, if you remember your history, thousands of Jews were murdered by the Nazis. The game includes this: points are gained by the player/manager by selling gold fillings from teeth extracted from Jews, or by selling lamp shades made from the skin of dead Jews. The proceeds from these sales provide the necessary funds to buy poison gas and build additional gas chambers.
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, these games have now been played by one out of every four high school students, primarily in Germany and Austria. In fact, the Wiesenthal Center reports that nearly 50% of the teenagers in Austria have either played the games, watched the games or have knowledge that the games exist.
Ibid, p. 24
Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the greatest proofs of God’s permanent covenant with Israel is the persistent attempt by Satan to destroy the Jewish race.
Why bother with the Jews? If God has set them aside permanently because they rejected their Messiah and if the church has adopted all their blessings in some sort of spiritual way, why bother persecuting the Jew? Why the world-wide revulsion for this people group?
Frankly, why would the Devil care?
Satan cares because he takes the Bible literally! If you will allow me a little sarcasm, the Devil isn’t a covenant theologian.
Of course the bad news in my sarcasm is that would mean the Devil is a dispensationalist . . . I don’t want to be quoted as having said that!
But I do believe the Devil and his kingdom know the scriptures well. Just look at Satan’s temptation of Christ – quoting scripture to the Lord – twisting it ever so slightly to tempt the Lord.
I believe the Devil understands the Bible as a document to be interpreted literally! A literal interpretation allows for metaphor and simile and hyperbole, but only if the context implies or allow for it.
The Devil evidently understands the literal promise of the land reverting to the Jew – thus he has fought it for centuries – and still to this day continues to do so.
He evidently takes Christ seriously in His promise to the Jew to one day rule in a future, literal kingdom, because we know from scripture the Devil will mount a world-wide attempt to keep it from happening during the tribulation.
One of the greatest proofs that God is not finished with Israel as a nation is the unnatural hatred for the Jew and the demonically inspired attempts throughout modern history to wipe them from the face of the earth.
But God will keep His word to Israel.
One more timeless truth:
3) Everything God has promised the believer is just as reliable, no matter what anyone or anything seems to indicate.
God is faithful to keep His promises to Israel.
What greater evidence then do we as New Testament Christians need to know He will keep His word to us – as He has written to us in this dispensation, to our generation – I will never leave you nor forsake you! (Hebrews 13:5)
Taken against the backdrop of God’s unchanging covenant with the nation Israel, in spite of their unfaithfulness and disobedience . . . imagine Christian friend . . . your own failures will never be fatal. Your own fallings are never final. Even your moments of disobedience cannot destroy God’s covenant with you through the sacrifice of His Son on your behalf.
His covenant of grace with you allows you to hear Him say, “I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
Count on it . . . lean on it . . . depend upon it . . . hang on to it . . . rest in it . . . that’s His unchanging promise to you . . . it is firm and reliable!
This is the message of grace you deliver to your world.
I think of Dr. Charles Feinberg, the brilliant Jewish Bible scholar and professor. Dr. Feinberg was raised in an orthodox Jewish home that hired a “Sabbath Gentile,” a Gentile woman who was hired to serve them on the Sabbath. Her quiet testimony was appealing and unnerving . . . until finally, the wealthy, sophisticated, educated Charles went to this cleaning lady and asked, “I’ve got to know what you have?” And he eventually placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Messiah.
Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Romans (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 196
No matter who you are or where you are – live it. God will never leave you nor forsake you. His covenant with you is unbreakable!
And make sure you rejoice in it . . . live out your gratitude to God for His riches to you through Christ. So that others, including the Jew, might catch a glimpse of your life and turn green with envy.
Maybe even to the point where they ask you how to get their own life-changing dose of the gospel and grace of God.
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