Sabbath School Lesson for December 2-8, 2017
Paul spent considerable time in chapters 6-8, explaining the elements of a spiritually-enriched life, founded on faith, and empowered by God’s grace. He outlined in detail the vital stages of salvation, both justification and sanctification. This soul-saving, gospel knowledge had sadly become lost by most of the world, even by God’s chosen people, the Jews.
Chapter 9 of Romans opens with passionate words of concern for Paul’s fellow Jewish believers. The focus now turns from the individual follower of God and gives us a broader understanding of how God’s people had failed to fulfill their task of evangelizing the world.
By rejecting the Messiah, Israel lost its place as God’s chosen vehicle for spreading the gospel. Paul explains how God has a right to turn this task over to the Gentiles. But does this mean the Jews have no part in God’s work any more?
Certainly, many of Paul’s Jewish friends must have felt threatened by this turn of events, as it began to evolve in the new Christian era. Paul lovingly reassures them that by accepting Christ as the Messiah, they are equally welcome in God’s family, and are likewise called to discipleship, along with their Gentile brothers in Christ.
Memory Verse: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Romans 9:18 KJV
Some have misinterpreted this verse and others like it in chapter 9. This statement in no way means that one’s salvation it totally dependent on God’s whim. God’s purpose is for all of us to be saved, and Christ died so that we could all have that choice to live for Him or not.
What Paul is saying in this chapter, when read in context, is that when our choice has been to submit to God, it’s then God’s choice to select those He desires to fulfill His mission on earth.
Sunday: Paul’s Burden
In Romans 9:1-12, Paul unfolds the grave error of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, including its rejection of the mission God gave them to evangelize the world. But he also suggests that a remnant was always chosen to carry His plans to fruition, despite what the nation at large failed to do.
He specifically reminded them that God chose only one of Abraham’s sons, Isaac, to be his spiritual successor (v. 7). And then, when Rebecca had twin boys, Jacob and Esau, God chose only Jacob as His spiritual representative (v. 11, 12).
Paul wanted them to see that God is free to chose whom He will to serve Him. By reminding them that not all of Abraham and Isaac’s seed were chosen, he was also suggesting that their ancestral heritage alone was not as important as they might have thought.
Let’s remember that salvation was not limited to Isaac and Jacob’s line. Those born to Ishmael and Esau were free to chose whether to serve God, and, no doubt, many of them made the right choice. But God knew beforehand that His best chances of preserving and promoting the gospel were through the ones He divinely elected for the task.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 9:1-5. Why was Paul able to feel such empathy with the Jewish converts? What were some of the advantages given to the Jews?
Read Romans 9:6-8. What did Paul mean when he said, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (v. 6)? Did all of Abraham’s seed receive the promise? Did all of Isaac’s seed receive the promise? Why was this an important reminder to Paul’s readers?
Read Romans 9:9-13 and Galatians 4:28, 29. Why does God hate Esau, and not Jacob? Who is the one who persecutes the other? In what way is God’s hatred different from ours?
“For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ “ Romans 9:15 NKJV
This verse and our memory verse 18 are often understood as sounding arbitrary and not entirely fair on God’s part. But Paul insists that God, as our Creator, is entitled to decide who His elected are. He is the Potter; we are the clay.
Keep in mind the context of Paul’s epistle. He was addressing his Jewish colleagues, who most likely had felt all their life that they were entitled to God’s blessing, for no other reason than being a descendant of Abraham. But Paul endeavored to show them that it is only Abraham’s faith, not his DNA, that will save us.
The Pharaoh’s hardened heart served a purpose though, as Paul brings out in verse 17. It allowed God to show even greater miracles for His enslaved children in Egypt. Generations later, at the time of Christ, many descendants of those same slaves had also hardened their hearts and rejected their Messiah. But once again, God would triumph and reach out to the Gentiles to accomplish His gospel goals.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 9:14-18. How did Pharaoh’s hardened heart serve God’s purpose? Did Pharaoh have a true choice then, or did God make it for him? What other ways could God have chosen to deliver His chosen people at the time of their slavery in Egypt, if Pharaoh had chosen differently?
Read 1 Timothy 2:3, 4. 4:10, and 2 Peter 3:9. How willing is God to save all of us? Would He deny any of His true believers the blessings of salvation, in order to fulfill His purposes?
Read Ephesians 1:3-6 and 2 Peter 1:5-10. How do we make our calling and election sure?
All of this talk about who are elected and who have hardened their hearts must have been the cause of much confusion and anxiety among Paul’s Jewish friends. They were naturally beginning to wonder about their own identity. And, at the same time, it was only natural to question God and wonder whether He was making mistakes, when His elected ones consistently seemed to reject Him.
So, Paul interjects a reminder about who God is and why He has the right to make these choices. Things that seem a mystery to us, especially now, are not too hard for God to understand. Being our Creator, God knows us better than we know ourselves.
One mustn’t forget the magnitude of the Omnipotent One. We can rest in the assurance that His will is being done on earth, even when stout rejection by His followers causes Him to deviate from His original plan and tackle problems with different tools.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 9:19 and 2 Chronicles 20:5, 6. Since the Jews believed that no one could resist God’s powerful will, how would this belief seem to contradict what Paul was telling them?
Read Romans 9:20, 21 and Isaiah 29:16. How had God made them? Why was understanding the power of choice and free will such an important reminder at this point?
Read Romans 9:22-24 and Colossians 1:27. What exactly is the “riches of his glory” that God has revealed to us?
Wednesday: Ammi: “My People”
Paul quotes the book of Hosea in the next passage of his epistle (verses 24-29). You’ll remember the story of how God had instructed Hosea to take a wife, who was a prostitute, as an illustration of Israel’s adulterous relationship with God. The third child born to this couple was named “Loammi”, which means “not my people”.
Hosea was given the prediction back then, which Paul quotes here, that someday the punishment of God’s people would be over, and they would return to their homeland and renew their covenant with God. They would then be called “Ammi”, meaning “My People”.
“…’Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He shall finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.’ “ Romans 9:27, 28 NKJV
By mentioning a remnant, Paul used these verses from Isaiah to extend hope to his Jewish colleagues. This was reassurance to them that some faithful ones, even among the Jews, will survive and continue to serve God right up to the end of time. We also can be comforted by knowing that God will always have His followers on earth.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 9:24-26. What caused God to reject Israel in the first place? And what would be the reason for their restoration? Did God cause the breakdown of their relationship?
Read Romans 9:27-28 and 11:5. Who made up the remnant in Paul’s time? How about today?
Read Romans 9:29 and Isaiah 1:9. What does the Hebrew word Sabbaoth mean? What hosts or armies does the Lord command? Why is that seed or remnant so important, and what keeps it alive?
We see a striking contrast in the last few verses of chapter 9. Paul presents Gentiles, who weren’t seeking after God and who found Him, and the Jews, who were trying to live for God but were going about it the wrong way. What ingredient made it easier for the Gentiles to be saved, they must have wondered.
Paul says plainly how the Jews messed up. It was because they allowed the law, which represented Christ’s character, to become a stumbling block for them. Instead of embracing their Messiah, they embraced the law. Jesus, who declared Himself the Rock, the cornerstone of their faith, instead became “a stumbling stone and rock of offense”.
Faith turned out to be the ingredient that would save both Jews and Gentiles. Not striving to please God by fulfilling the law. David, and other faithful ones, discovered what is pleasing to God. He realized after his great sin with Bathsheba that…
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart–These, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17 NKJV
Yes, it is our hearts that God is after. Unless our service comes from a heart full of love and faith, it will only serve to drag us down, instead of lift us up.
Chapter 9 of Romans zeroed in on God’s people:
- who they are,
- how they failed to find God while searching frantically for Him, and
- how faith, and faith alone, could and should have led to their salvation.
- Sunday–Paul’s deep burden and concern for the children of Israel
- Monday–how God selects some and not others to serve Him in a special way
- Tuesday–why it’s useless to try to understand all God’s methods
- Wednesday–that God always has a remnant of followers
- Thursday–that the Rock of our defense could become a rock of offense for us, depending on our response to the Messiah
We think of our election to God’s service in a corporate sense, which is what our chapter was mostly about this week. Paul directs our thoughts to ancient Israel, forward to the times in which he lived. And we can carry it further and see that God has also elected a remnant church and people to carry forward His true gospel message in these last days.
What we might also be thinking about is our election by God as individuals, which is what Paul will finally get to by the end of his epistle. We can see some of it though in this quote by Ellen G. White:
“There is an election of individuals and a people, the only election found in the word of God, where man is elected to be saved. Many have looked at the end, thinking they were surely elected to have heavenly bliss; but this is not the election the Bible reveals. Man is elected to:
- work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. [Philippians 2:12]
- …put on the armor, to fight the good fight of faith. [Ephesians 6:11]
- …use the means God has placed within his reach to war against every unholy lust, while Satan is playing the game of life for his soul. [1 Peter 2:11]
- …watch unto prayer, [Matthew 25:13]
- …search the Scriptures, and [Acts 17:11]
- …avoid entering temptation, [Matthew 26:41]
- …have faith continually. [Psalm 71:14]
- …be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, that he may be, not a hearer only, but a doer of the word.” [James 1:25]
~Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 453, 454
This, she says, is Bible election. This is the faith that leads to action.
Next Week: The Elect
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/