Romans 11:13-15, “13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”
Many people oppose Reformed theology because they think it is incompatible with the Lord’s call to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). They reason that if God really has chosen some people for salvation but has passed by others, there is no point to proclaiming His Word and calling people to repent and believe in Jesus. If our Creator has chosen only some for salvation, they reason, those people will be saved regardless of whether the gospel is preached to them.
We could say much in response to this, including the fact that the Lord works through means, including our preaching of the gospel, to bring about the ends He has ordained. But perhaps the best way to answer the objection that a strong doctrine of divine sovereignty quenches the fire for evangelism is to look at the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Here was a man fully convinced of the sovereignty of God in salvation, that the Lord has a fixed number of elect who alone will be saved, and yet no evangelist in church history has worked more tirelessly than he. Traveling across the Mediterranean world, Paul planted churches, evangelized in the most difficult circumstances, and suffered greatly to bring the gospel to those who had never heard it. Even in Romans 9-11, we see his zeal to reach the lost. He argues strongly for the need of gospel preachers to be sent so that people can near the gospel, believe, and be saved (10:5-17). Moreover, in today’s passage, Paul lets us see his zeal to preach the gospel as he explains his motivations for his ministry to the Gentiles.
Of course, the Apostle had a heart for the Gentiles and wanted them to be reconciled to the Lord, but his ministry to the Gentiles was also inspired by his love for his Jewish brethren. He wanted to see many Gentiles converted to Christ so that the Jews would grow jealous of the blessings the Gentiles were receiving from the Lord and turn back to Him. The Apostle sought ultimately to reach the Jews by reaching the Gentiles (11:13-14).
Paul knew that his ministry, as important as it was, would not be the cause of the mass conversion of Jews—as a result of his work, only “some” would be saved. He knew that the full restoration of ethnic Israel lay farther in the future, as the final resurrection drew closer (11:15). This full restoration, Paul foresaw, will not include every single Jew (v. 7), but its scope will be large enough that one will rightly be able to say that all Israel is restored. We continue to wait for that day.
Scripture often speaks in corporate categories, talking about the salvation of entire groups without meaning that every single person who is a part of that group will be saved. We see that in today’s passage, as Paul speaks of the reconciliation of the world (the Gentiles) and the restoration of Israel. Nevertheless, such corporate language is a hint that the number of the saved will be substantial. We should therefore expect—and pray for—God to bless the outreach of His church.