A Commentary by John Stott
But this restoration of Israel will lead to a third stage, as the salvation now enjoyed by Israel will spill over in further blessing to the world. In expressing it, however, Paul is not content with a simple arithmetical progression from transgression to salvation to envy (or from the salvation of the Gentiles to the salvation of the Jews, verses 11, 14); instead he sets down a geometric, *a fortiori* progression: *if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fulness bring!* (12). This is a compact sentence which telescopes two progressions. The first concerns Israel, and the second the Gentile world. As for Israel, the *a fortiori* argument is that if her ‘fall’ (*transgression*) and ‘defeat’ or ‘overthrow’ (*loss*) brought blessing to the Gentiles, how much more blessing will her *fulness (pleroma*) bring, which seems to mean not only her conversion and restoration but also her increase in numbers until the remnant (*leimma*) has grown into a substantial majority. As for the Gentiles, the blessings they have received through Israel’s fall is called *salvation* or *riches*; but the blessing which they will receive through Israel’s fulness is called *much greater riches*. What this will be we are not told; Paul leaves us, at least at the moment, to guess.
After this general statement of ‘the chain of blessing’, Paul now particularizes by relating it to his own ministry. He develops the same logic a second time. *I am talking to you Gentiles*, he writes, referring to the Gentile Christians in the church in Rome, who seem to have made up the majority. *I am the apostle to the Gentiles*, he continues, as he has already affirmed (1:1, 5) and will affirm again before he finishes his letter (15:16). (For other references to his unique apostolic ministry to Gentiles see Acts 9:15f.; 22:21; 26:16ff.; Gal.1:1, 16; 2:7ff.; 1 Tim. 2:7). And *inasmuch as* this is so, he goes on *I make much of (doxazo, ‘glorify’) my ministry* (13). He does this ‘by giving himself to it wholly and unreservedly’. He ‘fulfils it with all his might and devotion’.
Paul now explains why he ‘glorifies’ his ministry, devoting himself to it with such energy and perseverance. It is because of what he hopes to achieve by it: *in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and* so, by persuading them to believe in Christ, *save some of them* (14). This is a remarkable statement of his ministry goals on several counts. First, to characterize his ministry to his own people in terms of arousing their ‘envy’, and to encourage them to come to Christ as a result of such ‘envy’, sounds like stimulating unworthy motives in both him and them. But this is not so. Not all envy is tainted with selfishness, because it is not always either a grudging discontent or a sinful covetousness. At base, envy is ‘the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another’, and whether envy is good or evil depends on the nature of the something desired and on whether one has the right to its possession. If that something is in itself evil, or if it belongs to somebody else and we have no right to it, then the envy is sinful. But if the something desired is in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy, then to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it can be a realistic motive in ministry.
A second reason Paul’s statement is surprising is that his hope to *save some* sounds too low an expectation. We need to remember, however, that his vision focuses on the coming ‘fulness’ of Israel; his hope that he will himself ‘save some’ relates only to his own modest personal contribution to this end.
Thirdly, and most remarkably, Paul regards arousing his own (Jewish) people to envy as an aspect of his ministry to Gentiles. How could this be? It is an example of the continuing interaction between Jews and Gentiles which he perceives, and which is woven into his mission strategy. Perhaps he feels embarrassed, as he writes to the largely Gentile Roman church, that he the apostle to the Gentiles should have so much to say about the Jews. So he demonstrates that the two cannot be separated. Already it has been as a result of the Jewish rejection of the gospel that his distinctive ministry to the Gentiles has begun; now he shows that his ministry of arousing the Jews to envy will have a directly beneficial effect on the Gentile world.