Chapter breaks in the Bible can often be very distracting. One of those is the chapter break between Romans 11:36 and 12:1. Why on earth would anyone put a chapter break right before the word “therefore”? What is even funnier to me is that people will quote verses like Romans 12:1-2 and start the quote with “therefore” but never think to go and look before the “therefore” to see what in the world Paul or others are working off of when they wrote it. Notice also at the end of Romans 11 how many times Paul uses the word “mercy.”
11:30 – have now received mercy
11:31 – may now receive mercy…as a result of God’s mercy
11:32 – so that he may have mercy
12:1 – I urge you…in view of God’s mercy
Could it be that Paul is still talking about the same thing in Romans 12 as he was in Romans 11? There are certainly some connecting pieces (you can read more about that in this post on reading Romans 12:1-2 in context).
Paul calls the Jews “enemies for your [Gentile’s] sake. That sounds harsh and the word basically means someone who stands in opposition to them. History does bear that out and I guess you could say that may be part of the hardening that Paul mentioned in 11:25. In the first century there were stonings of Christians by Jews. The Jews also changed one of their 18 benedictions to be a curse on the Christians. D.A. Carson provides us with a translation of the curse in his Pillar commentary on the Gospel of John (p.370).
“For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the heretics perish as in a moment and be rooted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant”
Carson tells us these benedictions were to be recited daily by pious Jews. The basis of all this mistreatment was the acceptance of the Gentiles by Christians Jews without requiring circumcision or obedience to certain parts of the law. That is clearly the background problem of what Paul is dealing with in Romans and also in Galatians.
In 11:29-32 Paul basically puts Jew and Gentile on the same page in that all have been disobedient at one time or another and so all have received mercy from God. The point here turns to the mercy of God. No one deserves to be in the family of God. Even Abraham himself was chosen by God…God could have picked anyone he wanted but he chose Abraham. God’s choice is by mercy and grace and not because of how good any of us (Jew or Gentile are). It is all based on the mercy of God. In Romans 12 we see that God then expects that as we live in light of that mercy we will be willing to give 100% of our lives to God because he is so benevolent. When we do so, he will transform us and then we will be able to test and approve his will for our lives.