If you’re into sewing, you might find a piece from the end of the bolt, a remnant, that is good quality, but inexpensive because of limited quality. Or, if you want enough good carpet for the floor of a small room, you might choose an end of the roll remnant. If you don’t have money to burn, a remnant can be a good buy. However, why should our God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, be concerned about a remnant? In Romans 11:5-6, Paul points to God’s preservation of a remnant as a vindication of his faithfulness and of his gracious character.
In 1 Kings 19 God assures his discouraged, fleeing prophet, Elijah, that despite his depressed complaint that he alone is left to serve the Lord, there are indeed 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed to Baal. In Paul’s day most of his fellow Israelites had rejected the Messiah. Does this unbelief mean that God has rejected his people? Has God’s faithfulness, a theme resounding through the Psalms, been brought to nothing? Paul uses the account of God’s conversation with Elijah to affirm God’s faithfulness and his gracious choice of his people in Jesus Christ.
In focusing on the concept of a remnant, Paul picks up on one of the themes of the prophet Isaiah, who even had a son named Shear-Jashub, meaning, “a remnant will return.” God’s preservation of the remnant is an assurance that he is faithful to his commitment to his people, and that he can and will accomplish great things, even through a remnant.
Often it is far better to be part of a small minority, even part of a remnant, than to go along with the majority, especially when the majority is wandering away from God. But, being part of a remnant can lead to pride. Some of Paul’s contemporaries, those associated with the Dead Sea community, saw themselves as the true people of God living in a nation that had largely forgotten him. They focused on their detailed obedience and ritual purity.
In contrast, Paul emphasizes that the preservation of the remnant is by grace. Those who are preserved survive, not because of who they are or what they have done, but because God has chosen them and has kept them.
Our own Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. In many ways the OPC has been a remnant church. Although initial hopes of large numbers being committed to the authority of Scripture were not realized, the small denomination has continued to grow. Perhaps our greatest challenge as we look forward from this milestone, is to make sure that we focus, not on ourselves, but on the grace of God that has kept the church for himself. God’s purpose in preserving a remnant is not the remnant itself, but the great things he will accomplish through his remnant. The ultimate expression of the remnant is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our great calling is, by the grace of God, to be the body of Christ!
(In preparation for a message on May 22, 2011)