Friday, April 27, 2007

Romans 12:11-15

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

(1) A faithful Christian disciple works or toils diligently or zealously or urgently in service and avoids lagging behind in spiritual laziness; the Body of Christ is on the move, and so all its parts better be moving! There is a song by Casting Crowns, “If we are the Body…” The idea here should be to avoid lukewarm-ness, as in Revelation 3:15. Be on fire for God! However, not everyone manifests spiritual zeal in the same way. One the one hand, there can be people with very obvious outward zeal for the Lord. They may have a zeal for truth, love, or some particular cause that is being threatened in their day and time (ROCK). On the other hand, zeal can often be manifested in quiet determination, in a person who remains faithful to the end of a particular calling. He does not draw attention to himself and isn’t trying to make a name for himself. Both types of people are serving the Lord with zeal.

(2) A faithful Christian is joyful, or rejoices, in hope because the outcome is certain. This should re-direct us to Romans 5:1-11. Not every experience we have will manifest its goodness in this life, but we rejoice in hope because we know that God is working all situations to His good and perfect end.

(3) A faithful Christian perseveres patiently in suffering and affliction because God is working through that experience to sanctify. Likewise, Romans 5:1-11 comes to mind. This is not merely the kind of perseverance that hangs on by the “skin of your teeth.” This kind of perseverance that Paul is talking about is the kind that refers to “more than conquerors.” It’s not that we barely get through a given trial; it’s that we maintained faithful and zealous Christian service in and throughout the given trial.

(4) A faithful Christian prays faithfully, even continually, because he knows that God uses prayer to work in the world. It is impossible to be a faithful Christian without devotion to prayer. We all need this more!

(5) A faithful Christian gives generously. Paul’s teaching here reminds me of Acts 4:32-35, when the believers shared everything with one another. Christians should give generously to fellow Christians in need within the congregation. There is a connection between fellowship and sharing in the local church. Fellowship is actually shared life (koinonia). Paul is calling on Christians to tangibly share with one another, especially those who are in need.

(6) A faithful Christian shares humbly and hospitably, especially with Christians outside the local congregation. This was especially important in Paul’s day, as many Christian congregations were being persecuted in such a way that they had to be broken apart to flee for their lives. They might seek refuge in other towns where Christian fellowships were thriving. The word Paul uses for “hospitality” here intends the phrase, “kindness to strangers.” See Genesis 18:1-6, 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:10, Titus 1:7-8, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9, and 3 John 5-8.

Again here, we should not simply go through this list and ask ourselves how we could improve; instead we should pray, “Lord, cultivate this quality in me.” Turn it into a prayer. Here are some character qualities God wants us to display; pray that He would work them in you. Do you do that already? It’s like the prayer of Augustine: “Lord, you command us to have self-control. I am sure that none of us could have self-control unless You work it in us. Command what You will and grant what You command.”

Paul also says that we should bless those who persecute us, which is the opposite of what our sin nature would have us do. See Luke 6:27-36 and Matthew 5:43-48. Paul commands it twice in v14, because he knows that it’s a hard thing to do. Notice that Paul handled persecution in different ways, depending on how he thought it would best serve the community. On occasion, he allowed himself to be persecuted and persevered in service zealously in and through that persecution. Other times, he sought to avoid persecution through legal protection. Both ways, he served the Kingdom of God. No matter how we might handle persecution, we mustn’t harden our hearts towards those persecuting us.

Lastly in this section, we should rejoice and mourn with those who rejoice and mourn, because, though we are many parts, we are all one body. See 1 Corinthians 12:25-26. Christians should not be insensitive to the state of other Christians’ hearts. Sometimes it is more difficult to rejoice with a person than to weep with a person, because of our pride or envy. Perhaps you and your spouse had trouble conceiving, and you found other Christian couples with the same problem. You could mourn with those who mourn. But then one couple from your group gets the good news that they will be parents. Now it’s hard to rejoice with those who rejoice, because you’re still mourning and perhaps envious of their blessings. Do you have other examples of that circumstance?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Romans 12:9-10

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Paul explains the virtues that develop as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In v9-13, there are 13 commands. What do we make of these? It’s very easy to breeze through in 10-15 seconds of reading silently or aloud and say to ourselves, “How lovely! How nice! Let’s do a better job focusing on those!” And move right along. We should spend time with these and soak them into our skin. Ask what they mean and think about that in relation to the other Scriptures. Think about practical situations where they affect us. And this is hard to do. We’re not even going to do that now. But let it be known that we should.

As he typically does, Paul starts with love. See Galatians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 13. It has been said that Romans 12 is the neglected “love” chapter, since 1 Corinthians 13 gets all the “love.” Like a good teacher Paul repeats himself on this topic throughout his epistles. In v9-10 he basically spells out what love means. Christian love is sincere, godly, affectionate, and self-denying. And this is the opposite of what we might want our love to be prior to having that renewed mind. We might desire to love with selfish motives – to make us look impressive to others or get something in return. But Paul says that our love must be real, discerning, fervent, and selfless. We should be genuinely fired-up to serve others in love, because we love God, or rather, He loves us. One commentator said about this passage, “As our new relationship to God can be summed up by faith, so also our relationship to men, because of the relationship with God can be summed up by love.”

Paul says that believers should be known both by their sincere love and by their sincere hate. Love (generally, without an object) sincerely and without hypocrisy, and hate (the object is clear: evil) just as sincerely. See Psalm 97:10, Proverbs 8:13, and Amos 5:15. Our love must not be the kind of love that makes no distinctions. “It’s alright; it’s okay; I still love you anyway.” That’s not love, according to Paul. Paul might say, “You cannot truly love if you do not truly hate.” Love does not mean ignoring right and wrong. In fact, love is not able to manifest itself to the fullness without making the distinction between wrong and right. Our culture says that you do not love if you don’t love homosexuals for who they are. Again Paul dissents. You’ve heard, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” Always distinguish between good and evil in your love. And note also that we love objective good and hate objective evil. Good and evil are not determined by our emotions toward things. Our emotions must be conformed to God’s objectives.

Next, Paul commands us, as believers, to show familial love to one another in deed, not in word alone, and in honor, in order to uphold and exalt the good qualities in our brethren, thereby encouraging them to live in a godly manner. Paul is not talking here about unbelievers; he’ll get to them in a minute. We should treat our Christian brothers and sisters as more important than ourselves. See Philippians 2:3 The Bible says there is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), and we think of David and Jonathan. That’s what the Church ought to be like. There ought to be self-sacrificing love relationships in the church that are deeper and stronger than anything experienced with parents and siblings. That said, it shouldn’t surprise us that we as sinners don’t always - if ever - live up to this vision, but we must strive to make sure that love and loyalty can be experienced at church through church in church like family. We must honor each other above ourselves – and remember it’s based on God’s mercy to us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Romans 12:4-8

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his [or in agreement with the] faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

We are many parts of one body with different functions according to God’s grace. Paul says that the communion of saints is a reality. Because we live and serve God together, we experience a genuine community of believers. We are one body, yet different parts; we are united, but not the same. Paul is not saying that Christian salvation transforms us into a bunch of interchangeable units. We continue to be distinct personalities and have distinct gifts. Our unity is not disrupted simply because there are differences between us; unity does not require sameness. There are nontransferable functions, different gifts and responsibilities, that we each have in the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, just because we are different doesn’t mean that we lack unity. Diversity does not equal disunity. Why not? Because we all live to the benefit of each other. This is the overarching reality of the communion of the saints. We are different, but we are to live to and for one another. I am for you; you are for me. It’s the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all.” We share in the fellowship of life because of our union with Jesus Christ.

And this is important in our culture. The world’s logic goes like this: sameness of function means real equality. So if women are not allowed to be preachers (1 Timothy 2:12), then that displays their un-equal treatment compared to men. But Paul dissents to this logic. He says, “We are one, we are equal in Christ, but we do not share the same functions.” Just because a woman should not be a preacher does not make her un-equal to the male preacher. No, she has roles that men cannot fill, so she is equal in that sense.

Paul moves on in v6, saying that the Christian church is “charismatic.” Being “charismatic” means being “graciously gifted” by the Holy Spirit for ministry to one another. God is the great Giver of the gifts, and in His wisdom He distributes gifts in just the right way to each believer; there is no believer without a gift, yet the gifts are transferred in different “skill levels” if you will, according to God’s grace and our faith. In fact, the greatest gift is spiritual life, faith itself, as evidenced by the fact that we believe the Gospel message; and faith, even given in different measures to different people, now serves as the root of all these other spiritual gifts. Now Paul’s list of 7 gifts is neither a complete list, nor does the list include mutually exclusive gifts. There are more spiritual gifts discussed elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12-14), and people may certainly be gifted specially in more than one area. Paul’s point is this: whatever God has given you, in abilities and resources, is for the edification of His body. You are not to hide or waste your gifts. But at the same time don’t just use them; use them accordingly, humbly, because of God’s mercy. Christian humility compels us to serve one another humbly. A realization that we’re part of the communion of saints compels us to serve one another. A realization that everything God has given us is for one another ought to compel us to serve each other. Notice the gifts:

(1) Prophesying – the ability to pass along direct words of revelation from God. Some suggest that this was a temporary gift, pointing to 1 Corinthians 13:8 and Ephesians 2:20 (a foundation is only laid once). They believe that prophecy is just as inspired as the inerrant and infallible Word of God; thus, if prophecy was given today, then the Bible could be considered incomplete. It should be growing along with each prophecy. Others suggest that God still speaks through prophecy today; prophecy is not inspired as Scripture is. Rather, it is a report of something God brings spontaneously to mind. John Piper defines prophecy here as “a Spirit-guided expression of something we otherwise would not know or say, which is powerful for that particular moment and brings conviction or exhortation or consolation for the awakening or up-building of faith. It should not spook us as something uncontrollable, but should be treated as any claim to insight. It is fallible. It may prove true and it may not because the human channel is sinful and fallible and finite.” If this is true, as I believe it is, how do we know when prophets are prophesying truthfully? Prophets must prophesy in accordance with true faith. In other words, a prophet must be living in obedience to God’s Word if we are to believe their words are genuine. See 1 Corinthians 14:1-4, 29-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. Have you ever been inclined to pray spontaneously for someone and then later found out that they experienced something at the precise moment of your inclination? Any thoughts on prophecy?

(2) Serving – fruitful and joyful ministry, such as a deacon. This gift is often not honored or highly-esteemed, but it is arguably one of the most given gifts and therefore among the most crucial gifts. (3) Teaching – indoctrination by reasoned persuasion, not by overpowering compulsion. This was especially critical in Paul’s time, when few people could read the Scriptures and had to rely on teachers’ words. The teacher was vitally important for conveying the faith and the life of faith to the people of God. Paul might have added that the teacher ought to be humble, recognizing that his teaching is a gift to him, not for his own self-satisfaction or boasting, but rather for the edification of the people of God. (4) Encouraging – exhortation with love and compassion, not by coercion. This goes along with teaching, as it is critical to encourage those whom you teach and teach those whom you encourage.

(5) Contributing – giving extra-generously, especially financially. We are all called to give generously, but some are gifted to give extra-generously in proportion to their ability, and this should be done in humility and not grudgingly. (6) Leadership – ruling or governing diligently. Paul is saying that those who are gifted with the abilities of leading the church need not be lazy or side-tracked in that work. This has special application to elders. (7) Mercy – cheerful compassion, including humor. Don’t go to somebody who is sick without being cheerful. Mercy on the ailing brethren is not mercy if it’s not cheerful.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Romans 12:3

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Paul has told us to have a Biblical worldview. Now, “by the grace given to him,” he tells us to live it out in humility and sober judgment. And this relates directly to how we think with renewed minds. See Galatians 6:3 and Philippians 2:5-6. Paul says not to “think” too highly of ourselves, but to “think” of ourselves with sober judgment. Martin Luther said, “God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, God can make something out of us.” As we’ve seen from Romans 9-11, grace, wrongly understood, can produce pride. It shouldn’t, and rightly understood, it won’t, but Paul had to reprimand the Gentiles for thinking themselves more deserving of grace than the Jews. So Paul again reminds us not to be filled with pride as a result of the grace given to us, but rather to be filled with humility. Of all the things Paul could have spoken about regarding a renewed mind, he chooses to point to how we think about ourselves! See Romans 8:5-9. The Christian is humble; pride is not an option if you rightly understand grace. The lowly man is the one who has caught a true glimpse of the High and Lofty One (Isaiah 6:1-5; 57:15). But it’s more than just eliminating pride toward or of or in ourselves. We should maintain pride but focus it on Christ. Be proud of Christ working in you. Boast in the Lord. Credit God with your successes and credit yourself for your failures.

Notice that Paul makes faith in its God-given measure the standard for how renewed Christian minds think about themselves. Since faith itself is a gift, and since God clearly gives it in different measures, the pride that we might try to maintain after becoming Christians is necessarily eliminated according to the measure of faith we are given. The more we look to Christ in faith, the less highly we think of ourselves and the more we rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, as our faith increases, humility sets in and passionate Christian service follows.