Category Archives: Romans

Romans 2:1-16: God is judge

It’s been interesting watching the reactions of different people to government COVID restrictions. Most of us are fine. We’ll stay home. We’ll wear a mask. We won’t travel. We’re willing to recognise the government’s authority over us. We’re willing to give up some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the whole society.

But other people demand that they’ve got the right to do what they want. There was Karen at Bunnings, ranting at staff, and refusing to wear a mask. And there was Cynthia Page, who, last week, sued the New York state for its COVID 14-day quarantine period. Because she said it infringed her fundamental right to travel. She lost!

And it’s the same sort of reaction MANY people have to the idea that God will JUDGE them. They feel they have the right to make their own choices, and no one, including God, has the right to question, or intrude on, that independence.

I think it’s the cultural individualism in the West that’s largely to blame. People quite like the idea that God FORGIVES people. Just not the JUDGMENT part. The unspoken rule of our culture is that each of us, basically, has the right to do whatever we want. And perhaps the greatest evil is to RESTRICT someone’s freedom, or tell them they’re wrong.

So what I want to do today is defend the idea of God’s judgment. Firstly, to show that it’s a central teaching of the Bible. Secondly, to give you three reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment. And, thirdly, to give you three APPLICATIONS of God’s judgment. (How it affects how we think and behave.)

The Bible teaches it

Firstly, the Bible TEACHES it. From start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, we see the truth that God holds us accountable. And, in the end, will JUDGE us.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve, tells them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. And then delivers judgment on them when they disobey him. He’s the one who’s CREATED us, so he’s got the right to do with us whatever he decides.

He SEES EVERYTHING. Nothing’s hidden from his sight. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

No one can escape. Even the powerful and rich and well-connected. God is more powerful than ALL of them. Psalm 11:5-6 says The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will JUDGE THE NATIONS, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

Which seems completely scary. But at the same time, God is infinitely WISE, and completely RIGHTEOUS. So we can be confident he’ll always make the RIGHT JUDGMENT. In Genesis 18:25, Abraham is pleading with God to show mercy on the city of Sodom. And he appeals to God’s character in not destroying righteous people. And he concludes Will not the Judge of all the earth do RIGHT? One thing we CAN be sure of, in the midst of uncertainty. God will ALWAYS act wisely and justly.

And then, in the LAST book of the Bible, in Revelation 20, at the end of this world, God will be seated on a great white throne, and everyone will stand before him, and he’ll judge them according to what they’ve done.

And Romans 2, which we just read, talks about that day TOO. In fact, it begins in Romans 1. From v18 we read that God’s wrath is being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of people. They choose to ignore God, and do what they want INSTEAD. And our world bears the SCARS of that. And that’s God’s wrath! And chapter one finishes with this damning description of humanity. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

It’s painful to hear. I find myself not wanting to read the whole list. To skip over it, and just get to the end. But that’s what God sees and feels when he looks at out our world. You may not be ALL of those things. But you’re MANY of them. (We ALL are.) At least SOME of the time.

That’s the situation IN THE WORLD. It’s NO WONDER God, JUSTLY, will JUDGE US.

In Chapter 2, Paul turns his attention to THE CHURCH in Rome. In particular, what God’s coming judgment means for HOW CHRISTIANS RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Specifically, how the JEWISH Christians get along with the GENTILE Christians. And his FIRST point is we shouldn’t judge one other, because we ALL deserve judgment. V1. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment DO THE SAME THINGS.

It’s dangerous to judge others by a standard you can’t live up to YOURSELF. V3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

At the moment, God’s PATIENT. We deserve his judgment RIGHT NOW. ALL of us. But he’s DELAYING, waiting for people to repent. But whenever people take advantage of that. And dismiss and reject and judge others who are different. They’re abusing God’s kindness. And their hypocrisy and blindness is inviting his judgment. The reality is THE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS COMING. V5. But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

I wonder if people think about “their individual freedom to choose” as STORING UP WRATH for themselves? It’s not building assets, or experiences, or qualifications. It’s storing up WRATH!

And then v6 describes what that day will be like. God will give to EACH PERSON according to what he has done

It will be INDIVIDUAL and COMPLETE. Each person. God will be impartial and thorough. There’ll be no special exemptions. No loopholes. No white privilege. No ethnic advantage. Jew and Gentile alike will be judged. And it will be CONSISTENT. According to what each has done. No one will bear the punishment for another’s sins. No one will have their behaviour overlooked.

V9 goes on. There’ll be ONE STANDARD. With no favouritism.

There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.

Why does Paul emphasise Jew and Gentile so much? V12 makes it clear. Because the Jewish Christians thought they had an advantage over the Gentile Christians. They HAD THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW. They thought they had a head start. But, v12, they’re mistaken.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law (that’s the Gentiles), and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (that’s the Jews). 13For it is not those who HEAR the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.

You see HAVING the law isn’t enough. It’s not even enough to HEAR it. You’ve got to OBEY it. It doesn’t matter where you were born. Or what language you speak. Or how often you heard about Jesus. Or how educated you are. Or the colour of your skin. Or how many generations of Christians precede you in your family. The only thing God’s interested in is WHAT YOU DO/ with WHAT HE TELLS YOU.

You’ve sinned. You deserve judgment. But he’s showing you kindness, tolerance and patience. He’s leading you towards REPENTANCE. He calls you to TURN FROM YOUR SIN. To TRUST his Son. And then to LIVE FOR HIM, obeying and honouring him. And your fate on judgment day will depend on what you DO with that message. SO make sure you HEAR and OBEY.

 

Reasons to rejoice in God’s judgment

And that’s a good introduction into the NEXT section. Five reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment.

  1. He offers us an escape

The FIRST reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that he offers you an ESCAPE. We read in v4 of Romans 2. He’ll judge EVERYONE. But he’s showing patience and kindness, leading people to REPENTANCE.

And, v7, for those who repent. Who turn from SELF-seeking, and instead seek glory, honour and immortality – in other words they SEEK GOD HIMSELF- he promises ETERNAL LIFE. An escape from a guilty verdict on Judgment Day. All through the PERFECT life of Jesus, who stands in our place. Yes, God will JUDGE. But we can rejoice that he also offers us AN ESCAPE from it.

  1. It’s good news for the suffering

The SECOND reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that it’s good news for those who suffer. 2 Thessalonians is written to a persecuted church. Paul writes, v4 of chapter 1, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

And then, down in v6, there’s the comfort of this promise God is just: He will PAY BACK TROUBLE to those who trouble you 7and GIVE RELIEF to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

There’ll be RELIEF for the persecuted. And JUSTICE for those DOING the persecuting. Which is good news.

But not just good news for the PERSECUTED. There’ll be relief from ALL suffering. Everything in this world that’s been broken by sin. Relief from sickness and death and loneliness and fear and brokenness. In Revelation 21, following the judgment of God on his great white throne, we read about God joining himself with his people. And, v4, there’s the promise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Judgment will bring to an end everything causes suffering and death. And justice against the culprits. And that’s a real comfort and hope to suffering people.

  1. It’s DELAYED

(That’s the SECOND reason we can rejoice in God’s judgment. It’s good news for the suffering) The THIRD reason is that it’s DELAYED. Which, perhaps, seems a little contradictory to reason 2.

At the moment, according to Romans 1, God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness. He hands people over to the consequences of their choices. He gives them a taste of where their choices will end up if they continue in them. He DOESN’T bring judgment. Which means that, at the moment, there’s SUFFERING.

But at the same time, (we saw in Romans 2:4) that he’s kind and tolerant and patient. He’s LEADING people to repentance.

In 2 Peter 3, Peter answers critics who scoff that God’s judgment ISN’T coming. They say everything’s been the same for thousands of years. And Peter says, God’s done it once before (destroyed the world with WATER – with Noah’s flood), and then he adds, v7

By the same word the PRESENT heavens and earth are reserved for FIRE, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

It’s definitely coming. And, just in case you thought he was a bit slow in bringing it. V9

The Lord is NOT slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It’s not that he’s LAZY, or DISORGANISED, or DISINTERESTED. He’s PATIENT. His desire is for EVERYONE to repent. He wants NO ONE in hell. And so he’s keeping back the day of judgment. He’s giving time, and opportunities, for your friends and family and neighbours and workmates to HEAR about Jesus. For YOU to TELL them. So they can trust him, and repent, and be saved. So rejoice that God’s judgement is delayed. (That’s the THIRD reason to rejoice in God’s judgement.)

Which leads on to some practical applications. How we should live TODAY in light of God’s judgment IN THE FUTURE.

  1. Repent

And the first and most obvious application is to REPENT. We saw it in Romans 2. V4. We WON’T escape God’s judgment. At the moment, he’s being tolerant and patient. His kindness is leading you to repentance. We saw it in the verses from 2 Peter 3. God is PATIENT. His wrath is a slow burn, but unstoppable. He wants NO ONE to perish. He wants EVERYONE to come to repentance. If you haven’t done that. Then TODAY IS A GREAT DAY. Don’t keep PRESUMING on God’s patience.

If you HAVE done that, then God’s patience means he waiting for YOU to tell people about his coming judgment, and his offer of forgiveness. You may be the only Christian some of your non-Christian friends KNOW.

  1. Don’t judge others

The second application is DON’T JUDGE OTHERS. That’s on GOD’S job description, not yours. We saw it in Romans 2. V1, we have no excuse to judge others as guilty before God, because WE’RE JUST AS GUILTY. We’re not QUALIFIED to judge.

And WE DON’T HAVE TO. We can leave the judging up to GOD. He’ll do a much better job of it than WE will. Over in Romans 12 Paul returns to the theme of judging others. V17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The reality of God’s judgment EMPOWERS victims of injustice. They can choose to LIVE AT PEACE. They can choose to respond to HATE with LOVE. They can leave space for GOD to deliver the wrath. Rather than them providing it all.

  1. Live godly lives

And the THIRD application of God’s judgment is it MOTIVATES US TO LIVE GODLY LIVES. Flip back over the 2 Peter 3. We looked earlier at how God is PATIENT with people, and won’t bring judgment HASTILY. And then v10 describes how the day of the Lord will come like a thief and everything will be destroyed. And then we see the application in v11.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

We might expect the answer to be, “Well, do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. There are no consequences. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But no, Peter says the OPPOSITE.

What kind of people ought you to be? You OUGHT TO LIVE HOLY AND GODLY LIVES 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him

Judgment is coming, and then there’ll be a NEW heaven and earth, where RIGHTEOUSNESS will be the standard behaviour. So work hard at being holy and godly NOW. So you’ll be FIT FOR PURPOSE. So you’ll be READY for eternity.

Notice how the focus isn’t being good, so you make it through judgment. Because we WILL. If we belong to JESUS, then our judgment verdict is already DECIDED. We’re INNOCENT. Instead our focus should be on WHAT COMES NEXT.

So look FORWARD to the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. And DO that, by making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Romans 8:1-27: Fear of death and judgment

Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We laugh… slightly nervously. Because, for MANY of us, death is one of our greatest fears.

For some, it’s the fear of the UNKNOWN. We fear what we can’t PLAN for. What we can’t CONTROL.

Others fear death because they fear the PAIN. From the car accident, or the cancer, or old bodies slowly wearing out. It’s the PROCESS of dying many people fear.

And then there are others who fear death because of what’s on the OTHER SIDE. They fear facing JUDGMENT. Meeting God, and having to account for how they’ve lived.

And fear of death shows itself in lots of OTHER ways. Phobias like claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), or agoraphobia (a fear of open or unknown spaces) can come from a fear of death. As can a fear of heights, or bridges, or snakes.

And it’s a fear of death that drives many people to an obsession with exercise, or healthy eating, or hypochondria. Or with using psychics or mediums to contact people who’ve died. They want to control it, or conquer it or abolish it.

And our fear of death is seen in the way we KEEP DEATH AT ARM’S LENGTH. We hope that if we don’t have to SEE it or THINK about it, it won’t AFFECT us. Think about the number of figures of speech we use to DISGUISE death. “Passed away, passed on, passed over, eternal rest, asleep, deceased, lost her battle, slipped away, gone to a better place.”

In fact, a whole INDUSTRY has grown from our fear of death. The funeral industry exists so we can keep death at a distance. We pay someone else to make death THEIR problem.

But not thinking about death is a dangerous game to play. Because the reality is there’s no escaping it. You can’t STOP it any more than you can hold back the tide. And every other society before ours recognised that. Perhaps it’s the medical and health advances in the last 100 years that have fooled us into thinking we’ve beaten it. But all they do is DELAY death. And leave us unprepared to face it. C.S. Lewis, the Christian author, wrote

“There are three things we can do about death: to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it. The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.”

Death is painful, and there’s separation and loss and loneliness. But it’s a reality. Death is a part of life. And it’s a fool’s paradise to pretend otherwise.

Steve Turner has written a poem called Death Lib. Part of it goes like this;

The liberating thing about death

Is in its fairness to women

its acceptance of blacks,

its special consideration for the sick.

And I like the way

that children aren’t excluded,

homosexuals are welcomed,

and militants aren’t banned.

Con men can’t con it

Thieves can’t nick it

Bullies can’t scare it

Magicians can’t trick it…

The thing about dead

Is we’re all gonna be it.

Death’s the schoolyard bully who threatens EVERYONE. And NO ONE can hide from him.

So what can we do in the face of death? How can we prepare for it? How can we overcome our fear of it? And the fear of judgment that goes WITH it? One place we can look is in Romans 8.

Romans mainly addresses the question of SIN. How our rebellion against God separates us from him. And what God’s done to bring us back. But along the way, it addresses DEATH and JUDGMENT. And what Jesus has done to DEFEAT them.

The chapters leading up to Romans 8 describe God’s wrath against mankind’s sin (1:18-3:20), and how death entered the world through one man’s sin (5:12-21). Death came to EVERYONE (5:12) because 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death. So death REIGNED (5:14).

But not only death. 5.16 describes how JUDGEMENT AND CONDEMNATION followed that one sin (5:16). God’s just punishment for our sin is eternal separation from him.

The conclusion to all this, at the end of chapter 7, is that, without Christ, we’re WRETCHED. Hopeless and helpless. And the question is asked, “Who will rescue us from this body of DEATH?” (7:24) The chapter finishes with the wonderful answer, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25). He’s the answer to the problem of sin, death and judgment!

No fear of death or judgment

And so we come to Chapter 8 that explains HOW Jesus rescues us from this body of death. What he ACHIEVES. And how that addresses our FEAR of death and judgment. And what it does is give us a number of PICTURES. Images that we can focus on when we’re tempted to FEAR. Or DOUBT.

Because when the non-Christian thinks about death. OTHER pictures come to mind. And perhaps for YOU, fear of death and judgment make you picture the same things. And so we connect death with BLACKNESS. Uncertainty. And despair, and failure, and hopelessness.

Or sometimes it’s pictures of FALSE hope. Of balloons and doves and wishful thinking.

Or even images of PURPOSE and USEFULNESS. Think of all the people who start CHARITIES because someone they know has died of cancer, or committed suicide. And that’s WONDERFUL. And that work can GENUINELY influence future lives for GOOD. But it can’t bring back the one they love. So, instead, focus on THESE pictures. And let them lead you from FEAR to FAITH when you’re faced with death.

The FIRST fear that’s answered is our fear of JUDGMENT. V1

8:1 Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life SET ME FREE from the law of sin and death.

Picture 1: Declared not guilty

The law might condemn us as guilty. Because we’re just not, naturally, able to KEEP it. We’re GUILTY. But it’s possible to be SET FREE from condemnation. Declared INNOCENT. That’s the FIRST picture. The verdict delivered – NOT GUILTY. And so we don’t need to FEAR JUDGMENT.

And that verdict is available to a certain group of people. Can you see who are they? There in v1? Those who are IN CHRIST JESUS.

Picture 2: One with Jesus

The idea of being JOINED TO JESUS is one that’s been explained a bit in the previous chapters. Like ch 6 v3. When we trusted Jesus, God CONNECTED us to him. 6:3 describes it as being BAPTISED INTO CHRIST JESUS.

And then, because God sees US AND JESUS AS ONE, our assets are JOINED. His RIGHTEOUSNESS becomes mine. And my SIN becomes HIS. 5:19 puts it like this

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the OBEDIENCE of the one man the many will be made RIGHTEOUS.

Adam passed on his sinful nature to us. Because we’re all members of the human race. But Jesus passed on his righteous obedience to us when God joined us to him. His CREDIT becomes MINE, and my DEBT becomes HIS.

It’s like when Caron and I got married. She’d worked for a few years before, and had saved $25,000. I’d only been teaching for a year, and pretty much had NOTHING in the bank. But when we were joined together in marriage, my poverty became hers. And her riches became mine. From my point of view, it was a great deal!

When we’re united to Jesus. His INNOCENCE becomes OURS. And our GUILT becomes HIS. And that’s the guilt he was punished for. Our death becomes HIS. And his LIFE becomes OURS.

Back over in Ch 8, it goes on to describe how he sets us free from condemnation. 8:3

3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he CONDEMNED SIN IN SINFUL MAN, 4 in order that the RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US,

Jesus condemned our sin, and replaced it with his righteousness. He paid the price for it. He bore the punishment for it. And so we ESCAPED condemnation. We’re DECLARED INNOCENT.

And that means the fear of JUDGMENT is gone. We don’t FEAR, because our fate doesn’t depend on our performance. Instead, we’re CONFIDENT, because we’re depending, instead, on the perfect performance of Jesus.

What a DIFFERENCE that makes to life! Instead of FEAR, there’s FREEDOM and CONFIDENT JOY. The Muslim obeys God out of DUTY, and of FEAR, out of COMPULSION. It’s ultimately from selfishness, because he follows the pillars of Islam to earn his standing before Allah.

And it’s not much different for the Mormon, or Jew, or ANY religion, really, who works through a to-do list to avoid judgment.

But for the Christian who’s IN CHRIST, we’re free to obey out of GRATITUDE AND LOVE. To RESPOND with obedience. Rather than compelled out of FEAR to obey.

Being set free from the fear of judgment doesn’t just change how you think about DEATH. It changes LIFE. It changes EVERYTHING!

Picture 3 – Resurrection

Another way of describing being joined to Jesus is that his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in us. And that means our lives begin to be INFLUENCED by his Spirit. V4 describes it as LIVING ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.

And because Jesus HIMSELF lives in us, we have a new nature – HIS nature – that WANTS to please God, and a new POWER that’s ABLE to do it. That’s what verses 4 to 9 describe – how the Christian lives according to the Spirit. And can actually KEEP the righteous requirements of the law.

And then we come to v10 and 11. The Spirit of the risen Jesus living in us affects our LIFE. But he also affects our coming DEATH.

10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Notice carefully what it’s saying. Our BODIES are headed for death. But we have the Spirit of GOD in us – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. And so he’s THE INTERNAL POWER SOURCE who’ll raise OUR BODIES from the dead.

Many of you know I like bike-riding. And there’s a new type of bike that’s getting popular. It’s called an e-bike. Or ELECTRIC bike – a normal bicycle, but it’s got a built in battery and electric motor, to help you up hills.

I was riding up a hill the other day, and another cyclist rode past me. Which is not that unusual. Except he was OLD, and wearing a SUIT. He stopped at the lights at the top of the hill, and when I eventually caught up to him I realised he was riding an E-bike. With an extra energy source. “Cheat!” I thought, as the lights turned green, and he cycled off into the distance ahead of me!

But that’s what it’s like for the Christian, compared to everyone else. We have the inbuilt power source of God’s Spirit – the God who raised Jesus from the dead. He’ll give LIFE to our mortal bodies.

 

 

Picture 4: Sonship

That’s ONE way God’s Spirit gives us confidence in the face of death. But there’s ANOTHER way TOO. He confirms that we’re God’s CHILDREN. Look down to v13.

but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs

Here’s how the process works. God fills you with his Spirit. And by that power you start living according to the Spirit (v13). That lifestyle shows you that you’re being LED by the Spirit of God, which means you’re a genuine SON of GOD (v14). Or as v16 puts it, the Spirit TESTIFIES to us that we’re God’s children.

Which means you don’t need to FEAR him (v15). You don’t need to fear him NOW. And you don’t need to fear DEATH OR JUDGMENT THEN. Instead you can enjoy the relationship between a Father and a son. And you can be confident to call him Abba, or Daddy (v15).

There’s a famous photo of John F. Kennedy Jr, son of the president John F. Kennedy. It shows him playing underneath the president’s desk, in the Oval office. The most powerful man in the world, but this little boy had the confidence sit there, and PLAY. With no fear. Because he called him DAD.

And that’s the confidence WE have. God’s Spirit, the Spirit of SONSHIP CONFIRMS that we’re his children. And he’s our Father. And so there’s no need to FEAR his judgment.

Picture 6: A glorious inheritance: redeemed bodies

There’s one FINAL picture in this section to help us face the fear of death. From v18, there’s a description about OUR FUTURE GLORY.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with THE GLORY THAT WILL BE REVEALED IN US. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for THE SONS OF GOD TO BE REVEALED.

What we are NOW doesn’t measure up to what God has planned for us. At the moment, everything is BROKEN. Death infects everything. V22 describes it as creation groaning like in the pains of childbirth. And v21, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay. And brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

You see, God has a plan to renew EVERYTHING. And that’s because he’s going to gloriously renew US, his CHILDREN. And we need a glorious, new Creation to LIVE in.

And because we have God already living IN us, we live with a DEPOSIT of that new freedom ALREADY. An in-built adoption certificate. A window into eternity.

And we can TASTE it, and EXPERIENCE it. And confidently and patiently HOPE for it. Even though we experience death and loss because we’re part of the world. V23

we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we WAIT EAGERLY for our adoption as sons, the REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Rather than facing death and judgment with FEAR and DESPAIR. Or perhaps IGNORING it and pretending it won’t happen, like the WORLD does. We can face it with CONFIDENCE, because of the work of Jesus. Because we are IN HIM, and his credit is ours. And we have his Spirit in us, EMPOWERING life and obedience in us. And affirming that we’re God’s CHILDREN, and guaranteeing our glorious inheritance.

Fill your mind with THOSE pictures, and have CONFIDENCE, not FEAR.

Romans 12: 40Days of Purpose 3: Fellowship: Formed for God’s Family

Groucho Marx was famous for saying he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would let HIM in.

 

What he was saying was that he had a fairly realistic view of himself. He knew his faults. But that he wanted to be part of a group of people BETTER than him. And if they actually thought he was good enough to measure up to their standard, then it can’t have been a very high standard. And therefore, not a club he wanted to be part of.

 

The sad thing is there are lots of Christians out there who have the same sort of view about CHURCHES. They’re always on the lookout for a better bunch of people. Better programs. Or bigger. Or friendlier. Or better preaching. Or a youth group that’s more exciting.

 

They’re church-shoppers. Steeple-chasers.

 

There’s a saying, “Don’t bother looking for the perfect church. Because when you FIND it. And JOIN it, … it won’t be PERFECT anymore.

 

But the reality is that’s not what church is about. God didn’t save us to become part of an exclusive CLUB. A spiritual elite. Not even a pretty ORDINARY sort of club.

 

He ADOPTED us into HIS FAMILY.

 

There’s a few different ways the Bible describes a group of Christians. And no, it’s not a gaggle of Christians (that’s geese). Or a choir of Christians. (that’s ANGELS). I sometimes wonder whether a PRICKLE of Christians isn’t appropriate. Like a prickle of hedgehogs.

 

But the Bible doesn’t use any of those. The most OBVIOUS one is CHURCH. Church just means GATHERING. We’re also called A VINEYARD, or A VINE. And we’re A TEMPLE. And we’re A BODY. Which we’ll think about in a few minutes. But the title I want to BEGIN with this morning is the one of FAMILY.

 

We saw that idea a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Eph 1. Eph 1:5 says

In love 5 he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ,

 

God, our HEAVENLY Father, ADOPTED US INTO HIS FAMILY. He made us his SPIRITUAL sons and daughters. And He signed the adoption papers with the blood of his son, Jesus.

 

A bit further on in Eph. Ch 2 v19, it puts it like this.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD,

 

The word for HOUSEHOLD is the same one the Bible uses for FAMILY. We used to be orphans. Aliens. Foreigners. But NOW, because of what Jesus has done for us, God’s made us FAMILY.

 

Which means, among other things. That you’re STUCK with the people here who are PART OF YOUR SPIRITUAL FAMILY.

 

There’s a saying, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Or “Blood is thicker than water”. In other words, you stand by your family. Even if they ARE a little unusual. Sometimes you’ll fight, but you’d never abandon them. You LOVE them. You’re committed to them. Through thick or thin. Because you’re CONNECTED.

 

And it works the same with church. Let’s be COMMITTED to each other like FAMILY. Because the reality is we’re STUCK with each other. We’re CONNECTED to each other. Because we’re all connected to Jesus. WE’RE family because Jesus is the LORD of us all. And God’s the FATHER of us all.

 

You can’t be joined to Jesus. But not joined to the REST of the family. The two go together. Being a Christian is a team sport. You can’t say you love Jesus, but not the OTHER’S who love him.

 

The church is Jesus’ BODY. You can’t say you love someone, but hate their BODY.

The church is Jesus’ BRIDE. You can’t say you love someone, but not their WIFE.

 

God’s made you part of HIS FAMILY. So stick with each other through thick and thin. Be Committed because we’re connected as family. That’s what families DO.

 

Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of reasons for why people stop coming to our church. Some of them are fair enough. Like moving to Townsville – that’s not bad. But most of them are just SOFT. People not willing to stick it out. Or not committed to this group of people. Or they don’t like something, and they’re after something better. I just have to bite my tongue, and hear them out.

 

I guess I’m preaching to the choir, because you’re all HERE. But perhaps you’re thinking about it. Let me encourage you to be COMMITTED to this group of God’s people. And SHOW that by working hard to overcome differences, fill-up shortcomings, and correct misunderstandings.

 

Be committed because we’re connected as family.

Family responsibilities

And when you’re part of a family, there are RESPONSIBILITIES that go with it. We could look at plenty of passages, but I thought we’d look at the first part of Rom 12.

 

I hope some of you noticed this was the same reading we had last week. If not, you’re all asleep! We looked at v1 last week, this week, we’ll look at the NEXT part. Because THE REST flows out of v1.

 

Remember last week, we talked about how we were made for WORSHIP. And that worship wasn’t just the songs you sing. Or what you do in church. But it was how you use your whole life, in response to what God has done for you in Jesus. That’s worship. V1. In view of God’s mercy, offer your body as a living sacrifice. That’s what worship is. Giving back to God because he’s given to you.

 

And then it goes on to talk about what that sort of sacrifice LOOKS LIKE. V2 says that if you want to find out what God’s will is, you need to TRANSFORM YOUR MIND. Change your way of THINKING.

 

And then in v3, it talks about HOW your thinking needs to change. “Don’t THINK OF YOURSELF more highly than you ought.” Be REALISTIC about where you fit.

 

And it’s here that we come across THE OTHER title the Bible uses for a group of Christians. A BODY. Look at v4.

4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ WE WHO ARE MANY FORM ONE BODY, AND EACH MEMBER BELONGS TO ALL THE OTHERS. (literally: individually members of one another)

 

In other words, part of what it means to think REALISTICALLY about yourself is to recognise that you’re just ONE PART of something BIGGER. You’re not the HEAD, the most important – you’re just PART of the body. It’s not all about YOU.

 

The word “MEMBER” is a biblical word. It means BODY PART. So we talk about being members of the church BODY. Which makes sense when you’re USED to the idea, but I wonder whether the MEMBERS of the local Labour party, or the local RSL club, or footy club, think of themselves as JUST BODY PARTS.

 

But the argument in this paragraph is that it’s A REALISTIC way to be thinking about yourself. Just a body part in the total body of the local church.

 

And what’s more, it’s right thinking like THIS that’s the START of offering yourself to God in WORSHIP. You need to see that church ISN’T ALL ABOUT YOU before you can begin responding to God as a living sacrifice.

 

If you come home, and say, I didn’t get much out of church today YOU MISSED THE POINT. It’s not ABOUT you. It’s about offering yourself TO GOD. And TO OTHERS.

 

So, in a way, Worship DOES happen in the context of church. But not in the way you might think. Offering yourself as a living sacrifice, in view of God’s mercies, happens as you live out being simply a body part in the body of the church.

 

You were MADE to be joined to the rest of the members of the body. It’s as unnatural to be a Christian on your own, as it is for a kidney, or a hand, or an ear, to exist on its own. God designed you to be connected to the other body parts of the body. It’s how you work best.

 

We don’t like to think of ourselves NEEDING other Christians. We like to think we’re rugged individuals. We’re fine on our own – thank you very much. But that’s the way God’s designed the Christian life.

 

Perhaps you’ve been burnt in churches before. Or it’s just too much hard work dealing with people. Or perhaps you don’t agree with the preaching, or you don’t like the singing, or the kids don’t stop squirming. There’s a thousand reasons why people stop coming to church.

 

But it’s UNNATURAL. Because you’re part of the body.

 

And the flip side of that is it’s WORTH IT to be in the body. It’s WORTH the time, and the energy, and the emotion, and the hassle, and the boredom. Because the body of believers is GOD’s way of FEEDING and ENCOURAGING you. Of supporting and nurturing you. Of strengthening and keeping you alive.

 

You were made to be part of the body. You were FORMED for God’s family. And if that’s true then there’s a few things that FLOW OUT of that.

 

Unity

The first is the idea of UNITY. It’s there in v5. “We who are MANY form ONE BODY”. Many parts United into ONE WHOLE.

 

But UNITY doesn’t mean UNIFORMITY. That’s what you get if you’re a member of the Holden Owner’s Club – you all drive Holdens. Or the Bromeliad Society – everyone likes growing bromeliads.

 

In the church, our unity doesn’t come from common interests, or common backgrounds. We are joined to each other, simply because we’re joined to Christ. WHATEVER OUR BACKGROUND, we’re UNITED because we all have the SAME Holy Spirit. That’s what 1 Cor 12:12 and 13 says

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-WHETHER JEWS OR GREEKS, SLAVE OR FREE-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

 

Every nation. Every colour and age. Every educational background. Every footy team. Married and single. Attractive and … interesting. God, by his SAME Spirit, lives in each one of us. That makes us united.

 

Eph 4:4 gives us a few MORE areas in which we’re united.

4 There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one HOPE when you were called- 5 one LORD, one FAITH, one BAPTISM; 6 one GOD AND FATHER OF ALL, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

We ALL hope for heaven. We ALL serve the Lord Jesus. We ALL trust the work of Jesus alone for our salvation. We ALL were baptised. We are ALL children of our heavenly Father. And so we’re united in PURPOSE AND DIRECTION AND GOALS. To live obedient lives, seeking to honour and proclaim the Lord.

 

But as strong as those ties are. The reality is, because we’re sinful people, sometimes those ties aren’t strong enough to KEEP us united. And we’re tempted to GIVE UP. We’re united in PRINCIPLE. But not always in PRACTICE.

 

In the verse immediately before those ones, Eph 4:3. Paul pleads with them MAKE EVERY EFFORT to KEEP the unity of the Spirit. In other words, just because we’re all Christians, doesn’t mean it’s going to BE EASY to stay united. And all pulling in the one direction.

 

So don’t let little niggling things DRIVE US APART. Work hard at being patient and kind. Speak the truth in love.

 

Belong

The FIRST thing being part of the body means is that we’re UNITED. The SECOND point Romans 12 makes is that since we’re all part of one body, we all BELONG TO EACH OTHER. See it there at the end of v5? It literally says

We who are many form one body, and INDIVIDUALLY MEMBERS OF ONE ANOTHER.

 

WE affect the members around us, and THEY affect US. For good or bad. You can make a difference to the other parts of the body. In fact, more than that. You are INDISPENSIBLE. The other members NEED you.

 

There are no useless members. Each one has a part to play in the health of all the rest. In 1 Cor 12 Paul plays around with the idea of different body parts, and how every part has a role. V14.

14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 

Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. In fact, variation is GOOD. Differences are part of God’s plan. Because, that way, everything gets done.

 

You may think “I can’t sing”, or “I can’t lead”. “My knees knock together whenever I stand up the front”. Or “my hands shake at the thought of teaching kids church. Nobody will notice if I’m not here”.

 

But we need people to do ALL sorts of things. God has designed THIS CHURCH at MARAYON exactly the way he wants it. This group of God’s people has everything – every ONE – we need  to be doing the job God wants for it.

 

You’re HERE for A REASON.

 

If you reckon our church should be doing … SOMETHING. “Wouldn’t it be great to run an after school kids club, or a homework club, or organise letterboxing, or run a church library, or coordinate meals for people, or teach Scripture, or run a young adults Bible study?”

 

And you look around, and there’s no one who can DO it. Perhaps that’s because God is tapping YOU on the shoulder. Even though you don’t think you’re up to it. Maybe he’s giving you the DESIRE first. And then he’ll give you the ABILITY. And THE CONFIDENCE.

 

And even if it’s not doing something OBVIOUS. Something you’d immediately label as ministry. You can make a real difference in the lives of people here by SHOWING you CARE. Showing you’re interested. By LISTENING to people. By asking questions.

 

The coffee break is a really valuable time at church. It’s MINISTRY time. It’s not REALLY a break. If anything, it’s where there’s a break from the up-front stuff, and where everyone ELSE BEGINS their work.

 

You BELONG here. Because you MAKE A DIFFERENCE. There are people here who don’t even realise they’re encouraging to ME. When I can see Diane concentrating on what I’m saying. When I see Jo Steele scribbling down notes. When I see Jason or Ruby following along in their Bible. When I hear Jacob up the back belting out a hymn, or I see the kids standing on their seats, singing along, or I hear people say AMEN at the end of a prayer, they’re encouraging to me.

 

When I see Rob turn up at Doonside high to teach Scripture every week. Or Dean and Di and Josh and Rob and Jason turn up to Youth Group every week. That’s encouraging. Or Sue spending hours every week preparing KYB  – even though I know she doesn’t find it easy. That’s encouraging.

 

When I see everyone turn up to the Doonside Festival, and chip in. When I see Ann and Kelly and Nicole painting hundreds of faces. Or Dionne making hundreds of juggling balls, or Daphne and Mary making cups of tea. That’s encouraging.

 

When I see Steve or Andrew, or Bob turn up at 9 am with a smile on their face to set up church. That’s encouraging to me.

 

Whatever it is. In countless ways, we can SHOW that we’re CONNECTED to each other. That we’re COMMITTED to each other. And that we BELONG to each other.

 

Gifted to give

The third thing the Romans 12 passage says about being members of a body is that we’re GIFTED TO GIVE. The WAY we show we belong to each other is by USING THE GIFTS God gives us to build each other up.

 

If we think about the human body, every part has a job to do. They’re all different. And they each contribute in a different way. But there’s no one part that can do without any of the others. And there’s no part that’s USELESS. They’re all mutually beneficial. You have two eyes for a reason. And one heart. You have toenails, and knuckles, and elbows for a reason. You have HAIR for a reason (or LACK of hair as the case may be).

 

And it’s the same with church. V6 of Rom 12.

6 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 faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 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.

 

All different sorts of gifts. All contributing to a healthy body in different ways. This is one of a few lists of different gifts in the Bible. But there’s two things I like about this list;

 

First, how many UP-FRONT gifts are there? Prophesying (probably), and teaching, possible leadership.

 

But what about the rest? Serving, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, showing mercy. These are all things even the most TIMID person can do. You can even do them WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING.

 

No matter how ungifted you feel. Or how unable to contribute. This list has something for YOU to do.

 

Serving. Turn up early and help set up the chairs. Bring a slice for morning tea. Help organise the mission dinner. Offer to pick up someone who can’t make it to church. Invite a family over for lunch. Why not offer to babysit so some parents can have a night out alone?

 

Encouraging. Why not resolve to make one phone call a week to someone from church? Or write a card. Even send an SMS or email. If you notice someone’s not at church, give them a ring to ask if they’re alright. Tell someone you appreciate the job they did.

 

Contributing to the needs of others. There’s obviously the financial side of that. Supporting ministry by giving. But there’s OTHER ways you can contribute to the needs of others. Give up YOUR TIME. Daisy had her garage sale last week – I know Dionne did some ringing around to help Sallee chase up some things. Perhaps someone needs a hand with the garden, or a lift to the airport. Or a hand practising music, or preparing their kids church lesson.

 

Showing mercy. Jodie and Pam are going to be run off their feet in a few weeks. Perhaps there’s something you can do to help them. Doing a bit of vacuuming, or shopping. Cooking a meal. Can you look after the kids while THEY get out for a couple of hours?

 

There’s much more to using our gifts than just the obvious showy gifts. And they’re all for the building up – the encouragement – of the body.

 

The second thing I like about this list is that it emphasises the ATTITUDE BEHIND the gifts. Did you notice that?

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

 

It’s not encouraging to have someone use their gifts for you, but to do it with the wrong attitude. You don’t want someone helping you setting up chairs if they’re going to GRUMBLE about it all the time. Or drop hints about how BUSY they are.

 

You don’t want someone offering to be on a committee, and then never turn up, or not do the jobs they’d promised. Or offering to play music, then not turning up, or turning up late, or not bothering to practice.

 

We encourage people by THE ATTITUDE we have as we do things just as much by the actual things we DO. When you serve people, do it GENEROUSLY. Do it CHEERFULLY. Do it DILIGENTLY.

 

 

We’ve been formed for God’s family. We’re members of his body. We’re UNITED to each other. We BELONG to each other. God’s gifted us to give to each other.

 

Let me give you TWO challenges in closing.

 

I’ve talked today about being a member of the body. Is that something you’ve OFFICIALLY done. By making a public commitment?

 

We’ve got TWO sorts of members in the Pressie church. Firstly there are ADHERENT members. That’s anyone who comes to church. If you’re in our address book, or you’ll be in the new version. You’re an adherent member.

 

Secondly, there are FULL members, or COMMUNICANT members. That’s people who’ve made a public declaration that they’re a Christian, and that they’re committing themselves to this group of God’s people. Committing themselves to serving and giving, and doing what a member does. And that gives them certain rights, as well as responsibilities. Many of you are communicant members.

 

But perhaps you’d like to make that declaration. That commitment. Perhaps you’re NEW. Or perhaps you’re a young person who’d like to TAKE OWNERSHIP of the baptism vows your parents made. To make a stand for yourself – that Jesus is your boss.

 

There are some brochures on the back table that explain more about that. See me if you’re interested.

 

The second challenge I want to make is for you to tick the boxes on the news sheet. Simply for YOUR BENEFIT. Not for anyone else to see. They’re Nine characteristics of biblical fellowship. Taken from the Purpose Driven Life book.

 

Will you commit to;

sharing your true feelings (authenticity) – 1 Jn 1:7-8

encouraging others (mutuality) – 1 Cor 12:25-26

supporting others (sympathy) – Col 3:12

forgiving others (mercy) – Col 3:13

speaking the truth in love (honesty) – Eph 4:15

admitting your weaknesses (humility) – 1 Peter 5:5-6

respecting our differences (courtesy) – Titus 3:2

not gossiping (confidentiality) – Prov 16:28

making meeting together a priority (frequency) – Heb 10:25

 

That’s what it means to be a member of the body of Christ’s church.

Romans 15:14-16:27: Team Sport

I wonder whether you’re a TEAM sport person, or more into INDIVIDUAL sports? I USED to play basketball, and cricket and rugby, which are about the TEAM. And I loved how if YOU had a bad day, the team could still win. It didn’t all depend on you. And it was just a lot of FUN being part of a team.

 

These days, it’s golf or swimming or running. Which are really INDIVIDUAL sports. And if you have a bad day in THESE sports, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. There’s no one to help out, no one to support you.

 

And some people think it’s like that with the Christian life. That it’s an INDIVIDUAL sport. Whether it’s a certain type of traditional church-goer, who reverently and silently focuses on God, who looks straight ahead. And who thinks it rude if anyone TALKS in church. And then who leaves as soon as the service finishes.

 

Or perhaps it’s in modern churches. The person who goes there searching for the emotional high. The worship experience. With the band and the lights. And isn’t really interested in THE PEOPLE AROUND THEM. It’s all about them and God.

 

Or the person who just turns up to church when it suits THEM. They’re happy just soaking it up, taking but never giving. Like a leech, sucking the life out of the body, but never giving anything back.

 

Or perhaps it’s someone who doesn’t actually MAKE it to church. Who says he’s into GOD, but not into CHURCH. Who likes Jesus, just not his followers.

 

For these sorts of people, their version of Christianity is an INDIVIDUAL sport, rather than a team one.

 

But that’s not the picture that’s painted in these verses. Here we see Paul traveling all over the place, at the very frontiers of Christianity. Often in prison, or in distress. He’s single, no fixed address. No family we know of. Always on the move.

 

If there’s ANYONE who’s Christianity is an individual sport, it’d be Paul. But what we see here is that he’s NEVER alone, and NEVER unsupported. We see partners and co-workers. We see supporters and pray-ers and givers. We see BROTHERS and SISTERS.

 

And that’s the reality of the NORMAL Christian life. The sort of life WE’RE called to. Even if it’s probably going to look a whole lot different from Paul’s. Even if we’re just like those NORMAL people who were part of Paul’s team.

 

We’re called to be part of team. To both support and be supported. To play our part in all sorts of different ways. Ways that we’ll see examples of in today’s passage. Paul’s given us the THEORY back in Ch 12. About the church being like A BODY, with different parts, each one doing a different job. But now we see what that looks like IN PRACTICE.

 

What’s the game?

So what was the GAME Paul was playing? If it’s a team sport, and we’re part of team, what’s the SPORT? What was the POINT? The aim, the objective?

 

In a word. The GOSPEL. The good news about Jesus. We’ve seen it all the way through the letter. Paul’s job was proclaiming the message of Jesus. And ESPECIALLY to the Gentiles. There in v16.

16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become AN OFFERING ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

 

For more than 20 years, Paul’s taken that message about GETTING RIGHT WITH GOD through Jesus / to all sorts of people, in all sorts of places. Down in v19, he says

So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

 

You can see on the map, Paul’s just about gone as far as he could go. Every region, every major city has had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. And he’s established churches in lots of those places. And God’s done amazing things through Paul.

 

And Paul COULD be proud of his accomplishments. He could bask in the glow of his success. Milk it. Accept honorary doctorates, take well-paid speaking engagements, and advisory board positions. But he wants to give all honour and glory to Jesus. Because everything Paul’s achieved is through HIS power. Look there in v17.

17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what CHRIST has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done- 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.

 

All of Christ, and nothing of Paul.

 

He COULD be proud of what he’s achieved. And feel COMFORTABLE with it. Feel he’s due for a bit of a break. Time to pass the baton on to others. After all, there’s been no one like him. And he’s suffered so much. Surely he DESERVES retirement, or at least long service leave, or a sabbatical. A little “me-time”. Is THAT what he’s thinking?

 

No, the whole reason he’s writing to the Romans is because he wants to push the boundaries EVEN FURTHER. Be used by Christ in even MORE unreached areas. Look at his travel plans there in v23.

23 But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to SPAIN. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

 

He’s been to lots of places, but never to Spain. And Spain’s FULL of people who need Jesus. People Jesus died for. People who need to re-connect with the God who made them. So that’s where he’s headed.

 

That’s the game. A game that NEEDS a team. Because being a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, being a proclaimer of the gospel – it’s a TEAM SPORT.

 

And as Paul winds up his letter, we see a whole lot of practical details that show the teamwork Paul needs. They show the team MEMBERS, and the team TASKS.

 

It’s all summed up in v30 of ch 15.

30 I urge you, BROTHERS, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to JOIN ME IN MY STRUGGLE

 

These are people he’s never met. People from different BACKGROUNDS, with different EXPERIENCES, different CULTURE. Yet Paul calls them BROTHERS. Part of the family. Because they ALL belong to Jesus. All serving HIM. All with God as their father. And so they’re CONNECTED. Brothers and sisters.

 

And Paul invites them to JOIN with him in his struggle. Because he can’t do it on his own. Invites them to share the load, help in the task. And that happens in a whole lot of different ways.

 

Support Base

The first of which we saw there in v24. He wants the Roman church to be HIS SUPPORT BASE. It’s something we’ve seen all the way through the book of Acts. Paul pushes out into each of his three missionary journeys from a support base in Antioch (show on map). That was his sending church. They commission him, then send him out with financial support and prayer. And when he comes back he REPORTS to them, and is ACCOUNTABLE to them.

 

And we do the same thing TODAY when we send missionaries out. They have a HOME CHURCH that supports them, and sends them out. And HELPS them when they return.

 

But now Paul wants to push even FURTHER afield. And Antioch is just TOO FAR AWAY to be his base. So his plan is that ROME will do the same job Antioch’s done. It’s partly why he goes into such detail in the first 11 chapters about his gospel message. So the Roman Christians will know exactly what sort of expedition they’ll be supporting.

 

Financial support

And part of the support Paul expects is FINANCIAL support. That’s at least PART of what he means in v24 that he hopes they’ll ASSIST HIM ON HIS WAY. Help him with expenses so he could give his whole time to proclaiming the message about Jesus. And he wouldn’t have to work a normal job AS WELL, just to put bread on the table.

 

But it’s not only HIMSELF Paul wants them to support. He’s actually doing the rounds collecting money to help the Christians in Jerusalem. See there in v25.

25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make A CONTRIBUTION FOR THE POOR among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

 

It’s possibly a famine, or maybe it’s persecution. But either way, there are Christian brothers and sisters in need, and part of being a team member is to financially support those who need it. And the Macedonian and the Achaians were HAPPY to help out. Help out the family. People they’ve never MET. Even if SOME are Jews, and SOME are GENTILES. Because family is family, and teamwork is teamwork.

 

Do we give our money with that attitude? Or what about how we give our TIME and our ENERGY? Do we give out with an attitude of responsibility to the family, the TEAM? Are we PLEASED to do it? Or are we more grudging? Miserly? Selfish?

 

Are we generous? Or tightfisted?

 

Are there people HERE you can be helping out? Have you had a good look around? Have you been LISTENING CAREFULLY as people tell you about what they’re up to? Looking for opportunities to help out? Because if you’re perceptive, you’ll pick up on them. And be able to help out family.

 

Prayer Support

But Paul didn’t just need FINANCIAL support, he needs PRAYER support. There in v30. We read it before.

30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle BY PRAYING TO GOD FOR ME. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.

 

You might argue the Roman Christians and Paul weren’t really part of the same body. They weren’t really CONNECTED in any way. They didn’t meet, they couldn’t sing or pray or lead or encourage each other. Did that mean they weren’t really part of the same BODY? Perhaps they were a DIFFERENT body?

 

But Paul says No. “Join with me in PRAYING.” Prayer JOINS members together. CONNECTS them. Prayer highlights what we have in common. Our common LORD, our common PURPOSE. In prayer, we struggle with those who struggle, we grieve with those who grieve, and give thanks with those who give thanks.

 

FROM A DISTANCE, we can be encourage, and be encouraged. We’re a long way from Kate and Des in Queensland, with their new miracle baby, but as we PRAY for them, we’re encouraged by their progress, and rejoice in their good news.

 

We’re a long way from Lucy or Rodney in Victoria, or from the Williamsons in Vanuatu, or the Woldhuises in Ecuador, but we can join with them in their struggles and victories as we PRAY for them.

 

And notice too, how Paul’s requests for prayer are SPECIFIC? He prays for deliverance from his enemies in Jerusalem. For a warm welcome from the Christians there, and that the collection would be USEFUL. And he also wants them to pray that he’d make it eventually to see THEM. So they’d BOTH be refreshed. All quite specific things.

 

Sometimes we make do with prayers to BLESS so and so. Or even “We PRAY for so and so.” But that’s just LAZY. It’s hard to JOIN WITH someone unless your prayer SPECIFIC things.

 

It’s why missionaries like the Woldhuises send us prayer updates. Like the one in the news sheet today. So we can pray SPECIFICALLY.

 

Can I encourage you to DO that? To USE the news sheet in your daily prayer. Stick it in your Bible. Pray through the points on the BACK page as well.

 

Because it’s ONE of the ways we can JOIN TOGETHER. That we can show our TEAMWORK.

 

Hospitality

And as we move into Ch 16, we see MORE evidence of TEAMWORK. Just scan your eye down the page. At a very superficial level, do you notice the SHEER NUMBER of people who get a mention? And don’t forget Paul’s never actually BEEN to Rome. But he knows all those people from verses 3 to 16.

 

He asks the church to receive Phoebe when she arrives. That’s v1. She’s probably delivering the letter. She’s a servant of the church in Corinth where Paul’s writing the letter.

 

But then he starts powering through the names. All sorts of people he’s met in his travels, and who’ve wound up in Rome.

 

And there’s a couple of things that stand out to me. First, there’s a whole lot of FELLOW workers. CO-workers. People who’ve stood side-by-side in the trenches with Paul. Working for a common aim. BROTHERS in the BEST sense of the word. Which is always encouraging.

 

There’s Priscilla and Aquilla in v3. Fellow workers.

Or in v9 there’s Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ.

Or down in v21, it’s Timothy, Paul’s fellow worker.

 

Something else that jumps out at me is their HARD WORK and COMMITMENT.

V4. Priscilla and Aquila RISKED THEIR LIVES for Paul.

V6. Mary worked very hard for them.

V7 Andronicus and Junias have been in PRISON with Paul.

V12. Tryphena and Tryphosa worked hard. As did Persis.

 

And one OTHER aspect of teamwork that stands out to me. HOSPITALITY. Church didn’t meet in dedicated buildings in those days. Like halls. It was only people’s HOMES. Wealthy people. Who had the SPACE to host plenty of people. People like Priscilla and Aquila in Rome. V5 tells us the church meets in their house.

 

Or at the OTHER end of the letter. Back in Corinth, where Paul’s writing the letter. It’s Gaius who hosts the church. Down in v23.

23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.

 

In between setting up the chairs, and cooking dinner, and answering the door, Gaius says G’day.

 

Hospitality is a wonderful way to show our TEAMWORK. It doesn’t have to be FANCY. In fact the people I reckon do it the BEST, the people who are MOST welcoming, and MOST generous, quite often have the simple, plain meals. In houses that are often disorganized. But the LOVE is there, the WELCOME, and that’s what makes the hospitality.

 

Some people are CREATIVE about how they do it. Since Mum died, my Dad, who’s not the best cook in the world, now TAKES PEOPLE OUT TO DINNER.

 

I’ve been invited to a picnic at Nurragingy by another family, because they didn’t feel comfortable about having people at home. But it was the THOUGHT that counted. That’s where the encouragement was.

 

And as I think about all the stuff in Ch 16, it’s all these same things that cause ME to be encouraged by YOU LOT.

 

By being CO-WORKERS together. Watching someone look after the crèche. Or set up the chairs, or turn up early to practice music. Or talk to a stranger at Woodcroft Festival – even though it doesn’t come naturally. That’s encouraging.

 

It’s what you PROMISED to do TODAY. When you promised to help Adam and Marijke as they raise Ryenne to follow Jesus. To work TOGETHER with them. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. And that’s what we’re agreeing with in that promise. That it takes a TEAM, a whole CHURCH FAMILY, to raise Ryenne. Let’s be working TOGETHER to do that. It’s encouraging when I see us DOING that.

 

And it’s encouraging when you WORK HARD at that. That you reckon Western Blacktown is IMPORTANT enough – that JESUS is important enough – that you’re going to put in the hard yards. Week after week, and year after year.

 

And hospitality. ANOTHER encouragement.

 

Can I encourage you to keep doing those things more and more? Keep looking out for one another. Keep noticing who’s standing on their own. Keep noticing who’s not around. Keep making the phone call, sending the text message, or the card. Keep offering to pray for people. Keep asking for specific things to pray about. And keep actually PRAYING for them.

 

They’re the things that result in us JOINING TOGETHER IN THE STRUGGLE of following Jesus. The things that both SHOW we’re brothers and sisters in the Lord. And that BUILD the depth of that family relationship.

 

I URGE you brothers and sisters, in Paul’s words, to join together in the struggle. Support and pray and work hard and be hospitable.

 

And, as Paul prays in v33 of ch15, may the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Romans 14-15:13: When “Could” Doesn’t Mean “Should”

A.M. was an elder in a Presbyterian church in NSW. But A. didn’t like the direction the younger generation was taking the church. Especially when it came to MODERN MUSIC.

 

And when lots of people at his church decided to modernize things – to update the music – A. spat the dummy. He resigned from the eldership, took the whole M. family with him as well, and left. Because they don’t like modern music. And they can’t fellowship with people who do.

 

But the funny part of this true story is that the year was 1881 and the modern instrument, the center of all the fuss, was a pedal driven pump organ. And A.M. wanted no part of it.

 

Similar thing happened to me a number of years ago in ANOTHER Presbyterian church. I’d been asked to play guitar in church by the minister. It was the first time that had happened. But when I started, one of the elders got up, together with his wife, and walked out.

 

I didn’t think my playing was THAT bad!

 

Another church I know of has had such huge, on-going fights about whether to have a cry-room put into the back of the church, that the minister has had to take stress leave.

 

Other churches have almost come to blows over stained glass windows. Or whether the choir should sing every week. Or whether you can have hot drinks in the church building, rather than the hall.

 

Incredible stories/ about how INSIGNIFICANT things can result in disagreements that almost destroy churches. Things so trivial the Bible doesn’t even bother MENTIONING them. And yet they can tear churches apart.

 

Here in v1 of ch14 of Romans they’re called DISPUTABLE MATTERS. And Paul goes on to give some instructions for how to DEAL with them. How to make sure these little differences of opinion don’t destroy the unity churches have.

 

Because disputable MATTERS don’t have to lead to DISPUTES.

 

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s stuff we can NEVER be flexible about. Absolutely foundational stuff /about how you’re saved. About the authority of the Bible, about who Jesus is, and about justification and forgiveness. That’s always INDISPUTABLE.

 

But there’s a whole lot of stuff AROUND THE FRINGES the Bible doesn’t really discuss. And that Christians have every sort of opinion about. And these issues can lead to disagreements and disunity.

 

Rather than a body that works together, and builds itself up. Different parts all working for the common good, each one different, but with a common goal. Rather than that, church becomes like a bunch of alley cats in a hessian sack. Fighting and scratching and kicking. Harming each other, and completely oblivious to anything going on outside the sack.

 

And that’s not God’s plan for his church. So here’s his advice for dealing with disagreements about disputable matters.

 

The big picture (15:7-13)

The BIG picture, as we’ve seen all the way through Romans, is about how, now that Jesus has come along, the NON-Jews can fit into God’s people, the JEWS. They’re BOTH God’s people because they trust Jesus. But they’re SO DIFFERENT. And it causes some friction. And THIS issue is just a small PART of that.

 

You can see God’s big picture at the END of this section. Over in Ch 15 v7. Here’s the big idea.

7 ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of THE JEWS on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that THE GENTILES may glorify God for his mercy,

 

Two people joined into one NEW people. Accepting one another. Accepting differences in outlook and opinion. And working together in unity. That’s the BIG PICTURE.

 

The fine details (14:1-15:6)

And we see the FINE DETAILS of that/ when it comes to DISPUTABLE MATTERS back in Ch 14.

 

Accepting not condemning

First piece of advice, when it comes to disputable matters: It’s about ACCEPTING, not CONDEMNING. V1

14:1 ACCEPT him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on DISPUTABLE MATTERS.

 

And then we get an example of the sort of issue that’s disputable.

2 One man’s faith allows him to EAT EVERYTHING, but another man, whose faith is weak, EATS ONLY VEGETABLES.

 

Paul might be thinking about JEWISH food restrictions here. About how some foods were clean, and others UN-clean – like pigs or prawns or any meat with blood still in it. But he only mentions VEGETABLES. Which suggests the problem’s a bit BROADER.

 

Most of the meat for sale in cities like Rome or Corinth or Ephesus came from the pagan temples. People would bring their sacrifices to pagan gods, and then it would be taken and SOLD in the marketplace.

 

And so, for the Christian, when he went to the butcher, there was the problem of whether the meat had been offered to a pagan god. For SOME Christians it made no difference. “Meat’s meat. It’s not suddenly BAD for you, just because someone’s lifted it up before a statue. It won’t HARM your body or your spirit.” Paul says just that down in v14 “I’m fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.” Or in v20 – “All food is clean.”

 

But OTHER Christians saw it differently. For THEM, it was as if, by EATING, they were ENCOURAGING the sacrifices. Perhaps even PARTICIPATING in them. In worshipping other gods. Perhaps that’s what they USED to do. And it’s not helpful in moving on. And so, just to be safe, they only ate veges.

 

ANOTHER issue was sacred days, there in v5. It might be the Jewish SABBATH in view, or else the other Jewish festival days. And SOME people, probably the Jews, would still celebrate them as special. It’s what they’d always done. But OTHERS, who WEREN’T Jewish, treated them like any OTHER day.

 

And Paul wants to say, down in v5, each to his own. Whether it’s food or holy days. It doesn’t matter WHICH you do. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

 

But here’s what counts, v6. Make sure you do it for the right reason. Which is TO HONOUR GOD. V6.

6 He who regards one day as special, does so TO THE LORD. He who eats meat, eats TO THE LORD, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so TO THE LORD and gives thanks to God.

 

To do something TO THE LORD, I take it, means that you do it to honour him. Do it giving THANKS to him. You make a special deal about the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, because it helps you praise God for his faithfulness. And you praise him for his goodness.

 

Or you steer clear of the meat market because you want to be a good example to your non-Christian neighbour. Or because you want to separate yourself from the sinful stuff that goes on around the temple.

 

Or perhaps you EAT meat and give thanks to God for it. Or perhaps it’s wine, or coffee you enjoy. Or marriage, or bushwalking or astronomy or swimming for that matter. Do it all TO THE LORD. Giving him thanks for it. Because God’s given us EVERYTHING good. And we can ENJOY them even more, when we acknowledge God’s the One who’s provided them.

 

But whether you DO, or DON’T. What you’re NOT to do is use it as an opportunity to COMPARE yourself with your brother. To judge him. To measure yourself favourably against him. Think yourself more worthy of God’s favour than him. Look there in v3.

3 The man who eats EVERYTHING must NOT LOOK DOWN on him who does NOT, and the man who does NOT eat everything must not CONDEMN the man who DOES, for God has accepted him.

 

Don’t judge/ because GOD doesn’t. They’re important words at the end of the verse. God has accepted him. It doesn’t matter to GOD whether someone eats or doesn’t eat. Because he looks at THE HEART. He looks at who the person TRUSTS. If the person trusts Jesus’ work then God accepts him. And whatever work THEY do is neither here nor there.

 

So if GOD doesn’t mind, then neither should WE.

 

Again in v4.

4 Who are you to JUDGE someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.

 

Or down in v10

10 You, then, why do you JUDGE your brother? Or why do you look DOWN on your brother? For we will ALL stand before GOD’S judgment seat.

 

And again in v13.

13 Therefore let us STOP PASSING JUDGMENT on one another.

 

Don’t think you’re more holy because you keep a certain rule, and someone else doesn’t. And don’t think you’re more mature in your freedom just because you AREN’T bound by certain behaviour.

 

Standing not stumbling

(First piece of advice about disputable matters – accept one another, don’t judge.) Second piece of advice is there from v13. The goal is STANDING NOT STUMBLING.

 

Not only are we not to pass judgment on one another, but there’s a practical, concrete aspect to that as well. It’s more than just ATTITUDES. It’s ACTIONS TOO. V13.

(Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.) Instead, make up your mind NOT TO PUT ANY STUMBLING BLOCK OR OBSTACLE in your brother’s way.

 

So what’s a STUMBLING BLOCK? How can you cause someone to stumble? Paul goes on to explain it. v14. “All foods are clean in themselves…

But if anyone REGARDS something as unclean, then for HIM it IS unclean. 15 If your brother is DISTRESSED because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother

 

Or down in v20.

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 IT IS BETTER NOT TO EAT MEAT OR DRINK WINE OR TO DO ANYTHING ELSE THAT WILL CAUSE YOUR BROTHER TO FALL.

 

What he’s saying is that YOU might be able to eat meat or drink alcohol, and give thanks to God for it, but someone else might only be able to think about the false idols it was offered to. Or think about his father’s alcoholism. And that leads him AWAY from God, rather than TO him. Leads him to see it as BAD, rather than giving THANKS for it. And that makes it wrong for HIM to eat or drink, even if it’s not for YOU.

 

And Paul’s point is that if he sees YOU eating or drinking, he might be encouraged to do something he thinks is wrong. And when he eats, he STUMBLES. Because he’s not doing it to the Lord.

 

That’s putting a stumbling block in front of him. And Paul says, Don’t Do it.

 

What it might look like in practice is not eating or drinking when you’re with your brother. But then, at ANOTHER time, eating or drinking TO THE LORD.

 

It’s why we normally don’t serve alcohol at church functions. Even though a number of us do enjoy a drink. We don’t want to put a stumbling block in front of someone.

 

Is that being HYPOCRITICAL? No, it’s being CONSIDERATE. It’s not saying I NEVER drink, or NEVER eat meat.” And then DOING it when no one’s watching. That would be hypocritical.

 

It’s saying “I’m choosing NOT to in this situation. I’m forgoing my freedom for the sake of my brother.” Paul says down in v22

22 So whatever you believe about these things KEEP BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD.

 

Don’t make your opinion obvious. Then it becomes ALL ABOUT YOU, when our interactions with each other should always be about the OTHER PERSON. Focus on THEIR needs, not YOURS.

 

It’s not a question of MORALITY. He’s not doing the WRONG thing. So don’t make him DOUBT, or take his eyes of God. That’s STUMBLING.

 

That might happen if you make a big deal about how GOOD something is.

 

What else might this apply to? Other examples might be things like yoga, or acupuncture, or meditation, or Asian martial arts. All of those have SPIRITUAL dimensions to them. And SOME Christians might feel uncomfortable about being involved with them. But OTHERS are quite happy to SEPARATE the GOOD bits from the spiritual bits. And enjoy them TO THE LORD.

 

But the considerate thing is not to influence someone to be involved in those things if it causes them to STUMBLE.

 

The opposite of stumbling is to STAND. And that’s what God wants EVERY Christian to do. To stand before him blameless, and upright. And our job as fellow Christians is to help each of us to STAND before God like THAT.

 

You can see that language back in v4.

4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he STANDS or falls. AND HE WILL STAND, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

 

That’s God’s goal for his people. That they REMAIN STANDING. That they make it to the finish line, without stumbling.

 

And our job is to LOOK OUT for each other. Like in v19.

19 Let us therefore MAKE EVERY EFFORT to do what leads to peace and to MUTUAL EDIFICATION.

 

Mutual edification is what the BODY, the church, is all about. Each part doing its bit to build up the whole body.

 

How GOOD are you at making an effort to look out for other people? Is it all about how OTHERS are feeling in a situation? Or is about you pleasing yourself?

 

It’s an attitude, an orientation, that’s reflected in your prayer life. What sort of things do you PRAY about? How often are your prayers for OTHERS, rather than filling them up with all of YOUR needs?

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

 

Please others not yourself

Which leads us to Paul’s THIRD piece of advice. It’s about pleasing OTHERS, not YOURSELF. There into ch15.

15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES. 2 Each of us should PLEASE HIS NEIGHBOR FOR HIS GOOD, TO BUILD HIM UP.

 

It’s nothing more than following Christ’s example.

3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

 

If you’re following Christ, then you have to be looking out for the needs of OTHERS, rather than yourself. Look to the needs of your family instead of you. Of children instead of you. Of church visitors, instead of you. Of the different, or the smelly, or the old, or the difficult, or the draining, or the pains. Look to THEIR needs, instead of yours.

 

In some ways, the EXACT type of disputable matter isn’t really important. The crucial aspect is whether we’re looking out for the interests of others. We can really apply it in ALL sorts of ways.

 

Here’s a quote from a book called “Great Church Fights”. Which is really a contradiction. Because ANY church fight is NOT great. But here’s what Leslie Flynn said about Christianity in the 1970s:

Wide disagreements exist today in our churches over certain practices. A Christian from the American South may be repelled by a swimming party for both men and women, then offend his Northern brother by lighting up a cigarette. At an international convention for missionaries, a woman from the Orient could not wear sandals with a clear conscience. A Christian from western Canada thought it worldly for a Christian acquaintance to wear a wedding ring, and a woman from Europe thought it almost immoral for a wife not to wear a ring that signaled her status. A man from Denmark was pained to even watch British Bible school students play football, while the British students shrank from his pipe smoking.

 

For us the issues might be different.

 

What sort of clothes should you wear to church? It used to be your Sunday best. Do you go to the theatre or the movies? Is dancing ok for a Christian? Is it ok to drink alcohol? Or not? What sort of music should you have in church?

 

Or here’s a hot potato. How should you school your children? State schools? Christian schools? Home Schools?

 

And then there are those of us who are shaking our heads knowingly and saying, we know better than all that. And we smirk behind our hands at people who are so narrow.

 

But the point in it all/ is whether we’re BEARING with one another. Whether we’re ACCEPTING one another, or JUDGING them. And whether we working hard to please OTHERS, to build them up, for their good, rather than pleasing ourselves.

 

Church is a TEAM SPORT. It’s the good of the TEAM that matters, not the individual. Work to make the TEAM successful.

 

I never used to think of road cycling as a team sport. Until I watched the men’s road race at the Commonwealth Games. Cameron Meyer was part of the Australian team. He rode hard for the first half of the race, chasing down the breaks, leading the pack, dragging his team mates along with him. He rode SO hard, he had to pull out after 80 km.

 

But he left the rest of the team, relatively fresh, in a good position. Including Chris Sutton and Alan Davis, who both found themselves in the leading group of four with a few km’s to go. Chris Sutton was second, chasing the break away leader. Alan Davis was right behind him. Sutton gave it everything, but couldn’t quite catch the leader. But he’s put Davis into such a good position that he was able to swing past Sutton, past the leader, and cross the line in first place.

 

And as Davis crossed the line in FIRST place, you could see Sutton lift his arms in victory, as he crossed the line only a few seconds later. In FOURTH place. Not even receiving a medal, but putting himself LAST, so ANOTHER could be first.

 

And that’s what WE’RE called to do. Put aside recognition, or comfort, or interests, or preferences. Look to the interests of OTHERS. So they might not STUMBLE, but might be BUILT UP to maturity.

 

Let me finish with how PAUL finishes this section. By praying the prayer that’s there in ch 15 v5

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 12:17-13:14: I.O.U.

If a new TV ad for Tooheys beer is to be believed, the Australian economy runs on Tooheys New. It’s the official currency of the BEER ECONOMY.

Beer is the solution to the problem of what you OWE people. What do you owe a mate who helps you move? You owe him SOMETHING. But you can’t PAY him – he’s A MATE. So you pay him a case of Toohey’s New.

What do you owe a mate who helps you move A GRAND PIANO UP FOUR FLIGHTS OF STAIRS? SIX cases of Toohey’s New.

What do you owe a mate who helps drench the sheep? ONE case.
What do you owe a mate who helps collect semen from your bull for artificial insemination? TEN cases.

We’re very concerned with what we OWE people? If someone does us a favour, we’re quick to pay them back. To return the favour. We don’t like being in someone’s debt.

It’s what this section of Romans is about. It’s answering the question “What do you OWE people?”

First, what do you owe people who treat you BADLY?
Then, what do you owe THE GOVERNMENT?
And finally, the debt you owe EVERYONE. Paying the debt of LOVE. A debt you can never pay OFF.

You DON’T owe revenge to evil-doers (12:17-19)
But FIRST, what do you owe people who treat you badly?

A Current Affair or Today Tonight sometimes has a story about a neighbourhood squabble gone bad. About Bill who grabs a few lemons from over Bob’s fence. And then Bob trims a branch from Bill’s tree. And then Bill knocks down Bob’s letterbox. And so on and so on.

And by the time the cameras arrive, it’s World War 3. All because Bill and Bob insist on getting REVENGE. On getting EVEN. On handing out their own JUSTICE.

And I’m sure you’ve experienced exactly the same impulse. You may never have DONE anything about it, but you’ve THOUGHT it.

A few Saturday nights ago there was a loud party in the backyard of the house a couple of streets away. The music was so loud, and the bass was so booming, we could feel our back windows rattle. I managed to get to sleep with earplugs. But by 1am Caron had had enough, which is when I woke up. Finally, after 3 phone calls to the police, the noise eventually stopped.

Bright and early Sunday morning, I was heading off to the office before church. What did I feel like doing? Getting even! Driving past the house blasting my horn!! THAT’D show them! That’d teach them a lesson!

I DIDN’T. But I FELT like it. Which is just as bad.

But here God’s saying (v17) “DON’T get even. Don’t repay evil for evil.” Instead, be careful to do what’s RIGHT in the eyes of everybody.

This chapter began with the command that in view of God’s mercies to us, we should RENEW OUR MINDS (that’s v2 of ch 12). Renew the way we think about things.

So last week we looked at how we’re to think differently about OURSELVES. And how we’re to think differently about OTHER CHRISTIANS.

Like v3. Don’t think of yourself MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT.
Or down in v16, live in HARMONY with one another. Don’t be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Don’t be CONCEITED.

That’s CHRISTIANS. Now Paul turns his attention to renewing your thinking about OTHER PEOPLE.

And when it comes to people who’ve done the wrong thing by you, how should you treat THEM? Should you get even? Do you owe them some JUSTICE? No, says Paul (v17). Don’t repay evil with evil. Do what’s RIGHT in the eyes of everybody.

It SEEMS simple enough. But as most of us know, it’s sometimes NOT that simple. Sometimes our GOOD behaviour does NOTHING to change the other person’s BAD behaviour. Sometimes, even when you DO respond graciously, people REFUSE to accept it. They’ll keep treating you badly. And so Paul adds a piece of realistic advice (v18).
18 IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.

Peace is a two-way street. So sometimes it may NOT be possible to get on with someone. Sometimes no matter what you do or say. How well you treat someone, they’ll just keep up with the snide comments, the rude treatment.

In which case, what should we do? Give up? Switch to retaliation and revenge instead? Is it “All bets off”? That’s what Peter was thinking when he asked Jesus whether SEVEN TIMES was enough to forgive his brother.

And how did Jesus reply? No! Not SEVEN, But 70 times 7. In other words, you NEVER STOP forgiving. You KEEP turning the other cheek. Keep refusing to repay evil for evil. Keep doing what’s right. Even if it doesn’t lead to a change in the situation.

Paul’s probably thinking about our relationships with NON-CHRISTIANS. Because Christians shouldn’t do EVIL towards other Christians. And a broken relationship shouldn’t continue between Christians.

But unfortunately, it HAPPENS. For one reason or another.

But it SHOULDN’T. It’s nothing more than DISOBEDIENCE if a Christian refuses to be reconciled with another Christian. God says live at peace, so we’re COMMANDED to do it.

I wonder if, with Christians, it’s more often not open warfare. More GUERRILLA warfare. Hidden battles. Just bottling up the issues. There’s misunderstandings, assumptions of the worst motives. And even sinful behaviour and attitudes that require repentance.

Things are difficult between you both. But you won’t make things OBVIOUS. No yelling and screaming. After all, Christians don’t behave like that!

So, you just refuse to deal with the issues. You just wallpaper over the cracks. There’s surface conversation. Greetings given through gritted teeth and forced smiles. We gravitate to the other side of the room when we get the chance. There’s unresolved tension, and no real relationship.

Is THAT acceptable? Is THAT living at peace? I don’t think so.

You’re COMMANDED to do something about it. Be a bridge-builder. Make the first move.

It may take difficult conversations, it may take swallowing your pride, it may involve apologising, it may involve getting a third person involved to help. But that’s what we have to do.

Live at PEACE with one another. How can we accept God’s offer of reconciliation while we hold grudges against our brother? Jesus says it’s the wrong attitude to come to God for forgiveness while we REFUSE to forgive a brother. Mt 5:23
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift .

Live at peace with your brother. And do what’s right to EVERYBODY. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t take revenge.

That’s basically the lesson for today. It’s pretty simple.

It’s easy TO SAY. Harder to DO. Especially when it comes to THINKING about revenge. I would be very surprised if sometime in the last week someone hasn’t done or said something to you, and you’ve thought about getting revenge.

It might have been making fun of you, or hurting your feelings.
It might have been someone restricting your rights in some way. Cutting you off at the lights. Pushing in front of you in a queue.

I was waiting at the doctor’s surgery on Tuesday, and the medical receptionist came and knocked on the door of the consulting room to deliver a file to the doctor. And a little old Filipino lady said, “You have to wait your turn.” She thought the receptionist was pushing in! We ALL want to say that, don’t we?

It might have been someone, perhaps even in your family, who’s been thoughtless in some way towards you, and you’ve taken it personally. Been insulted. Felt worthless. And you’ve wanted to get even. To defend yourself.

Perhaps you’ve RESPONDED. Maybe with words. Perhaps with an action. But even if it’s just that THOUGHT of revenge, then it’s as bad as DOING something.

It’s a simple lesson. Easy to teach. Easy to understand. But hard TO LEARN. And so Paul offers us some HELP. Some HINTS for how NOT to get even.

1. The FIRST thing is IT’S HARD, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE. With the help of God’s Spirit, we ARE ABLE to live according to God’s requirements. Back in Romans 8 Paul says (v4) that God
condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be FULLY MET IN US, who do not live according to the sinful nature but ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT

He goes on to say that if we belong to Christ, then we have the Spirit of Christ living in us (v9). And that means (v12) that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit. If, by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will LIVE (v13). We can live the life that’s pleasing to God.

2. Second hint. Remember what you’ve been forgiven. Chapter 12 begins, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES, offer your bodies as living sacrifices. When we recognise what we’ve been forgiven of. What we’ve been saved from. What we DESERVED, and what we RECEIVED INSTEAD, how can we judge others? How can we decide that THEIR sin deserves punishment from me?

Recognising our own sin, and the grace shown us/ makes it easier to accept OTHERS, and show THEM grace.

3. Third hint Paul gives us is there in Ch 12 v19. Leave the revenge up to God. V19.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

In other words, don’t do God’s job FOR him. God sees everything. He hasn’t forgotten you. He knows what this person’s done. He’s all powerful, he’s perfectly just. Leave the justice up to him. He’ll do a much better job of it than YOU.

To turn the other cheek is a display of FAITH. NOT repaying evil for evil is evidence that you TRUST the God who’s promised, one day, to set all things right.

Do you TRUST GOD ENOUGH to leave it with him?

4. Fourth hint Paul gives is there in v20. Treat your response as an opportunity for evangelism. Rather than taking revenge,
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The first part of the verse is easy enough to understand. Repay your enemy by HELPING him. Probably the BEST way to take the SECOND part is that your GRACIOUS behaviour will cause your enemy to be ASHAMED AND REMORSEFUL about his BAD behaviour. And the burning coals are a sign of his repentance.

Prem Pradhan was a Nepalese Christian converted in 1951 in India where he served in the Indian army. He returned to his native Nepal, and began evangelising, even though it was illegal to change your religion.

In 1962 some believers he’d taught were arrested and sentenced to a year in prison. He was sentenced to SIX for baptising them.

At that time, Nepalese prisons were terrible. Many died of cold or sickness or malnutrition. But Prem used the opportunity to teach the other prisoners about Jesus, and many were converted.

When the other prisoners were released, the guards decided to finish off Prem. He was place in a tiny cell used to store the dead bodies of prisoners until their relatives collected them. His hands and feet were chained. The cell was so small he couldn’t stand up, or lie down straight.

He was there for three months. Then a new guard came on duty. One day he heard Prem praying. “Who are you talking to?” the guard asked. “Jesus,” Prem replied.

“I’m on guard here. How did He get in there?” “Well, He’s here,” answered Prem.

The guard opened the door and shone his flashlight around. “I don’t see Jesus,” he said. “You won’t find Him that way,” Prem said.” Let me tell you how you can find Him.” The guard squatted on the floor, and Prem led him to the Lord. Not long after, Prem was released from the solitary confinement.

The jailers were afraid of the man who’d survived their torture chamber. So they sent him to another prison. There Prem led others to the Lord. He was transferred again, and the same thing happened again. And again.

Between 1960 and 1975 Prem spent 10 out of 15 years in a total of 14 different prisons. All up, he won to the Lord and discipled men from 12 different Nepalese tribes. When they got out, they went as witnesses back to their people. And so the gospel spread in Nepal.

This perhaps won’t be OUR experience, but your grace under fire can still be a powerful witness. When the boss gives the credit to someone else. Or when he blames you for someone else’s mistake. Or when you’re ridiculed for your Christian stance. Or you’re overlooked because you’re misunderstood. People NOTICE the way you respond with grace. It can have a POWERFUL EFFECT.

5. Fifth hint is there into Ch 13. LEAVE THE JUSTICE UP TO THE AUTHORITIES. It’s God who’s placed them in charge. And he can USE them to bring his just purposes about. See it there halfway through v1?
The authorities that exist have been ESTABLISHED BY GOD. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and THOSE WHO DO SO WILL BRING JUDGMENT ON THEMSELVES.

In THIS life God brings justice through the governments he’s established. And in the LIFE TO COME, he’ll bring ULTIMATE justice himself. So don’t seek revenge yourself, leave it up to the courts and the police. They’re God’s instruments.

Five hints on how NOT to seek revenge on those who do evil. We DON’T owe them payback.

You owe submission to the authorities
Next Paul moves on to what we owe AUTHORITIES. And his answer is, we owe them our SUBMISSION. Because God’s ESTABLISHED them. V3.
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to SUBMIT TO THE AUTHORITIES.

We can give thanks to God that this is a fairly easy thing to do in Australia. But it becomes much more difficult in places like Nepal.

Although Paul says we’re to obey the authorities – to pay them our submission – our FIRST submission is to God. We’re to keep the laws of the government right up to the point where, to do so, would be disobeying GOD.

At SOME point we may be forced to DISobey the authorities. Jesus said, Give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s, and to God what’s God’s. Israelite women refused to kill their baby boys at Pharaoh’s orders. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel continued to pray despite it being illegal.

And Prem Pradhan refused to stop evangelising in Nepal, even though it was illegal, and was jailed for it.

But Paul’s command is that, unless you’re forced to disobey God, you owe submission and obedience and loyalty to the authority God’s placed over you.

And part of that SUBMISSION means you pay TAXES. You owe TAXES to the authorities, because they GOVERN you. V6.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

You owe love to one another
“Pay your debts.” Paul says. And then he goes on, INCLUDING the on-going debt to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

We owe ALLEGIANCE to the authorities. And we owe LOVE to one another (v8).

And it’s a debt you NEVER pay off. When a friend helps you move, or helps concrete your driveway, you can pay them with a case of beer. And then you can feel you’re even. The debt’s paid.

But for the Christian we can NEVER say that. We are ALWAYS called to CONTINUE paying out love.

If you think a 30 YR MORTGAGE has got an extended repayment plan, it’s NOTHING compared to the debt we owe to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

In fact, the whole law is SUMMARISED with the law “Love your neighbour as yourself.” V9. Love does what’s GOOD for our neighbour. And love resists doing EVIL to our neighbour.

How are we GOING at paying that debt off? As a church? Are we showing love to each other in practical, sacrificial, real ways?

Or are we content to just TALK about love? To rest on our laurels? To consider the debt paid. A case of beer, and everything’s fixed up!

Perhaps we need a little incentive. Paul seems to think the Roman Christians are sleeping on the job and need a bit of a wake-up call. Look at v11.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Jesus is coming back. Soon. Let’s make sure when he does, he finds us paying our debts. In particular, the debt to LOVE.

Romans 12:1-17: An “Alive And Kicking” Sacrifice

In 2000, Dr Matthew Lukwiya* was an African Christian running a large hospital called St Mary’s, near his home town in northern Uganda.

 

He offered his body as a living sacrifice to his God. He was devoted to serving his own people with every breath. And, in the end, he LOST his life because he offered it as a living sacrifice.

 

He’d grown up poor. But right through school, he was always top of the class. After winning a series of scholarships, he went to Uni, and eventually graduated from medical school*. He started work as an intern at St Mary’s hospital in 1983.

 

When he left to do post-graduate work in England in 1990/ most of the hospital assumed he wouldn’t come back. The lure of a better life abroad causes tens of thousands of African professionals to leave, and never come back. But Dr Matthew never considered it.

 

He went straight back to Uganda. Straight back to St Mary’s hospital*. And he was there until 1998. Running the hospital, serving his people.

 

From 1998, for the next two years, he was away doing more post-graduate study. Until the morning of October 7, 2000.

 

He got a call from another doctor back at St Mary’s. “There’s a strange disease killing our student nurses.” It had everyone stumped. They’d never seen anything like it. The usual antibiotics did nothing. A victim began bleeding from the mouth just as she died. “We need you,” the doctor pleaded.

 

Dr Matthew left straight away. And arrived at St Mary’s that evening. Just in time to witness the death of a young nursing student.

 

Dr Matthew hadn’t seen anything like it EITHER. But he suspected Ebola virus. And blood tests later confirmed it.

 

It was highly contagious. And deadly.

 

A week later, there were 60 suspected cases at St Mary’s. All in an isolation ward*. The health workers who cared for them wore protective gear, including gloves, masks, and goggles.

 

Droplets of saliva or blood landing in the eyes, nose or mouth are the most likely sources of infection.*

 

But despite the precautions, more people still got sick. Twelve workers died*. Nurses became more and more reluctant to come to work.

 

But Dr Matthew led by example. He was in the Ebola ward every morning at 7 am, and he finished up about 8 at night.

 

“Think with your head, not with your heart!” he shouted at one nurse in late October. She’d rushed to clean up after a patient who’d vomited on the floor. He made her pour bleach all around the patient before she went near.*

 

By late November, the situation was at its worst. In one 24 hour period, 7 people died at St Mary’s.*

 

Like most of the workers, Dr Matthew didn’t always wear eye protection. And it was this lapse that probably cost him his life. About this time, he came down with a terrible flu. Then a fever. Everyone suspected Ebola.

 

A nurse overheard him praying that night. “Oh God, I think I will die in my service. If I die, let me be the last.” Then, in a strong voice, he sang “Onward Christian Soldiers!”

 

The blood tests proved it was Ebola. His condition quickly got worse. On the night of December 4, his lungs haemorrhaged, and the doctors couldn’t do anymore. He died at 1.20 am on December 5.*

 

A man who’d offered himself as a living sacrifice, and paid for it with his life.

 

Romans 12 v1 says,

(Rom 12:1 NIV)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

 

Am I being unrealistic to suggest we follow Dr Matthew’s example? Is that just too FANATICAL? Too EXTREME? Perhaps you’re thinking? “You’ve finally lost it, David! God doesn’t really expect THAT sort of living sacrifice. He’s just talking about living a good sort of life. Being nice to people. Considerate.”

 

Fair enough! Certainly that’s the way MOST Christians go through life. Including me!

 

But to give your life?! It’s a fairly huge gesture, isn’t it?

 

But the problem is/ we’re comparing it to our grey, fairly boring kind of lives. And that’s the wrong comparison to make. We’re not to compare our lives to each other to see who’s doing the most, or the biggest, or the most sacrificial.

 

Paul says “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES…”

 

If we want to compare our service to ANYTHING/ it should be to THE MERCIES OF GOD. Which Paul’s just spent 11 chapters telling us about. It’s because of what God’s done for us in Jesus/ that we’re to RESPOND by offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Anything we do is to be compared to the depths of the mercy God’s shown. And when we think of it like that/ even Doctor Matthew’s life becomes a pretty small token of appreciation.

 

IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. That’s the measuring stick we’re to use.

 

The start of Ch 12 is really a hinge in the book. After 11 chapters of telling us what GOD’S done. He’s now going to focus on what WE can do IN RESPONSE.

 

And there’s three areas we’re going to look at today. Three areas in which we respond to God’s goodness. To God, to SELF, and to OTHERS.

 

1. In relation to God (1-2)… Being a living sacrifice

First. How do we treat GOD in response to his mercies? We’ve just read it. V1. By being a living sacrifice. Paul uses the language of the temple. The sort of thing his hearers would be familiar with.

 

The way to respond to God/ is TO OFFER SACRIFICES. But Paul’s not interested in lumps of meat. You don’t get God on your side with some sort of spiritual bonfire.

 

God’s interested in you offering YOUR OWN BODIES. Offering them as LIVING SACRIFICES. Sacrifices that are “alive and kicking”.

 

Let me say four things about that.

 

1. Just like a normal sacrifice, God wants our living sacrifices to be HOLY and PLEASING.

 

But it’s a WHOLE LIFE that’s to be holy and special – not just a cup or an altar or a spotless lamb. A WHOLE LIFE that’s pleasing – not just the way the meat’s cut up, or the smoke from some temple-incense.

 

2. And THAT sort of sacrifice HAS to be more than set times and set places. It’s LIVING. That’s EVERYWHERE.

 

LIFE is everywhere, All the time. No clocking off “work”, then clocking on “church”. No swapping personalities in the car as you go from home to Bible study.

 

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, open all hours, life-sacrifice!

 

3. And it’s your BODIES. Not just your mind. A Christian sacrifice is more than just some sort of spiritual meditation. That takes you OUT of the world. Makes you pure and distant from all the mess of the REST of life. It IS life. It’s messy, and complicated. And hard work. And where mistakes are made.

 

It’s bodies. And that means sacrificing your HANDS AND FEET. Your MOUTHS. And EYES. And WALLETS. And CARS. And HOMES. And HOLIDAYS. And FREE-TIME.

 

4. But notice that it’s all to be done IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES? If the things you do AREN’T done in response to God’s goodness – they’re not service for God.

 

Lots of people do lots of good things for lots of reasons.

 

But our lives are to be IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. So make sure you don’t offer your bodies as living sacrifices in view of A PROMOTION, or in view of WHO’S WATCHING, or in view of EARNING BROWNIE POINTS WITH GOD.

 

IF WHAT-YOU-DO ISN’T AIMED AT SAYING THANKS TO GOD, IT’S NOT SERVICE TO GOD.

 

But the flip side of that/ is that, as long as you’re saying thanks to God/ almost ANYTHING can be service to God. Setting up chairs. Mowing lawns. Washing dishes. Delivering papers. Changing nappies. If it’s done IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES, it’s a true act of service. Of WORSHIP.

 

Perhaps all of this sounds DISCOURAGING. Much harder to do than just burning a candle, or chanting a prayer.

 

“Dave, you’ve just raised the bar so much higher! I didn’t feel like I could please God BEFORE! Now, there’s NO WAY I can measure up to that sort of standard!”

 

You’re right! We can’t measure up! That’s why we do things in view of God’s MERCIES. All of this is only worth something if it’s offered IN RESPONSE to God’s free gift of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s only because God accepts Jesus’ sacrifice that he even takes a second look at OURS.

 

And it’s BECAUSE of Jesus’ sacrifice that God reckons OURS is GREAT!

 

2. In relation to Self (3-8)… Being a part of the body

So what sorts of things are we talking about? Let’s get specific! Verse 3 and following helps fill in the picture. It’s Paul’s SECOND point. We respond to God’s mercies in relation to SELF. By being a PART of the body. Look at v3.

(Rom 12:3 NIV)  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.

 

To be any use as a living sacrifice, you need to have the right understanding of who you are. To THINK RIGHTLY ABOUT YOURSELF.

 

Don’t think too highly of yourself.

 

It’s GOD who gives you gifts, and the faith to use them. So don’t be PROUD. Be GRATEFUL. You can’t be proud of GIFTS. Because you can’t EARN gifts.

 

And you’re not the ONLY ONE with gifts. Verses 4-5. EVERYONE’S got them. And you need others, just like they need you. In that sense, there’s nothing more special about you than anyone else in God’s family.

 

Just like in the human body. Each organ has a different job. The kidneys filter. The heart pumps. The eyes see. What job they do makes them what they are.

 

If he could talk to each of these organs, Paul would say, “Think of yourself with sober judgement according to what job you’ve got. It’s your filtering that makes you a kidney. You’re pumping that makes you a heart.” And so on.

 

And when it comes to the people of God, he says, “Many people form one body because each person is connected to Christ. And that means each of you belongs to everyone else.

 

Part of thinking clearly about yourself is recognising YOU BELONG TO OTHERS. And they belong to you. Others NEED you. And you NEED others.

 

We all NEED other people/ to USE THEIR GIFTS for our benefit. That’s what vv6-8 say.

(Rom 12:6-8 NIV)  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 faith. {7} If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; {8} 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.

 

Let me say five things from these verses.

 

1. Firstly, you have GIFTS. What you have, and who you are, come from God. It’s not your own doing. So don’t be proud. Be grateful.

 

Think clearly about yourself.

 

2. Secondly, we all have DIFFERENT gifts. No one has YOUR combination of gifts. There’s a job that’s JUST RIGHT for you. And YOU’RE THE ONE God’s got lined up to do it.

 

Our gifts COMPLEMENT each other. God has spread everything around so ever task is covered. No one is excess baggage – superfluous – sitting there with nothing to offer.

 

3. Thirdly, if God’s divided up the gifts to each part, then you’ve got a responsibility to DO YOUR BIT. You’re only a TRUE part if you use your gifts. Otherwise you’re A LEECH. Not contributing, but just enjoying the benefits.

 

Sitting back and expecting others to influence and encourage you means EVERYONE misses out.

 

Do your bit. That’s Paul’s message as he lists some of the jobs. If your gift is prophecy – then prophesy! If it’s serving – serve! Teaching – then teach! If it’s encouraging – then encourage!

 

That’s some SPEAKING gifts. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s all sorts of ACTIONS as well. If it’s contributing to the needs of others – then do it generously. If it’s leading – then don’t be slack. If it’s showing mercy – don’t be a martyr. Do it cheerfully!

 

4. And a fourth point. Do your bit by using YOUR gifts. Don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re not a Kid’s Church teacher, don’t do it just because no one else will do it. If you can’t sing a note, don’t lead the singing. If you’re too busy at the moment at work to make the meetings, don’t volunteer for management committee this year.

 

Use YOUR gifts. It would be silly for an EYE to try pumping blood, or an EAR to smell. (Though I HAVE heard of feet smelling, and noses running. But that’s ANOTHER story.)

 

And the flip side of that is/ don’t NEGLECT what you have. Don’t give up offering hospitality because no one returns the favour. Don’t rest on your laurels because you’ve been doing the job for five years, and now you think you’ve deserved some “me-time”!

 

The whole body is built up as you use your gifts. And that includes YOU. When you’re doing your part YOU’RE built up too. YOU miss out when you don’t use your gifts.

 

5. And a final point. Notice that we’re to have the right ATTITUDE. Don’t do your part RESENTFULLY or BITTERLY, or out of PRIDE.

 

It’s only service to God, in view of his mercies, when it’s done with the right attitude.

 

Contributing GENEROUSLY, or governing DILIGENTLY. Showing mercy CHEERFULLY.

 

Think of yourself with sober judgement. You’re part of the whole body. Do your bit!

 

3. In relation to others (9-16)… Being the body

Paul’s third point/ from v9/ is that we respond to God’s mercies in relation to OTHERS. Being the BODY.

 

It’s not just to do with yourself. In a sense, that’s what Paul’s been talking about in the last section. But here, he expands on the way the whole group of God’s people are to act.

 

If you like, Paul paints a picture of what the perfect group looks like. And his big point is LOVE’S the key. No matter how many gifts everyone’s got, they’re nothing without love.

 

Not love in the sense of emotions. But love in terms of A CONSCIOUS DECISION. Selfless, service, putting others before self. An act of the will. THIS is the love we’re to have for each other.

 

Love’s the key!

 

In fact, we could almost make “love” the subject of this section. Love is … Love is… . Listen to how this sounds. And ask yourself the question – does this describe ME? Does this describe US?

 

Love is sincere. It’s not phony or fake.

Love hates evil. And sticks like glue to good.

Love is affectionate towards everyone with brotherly love. It makes everyone brothers and sisters. And offers a wonderful cure for those of us who are lonely – single OR married.

 

Love honours others more and more. Puts them first. Gives them the benefit of the doubt.

 

Love sticks at a job without being lazy.

Love comes from being on fire in the Spirit, and love is motivated by slaving for the Lord.

 

Love rejoices, patiently and faithfully and prayerfully hoping for the future. Whatever goes on around it.

 

Love chips in to meet the needs of God’s people.

Love goes looking for strangers to be hospitable to.

Love blesses, rather than curses, its persecutors.

And, when it comes to God’s people, love cheers with people who are cheering.

And instead of trying to cheer up the mourning, love has a good cry, too.

 

Love bends over backwards to live in harmony with others.

It doesn’t presume that it KNOWS better than everyone else, or DESERVES better than everyone else.

 

Love hangs out with the unlovely, and the unlovable.

 

This is the way we’re to do our bit. To use our gifts. This is the way we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. In response to God’s mercies.

 

It was THIS SORT of LOVE Doctor Matthew showed. He gave his life so that others might live. Remember his prayer – “If I die, let me be the last!”

 

God answered his prayer. Among the health-care workers who fought Ebola at St Mary’s, he WAS the last to die.

 

But even though our lives might never measure up to the standard of HIS sacrifice. God calls us to love like he does. To love/ because he first loved us. To love IN RESPONSE to his love.

 

And no act of love can compare to that of God/ in sending his Son, Jesus.

(Rom 5:5-8 NIV)  God has poured out HIS LOVE into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. {6} You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. …{8} God demonstrates his own LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

(Rom 8:35-39 NIV)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …{37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him WHO LOVED US. {38} For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from THE LOVE OF GOD that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

How do we respond?

(Rom 12:1 NIV)  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

 

Let’s pray.

 

 

Romans 11: So you think you’re pretty good!

My sons, L and D, love their sport. Soccer and cricket mainly. And they’re good at it. But they’re realistic enough to know they’re never going to become professionals. But they’ve sometimes played with some boys, and their parents, who are SURE they’ll be the next Ricky Ponting, or Harry Kewell. And the parents will spend THOUSANDS of dollars on coaching clinics, and rep team fees, and new gear, to give their boy every chance of making it big. But the reality is/ the soccer world, or the cricket world, is a whole lot bigger than they realise. There are literally THOUSANDS of boys out there better than them. And hardly ANY of THEM will make a career out of sport. There are always 5, 10 or 15 levels of competition higher than the one they think their boy is doing so well in. What they need is a DOSE OF REALITY to bring them down to earth. Because SEEING THE BIG PICTURE TAKES AWAY CONCEIT. And SEEING THE BIG PICTURE is what Paul wants the Romans to do here in Ch 11. In particular, the NON-Jews in the Roman church. He wants them TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE OF GOD’S SALVATION PLAN, so they won’t become proud. You can see it there in v25, which is really the key that unlocks the whole chapter. 25 I do not want you to be IGNORANT of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be CONCEITED: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. We’ll get to the second half of the verse in a minute. But in the FIRST half, we see that IGNORANCE leads to CONCEIT. NOT knowing leads to BRAGGING. But, on the OTHER hand, KNOWLEDGE – seeing the big picture – leads to seeing yourself REALISTICALLY. Seeing how you fit into the whole. Which STOPS conceit. But to know what Paul’s talking about here, we need to understand what the MYSTERY is that’s been revealed. What’s this information that will keep them from conceit? It’s the same thing he’s been banging on about through the whole book. That God’s people USED TO BE just Jews, but now Jesus has come along, the GENTILES get a look in as well. God will make right with himself ANYONE who trusts him. Ch 1 v16 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes: first for the JEW, then for THE GENTILE. Or Ch 3 v22 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE, 23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. … 29 Is God the God of JEWS ONLY? Is he not the GOD OF GENTILES TOO? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. And it continues all the way through Romans right up to the last few verses. Ch 16 v25 25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, SO THAT ALL NATIONS MIGHT BELIEVE AND OBEY HIM- That’s the mystery. What USED to be a big secret. But not any more. God’s offer of salvation is MUCH too big for only ONE NATION. It’s for the whole world. Which is great news for us. It’s an idea that was there in the Prophets of the Old Testament. God PROMISED it was coming. But it wasn’t CLEAR. And it didn’t happen until Jesus came. And the Jews didn’t particularly LIKE having to share God with the rest of the world. And for the most part, they didn’t want anything to DO with Jesus, God’s Saviour. And the result is that the new people of God, the Christian church, was A MIXTURE. Plenty of Gentiles. SOME Jews. With plenty more Jews on the OUTSIDE not interested at all. And that’s the situation Paul describes in the first part of ch 11. Look there from v1. It’s not as though God’s REJECTED his people. Just because most of them aren’t believers. Back in Elijah’s time (v2), God reserved a remnant of faithful Jews (v4). A fraction. Same thing NOW when you look at the Jews, says Paul (v5). A remnant chosen by grace. Some he CHOSE, OTHERS he HARDENED. But Paul’s hopeful it’s not the end of the road for his fellow Jews. V11. “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!” AT THE MOMENT, they’re not interested, but there’s better things in store. As often happens with God, he uses human disobedience to actually FURTHER his plans. RATHER, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious God uses Israel’s UNBELIEF to bring about his good purposes. Notice the three steps. Israel reject the gospel of Jesus. So Paul takes the message to the Gentiles who accept it and are saved. And Israel become JEALOUS of what the Gentiles have – peace with God. Paul’s talking to the Gentiles now – the ones God’s using to make Israel jealous. V13. I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I MAY SOMEHOW AROUSE MY OWN PEOPLE TO ENVY AND SAVE SOME OF THEM. Yes, Paul wants to see Gentiles saved. But his big picture, his end game, is that a GENTILE church of believers will cause HIS OWN PEOPLE to come in and find what all the fuss is about. And the church will be EVEN BIGGER. And THAT means / there’s no reason for BOASTING, says Paul in v18. It’s like God’s people is an olive tree (v17). Some of the branches are snapped off by God because they don’t believe. Then God grafts is some WILD olive branches – the Gentiles. And they’re THRIVING – drawing their nutrients from the roots. It’s not NATURAL, but it WORKS, because God’s done the joining. That’s the HISTORY. But here’s where it gets PERSONAL. Here’s Paul’s message. “There’s nothing clever or special about branches that God’s grafted in. So don’t be conceited. You’re joined BY GRACE, so don’t think you’re better than those NOT joined” That’s Paul’s message to the Gentiles. The WILD branches shouldn’t boast over the CUT-OFF branches. They shouldn’t be ARROGANT (v20). Instead they should be CAUTIOUS. If God was willing to trim NATURAL branches, then he won’t have any problems chopping off some GRAFTED branches. That was the problem the JEWS had – trusting their own position, rather than trusting God’s promise. Don’t be ARROGANT, says Paul. Or to put it the OTHER WAY AROUND. If God can graft in WILD branches like the Gentiles, how much MORE easily could he graft back in NATURAL branches (down in v24). In other words, if the Jews DO turn to Jesus, God can EASILY bring them back in. And so we come to v25. The key that unlocks the whole chapter. 25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: ISRAEL HAS EXPERIENCED A HARDENING IN PART UNTIL THE FULL NUMBER OF THE GENTILES HAS COME IN. God’s plan is for all his elect Gentiles to come to salvation. And then Israel will be made jealous. And THEN, God’s elect Jews will come to Jesus. V26 says And so all Israel will be saved. Which just means the full number of God’s elect Jews. I don’t think we’re to understand this is some sort of large scale, historical, prophetic sense. That for a certain period of time only Gentiles become Christians. And then from that point on, Jews will become Christians. Just that, from Paul’s point of view, when he looks at his countrymen, things are looking fairly discouraging. But it won’t always be that way. He’s confident. Trusting God that in his timing, they’ll start becoming Christians too. Because God’s promises don’t have a Use By date. So what? That’s the historical setting. But for Paul, it’s more than just a history lesson. He’s writing all of this stuff FOR A REASON. It’s got specific relevance in the day-to-day relationships in the Roman church. That people won’t become conceited. That one group wouldn’t think of themselves more highly than another. More worthy. More special. Perhaps it was A SPECIFIC PROBLEM for the church in Rome. Back in Ch 2 v17, he had to have a word to THE JEWS. 17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God;… 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? And here in Ch 11, he’s warning the Gentiles not to be arrogant and boast at the expense of the Jews. Over into ch 12. Some practical instructions we’ll look at more NEXT week. But one point to notice. V3. 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. In other words. See the big picture. And don’t become conceited. And, ch 12 goes on, that will show itself in using your gifts to build up others. It will show itself in love humbly and sacrificially. And over in Ch 15, he sums up a whole lot of practical teaching with these words. V7. 7 ACCEPT one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the JEWS on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the GENTILES may glorify God for his mercy, You’ve BOTH got a part. Jew and Gentile. You’re BOTH part of God’s plans. Rejoice, together, in that! And it’s the same message FOR US. Accept one another. Aussie and Other. Young and old. Accept one another. Rich and poor. Married and single. Accept one another. Bible trained and beginner. Wise words and foot in mouth. Outgoing and quiet. Accept one another. Children and adults. Blue collar and white collar. There’s no place for arrogance and judgmentalism in the church. No place for comparing and measuring ourselves against others. We’re not an Amway conference for high performers. We’re a hospital for sick people. We’re not US and THEM. We’re ONE in Christ. We’re not whisperers and back stabbers, we’re speakers of the truth in love. We’re not complainers and critics, we’re humble helpers and servants. ACCEPT one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Do not boast. Do not be arrogant. Don’t be CONCEITED. But think of yourself with sober judgment. And it’s EXACTLY the attitude we need to come to the Lord’s Table.

Romans 9-10: What on earth is God doing?

What on earth is God doing? When people we love give up on Christianity, or just don’t seem interested, it can be hard to understand. What’s God DOING in situations like THAT?

I’m sure you all know people who’ve wandered away from following Jesus. People who’ve shown all the signs of being Christians. But then something happens. It might be a slow, gradual thing. Perhaps they’re not even AWARE of it.

Or it might be A SUDDEN DECISION to drop everything about church, and chase after something that looks more attractive.

Or maybe it’s someone who’s suffered a tragedy. And, rather than turning to God, it’s turned them OFF God. They’re ANGRY, and they want nothing to DO with him.

I see it more often than I care to. People who’ve been coming along to church for a while, but then who STOP. Sometimes it’s here one week, gone the next. But more often, it’s once every TWO weeks, then once every MONTH. Then the odd visit here and there. And finally, they don’t come back.

And visits and phone calls, letters and texts. Gentle words, firm words, pleading, encouragements. None of it seems to do any good.

But perhaps, for you, it’s closer to home. For some of you, it’s YOUR CHILDREN. They’ve gone along to Sunday School, seemed like they were taking it all in. But then, when they get older, they haven’t wanted anything to do with Jesus.

Perhaps it’s a husband who USED TO BE happy going along to church, but just seems to spend more and more Sundays sleeping in. Or filling up his weekend with work or sport or hobbies. So church is squeezed out.

Or maybe it’s slightly different. A family member who’s heard the gospel from you, or others, lots of times. Who KNOWS it all. Knows what sin is. What repentance means. Knows about heaven, knows about hell. But … does NOTHING. It’s like there’s a BRICK WALL there!

It was that way with my grandmother. Dad’s mum. And when she died it was tough. I remember, as a teenager, one moment in particular when it struck me that she was probably, as far as any of us could tell, destined for an eternity separated from God.

What on earth is God doing? Is the gospel powerful to change people, or not? Why is it the ones we love MOST, who hear the gospel the MOST, seem to reject it? It SEEMS like God doesn’t love them as much as WE do.

These are the questions the Apostle Paul answers here in Romans 9 and 10.

Remember the background? The church is Rome is a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. And, over the years, there’s been points of friction between them. About how the Gentiles squeeze into the people of God. Who USED TO just be Jews. But since Jesus came along, the message has gone to people EVERYWHERE.

Because it’s a message about simply trusting what JESUS did, rather than ticking off our own checklist. A message about trusting his PERFECT obedience, rather than our imperfect obedience. Trusting that he’s PAID the debt, rather than trying to pay it off OURSELVES.

And it’s been tough for some Jews to accept the new lay of the land. For the last twenty-odd years, Paul had taken the good news about Jesus to his fellow Jews FIRST. You can see his strategy in the book of Acts. Every new city he landed in, he’d go to the Jewish synagogue FIRST. Tell them about God’s Jewish Messiah, who’d been promised in the Jewish Scriptures. About how Jesus had come, and brought forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that all they had to do was TRUST it. They were the OBVIOUS ones to trust Jesus. First in line.

At which point, for the most part, he was booted out on his ear. Or beaten up.

Then he’d walk across the road, find somewhere the Gentiles met, and start telling THEM the same message. And when people became Christians, that’s how he planted churches.

But despite all the wonderful conversion stories, all the praise he could give God for how he’d been used. All the cities across the known world where churches were planted. There was this nagging doubt that wouldn’t go away.

What about his own people, the Jews? Why wasn’t God saving THEM? Every advantage imaginable. And yet most of them wanted nothing to do with Jesus.

And it was breaking Paul’s heart. V1 of ch 9.

9:1 I speak the truth in Christ-I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit- 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

When being first in line isn’t enough

And what he can’t understand is that they’ve got EVERY ADVANTAGE when it comes to knowing God. And yet, they’re still not there. Look from v4.

Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ,

It’s a case of when being first in line isn’t enough. It’s like you’ve lined up outside the grand final ticket office all night. You’re first in line, got your credit card, your cash, your sleeping bag and pillow. But when the tickets go on sale the next morning, you find out it’s already sold out. All the advantages, and you’ve missed out!

Same with the Jews. All the background, all the teaching, all the opportunities. It should have led them to Christ. But instead. Nothing.

Is God faithful? (9:6-13)

It’s a situation that makes Paul ask the tough questions. First, is God faithful? Has GOD’S WORD FAILED? He’s PROMISED that Israel would be his people, and that he’d be their God. Does that mean he’s BROKEN his promise?

Either changed his mind. Found someone BETTER.

Or perhaps his word, the message of the gospel, isn’t POWERFUL enough to do what he wants. Has his Word failed, in THAT sense? Hasn’t got what it takes to deliver what he WANTS? Is THAT the problem?

From v6, Paul ANSWERS the question, Is God faithful? And he jumps back to something he said in ch 4. That the children of Abraham aren’t necessarily those with the right bloodlines, but those with the same FAITH as Abraham. THOSE are the ones God’s promises are for. V6.

6 It is NOT as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  8 In other words, it is not the NATURAL children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the PROMISE who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

You might remember Abraham had TWO sons. Ishmael and Isaac. ONE son, Ishmael, DIDN’T get God’s promise. And Isaac, the other one DID.

And the DIFFERENCE was to do with Abraham TRUSTING God.

With Ishmael, he tried to bring God’s plans about HIMSELF. Tried a “PLAN B.” But it wasn’t God’s PROMISE. But with Isaac, he TRUSTED GOD, and God delivered. God had PROMISED the son would come from Sarah. And, eventually, that’s how it happened. And God’s PROMISE went with the side of the family where Abraham HAD FAITH.

What Paul’s saying is that God’s promise is CLAIMED when you TRUST it. His PROMISE was for ALL of Israel. But not all of Israel CLAIMS it. TRUE Israel responds with FAITH. The same faith of their Father Abraham.

And it’s the same with US TODAY. We can’t automatically assume someone belongs to God simply because they’re in church. Or they’ve been baptised. Or their PARENTS are Christian.

God USES all of that stuff to OFFER his promises. But then people have to TRUST the promises.

The problem’s not with the FAITHFULNESS of THE WORD, but the faithfulness of the RESPONSE.

That’s considering things from the HUMAN SIDE. But Paul’s got ANOTHER point to make. This time, from GOD’S point of view. V10. “Not only that”. Jump ahead to the NEXT generation. Isaac’s twin sons. There in v11.

11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-in order that GOD’S PURPOSE IN ELECTION might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls-she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

God CHOOSES which of the sons he’ll build into a nation. Nothing to do with their qualifications. Completely up to God. Nothing to do people. He did it with Jacob and Esau. He did it with the Jews in Paul’s time – chose SOME, and didn’t choose OTHERS.

And it’s the same TODAY. There are people God chooses, and others he DOESN’T.

I don’t know WHO. NONE of us do. So our job is simply to present God’s offer to EVERYONE. Invite them to respond to his promise by TRUSTING it. And when they DO, that’s how we know that God’s CHOSEN them.

And, while we mightn’t UNDERSTAND it, there’s actually a COMFORT in God’s election. Because it means that someone responding, or not, is about GOD’S choice. Not about how clearly we’ve explained things, or how consistently we’ve lived things. Those things MATTER, but in the end, we can leave it with God.

It keeps us from GUILT, because all God calls us to do is be FAITHFUL, not SUCCESSFUL. Faithful in telling others about him, and then leaving the election, and the saving, up to God.

Is God fair? (9:14-10:21)

But someone might complain, “That’s not FAIR! If it’s got nothing to do with us, then it’s not someone’s FAULT if they’re not chosen.”

That’s the question Paul answers from v14. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!

And here’s his answer. V15.

15 For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s MERCY.

Paul says when you focus on those who AREN’T chosen, you’re looking in the wrong place. Your focus should be on those he HAS chosen. On God’s MERCY. Not his FAIRNESS.

Because there’s a sense in which God ISN’T fair. GRACE isn’t fair. Grace is to freely give something you don’t deserve. If he was completely FAIR, NO ONE would be chosen. Because no one DESERVES mercy. Everyone deserves judgment. That’s FAIR.

But the incredible good news is that he shows mercy to ANY AT ALL! And it’s THAT DECLARATION OF MERCY that’s behind his election. In fact the goal of people declaring how merciful God is / is behind EVERYTHING God does. That’s the point of the WHOLE WORLD. It was certainly the way it worked when he brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt. V17.

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Pharaoh was God’s instrument to show the world how powerful he was, and how merciful he was to save his people Israel.

But that leads to ANOTHER question: “If we’re just INSTRUMENTS, how can God BLAME us? If he’s just moving everyone around like chess pieces, if we’re nothing more than robots, then what right does he have to JUDGE us?” That’s the question he asks in v19.

And his answer is a surprising one. It’s basically NOT an answer. See it there in v20?

20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”  21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

It’s impossible for us to get our heads around how God can ELECT, how God can CONTROL HIS WORLD, using us as INSTRUMENTS, on the ONE hand. At the same time as we have REAL CHOICES to make. We RESPOND to God, and are accountable for our choices.

BOTH are true. And if we have a hard time understanding that, it’s not surprising. It’s like a clay pot being able to understand why the potter’s made it a certain shape. The pot doesn’t have the BRAIN to comprehend things from the potter’s point of view. And if God’s God, and we’re NOT. If we’re just CREATURES, then we just have to accept God the way things are. Even if we don’t understand it.

And when we recognise that truth. And honour God. And when we live our lives in humble gratitude to him. That’s the whole POINT of God’s purposes in ELECTION. Look there at v22.

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? – 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory

And now the lesson from history becomes relevant. Paul’s thinking about his CHRISTIAN brothers.

23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory 24 EVEN US, WHOM HE ALSO CALLED, NOT ONLY FROM THE JEWS BUT ALSO FROM THE GENTILES?

Paul’s caught a glimpse of the whole of God’s plan. He’s NOT chosen SOME (Jews included), so those he HAS chosen will understand the riches of his glory. Chosen Jews and Gentiles, together, to be part of his NEW people.

9:30-10:21: Human responsibility

That’s GOD’S side. But jump down to v30, because Paul changes tack slightly. Still looking to answer the question “How can it be that Jews, who had so much going for them, being first in line for God’s blessings, could MISS OUT? While the Gentiles who weren’t even LOOKING for God, ended up part of his family?”

But rather than focussing on GOD’S part. Election. This section jumps back to OUR part. Human responsibility. How is it that the person at the front of the queue misses out on grand final tickets, but the person just walking past gets given a private box? V30.

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.

32 Why not? Here’s the answer.

Because they pursued it NOT BY FAITH BUT AS IF IT WERE BY WORKS.

From GOD’S position, the answer to the Jew’s rejection is because he didn’t CHOOSE them. From the HUMAN point of view, the answer is because they tried to EARN it, rather than TRUST THE GIFT.

10. When being sincere isn’t enough

And as we move into ch 10, we see that teased out. In the first four verses, if there’s no faith, it’s not enough just to be SINCERE.

10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are ZEALOUS for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.   3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Being sincere is ONE thing, but if it’s IGNORANT sincerity, it’s WORTHLESS. I could stand in the middle of the road, and SINCERELY believe I wouldn’t get hit by a bus, but sincerity on its own means NOTHING. I’ve got to combine it with the KNOWLEDGE of crossing when there’s a RED LIGHT.

Same thing with the Jews, sincerity needs to be combined with faith. That’s how God’s righteousness comes.

When being a superman isn’t enough

And then from v5 we see that being A SUPERMAN isn’t enough. God’s not interested in superhuman tests of strength or ability or memory. It’s all much simpler.

You don’t need to go on some quest up to heaven to find some special word. You don’t need to travel to the bottom of the ocean. Just like it was for the Israelites in Moses’ time, v8,

“The word Is NEAR you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:

The Jews have tried so hard to EARN God’s blessing. But that’s part of the problem. It’s not that hard. It’s right there next to them. They just needed to SPEAK it, and BELIEVE it. Which is what the Gentiles seemed to have been able to do. Here’s Paul’s message.

9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

When hearing isn’t enough

And finally, as Paul thinks about the Jew’s situation, he realises that they can’t even use as an excuse that they never HEARD.

From v14, Paul goes through all the conditions necessary for the Jews to believe. And ticks them off, one by one. To call on God, they’ve got to believe first. To believe, they’ve got to hear. To hear, someone has to preach. For someone to preach, they’ve got to be sent.

And it’s all happened. Paul’s been SENT by God. He’s PREACHED – the Jews have HEARD. But have they BELIEVED? V16. Not all Israelites accepted the good news.

V18. Was it because they didn’t HEAR? Of course they did!

On God’s side, everything’s been done. When it all comes down to it, it’s wilful defiance. V21.

21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

Which is where we’ll stop for today. God hasn’t failed Israel. Israel’s failed God. And Paul has to comfort himself with that truth.

So?

So where does that leave US? Where does that leave those people we love who seem so hard to God?

Trust God’s election. The loving and wise and righteous God of the Universe has chosen those who will be his. We can TRUST him.

That means. Keep PRAYING. God wants NONE to perish, but all to come to a knowledge of the truth. And he wants to USE US to DO it.

That means keep PREACHING. They can’t believe unless they hear. They can’t hear unless you tell them. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

We’ve RECEIVED good news. News of forgiveness and mercy and restoration and life and joy. Let’s make sure we PASS THAT ON.

Romans 8:18-39: More than Conquerors

Where is God when it hurts?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The problem of pain.

If I were God, I’d end all the pain

These are just four of the truckload of Christian books written on the question of why God allows suffering.

But you don’t need to read a book to know about suffering. You’ve only got to talk to people here at church.

L and S have spent more time in hospitals in the last month than they have at home. First S’s dad, then L’s mum, and then O.

There’s J’s brother, B, suffering badly from cancer.

As well as C W, fighting breast cancer. Mother of four young girls.

J C’s husband, M, suffered tongue cancer, and still puts up with the effects of the surgery.

R and M seem to have had so many friends and family suffer cancer, they’re experts.

Then there’s A R, S G and P B who’ve all suffered quite severe depression.

Or J with two disabled boys who’ll need a lifetime of care.

And then there’s D, with her mum, J, suffering a brain aneurism a number of years ago, and now trapped inside a body that barely works.

Other things I DO know about. And, I’m sure, even more I DON’T. And that’s just among the few people we’ve got here. I’m sure you could all add DOZENS of stories from the people you talk to over the fence, and at work, or waiting to pick up the kids from school.

We hear these stories, and we just GROAN. We weep with people. Why does the world have to BE this way?

I’d rather live in a world where bad things happen to BAD people. And GOOD things happen to good people. Where justice comes QUICKLY. Where only the MONSTERS get cancer, and not the rest of us.

I’d rather live in a world where God’s transformation started with fixing up THAT stuff. And THE REST could come later. I’m happy to wait for eternity. I’m happy to be a work in progress, becoming more like Jesus each day. But can’t life just be a little EASIER while we’re waiting? A little less painful?

But that’s not the way it is.

As we’ve worked through Romans, we’ve followed God’s plan to TRANSFORM THE WORLD. How he’s taken self-centred rebels. How he’s taken a world that’s gone badly wrong. And, at last, he’s acted to PUT THINGS RIGHT. How, in the death of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, we’re in a WHOLE NEW ERA. An age of TRANSFORMED HEARTS and MINDS. Of walking in a relationship with God the way he DESIGNED IT to be.

Three groans

To which comes the obvious objection. “If we’re living in a new transformed age, then WHY ARE WE STILL GROANING?”

Well, at least it SEEMS like an obvious objection. But there are some Christians you’ll meet who want to say DIFFERENT. Who’ll tell you that if you’re REALLY transformed. If you’re really living by the Spirit, then you’ll never face tragedy. You’ll never get SICK. That bad stuff will never happen. That life will just be a victorious walk in the park. As if we’re no longer living in a groaning world at all.

But according to ch 8 of Romans, we still are. We’ve got the down-payment of the Spirit. But we still groan. Have a look at what it says in v22 of Romans 8.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time

If you’ve ever been in a labour ward, you’ll know just what it’s like. I’ve been there four times. And, not just in OUR room, but up and down the corridor, you can hear groans, and screams and blood-curdling shrieks. And that’s just from the DADS.

The whole world is like a big labour ward. It’s in PAIN. It’s GROANING.

V20 says it’s subjected to FRUSTRATION. Work that doesn’t satisfy. Relationships that don’t fulfil their promise.

And then v21 says creation is in BONDAGE TO DECAY. Bodies that wear out and break down. An environment that’s being gradually destroyed. Drought, species extinction, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, global warming. Wars, genocide, terrorist attacks, murder and rape. A long, relentless, slippery slope to crumbling, corroding decomposition.

And we Christians aren’t exempt either. Look at v23.

23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN INWARDLY as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

CREATION groans, WE groan. But, more than that, down in v26, we read that GOD’S SPIRIT groans as well. When you’re right at the end of your rope, when you can’t even put two words together to pray to God, he promises that his Spirit will intercede for you. Pray on your behalf. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. HE PRAYS WITH GROANS THAT WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS.

In perspective

WE groan, and THE SPIRIT groans, in a groaning WORLD. It’s a pretty grim, realistic picture. And yet, for many people, these are their favourite verses in the whole Bible. Why? Because they put all that groaning IN PERSPECTIVE.

You know, when each of our kids were born, at SOME point during the labour, Caron said, “Never again. It’s not worth it!”

Yet, EVERY TIME, within a few moments of the birth. As we looked at that brand new little life, we said, “Yep – it was worth it. It was WORTH the pain.”

THAT’S the perspective that comes from knowing something GOOD comes from the pain. Light at the end of the tunnel… Hard to imagine when you’re in the MIDST of it. But the reality is/ when the midwives are encouraging you with crazy talk of POSITIVE PAIN. PAIN WITH PURPOSE. They’re actually RIGHT!

And it’s the same perspective Paul brings when it comes to THIS GROANING WORLD. Jump back up to v18. He says the pain we’re experiencing at the moment is NOTHING compared to the good things that are coming. He says

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed IN US.

He’s talking about the joy that comes after the labour pains. Down in v23 it says we

groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES

He’s talking about the NEW CREATION. The new life that’s born after the labour. About new bodies that never get cancer, or heart attacks, or brain aneurisms. Bodies that don’t struggle to follow God. Where there’s no constant battle to do, and to think, and to speak what pleases God.

The days are coming when we can put behind us the birth pains, when the labour will be over, and we can be revealed for what we really are, CHILDREN OF GOD.

Life at the moment is no bed of roses. Even as Christians. Perhaps even ESPECIALLY as Christians. But Paul says, one day … it WILL be. That’s the perspective to have.

But perhaps you want to say, and it’s a question people have been asking since the time of Job, “It’s all very well having PERSPECTIVE. But WHY? WHY does there have to be the labour before the delivery, the pain before the gain? Why not just have a spiritual caesarean? Jump straight to the new life?

And this passage gives us a number of reasons.

God’s will

First, because it’s GOD’S WILL. There in v20.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, BUT BY THE WILL OF THE ONE WHO SUBJECTED IT,

It’s all part of God’s plan. Which doesn’t sound like much of a reason. Except when you consider the alternative. That it’s NOT his will. That the world’s spinning out of control. That there IS no plan. That your suffering, the WORLD’S suffering, is just RANDOM. Bad luck.

That’s hopeless! That’s what the ATHEIST has to say. And it just leads to DESPAIR. To FUTILITY.

But God’s plan is that there’s PURPOSE in our present groaning.

Hope looks forward

God’s plan is that, in the midst of our groaning, we’d learn to LOOK FORWARD. That we’d learn to HOPE for what’s coming.

Because the Christian life is a FORWARD LOOKING life. It’s about hoping for the life we don’t have yet. It’s about PROMISE, and TRUSTING that promise. That’s what it says in v24.

24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is SEEN is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already HAS? 25 But if we hope for what we do NOT yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The TRUE Christian life is the one that’s still coming. We get a TASTE of it now, but we have to WAIT for the rest. And if it wasn’t for THE GROANING, then there’d be no reason to hope for SOMETHING ELSE. And we’d all be quite happy in our self-reliant comfort.

So if you’re a Christian who’s suffered. Who’s been banged up a bit. Some chips in the paintwork, and some grinding in the gears. Then hang in there. Because they’re not signs of your LACK of faith. They’re signs of MATURITY. Because it’s those knocks and chips and clunks that keep your eyes fixed on the ultimate repair job God’s promised. It’s those battle scars that God USES to increase your hope.

And if it wasn’t for the knocks, then we wouldn’t be looking to God. Because we’d have everything in control. We wouldn’t NEED him. We wouldn’t NEED a new creation, because we’d already HAVE everything.

Instead, God wants us TO HOPE.

But hope isn’t just FOR THE FUTURE. Hope has benefits TODAY. Because what hope LOOKS LIKE as you live your life this week is that IT TRUSTS GOD. It waits PATIENTLY, knowing God’s got it worked out. Hope looks to God for the answers to TODAY’S problems. For the strength and the patience and the deliverance and the guidance.

A purpose and a plan

Hope expressed TODAY/ looks like what Paul says in v28. Confident TRUST in the God who’s got A PURPOSE and A PLAN. Here’s what he says. V28.

28 And we know that in ALL things God works for the GOOD of those who love him, who have been called according to his PURPOSE. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

From the beginning of time to the end. God’s got everything mapped out. He doesn’t just KNOW what’s going to happen, but he’s IN CONTROL of it happening too. Your suffering fits right into the middle of God’s plans. God planned EVERYTHING that happened to you.

If you’re a Christian, then God foreknew you, he predestined you (set his plans in place). Then he CALLED you – engineered people and circumstances, softened your heart, opened your eyes, and led you to himself. Then he JUSTIFIED you, and, in his perfect timing he’ll GLORIFY you.

But in the MIDDLE of all that – today, tomorrow, and next week – he’s predestined you to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. That’s the purpose of your life.

His ultimate destiny for you is NOT your comfort, or your health, or your rest, or your enjoyment. It’s not that you’ll live in a nice house, have a lovely family, or that you’ll get a good job with lots of influence. You may GET those things. But his destiny for you, the most important thing… is that YOU’LL BE CONFORMED TO THE LIKENESS OF HIS SON. That’s the ULTIMATE GOOD he’s working all things for.

Conformed to the likeness of his Son. In obedience, in godliness, in servant-hearted love for others, in humility, in patience, in total dependence on God, in confident, quiet HOPE of glory.

And the way he’s going to DO that. In his perfect, loving, compassionate wisdom. Is through the DELAY OF GLORY. Through the groaning NOW. Through testing, and discipline, and trials, and refining fire, and struggle and tears.

If the path was smooth and flat, we’d never need God’s help. We’d run off ahead. Think everything was easy, and we could do it on our own.

But when it’s rough and steep, when there are dangerous drops on either side, when we slip and stumble. THAT’S when we reach out to hold his hand. When we walk WITH him, hand in hand. Which is what God wants all along. That’s the way it was back in the Garden with Adam and Eve. That’s what it will be like in the new creation. And that’s how he wants us to walking TODAY.

Is that how it is with YOU? Walking hand-in-hand with God? Or are you the over-confident, foolish child, running off ahead.

Hope that’s more than wishful thinking

But how can Paul be so confident? How can you and I be sure it’s not all just wishful thinking?

Is Christian hope like the old hardened prisoner in the movie, the Shawshank Redemption? Serving life. Talking to the new prisoner. “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. ‘Cause in here, there’s nothing to hope for.”

Hope when there’s NO BASIS for hope is called foolishness. Futility. It’s fiddling while Rome burns, dancing while the Titanic sinks.

Is THAT all the Christian hope is?

Well, Paul gives the answer. And he says you can be SURE of what you hope in, sure of what God’s promising, because of what’s ALREADY HAPPENED. Jump down to v31. Notice the logic in the TIMING.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is FOR us, who can be AGAINST us? 32 HE WHO DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with HIM, graciously GIVE US ALL THINGS?

Do you get it? How can you be sure of THE FUTURE? Because of what God’s done in THE PAST. The cross is the sign that God’s already given us THE GREATEST GIFT, so there’s no doubting he’ll bring us to the new creation.

And the same logic continues. V33.

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is GOD who justifies. 34 Who is he that CONDEMNS? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

How can we be sure that earthly charges or prosecution won’t bring us down? How can we be sure that God won’t suddenly find some hidden accusation on judgment day? Because Jesus DIED FOR IT ALL. Once. But even MORE than that, he’s right there next to God, pleading on our behalf, “That one’s mine. Don’t forget that one’s mine. Keep an eye on him. Look out for him. That one’s mine.”

If the cross and the empty tomb are proof that all that’s true. Then that means it doesn’t matter WHAT happens to me in THIS LIFE. V35.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 NO, IN ALL THESE THINGS WE ARE MORE THAN CONQUERORS through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Whatever happens, whatever God brings our way, even DEATH, can’t separate us from God’s love. Whatever tries to conquer us, we OVER –conquer. We hyper-conquer.

It’s a weird expression. What’s MORE than conquering? You either conquer, or you’re conquered.

I don’t know whether I’m reading too much into the word, but what if it means you don’t conquer, but you do BETTER than conquering. You REMAIN DESPITE being conquered.

The book of Revelation was written to a group of churches suffering Roman persecution. The author introduces himself in Ch 1 v9.

9 I, John, YOUR BROTHER AND COMPANION IN THE SUFFERING AND KINGDOM AND PATIENT ENDURANCE that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

And he has a message from Jesus for them all. Ch 2 v10.

10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and YOU WILL SUFFER PERSECUTION FOR TEN DAYS. BE FAITHFUL, EVEN TO THE POINT OF DEATH, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who OVERCOMES will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Overcoming doesn’t mean SURVIVING death. Death may conquer, illness may conquer, or divorce, or suffering. But a “MORE THAN conqueror” keeps his eyes on Jesus, keeps walking, holding his hand, keeps HOPING for the new creation. CERTAIN of it because of what God’s ALREADY done in Jesus.

The Cambodian Christian teacher, Haim, and his family, are “more than conquerors.” During the rule of Pol Pot in Cambodia, it’s estimated 90% of Cambodian Christians died.

The book Killing Fields, Living Fields tells the story of Haim, who lived in a small village on the edge of the jungle. He and his family were arrested by Pol Pot’s soldiers, but were able to spend the night together, praying and comforting each other.

The next morning they dug their own grave and were granted a moment to prepare for their death. They knelt down and cried out to God, encouraging the soldiers to repent and believe the gospel.

Then Haim’s young son lost his nerve. He ran off into the forest in a last-ditch escape attempt. Haim convinced the soldiers not to go after him and instead, kneeling by his grave, called out to his son, “What comparison, my son, stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone/ to joining your family here, momentarily around this grave, but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?” (repeat)

After a few minutes, the son returned, walked past the soldiers, dried his eyes, knelt down next to his family. And, together, they met their Saviour.

That’s trusting the God who’s working all things for good. That’s considering present sufferings not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in us. That’s hoping in the new creation that comes after the birth pains.

That’s someone who’s convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.