Getting Along in the Body, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

How are Christians to get along with one another when they come from such diverse backgrounds?  This is not just an issue for the manner in which churches from different nations or regions relate to each other.  For a church such as First Baptist in which there are diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds among its members, this can be a very personal issue.  There are many matters that are not directly addressed in the Bible, and conflict can arise over differences in personal standards.  How are those conflicts to be resolved when there is not a clear Scriptural solution as to which standard is right and which one is wrong?  I think it should be easy for us to consider that both personal standards could be wrong, but could both standards be right?  How Christians get along with each other in the midst of these kinds of conflicts will be a reflection of their spiritual maturity and love for Jesus Christ and one another.

We began our study of this topic yesterday.  In that study we saw that . . .

The church is not an institution of man

And therefore it is not free to make up

Standards of conduct as it desires.  

The church is a spiritual organism

Created by God for His glory

As the Body of Christ,

And therefore it must be defined,

Structured, and allowed to live,

Grow, and function only

According to His instructions.  

The Bible alone sets out for

The church what we must believe

And how we must behave.

To go beyond that is to sink into the same error of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They believed they were doing God’s will, but in fact, they had exchanged the doctrines of God for the precepts of men.  Jesus condemned them for it (Matthew 15:9).

In our study yesterday of the first 12 verses of Romans 14 we saw four reasons why the Christian is not to judge and condemn other believers over personal practices, and instead, both the “strong” and the “weak” are to accept each other.  First, God accepts both – verse 3.  Second, each is God’s servant and He sustains both – verse 4.  Third, each is to live for the Lord – verses 5-9.  Fourth, God is judge of both – verses 10-12. Today we will continue our study of Romans 14.  Here again we see Paul’s instruction to not judge and condemn, but rather to accept one another even when there are differences in personal practices.  

The basis of his argument in verses 13-23

Is that there is in fact differing standards

Of righteous or sinful practice for different people.

In other words, the standards of good and evil

Do vary among different people.

This is not a reflection of any changing

Standard in God’s character or His instructions to us,

But rather a recognition of the variances in

Background, understanding and maturity among believes.

The Command Stated.

Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”  The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse takes you back to Paul’s arguments in the first 12 verses, which we have already reviewed.  In view of the fact that God accepts both the “weak” and the “strong;” that both are God’s servants and He sustains both; that each is to live for the Lord and that God is judge of both the “weak” and the “strong,” then we are not to judge each other.

The “weak” refers to those who are weak in their understanding of the full freedom that is granted in the gospel message.  The “strong” are those who have a greater understanding of the freedom we have in Christ.  They have a faith that will allow them to do things that the “weak” believe they cannot do.

The word “judge” here is a word which is used in the sense of condemning one another. The “weak” tend to judge the “strong” as participating in “worldly” things.  They considered the “strong” as being less holy and less concerned about holiness than themselves and therefore less useful to God.  The strong tend to judge the weak as being legalistic and lacking in mercy and grace and therefore being less useful to the Lord.  Neither the “weak” nor the “strong” are to judge one another in such condemning ways.

Instead of judging one another in such a negative manner, Paul brings out the word play on “judge” here, “but judge this rather.”  Instead of judging one another in the sense of condemnation, your judgement, in the sense of the resolution and determination of your mind, should be – “do not put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” This is in the command voice.

An “obstacle,” is something that would cause you to trip.  A “stumbling block” is the snare of a trap.  We are not to put something in our brother’s way that would cause him to trip or to be entrapped.  The idea of an obstacle or a snare is used to express the idea of something that would cause a stumbling into or being caught in sin.  Jesus warned that such stumbling blocks would come, but woe to the man by which they came (Matthew 18:7; 1 John 2:10).  1 John 2:10 tells us that there is no cause for stumbling by one abiding in the Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul speaks to this same issue making a statement in verse 9 that clarifies what he is talking about here, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”  Those strong in faith must be careful in the practice of their freedoms lest they cause their brother to stumble into doing something that would be sin for him.

Some might object that this unfairly places more responsibility upon the “strong” than the “weak.”  It is true that the strong have more responsibility in this than the weak, but that is not unfair.  If we use the synonyms “mature” and “immature” for “strong” and “weak” we quickly see that this is only reasonable.  The mature in faith do have more responsibility than the immature in faith.

Others might object that this sounds like the “strong” have to give up their freedoms in order to appease the “weak.”  This is not done to appease the “weak,” but out of love for them and a desire not to be a cause of their sinning.  As we shall see here in the next verse, the “weak” do not have the freedom to practice what the strong do without sinning.  A “strong” believer can do something without sin, but a “weak” brother doing the same thing would sin.

The Principle Stated.

Verse 14 states. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”  Paul states two important principles here.  First, by divine revelation Paul, who had previously been a Pharisee, knew that nothing is unclean in itself.  This is what had been revealed to Peter in Acts 10 when the Lord told him three times in a vision that included animals declared unclean by the Mosaic Law to “kill and eat.”  What God had cleansed, was no longer to be considered unholy.  This opened the door to the Gentiles for salvation.  Paul states the same principle in 1 Timothy 4 stating that it was a doctrine of demons to “forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”  Jesus was also plain on the point that it was not what a man ate that would defile him, but what proceeded from his evil heart that defiles (Mark 7:18-23).

There is freedom in Christ.  As Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  This does not mean that we are free to do anything we want, for we are still bound by the commands of Christ and the principles and precepts that flow out of them. There is still the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) and we are to teach each other to observe all of our Lord’s commands (Matthew 28:20).  However, we are no longer bound by all the Old Testament ceremonial laws.  We already saw in our study of Romans 14:6-7 that we are free to regard or not regard one day as more important in worshiping the Lord than another.  We are free of the many different dietary restrictions.  We can either eat and give thanks to the Lord or not to eat and give thanks to the Lord.

The second important principle here is that what one person is free to do, another person would sin in doing the same thing.  There are differing standards of sinful conduct for different people.  Even though an object may actually be clean, if a person considers it to be unclean, then for them, it is unclean and would therefore be sin for them to partake of it until such point their conscience is changed.  Again, that change of mind and conscience can only properly be done through the Word of God (Romans 12:2).  If you do not feel comfortable doing something, then do not do it or you will violate your own conscience.  But you must also remember that if your conscience is restricted from participating in a practice not specifically prohibited by a New Testament command or principle, then you do have the right to condemn those who do not share your personal convictions.  You might still challenge other people about why they do what they do, but in doing so, you must also be open to learning from them the freedom that Jesus has given them.

Living by the Principle.

In verse 15 Paul specifically addresses the “stronger” brother and the manner in which they are to put into practice this principle of not putting an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”  The “stronger” brother is to love the weaker brother and visa versa.  It is out of this love that the “stronger” brother does not want to hurt the “weaker” brother.  The word “hurt” here is means to “grieve,” or “make sorrowful.”  It would not be loving to purposely cause such emotional turmoil.  Even more so, a loving Christian does not want to use his liberty to destroy another believer.  “Destroy” here carries the idea of “ruin,” and “loss of well-being.”  Destroying someone is a very unloving action.

What is this hurt, this destruction Paul is speaking of?  Again 1 Corinthians 8:8-12 clarifies, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.  But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?  For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.  And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”  In the pagan practices of worship, an animal would be brought to be sacrificed, and then a portion of that meat would be eaten as part of the worship of that pagan god.  The pagan priests could not themselves always eat all the meat that was left over from these sacrifices, so they would sell it.  Sometimes such meat would be sold inexpensively.  The mature Christian knows, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:4,19-20, that the idol is nothing and neither is the thing offered to the idol.  But, he adds in verse 7, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”

Some of those coming out of paganism would view such meat as participating in the worship of those pagan gods.  Their conscience would be defiled because they would believe they were sharing in the worship of the demons those pagan gods represented.

The hurt and destruction here would come from encouraging the “weak” to do something that they believe is unclean.  Because of that belief, their participation in it would be sin.  Christians do not want to be the cause of another Christian sinning because they love each other.  The specific example here is of eating meat offered to idols, but the principle extends to all of what we often refer to as “gray” areas.  It could be a food issue, but it could also be something else.  Paul goes on in verse 16 and 17 to further explain to the “stronger” brother the necessity for them to love their “weaker” brother and at times voluntarily limit their freedom.

Keeping the Priorities.

Verses 16-17 declare, “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Notice that Paul does not condemn the practice of the “strong” here or anywhere else.  He specifically calls their practice something that is a “good thing” for them.  Our freedom in Christ is a wonderful blessing, but it should not be used in any manner that would cause harm to other believers or be a cause of others to accuse us of evil.

The admonition here is the same as in 1 Corinthians 8:13.  I am to love my brother more than any particular practice because the kingdom of God is not about dietary laws and such.  Just because I am free in Christ to do something does not mean that it is the best thing to do or even a good thing to do.  It could be a bad thing to do in the context of particular circumstances.  The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, not about whether you are “strong” or “weak” in the use of your freedoms in Christ.

Living for and worshiping God does not consist

Of your personal rules of conduct which

May or may not match God’s commands.  

It consists of living daily in righteousness

Reflective of God Himself.

It is living in Godly wisdom

Under the control of the Holy Spirit

Who produces the fruit of

Righteousness in your life.

This in turn produces the peace and joy that only the Holy Spirit can bring, for they are part of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Because I love other believers, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of a “weaker” brother.  I will not entice or encourage a “weaker” brother to practice something against their conscience and so have what is a good thing for me become an evil thing for him.

Because I love God, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of His Kingdom.  I refrain from practicing what the community in general would consider bad, and by doing so I prevent them from speaking of what is good as something evil.  This is part of what Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.  He would become all things to all men that he might by all means save some.  If he disregarded their cultural standards, he would never get a hearing for the gospel.  He sought to avoid unnecessarily offending the non-believer by his practices (1 Corinthians 10:32).  

He would adapt to their customs and practices

As much as possible without ever

Compromising his own convictions.  

The only offense should be the Gospel itself.

The Reward.

What is the reward for those who are “strong” in faith but limit their freedom?  Verse 18 states, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”  First, understand that in living this way it is serving Christ.  I have consistently found that those who insist on living according to their own standards of freedom usually have little concern for their weaker brother, and they will sacrifice very little in their supposed service for Christ.  They generally only will do what is convenient and of personal interest to them.  They are rarely willing to make any real sacrifice for Christ or others.  When a “stronger” brother voluntarily limits his freedoms for the sake of others, they build up those in the Body who are weaker, and this strengthens the witness of the church.  Such a believer has been tested and found acceptable to God and approved by men.

The Responsibilities.

The “stronger” brother then is to do what Paul says in verse 19., “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”  These two motives should determine our actions toward other believers.  Peace is much more than an absence of conflict.  It is rather the presence of harmony.  That harmony comes about as believers are united in spirit and share the same mind, love, and purpose (Philippians 2:2), but none of this can occur without the resolution of the conflicts that occur because of differing ideas and purposes.  The resolutions of those conflicts are based on mutual love for the truth and one another.  Speech is restrained to say only what is good for edification according to the need of the moment in giving grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).  

Our freedoms in Christ, like our spiritual gifts,

Are given to us for the purpose of using them

To help one another become more like Jesus.

Paul admonishes again in verse 20, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”  Your freedoms become evil to the extent that your unrestrained exercise of them tears down the work of God in others.  Again, Paul specifically points out that all things are indeed clean, so he is not talking about those things that are contrary to Christ’s commands.  But even those things that are not sinful themselves and which Christians do have liberty to practice can be a cause of evil when they cause a “weaker” believer to do something contrary to his conscience and therefore sin.

In verse 21 Paul explains that, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or [to do anything] by which your brother stumbles.”  Voluntary restraint in those areas in which your “weaker” Christian brother might stumble is a good thing.  In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul even went so far as to say, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.”  The self-restraint the “stronger” believer shows is not to be a demonstration of how much power the “weak” has over him, but rather a demonstration of how much love he has for the weaker believer.

Let me quickly add here that a “weaker” brother who demands that you restrict your freedoms when he is not tempted to participate with you is not actually weaker, he is pharisaical.  For example, a pastor friend had deacons in his church that demanded that everyone who became a part of their church take an oath that they would never partake of an alcoholic beverage even though there was no way in which you could have enticed, bribed, or forced them to ever drink themselves.  They claimed to be “weaker” brothers on the issue, but they were pharisaical, not weaker.  It is good when Christians love each other enough to consider the actual weaknesses of the other believers around them and then to restrain their own freedom in the effort to keep from causing one of them to stumble into sin.

The particular example used throughout this passage is eating meat offered to idols.  In this particular case, the mature Christian would refrain from serving such meat to a “weaker” brother, for that would that would be a direct temptation for him to do something against his conscience.  A more mature Christian might also refrain from eating such meat in the presence of a “weaker” believer, depending on the individual, because he would not want to encourage him by his example to do something he does not have freedom to do.

While eating meat offered to idols is not an issue in our society, there are many other “gray” areas in which this same principle does apply directly including many “hot” topics of contention among Christians.  

  • Can a Christian drink wine or beer?  
  • What kind of music is acceptable for entertainment?  
  • What kind of music is acceptable for worship?  
  • What about movies, TV, and the theatre?  
  • What standards should determine what you see?  
  • How should Christians dress in public?  
  • How should Christians dress in Church?
  • What hair styles are acceptable?  
  • How much of your income should you spend on what?  
  • How much should you give to support the church?
  • Is dating right?  
  • If so, how old do your kids have to be before they can date?  
  • How many children should you have?  
  • How should you discipline your children and for what?
  • What is the proper way to educate them?
  • May Christians dance, and if so when, where, and what kind?
  • What about Christians who smoke or chew tobacco?
  • How much candy and other “junk” food is a Christian allowed to have?
  • What day should you worship the Lord?
  • What activities are allowed on the Lord’s day?

This list of “gray” areas could get very long. There are Biblical principles that can apply to each to help us figure out the parameters of what is proper before God and develop convictions, but there can be a lot of variation in the convictions that different Christians will have.  In addition, it is not always easy to deal with one another when our personal convictions do vary.  Yet, we must strive to build each other up in Christ instead of tearing each other down by the practice of our freedoms.

We must keep in mind that the foundational principle for all that Paul has been saying in chapters 12,13, and 14 is that we are to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.

The Christian life is not about having

Your wants and desires satisfied,

But rather about fulfilling God’s will.

There are times when even the legitimate satisfaction of your wants and desires must be sacrificed to fulfill something more important in the will of God.  Showing self-restraint so as not to be the cause of a brother stumbling is one of those times.

Enjoying Freedom.

In verse 22 Paul points out the joy that the Christian with a strong faith can have because of their freedom in Christ, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”  Notice first that the faith that you have, to either do or not do some activity, is based in your own convictions before God.  You are not to base your practices on the convictions of others, nor are you to restrict the practices of others based on your convictions.  Each believer is to behave based on their own convictions before God.

Notice as well that our freedom in Christ is not based in our desires, but in our faith as we develop our convictions before God.  Some people think they are free to do anything they want until someone shows them a specific Bible verse that their practice is sinful. That is not true.  There is the general truth that as a new Christian reads the Bible and increases in their understanding of God and His will that they will find that many of their practices are sinful and so they will stop them.  However, their practice was still sinful even when they were ignorant.  In addition, as mentioned earlier, the principles of God’s commands must be applied as well as the specifics.  For example, the Bible does not talk specifically about copyright law, but it does prohibit stealing.  That principle applies to copyright violations which are in fact theft of someone else’s property.

Paul’s emphasis here though is the opposite.  As a person grows in Christ and in their understanding of God’s character and will, they will develop new convictions that allow them greater freedom in their personal practices.  They will exchange their personal convictions, often culturally based, for Biblical convictions.  Increasing freedom is actually based in developing Biblical convictions to replace cultural ones.  As a believer does this, they still must be sensitive to those who are still bound by personal and cultural mores.  You do not want to be a cause of a “weaker” Christian doing something they do not yet have freedom to do.

Warning to the Weak.

In verse 23 Paul gives further warning to the “weaker” brother, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because [his eating is] not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.“  This is really the same point Paul made earlier in verse 14.  The principle is succinctly stated in the last phrase.  Whatever is not from faith is sin.  Though the truth may be that a particular practice is acceptable to God, if the individual has doubts about it, it would be sin for him to do that practice even if others are doing it.  Never do something just because other people are doing it.  If you do not have faith before God that something is the proper thing to do, then you must not do it.  Develop your convictions by the Word of God first, for only then can you truly discern what is right and wrong before God, and only after that can you truly exercise your freedom in Christ.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Getting Along in the Body, Part 1

I heard about a family of Vietnamese refugees who had moved in next door to a Christian family.  It was an eye-opening experience as they tried to understand one another.  As a welcome to their neighborhood, the mom of the Christian family gave them a plate of cookies.  That began a series of gift exchanges of various food items.  Neither family were not sure what some of the meals were.  The most elaborate was a roast duck the Vietnamese family brought over one time, but the Christian family did not get to try it.  The mom didn’t want to eat a duck that still had its head attached.  They gave it to the neighbors on the other side of us, who said it was quite good.  The dad and son of the Christian family went next door once for a meal celebrating the grandfathers’ birthday.  They learned that day that the Vietnamese family did not use much sugar, if any at all, even in their deserts.  That made them wonder what they had thought of all the cakes, cookies, and other sweets we had given to them.  Perhaps about the same as their mom thought of a duck with its head on.

Cultural differences such as these might cause some polite gagging as you attempt to eat what another culture considers a delicacy, but other cultural difference can cause great conflicts.  There are not only differences in foods, language, and dress, but there are also personal practices and customs we do not understand and may think odd or even offensive.  Societies often deal with these conflicts by isolating from each other, but that is not a Biblical option in the church, though there are many churches that do, segregating themselves along cultural or ethnic lines.

The Gospel is to be taken into all the world, and as different people respond, they are added to the church.  Paul is clear in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the church.  In Ephesians 3 Paul tells us that these ethnic barriers have been broken down.  All people are one people in Jesus Christ.  But this increases the opportunity for conflict.  There are many matters that are not directly addressed in the Scriptures.  How are Christians to deal with one another when they find their personal, often cultural, standards are in conflict with one another, and there is not a Bible passage that directly addresses the reason for the conflict.  

This is an issue that strikes at the heart

Of the very nature of the church.

It can be very personal and very subtle in its effect on us.

Paul deals with this issue in Romans 14, for the church in Rome was made up of a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.  Paul needed to give them specific instruction on how they were to apply the principle of being living and holy sacrifices to God into their relationships with one another when there arose cultural differences in acceptable standards of conduct.

Cultural conflict was not a new issue to Paul.  In Acts 15 we find that some men from Judea went to the churches in the Antioch area teaching, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Paul and Barnabas stood against this teaching, so eventually the church there determined to send them “to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning the issue.”  When they arrived in Jerusalem they found a certain group of Pharisees who had believed in Jesus but who were saying that, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

At issue was both the nature of salvation and the manner in which the Gentiles were to live.  Were the Gentiles required to become Jewish in custom in order to be saved or to live the Christian life?  The answer from the council was “no.”  As Peter related in verses 7-11 and James demonstrated from the Old Testament in verse 15-18, the Gentiles, like the Jews, were saved by God’s grace and not through keeping the Mosaic law.  What about what might be called “table fellowship” or the social contact between Jewish and Gentile Christians?  The Gentiles did not need to follow the Mosaic standards of conduct except in four specific areas to preclude offense arising from them.  Those holding onto Jewish social customs were not to trouble the Gentile believers (verse 19).  The word “trouble”  means “to crowd in on, annoy.””  Those who wanted to hear the Mosaic code could do so, for it had been proclaimed in the synagogues from ancient generations in every city (verse 21).  The Judaizers and Pharisees had lost their case, but the Gentiles were called to be considerate of those holding to the customs of the Mosaic law by burdening themselves to constrain their freedom in four essential practices. The word “essential,”  means, “necessary, on

There have been those that have tried to use Acts 15 as a basis for saying that the church is free to set up any standard of conduct it wants.  There are three major problems with trying to make this an application of this passage.

1) The historical setting of this chapter does not allow such a broad application.  The historical setting is between Gentile believers and Jewish believers that had been brought up for generations that certain practices contained in the Mosaic Law were abhorrent to God.  These Jews would have an extremely difficult time trying to overcome that and believe they now had freedom in these areas of social contact.  From their view, eating meat polluted by idols would have brought them into the worship of such idols and therefore in conflict with the Exodus 20:3-6 prohibition against idolatry as well as the injunctions against touching dead things, which they considered such meat, and becoming unclean because of it.  They would not eat blood because it was against the injunction of Leviticus 17:10-11 that God would set His face against the person who eats blood and would cut him off from His people.  They would not eat something strangled because of the blood.  Leviticus 17:13; Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12, etc. all required the animal to be slaughtered and the blood drained from the animal. “Fornication” – whether taken in the narrow sense of sexual sins or the broader sense of conduct in relationships, was clearly forbidden in the Mosaic law as well (Leviticus 18, etc.).

      Acts 15 occurs in an historical setting.  The constraints placed on the Gentile believers were straight from the Mosaic code and given as a means to promote social harmony between them and the Jews.  We will find here in Romans 14 that this was so they would not be a stumbling block to the Jews in enticing them to partake of something against their conscience.  The principle here cannot be broadened to mean that churches can set any code of conduct.

2) Acts is an historical book of transition.  The working out of the doctrine on how Christians with differing personal standards are to relate to one another is found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.  We do not develop doctrine for the church based on things that happened in Acts.  We go to the Epistles for that.

3) The Church is not an institution of man.  Man-made institutions can set any standard of conduct they want.  They can require uniforms or that you wear some funny little hat.  They are free to restrict what you do and how you behave.  They can require you to pay dues and attend so many meetings a year.  Man-made institutions are free to set up any code of rules they desire, but the church is not a man-made institution and therefore cannot be defined, structured, or operated according to man’s thoughts and desires.  The church is an spiritual organism created by God for His glory as the body of Christ and therefore must be defined, structured, and allowed to live, grow, and function only according to His instructions.  The Bible alone sets out for the church what we must believe and how we must behave.

When a church moves past the Bible to set out its own standards, it is no longer a church in the true sense, but rather a religious club.  Let me read for you an excerpt from such a group that supposes itself to be church.  Under “Rules & Discipline” is says: “Members shall not indulge in the world’s methods of pleasure seeking, amusements and entertainment, patronizing or taking in part in fairs, parades, circuses, moving picture shows, theaters, drama, public bathing resorts, organized contesting ball teams, dancing, card parties, races, various forms of gambling, scavenger hunts, mystery suppers, hayrides and such like.  Inasmuch as our automobiles, as well as all our
possessions, are gifts from God, they should be in keeping with Biblical modesty and separation, and the use of them should always glorify God.  The more expensive cars, cars with contrasting colors, sports cars as well as sports features on regular cars, and all striped tires, shall be avoided.  The appearance and use of all our vehicles shall be consistent with these principles and regulations.  Because of the effectiveness of the radio to propagate evil and increase end-time deception, thereby destroying true spirituality in the home and church, its use is not permitted.  Because of the evils of television, those who are responsible for the sale or use of the same forfeit their membership.  Video cassette recorder (VCR) entertainment systems shall not be used. We likewise sense the dangers of the news media such as daily papers and magazines in the home.  Psalm 101:3; Psalm 1:2.”

This same church also states the following: “We believe that acappella singing is the form that most accurately represents New Testament principles.  Because of the highly emotional appeal of stringed instruments, and their prominent place in modern sensual music, they are not permitted for actual use or in our recorded selections.  Electronic keyboard instruments which can automatically simulate the rhythm and tempo of secular music are also objectionable, and are not permitted.  We also sense the possible conditioning effect of the traditional keyboard instruments.  Acappela singing and recorded selections that reflect the emphasis of modern ‘gospel song’ performers with their entertaining appeal should be eliminated.”

Extreme?  Yes, but once the line is crossed and man’s standards replace God’s, the error is already present and all you are left with is measuring the degree of error.  Jesus gave a very serious warning in Matthew 17:9 and Mark 7:7 saying, “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”  What then does God’s Word say about how Christians are to treat one another when there are differing standards of conduct.  How do we keep cultures from colliding in the church?  

The Bible helps us answer that question in Romans 14.  How are Christians who have such varied backgrounds and therefore varied standards of personal conduct supposed to behave toward one another in those areas Scripture does not expressly forbid or commend?  Use of such things such as television, radio, computers, musical instruments, buying insurance, taking out a home loan, dancing, women wearing a pants suit to church, men having their hair over their ears, men having facial hair, women having short hair, cooking with wine, drinking wine in moderation, fishing on Sunday, mowing the lawn on Sunday, smoking, playing cards, putting your children in public school, playing sports, mixed swimming, etc.  The list can go on and on.  Some of those might seem humorous to you, but I can guarantee you to that there are some people who will hold these differing issues as serious matters.

How do we deal with one another?  The short answer is with “love.”  Let’s see how that love is to be expressed in Romans 14:1-3, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.  One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.  Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.”  The word “accept,” means to “receive.”  The connotation is of personal and willing reception of the other person.  Paul begins his discussion of what it means to accept one another by using the example of dietary restrictions, a common area of life that could cause conflict between Jewish & Gentiles Christians.

“Weak in the faith” does not mean weak in spiritual trust of salvation, but weak in understanding the full truth of the gospel message and the freedom it allows.  It is “the faith.”  A Jewish believer at this time would have grown up under the Mosaic Law with its many dietary restrictions.  Some of these were already pointed out in the discussion of Acts 15.  It would be difficult for Jews to quickly abandon those restrictions and feel comfortable eating things previously banned.  Remember that even Peter struggled with this.  Acts 10:9-16 records that Peter had a vision of an object like a great sheet being lowered from its four corners coming down out of the sky.  It was filled with all sorts of different animals and a voice called for him to “arise, Peter, kill and eat!”  Peter’s response was, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  The voice then called out again saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  This vision occurred three times in preparation for Peter to understand that the gospel message was also for the Gentiles.  God was teaching him that he was to no longer consider the Gentiles unholy or unclean.  Immediately after this, God used Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  My point here is that Peter’s initial negative reaction to the idea of eating food pronounced unclean in the Mosaic Law would have been common among all the Jewish believers of that time. Paul’s comments in Galatians 2:11 tell us that Peter still struggled with the issue of diet many years later.

Those who were “strong” in faith, in the sense they had come to the understanding that “everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it received with gratitude” (1 Timothy 4:4) were not to pass judgement on those who had not matured to that point yet.  “Not for passing judgement” means “to not regard with contempt.”  The sense here is receiving someone “weak” in faith, and then ridiculing him for his thoughts on the subject.  If he is weak, then he needs to be taught, and such teaching is to be done with love and sensitivity to build him up in Christ (Ephesians 4).  Passing judgement and ridiculing him does not help.  The “strong” are not to look at the”weak” as someone to be either despised or pitied.  The “strong” are not to be self-righteous and consider themselves to be superior to the “weak.”  The “weak” may not have freedom of conscience in an area yet, but they are not second class believers.

At same time, the “weak” are not to “judge,” the strong for practicing their freedom. “Judge” “condemn,” as in “guilty of a crime.”  The tendency, as we saw in Acts 15, would be for the “weak” to demand that the “strong” restrict their freedoms and live by their standards, which they considered to be more holy.  Those who ate only vegetables thought themselves to be better than those who ate all things (verse 2).  Refraining from certain foods may be a healthy diet, but it is not a more “holy” diet.   Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 that those who demanded abstention from foods were paying attention to the doctrine of demons.  If God does not forbid something, then neither can we based on our own preferences.  If God allows something, then so must we.  The “weak” are not judge the “strong” as being less holy or even less concerned about holiness than themselves.

Paul gives four reasons in verses 3-12 why this judging and condemning should not be done, and that both the “strong” and the “weak” are to accept each other.  God accepts both.  Each is God’s servant and God sustains both.  Each is to live for the Lord. God judges both.

REASON 1 For Acceptance: God Has Accepted Both.

Paul says in the end of verse 3 that God accepts both those that eat, and those that do not eat.  He accepts those who practice their freedom and those who do not.  If God accepts the person, then there is no godly basis on which we can reject or judge the person.  The only basis left then is our own selfishness and self-righteousness which elevate our personal preferences into a demanded standard of holiness.

REASON 2 For Acceptance: Both Are Servants Of The Lord, And God Sustains Both

Verse 4 says, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Each is the Lord’s servant and the Lord sustains both. We are not the ones to make a condemning judgement about whether a person’s personal practice in these gray areas is right or failing before the Lord.  That is between them and the Lord, and the Lord will sustain them as they individually seek after Him.

Those who restrict themselves have a tendency to think that those who do not follow such restrictions are too selfish and practicing what they consider to be worldly things. They believe that such “worldy” practices would hinder, if not preclude, them from serving the Lord.  At the same time, those who practice their liberty tend to think that those who do not share in that freedom are legalistic and self-righteous.  They believe
such legalistic people lose out on the joy of being a Christian and also restrict themselves from usefulness to Christ because their legalism keeps them from being gracious and merciful.  

The truth is that God uses all kinds of people with all kinds of different failings.  He uses the libertarian as well as the legalist.  That does not mean that God approves of their current state or that He will leave them in that condition.  As the master of all His people, God will use His servants as He sees fit even as He continues to change and conform them to the image of Christ.

None of this precludes you from asking with love why a person does or does not do a certain thing, nor should it stop you from lovingly sharing your own thoughts on a subject and why you do or  do not do certain things.  However, if God does not condemn a practice, then neither can you.  That fellow Christian is also a servant of the Lord, even though you do not share the same strengths and weaknesses, and the Lord is using him in a different way than He is you.

REASON 3 For Acceptance: Each Is To Live For God.

Verses 5-9 state, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.  For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”  Jesus is sovereign over each believer, and each believer is to
live for Him.  The inner motivation of the believer is not easily seen, yet that is what is important in his practice before the Lord.  Men judge the outward appearance according to their own personal standards and thus sin themselves in their condemnation of others.  Such was the condemnation against Jesus by the Pharisees.  Jesus did not do the outward things they required as evidence of true godliness, yet they themselves did those things from the wrong heart and were thus ungodly people.

In matters not specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture, each person must follow the dictates of their own conscience.  For them to do otherwise would be to go against their belief of what is right before God.  The conscience is to be trained through the word of God (Romans 12:2), not through the imposition of cultural or personal standards.

Paul uses several examples to illustrate this principle that it is the motivation of the heart that is important.  Those coming out of a Jewish heritage would have been taught to honor the Sabbath in certain ways.  They considered the time from Friday evening at Sunset until Sunset on Saturday evening to be a special day that was to be set apart for the worship of the Lord.  Other Christians, who came from different backgrounds, believed that every day was the same and all of them were for the worship of the Lord. Early in Church history, another practice began in which Christians would gather together to worship on Sundays, the first day of the week, in honor of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).  There is no New Testament command that any one particular day is to be observed for the Lord.  The seventh day Adventists are wrong on this in demanding that Saturday is the Sabbath and must be kept by Christians, but so are Christians who demand that Sunday is the only proper day.  There is nothing wrong with those who worship the Lord on Friday nights, as do Messianic Christians, nor is there anything wrong with those who worship the Lord on Saturday nights, which is occurring in many churches that have space problems.  It really is a matter of the conscience of the individual being fully convinced in his own mind of whether he will observe a particular day for the Lord or every day.

Paul makes the same case in verse 6 regarding a person’s diet.  Whether the person chooses to eat something or not, the real issue is their thankfulness to God (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  As Paul later said in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”  We are to be concerned about the reality, not the shadow. As Paul points out in verse 7, we neither live nor die for ourselves.  We are to live and die for the Lord for we belong to Him.  He is our master who redeemed us from our sin by His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).  Jesus’ death and resurrection has made Him our lord whether we are alive and serving Him on this earth, or we have died to this life and are now alive to serve Him in heaven.  Our proper response for our salvation is to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  We are to accept one another because every true Christian belongs to the Lord.

REASON 4 For Acceptance: God Alone Is Judge.

Verses 10-12 say, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?  For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.”  Every Christian should accept every other Christian because the Lord alone will judge.  We are not to play God in determining what is right and wrong for other people in these so called “gray” areas that the Bible does not specifically address.  Each one of us will give an account of ourselves before God, and frankly, that is enough for any of us to be concerned about.

The real issue here is not our outward behavior.  It is the inward motivation that drives that behavior.  Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is as sinful before God as not doing the right thing at all.  Why do you do what you do?  Why do you refrain from the things you do not do?  As those who are to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, the Christian is to be motivated in everything by their love for God and desire to serve Him.  What motivates you?  We would all be less judgmental of each other if each of us became less concerned with what others thought of us and more concerned with what God thinks of us, because only His judgement counts in the end.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

Grace For The Journey

Today we are in Romans 13:8 as we continue our study of this book.  Remember that all that Paul says in this chapter is based upon what he has said in chapter 12:1 and 2.  

Our relationship with God, other Christians,

And all other people is based on having

The right response to what God

Has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The only reasonable response to

Our salvation through faith in Christ is

To present ourselves as living

And holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  

We are transformed into living sacrifices

Through a mind that is changed by

The truth of God’s Word which is then

Put into action by our will

In doing what God desires

Instead of continuing in selfishness.

We saw throughout chapter 12 the consequences of these changes in our relationships . . .

  • As God’s servant, we will find our proper place and function within the Church, the body of Christ.
  • As we step forward to serve the Lord, we discover both how He has gifted us and the ministries He desires for us to involved in.
  • We are to be developing a love that is reflective of God Himself. A love that is without hypocrisy which abhors evil and clings to what is good.
  • We develop a brotherly love toward other believers. This is a love that puts a priority on the needs of others even at the cost of self-sacrifice.
  • New qualities develop in our lives resulting in our being diligent, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).
  • Even toward those who are against us there are changes.  Instead of cursing them and seeking our own revenge upon them, we seek to bless them as we learn to overcome evil with good.  It is not easy to love our enemies as Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 5:43-48), yet in doing so we demonstrate Christian maturity and the working of God within our lives.
  • Our relationship with government changes too.  Non-Christians obey the laws of the land because of the fear of the consequences if they do not.  Christians learn to submit themselves to the governing authorities and obey the laws because they recognize that in doing so they are actually submitting to God who establishes every such authority.  The only exception to this submission is when there is a conflict between obeying government and obeying God.  We must say the same thing the Apostles said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” If suffering results from this, we submit ourselves to it just as the Apostles did and continue to obey God’s commands (Acts 5:40-42).

As we saw in our study yesterday of Romans 12:1-7, God’s purpose for governments is for them to promote what is good and punish those who do evil.  When a government fails in these tasks, it risks God replacing it with another government.  This could be through God’s direct actions, such as with Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon; or through a deliverer He appoints to the task, such as the many judges of ancient Israel; or through the actions of another nation, as is recorded many times in the Bible and is currently occurring in Iraq by Allied forces.

This submission to government includes paying our taxes.  Remember that Paul said this when Nero was Caesar and taxes were not only high and often unjust, but made even worse by the tax collectors who became rich themselves by overcharging people on their taxes.  We also render to all those in authority not only whatever financial tax or custom is due, but also the proper respect and honor due their office.  In our own nation we have the freedom and the responsibility to be involved in government, but sometimes disrespect of government officials and authorities seems to be the normal behavior.  

The Christian should stand out by

Their respectful behavior toward all,

Even if they do not like

The actions of those officials.

We might work hard to see such a person replaced by someone more acceptable to us, but we still show respect because of their office, even if they personally are scoundrels. Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the apostles all had encounters with government officials who were less than honorable, yet they always paid the proper respect due the office that the man held (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Acts 23, etc.).

Loving Our Neighbor.

Paul continues in verses 8-14 in explaining the consequences of becoming living sacrifices for God in our relationships with others.  Verses 1-7 speak to the issue of our relationship with government.  Here in verses 8-10 he explains our relationship to our neighbor, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law.  For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.”

Our obligation to government includes taxes and honor.  Our obligation to our neighbor is summed up in the word “love.”” This is the verb form of “agape” which we studied earlier . . .  

It is the love of commitment and sacrifice

For the other person’s best interest.  

It is the love God has for us,

And the love we are

To have for other people.

Paul emphasizes this obligation to love by contrasting it with the statement that we should not owe anyone anything except that love.  This does not mean that we are to refuse to have obligations to other people as much as it means that we will discharge all our debts.  We are obligated to render tax, custom, fear, and honor to governmental authorities, and we discharge that debt by giving such authorities those very things.

Christians And Debt.

Some have taken this to mean that Christians should never go into financial debt.  That idea would probably help a lot of people stay out of financial trouble, but while the Scriptures gives many warnings about financial debt, they do not prohibit such debt elsewhere, so that cannot be Paul’s meaning here.  Deuteronomy 15:8 specifically commands the Israelites to generously lend to the poor for their needs, but they were also commanded not to charge usury (interest) on such a loan (Leviticus 25:36), though they could charge interest to foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20).  In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus speaks favorably of placing your savings in a bank where it could be loaned out with interest.

The Bible does not forbid making loans or borrowing money under certain restrictions. The issue here is that all debts are to be paid back.  It is the wicked that borrow and do not pay back (Psalm 37:12).  Such should not be true of the Christian regardless of what has become common practice in abusing our nation’s bankruptcy laws.  It is this obligation to pay back that is the basis for the many scriptural cautions about borrowing. Provers 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

There are many examples of unsecured loans resulting in the borrowers  impoverishment and enslavement to the lender.  (An unsecured loan is when you borrow money without sufficient collateral to pay off the loan if you default).  In Bible times that enslavement could be literal (2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:4-5).  While a creditor cannot enslave you in this nation, they can make your life miserable, (especially if who you owe is the Federal government).

All people need to be cautious about borrowing money, but the Christian especially so because God requires us to fulfill all our obligations including paying back what we owe. As a Christian matures, they will normally have better financial stability simply from the fact that their focus of life changes to godliness, and the temptation to join in the materialism around us diminishes.  

When you spend according to

God’s principles and priorities,

You will not be spending

Beyond your means.

In addition, Jesus promised that

God would meet our needs for life

If we would seek first His

Kingdom and righteousness

(Matthew 6:33).

One other factor that will help keep a Christian out of debt comes from the love we are to have for each other.  When a fellow believer is in true need, the rest of us are to express our love in tangible ways.  1 John 3:17 asks the rhetorical question, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”  John continues in verse 18 commanding, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Believers are to help one another with their real needs.  A caution here is that we meet real needs, not perceived wants.  Helping those with financial problems may also include examining how they spend their money and teaching them God’s commands concerning finances, and then hold them accountable so that thy learn to live by godly principles instead of selfish or foolish desires.  All of this is the practical demonstration of fulfilling what Paul says here in the second phrase of Romans 13:8 is our obligation. We are obligated to love one another, for he who loves others has fulfilled the law.

Christians And Love.

This idea of love fulfilling the law is not a new concept, but one which Jesus has previously stated.  In Matthew 22;36-40, Jesus was asked by a Pharisee which was the great commandment.  Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  Paul is saying the same thing here in Romans 13:9-10.

All of God’s commands about how you are to treat other people will be fulfilled if you “love your neighbors as yourself.”  Most of God’s commands are prohibitions.  There are things that cause harm to others, so we are not to do them.  Paul gives specific examples of this from the10 Commandments in verse 9, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.”  You cannot both love a person and also do any of these or any other thing God prohibits.  They are opposite of each other.

At the same time, God also gives commandments which are the positive things he wants us to do in our relationship with one another to cause good.  What Paul said back in chapter 12:13 that we are to be “contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality” are examples of this.  If we are loving our neighbors, then we will also be striving to accomplish these positive commandments too.  So it is that in loving our neighbors, we fulfill the law of God.

Some might become concerned that Paul is talking about law here and even mentions several of the 10 commandments specifically.  We should note first in relation to this that Paul is writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, and that explaining the Christians’ relationship to the Mosaic Law would be very important for those who were Jewish.  What Paul says here in Romans 13 gives them a clear understanding that their focus no longer has to be about trying to know and keep track of all the details of the Mosaic Law so that they could keep them and in that way please God.  

The Christians’ focus is on actively loving God,

One another, and all people including their enemies.  

Through this active love, they fulfill God’s will.

There are those that look back to Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14 that we are “not under the law, but under grace,” and conclude that the Christian has no relationship to the law of God.  That is not true.  I dealt with this issue when we went through Romans 6, so I will not do so again in detail here, but in short, we have a different relationship to law as Christians. We have no obligation to earn God’s favor by keeping the Mosaic law, for Jesus has fulfilled that law and we are justified by our faith in Him.  However, even the Mosaic law is still important to the Christian for we learn much about God’s character, will. and moral principles through it.  But more importantly, the Christian is under the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21) which includes all the commands that the New Testament gives to us and which we are to teach others (Matthew 28:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).

A final question we might ask in this section is, “Who is our neighbor?”  Jesus was asked that question in Luke 10, and He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Our “neighbor” is anyone we meet.  The Christian in becoming a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God also learns to love his neighbor as himself.

Living in Holiness.

Paul concludes this chapter in verses 11-14 with a call of urgency to put into practice the admonitions he has made in these two chapters.  As living sacrifices, we are to increasingly become like our Lord Jesus Christ (Roman 8:29), and we do not know how long we will have to do that before our opportunities to serve the Lord end and judgement comes.  Now is the time to obey God in all these matters.  What does this involve?

Wake Up!

Paul’s admonition here is as relevant, if not more relevant, today than it was when he first penned these words.  Why?  First, because many Christians today are as or more complacent now than then.  And second, we are even closer to our Lord’s return.

A great problem for Christians is how quickly we can become complacent in our lives. We get caught up in the day to day stuff of living and are soon sidetracked off the purpose of our existence.  Our focus gets skewed onto other things such as work, hobbies, improving our homes, having fun, and the things of this world.  None of these are wrong or bad in themselves, but they do compete for our attention as well as our time, resources, and energy.

Paul refers to the complacency caused by all these distractions as “being asleep.”  Sleep is a period when our “consciousness is practically suspended.”  We are inactive and unaware of what is going around us and so we do not respond to it.  

When we are spiritually asleep,

We lose consciousness of

God’s priorities and claims

Upon our lives.

We lose our awareness of

What God is doing around us

And what He desires to do

In and through us.

We become less and less

Active in His service

As we fail to respond

To His calls to do so.

Paul calls on the Romans, and upon us to wake up!  Don’t remain in such spiritual stupor.  Get out of bed and get moving.  The writer of Hebrews likened his call to action to a race in which we are to lay aside every encumbrance as well as the sin that so easily entangles us so that we can run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Spiritually waking up is not just refraining from sin,

But also actively serving the Lord and fulfilling

His will for your life even if that means

Setting aside things that may even

Be good, but are not the best for us.

Why should we wake up?  Paul gives two related reasons –  Knowing the time, and knowing the nearness of the Lord’s return.

There are two Greek words for “time.”  The first is “chronos” from which we get words such as “chronology, chronometer, and clock.”  This is the measure of the passing of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years.  That is not the word found here.  It is the second Greek word for “time” is “kairos,” which is used here.  It speaks of “time in the sense of epoch, era, or age.”  This is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:3 that they could discern the coming weather from the appearance of the sky, but they could not discern “the signs of the times.”  They were so spiritually blind that they could not tell that they were living in the times of the Messiah, who was actually standing before them.

There are many particular ages which the Bible refers to, such as the “days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37), the “ancient times” of the patriarchs (Joshua 24:2), the “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30), and the “present age” (Titus 2:12).  The “time” that Paul is speaking of here is the present time which precedes the return of Christ.

The urgency of Paul’s admonition is found in him telling them that it was “already the hour” for them to “awaken from sleep.”  They could not risk remaining complacent or ignoring his admonition.  Neither can we, for what he said to them is still true today. “For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”  Paul is talking to Christians who had already been converted, so he is not referring to them coming to salvation, but rather to the culmination of their salvation.  Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification had already taken place (Romans 8:29-30).  They were now awaiting the final aspect of salvation, glorification.  Years have gone by since they were saved, just as is true for many of us, so obviously we are closer to the culmination of our salvation now than when we first believed.  The time of our Lord’s return is closer today than it was yesterday.  In fact, James 5:9 tells us that he “right at the door.”  The night of man’s spiritual darkness is almost gone and the day of Christ’s revelation is at hand.  The imminent return of Jesus is to be a cause for Christians’ to rouse themselves out of their slumber and live right.

Live Right!

The fact that Jesus could return at any time is a cause of both comfort and urgency in the Christian.  It was a personal comfort for Paul, and he, James, and John used it to motivate believers to holiness.

Paul did not know when Jesus would return, for no man knows the day or hour when that will be (Matthew 24:36), but Paul’s writings demonstrate that he expected it to be within his own life time.  Paul consistently includes himself among those that could be present at Jesus’ return.  For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul speaks of the Lord’s return and the rapture, or catching away, which will occur at that moment.  The dead in Christ shall rise first, “then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  Paul places himself among those who might be alive at that time.  That was a comfort to him with which he wanted the Thessalonians to encourage each other. Earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Paul commented how the Thessalonians had “turned from idols to the living and true God, to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  Here Paul includes himself with those who expected to be delivered from God’s coming wrath upon the earth.

In Philippians 4:20-21, Paul tells of his own motivation in walking in holiness by including himself among those whose, “citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. . . .”

The Apostle John was also motivated to holiness by the promised return of Jesus. In 1 John 3:2-3 he says that everyone who has hope in being changed to become like Christ when He appears purifies himself, just as He is pure.  A few verses earlier John had encouraged his, “Little children, abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”  Interestingly, though John is old when he writes this, he includes himself as those who might be present at Jesus coming.

The apostle James both encouraged and warned based on the imminent coming of the Lord.  In James 5:7-8 he encouraged them to , “be patient” and “strengthen your hearts” as they strived to live godly lives in the midst of suffering because, “The Lord is at hand.”  James then warned in verse 9, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”

The Lord’s coming is anticipated joyfully by those walking in holiness, but those who should be, but are not living godly lives wait for it with some trepidation because they know they will be put to shame.  Here in Romans 13:12-13, Paul does not want believers to be found in a shameful position when the Lord returns, so he admonishes, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”  Paul includes himself because he recognizes his own danger of stumbling. Every Christian needs to walk humbly with God, for pride precedes a fall (Proverbs 11:2; 16:8; 29:23), and as Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 10:12 in talking about the nation of Israel’s failures, “Therefore let him who things he stands take heed lest he fall.”

We are to “cast off” which is to “throw or take off” the “deeds of darkness,” which is a general reference to all sin.  We are to do the opposite and “put on the armor of light.” The armor of light is the protection that comes from walking in holiness.  Check out Ephesians 6:10-18 to see Paul’s full explanation of spiritual armor.  Paul contrasts here what is taken off with what is put on.  Sin is exchanged for holiness.  Throw off the darkness of sin and put on the protection of God’s holiness.  Stop doing the kinds of things that you want hidden from view, the kinds of things that are done in the night. Instead, do the things that are proper that you are unashamed to have the full light of day shine upon.

Paul gives several specific examples of the kinds of behaviors that are improper deeds of darkness . . .

1) “Carousing” from “komos,” which can also be translated as “revelry, rioting, and orgies.”  This would be the type of parties in which the participants lose control of themselves.

2) “Drunkenness,” from “meth,” which is, “intoxication by alcohol or other drugs to the point of losing control.  Drunkenness and carousing are usually associated with each other.

3) “Sexual promiscuity,” refers to “marital relations with those you are not married to.”  A common sin then and now.

4) “Sensuality,” can also be translated as, “indecency, licentiousness, lasciviousness, and shamelessness.  Another sin common to ancient Rome and our own times.  In its extreme form this is lewdness, but its milder forms are often excused as being “stylish.” This can be a problem for men or women, but it is more common for women to dress themselves in a way so as to flaunt their physical features so that they will catch the attention of men.  That is a deed of darkness.  We are to take to heart the God’s instruction to dress with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly”(1 Timothy 2:9).  Too many women who profess to be Christians are taking their cues on how to dress from the fashion pages instead of the Bible’s pages.  They dress in a way so as to call attention to the sexual nature of their bodies, as does a harlot, instead of dressing with modesty so as to call attention to their character qualities of having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4).  Ladies, if you don’t know what it means to dress modestly, then talk with one your older lady friends and let them teach you.  And men, the principles also apply to you.  Learn to present yourselves in a respectful manner instead of trying to imitate immoral people who society says are “cool,” “sexy,” or “macho.”

5) “Strife” and “jealousy” are often found together because the selfish ambition and envy of jealousy usually causes the quarrels, rivalry, contention, and fighting of strife.  It was these two sins that caused the problems in Corinth in which the church became divided (1 Corinthians 3:3).  They still cause the same problem in many churches today.

What is the solution to these evils?  How can a person accomplish what Paul says to do here?  It is summed up in the last verse . . .

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  This does not mean that it is wrong to have a house, clothes in the closet, or food in the pantry, but it does mean that the fleshly desires of your body are not to control you.  Too many Christians try to straddle the fence and have one foot in God’s kingdom and one foot in the devil’s.  They want to be holy, but not so holy that they cannot also enjoy the pleasures of this world has to offer.  But the two are incompatible. They struggle and fail in the Christian life because of this.  As Paul says in Galatians 5 that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit of God are in opposition to each other. If you walk by the Spirit, you cannot carry out the desires of the flesh, but if your mind is set on the flesh, you will be hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

The problem arises when you

Are more concerned about satisfying

Your fleshly desires than in living for the Lord.

It is this wrong focus that leads to spiritual lethargy in the first place. As already mentioned from Matthew 6:33, God wants our attention to be given first to His kingdom and righteousness, and so He promises to meet those needs if we will put Him first. When our focus is on ourselves first, we soon not only find ourselves giving into temptation, but actually planning, often with self-justification, to sin.  Gluttony is aggravated by having your favorite foods in the house and preparing more than you actually need to eat, at the same time, you can’t get drunk if you never let alcohol come near you.  Sexual lusts are increased by exposure to provocative material, so called “adult entertainment,” and situations that lend themselves to them.  On the other hand, sensuality is eliminated when you are more concerned about what people think of your character than what they think of your body.

Going back to Paul’s arguments in Romans 6 . . .

If you are a Christian, then you

Have had a change of masters.  

It is time to stop obeying

Your old master of sin

And start obeying your

New master of righteousness.

Or to use Paul’s analogy here, it is time to take off the old clothes of sin and put on the new clothes of righteousness given to you by Jesus Christ.  Like Paul in Galatians 2:20, you are to be crucified with Christ and it is now Christ living in you.  When people see, you they should also see Christ.  If you are striving to be a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, then you will put on the Lord Jesus Christ and stop making provision to fulfill the lusts of your flesh.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The Christian And Government

Grace For The Journey

National Day of Prayer  The timing of our study of Romans 13:1-7 could hardly be better. Our passage this morning instructs us on the origin and purpose of government.  Given the debating that has been going on for quite some time about the role and authority of government in our everyday life, we need to understand what God says about it.  It is also always very relevant for us to understand the relationship of the Christian to government, but perhaps even more so when we look at our calendars and see there are only about three weeks left to file your Federal & State income taxes.

Remember that what Paul says here is predicated upon what he has already said in chapter 12.  The Christian’s relationship and response to government is based on the fact that we are to be living and holy sacrifices which are acceptable to God and whose lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We will not have a correct relationship with government if we do not first have correct relationships with one another.  We are to love without hypocrisy, abhorring evil while clinging to what is good. That foundation directs our relationships with other Christians and non-Christians alike. We are to even love our enemies and overcome evil with good.  As those qualities increase in our life we become more like our Lord Jesus Christ, and the more we are conformed into the image of Christ, the better citizens we will be regardless of what kind of government is over us. Keep in mind that Paul wrote this to a group of Christians that were under the tyrannical rule of Caesar Nero who only a few years later would carry out an horrible persecution of them.

The Authority of Government – Verses1-2.

Command to Submit.

This chapter begins with the statement, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.”  Governing authorities are those who hold ruling power and their
representatives.  The king is the one who holds the ruling power, and his army represents him in enforcing that rule.  In our land . . .

The ruling power is actually supposed to be our laws.  

Those laws are then enforced

Through the law’s Representatives

Which include our elected officials,

Military personnel, and law enforcement officers.  

Each of these representatives of the law are sworn

To uphold the U.S. Constitution, and depending on

The particular officer, also the Constitution and laws

Of their particular State and local government.  

This allegiance to law instead of a person is one of the things

That makes our nation very different from many other types of governments.

This opening statement is given in the command voice, so it is not an option.  The word “subjection” is from a military term, meaning “to be under in rank.”  Here it is in the passive voice, meaning “to subject oneself to.”  This is obedience that is done willingly instead of being forced.  In other words, the Christian is commanded to obey government authority willingly instead of being forced to do so by the authority of the government.

This command to submit ourselves to the governing authorities makes the Christian different from the non-Christian in their relationship to government.  Both must obey the government, but they do so from very different motivations.  It is Paul’s explanation of the origin of authority that gives us our motivation to submit to it.

Origin of Authority – Verse 1.

Verse 1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”  Take note here that Paul does not make any exceptions in his statement.  Remember too that he said this when Nero was emperor in Rome.  Those facts can make this a difficult idea to accept for it means that not only Nero, but other despots that have existed throughout the ages, including those in modern times such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Saddam have had their authority established by God.  Even Satan’s authority as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) ultimately comes from God.

Does that mean that God is the author of evil or responsible in some way for what evil beings do?  Of course not!  God is good and there is no evil in Him or that can come from Him (Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13; James 1:17).  

It does mean that God is so powerful

That even the evil that presently exists

Cannot thwart His will.  

God can even use that which is evil

To accomplish His holy purposes.

We have already seen this concept in our study of Romans 9:22 that God has, “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in order to, “demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known.”  Proverbs 16:4 is succinct in this point stating, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”  The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate that it is God who decides who will be in authority and who will not.  One of the more dramatic examples of this is Nebuchadnezzar.  In Jeremiah 25:9, the Lord calls Nebuchadnezzar, “My servant,” who would bring destruction on Judea and Jerusalem because of their sin.  2 Kings 24,25 and 2 Chronicles 36 records him doing exactly what Jeremiah had foretold.  In Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar is warned by Daniel that God would punish him for his pride and wickedness by making him like a beast of the field.  A year after that warning, Nebuchadnezzar was boasting about his accomplishments, power, and glory; and while the words were still in his mouth, a voice from heaven pronounced, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place [will be] with the beasts of the field.  You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:31,32).  Nebuchadnezzar spent the next seven years grazing with the cattle until his reason returned to him and he “blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation.  And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”

The Christian recognizes this important truth.  There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Because of that truth we willingly submit ourselves to that governmental authority because they recognize in so doing they are actually submitting to the authority God has established.  That is why Christians should be the best citizens of whatever nation they are in regardless of the form of government in that nation or the personal qualities of the governmental leaders. We will see the exceptions to that submission in a few moments, but understand clearly the principle that is set forward here . . .

Christians willingly submit themselves to governmental authority

Because in doing so they are obeying God.  

That does not mean the Christian must agree with

The governmental system, nor does it mean that they cannot work

To change the system or its leaders, but it does mean that

Any efforts toward such changes will be done in

A godly manner as good citizens of their nation.

Consequences of Rebellion – Verse 2.

In verse 2 Paul warns of the consequences of rebellion against governmental authority, “Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  The word for “resists” here, is the exact opposite of “submit” in the previous verse.  This is “to be against or oppose authority.”  This resistance does not have to be active rebellion, but can also be
the more passive rebellion of refusing to submit.  Active and passive resistance to authority are the same in God’s eyes because He looks at the heart which is manifesting itself in the opposition to authority, and that opposition is ultimately against Him.  Such rebellion will result in God’s condemnation, and whether the consequences of that occur now or in eternity, you want to avoid it.

The Purpose of Government – Verses 3-4.

What then is the purpose of government?  Can governmental authorities freely do whatever they want under the idea that God has given them that right?  Western European kings claimed such “divine rights” until modern times.  What divine restrictions are placed on governmental authority and is there any manner in which despots can legitimately be removed?  Paul does not answer all those questions here, but he does give us a foundation upon which we can find answers to those questions.

Promotion of Good – Verse 3.

In verse 3, Paul shows that one of the purposes of government is the promotion of good, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”  Remember that Paul is writing this while Nero is Caesar.  Roman rule could be oppressive and cruel, yet for the most part, Roman rule brought stability and security for those that did what was good.  The same is actually true for most governments including some ruled by despotic dictators.  The laws that are established by most governments are for the purpose of deterring evil practices while promoting good behavior.  To the degree that a government is doing that, it is fulfilling God’s purposes for it.  To the degree that a government is not doing that, is the degree that it risks God overthrowing it for one that will carry out His decrees.  As Isaiah 5:20 warns, “”Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Most governments will have a mixed record in deterring evil and promoting and protecting what is good because humans are skewed by their sin in understanding what is good and evil.  Even our own government is mixed in its record.  While for the most part we must conclude that it seeks to promote good and deter evil, there are many areas in which it has become confused about what is good and what is evil because the philosophies of men instead of the revelation of God are being used to determine what is good and evil.  Killing unborn children is evil.  Advocating adoption is good.  Protecting freedom of conscience is good.  Requiring homosexuality and other sexual perversions to be accepted as legitimate “alternative lifestyles” is evil.  Deterring such unrighteous behaviors as greed, stealing, slander, malice, insolence, murder, lying, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, debauchery, etc., is good.  Giving awards to those
who do these things or who promote them through entertainment is evil.

A government that causes those who do good to fear are in direct violation of one of the reasons God has allowed that government to exist.  They are in danger of God’s judgement against them.  God judged ancient Israel, in part, for this very problem (see Isaiah 5).  If He will judge His own people for this failure, then all other nations also need to fear His judgment upon them.

Punishment of Evil – Verse 4.

The other major purpose of governmental authority is in verse 4, “For it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”  It is not enough to just promote good, but a government has a responsibility to carry out just punishment on those who do evil.  Rulers are to be a cause of fear to those who have evil behavior because they will punish such people.

Notice that in bearing the sword and being an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil, the ruler is “a minister of God.”  We don’t often think of government officials in that light, but it is true never-the-less.  Our President, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governor, State Senators, Assemblymen, Town Supervisor, and Town Councilmen all have a responsibility in making laws that will promote good while deterring evil and punishing those who do evil.  Every judge and police officer of every jurisdiction has the responsibility of enforcing those laws.  All of them are ministers of God in this respect, regardless of their own personal beliefs about God.  Even an atheistic government authority is a minister of God.

Why is that an important point?  

Because every government authority

Will have to give an account

Of their stewardship

Of office to God.

What King Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 to the judges he appointed still applies today, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.  Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”  

This is a truth we should remind our

Elected officials of constantly.  

Too often they think their loyalty

Must be to their constituency

For fear of not being re-elected.  

The truth is their loyalty

Needs to be to God,

For He will judge each

Of them by their faithfulness

In being His servants.

No matter who you are, it is a sobering thought to consider having to stand before God and give an account of your actions.

Evil doers should be afraid of rulers because they do not bear the sword in vain. The “sword” here represents the authority of the ruler to punish evil doers even to the extreme of the death penalty.  What is true for the most severe penalty is also true for lesser penalties.  

Many people are against the death penalty for a variety of reasons.  Regardless of those reasons, government authorities must remember that God is the one that established capital punishment for certain crimes, and He has entrusted the exercise of it to the civil authorities.  While appropriate procedures must be carefully followed so that the innocent are not unjustly executed, fear of such a tragedy must not result in the failure to carry out God’s commands and execute the guilty.  Such injustice brings
tragedy on a nation.  The Lord commanded in Genesis 9:6 that, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  Whenever there is a failure to bring a murderer to justice and executing him, the blood of the victim pollutes the land and calls out for God’s wrath upon that nation.  This was another one of the reasons for God bringing about the destruction of Ancient Israel and Judea (Numbers 35:33; Psalm 106:38).

America is not innocent in this area, for there are many States that will still not carry out capital punishment for even the most heinous of crimes.  And worse than that, we are a nation in which a majority of our elected officials are still protecting the practice of murdering the unborn under the evil delusion that a fictitious right of privacy is superior to the unborn baby’s right to life.  The so called “pro-choice” crowd is not concerned about choice or the woman, if they were, they would support informed consent and waiting period laws so that the pregnant woman could make an intelligent decision. They would also support parental notification and medical hygiene laws which apply to every other kind of medical procedure except abortion.  The truth is that these people want the power to murder their unborn at will for any reason.  They are among those that call evil good, and good evil.

God gives authority to governments so that they will promote good and bring punishment upon evildoers.  Those governments that will not fulfill His purposes risk His judgement.  We need to thank the Lord for His continuing longsuffering and mercy toward us, for we are deserving of His wrath.  The blood of the innocents pollute our land and cry out to Him for justice.  

Before I go on to look at what Paul says about the Christians’ duty to government, let me make a couple of brief comments about how God deals with governments that will not fulfill His purposes.  We have many Biblical examples of how God has done this in the past.

In some cases, God will raise up a deliverer who will throw off the yoke of a government that is oppressing people over which they have no legitimate claim of authority.  Such was the case in the Exodus when God raised up Moses to lead Israel out of its bondage to Pharaoh.  In this case, God directly intervened and destroyed Egypt until they sent the Israelites away.  In the period of the Judges, God would raise up individuals that would lead a rebellion against a foreign power that was oppressing them.  The Israelites belong to God and their proper government authority was the system set up within that Theocracy.  Other nations that came in and conquered various areas were usurpers to the legitimate government.  The “rebellion” was the legitimate authority re-establishing a proper government.

In other cases, God used one nation to destroy another for various reasons.  I have already pointed out that God punished His own people in this manner.  Assyria destroyed Israel and Babylon destroyed Judah.  Later, the Persian empire, successor to the Babylonians, restored the nation of Judah.  God also used Israel to destroy the wicked nations.  They destroyed the Canaanite kingdoms first, and then as other nations would attack, they would fight back and destroy them.  That includes Moab, Edom, and Ammon.

These same sort of actions still occurs.  When one nation oversteps its bounds and threatens or attacks another nation, that other nation has a duty to protect its people, promote good, and punish evil by wielding its own sword.  Such was the case with defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and is the case in the current war against Iraq.

We must remember that nations are not the same as individuals.  Nations are in themselves governing authorities.  There is no God-given command for them to submit to each other.  And just to be clear on this in case anyone wonders, the United Nations is not a governmental authority.  It is a forum for nations to work together in relationships with one another in solving international problems, and to develop coalitions in dealing with the threats and attacks of belligerent powers against allies. The U.N. holds no “governmental authority” over the United States or any other nation.

Our Duty to Government – Verses 5-7.

In verse 5-7, Paul gives instructions on the Christian’s duty to governmental authority.

Be in Subjection – Verse 5.

He repeats the principle that we are to be in subjection to governing authorities, but he also gives the reason why, “Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” 

Fear of its wrath is the first reason. This is a very practical reason, for the “sword” should be feared.  This is the reason people slow down when they see a State Trooper by the side of the road or in their rear-view mirror. This is the reason that just the presence of police at a function keeps a crowd quieted down, and why a visible security guard – or even a camera – reduces shoplifting.  People fear the consequences.  They don’t want a ticket and they don’t want to go to jail.  But this is not the reason that should motivate the mature Christian.  We are not to live in fear, for God’s love casts
that away.

Conscience sake should be the motivation of the Christian.  In Acts 24:16 Paul said that his hope in Christ and the resurrection had caused him to always strive to have a blameless conscience toward God and man.  The Apostle Peter was also motivated by his relationship with the Lord and he wanted other Christians to be motivated by the same.  In 1 Peter 2:13-17 he commanded that for “the Lord’s sake,” Christians were to “submit themselves to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God.  Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”  That is very similar to what Paul has said here in Romans.  Peter added in 1 Peter 3:15-16 that the Christian is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Laws, warning signs, and such are there

To motivate the non-Christian to refrain

From evil by making him fear the consequences.  

Christians are to be motivated out of their love

For Christ to do good and flee from evil.

As we mature as Christians, we should be increasingly motivated to submit to the governing authorities out of a conscience transformed by our love for Christ, instead of fear of punishment.  

Pay Taxes – Verse 6.

This motivation also causes us to do something else. Verse 6 tells us, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.”  No one has ever liked taxes, except those who make their living off them, and even they don’t like paying them.  Yet, because the Christian recognizes the origin and purpose of government, out of conscience sake they will pay their taxes so that the government can carry out its God given duties of promoting good and deterring evil because of their punishment of it.  Remember once again that Paul is writing this at a time when taxes were not only unjust and oppressive, but often even harsher because of the corruption of the tax collectors who would demand more than the required amount.  Remember that even Jesus, who as Son of God owed no taxes, still paid them (Matthew 17:25-27).  Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:17-21 to the Pharisees question about paying the hated poll-tax is still the final word on paying taxes, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

Taxes belong to the governing authorities.  We pay what we owe out of conscience sake because they are servants of God.  In this nation we can and should work toward making sure taxes are fair and used properly.  But even when they are corrupt and used wrongly, we still do not cheat on our taxes, because that would not only affect ourselves, but also bring shame on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Render Proper Respect – Verse 7.

In verse 7, Paul wraps up the application of this principle of subjecting ourselves to the governing authorities saying, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” To “render” is to “pay” or “give” what belongs to them.

Tax has already been covered, but the fact that Paul mentions it again in this verse and first in this list stresses the importance of it.  This is the general income or property tax.

Custom is actually a particular kind of tax on merchandise.  We know this as sales tax.

Fear is a word describing emotion, and as used here, it refers to the proper emotions that should be due to someone in authority.  It could range from the simple awe that is often present when you meet someone in an important position of power, to the dread you might feel when being questioned by the police or standing before a judge awaiting his verdict.

Honor is proper respect due to a person that is exhibited in following proper decorum and protocol.  It includes the proper courtesies such as using formal speech, wearing appropriate clothing and making respectful gestures.

We live in a society that is not only increasingly informal, but also one in which rudeness is replacing courtesy, and authority is not respected.  Though a believer in Christ may come from such a society, as they mature, they are to change in this area as well, for that is the example our Lord Jesus and His apostles gave to us whenever they interacted with governmental authorities.

Out of love for God and understanding that He is in control of all things, including government, Christians should be the best citizens of any nation.  When people look at your life, would they think that of you?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 5

Grace For The Journey

We have been studying Romans for the past two months.  I trust that you now understand that when a person places their faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, there are radical changes that take place. When a person is justified through faith in Christ, they have a change of masters .  They are freed from bondage to sin and the devil and made slaves of God and righteousness. They are then progressively changed to be conformed into the image of Christ as they present themselves as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God and are transformed by the renewing of their minds.

We have been concentrating on this last mentioned aspect of the radical changes that are made in the life of a Christian as we have been studying Romans 12 for the past several days.  I have gone slowly over the first 13 verses in order to emphasize that Christians take on a completely different worldview from what they had as non-Christians.  

Life is now centered in God instead of self.  

You are now part of Christ’s Body

With a purpose in building up His kingdom

Instead of building up your own.

When a person becomes a Christian,

Their relationship with God,

Themselves and others all change.

Several days ago we looked at the key principle given in Romans 12:9 that is to govern all our relationships.  

We are to love others without hypocrisy

In abhorring what is evil

And clinging to what is good .

This “love” is “agape,” the love of choice and commitment that sacrifices itself for the best interest of the one loved, and which reflects the holy character of God.

We have also seen over the last few days the outworking of this kind of love within the fellowship of other Christians.  Paul says in Romans 12:10-13, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

In today’s blog we will be examining verses 14-21 and the relationships we are to have with other people including those that would be considered our enemies.  While the nature of the brotherly love that is to exist between Christians is so radical that Jesus said that others would know we are His followers by that love (John 13:35), the love we are to have for people who even persecute us is even more radical.  Before we examine what Paul says here in Romans 12, lets first see the foundation for it in what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul’s description of the kind of brotherly love believers are to have for one another because of their common love for Jesus Christ is beyond what non-Christians would normally have, but in essence, it is not that radical to love people that are like yourselves.  It is easy to love someone that loves you.  What is very radical is to love people that are very unlike yourself, and even more so to love people that not only do not like you, but consider you to be their enemy.  That is the foundation for what Paul says in Romans 12:14-21.

It is important to keep in mind as we study these verses that they form one passage. Too often these verses, as well as the ones preceding them, are viewed as independent statements and as such are taken out of context.  The flow of Paul’s thought must be maintained in order to correctly understand them.  

Verse 14 forms the foundation of how we are to deal with other people.  Verses 15-18 are a series of prepositional and infinitive phrases expanding on this foundation, and verses 19-21 tie this principle back to the Old Testament.

Being a Blessing – Verse 14.

The foundational principle in our dealing with other people is that we are to be a blessing, even to those who are against us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”  I have already pointed out from Matthew 5:44ff what Jesus said about our need to love our enemies instead of hating them.  This is opposite the natural reaction people have to those that treat them in a way other than how they want to be treated. Whether it is something as simple as being discourteous on the road, or something serious as a violent crime, the normal reaction is to curse the offensive person.  On what basis can someone actually put this into practice?

Recall what Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 5:10-12 at the end of the section we usually refer to as the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”

The basis of being a blessing is living

For the correct purpose in life.  

It really is not about you

And the here and now.  

It is about God and eternity.

If your goal in life is to be like Jesus and please God, then when people persecute you because of righteousness, you can rejoice because you are reflecting God.  When people lie about you and seek your harm on account of Jesus, then your goal of having Christ live in and through you is being fulfilled.  Evil people do not like holiness because it exposes their sinfulness.  When people are evil towards you, then you are suffering for the same reason that the prophets of old suffered.  If your goal in life is holiness and usefulness to God, then being equated with His prophets is a great honor.  If that is not your goal, then persecution will cause you to curse.

The word “blessing” here comes from a compound Greek word literally meaning “good word” and hence “to speak well of” or “invoke blessings.”  We get our word  “eulogy” from it.  The word “curse” here is the opposite.  It comes from another compound Greed word, which means to “pray against.”

Jesus’ life was an example of this.  Jesus gave extremely strong warnings to his enemies (Matthew 23).  He even declared to them that the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit could not be forgiven, but we do not find Jesus cursing them.  In fact, we find the opposite even towards those who had placed Him on the cross of Calvary.  Luke 23:34 records Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Stephen said a similar thing in Acts 7:60 in behalf of those that were stoning him to death.

So it must be with us.  This does not preclude strong warnings of God’s judgement to come, nor does it preclude taking action against those who are doing evil.  Jesus did both (Matthew 23; John 2:15).  It does preclude us from praying that God would damn them.

Our greatest desire should be that they would repent and turn to the Savior and become a brother or sister in Christ.  Again, this does not preclude us from giving strong warnings or taking action against evil.  This is the attitude that enables the Christian to stand strongly against the evil that people would do without hating the evil doer.

Be a blessing to others, and when you pray for them, seek God’s grace and mercy for them instead of their judgement.  They may be deserving of God’s condemnation, but at one time, so were you.

Being Other Centered – Verse 15.

The Christian can bless instead of curse

Because there has been a heart change.  

As the believer becomes more focused

On living for God, there is a corresponding

Change from self-centeredness to

A genuine concern for other people.

It is for that reason that the Christian can “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  Verse15 is a practical way in which being a blessing can be expressed. 

The natural response to our enemies is to be upset when things are going well for them and to be happy when bad things happen to them.  All of us understand this.  We cheer the part of the story when the hero finally gets his revenge on the bad guy.  We are glad when the irritating co-worker gets fired.  We are happy to see the guy who just went rocketing by us get pulled over by the State Trooper.  Certainly, there is a proper sense of rejoicing in justice, but there is also that part of being glad that the guy is suffering. This verse tells us that the Christian is not to do that.  Instead, we are to rejoice with them when good things happen and cry with them when bad things happen.

In the film “Gods and Generals” there was one scene from that film that very well expressed the meaning of this verse.  A young woman had barely managed to escape Fredericksburg as the town was shelled and then the Union troops came in.  She could see the destruction her hometown was suffering, and she was currently helping with the soldiers that were wounded in the defense of her city and state.  Yet, when she looked out on the fields that were now covered with Union dead after the battle, her heart was full of compassion and saddness, not glee.

We are not to rejoice at the woes that come upon our enemies.  Proverbs 24:17-18 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and He turn away His anger from him.” Proverbs 17:5 adds, “He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.”

This principle should be lived in all areas of our lives, and if it is to be applied in the more difficult situations of being this way toward an enemy, then it must start in the simple things.  We need to teach our children to be good losers who congratulate the winner of a game; we need to teach them to be good winners who will not gloat but instead will encourage those who lost; we need to congratulate our rival at work who got the promotion instead of us, and if you got the promotion instead of your rival, don’t rub it in his face.  When your enemy suffers, even if it is from justice, weep for them that their evil should bring such pain on themselves and others.

The Christian is to seek to be a blessing from God, and in doing so they become less selfish and more compassionate for others, including their enemies.  That is why they can rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep.  It is part of our being living sacrifices.  Take note as well that it is this compassion that can impact an enemy with the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it reflects His love for us.

Being Humble – Verse 16.

In verse 16 we find another exhortation for Christians to be humble people. “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”  Humility breeds unity while pride causes division.  The Corinthian church was marked by divisions caused by the pride of the various factions within it.  Paul called on them to overcome this by being, “Made complete in the same mind and same judgement” (1 Corinthians 1:10).  Paul closed his second letter to them calling on them to, “Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11.  Philippians 2:1-4 shows the connection of unity and humility saying, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Paul then went on to point out Jesus as the great example of such humility.

We are a blessing to other people when we strive to find common ground upon which we can be unified.  This is not to say in any way that we are to ignore truth in order to have unity.  The ecumenical movement seeks unity at the expense of truth.  Paul is clear on this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 saying, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,  ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.”

The problem Paul addresses here is the common practice in which minor issues related to personal views become the point of division.  The heart of that problem is pride. Arrogance demands that “it must be my way or no way” and that “only fools would hold to a view other than the one I have.” Too often Christians lose their ability to either win over those who are lost or even gain an audience for the truth they want to speak because of their haughty attitudes.  Instead of exhibiting righteousness in Christ, they exhibit self-righteousness that looks down on other people.  That self-righteous attitude among professing Christians turns many people away from Christ.

Some of this attitude can be held over from the social group that the Christian came from.  Most societies pay close attention to social standing, for it is the basis upon people of various classes are divided.  It sets the unwritten rules about whom is supposed to be able to associate with whom and on what basis.  Those societal rules are not to apply to the Christian.  We are not to consider ourselves to be wise in our own eyes.  We are not to be people who seek out the societal elite while shunning the lowly. We are to treat all people with the same dignity and respect.  As Paul points out in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek , there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Being Respectful – Verse 17.

As a living sacrifice the Christian strives to do what is right which includes being respectful.  Verse 17 says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”  The two phrases in this verse are contrasts with each other.  Evil and good are opposites of each other.  What is good is “right, proper, fitting; better; honorable, honest; fine, beautiful, precious.”  What is evil is “bad, wrong; injury, harmful, foul, troublesome.”

Paul says almost the exact same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men”  You cannot be a blessing if you are returning evil for evil.  That would be trying to put into action a curse you wanted to come upon them.  

God’s will is not accomplished by His people

Doing what is contrary to His holy nature.

God is so powerful that He can

Bring good out of evil, but God is not evil

Himself nor the cause of it (James 1).

The blessing comes when the Christian does

That which reflects God’s character.

The apostle Peter also speaks to this issue.  In 1 Peter 3:8-12 he says, “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;  not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  For, let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

We seek to be a blessing instead of a curse and so we do what is good for men instead of returning the evil they have evil done to us.

Being Peaceful – Verse 18.

In verse 18 Paul addresses a very practical aspect of trying to be a blessing and sets a balance for us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  The reality is that there are people that will not let peace to be established no matter how much you want it and no matter what you do, and peace is a two way street.  The point in this verse is that we are to take seriously our responsibility in striving to establish peace with others.  As long as we do not compromise any of the principles of God’s Word, we should do whatever we can to bring about peace.  We honestly seek reconciliation, but we do not compromise the truth, nor do we sacrifice the rights or safety of others.  Peace is not purchased with appeasement.  However, we do forsake our own pride which is the foundation of grudges.  We do freely offer forgiveness which removes the basis of any bitterness.

Being Patient – Verse 19.

In verse 19 Paul reveals the reason a Christian is to strive for peace and be a blessing instead of cursing or repaying evil with evil. Our desire for revenge is tempered by our submission to God, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.“  There are two essential truths in this verse that cause the Christian to be patient instead of seeking revenge on those who are evil towards him.

First, vengeance is something that belongs to God and not to us.

We do not have the right to carry out acts of revenge.

Second, by refraining from taking our own revenge, we leave room for God’s wrath to come upon evildoers.

We must remember that God is judge, not us.  We must also remember that things need to be done in His timing and not ours.  We must not take God’s patience and forbearance as any sign of injustice on God’s part. Romans 2:4 tells us that those aspects of God’s kindness should lead to repentance.  Psalm 73 records Asaph’s struggle with this as he noticed that the wicked were at ease and had increased in wealth while he suffered.  It was not until he went into the sanctuary of God and regained his eternal perspective that he remembered how God’s justice works.  The same is often true for us.  We must keep the eternal perspective.  God will bring about complete justice in His time even if that does not occur until this life is over.  No matter how the wicked faired in this life, they will stand before God at the Great White Throne and all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be judged according to their deeds and then be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Judgement and vengeance belong to the Lord because only He can bring about true justice.  Only the Lord Himself can make the correct application of His mercy and grace as well as full measure of His wrath.  No man can do that.  In Exodus 34:6-7, the Lord proclaimed Himself to Moses saying, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave [the guilty] unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  We are to be patient and leave judgement and vengeance in the Lord’s hands.

Overcoming Evil – Verses 20-21.

What Paul says in verses 20,21 often confuse people because it is taken out of the context of the passage, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Verse 20 is often taken by people to mean that in doing good to my enemy I will in some way increase his punishment. Some say that punishment will occur in this life, and others say it just increases their punishment in hell. That is an interpretation that appeals to us because it clothes our desire for revenge with good works.  We rationalize, “I can be good and still get revenge,” but such an interpretation is contrary to the context.

The theme of this chapter is the manner in which the Christian should live as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God.  The flow of the passage puts this verse in the section of living in relationships with others by loving without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good.  This section of the chapter is based on the theme of blessing our enemies instead of cursing them, and the verses immediately before and after stress not taking our own revenge but overcoming evil with good including feeding our enemy when they are hungry and giving them a drink when they are thirsty.

In addition, verse 20 is taken directly from Proverbs 25:21-22 which also adds the phrase, “And the Lord will reward you” at the end.  Clearly then, the context here demands that the phrase “in doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head” must mean something other than some form of revenge upon the enemy.

The most common interpretation of this phrase is that it was a reference to the burning shame that we place upon our enemies by doing good to them.  John MacArthur traces this to an Egyptian custom in which a person who wanted to show his contrition would place burning coals in a pan on top of his head to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.  This argument has some merit both from the fact that it was a common interpretation even in the early church and from a parallel thought Peter gives in 1 Peter 3:16-17.  He says there, “And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

However, in my own mind I still find this idea somewhat contrary to the passage since in essence it means that I am to do good to my enemy so that I may shame him.  That may be the consequence, but it does not seem to be a motive that matches blessing those who persecute me.  My own view of this may be somewhat speculative and rare in commentaries, but I think the context here is still stressing being a blessing.  Fire in the ancient world, even as it is today, could be a blessing or a curse.  It could hurt you or destroy your property, but it could also warm you, cook your food, and provide light. They did not have gas lighters or matches as we do now, so if the fire in your house went out, you had to do some work to try and get another one started, or you could get it from your neighbors house.  An easy way to transfer it would be in the form of hot coals carried in a pot. How did they carry pots then?  On their heads, even as is still commonly done in many places around the world.  Now again, this is a speculative idea and perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think I am wrong in stressing that this passage is about our blessing our enemies instead of responding in the natural sinful manner of cursing them.

I think what Paul says in verse 21 as he ends this thought also stresses this idea, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  I am to resist the temptation to respond in the same manner that is common to sinners.  I am not to let the evil done by others against me prod me into responding with more evil.  Instead, I am to overcome such evil by doing good.

An example of this is in 2 Kings 6 when the prophet Elisha captured the army that was sent by the king of Aram to capture him. It would have been easy for Elisha to have had them all killed.  Instead he had a great feast prepared for them and then sent them back to their king.  The result was that the Arameans stopped coming into the land of Israel. We are not told why, just that they stopped.  Perhaps it was shame, or perhaps it was fear of the God of Elisha who was so powerful that He could even afford to free His enemies after capturing them.  A lessor power would have had to kill the army in order to increase his relative strength against his enemy.

The point of this passage is simply this.  

Christians are to be living and holy

Sacrifices that are acceptable to God.  

Our purpose in life has radically changed

And so our lives change accordingly as we are

Transformed by the renewing of our minds.  

Our lives as believers are now to be

Increasingly marked with agape love

Which is without hypocrisy, abhors

Evil and clings to what is good.

That love is practically applied in all our relationships including our enemies.  Instead of returning evil for evil and curse them for what they do, we now seek to bless them with our godliness.  We can do this because we can trust God to not only take care of us, but to also bring about justice to evil doers which is tempered with His mercy and grace to those that repent.

Have you received God’s forgiveness for your evil deeds?  If not, you can today through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who paid the penalty of your sin on your behalf.  If you have, then live accordingly as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to Him.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 4

Grace For The Journey

  We have been studying Romans 12 and what Paul has to say about the practical ramifications of being a Christian.  When a person becomes a Christian there are changes that will occur in that person’s life as a result of their new beliefs.  Paul states very directly in Romans 12:1 that the only reasonable response of worship that we could have to God’s mercies to us in Jesus Christ which have resulted in our salvation is that we should present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices that are acceptable to God. We have spent the bulk of our time in closely examining what Paul says about how being a living sacrifice acceptable to God should work out in our everyday lives.

Being Transformed.

In verse 2 we found that we should resist the pressures of the world to believe and act like it does.  Instead we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  As we learn what God has revealed to us in the Bible about Himself and how we are to live, we become convicted about what is right and wrong to believe and do.  As we set our minds on the things above, the things of this earth become less important to us. This results in changes in our attitudes and behaviors.  We become more and more like our Savior and less like the sinner we once were. God is conforming us into the image of Christ.

Being Humble in the Body.

In verses 3-5 we found that as living sacrifices we develop a proper judgement of ourselves because we learn where we really fit in the important things of life.  As members of the body of Christ, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  Each of us needs each other for the body to function properly, so we become humble men and women who strive to work together in harmony.

Using Your Gifts.

Part of that mutual cooperation is explained further in verses 6-8 when Paul briefly addresses the subject of spiritual gifts and lists out a few of those that exist within the church.  God equips each of those who belong to Him with abilities and ministries in which they are to serve Him and in doing so build up the rest of the body.  As a living sacrifice, you are God’s servant who is to stand ready to serve our Lord however He desires.  

Living in Relationships.

In verses 9-21 Paul explains how being a living sacrifice unto God is to practically work out in our relationships with others.  The general principle is given in verse 9.  We are to love without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good.  This love is “agape,” the love of choice and commitment that sacrifices itself for the best interest of the one loved.  It is a love that is never feigned and so it is without hypocrisy.  Because it is a love that reflects God’s character and nature it abhors what is evil and clings to what is good.  It is repulsed by that which is ungodly while it is attracted to that which is godly.

Living in Relationships with One Another.

Brotherly Love.

In verses 10-13 Paul expands on this general principle in our relationships with other believers.  We have already seen that the Christian as a living sacrifice is to be devoted to one another in brotherly love that is demonstrated in giving preference in honor to one another.  We consider the other more important than ourselves and step out to lead the way in showing such respect and honor.  We seek to initiate instead of just respond.

This principle of showing such brotherly love is further expand in verses 11-13 with a sequence of specific duties we have toward one another.  Diligence is the primary duty listed here under which Paul marks out seven more specific areas in which our being living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God are to be practically demonstrated.

Diligence without slothfulness.

* Fervent in spirit.

* Serving in the Lord.

* Rejoicing in hope.

* Enduring in tribulation.

* Devoted in prayer.

* Contributing to the needs of the saints.

* Practicing hospitality.

Remember that diligence without slothfulness is the idea that we are to be ready to quickly respond in earnestness to accomplish, promote or strive after whatever is needful in our relationships with others.  A person who is slothful is the opposite.  They hesitate and delay in their response.  Because the Spirit of God has touched our lives, we are zealous in our own spirit to respond to God’s Spirit in our relationships with others.  We seek to serve one another in the Lord because as living sacrifices it is now Christ living through us.  

Rejoicing in Hope, Persevering in Tribulation.

In Friday’s blog, we saw that our attitude is one in which we are “rejoicing in hope” and “persevering in tribulation.”  As living sacrifices our lives are centered around God and His glory instead of the things of this life.  We help one another in the difficult times of life by encouraging each other with our hope in God’s promises.  We looked at some of those promises in detail last week.  They range from His promises related to our salvation from sin through faith in Christ, to His promises that we will be with Him in heaven for eternity, to the practical matters of everyday life in the here and now that He will provide for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness.  We encourage each other in the tribulations of life because we know that God is still at work, He has not forsaken us, and He will do something in our lives even in the midst of the trials.

Today, we are going to look at the last three duties in this list, “continuing in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and practicing hospitality.”  Tomorrow we will examine verses 14-21 and how being a living sacrifice is to affect our relationships with non-believers including enemies.

Devoted in Prayer.

The word for “prayer” here, is a common, general word for people verbally
communicating to God.  What is this communication we call prayer?  It is not repetition of the same thing over and over again.  Jesus specifically condemned such practice in Matthew 6Z:7-8, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.”

It is not to be done as a means to impress others with your piety.  Jesus condemned that practice in Matthew 6:5, And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Prayer is not religious rituals or ceremonies,

Though that is the practice in many religions.

Neither burning candles, smoking incense, spinning wheels, nor flying flags are communication to God for the same reason they are not communication to any of us.  If someone came up to you and instead of speaking started doing one of these things, such as lighting candles and putting them in front of you, what would you think?  If someone came up and told you something and then lit the candles and said the candle was now their constant reminder to you of what they said, what would you think?  Are you supposed to forget them when the candle goes out?

God does not need an inanimate object from us to constantly remind Him of us and our needs.  The God who reveals Himself in the Bible is omniscient.  He knows our needs before we even ask.  God does not dwell in a building or in any one location.  He is omnipresent and has chosen to have His Spirit dwell within His people.  God is ever present with us and intimately involved in our lives.  God cares for us and has even numbered the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10).  Religious rituals and ceremonies are not substitutes for true prayer.

What is true prayer?  One of the best definitions I have seen is that given by John Bunyan. “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”

True prayer is real, personal communication with the God who created you, and its purpose is found in the dynamics of that relationship.  He is God and you are His creature. He is Lord, and you are His servant.  It is not you telling Him what to do, but rather expressing your heart and then seeking His will.  D.L. Moody described this well saying, “After we have made our requests known to Him, our language should be, ‘Thy will be done.’  I would a thousand times rather that God’s will should be done than my own, I cannot see into the future as God can; therefore, it is a good deal better to let Him choose for me than to choose for myself.”

As living sacrifices, we are to be devoted to such prayer.  Our desire is to seek God’s will above all else including in our communication to God.  The word translated as “devoted,” here, means to be “steadfast or strong toward” and hence the idea of continuing or devoted. This is more than the idea of just “praying without ceasing” as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  The idea there is to be in a mindset of prayer at all
times.  Here, there is a more active element.

Paul says the same thing in Colossians 4:2 to which he adds, “keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving, praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”  It takes an active mind to be steadfast in prayer in the midst of all the situations that come up in life.  It also takes an active mind to remember the things that your Christian brothers and sisters are going through including what they are doing in serving the Lord.

Notice that this phrase comes directly after “persevering in tribulation.”  There are many things that could distract us and move our attention away from the Lord including tribulations.  Yet, those very things should cause the Christian to seek the Lord and His will all the more.  In the midst of affliction and problems, we should not only desire to let the Lord know how we are doing, but actively seeking the Lord’s help in enduring the affliction and working through the problems in a way that glorifies Him.  Paul was enduring the affliction of prison at the time . . .

Yet the focus of his prayer was not on

Being relieved from that affliction,

But rather that a door of ministry

Would be opened to him

For declaring God’s Word,

And that in doing so he would

Speak God’s message clearly.

I will add here that it also takes steadfastness to pray when things are going well.  Too often we can get so wrapped up in the blessings we are enjoying that we forget to be mindful of the One that gave them to us in the first place.

As a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, we should be steadfast and continuing in our communication with our Lord.  Are you devoted in prayer?  Are you diligent in talking with God not only about your own life, but also the lives of those around you
and their various ministries?  A very practical side benefit of praying for others is that removes jealousy and increases our own joy.  When we are praying for others and then see the Lord use them, we are also partakers in that blessing.  We become excited and thankful for what the Lord has done through someone else.  That does not leave any room for jealousy.

Contributing To The Needs Of The Saints.

In verse 13 we find the next specific duty we have toward one another which is, “Contributing to the needs of the saints.”  The word for “saints” here are, of course, other believers.  Catholicism may want to reserve sainthood for some special class of Christians, but the Bible does not.  Every person saved by God’s grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a saint, a “holy one,” for they have been chosen and set apart for Him.  Anyone doubting this can simply look up the word “saints” in your Bible and you will see this is true.

When we talk about “contributing to the needs” of others, some people become uncomfortable because they think someone is about to try to pick their pocket.  We don’t like our government doing that even though we have become used to the socialism in our government by which they tax us in order to give to people they define as needy.  We certainly would not like our church doing that.  Let me set your mind at ease. This church does not do that because it would be against the clear principles of the New Testament for us to do so.  Even the early church in which they “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44) did not do that, as we shall see later on in this blog.

There are three key words in Paul’s instruction here in verse 13 – “contributing,” “needs” and “saints.”   As we have already seen, “saints” refers to all true Christians.  While we strive to do good to all men, we have a special responsibility towards our own family and then to other Christians.  In 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul is very direct in our family responsibility saying, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Paul then goes on to explain the church’s responsibility in taking care of widows who do not have family to meet their needs and meet certain criteria of godliness.  In Galatians 6:9-10 Paul says, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

It is not wrong for Christians to take care of one another first and then give consideration to others.  In fact, it is a Biblical command.  What kind of strange love would it be for a man to neglect the needs of his own family, yet meet the needs of others?  We need to remember that Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, for each of us are part of God’s family.

The next key word for us here is “needs.”  Too often what are described as “needs” are nothing more than selfish desires.  It is a proper and godly love in which a man meets the true needs of his family and then they share what they have beyond that to meet the needs of others.  What then constitutes real needs?

We can be sure from the beginning that real needs do not include luxury items and conveniences.  Perhaps one of the things that irritate most of us about government welfare programs is that they often take money out of our pockets and give it to people who then have more luxury items and comforts than we have.  Every winter there are stories about people who are given utility subsidies that heat their place to 800 or more so they can walk around in a T-shirt.  Responsible people put on a sweater and keep the heat down.  A need would be to help keep a person from freezing to death.  Beyond that it is a luxury.  What about food?  A need is to help people to have a diet that would keep them from starving and have decent nutrition.  Anything beyond that is a luxury.  I don’t mind helping people with food, and I have done so a lot over the years, but I do find it irritating to be paying for people to have porterhouse steak, shrimp, and bakery pies when my own budget is one of vegetables and tuna casserole. As odd as it sounds, I have had people turn down my offer to share with them the food Kay was serving to my own family. They were not as hungry as they made themselves out to be.

Another thing to keep in mind in this is to discern the real need instead of the presented want.  When I lived in Atlanta years ago, it was common to be approached while you were at a gas station by people who said they needed a couple of dollars for gas for their own car or so they could get something to eat.  A similar thing would occur at grocery markets.  As you came out, people would ask you for some money so they could be groceries.  The very design of these approaches were to catch you when you would be in a hurry.  I never gave any of them money.  Instead, I would offer to buy them what they said they needed.  No one ever took me up on buying gas or groceries for them. Only one person let me take them to lunch.  That took more time, but it also gave me the opportunity to share the Gospel with them.  Seeking to meet the actual need instead of the request not only exposes those who are fraudulent, but it allows you to meet real needs both physical and spiritual.  Meeting a physical need should be the door to open the opportunity to meet a spiritual need.  Don’t do the first without doing the second.

What do we actually need?  Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:8 that, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”  Paul also said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.”  We have a responsibility to meet the needs of people when they are legitimate, but that does not include the sluggard.  There is a big difference between not being able to work and refusing to work.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:25, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to
 Sluggards need to work first.

The third key word in this phrase is “contributing.”  I have saved this for last because I wanted to emphasize it.  This is from the word which is from the same root word which we usually translate as “communion” or “fellowship.”  It means to “participate or share in.”  Paul uses the same word in 1 Timothy 6:17,18 where he says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”  Paul is not picking on the rich here, but simply reminding them why God has entrusted to them their riches. That goes for you and me as well.  In fact, part of the purpose of working is to be able to do this.  Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

An important aspect to understand about “contributing” in this manner is that it is voluntary.  It is done as you decide.  Paul sets down the principles for this in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 when he was instructing them on the collection he was going to make among them in order to bring relief for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.  Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (verses 6-7).  Paul then goes on to remind them that God would meet their needs and that their contribution for the poor would result in their glorification of God and praying for them.  The principle here is that we give based on our own relationship with and trust in God.  There is no “church tax.”

The motivation to participate in meeting the needs of others arises out of being a living sacrifice and the resulting brotherly love that is to exist between Christians.  This was true even in the early church. In Acts 42-43 the Bible tells us, “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” This was not a commune, for this mutual sharing was not required, but was done out of love for one another.  In Acts 5 when Peter confronted Annanias about only bringing a portion of the money from the land he had sold, the issue was not that Annanias had not given all the money, but that Annanias had lied about it.  Peter said to him in verse 4, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men, but to God.”

As living and holy sacrifices unto God we freely give because doing good and sharing in such a manner are sacrifices that are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).  We also help one another because of our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As 1 John 3:17-18 states it, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

Let me add one more point here about practicing this principle.  While some of this does take place from what you give to this church, for the most part, this is something that is done on an individual basis.  Even when we bring a need before the church, you respond to it individually.  You have relationships with one another, and when you see or learn of the need of a fellow Christian, you assess what you have and then seek ways in which you can help.  That is loving in “deed and truth.”  How are you doing at “contributing to the needs of the saints?”

Practicing Hospitality

The last phrase in this section, “Practicing hospitality,” flows directly from “contributing to the needs of the saints” for it expands the principle beyond the realm of those you personally know to also include those you do not personally know.  The word “hospitality” here, is a compound word combining “filos,” meaning love in the sense of affection, with the word xenos,” meaning foreigner or stranger.  Hospitality means to love strangers.

Practicing hospitality is a characteristic required of pastors (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) and those who would be considered “widows indeed” and eligible for church support (1 Timothy 5:10).  But is also something that Peter commanded all Christians to do.  1 Peter 4:9 states, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”  It would not be very loving to be hospitable to someone and then later complain about the inconvenience or expense it caused you.  Besides, according to Hebrews 13:2, we should “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Your guest may turn out to be a lot more than you thought.

What exactly is hospitality?  There was a time in which there were not motels and such along the roads as we have them today.  Those few inns that did exist could be expensive and/or dangerous.  A stranger passing through a town might often just go to the town square or common and spend the night there.  Hospitality was inviting that stranger to join you for a meal or even staying in your home.  There are many Biblical examples of this.  Abraham and Lot both did this with the result that they were actually being hospitable to angels (Genesis 18 and 19).  Such hospitality was a necessity for the prophets and the apostles.  You might recall the widow that provided for Elijah (1 Kings 17) or Lazarus, Martha and Mary that provided for Jesus (Luke 10).  John commended Gaius for his hospitality (3 John 5-8), and Paul commended Onesiphorus for his hospitality (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

There are plenty of restaurants and motels now, but hospitality is still something that Christians need to be diligent about putting into practice because it is the practical display of brotherly love.  This is an area that I believe our church can greatly improve.

Hospitality begins with a heart of compassion that will notice strangers and assess their needs.  It begins with being friendly enough to talk with people you don’t know and offer your help.  That would include inviting those who are visiting our church to lunch.  If we were practicing hospitality as we should, no guest should be able to leave here without at least being asked to lunch.  It would be even better if they were asked by several people from our church.  This is a ministry that any of us can do by simply sharing what we have.  You don’t have to serve a fancy meal or take someone to an expensive restaurant to be hospitable.  Your goal is to impress them with your love for Christ, not your financial condition.

There are also opportunities to have someone stay with you.  Kay and I have often hosted missionaries or visiting preachers that come to our church, but it is a blessing that our church members are also share in.  

How are you doing at practicing hospitality?  If all of us were doing so, we would need a coordinator of hospitality just so everyone gets the opportunity.  But you don’t need to wait for a formal ministry to be started.  You simply need to love God and thank Him for what He has already provided for you and then love other Christians, including strangers, enough to extend yourself to be a blessing to them.

How are you doing at presenting yourself as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God?  Are you progressing in being transformed by the renewing of your mind?  Are you growing in humility as you better understand your gifts and place within the body of Christ?  Are you increasing in your love without hypocrisy in abhorring evil and clinging to what is good?  How are you doing in showing brotherly love in all the practical ways discussed over the last three blogs?  I pray that each of us are a little more mature in these areas today than we were a month ago.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 3

Grace For The Journey

This morning we are going to continue in our study of Romans 12.  Paul has presented deep theology in the first 11 chapters, and now he is applying these theological truths to practical, everyday living.  In view of God’s mercies to man in Jesus Christ who, being God in human flesh, lived a sinless life, and willingly laid down His life on the cross as the substitute sacrifice in atoning for our sins, then rose again from the dead on the third day proving Himself and His promises of salvation from sin for those who believe in Him to be true, there should be a corresponding response by those who profess such faith.

They are to present themselves

As living and holy sacrifices

Which are acceptable to God.  

This is the reasonable response

Of true worship of God.  

Such a person is then changed

Over time to be a reflection

Of Jesus as they are transformed

By the renewing of their minds.

We have already seen in verses 3-8 that Paul has explained that the Christian, as a living sacrifice, is to be humble and not think more highly of themselves than they ought as part of the body of Christ.  Every believer is gifted by God for service, and every gift and ministry are needed for the body to mature, so all basis of pride is removed since the goal is for the common good of the whole body.  Our lives revolve around serving the Lord for the sake of His kingdom, not our own.

We have also already seen that in

Being a living and holy sacrifice

Acceptable to the Lord,

The Christian is to be growing

In their love for God, other believers, and all people.

This love is agape, the love marked by

Its sacrificial nature in giving of itself

For the benefit of another and based in

Conscious choice instead of fleeting emotions.

It is never a love that is feigned, so it is without hypocrisy.  It reflects God’s character and nature, and so it abhors what is evil while it clings to what is good.  It finds what is not godly to be detestable and hated so there is a strong aversion to such things.  At the same time, it is attracted to and holds tightly to what is godly.

Yesterday we saw that beyond this general duty, the Christian has more specific duties in relationship to other believers.  There is to be a brotherly love among believers because we are all part of the family of God.  We should have the same commitment to one another that we should for our siblings.  This kind of love is demonstrated in giving preference in honor to one another.  We consider the other more important than ourselves.  We are also to step out in leading the way in showing such respect and honor.  We seek to initiate instead of just respond.

We also looked at verse 11 last week which begins the sequence of duties listed in verse 11-13 that we will continue looking at today.  Diligence is the primary duty listed here under which Paul marks out seven more specific areas in which our being living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God are to be practically demonstrated.

As we saw in yesterday’s blog, the phrase “diligence without slothfulness” carries the idea that we are . . .

To be ready to quickly respond

In earnestness to accomplish,

Promote, or strive after whatever

Is needful in our relationships with others.

A person who is slothful is the opposite.  They hesitant and delay in their response.  Because the Spirit of God has touched our lives, we are zealous in our own spirit to respond to God’s Spirit in our relationships with others.

We seek to serve one another in the Lord.  

That is quite a thought all in itself –

Not only does the holy

Creator of the universe

Wants us to serve Him,

But that we can do so

In our relationships with

One another by letting

Him work through us.

Paul described it this way in Galatians 2:20 saying, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  Paul viewed his own life as one in which he had died and Jesus Christ was now living through him.  As living sacrifices, we are to do the same.  

This morning we will continue on with verse 12 and look at two more of the specific areas in which we are to practically demonstrate our being living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  In each of these we are to be diligent to act and respond.

Rejoicing In Hope.

Hope is one of the great blessings of being a Christian.  Tragically, Christians can get overwhelmed by the problems of life, and in losing their focus, they can become discouraged and even seriously depressed.  The solution to this is to go back to the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

The first thing we need to understand about this hope is that it is not a “wish.”  It is not something we would like to happen, but which is a great unknown if it actually will.

Biblical hope

Is not based in

Speculation, dreams,

Or even potential.  

It is based in absolutes

And for that reason

Biblical hope is

A confident assurance

Of what will occur

In the future. 

Our hope in Jesus Christ

For both the present

And the future

Is a certainty.

That is why we are to be “in hope rejoicing.”  Again, this is something we are to be diligent about and not slothful.

What is the basis of this hope and why should we rejoice in it?  

The basis of our hopes

Are the promises of God.  

The reason we should

Rejoice in it is

Because His promises

Are the expressions

Of His love,

And they all will

Come true because

They are based in

God’s divine power.

2 Peter 1:2-4 describes this truth, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

Remember too that this section of Romans is the application of a proper response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As those who have turned from sin to the savior, we have been forgiven and promised a place in heaven with Christ. In the present, we have been promised that God will use our lives to glorify Himself, which is the purpose of our existence, and even more so since we are to be presenting our bodies as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.

What are some of these precious and magnificent promises that should cause us to rejoice?

Here are a few . . .

Forgiveness Of Sins.

Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The Christian has been promised that their sins are forgiven because of their redemption in Christ.

Freedom From God’s Condemnation.

Romans 8:1-2 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”  John 3:17-18 says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Believers have been promised that they will stand before God without fear of His condemnation because Jesus was condemned in our place.  

Eternal Life.

John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  John 10:27-28 states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”  The eternal life spoken of here is not length of life, for even the wicked will exist throughout eternity in Hell (Matthew 25:41, 46; Revelation 21:11-15).  Eternal life is the quality of life of being in proper relationship with God.  That is the meaning of Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 that He, “Came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”

A Home In Heaven.

The eternal destiny of those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ is secure.  John 14:2-3 says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Christ’s Return For Us.

Heaven is not a place that people get to on their own, but one in which our Savior returns for us and takes us there.  In addition to John 14:3 the Bible also declares in Philippians 3:20-21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Comfort At Death.

For the Christian, to be “absent from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). We comfort one another with that hope and that we will meet those who have preceded us (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  For the Christian, “to live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21ff).  We have gained victory over our enemy, death, through Jesus Christ who conquered it.  Though each of us will have to go through physical death if the Lord does not return prior to that event, we will not experience spiritual death (the second death – Revelation 20), and physical death cannot keep us.  We will be resurrected.

New, Glorified Bodies.

One of the great things about God’s promises of a future in heaven with Him is that we will also have new bodies that will not be subject to the corruption of our present physical bodies. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 declares, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

Intercession By Jesus And The Spirit.

God has also given us wonderful promises that apply to our present lives including intercession by both Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:26 says, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Hebrews 7:25 states, “Hence, also, He [Jesus] is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Jesus’ Presence Now And Forever.

Not only does Jesus presently intercede with the Father on our behalf, but He is also present with us.  Matthew 28:20 says, “. . . and low, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Hebrews 13:5 states, “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

The Spirit’s Indwelling.

We describe the Holy Spirit’s relationship to us in the present as His indwelling us.  The idea here is that He is within you instead of standing next to you.  John 14:16 says, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.”  Galatians 4:6 sates, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Adoption Into God’s Family.

As Galatians 4:6 mentions, we can approach God as His children crying out, ‘Abba! Father!’  We can do this because God adopts the Christian as His child.  Romans 8:14-17 declares, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .”  This truth made John marvel in 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.”  

Access To God The Father.

Our adoption into God’s family also allows us direct access to the Father.  Most religions restrict personal access to God and make you go through a priest of some type.  Biblical Christianity believes what God has said Himself about who can approach Him.  That is why we can follow Jesus’ instructions and address God directly as “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  Ephesians 2:18-19 tells us “For through Him [Jesus] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

His Provision For Everything Needed In This Life.

God’s promises to us also take care of the common needs of everyday life in the present.  Matthew 6:33 states, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”  What things?  All that is needed for daily life including food, drink, and clothing.  God makes these promises because He wants our minds to be focused on Him and not the common things of life. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”  Philippians 4:19 states, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 9:6-12 a further reason that God provides for all our material needs, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.  Let each one [do] just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.’ Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.”  God’s provision for us allows for us to be the means by which He will meet the needs of others.

Emotional Stability.

 God’s promises also encompass our emotional needs.  We can be at peace when non-Christians are in turmoil.  Since God has promised to meet our physical needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness, we do not need to worry about such things. But we do not need to be anxious about anything else either because we can present the need to God and rest in His peace.  Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Or as 1 Peter 5:7 says, “You can cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

The Bible also says in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 that God is, “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  Whatever turmoil may come into our lives, God can meet our emotional needs.

Purpose In Life.

God’s promises also remove the futility and vanity of life.  Ecclesiastes expounds on the principle that anything man might achieve in life is ultimately futile if it done apart from God.  Amass wealth or power and you must leave it to someone who will come after you, and they may be a fool who will squander it.  Gain fame, and it also fades away.  As the years go by, you are forgotten. Seek pleasure, and you will always be seeking, because pleasure is always fleeting.  It never lasts. But God’s promises give the Christian an eternal purpose for their lives.

As already pointed out, the Christian is brought into a relationship that will last for eternity.  The believer was chosen by God in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).  He or she is a “vessel of mercy” which God has “prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23), and so will be changed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), and serve God forever.  In the present, the believer is to do the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), and they are to do them in such a way that men will see them and glorify God (Matthew 5:16).  God choose those who are saved to be His own people who would proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).  Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey whatsoever things He has commanded (Matthew 29:19,20).  That includes raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Triumph In Trials.

God also makes promises related to the trials that we face in life.  Jesus said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  Trials are just part of life in a sin fallen world, but the Christian has hope in the midst of them because Jesus has overcome the sin of this world.  God’s general promise in Romans 8:28 is that He, “Causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose.”  But God also specifically tells us that the trials that bring about the testing of our faith will produce endurance and that in turn will result in maturity (James 1:2-4).  God promises to chasten the son whom He loves, so the trials might also be the demonstration of that love in correcting us. (Hebrews 12:5-11).  In Romans 5:3-8 Paul said that we could, “Exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  He went on to point out in verse 8 that, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Hope does not fail and it is the basis for rejoicing because it is based in the very character of God which cannot fail.  God’s love extends His grace and mercy to us granting us forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ and bringing us into a personal relationship with Him.  He extends to us wonderful and precious promises that cannot fail because God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.  Nothing can thwart any of His promises.

This hope also becomes the basis for what Paul says in the second phrase of Romans 12:12.  In tribulation, the Christian is enduring.

Enduring In Tribulation.

Bad things do happen to believers.  Christians can find themselves in crises.  Those devoted to God will face discouragement.  But as has already been pointed out, none of these things should remove our hope in Christ.  We can rejoice in the midst of them.

The word for “tribulation,” is the same word as used in John 116:33 and Romans 5:3 which we have already looked at.  It is also often translated as “affliction.”  The word here for “enduring,” means to “abide under” and hence to “endure,” “put up with,” “stand
firm,” “persevere.”

The sense of our enduring in tribulation is the same as Jesus as he faced the cross. Hebrews 12:2-3 says that, “For the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  If we keep our focus correct, we can endure current tribulations because we have a hope of something better in the future that will result from it.  2 Corinthians reveals that Paul had lived through some very nasty times including being beaten, lashed, struck with rods, imprisoned, went hungry, thirsty, and had sleepless nights.  He was also shipwrecked and endured an untold number of other dangers and hardships in his travels (2 Corinthians 11;23ff).  Paul’s own comment on these trials in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 is “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Life can be tough for Christians, and there are things that arise in our lives that can be very difficult.  If we do not keep our focus correct, we can become discouraged or even depressed.  It can be enough to drive you to your knees – no wonder the next phrase in Paul’s list is “devoted to prayer.”  We will examine that tomorrow.

We do not have to succumb to the pressures around us.  We do not have to become discouraged or depressed.  We have the promises of God that give us ongoing hope regardless of the circumstances.  We can endure the afflictions of the moment in view of what God will bring about in the future and what He is doing in the present.  But to do that you must keep your perspective correct.

Life is not about your pleasure or comfort.  

It is not about your wealth or fame.  

It really is not about you at all.

It is about the holy God who created us and saved us for Himself
despite our rebellion against Him.  Those who profess to be Christians need to respond to God’s mercy toward them by presenting themselves as living and holy sacrifices that are acceptable to God.  They need to continue to resist the pressures of the world and be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

When your mind is set on things above,

Instead of the things of this earth,

You will be able to live

In godly wisdom

In a godly manner.

But what about the times when you are overwhelmed and become discouraged or depressed?  That is when you are in the greatest need of the rest of the body of Christ using their gifts properly to help you along.  The problem is that this is also the time when you least want to be around other people.  There is much that you can do to alleviate discouragement and depression simply by doing what is right before God regardless of your feelings at the moment.  But at the same time, you should not have to endure it all alone.

There is a responsibility that the rest of the Body of Christ has towards those who are down, but before we can reach out to them we must first remember our own frailty.  We are not to judge, condemn or look down on those who struggle as if some how we are superior because we are not currently struggling.  Each of us has our own weaknesses and we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves.  In addition, if one part of the body suffers, then we are all suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26).  We are to humbly seek to help others.  Yes, we need to remind them that as Christians we are living sacrifices whose lives are to revolve around God’s will and not our own desires. But we are also to encourage them with all the wonderful aspects of God’s love that cause us to rejoice in His care for us.  We are to lift them up and encourage them with the wonderful promises God has made to us.  We are to help one another rejoice in hope, and persevere in tribulation.

Are you down cast, discouraged, or depressed?  Then turn your focus once again to our loving Lord and rejoice in the hope we have in Him for both eternity and the present. Jeremiah sat looking over the ruins of Jerusalem, yet amid the destruction he still recognized his hope in the Lord and said in Lamentations 3:22-25, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.’

Press on in the midst of the current afflictions knowing that in due time, we will reap if we do not give up (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:10).  Do you see people who are struggling?  Don’t ignore them.  They need help.  Step out to encourage the fainthearted and help the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  It is not your job to fix them, but it is your job to make yourself available and useful to the Lord as He works in their lives, possibly through you.  They might need a shoulder to cry on and their tears wiped away. All of us do at times.  They will need others to patiently point them back to our hope in Christ so that they might once again rejoice.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

There are many kinds of friendship ranging from casual acquaintances to best friends.  But what is the nature of the love in friendship that God desires for us to have for one another?  Perhaps the following story of two men in WW I gives us an idea of it.

Two friends had enlisted in the Army together.  They trained together, were shipped overseas together, and fought side-by-side in the trenches.  During an attack, one of the men was critically wounded and unable to crawl back to his foxhole.  The field was filled with barbed wire obstacles and was under deadly enemy crossfire.  It would be suicide to try to reach him.  Yet, his friend decided to try, but before he could get out of his own trench, he sergeant pulled him back in side and order him not to go.  “It’s too late,” he said, “You can’t do him any good, and you’ll only get yourself killed.”  A few minutes later, when the Sergeant had turned his back, the man instantly climbed out of the trench and went after his friend.  A few minutes later he staggered back, mortally wounded, with his friend, now dead, in his arms.  The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved.  “What a waste,” he blurted out, “He’s dead and you’re dying.  It just wasn’t worth it.”  With almost his last breath, the dying man replied, “Oh, yes, it was, Sarge.  When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ‘I knew you’d come, Jim!’”  

Two passages that are probably familiar to us remind us of this kind of love.  Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity,” and Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”

Commitment and sacrifice are two of the key qualities of love that are expressed in a true friendship.  In today’s blog we will be continuing our study of Romans 12 and examine some of the ways in which Christians are to treat one another.  Each of the character traits and behaviors we will look at are predicated on foundational principles and commands of verses 1 and 2, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of  God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The character traits a Christian are to develop

And the behaviors we are to have

Are simply the practical outworking

Of being a “living sacrifice” that

Is being “transformed by

The renewing of our minds.”

We have already seen some of the practical outworking of being a living sacrifice in our study of the first part of this chapter.  Christians are to have attitudes of humility because every Christian is a part of the body of Christ.  Each believer is equipped by God with gifts or gifts by which they are to serve Him, and every believer, every gift and every ministry is needed for the body to be healthy and growing in godly maturity.
Christians need one another.

Yesterday we examined the key practical character trait that is a result of being a living sacrifice.  Christians are to love without hypocrisy demonstrated by abhorring evil and clinging to what is good.  This love is agape, the love marked by its sacrificial nature in giving of itself for the benefit of another and based in conscious choice instead of fleeting emotions.  This is the love God has for us.  It is the love we are to have for God. And it is the love Christians are to have for one another and all humans.

Many people will act like they love someone, but the reality is that such love is not there. They are hypocrites who seek to use people for their own advantage.  Christians are to love without hypocrisy.  We say and do what is right for other people because of our response of love for God because of His love for us.  As living sacrifices, we seek to honor and please God above all else.  Our lives are to be centered on His kingdom and will and not our own.  Non-Christians try to avoid being hypocritical by changing their actions to match what they think and feel at any given moment.  The Christian avoids being hypocritical by doing what is right regardless of what they feel and then changing their attitude to match.

This true love also reflects God’s character and nature, and for that reason it abhors what is evil while it clings to what is good.  The idea of “abhor” here, as I explained yesterday, is . . .

Hating or detesting something

Even more than hell. 

There is an aversion to it and

You want to get away from it.  

The Christian is to feel that way

Toward anything that does not

Reflect God’s character and nature.  

At the same time, they desire

To hold fast to anything that does.

In being a living sacrifice, the Christian has a duty to God and himself to love without hypocrisy by abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good.  This morning we continue on to verse 9 and the Christian’s duty as a living sacrifice toward other Christians.  But before we do, just a quick reminder that these character traits and behaviors are what Christians are to be and do as they are transformed by the renewing of their minds into mature Christians.  This is not something automatic and instantaneous, though we wish it were so.  Jesus Christ has forgiven His followers, and He has broken the power sin had over them, but Christians are not sinless.  We are in the process of being conformed to His image, but that picture is still being developed.  It is not perfection that makes the Christian different from the non-Christian, but being forgiven and the direction of their lives.

Believer’s Duties to One Another.

What then are a Christian’s duties to other Christians?  Romans 12:10-13 states, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” 

One of the things I discovered in studying this passage is how much we can miss with an English translation.  In English, this section appears to be a series of 10 related but independent statements or commands of how we are to treat each other.  However, just as in verse 9 in which there is one statement with two supporting clauses, here we have two statements with supporting clauses under each giving further explanation of how
those statements are to be fulfilled.

A more literal, though wooden, translation of verse 10 would be, “The brotherly love unto one another is devoted, in honor to one another giving preference.”  “Giving preference to one another in honor” is not an independent command, but it is the means by which we are to demonstrate our devotion to one another in brotherly love.  It defines the nature of this devotion of brotherly love.

Brotherly Love.

Brotherly love is “philadelphia,” a compound word that combines “philos, a word which we saw yesteday referred to love in the sense of affection such as in friendship, and “adelphos,” which means “brother.”   “Philadelphia” means “love, affection, or the friendship of a brother.”  The city of Philadelphia is supposed to be the city of brotherly love. (Whether it is that way would have to be determined by those who live there).  This
term is used throughout the New Testament to describe the relationship Christians are to have with one another.

Peter encouraged believers to develop this character trait, commanding in 2 Peter 1:5-7, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”  It does take some work to develop this quality.  The Thessalonians had developed it and so Paul commends them, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for [anyone] to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9), but Paul went on to encourage them to “excel still more” in it (verse 10).  It is something we have to let continue (Hebrews 13:1).  Peter speaks of the origin of brotherly love when he comments, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

This idea of brotherly love also comes out in how Christians commonly refer to one another as the “brethren” or “brother” or “sister.”  That is following a Biblical example, not just a cultural manner of speaking.

Brotherly Love Verses Friendship.

What is the difference between “brotherly love” and regular friendship?  It would be nice to just say that it is the greater love you have for your siblings than your friends, but the sad fact is that so many people have bad relationships with their siblings, that such a definition is confusing.  Ideally, your siblings should be your closest friends in life except for your spouse.  

The major difference between

Brotherly love and other relationships

Is the depth of the commitment.

Friendships come and go based on common interests and how close you live.  For example, you might have friends at work, but you do not socialize with them other than that. Other friendships may revolve around a sport or hobby, but the relationship does not go beyond that.  You also may be friends with those who live close by, but if they move away, it is rare that the relationship is maintained very long other than perhaps a Christmas card.  There are certainly exceptions, and I am glad I have several such exceptions in my own life, but that is how most friendships work.  There is a different dynamic that occurs among most siblings, even when they may not share other common interests or live nearby.

The lives of siblings intertwine because of shared heritage and memories and family obligations such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and funerals which force your continued interaction with them even if you live far apart.  I live many miles from my brother and sisters. but when we talk, we immediately have an intimacy that does not exist with other friends.  Family obligations also invoke the responsibility of caring for each other when hard times comes.  Again, as Proverbs 17:17 points out, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  Even though I live quite a ways from my brother and sisters, I know we would be there for each other if any of us faced trouble.

Within the Body of Christ

There is not only the idea

Of this greater commitment

To one another that should

Exist among siblings,

Since we are all

Brothers and sisters

By virtue of our common

Adoption into God’s family,

But beyond that is

The ideal of having

Loving relationships in

Which those obligations

Are carried out with joy

Because of our desire

To be with each other.

You want to be involved with your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.


This idea is strengthened by the word that is translated here as “be devoted.”  It is another compound word combining “philos,” a word we looked at earlier and meaning love in the sense of affection, with the word “storge,” which we saw yesterday, which describes the love of family members for one another.  Our brotherly love for one another is to have the commitment and affection of family members for one another.

As a living sacrifice who are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we are to learn to love without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil, and clinging to what is good.  The practical outworking of this in our relationship with other Christians is this brotherly love which is marked by the same type of deep devotion and commitment that is supposed to exist within a family.

Preferring One Another.

How is such brotherly love and devotion demonstrated?  Paul explains it in the supporting phrase at the end of verse 10 as “giving preference to one another in honor.”  The concept here is that of “leading out in showing the way of giving mutual respect, admiration, and appreciation for one another.”  We are not to wait for others to treat us well.  We are to set the example that others will follow.

Philippians 2:3-4 gives greater definition of this concept.  Paul begins that chapter by speaking of his desire for those in the Body of Christ to be working in harmony with one another.  Then he says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  This is followed by his pointing to Jesus Christ as the example of this.  Jesus left the glories of heaven in order to become a man and willingly die on the cross as the
substitute sacrifice for our sins.  That is the ultimate example of humility and of self-sacrifice to meet the needs of others.  And as Paul said in Romans 5:8, Jesus did this while were still in our sins.  We were not deserving of it in any fashion, yet His love for even His enemies compelled Him to do this.  How much more then should we sacrifice of our own pride and what we think are our rights in order to serve our Christian brothers and sisters.  The reason that Christians struggle with being devoted to one another in brotherly love is their own pride.  At the heart of pride is the idea that you are more important than other people.

That is why the proud person thinks other people should serve them.  They think they deserve to be honored first, and afterward, they might condescend to show honor to someone else.  This is common in the world, but it also occurs in the Church.  Christians can think that they and what they do is more important than other believers and what they do.  

It is not until we come to the Cross of Christ that we understand what we all really are – worthless sinners who have been saved by God’s grace.  We are nothing in ourselves. All that we are at present is only because of God’s mercy in saving us from sin.  What we will be in the future is only because of what Jesus Christ will do for His own glory through us.

Remember that even the ministry you have in serving God has been given to you according to His will.  You are no more special in the Body of Christ than any other Christian though you have different gifts, different ministries, and different positions within the Body.  Everyone is needed for the Body to function properly.  We are to treat each other with that mutual respect and honor.

Do you consider the needs of others as more important than your own?  The Christian is supposed to do that, and especially so when it comes to other believers.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  The selfish person who sees life revolving around themselves has a great, if not impossible, struggle to do this.  The Christian is to respond to God’s love for them in Christ by their own love for Jesus and their fellow man.  They are to turn from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.  Life is no longer to be about their own will, but rather about seeing His will fulfilled.  Their view of people is to change from what can they get out of them to what can they do to help them walk with God.

A Functioning Family.

A properly functioning family gives of themselves for the best interest of the rest of the family.  Moms and dads sacrifice the things they could have had or done in order to care for their children.  In fact, I find that most good moms and dads will do things for their children that they would not do for themselves.  They train their children to behave that way with each other.  I am blessed to come from such a family. My parents sacrificed a lot in order to do what was best for my brothers and I, and they taught us to do the same with each other.

I was blessed with a wonderful younger brother, who I am sure I greatly irritated at times, but he was always there to help me out if he could do so.  He has also always been willing to share whatever he has with me even to this day.  My sisters were at times very irritating, and we had quite a few fights growing up.  As we got older, we matured and learned to get along better and appreciate each other more.  I can’t recall ever even having an argument with them since we reached our late teens.  I have always been proud of their achievements, even when they were better than my own. We all shared the name Davis, and anything good done by one member of the family was a good reflection on the rest of the family.

That is the way it is supposed to be in the family of God.  Being devoted to one another in brotherly love requires the humility to let God do with you as He desires and to rejoice in whatever it is.  It also means you rejoice in whatever God is doing in and through the lives of other believers.  There is no room for jealously.  Anything good done by one Christian is a cause of rejoicing for all Christians.

Another aspect of this brotherly love within the church is that we are to work through any problems that arise because of that mutual love for God and for one another. Friendships too often end when there is a disagreement.  Serious conflict can even turn friends into enemies.  When that happens in the church, it dishonors God; yet it happens too often among those who profess to love Him.

In a few das we will be examining the end of Romans 12 and how to deal with conflict and enemies, but for now, if you are in conflict with other Christians, or have had friendships end because of them, then you need to be praying about what you will do to resolve the conflict and restore broken relationships.  Every Christian is to be devoted to one another in brotherly love which is demonstrated in showing preference for one another in honor.  Don’t wait for them, you are to take the lead in being a living sacrifice for God and doing this.

This command does not mean that every Christian will be your best buddy or that you have to share your heart with every other Christian.  There are different levels of intimacy and relationship even within a family, so there are different levels within the church. Issues such as common interests, personality and trust affect how deep of a relationship we develop with other people.  However, in the family of God, all Christians are to have the commitment of getting along with one another and seeking each other’s best interest.  That is the nature of the true love that we are to have for God and one another.

Are you devoted to other believers with brotherly love?  Are you showing preference to them in honor?


In verse 11 Paul addresses the diligence by which we are to pursue not only what he has already talked about, but what remains in the chapter as well.  The first phrase of verse 11 is translated as “not lagging behind in diligence;” however, the force of the phrase is a little stronger if it is translated a little more wooden, “the diligence is not slothful.”  It is not so much that diligence is something that we are to work up and make sure we are not lagging behind in doing, but that being a living sacrifice acceptable to God requires that we are diligent without any laziness in our seeking and serving Him.

The word translated “diligence” here, literally means “haste,” “zeal,” “eagerness,” or “earnestly.”  The core idea is that the person quickly responds in earnestness to accomplish, promote, or strive after whatever is being requested.  It is how parents would like their children to respond to their commands and how your boss would like you to respond to his instructions.  When you are in charge of getting something done, you would like those under your authority to quickly respond and accomplish what you tell them.

The word translated as “not lagging,” can be translated as “slothful,” “lazy,” or “shrinking.”  It is the idea of someone who hesitates and delays in responding or doing what is required, and hence someone who is irksome or troublesome.

The two words strengthen each other because they are opposites.  Someone who is diligent is not lazy, and someone who hesitates, or delays, is not zealous or eager. Christians are to be marked by a quickness to respond to God’s will as they learn it because they love Him and desire to follow Him.  We should be eager to learn more of God and what He desires from us, and then earnestly seek to change to match.  As living sacrifices who are being transformed by the renewing of their mind, we are not to be slothful in being diligent to carry out God’s will as quickly as we learn it.

One reason for this diligence is that we know that our lives here are short.  We are like grass which flowers and then quickly withers (1 Peter 2:24).  We have a limited amount of time to accomplish something with our lives, so we follow Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 5:16 to be wise in making the most of our time, because the days are evil.

Being Zealous in Spirit.

This diligence is driven by the fact that believers are to be zealous in spirit.  The word “zealous” here is a transliteration of the Greek word.  It means to “boil” or “to be hot” and thus came to mean “fervent.”  The Christians’ soul has been touched by the Spirit of God which has given him purpose, meaning and hope in life.  We have exciting news to tell the world.  God has made a way for man to be forgiven his sin and dwell with God forever in heaven.  The result of that should be enthusiasm for serving God with your life.

Complacency and indifference are two of the great evils that can destroy a church. History shows that persecution rarely destroys the church, though it can often destroy buildings and it can drive believers away from certain areas.  Usually, the church will grow under persecution, though it may be driven “underground,” and meetings of believers have to become clandestine. It is complacency and indifference that usually causes churches to die.  

If you are content with the current state, there is a natural resistance to any changes including having new people to join you since they might cause problems.  If you are indifferent to the fact that your neighbors are under God’s condemnation and are bound for hell, you have little reason to go out of your way to tell them the gospel.  When the gospel is no longer being proclaimed, there is little reason left for the church’s existence.  A church that becomes indifferent to the lost will also be a church that has left its first love of Christ, and that will tolerate heresy and impurity.  Some of Jesus’ strongest words in Revelation 2 and 3 were for the church at Laodicea that had become “lukewarm.”  He said He would “spit them out” of his mouth.

Christians are to be zealous, fervent, enthusiastic about serving the Lord.  It should thrill us just to consider the fact that God, the sovereign and holy creator of everything, not only wants us to serve Him, but has equipped us with spiritual gifts to do so.  Our lives can count for eternity.  This does not mean that Christians cannot get discouraged, for sometimes what the Lord desires us to do is tough, consider the task He gave Jeremiah, but even then, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:58, we are to, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”  A person who is enthusiastic will also be diligent.

Serving the Lord.

The second reason Paul gives for our diligence without any laziness is in recognition of our position and whom we are serving.  We are not serving mere men.  We are serving God Himself who is our master.  The word used here stresses this relationship in service.  

Paul uses three different words related to serving in this chapter . . .

  • The word used back in verse 1 referred to our service done as a response of worship of God.   
  • The word used in verse 7 refers to the practical means by which service of God is carried out.
  • Here in verse 11, the particular word used for “serving” refers to “service as a bond-slave.”  

A bond-slave willingly subjugated his own desires for that of doing his master’s will out of his love for him.   The service given was done willingly without any resentment, and hence would be done diligently without any hesitation.

God has provided for our salvation from sin through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.   The reasonable response to that is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices acceptable to God.   We resist the pressure of the world to have us continue to live sinfully, and instead we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ as our minds are renewed through God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.   The practical results of these are to be seen in the godly development of our character.

Regardless of whatever you were like before becoming a follower of Christ, now that you are a Christian, your life is changing.  It is to be increasingly marked by love without hypocrisy which abhors evil and clings to what is good.  It develops relationships with other believers in which the devotion of brotherly love is demonstrated by the preference shown for one another in honor.  The needs of others are becoming more important to you than your own.  All these things are done with diligence because the Spirit of God has touched your life giving you something to be enthusiastic about.  There is nothing more wonderful than having the privilege of having your life count for
eternity through serving the Lord, your master, with whatever gift of gifts He has given you in whatever ministry He opened for you.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

Have you ever met someone who professed to be a Christian, but their life-style made you seriously question their claim?  Even non-Christians know that there are certain characteristics of behavior and attitude that should mark the Christian.  When those characteristics are obviously lacking, then there becomes a question as to whether a person’s claim to be a Christian is actually true.

Since we live in a society in which tolerance of everything except the truth is advocated as the supreme virtue, there are many that would immediately say it is wrong for people to question a person’s claim.  Paul had no such qualms.  In 2 Corinthians 13:5 he even challenges his readers to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you fail the test.”  You see, when a person becomes a Christian, there will be changes that will take place in that person’s life.  This is not in any way saying that Christians will not stumble and sin.  It is not saying that individual Christians will not have serious struggles with certain sins.  Paul said in Romans 7 that even he struggled with his flesh and would find himself at times doing the very evil thing that he did not wish. The Apostle John writes to Christians and tells them that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  He then adds, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

The issue here is not that the Christian will be perfect and without sin, but that the Christian will no longer be characterized by such sin.  Instead, the Christian will be characterized by the struggle against sin and will be making progress in that battle.  No Christian alive is what they want to
be in terms of personal holiness, but neither is any true Christian what they used to be.  Why? Because the change in belief concerning self, sin, and our Savior results in a change of attitude and action.  Paul covered the theological reality of this in Romans 6 pointing out that faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ results in our old self being crucified with Him so that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  We have been transferred from Satan’s kingdom to Christ’s realm.  There is a change of masters.  We no longer have to obey the devil, but we are now to obey Jesus.  The one that refuses to obey Christ and continues to follow Satan only demonstrates that there has not been a change of masters.

In the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul has presented a lot of deep theological truths about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  In Chapter 12, Paul gets very practical and applies these truths to our everyday lives.  The foundation for all that Paul says in the rest of the book is based on what he says in Romans 12:1-2. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We have covered the meaning and ramifications of these two verses already, but just as a quick reminder, being a living sacrifice means that your life is no longer lived for yourself, but for God and His glory.  You are crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you.  Being a living sacrifice is the only reasonable response that the Christian can have to all that God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

How does a Christian become such a living sacrifice?  It begins when they turn from their sin and self-righteousness to the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement for their sin.  It  continues on as they resist the pressure of the world to continue in sin and instead are transformed through a mind renewed by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Paul explains the practical aspects of being such a living sacrifice throughout the rest of the book.  As we have already seen in verse 3, the Christian is to be humble and not, “Think more highly of themselves than they ought to think.”  The Christian is to understand that they are part of a larger group that makes up the body of Christ, and as part of that body, they recognize that every other part of the body is important for the whole to function properly.  We spent quite a bit of time going over the various ways in which God equips His people to be able to serve Him and build up the rest of the body.  Every gift, ministry, and believer is important as each of us use our various gifts to help the rest of body become more like Jesus Christ.

As we now move to verse 9, we find Paul turning his focus to the characteristics of how we are to treat other people.  This lays the foundation for what he will say in the rest of the book on how we are to function in relationship to government, society and other believers.


Verse 9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”  This opening phrase may seem simple, but it is profound for it is exactly the opposite of the natural sinful bent of men.  The nature of the love described here is not only sincere, but it finds evil to be repugnant and will hold fast to what is good.

English is generally a very descriptive language with many words available to make distinction between ideas that are similar, yet different.  However, when it comes to words for “love,” the English lacks such words.  We use the word “love” to describe everything from fond feelings of affection for family and close friends to our enjoyment of a good meal; we also use it to describe sensual desires both good and bad.

The Greeks had several words for “love.”  “Storge” described the love of family members for one another.  “Eros” described the sensual love between a man and a woman.  “Phileo” means affection and could be combined with other words to describe the love of friends, love of strangers, love of wisdom, love of pre-eminence, love or money, and even the love of strife.

The particular word used here in Romans 12:9 is “agape,” a word that was not used very often in daily life until it started being used by Christians to describe God’s love for us, our love for God, and the love we are to have for one another.  This love is marked by its sacrificial nature in giving of itself for the benefit of another.  It is based in conscious choice instead of fleeting emotions.  It continues through thick and thin, good times and bad, heartache and rejoicing.

  • This is the love God has for the world spoken of in John 3:16 that caused Him to send His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life.  
  • This is the love God demonstrated in Jesus Christ in that while we were yet sinners, He died for our sins in our place.
  • This is the committed love that God has for His people that will never depart and never diminish (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 13:5).
  • This is a quality that is so closely bound to God that He Himself defines and characterizes it, for God is love (1 John 4:16).
  • This is the kind of love that we are commanded to have for God.  In Matthew 22:37 Jesus cites the command of Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great commandment.  It applies to Christians just as it did to the Jews (1 John 5:2-5).

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.  This command is not using three or four categories to describe the ways in which we are to love God, but rather it expresses the totality, the comprehensiveness with which we should love God.  Notice that it is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.  Nothing is held back.  We are to love God with every part of our being, with every aspect of our nature, with everything that makes us what we are as humans.  Taking into account the sacrificial nature of “agape,” we can now understand how being a “living sacrifice acceptable unto God” is a demonstration of our love for Him.  

This is also the love that we are to have for one another.  Jesus pointed out to His disciples that it would be their love for one another that would demonstrate to all men that they were His followers (John 13:35).  John points out that a lack of love for one another is the evidence that a person is a child of the devil (1 John 3:10).  He goes on to say in 1 John 3:20-21 and 5:1-2, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” . . . “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the [child] born of Him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”

This is the love Christians are to have for all people, including our enemies.  Jesus said that the second great commandment is “to love our neighbors as ourselves.”   He then gave the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate both the nature of this love and its extension to everyone.  Jesus was even more direct in Matthew 5:44 when He told us to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

This love is a primary evidence of being a true Christian.  As already pointed out, those who do not have it for other people do not have it for God.  1 John 3:1-18 shows both the seriousness of this and its practical application, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”  Those
who do not demonstrate in practical actions and attitudes agape love toward God and people have no valid claim in being Christians.

Without Hypocrisy.

Paul further strengthens the nature of this love by adding that it is to be “without hypocrisy.”  The word here is “anupokritos.”  It is the negation of the word “hupokrites” from which we get our word, “hypocrite.”  The word comes from the ancient Greek plays in which actors would play various parts by holding up a mask over their face.  The word came to mean “two faced” or “someone who is acting out a part instead of being truthful.”

The Bible has quite a bit to say about hypocrisy and hypocrites.   The Scribes and Pharisees were the primary examples that Jesus used.  They thought themselves to be holy people who showed the unlearned the way to God.  The truth was that they were far from God and were leading people to Hell (Matthew 15:14; 23:15).  Jesus pronounced a series of woes upon them in Matthew 23 because of this.  They honored God with their lips in public, but their hearts were far from Him (Mark 7:6).  They even came to Jesus trying to flatter Him by calling Him “teacher,” but their purpose was simply to try to trap Him in something they could use against Him (Matthew 22).

The root of hypocrisy is pretending to be something you are not in order to manipulate another person to get what you want from them.  Flattery and feigned friendship are tools hypocrites will use to accomplish their goals.  That is worldly wisdom.  The Christian is to live according to God’s wisdom. James 3:17 tells us that this, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”  Hypocrisy, along with other evils such as malice, guile, envy, and slander are to be far from the Christian’s lips (1 Peter 2:1).  The
Christian is to long for and live by the truths of the enduring Word of God, and all those things, including hypocrisy, are the opposite of what the Bible says.

All of us are familiar with hypocrisy.  Either we have been guilty of it ourselves or we have suffered at the hands of hypocrites.  It always hurts when the mask gets removed from the hypocrite and their true selfish nature is revealed.  From that experience alone we can see that true love and hypocrisy are as far away from each other as can be.  Hypocrites are self-centered and see relationships in terms of what they can get out of it.  True love sees relationships in terms of what they can give to it
and benefit the other.

People flatter others with the goal of being able to manipulate or take advantage of them later.  Proverbs 29:5 warns, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.”  Jude 16 speaks of the same thing warning about the ungodly who, “Speak arrogantly, flattering people
for the sake of [gaining an] advantage.” 
The unsuspecting are deceived through the smooth and flattering speech of the ungodly, who exist even within the church (Romans 16:18).  We also find that the adulteress seduces her victims with flattery (Proverbs 7:5, 21), and so does the adulterer.  Proverbs 26:28 tells us, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”  Flattery, like other forms of hypocrisy, is a sin that is to be taken seriously.  Be wary of those that seek to win your favor through undeserved praise and compliments.

Hypocrites will be your friend as long as they are getting or think they will get something from you, but when it requires a true sacrifice of themselves on their part for your benefit, don’t count on them.   Proverbs 19:6-7 reminds us, “Many will entreat the favor of a generous man, and every man is a friend to him who gives gifts.  All the brothers of a poor man hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!  He pursues them with words, but they are gone.”  A true friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17) and is more concerned about what they can give to the relationship than what they can get.  That is how Christians are to treat one another.

There are several other aspects of agape that make it antithetical to hypocrisy.  Paul points out “Psome of these qualities in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 where he describes agape as “Patient, kind, and not jealous, bragging, or arrogant.  It does not act unbecomingly or seek its own.  It is not provoked, nor does it take into account a wrong suffered.  It does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices
with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”
 Hypocrisy is subject to all these things.  

Love is honest and true as well as kind and thoughtful.  For that reason, it will express itself on issues that a hypocrite would never touch.  The Bible says in Proverbs 17:9 that the counsel of a friend is sweet.  That is true even when there may be correction involved.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us that, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  King David preferred to have the righteous smite him in kindness and reprove him (Psalm 141:5) than to suffer the hypocrisy of a deceitful friend such as Ahithophel who caused him much grief (2 Samuel 17; Psalm 41:9).  Believers are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) instead being like the hypocrites who tell people what they think they would like to hear in order manipulate.

Let me add here that the Christian does not avoid being a hypocrite by brutally telling people what we really think.  Such brutal honesty is not only unkind, for it is also based in selfishness, but it is a sure way to make sure you have very few friends.  The Christian avoids being a hypocrite by being a living sacrifice.  We are to love God and other people in this manner of agape.  That includes non-Christians and enemies as well as other believers.  We say and do what is right before God regardless of our personal feelings or thoughts of the moment. We then examine ourselves to change our attitudes to be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The world will try to conform us into being like they are, hypocrites who try to impress other people only because it will help them build their own kingdom.  We resist that pressure because our concern is building Christ’s kingdom, not our own.  We are to live according to God’s priorities.  People
are more important than possessions, and purity is more important than people.  We are to lovingly speak the truth in forthright and honest relationships with the goal of giving of ourselves in helping people know and become like Jesus Christ.  As Ephesians 4:29 commands, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Abhoring Evil.

In the second part of Romans 12:9, Paul further defines the nature of this love and how it affects the life of the believer, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”  The word “abor” is  a compound word that combines the verb “stugeo” with the preposition “apo” which intensifies its meaning.  “Stugeo” is to “hate” or “detest with horror.”  This verb came to signify “hating or detesting something as much as hell.”  The compound word here is even more intense than that.  The idea here is “to find something so detestable that you shrink back from it.”  You want to get away from it.

The love Paul speaks of in this verse should cause the Christian to have a strong reaction to and aversion of what is evil.  The Christians’ love for God and striving to be a living sacrifice that is pleasing unto Him should cause them to flee in horror from anything that is evil.  That kind of reaction
demonstrates the radical change that takes place in the Christian as they are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the renewing of their minds.  Prior to salvation, we are bent toward sin. While there were certain evil things that you might have abhorred, there were many other evil things to which you were attracted.  The Christian increasingly abhors all evil.  The “evil” spoken of here is everything that is antithetical to God, anything contrary to His nature.  Evil is the opposite of godliness.  Those who love the Lord are to hate evil (Psalm 97:10).  Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) and Proverbs 8:13 defines the “fear of the Lord”  as hating evil.  What God hates, we should also hate, and God hates evil.

What are some of the specifics that God hates?  Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us, “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil,
a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” 
Proverbs 8:13 tells us that God also hates, “Pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth.”

Other things that God considers to be abominations include the “crooked man” (Proverbs 3:32); “A false balance” (Proverbs 11:1); “The perverse in heart” (Proverbs 11:20); “the sacrifice of the wicked (Proverbs 15:8); “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous” (Proverbs 17:15); any cultic or occultic practice (Deuteronomy 18:10-12); and “Those who act unjustly (Deuteronomy 25:16), to name some of them.  God hates anything that is contrary to His holiness.

The sad part of this list is that there are many professing Christians in our day that not only practice these things, but they even want to justify themselves in their pursuit of them.  It is not surprising that Christians do evil things, for as already pointed out, Christians are still sinners and will still sin.  However, they should be marked, as was Paul, with a hatred for the sin that they do, not a defense of it.

What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward God?  Your love for Him should cause you to abhor anything that would not please Him.  Yet, how often do we treat God as if He existed for our benefit instead of we existing for His glory.  Too often we are guilty of thinking God is holding out on us because He does not give us something the world says is good, yet the truth is that it would be bad for us.  God is our loving heavenly Father who gives what is good to His children (Matthew 7:11), but He is the one that defines what is good.  And as a loving Father, He also knows how to chastise us when we disobey.  What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward God?   What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward others?  Your love for them should cause you to abhor anything that would cause them to stumble into sin.  Sadly, too often Christians can be just as self-centered as the world.  They can say and do unkind things simply because they do not give consideration to the other person.

I have a pastor friend who some years ago we asked a member of his church family to be a little more careful in how she dressed.  His church family did not have any dress code other than to be modest as 1 Timothy 2:9 says.  She was not flagrantly immodest, but she did at times dress in a way that several Christian brothers were distracted by her.  Tragically, she ended up being more concerned about herself than others.  She should have been abhorred that she could have in any way contributed to brothers stumbling in their thoughts.  She should also have had enough love for them to have happily modified her own behavior for their benefit.  How much love do you have for others?

What are the things that gain your approval when no one else is with you?  Our love for God and others should cause us to abhor anything that does not promote holiness in our own lives, both in action and in thought.  Yet, how often do we not only allow ourselves to be put in situations where there is evil going on or we are watching it, but we secretly are enjoying it.

In abhorring evil, we should have the same commitment as David in Psalm 101:3 who vowed. “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”  David knew the tragedy of what could happen when he allowed his eyes to stray.  He did not want to repeat the tragedy.  Is that a commitment you are willing to make out of your love for God and for other people?

Clinging to Good.

Paul concludes verse 9 with the opposite of abhorring evil, “Cling to what is good. The word “cling” means to “cleave,” “be cemented to,” or “glued.”  Interesting enough, the word “abhorring” is in the active tense.  It is something you are to do.  “Clinging” is in the passive tense.  It happens to you as the result of something else.  The Christian “cleaves” or “holds on to” what is good because of their love for God.  It is the only reasonable response a person can have when they love God for they want to please Him.

The “good” spoken of here is contrasted with the evil in the previous phrase.  It refers “to all that reflects the nature and character of God” which defines what is good.  “Good” refers “to what is upright, beneficial, and honorable before God.”  As we are become a living sacrifice and become transformed by the renewing of our mind, our lives change and we will demonstrate what is good and acceptable before God (Romans 12:2).

“Goodness” is one of the character qualities that is to be part of every Christian’s character for it is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20-21).  That character in turn will demonstrate itself in good deeds.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  One of the purposes of our salvation from sin is so that we might carry out these good deeds, which Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, should be done in such a way that they bring glory to God.  A person who has the character trait of goodness will cling to what is good because it matches their desire to be like Jesus Christ.

The Christian is to be characterized by agape love which is without hypocrisy because it is only reasonable to respond to God’s great love for us demonstrated in Jesus Christ with a corresponding love for Him and His people.  As the Christian resists the pressure of the world to conform them into its image and instead is transformed by the renewing of their mind, that which is evil will become
increasingly detestable to them while at the same time they will be clinging ever more tightly to what is good.  The point here is not whether you have yet arrived at full Christian maturity in these areas, but what your desires are and which direction you are heading.  What direction are you heading?

Remember too, that we do not walk with Christ alone.  God has given every Christian spiritual gifts by which we can serve God in building up the Body of Christ.  You are to serve God by using your gifts to help others become like Jesus, and they are to use their gifts in helping you become like Christ. Let’s commit ourselves to helping one another love in this manner and to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Spiritual Gifts, Part 5

Grace For The Journey

For the last several days we have been examining Spiritual Gifts.  We have covered those gifts listed in Romans 12 and similar gifts mentioned in other passages.  In today’s blog, I want us to examine some truths in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and deal with the practical aspects of discovering and using your spiritual gifts. Much of what people commonly understand about spiritual gifts is based in experience and not on what the text actually says.  Our goal should be to live according to what God actually says and not on what people say based on their experiences.

Paul introduces the topic of Spiritual things in 1 Corinthians 12:1 in response to some question they had, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”  Paul is explaining to them about the “pnumatikon”“the spiritual things.”  The word “gifts” is not in the text, though the general idea of it is implied in the context.  That is why your Bible has “gifts” in italics.  We might be better to just translate this as “spirituals” or “spiritual things” because as soon as we add “gifts” our thoughts tend to center on them and they are not in the focus of Paul’s discussion that starts here and continues on through chapter 14.  

His interest here is more on their being

Spiritual as opposed to being carnal.  

They have gifts that are spiritually given,

So they should use them for spiritual purposes.  

They are part of a spiritual body, So,

They should live according to spiritual priorities.

The Corinthians were not ignorant concerning the spiritual gifts themselves, for in 1:7 Paul had already told them that they “were not lacking in any gift.”  Their ignorance was in the purpose of those gifts and how to use them.  

In verse 2 and 3, Paul reminds them of their past in paganism and how they came to Christ, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led.  Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed;’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”   Why does Paul remind them of this?   Because much of their problem in this area is similar to the problem they were having in other areas.  They were dragging their old ideas and practices of paganism into the church.  Notice how Paul puts it, “When you were pagans, you were carried away to these dumb idols, even you were led.”  This pictures the pagan mystery religions’ practices.  The worshipers would be carried away in the emotional hysteria of either the ecstatic state or the mystical experience of enthusiasm.

The pagan worship in Corinth gave great value to the state of ecstasy, and the person that entered it was held in high esteem as having achieved the ultimate in their religion. This condition was viewed as a supernatural, sensuous communion with a deity.  Through frenzied hypnotic chants and ceremonies the worshipers experienced semiconscious euphoric feelings of oneness with the god or goddess.  The ecstasy might take the form of either a trance or trance like state, or in the case of the worship of Aphrodite, unrestrained sexual orgies.  To help a person achieve this state, various practices could be used including vigils, fastings, the contemplation of sacred objects, chanting, and even drunkenness.  Physical exertion in whirling dancing and such could also be used to help to produce the state of ecstasy.

Similar to ecstasy, and sometimes accompanying it, was a condition termed
“enthusiasm.”  The participant would become involved in divination, revelatory dreams, and visions.  Plato and Virgil record the scenes of these practices in which the people would be so caught up in emotional hysteria that they would begin shaking, fall down, and babble in ecstatic speech.  All these practices are still common in many pagan religions today.

Because these things appeared to be supernatural, even if bizarre to our minds, the practice had a strong attraction to people, and some of the Corinthians confused the miracles of the Holy Spirit with their pagan practices.  Satan always seeks to mimic and soon many of these Corinthian Christians were bringing their pagan practices into the church.  And as the next verse indicates, if a person was supposedly in one of these spiritual states, they even tolerated them saying things that are blasphemous.

Verses 3 says, “Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed;’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Spirit.”  Apparently there were those who were supposedly speaking by the spirit in whatever manner, but were in fact blaspheming the name of Christ.  Incredible!  They were doing that while supposedly under the control of the Holy Spirit.  Paul says, “NO!” The Spirit will not allow such a thing.  Paul is not saying someone cannot physically say “Jesus is Lord,” unless the Holy Spirit is present.  He is saying that the Spirit promotes Jesus and glorifies Him.  Someone who is “in the Spirit” will also glorify Jesus.  They will not be blaspheming Him.

Origin And Purpose Of Spiritual Gifts.

Starting in verse 4, Paul turns his attention to the question of spiritual gifts themselves. In verses 4-8, Paul tells them where the gifts, ministries, and effectiveness of those ministries come from.  We have looked at these verses before, but they bear repeating before we get to specific gifts given as examples in verses 8-10.

Verse 4 states, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.”   “Gifts” here is “charismaton” from which we get the word “charismatic.”  It means “gift of grace.”  The Holy Spirit is the same for all Christians, but He gives different gifts to different people. Every Christian is given a spiritual gift or gifts by which they are to serve the Lord.  There are all sorts of spiritual gifts, as we have seen over the several blogs, but
whatever gift it may be, it came by the Spirit.

Verse 5 says, “There are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord.”  The Lord is the same for all Christians, but He will use those different gifts in different Christians in a variety of ministries as He chooses.  We have already seen this in the many gifts we have already studied.  Ministries vary in the age group they are used in (children, youth, adults, elderly), the setting they are used (public, private), and in their particular expression.

Verse 6 declares, “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all.”  God is the same for all Christians, but the effectiveness of those different gifts
used in different ministries will also be different – ACCORDING TO GOD.  The gift and ministry will vary in how many people are affected by it.  It could just be a few people at a Bible Study, or with more people at a church service, or it could be used regionally, nationally, or even internationally.

The bottom line is that God has gifted

Every believer to serve Him,

But the gift or gifts given,

The ministry that the gift(s)

Are used in, and the

Effectiveness of the gift(s)

Are according to the Lord’s

Will, and not your own.

The purpose of God giving these spiritual gifts and ministries to you is stated in verse 7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  No gift is given for private usage. Every gift is meant to fit in as part of the whole body of Christ and help it.  We learn from Ephesians 4:12 and 16 that all gifts are for the building up of the whole Body.  No gift is for private edification.  

What are these “manifestations of the Spirit,” these outward evidences of the Spirit’s presence?  In Galatians 5 Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of the Spirit’s presence in a person’s life – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  In this text, the evidence is the gift(s) given by the Spirit so that God’s children can serve Him and thereby benefit the whole Body.

Which gift manifests the Holy Spirit in a person’s life?  The text here is clear that it is any gift.  I will add that any so called “gift” that is not displayed along with the fruit of the Spirit cannot be considered evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence.  Pentacostal doctrine on this issue is simply wrong.  The gift of speaking in an unknown tongue is not the “manifestation of the Spirit” or of being “baptized in the Spirit.”  It is only one of many gifts that could be given.

Any gift used in any ministry with any effect is a manifestation of the Spirit, and its purpose is for the common good of the whole Body.  I cannot stress this enough.  There are no insignificant gifts.  There are no insignificant ministries.  There are no insignificant people in the church.  Every person, every gift, and every ministry is needed in order for the Body to be healthy and carry out its God given purposes of worshiping God, caring for one another, building each other up, and declaring the message of salvation from sin by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Gifts

What are these gifts?  We have already studied Romans 12:6-8, which mentions prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and mercy.  We have also looked at the gifts of preaching, speaking, helps, and administration that are mentioned in other passages.  Again, because of the mention of these various gifts are scattered around the Bible, I do not believe the Holy Spirit intended to give us an exhaustive list of all His gifts.  The gifts mentioned are simply examples so that the point can be made
that God has equipped us, and we are to serve Him.  I hope that our study so far has helped you think through how God might use you in serving Him.

All spiritual gifts are supernaturally derived according to the will of the Spirit of God.  A spiritual gift may use a natural talent, or it may function where there is not natural talent or skill, and a person with a natural skill may not have the corresponding spiritual gift.

The key question

In determining

A spiritual gift is:

Is God using you

In that area?

Your gift, whatever it is, will help the rest of the Body become more like Jesus Christ. That includes helping those without that particular gift fulfill God’s commands in that area.  For example, a person with the gift of mercy will help others become more merciful.  A person with the gift of giving will inspire others to be more giving. A person who teaches will help others fulfill their own obligations in teaching those they are responsible for.

Using Your Gift.

The very practical questions now arises of how do I know what gift or gifts I have, and how do I begin to use them? 

1) You don’t need to be that concerned about labeling your gift.  Generally, you find out what gift you have after you have been using it for awhile.  The primary concern is just serving the Lord.

Serving the Lord must start with your walk with Him.  The more you know Him, and the closer you walk with Him, the greater will be your ability to serve Him.  The greater the harmony between your will and His will the more God can use you.

2) As you walk closely with the Lord, see what desires He has He placed in your heart.  That is the point of Psalm 37 where it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  As you delight yourself in the Lord, your desires change to match His.  He then grants those desires because they are according to His will.  

You simply need to try and serve Him in some specific area.  How can you know whether the Lord has gifted you in an area or not if you have not tried?  Too often fear keeps us from the blessings God would have for us if we would just trust Him and step out in the face of our fears.

3) Evaluate your spiritual gifts, your heart or passion (what you really enjoy doing), you abilities, how God has wired you, what experiences have prepared your for ministry, and how the Lord is using you.  Have others responded positively to your ministry?  Have others become more like Christ because of it?  Do other mature believers confirm the effect of your ministry in that particular area?

I did not know God had gifted me to pastor/teach until I was called and challenged to do it.  I tried it with some fear and trepidation.  I began leading Bible Studies within my your group, then I started youth ministries or worked to strengthen them in other churches, opportunities opened for me to preach at Coffee Houses and my home church gave me opportunities to preach, and the Lord has opened doors for pastoring churches.  I saw God use my gifts in the lives of other people, and then those more mature than I confirmed it.  Over the years, my part has simply been a matter of being faithful and learning to use this gift as effectively as I know how, but it is God that opens the door to ministry and makes me effective.

The last aspect in determining where you should serve the Lord is what I will call your compulsion-joy level.  If we are properly serving the Lord, He will do one of two things. He will either give us a great joy in the midst of the service, or He will compel us to do it. We will either have a sense of pleasure in the serving knowing we are doing God’s will, or we will be like Jeremiah.  God called him to a thankless ministry of rebuking the
Hebrews and even told him that the people would not listen.  Not surprisingly, Jeremiah did not like that ministry, yet when he refrained he described it as a “burning fire shut up in his bones,” and he was compelled to continue preaching to those stubborn and obstinate people.

What are you currently doing to serve the Lord?  As you consider the areas God may have gifted you and your desires to try a new area of ministry, what will the Lord have you do in helping the whole Body of Christ mature?  When will you begin doing it?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”