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.
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.
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
work.” 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?”
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 Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
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.”