Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sermon: Romans 12:1-16, "Living Sacrifices," Part 2

Living Sacrifices, Part 2

"Living Sacrifices," Part 1

A pdf of this sermon, with end notes and bibliography, can be found here.

We are social creatures and, as such, we establish relationships of various kinds and in various settings—relationships at work, relationships at school, and relationships at home.
One day, Sam commented on his wife's recent weight gain. When she protested, he said, "Honey, isn't our relationship based on honesty?"—Husbands, you should know you're in trouble when you try to go there.—"No," she retorted. "Our relationship is based on flattery... and it's rapidly going downhill."
We are social creatures and, we establish relationships of various kinds and in various settings—relationships at home, and relationships at church, as Paul describes in our further look at Living Sacrifices.

Writing to believers in Rome, Paul addresses several topics—sin, salvation, sanctification, sovereignty, and service—all subjects he regards as important for the Christian to understand. In the opening verses of chap 12, the apostle focuses on various areas of service, which is the proper response to the great mercy of a God willing to save those who were once disobedient. It is advice he would give to all believers, including you. First, he says that...
  • Your responsibility to the Lord is to be completely devoted to Him as well as constantly transformed by Him (vv. 1-2). In...
Rom 12:1 .. .1 urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.
Second, he says that...
  • Your role in the Church is to be honest in assessing your gift as well as diligent in applying your gift (vv. 3-8). In...
Rom 12:3b Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.... 6a We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
These are two areas of service God expects from all believers, including you.

As I said last time, the list of gifts in vv. 6-8 is illustrative—prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy—so your gift may not be included. Keep in mind the difference between the gifts of the Spirit, like those Paul mentions here, and the fruit of the Spirit, which he lists in his letter to the Galatians.
Gal 5:22 [T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23a gentleness and self-control.
Gifts determine a believer's ministry and are for the benefit of the church as a whole. Fruit reflect a believer's character and pertain to the ways he relates to individuals inside (and outside) the congregation. (The renewing process Paul mentions in v. 2 contributes toward your producing the fruit of the Spirit.) Each believer has a limited number of spiritual gifts, perhaps only one, and that is fine; but God expects each believer to manifest all the fruit of the Spirit. It is the first fruit (love) to which Paul turns next as he describes a third area of service...

III. Your Relations with other Believers (vv. 9-16)

Rom 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Paul says much more in these verses than we have time to consider, so I encourage you to reread and reflect on the passage this week, perhaps as a supplement to your personal devotions. For now, we will just examine his three reciprocal (back-and-forth) commands, in vv. 10 and 16, those he specifically states are the way you should relate to "one another." These are all ways in which you manifest the spiritual fruit of love within the congregation.

The first reciprocal command here is...

A. Be devoted to one another.

The word denotes the natural affection that exists between parents and children, and Paul emphasizes the family-like relationship that should exist in a church with the additional phrase, "in brotherly love."17 This is not an emotion, although it can be emotional at times; rather, it is the recognition that together you belong to God's family, and that just as you behave differently toward natural family members than you do toward strangers, so you should behave differently toward each other.

The church in Rome is multi-cultural, perhaps multi-lingual, or multi-geographical (country and city folk), with both Jews and gentiles, which can complicate matters. Yet they come together with a common purpose—to serve God—and that common purpose should produce an atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement.

There are some people in the modern, church-growth movement who think that congregations today should strive for diversity, that the ideal is to have a multicultural congregation. The church I served on Long Island was a diverse group, with White, Black, and Hispanic members, from a variety of places—America, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Barbados—and speaking a variety of languages (English, Spanish, and Creole). The service was in English, but it was translated for Spanish speakers and for the deaf. That church attracted a variety of people, reflecting the variety in the surrounding community, which may be appropriate in certain regions and under certain conditions, but the NT does not present diversity as the model to emulate, as if every church should be multi-anything.18 Paul never calls for a NT church to become more representative of Jewish or of gentile believers. Far more important than diversity among members is their devotion to one another. That is a goal any congregation can achieve and may even be easier in a small country church like ours, The first reciprocal command here is be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

The second reciprocal command, also in v. 10, is...

B. Be respectful toward one another.

or "honor one another" (NIV). The NAS has a more literal translation: "give preference to one another in honor." Despite the fact that believers in a church are serving the same God and working toward the same goal, it is nice to receive recognition for your contribution. You want others to respect your opinions, to notice your achievements, and to praise your efforts. So, you may do things that draw attention to yourself, as if you are in competition with others in the congregation.19 Yet, Paul says here that you should demonstrate the spiritual fruit of love by drawing attention to the contributions of others instead. He writes something similar to the Philippians.
Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Still, if you say nothing about yourself, will anyone notice what you do? ... Actually, the most important person will notice, as Jesus says several times. 20
Matt 6:4b, 6b, 18b ... your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
By not drawing attention to yourself, you control a natural tendency to think more highly of yourself than you ought (cf. v. 3), which then enables you to think more about others.... The second reciprocal command here is be respectful toward one another.

The third reciprocal command, in v. 16, is...

C. Be agreeable with one another.

or "live in harmony with one another."21 A more precise translation is "be like-minded," which is actually a requirement for living in harmony. Paul is not suggesting that, as believers, you should think alike on every issue or even that you should agree on everything (i.e., see eye-to-eye). He is also not indicating that you should simply have "serving God" as your common goal.22 Paul is saying that you must make progress toward this goal together, because the disagreements that arise are generally over how to reach the goal. "Should we spend the money on this project? Which program will make the SS grow? How can we improve outreach to the community?" The test of being like-minded is your ability to resolve these kinds of issues and move forward. In many cases, it is also the proof of whether or not you have the spiritual fruit of love that Paul promotes here....  The third reciprocal command is be agreeable with one another.

As with the list of spiritual gifts in the previous section, there are many more reciprocal commands in the NT than the three Paul gives here, and a study of them all would provide a good model for church fellowship. As with the spiritual gifts, though, these three commands illustrate how serving God should affect your relations with other believers. How do they demonstrate you love for other believers? ... Do they describe your relations?

God's mercy toward us, in saving us from the penalty of our sin, puts us eternally in His debt. We are His servants, and He calls us to be "living sacrifices." This may not sound like an inviting position, but it is an enviable one, because it puts us in step with what the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is doing and gives us a part in His great plan. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to know how they should implement that service, what being a "living sacrifice" entails, and his instruction is equally applicable to you. So, grade yourself accordingly, whether you are...

1: Doing well 2: Making progress 3: Needing work
How is your devotion to the Lord?
  • Are you fulfilling your responsibility to God by renewing your mind, by conforming the fundamental way you view life to fit His perspective?
1: Doing well 2: Making progress 3: Needing work
How are you functioning in the church?
  • Do you have a "sober judgment" of the way God has equipped you and of the role God has for you, and are you using whatever spiritual gift or gifts He has given you?
1: Doing well 2: Making progress 3: Needing work
How are your associations with others in the congregation?
  • Do you relate to them in ways that show the spiritual fruit of love by obeying the reciprocal commands Paul gives here? Are you devoted to one another, respectful toward one another, and agreeable with one another?
1: Doing well 2: Making progress 3: Needing work

However well you score, the fact that you can even ask these questions is a testimony to God's great mercy. He has given to those who were once disobedient the opportunity to excel as part of a movement that will prevail against the very "gates of hell" (Matt 16:18).

In chapter 12. Paul expresses his hope for the church in Rome, and what should be our hope for this congregation. It is what being Living Sacrifices entails, and it is what the God expects from us, those He has saved.

A pdf of this sermon, with end notes and bibliography, can be found here.

"Living Sacrifices," Part 1

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Relevant and civil comments are welcome. Whether there will be any response depends on whether Dr. Manuel notices them and has the time and inclination to respond or, if not, whether I feel competent to do so.
Jim Skaggs