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TEXT: Romans 12:9-21
SUBJECT: Romans #21: Living Sacrifices, Part II
With God's blessing, we will continue our study of Romans 12. The chapter is heavy with commandments. Depending on how you count them, there's between fifteen and thirty of them here, and every one of them is to be taken seriously. They are orders, not suggestions; they come from Jesus Christ, not Paul; and He wants us to keep them, all of them, all the time, and from the heart. When we don't keep them, the Lord wants us to confess our sins, seek His forgiveness-and get back to work!
I know, some people cal this 'legalism', but our Savior calls it 'discipleship'-
If you continue in my word, you are my disciples indeed.
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not do the things that I say?
In First Century Judaism, 'discipleship' was not something one applied for; he was called to it. Who would follow the rabbi was the rabbi's decision, and not the follower's. Some of the rabbis were very fine men and teachers, but that's all they were: men. This means they could teach their students, set a good example, and pray for them every day, but they could not guarantee success. Some of their disciples would stop following them and fall into immorality, heresy, or apathy and never get out of it.
We need more than good teaching, good examples, good oversight and good prayers. We need God, and only Jesus can bring us to God, because only He is the Mediator of the New Covenant. This means, the commandments in this chapter can be kept-and not by 'super saints' only (if there is such a thing), but by the mediocre (and worse) Christians that we are. How? Because our Master, the Lord Jesus, has brought us to God and signed the New Covenant with His own blood!
In the Book of Revelation, John sees the saints in glory, triumphant over Satan, the old serpent, who deceives the whole world. How is it they were not taken in by his deception; why didn't they fold under the pressure of persecution and deny the Lord who bought them? John is as puzzled as we are, till a voice in heaven explains it to him-
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb!
Though we ought to try harder, we're not going to keep the commandments in this chapter by 'trying harder'. We're going to keep them because-v.1-of the mercies of God. What mercies? The ones that foreknew us, predestined us, called us, justified us, and (will) glorify us.
Let us approach the commandments, therefore with humility and hope. Humility because we can't do these things on our own, and hope because-
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Last week we looked at our first three duties. As recipients of God's mercy, we're to (1) present our bodies a living sacrifice, (2) renew our minds, and (3) use our gifts. Taken together, these are 'priestly' works. The New Covenant has made every believer a priest, it has made the whole world into God's Temple, and every good thing we do-
A sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
If you've read Leviticus, you know what the sacrifices were called and what they were. There was a burnt offering, a grain offering, a peace offering, a sin offering, and so on, and most of them were livestock-oxen, cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, and turtle doves.
These rules came from God and were meant to be kept to the letter. But as we wend out way through the Old Testament, we see God was not always pleased with the sacrifices of Israel-even when they were picture-perfect.
The prophets called for other sacrifices-not the ones specified in Leviticus, for example-
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and contrite heart,
These, O God, you will not despise.
To obey is better than sacrifice,
And to hearken than the fat of rams.
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
The knowledge of God more than burnt offering.
This is the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke.
Humility, honesty, obedience, mercy, justice-- these were the sacrifices the Law pointed to, but couldn't give. What the Law cannot do, the Gospel can do and is doing in the hearts of God's people. It is working on us from the inside-out, producing the gifts we owe the Lord and want to give Him.
What are they? Romans 12:9ff tell us. The list is not complete or meant to be, but it gives us plenty to do and there's no time like the present to start doing it.
Paul starts with love, and you know why. Loving God and others are the two greatest commandments, commandments, in fact, that sum up everything God has ever asked of us. This love, Paul says must be-
This means two things: It cannot be a pretended love or an empty love. Some people strike a loving pose, and never get past it. The Pharisees were famous for this, pretending to care for God and others, while in fact, only concerned for being known to care for God and others. None of that!
But not every fake love in intentionally 'put on'. Some of us are really good at loving in word and tongue, but not in deed and truth. We feel for people in need, and we might even pray for them or pat them on the head. These are good things, but sometimes people need more than your warm feelings and words and prayer. Sometimes they need things costlier than these, things that really put you out, take up a lot of time, try your patience, and take a big bite out of your wallet. True love does more than wrinkle its brow; it gives itself to the one who needs it, whether he deserves it or now.
Here it's easy to think of heroic actions-throwing yourself in front of a bus to save the little girl. But let's be honest, we're not called to do that every day. What every day we're called to be patient and kind and generous. Of all the sharp things CS Lewis ever wrote, the one that hurts me the worst is this one-
It is easier to pray for a bore than to visit him.
Authentic love spends time with boring people and listens to their stories-no matter how often you've heard them before!
The second and third things we're to do are to-
Abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.
Should followers of Christ be 'nice' people? It depends on what you mean by 'nice'. If by that you mean 'kind, patient, generous', then, of course we should be. But this is not what most people mean by 'nice'. They mean, 'we ought to approve of everything they do and to pass judgment on nothing'.
This is not an option for us! Fornication is not the same thing as marriage. Lying around the house feeling sorry for yourself is not the same thing as looking for a job. Lying cleverly is not the same thing as telling the truth. Mistreating people is not the same thing as respecting them. God hates evil, in part, because it hurts people, deforms character, and when not repented of, it ruins them forever. Abhoring evil is an act of love and a costly one, because most people won't take it that way.
Clinging to what is good is the opposite of this: it means 'holding on to the standards God has given us in His Word'. It means loving the truth, loving marriage, loving work, loving justice. In a word, it means loving what God loves.
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.
This speaks of the special love we owe our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're not to treat them in a businesslike way, but to be warm and affectionate. But more than 'warm', we're to defer to them-not put ourselves and our wishes before them and theirs-but, as the Greek says here-to compete in preferring them to ourselves!
Does the Lord want us to jostle for position in His church? Yes, He does, but not in the way it's usually done. He wants us to focus and work hard at 'letting others go first'.
This tells us one of two things; Either Paul-and Jesus are fools-or the New Covenant is really in effect. Nobody prefers others to himself unless He is indwelt by and under the Lordship of the Holy Spirit.
Next we have-
Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
Not everyone agrees with me here, but I think this refers to our lives at work-whether it's in the home or the office, or wherever we make a living. For every workaholic, there's a hundred people doing as little as they can to get by. Paul says, 'Don't be one of them!'
Secular work matters because there's no such thing as secular work. With the Resurrection of Jesus, the world has become a Temple, and whether you're preaching the Gospel at church or changing diapers at home or serving customers at a restaurant, you're doing holy things, serving the Lord.
Let that service be of the highest quality! Don't work with your bodies only, put your whole heart into it! No matter what you do. Because you're doing God's work.
REJOICING/ BEING PATIENT/CONTINUING IN PRAYER
Rejoicing in hope, being patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
Every word implies opposition. As things are now, it's awfully hard to be happy or to think the future will be better than the past. But the Resurrection of Christ-and our part in it-proves it will be, and so, even now, when things are not the way they're supposed to be, we can live in the future and enjoy the blessings that are already ours, though not yet visible.
The other day my wife told me, 'You live in the past', and she's right, I do that, and because my memory is selective, what I had then is better than what I have now. This makes me sad. We're often told to 'live in the present', and that' better than dwelling on the past, but what's best is to live in the future, and for the believer-in-Christ, the future is bright and sure. To sad people about to be sadder, Jesus said-
These thing I have spoken to you that, in me, you might have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.
Jesus suffered with hope and fortitude because He saw the joy that was set before Him. God give us the same vision! Or we'll never rejoice, be patient, or pray in hope!
Next, we're to provide practical help to the saints by giving them money, and if they need it, welcoming them into our homes.
Does the Lord want us to be fools, suckered by every hard luck story? Does He want us to be 'enablers' fostering sin and bad character? No, He doesn't want this. But it is interesting to note that there's far more in the Bible about helping people in need than about not helping people who are trying to use us.
We should be wise in helping people and love has sometimes got to be 'tough'. But, our default position is generosity.
Is this realistic? It is. I know a family who invited another family to move in with them till they could afford a place of their own. This is not super generous, until I tell you the rest of the story. The family that moved in had nine kids!
I know a man who worked hard and took care of his money, but when a family at church got hard up, he took every penny out of the bank, and gave it to them. Not lent it to them, but gave it. I know the man well, and he's doing fine financially, and he's never hinted that I should praise him for what he did or feel sorry for him.
These are good people, but they're far from perfect. They're ordinary Christians doing ordinary Christian things, empowered by an extraordinary Christ.
BLESS/DO NOT CURSE
If you think this is hard, next we have, v.14-
Bless those who persecute you,
Bless and do not curse.
Not everyone admires high character, and some of them will act on their feelings. They'll laugh at you or slander you, or maybe something worse. Paul faced a lot more than a condescending smile now and then and a word of gossip.
He tells us to not answer insult with insult or punch with punch. We're to do the opposite, we're to build up people who tear us down, be kind to people who are mean to us, and to understand the ones who won't understand us.
This is borrowed-I think-from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us to 'love our enemies' because-
Your Father in Heaven makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
There's a time for passing judgment, for giving people what they have coming. But this is not that time! The disciples thought it was; they thought the Samaritans ought to burn in hell for their inhospitality. Were they right? In a way, they were, and unless they repented the Samaritans will suffer an eternal loss for their rejection of Jesus. But Jesus says, 'This is not the time!' This is the time for saving them!
We live in an Age of Grace, not of judgment. Some day we won't need to curse our enemies, for God Himself will do it. But till then, we treat bad and hateful people the way our Father in Heaven does, with love.
REJOICE/WEEP/BE OF THE SAME MIND
Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
This brings us back to brotherly love, and really, the common life we share in the church. The Church is the body of Christ, and if one part hurts, the whole Church cries; if one part is happy, the whole rejoices with him. There's to be no envy in the church and no apathy.
This only happens when we know who we are-not 'big shots' and 'nobodies'-but equally loved by God, died for by Christ, and possessed by the same Holy Spirit. Remember this, and there won't be divisions in the church, won't be people very proud of themselves, looking down on others.
Paul closes the chapter with a sharp reminder about living in peace with friends and enemies alike and letting God sort things out in the end.
By doing this, we become priests in deed and not in name only. Priests were and are the gifts of God to set the world right-to overcome its evil with good. This is what the priests of Israel should have done, but didn't do.
Now, its our turn, and supported by all the blessings of the New Covenant, we will succeed where they failed. Let us, therefore, put out a maximum effort in obeying the Lord while trusting His grace to bring it to pass.
God bless us, every one. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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