For an introduction to this series, click here.
Well this is a little later than usual, but hey, I don't hear you complaining.
I told you I was going to start with the end of chapter 11 and here is that passage and the beginning of Chapter 12: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (11:33-12:2)
If you have been in church any time at all, you have heard a sermon on Romans 12:1-2, how we are supposed to give our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord. But I would not be surprised if very few of you have noted the overall context of the passage. The message here is very simple. When we see God for who He is, we will have no choice and little desire to do anything else but to pour out our lives before Him.
But it is a never-ending process. I have heard it preached before that the transformation described in 12:2 is a one time thing: that "dedicating your life to the Lord" is a decision that comes one time in a person's life and is a decision every Christian has to make. When you hear them give testimonies, they will treat the day of their "dedication" on an equal plane with their salvation. Unfortunately this was a popular teaching among many of the people at Maranatha when I was there. If only the Christian life was that easy. My problem is I fully and with all my heart put myself on the altar, but then the next day or the next week I am up and doing my own thing again. Spiritual maturity and growth is a slow process. You do not take one giant leap and hit a spiritual plateau of near perfection. Or if you do, I must be really missing the boat.
Next Paul mentions spiritual gifts: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (12:4-8)
Now this is a controversial subject. When we get to the other lists of gifts in I Corinthians and Ephesians, it is pretty clear that those were miraculous gifts given exclusively to the church for the age of the Apostles, before the New Testament was completed. We will cover that in more detail when we get there. However in this passage, you can make a case that these are for the church for all time. But I don't buy it. Maybe it's because I don't see any of these gifts really at work in my life, and I will freely admit that could be my own sin and lack of vision. But until the Lord or someone else shows me the truth more plainly, I have to say that these gifts either refer to the natural talents or predispositions that God gives, or they are a reference to a supernatural gift given to the first century church specifically.
The main problem I have is that I have yet to hear a biblical approach to these gifts. Oh, you can find a lot of teachers hawking Reader's Digest personality quizzes that say, hey, if you feel sorry for dogs and cats, you must have the gift of mercy. But where is that in the Bible? The one thing I think is clear that we can get out of this passage is that we should use our abilities as best we can for the Lord, and that is about as far as I will go with that.
This last section just has some very simple things that we all can do to please the Lord and serve Him: "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (12:9-21, ESV)
If everybody lived by these simple principles, the world would be a wonderful place. This is the way the church is supposed to be. They may be simple to read, but they go against the grain of our sinful natures, don't they? It takes work and effort to outdo one another in showing honor and to give to our enemies. That takes a work of God in our hearts, because we can't do it in and of ourselves.
The one thing I know I need to work on is the part about hospitality. That was an important thing in the first century, and, truth be known, it is important all the time. I am one of the world's worst at this, but believe me I know how much closer a hospitable church is than an inhospitable one. The church I went to in Houston was wonderful in this area. It seemed like just about every week, or at least every other week, somebody in the church either invited me to their home or invited me out to dinner. And I will say that was the closest church I have ever been a part of. It is hard to stay mad at someone when you are looking across the table at them and enjoying a good meal with them.
Now I know it's kind of hard for a single man to do this, but probably if I did more of it I wouldn't be in this situation. Anyway, anyone can take someone out for a meal or ice cream or something. And it does so much good. This is definitely more for me than anyone else. I guess it's something I have been thinking about.