As I always mention, an introduction is always in order. In chapter 1, after Paul introduces himself, his credentials, and his audience, he begins to speak about the subject that we have now termed in our understanding, RADICAL DEPRAVITY, detailing it in 1:18-32, giving both reasons and examples regarding the terrible and approaching wrath of God.
Chapter 2 becomes a little more specific, addressing a specific target audience – the Jew in their midst – that perhaps had come because of some kind of agreement that Jesus was a man to follow, but still relying on their own Jewish ritual, rite, sign, or even membership of the specific group for their salvation. Paul went on to explain that there is no ritual, rite, sign, place, set of words or actions, or membership of any specific earthly group that has salvific effect. That salvation [soteria] only comes from one source for everyone – from Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone, as the theologians of the Reformation put it. Romans 3 talks about the straight up gospel, and tells us not only why we need to be saved from that coming wrath, but the hows and the whens and all of that.
Then in Chapter 4. we saw Abraham, the Old Testament example of justification by faith. The chapter discussed in detail that Abraham was not justified by following the Law, which came 430 years after Abraham, or by circumcision, because this covenant was a unilateral covenant that God performed all by Himself before circumcision was ever given as a symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant – and certainly WELL before the Mosaic Covenant. Then in Chapter 5, we saw how that extended to all of us who believe now, and talked about how this “justified” us before God, or “acquitted” us before God of the unrighteousness by our great Substitute that took our place to pay for our sins, having lived a perfect life before God and then knowingly and willingly surrendered it. That’s right, Jesus was no victim – he was an active participant – as was the rest of the Godhead in this plan. However, the chapter briefly spoke about something else that will be the subject of chapter 6 – sanctification – the process whereby God uses the difficulties that He allows (I argue engineers) in our lives to make us more like His son; this will literally take the rest of your life. But we must choose to yield to God and His work in our lives through the Holy Spirit within us, and that is the problem.
Although we have been born again, or redeemed, or saved, or regenerated – whatever term you are comfortable with here – and although we are renewed in our spirit by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still live in the flesh and in the world system that is controlled by the father of lies. Our own flesh is what we are to consider as dead – but it isn’t easy, because it for now is still alive and it fights us, being still enslaved to sin through death. And that is what the entire subject is in chapter 7, which then breaks into chapter 8, where Paul starts to talk about the implications, but more, the power behind this new life in Christ, the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Comforter, the third person of our Godhead Trinity. Last time, in chapter 8, we talked about how Christ set us free and how the Holy Spirit has assisted in every aspect of our salvation, and how a person’s changed behaviour is the evidence that Christ has saved said individual – that they no longer focus their minds on the things of the world, or the “flesh” according to Paul, but instead they focus on the “Spirit,” or rather pleasing the One that has set them free from the penalty, power, and someday the presence of sin in their lives. The next thing he talks about in the second part of chapter 8 is that there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus, and then he defines exactly who that group of people is in verses 29 and 30 – and we need to have a theological understanding of that text – that those that God foreknew, he predestined to belong to His Son, and he called them, and then He justified them, and then He glorified them (all in the past tense, that is, the action has already been completed, which infers an eternal security among other things). It is this group of individuals that God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit will lead all the way to glory to be with and to be like His Son Jesus Christ. We may not know what that looks like, but we can be sure that it will be – glorious!
In chapter 9, we dealt with the topic of Sonship of believers from a perspective that as we discovered left it not in the hands of the seed of Abraham, or of any of the other fathers, or of the will of man, or actions of man, but in God’s almighty hand alone. The perspective was that of Paul, speaking specifically of those that were given the promises of adoption as Sons, and the Law, and all the blessings and all that – that all those that God chose as Sons are to inherit, and that there is in fact no difference, which became his stated topic in chapter 10. There Paul talks about how there is now only one way for EVERYONE to come to the salvation we have been considering through the whole book. There is not one way for Jews and another way for non-Jews. No, ALL must come by faith that is strong enough to motivate public confession.
Then in chapter 11, Paul talks about how he wishes he could even give up his own place in glory to save his Jewish brethren, though it isn’t possible. Paul flat out says that a partial blindness has happened and that God is holding at least some of them to reveal the truth to them in the eschaton, and he does that by talking about “The Israel of God,” which includes all believers from throughout all of time despite location, nation, tribe, language, gender, or economic status. With that knowledge, Paul forges on to chapter 12, out consideration in this study, where he turns a sort of corner and starts to become very practical in his application of the Word for Christians. And let me be very clear, if you aren’t trying to practice this, don’t even pretend to be a Christian. We coined a word a little over 30 years ago, Dan and I – we call those people Churchians, and there is little to no evidence that Christ knows any of them.
I split the chapter up as follows:
KV6a – How the Christian fits into the church
1-2: Acceptable and logical service to God
3-8: The exercise of spiritual powers and gifts
9-13: Our behavior towards other believers
14-21: Our behaviour towards unbelievers
We have been saying now for several chapters that all of these things that encourage believers to make choices are also evidence that the ones who make the right life choices are actually Christians. The others who do not, are either what we have called “Churchians,” that group of people that are not saved, but still know they are, and usually bully or otherwise manipulate themselves often into positions of power or authority within the local gathering. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus in the first place to deal with these individuals by giving standards for what those who are going to be in positions of power should have in terms of moral character. Paul starts here at the very beginning and is much more general in his principles as he addresses the topic.
KV6a – How the Christian fits into the church
I have heard it said, and even heard it taught as doctrine (by John MacArthur no less, and I truly respect him), that every Christian has a singular gift from God that he or she is given at salvation that makes them unique. I will try to say more in detail about this later, but sometimes, it is a blend of things that the Lord puts into you and either gifts or awakens at your salvation, and that gift God gave you is meant to bless and edify other members of the church as you exercise it for His glory. And in the context of the church, we begin to see that it should be the glory of God that governs our behaviour, not our paycheck (for pastors), our popularity (for leaders), or our so-called spirituality (which is usually pride masquerading as virtue signaling). All of that kind of behaviour and view begin to be listed here. Let’s jump in.
1-2: Acceptable and logical service to God
We should all know that when we were saved by the Lord, we were saved with a purpose. We touched on that in chapter 8 when it said that all things work together for our good as Christians. If you have never heard this, then it should be clear from that alone that we were so gifted to be in community with one another. Our sovereign God has by the work of Christ made one new man of all believers from all time, from every nation, from every language, irrespective of economic status, social position, education, melanin concentration in our skin, or even our gender. That is a corporate man, the Church universal, the Israel of God. As you would expect, since God has given believers a new nature that seeks to please Him, it should be no surprise that He has written His law in our hearts, and an instinct to please Him! Paul brings this to a very fine point with the very first word of the chapter: “Therefore.”
1: Therefore I urge you, 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.
- The English word “Therefore” is a connecting word joining the context of what has just come before and is preparing our minds for a kind of conclusion, which is about to be stated. This is the turning point where Paul moves from deep theology to practical application.
- What does Paul say? He says, I URGE you, brethren, by the mercies of God. Urge is the Greek parakaleo, and when used like this has a stronger meaning than to ask politely. The King James translates this word here as “beseech,” which means “to make an urgent appeal.” Paul is clearly and urgently calling for a response. Mercies here can also be translated as compassion or pity, but I think I prefer mercies in this case. What is Paul calling for people to do?
- To appear in person to perform a living [zoe] and holy [hagion] sacrifice [thusia]. I’m pretty sure everyone has said in their minds at a certain time, I’ll die for Jesus. If He were to call us to do that, I’m sure He would give us the grace, but what does Paul say the Lord is really after out of the Gospel that he has just described for at least 7 of the last 11 chapters (and I can make a case for 11)? He isn’t asking us to die for Him, but to LIVE for Him! For those that say they are being persecuted here in North America, and it is easy to think this way, we don’t really know persecution. Sometimes, Jesus will call us to honor Him with the giving of our lives. But what He is really calling us to do is to honor Him by living our lives as pleasing to Him.
- Such a sacrifice is acceptable to God. In the course of his repentance toward God, King David wrote in his truly humble Psalm 51:16-17, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Paul is saying the same thing.
- In fact, He is saying this is our reasonable or logical service of worship. The Greek word here for “spiritual” is logikos, and it is where we get our English word, “logic.” Do you understand? Our service is to be a reasonable service. It is logical, it is to have at least some basic order, and it has easy-to-follow methods and even rules. Now before anyone even whispers the word “legalistic,” Christ has completed the Law. These things are to be thankful responses, not enforceable rules. We are, as I once heard Sinclair Ferguson explain, to be learning the principles of how to live as a Christian. We don’t do that because anyone forces our compliance to rules, we do it because we love the Lord, and we want to please Him in everything we do. That is not legalism by any definition. It is the service we owe God – to live our lives in dedication and service to Him. But wait, there’s more.
2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Do not be conformed (shaped or fashioned) to this age [aion]. Why not? What’s wrong with it? Well, since you asked…it is a part of this present world system, usually indicated by the Greek word kosmos, but I think it is the word “age” because it is a temporary thing, and this helps to emphasize it. As for what’s wrong with it, everything. It is under the control of the prince of darkness grim. All those that allow themselves to be put into the mold the world has for them will be faced with incredible and injurious pressure. But what is the alternative?
- Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The Greek word for “transformed” is metamorphoo, where we get our English word “metamorphosis,” meaning quiet and often hidden change from one state to another. I first encountered this word in a different way than most – I studied entomology in university. Metamorphosis is an entomological term that describes what happens to an insect larva in the pupal stage of development, officially. Now I know that is going to cause all kinds of questions, so I must explain. Anyone ever heard of a butterfly? [pause for answers] Okay, a butterfly is not born as a butterfly, it is an egg. When that egg hatches, you get what is called a larva, and a butterfly larva is called a caterpillar. (See? It isn’t just farm equipment.) Because scientists in general need to seem smart to other scientists, they are continually inventing new words for the same thing, so the caterpillar is also called a butterfly nymph, in case you’ve heard that terminology. I know, it can be complicated, but it’s good to learn new words, right? That caterpillar goes through a number of size changes, also known as nymphal changes, also called “instars,” (don’t ask, I don’t know) until after a final eating binge, goes into its final instar stage, and that is called a pupa. If I were to say that in science-ese, I would say that the caterpillar had entered its pupal state, or call it a final instar stage. The Pupa is something that just hangs from the place where it formed, and in the case of a butterfly, absolutely amazing changes take place, and when that time of metamorphosis is finished, the butterfly will emerge from the pupa (also called a cocoon) and unfold its wings for the very first time as the creature is in a way “born again” to a new life. And if you look at a caterpillar and then look at a butterfly and compare them (and I have also compared their internal anatomy by dissection), what you will conclude is that there must have been a whole lot going on that was hidden from view.
- Now as for the Christian, we are not inside a cocoon, are we. That isn’t a question. Our metamorphosis takes place by the renewing of our mind. And who controls that, and its timing? Like the butterfly, God does. No butterfly ever fights its way out of the cocoon it is trapped in without being completely transformed, and no Christian will ever emerge from a struggle or trial unchanged. The butterfly goes through this once. Does it say something that this is a process that occurs to the Christian repeatedly for the remainder of their lives? I think it does – it tells us that as beautiful as a butterfly is, what we are becoming is so far beyond what we can even imagine, that any trial we endure will be worth it.
- How does this occur? By the renewing of our minds. Vine calls that “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life.” So in those trials that we have been properly speaking of since at least chapter 7, a whole lot is going on under the hood for the Christian, and their own choices are playing a part in their sanctification, to produce that spiritual beauty that will glorify God for eternity. And even this has another present purpose!
- That you may prove what the will of God is. That word “prove” means more like “approve,” but by examination or learning. Oh look at that, more support to say that the Christian needs to LEARN what to do and how to please the God that regenerated them. And it isn’t as if God is asking us to do things we do not want to do! I hear about, see, and talk to a number of people that seem to have this irrational fear of doing what God wants. They seem to be afraid of God wanting to drag them off to Africa when they don’t want to go, or make them marry a toad, or whatever. Friends, remember that God will never do any violence whatsoever to the will of the creature, according to at least two very famous confessions of faith that I have even quoted in our studies before now. He won’t. You don’t want to do something, that’s okay – but be adult about it – you make the choice, YOU, and YOU ALONE will be responsible for the consequences – and you may not be the only one that has to live with it. To fathers – what about your kids? To singles – what about your future life’s partner? To children – what about your parents? To everyone else – what about the people around you that will have to deal with both you and the consequences that are yours? Friends, I’m talking about real spiritual choices here. No, find the will of God.
- You know why? Because that “will of God” is good, acceptable, and perfect! And not just for you! Why? Well, it isn’t really about you anyway. God wanting you to do what He says is nothing but good for you. I don’t care what the consequences may be. Think about who wrote this and how HIS life ended. Paul was speaking about something that he knew intimately and believed to be true because the Lord had shown him. The Lord wants to show you too, and that’s kind of what the rest of this chapter is about.
3-8: The exercise of spiritual powers and gifts
With all of that said, it seems very clear to me that none of us can do any of that, at least not without a lot of supernatural help. Now, some may object to my use of the term supernatural. I am using that word in its proper context, that which occurs above the realm of nature. And who should always be involved in a supernatural experience of the Christian, no matter who or what else is? God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts. If HE is involved, it really doesn’t matter who else is – and how is God through the Holy Spirit expressing Himself through in the world today? According to John 17, it is the followers of Christ gathered together – the church – and that is the context of what I have to say now. Let’s get into the text.
3: For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
- The Apostle Paul here is saying that God has given him the grace to say this – right after all of this wonderful talk about how we are to be living sacrifices (not dying ones) to God, and how He is renewing our minds and making us holy and pleasing to Him through our struggles, and that He will give us good, and acceptable, and perfect things in a spiritual sense as a result – Nobody should think more of themselves than they should. Don’t get on your high horse. Don’t let it go to your head. Don’t be proud. Pride, after all, was the sin of Lucifer that caused him to fall.
- Instead, rather think “with sound judgement.” Paul uses this phrase elsewhere: 2 Cor. 5:12, 2 Tim. 2:7 and elsewhere. It is the same phrase that is translated as “sound mind” or “self-control.” So – “Get a hold of yourself.” Reign yourself in, if you’ve been exposed to horses. Control yourself. Why? Well, from the text, because “God has allotted to each [believer] a measure of faith!”
4: For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,
- Paul is beginning an analogous statement (one of the most famous, and he is not the only one to have adopted it). He is making a comparison between the collective group we have called saints, or believers, and a human body. Here, he is saying that a body has many members, and they are not the same at all.
5: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
- Paul here is saying that all of us, the collected body of those who follow Christ Jesus, are “one body” in Christ. This is one of the places that the church is called “the body of Christ.” What does that mean? Well it literally makes us closer than family. We are part of the same body. Note please, that this is NOT an organization, but rather is better described as organic, having more in common with a living body than a dead corporate grouping. We are “members one of another.” If we are all believers, we are closer than family, and that is a like-it-or-not proposition. We’ll get into why that is later, I think.
6: Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
- Paul here is getting into a passage that at least to me is very clear, but sadly I see deliberately misinterpreted, especially by a group I will call “Charismaniacs,” which I could best define as over-the-top Pentecostal continuationist charismatics that see everything in terms of either demons behind everything they don’t agree with, or the ability to make incoherent babblings they call tongues or angelic languages, when no angel recorded in Scripture anywhere spoke anything but what man spoke (so, no evidence of a heavenly language anywhere). So what’s the big deal?
- We are talking about spiritual gifts, given to us by God at the same time as our justification. What is yours? Do you know? How can you find out? Well, what are you most comfortable doing in the context of the church? Maybe that gift includes hospitality. Do you love to entertain or host the saints? How about leadership? Is there some kind of project or body at church that you can get involved with? There are all kinds of things – teaching, evangelism, missions, helps, you name it. And it is within YOU a unique mix. We have gifts that DIFFER regarding the grace (undeserved gift) given to us.
- Why are we given these gifts? To USE them to serve the body as a whole. Each of us is to exercise them accordingly! Paul begins to speak to specifics and their usage within the body of Christ. He uses the specific example of prophecy – today, that is best equated with teaching the word of God and how it applies to us as individuals and as a body, the church. It is NOT the only gift Paul lists here.
7: if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;
- Two more specific examples: First, service. Who in your local gathering just seems to “get things done” in terms of repairs to the building, setting up and taking down the chairs, organizing the games and then keeping score, like that.
- Teaching. Didaskos. It is what it says. Teaching is a gift, by the way. It is not necessarily a product of years in seminary or bible college. This particular gift is mine, and I know it, and I have had it since the day I was saved in 1985. I’m not that smart, so it MUST be the Holy Spirit in me, right? And a note – I am not the BEST teacher I have ever heard. I cannot hold a candle to a John MacArthur, or an R. C. Sproul, or a Steven Lawson, all of whom I consider mentors, examples, and instructors of myself. But it is my gift, and by its use I both glorify God and serve the saints, which seems to be the purpose of these gifts.
8: or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
- The list continues. Exhortation. This gift is also known as encouragement, because the word exhortation means “to strongly encourage.” I have a dose of this too, though it seems to me to be best used in preaching the Word to the saints, or in counseling others in a pastoral exercise. Sometimes this gift must confront to encourage, but it shouldn’t be the main focus within the saints. That kind of exercise should only happen in discipline situations, and that should be a rare and serious exercise.
- Giving. Yes, it is a gift. I don’t have a lot of this one, typically because I often lack the means, but I think I get the attitude – If I have it and you need it, it’s yours, and I don’t care if I ever get it back or am repaid. I try to do that with my stuff, but I’m not always able.
- Leadership. Yes, it is also a gift from God. And it is to me a gift that can be very useful to sort people out. What I mean is not from the position of leadership, but from observing how they respond to leadership. There are those who will follow it, and there are those who will not. Assuming those who will not aren’t anarchists or criminals, those just might be leaders too. Leaders are those that direct effectively and make decisions that affect everyone. God gave them to the church so we can know where we are going! The mark of leadership Paul recognizes here? Diligence. It is a word that describes careful haste to act, earnestness of action, and effort in the completion of business. I’m told I have a dose of this too, but being lazy, I don’t like to exercise it, right? Elders, keep me honest on that.
- Mercy. That’s right, the ability to show mercy or perform acts of mercy is a gift from God for the church’s building up to the glory of God! Who has a mind to feed the poor? To visit the sick, elderly, or injured and offer helps to them? Those are all acts of mercy, from a word that means to pity, have compassion, care about the welfare of such individuals in need. Show up at your brother’s with a weed-whacker and clear a path to his oil-tank kind of thing. Okay, that was me, and that brother caught me, or he never would have known it was me. And such acts should be done with cheerfulness – the very same word that is used in 2 Cor. 9:7, “…for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word is hilarotes, where we get the English “hilarious,” but has a very different meaning. It speaks rather to the exuberance and enthusiasm that goes into the performing of a pleasing action to the target audience.
- I should mention that this is not an exhaustive list. A similar passage in Ephesians 4 also lists evangelists, and pastor/teachers, but the main point here is that these gifts are all given for the building of the church. Ephesians 4:11-13 actually says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
So then, these spiritual gifts that were in grace given to us when we were saved by God, were given to us, not for us or our own benefit, but rather to glorify God and to build up the corporate man, the body of Christ. And we MUST exercise them – or we will grow frustrated and eventually bitter at the very church we are supposed to serve, though even that can be from the Lord to teach things. I won’t give the details for this, but I know this firsthand. With all these gifts given, who can NOT see that we will have a code of behaviour and ethics that will go with these things? Remember, for the flesh, they will try to substitute this with rules and codes and vows and stuff. For the believer, this is more like an instruction manual to joy and fulfilment in the church.
9-13: Our behavior towards other believers
It is critical at this point to note that while there is a real exercise of behaviours and a way we are supposed to act and reasons for the actions we perform, there is a counterfeit and legalistic version of this that will pop up alongside the real exercise everywhere it occurs. I will repeat for vital emphasis, that this is NOT a list of things that will make you a Christian – this is a list of things that a Christian will naturally gravitate toward and be filled with joy when he or she does these things to the glory of God.
9: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
- The Apostle here covers some basics of what is supposed to be Christian behaviour. The very first thing is about love, and the word there is agape, divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. God’s love. The Love that the Holy Spirit gives us so that we may give it again, because I am not sure humans are very capable of giving this way of themselves apart from the Holy Spirit living in Him. That kind of love is supposed to be without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy comes from a word that means literally, “a play-acted answer,” or a fake reply or fake behaviour. This usually demonstrates itself to those who have discernment exercised as all about the individual speaking, and not about the Lord. “I did this, I’m so spiritual, I’m so humble, look at me, praise me, me, me, I, me…” I’m betting people come to mind for you when I say that. I want to be very clear when I say this – I am not talking here about people who use personal examples for teaching purposes – I’m talking about people that push their way to the podium, demand your attention, and once they have it tell you about something, but turn the occasion into a commercial about themselves. Have NOTHING to do with them as far as you are able. And if such an individual has manipulated or engineered or otherwise bullied their way into a position of authority in your gathering, you may have a big issue. Some of us know about that firsthand as well. Be as kind as you can to such a one, and preach the gospel to them. You never know, the Lord may have mercy on them, because love and mercy are in His very nature.
- Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Abhorrence is basically hatred. Hate what is evil. What is evil? Everything the Bible defines as evil. After that, you have to have at least some biblical criteria for making that kind of decision. Seek godly counsel in your local gathering if need be, but learn to do this yourself, Christian. However, don’t turn yourself into a crusader and begin to prosecute it unless God Himself is calling you to be a Police Officer. Rather, cling to what is good. The word for “cling to” literally means to glue yourself to it. And what is good? Well, God starts the list, His principles should be on that list, your fellow believers are on that list because of John 17, and anything else that the word of God says is good. Glue yourself to it and the study of it, instead of maybe gluing yourself to the TV like I can at times (for non-Christian shows), especially in this silly lockdown where there isn’t a whole lot else to do unless you want to maybe improve yourself. For example, did you know that Ligonier Ministries has made all of their teaching material online free to view or use for study during this lunacy? http://ligonier.org will get you to the front page. Have a look around. Did you know that Steven Lawson’s series on the attributes of God was there? Amazing stuff.
10: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
- The next behaviour? Devotion to the saints in brotherly love. The word for devotion has the idea of family attached to it – it is a form of the Greek word storge, the word for family love, like the godly love of a father for his children. This is how we are to view each other – as members of a close family. The word for brotherly love here is philadelphia, and means the affection one has for their siblings. And who is this all toward? One another. You can’t really BE clearer than that. How do we do that?
- Give preference to one another. This literally means to lead one another in doing honour, or outdo one another in showing honour. When I was a younger believer, I had a brother in the faith named Randall, and he and I used to joke that the only kind of fight a Christian was really allowed to have was who would allow the other out the door of someplace first. Seriously, though, we can easily turn that into one-upsmanship, and that’s bad, so be careful to stick to the spirit and meaning here.
11: not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
- Don’t lag behind in diligence. “Lagging” means to shrink back, to hesitate, to delay. Don’t do that about diligence. We’ve already talked about this earlier. Diligence is careful haste to act, earnestness of action, and effort in the completion of business. Just get on with it! Be earnest and work at it! If I could redeem a line from the movie Deadpool, “Maximum Effort!”
- Fervent in spirit. The word for Fervent means literally “hot,” or “boiling.” Many have misinterpreted a key passage of Scripture because of that, I think. Revelation 3:14-15 says, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.’ ” I have heard taught in a church I was a member of, that you need to be either hot or cold, but lukewarm gets you rejected. The teacher that night flat out said it was okay to be cold because God can still enjoy a good, cold dish of ice cream. Charismaniacs. What are you going to do, right? No, the only temperature that Paul ever endorsed was HOT. Why? God will simply pass over cold, but will spew lukewarm out, because it wasn’t HOT enough. Be HOT in your spiritual pursuits. Put ENERGY into them!
- Serving the Lord. The word for serving is based on doulos, the Greek word for slave. Be His slave. Has He asked you to do something? (Yes!!!) Then have that request in your hot pursuit! Let me put that into another set of words: Seek to actively obey His command.
12: rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
- Be filled with joy, or happiness (blessing). The word rejoice is interesting in its construction. Joy is a Latin word meaning filled with exuberance, and the prefix of re adds a sense of having that exuberance in a continual fashion. So have happiness, and KEP having happiness.
- Persevere can also be translated as “endure” or “remain under [the circumstances]” And what is it we are supposed to endure? Tribulation, of course. Affliction. Suffering. Why? Well, it is how all of these things are taught to you. Ever pray, “Lord, give me more patience?” What happens? [wait for answers] Heh – whether you noticed it or not, you all of a sudden found yourself in situations that tried your patience. Why? That is how you train people. You have them set goals (in this case the prayer), and they you present them with opportunities to develop the skills for that goal. I’m not going to say anything glib like “careful what you pray for” here – because that’s a good prayer! Who doesn’t need or want more of that? Pick your goal. Need more humility? Ask the Lord, and He will provide you more opportunities to be humble. Be careful with this request. Being humble is good. Being humbled against your will is called humiliation in English, and no one likes that, as necessary as it may be.
- Devoted to prayer. Another way of saying this in English is “continually attending to earnest and honest communication with God regarding your needs or matters of importance.” Again, I can’t get a whole lot more clear than that.
13: contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
- Contributing to the needs of the saints. This can mean a lot of different things, depending on how many saints we are including. James approaches this from a reverse angle. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16) What are you saying, Paul? Well, if you know of a need in the life of one or more of the saints, it is up to you to fill it. We have this great opportunity right now to shine. We have this thing called a “lockdown” going on. Let’s say I had money (I don’t, and I have the papers to prove it, and a trustee to testify). If I knew a brother needed some groceries and was actually going hungry because he had no ability to get to a grocery store and buy some (an activity that we are maddeningly allowed to break quarantine for, and we still aren’t allowed to meet as the local church in Ontario, hint, hint, Mister Ford) it is incumbent upon me as that saint’s spiritual family to make sure his needs are met. I could go stock his fridge for him, on as regular a basis as I could afford. That’s the way they did it in Acts 2, friends. Let’s say a brother [point vigorously at myself] needed help to clean up his basement so the small church he pastors has an emergency place to meet during lockdown (of course being careful to observe Ontario safety protocols). If I had a strong back and a few hours’ time, I’d risk the trip to his place and clean out his basement for him according to the need. There is more than one way to serve the saints.
- Now, there is a bit of a twist here. A brother could be asking because he is lazy. Does that mean that we shouldn’t help him? Easy question. No. We should still help him. But he’s taking advantage of me! I heard in the left back corner of the room. Why not rather be wronged? Said Paul. However, my help in that case might come with some words of exhortation to be hot and not cold, if you get my meaning. And should said brother end a friendship over this, well, pray for them. That individual made their choice, and we are supposed to be in our Father’s image. No violence done to the will of the creature, like that. My experience has the Lord bringing a much humbler version of that person around again after a time.
- Practicing hospitality. You could say, “Pursue the love of strangers.” This isn’t about being kind to people at your local gathering, this is about being kind and good to Christians you do not know or who are outside where YOU fellowship. The potential here is to head off that ugly cliquishness that we are accused of, and how we are always, and I heard it put this way some time ago and find some truth to it, “using our Calvinism to exclude as many as possible from their ‘Elect’ club and become a holy huddle.” If you’ve been a part of a group that has done that, you get the gist, Calvinism or no. How do you treat actual Christians that aren’t a part of your gathering? Are they brothers and sisters in Christ, or are they all just heretics that will feed the fire? I’ve experienced both. Please friends, I want to be your brother in Christ.
These are ways that we should be treating those who share with us the adoption as sons of God. They too are sons of the Most High, and children of the King of Kings. IF we cannot treat them with that kind of respect, then we must remember what Jesus said in response to Peter when he cried out, “The who can be saved?” Jesus replied to him, “These things are impossible with men, but with God, all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26, Mk. 10:27, Lk. 18:27) This is an opportunity to BECOME the person God wants you to be. He has made YOU a special gift to bless His people and glorify His name. Go and find out what your gifting is and find out what you should be doing to serve the saints in your local gathering.
14-21: Our behaviour towards unbelievers
Now, if the preceding is how we are to treat those who ARE believers, how should we treat those who are not? Sit down and be ashamed if your solution is “make fun of them” or worse. And now rejoice, because Paul is going to tell us.
14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
- But Gerry! They are persecuting us! We need to fight back! We need to take action! We need to beat them into submission! No, we do not. We need to bless them and not curse them. The word here is eulogeo, or “to speak well of or praise.” I don’t think this means that we have to be false in our behaviour toward them, but this goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:41 says, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” In that time of Roman occupation, a member of the Roman contingent could stop anyone at any time, and force them to “spell them off carrying” for a bit, but for no further than one mile. Christians were instructed by Jesus himself in the sermon on the mount to volunteer to go as far again. This became known as “going the extra mile.” And I have to say, this doesn’t deal with debates or exchange of ideas – I’m talking about persecution. I don’t think any of us here have ever really experienced that, although I can see it closer than the horizon now.
- Persecute is an interesting word. It literally means “put to flight.” No one has chased me from my home yet, so I don’t think I have ever really suffered real persecution in the physical sense. But it can stop you from doing things. We were once out preaching the Gospel in the open air, and a person came up to us, told us that we didn’t have the right to do it, and that they were calling the police. The police arrived and nothing happened, but there were a few tense people around until it was cleared up. Another time, we were using the Andrew Haydon park band shell to practice (I sued to be in a band called Morning Star in the late 80s), and a couple of hecklers were clearly angered by our singing of Christian songs. They shouted out, ironically, that Canada was a free country and we shouldn’t be allowed to spread our superstition. How’s that for irony of the year 1989? I just agreed with them. I said something like, you’re correct, it is a free country, and you shouldn’t be allowed to contradict yourself so ironically. No, bless, and do not curse. (answering them intelligently is not cursing!)
15: Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
- This isn’t telling us to follow the throng, as I have heard occasionally suggested. Instead, it is important for us to be human while others are facing human trials. Let’s say you are in sales of some sort. A colleague closed a sale that maybe you could not. Rejoice with him or her! They did a hard thing! Or on the other side of the coin, someone has lost their spouse of 20 years to cancer. It is okay to feel things, and it is okay to live in the moment. The important part is that you will be seen to be different, and that can cause good and even profitable conversations about the gospel either then or down the road.
16: 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.
- Now it does not say “have the same mind.” We are not a part of some giant hive mind like the Daleks or Cybermen of Doctor Who fame. We should “be of the same mind toward one another.” What could that mean? I think it may have something to do with thinking the same thoughts. “My brother is wiser than I, my brother needs these things more than me, my sister is more blessed that I and that is good,” like that. How about this? “My brother and sister are both worthy of respect.” what would the world look like if that were the case?
- Don’t be high-minded. Don’t have your nose stuck in the air. What does it say to do instead? Associate with the lowly. The outcasts. The downcast. The people on the wall at the dance. You know who I mean, because you’ve either seen them there, or more likely, you’ve been a person like that. You can help! So help!
- But don’t get too big for your britches, as the saying goes. Nobody like a know-it-all. Nobody likes folks that insist on using $50 words without explaining them when needed, or when a $0.50 word will do. And don’t think you’re the only one with the solution. A day is coming it tells us that an angel will fly across the heavens and preach the everlasting gospel because man for some reason will no longer be able to do so. If we stopped to speculate on those reasons, we’d be here for a while, so onward.
17: Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
- And what is all the wisdom of the world on this one? Don’t get mad, don’t even get even, but come out on top and get more back! Do you understand the significance of this? Paul is writing this to Rome! The very government is an open knife-fight at times (Just ask about that guy Julius about 120 years ago at that time). No, instead bless and not curse. There is more coming with reasons, so we’ll say more when we get there.
- Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Now all men means all men, and that is important to keep in mind. There are right things about society. Protection and care of the poor is one of those things today. We should respect that. Universal health care is a “right” in Ontario. That’s a good thing. Respect it when they are trying to do right or benefit people in some way. I’m not saying their ways don’t have flaws, or that they shouldn’t be pointed out civilly. Just respect it, and don’t take revenge.
18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
- Now sometimes conflict will occur with people, and sometimes even between believers. Paul mentions a pair of ladies, Euodia and Syntiche, who were at loggerheads with each other. But as much as is within us, WE should be at peace with others. And if we can’t be, then maybe the rest of us can help, just like they helped the two ladies I mentioned. Just make sure that fault is not on your side of the fence. Why?
19: 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.
- Because God will repay it on your behalf. Ever had someone try to spread rumours about you? I have. I was called, “a dangerous man that could snap and cause a lot of damage.” Now several of you know me, some for several decades. I have to ask you, is that true? [wait for answer] Of course it isn’t. I included that statement in a recent pulpit supply sermon where everyone in the congregation knows me and has for some time, and there was a collective gasp of disbelief, followed by laughter for a moment or so. I know it isn’t true. My point is, people will do this, and it is not something we should ever try to do in return. That’s a mild and comical version. I could tell you worse stories that don’t have funny attached. I could tell you two or three that might make some of you grown men cry. But I am at peace. Why? Well, the OT quote from Paul: Vengeance is Mine, I will repay. God said that in Deuteronomy 32 I think. It isn’t about payback, it’s about serving the Lord with the gifts he has given us for the building of the church, for the glory of God.
20: “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 on his head.”
- Another OT quote, this time from Pro. 5:21: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; Because as you do so, you do something. You heap burning coals on their head, and that could mean a couple of things. The first meaning, and this seems to be the majority view here, you increase the punishment that God will visit upon them in the day of Judgement. However, a persistent view although a decided minority, says that you set their conscience on fire when you do not respond in the way the rest of the planet does. I think it could be a multiple-leveled approach between the two things.
21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- Here in the closing verse of the chapter, it is what I believe is a summary of this paragraph – in the world you will face evil and you will face hurtful people – just like you used to be – and you are not to allow that to modify your behaviour from the person God wants you to be. It also says that failure is not an option – another way of stating that last verse is, “Never surrender to evil, but instead conquer evil with good.” Evil is constant in its approach vector at us. It repeatedly assails us – but we will not surrender. We will endure, and in our endurance, we will overcome the assault of evil on us with good – that is, everything that God tells us to do will also lead us to overcome the world, up to and including death if necessary, with His will for us, which is what from v.2? GOOD, acceptable, and perfect!
So what is the key for us here? It is actually very easy – Christianity is not a set of rules that govern behaviour (aka religion), it is an established spiritual reality already established in the hearts of its followers. As we submit to God over time, we make ourselves a living (not a dying) sacrifice to Him, and instead of being pressured and molded into the world’s plans for you, instead we are quiet, and God begins to renew our mind, giving us instead a new motive for being, in fact a new nature that views the world and its fleshly stupidity in a different way entirely. This allows us to form our own internally motivated code of behaviour that we do not perform to score points for “getting into heaven,” but instead we allow ourselves to do to please the one that has already allowed us into heaven. This new and living way God has given us instinctively tells us that we should be humble and obedient men and women to the Lord who made this all possible on Calvary.
And that’s chapter 12!
Next study, chapter 13.