37 - Romans 12 - Be Transformed By the Renewing of you Mind
3. Living Sacrifices
a. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
i. The Jews had been in the habit of offering bulls, goats, grain, and oil as offerings to God. What these all have in common is that they were dead sacrifices. The animal was killed, its blood drained, and that was offered to God on the altar and burnt there. You can imagine, that a bull is very heavy. Imagine even a large number of priests trying to wrestle a live bull onto the altar. A goat which is much smaller would still be a wrestling match and might be able to crawl off the altar or get away. These animals usually had their throats cut, the blood drained out, they were cut in pieces and then lifted onto the altar to be burned.
ii. Even if it’s your very best of each category, they were now dead. Additionally, amongst your bulls and goats if you were a person of means, you had more than one to choose from. For some who were very rich it wasn’t hard at all, they had a lot of cattle. For others it was more expensive. What this meant is that the sacrifice wasn’t the same across the board. For some it was substantially more costly than for others. There was also, except for the high holidays, some flexibility in terms of when this was offered. When it was over, you can go about your business until the next sacrifice was needed. Typically, once a year.
iii. What Paul is calling for here is an entirely different kind of sacrifice. This is a sacrifice of your very life. Some of us may be called, like some of the heroes of the faith, to literally offer our bodies as martyrs. What a privilege this would be. I think of Polycarp who was a disciple of John who was burned at the stake for his faith. It is said, and some of this may be legend, the even as they were lighting the wood underneath the stake he was tied to, Polycarp was singing worship songs. I whether or not that part is true, Polycarp went willingly to the stake rather than recant his testimony of the living Christ. His testimony still stands, and here I am talking about it today. If you’ve ever read Fox’s book of martyrs, there are a great many stories (and Fox only has some of them) of those who’ve literally offered their lives rather than recant their testimony.
iv. Some of you will be surprised that I say being martyred would be a privilege. I’m not confused about whether I will die. I’m going to die someday. I hope that whenever I die my life will be a testimony to the glory of God. If God chooses that my death as well would be an act of testimony as a martyr I would count that as a privilege. I consider every additional day as a gift from God. None of us knows what our lives will be over. Neither do we know the manner of our death. What we do know is that one day our life will end in the God knows the when and the how. In whatever manner or circumstance I do die, at that point I will be with Jesus for all eternity. I already know, and you can too, that at the moment of my death no matter what form that takes, I won’t be disappointed to be in the presence of the Lord.
v. As a living sacrifice in the same fashion as if I were a live animal on the altar my tendency is to want to crawl off the altar. I tend to want to go my own way and to not offer my life to Jesus. And I’m sure this never happens to any of you, but it happens to me regularly.
vi. For some of us this will mean the giving of our time to the work of ministry to others it will represent the giving of money. In either case it’s the giving of your life energy to God. The life energy of the body is literally in the blood. The draining out of the blood means the end of life. For living sacrifice the life energy is our time. Time is the only thing we can’t get more of. Our money represents our time. It is our time and effort that creates our income. All money represents excess food. After all, if you don’t have enough to eat this will be the very first thing you will spend your money on. Once fed and having a view of sufficient food in the future we begin to spend on other things. Clothing, shelter, furniture and everything else our purchases we make after having sufficient food. Once a person has sufficient food and accomplishes other basics in life we begin to spend our money on recreations or diversions or savings. It would be a good thing to recognize that all of these represent us storing or spending excess food. This is, excess life energy. The 40 hour work week is a privilege that represents sufficient food. For many people in the world today and throughout history 40 hours was not enough to gain sufficient foodstuffs. Some are working from sunrise to sunset and beyond and still unable to feed themselves. I believe it is our obligation as Christians to offer at least a portion (and for some of us it’s more than 10%) of our excess food to the work of ministry. This doesn’t necessarily mean ministries that feed people although it might mean that. What it does mean is that we are offer our very lives as represented by our time and money to God which Paul says here is our “reasonable service”.
4. Do not conform
a. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
i. Not conforming to the pattern of this world is how we are supposed to live as Christians. I find myself far too often doing exactly what Paul is saying that you in this verse. I find myself conforming to this world. I do want to fit in. I do want to be accepted. I don’t want to be considered the “religious nut” in my workplace. I find myself pursuing an interest in the same kinds of entertainment, diversions, and activities of the world.
ii. Luke 21:34 34 “But be on your guard, so that your hearts will not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that [y]this day will not come on you suddenly, like a trap; NASB
iii. The new King James version uses the word carousing instead of dissipation.
5. Humble Service in the Body of Christ
a. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
i. What Paul isn’t saying is that we shouldn’t have a favorable opinion of ourselves. That’s just fine. What’s not okay is having an opinion of yourself that’s higher than what is deserved. When he says here “sober judgment” he means a judgment that takes into account what is really available to know. The opposite of sober is to be in a “drunken” state. When a man is drunk his faculties are impaired and because of this his ability to appraise things as they are is consequently impaired as well. Hope all is saying here’s be sure to appraise yourself as you are. He has just spent the first eight chapters of this letter explaining who we really are without Jesus and additionally how once we come to Jesus we are still nothing without him. I believe we need to come to the place where John the Baptist was when he said in John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease”.
6. The body of Christ- Christian Living
a. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
i. The parts of our individual bodies are completely different in form and function from one another. My hand is nothing like my eye. But these things are entirely interdependent. Without my eye a lot of the usefulness of my hands would cease. While they are different in form and function, both are working for the betterment of the thing I call “me”. The I and the hand both belong to this thing called “me”, and I need them both to function in the way that God intended.
ii. In the same way the individuals who make up the church have different gifts and different responsibilities. Each member of the church belongs to every other member and every single one of us is needed for the church to work in an optimal fashion.
b. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
i. The word grace in the Greek is charisma, meaning gift. This is where we get the term “charismatic” from. Paul begins in verse six a discussion of some of the gifts of the spirit. I did a series of classes on this in May and June of last year. Episodes 13, 14 and 15 were dedicated to the topic of spiritual gifts. For that reason, I won’t go into depth on this now. If you’d like some deeper and more detailed teaching on the subject of gifts, I’ll refer you to those episodes.
ii. There has been in recent years teaching, primarily coming from Bethel church in Redding California that anyone can prophesy. They even have a college there which has a “school of the prophets”.
iii. Suffice it to say, that I do believe there is a gift of prophecy that is for the church today. Paul said that he desired that we would prophesy more than any other gift. This doesn’t mean that we should expect prophecy to be more prevalent than other gifts.
iv. I believe Paul is saying here in verse six is that if prophecy is the gift you are given then do it according to your faith. A person of little faith might still have an important word from God to share with you whereas some people have been given more faith than others by God and consequently may have along with that more insight given by God
c. 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
i. For purposes of brevity here, I will refer you again to the prior three episodes I did on gifts.
ii. Paul is offering here nothing more than encouragement for the believer to use whatever gift God has given without reservation.
iii. I do believe that whatever gift God has given to you, you will know what it is and it will come naturally to you. There are spiritual gifts tests that some churches use to help identify someone’s spiritual gift. Now these may be good as a confirmation and sometimes as a way of discovering the gift that God is giving you. I believe most of the time you already know. Often what is needed is not as much the identification of gift as the empowerment to operate in that gift.
7. Love in Action
a. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
i. This is a real challenge Christian today. Many of us do not hate what is evil. We don’t hate the rampant sex outside of marriage and promiscuity in our society or in our entertainment. The same can be said for violence. I’m 58 years old and in real life I’ve only seen two people die. My father-in-law, and my own father. My mother will be dying soon, probably in a matter of weeks. Lord willing, I will be with her when she passes into the hands of Jesus. But in my 58 years I’ve never seen someone die a violent death from a gunshot wound or any other way. You may think that this is because I’ve lived a sheltered privileged life, but this is simply not the case. I was once a homeless drug addict living on the streets of Los Angeles. Trust me, I’ve seen much that no human being should ever see. At what I’ve never seen this in real life, I’ve seen it thousands or tens of thousands of times on television and in movies. Some of these even being my favorite movies. And I’m not talking about the documentary style movies about war or history where those elements may be necessary to convey the story. I’m talking about those kinds of movies like the Rambo movies or the Die Hard series where the violence is the story. Even in the kind were depicting the violence may be necessary or historical context it is often overly graphic well beyond what would be needed to convey the situation.
ii. Many Christians, both men and women, enjoy and pursue entertainment based on extra-marital relationships. These are portrayed as “romantic”. Nothing could be further from the truth. These “follow your heart” stories are extremely damaging to the true nature of a committed, loving marriage as God intended.
iii. In the same way, many of us no longer object to a man and a woman or even a same-sex couple “living together”. Some of us have even done that prior to our marriage either with our current spouse or with the prior boyfriend or girlfriend.
iv. Brothers and sisters, to a large extent the church no longer hates what is evil.
b. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
i. This too has been largely lost to our society (not that we should expect it of the world) and even to the church. It’s been replaced with a “look out for number one” and “Charity begins at home” ethic. To our shame we are no longer devoted to one another in love or honoring others above ourselves.
ii. If we want to see a true revival of Christianity in our societies I believe that this one thing, more than any other, would have an impact.
iii. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
iv. For all to know requires us doing this. This is quite literally a test that Jesus has offered to the world for their use on us. The unbelieving world is allowed and even expected to test whether we are disciples of Jesus by how well we love each other. To the extent that we are not loving each other we are reducing both the visibility and the reputation of Jesus and his body.
v. I want to challenge you to consider whether your life is marked by love or by something else. Do you gossip? Are you unkind to a particular person or a particular group? Do you look “down your nose” at homeless people and people struggling with addiction? No doubt there are evil people in the world. Have you stopped to consider that Jesus loves them too? That Jesus died for them too? That Jesus desires their salvation? Do you?
c. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
i. It seems to me that “never be lacking in zeal” means to never be lacking in zeal. Never. That’s a very long time. If you are lacking in zeal it’s a good idea to just talk to God about it. Ask him to make you more zealous. Ask him to help you keep your mind on him and his purposes for you.
d. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
i. Are you joyful because of your hope?
ii. Are you patient when you are afflicted? As I’ve been going through these trials of my mom being ill and dying of cancer, I’ve focused my mind on the goodness of God. His goodness and providing me with a mother who is so easy to respect. I’ve been working hard to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” – James 1:2 and to “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
iii. It’s sometimes difficult in the face of affliction, suffering and other hardships to see them as the good and perfect will of God. Yet we saw earlier in Chapter 8 and verse 28 “28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Since I know that I love God and am called according to his purpose, I can rest secure in the knowledge that whatever events transpire in my life and whatever things happen to me are in his will. Nothing is a surprise to God.
e. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
i. It’s interesting to me that this is a fairly self-explanatory verse and so few Christians actually do anything about it. It’s not really very hard to understand. If you have resources in your Christian brother or sister has needs, were supposed to recognize that the resources we have come from God and that they belong to him and we are share them.
ii. Acts 4:32-34 32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
iii. Some people who are on the political left in their politics both inside and outside of the church have use these verses to claim that the Bible teaches a communist or socialist perspective. I don’t believe that’s the best way to understand these verses. The key differentiator is that these were voluntary acts. There are today many Christians who sell assets to give the money to the church or who donate assets of various kinds to the church. Sometimes it’s cash sometimes it’s land, cars and even jewelry. In each case these are voluntary acts. Furthermore the idea of selling something means it must be yours to sell and a buyer was able to buy. To have buyers and sellers, you must have private property. The only way you have private property is to have capitalism. When people volunteer to live in community and share their assets for the benefit of each other does not create any compulsion on the wider society to live in such a way. What Luke is relating in this story is that this was an interdependent community of Christians who were providing what they had to each other and for each other so that there were none who lacked.
iv. James 2:15-16 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Ladies and Gentlemen we have to put hands and feet to our faith. This means not ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Lord if we can help.
v. James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
vi. How much of your resources, to whom and how often is going to be a thing between you and the Lord. For some people giving away 10% of what they have or what they earn would be a real act of faith because there just isn’t any extra left over. Often when I was younger we would run out of money before we run out of month. Some people could give away 30% or even 50% and never notice the difference. This is an issue you need to settle between you and the Lord, but do settle it.
f. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
i. Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
ii. Here we have the ultimate injustice, the brutal crucifixion of Jesus. Not only was Jesus innocent of the crimes of which they accused him, he was innocent of ever committing any sin at all. And yet, here is Jesus, interceding on behalf of his tormentors.
g. 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.
i. Rejoice, mourn, live in harmony, these are all calls on the believer to live a life of participation and not just participation with those who are like us.
h. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
i. In this verse Paul is turning “an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth” on its head. His calling upon us to be like Jesus and to follow the instructions of Jesus and to “turn the other cheek”.
ii. Matthew 5:38-42 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
iii. Notice at the end of verse 17 Paul says Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. This ties in directly with the idea of people knowing we are Christians by our love. The Christian life is a life marked by love for one another and for the world around us. Paul reminds us that people are watching. The most important thing you can do to advance the kingdom is to live in such a way that no one would question your love for Jesus your love for your brothers and sisters in the kingdom or your love for those who are outside the kingdom.
i. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
i. This is one of my favorite Bible verses. The more I meditate on it, the more I understand that the “as far as it depends on you” goes a very long way. To a large extent I am able with anyone if I choose to. A soft answer really does turn away wrath. A gentle forgiving attitude really does create peace and harmony. Paul is not saying that we can always be at peace. Wars, conflicts, and disputes will still invade our lives. The key to understanding what Paul is saying here is to make sure that we are neither causing nor perpetuating conflict when we can live peacefully if we choose to.
j. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
i. It is not our job to be the extractors of justice. In the very next verse at the beginning of chapter 13 Paul will go into what justice should looks like in our society. Individually, we are to forego revenge in favor of allowing God to handle this. It is not our job to individually punish. Rather, the example of our kindness to someone who knows they have punishment coming becomes in and of itself a form of punishment to them.