It is Tuesday and in our reading thru the New Testament in a year's journey, we have come to the half-way point on this last day of June. First, I want to thank you for coming along with me, and secondly, I want to encourage you since you’ve made it through 6 of the 12 months in this journey. Today our reading is in Romans 12:1-21. I’d encourage you to read the passage first...read it slowly and take in the many different things Paul writes, and then come back that we might look at it together.
“I appeal to you, therefore” is the beginning of this transition from the doctrinal, theological aspects of the Gospel (Romans 1 – 11), to the beginning of the rest of this letter – the practical aspects of the Gospel. You might see vs 1 as a transition in the manner of – “Now that we have settled all of these things God does and is doing, let’s put it all into practice, personally doing the things we know are a result of God’s good news inside of you”. Paul’s “appeal” comes from the first Greek word I had to learn in Seminary – “parakaleo” (pair a ka leo), and by it he means, “please consider what I’ve just said, and let’s put it into practice. The first verse of chapter 12 marks another of Paul’s transitional statements in coupling his appeal to the word, “therefore”. He had used in 5:1, “therefore, having been justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then after dealing with the spiritual versus the fleshly nature at war in our bodies, he added it again in 8:1, “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...”. Now he adds it again, “Therefore, I urge you – appeal to you – as brothers in Christ, because of all these mercies of God we have come to know, present yourselves to God as a living, holy sacrifice, be committed to God in all you do as both serving and worship” (my paraphrase). Now the great mercies of God Paul helped us to see and understand serve as the basis for the way we give ourselves to God everyday in normal life, and how we see the transformation of our lives because we do that.
How do we give ourselves to be a living sacrifice? The picture is of one who is willing to die to self – after all – that is what a sacrifice is. The problem I’ve personally discovered is that as a sacrifice I often want to crawl off the altar! Being a living sacrifice has to begin with our will, with what is going on in our minds. Paul moves to that immediately: “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 (12:2). There’s the key to consecration and transformation. “Don’t be conformed” is from the Greek word “syschematizo” (can you see the word schematic?), which literally means to be squeezed into a mold, like clay being molded into shape through a mold. Paul reminds us that the world is trying to squeeze us into the mold of their own making – that is a world view or value system (scheme) that is devoid of God’s words and ways. “But be transformed” is the counter-balance. It’s like someone showing us how to do something right and they say, “Don’t do that, but do this instead.” In Paul’s case, the appeal is to turn away from the value, ethical, and moral system of the world around us and turn towards the value, ethical and moral system that is from God. It is a way of looking and living life with the eyeglasses' corrected vision of the Gospel.
What does that look like? The answer for that has to be summarized, but I would urge you to spend some time looking at all the various pieces that Paul appeals to us to consider. They collectively are like a recipe – follow it precisely and the outcome will be good, but forget some of it, or replace it with your own sense of how you want to do it and the outcome will not be nearly as good. We’ve already seen Paul’s concern that there is a distinctive difference between living by the “flesh” versus living by the spirit” (Rom. 7:4 – 8:11), so all of this is a reminder of what the Spiritual values, ethics, and morals all look like. I’ll outline this next section for brevity:
1. First, get a proper view of yourself (12:3-8). He begins where he had already begun – “For by the grace given me, I say to you...”. Grace is a great word because it immediately reminds us that the transformed nature of life is by grace – God at work in me and through me. Because of grace, I need a proper view of myself – “don’t think too highly of yourself but do have a reasonable awareness of the gifts God has given you” (my paraphrase). Again, we see immediately how our minds come into play here. We need a clear understanding that it is God’s Grace that called me to this life in Christ, and it is God’s Grace that is given to me to serve God in this life through faith (12:3).
We guard against two necessary things – either of which will derail us. First, we guard against arrogance – a sort of Spiritual superiority to look at me. Arrogant people always want your attention and love to seek to stand out and be recognized. The truth is there are no indispensable people. Long before Elliott Pollasch arrived on the earth God was at work in his plan and purposes, and long after Elliott Pollasch is gone from this earth God will still be at work. At the same time that arrogance is harmful, so also is a depreciative false humility or thinking little of oneself. While we are not the Apostle Paul, Moses, Abraham, Peter, or John, we nevertheless have been given grace, and so can serve God with whatever gifts he has given us. God’s church is a place of diverse people, and like an orchestra, you need diversity to create harmony.
2. Secondly, let’s live “out” the life of Christ “within” us (12:9-16). In other words, let us have a life behavior – values, ethics, morals – that match the life of Christ within us. The basis for this does not lie within us but has come to us in God’s love and through the power of his indwelling Spirit. Love is “agape” – giving, serving love. Fight against hypocrisy, be sincere might be the best way to understand the beginning statement - “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (12:9). I urge to see that how Paul begins this section is also how he ends the entire section – “ Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (12:21). In between the beginning exhortation to live by the value of “love” – not an emotional value, but an ethical value based on Jesus himself. This love in quick order...
• Hates evil, clings to good (12:9)
• Is devoted to others, honoring others (12:10)
• Has enthusiasm and passion, coupled with patience (12:11-12)
• Is generous and hospitable to other’s needs (12:13)
• Is gracious in response to those who are not (12:14)
• Is sympathetic instead of judgmental (12:15)
• Is humble, not because of thinking like everyone else, but seeking to understand (12:16).
This kind of love is seldom seen, but when it appears in a person, people relax and enjoy it. Most of us can see when love is absent. We sense the double-mindedness, the lack of humility, the judgmentalism, and legalism that is proud and never wrong. We must learn to get rid of pride and reject fear. To live sacrificially for Christ means our identity is in Him, and our values are His to learn and emulate.
3. Lastly, Paul admonishes us to do the right things even when others are not (12:17-21). There will always be people we don’t like. What we do when that happens makes all the difference in the world. From Jesus, Paul makes clear – we don’t have the option of repaying evil with evil, and we don’t want to curse when we instead can learn to bless. The idea of blessing is so crucial because again, we are dealing with what is going on in our mind.
We all have had encounters with people who are not nice – even worse, evil. If we take the position of cursing them, we fail to understand that, even as we needed Christ to turn our lives around, so also they need Christ too. The word “bless” comes from the Greek word “eulogeo” – you can see the word “eulogy”, which means that instead of using the language directed at you that was cursing, you use the language of blessings – to speak well of them, even praying for them. It’s not easy, but it changes the demeanor of your own mind and attitude when it could escalate into something quite different. I once had a neighbor, who when finding out I was a Pastor, made it clear she had no use for and even a great dislike of preachers “and other hypocrites”. She was not very nice in almost every encounter I had with her, and yet I knew my task was to pray for her and never demean her in conversation with anyone else. I learned that I didn’t need to defend myself, and I didn’t need to prove myself to her. I answered to the Lord, and all I needed to do was make sure I was doing his will in all situations.
What about “leave room for God’s wrath”? That is not a silent request we make, it is merely an understanding that God knows how to deal with evil when it rears its ugly head. What about “heaping burning coals on his head”? (12:20). That is a quote from the book of wisdom, Proverbs (25:22), and reminds us that humility is of greater value than always being right. In other words, let kindness and forgiveness be our habits and allow God to do his job of convicting and dealing with Sin.
The end of it all is both an admonition, and a warning: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (12:21). God’s purpose in living a sacrificial, worshiping, transforming life is never possible by doing evil. It is always possible by doing good.
After 50 years of seeking to follow Christ, and 47 years of pastoral ministry, I still have to battle the flesh within my mind. I would – in my worst moments – love to get even, to tell him/her off, to prove that I am right and they are wrong, I really would. But, to hold on to every critical word, every false idea, every foolish statement, or cursing word is to accumulate a boatload of “crap” (excuse my language). I ask you, who of us wants to live in the manure of life? The better way is Christ. In other words, “let it go”... “bless them, Lord, give them a better day than they are having now”... and “help them to grow in both their faith and knowledge of you” – that is just in dealing with Christians! Yet it has to be a universal ethic for all people we meet – “let it go”, it’s not worth trying to be God, I’m not good at it at all.