A few weeks ago we spent time together in Romans 12, in a message titled Living as a Gospel Centered Church. This message followed several others that were focused on the spiritual life of Agape in a corporate context. The purpose of this letter is to go a bit deeper into the passage, and finish up some of thoughts on how the word calls us to live together as a church.
When we went into Romans 12 we read this: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. 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. Rom 1:1-2. The mercy of God toward a believer is the foundation for Paul’s appeal on our lives. The internal experience of God’s compassion, always precedes behavioral commands. The Gospel is both the power for our salvation, and the power for our transformation. Paul described this in the opening of his letter to the church in Thessalonica when he said: Our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. 1 Thess 1. It would be useless for us to try and build behavioral change in our lives or in the lives of others, without first having the foundation of God’s mercy. None of us are able to make any spiritual progress without him. At the same time, it is poison to our soul to believe that you can have a saving attachment to God, without experiencing the conviction to turn from your sin. Saving belief in the Gospel compels us to obey verse 1 of Romans 12 by viewing our very life as an instrument of worship.
And this Gospel transformation does not occur in isolation. The gospel builds us into a church. Any notion that a person can love Jesus yet hate His gathered people is a falsehood with no biblical justification. Paul continues in Romans 12:3 I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. Romans 12:3-6 [ESV]. According to this passage, God grants faith and gifts in a variety of measures. When coming to Christ not everyone receives the same spiritual gifts, nor the same measure of faith right away. But whatever gift and whatever measure of faith you do have, you have received it for the common good of the church. In His wisdom, God has chosen to heal and sanctify sinners by His Spirit operating through His people.
In light of this, we would do well to put some thought toward our role in the church. How will people be impacted if we are not there to participate and minister with the gifts that God has given us? Yes, we will be weaker if we forsake the gathering of the church, but so will those around us. In Christ we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:22). What God is doing in your life, directly impacts what he is doing in the life of your church. And this is why I believe that God has Paul follow up His definitive commands to be transformed by the gospel, with relational instructions for the church. Romans 12 continues 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 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. 17 Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:9-18 [NIV]
The battle to preserve spiritual passion is a battle that the church takes up together. God has designed it so that we need the gifts and faith of others to build us up. When Jesus spoke to the churches in Revelation, he spoke to them corporately. When he warned the church at Ephesus, ‘You have abandoned the love you had at first’, this was an observation about the spiritual health of the church as a whole. We stand together – seeking to be zealous for God and His kingdom. And we help each other, in part, by serving with our spiritual gifts. Verses 6 – 8 in Romans 12 could be summarized this way: Use your Gift(s)!! The God of the universe has granted you a manifestation of His Spirit, for the purpose of serving the people around you. And God knows that serving is not always easy for His people who daily live with a nature bent toward self-focus. Thus, God commands his church to Honor one another above yourselves. We have this high calling from Christ to honor the church, which means to treat it as valuable, even if it means we sacrifice our own interests in the process. Young parents, we are setting the pace for our children: Will our parenting lead them to grow up and treasure the church with their own families? Older mentors, will the younger people in this church be taught to treasure the church by what they see in your life?
Of course whatever God is doing among His people, the enemy looks to stifle. Satan delights in sowing disputes and disagreements among those joined under the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our church will always be in great need of peacemakers. We will probably always struggle with a temptation toward conflict because of the self-focused nature that was just mentioned. People will say or do the wrong thing, harming us, accidentally and sometimes purposefully. And because of this we will be tempted to gossip, or slander by venting to others angrily. In light of this, God commands His church, 14…bless and do not curse. 16 Live in harmony with one another. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Church, refuse gossip. Handle conflict face to face, with truth and grace. Be devoted to each other in Love. When harm comes, forgive. Do not harm back. Jesus was willing to be treated unfairly for the sake of sinners– so likewise honor others above yourself, even when they do not deserve it.
A church battling for spiritual fervor is one whose people are using their gifts, honoring each other, and praying to be daily bent toward peace. May we be that church, Agape!
I love you all in Christ.