READING: Romans 12:3-18
So – you’ve been waiting for the winner of the competition for shortest sermon of the year.
Me too. The thing is I get excited about the treasures we find in Scripture. Psalm 19 makes it clear – this is gold. Look at the number of words describing how rich God’s word to us is: Psa 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psa 19:8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. Psa 19:9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Psa 19:10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
So what do we glean today from Romans 12? What new treasures. Sweetness. Richness.
Quite a lot really.
Those who offer themselves as living sacrifices (see last week’s message) – in service or 24/7 worship – giving glory to – God, acknowledging his worth – that He is worthy of all recognition and praise, have all kinds of options to make this practical.
In relation to God’s infinite greatness in rescuing us and receiving the credit in or praise and thanksgiving, we must however look out that we don’t make ourselves as important as God. That after all is the Adam and Eve trap – wanting to be like God. Or making ourselves equal to God (compare Jesus in Phil 2 – Php 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Php 2:6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, Php 2:7 but made himself nothing ).
So – verse 3 could keep us busy today: Rom 12:3 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 measure of faith God has given you.
You could lay this alongside Philippians 2 again:
Php 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others
While we are living sacrifices worshipping God every day at work and play, we are to put ourselves into perspective in the context of the body of Christ – the church.
Rom 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, Rom 12:5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Paul then proceeds to talk about giftedness. You see this humility is not self-loathing or hiding one’s light under a bushel or a bowl because the tall poppy syndrome makes you think your light is useless.
We have gifts, he says. Use them.
That’s why churches put people to use. Not because we are obsessed with our programs. People then become commodities.
No, rather because we are obsessed with the generous grace of God. “Grace” means “gift”.
Charismata – from which we get the word “charismatic” is the word for “gifts” in the plural.
Ephesians 4 lists people gifts. Pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet. 1 Corinthians 12 lists “spirituals” including tongues, prophecy, healing etc.
Romans 12 lists people’s gifting. Simply put – if a person has gift A, then let him use it in proportion to his faith. In other words as he or she trusts God to make that gift fruitful.
The list is there:
Rom 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
Rom 12:7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
Rom 12:8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
What do you notice about these gifts?
They are all for the benefit of others.
Prophecy – in 1 Corinthians 14 terms needs three things to be genuine. (Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 1 Cor 14:3)
Serving – serves others. (versus self-serving)
Teaching is about the learners learning. (Tired teachers miss this! “School is so nice when the kids are on holiday!”)
Encouragement obviously helps the recipients to keep going! They need to be helped not to give up!
Contributing to the needs of others is obviously for others.
Leadership – is meant to help people follow! It’s for the group, not the leader. (As the saying goes – if you’re out front leading and no one is following you’re – you’re really just out for a walk.)
And mercy – well that too is to be shown cheerfully. Interesting idea – you can’ really show mercy with a gloomy grumpy attitude. Would seem a bit strange if we said: “Ah well I suppose I’d better be merciful. Sigh. You don’t deserve it and i don’t feel like it, but there it is””
In a word – this is not all about you and me! And your and my needs. It’s about the needs of others.
Strangely obvious really.
But for some reason people don’t pick up on it.
They are locked into the thinking of the age – their minds are clearly not transformed (Romans 12:2) – because it’s all about them. Consumer Christianity abounds.
So much time wasted because people are “not having their needs met”.
Now don’t get me wrong. We should be helping people grow in faith. But they should be able to feed themselves too – like children learn to feed themselves physically.
Serving, teaching and encouraging should be working for people’s good.
But note that this is a letter to the church in Rome. Not to Timothy or some individual – or to elders or pastors.
These people gifts are, to put it bluntly, often hiding in the pew. As the story goes – church is a bit like football (aka soccer) – 22 people charging around on the field in great need of a rests, and 22 000 others in the stands in great need of exercise.
So when we have our ACM today and receive reports about what we have managed to do through the past year – remember that we are looking back.
And let’s be honest financial accountability is a key part of this – with a dose of transparency. And a lot of gratitude for the resources we have. And that especially includes people.
When we meet at this meeting today – whether you stay or not this applies. If for some reason you have been left out in the long lists of thanks. Please remember – it’s probably just an oversight.
Remember this too – it’s not about me. Or you. It’s about giving glory to God. And being a blessing to others. And as Jesus taught in Luke 17: Luk 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
Point 2 of the sermon is really a question. How are you doing when it comes to using the gifts God has given you?
Sometimes the only one stopping you using your gifts is you.
If you have a desire to be part of the future teams making things work here so that we can reach people here and beyond with good news, and help care for those who do need encouragement and mercy because life can be tough – please use the gifts God has given you in proportion to your faith.
As you step out and have a go, your faith will become stronger too.
It’s a wonderful ride and great to be part of a team of which it can be said – we are working on Romans 12:9-18. Sincere love, brotherly love and devotion, harmony and peace – well you can read the rest of those verses. We don’t get it all right. But we really do have a heart for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done in this place. (I recommend that you read Romans 12:11-18 as you reflect on this through the week.)
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Galatians 6:1-3; Matthew 18:16-17
Last week we looked at reconciliation – and the implication for living for one another. And we saw that if someone had something against us, we should fix it before we bring our gift to the altar – our worship to God.
I imagine that most skirmishes can be resolved. Differences of opinion mainly. Or perhaps we may speak a careless word against someone – and we hurt them or offend them, perhaps unwillingly. Sometimes we get offended and it’s all just a misunderstanding. I can’t tell you how many times people get upset if you ignore them in the street when your mind is on something else. Or even at church here on Sunday.
Our falling out with each other over insignificant things is silly sinful behaviour really. Like the little children who have a scrap perhaps – we should be able to say sorry and forgive.
Wilful sin is another thing I suspect – when we are deliberately mean or destructive.
But silly differences or big conflicts – reconciliation and peacemaking belong together. The rift between people and God is a big thing – so too the peace of God achieved by Jesus. The cross is a big thing too – which explains all those ways of trying to explain it we looked at last week – propitiation (atonement), justification, redemption and reconciliation – all try to capture the breadth impact of Jesus’ death on the cross that brings peace and a new community.
Flowing out of that peacemaking is our one-another life. Remember some of them from last week? For those who weren’t here, here they are again. Here are the bible references this time too.
- Bear with one another in love – Ephesians 4:2
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – Ephesians 4:32
- Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
- Honour one another above yourselves – Romans 12:10
- Accept one another – Romans 15:7
- Agree with one another – 1 Corinthians 1:10
- Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – Heb 10:24
- Do not slander one another – James 4:11
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling – 1 Peter 4:9
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – 1 Peter 5:5
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – Ephesians 5:21
- Live in harmony with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
- And of course –
- confess you sins to one another -James 5:16
- Teach and admonish one another – Colossians 3:16
There are more damaging things though that need attention than our silly misunderstandings. I mentioned last week that we should be cautious about trying to reconcile when a relationship is toxic or a person is abusive. Some sin is endemic and evil is dangerous. Some things require mediation or proper restorative processes.
Jesus seems to speak in a more serious tone about sin in the church. Only Matthew 16 and 18 talk about the church at all – at least coming from Jesus’ mouth. In chapter 18 he says this:
Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This has got to be more than a misunderstanding or silly scrap. It’s certainly not the same as last week where we looked at leaving your gift on the altar and going to sort something out. It seems to assume that you can resolve the thing quickly and come back to your gift waiting at the altar.
The implication here in Matthew 18 is that the person does not acknowledge the problem – and probably denies that they are at fault at all. That it will be difficult. A longer process.
Perhaps you can help me here. What kinds of things do you think require this kind of action? Talk among yourselves for two minutes…
I am sure you came up with some interesting scenarios.
The pattern given is a typical Jewish one of the day – a three stage process especially requiring two witnesses.
So you approach the person first. If they don’t respond, you take someone else or two people along. And when that doesn’t work – you tell the whole church. If that fails – separate from them completely. Treat them like nobodies. Hopefully they will come to their senses when they are on the outside – and have to start again figuring out what it means to be a Christ follower and a part of his body – from scratch.
We don’t follow that process much it seems. Sometimes our first step is to tell someone else (gossiping without confronting the person involved at all). Then we sulk. Perhaps become bitter. And finally we ourselves stay away from church in our state of anger or resentment and blame. That’s not quite the same as the pattern Jesus gives!
What kind of things are so damaging that they need a process to get someone to accept responsibility? They are probably horrible things.
You can see how horrible they are potentially if you take that list of one another obligations in the New Testament and change the words from positive to negative. Look what we come up with:
- Bear with one another – don’t put up with each other – be obnoxious towards one another
- Be kind and compassionate to one another – be ugly and indifferent towards one another
- Be devoted to one another – be unfaithful to one another
- Honour one another above yourselves – insult one another and make sure your view dominates
- Accept one another – reject or simply ignore one another
- Agree with one another – have ongoing disputes with one another
- Encourage one another – discourage, dishearten and offend one another
- Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – put people off and tell them to be unkind and selfish, promoting evil
- Do not slander one another – insult and dismiss one another as you spread stories and rumours about each other without checking on the truth
- Offer hospitality to one another – throw one another out of your homes and don’t make people feel welcome, or shun them
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – be brash – arrogant – rude
- Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – beat each other into submission and bully one another
- Live in harmony with one another – start a riot in church like a pub brawl over the slightest difference
That would be interesting behaviour in church. It certainly goes against the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us – and all the others about love and service.
It’s 1 Corinthians 12 that reinforces the damage this kind of sin causes. Paul compares our life together in Christ – in the body of the church – to the human body. 1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
He then goes on at length to talk about all the parts being important and unique.
He says from verse 24: But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. 1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The human body is a great comparison of the joy when it works and the pain when it doesn’t. We all to some extent know when our bodies are in pain. It’s just as bad when our bodies don’t work properly – when parts stop communicating with other parts. It’s not pretty.
It’s not pretty either when the church (or a human family) suffers or can’t communicate between its members – or when one part grows too big like a tumour.
Paul’s plan for the church is a union that means no solo flying. The key verse is this one:
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. And he reminds the Corinthians who had become specialists in doing things without love (and very selfishly): 1 Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
He then proceeds to talk about different people gifts in the body – and that we’re not all gifted in the same way. But we all matter.
He ends chapter 12 with this: 1Co 12:31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 13 in all its beauty follows. In Chapter 13 – love matters most. We read it the other day – remember? Substituting “We are” for the word “love is”.
The reading from Galatians today is also a healthy warning from Paul in all of this. Listen again: Gal 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
So what is to be done? Most of us are not really horrible are we? So what’s the most common sickness in the body? It’s probably what I would call “independent member disorder”. It’s a bit like a foot that wants to walk off in its own direction.
It really helps when we are moving in the same direction. With the mind of Christ in control – with Jesus as the head. And with all the members coordinated in the effort to listen to the Head.
Being a healthy church does require the parts to function well together.
- Are you a healthy part of Jesus’ body? A source of goodness, life and nutrition?
- Are you using the gifts he gave you?
- You matter!
And we really can only share our burdens, sorrows and joys, when the nervous system works and we are connected well enough to feel each other’s emotions and issues.
This all needs time and effort and communication. Let’s keep doing this. At least start today by learning someone’s name you don’t know! Oh and joining a home group where this can happen And, altogether now, “let’s stay for tea and be friendly”.
It’s a small start! Amen.