In the light of all this…
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain Bible Reading: Romans 12:1-21
In the last of our Romans series we open up Romans chapter 12 where Paul ponders the question “In the light of all this…” In the light of all the teaching from the Book of Romans that we have been exploring for the past 6 weeks, what is our response? In Romans 12 Paul gives us a heap of practical advice for responding to God’s grace. This advice is both for enhancing our own inner spirituality as well as how we show love and support to those around us. A great conclusion to our Romans’ journey.
This is it, the last sermon in our Romans sermon series. Although we have not covered every chapter of Romans, I really enjoy exploring together a number of different facets that this book of the Bible brings to us.
In Romans chapters 1 to 11 we have followed through Paul methodical teaching about sin, righteousness, grace and reconciliation – such as
- We have all fallen short of God’s glory – Rom 3:23
- The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – Rom 6:23
- There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus – Rom 8:1
- Nothing can separate us from the Love of God – Rom 8:39
- Therefore … If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he was raised from the dead you will be saved. Rom 10:9
There is so much in these 11 chapters that speak of God’s love for us and the grace, forgiveness and mercy in which we are made right with God. Paul has been hammering us with this message for 11 chapters and then we get to Romans 12:1 and we read… Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
Or as another translation puts it … “In the light of all this…”
All this being God’s love, or God’s mercy, or God’s grace …
In the light of all this … what should our response be?
If God has done all this for us – not because we earned it or deserve it but purely out of God’s love and mercy … then what should we do.
And this is what Romans chapter 12 and 13 are all about. It is Romans 12 is one of those chapters you should read every 6 months because it is so good. It is full of Paul sharing some wisdom or advice on how we are to respond to God’s Grace in a way that can transform lives and change the world.
Over 10 years ago I put together a video on Romans 12 and 13 with my good friend Reg re-enacting a well known story. You have probably heard it before but lets watch it – there is a point that I will make from it.
Video – Phil & Reg
Had you heard that story before? It is relevant because this is Paul’s approach to responding to God’s grace. Yes, our mission as Kevin said last week is to be the feet that brings the good news which transforms the whole world … but Paul in Romans 12 and 13 says to change the world the first place that we need to begin changing is … ourselves.
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.
Our response to God’s mercy is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God … keyword living. It is not like the Old Testament understanding of sacrifices but rather a sacrifice is “anything consecrated and offered to God.” We consecrate an organ because we understand that it will be used to bring glory to God. If we consecrate ourselves, we are committing to live in such as way as to honour God, to bring glory to God.
Paul goes on to say that one of the best ways of doing this is to not allow ourselves to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but rather let God transform you by the renewing of your mind. The first step in changing the world is letting God transform your mind.
This verse speaks different to different people. For some people the renewing of your mind is stopping filling your mind with meaningless worldly stuff and instead enriching your mind through study and prayer. Or linking it with Philippians 4:8 which encourages us to think about things that are noble, right and pure.
For me, I think that Paul is continuing his theme of living in the spirit – and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives to shape and mould us into the people that God wants us to be … and this includes renewing our minds so that we see things more from God’s perspective, that our minds are more open to the needs of others. It a bit like the bridge to the Hosanna song we sometimes sing …
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Part of what it means to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice is to recognise that we have been blessed with different gifts to serve God and serve others. And this is what Paul highlights in verses 3-8. Paul encourages us to simply to do what God has gifted you to do. If you have the gift to teach, then teach. If you have a gift of leadership, then lead. If you have a heart for serving or hospitality or mercy … then simply do it. In the light of the mercy God has shown to us, we in response by using our gifts to serve God and serve others.
In verse 9, Paul changes gears and shifts from speaking about our personal response to a more communal response … that in the light of God’s mercy – how do we interact with those around us. How do we show the same love and mercy to others as God has shown to us.
For those who like to think about the literary style of the bible … this passage is very interesting. Paul in these verse moves away from his own words but rather strings together various exhortations, or catchy teaching gems or buzz-phrases that were around at the time. Douglas Moo writes: “These verses contain a volley of short, sharp injunctions with little elaboration.” This was a common Greek way of teaching called “paraenesis.” In our culture we might refer to them as axioms – sayings that are widely accepted.
Remember that Paul had done a lot of travelling around the early churches, he had done a lot of teaching and probably heard several other teachers. So, when it came to writing to the Romans about how our faith transforms the way we relate to others … he puts together a list of axioms that have been tried and tested by people in the church already.
These 12 verses from Romans 9-21 contain 21 axioms – 21 sayings which people in other churches have been using in their teaching on how our faith in Jesus should impact on the way we relate to the people around us – the people in the church, our family, our workmates, the people that we relate regularly with. Can you see how this adds extra weight to these verses? These are not just a bunch of things Paul dreamt up in a writing session but tried and true sayings that have been found helpful by many of the early churches. And I think they are great.
Sincerely love one another.
1. Love must be sincere (v.9a)
Paul starts this list of Axioms with one of the most critical commands in the whole bible … we should LOVE. The Greek word here for “love” is the word “agape,” which means unconditional and sacrificial love. Paul has just shared on different ways in which we can serve God and the church and immediately follows that up with the command to love.
Spiritual gifts from God, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not exercised in love. Think about it – what do spiritual gifts look like without love? What is mercy when love is absent? What does the gift of giving look like without love? What does teaching feel like if the person teaching does not have love for the listeners?
There might be 21 great pieces of wisdom in Romans chapter 12, but if you don’t get the first one right, then rest will just fall away. We are to love and that love must be sincere.
I don’t have time to go through the other 20 but I have group them under some headings that I will look at. The first one is…
2. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (v.9b)
3. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody (v.17b)
4. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (v.21)
Paul says that as followers of Jesus we need to be discerning about what we say or do. We need to work out what it good or right and what is evil and to cling to the good. The trick is that we live in a culture where the line between right and wrong is quite blurry and it can be difficult to work out what we should be clinging to.
That is where discernment comes in, allowing God to transform your mind, being shaped by love and earnestly listening to the prompting of the spirit as we try to discern what is good – and when we work out something that is good then we hold on tight & invest deeply into it.
The next two headings are to be considerate to others and not to be spiteful to others.
Be considerate to one another
5. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (v.10a)
6. Honour one another above yourself (v.10b)
7. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. (v.16)
8. Do not be conceited. (v.16)
Do not be spiteful to one another
9. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (v.14)
10. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (v.17)
11. Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath (v.19)
Paul encourages us to understand that unity comes from recognising that we are all important in God’s family and that no-one is more special than anyone else. As such we need to be devoted to one another and not get caught up in revenge or spite against anyone else.
Be gracious and show mercy to one another.
12. Share with God’s people who are in need. (v.13)
13. Practice hospitality. (v.13)
14. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (v.20)
15. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (v.15)
The next group of axioms are built around the idea that if God has shown us love, grace, generosity etc then we are to reflect that in the way that we interact with others. We are to practice hospitality with all, whether they are our friends or enemies. We are to be empathic … if someone is hurting, then we sit with them and feel their pain. If someone is rejoicing, we rejoice with them. We are to share our blessings with all who are in need.
Be spiritually encouraging to one another.
16. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (v.11)
17. Be joyful in hope (v.12)
18. Be patient in affliction (v.12)
19. Be faithful in prayer. (v.12)
And this generosity also extends to the spiritual side of our lives. We are to be generous with offering spiritual encouragement and prayers.
I find verse 11 quite challenging – never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord. The Greek word for fervour is Zeo … which literally means boiling over; red hot; glowing. Now that is a challenge, to encourage one another so much that our spiritual life, our relationship with Jesus, our passion for serving God is glowing red hot.
Not sure about you but there are days where my spiritual fervour is barely warm let lone red hot. How do we encourage ourselves and those around us not to get spiritually slothful but rather spiritually on fire? I think that the other Axioms help … be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
The other week I was attending the Friday night bible study and we were sharing how we are feeling this stirring to be praying more. We know the amazing stories of times when the church has focused in prayer for something or someone … like Athena last year … and the difference that it makes. How can we as a church encourage each other more in prayer? If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Be united with one another
20. Live in harmony with one another. (v.16)
21. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (v.18)
The last on the list is about being united with one other. The blokes from the Bible project sum up Romans 12 by saying that in the light of all that God’s mercy we are to reflect our gratitude in our unity. The way that we form and value community reflects beyond us.
At the beginning I shared the video where Reg wisely shared that if we are going to change the world, the first people we need to start with is us. But as we open ourselves up to God to changing us on the inside, let’s also be open to allowing that transformation the way we relate to others and encourage those around us.
These axioms that Paul records in Romans 12 have come from churches who have found them helpful in being a church. I think that if we take the challenge to include them, or include them to a greater extent, into the life of our church then we too will find their usefulness to us. Take the challenge of Romans 12 … and who knows … maybe we could even change the world. Amen.