Friday, January 31, 2014

Giving to Whom it is Due (Romans 13:5-7)

“Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:5–7, NASB95)

Clearly rulers have the authority and responsibility to enforce law, but today’s passage deals with more than that. It deals with our own conscience as it pertains to that law and our relation to those in charge. While its primary focus is on the payment of taxes, the payment of taxes is merely a practical illustration of a greater principle.

The other day (1/25) when we looked at Romans 12:9 and that our love is to be genuine from the heart, not being hypocrites or actors, we stopped and looked at the Pharisees trying to trip up Jesus by asking about what the greatest commandment is (Matthew 22), to which Jesus clearly answered that the first and foremost commandment is the love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Then He added the second which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. They were stumped.

This effort to try to catch Jesus in a failure of the law was a persistent practice. In the same chapter of Matthew, preceding the above encounter, we have a couple of other such encounters on the same day. One of them had to do with the issue of taxes.

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.” (Matthew 22:15–22, NASB95)

Jesus could have easily called into question the entire authority to tax if God were opposed to it, but rather He reinforced it by pointing to the very coin they were using to pay their tax and asking them whose image it bore. Here in Romans we are told to pay the taxes that are due. And in our country this is largely a system of voluntary compliance and honesty. There are some of our documents that are reported and which are known, but there are others which are largely never verified and for which the government takes our word. Sure there is the power to enforce and penalize the non-payment of taxes, but the greater weight is on our doing what it right and paying what is due. This is a matter of conscience, of being able to sleep nights and walk clearly knowing that this issue was handled honestly before God and man.

What Scripture does not get in to, and as such what we are not given the authority to withhold our taxes for, are those things with which we disagree. This has created a great deal of tension recently as the government has mandated that health insurance cover things for which employers do not agree. And with our Supreme Court saying that the government has the authority to force this as a tax, now we have employers deciding whether or not they can in good conscience before God comply with the government mandate. In our country we still have the ability to contend this in our courts and to adjust it with legislation, but at some point the law will be settled and hard choices will have to be made.

Jesus’ response did not deal only with rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but He added that we are to render to God that which belongs to Him. It is this higher responsibility that I trust will guide people when they have to make these difficult decisions. And in so doing, they might suffer consequences from the government for the sake of their conscience. But this is a dangerous and slippery slope when we make ourselves the determinant on what truly is to be given to God in honor and to Caesar as duly obligated.

This goes beyond the issue of taxes as do the verses we are looking at today, because it is broadened to the considerations of rendering fear and honor to those to whom it is due. This brings us back around to how we walk under the laws which not only regulate the payment of taxes but even how we operate our business, manage our careers, and drive our cars. Clearly we have to make hard choices and in so doing be willing to suffer harsh consequences. This might go to the nurse or doctor who refuses to perform lawful and maybe even mandated practices. It goes to the baker who in his or her art refuses to celebrate a union which conflicts with the biblical understanding of marriage. It goes to the employer who refuses to provide health insurance that includes biblically reprehensible benefits. It even includes the military Chaplain whose speaking of the gospel with which he was called is being restricted. And it goes to the employee who risks his or her position of employment for the sake of doing what is right.

For the majority of our lives this is a pretty simple and straight forward principle of Scripture without any issue of compliance. But for that minority time when the issue becomes very, very large we have to place our trust fully in God and entrust ourselves to His strong hand. Paul knew what it was to suffer at the hands of government for the sake of the gospel. And he knew what to do even with that opportunity as he placed his trust and confidence in God.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” (Colossians 4:2–5, NASB95)

Even at the end of his life when he knew his death was near we read,

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:8–13, NASB95)

He remains faithful!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

No Fear Inside the Lines (Romans 13:3-4)

“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13:3–4, NASB95)

Generally speaking the best way to get along in a society is to abide by the rules. If you stay within the lines then you won’t be prosecuted for crossing them. But if you cross the lines, don’t be surprised when there are harsh consequences. If you obey the laws then you don’t have to be watching over your shoulder to see if you will get caught. You may not get praised, and you may not even get noticed. But at least you won’t be put away. Laws and the enforcement of laws helps to provide for a safe environment in which to live good lives, and in so enforcing those laws the government is doing what it is designed to do. Similarly, with the authority invested in the government also comes the power to prosecute and to judge those who break the laws and then to put them away such that they are removed from those who are living good, law-abiding lives.

I don’t think any of us would argue this point, but….

This is where the rub comes. We have our concerns where we are tempted to say, ‘but.’ There are those things that governments do that must clearly be an exception to these verses. What if our government isn’t trustworthy or doesn’t get things right? What about where government oversteps its intended purpose, or what if it tries to take more than we want to give or becomes more invasive and restrictive that we think it should? We also might even have concerns about government demanding that we do or approve things which are in conflict with our values. These questions are not fully covered in these verses. What we are looking at here is the intended role of government as the entity that protects the people by establishing laws for their overall welfare and then enforcing them.

God is a God of order and He instructs us to obey His ordinances. Consistent with this, He also instructs us to obey the laws of the places in which we live. In doing this we are to submit to the authority of those charged with enforcing these laws. As we read in the first verse of Romans 13:1, these rulers are established by God and he tells us to live in subjection to them.

When it comes to those situations where government acts outside of this intended role and it maybe even demands that we do things which God instructs us not to do, then we have to weigh how we will respond based upon the greater instruction of God’s Word.

Obeying God and walking wisely among men is not always easy. It requires that we trust Him fully, that we continually hide His Word in our hearts and depend upon it to be a lamp for our feet sand a light for our path, and it means that we need to be continually in prayer—bringing everything to Him and submitting our wills and our bodies to His wise, good, and sovereign hand.

“rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,” (Romans 12:12, NASB95)

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, NASB95)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Living Under Authority (Romans 13:2)

“Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:2, NASB95)

“Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:2, ESV)

We’ve looked at submitting to the sovereignty of God, and we’ve looked at anarchy which is not submitting to any authority. We’re starting to look at those institutions whose establishment continues because of the sovereign hand of God and who are intended to keep us from anarchy. Authority is a good thing. Man first sinned because he tried to remove himself from the authority of God and do that what he was told not to do. Sin continues to be a result of our rebellion against the authority of God, and crime results from man’s rebellion against the authority of government and its laws.

Our God is a God of order. He intends that we live with ordered lives. It is for that reason that governments (in the broad sense of the institutions that have authority of man’s civil organizations) exist and that people are given authority over others. It is their responsibility to oversee the people given to them by God in subjection, and it the people’s responsibility to live in subjection to that authority.

Doing otherwise places us at odds with the government and also at odds with God. And when we place ourselves at odds with those in power, then we are also subjecting ourselves to the judgment of those in authority. This judgment may ultimately be from the hand of God, but more immediately from the hand of society.

It’s a very simple principle that we see here—“Do the crime, pay the time.” And for the most part we don’t struggle with this principle. We all like to think that justice is a good thing, and when we approve of the law then we generally approve of the enforcement of the law. When we think that government is just, then we generally approve the judgment of that just government. This is the easy part.

But we all know and many fear that government may become unjust and make demands which we cannot abide by, or that in its zeal for enforcement that mistakes might be made and injustices might be incurred. After all, only God is perfect in His judgment. How can any government of man match the perfection of God? This is where Romans 13:2 becomes very difficult. Because it is here that we have to choose just how we will obey man and God at the same time when they are in conflict with each other.

There are many examples of how people have handled this throughout Scripture and the rest of time. In some of them we can clearly see the godly response of the individual(s) affected such as Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and then being thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet at the end of his life being able to tell his brothers that what they had intended for evil God intended for good. Or, Daniel and his friends who lived honorably under a captive nation and kings, yet were persecuted because of their humble stand for God. In both cases we can look at these men and see that God went before them and protected them and brought them to a place of prominence. We also have the example of David, who had been anointed as the second king of Israel but who had not yet risen to the position because the current king was still in place. Scripture records for us his flight from Saul as Saul tried to put him to death. Yet, when David had the opportunity to strike down Saul, he would not do so because it was God who put Saul in place and it was up to God to bring him down in His time.

There are also examples of those who clearly used their opportunity to strike out and take action which was judged by God and even resulted in their failed efforts. Scripture records some of these for us as well (Saul being one such example), and we can find examples in history. But then there are those for which history still is divided about the correctness of the action, including our own American revolution. I have a strong view on this, and my strong view is different from a studied friend of mine. But even here, regardless of the position you hold, you would probably have to agree that there were a large number of individuals who gathered together to present their grievances to a government who had been treating them harshly. Regardless of how these approaches might have been seen, they were efforts to try to get things changed and improved for the people. These grievances were turned away and things escalated from there ultimately leading to a document declaring the last resort desire and intent to separate. This desire met with an effort to squash it, and history tells the rest. According to the government in power, they had the right to try to keep the people in subjection and the efforts to do so were a part of their effort to judge an inappropriate behavior. For those on the other side, they tried to do things peaceably and the government responded with harsh force to which they responded.

I know this is very simplistic and possibly too simplistic to be accurate. But the point in the middle is that there cannot be two opposing authorities without one trying to suppress the other. God has called us to live with a view of subjection to those who are in authority. He has also shown us how His authority is higher than the authority of man and how His ways are much superior to man’s. We are called first and foremost to submit to His authority as the Sovereign One and then let our submission to Him direct how we respond to others.

In our country right now we have the freedom, and I would say the responsibility, to speak rightly against evil and for good without much recourse. We have the ability to try to keep good law and change bad law. We have the freedom to work to put in place leaders who would follow after God and His principles as opposed to those who don’t. We have all of these right now.

But there are also signs that some of this is changing, where business people are being told that they must violate their biblical principles in order to comply with the rules of government. This is where we need to pray for each other and encourage one another, knowing even that men like the apostle Paul spent years in prison for the gospel. And in so doing we read of him challenging the correctness of the actions while also submitting to the authority of those taking those actions in such a way that he suffered being beaten and locked up rather than forsake his higher calling. The verses that follow speak to this and the right purpose of government.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV) 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

God’s Sovereignty Commands Subjection (Romans 13:1 - Part 2)

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1, NASB95)

I was doing some background reading today for a midweek study in Romans, where next week we will be looking at Romans 13:1-7. In one of the commentaries I was reading on this passage I read the following statement, “As far as Romans 13:1 is concerned, it would be difficult, probably impossible, for anyone to write a more all-encompassing, absolute, or utterly unqualified statement than the one Paul has given” (Romans, Boice, J.M., 1995, p. 1639.). The next nearly thirty pages were spent considering these seven verses and our biblical response. In his analysis he pointed to numerous questions that Paul does not answer such as, “when is a government a legitimate government, and when isn’t it? When is it right to rebel against an unjust or tyrannical government, or isn’t it permitted at all? What about our own American War on Independence? If we had been living then, what side should we have been on…?” He went on to list other types of questions, which again have challenged biblical scholars and people seeking to live rightly before God and man for centuries. Through his ongoing discussion He brought this continuing issue of the sovereignty of government under the bigger hand of the sovereignty of God.

Clearly recognizing that our God is sovereign then we must acknowledge that no government can exist apart from His sovereign consent. We also must acknowledge that the best of governments and the worst of governments each pale in comparison to the perfect rule of our Lord of lords and our King of kings. God can and does use both good and evil to prove His own good purposes and ends. As such, part of our submitting to His sovereign rule in our lives is also submitting to how He sovereignly chooses to establish and even dis-establish rulers.

Paul instructs us that as an act of obedience to God we are to live in subjection to governing authorities, and in the verses that follow he will develop this further. And as we walk through them we will also consider some of the challenges.

But let’s consider the alternative—anarchy. Anarchy is a condition in which everyone does what is right in his own eyes, a condition where there is no authoritative leadership or a positive response to any kind or rule among the people. In the period following the patriarchal leaders, following the people living under the strong hand of Pharaohs, following the people living under the guidance of Moses and then Joshua, and before the time of the kings the people were left with but God as the One they committed to follow.

At the end of his life Joshua challenged the people with following God after his death and their need to do it fully. The people swore that they would do this, and do so with all of their hearts. But once those who were the leaders in the land with Joshua died, the people quickly turned away from God, and God dealt with their rebellion. The book of Judges is a record of this cycle of rebellion and periodic and partial restoration. The people saw no one as their leader and that’s how they lived. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25, NASB95)

Man left to his own ends is self-centered. Government, as we will consider further, brings structure and rules for how we interact. This also includes the power to enforce those rules for the benefit of those who obey, to punish those who rebel, and it demands our submission. But more than that our Sovereign God commands that we live in submission to Him and to those He establishes.

As I type this last sentence House Speaker John Boehner is introducing the President of the United States for his annual State of the Union address. This will be a difficult speech for many who strongly disagree with many of the policies furthered or even enacted under his leadership. It also will be a time of challenge as we consider how to walk rightly as followers of Christ in a nation whose rules resemble less and less those which are consistent with the word of God.

I am thankful that none of this has caught God by surprise, that I can still cry out to Him and depend of Him, and that He still has me living in a place where my respectful voice has a place in the fabric of this land knowing that there may even be a time in the future when my subjection to the power of government may even come face to face with my submission to God. At that time I pray that I will stand strong for God and be strengthened for the response of others.

Monday, January 27, 2014

God Alone is Sovereign (Romans 13:1 – part 1)

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1, NASB95)

I said that I was going to back up to the beginning of Romans 12, after writing about the second half, before going on to Romans 13. Now having done that I am ready to tackle Romans 13, or am I….

One doesn’t have to spend much time on the social media or watching any national news during election seasons or times of particular political struggle to know that writing about politics can be a touchy subject. Many families have holiday rules for this very reason—you know, the ‘no talking about religion or politics’ rules. I’ve seen some families where these discussions can get quite intense and I’ve followed some threads on Facebook which have had similar emotion to them.

So, before jumping in with both feet and risking alienating everyone I know because of what I might write, let’s first consider the issue of the sovereignty of God. This takes us to the middle portion of Romans 13:1 without regard to what comes before or even what follows. We read there, “For there is no authority except from God.”

In thinking of this, I was reminded of a phrase that had become quite popular over the years since it was first used in a political debate in 1988 when Senator Lloyd Bentsen (Democrat) responded to Senator Dan Quayle (Republican) in a Vice-Presidential debate. Senator Quayle had been asked a couple of times about his qualifications and readiness to be President should he have to succeed to the office. And it was Senator Bentsen’s response to Senator Quayle’s answer that caught national attention and which probably limited his highest role in government to that of Vice President. Here is what was said.

Senator Quayle: Three times that I've had this question — and I will try to answer it again for you, as clearly as I can, because the question you're asking is, "What kind of qualifications does Dan Quayle have to be president," "What kind of qualifications do I have," and "What would I do in this kind of a situation?" And what would I do in this situation? [...] I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.”

To this Senator Bentsen was given an opportunity to reply, and this is what followed: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

The audience in debate arenas is supposed to be quite subdued, but their response to this was loud and prolonged. Senator Quayle chose another well-known human as his point of comparison or readiness, but as it had been shown even President Kennedy was not sovereign or fully in control of the events of his own life or this country.

We are reminded in Romans 13:1 that regardless of whom the current authority might be that there is ultimately only one sovereign ruler, and that is God Himself. Everything that is exists because of God. Our world exists because God spoke it into being, and we ourselves are His handiwork whether we acknowledge it or not. This world continues to hold together because God is restraining it, and even evil is limited because God is the one limiting it until such time that He takes further and more drastic action ultimately leading to the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

Man was created to worship God and have a relationship with Him forever and it was because of man’s sin and rebellion that all of the evil that we now see was introduced, whether that evil is in the form of a rogue individual in a mall or a government pursuing radical ends. Some might look to our current times and point to how bad it is getting, yet we read in Scripture that even during the time of the apostles that Christians were being pulled out to their death. Need we also be reminded that our sinless Savior and Lord was put to death, chosen to be crucified over a proven criminal. God is sovereign over all of these, and He at all times has the power to bring them up or put them down. Satan, even now, is limited by the power and authority of God. There is absolutely no authority except from God.

When Job was tempted to consider just how bad his plight was, it was God who repeatedly brought to Job’s attention His own sovereign hand (and not Job’s) in all of creation and all that existed.  During the time of the Jews finally entering the land which had been promised to them, it was God who made them victorious. And during their years of rebellion it was God who both worked through foreign powers for their discipline and even through the weakness of their nation during times of turning for their restoration. God has baffled man throughout history with how He works, and yet there remains one unshakable truth. God is God, and we are not and neither is any leader or government institution.

So, as we move through these first verses in Romans 13, we need to be constantly mindful that it is God who establishes the foundation on which we stand and who gives us the breath that we daily take. He is the One who directs our steps and even how we are to walk when those steps become complicated.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6–9, NASB95)

“I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:13–16, NASB95)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Put On Love (Romans 12:9)

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9, NASB95)

The Pharisees, whom Jesus frequently addressed, knew the importance that God placed on love. The Pharisees were a powerful and popular group of men who were known for their rigorous attention to the Jewish Scriptures (Torah), even adding to it over time to evidence their adherence. In Matthew 22 we read of these men bringing in their best legal minds as they tried to trip Jesus up.

“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34–40, NASB95)

The Pharisees knew the Law of God and Moses, and they jumped through the hoops in their defense of it. But frequently we find them being challenged for the hardness of their hearts. In that sense, they were actors in that what they taught might have differed from how they thought. In verse 10, we read that we are to “Let love be without hypocrisy.” The word translated here hypocrisy has that meaning of one who is not sincere, who feigns to hold to one position while actually holding another.

A hypocrite is an actor, someone who is not genuine, who says and does things for attention, but in secret rejects that which he stood on a soap box to proclaim. We are not to speak about love in an empty way, but to be people who genuinely do love. We are to love God and worship Him in our response and we are to love others as evidenced by how we treat them and care for them. We are to be genuine in our love for God and our love for one another as God is genuine in His love for us. Knowing just how much God loved us and what His Son did for us, we are compelled to love in the same way.

In John 13:34-35 we read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” People will get a picture of our Lord as they see how we treat one another.

As we continue we read in the second half of verse 9, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Clearly a distinction is drawn between where we are to give our affections. Just as we are a new creation in Christ we are to cling to those things which are reflective of our new identity. We are to put off the old ways of thinking and doing, in favor of what God has declared good. And not are we just to put it off, we are to think about it as being just as bad as Scripture declares it to be.

Just as God has PUT OFF OUR JUDGMENT through MERCY and PUT ON US LIFE through GRACE, He has called us to live true to our new identity in Christ by PUTTING OFF EVIL and PUTTING ON GOOD.

In Galatians chapter 5 we have a lengthy discussion of the difference between those things that mark evil and those that mark good. In verses 16-18 we read, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, NASB95) Then in verse 24 we read, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In between we have two lists—one of the flesh and the other resulting from the work of the Spirit in us. The second list starts off like this, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love….”

There is so much in our lives that we can so quickly respond to in negative ways from not listening carefully and responding way to quickly acting or reacting with purposeful acts of anger or retaliation. Scripture tells us to consider the priority of love which God has given us. Because of His great love for us Christ died for us, and because of our love for Him we are to do the same in our relations to others. This is not always easy to remember, and sometimes we might have to back up and admit our failings and out hurt of others even if what they themselves did was wrong. We are not seeking forgiveness for their wrongs, but for our actions and this is what love demands. But more than that love should cause us more and more to stop in the first place and consider our responses.

It is for that reason that we are told in Colossians 3:14, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:14, NASB95) Putting on love is necessary because it is not how we are inclined to do things apart from God. But it is something we are called to do nonetheless, and in so doing we are called to follow the example of our Lord with the enabling of the Spirit. After all, we do read in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit (working in us) is love….

A simple reminder for us can be found in James 1:19 where we read, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” I know I could have done better with hearing today.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Supernaturally Spiritually Enabled (Romans 12:6-8)

As believers, we are interrelated in a spiritual unity. Christ has designed us to work uniquely but harmoniously as His Body on earth - to be His own hands, His own feet, His own voice. We share a common life, a common ministry, a common power, and, above all, a common Head. We are endowed in countless combinations of the specific gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is our Lord’s design and desire that our diversity in spiritual gifts be manifested in unity of spiritual service.

Romans 12:6-8 is one of those places in Scripture where the issue of spiritual giftedness is directly addressed. Here we read, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This listing of gifts is not exhaustive, but is rather an instruction on how any giftedness from God is to be used. Clearly in this passage we see words that indicate that any special spiritual ability which we might have is not something that we mustered up by our own effort, but is rather a gift given to us according to the grace of God. Our gifts are determined by God. By His grace they are bestowed upon us and upon the body as a whole. Grace is God’s unmerited kindness on His part, which is the only source of all spiritual enablement. They are not earned or deserved, or they would not be by grace. Furthermore, God is totally sovereign in their allocation. God alone makes the choice as to what gifts each of His children receives.

Our responsibility is to exercise those gifts (plural on purpose) which He has given to us according to their nature. And in clarifying this we are given specific examples, which are:

Prophecy is the supernatural spiritual ability to publicly proclaim the Word of God causing it to turn on the light in people in an impactful way. This gift is put in action in the ways in which God has enabled you, whether as a gifted preacher or a strong encourager who timely presents key passages of Scripture which speak to the heart of an individual or group of people.

Service (or helps) is the supernatural spiritual ability to come alongside others and help them and in so doing lift or lighten their burden causing the other to be strengthened or encouraged. We are all called to serve, but for some they are supernaturally wired to go above and beyond.

Those who are gifted in teaching are to do so by accurately teaching, by doing the studying and then the explaining so that others can understand and apply spiritual truths effectively to their daily lives. This can be done face to face, in groups, and even through the writing of a book or today even a blog. There are many natural teachers who can give understanding to any number of subjects, but the one with the spiritual gift of teaching is specifically enabled by God’s Spirit to teach in such a way that it leads to spiritual change and produces eternal consequences.

The one who is gifted in exhortation is able “to comfort, help, advise, or strengthen.” This person has the supernatural spiritual ability to challenge and encourage individuals from the word of God. It is the unnatural ability to come alongside a person who may be hurting spiritually or emotionally and offer them a word of comfort concerning the past and a word of encouragement, admonishment (truth in love), and challenge so that they will be able to walk in the steps of the Spirit in the future.  This gift, unlike teaching which is directed at one’s head or thinking, is directed at one’s heart or emotions or conscience. It is the gift of strengthening. It is the ability to get alongside someone who has a problem and build him, encourage him, strengthen him, and bear his load.

The spiritual gift of “giving” is the supernatural spiritual ability to give financially or materially to the needs of others within the body of Christ or the community in which they live. They express this spiritual gift in simplicity to the glory of God without drawing attention to themselves. All Christians are exhorted to give, but the person with the gift of giving gives beyond normal. He or she has the superlative quality of committing earthly possessions to the Lord for His use with no thought of return or gain for self in any way.

Leadership is the supernatural spiritual ability to stand before a group of people and lead them in a deep walk with the Lord, or mission project, the building of a new community of Christians, or an elders meeting, etc. This person is instructed to lead with diligence or zeal, or to do so with great enthusiasm, dedication, and heart, being fully committed to the direction which he is asking others to follow.

And the last one mentioned in this passage is mercy. The gift of mercy is the enablement to sympathize with a suffering person—to come alongside the poor, the sick, the destitute, the orphan, the widowed, and those in prison, and minister to them. And maybe you won’t give them anything, except your heart.

W. A. Criswell tells a beautiful story of a little girl who came home from school and said, “Mommy, my best friend came to school today and said that her mother died.” The mother said to her little child, “Well, what did you say to her, dear?” The child replied, “Oh, I didn’t say anything, mother. I just went over to her desk, sat beside her, and cried with her.” The gift of mercy includes sympathy.

Each of these gifts and those mentioned elsewhere are specifically selected by God and distributed by the Holy Spirit so that we might effectively serve our Lord. And as it states elsewhere in Scripture, these gifts are specifically given to build up the body of Christ so that we might all reach maturity and be effective for God’s intended ends. These gifts are given purposefully and they are intended that we be purposeful in exercising them, just as we are to use everything that God has given us. Not being gifted in a certain area does not excuse us from participating in a certain function, but it may mean that we don’t do it quite as well as another. We are not judged by how well we do something, but we are rewarded by God for how faithful we are in what we do with what He has given us.

God has placed us in the body of Christ so that we might together be used powerfully by Him to shine a light to the rest of the world who so desperately needs to know Him. And he has not left us on our own to figure this out. He has given us His Word to direct our steps and His Spirit to illumine our path and to enable us for the journey. As we are saved by faith, so are we called to live. As His Spirit moved in our hearts to turn on the light switch so that we see, and know, and trust, so are we called to walk according to that same Spirit.

“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10, NASB95)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NASB95)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One Body (Romans 12:4-5)

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4–5, NASB95)

Last Sunday at the completion of one of the playoff games, a reporter asked one of the players a question to which the player harshly tore down another player on the opposing team. His comments were puffed up, unkind, and unwarranted. And this week it has been a topic of discussion, not only in the sports media, but in many other forms of media. Some people who were on the fence in who they rooted for, were even changing their positions because of this one person. An NFL roster carries 53 active players, and the actions of this one man colored in many people’s eyes their perception of the team and even the program as a whole.

Here in Romans 12 Paul uses the figure of the body to represent the church, the Body of Christ, of which every believer is a member. He focuses on its unity in diversity - one body representing its unity, and many members that do not have the same function, representing the diversity. Just as it is in nature, unified diversity in the church is a mark if God’s sovereign and marvelous handiwork.

This one football player put himself above the rest and in so doing did more to tear down the image of his team, than to build into it. In the church we are brought together by God as one to accomplish His intended purposes which in part include the building up of each other. Paul focuses here specifically on the diverse uniqueness and importance of each member to the body’s proper performance. He points out the obvious truth that, although we have many members in one body, nevertheless all the members do not have the same function.

He is about to focus more specifically on spiritual giftedness, but before doing that he first establishes the importance of the whole package and that we need to live under the daily reality that God placed each of us in His church and He has an intended purpose in doing so.

Spiritual gifts do not always correspond to what we commonly refer to as church offices - such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher (as we reads in Ephesians 4:11), or even deacon (as we read about in 1 Timothy 3). Most church members do not have a specific office or title. But every believer, from the youngest to the oldest and from the newest to the most mature, has a Spirit-given ability to minister to the body of Christ through some spiritual gift which is added to their God given abilities and developed talents. It is the use of all that God has given us that is his pre-ordained function in the church.

In the spiritual organism that is Christ’s church, every constituent part - whether obvious and important, such as the arm, or hidden and unnoticed, such as the small blood vessels and glands - is critical to its proper functioning as a whole. It is diversity working in unity and in harmony that enables Christ’s body to be and to do what He directs it to be and to do.

Because it is so normal and dependable, the great wonder of the proper operation of our bodies is seldom appreciated or even noticed. We have but to think, and our hands, feet, or eyes immediately do what we want them to do. Because we have trained them to respond in certain ways, they do many things almost automatically. Our most critical bodily functions - such as our hearts’ beating and our lungs’ breathing - require no thought at all. They simply do their jobs, performing their divinely-designed functions minute after minute, day after day, year after year. The interrelationship of the parts of our bodies is so unbelievably intricate that medical science continually discovers new functions and relationships. It is often only when our bodies cease to function properly that we appreciate how marvelously God has designed them.

On the negative side, there are also rebellious cells, as it were, in the body of Christ. Some are benign, in the sense that they do not destroy the church. They simply gorge themselves on blessings and benefits at the expense of the rest of the body. They become fatter and fatter, always taking in, seldom giving out. The focus of their whole existence is self-service. Their creed is: “I will get all I can from God and all I can from the church.” In their unfaithfulness to the Lord and to His people, they sap the church of its vitality and can so weaken it that it becomes emaciated, not functioning normally.

The church also has “cells” that are mutinous to the point of destruction. Through outright heresy and flagrant immorality, these malignant members openly attack the rest of the body, eating away at its very life.

As believers, we are interrelated in a spiritual unity. Christ has designed us to work uniquely but harmoniously as His Body on earth - to be His own hands, His own feet, His own voice. We share a common life, a common ministry, a common power, and, above all, a common Head. We are endowed in countless combinations of the specific gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is our Lord’s design and desire that our diversity in spiritual gifts be manifested in unity of spiritual service.

"(12) For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many.” … "(18) But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” … "(20) But now there are many members, but one body.” … "(27) Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 20, 27, NASB95)

Don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of nursing hurts. Guard what God has entrusted to us that we might preserve the unity which He has given us in Christ as we together submit to Him who is the Head. Scripture speaks so much of the ‘one another,’ several of which follow later in this chapter, and they all have to do with how we not only build into each other but how we walk alongside each other when things aren’t as clean as we want them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Equipped to Serve (Romans 12:3)

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3, NASB95)

The basis of everything worthwhile that a Christian has and does, from salvation to service, is the grace given to him by God. Just as we are saved only by God’s grace, so we serve Him by that same grace. As such we are not to overestimate ourselves, to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, but to think of ourselves as we really are. We read that we are not to overvalue or even undervalue our abilities, our gifts, or our worth, but to make accurate estimations of ourselves. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Modern society looks down on true humility. It is instead characterized by brash, and even exalted, self-centeredness, ego building, pampering the body, and striving to fulfill every personal lust and ambition, with little regard for how it may impact others. It is small wonder that depression and emotional chaos are so prevalent.

The humility that God requires does not overestimate or underestimate His gifts, but estimates and uses them rightly. Every Christian can attest, “God has gifted me. He has gifted me graciously and lovingly and will give me everything I need to use my gifts effectively to His glory. I thank Him and I bless His name.”

In this passage we also see that God has given us a measure of faith as he determines and over which we are to be faithful stewards. In the context of the verses that follow in Romans, we might even look at this measure of faith as our spiritual abilities and our intended service. In Matthew 25 we read of the parable of the talents, where the master gives to each of his servants according to their ability and then rewards them according to their faithfulness. Two of them did well, and one of them buried what he had been given out of fear. None of them were the same, but what was expected of them was, and that was their faithfulness to invest what they had been granted.

In 1 Corinthians 12 we find this distribution by God to His children expressed more directly. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” … “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11, NASB95)

Just as the master in the parable did an honest assessment of His servants and entrusted them with various amounts of money to invest, so our God knows each and every one of us intimately, and He knows what He intends from us—that we faithfully invest what He entrusts to us. This is a coordinated effort by the fullness of our Triune (Three in One) God. The Holy Spirit gifts us in various ways to do different ministries under the Lordship of our one Savior in order to accomplish the variety of effects that God desires. We don’t have different bosses treating us more or less fairly than another, but we have one God who works fully within His sovereign will to equip each of us for His end.

Looking at our strengths, talents, and gifts this way really reminds us that all of those things that we might be tempted to boast in didn’t come from us anyway. It also reminds us that there is not class system in the body of Christ. God has uniquely called each of us as one to build up each other in love. “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16, NASB95)

We are to think about ourselves with sound judgment, recognizing that God really does know what He is doing, and looking to Him for His direction if following Him as He intends. We are not the person next to us, but the unique individual that God has created, called, and equipped us to be.

In the parable in Matthew two of the servants heard this from their master, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23, NASB95)

Paul wrote to all of us, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–10, NASB95)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Shaken and Stirred (Acts 4:31)

“And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31, NASB95)

Today I am venturing away from Romans to reflect. Twenty years ago today our world was dramatically shaken. At 4:31 in the morning on January 17th, as Los Angeles recognized Martin Luther King Day for the first time, our quiet Northridge, California home was lifted up, shaken, and put back down with things thrown everywhere. It was not just our world, but the world of hundreds of thousands of others who lived in the San Fernando Valley. While the loss of lives was limited, the damage was widespread. On our block we had tall block wall fences in our back yards where people could live in their own private world. On that day most of the fences went down, and so did the walls in many people’s hearts.

Prior to the earthquake we had been planning for a massive valley wide evangelism crusade with numerous churches coming together in times of prayer and equipping for the event scheduled during June of 1994. Our prayer was that as the crusade featuring Luis Palau approached that God would tear down walls. And on the morning in January we literally saw this happen, and in the weeks and months that followed we saw it happen in the hearts of many people. The outreach teams that were formed within the various participating churches became community help teams as they went door to door in neighborhoods to see how people were doing.

In our own lives we were faced with the loss of my business and the searching out of what God would have us do in response. This was a very difficult season which ultimately led to our moving to Oregon in order to start anew. But during the time of searching and learning more and more about trusting God we had countless opportunities to experience His abundant love for us shown in many different ways. As our oldest son was approaching his tenth birthday and we did not have funds for a party, Robin and he committed together to pray about this. And sure enough, as one example of our God’s love, a check showed up specifically for him to have his party. This and so many other things were marked on our refrigerator.

As a family since that time we have continued to celebrate God’s faithfulness on Martin Luther King Day, not wanting to minimize the work and memory of Dr. King, but also wanting to mark a time in our lives that we can celebrate together what God has done for us. Over the years we have continued to eat fractured tacos and broken glass cake with an occasional venture into milk shakes. We will do this again next Monday. But tonight we did have tacos and in our prayer we again thanked God for His love and faithfulness and how He holds everything firmly in His hands including our plans and our futures.

This is a particularly memorable to us today, not so much because of the twentieth anniversary, but because even today we find ourselves again waiting on God for His direction of our steps into ventures which we still do not know. And just as He was faithful then, we know without a doubt that He remains faithful today.

I cited Acts 4:31 in part because it was a verse we had been looking at in preparation for the crusade, knowing that any work we did would not be effective except God do it through us. We came to Him praying that His Spirit might indeed move and bring about eternal changes in people’s lives both as they come to know Him for salvation and as Christians and their churches are shown the oneness which God intended for His church. I find it amazing that our God who holds the world in His hands would permit our earth to shake at that particular time. At the same time, I also know that our God does not limit Himself to any particular time, but works in His own timing to bring about His desired effects.

The verses that follow Acts 4:31 speak of how the people were moved to come together to meet one another’s needs as they cared for each other. In the days and weeks that followed the earthquake we saw this happen in our churches, our neighborhoods, and our valley, and even in the crusade when it finally came. And as Robin and I have waited on God these past months and as we have watched others go through difficult times, we attest still that God’s people moved by His Spirit are having powerful impacts in the lives of others.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Metamorphosis (Romans 12:2)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95)

After instructing us to give ourselves back to God fully as a living and holy sacrifice of worship, we move into the process by which we are to do so. Throughout Scripture we see this same process repeated, as we come to understand how God would have us live we purpose to set aside or put off behaviors which are not consistent with our new identity and we put on those which are. Here is Romans 12:2 we read that we are not to be conformed to this world. As we move through Romans and the rest of Scripture we are presented with many of the ways in which the world lives that we are instructed to put aside. In Ephesians 4:22 this process of no longer being conformed to the world is referred to as laying aside and in Colossians 3 we see it also as putting off. In simple words we are to stop doing the things we used to do because they are not right and they do not bring glory to God.

But the Christians life is not one of what we can’t do, but one of being freed from the slavery of those things and empowered to live in new and honorable ways. In Romans 12:2 we read that we are to prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. This is the process of changing the way we live and think such that it conforms to the character and will of God. When we live in this way we are evidencing the work that God is doing in us and proving Him faithful. In Ephesians 4 and again in Colossians 3 we see that we are instructed to put on our new self which is created after the likeness of God.

This is the process of being transformed. The Greek word behind our word transformed is ‘metamophoo’ from which we get our English word metamorphosis. And as we think about this word in its most common illustrations in nature we think of are the caterpillar to the butterfly or the tadpole to the frog. In each of these and in so many other examples we see a massive transformation as something significant takes place in the body. For us as Christians when we place our trust in Christ for salvation we are made spiritually alive and with this new life comes an equally miraculous transformation. God is the One that gave us this new life. His Spirit resides in us and empowers us, and His Word is given and made alive and powerful in our lives. It is in His Word that we learn about Him and all that He has chosen to reveal, including how we should live. Repeatedly in Scripture we read about having our minds renewed by learning God’s truth and allowing it to reshape our way of thinking and acting and in so doing we are being daily transformed.

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95)

“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—” (Colossians 3:9–10, NASB95) (for more on this read Colossians 3:5-16)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

So, again looking back to the previous eleven chapters of Romans where Paul lays out a foundation for our faith, we are to move forward with a new understanding choosing to no longer be conformed to the way we once lived and choosing to live according to those truths which we have learned. We are to stop going to the dirty clothes pile in order to get dressed. Now that we know where the clean clothes are stored, that is where we are to go and daily put them on.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1)

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95)

Before moving on to Romans 13 I’m going to back up a bit to Romans 12:1 and work forward to complete chapter 12. Romans 12:1 is one of those touch stone verses for me when it comes to how I am living my life. It, combined with Romans 12:2, sets forward solid guiding principles which are repeated over and over again in Scripture. Specifically, Romans 12:1 is a constant reminder that I have a spiritual response for which I am responsible in light of what God has done for me.

The first eleven chapters of Romans lay out just how lost all of us are apart from God. Man was created to have a relationship with God, but man rebelled. We read about this rebellion in the garden when Adam knowingly violated God’s only command which was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and all of mankind were introduced to sin and death through this one act. Yet we also read in Romans that God persistently reached down to man and offered Him a relationship and man repeatedly rebelled. Man’s sacrifices were never going to be enough to make up for man’s sin and God knew that. As we continue reading in Romans we read that God provided the answer to this dilemma in sending His Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin. And not only did Jesus pay the penalty for that sin by His death on the cross, but He also gave to us new life in His resurrection. With this new life came a constant abiding of God in us through the person of the Holy Spirit (the third member of the Trinity—Our God Three in One). As such we are made able to live for Him. There is so much more in these first eleven chapters, including His faithfulness to His promised people—the Jews and how we are equipped to fight the war with the flesh that wages within us. 

From this Paul moved into the next portion of Romans which takes up with chapter 12, and the first verse of chapter 12 tells us that in light of God’s incredible mercies shown and worked in us that we are to present ourselves back to Him as living and holy sacrifices. In the Old Testament the people offered sacrifices of animals as a reminder of their transgressions and a fulfillment of His demand that a price be paid—even an ineffective one. Some offered up those sacrifices out of duty while others offered they up in faith. Even back to Genesis 4 we find this to be true in Cain and Abel. Abel gave of his first and his best to God. Cain, Scripture tells us, just gave as if out of duty. God had regard for Abel’s sacrifice, but as for Cain’s He had no regard. Cain got very tweaked over this and God spoke to Him about what to do in response—do right and your countenance will be lifted up. Instead Cain went into the field and killed his own brother. Contrary to Abel, Scripture records for us a number of saints of old who had not seen the fulfillment of God’s promised Savior (Messiah), but who were saved because of their faith in God who would send Him. We read that by faith they were reckoned righteous and were saved.

God has always been faithful to His promises, and in response to His faithfulness we are to be faithful in giving ourselves back to Him, doing what is right and acceptable in His sight (being holy even as God is holy). This is what we are called to do, and to be quite honest, it is the only thing that makes sense. It is for that reason I believe that Paul went on to write, “which is your spiritual service of worship.” 

The word here ‘spiritual’ is the Greek work ‘logikos’ from which we get our words reasonable or logical, and that is exactly what it is. The reasonable or logical spiritual thing to do is to give ourselves wholly back to our Holy God who calls us to live holy lives of service before Him. It’s that simple, or if only it were. When we are saved we don’t instantly know everything there is to know about God and how we are to live, nor are our old tapes erased and our old desires flushed away. When we start off on this new life as saints made righteous by the righteousness of Christ we do so with baggage, but we also do so with the supernatural enablement of God’s Holy Spirit who is given to each and every believer for the purpose of living in such a way as to overcome that baggage as we have our minds renewed and we change our behavior. This is where 12:2 takes up for us and where we will go next.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Melted Hearts (Romans 12:20-21)

BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20–21, NASB95)

Continuing from the previous post we are considering our response to ill treatment, recognizing that God is the One who is sovereign over all of our lives and who knows to what ends he is working even ill treatment in us and in the lives of those who might inflict it.

Think about this, when our enemy is at his weakest we have the opportunity to speak into his life. When he is hungry or thirsty and vulnerable or even receptive to being helped we have the opportunity that we might not otherwise have to provide that help. We have the opportunity to give to them something that they would not have given to us, but even more likely might have taken from us. We can show them mercy, when maybe in our hearts we might have been wishing harm or thinking they are getting exactly what they deserve.

We can be so thankful that our God does not give us what we deserve, because as the righteous Judge we are all guilty and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. But because of His great love He saved us, not on the basis of our righteous deeds, but on the basis of His mercy. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (Titus 3:4–6, NASB95)

Jesus, as we read in Matthew 5:43-48, gave us instruction on how we are to live differently than the world where people get what they deserve. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, NASB95)

God has called us to live by a different standard, one of mercy and grace. And Scripture tells us that when we live by that standard that it will impact others for His glory. Romans 12:20 goes on to say, “FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” In our humanness we might want to do exactly that and in effect scorch a new message into their brains. But this is not what the passage intends.

In the ESV Study Bible we read of this phrase that it, “Refers to an ancient Egyptian custom in which a person who wanted to show public contrition carried a pan of burning coals on his head. The coals represented the burning pain of his shame and guilt. When believers lovingly help their enemies, it should bring shame to such people for their hate and animosity (cf. Prov. 25:21–22).” John MacArthur in his study Bible goes on to add “Most interpreters think Paul is teaching that the Christian is to do good to people so that they will feel ashamed and repent, and that sense is possible. But in the OT “burning coals” always represent punishment (2 Sam. 22:13; Ps. 11:6; 18:8, 12–13; 140:10), so another interpretation is that Paul is repeating the thought of Rom. 12:19: Christians are to do good to wrongdoers, recognizing that God will punish them on the last day if they refuse to repent.”

While we may not know exactly what the writer of Proverbs meant by this phrase, we do know that it had the impact of emphasizing that we are not to live as those who do evil to others, and in so doing as we respond with kind and compassionate acts we are drawing a line which evidences the difference Christ makes in our lives. God may lead this to soften their hearts such that they repent or it may further prove the judgment that awaits their rebellion. This is not within our control. What is within our control is how we live before all men, including those who treat us harshly.

Verse 21 summarizes this for us. Don’t let the evil things that people do toward us harden our hearts in such a way that we think and act just as them. But actively consider these encounters as an opportunity to trust God’s strong hands and His faithful work. Who knows whose heart might melt when we show God’s love—God does.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Leaving Room for God (Romans 12:17-19)

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17–19, NASB95) 

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” This is quoted twice in the New Testament, here and in Hebrews 10:30 where we read, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:28–31, NASB95)

The author of Hebrews sets up a ‘how much more’ consideration for his readers by first speaking to them of the Law of Moses which as Hebrew believers they knew well. Under the law it took only two or three witnesses for someone to be judged and incur punishment even to the point of death. Not only did the Scriptures spell out these transgressions of the Law, but it laid out the punishment without leniency. Then the author moved to the ‘how much more’ part of his point. If this is what was required for transgressions against man, how much more severe the punishment would be when man tramples on and rejects God’s Son and the price paid for salvation through the shedding of His blood. God knows all sin and He declares that all sin leads to death. But He also provided an answer to that demand of sin’s punishment by setting aside eternal death and granting new life. The answer was simply to believe in His Son and trust in His shed blood. Not doing so guaranteed death, and God is certain to exact that punishment. He will repay, and this surely is not anything we want.

I was speaking with a friend the other day who said that as a young teen he went forward in fear to be saved after hearing a message of God’s wrath. This message still marks his heart and mind decades later. At the same time he also admitted that he had many, many years after that time when he did not look to God to order his life, and he truly wonders exactly when he was saved. This was not a question of salvation, but one of when and how much wandering there was in between. I could not answer for him because I am not God and I don’t know exactly where his trust was at the time. But we could rejoice together in the truth that at some point he came to know with certainty that he was saved and that he could enjoy not living under the fear of God’s vengeance but under the joy of being at peace with God.

In this passage we read that we are to leave room for the wrath of God to be exacted by God. Scripture makes it clear that we are not to be the ones who exact vengeance or seek revenge for God. He is big enough to take care of that Himself and He is faithful to do so. And in His wisdom and His power He may turn the life of the individual that oppresses us so strongly totally around, drawing Him to salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans is one of those who knows this more than anyone.

And just as God held even His own Son firmly in His hands to the point of death on a cross, He holds each one of us in those same hands and He will not lose a single one of us. I know I have quoted 1 Peter 2:22-23 quite a bit, but when it comes to responding to harsh treatment there is no greater example than that of our Lord. “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (NASB95)

There is a great deal of freedom in this. Knowing that it is not up to us to settle the books for offenses frees us up to focus on responding to each person and each situation in a way that shows our concern for the individuals involved. I know there are some bumper sticker acronyms that have been popular over the years. One of them was WWJD or ‘What Would Jesus Do’ and another was WDJD which stands for ‘What Did Jesus Do.’ We have a hot air balloon in our town that rises in the morning skies to remind me of these two acronyms and the meanings behind them. If you were to see the balloon on its two sides you would see that it proclaims both WWJD and WDJD boldly. As we look to the Scriptures we learn from the example of our Lord (WDJD) which then guides our consideration as His followers of what He might do in our own situation (WWJD).

Today’s passage says that we are to do what is right or honorable in the sight of all men, that we are to live at peace with all men (Christians and non-Christians) so much as it is in our power. We know that it is up to God to exact His vengeance and to show His mercy. We also know that we cannot control what others do as they all wittingly or unwittingly stand under God. Between these two what we do have control over is how we live, and how we should live is according to the example of Christ and the instructions of Scripture.

Jesus lived right before men, and He calls us to do the same. While He was God and He could have changed everything, in God’s plan it included using the hatred of man to nail Him to a cross so that His plan might be perfectly fulfilled. We do not know God’s specific plan for individuals, and we do not know what He will work even as we respond properly to the harsh treatment of others. I was reminded of this Friday as a friend shared of treatment she had received over a long period of time from a previous supervisor, yet she recently received a card from her with kind and compassionate words. Just as she does not know what God is doing in the heart of this individual, we ourselves do not know what God will do with our responses toward others even over the long haul.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10, NASB95)