Sermons

Wake Up Call – Romans 13:11-14

Romans 13:11-14

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 13.  This is the last week we’ll be in Romans 13 (I promise).  In fact, we’re finally moving into the 4th quarter in this sermon series from the Book of Romans.  The guys will appreciate this (ladies, maybe not so much).  When college football players get to the beginning of the 4th quarter they all raise their hands in the air signaling the number four with their fingers.  Everybody signal the 4th quarter, this morning.  Go ahead, everybody’s doing it.

I don’t think it would be a stretch for me to say that we live in a fallen world today, right?  It seems like every year, every month, every day the boundaries get pushed a little bit further and further out.  The crimes become a little bit more shocking.  The headlines seem to be more and more depressing.  And that moral line that so many of us grew up with gets a little bit more blurred.

All around us, we have reminders that Jesus is setting the scene for His return.  All you have to do is take a look at the news headlines of 2020.  You have the COVID-19 pandemic, riots, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires abound, and there’s significant movement of nations coming into alignment in the Middle East.

Let me tell you something.  This might not be the message you wanted to hear this morning.  This might not be the message of hope that you were expecting to get.  But it’s only going to get worse.  It’s not going to get better.  The headlines are only getting more depressing.  Violence is only going to increase.  The moral line is just going to continue to get blurred.  The outcome, the scenario for where our world is headed isn’t up.  It’s further down.  It’s just going to get worse, which makes today’s message all the more difficult.

I read an online article this week titled Young Adults Struggle with Morality.  And it said this, “A nationwide survey by The Barna Group indicates that Americans have redefined what it means to do the right thing within their own lives.”  The article continued by saying that researchers asked adults which, if any, of eight behaviors with moral overtones they’d engaged in during the past week.  And a majority of adults had engaged in at least one of these eight behaviors during the past week.

And here’s some of the findings from their poll.  65% admitted to using profanity in public.  38% had engaged in sex outside of marriage.  37% had lied.  33% admitted to intentional exposure to pornography.  25% had gotten drunk.

The article concluded by saying, “We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America.  Millennials have had little exposure to traditional moral teaching and limited accountability for such behavior.  The moral code began to disintegrate when the generation before them – the Baby Busters – pushed the limits that had been challenged by their parents – the Baby Boomers.  The result is that without much fanfare or visible leadership, the US has created a moral system based on convenience, feelings, and selfishness.

The consistent deterioration of the Bible as the source of moral truth has led to a nation where people have become independent judges of right and wrong, basing their choices on feelings and circumstances.  It is not likely that America will ever return to a moral traditional code until the nation experiences significant pain from its moral choices.”

But despite all of that, you know what’s incredible?  God still loves you.  God still cares for you.  God still wants a relationship with you.  God sought you out when you were far from Him.  God wanted you when you wanted nothing to do with Him.  God desires a relationship with you in spite of all the bad things you’ve done, in spite of your natural state.  Romans 13:11-14 is God’s wake-up call.  It’s a wake-up call to the church, to humanity, and to America.

We’ve all been on vacation somewhere or stayed in a hotel and asked the front desk to give us a wake-up call, right?  It’s such a convenient feature.  You can have them call you.  And they’ll wake you up.  If you spent any time in the military, they’ll give you a free wake-up call too.  Unfortunately, that one doesn’t come with a snooze button or a roll-over-and-they’ll-call-me-again in 15 minutes feature.  Sometimes, when the wake-up call comes or Reveille is played it’s disorienting.  It’s jarring.  Because you’re still sleepy.  You’re still tired.  You’ve lost track of where you are.

Well, the same is true in the church.  There are a lot of Christians who are sleeping.  And when that wake-up call comes, when God tries to get our attention, and we start to wake up, it’s disorienting.  It’s jarring.  It’s confronting upon our senses.  But what should our response be to the fact that Jesus could come at any moment?

If we’re asleep and there’s a wake-up call that’s about to come, what should our response be?  Well, some people get so excited about the fact that Christ is going to return, they disregard all responsibilities.  And they simply wait for His return to get them out of the mess that they’re in.  They just give up.  They say, “Man, the world is so messed up.  The world is so beyond repair.  It can’t be saved.  So, I’m just going to give up.  I’m just going to hide my head in the sand.  I’m just going to sit passively by and wait for it all to go to hell (literally) so I can go to heaven.”

Other believers are secure in their eternal destiny and they’re simply biding their time.  And yet, the Scripture teaches that there are definite responsibilities that we have to attend to in light of the coming of the Lord.  There are certain dangers that we need to be careful of.  And there are certain things that we need to actively do.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”  Our breath, our lives are in God’s hands.  Our lives are not our own.  They’re on loan.  They’re temporary.  And guess what?  They’re fading quickly.  (Like I’m telling you anything you don’t already know…)

And when God gives this life to us, He gives it to us with the intent that we would invest it.  We’re called to bring heaven to earth.  We need to preach the gospel.  We need to care for widows and orphans.  We need to feed those without food.  We need to house the homeless.  We need to reach out in love to the refugee and the immigrant, to protect those who can’t protect themselves.  This isn’t the government’s job.  This is the Christians’ job – the Church’s job – to care for our neighbors, or cities, or state and our nation.

And Romans 13 gives us some instruction for what we’re supposed to be doing in these final days.  Assuming 2020 is one of those birth pains the Scripture tells us about, and assuming this is God’s wake-up call to the church, we’re going to see three things in this text that God wants.  He wants us to get up.  He wants us to get out.  And He wants us to get going.

Follow along with me as I read Romans 13:11-14, 11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Get Up!

The first call we see is to get up.  Look at verse 11 again with me.  Paul says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.”  Keep in mind this text is addressed to believers.  We need to get up.  A spiritual alarm is being sounded.  A bell is being rung across the globe to every believer in every single church.  This is a wake-up call.  The time has arrived.  It’s time that we get up.

Let me ask you, what are the traits you look for in a good alarm clock?  Do you look for one that’s really quiet and doesn’t make a lot of noise?  (If you don’t want to wake up, that’s what you look for.)  No, the traits of a good alarm clock are that it’s loud enough to wake you up, and strong enough to survive being pushed onto the floor or thrown across the room.

You don’t want one that’s like, “(Beep, beep, beep, softly) Hey, it’s time to get up.  If you want to wake up, there’s some things you need to do today.”  No, you want one that says, “(Honk, loudly) Get up!  Wake up!  It’s time to get to work.  There’s a lot to do today.  Stop being lazy.”  But a lot of us are just content to hit snooze.  Keep it going.  Keep the sleep going.

There’s this game that Melissa and I used play in the morning.  Do you remember having to wake your kids up?  Something weird happens.  When our kids are really young they want to wake us up super early.  But as they get older, they never want to wake up.  See if this doesn’t sound familiar.

We used to come in really nice and knock on their door and say, “Jordan…  Parker…, it’s time to wake up.  We gotta get ready for school.”  And usually, their response was silence or roll over and put the pillow over their heads.  Well, this game progresses.  And over the next 15 to 30 minutes, it progresses a little bit more urgently with each call.  Finally, it ends with, “Parker!  Get out of bed!  School is in 10 minutes!”

God’s call to the Church is increasing in urgency.  The time is at hand.  God has been calling us for a long time.  And His voice has gotten louder.  And He’s letting us know it’s almost time.  You need to get up.  1 Corinthians 15:34 says, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.”  Ephesians 5:14 says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  We need to wake up from our spiritual sleep.  We need to wake up from laziness.  We need to wake up from apathy.  We need to wake up to the urgency of the days in which we live.

Do you realize the urgency of the days in which we live?  Do you realize that God has placed a call upon your life?  Do you realize that God has put you where you are for such a time as this?  The lateness of the time…  The soon coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…  It’s urgent.

Paul writes something very similar in 1 Thessalonians 5 concerning the coming of the Lord.  He says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.  Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-11).

Folks, many believers are asleep today when they should be awake.  Many believers in this church are asleep.  You may be Christians.  Don’t get me wrong.  You’re going to heaven.  Your salvation is secured.  But you’re sleeping when you should be rising.  We have to realize the urgency of the times.

Let me ask you, are you living your life as though you were asleep?  Are you secure in your salvation?  Do you know that you’re going to heaven but are you just kind of hiding your head in the ground?  Are you just biding your time until the Lord returns?  Do you have perspective that, “Well, the world is too far gone anyway?  So, I might as well just sit back and wait for God to come back.  He’ll sort it all out.”

Or are you doing what your Master told you to do?  Are you investing yourself for God’s return?  Maybe God has been whispering to you.  Maybe you’re asleep and God has been calling you.  And He’s been saying very gently, “Get up.  It’s time to wake up.  It’s time to get moving.  I’ve got a plan for you.  I’ve prepared something for you.  I want you to do something.  I want you to achieve something.”

And maybe up until now, you’ve just been rolling over in bed and putting your pillow over your head and saying, “Don’t talk to me, God.  I’m trying to sleep.  I’m too tired.  I don’t have the energy to do what you want me to do.  I don’t have the capacity.  I don’t have the strength.  I don’t have the knowledge.  I just need to sleep.”  And perhaps that voice has gotten louder and louder and louder.  And maybe today is your wake-up call.  Maybe the Holy Spirit is preparing you to get up.

Look at verse 12, again.  Paul says, “The night is far gone…”  What Paul is referring to here is the time until Christ’s return.  Now, if the night was far gone when Paul wrote this, how much more so is it today?  How much closer is God’s return, do you think?  I don’t think we have to look that far.  Again, just looking at the headlines.  World economics are changing.  Crime and violence are almost beyond control.  Local governments are throwing in the towel.  Cities around our country are bankrupt in every conceivable way: education, finance, morals…  Natural disasters are increasing.  Just in the last 20 years (2000-2020), there have been more than twice as many natural disasters than the previous 100 years.

In Luke 21:28, Jesus told His disciples, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”  I think these signs began a long time ago.  Some of us didn’t look at them.  We refused to acknowledge them.  But I think now the alarm is ringing.  And I think it’s time for us to look up because the Lord is coming.  And we are to be about His business.

Get Out!

Our second point is that we need to get out.  Specifically, we need to get out of our sin.  Look at verses 12-13 again.  Paul continues, “Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness.  And let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy…” (NKJV)

The phrase “cast off” is a Greek word that literally means to fling away as though it were an unclean thing.  We recently acquired another dog (to my chagrin).  Now we have two animals living at home.  Needless to say, I have a lot of experience with unclean things.  The dog we recently got is only 7 weeks old, so naturally we’re in the potty-training stage and the kitchen table has been moved out to make room for a portable pen.

While we’re home, we’re trying to take Stella (an Italian mastiff) out every 2-3 hours.  But let’s be honest, it isn’t enough when we’re working and the boys are at school.  So, it’s not uncommon to have to deal with a little poop in the kitchen.  Not like on a regular basis, but enough that I don’t like it.

Now, I don’t walk up to the poop and carefully, gently pick it up and say, “Oh, so sweet.  Stella left me a treat, a little surprise.  I’m going to keep it.  I’m going to put it in a jar.  I’m going to name it.  I’m going to put it on my counter.  When Melissa gets home, she’s going to be so excited that Stella pooped.  I can’t wait.”

No.  I pick it up, and I throw it in the trash.  I get an entire roll of paper towels.  I’m like, I don’t care about the environment right now.  I don’t want to touch that poop.  I’m getting the whole roll.  I’m going to scoop it up so I don’t have to touch a single bit of it.  I don’t want to see it.  I don’t want to smell it.  I want it gone.

Why don’t we do the same with sin?  Fling it off…  Throw it away…  Get rid of it – realizing the destruction it brings, the stench that it has, the pain that it causes.  Why do so many of us pick it up so gently and say, “Oh, it’s kind of cute.  I like my sin.  I’m going to hold onto it.  I’m going to put it in a jar, and put it in my closet just in case I want to come back to it.”?

We’re called to fling it off like clothes sprayed by a skunk.  Throw it away once and for all.  Get rid of it.  And what is it we’re to cast off?  Well, JB Phillips says, “The night is nearly over.  The day is almost dawn.  Let us, therefore, fling away the things that men do in the dark.  Let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day.  Let us live cleanly as in the daylight, not in the delights of partying or getting drunk or playing with sex nor in quarreling or jealousy.  Let us be Christ’s men and women from head to foot and give no chances to the flesh to have its fling.”

There are three sets of two mentioned here, depending on your translation it’s: revelry and drunkenness, lewdness and lust, and strife and envy, or perhaps it’s more descriptive, orgies and drunkenness, and sexual immorality and sensuality, and quarreling and jealousy.  In either case, I want us to notice two things.

First, when our parents said that nothing good ever happens after dark, they weren’t lying.  They got that piece of advice directly from the Scriptures.  The first two groups of activities are clear enough, I believe.  The picture that I get in my head is Mardi Gras.  If you’re from Louisiana, and more specifically, New Orleans, I’m sorry, but that celebration is the quintessential stereotype of this verse.  There’s simply no place for that kind of activity in the life of someone who has been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.

And if you’re wiping your brow and breathing a sigh of relief, then let me invite you to notice the second thing about this list.  It also contains activities that many “good, decent Christian” folk find enticing.  That’s right.  Paul includes quarreling, bickering, self-centered arguing, jealousy and envy among sexual immorality.  Positionally, we have been justified and declared holy by God.  That was Paul’s argument for 11 chapters.  But when Jesus returns, when salvation is at hand, He won’t come for His own in the realm of darkness.  He’ll come for His own in the light.  And that brings us to the last point.

Get Going!

Look at verse 12.  He says, “put on the armor of light.”  Why?  Because there’s a war.  You don’t put on armor unless there’s a war.  You don’t put on a bulletproof vest unless you plan on getting shot at.  Many believers are shocked to find that the Christian life isn’t a playground.  It’s a battleground.

God has called us as His spiritual soldiers – not just to hold ground but to gain ground.  He’s called us to take enemy territory.  He’s called us to take back our city.  We shouldn’t be complacent as we see the crime rate rise.  We shouldn’t be complacent as we see homelessness and poverty spread through our streets.  We shouldn’t be complacent as babies are being murdered before they’re born.

We should be gaining ground.  We should be going out into our city.  We should be making change, not just sitting in our churches holding our bibles hoping that they don’t come for us.  We should be gaining ground.  We shouldn’t just be defenders.  We need to be advancing the cause of Christ.  We need to invade enemy territory.  And sure.  Some people might say, “Well, Pastor, the game’s won by the defense.”  Okay, but if the offense doesn’t score a single point, the best you can do is tie at zero.  We need to be advancing.  We need to focus on our offense.  We need to get going.

Keep in mind, many times the defender is at a disadvantage. They’re simply waiting around for the enemy’s next attack, hoping they can survive.  In contrast, the one that’s advancing takes the initiative: where, when, and how to attack are options for the one on the move.  Under the direction of our commander-in-chief, the Lord God Almighty, we have to seize the moment and invade enemy territory in this critical and strategic period of time.  Or as in the case of Esther, for such a time as this.

Time is short, and eternal destinies literally are hanging in the balance.  And Satan knows this is the critical and strategic period of time.  We all know he’s dramatically stepping up his efforts.  Again, look at the news.  Shall we do any less?  Shall we not respond in kind, a war over the souls of men and women who are either caught alive by God or caught alive by Satan?

Many believers are asleep.  They don’t want to rock the boat.  Others are running in retreat or even falling away from the Lord.  We can’t retreat.  The battle is too important.  Winston Churchill said, “Victory is not won by evacuations.”  Church, we cannot give up.  Can we choose right here and now to not give up on our state?  Can we choose right here and now to not give up on our country?  Can we choose not to run away, but can we stand arm in arm, and recognize there’s a battle afoot?  And the battle is not with flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces and principalities.  The battle isn’t across the political aisle.  And the battle definitely isn’t across the church aisle.  The battle is with Satan.

The war is going to be won spiritually, not politically.  The battle we fight is a battle that God has called us to.  And it’s a battle that we can make a difference in.  It’s a battle that can change the eternal destination of people from hell to heaven.  That’s where the battle is.

Verse 14, Paul says, “Finally, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Or literally, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Look, once you get up, the second most important thing to do is to put clothes on.  Aren’t you thankful that all of us chose to put clothes on this morning when we woke up?  Church would be really weird if we didn’t.

When I wake up in the morning, I put on my clothes.  And I intend for them to be a part of me all day long to go where I go, to do what I do.  And if, for some reason, those clothes come off of me, we have a problem.

Paul is saying, put on Jesus Christ when you get up in the morning.  Make Him a part of your life today; going with you everywhere and acting through you in everything you do.  Call upon His resources in your life.  JB Phillips said, “Let us be Christ’s men and women from head to foot.”  Literally, enter into His views and His interests.  Imitate Him in all things.  Have you put on Jesus Christ today?  Have you entered into His views and interests?  Are you imitating Him in all things?  Or are you putting on the world?  Are you entering into the world’s views and interests?  Are you imitating the things the world does?

Let me tell you, the world is not the answer.  Beauty is a $532 billion industry that ultimately won’t make you pretty.  Education is a $1.3 trillion industry that ultimately won’t make you smart.  Diet is a $72 billion industry that ultimately won’t make you lean.  Pharmaceuticals is a $1.5 trillion industry that ultimately won’t make you healthy.  Ultimately, the world can’t save you from yourself.  God desires the world to look to us for change, not the other way around.

As we close, I read a story online titled “Fire means early wake up call for hotel guests.”  A fire forced dozens of hotel guests to leave their rooms early Thursday morning.  The fire started shortly before 4:30 in the morning at the Comfort Inn.  Firefighters managed to contain the flames to a conference room, but smoke spread through all five floors of the 127-room hotel.  No one was hurt.

It would be a shame if we had to wait for the fire to wake us up.  God is calling us.  Wake up.  It’s time to get up.  It’s time to get out.  It’s time to get going.  Let’s not wait for the judgment day.  Let’s not wait for Christ’s return to wake up.  Let’s realize the urgency of the hour.  Let’s not waste our lives on the empty pursuit of pleasure and sinful activities like drunkenness, and sexual immorality, and gossip, and jealousy.  Instead, let’s realize a battle is raging.  May God help each of us to be Christ’s men and women from head to foot.

Church and State (Part 2) – Romans 13:1-7

Romans 13:1-7

Can we begin this morning by agreeing that one of the hardest things for us is to do – as people, let alone as Christians – is to obey authority?  Are we in agreement on that?  I mean, in a way, that’s what Genesis 3 is all about, right?  God gave Adam and Eve some instructions and what happened?  They rebelled.  They rejected God’s authority and did what they wanted to do.  And the rest of us have suffered the consequences of sin and their own sense of rebellion from that day until the present.

We don’t like the word “submit,” do we?  We bristle anytime we hear someone say, “You must do this… or You can’t do that…”  We think to ourselves, “Don’t tell me what to do.”  Maybe you’re one of those people who is even brazen enough to say that out loud, “Don’t you tell me what to do.  I’ll tell you what to do.  You’re not the boss of me.”

One of the things that we learn early in our youth is that we don’t want to be “bossed around.”  Think about it for a minute.  It starts when we’re toddlers, doesn’t it?  Our parents tell us to do something and what’s our response?  “No!”  Or if our parents tell us not to do something, then what do we do?  We look at them and we look at the line in the sand, and we look at them and we step over the line even as we’re looking at them.  Right?

And it continues into our teenage years and young adulthood.  We might see compliance but it’s only because kids know parents pay for the house and the food and the car and most of the clothes, and they’re not truly ready to be on their own.  But, as they turn to go clean up their room, you hear them mumble under their breath, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to leave.”  We don’t like authority.

And just in case you think you’ve outgrown it as senior adults, I’ve heard many of you say, “I have a problem with authority…”  And when I ask why, the response has always been, “Nobody does what I tell them.”  So, whether we’re young or old or anywhere in between, we don’t like to obey authority.  That’s just our nature, and that brings us to the critical problem with our understanding of Romans 13.

Last week, we began considering Paul’s instruction to the Christians in Rome as it relates to how they should respond to the government.  And we saw two positive teachings emerge from the text.

First, all authorities – even those we would classify as “bad” – are ordained by God.  That’s what verse 1 clearly says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  God is ultimately in charge.  This was and is His plan to govern the world.  God’s in control.  Whether it’s Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Queen Elizabeth, or Donald Trump – they’re only ruling and reigning and exercising authority because God is ordaining it.  God is allowing them to do so.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that God approves of everything these leaders say or do.  Nor am I saying that God is up in heaven pulling strings on paper dolls or inserting His hand, as it were, into a puppet’s mouth and causing them to do and say only what He would have them to.  No, what we mean by God’s sovereignty is that He uses the free actions of human beings to accomplish His will.  Any person living and breathing and moving about today – whether a ruler or just a “regular Joe” – is doing so only because God is sustaining them and upholding them.  God is in charge, even over kings and presidents and rulers.

Second, we saw that submission is done out of reverence for God.  When we submit to the government, or the police officer, or the teacher we’re doing so out of reverence for God not out of reverence for the ruler.  Although the person in authority might be a respectable person, and we might submit to them willingly, we’re ultimately doing it in recognition that all authority comes from God.  And those authorities are for our good.  Civil government is a “common grace” from God to mankind.  It’s for our good that we have authority structures.  We considered places where the governing authorities have given way to gangs and anarchy, and agreed that life could be worse.

So, all authorities are ordained by God and He gives them to us for our good.  But historically and biblically we know that civil authorities don’t always reward the good and punish the bad.  In fact, they often reward bad behavior and punish good behavior.  We also know from the Bible that God has approved of His people not submitting to some civil authority.  And that leads to the following three questions that we’re going to deal with today:

  1. What evidence does the Bible give that God sometimes approves of His people not submitting to the authority(ies) He put in place?
  2. When is such civil disobedience right, and what should it look like?
  3. How does such civil disobedience fit with Romans 13:1-7, and why are the statements about the goodness of government stated here with such unqualified absoluteness?

These questions aren’t merely theoretical.  I’m not asking these questions just because I’m a pastor and I like to sit around and debate deep theological issues.  These questions are very practical.  If you’re a Christian living in China or North Korea or Vietnam or several Islamic states, you’re confronted with the question of civil disobedience daily.

But you say, “Pastor, I’m not living in any of those places.  I live in the United States – a country built upon freedom with certain unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

To which I would reply, “Indeed you are, but have you forgotten how this country got started?”

The ideals of America that we think are automatic were born in the crucible of questions surrounding civil disobedience.  Today’s news headlines are full of scenarios where these questions aren’t merely theoretical – they’re practical.  So, let’s begin this morning by looking at a few biblical examples of civil disobedience.

Biblical Examples of Civil Disobedience

The first is Acts 5:27-29.  This is probably the most well-known.  It’s certainly the one quoted most frequently whenever civil disobedience comes up.  The apostles have been going around Jerusalem performing miracles and proclaiming the Gospel, and so the High Priest and Sadducees had them put in prison.  We’ll pick up with verse 19, “[D]uring the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.’  And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.” (19-21a)

Then let’s jump down to verse 27, “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council.  And the High Priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (27-29)

In other words, even though God said to submit to people in authority, He doesn’t mean: Obey them when they forbid what I command or command what I forbid.  The command to submit to man does not make man God.  It gives man authority under God, and qualified by God.

But what about some examples where that qualification lead to disobedience.  Daniel 6:6-10: Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever!  All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.  Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.”  Therefore, King Darius signed the document and injunction.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to  his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open  toward Jerusalem.  He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Notice how blatant Daniel’s disobedience is.  It’s in your face.  The language of verse 10 is obvious – he went to the upper chamber, his windows were open toward Jerusalem, he got down on his knees (not once, not twice, but three times a day), just as he had done previously.  This was an open act of disobedience to the civil authority.  As a result, he was thrown to the lions – a punishment (note) he did not resist.  Keep in mind that there is no explicit commandment that one must pray on one’s knees at an open window three times a day.  This was Daniel’s conviction about God’s will, not an explicit command in the Bible.

Now flip back a few chapters to Daniel 3:16-18: the case of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  It was slightly different.  The decree was made that all should bow down before the king’s image.  In other words, Daniel was forbidden to pray, but his friends were commanded to worship idols.  Instead, they said: O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

This was civil disobedience on the basis of religious conscience.  As a result, they were thrown into the furnace.  And (note) they did not resist.

Or how about Exodus 1:15-20?  This is early in the slavery narrative of the Israelites (before Moses was born): Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwifes . . . “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”  But the midwifes feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. . .  So, God dealt well with the midwifes; and the people multiplied and grew very strong.

The midwifes disobeyed the king’s order to kill the babies.  By the way, one response to these last two texts is that they portray disobedience to a command that requires sin.  But what about civil disobedience to laws that are not requiring you to do anything?  They are just forbidding you from doing something that you feel morally bound to do?

Besides the case of Daniel (earlier), the Bible gives several other examples (e.g., Kings 18:4,13; Joshua 2:3-4).  For example, Queen Esther is honored for disobeying the law against unsolicited approach to the king.  King Ahasuerus had decreed that Jews were to be annihilated young and old, women and children (Esther 3:13).  Mordecai, Esther’s uncle asked Esther to intervene for the Jews to save their lives.

Esther responded by reminding Mordecai that any unsolicited approach to the King was against the law.  She could be killed (4:11-12), unless the king had mercy on her and raised his scepter. Mordecai told Esther that perhaps God had allowed her to come to the kingdom for such a time as this (4:14).  So, Esther calls for a three-day fast.  Finally, she resolves, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).  The effect of her intervention was that the Jews were spared.

But even if there were no explicit instances of civil disobedience in the Bible we would have to ask some tough questions: Is it morally right to jay walk to stop a rape?  Is it morally right to break the speed limit to rush a dying wife to the hospital?  Is it right to break into a neighbor’s house to put out a fire – or save a child?  And that brings us to question number two.

When Is Civil Disobedience Right and What Does It Look Like

Under what conditions might civil disobedience be morally called for? One could say with the apostle Peter: Obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).  In other words, if the law commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands then you must break the law.  But the problem with that simple guideline is that much of the civil disobedience in history has involved doing things that are not clearly commanded by God.  Sitting down on the sidewalk in front an abortion clinic in 1989 was not explicitly commanded by God in the Bible.  Eating in a white-only restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida in 1964, and marching and praying in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 were not commanded explicitly in the Bible.

In other words, some Christians have come to the point in history where they believed laws were so unjust and so evil, and political means of change had been frustrated so long, that peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience seemed right.  What factors should we take into consideration to decide if we should do that kind of civil disobedience?  It seems to me that it would be a combination of at least these four things.

  1. The grievousness of the action sanctioned by law. How atrocious is it?  Is it a traffic pattern that you think is dumb?  Or is the law sanctioning killing?  How harsh is it?
  2. The extent of the law’s effect. Is it a person affected here or there?  Or is it millions?  Does the law have an incidental inconsistency?  Or is it putting a whole group of people into bondage because of their ethnic origin?  How big is it?
  3. The potential of civil disobedience for clear and effective witness to the truth. This is the question of strategy, and there will certainly be room here for differing judgments about whether a particular act of civil disobedience will be a clear and effective statement of what is just.  Strategy to clearly communicate.
  4. Critical mass; we can’t take it any longer. Historically, there appears to be a flash point of moral indignation.  An evil exists for years, or perhaps generations, and then something strange happens.  One person, and then tens of thousands of people, can no longer just get up and go to work and say, “I wish it weren’t this way.”  I believe that’s what we’re seeing today.

So, if and when that time comes, how should civil disobedience be carried out?  What should it look like?  This is part two to the question, and rather than give you a checklist I’m just going to offer a comment or two.

First, the words of Jesus rule out all vindictiveness.  Any and all action based on the mere expediency of personal comfort and safety is not the right way to proceed.  That’s the point of Matthew 5:38-42, where Jesus calls for us to turn the other cheek and give the cloak off of our backs and walk two miles instead of one.  In other words, civil disobedience doesn’t act merely out of concern for your own private benefit, your clothes, your convenience, your possessions, your safety.

Instead, by trusting Christ, become the kind of person who is utterly free from these things to live for others.  We want to be a living sacrifice for the oppressed and the oppressors; the persecuted and the persecutors; the dying children and the killing abortionists.  The tone and demeanor of this kind of civil disobedience will be the opposite of strident, belligerent, rock-throwing, screaming, swearing, violent demonstrations.

We’re people of the cross.  Our Lord submitted to crucifixion willingly to save His enemies.  We owe our eternal life to Him.  We are forgiven sinners.  This takes the swagger out of our protest.  It takes the arrogance out of our resistance.  And if, after every other means has failed, we must disobey for the sake of love and justice, we will first remove the log from our own eye, which will cause enough pain and tears to soften our indignation into a humble, quiet, but unshakeable, “NO!”  The greatest battle we face is not overcoming unjust laws, but becoming this kind of people.

Why Does Paul Speak with Such Absoluteness of Civil Obedience?

If the Bible allows for civil disobedience sometimes then why does Paul speak the way he does in Romans 13?  Why is there such a seemingly unqualified absoluteness of the rights of civil authority?

Again, I have three answers to suggest.  I offer them for your consideration, not as something I am completely sure of.  Paul doesn’t say why he speaks this way.

  1. Paul is probably writing to be read by government officials as well as by the church in Rome.

In other words, he knows that this letter will find its way into Caesar’s household and into the hands of the civil authorities.  He wants them to understand two truths.  One is that Christians are not out to overthrow the empire politically by claiming Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar.  Christians submit to laws and pay taxes and show respect and do good in the community.  Leave us alone.  We’re not revolutionaries against your throne.  We’re harmless lovers of lost and hurting people and will do much good in your empire.

  1. Paul writes the way he does to demonstrate to the civil authorities that their positions and powers are based on God’s sovereignty and God’s moral law.

Imagine being Claudius or Nero or President Trump or Queen Elizabeth and reading Romans 13:1, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  It’s a powerful statement that you ARE NOT God.  You’re not absolute.  You’re secondary not primary.  You’re not in control, God is in control.  So, the absoluteness of the statement could be intended to leave Caesar no wiggle room.  God is absolutely above Caesar (no wiggle room), but that means for Christians: Yes, God has put governments in place and submission should be our first impulse, but no, they are not absolute.

Then consider Caesar reading verse 3.  Not only does Paul want civil authorities to know they are based on God’s sovereignty, but also on His moral law: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.”  Here’s a clear declaration that civil authority must itself submit to the moral law of God.  There’s right, and there’s wrong, and government isn’t the one who determines it.  Government conforms to it.

So, Paul has two devastating things to say to Caesar.  One, you are not God.  Two, your laws are not the highest laws.  Paul writes the way he does because he knows that what he wants to say will have a greater impact on the governing authorities if he writes this way.

  1. Paul is more concerned with our humility and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties.

Listen, this is going to punch some of you in the gut.  This is going to take the wind out of some of your sails.  Paul risked being misunderstood in his instruction on submitting to the governing authorities because he saw pride as a greater danger to Christians than government injustice.

In Paul’s mind, faith and humility and self-denial are vastly more important for the Christian than that we be treated well by the government.  And the reason is this: being persecuted unjustly is not the reason anyone goes to hell.  Rather, being unbelieving and arrogant and self-indulgent is.  Jesus never promised His people a fair fight.  He promised them the opposite: if they treated the master of the house like the devil, how much worse will they treat you.  The main issue is not being treated justly in this world by civil authorities.  The main issue is trusting Christ, being humble and denying ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of others.

Church and State (Part 1) – Romans 13:1-7

Romans 13:1-7

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 13.  I had several comments last week (mostly positive) regarding my asking the congregation to stand for the reading of God’s Word.  Let me make just a few quick comments on this.

First, there is no mandate in the Bible that we do this, although there is biblical support for it (i.e. Ezra/Nehemiah).  Second (and connected with the first), while there are many churches that stand, there are many that don’t.  If you do, it doesn’t mean that you’re more spiritual or mature or holy.  Likewise, if you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you’re more sinful or “worldly” than those congregations that do.  Third, when I’m moved by the Holy Spirit to have you stand, it’s not primarily for your benefit, at least not directly, as much as it is for mine.  I find that having you stand with me, in reverence for the Word, is a visible, tangible reminder to me that it is not I who am here to instruct you.  Rather, I am part of the congregation being addressed by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures, just like you.  And finally, especially for today’s verses, just as we stand when reciting the pledge of allegiance to show respect for the flag, and we stand when the national anthem is played to show respect for our country, we should no less stand for the reading of God’s Word to show respect.

So, with that, let me ask you to stand as I read Romans 13.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, our Father, as we embark upon this segment of the Epistle to the Romans, we ask that You would help us, that You would stoop to our dullness of understanding, our slowness of heart to believe all that You have set forth in Your Word, and our weakness in making proper application of it to our daily lives.  Give us hearts, O God, that are pleased to be instructed by You.  For we ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

In case you don’t already know, let me go ahead and let the cat out of the bag.  Romans 13 is one of the primary texts in all of sacred Scripture that deals with the relationship that Christians ought to have with the government.  Therefore, when you put that little fact together with the political environment of America (today) and the upcoming presidential election, this chapter is bound to raise more questions than it answers.  And, indeed, despite my own desires to get through this chapter in a single sermon, it will require a second and perhaps even a third to do it justice.  We shall see.

Author, theologian, and former pastor, John Piper, said this about Romans 13: “This text has implications for war and peace, dictators and totalitarianism, concentration camps and gulags, revolts and revolutions, laws and law enforcement, political activism and civil disobedience, elections and lobbying, voting and paying taxes, speed limits and seat belts, stop signs and baby seats.  This is not a small text.  It is one of those mountain peaks of the book of Romans that makes a reader dizzy with implications.”

Why Talk About Church And State

So, Romans 13 is interesting.  Coming out of the previous chapter(s) you’re bound to ask yourself, “Why did Paul shift to the government?  What made Paul talk about our relationship with the state?”  Part of the answer is found in his statement in Romans 12:2 where he says, “Do not be conformed any longer to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”  If we’re not supposed to be conformed to this world, then how are we to understand our position as citizens in this country or any other?  That’s partly why Romans 13 was written – to help make sure that people don’t misunderstand non-conformity to this world.  Paul’s idea of not confirming to the world doesn’t mean throwing off any and all restraint because I’m a follower of Jesus.  Romans 13 helps to clarify that.

Another part of the answer is because of the way chapter 12 ends.  Verse 9: “Let love be genuine.”  Verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints.”  Verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”  Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil.”  Verse 19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves.”  Verse 20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.”  And we’re left almost breathless with the beauty of this mercy (love, bless, don’t curse, never avenge), and yet in the back of our minds there’s this question: “Really, Paul?  Is that all you have to say about how life works, and how evil in the world is to be handled?  Hey, Paul, have you taken a look at Portland or Minneapolis or Kenosha or Manhattan?”  We want to be people of non-violent solutions, but sometimes non-violent approaches only leads to more violence.  What then?  And so, he writes Romans 13.

But there’s at least one more possible reason that’s a little more specific.  When we began this journey all those many weeks ago now, you might recall that I told you the church in Rome was originally made up of Jewish converts to Christianity but something happened in 49 A.D. and the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.  Then five years later, in 54 A.D. a new emperor by the name of Nero came to power and he let them return.  So, it’s possible that Paul included this section on government because that original expulsion had something to do with insubordination or church/state relations.

Who’s Really In Charge

The first clear, positive teaching is that civil authorities are ordained by God.  Verse 1b: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  We know this includes wicked rulers as well as good ones, because the Bible tells about wicked kings that God guided into office.  For example, Jeroboam was one of the most wicked kings of Israel, and 1 Kings 12:15 describes the intrigue that put him in place like this: “It was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord.”

And Nebuchadnezzar was the pagan Babylonian king that destroyed Jerusalem.  And in Jeremiah 27:6 God says, Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant.”  God calls Nebuchadnezzar a servant, the same term for the king that we find in Romans 13:4 (“he is the servant of God”).

And what about Pilate, the ruler who above all other rulers did not reward good behavior, but punished the only perfect man who ever lived?  When he said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’  Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (John 19:10).  So, Romans 13:1 includes Pilate.

Paul knew from Daniel 2:21, “[God] removes kings and sets up kings” – all kings.  They’re all under His control.  He puts them in office and He takes them out of office.  So, the answer is yes, Romans 13:1 applies to all rulers good and bad.  “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

This means that the Roman Christians (and 21st century followers of Jesus) should learn that it’s God’s will to govern the world of mankind through human civil authorities.  This is God’s plan.  Man did not create government.  God did.  Man does not sustain it.  God does.  Civil authority is God’s idea, not man’s.  No, we are not to be conformed to this age.  Yes, many of these rulers kill Christians.  Yes, they tax you and take your money (God’s money).  Yes, your lifestyle should be merciful and not vengeful.  Yes, they can exile you and make you leave Rome or anywhere else.  And Paul says to the Romans (and to us), civil authority is God’s chosen instrument to govern the world of men.

Submit to it out of reverence for God – not reverence for the ruler.  God has stripped rulers of their final authority.  That’s what verse one means.  Civil authorities are not God.  God is God.  When you submit, you submit for God’s sake.  “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13).  And this Lord, He’s the risen Lord Jesus who is King of kings and Lord of lords to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given.  In other words, keeping the speed limit is Christian worship (at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself).

For What Earthly Reason Should We Submit

Here is a second clear, positive teaching of these verses: When you submit for Christ’s sake to the civil authorities, remember that this authority is a great gift of common grace to the world.  It is good for us.  One of the most important phrases in the paragraph is verse 4a: “He is God’s servant for your good.”  What a tidal wave of evil would break over the world if there were no civil authorities for restraint – even bad civil authorities.

O, how we should give thanks for the restraint on evil that government brings!  Listen, I know it’s hard to comprehend what I’m saying in light of recent riots and killings and protests in our own country, but it could be so much worse.  I’m not excusing what’s taking place today.  I’m not going soft on looting and rape and destruction of property.  I’m not oblivious to the mountain of social, ethical, and moral issues that are tearing our country apart.  But folks, it could be so much worse.

The World Economic Forum publishes an annual Global Competitiveness Report.  As part of this report, they rank countries in the world according to the level of criminal gang activities.  The top five countries on that list are: Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, and El Salvador.  If you want to know what life would look like without the civil magistrate, if you want to see how bad it can really get, then just look to cities like Tijuana and Juarez (Mex.), Caracas (Ven.), and San Salvador (El Sal.).

Consider this story from just a few years ago.  Across the border from Laredo, Texas is the city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  The town lost its civil authority and is ruled by gangs.

Alejandro Dominguez was the only person brave enough to be police chief.  Hours after he took office, assailants riddled his body with dozens of bullets in this city wracked by a turf battle between Mexico’s two main drug gangs.

The streets were virtually empty Thursday, a day after the killing, with only a handful of federal police armed with rifles and automatic weapons…

“We are defenseless,” attorney Zorina Medrano said at City Hall.  “It’s obvious that the criminals are better organized (than the authorities).  They sent the national army and even they weren’t respected.  Who else can we ask for help?”

That’s a small snapshot of what the world would look like without God’s common grace of civil authority.  What would you do if 911 didn’t answer?  If there were no police.  No firemen.  No National Guard.  Only gang members stealing and murdering without any restraint or retribution.  Get this picture very clearly in your eyes, and then read verse four: “He [the civil authority] is God’s servant for your good.”

Let us give thanks for God’s wisdom and grace that the whole world is not one huge Nuevo Laredo.  And while we have a measure of peace – since it won’t always be so – let us use it for the gospel of the glory of Christ, who rules the world.

Again, our Father, we thank You that You have not caused us to live in chaos, with no structure of authority.  We pray that by Your Spirit You would continue to work within us and quiet the rebellious impulses that we have as part of our fallen nature.  Give us that kind of humility that seeks to honor You by honoring all of those whom You have appointed and placed in authority over us.  And now, O God, as we come to Your table, remind us that our first and foremost allegiance is to You – the One who bore our sin upon the cross of Calvary – and that only when we are in right relationship with You can we hope to be at peace with our fellow man.  For we ask it in the name of Jesus, amen.

What the World Needs Now – Romans 12:3-21

Romans 12:3-21

Let’s begin this morning by taking a little trip down “memory lane” (for most of you).  The year is 1965.

  • Average cost of a house was $13,600
  • Average cost of a new car was $2,650 (E-Type Jag was $5,500)
  • Average yearly income was $6,450
  • Cost of a loaf of bread was $0.21, and a gallon of gas $0.31
  • The Vietnam War continued to escalate and worsen as more and more men are killed, captured or found missing in action.
  • At the same time, the Anti-War movement continued to grow – ultimately giving rise to a march of 35,000 protestors in Washington, D.C. on November 13th.
  • There’s civil unrest, rioting, looting and arson in Los Angeles.
  • It’s also the first year where mandated health warnings appeared on cigarette packets, and smoking became a “no-no.”
  • The latest craze in kid’s toys is the Super Ball and the Skateboard.
  • Fashions also changed; women’s skirts got shorter and men’s hair grew longer – unless, that is, you were a knob at The Citadel (like my dad), then you head was shaved.
  • The miniskirt made its debut along with a daytime television show that’s still airing today (“Days of Our Lives”).
  • The word Hypertext was created to describe linking in early computer systems and computer networking.
  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is completed and a simple little song is recorded by Jackie DeShannon with lyrics by Hal David and music by Burt Bacharach. (Any guesses as to the title of that song?)

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

No, not just for some but for everyone.”

That’s the chorus of this super simple pop hit from 1965.  It hit #1 in Canada and broke the Top 10 in the US, finishing at #7.  And while the world around us grows darker by the day, spiritually and morally, it’s imperative that Christians shine brighter and brighter.

Indeed, what the world needs now is love.  But it’s not “love” for love’s sake.  It’s not some ethereal and emotional feeling seeking to detach from reality and the complexities of life.  Rather, what the world needs today is love rooted in the mercies of God.  What the world needs now is love that’s grounded in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.  What you and I need to do today, what the church needs to be about today is manifesting the love of Christ by offering ourselves as living sacrifices.  And while this might sound easy, can I go ahead and spoil it for you.  It’s not.

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 12.  Last week we looked at Paul’s transition from the heavy doctrine of chapters 1-11 to the more practical everyday instruction of chapters 12-16, and what I just offered to you is exactly what Paul said we should do.  In view of God’s mercy, reflecting upon the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, we’re compelled to offer everything we are to God as living sacrifices.  Don’t be squeezed into the mold of this world, but rather be changed from the inside out by the renewing of your mind in God’s holy Word aided by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, Paul is going to explain what he means by offering yourself as a living sacrifice.  In case you’re wondering, “What does a living sacrifice actually look like?” Paul is going to describe it for us.  Normally, when we think of the sacrificial process, we think of taking meat off the bone.  Today, however, Paul is going to put some meat on the bone.  He’s going to offer some pretty basic instructions.  He’s going to tell us what a living sacrifice is and does.  The difficulty comes in applying what God intended by these instructions and what the world intends by them.

I’m going to begin reading this morning at verse 3 and continue to the end of the chapter (v. 21), and I would like to ask the congregation to stand for the reading of God’s Word:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  4 For as in one body we have many members, [parts] and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

 9 Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  10 Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Father, even now, as we contemplate these exhortations and injunctions that come to us from the pen of your anointed apostle, we pray that we may feel the weight of these mandates and that they may grasp us in our hearts and in our souls.  For we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

This section of Romans 12 breaks down into three fairly distinct parts.  Verses 3-8 are a description of what living sacrifices look like to the body of Christ.  We see and hear how Christians are to deal with other believers in the church.  Verses 9-21 address how living sacrifices are to behave among non-Christians, among the world, among those outside the church.  And within verses 9-21 there are at least two groups of people that are hinted at – let’s call them the neighbor and the enemy.

Now, I want to be careful here.  Too often we make a distinction in our relationships with other people.  We think (and often live as if) there are the church goers (i.e. Christians), there are the good people (nice, friendly, helpful folk that may or may not believe in Jesus), and then there are the bad people (mean-spirited, evil, hateful definitely not believing in God).  But the reality – at least according to the Bible – is this: you’re either a believer in Jesus or you’re an enemy of God.  There’s no being in the middle.  To be in the middle is to be non-believer.  There are the sheep and there are the goats.  There’s the wheat and there’s the tares.  There’s the narrow gate and the wide gate.  Over and over we’re told there are two kinds of people in the Bible: those that recognize Jesus for who He is and worship Him and love Him and follow Him, and those that deny Him and reject Him or are just simply indifferent, uninterested, and don’t care.

So, I want to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy, but you can see that some of the instructions and directions given in verses 9-21 can be applied to the general stranger and neighborly co-worker, and others are directed to definite enemies.  So, we have instructions on what it looks like to be a living sacrifice among Christian folk, among neighborly non-Christian folk, and among hostile and downright evil folk.

Living Sacrifices Among Other Believers

Following World War II, a group of German students volunteered to rebuild a cathedral that had suffered heavy damage from Allied bombing.  There was a large statue of Jesus with outstretched arms which had the inscription “Come unto Me” across the bottom.  The hands of the statue had been blown off and couldn’t be reattached, so the students decided.  They left the statue of Jesus without hands and changed the inscription to read, “Christ has no hands but ours.”

It’s been suggested that perhaps they got that idea from a poem that’s attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (a 16th century nun) titled Christ Has No Body But Yours.  While the authenticity of that story and St. Teresa’s poem are a matter for debate, the message they convey is not: Christians are called to be Christ’s presence in the world today.  And that’s what Paul says here.

God has given to each believer a unique way of serving Him.  It’s entirely inconsistent with Scripture for a person to be a deeply committed follower of Christ and not have a ministry for Christ.  If we’re taking this “living sacrifice” business to heart, and we’re in the process of being transformed from the inside out, then it follows that we will have a ministry.  We will have some means of carrying out our devotion to Jesus in this world, and especially in His church.

But before Paul lists some of those areas of ministry, he begins with a sober judgment of one’s self.  “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” (v. 3, NIV).  Literally, the Greek text says, “Don’t get hyper about yourself.”  We remember that apart from the grace and mercy of God we’re nothing.

And then Paul gives us a list of spiritual gifts: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation (or encouragement), giving financially, leadership and mercy.  Now, please note, this list is not exhaustive.  In fact, you find a similar list in 1 Corinthians 12 that includes additional gifts that aren’t mentioned here.  So, don’t look at this list as being all there is to ministry in the body of Christ.  Nevertheless, Paul spells out that being the church, being the body of Christ, won’t happen unless we’re all doing our respective parts.

We could spend an entire service just going through each of these gifts, but time doesn’t allow for that.  But there are two things I do want you to see before we move on to our next point.  Look at verses 4-5 (again), For as in one body we have many members, [parts] and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

There is absolutely no ranking of gifts.  There’s no degree of superiority of one person’s gift as compared to another person’s gift.  The fact that prophecy comes before mercy does not make it No. 1 and mercy No. 7.  Remember how Paul began this section?  (Humility) There’s an awful lot of flaws and sins and mistakes that can be overcome in the body of Christ, but when one person (or a group of people) begins to elevate a particular gift as more important than another watch out.  Nip that in the bud.  Be gracious, but address it.

We’re all guilty of doing this to some degree or another.  For example, by virtue of my being the pastor, many people will perceive preaching as more important than say serving, or teaching more important than leading, or whatever.  We need to be careful to keep this in proper perspective.  Yes, there’s no denying that preaching and expounding the Word of God is an important part of the life of the church.  But remember, when you’re at home recovering from surgery or suffering the pain of cancer treatments or hospice has been called in because your time on earth is drawing to a close, do you want a gifted expositor to visit you or someone with the gift of mercy?  Do you want a brilliant teacher or someone with the gift of encouragement or service?

Some of you might even be thinking that you’re off the hook here.  “I haven’t been called to preach.  I don’t have the gift of teaching.  I’m no deacon.  I don’t need to serve.  I can’t sing or play the piano.”  Listen, if you consider yourself a believer…  If you’ve experienced regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit…  If you’ve confessed your sin and turned to Jesus Christ in faith, then you have a gift.

And, that leads me to the second point I want to make before moving on and that is this; if you’re not presently using your spiritual gift to minister to the church and/or others, then you’re actively sinning and you need to repent of that sin and begin using your gift to bring glory to Christ Jesus.  You say, “Well, now, pastor that’s a bit harsh.”  Is it?  Look at verse 6.

If you’re reading from the ESV, NKJV, NASB, or some other similar translation, then you’ll have a phrase in there that basically says, “…then use your gift…”  The ESV says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…”  The NASB puts it like this, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…”  Bottom line – use your gift.  Exercise your giftedness by serving the church and serving Christ.

Living Sacrifices Among Non-Believers

As you look at verses 9-21 you notice something very different almost immediately.  The difference is even visually noticeable.  Paul’s style of writing changes pretty dramatically.  It’s somewhat similar to how he ended the previous section on spiritual gifts, but even more pronounced in this section.  In fact, it’s almost as if Paul had been in the audience taking notes when Jesus gave His most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount – because many of the bullet points and pithy statements that Paul lays out in this section are nothing more than a restatement of Jesus’ teaching.

And this is where putting this “living sacrifices” business into practice gets really difficult.  Paul begins with this statement, “Let love be genuine.”  Love must be sincere.  Let love be without hypocrisy.  Don’t just pretend to love others; really love them.

And the reason that I tell you that being a living sacrifice is hard is because our world has a very different definition of love than what the Apostle Paul does here.  This is where you and I begin to understand that singing a chorus like “what the world needs now is love, sweet love” just won’t work.  Sure, we need love, but we need it to be authentic.  We need it to be genuine.  It can’t be phony.  It can’t be based on platitudes.  It can’t be superficial.  In fact, the word that Paul uses here is agape.  It’s divine love.  It’s a supernatural love.  It’s a love that comes from knowing Christ and offering yourself as a living sacrifice to Him and His purposes.

And no sooner has Paul given us this platform to start on, then he gives us two very strong statements.  He says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  This is where being a living sacrifice among non-believers gets uncomfortable.  You see, if our secular society had written verse 9 it would only contain the first part: “Let love be genuine.”  And then it would skip right over and pick up with verse 10 where Paul speaks of being devoted to one another in brotherly love.  But the Bible doesn’t do that.  Sandwiched in the middle of the beginning of verse 9 and verse 10 are these hard statements to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

Our world emphasizes love to the extent that it doesn’t make any distinction between good and evil.  But by including these two statements, we’re immediately warned of the fact that there are some things that need to be hated.  (Please note, I did NOT say some people need to be hated.)  Rather, some things need to be abhorred.  Some things need to be loathed.  Some things need to be despised.  Why?  Because they’re evil.  There are some practices and behaviors that our society allows to take place that are pure evil, and what’s even more disturbing is that our pulpits are silent on the matter.

One of those is abortion.  I do not see where the Bible gives women (or men, in the case of forced abortion) the license and freedom to murder, dismember and otherwise extinguish the life of an unborn baby.  Another is sexual assault and physical abuse of anyone (child/teenager/adult).  When we start justifying evil according to our understanding, we dilute the truth of God’s Word.  For example, when we rename adultery an “affair,” and homosexuality an “alternative lifestyle,” and murder of the unborn as “choice,” then we’re headed for serious trouble.  Contrary to our world’s understanding of God, there are some evil things that God hates and we are called to join Him and abhor what is evil.

At the same time, however, the Apostle tells us to “cling to that which is good.”  Again, the language that’s used here in the text is intense.  The root word for “cling” is the same Greek root for the word “glue.”  We’re to hold fast to that which is good.  Let it be cemented it to our souls, that we don’t drop it or lose it with the next wind of cultural fantasy that comes our way.

As with the previous group of verses, we could spend an entire service considering what each of these statements means but for the most part they’re straightforward.  Plus, we have one more specific group of people to focus on.

Living Sacrifices Among The Enemy

We are seeing this play out before our very eyes in cities and towns across our country.  And oh, how hard it is to show evidence of being a living sacrifice and loving our enemy when we’ve been wronged.  Yet Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil…” 

If someone hurts us or offends us, sometimes we say, “It’s payback time.  What goes around comes around.”  Then we look for the opportunity to wound the one who has wounded us, and wound them back.  We want to get even.  In fact, it’s actually worse than getting even; we’re very seldom satisfied with getting even.  Getting even is a tie, and a tie is like kissing your sister.  It doesn’t give us any real satisfaction.  We don’t want to get even.  We want to get one up.  We want to dominate.  We want to win when it comes to the battle of human relationships.

And Paul says that kind of disposition that reigns in the human heart is a manifestation of corruption, and is itself an example of moral evil.  If we’re victims of somebody else’s sin, the flesh wants to get even and pay it back.  And the payback involves us in committing sin because somebody has committed sin against us.  And Paul says, “No, that’s not the way the Christian life is to be.  We’re not supposed to return evil for evil.”  That’s the basic premise.

Then he continues, “but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”  Now this doesn’t mean that we have to constantly be the arbiter of what men think is honorable.  In other words, we don’t have to worry, “Oh, if I do this will it be considered honorable in that guy’s eyes.  And if it’s honorable in his eye will it also be honorable in her eyes.  And if not, then how should I respond so that they’re both satisfied.”  No, no.  If that’s what this text meant, then you can see how impossible that is.  What one man honors another dishonors.

What this text is saying is that people are watching.  Even if they’re unbelievers, and even if they slander you day after day, is there something they see in your life that even in their unbelief they cannot deny?  Do they see that you have a tender heart?  Do they see that your word can be trusted?  Do they see that you’re not out to destroy them?  As hostile as unbelievers may be to Christians, they’re not blind.  They can see certain virtues, even if they won’t and don’t adhere to them.  That’s what Paul means here; “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

And to the degree possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another.  Remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  This is not easy.  This is hard word.  This is what a living sacrifice looks like among the enemy – to refuse to take revenge, to give them food and drink, to give them your coat, to walk an extra mile, to overcome evil with good.  It was the grand strategy of Jesus.  It was the grand strategy of the apostolic church.  And it’s the grand strategy of the Christian life.

Let me conclude this morning by reading a poem written by Annie Johnson Flint that summarizes this entire section of Romans 12.  It’s titled The World’s Bible.

Christ has no hands but our hands

To do His work today;

He has no feet but our feet

To lead men in His way;

He has no tongues but our tongues

To tell men how He died;

He has no help but our help

To bring them to His side.

 

We are the only Bible

The careless world will read;

We are the sinner’s Gospel,

We are the scoffer’s creed;

We are the Lord’s last message,

Given in deed and word;

What if the type is crooked?

What if the print is blurred?

 

What if our hands are busy

With work other than His?

What if our feet are walking

Where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongues are speaking

Of things His lips would spurn?

How can we hope to help Him

And hasten His return?

A Living Sacrifice – Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12:1-2

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 12.  School starts back this week…  I used to cheer, when our boys were younger.  Now that they’re both driving and able to pretty much take care of themselves over the summer, it’s not as big a time of celebration.  It’s still looked at with disdain by the boys, but that’s to be expected.  So, in homage to school starting back, I thought we’d take a real quick review.  Buckle up.  This is gonna be quick.

We’ve looked at condemnation at the end of chapter 1, all of chapter 2, and most of chapter 3 resulting in the conclusion that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, ESV).  So, we saw what being lost in sin looked like.

Then we looked at justification at the end of chapter 3, and I gave you a new made up word to use in place of justification.  Do any of you remember that word?  (Righteousize = to make righteous)  It’s not that justification isn’t the right word or a good word.  Indeed, it’s a biblical word.  The problem is that our modern world has highjacked that word, and we try to justify all kinds of things so that we aren’t labeled as sinners.  But when you hear the word “righteousize” and you look at yourself in the mirror, then you realize the radical nature of God’s work of redemption.

Chapter 3 concludes with these words: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed… through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…” (Romans 3:21-25, NKJV).  So, we saw what being made right in God’s eyes (i.e. being saved) looked like – it involved the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross of Calvary.

Then we looked at reconciliation in chapter 5 – where, by faith in Jesus, our relationship with God is brought back into proper alignment and Paul gave us these words “Therefore, since we have been justified (i.e. righteousized) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1, NIV).  So, we saw what being at peace with our Maker looks like, through Christ.

Then we considered the process of sanctification in chapters 6, 7 and 8.  We heard that famous illustration from Paul’s own life where he battled doing what he didn’t want to do and not doing what he did want to do; all culminating in this magnum opus, this monumental and magnificent chapter 8 that’s just filled with favorite verse after favorite verse:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (vss. 5-6)

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v. 18)

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (v. 26)

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (v. 28)

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (vss. 29-30)

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vss. 35-39)

I mean, “WOW!”  What a marvelous chapter.  Just another reminder why so many bible scholars call it the most significant chapter in the entire Bible.

So, we have condemnation, justification, reconciliation, sanctification, and finally, for the past several weeks in chapters 9, 10, and 11, we’ve been considering God’s predestination and vindication.  God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and compassion on whom He will have compassion (v. 15), “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (v. 16).  And while we may not be able to fully understand God’s reasons, nevertheless, we can affirm that He’s Lord of all and He’s free to work as He chooses in pursuit of His own purposes.  And those purposes do not contradict His ultimate plans for Israel.  “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.”

What an amazing journey so far!  Amen?  It’s like when you get home from a vacation.  Maybe you went on a European bus tour or a boat cruise and visited several different countries.  Or maybe you took a RV and drove across the US and visited multiple states.  Or maybe you went to a theme park like Disney World and one day went to the Magic Kingdom, and the next day you went to Epcot, and the next day you went to the Animal Kingdom, and then you went to Hollywood Studios, and then to Universal.  In each of those situations, when you look back on your trip and the territory you covered and the things you saw and experienced you’re just overwhelmed by it all.  That’s what Romans 1-11 should make you feel like.

And now we begin the concluding leg of our trip with Romans 12.  Romans 12-16 is the practical outworking of the Christian life in light of everything that we’ve covered in chapters 1-11.  Romans 12-16 is Paul’s explanation of how Christians ought to live in response to the heavy doctrines of chapters 1-11.  We’re only going to cover the first two verses today.  Follow along with me:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual (reasonable) act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

Normally, I offer you three things to consider.  Today, I’m offering you four.  And the first is to see…

The Core Of Our Commitment To Christ

Our commitment is in response to an assessment.  Preachers often say, “When you see the word ‘therefore,’ you have to ask yourself what it’s there for.”  In this case, Paul is throwing his lasso around everything that he’s mentioned in chapters 1-11, and he’s using all of that to call for an assessment.  What are you going to do?  How are you going to respond?  As we say, “this is where the rubber meets the road.”

But our commitment isn’t just a response to an assessment.  It’s also a response to an appeal.  Notice that next phrase, “I urge you…”  Maybe your translation says, “I beseech you…” or “I appeal to you…” or “I plead with you…”  This is the appeal of a counselor.  Paul isn’t barking out orders.  He’s not commanding and demanding.  He’s encouraging them.  In fact, the Greek word that’s used there is parakaleo.  Some of you might recognize that word just by hearing it.  It’s a word that means to come alongside, to call for, to encourage, to personally make a call.  It’s the same word that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit (parakletos) – our Comforter, our Advocate, our Helper.  Paul takes the position that he’s in the fight with them, and so he urges them onward.  He calls them to respond to what they’ve just heard.

So, our commitment is in response to an assessment (therefore), it’s also in response to an appeal (urging), but it’s also the response of appreciation: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy,…”  Not only is Paul throwing a lasso around everything in chapters 1-11, and not only is he coming along side of them to encourage them, but he’s pinning everything on the mercies of God.

If we tell people to present themselves a living sacrifice to God without giving them the reason, then we’ve left off the motivation.  The call to action is powerless without folks seeing the mercies of God.  It reminds me of Jeremiah’s words of praise in the midst of an otherwise depressing little book called Lamentations that go like this, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

The core of our commitment to Christ is in response to an assessment, in response to an appeal, and is the response of appreciation for the cross of Calvary (His great mercy).  The second part of verse 1 lays out the second thing that I want you to see, and that’s…

The Characteristics Of Our Commitment To Christ

The first characteristic of our commitment to Christ is that it’s conscious.  It’s not something that evolves or just happens.  It’s something we’re aware of; a choice we’re conscious of.  Notice that Paul uses the word “present.”  Maybe your Bible uses the word “offer” or “give.”  The Greek word is a technical term for the Old Testament priest bringing an offering and laying it on the altar.  That’s not something that happens accidentally or by chance.  Remember Abraham and Isaac?  Isaac didn’t just trip and fall and wind up on the altar.  No, Abraham and Isaac made the journey up the mountain and on the way we hear those words coming out of Isaac’s mouth: “Hey dad…”  “Yeah, son, what is it?”  “Well, I know we have the wood and the matches for the fire, but where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham made a conscious choice to be obedient.  Isaac, too, made a conscious choice.  Likewise, Jesus made a conscious choice to be obedient unto death – even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

The second characteristics of our commitment to Christ is that it’s complete.  Paul calls us to present our bodies.  We present all of who we are.  We give God the whole person.  Don’t just look at this in terms of your physical extremities: your hands, feet, mouth, etc.  It certainly includes those things, but it also includes our thoughts, our emotions, our decisions, our aspirations; we surrender all to Him.

The third characteristic of our commitment to Christ is that it’s costly.  We’re called to be “living sacrifices.”  The Old Testament sacrifices were dead, but we’re called to be living, daily sacrifices.  Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”  It’s a costly commitment.

Fourth, our commitment to Christ is constructive.  Dedicated people don’t wear a label, they demonstrate their dedication.  They go places and do things for the cause of Christ.  Living sacrifices don’t just sit around and contemplate their condition.  They seek ways to be a part of Christ’s plans and purposes to share the gospel with the world.  In Luke 1:74-75, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prayed these words, “we . . . might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.”  That’s constructive commitment.

Fifth, our commitment to Christ is ceremonial.  Now I use the word “ceremonial” because the Greek word latreia is the word we get our English word “liturgy” from.  Liturgy is a form or structure of worship.  When we sacrifice ourselves to God, we do it as an act of worship.  All the efforts we put into our worship services here at Mountain Hill are for nothing if you haven’t worshipped God by committing yourself to Him.

Finally, our commitment to Christ is credible.  It’s reasonable.  It’s logical.  It’s proper.  It’s sensible.  When you stand at the foot of the cross and contemplate Jesus Christ hanging there as a sacrifice for you, it’s unreasonable to do anything less than commit yourself wholly to Him.

Okay, we’ve seen the core of our commitment to Christ.  It’s based on an assessment, an appeal, and our appreciation.  We’ve seen the characteristics of our commitment to Christ.  It’s conscious, it’s complete, it’s costly, it’s constructive, it’s ceremonial, and it’s credible.  Now I want you to see…

The Conditions Of Our Commitment To Christ

There are two of them.  The first condition is that we are NOT to be conformed to this world.  J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament renders verse 2 this way, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into it’s mold.”  The world is the organized system headed by the Devil that leaves God out.  It involves “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  It involves indulging yourself, increasing your possessions, and impressing your neighbors.  And Paul says that we’re to rebel the ways of the world.

And the second condition of our commitment to Christ is that we ARE supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  That word “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoó.  I wonder what English word we get from that?  Metamorphosis, right.  Coincidentally, it’s the same word that Matthew and Mark use to describe Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when He was transfigured before their very eyes.

This metamorphosis only happens when we renew our minds.  But we don’t renew our minds by reading Sports Illustrated or the Wall Street Journal or Better Homes and Gardens or whatever other books are on the New York Times’ bestsellers list.  And it doesn’t happen by reading the comments section on our Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds.  It only happens when we read the Word of God and memorize the Word of God and meditate/ponder the Word of God.

So those are the two conditions of our commitment to Christ: not being conformed to the world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  And the last thing I want us to see (really quickly) are…

The Consequences Of Our Commitment To Christ

Real quick; look at the end of verse 2, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…”  Here are three things that will happen when we present ourselves as living sacrifices and have our minds renewed by the Bible: 1.) we will know the will of God, 2.) do the will of God, and 3.) enjoy the will of God.

So many people are seeking what God wants of them (and that’s a good thing).  But too many times we only think of the will of God in terms of specific actions: things like surrendering to the gospel ministry, becoming a missionary, moving our families here/there, taking this job or that job, marrying this person or that person.  Certainly, those are important questions, but have you ever considered that knowing, doing and enjoying the will of God might simply be trusting in Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct your life?

When you offer your entire body, mind, soul, passions, emotions, desires, and everything you are to God…  When you renew your mind by reading, listening, studying, and meditating on the Word of God you won’t only have the answers to those specific questions, but you’ll be more and more able to test and approve God’s good, pleasing and perfect will in every situation and circumstance.

Dr. Fred Craddock was a distinguished professor of preaching and New Testament at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, when I was in seminary.  I had the privilege of hearing him preaching once and this is how he described the cost of being a living sacrifice.

To give my life for Christ appears glorious.  To pour myself out for others . . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom – I will do it.  I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.  We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 and laying it on the table – “Here’s my life, Lord.  I’m giving it all.”  But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters.  We go through life putting out $0.25 here and $0.50 there.  Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, “Get lost.”  God to a committee meeting.  Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.  Usually giving our life to Christ is not glorious.  It’s done in all those little acts of love, $0.25 at a time.  It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.

Someone once said, “the trouble with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar!”  Can I tell you something?  The only reason we would crawl off the altar is because we don’t believe it’s a good place to be.  If you’ve never committed yourself wholly to Christ as a living sacrifice, can I join Paul and “urge you,” “beseech you,” “beg of you,” and “plead with you” to do so today.

Soli Deo Gloria – Romans 11:33-36

Romans 11:33-36

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 11.  We’re going to be looking at verses 33-36.  This is one of Paul’s many doxologies in his epistle to the Church in Rome.  One of the things that we do almost every single time that we gather for worship is to sing the Doxology.

Maybe you come from a church background where there were other elements of worship that were done regularly in worship.  Perhaps you recited the Lord’s Prayer each week, like we did today.  We don’t do that every Sunday, but I do try to lead us in that prayer about once every six weeks or so.  In addition to the Doxology, maybe your church also sang the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father…).  Many of you, I know, came from churches where the Lord’s Supper or Communion or Eucharist was celebrated each week.

Well, I came from a church denomination that didn’t do any of those things weekly.  We never sang the Gloria Patri.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was in college attending mandatory chapel services that I was even introduced to it.  We rarely, if ever, sang the Doxology – although it was more familiar to me than the Gloria Patri.  And we only celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a quarter. That’s only four (4) times a year.

Now I’m not criticizing my church background.  I’m just acknowledging that churches have a way of structuring their worship services, even if that structure means . . . there is no structure.  And whether it was intentional or by happenstance, Mountain Hill Community Church has, over the years, structured its weekly worship in such a way as to include the singing of the Doxology.  And while it’s taken me some time to get accustomed to it, I find it to be one of those elements of worship that makes me feel “at home” with God and also with this family of faith.

So, this morning, in another gesture of homage to the past, I’m going to ask you to stand with me as I read God’s Word.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to Him
that He might be repaid?”

36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever. Amen.

When we think of the Protestant Reformation, we might remember that it involved a man named Martin Luther, we might know that it had something to do with nailing a piece of paper to a door, we might even be able to put it in the proper century (16th century, or the 1500’s), but we may not remember that the movement resulted in five (5) phrases – phrases that came to define what the reformers were putting forth as correctives to the Roman Catholic Church but also as positive biblical declarations.

Each of those five phrases begins with the Latin word sola; a word that simply means “alone.”  In fact, our English word “solitary” has its roots in the Latin sola.  Let’s see if you can help me.  Do you know what the five solas of the Reformation are:

1. Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
This was known as the “formal principle” of the Reformation because it gave form and direction and clarity to the life and ministry of the Church.  Not Scripture and the Pope.  Not Scripture and the traditions of men.  Not Scripture and the Church councils, but Scripture and Scripture alone.

2. Solus Christus: “Christ alone”
This is the very heart of the gospel that Paul is making, here in Romans.  By this, we mean that salvation is accomplished in and through Christ alone.  Not Christ and our own moral contribution.  Not Christ and the commandments.  Not Christ and our money, but salvation is only found in Jesus Christ alone.

3. Sola gratia: “grace alone”
The Reformers argued that salvation came to those who had absolutely no merit of deserving Christ, for those who had no goodness, no righteousness, no ability to stand in the presence of a holy God.  In other words, salvation is a free gift.

4. Sola fide: “faith alone”
Whereas sola Scriptura was called the “formal principle”, this was known as the “material principle” because it involved the very matter of what a person must do to be saved – one must place their eternal trust, their faith, their hopes, their very souls over to the care of Jesus Christ by faith.

5. Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”
This is the capstone of the Reformation.  It’s the capstone of the Bible.  It is – I hope and pray – the capstone of who and what Mountain Hill Community Church is and does.  It’s the finishing stroke upon the painting of all theology: to give all glory and honor to God.

In the few moments that we have remaining, I want us to consider three principles that Paul lays out for us here.

Wondering After God

Notice that’s not “wandering” after God, although some of us might describe our faith journey or our walk with God as wandering around.  No, the word there is “wondering.”  Worship is getting caught up in the things that we know about God.  We can’t know or understand God completely – if we could, He wouldn’t be God.  Paul cries out in amazement at his inability to fathom the depth of God and the riches of His wisdom and knowledge.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British minister known as the “Prince of Preachers”, once said, “The highest science, and the loftiest speculation, and the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”

Folks, the greatest pursuit of the human mind that you and I can engage in is for us to have a growing knowledge of God.  That’s why it’s so important to have a daily devotional period – a time of reading God’s Word, meditating upon it, and praying over what you’ve just read.

Now, depending on your view, verse 33 either mentions two attributes of God or it mentions three.  Some people believe that the words “wisdom” and “knowledge” are two ways of saying essentially the same thing.  And it’s true; sometimes biblical authors use additional words for emphasis rather than to distinguish separate things.  The writers of the Psalms are especially known to do this.  But I don’t think so.  I tend to see verse 33 as mentioning three attributes of God: the riches of God, the wisdom of God, and the knowledge of God.

And the reason I believe that’s the case is because in verses 34-35 Paul expounds on each of them.  “For who has known the mind of the Lord…” that’s the knowledge of God.  “…or who has been His counselor?” that’s the wisdom of God.  “Or who has given a gift to Him…” that’s the riches of God.

“Oh, the depths of the riches…of God” We sometimes wonder if God is rich enough in grace to forgive us for our sins.  Or if He’s rich enough in resources to provide money to pay our bills.  Or if He’s rich enough in wisdom to help us know what to do when we’re stuck in a situation.  God’s riches in all those situations are beyond any measure with which we might compare them.  Our task is to make ourselves available to receive the blessings and riches He possesses.

Next, Paul speaks about the wisdom of God.  This God’s ability to choose the proper means to achieve His ends.  Many people are filled with knowledge, but that’s not the same thing as being filled with wisdom.  Wisdom is the ability to take knowledge and turn it into actions that accomplish good purposes.  And that’s certainly what God is able to do.

Finally, in this opening verse, Paul speaks about the knowledge of God.  In church circles we often speak of God being omniscient: that means that God knows everything there is to be known.  He knows everything present and everything future.  We know only by learning.  In other words, everything that we know today is something that we didn’t know earlier.  That’s not the case for God.  He knows everything at one and the same time without ever having learned any of it.  That kind of knowledge doesn’t exist in the human realm; it’s beyond our comprehension.

So, worship is, first of all, wondering after God – meditation on His attributes and the depths of who He is. But it’s also…

Waiting Before God

There’s a sense in which we have to wait for God to reveal Himself so that we can learn more about Him.  That’s part of what David means when he writes these words in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 is another key passage on the unsearchable nature of God’s knowledge: “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says 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.’”

The great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis said that trying to understand God is akin to a shellfish trying to tell another shellfish what a man is like.  The shellfish uses the only words he knows to describe a man, but ultimately gets it mostly wrong because it has no common language or set of experiences which overlap the man.  That’s what it’s like for us.  We mostly think of God in our terms, only bigger, better, smarter, wiser, and so on.  But in reality, God is not a man any more than a shellfish is a man.  The fact that God condescended to come to earth in the person of Jesus – the Son of God, the Son of man – at least gives us the common ground of humanity to help bridge the gap.

And so, at best, we fall down and worship on the basis of what we know in Jesus Christ and we’re watchful and prayerful – like Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet – that we might learn more as it is revealed to us.

So, we wonder after God, we wait before God, and finally, like Paul we want to be known as people…

Worshipping God, NOW

In his book Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism, author and theologian Michael Horton writes with great clarity about the weakness of the church’s understanding of God. He writes, in part:

The older theology tended to provide character…  By the end of the 20th century, we have become God’s demanding little brats.  In church, we must be entertained.  Our emotions must be charged…  We must be offered amusing programs – we gave up a lot to become Christians and what little teaching we do get must cater to our pragmatic, self-centered interests.  The preaching must be filled with clever anecdotes and colorful illustrations, with nothing more than passing reference to doctrine: “I want to know what this means for me and my daily experience!”  We have forgotten that God is a Monarch.  He is the King by whom and for whom all things were made, and by whose sovereign power they are sustained.  We exist for His pleasure, not He for ours; we are on this earth to please Him, to adore Him, to bring Him satisfaction, excitement and joy.  Any gospel that seeks to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” has it all backwards.

Verse 36 helps to keep our focus on proper worship.  Verse 36 is theology that leads to doxology.  For Paul, theology is doxology.  Growing in the knowledge and understanding of God naturally leads to giving Him all the glory.  We began this morning talking about doxology and the Protestant Reformation.  The German composer Johann Sebastian Bach understood that music was a gift from God to be used for the glory of God.  So, beneath all of his compositions of sacred music, Bach penned the initials SDG, soli Deo Gloria – the last sola of the Protestant Reformation.

In John’s heavenly vision, recounted for us in Revelation 4, the apostle saw “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives for ever and ever.  They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.’”  Paul’s doxology echoes this “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.”  From Him.  God is the source.  Through Him.  He is the means.  And to Him.  He is the object of our praise and worship.

As we close the first 11 chapters of Romans and the monumental doctrines that we find outlined for us there I want to read for you a poem written by English poet William Blake:

He Who wept above the grave,
He Who stilled the raging wave,
Meek to suffer, strong to save,
He shall bear the glory.

He Who sorrow’s pathway trod,
He that every good bestowed –
Son of Man and Son of God –
He shall bear the glory.

He Who bled with scourging sore,
Thorns and scarlet meekly wore,
He Who every sorrow bore –
He shall bear the glory.

Monarch of the smitten cheek,
Scorn of Jew and scorn of Greek,
Priest and King, Divinely meek –
He shall bear the glory.

On the rainbow-circled throne
Mid the myriads of His own,
Nevermore to weep alone –
He shall bear the glory.

Man of slighted Nazareth,
King Who wore the thorny wreath,
Son obedient unto death –
He shall bear the glory.

His, the grand eternal weight,
His, the priestly-regal state;
Him the Father maketh great –
He shall bear the glory.

He Who died to set us free,
He Who lives and loveth e’en me,
He Who comes, Whom I shall see,
Jesus only – only He – He shall bear the glory.

Can You Hear Me Now: 1 Samuel 3:1-12

1 Samuel 3:1-12

Special thank you to Dr. Randy Bradley, Director of Missions for the Three Rivers Baptist Association, for filling in while I was on vacation.  Dr. Bradley received his undergraduate degree from Furman University, Master of Divinity from Southeaster Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry from North Greenville University.  Randy and his wife, Karen, were missionaries to Argentina for 21 years with the International Mission Board.  Randy became the DOM for the Three Rivers Baptist Association, then the North Greenville Baptist Association, in 2007.  Dr. Bradley and Karen have three (3) grown sons and eight (8) grandchildren.

God’s Faithfulness to Israel – Romans 11:1-32

Romans 11:1-32

As always, I hope you have your copy of God’s Word and let me invite you to turn with me to Romans 11.

From 1740 to 1786, a man by the name of Frederick the Great ruled the Kingdom of Prussia (the territory of modern-day northern Germany and Poland).  During his reign, he came under the influence of the French philosopher Voltaire, and thus became skeptical of Christianity and of the reliability of the Bible.  The story is told that he asked one of his ministers to give him one word as proof of the inspiration of the Bible.  His words supposedly went something like this:

“If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of very easy proof.  So often, when I’ve asked for proof of the inspiration of the Bible, I’ve been given some large tome that I have neither the time nor the desire to read.  If your Bible is really from God, then you should be able to demonstrate the fact simply.  Give me proof for the inspiration of the Bible in a single word.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty profound challenge.  Wouldn’t you agree?  What would you have said?  Love?  Sin?  Grace?  Guilt?  Conscience?  Perhaps you’re thinking that the best one-word defense is a theological word: Justification, Sanctification, Atonement, Propitiation, or maybe Salvation.  Well, as the story goes, the priest resorted to what was plain and obvious – something that all the world could see.

“Your Majesty, indeed, it’s possible for me to give you the answer that your request.  I can give you the proof in a single word,” the priest replied.

Amazed, the king asked, “What’s this magic word that carries such a weight of proof?”

The priest’s answer was simply, “Israel.”

Frederick the Great is said to have responded only with silence.  Maybe, like Frederick the Great, you’re sitting there this morning scratching your head in silence too.  But might I remind you, the detailed records that we have of this nation are beyond that of any other.  We know when the nation was founded, why, and by whom.  We have a detailed written account of her ancient and modern history, and specific accounts of things experienced by her people during this time.  Her homeland is the same as it’s been for thousands of years.  Her language is still intact.  Her religion, while practiced faithfully today by only a small minority, is unchanged in its tenets as laid out for us in the Old Testament.

Those facts alone are remarkable, and might lead some to think that she’s experienced smooth sailing over the centuries.  But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth – and therein lies the brilliance of the priest’s one-word response to Frederick the Great.

I don’t have the time to give you a full recounting of Israel’s past, nor do I need to (since most of you know it).  But let me offer a very quick lightening round of facts to set the stage:

2,100 B.C.     Abram heeds God’s call to move from Ur of the Chaldees to a place called Canaan; thus, starting this magnificent nation.

1,876 B.C.     Abraham’s descendants leave Canaan for Egypt to escape a famine, and are then enslaved for nearly 400 years.

1,446 B.C.     God redeems His people from slavery and establishes them as a nation set apart until Him at Mount Sinai.

722 B.C.         The ten northern tribes of Israel are taken captive by the Assyrians.

586 B.C.         The capitol of the nation, Jerusalem, is destroyed by the Babylonians, and the two southern tribes of Israel are carried into captivity.

432 B.C.         Groups of exiles, under the leadership of Ezra-Nehemiah, return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding when the Persians take over.

70 A.D.           Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman general and eventual emperor, Titus.

70-1940 A.D.     The nation is scattered throughout the world, and Jerusalem and is the scene of the Crusades and scores of other military conflicts between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

1940 A.D.           The Holocaust in Nazi Germany (and other atrocities in Eastern Europe and Russia) results in the death of millions of Jews.

1948 A.D.           The Zionist movement receives permission from the United Nations to reestablish Israel as a nation.

2020 A.D.           Millions of Jews from all over the world have returned (and are still returning) to their ancient homeland.  And the nation is functioning once again as a major player in world affairs, some 4,000 years after her founding.

Israel could’ve vanished from the world’s stage many times over in the course of her history.  The fact that she hasn’t is what caused Frederick the Great’s priest to claim “Israel” as his one-word answer for the Bible’s truthfulness and reliability.  So, what does all of this have to do with Romans 11?  Well, I’m glad you asked, because Paul says that’s exactly the same question that the Jews of his day were prepared to ask him.

Remember, Paul has taken a little detour while writing his letter to the church in Rome (a Jewish/Gentile congregation), and he’s intent on showing his own kinsmen – the Jews – that God’s plan of salvation has always worked by grace through faith.  Salvation is not a matter of birth: being born to the right parents.  It’s not even a matter of ethics: doing more “good” things than “bad” things.  Salvation has always operated off of God’s grace.  AND, moreover (fellow Jew, fellow Gentile, fellow attender at Mountain Hill) that offer of salvation by grace through faith is still on the table.  God, by way of the Holy Spirit, still calls people – both Jew and Gentile – to repent and believe:

…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV).

So, Paul has made it clear that God’s plan of salvation has always worked this way: by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and it’s still working like this – all day long, God is holding out His hands with this offer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.  And the very same question you just asked about the history of Israel – “what does Israel’s past have to do with God’s plan of salvation?” – is the very same question that the Jews ask Paul in Romans 11.  “So, then, if salvation is by grace through faith, then what about God’s promise(s) to us?”  Look at verse 1 and following:

I ask, then, has God rejected His people?  By no means!  For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.  Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”  But what is God’s reply to him?  “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (ESV).

God Has Always Preserved His Elect In Israel

Has God rejected His people?  Has God forgotten about Israel?  Has God been unfaithful to the Jews?  Paul says, “By no means!”  The Greek is me genoito.  It’s a phrase that every seminary Greek student loves to see because it can be translated in so many different ways: “Certainly not!”  “By no means!”  “Never!”  “Absolutely not!”  “May it never be!”.  In fact, Paul uses this phrase 14 times in his various epistles, and 10 of those, are in Romans.  Why is this important?

Because Paul wants the Jew to know that God has not forgotten him.  Paul wants us to know that God has not cast aside His people.

Paul doesn’t use this reference from Jeremiah, but I want you to hear how God promises to preserve His chosen people: “This is what the Lord says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is His name: ‘Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.’  This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:35-37)

The only time that God will no longer remember Israel is when heaven and earth cease to exist.  And since there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth, one day, God’s commitment to Israel will endure forever.  And Paul uses himself as exhibit A, “Look at me!  Do I look cast off to you?”

Just a little reminder about who Paul was.  You couldn’t get any more Jewish than Paul.  He was a descendant of Abraham (check 1).  He was of the tribe of Benjamin (extra credit) – Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s 12 sons that was born in the Promised Land; rabbinic legend said that the tribe of Benjamin was the first to cross the Red Sea coming out of Egypt; Benjamin produced Israel’s first king (King Saul) and perhaps her greatest prophet, Jeremiah.  According to his own admission (in Philippians 3), he was a Pharisee of Pharisees (check 2).  And because of Paul’s background as a persecutor of the church, he would surely have been one of the first to go had God cast off Israel.  Yet, in God’s sovereign providence, Paul was called out to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Paul says, “Hey, you want proof that God hasn’t rejected Israel, just consider me.”

 And if that’s not good enough for you, then just consider the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet.  He’s slugging it out against wicked King Ahab, Queen Jezebel and the false prophets of Baal up on top of Mount Carmel.  You remember the challenge.  Whose God is really God?  Well, let’s make an altar and sacrifice some animals and just see whose God responds and consumes the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal spend half the day trying to get their god to respond, but he never does.  Then Elijah adds insult to injury and douses the altar with water and God consumes the sacrifice with fire and dries up all the water.  And do you remember what happens immediately after that?  Elijah flees 18 miles to Mount Horeb and hides in a cave fearing for his life.

Dude, just got done rocking out in front of the false prophets.  God’s ready to defend His name, His honor, His glory and righteousness and Elijah gets scared and starts pouting, “Wha, wha, wha, they want to kill me too.”  And God reminds Elijah that He’s reserved 7,000 men who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal.  Notice verse 5, Paul says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”

Paul says, (to his Jewish kinsmen) “God hasn’t forgotten you, He hasn’t cast you off; you can still be accepted by God through faith.”  If you’re not a believer this morning, if you haven’t confessed your sin and cast your trust upon the completed work of Jesus Christ, then today is the day.  Accept the free gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and find yourself among the elect of Israel.  If you are a Christian today, there’s good news in here for you too.  Time and time again, in the Old Testament, Israel failed to remain faithful to God – yet He never disowned them.  God will not go back on His promises to His people because His promises are unfailing.

God Has Delivered His Gospel To Gentiles

Look at verses 11-12, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?  By no means!  Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

Paul is trying to help the Jews (and Gentiles) understand that because the Jews refused to have faith, because they hardened their hearts God’s grace was extended to the rest of the world.  Now, I’ll grant to you, this is a strange way to make an argument, but Paul is trying to help the Jews see their failure is not final.  While Israel was being hard-headed about accepting Jesus (“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” John 1:11), there were plenty of others (Gentiles) that were ready to receive this Good News and enter into a faithful and trusting relationship with God.  And it serves Paul in two ways: 1.) by reinforcing his message that salvation comes by grace – the Gentiles wouldn’t have received grace had it not been for Israel’s rejection, and 2.) he hopes this will make Israel jealous.

Now the idea of jealousy, here, isn’t the jilted high school lover scenario that we’re familiar with.  The primary difference between God’s jealousy for Israel and the modern version of jealousy lies in the beneficiary.  In our modern version, the jealous person wants someone back for his/her own benefit.  In God’s case, He wants Israel back for Israel’s sake.  God is self-sufficient.  He doesn’t need anything or anybody to make Him more “godly.”  On the other hand, you and I have needs that can only be met in Him and that’s why God is jealous for Israel (and you).

But this also causes a potential problem with the Gentiles and that problem is arrogance or pride.  So, in verses 13-24 Paul reminds the Gentiles – the people that he’s been sent to be a missionary to – that they don’t need to hear his message and get puffed up.  Yes, it’s true, if the Jews had not rejected Jesus, then they wouldn’t have received the gospel they way they did.  But look at the middle of verse 20-21, “…but you stand fast through faith.  So, do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.”

So, what’s the point?  God’s divine guidance and care is unfathomable.  He used Israel’s rejection, Israel’s sin to bring the Gentiles into the family of faith (the spiritual Israel).  God’s providence is profound.  And yet, His plan is unfinished.  God is definitely not finished with His chosen people.  And neither is He finished with you, if you are His child.

God Will Deliver The Gospel To Israel Again

The question Paul’s audience wanted to know – and frankly a question that many of today’s Christians want to know – is “When?”  When is God going to restore Israel?  And the answer is found in the last portion of verse 25, “…until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  When that happens.  When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel will have its heart softened and its eyes opened and all Israel will be saved (vs. 26).

But that raises another question.  How are we to understand the phrase “all Israel?”  It’s true, Paul sometimes uses the title Israel to refer to spiritual Israel or the church.  He did that back in Romans 9 when he said that not all Israel is Israel.  But that’s not what is meant here.  The Church has not taken over Israel’s position.  At the same, however, “all Israel” doesn’t mean every ethnic Jew.  If there’s one point that Paul’s made over and over it’s that you can’t be saved simply by being born into the family.  Again, how many times has Paul argued that you can’t rely upon your heritage with Abraham.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus.  So “all Israel” doesn’t mean every single ethnic Jew either.  So, what does it mean?  Well, I think what Paul has in mind here is Israel as a collective whole.  Let me see if I can illustrate this.

I might lean over to James after we sing a congregational song and say something like this, “Did you hear all of those voices singing in harmony?”  Now, let me ask you, did I mean that every single individual was singing the right part?  No, surely not.  Some of you wouldn’t know the harmony if it slapped you in the face.  I even know a few folks that don’t sing at all.  So, clearly, I didn’t mean “all without exception.”  What I meant was “all without distinction.”  We sometimes put it this way, “On the whole…”  I think that’s what Paul is saying here.  Collectively, Israel will one day respond positively in faith through their Messiah, Jesus Christ, and be saved.

God has a plan for His chosen people (Israel) and the Gentiles.  So, Paul concludes, and we will also, with a little comment concerning God’s mercy.  Look at verse 32, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”  Your Bible might have that translated as God “consigning” all to disobedience or God “binding everyone over” to disobedience.  The Greek word is sugkleió.  It literally means to shut someone up or enclose them.  God has locked the sinner up in the prison of his own sin, barred the door, and refused any way out except by His own mercy.  It’s a reference back to Romans 1 where Paul says God gave mankind up to the effect of their own sin.

It’s worth noting, however, that mercy is mentioned four times in this section: mercy for the Gentiles (v. 30), mercy for the Jews (v. 31), and mercy for the whole world (v. 32).  We talk a lot more about God’s grace, than we do His mercy.  But mercy is simply God not giving us the judgment we deserve.

One of the great hymns of the Church is a song called At Calvary by William Newell.  The refrain contains these words, “Mercy there was great and grace was free.  Pardon there was multiplied to me.  There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.”  One day Israel will find the great mercy of God.  I pray that you’ve found it.  If not, may today be the day.