|(c) Scott Asher. Click to enlarge.|
Most of the time when I hear Romans 12 being taught it is about the Body of Christ and how we all work together and have our roles, which is appropriate. But I find that there is a disconnect between hearing that we all have roles and seeing everyone actually take a role. Well, an active one anyway. I hear that we are to be hands and feet and then I see a church full of appendixes and gallbladders. I’m sure these parts are important I just don’t know what they do; if anything.
Just after Paul talks about how we are all the Body of Christ he then explains what he means by way of a list. It is important to note that this is not a checklist, but a way of living. Paul talks about prophets, servants, encouragers, teachers, leaders, givers and the merciful but he doesn’t imply that those are the categories of the Body and there is no reason to believe that this is a comprehensive list either. He is simply saying, “If you have a gift use it.”
Unfortunately, the church knows this all too well as finding our gifts and acting on them is less about actually finding the gifts God gives us than finding the things we like to do and doing what we already do but now with a stamp of approval.
The logic goes: I’ve decided that I have the gift of playing video games because it is what I like to do (so obviously God made me this way) so to act on my gift I will play with joy and that will be my role in the Body. I love my gift. It is totally what I like, by myself and for myself so why wouldn’t I love it?
Satire aside – this is a real issue the church deals with. Everyday activities that we already do have become our “gifts” and this is why the church is so much less effective than it could be.
Paul is clear that while there are more than just a few named gifts God expects every part of the Body to act in certain ways. The gifts are different starting points with a common end point.
Starting in verse 9 and continuing through the end of the chapter and beyond, Paul lists out some of the things that each member of the Body should do, no matter what we think our gift is:
Paul (and thus God) is very clear that these things and more are how we should live our lives. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the gift of mercy – you still need to pray for those who wrong you, being nice to them and avoid spite, anger and thoughts of revenge. If you have the gift of teaching you still need to give to the poor, befriend those who need friends, and work hard to not think you are smarter or better than anyone. The combinations are endless because there is no end – everyone with any gift needs to act in every way.
If we can tell what kind of tree something is by its fruit let me ask what kind of tree Christianity looks like. What kind of tree is your local church? What kind of tree are you?
It is time the church stopped being Frankentrees – mismatched good and bad (well mostly bad) fruit. I’m not trying to bring us down – I know we can do better than this. God tells us in Acts 1:8
When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power!
That power is enough to be Body of Christ as we are supposed to be – in God’s image; not our own. I encourage you to ask for it.
We can do better.
I was reading a book and came across a story that I have to share. I want to know if you believe this or if this is too far fetched. Your answer and mine will have far ranging repercussions. I will paraphrase:
A native missionary in India went with his family to preach the Gospel in a small secluded town. The town was under the dominion of several practitioners of witchcraft who held the townsfolk in fear and bondage. The evil priests were said to cause the deaths of townspeople or their animals and to cause crops to fail.
The priests came to the missionary in the town square where he was preaching and warned him that they would kill him and his family if he didn’t stop preaching. The missionary refused.
Days later, the priests went back to the missionary and asked about his power. They said, “We sent our spirits to kill you but they came back to us saying that you and your family were protected by fire. So we sent out more powerful spirits but they also came back to us saying that you were protected by fire and angels.”
The missionary shared that Christ protected him. The priests were convicted of their sins and turned to the Lord. (Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yahannan, p.21,22)
I had two thoughts about this:
>If these kinds of things really happen then we are wasting our lives.
>If these things don’t really happen then we are liars.
In Braveheart, William Wallace dies (stomach opened and all his insides pulled out while he is still alive – gruesome, right?) fighting for the freedom of his countrymen. At the run up to the big battle he says to his men:
Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
Jack Dawson lets go and drowns in the freezing cold water of the Atlantic, instead of trying to share the raft, which may have tipped over, to save Rose in Titanic. Before letting go, Jack and Rose have this conversation where he makes it clear that his death should inspire Rose to fully live:
Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me… it brought me to you. And I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. Promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.
At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton goes to the gallows in the stead of Charles Darnay out of his love for Lucie and the hope that he has for her happiness. At the gallows, Carton says the most powerful line of any work of fiction of all time:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
And sadliest©, at the end of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, Spock dies of radiation poisoning for the rest of the crew and James T. Kirk, to whom he says:
You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.
Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!
Now those are sacrifices! Dying for your loved ones and your friends. These characters become heroes to us by showing us that there are things and people worth dying for. These ideals presented give us something to shoot for. I want to truly live, like William Wallace. I want to sacrifice myself for my love, like Jack Dawson and my friends like Spock. And I want to find redemption in my sacrifice like Sydney Carton.
The problem I have is that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to take up a weapon against my enemy, or choose myself or my love in an obvious do or die moment, or know with certainty of the peril of another of which I could intervene. I’m just not in life or death situations enough to act so nobly as these guys.
Paul begs us (yes, begs) in Romans 12:1 to sacrifice ourself for God:
So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as living sacrifices to Him. Your offering must be only for God (holy/ set apart) and pleasing to Him, which is the spiritual (authentic/ true) way for you to worship.
Like all good Christians after reading this passage, I kiss my wife and children good-bye and look for somewhere to die for God. Unfortunately, I don’t find anywhere. No lions to eat me in a coliseum. No Romans to hang me on crucifixes. Since there just isn’t an easy way to force martyrdom on myself (well, in my religion,) it is obvious that Paul is not saying to die for God.
Of course you know that. Church people, or Churchtopians© as I call us, have heard time and again that we are supposed to live for God. We’ve heard it so much that we’ve tuned it out. Like “I really should eat less fast food or I will get fat and die of an obesity related disease” and “smoking is going to kill me so I should stop” we find ways to ignore the good advice with excuses and equivocations.
We say, I will worship God by going to church (Lord knows that is a sacrifice!) or I will worship God by giving some money I happen to have in my wallet. We sooth our aching conscience by remembering all the crap we
threw away gave away to the Goodwill to help poor people, bless their hearts!
But we can’t be saved by acting on rules we make up (see Romans 11: Not Finding What You’re Looking For for more on this topic.) The Bible is not about us and we don’t get to make up the rules on what satisfies God in terms of worship. Paul says, in verse 2:
Do not be shaped by this world (age/ culture); instead be changed within by changing the way you think. Then you will be able to decide (or understand) what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect.
Step one in learning how to sacrifice yourself for God: recognize that the answer does not come from any other source than God Himself. It is not found in our culture. It is only found in the Bible. So read the frakkin Bible.
Once we change the way we think, that is switch from a worldly “we can figure this out on our own” independence to a Godly “only God knows how to live right” dependence we will finally understand how to sacrifice ourselves for God.
And I think – for those of us who achieve this sacrifice – upon entering Heaven will find that the angels and saints, along with God will have watched the movie of our life and Jesus will have said over and again to the Holy Spirit, “Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!”
Recently, I tweeted a comment made by my pastor during service that caused a commotion I’ve kinda come to expect from our culture. I tweeted:
“We have this idea that we are all God’s children. But that’s not right. We are all God’s creation. If we receive Him we become His children.”
The problem is that many people misunderstand God. In our culture of unequivocal acceptance and tolerance we wear (by choice) rose colored glasses when it comes to things outside our control to the end of taking the bite out of them. So God is no longer something to be feared but someone who loves and accepts us as we are. Jesus is no longer the incarnation of God who taught on Hell more than any other subject but a good teacher who told us to love each other. Christianity is no longer a way of life but an outdated set of ideals from a culture less civilized than ours that we can draw from if we find something worth drawing.
But that isn’t how the Bible describes God, Jesus or Christianity. God is the scariest being in the universe. Period. There is nothing that should scare us more than God. On a whim, He could decide to stop holding our molecules together and like Professor X in X-Men 3 we would fly apart into billions of tiny particles. Or He could decide that we never existed and POOF! we are gone, never existed and no one knows us (Rm 11:36). (Really, what evidence do we have that this hasn’t ever happened?)
In Romans 11, Paul says this when talking to non-Jews about being grafted to the tree of salvation (a metaphor):
So do not brag about those branches that were broken off. If you brag, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in to the tree.” That is true. But those branches were broken off because they did not believe and were unfaithful, and you continue to be a part of the tree only because you believe and stay faithful. Do not be proud but be afraid. If God did not spare the natural branches, then he will not spare you either. (Rm 11:18-21)
So God is a god who saves those who believe and are faithful. If you are not faithful, which means a follower of Christ, then you are not going to be saved and he will break your branch off the tree of salvation. You cannot be both saved and unfaithful at the same time. Paul continues:
So you see that God is kind and also very strict. He punishes those who stop following Him. But God is kind to you, if you continue following Him in His kindness. If you do not you will also be cut off the tree… The Jews refused to accept the Good News (Gospel), so they are God’s enemies. (Rm 11:22, 28)
How do we follow Him? Not from our own ideas of what that means, for certain! Instead by doing what He asked us to do in the Bible whether it makes sense to us or not. God’s opinion overrides all others.
No one can explain the things God decides or understand His ways. (Rm 11:33b)