Friday, August 31, 2012

Romans 12 : Submission, Belonging, and Love.

Romans 12: 1-2
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 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.
 From the very first word, we know that this scripture does not stand alone.  "Therefore," means "because of what was previously said."  Basically, that man is wicked (Rom 1), not a single one of us is worthy of God's grace (Rom 3), but through faith and God's grace (Rom 4, Rom 10) we are saved.  Because of this, Paul urges us to offer our hearts, time, efforts, and even our purses to the lord, God; as living sacrifices.  To say that while we remain alive, we acknowledge that we, through the cross, have died to sin.

Next, we are told to leave behind "the pattern of this world;" the hopes and dreams that society tells us we are to aspire to.  We are to put aside all that is not holy and focus our lives on God.  We are to be transformed by this new way of thinking.

Submission to God - transforming our lives into holy, living sacrifices - isn't something which is achieved through a one time prayer.  We don't rise up from baptism with our problems solved. We do not magically become holy through a single event.  Instead, submission, by it's very nature; is a constant, deliberate decision to continue searching out God's will, pursuing holiness, and rejecting sin.

Submission to God does not mean we no longer have free will.  Not at all!  It means that we freely choose to accept that God's plan is bigger, and is better, than our own plans.  It is a choice to pin our hopes and dreams to something larger than ourselves.  It is a decision to follow our creator in faith that His plan is good and his judgement is holy and just rather than stumbling through life on our own.

Romans 12: 4-8
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously, if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Although this text never implicitly mentions the word "church," it is pretty clear that because of Christ, we are to belong to each other as a community of believers.  That, essentially, is what the church truly is - a community of believers.  Church is not a place, it is a collection of people.  Church is not a place to attend, it is a community to which we belong. 

Just as our feet do not perform the same task as our eyes, hands, or lips; not all members of the church have the same function.  Some of us are great leaders; some are great teachers, teachers, or encouragers; some work well with children; some, myself included, are more inclined to serve physically, doing things to help others in their need.  No matter what our gift is, we are told here that we should be putting it to use for our local church; something we not only attend, but something to which we belong as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all children of God; adopted through the cross.

Romans 12: 9-21
Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written; "it is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.  On the contrary "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty. give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Here we have a pretty long description of our calling to love one another.  Not just those Christians we personally like, but everyone we come across, friend and foe alike.  First, we are told that love must be sincere, 1 Corinthians 1-3 tells us that no matter what we do, if we do not do it in love, it's as if we have done nothing at all.  Pretending, going through the motions, means nothing to the Lord. 

Loving those who try to harm us is one of the most unnatural fathomable to many of us.  But when we see others as God sees them - as His children - it becomes clear that Paul is correct here.  Why should we not love each and every one of God's children just as he loves each and every one of us?

Association with people of low position is another one of those stumbling blocks for many people.  Pride teaches us that we are better than others.  Drug users, felons, the poor or homeless; sometimes it is hard to relate to these people and it is definitely easier for us to avoid going out of our way to befriend and love them, but that is exactly what we are told to do. 

And revenge!  Who doesn't like getting revenge?  One of my favorite moments on film comes at the end of one of the Madea movies during the outtakes.  Madea is anger management therapy with Dr. Phil who is speaking with her about her need to get even with the people who have wronged her.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  The absurdity of the entire scene will teach you more about the absurdity of revenge than any words I can ever use here.  Some days I wish there was a book in the bible named Madea, as she shows us how to live godly lives; often by showing us the absurdity of living ungodly lives.

Revenge is not for us to give.  Why?  Because revenge and love are incompatible.  And just as sin moves us farther from God, revenge moves us farther from love.  Instead, we are instructed to overcome those who have wronged us through love; as my mom says "kill them with kindness."

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