PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Church Body – Romans 12

01/19 Vision – individuals experiencing the gospel together in community (Romans 12); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200119_church-body.mp3

We’ve been looking at vision, God’s vision for the church, what it means to be a healthy church, and how we can grow more and more into what we were meant to be.

So far, we’ve seen from Matthew 16 that the church is Jesus’ church, a gathering of Jesus followers built on the identity of Jesus and the offense of the cross, united into one body by the Holy Spirit through the new birth. If each local church is composed of individual believers, then a healthy local church is made up of healthy believers. We’ve seen from Colossians 3 that followers of Jesus live by faith, we are to keep our thoughts fixed on God and his glory, we are to live in love and forgive as we have been forgiven; we are to be those whose lives are saturated with the word of God and with prayer.

We are going to spend our time today primarily in Romans 12. Our focus will be the church as the body of Christ. The church is made up of individual believers, and as individuals, we each bring something to the table, something to the body. We are individuals transformed by the good news, but we are meant to experience the gospel in community.

Established on a Gospel Foundation

Let’s just dive right in and look together at Romans 12.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,

It is essential to stop right here and pay attention to the ‘therefore’. That’s a connecting word, and it reminds us that we are jumping in at the end of a letter. ‘Therefore’ tells us that everything that is said here in chapter 12 is built on the foundation of what was said in the first 11 chapters. God is righteous. We are all sinners, and being unrighteous, we all deserve the just wrath of a holy God. But that same God of holiness and justice is also a God of compassion and love, and he sent his only Son to be the propitiation, the wrath-absorbing sin-bearing substitute for us. In this way God can uphold his own righteous integrity and fully punish sin, while at the same time declaring guilty sinners righteous, justified, as if they had never sinned, credited with Jesus’ own perfect righteousness.

This gift of God’s own righteousness comes to all who believe, who simply take him at his word, trust him implicitly, cast themselves completely on his mercy, entrust themselves to his care. (Rom.3:23-25

Service is Worship

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Our response to God’s astounding mercy ought to be worship. Remember, Christians sing! Singing is one of many forms of worship.

This verse points us to another act of worship. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. A sacrificial animal was an animal that belonged to the worshiper, a flawless animal, a valuable animal, one of his best, and he would give it to God. Ownership was transferred to God. The animal was no longer his own to do with as he willed; it belonged to God. Some sacrifices went entirely up in smoke, as a fragrant aroma pleasing to the Lord. Some sacrifices were eaten, both by the priests and the worshipers, a feast enjoyed in God’s presence. You no longer belong to yourself. You were bought with a price (1Cor.6:19-20; 7:23).

Notice, the ‘you’ is plural; you all. ‘Bodies’ is plural. Each of you individually are to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. In joyful response to God’s stunning mercy and grace, I gladly surrender rights over my body to the Lord. This is worship. And although the ‘you’ is plural and ‘bodies’ is plural, the ‘sacrifice’ is singular and the ‘worship’ is singular. As one body we each offer our bodies as a singular act of worship to the Lord.

Service is worship. What we do with our bodies on Sunday is worship. The teachers who teach our children’s church and serve in the nursery are worshiping. Those who volunteered to come yesterday to clean the church, that was an act of worship. What we do Monday through Saturday is meant to be an act of worship. Going to work and earning an honest living so that you can provide for your needs and the needs of those who depend on you, so that you can give generously to God, that is worship. Raising your children to love and fear and follow Jesus, that is worship. Preparing a meal for your own family, or for someone in need, that is worship. Calling someone or getting together to encourage or to pray or to simply spend time with, that is worship.

Mental Metamorphosis

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Colossians 3 told us to ‘seek the things that are above’ (v.1); to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (v.2). To ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’ (v.16). We need a complete metamorphosis in our thinking. We need to be entirely renewed in how we evaluate and process and plan. It feels natural to follow the world’s patterns, to define success by the world’s standards, but our aim is no longer to please people. We are to seek to do the will of God, to do what is good in his estimation, to be acceptable to him, to please him in all things. As followers of Jesus we think in new categories, we set our minds on things above.

Humility

Here’s a monumental metamorphosis in our thinking.

Romans 12:3 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.

From the playground at recess to the job market, we are taught to make much of ourselves, to inflate our abilities, to show ourselves bigger than we are. We make ourselves out to be larger than life, and then we have trouble sleeping because we are concerned someone might find us out.

But this is deeper. This verse is saying that we are inclined to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We actually believe that we are better than we are. We think that we are OK. We think that we are better than others, that we don’t sin as much as others, that in some way by our own efforts we can please God. We don’t like to think, and it is contrary to how the world teaches us to think, that we are not enough. That we are fundamentally flawed, in desperate need of help, in desperate need of the gospel. I am a sinner, I deserve death, and my only hope is in the rescue that only comes through Jesus. We are to think about ourselves with sober judgment. This requires grace, supernatural grace, God’s grace.

The Body

Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, 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:

I am not enough. I am part of something bigger than myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am a part of a body of believers. We are inextricably connected to one another in Jesus, and we need each other. Paul uses the human body as an illustration. If you understand anything about how the body works, you know the respiratory system is inextricably linked to the circulatory system. The lungs bring in a fresh supply of oxygen to the blood stream. The heart pumps the oxygenated blood around to the various parts of the body to keep the organs and tissues healthy. By the way, the heart is a muscle that needs oxygen that the lungs supply, and the lungs only work when the chest muscles are supplied with blood from the heart so they can expand to take a breath. They are inextricably interdependent. Neither works without the other.

We tend to downplay our own importance to the body. I’m not really that important. If I don’t show up, nobody will even miss me. Paul wrote earlier to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Eyes and hands are essential. But feet and ears, well they look kind of funny and often stink. We can probably get by without them. Or can we? I sometimes hear people say ‘Well, I don’t really fit in, I’m different, I don’t feel like I belong.’ It’s precisely because you are different that we need you. No one else does what you do. You bring something unique to the table.

There can also be a frustration on the other side, where a person is gifted and passionate about something, and is frustrated that everyone else doesn’t share that same passion.

1 Corinthians 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

You have probably been wondering why we are sitting in a circle today. That was not my idea; it was suggested to me by one of you as a visual illustration of the body. Jesus is at the center, he is the head. He brings us together. We gather around him. And we are all sinners, hurting, broken, daily in need of the gospel, of God’s amazing grace. Daily we need forgiveness, and we need to forgive one another. There is not those who serve and those who come to be served. There are not some who are essential and some who are expendable. Every body part is unique, perfectly designed for its own distinct role, and no other part can take its place. None of us on our own is enough. We are meant to function together, to complement one another. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

Gifts That Differ

Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, 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.

Every believer in Jesus has experienced God’s grace. We each have been given a gift we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. We have been uniquely equipped to serve others. As an act of worship, we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, to use as he sees fit. We have each been given gifts, and we are to use them through love to serve one another.

Notice all the attitude words? Zeal, cheerfulness, genuine love, abhorring evil, brotherly affection, not slothful but fervent. Our attitudes matter. Grudging half-hearted ‘I guess I’ll do it because no one else will’ service is not pleasing to the Lord. You see, when you discover who God made you to be, there is passion and joy in being who you were created to be and doing what you were designed for. There is satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. And we need each other to help each other discover those unique gifts and passions.

…But Not Yet

I find it interesting where he goes next.

Romans 12:12 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.

He talks here about tribulation, difficult circumstances; and about persecution, opposition from people. And I asked, is he switching subjects here, moving from life within the body out to life in the world? As followers of Jesus we expect persecution from the world. He definitely moves out to talk about that in chapter 13. And that is at least included in what he says here. But these instructions come in the context of body life and all mixed in with ‘one another’ language. We find joy now in service, but we rejoice in hope. Hope is something that is anticipated but hasn’t been fully realized yet. There is joy in service in the body now, but it is not yet as it is meant to be. There is also tribulation, and even persecution. We live in a community of redeemed sinners undergoing sanctification. And even redeemed sinners sin against one another. That is why we are commanded to forgive one another. Don’t be surprised by opposition, even when it comes from within the body, even when it comes against you using your God given gifts. Live in harmony with one another. That means you don’t all have to sing the same note, but that you do work together and complement one another. There will be times when well meaning fellow believers will seem to be working against you, criticizing your best efforts, frustrating your gifts. Be patient in tribulation. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Live in harmony with one another. If possible, live peaceably with all.

In chapter 15 he has more to say about body life and bearing with one another in love, and so today we will close with his prayer from 15:5-7.

Romans 15:5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Lord, make it so, here, in this body, your church, today!

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 20, 2020 Posted by | church, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 7:7-8; Divine Guidance and Apostolic Regret

06/30_2 Corinthians 7:7-8; Divine Guidance and Apostolic Regret; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190630_2cor7_7-8.mp3

Paul had changed his travel plans. He had hoped to cross the Aegean from Ephesus to Corinth and visit them on his way up to Macedonia, and then again on his return trip down from Macedonia. <<MAP>>

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. …23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

Upon hearing some concerning news, he made an emergency visit, a visit which proved painful for him. He refused to make another painful visit, instead sending Titus ahead with a severe letter, and traveling north from Ephesus by land to Troas, where he planned to meet Titus and hear news of how they responded. But Titus did not meet him in Troas, so he continued on to Macedonia, where he was comforted by the coming of Titus.

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.

Good News of Grief

Paul says that he was comforted by the God who comforts the depressed; by the comfort with which Titus was comforted by you. This is reciprocal comfort, reciprocal encouragement.

A Risky Letter and Apostolic Regret

Paul says something very interesting here; he wrote a letter that he regretted writing after he sent it. He took a risk. He was deeply concerned about them, and they hadn’t responded well to a visit, so he wrote a forceful letter. But after sending it off, he questioned, was it too much? Will it push them farther away? Things seem to be on the verge of falling apart. What if his severe letter pushes them over the edge? If this church falls apart, what will come of the advance of the gospel in the region of Achaia?

We get yet another glimpse into the real human struggles of an apostle. Led and empowered by the Spirit of God, he had to make hard decisions and afterward, he wasn’t confident he had made the right decision. I believe we get a glimpse here into what it means to be led by the Spirit. We tend to think only in categories of the mystical and supernatural, that they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go into Bithynia” (Acts16:6-7)

Acts 16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

God can and sometimes does lead in those direct clear ways. But there is also “even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest …So I took leave of them and went on” (2Cor.2:12-13). A gospel door was opened, but because of what was going on, I couldn’t take advantage of it and had to leave. Do we say that Paul was disobedient to the Spirit’s leading? Or was his ‘spirit not at rest’ also leading of the Spirit? Was there only one right answer? To stay may have meant fruitful ministry, but he chose to leave, and God brought his comfort to him in Macedonia.

Paul ‘wanted to come to you first …but …I refrained from coming again. …For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” (2Cor.1:15; 2:1). Acts records it this way “Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia…” (19:21). Paul has desires, and he wrestles with what will be best for them. He reasons and thinks and makes up his mind. He writes a letter and then begins to regret writing the way he did, wondering if that was best. Paul is empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, and yet he doesn’t always have a ‘word from the Lord’ on what he is supposed to do. The Spirit is growing in his heart an affection and care for the churches, he wants to serve and love and bless them, but he uses his God given wisdom to choose how to do that. He takes risks. Writing the severe letter was risky. It could backfire. They might misunderstand his intentions. And yet he makes a decision and prayerfully moves forward in ministry, trusting God to direct his steps.

The Revealed Will of God

It’s a very common question; how do I know what God’s will is in any particular situation. And it’s a good question, because we ought to be making it our aim in all things to please him (2Cor.5:9). We should be asking ‘what would the Lord want me to do? What would please him? What would glorify him? I think it’s worth taking some time to look at what the Bible has to say about God’s will and how to make decisions that please God.

On one level, this is a very easy question, because a quick search in bible software or a concordance will give you some very specific verses dealing with the will of God. Here’s one:

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

This is the will of God, your sanctification. You are set apart for God. Sexual immorality of any kind is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. This is clear. You don’t have to pray about if you should have an affair or go too far with your girlfriend, or indulge in pornography. God has said clearly that abstinence outside of a traditional marriage relationship is his will. But this doesn’t tell me what job I should take or what school I should attend or where I should live.

Or maybe it does. Is there wisdom here, that tells me that although this job pays more, it puts me in a position that exposes me to more frequent and more intense temptations to sin, and it would be unwise to put myself in those positions?

Here is another will of God verse:

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Usually those asking the question of how to determine the will of God are facing a life decision that will place them in very different circumstances. This verse doesn’t tell us which circumstances to choose, but rather what God’s will is in any and every circumstance. You can find joy in any circumstance. Never stop praying. In every circumstance give thanks to God. That is God’s will. If you choose A, find joy in it, give thanks for it, and never stop praying. If you choose B, find joy in it, give thanks for it, and never stop praying. The will of God is not necessarily choosing A over B or B over A, but in A or B or C or D to rejoice and stay connected to God and give him thanks.

Here’s another one:

1 Peter 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Peter says that we should “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” God’s will is that we live lives of integrity that are above reproach, lives that bless others, so that the name of Christ is not reproached.

How to Do the Will of God

Ephesians 6 tells us how we are to do the will of God;

Ephesians 6:5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

This is addressed to servants, and the focus here is not what you do outwardly but where your heart is, what your attitude is like. This is a circumstance few would choose. A slave doesn’t get to make many choices; they are told what to do. And yet even in a situation of slavery, Paul says that they can do the will of God. The will of God defines how you serve a master. With a sincere heart, from the heart, with a good will, as to the Lord and not to man. God’s will reaches beyond what you do into the heart motivations of why and how you do it.

Discerning the Will of God in Every Situation

We still haven’t tackled directly the question of how to discern the will of God in any given decision. Romans 12 is an important passage for how to determine the will of God. And it begins with a ‘therefore’. It is built on top of the foundation of 11 chapters of gospel, of the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you [or encourage; Παρακαλῶ] therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In response to God’s mercy displayed in the gospel, that we all are sinners deserving of wrath, that none is righteous, no not one, but God gives us his own perfect righteousness as a gift to be received by faith, that God put his only Son Jesus forward as a propitiation, placing all our sins on him and pouring out his just wrath on him as our substitute.

That we have been justified, that we have peace with God, that we have received the Spirit as a guarantee. In view of God’s many mercies, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service, your spiritual worship, your logical liturgy.

The first point if you want to discern the will of God is to know the gospel well. Soak in it, marinate in it, enjoy it, savor it. Any attempt to live a life that pleases the Lord must be rooted in and grow out of the rich soil of treasuring the gospel.

The second point we see here is this. Refuse to be shaped by this fallen world system; don’t let the world press you into its mold. Don’t follow the patterns of thinking of a Christ rejecting world. If we want to please Jesus, we need to recognize that this world system is opposed to Jesus and his ways. He told his followers:

Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus made it clear that his kingdom operates on principles that are upside down and out of step with this world. We must stop thinking in worldly categories if we want to please God.

Here is a simplistic example; (real world decisions are often more complex than this). You are contemplating two jobs. One pays more than the other. You want to live a comfortable life, you want to be able to afford the fancier car and enjoy the luxuries that money can buy, so you choose the higher paying job. It is not that your decision is wrong, as if you chose A and God’s will was for you to choose B. Rather, your reasoning was wrong. You were thinking according to worldly patterns. Maybe the lower paying job would be a better choice because it would free up time to spend with family and serve in the local church. Maybe there would be more opportunity to be a light for Jesus in one than the other. Or maybe the higher paying job would enable you to use your gifts and talents to earn more money so that you can give sacrificially to advance the kingdom of God in the world. In your thinking, in your reasoning, do not be conformed to this world system.

Instead, be transformed, be metamorphosed by the renewing of your mind. This is where marinating in the gospel, treasuring the gospel, being washed in the water of the word, comes in. Let God’s word transform your mental framework, your priorities, your deepest desires. Let God renew your mind.

The result of this is ‘so that by testing you may discern what is the will of God. This word ‘testing to discern’ [δοκιμάζειν] is a word that is used in the refining of precious metals; to test in order to demonstrate its genuineness, to prove. When a refiner puts the gold into the fire to prove it, he risks losing it all if it is false; and yet there is no risk for what he would lose is merely the imitation.

Here is how this works. As you treasure the gospel, as your heart and mind are transformed, as you pursue a life pleasing to God, you prove what is the will of God as a fire proves gold. You have a decision to make and so you consider what would advance the gospel, what would glorify God, what would be most pleasing to him. And then you have to do something. This testing, this proving, this involves risk. You have to take the next step. God’s will is good, it is pleasing, it is complete or perfect, it achieves the intended goal.

Paul made it his aim in all things to please the Lord. When circumstances arose, he applied his gospel sanctified common sense, and moved forward with what he though would most glorify God. He was human. He didn’t always claim to have a word from the Lord on a specific matter. Sometimes he felt regret, wondering if he had done the best thing. Sometimes he was discouraged. Sometimes he was depressed. He needed brothers and sisters to come along side him and encourage him. And yet he could move forward with boldness and humble confidence, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28)

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 30, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment