1 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. 2 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.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: 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. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 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. 20 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.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
A man arrived late for Church one morning. As he slipped quietly into the back row, he whispered to the lady next to him, “Is the service over?” She replied, “The preaching is over. Now the service begins.”
Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, what we know as the book of Romans, is incredibly deep. It wouldn’t be fair – in fact it wouldn’t be right to try and decide which of the 66 books of the Bible are more important than others, but if we were to make such a list, Romans would be right up there. It contains profound Biblical truths. The first 11 chapters in particular contain all the foundational theology of the Christian faith. It’s been said that whenever you read the word ‘therefore’ in the Bible you should ask what it’s there for. This is how Paul opens chapter 12. There is a sudden change from the theoretical to the practical in Romans 12, and what Paul is saying to his readers is, “I have taught you all of this, therefore in light of all of this, this is what you are to do with the knowledge you have gained.”
In the first eleven chapters, Paul has given a theological foundation. Now he gives a practical application. He is saying, “The service begins now.” Today we’re going to look at some of the practical lessons, the exhortations that Paul makes in chapters 12 and 13, remembering that it’s all well and good to have knowledge, but it must be expressed in our lives too.
He starts by laying the foundation for what is to come, and his wording in the first 2 verses is crucial. He begins by making an appeal for his readers to be consecrated or dedicated to Jesus: “I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” By faith the believer is in Christ. Paul has written extensively about this earlier in his letter, and now his plea is that our lives should show that we are in Christ by consecrating, by offering ourselves to Him. The motive or the reason for this is His mercy – “in view of God’s mercy.” And what is this mercy? Romans 5:8 gives us the answer: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Paul then describes how we are to be consecrated to Him – by offering our bodies, ourselves as living sacrifices.
If we are ever to grasp the concept of just what it means to become involved in Christian ministry and the life of the Church, we need to be clear in our minds that this is first and foremost about Him. We not only do it for God, but we belong to Him first. There are many non-Christian organisations that do the most wonderful charity work for the needy and under-privileged, but as the Church we understand that what we do is for God and His glory first. When others benefit from the work of the Church, He is glorified even further, and the lives of others are changed too. We do this (or at least we should do this) with humility, something that does not come naturally to the sinner. This is why in verse 3 he says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” We are challenged to not have an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We all know we are gifted in different ways, so Paul now encourages the people in the Church to use those God-given gifts in the Church. The gifts and talents we have are not for our own benefit. That’s how the world operates. The gifts we have are meant to be used for the benefit of each other – the Church, and ultimately for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul writes “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
It’s been said many times before: the Church is not a place we just go to once a week. It’s a place where we belong. This is where we share life and faith as we connect and belong to each other as a family.
Paul builds on this principle as he talks about the attitudes we are to have towards each other in verses 9-13: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” When our love for fellow Christians is sincere, there is no room for hypocrisy. We are naturally competitive. From simple egg and spoon races at nursery school to the posturing in high-powered business and commerce, we are trained throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves and strive to do the best we can. This in itself is not a bad thing, as we need to understand our value and our self-worth, but the problem is that as a result so easily allow pride, ego and selfishness to dominate our behaviour.
This is why Paul says we should love, and love sincerely. We are to be devoted to each other and honour others above ourselves. Practice those qualities in the business world and you may well win a lot of friends, but your chances of climbing the corporate ladder will be dramatically reduced as a result. But these are precisely the things we are to do in the Church, because what we do as the Church is not about us. It’s about Him.
Verse 13 says, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” It is crucial that we learn to put the interests of our fellow Christians above our own interests.
We are to love and serve each other as God’s children, because then, and only then will we be able to face the challenges Paul poses to us from verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Love, tolerance, forgiveness and grace are not only to be shown and lived out within the Church, but also (and possibly even more importantly), outside the Church too. Reciting Christian doctrine and coming to Church week after week does not impress those who do not know Christ. But if as the Church we are ever going to make any real impact on the lives of those who do not know Jesus, they have to see Him at work in us and through us.
As we all know it’s hard enough at times to practice the qualities Paul talks about within the Church, but we’re to do it out there too. That is what it means to have a practical faith – a faith that people can see in action, because loving, forgiving and serving out there is what gives the Christian faith its authenticity.
Just look at the example of Jesus. He could have spent all His time in the Synagogue, talking to and praying with like-minded people, but He didn’t do that. He reached out with authentic love to the dregs of society, the outcasts and the rejected.
We’ve heard these words of Jesus many times, but just listen carefully to what He says in Luke 6: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31) I don’t think we realise just how radical and how revolutionary those words are. For those who heard Jesus speaking that day, it probably felt like they’d actually been slapped in the face.
If we go back to Romans 12, Paul is now speaking about people outside of the Church, not our fellow believers when he says, “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.” Have you ever wondered what kind of effect we would have on the lives of those outside of the Church if we actually did these things? I think we’d turn the world upside down.
Just moving into chapter 13 for a moment we are faced with a different kind of challenge, one that is certainly topical for South Africans today. Verses 1 and 2 say, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Just to put these words into context, the ruling authority in Paul’s time was the Roman emperor Nero, one of the cruelest and most vicious dictators in human history, which puts the political landscape in our country into some kind of perspective, but it is still a challenge to submit to those that the Lord has placed in positions of authority.
As Christians we are citizens of the country we live in and we are responsible to our government as well as to God, although God remains our highest authority. Dwight L Moody had the balance right. He was often criticised for taking such an active part in the affairs of government, to which he replied, “I am a citizen of heaven, but right now I vote in Cook County, Illinois.”
Of course, Jesus says it best in Luke 20, when He is challenged by the Pharisees. They ask if it is right to pay taxes to the Roman Empire, so He asks them for a coin. “Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We have no authority higher than God Himself.
Christian action is such a vast subject, and we really don’t have the time to do it justice, but I’d like to go back to the scene setter Paul paints for us at the beginning of Romans 12, because it is here where he lays the foundations for why we are to serve others to God’s glory. Remember again his opening statement, “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy.”
That’s the why, and now he moves on to the how we are to love and serve others. He needs to teach us these things because they are counter to our selfish nature.
He tells us to make a sacrifice. Any form of ministry or service is a sacrifice, simply because you’re doing it for someone other than yourself. The idea of sacrifice was familiar to his readers, but Paul asks for a different kind of sacrifice to the one they were used to. They were to offer themselves, their own bodies and not that of an animal. In other words we are to offer more than things, but ourselves in practical ways too. The sacrifice we bring is meant to be alive, a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Paul actually goes on to say that this is worship. Like the man who arrived late for Church – he may have missed the singing, the praying and the preaching, but the worship and the service continues after the hour on a Sunday morning is over. We call this hour on a Sunday a worship service and with good reason, but have ever considered that the worship service continues after you’ve left the building and gone home?
This whole idea of practical faith and living out what we believe in the world is such a radical thing. Jesus, during his years of public ministry shook the foundations of society to such an extent that we are still feeling the effects today, and He calls and challenges us to be part of this ongoing revolution against the selfishness we see in the world and in ourselves. True, authentic Christianity is so incredibly different to anything else in the world that it takes a complete inner transformation in order for us to ‘get it’ and to be part of the work and witness of the Church.
This is why Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In his translation of the Bible, JB Phillips writes, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within.” The point is that we now have a new standard, and a new master. As Christians we are citizens of heaven. We may live here for now and we are called to make a difference here and now, but this is not our home.
Don’t let the world dictate to you who you are. You might remember the quote from Carl Jung from a couple of months ago: “The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.” Don’t let the world set your standards. Don’t be like a chameleon, which changes its colour to blend and fit in with its environment. We are to be transformed.
In the original Greek, the word Paul uses for transformed is the root of the English word metamorphosis, and it is the same word we find in Mark 9 when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain with Elijah and Moses. This complete transformation means to change your outward appearance from what it is to correspond to your inward nature. Only God can do this through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Also, the way Paul structured his words in Romans 12:2 implies that when he says we should “be transformed” he writes in a passive voice. What this means is that the transformation is not something we do. It is something done by an outside source – God Himself, in and though His Spirit. He will do the work of transforming us. All we have to do is be willing and able to be transformed.
The whole thrust of Romans 12 and 13 is that Paul implores us to a whole new pattern of life. Our transformed lives are meant to provide authentic proof of just how God has changed us as we put others first, love each other sincerely, serve others with joy, show mercy, bless those who persecute us and forgive as we have been forgiven.
Transformed lives will show themselves in the service we give to Christians and non-believers alike.
Chapter 13:8-10 summarises all of this so well: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” 5 times in these three verses Paul uses the word love. In fact, he even calls it a debt. A debt is something you owe. It is the word used to describe God’s love for us in John 3:16.
We are called to manifest and display this same type of love toward others. This is our debt to everyone, and it is how we fulfill the law of Christ.
Paul closes Romans 13 by saying, “Do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
A couple of weeks ago, and again at Kim’s service last week we sang a hymn which contains these words:
“When it’s all been said and done, all my treasures will mean nothing. Only what I’ve done for love’s reward will stand the test of time. When it’s all been said and done, there is just one thing that matters: Did I do my best to live for truth? Did I live my life for you?”
And finally, 2 Peter 3:11-12, “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
This is to be our attitude as living sacrifices.
Homegroup Study Notes
In preparation for your meeting, read Romans 12 and 13 beforehand.
Discuss 12:1 in your group. What does Paul mean by being ‘living sacrifices?’
We also read that by offering ourselves as sacrifices, we are in fact worshipping God. How does this challenge your understanding of worship, when most of us consider worship to be a ‘worship service’ in Church?
What do you think Paul means when he calls us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world?
How can we be ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds?’
What are some of the practical characteristics Paul teaches us in these two chapters, and what changes should we to make in our lives in order to do these things?
He also draws distinctions between how we are to treat both fellow believers and non-Christians. Discuss these differences.
We know that the Bible calls us to love, but what can we do to love more?
How do you think the world would be changed if Christians took these verses to heart and actually lived by them?
Close by praying that more members of our congregation would become involved in the various ministries we offer at Upper Umgeni.
Ask the Lord to inspire new people to commit to the life of the Church, and also to reveal new ministries He may be calling us to.