Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

READ: Romans 12
KEY VERSE: Romans 12:21
In Chapter 12 of the book of Romans, Paul abandons the lofty halls of theology and gets to the nitty gritty of Christian living. Because this chapter is relatively simple, there is little to expound upon. However, I will do my best to slow you down in an easily skimmed chapter so the entire thing may be appreciated.
The first verse is a bridge from the doxology of the last chapter - because God is so wonderful and has given you the Holy Spirit's power to resist sin, I beg you to offer yourself as an offering to God, this is your reasonable (or spiritual) act of worship. This is a very well known and a very important verse. In the Old Testament, when a sacrifice was offered, the parts which were useful for God's service (feeding the priests) were sliced off the animal and the rest was burned up. God commands us to give Him what serves his purposes and the destroy the rest. Verse 2 tells us to allow ourselves to be completely transformed, breaking out of the expectations of this world and forming to the shape He has for us, "that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (KJV)." These are tall orders, but Paul commences to tell us how.
Verses 3-8 tell us to identify the talents God has given us, but not to allow us to place our gifts ahead of others. To employ a modern metaphor, the powerful, complex engine thinks he is the most important part of the car until the gas tank (just a dumb, simple bucket, really) skips town. The mighty brain was humbled when a tiny flap between the windpipe and esophagus decided to breathe chicken noodle soup. As different parts of the body of Christ, the prophet might have thought he was the most important member of the congregation until the cannon was closed. Today, we must understand God has given us all different abilities to work in concert.
Verses 9 is translated very awkwardly in the KJV, but the New American Standard Version translates it: "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good." If you have a very old dictionary, you'll see the King's English amounts to the same. Once we understand how simple it is, it ought to be a mantra for every moment of our lives. As Christians, Paul goes on to say, we ought to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and to cry out with joy at the privilege of showing the godly honor. We are to pray, to give financially, have a passionate spirit and to overcome tribulation.
Verse 14 is difficult to carry out, but it is plain. We are to bless even when cursed - a statement echoing Christ Himself(Luke 6:28). It begins another line of thought that we are to be what people need. We must sing with the happy and cry with the mourning, as Paul put it - we will become all things to all men (I Corinthians 9:19-22) so they might be saved. We must be humble so that we can go to those who need us without pretention. We are to do what is right in the sight of all men, so we do not cause them to stumble by violating their conscience (more on this in chapters 14 and 15) and we are to never take our own vengeance, trusting in God to repay the unrepentant according to their deeds. When the one we would like to hurt is in need, we are to fulfill his need so that we may keep ourselves innocent and perhaps prick his conscience into repentance.
Verse 21 is very hard, but serves as a book end to verse 9. With good we are to overcome evil - not by "fighting fire with fire" or reasoning that "he started it." With love we are to drown out hate and with kindness we are to repay cruelty.
(1) Do you struggle with any of these commandments? Have you prayed for God's strength to do His will?
(2) Write down the top 5 of the commands in the chapter which you struggle with and make a conscience effort to overcome those 5 through prayer and diligence. If you think 5 is too many to handle at once, do 3. If you can handle more, do 10. Systematically identify your greatest weaknesses and try to become more like Him.
(3) Think of somewhat you can't stand. This week, I challenge you to show them a large act of kindness. Pray for the strength to bring it from the right heart and see if you can make such deeds a regular part of your schedule.

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