Hymn What Gift Can We Bring?
Bible Reading Philippians 2:5-11
As you deal with one another, you should think and act as Jesus did. In his very nature he was God. Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact. Instead, he made himself nothing. He did this by taking on the nature of a servant. He was made just like human beings. He appeared as a man. He was humble and obeyed God completely. He did this even though it led to his death. Even worse, he died on a cross! So God lifted him up to the highest place. God gave him the name that is above every name. When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone will kneel down to worship him. Everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will kneel down to worship him. Everyone’s mouth will say that Jesus Christ is Lord. And God the Father will receive the glory. (NIRV)
Message “One for all, Therefore all for one” Romans 12:1-8
What gift can we bring in light of what we just heard (Philippians 2:5-11)? Additionally, in Roman’s 11, Paul adds to the amazement of what he has done for us by painting an eloquent agricultural picture of how non-Jews (that means most of us) have been grafted into the vine of Jesus– and are graciously included in the saving work of Jesus Christ. In today’s text, he begins to give us what is our reasonable response to God’s wonderful work of mercy.
Proper, true worship This is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1c (NIV))
Paul tells us to spend our life in true, proper, worship. We may have a clearer understanding or worship is supposed to be and strive for that – but in those days, it was a cloudy issue at best. For in 1st century culture, much non-Jewish worship was filled with mindless, immoral, drunken, and physical ecstasies. These emotionally charged events were designed primarily to please the participant, and secondly, they believed by engaging in these exercises they would be manipulating the ‘gods’ to bring about their own personal or national good fortune; in other words, worship was first about feeling good, and second it was about getting what they wanted from their gods.
So, it is not surprising Paul moves on quickly to explain that they will not find proper true worship by conforming to the patterns of their culture.
Non-conformity to Patterns Do not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2a (NIV))
There was a lot of pressure to push people to conform to the established norms of religious, social, relational, and physical expectations.
Jesus refused to conform to the guidelines of political and even religious authorities. Instead, he spoke of a loving, merciful God and who lived out that teaching by being friends with people that most of society and religious leaders would turn a blind eye to. Chatting with prostitutes, lunching with outcasts, and touching lepers. His goal was to be faithful to God, not to fit in and be popular with peers.
According to Paul, our life of worship is not so supposed to be about pleasing ourselves or getting God to please us,
Transforming and Renewing But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2b NIV))
but being transformed and mind renewed by God's Spirit and pleasing him. Throughout Romans, Paul has described the process of mental and moral decay, describes what God has done in Christ and how he calls us to reverse this down slide that we are on by allowing God to create in us and through us a new creation, a new mindset, new values, new motives and new methods.
It is not a minor repair but a complete reconstruction. The transformation begins when we realize, and keep before us, that life and worship is not about God pleasing us,
Holy and pleasing God …holy and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1b (NIV))
but the goal of true worship and a full life is to please him. Unfortunately, like children who press their parents to the very limit, until they sense that anger – and then they might back off a little bit. Many do the same thing with God, not wanting to please him, but go as far as they can without receiving His wrath.
One person made the comparison this way: He said, I have a golden retriever. I raised him from a pup. Occasionally I ran my dog against other breeds. My golden retriever was so eager to please that only a word of disapproval was all it took to bring him into line.
Other breeds were known as "hardheaded." The owners would have to thump their dog on the head just to get their attention, much less get them in line. God wants us to be like the golden retrievers – eager to please him, and not like others who have to be thumped in the head to get their attention. Be sensitive to His approval or disapproval, because when we are eager to respond to his pleasure, it not only goes better for him, it goes better for us as well.
Knowing God’s will … test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
(Romans 12:2c NIV))
Of course, the only way to even begin seeking to please him is to know what he wants for us. When many of us think about the will of God, we think very narrowly about what his desire is for me in this specific moment, in this specific choice or this specific situation that I am facing. The will of God has a much wider scope than just me and my individual choices. We need to discover the more comprehensive and all-inclusive will of God that he purposes for his creation for all time and eternity. The better we understand this broader destiny, this broader mission of God, this big picture – the more it informs me about how my choices may best plug into life and into his plan. That is how we (as Paul writes) we test (discover) and approve (agree with) his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Put it another way -- His will is not as much about whether I go fishing or farming in the next couple of hours, but how I participate in the renewal and transformation of the world. Let me give you a couple of examples:
Some of you know that I have been working on this [stomach] for a while. I’m down 48 pounds now. What I’ve realized, because I’ve rarely been successful at this before, is that when I look at the big picture, it works better. If I look narrowly, then; well for example, when I stepped on the scale today I was up a pound and a half. That is typical of Sunday morning because all Saturday is spent in an office chair getting ready for today, so no exercise, and eating more because I am thirsting for the energy to do what I do what I’m doing right now. So what does that say to us about looking at the big picture versus the small personal picture?
Two things. If I look too narrowly at this jump up, I could get discouraged and give up – the big picture (which is graphed on my phone) shows a lot of up ticks, and it would be easy to focus on that, but instead I can see the big overall picture which shows that it is trending down – so seeing the big picture rather than the little is encouraging.
Secondly, you know from what we do at Children’s Time that you know I don’t think there is anything wrong with a treat once in a while. But if we always look to the very moment, “Does God want me to have that Sundae today? There’s nothing wrong with a Sunday.” But before you know it, if you are looking only the isolated individual moments, you won’t even realize that you have had 15 sundaes this week. But if you see the big picture, and you keep your eyes open to the overall look of what’s going on – a sundae is okay once in a while. Unless you are one of those people who has an addictive sweet tooth, and once you have one, it puts you on a road – and you have to be aware of that about yourself too; so that is an exception.
But if we can see the big picture, we can get a better view and maybe we can recognize the overall goal in process… Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We want to care for them so that they can be effectively live a full life. We can get really judgmental and beat ourselves up about how we treat our bodies sometimes, or we can look at the big picture and ask ourselves, am I doing what I need to do to make my body ready and available for God’s use to help transform the world, to be his instrument. That’s really oversimplified but I think you get the general idea.
Let me give you one other kind of example of how the individual, personalized look may get us into trouble if we are not careful. If I went into the construction business, naturally I would assume that it is God's will for me to be successful in this business which I have "dedicated" to him as the work of my life. But then, if I keep looking at God’s will in this narrow view of me and my choices; and his will is narrowly seen as “he wants me to be successful”. Then, theoretically, over time, I might become confused in my decision making, and so to accomplish what I perceive as God's will for my business (to be successful), I might cut corners, use cheaper material, hire less skilled workers, short change quality where it will be hidden (not use as many nails as code calls for), that kind of thing. And I may get successful. So does that mean God’s will been fulfilled? [No].
Personally, I might be confused because that is what I thought God’s will was for me and my business. But if I understand God's will from a less individualistic point of view -- when I see the purchaser of that house that I cut corners on; as one of God's family and therefore part of my family, I would have never considered cutting corners - because that would be violating God’s will.
We need to be thinking more in terms of God's ultimate will -- that people are not cheated, not taken advantage of, not oppressed; I would not think of violating ethics or others to accomplish a personal goal -- even if I perceive it to be God’s will for my life, because I’d be wrong.
Call to Corporate-ness …offer [yourselves] as a living sacrifice… each member be-longs to all the others… We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us… [exercise your gift for others with all you got]
(Romans 12: 1b,5b,6a,[6b-8] (NIV))
The rest of this passage is devoted to seeing how we fit in to the big picture, telling us how we are connected with each other. It includes accurately evaluating our strengths and limitations, to discover how God has graced us and to use those gifts and talents and time and resources with all the energy that we can muster for the benefit of everyone, and to trust others to fill in the gaps where we are limited and they are strong.
But our culture (you know, “conformed to our culture”) has taught us to live “independent”, self-centered lives; isolated. We use our strengths to hinder others, and we deny our weaknesses, refusing to acknowledge that we need each other. To really be strong, we need to think corporately. We are all in this together. We are not independent of other. We are not islands, nor are we stranded on one. We must see ourselves as interdependent members of one unified whole. We must rely on each other, and realize we are all on the same side, ultimately shooting for the same thing. So,
How closely are you linked to the body of Christ, so that you may benefit others and that you may draw from the strengths (gifts) of others?
Paul exhorts us to use our gifts in certain ways. Just one example: The one who shows mercy is to do so "cheerfully." At one time or another, most of us have attempted to show mercy. Sometimes the recipients are not pleasant or grateful for the mercy that we show them. It may not take too long for the merciful to become embittered and cynical about mercy giving.
Paul sees two dangers in the exercise of spiritual gifts. The first is neglect - not devoting ourselves to exercise our gifts (strengths). Sometimes it is because we don’t get the response we expect. Sometimes it is because we don’t know what our gifts are, there may be many reasons. But God is not pleased when prophets remain silent, teachers fail to teach, leaders fail to be diligent, servers serve only themselves, encouragers complain, givers hoard, and mercy is offered grudgingly.
The second danger is using our gifts in a way that is not consistent God's grace -- to use the gifts to serve ourselves rather than others… For our sacrifice is not dead and given to undeserving people. It is alive and it is given to God himself – in our service of others. This is why Paul goes through this litany of "if you have this gift, exercise it in accordance with your faith, generously, diligently, and cheerfully --- enthusiastically as a representative of God – daily living out our lives selflessly for God – and for his world which is becoming ONE; diverse and different, yet complementary and gracious under the common view of God’s mercy, and what he has done for us.
Lord, we confess that like so many before us, from time to time we have gotten sidetracked and gotten things backwards. We have thought worship is only about what we feel and asking what you can do for us; rather than living lives of worship in which our goal is to please you and offer ourselves in what we can do for you. And even when we get it right, we too easily become cynical and burned out because we expect the results we want rather than leaving the results to you.
We have strayed from your love and will. Forgive us with your never- ending mercy. Continue to transform and renew us that we may please you. It is for this that you have equipped us with gifts and graces. Empower us to know and to use our gifts for you and your creation, always to the best our ability, and with the most positive of attitudes. Forgive our failures and free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Closing Blessing So now, in light of all God has done for us in Jesus, and gifted to us with the Spirit, go with a renewed sense of determination to be holy, living sacrifices, leading a truly proper worshipful life that points to the Father, Son, and Spirit through the energetic service of others. Amen.