Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the great “musicals” if you will of all time, but most people know it for ONE song: the “Hallelujah” chorus. But there is other great music in it, notably the song “Worthy Is The Lamb”, which is a great worship song, and others.
In the same way, Romans 12 is one of the most famous chapters in scripture, but it is probably best known for its first two verses — and those are GREAT verses! But there is more to the chapter than those two. In fact, some of the most practical insights on how we are to live out the Christian life are found in the second part of Romans 12. So tonight I want to do just a brief overview of the chapter, and then look at some of those specific admonitions God gives us in the second part of the chapter, and then close by spending some time praying through these scriptures, that God would build these things into our lives.
We will read the whole chapter through in just a moment, so let me give you a brief OVERVIEW/OUTLINE of the chapter now:
— Romans 12 begins with those famous two verses: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Significantly, these verses begin with the word, “Therefore”, which should always make our ears perk up. One infamous Bible student has said that whenever you see a “therefore” in the Bible, you should stop & see what it is “there for”! To put it in a better way, “therefore” points back to something that was just referred to. So when we read “therefore” at the beginning of Romans 12, the first thing we need to do is look back and see what the “therefore” is talking about.
In this case, it’s not hard to see. In fact, Paul basically refers to it in this verse, when he says: “by the mercies of God”. It is because of the mercy that God has had on us in Jesus Christ, that the truth of Romans 12:1-2 applies to us. And we see this context both in the entirety of Romans Chapters 1-11, and specifically again in Chapter 11 as well.
First, the whole of Romans 1-11 is about God’s mercy. It tells in detail how mankind has sinned, but God provided salvation for us in Jesus Christ. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace …” Romans 3:23 says. Romans 1-11 is the most in-depth explanation of the gospel found anywhere in scripture. So in a sense the whole of Romans 1-11 might be viewed as the theological background for the “therefore” in Romans 12.
But we also see “the mercies of God” specifically mentioned in Chapter 11 as well:
— :30 says: “You once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy …”
— :31 says: “because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.”
— :32 says: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
So in 3 verses in row, in :30-32, we find “the mercy of God” towards His people mentioned, so that when Romans 12 opens, he can say, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD to us in salvation (which he had just mentioned 3 times at the end of Chapter 11!) present your bodies as a living sacrifice.
So the “therefore” refers to the mercy God had towards us in that verse, the mercy we had seen in Romans 1-11, and the mercy towards us and others he had just referred to three times in verses 30-32.
In other words, he is saying: “Because you are saved by God’s mercy in Jesus Christ …” here is what I want you to do. THIS IS IMPORTANT: The things we are commanded to do in the rest of Romans 12, we are NOT to do in order to GAIN salvation, but because we already HAVE it! That is big difference in motivation.
I know a lot of us are ready for football season (amen!). I was reading where a football coach went to a certain player who was worried about his position, and he said to him, “Listen, don’t worry; this is your job. Now work hard!”
That is what God has done with us in Christianity. Most religions of the world say “Do all these things” in hopes that if they work hard, they might achieve salvation. But in Christianity, God GIVES us salvation by His mercy in Jesus, and then asks us to live the Christian life out of gratitude for what He has freely given us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit He gave us when we were saved. That is what He is telling us in this “therefore”. We are free, and empowered, to do everything we see later in Romans 12 BECAUSE of what God has mercifully done for us in Jesus.
So WHAT are we to do because of His mercies?
FIRST: PRESENT YOUR BODY: “Present (our) bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God”. We are to make our bodies holy before God.
It is interesting that he talks about us presenting our “bodies” as holy sacrifices — not just our “minds” or our “spirits”, but our BODIES. He’s telling us that it matters what we do with our physical bodies. It matters if we are involved in immorality; it matters what our bodies do. This is not insignificant to God. He wants our BODIES to be holy before Him.
This means a number of things:
— our bodies are to be holy morally: that is, sexuality is to be expressed only in the context of one man, one woman, in a life-long married relationship, and not outside those bounds.
— our bodies are to be holy physically: that is, we shouldn’t use substances that intoxicate or harm our bodies; they are holy to God.
— our bodies are to be holy in service: it is not just what we DON’T do, but what we DO: God gave us our bodies to SERVE Him, and so we are to present our bodies to God in regular weekly service of Him in our church and on mission. Spend your body’s strength serving God.
RENEWING YOUR MIND
And then he gives us the famous command in :2 not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
But how can we not be conformed to the world? We are like fish in the sea; how difficult is it not to be influenced by the world we live in! How can we avoid it? The next phrase gives the answer: “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
This is one of the biggest and most important challenges of the Christian life. When we give our life to Jesus and experience His mercy, we are forever saved. But our minds are still conformed to this world we live in. We have to purposefully engage in the process of “re-newing” our minds. This takes a lot of time and effort. We have to, in a sense, “re-program” ourselves to think and act differently than the world around us does.
We do that by spending time in God’s word, in prayer, and by meditating on scripture and applying it to our life, by “feeding” our minds godly things.
And to some extent, it means limiting the input the world gets into our minds. This isn’t just a “legalistic” “don’t watch tv or movies”, but we do need to understand that for the most part, what we see and hear in the media just reinforces the worldly mindset we were born with. It fights against what we read in God’s word. So if, for example, we spend 3 hours a week getting sermons and Bible study lessons in church, and another 2-3 hours a week in our own Bible reading (which would be pretty good for most American Christians) that all gets cancelled out by one 6-hour day of watching television — which is unfortunately not that uncommon for many American Christians to do!
Again, this is not a fundamentalist, “tv is evil” kind of thing; it is just that we need to realize that we are in a struggle to re-program our minds and not be conformed to the world, and the tv is not our friend is this. So we need to make sure that we are getting much more time in God’s word & prayer than we are in television, which I am convinced that most American Christians are NOT — which explains why many of us are where we are spiritually. We are NOT being transformed by the renewing of our minds; and we ARE being more and more conformed to the world by what we watch and listen to.
Then with :3 he moves to a section on spiritual gifts. And he opens it in an interesting way. He opens it with a word on HUMILITY: “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
He is about to talk about the spiritual gifts in :4-8. But before he does, he reminds us to exercise whatever gift we have with humility. He says we are: “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” — “because God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
In other words, he is saying that God has granted some faith (and some gift) to EACH of His people: SO, we should be humble — and open to the gifts and input of others. You don’t have all of the spiritual gifts; you don’t know everything there is to know. God may speak to you through another’s gift — or someone else have an insight on a situation that you don’t have. So make sure that you are open to the the words, insights, wisdom, and input of others. NO member of the body of Christ is complete in himself. God made us to need each other. This is why we are in a church BODY. It is not all about you, whoever you are: No one person — not even the pastor — makes an effective church by himself. It takes all of God’s people working together as a body — and a wise pastor or church member is humble enough to realize it is not all about him. We should be open to using the gifts, and to benefitting from the input of, the other members of the church to whom God has also given a measure a faith & grace. So he warns us here to be humble, and open to the gifts and input of others in the church.
Following that he then begins one of the most important lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament in verses 4-8. He says we each have gifts, and whatever gift God has given you, USE it:
— prophecy. This isn’t “telling the future” This is what we would call “preaching.” We know that because Paul defines “prophecy” for us in I Cor. 14:3 when he says it is “speaking to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.”
— service: this literally means “helping”. We talked before about how so much “help” is needed to make the church “go” each week, in everything from moving chairs to running the sound booth, to working in the nursery. The church depends on many using this “gift of helps” or service.
— teaching: of course this means teaching the word of God.
— Exhortation: this word in Greek is “parakaleo”, which literally means, “alongside”, “calling out”, picturing a person running alongside someone else, hollering words of encouragement to them. You can do that as a greeter, or as a counselor, or just by being encouraging to people in personal conversations with them. It is an important gift in the church because one of Satan’s greatest tools against God’s people is discouragement. So we need to use this gift of encouragement.
— Giving: we are ALL to give the tenth as a mark of God’s lordship in our lives, but some have a special desire and ability to give, and they do that to help the church and the Kingdom to advance.
— Leadership: some people are just gifted by God to lead; others will follow if they lead.
— Mercy: we’ll talk about this some more in-depth some time, but “mercy” according to the New Testament involves seeing a need, feeling compassion, and then doing something about the need.
Remember that God has given to EACH of His people a spiritual gift which we are to use in our local church. So He lists these gifts and encourages us to indeed put them to use in our church.
SO we have seen in the chapter thus far that
— because of God’s mercy we are to be holy, and renew our minds
— we are to be humble and open to others in the church to use their spiritual gifts
— and we are to use our own spiritual gift to help advance God’s work in the church.
THEN beginning with :9, we find a list of just some very practical commands for how we are to live and practice our faith in the church. Chapters 1-11 of Romans were very “theological”, but Chapter 12 begins the more “practical” section, and really see that reflected starting in :9.
I’ll briefly touch on these, some more than others. Listen to how God speaks to you in this section, and be ready to pray in a few minutes that God would build these into your life:
:9 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”
It is striking that he says we are to “abhor” what is evil. It is like Psalm 97:10 which says “HATE evil, you who love the Lord.” One of the problems with Christians today is that we do not hate evil. We tolerate evil; we compromise with evil; we toy with evil — but we do not HATE evil. God says, “ABHOR what is evil”. “HATE what is evil.” We need to see sin for the evil, destructive thing that it is.
:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”
In other words, put other people ahead of yourself. Paul wrote in Philippians 2, “let each of you regard one another as more important than yourself … do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
:11 “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
:12 “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”
:13 “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
It is interesting that the word “practicing” here is literally: “pursuing” hospitality. It comes from the Greek Bible word “dioko”, which actually means “persecute” or, “run swiftly to catch”!! This is a great picture — we are to “run after” being hospitable, just like a persecutor runs after his prey!
It shows us that hospitality is something to be “pursued.” We have to “run after” this; really work towards it. Many of us here in America certainly have to work at this. In our modern culture especially it is increasingly easy to become isolated, especially with all the media we have these days — it is easy to have the attitude that “my home is my castle’ and just want to segregate yourself there, and be alone. But God tells us here that it is important for us to open our homes and to share our lives with other people. You can really influence people when they spend time with you in your home; it is one of the most effective ways to disciple. So God commands us here: “PURSUE” hospitality. (And of course, this month with Stefan and his family here, many of us have some good opportunities to practice that — we need to continue that and build on it even more in the days ahead.)
:14 introduces a topic that he is going to come back to, so we’ll skip that for just a second and come back to it …
:15 “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
This is a strong word to us about how we are to share the feelings and emotions of the people who are members of our church. It reminds us that this is no casual relationship we are to have with each other in the church. We are to truly be family for each other — rejoicing in each other’s victories, and sharing each other’s pains. This means that church is to be more than 1-2 hours a week. The bottom line is, we are to DO LIFE TOGETHER (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said) with our church.
What this verse describes is what the word “sym-pathy” means: sum (together) pathos (feeling). Feeling along together with whatever our brothers & sisters are feeling.
That’s a good reminder for us, because sometimes people purposefully try to “insulate” themselves from pain by keeping their distance from other people. Maybe they’ve been hurt before, and don’t want to be hurt like that again. But God shows us here that this is NOT the way of the Christian. Feeling pain is the cost one must sometimes pay to have close relationships, and God commands us to pay that price! We are to “sym/pathos” — feel together — with others in our church: rejoice when they rejoice, and weep when they weep.
:16 is another reminder to humility: “Be of the same mind towards one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”
This is like what we saw earlier in :3, don’t be proud; be humble. But he especially applies it in our relationships with other people in the church. Don’t be “too good” to associate with anyone in the church. Don’t think you’re “better” than anyone. No one is in the church by their merit; we are all only saved by the grace of God — and as the old saying goes: the ground is level at the foot of the cross! Someone has said that the true measure of your character is the way you treat a person who can’t do anything for you — and I think that’s something of what this verse is getting at. Don’t think too much of yourself to hesitate to associate with anyone who is a member of God’s church!
Then :17-21 form the final section of the chapter, and they all deal with the same subject of “revenge”. It is one of the most basic, natural, human emotions to take revenge when you have been harmed. I just saw a Ken Burns documentary on WWII that told of how after some American soldiers were captured and killed by the Japanese, the American commander told his men: “We’re not taking any captives.” We want revenge. But God tells us here that this is NOT the route that His children are to take:
:14 said: “Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not.”
:17 says “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.”
:19 says “never take your own revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.”
God makes it clear here — with a THREE-FOLD EMPHASIS — that Christians are not to seek revenge on their enemies. He says “Leave room for the wrath of God.” In others words, let HIM do it. Don’t you seek your own revenge.
In fact, He says in :20, do your enemy GOOD instead of evil (and here he quotes Proverbs 25:21 from the Old Testament): “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink …”.
This is just what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus did that very thing when He hung on the cross; He prayed for His enemies. That is hard to do — and in our human flesh we can’t do it — in fact we can’t do ANY of this chapter without Him — but that is why this chapter began with “THEREFORE” — BECAUSE God has had mercy on you; BECAUSE His Holy Spirit is in your heart; He will give you the grace and strength to do these things. Seek His power and help to live this way, and do NOT take your own revenge on those who hurt you.
Related to this is one of my favorite verses in this chapter, :18:
PEACE — IF POSSIBLE
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
I love this verse, because I think it takes some unnecessary guilt and pressure off of us. Christian people want to be at peace with other people, and if you have a sweet spirit, like so many of us in our church do, you don’t like it when there is enmity between you and others — and that is good; we should want to be reconciled with everyone if possible. The thing is, is ISN’T always possible. YOU may want to be at peace with someone, and reconcile things, but they don’t want to. If that is the case, then YOU can still be at peace about it. This verse reminds us that you are not responsible for the actions and attitudes of other people. You can only control your own. So it says; “If POSSIBLE, SO FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, be at peace with all men.” In other words, do what you can to be peaceful with everyone — try to reconcile; try to make up — but you know what? Some people are going to reject your attempts to be nice, or not accept your apology, or just want to continue in meanness — the Bible is saying here that you are not responsible for that. You don’t have to feel badly, as if there is something wrong with YOU, because they want to continue with an ugly spirit. If you have done all you can do to make peace, then your spirit can rest at ease with God. I think this is a good word which can bring peace to a lot of people’s lives: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
OVERCOME BY EVIL?
:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Coming on the heels of the admonition not to take your own revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath, this verse reminds us that there is more than one way of being “overcome with evil.” We might think of evil triumphing over us in that the forces of evil might “win” some battle over righteousness. But there are other ways that evil can “overcome.” It can take ahold of us, get us to hate others, and act towards them like they have acted towards us (like those soldiers in WWII) take our own revenge, like God told us NOT to in :19. We might “win” a battle, or a case, or a certain cause — but if we get consumed with anger and bitterness and hatred in the process, then in a very real sense, evil has “overcome” us. So he gives us the warning: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Do good to your enemy, and feed him, etc., like :20 talks about. Doing these kinds of things helps make sure that we do not become “overcome by evil.”
Again, we can ONLY do these things in the power of God’s Spirit, so let’s spend some time in prayer, asking God to build these things into our lives.
For prayer time tonight, I want us to do something just a bit different:
I am going to have Jim lead us in a worship song, then I am going to have him play softly on the piano while I read Romans 12 out loud. While I am reading, I want you to pray through this chapter. As I read, God may speak to your heart about a particular thing: maybe it will be in :1, when He says, “present your body as a living and holy sacrifice”, and you realize that there is something in your life you are doing with your body that is not holy, so you will just stop and pray to God about that. I will keep on reading, but you just start talking to God about what He has convicted your heart about. Whenever He convicts you of something in this chapter, just stop and pray about it. You can pray where you are, or come to the front and pray; whatever you want to do. But we are just going to let God’s word lead us in the prayer time tonight: pray about using your spiritual gift, or being hospitable, or responding to your enemies, or whatever is on your heart.
I may read this chapter a couple of times … and then we will have a time of silent prayer after I finish … and then we will close our prayer time with another song.
But let’s begin with a worship song, and then just let God’s word and His Spirit speak to us in our prayer time tonight:
— SONG: “I Worship You, Almighty God”
— (READ ROMANS 12 TWO TIMES)
— LIFT UP OTHER REQUESTS ON YOUR HEART
— CLOSING SONG: “I Worship You, Almighty God”