Christian Living and Relationships (Part Two)
© C. O. Bishop, 5/20/16 THCF 5/22/16
We began looking at the practical outworking of our new relationship with Christ, two weeks ago, reading and considering Romans 12:1-3. We saw that we were to submit ourselves to God, as living sacrifices; daily making the choice to live for Him: to serve God, not self. It isn’t easy; which is why it is called a “Living” sacrifice: it can never just be a “done deal”—we always have to either renew that choice, or fail to do so.
Those verses, telling us how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and how we can avoid being pressed into the mold of the world, are based upon our individual relationships with Christ. A proper relationship with Him in a growing, ongoing bond of love, will result in a changed life. It also results in changed relationships with other people, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-6; another passage where Paul begs us to walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called. We are to maintain unity with one another, and forbear (tolerate) one another, learning to love and appreciate one another, just for who each of us is in Christ.
Here in Romans we are reminded of some of the gifts of service that believers are given by which to be a blessing to one another, and we are told in what spirit to use each of them.
What does “Christian Service” look like?
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
One of the more obvious dangers in Christian service is the temptation to serve in the same spirit as do those of the world. We desire human recognition, and like to feel appreciated. Many times churches create titles and “jobs” within the church organization, so that a person feels proud to do the job they have been assigned. But this practice establishes boundaries, and territories, and effectively divides the body. Everyone is thus encouraged toward “self” expression, and “self” fulfillment, “owning” the ministry, and can easily forget who the head of the body actually is. Paul caution us to “not think more highly of” ourselves, but, rather, to think soberly.
I have known of communities where deacons, for instance, attach that title to their name, and actually introduce themselves as “Deacon So-and-so.” Many pastors do the same thing, and in many circles they are expected to do so. Then we invent honorifics to go with the title, or even supplant it—the “Right Reverend so-and-so… your excellency…your Grace”… do you see how that feeds pride?
The fact is, I don’t need a title, or a “territory”. I can sit and listen to someone else teach, and take careful notes, so as to actually learn from their teaching; and I will be perfectly happy. I have no need for the limelight. I would be happy to serve from the back pew, and have frequently done so. I have taught because I was asked to teach, and, since I keep getting asked to continue teaching, I conclude that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I also do it, even in private, because that is my gift—it is simply what I do.
The result seems to be that folks get fed, and understanding increases. I don’t need an “office” or title, to do any of that. If it is the job—the gift—Jesus gave me to do, then I will either do it, or fail to do it. I am given to believe that my gifts are in this area, and when I pray, “Lord, I just don’t know what to do!” the immediate answer is “Feed my flock!” So, by faith, I press on. If He gives me a different job, or assignment, He will let me know it.
All the gifts have this in common: they don’t need “titles”, or honorifics; they just need a willing heart. But we each have different gifts, though all the believers are part of that one Body of Christ. That is the source of Unity—our position in Christ. But each of us has something to offer. Each of us can choose to be a blessing to those around us, but it will be done in different ways. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “If I go to church to be a blessing, I will almost always come home blessed. But if I go there to get a blessing, I can frequently come home empty and sour.” The Agapé love always seeks to bless those around it…not to receive a blessing. But the result is that it is always blessed.
4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Notice it says that we are members one of another. We are not just “employees of the same company—co-workers”; we belong to one another. We are truly part of a select brotherhood, because we are born from above, of the same Father. We are one body, and, though we may feel somewhat alienated from one another at times, due to sin, we really are one.
All of us know what it means to “hurt all over”, because of an injury or illness. I have actually heard of people who endured a fairly small injury (a mashed finger or the like) but who then went into shock and died…the whole body responded to the injury of one member so drastically that the body shut down completely. In contrast to the physical body, that mutual care will not shut us down; it will empower us, but we are to have that sort of deep compassion and care for one another, so that if one member is hurting, it is a concern for all. And, if one is blessed, it is a joy to all, as all are invigorated by the goodness of God, seen reflected in another person’s life.
What is a Prophet?
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
When we consider the New Testament gift of prophecy, we must remember that even the Old Testament word does not mean a “teller of the future”, but a spokesman for God; a mouthpiece for God. In Exodus 4:12, God told Moses, “…go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say!” That is pretty much the definition of a prophet, through all the ages. In the early days, it frequently (but not always) involved “fore-telling”. In fact, when we use the word “prophecy”, or “prophetic,” we usually mean “the telling of the future”. But all the word really means is being “a mouthpiece for God”.
As far as I can tell, a person who simply gives the clear meaning of scripture and can tie it all together, so that the listeners can see it all as God’s Word, not just a collection of disconnected pamphlets by forgotten writers, is a good teacher. That would be one who is gifted to teach. But if they are also used of God to bring a corrective message, or a message of encouragement, or a message from scripture that builds up the believers for the work of service, then they are functioning as a New Testament prophet.
1st Corinthians 14:3 states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” That is the definition of a prophet’s job, in this age. The Old Testament gift of foretelling the future seems to have pretty much disappeared by the end of the book of Acts. We are told nothing further about it in the epistles, at least. Even false prophets are not warned against in the epistles, so much as false teachers.
A prophet, then, must have the faith to pursue God, personally, and absorb the Word of God, and learn the will of God, as revealed in Scripture. The prophet has to have the faith to see God’s will in black and white, and be able to declare it firmly, though humbly, knowing it to be true, because Jesus says so. “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is Paul’s message to the prophets in the New Testament Church.
What is “Ministry?”
7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
Ministry means service. The Greek word, here, for service, is “diakonia”. The companion word, “diakonous” is where we get the word “deacon”, in English. It simply means servant. We disdain the word servant, as if it is a “low-caste” calling, to which no one should be relegated. But God calls it a gift, and a high, holy calling. It is interesting to learn that the root of the word “menial” which we really don’t like, is exactly the same as that of the word “ministry” which we claim to love. Jesus taught this lesson in John 13, doing a menial task (foot-washing) that was ordinarily relegated to the lowest servants, in order to demonstrate the principle of ministry to his disciples.
Every believer is called to this life of service, but some are gifted beyond others, and can throw themselves into any task without reserve, as it is their joy to serve. There are no restrictions as to who can serve God: anyone can serve, but not all at the same tasks. He chooses our tasks. There may be human restrictions of a practical nature: a life-guard, for example, is in a position that absolutely demands that he or she be a very strong swimmer, and specifically trained to work in deep water to bring a struggling or injured person to safety. A church pianist must be someone who has endured the discipline of learning to play the piano well enough to accompany singers, in any key needed. There are many other human limitations, and we recognize them; but anyone can serve, and there are innumerable ways in which to do so. If you have a heart for service, God will give you an avenue in which to serve faithfully. And faithfulness itself is worthy of reward. God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant!”
What about Teaching?
Teaching, as we mentioned earlier, is the gift of being able to read, study and understand scripture, and to teach what it means, accurately, in keeping with the rest of the Word of God, so that the hearers are not just hearing, but understanding the scriptures, themselves. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New, and is a valuable gift, as well. A teacher does not necessarily have to be a leader, but an elder (overseer, pastor, bishop) has to be a teacher, as far as I can see. 1st Timothy 3:1-8 states some of the qualifications of being an elder, and one of them is “apt to teach”—able to teach. I do not think that this is just the ability to teach carpentry, or cooking, or mathematics, as, in the first place, those are not related to the work of God. It is also not just the rudimentary abilty that ALL people have, to transmit information. It is specifically referring to the spiritual gift of teaching that is vital to the health of a church. This, along with the gift of prophecy, is how the Flock is to be fed…and they are to be fed on the Word of God, not philosophy, or other bits of human wisdom. God’s Word is clean “sheep food.” That is all we have to offer. But how can we tell if we are gifted?
Teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs. I teach several classes at work; each has numerous tests associated with it. Some of the tests are quite difficult. None of the tests could be passed by someone who has not received the teaching. So, my “report card” is “what percentage of my students can now understand and use what I taught…and are they doing so?”
A Bible teacher should grade himself or herself by the same standard: “Do my students better understand the scriptures?”, and “Are they better able to apply them than before?” It is much harder to tell, for sure, as there is no “sit down and take the exam” kind of test to apply. But I knew a woman (now home with the Lord) who taught “Good News Club” Bible classes in her home for many years, training little children to understand the Word of God. Her report card? Most of the deacons in her church, before she died, were men whom she had taught as little children, in her home. She had led many of them to Christ. That is a great “Report Card!”
8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Encouragement is a pretty vital gift, too—the ability to see a need in someone’s life, and strengthen them by drawing alongside and being a friend, or a helper, or to encourage them to make good decisions. Some people are a constant encourager to those around them. Some are not. We are all told to encourage one another, and those of us who do not come by it naturally have no excuse—we are still told to do it. But there are those who are gifted by God to be an encourager to other believers. Encouragement flows out of them wherever they go. They are a tremendous blessing to the Church. We so badly need encouragers.
Giving with Simplicity
Giving, obviously, requires having something to give. But I remember hearing about a woman who picked blackberries all summer, with the express intent of having enough to buy her daughter a student violin. How precious that violin was to her grown daughter many years later.
Giving can be done in a showy manner, making a spectacle of the gift—and that practice is condemned by Jesus. Or it can be done simply, privately, with no fanfare, no attention to the gift or the giver…just meeting a need. That is a blessing in itself. Seeing to the need of another person without regard to one’s own benefit is the simplest definition of Agapé Love. When we consider what Jesus did at the Cross, we see that he completely personified that love.
Ruling with Diligence
Not all administrators are diligent…and not all are gifted to rule. But it takes diligent work to do a good job of overseeing any sort of job, or group of people. Some people are gifted to do the job of administration, and can do an efficient job without damaging the people with whom they serve. Others simply want power, and cause offense, as they bully the others in their group.
This desire for preeminence is rooted in self-will, and has nothing to do with the gift of administration. The Love of God has to be the motivating power in every area of the church, but especially in those who rule.
Showing Mercy, with Cheerfulness
Mercy is a gift that goes along with service and encouragement. It is tremendously valuable, because it mends hearts, comforts the feeble and quiets the fearful. It is the Compassion of God in human form. The “Report Card” on this one is how it is received. If little children and the elderly are blessed when they are near you, and people are comforted by your presence, then perhaps you are gifted in this area. It is difficult to tell about and describe, but it is easy to see in others. God said that Mercy was more valuable, and acceptable to Him than sacrifice.
Love is the Conclusion
9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
Love– the Agapé love as well as its companion word phileo—brotherly love—is the key to all relationships in the body of Christ. Those two loves never lead to evil; only to what is best. So a person who is claiming to express agapé love, but is doing wrong, is faking the love for the sake of cloaking the evil. Paul says, love is to be without dissimulation—without fakery—no pretension.
We are to completely avoid evil, and see it as abominable, wherever it appears…but especially in ourselves; in our motives, and our thoughts, since that is where God is looking: God says he “is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are to cling to what is good, without exception. Our love for one another must be pure, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
We should be most comfortable in the company of other believers, and give each other full respect and honor as children of God. In business and productivity, that Love should produce an excellent work ethic, as we recognize that we are serving God as well as our employer. If our spirit is right with God, it should produce a fervent love and worship for God, and a fervent desire to do His will and draw others to Him as well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:31)
These are the principles by which we are to guide our walk with God, our relationships with other believers and our relationship with the World around us. I trust that, as we meditate on this passage we can see it come to life in us, and transform us into the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, doing His work in this World.
Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness. Teach us to discern your will and search for ways to serve one another in Love. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.