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“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, NIV).

Understanding that God is not always worshipped at His “house” and we can and should worship God anywhere and everywhere in “spirit and truth” (see John 4:19-26), Solomon gives us some sage advice on the purposefulness and sincerity involved in rightly worshipping God. In these seven verses he speaks of some areas that directly impact whether or not we experience the awesomeness of God (v. 7) and the heartfelt worth we should be ascribing to Him. This best happens when our lives, hearts, and minds are aligned in such a manner that we don’t trivialize being in the presence of holy God. These worship instructions are profoundly simple. Solomon talks about our steps (our behavior), our words, and our vows (commitments) being pivotal in experiencing God.

In the first verse Solomon reminds us that we must be ready to experience God. We have often heard of the hypothetical family riding in the car on their way to corporate worship. They are snipping and biting at each other until the mysterious line, usually found near the church parking lot entrance, appears and then suddenly they become “spiritual” and stop their bickering (only to resume their behavior as they exit the parking lot after the service). This story is only funny because we all have done this type of thing. But this passage points to being prepared for worship. We can’t expect to experience God or genuinely adore Him when our steps (behaviors) do not honor Him. So How can we presume that God will visit us and we will hear His voice when we are living in a manner that is unworthy of His holiness (see Romans 12:1)? Although Solomon is not suggesting that our house must be perfectly in order to effectively worship Him at His “house” (which, of course, is everywhere) but living in willful disobedience hinders our ability to fully experience His presence.

Verses 2-3 are about our words. Solomon, like other passages (Psalm 46:10), indicates that frivolous thoughts and speech serve as a barrier to genuine worship. What are we thinking about, thus probably uttering, when we are seeking to experience the presence of God? It is easy to forget that worship means engaging a holy God and that requires our thoughts to be laser focused on Him. Often we are much better off and He is more honored when we are reverent and silent as we approach Him. We need  more to listen for His voice than to be “quick with our mouth” and talk like a “fool” who isn’t cognizant that God is to be central in our worship. He expects that we be so enamored with His presence that sometimes we are mute before Him – with feelings that defy articulation. For example, because my thoughts are so easily distracted from Him, sometimes I prefer to focus on the words of the worship song or hymn with eyes closed as opposed to singing and easily ignoring the meaning of the words (and that’s not just because I sing like a frog with a man in his throat – yes, you read that correctly).

Verses 4-7 talk about the vows (commitments) that are often a part of intentional worship. Virtually every time I truly experience God and am rocked by His awesomeness I’m moved to make commitments to Him. This makes sense – as we catch a vision of God in all of His holiness, light, and perfection we grasp our shortcomings. Then we are typically compelled to make a vow of service or obedience knowing how far short we fall. But how long do these vows last? How real are our commitments if they don’t linger much longer than the seconds it took to contemplate them? True worship radically changes us and we realize the gravity of making promises to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God. Understanding the bigness of the God we serve and worship should make us hesitant to babble meaningless promises as if He is not offended by our triteness and insincerity.

The overarching thought that comes to mind when I study this passage is “sacred.” Have I lost the sense of the sacredness of God and worshipping Him? Our worship is to be sacred because God is sacred. He is about sacred things. Anything, therefore, we do, inside or outside of formalized worship, is to never be treated as ordinary. In other words, as followers of Jesus we must be acutely aware that we always walk on holy ground, especially when we intend to worship. And, according to wise Solomon, approaching God with behaviors that do not honor Him, words that do not focus on Him, and making meaningless vows before Him does not please Him. For He is a transcendent God who is infinitely worthy of our full focus and endless adoration.

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:1-3). 

When I was doing some ministry work at a place called The Barnabas House I was reminded of the profound lesson of how not to be conformed to this world by the ongoing, intentional renewing of our minds. This ministry is an intensive rehab program for those who might otherwise be sent to jail. These men would live at the facility, receive therapy, and eventually be integrated into society after a 6 to 12 month period. Most were there due to various types of substance abuse and/or anger issues. The program was both practical and spiritual as the judicial system determined these guys to be better off in this type of environment as opposed to a prison cell. 

I was often amazed at the biblical understanding many of these men had. In the conversation in question, with a Bible under his arm, one of these men (a reforming drug addict and spousal abuser) shared with me how he did battle with the demons of temptation that could eventually lead him back to the lifestyle he so desperately wanted to shed. Referring to Romans 12:1-2, he said, “I must be constantly vigilant to think about what I’m thinking about.” How true! It was certainly an “ah-ha moment” for me. Don’t we all need to do this? But how often do we? 

Pastor D. Martin Lloyd Jones, a physician by training, said that at any given time we are either listening to ourselves or talking to ourselves. I hope that makes sense. The point is, if we don’t control our thoughts with purpose, before we know it we have gone hours (a day, week, or month), with the tape that plays in our head running rampant and controlling us. This interminable, spontaneous data-dump created by an untamed thought life can usurp control of our minds. And it is usually twisted by our sin nature – fleshly, negative, defeating, depressing, and altogether unhealthy. Yet often we allow our thoughts to run free without reining them in by practicing the discipline of speaking to ourselves the truth of God’s Word, the intentional determination of what we are thinking. Does that make sense? If not, pause right now and analyze what you were thinking about the minutes or hours prior to reading this post. Or, while reading this post, has your mind drifted off to things that were less important or even contrary to God’s truth? Did your thoughts run free thereby controlling you (and your attitude and disposition) or were you controlling your thoughts? In other words, is that carnally bent mind of ours ruling us – taking us where it wants us to go – or are we ruling it? 

This may sound trivial but I believe this issue is key to our emotional, mental, and, most importantly, spiritual health. Paul is saying here that unless we “think about what we are thinking about” and do something about it, then the ungodly part of our mind will push us in the direction of being conformed to the thinking, and therefore, the patterns of the world. And this can be both destructive and ultimately devastating! After all, unrestrained, our mind tends to drift to that which is base, unspiritual, and self-absorbed. This is why Paul suggests that “biblical mind control” is imperative in us finding God’s will (v. 2) and having the humble, sacrificial spirit that gives us the freedom to live and love in a way that honors God (vs. 1&3). Remember, “For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is: (Proverbs 23:7, HCSB).

In 4th chapter of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul ties this together by saying our joy (v. 4), our mental stability (v. 5), our piece of mind (v. 6), and our purity (v. 7) are determined by the purposeful control of our thought life (v. 8). And we must “practice” this biblical mind control to most fully experience the peace, power, and presence of God (v. 9). As we read this passage let’s focus, keep our mind from wandering, and think about it! 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “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” (Romans 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away
into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of
thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on
him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
(Mark 15:15-20).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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