Serving Others

“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.”
Romans 12:6-7 NLT

We continue to look at the list of motivational gifts listed in Romans 12. The next one Paul listed was “serving others”. Service is not a fashionable word today, and perhaps one still carrying negative connotations because it exposed a class distinction between those who “have” and those who “haven’t”. Servants were people who found employment as a butler, maid, or cook, serving an aristocratic or wealthy family in a big house somewhere. The class distinction can be seen in period dramas and television series such as “Downton Abbey”. 

Back in the 1930’s, my father found employment as an under butler, serving several families such as the Youngers, of Scottish brewery fame, who owned the large house at Mount Melville near St. Andrews in Fife. Before him, his father was a chauffeur/gardener, latterly working at Huntingtower near Perth. Today, the same jobs exist, but have different names. But in the end, every act of employment is a form of service, because we serve an employer.

However, was Paul referring to employment when he wrote that God has given us a gift of “serving others”? I think not, because he was bringing in the notion that “serving others” is both an essential part of Christian fellowship, and is underpinned by a heart attitude that is enhanced by a gift from God. Note three things here – “serving others” is something that God wants us to do, that He wants us to do well, and something that He has enhanced and helped us with a gift. In God’s Kingdom, the question – “What’s in it for me”? – is replaced by an attitude of heart that says – “What can I do for them”? In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul wrote, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too“. Jesus taught His disciples about “serving others”. We read in Mark 10:42-44, “So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world Lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else“.

So, what does all this mean for us pilgrims? Well, first of all, we are called to serve God, as we read in 1 Samuel 12:24, “But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you“. Also, serving others is not an option in our Christian lives. We Christians all need to be in fellowship, and, once there, we need to look for opportunities to serve our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And some of us will find that our willingness to serve is enhanced by a gift from God. How wonderful is that?

Dear God. Thank You that You saved us for a life of service. We thank You for the encouragement that You have provided. Amen.


“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.”
Romans 12:6-7 NLT

Paul starts to expand his thoughts about the gifts God gives us. We need to note that God has commissioned us to do something in our service to Him, and, through His kindness and grace, He has given us gifts to do what He wants us to do, so that we are effective. But what is the context within which we are to exercise these gifts? Is it in our church fellowships or in the communities in which we live? There is a clue in who the letter of Romans is addressed to. It is thought that Paul wrote this letter in AD57, while in Corinth, and it was addressed to the Roman Christians, who were experiencing a bit of strife between the Jewish and Gentile converts. So, primarily, the gifts that God supplied were to be used in a Christian fellowship setting. However, that said, our Christian lives, enhanced by the gifts God has given us, will shine like beacons on a dark world, and, who knows, there may well be opportunities to use our God-given gifts to help our fellow citizens in our schools, workplaces, and communities.

Paul starts with the gift of prophesy. Prophesy is, quite simply, a message from God. It can be about something that hasn’t yet happened, or it could be something that is related to a particular Biblical message. Foretelling or forth-telling. But in either case its roots must be in God. There are many examples of prophesy in the Old Testament, and the practice continued in the New. As an example of New Testament prophesy, there was the occasion when a prophet graphically brought a message about what would happen to Paul when he returned to Jerusalem. We read the account in Acts 21:10-12, “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem”. The prophet’s message, unwelcome to the believers as it was, turned out much as he told it, as Paul was indeed arrested and bound, as we read in Acts 21:33, “Then the commander arrested him and ordered him bound with two chains. He asked the crowd who he was and what he had done”.

An example of forth-telling occurs when a preacher brings a message from the Bible. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he or she preaches from a certain verse or passage of Scripture, that is helpful to the fellowship at that particular time in their journey together. So the message might be about the Gospel and salvation, or about giving and stewardship. Such a message could fall under the category of prophecy, particular if the message needs to be heard, and the preacher doesn’t know the local situation. 

How open are we pilgrims to prophetic messages? Sometimes God will bring us a prophecy in answer to our prayers. We might have been praying about moving to another city and, seemingly out of the blue, a prophecy would be given to us that answers our prayer and provides the direction, or otherwise, that we need. At other times a message might be preached that helps us get back on track in our Christian journey, or provides us with a new information to clarify the season ahead. But however delivered we need to wisely evaluate the messages to ensure that they came from God. A prophetic message will never contradict with the Word of God, as written in the Holy Scriptures. And we need to follow the wisdom of the Berean Christians. Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth“.

We pilgrims are in a privileged place. We worship a God who wants to helps us and interact with us. Prophesy is just one gift, out of many, that He provides.

Father God. We thank You for this wonderful gift of prophesy, so rich and fulfilling. Amen.

Certain Things

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophecy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”
Romans 12:6 NLT

So God has given us “different gifts for doing certain things well”.  We listed in a previous blog the seven ministry or service gifts – leading, faith, encouragement, teaching, hospitality, prophecy and giving. These are all practical gifts, graciously given by our loving Heavenly Father. And with them we can do “certain things well”. What things? 

As we review the gifts that Paul lists in Romans 12, we find that they are there mostly to help us in our life experiences with other people. In particular, the gifts of encouragement and hospitality help us to help others, who find themselves in negative territory. The other gifts are there also, providing invaluable resources for living in the way Jesus has requested for His church. 

So how do we get these gifts from God? His grace, being so available, means that the door to His gift cupboard is wide open. Imagine a room full of precious jewels or banknotes, riches that are there just for the taking, and we find that it is unlocked. All we have to do is to ask God for the gifts we need. Obviously, there are some prerequisites that need to be in place before the gifts can be dispensed. We must have a loving and obedient relationship with God, but from that we love those around us. 1 John 5:1-2, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments”.  It is that love, agape love, that underpins the motivational gifts we need.

We pilgrims live in a land of “certain things”. In the 17th Century, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, a man called John Donne, included the following quotation in a sermon. ”No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We are in constant contact with our neighbours and friends, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools and colleges. As John Donne said, we are involved in mankind, and we need all the gifts in God’s goodies cupboard to enable us to do what God has asked us to do. We may not see Kingdom fruit in our lifetimes, but we do what God has asked us to do anyway, with the gifts we need to do them.

Dear Father God. You have been so generous to us. But the biggest gift by far was, and is, Jesus. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Personal Gifts

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophecy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”
Romans 12:6 NLT

Paul develops his theme of the body of Christ, the church, being made up of individual people, and he wrote to the Christians in Rome, pointing out that God had given each of them a “different gift”, “for doing certain things well”. We don’t know much about the Roman church, or churches, and what giftings were present, but we can be sure that the spiritual gifts were present there. It was as though Paul was reminding them of this fact. Paul also told them that it was through God’s grace that they were given the gifts, and he highlighted the gift of prophecy. Was this the most important or just the first that came to his mind? We also see that the gifts Paul mentioned in the following verses in addition to prophecy – serving, teaching, encouraging, leading, giving, and showing mercy or kindness – were all there for the benefit of the local church. These were gifts that formed the “glue” that held them all together. There was something about the Holy Spirit empowering the gifts so that they become far more effective than any natural equivalent. Peter also said that God has a “great variety of spiritual gifts” (1 Peter 4:10), so perhaps the seven listed here in Romans 12 were just a few out of many. 

Is it the case that the church today has the same spiritual gifts that were bestowed upon the First Century Christians? Is it being presumptuous to reply in the affirmative? There is nothing that I can find in Scripture that says the gifts were only for the First Century AD, or the Apostolic age, so I think it is safe to assume that the spiritual gifts are still alive and well today. We should note that the Romans 12 gifts are gifts for service. Paul lists some more in 1 Corinthians 12, gifts such as healing and faith, miracles and knowledge, all gifts manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit. 

But before we get into the list of “certain things”, are we personally sure that we do, in fact, have a spiritual gift? How do we know? Well, first of all, Paul said that God has given us “different gifts“. 1 Peter 4:10, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another“. 1 Corinthians 12:7,“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other“. If God has said it, then we must have it. Is it wrong to say that to deny that we have a spiritual gift is to deny God? 

So, how do we find our spiritual gift or gifts (some people have more than one)? They can only be found by seeking God, though there are some helps that He has provided. Things like, do we feel a rise in our spirits at the mention of a particular gift? Or is there a friend who has pointed out to us something we are particularly good at? We should of course beware of looking for gifts that we think are a good idea rather than what God really has planned for us. 

Our loving Heavenly Father so kindly knows our shortcomings, and how we need much encouragement. He provides these practical gifts to help us and our churches, helping us shine as beacons in the world around us.

Dear Heavenly Father. We thank You for Your graciousness, so sensitive and practical, providing all that we need for our Christian lives today. Amen.

Body Parts

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
Romans 12:4-5 NLT

Paul describes what “Christ’s body”, the Church, is like, with a comparison with the human body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 he writes, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptised into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit”. The common bond that binds together the body of Christ is the baptism in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit who is shared amongst all of us pilgrims. Paul goes on to give more examples. 1 Corinthians 12:18-21, “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you””. He builds a picture of a group of people, each constructed in an autonomous way with all the body parts they need, who then come together to build a different kind of body, with each part being made up of individual people. A lovely analogy and obviously one much favoured by Paul.

Paul emphasises the “special function” of each part of the human bodies. Our kidneys don’t function in the same way as our livers. Our toes aren’t as dexterous as our fingers, but important none the less. We see with our eyes and hear with our ears. None of this should be a surprise to anyone. But what might be more of a challenge is when we take all the individual people and put them together in our churches. The body of Christ, His Church, also has different body parts. So we have our pastors and evangelists, people engaged in very different functions. And there will be those who perform different parts of the administration, or handling the finance. We have the prophets in our midst, who encourage and build up the people with their messages of love and hope. There are the musicians and singers. The list grows and grows. But imagine the chaos if everyone wanted to be a preacher, or worship leader or …

Do we pilgrims recognise this picture? Are we very much involved and connected to our fellowship of believers? Or are we occasional visitors, who only decide to pay our church a visit when there is nothing else to do? Perhaps it’s raining that day, so the car can’t be washed, or the golf course visited. Paul quite firmly said that we are all parts of the church and, here’s the thing, “we all belong to each other”. We have a responsibility to be committed to a church fellowship. Holding on even when things appear to be difficult. We may not feel we have much of a contribution to make, but, while we are there, God can use us to further and build up His body, the Church. Imagine the impact on a human body if, suddenly, the eyes disappeared. Well, it’s the same with Jesus’ body – imagine what would happen if, one Sunday, the worship leader or preacher fails to turn up. However, the less high profile people in a church are also missed when they fail to appear. Perhaps God wanted to use them that week to provide a simple piece of encouragement, such as a smile or a compliment. 

To be blunt, without us faithfully supporting our local church, it will shrivel and die, something we are danger of seeing in these days. As an example, the Church of Scotland has declined by 34% over the past decade to 60,000 members, with an average age of 62, and hundreds of church buildings will need to be closed because they are non-viable. In the West of Fife, where I live, 3 churches have closed in recent years, with another under threat. And unless there is a reversal of this decline, this denomination will be in danger of disappearing over the next 2 or 3 generations.

But it is not all doom and gloom. G. K. Chesterton once famously said, “On five occasions in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but on each occasion, it was the dogs that died”. We need to remember that Jesus said He will build His church. Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it”. Jesus used Peter as an example of the foundational basis for the Church, His Body. We are all “rocks” if we are rooted and grounded in Jesus, and it is upon us, in this generation, in our communities, that the responsibility for church building lies. Not the physical structures, ornately built with bricks and mortar, populated by stained glass windows and statues, but the living church made up of us believers. In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we read, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honour. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God“. So, fellow living stones, we are all constituent parts of God spiritual temple. What an honour! What a God!

Dear Father. We pray for Your forgiveness for those times when we have sat at home rather than join our brothers and sisters in our fellowships. Please help us to find our places in the local church where You have placed us, and where we can flourish, building a Temple where You can live and find a home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Self Honesty

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. 
Romans 12:3 NLT

This is a difficult one. What do we think of ourselves and our abilities? And how do we know? There are some empirical ways of assessing our abilities, and academic exams are one of them. We might, for example, think we are good at arithmetic, and we can prove it by passing some sort of test. The same would apply to a driving test, where we can demonstrate to an external examiner our ability, or not, as the case may be. Similarly, we might think we are good at speaking a foreign language, something that is easily confirmed by a visit to that country. But these are all specifics. The problem comes when, for example, we say we are good at a subject like art just because we can pass an arithmetic test.

I used to work for someone who was an expert in his vocational field. He wrote for scientific and technical journals, and people consulted him about their theories and projects. So he started a company to market his products, thinking that he would have the same expertise and abilities when it came to business matters. Sadly he didn’t, and the company collapsed. Now here’s the reason – he didn’t have an honest evaluation of himself. He should have read the verse we are looking at today. The problem in much of today’s employment, particularly in white collar environments, is that those who climb the promotion ladder have to make claims about how good they are, by talking up their abilities. I was once in a project meeting with a very confident manager, who impressed the project sponsor by his apparent knowledge of the subject in hand. Afterwards I complemented him on his knowledge, to which he replied, “in a land of blind men, a one-eyed man is king”. The reality was that he had a good grasp of all the buzz words, but little else. But life isn’t like that for most of us.

At the other end of the scale, I have known people who are really good at something, but they lack the confidence to leverage their abilities, failing to make them a useful addition to their lives and the lives of others. But the emphasis in Paul’s message would indicate that this is less of a problem then being overconfident, by thinking that “you are better than you really are”.

Was Paul merely applying what he was writing about to spiritual matters or everything that the person, the “each of you”, was involved in? He was probably, in my opinion, referring to life, everything the person was involved in as they went about their everyday lives. Paul also included some guidance in his letter to the Philippians. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4). He continued, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. …” (Philippians 2:5-7). The world has got it wrong. Society demands that self-promotion is necessary to get on, and be better than anyone else. The Christian way is the opposite, one of humility and preferring one another. A way where we step back and allow God to do the promoting. Because of Jesus’ humility, He was honoured, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9).

Paul writes about self-evaluation through the faith that we have. To present this as an example, perhaps someone who claims to have a healing ministry, but doesn’t see the fruit of it, may not have the faith to make their claim. There is a partnership between a person’s spiritual and natural abilities, seasoned with the faith that comes from a lifetime of service to God.

So we pilgrims, humbly in God’s presence, work with Him to maximise our potential for His kingdom. Through our faith in Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit working within us. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). And, in the end, that is what we really want to do – please our loving Heavenly Father.

Dear Father God. We praise and worship You today, deeply grateful for Your presence in our lives. Please help us, we pray, to serve You with faith and in truth, trusting that it is only through You and Your Son, Jesus, that we can really succeed in all that You have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Privilege and Authority

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. 
Romans 12:3 NLT

Is Paul getting a little ahead of himself, by claiming that he can effectively speak for God? He claimed that he had “privilege and authority”, a status not given by a societal or governmental process, but by God Himself. The problem for some people is that they do not observe, or participate in, the process that provides such authority. In history, many people have claimed that they have some special power or mandate given to them by God, and, through that, they have gone on to deceive people and lead them down a path that is nothing to do with God at all. The Bible accounts call them false prophets, and Jesus warned about them, as we read in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves”. So how can we validate Paul’s claim that God had given him His authority?

In the Matthew 7 account, Jesus went on to teach His disciples how they can avoid being misled by these false prophets. Matthew 7:16-17, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit”. And He finishes the section by saying, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20).

So back to Paul. He claimed that Jesus had appointed him to his ministry. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him” (1 Timothy 1:12). Romans 1:1, “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News”. Paul was obviously recognised as an Apostle by the other Apostles at that time. Paul met with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, and we read in Galatians 2:7-8, “Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles”. There are other verses in the New Testament that confirm Paul’s appointment as an Apostle, so we can rest assured that he did indeed have God’s authority, and he considered it a privilege.

If we apply the false prophet test to Paul, it soon becomes very clear that his single-mindedness in furthering the work of the Gospel throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region and beyond, often at great personal cost, was indisputable. No bad fruit there at all. And as a legacy Paul left us with his letters, that have shaped and instructed disciples ever since.

We believers, pilgrims for Christ, also have the same authority that Paul had. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age””. The early disciples were given the authority to make more disciples, who go on to make even more. And that process has been continuing ever since.

So, the question is, how many disciples have we made? We have Jesus’ request, His mandate, and authority to do so. Hmmm… 

Father God. Please forgive us for our lethargy in spreading the Gospel to those around us. We pray for Your guidance to take us the the right people, at the right time, so that we too can obey Your instructions to make disciples. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thought Programming

“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 NLT

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Romans 12:2 J B Phillips

The implication of Romans 12:2 is that the world thinks and acts in a different way to God. How did that happen? After all, weren’t we made in God’s image? Of course, we know the answer. It’s all down to sin. Even though we know, intuitively sometimes, how God would behave, we act in a different way, because it feels good. Or it’s an easier option. We could very quickly compile a table with three headings – Behaviour, God’s Way, World’s Way. And the results would be shocking. Let’s take some examples:

BehaviourGod’s WayWorld’s Way
Treatment of enemiesLoveHate
Response to accusationsTell the TruthTell Lies
TemptationDon’t give inJust do it
AdulteryRun from itGive in – no one will know
RelationshipsPrefer one anotherLook after ourselves

The list is endless and I’ve left a space for our own additional and personal contributions. Wise old Paul could see the “behaviour and customs of this world” for what they were – riven and influenced by sin.

Paul appealed to his readers to allow the transforming power of God to change them from worldliness to Godliness. And that is never more important than in these dark and Godless days. Days when the society around us is confused and misguided – as an example, just look at the mess the Scottish politicians have made with their legislation to allow a person to change their gender at will. A mess that could have been prevented if they had just opened a Bible. On the same subject, there are people who blatantly and openly behave in homosexual acts, and engage in “Pride” events. Businesses decide that they can sell more of their products if they embrace fashionable ideologies and customs. The societal cauldron in which we live is constantly fuelled by sin, becoming a merry go round of behaviours that compete to be the worst possible. Thankfully, believe it or not, God holds back the worst excesses. One day His restraints will be removed and society will become a forerunner of hell. However, before anyone takes issue with that statement, we need to note that there are many Godly behaviours we can see even in ungodly people. Kindness, love, or other-centredness for example. God’s grace will shine through mankind in many different ways, even in those who don’t know Him, but there will come a time when His grace will be replaced by judgement.

So the question must be – how do we let God change us, in the way we think and behave. Some years ago, youth events would be taught how to obtain God’s perspective of a behaviour by thinking “What Would Jesus Do”. Rubber wrist bands were handed out with the initials WWJD engraved on them. And that is really the way we find out what God’s thoughts are. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are fundamental to our every day lives, and as we read them and align ourselves to His principles, we will find that increasingly we become a new person, thinking God thoughts. We must remember what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right“. Reading the Bible, and referring to it for guidance, will expose us to God’s thoughts, with the consequence that we will “learn to know God’s will for [us], which is good and pleasing and perfect”. 

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your grace and mercy, as they guide us day by day through our journey to paradise. We worship You today. Amen.

Living Sacrifice

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Romans 12:1 NLT

Paul starts this chapter with an “And so”. Other translations use the word “Therefore”. He is referring to all that he has written in the previous verses and chapters, and because of all this, Romans 12:1 is the proper response. Paul “pleads” with his readers to do something, something that perhaps they would find hard or difficult. How can we give our bodies to God? He is Spirit. Our bodies are physical. Flesh and blood. But the Jewish Christians would have known what Paul was getting at. Animal sacrifice was very much a part of the Jewish religion, at least while they had a temple. But is Paul here saying that they, his readers, should be the sacrifices instead?

First of all we should remember that Jesus put an end to the practice of animal sacrifice, by becoming an eternal offering for sin. In Hebrews 10:5 we read, “That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer””. Why did Jesus do that? Hebrews 10:10, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time”. And then Hebrews 10:18, “And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices”. 

But Paul “pleads” with his readers to “be a living and holy sacrifice”. It can’t be anything to do with forgiveness for sins, because Jesus was the ultimate and eternal sacrifice. There is, perhaps, a clue when Paul adds the reason for giving our bodies – “because of all he has done for [us]”. How can we properly respond to God for what Jesus did for us at Calvary? It is no good offering Him our money, or anything else that we own. And neither will working for God in some religious role, such as a missionary or minister, be good enough. No, God wants us, body, soul and spirit, our entirety. 

It is easier in many ways to go through the religious motions of being a Christian. Going to church. Attending the prayer meetings. Putting a tithe in the offering. Standing on a street corner with a collecting box for the poor. But none of this costs us what God is really looking for – our selves. We must bring our wills to God, and lay them on His altar. 

Paul said that our sacrifice, our bodies, must be “living and holy”. Nothing else is acceptable to God. Our bodily sacrifice has to be alive, because then our wills, our selves, are active and making decisions God’s way. If we were dead there would be no benefit, either to us or to God. And we mustn’t forget that God will only accept what is holy into His presence. Hebrews 12:14, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord“. We are sanctified – made holy – through Jesus. Colossians 1:22, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault“. 

Through our willingness to present every facet of our lives to God, for His service and worship, and because of the blood of Jesus, we are an acceptable sacrifice to God. Of course, we become stained and soiled by our sin and the sins of others, but by confessing our sins to God we are forgiven, becoming a living and holy sacrifice.

Dear Father God. We respond to Your servant Paul’s pleadings today. We reach out to You in praise and worship. Amen.

God’s Power and Glory

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
Romans 11:33-36 NLT

Paul finishes his musings about the greatness of God with the thought that God holds everything in its place through His power and for His glory. Of course, we know that God is good and nothing bad can come from Him, don’t we? Surely to do what we perceive are “bad things” must be impossible for Him. However, God receives much blame for the negative things that go on in the world. For the wars. For someone’s illness. For a mugging in the street. Because it’s raining on a summer holiday. Blame is aimed at Him, whether trivial or serious. Even insurance companies refer to an uninsured loss as an “Act of God”.

We pilgrims know that sometimes God disciplines His people, either corporately or individually. At the time we might think that God is capriciously dealing out some form of punishment for our misdemeanours, and we mistakenly feel that God is not good anymore. But in Hebrews 12:5-6 we read, “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child””. God is always seeking our highest good, and when we stray off the narrow path, He will never hesitate in drawing us back to the right way, even if it involves us in some pain. And we have Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them“. Scripture tells us that God dispenses good gifts. We read in James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow”. 

So where does all the bad stuff come from? Can any of it be attributed to God? Obviously one source is sin and another is from the devil, although we can read Old Testament accounts of God allowing, or even making, bad things to happen. He may even initiate them for His redemptive purposes. Or bring them in judgement, as we saw in the Old Testament accounts of the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know that God abhors sin, but allows it to run its course, for now. We may observe, read about, or even experience, an illegal act, such as an assault, which would violate God’s moral code. Surely He should intervene or at least, bring some form of punishment? But we know that one day Books will be opened and everyone who has ever lived, or will live, will have to account for their deeds, facing into the consequential punishment for their actions. We should note, however, that we sometimes confuse bad things with immoral things – God’s morality is above reproach.

The other difficulty we have when considering the bad stuff that happens to people, is that, although it may happen by accident, it may not be stoppable. As an example, a friend of mine tripped over in his garden yesterday and banged his head and cut his arm in the process. Should God have stopped that happening? Accidents happen in our world, whether we like it or not. Although God is of course capable of stopping them, and may do so from time to time, we cannot expect Him to intervene at every occurrence. What about natural disasters? Should God have stopped the recent earthquake in Turkey? The Revelation account tells us that this may be one more sign of the End Times.

The conclusion we can draw from Scripture is that God will give us gifts that are good. A sinful world suffers bad things, but in this time of God’s grace we can assure ourselves a future that is going to be good and perfect. God holds the world together for His ultimate glory, but He allows mankind to make its choices. And choosing sin will inevitably bring bad stuff to our world. Through Jesus, the ultimate “Good Gift”, we can find forgiveness for our sins. And through it all, we give God the glory that is rightfully His. We may not fully understand why things happen, good or bad, but we trust God, because only He can see the end from the beginning, and every stage in between.

Dear Father God. Only You know the words of eternal life. Only You can be trusted in this sin-tainted world. So, we thank You for Your grace and love – where would we be without it? Amen.