"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." (v.1) God has redeemed us and made us a new creation. Now He is transforming us into His image. It is only reasonable that we present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, because that is what Jesus did, and He is the pattern Son! A living sacrifice differs from a dead sacrifice in that it endures the pain of sacrifice continually. In Christ, the pain is changed into joy!
A sacrifice is put on the altar, and in a sense becomes one with it. Jesus asked, "Which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?" It is obvious that the altar is more important! Since it sanctifies the offering, a union has to take place. Jesus Christ is our altar, and in our union with Him, we are sanctified and have fellowship with Him. It is in fellowship with Him that we serve Him!
Our service to God occurs through our body. Without using our body, we can't do anything. What difference does it make in our daily living whether we present our bodies to the Lord or not? If we do not present our bodies to the Lord we are living for ourselves - for our own selfish ambitions, comforts and pleasures. These are very precious to us, and it is difficult to believe that something better is in store for us. Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice is offering ourselves to God. We give up our own ideas and ambitions for the sake of receiving God's purpose for ourselves. His purpose has value and great reward - ours doesn't!
In this service we cannot cater to the desires of our body, such as comfort, ease, pleasures, honor, etc. That would be paramount to offering diseased, blind and maimed sacrifices to God. Jesus did not cater to the desires of His body. This truth was impressed upon me one evening when we were serving God in China. The mosquitoes were particularly bothersome that evening, and in my thoughts I began to complain about them. Then God spoke to me and said, "Isn't that a small price to pay for the opportunity of proclaiming the gospel to these precious people?" How true! Once we see things from God's perspective instead of our own, we recognize our selfish desires.
When we think of serving God, we usually think of what we can do for God, and the kind of ministry we can be involved in. How can we use our natural talents for God? God is calling us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to Him. This takes place in our daily living. In everything we do, from the smallest chore to the things we call great, we present our bodies to the Lord.
He says this is our spiritual worship service to God! We thought a worship service consisted of praising God, clapping our hands, and dancing before Him, didn't we? Now Paul brings us into the practical dimension of spiritual worship!
Jesus is the pattern Son, and He demonstrated what it means to present the body! Jesus did not seek His own comfort nor the praise of people. He suffered rebuke and rejection while He was doing the things the Father showed Him to do. He walked the dusty roads, got tired and hungry, slept outdoors on the hard ground, and never complained! He never did His own will; He only did what the Father told Him to do! He suffered the cruellest death man could devise! This was His spiritual service to God!
Worship can only take place by the surrender of our will to the God (or gods) we worship. In worshiping God we have to let go of our way of doing things. To serve Him, we let go of our own ambitions and let God have His way in our lives. As long as self is our god, self will be worshiped. In other words, we will put self-interest first. We will do our good deeds because they will bring honor to us. Our church-related offices, duties and activities will be done to show that we are committed Christians. They also give us a feeling of importance and fulfillment. But when we do them as a worship service to God, we will not be concerned about honor. Our work will be Spirit-directed. It will flow out of love, and grace and mercy will be evident in our lives.
"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." (v.2) We are not to be conformed to this world's way of thinking and its way of doing things!
Our new way of living is not an option. Be not conformed is a command. After we have been born into the kingdom of God we are citizens of heaven, and have to learn to live according to the laws of this kingdom. If we move to a new country we have to learn to live according to its laws. There the laws of our former country are not in effect. For example, if we move to England or Hong Kong from Canada, we have to observe their law of driving on the left-hand side of the road. Our thinking has to change, otherwise there will be dire consequences.
In God's kingdom we live according to the law of the Spirit of life! This is a complete reversal from living in the death realm of our natural thinking. God's life is free from death; it is free from condemnation, hate, rebellion, bitterness, greed, selfishness, evil and decay! Nothing can pollute it; nothing can change it! It is always life and goodness; it is always life-giving!
God is not concerned with religiosity - conforming to rules, customs, rituals, etc. Conforming to the norms of others requires a suppression of our desires, or an outward behavior that agrees with what others think and do. A Christian is not to be conformed to this world's way of thinking; he has been changed! He is a new creation, and the world's thinking no longer belongs to him! An outward conformity to something he is not, is hypocrisy. A Christian should live like a Christian! He is not of the world, so his thinking and actions should not reflect the world's thinking.
Neither is God looking for unbelievers to conform to the Christian way of living. He is concerned with an inner change of being, and this results in a Spirit-directed life! It is impossible for sinners to live like Christians, because they have not experienced an inner change of being. Trying to live like Christians by laws and discipline is also conformity. Of course we rather like that because they don't present as many problems to us that way. But it makes it harder for them to recognize their need of a Savior.
So we should not try to force non-Christians to live like Christians. We dislike it when someone tries to force us to sin or to conform us to his way of thinking. That brings death and frustration, and just doesn't work. Neither should we try to make sinners conform to our way of living! That would be like trying to make a chicken conform to a duck's way of living. It doesn't work. Chickens hate water for they were not made to swim.
God works through transformation - not conformity. Notice that our transformation takes place through the renewing of our minds. Our natural mind thinks according to the world's way of thinking. The mind of Christ thinks God's thoughts! We have been given the mind of Christ, but we have to learn to think out of His mind. As we think His thoughts, a transformation takes place in us!
The natural mind thinks that transformation is a change of behavior, and that it can be accomplished through discipline. It thinks we are the master of who we are and of what we do. It is true that much can be accomplished through discipline and hard work, but they cannot produce a transformation! It does not take place that way! A worm's transformation into a butterfly does not take place by disciplining itself to do certain things. It happens because it has followed some instincts that were planted within its being. Our transformation takes place when we obey the new mind that God has given us!
The mind of Christ is a mind of faith! It only obeys the Father's directives. It does not depend on self. It feeds on truth and does not believe the lies that the natural mind feeds us. It only believes what God says. It does not have a sin-consciousness. It knows that God has absolute power, that He is absolutely good, that no evil resides in Him, that He will keep His promises, and that He only works for our good! Thus He is completely dependable! This is the mind God has given us in Christ!
Just as light does away with darkness, so living out of Christ's mind does away with living according to this world system. The natural mind still tries to dictate its standards for our daily living, but the mind of Christ does not receive them. When God's people let the standards of the world dictate their way of living, they are not living out of Christ's mind. There are only two kingdoms: the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. God's kingdom is never influenced by the kingdom of darkness. So our standards should not be influenced nor affected by the standards of others, but only by the Spirit's teaching!
How can we be the salt of the earth if we are living by the standards of the world? The salt then has lost its flavor and is not good for anything. How can we be a light if our light has become darkness? Remember that darkness cannot extinguish light, but light does away with darkness. When we live according to the Spirit, our light will shine brightly, for He is truth!
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Pe. 2:9) This is who we are! We are the people of God! We are different from the world - our attitudes, goals and priorities are different. We live differently because our values are different. The excellencies and virtues of God are to be proclaimed by the way we live!
The two kingdoms don't mix. A Christian does not belong to the kingdom of this world, and an unbeliever does not belong to the kingdom of God. Just as we expect a chicken to be a chicken, and a duck to be a duck, so we expect a Christian to be a Christian, and a sinner to be a sinner. Trying to make people be what they are not, is totally wrong. Understanding this makes the Christian life so much more exciting!
Outwardly, conformity and unity in the Spirit may seem to be one and the same thing. But there is a big difference between the two. Conformity is produced through some kind of pressure by man; unity in the Spirit is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a joyful response to the Spirit's teaching.
Let's look at an example. When we all get together and raise our hands in worship, it can be conformity or a Spirit-led unity. If pressure is exerted to do as your leader does, it is conformity. But when there is a unity produced by the Holy Spirit, no one will be forcing anyone to do anything. The Holy Spirit, in the bond of peace and the love of God in our hearts, will bring forth that desire within us to raise our hands in worship and praise. That is not conformity - that is a transformation from our independent way of doing things; our transformation causes us to flow together in harmony. Without transformation it is conformity.
God is in the business of transforming us into His image! Our transformation does away with our independence and disobedience - the result of the sin that took place in the garden of Eden. That sin was unbelief, and this resulted in disobedience. God said, "Don't," yet they did it. They listened to a voice that was not God's voice. They wanted to become like God by making their own choices. This is disobedience and independence! They go together all the time. Independence means we are not depending upon God. Doing our own thing means we are led by our own desires, not by the Holy Spirit. The solution lies in being transformed by believing God.
A life that is not entirely submitted to God, seeks love and care and the sense of belonging by trying to be like others. This requires a suppression of our personal desires and only brings misery. Submission to Christ's desires brings death to our personal desires, and results in joy and victory! Living out of Christ's life is a joyous experience! It's a life of peace and rest. Letting His glory and life and light shine forth is due to God's work within us, and brings honor to Him!
We call ourselves believers, yet in our daily life we are often very unbelieving. Instead of believing God for our provision, we are filled with worry. Trials will throw us into a depression because we don't believe that God has a purpose for that difficulty! We try to achieve righteousness through our works instead of believing that Christ has become our righteousness. Believing what God says brings transformation! Believing God results in obedience to Him. We will walk by faith and not by sight! This is the transformation that God is bringing about in us!
Simply believing God takes us out of the struggle of trying to believe. It brings us into rest because we are resting from our own works and letting the Holy Spirit do His work in us and through us. This is an entirely new way of thinking, and it is called the renewal of our mind! We are transformed by having our minds renewed. Our minds are renewed when we believe what God says, for our natural mind always opposes God. It does not believe what God says He is, nor what God says we are in Christ. To know what He says, we need to know the scriptures. However, knowledge of the scriptures alone does not transform us; it only results in more legalism and pride in our knowledge. The Holy Spirit has to illumine us, teach us, and apply it to our way of living.
In the scriptures, Egypt symbolizes the world system where self rules, and Canaan, the promised land, where God rules. These two systems are two different ways of thinking. Let's think of them as two channels. Let's say our old way of thinking is our Egyptian channel - the channel that is in bondage to self, and every thought feeds self. All our thought patterns fit into that system - even our religious thoughts. Deeds are earmarked as either good or bad - according to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All these deeds have one root, called unbelief or disobedience!
Our new way of thinking is on a different channel - our Canaan or faith channel. It has a new wave length. It is the channel where God rules by His Spirit. Now our thought patterns are subject to God's way of thinking! Instead of yielding to our old thinking, we change channels and ask God how He looks at this problem. Hearing the Spirit takes us out of legalism and brings us into grace. The Spirit's teaching comes to us as He opens up the scriptures to us; He also speaks to us as we go about our daily work.
In order to receive the Spirit's teaching, we need a submissive attitude toward God - a willingness to submit our thinking to truth! Our old thoughts and emotions have to be cast down from their position of rule. As long as we try to impose our thinking upon God, we won't hear His voice! Our new Master rules according to His law of life, and this is a new experience for us. We no longer yield to the demands of self because Christ has become our life. Our life in Christ produces a change in our thinking, and changes us into the image of Christ. The Canaan channel of faith brings us into grace and truth!
Christ always believed what God said! Because He believed, He did what God said! Obedience is the result of believing. As we live out of His mind, our mind is being renewed! We will think differently and we will act differently. We won't react because we will be led by the Holy Spirit, just as Christ was. Self used to be our priority, but now Christ is our priority. We have been taken out of legalism and works, and brought into grace and truth! Believing God takes us out of conformation and brings us into transformation!
How can we know what God thinks? Just as we cannot know what others think unless they communicate their thoughts to us, we cannot know what God thinks unless He communicates His thoughts to us. He has done this by giving us a book we call the Bible; and to help us understand it, He has given us the Holy Spirit! Our natural mind does not understand spiritual realities; it can only receive spiritual words in an earthy concept. As we read the Bible, study it and memorize it, we need the Holy Spirit to bring us spiritual understanding. Otherwise our knowledge will remain in the death realm of the carnal mind.
Just as a good relationship with people needs to be fostered and nourished, so our relationship with God needs to be fostered and nourished. In a good marriage relationship, husband and wife learn to know the desires of their spouse because of the knowledge they have gained through years of experience and intimate relationship. As our relationship with God grows deeper through the obedience of faith, we will know God's thoughts, not just through the written word and the illumination of the Spirit, but through personal relationship!
Many Christians have problems because they are not allowing their minds and hearts to be subject to the word of God. Change can only come when we subject our thoughts to God's thoughts, and believe what He is saying. If we put our thoughts above God's thoughts, we are inadvertently declaring Him to be a liar. When we begin to think the way God thinks, our priorities and values change. We'll still have problems, but we'll let God show us what to do. We'll be intent on keeping the same attitude we see in Christ, and let God work things out in a way that brings honor to Him!
The mind of the flesh always sets its desire against the mind of the Spirit, and the Spirit is against the flesh. The two are in opposition to one another. (Gal. 5:17) This shows us the importance of obeying the Spirit!
By living out of the mind of Christ, our transformation will prove that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect. This does not mean that God has one will that is good, another that is acceptable, and one that is perfect. God has one will - it is not divided! His will is good, it is acceptable and it is perfect! God does not change His mind about anything; He knows what is best! He gave us Christ because we need His life in us to transform us!
As we obey God, we learn that His will is always good and acceptable and perfect! Difficulties test our obedience. Obedience reveals His wonderful will for us, just as Christ's obedience revealed God's wonderful plan of salvation to us! As long as we act according to our feelings, we won't know God's will. We'll only prove that our will brought failure; we will think that if we had made a different choice, it would have brought success. Our mind does not lack excuses. However, as we hear the Spirit and follow His directives, we will prove how great and fantastic God's will is!
The Bible brings us many success stories of men and women who did great things because they listened to God and obeyed His voice. They proved that God's will is good and perfect - even when sufferings were involved! Jesus is the prime example! His extraordinary obedience is illuminated by His intense sufferings! They reveal His unlimited obedience! At that time people did not realize the victory and salvation that were in the making. What looked like failure brought salvation to humanity! So our obedience will also reveal that God's will is perfect! This can only take place through a renewed mind - one set on obedience.
The natural mind is cluttered with its own desires; it is in opposition to God and unable to perform God's will. It thinks it knows what is best, and wants to evade suffering and discomfort. Our new mind, the mind of Christ, is one of faith and obedience. Have you ever wondered what God's will for you is? Here we have the answer - obedience! God's perfect will for us is obedience! An unlimited faith in the goodness of God is the foundation for obedience!
This does not mean we are becoming spiritual robots. Robots don't have to overcome certain desires; they just do what they are programmed to do; they do not have a mind that can think and create. Christians have the mind of Christ. Although they can still think out of their natural mind, it actually does not belong to them. It belongs to the Adamic man - the old man, and Christians are new creations in Christ! Living out of our new mind is not the result of choice; it comes out of believing that God is true, and that everything that does not agree with Him is a lie! It is a persuasion. We are persuaded that God's way is best! His directions can be safely followed!
"For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." (v.3) Paul gave these directives through the grace or favor given to him. Spiritual insight comes to us from God through the Holy Spirit, and it needs to be imparted to others through our words and actions. Whatever ministry we have is a special grace God has given us. So we have nothing to glory in.
The danger of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think is present in all of us. We have a tendency to think we can run the show. After we become Christians, we falsely think we can sanctify ourselves by discipline and good works; we think our ministry can be maintained by our good organization and the world's system of doing things. We may even think our ministry was given us because we sought for it with all our heart and with fasting and prayer - that it was the result of our doing. This thinking is the result of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think!
Sound judgment can only take place in those who have received truth, and are able to hear the Spirit's judgment. His judgment is always true. He enables us to distinguish between the lie and the truth. Lies and unbelief are error. Truth judges God's ways to be better than our ways, and through faith brings this discernment into action.
Good judgment abhors pride in whatever form it takes, and it increases our joy in the Lord. It recognizes that the government of the world is not on our shoulders. Therefore we don't pick up its worries and go around looking like a sourpuss. Grace gives us the ability to laugh at our blunders - we're not talking about sin, but about the blunders we make in everyday life. If we can't laugh at ourselves once in a while, we'll get so serious about everything that we end up in a religious rut, and our type of Christianity won't attract anyone to the Lord.
Good judgment recognizes that God has a purpose for each of us. He has an important place for all of us, but everything has to be according to His plan and rule. Being wrapped up in self is pride, and it keeps us from hearing God. If we think too highly of ourselves, we won't enjoy the Lord and we won't enjoy life, because we'll be too busy adjusting our halo. Our starchiness will keep us from smiling for fear that we might crack up.
Good judgment recognizes the difference between being serious about God and being serious about oneself. Being serious about God means that loving Him and obeying Him is the most important thing in life! But being serious about oneself means that self is most important, and it keeps us from serving others. It may even land us in the psychiatrist's office.
"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (vv.4-5) How differently we would often act if we would truly believe that we are one body! If there is an infection in our physical body, the blood rushes in to fight the infection. More white corpuscles are manufactured and the whole body cooperates in facilitating the healing! So we should also be concerned about our spiritual body and work together for healthy growth!
There is no jealousy among the members of our physical body. Our legs are not jealous of our arms, nor are our ears jealous of our eyes. Their different functions are necessary to fulfill the mission they have been called to perform! Similarly, in the body of Christ all the members should cooperate in promoting spiritual health and fitness to fulfill the mission God has called it to do.
"Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." (vv.6-8)
A ministry is a gift of God, and it is given us by His grace. The different gifts given to each of us, are necessary for the different ministries that together form one ministry, namely, the complete work that God wants to accomplish at any given time. Every person adds individuality to the gifts and ministry given him. They are given, not because we deserve or merit them, but by the grace of God. So they must operate by grace. We simply respond in faith to the good grace of God.
He gives gifts according to the work He has for us to do! Therefore we have no reason to be jealous of the gifts God has given others. Our part is to use what God has given us, and to concentrate on those gifts, and faithfully use them according to God's direction.
I believe that our ministry consists of the things we do well. Those are the gifts we have received by His grace. For example, a person who is unable to keep a tune has not been given the ministry of leading a song service. There are some things we do well, and there are some things we don't do well. Many wonder what their ministry is. That which they enjoy doing well in the kingdom of God, is their ministry. Learn to excel in that, and do it unto the Lord.
We know people who cook really well, and they do it unto the Lord. It's natural to them, and they enjoy it. This is their spiritual service to God. We acknowledge whatever grace God has given us, and use it to His glory. Some gifts are more showy than others, but that does not mean they are more important. Whatever God gives is important and has purpose! As we use our gifts under God's direction, there will be wholeness and harmony! So let's improve and develop the gift God has given us.
Our ministry should be comfortable to us. If it is frustrating, we may be doing things we think we should do - not the things God has called us to do. The flip side of the coin is that our attitude may not be right. If we want self-gratification and honor it may be very frustrating, but when our desire is to glorify God it will be comfortable and enjoyable. We will be happy to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
If prophecy is the gift given us, then let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith. Faith is given us through the grace of God; every gift comes to us by the grace of God! Any prophecy that does not come out of faith, comes out of self-effort. Let's not go beyond the faith given us. Prophecy is not for self-exaltation, but for glorifying God! So let us prophesy according to the grace God gives us.
Did you know that serving others is a ministry? It's a wonderful ministry! Whatever ministry God gives us, let us be diligent in that ministry. Look for opportunities to serve! Wherever we fit in, that is what we do.
Those who have been given the grace to teach, need to teach well. People do not become teachers by the laying on of hands and prophesying them into the office of a teacher. Prophecy can acknowledge the ministry of a teacher, but it does not make a teacher. Whoever has been given the grace to teach, should teach well - whether he or she is teaching academically or spiritually. However, here Paul is concerned about spiritual teaching. It is so easy to teach doctrines instead of Jesus Christ; methods instead of relationship; psychology instead of spiritual growth; self-effort instead of reliance on the Holy Spirit; carnal ideas of truth instead of spiritual realities.
We can only teach what we have learned. Let's not try to teach beyond the truth that we have received by revelation from God! Only to the extent that we have received revelation knowledge of who Christ is, can we effectively teach others. We need to know the difference between the natural and the spiritual man, and between the carnal mind and the mind of Christ! Listening to the voice of the Spirit will guide us into all truth!
Some people have been given a ministry of exhortation. Many think they have that ministry, but they don't - they confuse exhortation with criticism. Exhortation means to earnestly urge by advising and warning; to entreat someone to pursue some course of conduct. It will be an exhortation to follow the Lord. Criticism censures and finds fault. It is much easier to criticize that to exhort. Critics do more harm than good as they try to straighten everybody out - they would do God and humanity a favor if they would keep quiet. The ministry of exhortation will prove itself in the fruit it produces. It should bring glory to God!
"He who gives, let him do it with simplicity." The NASV says with liberality, but Young's says simplicity. Our giving is to be unaffected, liberal, simple and sincere. Let's not make a big issue over every dollar or penny we give to the Lord's work. The money we give to the Lord no longer belongs to us. The recipient has the responsibility of using the money wisely and well! When we give to the church, the church has the responsibility of disbursing it wisely; when we give to someone in need, that person has the responsibility of using it wisely. We all have the responsibility of using wisely what God has entrusted to us!
"He who leads, with diligence." A good leader does not do everything himself. What an amazing discovery when we see that many people can do things better than we can! And sometimes it amazes us that we can do some things better than others! A good leader will allow others to develop their skills. He is a facilitator. He places people in the place where they can serve best, and is a leader in providing an atmosphere of appreciation for their service. Instead of being jealous of their skills, he appreciates what God has given them and enjoys watching them! And you know what? They like him more for letting them do it, because they enjoy being involved. It is great to see the body minister one to another!
"He who shows mercy, with cheerfulness." Let's enjoy showing mercy to others. Instead of thinking, "O no! Just when I've reserved some time for myself, I have to help someone again," let's be merciful with joyfulness! Some people have the same problem over and over again. It really takes a merciful attitude to be patient with them and their problem. There is no mercy in legalism! Let's do the will of God with a joyful heart! Cheerfulness brings cheer to others and also protects us from self-pity and complaining! Let's learn to take things in our stride and enjoy the presence of God. Religiosity robs us of our joy.
Whenever we need a refresher course in overcoming, we find it in verses 9-21. They contain the practical application of spiritual principles.
"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." (v.9) Love is the motivating factor; it does not have any hypocrisy - it is the same love that was so evident in Christ! This is the love that has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We also need to abhor evil. If we do not abhor it, we will love it. It will have a fascination for us and we'll yield to its tempting, alluring and seductive charms. Only truth has foundation. Loving truth and clinging to it, will keep us from ogling evil and accepting its lies!
"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor." (v.10) This verse emphasizes love within the church family. The Israelites were commanded to love even the stranger in their midst as themselves. (Lev. 19:34) Love brings harmony! Psalm 133 pictures the beauty of brothers dwelling together in unity. Love covers all transgressions. (Prov. 10:12) Jesus brought in an even higher dimension of love! He said that we are to love one another even as He loves us!
It is often easier to love the stranger than our brother because we don't rub shoulders with the stranger to the same extent. Family life (as well as working together with others) has a unique way of revealing flaws and imperfections, strengths and weaknesses. Frustrations, rejections, slights, jealousy and envy reveal lack of love. They prove that we have not been using the love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! A good relationship requires loving care from all parties concerned. Love from only one party does not produce a good relationship.
"Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." (v.11) To be diligent means to be persevering and careful in one's work. It is the opposite of being slipshod. We are to be diligent in our service to the Lord and in keeping the right attitude toward God, others and ourselves!
"Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer." (v.12) The normal life of a Christian will look like a tall order to us if we depend on our own resources. In fact, it is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit! God only tells us to do the things He empowers us to do!
"Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality." (v.13) Contributing to the needs (not wants) of saints can take various forms, such as encouragement, physical help, financial help, spiritual help, help in planning their budget, etc. We are not to isolate ourselves from their needs, but to help in whatever way we can.
It's amazing how often hospitality is mentioned in the epistles! In God's estimation this is a very important ministry! Hospitality means sharing your home, your provision and yourself with others! This is good stewardship of that which God has entrusted to us. God places great emphasis on this gift, and it has great results and rewards!
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (v. 14) This really goes against our grain! Yet this is very important! Why? When we were God's enemies, He sent Jesus Christ to bless us by turning us from our wicked ways. (Acts 3:26) Now we are sent to bless others by turning them from their wicked ways. When they are blessed with repentance, they will no longer persecute us!
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (v.15) To rejoice with those who rejoice when they placed first and we placed last, is never easy. Rejoicing with those who are better than we are in our field of work, is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. It is much easier to envy them. If we compare ourselves with others we are without understanding! (2 Cor. 10:12) Our part is to be faithful in what God has given us to do! In placing ourselves alongside the rejoicers and the weepers, we are not producing any schism in the body of Christ. It brings encouragement to others, and keeps us from yielding to jealousy and envy!
"Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation." (v.16) The Literal Concordant says that we are to be "mutually disposed to one another". What a different world this would be if we all desired the best for one another! No one would bow to the rich because of their riches; no one would disregard the poor because of their poverty! This is Christian living! This is bringing the kingdom of God into our everyday life!
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men...Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, `Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." (vv.17&19) In spite of the clarity of these verses, we have a lot of problems with this principle, don't we? Does that mean evil is never punished? Do we just let things ride? These verses do not address that subject. They speak of taking our own revenge outside of the law. The laws and government in society can deal with evil.
If we take our own revenge (as we often feel like doing), the crime has been dealt with - the punishment has been meted out. There is no longer any need for God's vengeance. God says He can repay much better than we can! He knows exactly how to deal with each person in order to bring him to repentance! God's purpose for every evildoer is to bring him to repentance; the natural man's purpose is to repay the evil with interest - not to bring repentance, but to show righteous indignation!
Sandwiched between these verses it says, "if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Peace is only possible when there is peace in the hearts of all parties concerned. We did not have peace with God when we were at enmity with Him, even though He loved us. As far as God was concerned, He did everything possible to produce peace with us. The enmity was a one-sided affair; it was all on our side. So also, if there is enmity, let's not let it come from us. Let's do our part in maintaining peace.
How do we do this? "`But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (vv.20-21) God is bringing forth a principle. If our enemy has a need, and it is within our ability to meet that need, we do it! We don't gloat over him, thinking it serves him right and that he is getting his just reward! We have compassion for him, and help him! By doing good we overcome evil! This is the recipe for overcoming!
The expression, to heap burning coals on your enemy's head, comes from Prov. 25:21-22. "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." Vines says this signifies retribution by kindness, i.e., that by conferring a favor on your enemy, you recall the wrong he has done to you, so that he repents with pain of heart.
This is a practical demonstration of grace! The world needs this! God overcame our enmity by His love and grace! The expression of His nature in us will eventually overcome the enmity that is against us!