Back in September we began a study of Romans 12.
We took a break for the holidays, but now we’re back, and we will spend
about two or three more weeks in this passage of Scripture.
Romans chapter 12 is about the practice of the Christian life.
It’s about how Christians are supposed to behave and what we are to do.
Sometimes Christians say: Tell me something practical. Tell me what I should do.
That’s Romans 12. The heading John Murray gives for Romans 12 in his famous
commentary is: “Manifold Practical Duties” (Various, numerous, many kinds).
Another scholar divides Romans 12 into seven triplets of duties.
Paul says at the very beginning that the ultimate motivation for the Christian life
is the mercy of God.
Paul says, Brothers, I urge you to do all these things, in view of God’s mercy.
The word is actually plural—God’s mercies—manifold mercies.
The motive for all you do as a Christian must be your view, your focus,
on God’s mercies toward you through Jesus.
Being motivated by God’s mercies requires you to think, to feel, and to act
in certain ways.
Now, as I said back in November, verse 9 marks a development in Paul’s thought.
So far he’s told us how we are to relate to God—offer bodies as living sacrifices.
He’s told us how to relate to ourselves, identity—members of the body of Christ.
Given gifts of speaking and serving for the benefit of others. Not lone rangers.
Now, from this point on he tells us how to relate to other people.
First, how we are to relate to other believers.
Then, how we are to relate to those outside, particularly enemies.
So the focus of these particular verses is how we are to relate to other believers.
Because of God’s mercies we should be living and loving together.
INTRO: I saw a news headline recently about twins who had been separated
from birth, separated for over 50 decades, reunited by someone working
Facebook and the internet.
You hear stories like that all time.
We live in a time when technology has made society more connected than ever.
Individuals can be connected with far more people than ever in history.
You can instantly communicate with hundreds, even thousands of people.
People that you would have normally lost touch with if you had lived at any other
time in history—childhood friends who are living in far-away places,
acquaintances from military, college, or job once had in another city and time.
All of those can be your Facebook friends and follow odd details of life.
It’s never been easier to find people with shared common interests.
If you are interested in bee-keeping or in BMW motorcycles—
go online and you can find a bee-keeping community, BMW community—
with blogs and discussions and opinions and arguments.
But for all of this connection—unparalleled in human history—
most of the interaction that takes place is tremendously shallow.
Untold millions of bits of worthless information are passed around.
Someone takes a picture of his appetizer at a restaurant and then tweets it to
his friends so they can be jealous of his nachos. People take time to do that.
Facebook personas are often narcissistic performance.
For many, these virtual connections have taken the place of genuine friendship
and conversation. We are becoming a society of isolated, unknown individuals.
Just a quick story: A few years ago I was talking to a minister in our denomination
who has been involved in campus ministry for many decades.
He commented that college dormitories have become a social wasteland.
He said college dorms used to be a place of endless conversation, discussion
and debate. Students would come out of their rooms, into the commons area,
sit around and talk the way college students have talked for hundreds of years—
plenty of nonsense, but meaningful things too.
Dorms were a great place for ministry. Throw out a provocative religious question.
Not any more—the halls are empty and silent.
Everyone is in rooms on computers, in their virtual communities.
Technology is fundamentally good. It’s a fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate.
The Cultural Mandate is that command God gave Adam and Eve and their
descendants to fill the earth and subdue it.
Technology is an important aspect of dominion-bearing.
The problem is not with social networking and the computers that make possible—
the problem is with us. Mankind’s sinful nature corrupts good things.
Probably more accurate to say we misuse good things to indulge sinful nature.
In our time, technology is misused to indulge isolation, self-worship, superficiality.
The way we define and experience community has become corrupted.
The way we define and function in friendships has become corrupted.
But the Lord has called us to a very different life.
He has saved us to be a genuine, connected, close, loving community.
He has saved us to be part of a body, a family, a church in which we know
one another and are known.
The importance of community in Scripture is missed by many American Christians.
Many see the Bible as describing a private Christian walk.
Me and Jesus. What’s best for me spiritually. What I need to do to be fed.
Many read Sermon on Mount, for example, as how Jesus wants me to live.
Miss obvious fact that in Sermon, and most of NT, the pronoun you is plural.
“Y’all are the salt of the earth . . . y’all are the light of the world.”
“Let y’all’s light shine before men, that they may see y’all’s good works and glorify y’all’s
Father who is in heaven.”
“Y’all seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given
Christ is saying: This is the life of faith. Y’all to form a community and live in it.
The last part of Romans 12 is about forming this community.
This is how you respond to the mercies of God in Christ.
This is how you offer your body as a living sacrifice—by living and loving in
community with other believers. Verses 9-16 in particular, list of instructions.
We’ve already looked at a couple of these. But what I want to do this morning
is consider the underlying idea, the family nature of Christian community.
Paul’s favorite image is the body. But also this image of family. Three points:
1. You don’t choose your family, your family is chosen for you.
2. You don’t have privacy in your family, your family scrutinizes you.
3. You can’t be detached from your family, your family makes claims on you.
How we need Christ in order to live this way.
MP#1 You don’t choose your family, your family is chosen for you.
And more particularly, you don’t choose the members of your family.
You don’t get to select who will and who won’t be in your family.
You come into a family, and there are all these relatives, and they are yours.
It’s the same way in the church as the family of God.
In most cases, you will choose a congregation, choose to join a particular church.
But you don’t get to choose the members of that church.
Understanding that, working it out, a key aspect of community life.
Look at verse 10. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”
Paul uses two different terms for love in this sentence.
The first is a word that we are all familiar with—philadelphia—brotherly love.
The second is a word that NIV translates “be devoted to one another.”
It’s the Greek word philostorge. It has the sense of bondedness, affection.
You should experience family bonding if you understand the Gospel.
C.S. Lewis wrote a famous book about the four basic Greek words for love—
The Four Loves. The four loves are:
Storge—family affection, family love
Agape—sacrificial or serving love
Lewis says that storge has a particular glory.
All the other loves require some strength or quality in the lover or the beloved.
Agape, sacrificial, serving love requires a certain strength and commitment in lover.
Philia, eros require something attractive in the other person. Interest, chemistry.
But storge is different—the Greeks used it first to speak of the love of a mother for
her infant and the infant for its mother—a bond because the belong to each other.
Storge is the affection, devotion and appreciation that grows for a person because
he or she is yours—not by your choice—but because he is a member of
your family, your team, your platoon, your church.
Listen to the way CS Lewis puts it, as only he can:
Friends and lovers feel that they were “made for one another.” The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other . . . There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites. It ignores the barriers of age, sex, class and education. It can exist between a clever young man from the university and an old nurse.
Think about that for a minute in relation to both family and church.
People in your family, cousins, even siblings, who if you were not related to them,
you would never have chosen them as friends—no common interests, chemistry.
In fact, might even be things about them that naturally irritate you.
But in time, because they are yours, you develop affectionate devotion.
Growing fond of “old so-and so,” at first simply because he happens to be there, I presently begin to see that there is “something in him” after all. The moment when one first says, really meaning it, that though he is not “my sort of man” he is a very good man “in his own way” . . . we have crossed a frontier. That “in his own way” means that we are getting beyond our own idiosyncrasies, that we are learning to appreciate goodness or intelligence in themselves, not merely goodness or intelligence flavored and served to suit our own palate. Dogs and cats should always be brought up together, it broadens their minds so. Affection broadens ours.
Lewis makes one point about storge over and over—it takes a long time to grow.
Eros, romantic love can happen immediately—their eyes met across dance floor.
Philia, friendship love can happen very fast—meet someone group, hit it off.
But the reason two brothers who are total opposites, who would never ever have
been friends by choice, the reason they are affectionate and loyal, is because
they’ve grown up together. Because they are familiar with each other.
Lewis uses a sweet illustration. A child will love to be around a crusty old gardener
who has hardly ever paid it much attention, but that same child will pull back
from a visitor who is making every attempt to win it over.
Why? Because for the child, that gardener has always been there.
Here’s the point about Christian community.
You are in this church—Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church.
There are other good churches in Cullman that preach the Gospel,
and there are even occasions when you might need to change churches—
that’s another topic. But here you are in this church with these people.
Some you might click with, have a lot in common, even become friends.
But there are many you would never normally have chosen
The only way you can be devoted to one another in brotherly love is to spend
time with those you wouldn’t pick, getting to know them, to appreciate them.
You cannot grow in storge love by coming to church for one hour on Sunday
and only talking to the people you are comfortable and friends with.
Why does every church have venues for people to get together outside worship?
So that these very different people, who would never have chosen each other,
but who have been put together by God, will develop philostorge community.
MP#2 You don’t have privacy in your family, your family scrutinizes you.
The church is not a club.
A club is a group of people who get together for a particular reason or interest.
The only contact they have with each other is concerning that interest.
So if you join the bird-watchers club or the stamp-collectors club—
you get together to talk about birds or stamps.
What if you were at a meeting of the bird watchers club and several members
pulled you aside and said: We’re concerned about the person you are dating.
We don’t think this person is good for you. Concerned about your marriage.
You would say—That’s none of your business.
I joined this club to have a good time and talk about bird watching—
not to get advice about my private life—leave me alone.
That’s the way some people think the church should be—
just a religious club where I can go to get a spiritual shot in the arm.
They get offended when anyone in the church asks about their business,
or puts a finger on a problem or sin.
But the church is not a club, it’s a family.
And when you are part of a family, you get scrutinized.
You can’t say—this is my private business, leave me alone.
You can say it, but nobody will pay attention.
All the important matters of your life,
and many of the mundane ones are fair game for your family members.
They ask questions, discuss, give instruction, advice, criticism.
What you are wearing, what you are eating or not eating, your friends,
how you are spending your money, your work, your grades, your plans.
Obviously, in good families there is the privacy of common courtesy.
Don’t bang around in the morning and turn on all the lights if other people don’t
have to get up for another hour. Knock on bedroom doors before you come in.
You respect people’s feelings and their responsible choices.
But you don’t have a right to privacy.
Just before Paul calls us to brotherly love and family devotion and affection he
says in verse 9, “Love must be sincere, hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”
Sincere love makes judgments. It judges good and evil the in people it loves.
We studied verse 9 back in November, and pointed out that if you ask what is
the opposite of love, most people would automatically say hate.
But the true opposite of love is indifference.
If God did not care what happened to his creation, if he did not care how people
mistreat people, then the Bible would not say that God hates false witnesses,
and that he hates men who stir up dissension.
If Jesus Christ did not care about the morals of Christians and churches
then he would not have told the Ephesian church—
I commend you for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The Nicolaitians were a group in the church who advocated immorality.
Even though this is a very difficult subject to get a handle on and express clearly,
I think that all of us understand it at a basic level.
If someone you love very much, your child, for example, was doing something
that was destroying himself, or destroying other people, you would hate that evil.
If you said to him: I hate what you have become—that would be love talking.
Fifteen years ago, shortly after I had come to Christ Covenant,
a woman in our church came to see me (a family who has moved away).
My husband denigrates me. Says hateful things. He calls me bitch and worse.
I’ve begged him to stop but he won’t. Will you talk to him?
So I did. And he got very mad. Told me it was none of my business.
You’ve taken vows before God and his church to love your wife.
And you’ve taken membership vows in this church to preserve its peace.
You are disturbing the peace of the church by talking to wife this way.
I have to challenge you on this. To his credit, he listened and changed.
If you are going to take Bible seriously, try to live it as it instructs—
then you are going to have to open yourself to the scrutiny and judgments
of other members of your church family.
Obviously, some people confront graciously and others don’t. I’m still learning.
And there are particular people closer to you, who more likely to listen to.
But no matter how poorly don, you can’t afford to be touchy. Lose to much.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it.
Wounds hurt. Being struck hurts. But that’s life in a loving and imperfect family.
MP#3 You can’t be detached from your family, family makes claims on you.
Families turn to each other when they need each other.
When someone outside the church comes to our deacons for help,
one of the first questions they ask is—Do you have family? Asked for help?
Once, on behalf of the deacons I called a grown man whose mother had come to
us for help. I explained the situation and he said—No. I’m not going to help her.
There was a lot more to it, as you can imagine. But I was ashamed for him.
Paul says that in the church, brotherly love and family affection means that you
can’t be detached from your brothers and sisters, your fathers and mothers,
in their times of need. If they say, Please help me, you are obligated.
Look at vs. 13 “Share with God’s people in need.”
Paul’s talking about money, material possessions.
This is balanced by other biblical teaching about work and responsibility.
But family members will put up with a lot when helping each other.
But the help goes deeper than the physical and material.
Look at verse 15. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
This is another claim that your family can make on you—
that you develop an emotional identification so deep that what is happening to
them affects you.
Weeping and rejoicing with others are each hard in their own way.
Sometimes you get numb by the numbers of people in the church who are suffering,
sometimes you have a hard time being sympathetic, if what going through does
not seem to be that hard to you.
And when it comes to rejoicing, there is sometimes the problem of jealousy.
Can you rejoice when their child has some academic or social or athletic
accomplishment that your own child will never come close to matching.
Be happy with me. That’s a claim family can make.
And right in the middle of this passage on community,
Paul throws in these two interesting verses, 11 and 12.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
If those were anywhere else in the Bible, you might take them in a general sense
to your Christian walk—but they are in the middle of brotherly love
and family affection and all that requires.
Paul is being realistic about church life. He’s saying that if you live like this,
knowing people, being known by them, identifying with them for years—
you will find yourself relatively often exhausted, at times even exasperated.
So it’s going to take zeal, fervor, hope, patience, and faithful prayer.
In other words, this is a spiritual discipline.
Family life in the church is part of fighting the good fight.
It doesn’t come naturally. Easier for some than others, but not natural.
The tendency of every one of us, at some time or another is to pull away
into our own, private, comfortable worlds.
But that’s not why we’ve been saved.
We’ve been saved to be a part of the people of God—the family of which God
is the Father and Christ is the elder brother, and we are all brothers, sisters,
fathers and mothers. This is the great future life Spirit preparing us for.
And it is this family love that Jesus says is the great witness to the world.
Don’t know if the name Matt Chandler rings a bell.
He’s the pastor of The Village Church in Dallas—which has 10,000 members.
He’s just 38 years old, when he came to the church as pastor 10 years ago, 160.
He’s also president of the Acts 29 Network, which is a church-planting network
that is Reformed and Calvinistic in its theology, includes churches such as
Mars Hill Church in Seattle, where Mark Driscol is pastor.
Want to read you something that Chandler said to his congregation about being a
member of a church of thousands.
“One of the knocks against mega-churches (of which we are) over the last two decades has been that they can’t make disciples well because one of the essential elements of discipleship is removed in a mega-church, and that’s being known. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ if you are unknown. You cannot mature in your faith in isolation. Your faith is personal; it is not private. It was not designed to be private. We were designed to be interwoven, to need one another for maturity, to sharpen one another like iron sharpens iron, to encourage, to rebuke, to edify, to confront, to show hospitality to and to walk with each other. These are biblical
commands, not suggestions. So how do you do gospel-centered community in a church the size of the Village?”
His answer is that you have to get to know, pour your time and life into a smaller
group of people. They have small groups of 12 to 20 people all over city.
He tells story of a friend of their who dated a man for seven years, but he never
popped question. She asked Matt and his wife what to do, and they said:
After seven years he doesn’t know? Break up with that idiot.
Makes the comparison between that man and those church members who never
do anything more than come to huge, anonymous worship service.
“What is ultimately unacceptable biblically is for you to come here week after week, drink in, suck up and have no intention of ever doing life. I’m guessing that you’re here because you want to mature in your faith. Your attendance at the service is only the beginning of the week. Our faith plays out day to day, not just on weekend services. We’ll work diligently at our part. You’ll have to do yours. Discipleship is impossible where you are not known.”
Obviously, a very different church dynamic from ours—
when you come to worship service in a smaller church,
you usually get pulled into a conversation by someone who knows you.
If you don’t come, you are usually missed. But always possible to be detached.
Your faith is personal; it is not private. We were designed to be interwoven, to need one another for maturity, to sharpen one another like iron sharpens iron, to encourage, to rebuke, to edify, to confront, to show hospitality to and to walk with each other.
How are we doing as a church? How are you doing?
As you know, Jesus Christ spoke seven words from the cross.
Some of them are very familiar: Father, forgive. My God, my God, Finished
But there is one that is often forgotten and overlooked.
Our Lord looked down in his pain and saw his mother standing near the cross.
And he saw close to her his disciple John—and he said—
“Dear woman, here is your son.” And to John, “Here is your mother.”
From that time, John took Mary into his own home.
That is an expression, not just of Jesus’ care for his mother, but his view of
what it means to be a member of his body—it’s to be in a family.
Jesus had other siblings—none believers at the time—it was to John, the one he
was closest to, the one he had shared his life with, that he turned to in need.
We are called to walk as Jesus walked, in the power of his Spirit.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.