This fall and winter we’re looking in detail at one chapter in the Bible—
Romans 12. It’s a chapter about the practical side of the Christian life.
In these particular verses, Paul introduces a subject of utmost importance—
the subject of gifts, spiritual gifts.
Those particular interests and abilities that Christ gives individual believers
for the benefit of the church as a whole.
Paul’s point is that this is what responding to mercies of God looks like,
this is offering your body as a living sacrifice—
making use of your gifts in the body of Christ.
INTRO: Where did hospitals come from? What is their historical origin?
I recently read a short history of the hospital, and it was quite fascinating.
You would think that hospitals came from the Greeks and Romans.
After all, they gave us most of the institutions we enjoy in the West.
They gave us the building blocks of constitutional law.
They gave us the categories of academic study.
Our scientific terminology comes from Greek and Latin.
But Greco-Roman culture did not give us hospitals.
They had temples to the god of medicine where you could pray for healing.
And they had private physicians and there were infirmaries for Roman soldiers.
But the first people to open public hospitals—
institutions that offered room and board and therapeutic care and medicine
to anyone who needed assistance—were Christians.
Hospitals developed out of another institution that had never before existed—
homeless shelters. Christians started those too.
They provided clean beds, clothes, and food to the poor.
There was nothing even remotely like homeless shelters in the Roman Empire
until Christians came along. But they started so many, and it was such a good
witness to the love of Christ, that a great many people came to faith as a result.
Around the year 360 the Roman Emperor Julian came to the throne.
He hated Christianity and wanted to revive the old Roman paganism.
There is famous letter he wrote to a pagan high priest complaining about
how hard it was to promote paganism over Christianity. Listen to the reason.
“It is disgraceful . . . the godless Galileans support not only their own poor
but ours as well, (so) all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
You can hear the man’s frustration. What are we going to do?
These Christians are not only taking care of other poor Christians,
they are also taking care of our own pagans. Definitely bad p.r. for the pagans.
Well, eventually these homeless shelters developed into the first hospitals.
The Christians in Antioch and in Constantinople were the leaders in this.
The first hospital in Rome founded by a very wealthy Christian widow, Fabiola.
There is a description of that hospital and Fabiola herself by St. Jerome.
Remember, Jerome’s significance, he first translated Bible into Latin.
He tells how she and her staff would go out in the streets to collect the sick.
“Need I now recount the various ailments of human beings? Need I speak of noses slit, eyes put out, feet half burnt, hands covered with sores? Or of limbs dropsical and atrophied? Or of diseased flesh alive with worms? Often did she carry on her own shoulders persons infected with jaundice or with filth. Often too did she wash away the matter discharged from wounds which others, even though men, could not bear to look at. She gave food to her patients with her own hand, and moistened the scarce breathing lips of the dying with sips of liquid.”
And then Jerome makes an interesting observation.
He says: This isn’t for every Christian. And that’s ok.
“I know many devout persons who, unable to overcome their natural repugnance to such sights, perform this work of mercy by giving money instead of personal aid. I do not blame them and am far from construing their weakness of resolution with a lack of faith.”
Interesting, in light of our Scripture text, that he connects mercy and giving.
Well, to wrap things up quickly, this was the beginning of the modern hospital.
It was ministry of the church, founded passages like this one in Romans 12,
calling Christians, in view of God’s mercies to serve, give, and show mercy.
Throughout the ages, many of the most magnificent testimonies to the world of the
love of Jesus Christ have been acts of service and giving and mercy.
We’re studying this topic of gifts, and I said last week, categorizing gifts helpful.
1 Peter 4:11 says two broad types: speaking gifts and serving gifts.
This division between speaking and serving is found other places in Scripture.
In Acts, when there was a need for widows in church to be given a daily distribution
of food, the Apostles said: It is not right for us to neglect the ministry of the
Word to wait on tables. Established the office of deacon.
In the epistles, when the qualifications for elders and deacons are mentioned,
there is absolutely no difference at all in terms of spiritual and moral character.
The only difference is that the elder must be able to teach.
Here is this official distinction—elders minister by speaking, deacons by serving.
So for the purpose of our continued study of Romans 12,
and these verses on the gifts, I’ve adopted this biblical division.
Last Sunday, studied speaking gifts, today we’ll consider serving gifts.
I’m going to range beyond this passage, to look at larger topic.
1. You must serve from the heart,
2. for the benefit of the needy,
expecting a great reward.
MP#1 First, you must serve from the heart.
Paul says if your gift is contributing to needs of others, give generously.
If your gift is leading, govern diligently.
If your gift is showing mercy, do it cheerfully.
These three gifts are forms of service in the church.
Leadership may seem out of place, but remember, leadership in the church is not
like the world. Those in positions of leadership are to be servant leaders.
So here are these three qualities—generosity, diligence, cheerfulness.
These must characterize all your acts of service as a Christian.
There’s a very interesting parallel in 2 Corinthians 9, a famous passage on giving.
Paul was talking to the Corinthians about an offering that the Gentile churches
were collecting for the poor Jewish churches back in Judea. Encouraging to give.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows
generously will also reap generously.
There’s generosity. Paul continues.
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give . . .
Here is the idea of diligence. It’s not that if you happen to have money left at the
end of the month, might give, but purpose and deliberation and care.
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And here is this quality of cheerfulness.
At first glance, these do not appear to be particularly Christian qualities.
After all, there are unbelievers and followers of other religions who are
generous, diligent, and cheerful. Shouldn’t surprise us. God’s common grace.
But as you ponder these qualities, and if you are honest with yourself,
realize that they don’t come naturally, that your sinful nature pushes back
against them, and that the only way for them to develop is to rely on Christ.
That’s exactly what Paul expects you to do.
Remember how Romans 12 starts: Therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies.
It’s the mercies of God in Christ that must motivate your heart in service.
Generosity. Where does that come from. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 8.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Your salvation happened because someone became poor for you.
It was through Christ’s self-giving that you are able to live forever.
Every Christian should want that same self-giving to be a characteristic of his life.
Generosity, whether it is with your money, or time or service is the most sincere
and weighty way for a Christian to say:
I get it! I get what you did for me Lord Jesus. I understand what it took.
I see how wonderful your generosity was, how beautiful, how good.
Even though I can’t save anyone by generosity, I can tell the world how much
your generosity means to me by trying to imitate it in my life.
Diligence, purpose, deliberation and care.
Once again, this is a spiritual quality that sets gifts apart from ordinary activity.
It means that service is important to you because it is important to God.
So you are going to plan and seek out ways to honor God with service.
Once again, Christ is both our example and our enabler.
Look at Jesus’ deliberate, purposeful, unwavering journey to the cross.
We should want to serve God with the same deliberation.
I’m reminded of a Christian man I knew in Florida, who always made sure
he had a certain amount of cash in his wallet, no matter where he went.
Because as a matter of diligence, he wanted to be prepared to give to stranger.
Everybody can’t do that. This man quite wealthy, and he gave lots more besides.
But my point is he was thinking of serving, even down to getting dressed in morn.
Last is this heart quality of cheerfulness. Maybe this is the most difficult of all.
You can give and serve and show mercy with a judgmental heart. I’ve done that.
I think, this person doesn’t deserve it. Show a little gratitude and humility please.
You can give and serve and show mercy with a self-congratulatory heart.
I’ve done that plenty. Doesn’t this make me feel good to serve this poor person.
Cheerfulness, happiness to be serving not only pleases God, makes your service
a blessing to person being served. Cheerful heart is good medicine—to everyone.
Once again, it’s Jesus Christ who is our example and enabler.
“Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning the shame.”
It was a joy to him to serve you. Have you ever thought of that?
It’s the joy of Jesus that enables you to be a cheerful giver and server.
And there is this amazing statement by Paul in 2 Corinthians that God loves
a cheerful giver. I don’t know about you, but if I knew something would make
God love me in that moment, that something would make God want to show
his love for me, then I would want to do that.
There is only one kind of service that God wants from you—
service from your heart. Generous, diligent, cheerful. Impossible in yourself.
But by looking at Jesus, worshipping him, desiring to imitate him, they will appear.
That brings us to a very practical question. Who are we to serve?
MP#2 You must serve from the heart, for the benefit of the needy.
You serve people, people who need things.
Paul’s immediate emphasis in Romans 12 is your fellow believers—
other members of the body of Christ. They are your first concern.
That first means your local church, local congregation.
But it also means the church at large. Remember Paul’s concern for the poor
Jewish believers back in Judea. How he took up a collection from others.
Request from Granberrys in Yakama, Christmas gifts for believers in poor church.
In Galatians 6:10 Paul says:
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Interesting verse, reminds us of our priority, but clearly says that, as we are able,
our service must extent beyond the family of faith.
This is taught in other place, parable of the Good Samaritan, for example.
Love your neighbor as yourself. All fellow men are your neighbors.
This is so important to the Lord, that he directed his Apostles to establish
a permanent office in the church for the care of the needy—office of deacon.
Circumstances for the establishment of that office is in Acts 6—care for widows.
Your deacons, here at Christ Covenant, have generously and diligently and
cheerfully carried out this work. I imagine that many in our church
don’t have a clue how faithfully they have served Christ over the years.
They have been the official face of our church when it comes to serving the needy.
They take a portion of your tithes and offerings and give them away.
And they do so in a way that preserves the dignity and privacy of every person.
Over the years they have served every person in our body who has come to them
with financial and physical needs. And, there has never been a poor person from
outside the church who has asked them for help that they have turned away.
This is hard work. Listening to people. Figuring out how best to help them.
Sifting truth from falsehood. Knowing when help can no longer be given.
It’s work with many disappointments.
Earlier this year a couple drifted through Cullman.
They were homeless and jobless. Our deacons spent hours talking to them,
doing things for them, as well as hundreds of dollars on food and motel.
They found them an apartment rent free for 30 days.
And told them that they would help them find work.
And cordially invited them to church, and made sure had clean clothes,
because this couple said they were self-conscious about that.
A home, a job, a church, a chance to turn over a new leaf.
But the catch was that this free apartment didn’t allow pets.
And they had a nasty lap dog they wouldn’t part with, even though there were
some relatives in Athens they could have left it with. Didn’t want the free apt.
Wanted to keep staying at the hotel. And wouldn’t pursue work leads.
When they finally left, did so accusing the church of being unkind.
But there are other times when their work received with gratitude.
A few weeks ago a person came by the church who had been generously,
diligently, and cheerfully helped by our deacons. It was a complicated problem,
and it took not only money but patience and expertise to set things right.
This person hugged me and began weeping and telling me how grateful to God
he was for this church. And then he gave me a gift.
It was small but it was something he could ill afford.
That gave me a pang for a moment. Wished he had saved his money.
But then I realized that this was his expression of gratitude to Jesus Christ.
There are many ways for you to serve each other in the body.
I know many of you are doing so through Covenant Groups and
in many private and quiet ways. But we are mostly a well-off bunch of people.
Don’t have many encounters with poor people.
It’s not just our church. Part of growing gap in our society between classes.
Been well documented by sociologists like Andrew Cherlin and others who have
pointed out that practices like marriage and church attendance determinative
factors socio-economic rise or decline.
Fact is that the poor in America are marrying less and going to church less than
they did just two decades ago, and the result is devastating.
And because of this, apart from our deacons’ tireless work, we don’t have much
much contact with the poor.
The elders recently established a mercy ministry team that is going to aid the
deacons and also provide our body with tangible ways to exercise serving gifts.
They recently put on a yard sale for a new women’s shelter.
A number of you were involved in that. And they are looking for ways to bring
other needs before us so we can serve Christ in this way.
That brings us to perhaps the most important question—
What’s the motive, what’s the engine that drives you to serve.
You might expect me to say gratitude for God’s grace—that’s true.
But the Bible consistently gives us another motive for serving—reward.
MP#3 You must serve from the heart, for the benefit of the needy,
expecting a great reward.
In that complimentary passage in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul says that if you sow
generously you will reap generously. What does that mean?
There have always been those who claim this means money for money.
You give and God will give back in greater amounts.
But Paul’s own life disproves this. He was very generous, never wealthy.
If you serve and give and show mercy—generously, diligently, cheerfully—
then you will reap God’s blessing and favor.
Your service of others is like sowing a small seed.
It will grow into something wonderful.
I’ve been reading a fascinating autobiography that illustrates this.
It’s not so much about money and poor people, but shows what can happen when
we give ourselves and our homes and our time and our energy to serve others.
The title of this autobiography is Avatar of Night by Tal Brooke.
As a college dropout, he went to India in 1969 to search for the meaning of life.
Remember that was a time of great interest in Eastern religions.
The Beatles had their own Indian guru and many young people from West went.
Tal Brooke made a grand tour of India, going to all the famous Ashrams.
He finally ended up under the spell of Sai Baba, who was the most
influential guru in India at the time.
Sai Baba took a special interest in Tal. Made him his number one disciple.
Prophesied that he would bring Eastern enlightenment to the West.
Tal was completely captivated, he worshiped Sai Baba as God.
Completely rejected all traces of Christian belief and thought.
In God’s providence, Tal happened to meet two older American missionaries—
Ivan and Winona Carroll. Had been in India 35 years.
Told him that if he ever needed anything, just to ask.
Well, one time he was passing through their town and needed a place to stay.
So he knocked on their door. They gave him hospitality, good food, listening ear.
The food thing was funny, because his guru had put him on a strict diet that was
supposed to promote holiness. Here was this missionary woman cooking good
old American food. Tal felt guilty, but couldn’t help himself, devoured it.
They tried to talk to him about Christ but he had absolutely no interest.
He ran circles around them with his Eastern philosophy. Occasionally a Bible
verse would strike home, but mostly he brushed off everything they said.
But often he would go back to the Carrolls when he needed things, mostly just
a good American meal and some conversation.
Tal was writing a book about Sai Baba that would introduce him to the West.
Show Americans the pathway to become gods through inner consciousness.
But the longer he followed Sai Baba, the more he realized holy man wasn’t holy.
He was cruel. He was capricious. He manipulated people. He lied.
He would give long, inappropriate hugs. Once actually began groping Tal.
It’s actually quite humorous. Tal said this battle was going on in his mind between
what he called his Redneck Logic and his Enlightened Transcendent Mind.
His Redneck Logic was saying pervert, pervert, get away from this guy.
His Enlightened Transcendent mind was saying, this is god, he can’t do wrong.
This must be part of the pathway to higher consciousness. But it wasn’t.
Over time he realized that this was not the pathway to goodness.
Tal went back to visit the Carrolls and came to faith in Christ.
It’s a wonderful story: A child of the 60s, going India to find enlightenment
and his inner god nature, instead being found by the God man Jesus Christ.
But here’s the interesting detail, and the connection to serving gifts.
Tal says the the main reason he was persuaded to follow Christ was the Carrolls
kindness and generosity.
“[My friends and I] discussed those on earth who really have managed to lead lives closest to true grace, perfection, love, joy, hope, and contentment. Lives that speak of a goodness that only comes from God. Foremost in my mind were the Carrolls, for they had lived by a standard I had never really seen, and they had done it by living under the lordship of Christ as faithful servants, humbly carrying the lamp of love and service with qualities of character that no psychoanalytic couch or LSD trip could create in a million years. There’s were God-touched lives that came from deep purity that no devil could counterfeit, that only God could do. I knew…that these missionaries of the gospel, these deep and genuine saints, had been considerable agents in my salvation. To them, they were only faithfully serving their Lord, the simple duty expected of a servant. To me, this was a cause for eternal gratitude. I knew that in the height of heaven, I would at some point look into their radiant faces and wash their feet with my tears.”
This is what Paul is talking about. The Lord is not interested in your money.
He’s not interested in your service and acts of mercy in themselves.
He is interested in you having a heart like his—
living for others as he lived and died for you.
Giving freely to others as he has given freely to you.
Showing mercy to others as you have been show mercy.
And he assures you that these acts of service will not go unnoticed,
and as your heavenly Father, he will reward you.
He delights in rewarding his children when they do right for his sake.
And what will those rewards be?
Other people will praise the Lord Jesus because of you.
There may be times when the Lord allows you to enjoy that here—
someone will say, I thank the Lord for what you’ve done for me.
But he also promises, a reward on the great day, when the books are opened.
When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid
at the resurrection of the righteous.
You can’t take your money and home and resources with you,
but you can sent them on ahead of you.
All your acts of service, big and small, your giving, your acts of mercy to those in
the body and on the outside will bring praise and honor to your Savior.
In heaven, people will praise God for what you have done.
And there is no better reward than that. That will be blessing on blessing.