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.
This is how we are to live in view of the mercies of God.
Verse 9 and following 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.
Continuing to show us in practical ways what it means to love sincerely—
hating what is evil, clinging to what is good.
INTRO: This is a special day in the annual rhythm of Christ Covenant.
As you know, we celebrate Thanksgiving as a church family with meal and service.
I usually pick a passage of Scripture with a thanksgiving theme—
something about contentment, gratitude and praise to God.
This week I struggled to find the perfect passage for this morning.
Monday and Tuesday I pondered and read and nothing spoke to me.
So finally, I just gave up and decided to keep moving in Romans 12.
And what do you know! Romans 12:10 is perfect for Thanksgiving.
This has happened to me before. I’ll be preaching through a book of the Bible,
and some special event or day will come up, and the very next verse or chapter
I’m planning to preach fits perfectly with the event of that day.
A few years ago I was preaching through Deuteronomy.
It was that Sunday in May where we recognize our high school seniors.
And what do you know! The passage in Deuteronomy that was next to be preached
was Moses speaking to children of Israel as they stood on the bank of the Jordan.
It was practically a graduation address.
There is no way I would have ever picked Deuteronomy 11 as the perfect
message for our high school seniors. But it was. The Lord planned it.
Another time, many, many years ago I was preaching through Ephesians.
That year our wedding anniversary, June 25 fell on a Sunday.
I had not mapped out where I would be in Ephesians on that Sunday.
I had started preaching through the letter months earlier.
But what do you know! The passage I just happened to be preaching on my
wedding anniversary was : “Wives submit to your husbands in the Lord!”
Allison loved that.
At first glance, this is may not appear to be a Thanksgiving passage but it is.
Paul says: “Honor one another above yourselves.”
What does he mean by that?
Paul simply means that in the body of Christ we should outdo ourselves in
expressing praise, appreciation, gratitude, and thankfulness for one another.
Remember last week, how we saw in verse 9 that part of sincere love is clinging to
what is good? Believing that the Holy Spirit is at work in our brothers and sisters,
and seeing that goodness in them, even if you have to see it with eyes of faith?
Well, Paul says, you put that love into practical expression with words of honor.
Paul himself does this over and over again in his letters.
He is constantly writing how thankful he is for believers in the churches.
He is constantly complimenting them, outdoing himself in expressing
appreciation and gratitude for them.
Just look at how he does it in this letter. Turn over to chapter 16 of Romans.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive
her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you,
for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
Here’s Paul, the greatest Apostle, the Moses of the New Testament.
He singles out this woman Phoebe for commendation. Calls her a great help.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me.
Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
How would you like to be called a fellow worker of the Apostle Paul?
Notice that Paul expresses his gratitude in honoring them.
Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who
have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in
Christ before I was . . . Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the
Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
He commends hard work and consistency in the faith over the long haul.
Notice once again he calls people dear friend—a way of expressing gratitude.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
Isn’t that a sweet compliment! We’ve all known those mother figures in the church.
You can just imagine her cooking for Paul, clucking over him as a mother.
What comes across in those words of honor is a depth of gratitude.
It’s not just in Romans, in all of Paul’s letters he does this.
He was always saying nice things and making generous statements about others.
Always taking opportunity to draw attention to the virtues and hard work and
sacrifices and contributions of others. Wanting other people to admire them.
It was so important to Paul, that he commands it in Romans 12:10.
This is how you worship God. This is how you offer your body a living sacrifice.
This is how you show your gratitude for the mercies of God in Christ—
by outdoing yourself in expressing honor and gratitude and praise to each other.
And not only is obedience to this command a way of saying thank you to God—
Obeying this command brings its own blessings. Three in particular.
Honoring one another is
good for the church, good for your children, good for your soul. Look at each.
MP#1 Honoring one another is good for your church
There are few things more important for healthy family life than frequent
words of appreciation and gratitude for one another.
Husbands complimenting and praising their wives.
Parents complimenting and praising their children.
Children thanking and honoring their parents.
Homes where those words of honor and gratitude are frequently spoken are
happy homes. There is greater contentment and security.
And, of course, the opposite is also sadly true.
Few things are more harmful to home life than the absence of grateful words.
Spouses can become embittered and distant when there are never compliments
and children are especially harmed when parents never praise for jobs well done.
I have a seminary friend who grew up in a home like that.
He can’t remember a time when his parents expressed appreciation for
something he had done, or complimented him, or expressed love personally.
And if he had not met Jesus Christ, and learned of the love of God the Father—
he would have self-destructed long ago. And to this day, he bears those scars.
This need for praise makes sense not just psychologically, but theologically as well.
Because we’re made in God’s image.
And within the Trinity, within the Godhead,
there is an eternal circle and life of love and appreciation and compliment.
Think about that—throughout all eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have praised
one another. That’s what God is and what God does and we are like him.
We live to love and be loved and to express that love and receive it.
So the church of Jesus Christ ought to be a place
where affection and appreciation are regularly given and received.
The church ought to be a healthy and loving family
where her sons and daughters are complimented and praised
and where gratitude and thankgiving for one another is common.
We’ve already seen from Paul’s own practice of this in chapter 16.
You find this in all of his letters, Paul giving things for people and honoring them.
And I’m sure that Paul was even more expressive in person.
A few things stand out about the way did this.
He didn’t flatter, he mentions his appreciation for their hard work in church,
for their concern for him, for their friendship, for their long-term commitment.
And then the other thing you can’t help notice is how generous Paul is in his praise.
He was a founding Apostle, one of the greatest minds in history,
a man blessed with extraordinary spiritual experiences and revelations—
and yet he calls people co-workers, ministers together, friends.
Think of the way he praises Timothy in so many letters and thanks God for him.
We know from other details in New Testament that Timothy was naturally timid.
He was completely different from Paul in this regard—Paul was naturally bold.
Probably many times when Paul watched Timothy approach a task
in his round-about way, and thought, I wish he would attack this head on.
But Paul focused entirely on the positive. His usefulness. His spirit.
Because he saw the effort and the sacrifice for Christ.
Back to the first point. This is good for our church.
We saw last week that sincere love among Christian’s means can’t ignore sin.
But we also acknowledged the difficulty in dealing with it in others.
Here’s practical wisdom: It’s so much easier to take counsel from a person who is
grateful for you. A person who want to thank you for who you are and what you
have done. From a person who does not hesitate to say how grateful he is for you.
This may seem obvious, but it so, why don’t we do this more often and more
enthusiastically than we do?
Why not more often praising others for what they have done pleasing to God?
How do you have a sweet home life? Sweet marriage and family?
Frequent words of honor, gratitude, thankfulness, and praise.
How do you have and keep and build happy and holy relationships of love
and loyalty in the body of Christ? The very same way.
Praise and thanksgiving warmly expressed.
It’s hard to get sideways with somebody who is always thanking you
for who you are and what you’ve done. It’s hard not to listen if something hard.
Let’s be generous in our praise—it’s good
for our church.
MP#2 Honoring one another is good for your children
I’m not saying that it’s good for your children for you to praise them. That’s true.
But what I mean is that you talk about and praise other Christians,
if your children hear you expressing appreciation for them, and admiring faith,
that spirit will rub off on your children. They will grow to love God’s people.
They will themselves learn to honor those who fear the Lord.
And the opposite effect is also true.
A negative or indifferent attitude towards those who fear the Lord
will stunt your children spiritually.
I want to tell you four quick stories—two sad and two happy—you’ll see point.
I’ve told these stories before, but think they are instructive.
There was a woman in our Florida church who was a retiree from New York.
Her husband had been a Presbyterian minister, but I never knew him because
he had passed away a few years before we got there. She had three grown sons.
None of them were walking with the Lord, none of them were in church.
None of them would even attend church with her when they came to visit.
She was grieved by that, and would often mention it.
I asked the senior pastor, Bruce Fiol why this was so.
Bruce was a very wise man, very spiritually sensitive.
He said, Have you ever noticed the way she talks about the churches where her
husband served as pastor? And I had.
She was always telling stories about how this church was a bad experience,
and how the people in that church let them down.
Bruce said, Her negative comments have poisoned her sons against the church.
And that, in turn has turned them away from Christ.
How important it is for us to speak well of the members of the body.
The second story is one very similar, told by Derek Thomas,
who is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson Mississippi.
He had performed an infant baptism for first born child of some young parents.
And after the service a visitor came up and said to the father:
“This morning you brought your child to be given to the Lord. I did that once too. But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart not to do to your boy what I did to mine. Year after year he heard me criticize the church, members of the church, and the minister. I turned my boy off from the church and today he’s far from God. I plead with you, don’t ever criticize like that or you’ll destroy your son too.”
Now the happy stories. A few years ago in Tuscumbia, visiting childhood church.
Talking to someone and name of ruling elder came up, the man is now deceased.
Several years ago, after we had moved to Cullman,
Person talking to asked me: Did it bother you the way he treated your father?
I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about.
He proceeded to tell me how this man did not like my father, and that among other
things, he would make a point of not looking at him when he was preaching.
Surely you knew that, this person said. But honestly I didn’t.
I was somewhat shocked by what this person told me.
Because my dad always had positive things to say about the elders
of the church, and the dignity of the office and the value of Session.
All I ever heard from him about the members of the church was compliment.
I know one of the reasons I’m in the ministry is because of this quality
of my father—and the deep love it gave me for the church.
Finally, this is very short story, but it made an impression on me.
A few years ago talking to old seminary buddy Charles Garland.
He told me how his son Zach, who was then a senior in high school,
attended the men’s Sunday school class at their church, because it was being
taught by an older man Charles admired and spoke highly of.
Not because he feels out of place going to the youth group Sunday school,
but it was because he had heard his dad talking about the wisdom of this older
man and the depth of his spiritual insight—and he had taken that to heart.
He valued and wanted what his parents valued.
Who do your children admire? They will admire the people they hear praised.
The unbelieving world is often extravagant in its praise.
Think how celebrities and public figures are praised to the sky for coming out of the
closet, celebrating homosexuality, or speaking favorably about abortion.
And even more subtle, think of the admiration heaped on people for their pride,
extravagance, and physical beauty. Children hear that and it shapes them.
What do you children hear from you? Who do they hear you praise?
Psalm 15 asks a question:
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
You want that for your children, don’t you? You want them to be close to the Lord.
Answer: He who despises a vile man, but honors those who fear the Lord.
Where do they learn that? They learn it from you.
Honoring others good for your children.
Brings us to the third point:
MP#3 Honoring one another is good for your soul
When you compliment and praise other Christians, you are imitating God himself.
Why was the Apostle Paul a man full of compliments?
Why was this great man of God, who had seen the risen Christ,
and experienced visions of heaven, and founded churches across Roman Empire,
why was this man able to overflow with genuine praise for ordinary Christians
like Phoebe and Tryphena and Tryphosa, Rufus and his mother?
Because Paul knew the grace of God and delighted in imitating it.
That’s what appreciation and compliments are for Christians—
imitations of the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.
Remember the whole context of Romans 12?
This is how we respond to the mercies of God.
I often quote Dr. Robert Rayburn, Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma.
In one of his sermons he said that his church has a Thanksgiving service like the
one we have. Where people have a chance to speak to the church body
and publically thank the Lord for his goodness in the past year.
Anyway, Dr. Rayburn said that for many years there was something that would
happen in that annual Thanksgiving service that bothered him.
The things that bothered him is that many people would stand up and offer thanks,
not to God, but to other people in the church for what they had done, or what
they had said to them. Rayburn said he thought this was a defect in their faith.
That these people were failing to see that it was the Lord who stood behind
the kindnesses of others, and he was the one they should have been thanking.
But he said that he came to realize that he was completely wrong.
That the Bible is full of compliments that one believer pays to another—
just like these verses in Romans 16, where Paul names person.
But even deeper than that, Rayburn said the thought struck him that God himself
praises us for the good things we do, even though without him we can do nothing.
The Lord loves to praise and compliment his people.
He appreciates us even when we very imperfectly serve him.
And he says the kindest and most complimentary things about us.
In the Bible Abraham is called “God’s friend.”
David is called “a man after God’s own heart.”
Peter was a “rock.” John was “the disciple Jesus loved.”
All those men were flawed. All had failures, some quite profound.
Yet Lord not at all stingy in honoring and praising them.
Does the same for you. Calls you his beloved son.
He calls you a shining star in this wicked and depraved generation.
The Lord Jesus Christ looks at your imperfect attempts to live for him,
with all your inconsistencies and weaknesses and mixed motives—
and he calls you blameless and without fault and shining like stars.
He might as well call attention to your failures and shortcomings.
But he doesn’t. And he holds out the wonderful prospect to all of us
that we will stand before him one day and hear these words:
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
God, in grace, appreciates the little things we do for him.
So it is no surprise that he also appreciates it when we take note of the good
things others do for us and for the kingdom.
There is a line that can be drawn from Jesus Christ to us—
from his generous compliments to our generous compliments,
from his wideness of spirit to our wideness of spirit,
from his grace and love to our way of life with our brothers and sisters.
The great Scottish minister Alexander Whyte said:
“The size and the substance and the spirit of a man’s soul is seen by the spontaneity and the
generosity and the exuberance and the warmth of his praises . . . And to praise, with your
whole heart, all those men and women and children who deserve praise at your hands, that is a
certain contribution toward your praise of God.”
Of course criticism is sometimes necessary. Sincere love hates evil.
But it also clings to what is good. Thankful, appreciative words are always good.
They are good to person we say them to and good to us when we say them.
They are good for our soul. Because we are imitating God in his generosity,
and we are praising him, even as we praise other people.
This is not something that comes naturally to many of us.
That’s why Paul gives the example and the command.
It’s a spiritual discipline like everything else in the Christian life.
We have to remind ourselves to honor one another but when we do,
we will hardly ever fail to see immediate evidence of good
in our church, our children, and in God’s work within us.
Now, here’s a practical way you can obey these words.
Come to the Thanksgiving Service tonight.
Eat with your church friends. Hear God’s word from our guest.
And then, as you are lead, give thanks publically to the Lord and to your
brothers and sisters for the blessings they have brought to your life.
Even if you don’t speak publically, that’s fine.
But your heart will be warmed and widened through the words of others.