Sermon: Holding Up Each Other’s Hands

From the life of Moses, three events clearly expose the leader’s need for help at different points in his life. How did God help Moses when he was fearful, weary, or overburdened?

Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

The Good Samaritan: The Power of a Story

Good SamaritanMany of us have heard abundant teaching and preaching on Luke 10.25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Praise God for providing such a teachable event, for the lessons just pour out of the text!

Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s questions.

The lawyer (testing Jesus) asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

As the master teacher He was, Jesus replied with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

In the presence of an audience, this must have been a bit embarrassing for the lawyer. He should have known the Law like the back of his hand. This question was kind of like asking a child, “What does the book say? You should already know the answer.”

If the lawyer couldn’t produce the answer, he’d be publicly embarrassed, so he had to answer. Jesus caught him…but not in a mean way. Jesus was teaching him.

Questioning JesusThe lawyer produced an excellent answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live,” Jesus responded.

[Um. Wait. It can’t be that easy. I’m a lawyer, and I wouldn’t ask such an easy question! No, my question is really much deeper than that, Jesus. What I really meant to ask was…]

“And who is my neighbor?”

THAT’S when Jesus gave the good Samaritan illustration. And what an answer it is! It’s clear. It’s simple. There’s no room for argument. It teaches that it’s not so much about figuring out who your neighbor is; it’s really about being a good neighbor to anyone and everyone who needs a neighbor!

Jesus’ answer, in a nutshell, is, “Go, show people mercy. Be like that Samaritan.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what of this 157-word illustration? Jesus could have just said, “Just be a good neighbor to anyone you meet.” Would that have packed the same punch? Not hardly. Packaged the way it is, the parable of the good Samaritan contains riches well beyond a legal statement; it contains abiding principles and depths of teaching a list of laws never could.

Instead of providing the lawyer with a list of people he should consider to be his neighbor, Jesus made the lawyer picture himself in the shoes of a compassionate Samaritan (someone he normally would loathe). Jesus broke down racial, economic, and social barriers with this simple story.

Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible is written in narrative.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.