Living sacrifice and transformed lives
12 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Thoughts on the passage:
In the third chapter of “I am a Church Member,” Thom Rainer shares the results of a survey his organization did of churches. They found that inward-focused churches had some common behavior patterns to them: worship wars, prolonged minutia meetings, facility focus, program driven, inwardly focused budget, inordinate demands for pastoral care, attitudes of entitlement, greater concern about change than the gospel, anger and hostility, and evangelistic apathy. I would be lying if I did not say I think some of those hit a little close to home for us. While we do not exhibit all of those traits in our congregation, I perhaps see a little too much of us in them.
I wanted to start with this observation because I think it is really the bad news that we need to wrestle with. We are a more inwardly-focused congregation than we need to be and than we want to be. Our core values are to be centered in Christ, committed to each other, AND called to serve the world. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In both our mission and our values we see a preference to being outwardly focused and yet we struggle with it. In his book “Winning on Purpose,” John Edmund Kaiser remarks that this inward pull is like gravity. Any church if they are not careful will find itself drawn back to inward habits. There are two problems with this. The first is that some of those traits described by Thom Rainer are not really fun ones to have. The other problem is that the purpose of the church is not be inwardly focused, but instead to be focused on others. We are supposed to be making disciples and transforming the world.
The heart of the Christian faith is servant ministry. Rainer observes that the word servant appears 57 times in the New Testament and the term serve appears another 58 times. Not only that, but over and over in his teachings, Jesus emphasizes the importance of servant ministry. We hear it in Matthew 25 when he chastises those people who did not serve people in need. We hear it when he chastises the disciples for wanting to be the greatest and reminding them that they must first become a servant. We see it in his own death, where he lays down his very life in service that we might be saved. Christianity is rooted in the idea of letting go of ourselves, dying to ourselves, so that we might have new life in Christ.
As I thought about how to frame this chapter I chose to focus on a more positive word, uplifting, to frame our thinking. Servant ministry is all about being uplifting of others. We lift people up when we offer them milk through the milk program. We lift them up when we help out with hurricane relief. We lift our children up when we teach them about the Bible and the story of God’s unending love for them. Our whole ministry is about how we lift people up in this world and how we lift them up into the next world as well.
My undergraduate school, Beloit College, gives out an award every year at graduation. It is called the Blue Skies award. It was started by a college president who wanted to do more than just recognize good scholars at graduation. The Blue Skies award is given to someone who exemplifies “good cheer, a good-humored perspective, and saving grace in the conduct of daily life on campus.” I remember very well the person who won the award the year before I graduated. I do not really know her, but her smile and her positive outlook was so infectious that despite my only occasional interactions with her, fifteen years ago, I can still remember the joy she brought with her to campus. Out of curiosity I looked up who won the award in my year and as soon as I saw the name I remember who it was. Muyiawe had such a great personality and was so friendly and kind. He brought the cheer, humor, and even that sense of grace with him into any room.
I lift up is example from my past up because I think it is a reminder of what it is to be an uplifting person. An uplifting person is a servant, who naturally thinks about others and who cares about those around them. An uplifting person reaches out to help people in need and creates a sense of welcome whether it is through their words or their actions. When we talk about being an uplifting church member this is what we mean.
Becky Fordyce shared with me a really cool acronym that she was teaching our youth. JOY: Jesus, others, yourself. It is a reminder to think first of Jesus, then of others, then of yourself. The fact is, if you follow this acronym I think you really will find joy. It is a great way of thinking about what servant ministry looks like.
I have not said a lot about Romans 12, and yet I think this idea of being uplifting and being a servant is interwoven throughout the text. It comes in the reminders to love each other, to serve each other, to be on fire for the Lord. It also comes in Paul’s reminder about vengeance. Being a servant becomes really powerful when we practice it not on our friends, but on our enemies. When we extend love when someone else is expecting hatred, that is when it becomes truly transformative. People expect to be treated well by their friends and family. People do not expect to be treated well by their enemies. How great is someone’s shock when rather than lashing out at them in return, you instead extend a hand of peace and love.
Being an uplifting church member means finding ways to respond to others first and foremost with grace and peace. Paul reminds us that evil can be defeated when we are good. It is through our love and our kindness that we can change the world. We do it when we reach out in missions. We do it when we support each other. We do it when we lift each other up as members together in the Body of Christ.
Questions to Ponder:
What does “being uplifting” mean to you? What words, images, or people come to mind when you think of it?
What are things we do as a church or society to celebrate people who are uplifting or who are good servants?
When is a time you have responded with love and kindness instead of hatred or revenge when you have been wronged or hurt?
What can you do to maintain an attitude of JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself) in your daily life?
Second Pledge (taken from “I am a Church Member”):
I am a church member.
I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am a member in this church to serve others and to serve Christ. My savior went to the cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that aren’t my preference or style.