I am a Unifying Church Member

Romans 12

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.

Transformed relationships

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:

It could easily be said that whenever two or three are gathered, there will be four opinions present. In 2012, legislation was introduced at General Conference, the world-wide body of The United Methodist Church. The purpose of the legislation was for United Methodists to agree that we are not of one mind when it comes to the issue of human sexuality. The legislation failed. We could not agree that we were NOT of one mind. Least we think that this is all the fault of the church, we only have to look at the current debates in culture and the recent debates about the NFL, healthcare, and so many other issues to be reminded that this is just an incident of the church reflecting the larger culture. We have a hard time right now as a country coming to an agreement on anything.

If you are like me you are probably tired of it. I know that there are people who get energy from conflict and debate and arguments. There are even times that I would probably consider myself one of those people. I love a good healthy discussion. Still, I am tired. I suspect that a lot of us our tired. We are tired of having to be drawn into sides on every issue that comes up. In the end, I think most of us just want to find a way to get along.

The 12th chapter of Romans is a great text for us to be studying in light of these challenges. Over in over in this passage, Paul exhorts the Romans to find ways to set aside their disagreements and remember that “We are one body in Christ and individually we belong to each other.” He also reminds them, “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.” Paul is telling them, and he is telling us, that it does not have to be this way. While the world wants to fight and disagree and pulls a part, what God wants is for us to be drawn to each other. We are meant to love our neighbors just as much as we love God and we love ourselves. It is through this love that we are able to be the one body in Christ that we meant to be.

In his book, “I am a Church Member,” Thom Rainer highlights the importance of being one in the body of Christ. He uses the language of unity. As church members, we must strive for unity as a community. He lifts up the church at Ephesus as an example of a church that Paul saw exhibiting this trait because they loved not only Christ, but all their fellow church members. Like a great team, a church is so much more powerful when everyone is working together.

Working together sounds great, but the reality is that it is hard. As I highlighted at the beginning, we all know that once you start getting more than one person, you start seeing differences of opinion. Working for unity means that each of us must find ways to set aside our own values and desires and work for the needs of others. Unity occurs when we are all able to see and understand things from other people’s perspectives. It happens when we put what is best for the group a head of the personal desires of any one person.

In my own experiences I have seen how hard unity can be. I have been a part of several groups that needed to achieve consensus on something and seen how hard that can be. Achieving healthy consensus comes when everyone is able to express their own views and opinions but also able to set them aside. When I was in student government in college, I was a part of a group that had to select one person to represent us. There were three of us that were all sure that we would be the best person to do this. We went in circles for literally hours debating how to resolve this. None of us was ready to make a move towards consensus and unity. In the end, the other two people both were able to express that if they were not going to be the person, than I would be the best person. We achieved consensus when people were able to put aside what they wanted and think about what might be best in general. I think it is only fair to note that in hindsight I recognize that I was not the best person to be chosen from that group. Perhaps if I had been better at the time of setting aside my own views the group would have made a better choice.

Making a move towards unity is hard. It requires trust in the group. By being willing to set aside your own preferences you are trusting that others will do the same thing. We have all been a part of that difficult conversation about where we should go to eat. Usually in the groups I am a part of, we are arguing because none of us want to decide. Imagine, however there was one person who always wanted to go to the same restaurant. If every time you gave in it would get old really fast. True, healthy unity requires a trust that everyone will move toward that middle and that everyone will work to set aside their own preferences and work for something better.

In Game Theory, there is something called a zero-sum game. Essentially, it means that there are winners and losers and the amount people win by is balanced out by the amount others lose by. Monopoly is an example of a zero-sum game, so is football. In fact, a lot of traditional games and sports are that way, so much so that we can forget there are other ways of doing things. There has been a trend recently in board games to create cooperative games. These are games in which all players work collectively and win or loss together. Instead of competing against each other, the players are competing against some outside element that provides a threat of loss. An example of one is Pandemic, where players work together to save the world from the spread of virulent diseases. You win when the diseases are all cured and you lose if the diseases get too out of hand. How we think about unity in the church and unity in the world is really influenced by whether we see ourselves in a zero-sum game, where your gain must come at the expense of my loss, or whether we see ourselves as cooperatively working together.

I believe that we as Christians are called to live like we are all in this together. I believe that we are not a part of some zero-sum game where there can be only one winner. Instead, I think we are all on the same team, God’s team, and we are all working for the same thing, to build the kingdom of God. We might see it differently, we might talk about it differently, and we might love different aspects of God’s kingdom than the people around us, but that does not mean we do not all love and want the same thing.

Bishop John Hopkins, a former Bishop of Minnesota, shared some observations in the church during his retirement sermon. He remarked about the fact that in the church we can seem to get worked up about the simplest of things, like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. No one cares that much about the color of carpet at Target or the color of the tiles at Cub. Why do we fight about the colors at church? We fight because we care. We fight because that carpet is not just any carpet, it is the carpet in the church and it is a part of something sacred. It represents how we feel about God.

The key to being a unifying church member is to remember that the source of our frustration is also our greatest hope. We fight and disagree so passionately in the church because of how much we care about the church and how much we care about God. This is not something trivial like a football team or what store we like to shop at. Church is sacred and it touches at our very heart, our very soul. To be a unifying church member we need to remember how much these things mean to us, and also to remember that at our core we all want the same thing, we all want God’s will to be done.

Questions to Ponder:

How do you react when people around you disagree about something?

When is a time when you have set aside your own preferences for “the good of the team?”

What can you do to work for unity in the church?

What hurts are you still caring from relationships in the church and how can you work to forgive them? Who might have been hurt by you that you need to ask forgiveness of?

Second Pledge (taken from “I am a Church Member”):

I am a church member.

I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. Once of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity of the sake of the gospel.