WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

LIVE AT PEACE

SERMON PRESENTED ON 05-22-10

 

       We have been systematically going through Apostle Paul’s list of exhortations In Roman 12 where Paul provides instruction on how to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God which Paul sees as our spiritual act of worship.  Paul instructs that we are to be transformed by a renewing of our minds, which is to say, a renewing of how we think.  How we behave is associated with how we think. If our thinking is driven by self centered and self absorbed dynamics, we will behave accordingly.  If our thinking is driven by the law of love as revealed in the scriptures, we will live the transformed life Paul speaks of in his letter to the Roman church. 

       To date we have discussed Paul’s instruction to love without hypocrisy, hate evil and cling to what is good.  We examined what it means to be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  We discussed honoring one another above ourselves and having zeal for the things of God.  We looked at what it means to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. Last time we met we examined Romans 12:14 where Paul instructs us to practice hospitality.  In association with verse 14 we also discussed verses 19 and 20 where Paul instructs to practice hospitality even to your enemy.

       Before we proceed with Paul’s list, I want to return to the beginning of Romans twelve and look at verse three where Paul sets the stage for the list of behaviors he then presents in the rest of chapter twelve. 

        Romans 12:3: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

       In this verse, Paul sets the table, so to speak, for what follows.  What follows is Paul showing that each member of the body of Christ has different talents and abilities and such talents and abilities should be used with a spirit of humility and not from the standpoint of showing off or looking down on those who may not have the same or equal level of skills or ability.

       Paul instructs we are to look at ourselves with sober judgment.  The Greek word translated “sober” means having a sound mind.  Paul is saying we are to look at ourselves and judge ourselves with a sound mind, a mind that is able to objectively evaluate our talents and abilities and our overall behavior.  In doing this we will realize we may have certain skills different from others but this doesn’t mean we are better than others.  This doesn’t justify thinking we are better than others.

       Romans 12:4-5: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

       Paul teaches that in our different roles in life we belong to each other.  We have different skills and talents so we can share them with others and meet the needs of others. Paul then goes on to show in greater detail how this is accomplished within the behavioral parameters he lists which we have been discussing one by one in the last six sermons.

       Today we will conclude our examination of Paul’s list of behavioral instruction as found in Romans 12 by looking at what Paul writes in verses 14 through 18.

       Romans 12:14-18: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

       The natural response to those who persecute us is to hope they get what’s coming to them.  We want to see them suffer for what they are doing to us.  We want to see them cursed.  Paul says this not the approach.  We are to bless those who persecute us.  To bless someone is to treat them with kindness and contribute to their needs.  It means to respect them despite what their attitude may be toward us.  It means to rejoice with them when they rejoice and mourn with them when they mourn. 

       When someone is weeping it is usually because something bad has happened to them.  When something bad happens to someone who has been persecuting us, the human tendency is to think they are being punished for how they treated us and rather than mourn with them we conclude they got what they deserve and we virtually rejoice in their sorrow rather than emphasize with them.  Rather than share in their sorrow, we rejoice over their adversity.  This kind of attitude is tantamount to cursing our adversary.  Paul instructs us not to do this.  This is not the attitude we are to display as a follower of Jesus. This is not some new teaching Paul has come up with.  Paul is simply reiterating what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount when He instructed us to love our enemies. 

       Luke 6:28-29: But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 

       The supreme example of blessing rather than cursing your enemy is that of Christ Jesus. When he hung on the cross, withering in pain, He looked down at those who were responsible for his being on that cross and he asked His Father to forgive them because they did not understand what they were doing.

       When people inflict pain on us, physical or spiritual, it often is because they don’t know what they are doing.  They are acting out their anger at real or imaged offenses or simply allowing their personal frustrations and life’s problems to be expressed in hurting someone else.  It is a common human behavior to take out ones frustrations on someone else, more often than not on someone you love but who happens to be a convenient target for aggression, either physical or spiritual.  This is the kind of behavior Jesus and Paul are teaching we must harness and replace with a spirit of understanding and corresponding love.  It is in this manner we represent Jesus and all He stood for and all He taught. Let’s return to Paul.

       Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

       Paul goes on to teach we are to live in harmony with one another.  He goes on to show we accomplish this by not being two proud to associate with those of low position.  The reality of life is that there are different levels of talent, education, wealth, social standing, and accomplishment among us humans.  Paul instructs that differences in these areas should not be the determining factor as to how we relate to one another. How we interact with others should instead be based on respect and genuine concern for their welfare regardless of their station in life. Paul concludes this segment of his instruction by saying:

       Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

       Paul makes it clear throughout his discussion of Christian behaviors that the goal of being a disciple of Jesus and a servant of God is to seek peace and harmony.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “Blessed are the peace makers for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”  When you read the letters Paul wrote, in every single one of his letters, he begins with the salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

       Seeking and promoting peace is a primary focus of being a Christian and it is in being a peace maker that we are truly a light to the world.  Jesus taught we are to be a light to the world just as He was a light to the world.  If I were to provide a general overview of the instruction given by Apostle Paul in Romans 12, I would have to say Paul is showing us the pathway to being a light to our fellow brethren in the Church and in so doing being a light to the world as well.

       In scripture, light is paralleled to the way of righteousness and the darkness is paralleled to the way of sin.  Jesus was the personification of righteousness.  Jesus represented the absolute righteousness of God the Father.  Apostle John made it clear that in God there is no darkness at all.

       I John 1:5-7:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

       God is seen as pure light in whom there is no darkness at all.  To have fellowship with God is to walk in light.  If we walk in the light as God is in the light we as Christians are able to have fellowship with God, with Jesus and with each other.  What does it mean to walk in the light?  Apostle Paul defines it for us.

       Ephesians 5:8-9: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).

       Being a light to the world is all about goodness, righteousness and truth.  It is all about how we interact with the world on a daily basis.  It is all about how we conduct ourselves in public and in private.  It is our conduct that either acts as a beam of light or, because of its absence, allows darkness to prevail.  Our life as a Christian is a constant struggle to insure we are a light to the world as opposed to participating in its darkness. The list of behaviors we have been examining in Romans 12 is all about living as children of light.

       When we leave the house in the morning to drive to work and are confronted with challenging traffic conditions, how do we react?  Do we express ourselves in colorful language and hand gestures at a driver who cuts us off or do we maintain level headedness and simply go with the flow. 

        Once at the our place of employment, do we participate in the gossip, tittle-tattle and rumor mongering that is so common to work environments or do we distance ourselves from such behavior and do our best to maintain respect for the boss and our fellow employees.

       When standing at the water cooler were someone is telling an off color joke do we join in with the laughter or do we refrain from giving attribution to what is being said.  Do we strive to consistently do our best as an employee or do we look for ways to take advantage of our employer such as taking sick leave when we are not really sick.

       When walking along at the local county fair while sipping a cool drink, do we discard the container by throwing it on the ground or do we take the time to find a trash bucket to dispose of our waste.  Do we litter or do we make every effort to maintain a clean environment.

       Are we quick to believe an evil report about someone or do we first check out the facts before making a judgement.  Do we investigate the truth of a matter with due diligence or do we simply go with the flow and ignore evidence?  Do we rush to judgement instead of first determining the truth of a matter?

        These are just a few of the daily dynamics of behavior that determine whether we are a light to the world or a participant in its darkness.  Whether we are pursuing the peace Paul writes about in Romans 12 or contributing to the disharmony so prevalent in the world.  It is our expression of righteous character that results in our being a light to the world. 

       We are all familiar with lighthouses which are built along the shores of lakes and oceans.  The purpose of a lighthouse is to act as beacon of light to warn vessels on the water that they are nearing a shore line and to take the necessary precautions.  As Christians, we are to be that beacon of light to warn others so that they may take the necessary precautions.  We do this by first of all setting the proper example so that by our behavior others may pick up on what we do and behave accordingly.  When this is accomplished God is glorified because through us the light of God becomes manifest. 

Attorney story:

       A story is told of a very worldly-minded attorney in the 19th century who had no regard for Christianity. After years of ungodly living and scorning of Christians, he grew old in years and went to live with his sister who happened to be a Christian. Her son was a pastor, and he had opportunity to engage the old man in conversation about Jesus and even recommend some books to him. Some time later, ill in health, the old attorney asked to confess his faith in Christ publicly. The nephew was eager to get the full story and wondered if the conversations he had with the old man had been instrumental in turning his callused heart to Christ. But as the story unfolded the pastor discovered that it was not his words or the books that he recommended but it was the godly life of the pastor’s sister, with whom the old attorney was living that was responsible for his conversion. He saw her godliness and radiance as a Christian in every situation, and it caused him to seek Jesus so he could experience what he saw in his sister.   

Ten Boom story:

       And then there’s the story of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom. Corrie and Betsie were sisters living in Holland during World War 2 who along with their father hid Jews in their home in order to protect them from being rounded up by the Nazi’s and carted off to concentration camps.  Finally the Germans discovered what they were doing and the Ten Boom family were themselves carted to concentration camps with the sisters finally ending up at Ravensbruck which was a German camp for women prisoners.

       Ravensbruck was the only major Nazi concentration camp for women, and about twenty European nations were represented there. At the time of Corrie and Betsy’s incarceration, the population of the camp was about 80,000. She and Betsie were officially regarded as prisoners on September 8, 1944. By the end of the war more than 132,000 women and children had been imprisoned in Ravensbruck, and it is estimated that 92,000 of them died there by starvation, execution or weakness.

       This was worse than any other prison they had been in. The first two days they had to sleep out in the open. It poured with rain, and the ground became a sea of mud. Then they were packed into a huge barrack-room. It had been built to house 400 people, but there were now 1400 prisoners in it. They had to sleep on straw mattresses filled with choking dust and swarming with fleas. Even the guards did not like going into the barrack-room because of the fleas.

       Roll-call was at half-past four in the morning. There were 35,000 women in the camp, and if anyone was missing they were counted again and again. So it often went on for hours. If the prisoners did not stand up straight the women guards beat them with riding whips.  The work was extremely hard. Corrie and Betsie had to load heavy sheets of steel on to carts, push them for a certain distance, and then unload them. All the time the guards shouted at them to work faster.  They were only given a potato and some thin soup at lunch-time, and some turnip soup with a piece of black bread in the evening. The prisoners who were doing lighter work had no lunch at all.

       If the prisoners became ill, the guards took no notice of them unless their temperature was over 40C, which meant they were seriously ill. Then they had to join the long line for the camp hospital. But nothing was done for them when they finally got there. When the hospital was full, the weakest prisoners were taken to gas chambers to be killed. Then their bodies were burned. The tall chimney above the ovens in the center of the camp was always belching grey smoke. This was the "hell on earth" to which Corrie and Betsie had come.

       When the prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck they had to give up everything they had with them. Corrie somehow managed to smuggle a small Bible into the camp.  When they first moved into the barrack-room, the terrible conditions there made the women angry and selfish. There were constant arguments and fights. Everyone suffered so much that they spent all their energy looking after themselves.  Betsie prayed that God would give peace to the barrack-room. Very soon the atmosphere changed. The women became a little more patient with each other. They even began to make a few jokes about their troubles.

        In the evenings, after a hard day's work and a miserable supper, Corrie and Betsie took out the little Dutch Bible. At first a small group gathered around to listen, and then more and more women joined them. The guards never came in to stop them, because of the fleas. So Corrie and Betsie thanked God for the fleas!  The women came from many countries, including Poland, France, Germany and Russia. Corrie translated the Bible from Dutch into German; someone else translated the German into Polish, and so on.

       As they were able, while living in the most miserable of conditions, they attended to the needs of their fellow prisoners and showed by example the love of God.  Betsie died at Ravensbruck but Corrie was released and became a much sought after speaker as she traveled around the world telling her story which she put in print in the still popular book entitled “The Hiding Place.”  This book was later made into a movie.

       Some years after her release, Corrie was giving a presentation after which a German guard from Ravensbruck who was in her audience came up and introduced himself asking for her forgiveness and desiring to become a Christian.  All of the horror of Ravensbruck flashed before her eyes as she looked at this man.  But the light of God once again was reflected in Corrie as she said “I forgive you.”

       Corrie and Betsie were truly Romans 12 Christians.  They demonstrated every one of the Christian behaviors we have discussed in this series of sermons on Romans 12. They especially demonstrated the traits of being joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. They practiced hospitality under the most adverse conditions.  They truly blessed those who persecuted them and did not curse them. 

       Jesus said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Our good deeds are to be seen so others can benefit from what they see.  This doesn’t mean we blow a trumpet before us announcing our good deeds.  The scriptural example is to go quietly about our business as we demonstrate the way of righteousness.  A beam of light makes no noise.  You will never hear light.  Light makes itself known in one way and in one way only and that is it shines.  It illuminates that upon which it comes into contact.

       The nature of light is to shine. There is no such thing as light that does not communicate itself. There is no such thing as self contained light. Light may originate in a distant star and travel a span of light-years, but it does not get tired of shining and cease to shine. Its nature is to shine. Christ has made us lights in the world, and we are not self-contained. It should be the nature of the Christian who has been made light to communicate the light given to him.

       Light is that which enables you to see or that which makes vision possible. Light goes with sight. Light illuminates.  You can’t see in the dark.  I remember visiting the prison called Alcatraz near the Golden Gate Bridge in California and during the tour the tour guide had us go into a solitary confinement prison cell and closed the door.  It was pitch black.  You could not see your hand in front of you.  Without light our eyes are virtually useless.  With this in mind it is interesting as to what Jesus said about light and the eye.

       Luke 11:34-36: Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.  Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."

       It is God’s will that we live in the light and that light fills our entire body.  To be filled with light is associated with having life.  While there are some plants and animals that can live in darkness, most living organisms require light. Jesus said He is the light of the world and those who follow Him will never walk in darkness.  Following Jesus is to experience the light of life. 

       A true Christian cannot be hid.  He cannot escape notice.  A person who is truly living out the principles expressed in the beatitudes will stand out.  The person who truly realizes what the grace of God means to him will not want to hide his Christianity under a bushel. The important thing is that we remain cognizant of the source of our light.  Our being a light is to reflect the light that is Christ Jesus.  Just as the physical sun causes the planets and moons in our solar system to express light, so it is that we express the light of the Son of God.  Jesus said he is the light of the world.  As disciples of Jesus we are to reflect that light consistently in our conduct and in all we think say and do.

       Paul’s list of Christian behaviors in Romans 12 are behaviors foundational to being a light to the world.  I encourage you to review this list often.  In so doing you will be become better equipped to behave in a way pleasing to God our Father and our Savior Christ Jesus.

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