Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cast off and put on

The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. – Romans 13.12

It is pretty obvious that we had better wake up and smell the roses considering the day we live in. It is bad and it is only going to get worse. So once we realise the need to wake up we need to figure out what to do.

The night it far spent, the day of the Lord is at hand. We had better do something about it.

So what do we do?

Cast off the words of darkness.
Put off the armour of light.

You notice Paul tells us to ‘cast of the works of darkness.’ He would have to do that if we hadn’t put them on the start with. Part of the problem with being lulled to sleep by a comfortable world is that we don’t notice the works of darkness creeping in and being a part of our lives. We do things and think things and watch things we wouldn’t have thought about before. The wickedness of the world is going to draw us as we seek to maintain the level of popularity and acceptance that we have had all along. Before we know it we are clad in works of darkness.

When we finally wake up to the fact we had better do what we read here. Do something about it. Throw off those works of darkness that ensnare us. Get rid of it. Ask God to search our hearts to make sure that there is not vestige of darkness clinging on.

Then we need to be protected. We are to clothe ourselves in the armour of light. Paul explains this armour in more detail in Ephesians 6; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.

It’s only going to get worse folks – we need to be ready. Get rid of the darkness and put on the armour. Be ready for the battle. 

Time to wake up

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. – Romans 13.11

One of the saddest things about the church having society on our side is that we have been lulled to sleep by 'flowery beds of ease' for the last three hundred years or so. Speaking for those of us in the west we have enjoyed governments who, if not on our side, at least have been friendly and accepting to us. We have had laws that support the Biblical stance on marriage, abortion, and many other issues. Many countries have even given our churches tax breaks in some form or another. In reality they have made being a Christian pretty easy.

But it doesn’t take much looking to realise that things are changing. Christian standards, morals, and ethics, which once were the foundation of our western societies, are being eroded as laws change to accept things contrary to the Christian lifestyle. The word of God is no longer sufficient basis for laws for all of society.

Many are decrying these changes. Many are bemoaning the death of civilization as we know it. Many are convinced that society is going to collapse. 

I don’t necessarily accept that a society needs our Christian morals to survive. It may not be the world that we have known, but society will carry on until Jesus comes back. We may not recognise it. We may not like it. The day may come when our way of life is not only not protected by law, it may even become against the law.

I keep up with politics in both Washington and Dublin. In both places laws are changing even as I type these words that are going to change the fabric of both countries to make them less in accord with the word of God.

So what do we do? Do we riot and rebel and revolt? Do we still try to force a lost world to live by our standards?

Or do we realise that maybe it is time to wake up out of our sleep. Maybe some of this is happening to remind us that this world is not our home. Maybe we need to wake up and realise that we live in a world that is trapped in sin. Maybe it’s a good thing that we have to stop trusting the government to support and protect us and realise that that is God’s job. Maybe we need to stop relying on Dublin or London or Brussels or Washington or wherever and wake up to the truth the only one we can rely on is our Lord.  

Our final salvation is nearer now than it was when we first believed. Things are changing. Maybe it’s time to wake up and realise that the battle is not to elect certain parties or pass certain laws. Maybe it is time to wake up and realise that the battle is for the souls of men. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

To fulfil the Law

For the commandments, " You shall not commit adultery," " You shall not murder," " You shall not steal," " You shall not bear false witness," " You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
– Romans 13.9-10

All the Jews knew the basics of the Law – you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet, and all the rest. It had been taught to them and they had heard it since they were children. Most folks in the Christian west are also at least familiar with the Ten Commandments. It is easy enough to memorise the Ten Commandments, but what about all the rest of the Law. That would be a nearly impossible task.

When we look at these particular examples we quickly notice that they all deal with how we are supposed to treat others. Don't commit adultery or murder or steal or bear false witness or covet.'

Jesus had already summarised the Law with a simple set of commands, 'Love God and love others.'

Here Paul does the same with one section of the law. He says that if we love each other we will never do him any harm. If we don't do our neighbour any harm we won't do any of the things here. You won't murder a man if you love him. You won't steal from a man if you love him. You won't steal a man's stuff if you love him. If you love a man you won't bear false witness against him. If our love a man you won't even covet his things.

So fulfil this part of the Law is pretty basic – just love. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Owe no man anything

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13.8

I like the simple instructions of scripture. I like it when it is clean and plain and easy to understand.
Romans 13.18 is one of those simple passages that is convicting in its simplicity.

‘Owe no man anything.’ While it may be a little difficult and may an oversimplification to try and make an argument against any kind of debt here there is a pretty clear principle.

Debt, be it a financial debt or a debt of time, or owing a favour, or anything of the sort is always a form of bondage. When we are beholden to another they always have some sort of control.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 22.7 that the borrower is as servant to the lender. It is not taking it too far to say that indebtedness is its own form of slavery.

So the principle is clear. God’s children should never be beholden to another. We should be free of any debt to that we are free to serve God without another master.

Except for one wonderful thing. We owe each other love. And there is a debt we can spend our lives paying.

Pay your taxes

For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. – Romans 13.6-7

Taxes. Yuck. It's a topic we all wish we could avoid. Nobody likes the idea of dealing with taxes. We would all just rather ignore it.

Some folks even claim that if we don’t like what the government is doing we don’t have to pay taxes. Other folks look for ways to cheat the tax man. Others falsify records or fail to report income in order to avoid paying their due.

There are even Christians who fall into this trap. There are several cases where pastors or Christian leaders in America are in jail because they refused to pay their taxes. Here in Ireland only recently an entire church was taken over by the revenue office because the pastors had refused to do the right thing and properly handle their taxes. This was Ireland’s one mega-church and it was very visible.

We have to ask what kind of testimony that leaves. The church that was just shut down here in Ireland had been unscrupulous in their business dealings since they started. I have had people ask me ‘you’re not like them are you?’

This kind of behaviour does not make martyrs. It is not persecution. There is no excuse. It only causes harm to the body of Christ. 

The answer is simple. It is right here in verses 6-7. ‘Pay your taxes.’

It is like what we saw above. We do what is right and we trust God with the results. Doing wrong never profits in any regard. If we think our tax structure is unfair and we live in a country where we have a voice we can of course try to change it. But we can’t just ignore.

We must may our taxes. We must do it according to the law. We must do right. 

That is clear. To fail to do so is sin. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Government as God's servant?

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.  – Romans 13.3-5

Here is a verse that really adds to the confusion of the Christian and his relationship to the state. It tells us that governments are a terror to evil works. That if we do good we will be praised by the government. The state is God’s minister to us for good. We should be afraid only if we do evil. God gives the state the power of the sword to execute wrath on the evil doer. So, we are to be subject. 

That seems all well and good. And it is government acts the way God wants them to act. 

But the reality is that sometimes government does reward the wicked and punish the good. Sometimes it bears its sword even against God’s people. 

What do we do then? Do we then have license to ignore the injunction to submit? Can we reject or rebel against a government because it doesn't seem to be doing what is supposed to do.  

I would have say that even when that happens we don't have the right to rebel. Remember that the people reading this letter were living in the Roman Empire. They were living under Nero's thumb. Nero was one of the cruelest tyrants who had ever lived. He hated Christians. He set fire to Rome just so he could blame the Chrisitans. 

We still have to obey. We still have to submit. At least as important to obeying out of fear is that we can trust that when we obey we can rest assured that we cna have a clear conscience and then leave the results up to God. 

Sunday, 23 June 2013


Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgement on themselves. – Romans 13.1-2

Now here is a tough one. It is a subject of great controversy which I am certainly not going to settle with one little blog post. The great question is 'what kind of relationship should the Christian have to secular government?'

The debate has raged through the centuries. How much obedience is due to the government? Do we have to obey all laws? Are there conditions on submission? What do we do when the government is cruel and oppressive? What do we do when the government is going totally against the way we think?

First I think we have to notice the context. There were no chapter or verse divisions when this was written. Paul has just been addressing how we are not to respond to evil with evil. He says that we are to overcome evil with good. It says we do good to our enemies.

A right after that we read 'let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. The powers that be are ordained of God. If we resist the authorities we resist God and we bring judgement on ourselves.'

I wish I had all the answers to all the details. We know from the previous few verses and from what we know of history what happened when God's people applied these principles in the first few centuries of the church. The early church trusted God. They submitted to one of the cruellest governmental regimes in the history of the world. And in the end they won. 

While I may not have all the answers I think it is clear from this passage and others that Christians are to abide by laws, even if we don’t like them. While we can’t always do that because we cannot obey laws that violate the scriptures, we have to be willing to suffer the consequences like Daniel did and like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did when they chose to disobey.

No matter what the circumstances God’s people are not to be lawbreakers. It is our duty to obey the law unless it comes into absolute conflict with the word of God.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Overcome evil

Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him a drink; for in so doing you will reap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12.20-21

I probably could have included today’s thought with yesterday’s, but I read a comment some place that I thought perfectly encapsulated the teaching of this particular verse. I did not want this verse to get missed in all that I mentioned yesterday.

‘Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome with good.’

When we take action by feeding our hungry enemy and giving him a drink we do good. He won’t normally get it. He may not respond well. But good will have its impact.

Our goal is not to become evil like the evil around us. When we do that evil has won – it has overcome our goodness.

Instead of that our goodness should overcome the evil.

I need to go back to the days of the early church once again to illustrate this great truth.

Will Durant explains it perfectly in his The History of Civilisation – ‘There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.’

A few Christians
Fighting the sword with the word,
Fighting brutality with hope,
At last defeated the strongest state that history has known.

Good finally overcame evil. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena – and Christ had won.

Don’t you think if good could overcome evil the day when Christians were tossed to the wild beasts in the arena and crucified and burnt to light the roads that good can overcome evil today? 

How to treat an enemy

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him a drink; for in so doing you will reap coals of fire on his head." – Romans 12.19-20

Earlier in the passage we talked about the necessity of not returning evil for good in a personal way, but I want to spend a couple of days dealing with the more general and powerful impact that following these instructions can have.

‘Don’t seek vengeance yourselves. I will take care of that. If your enemy is hungry – feed him. If your enemy is thirsty – give him something to drink. In so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’

This does not seem to make any sense. Why should I help my enemy? Why should I ‘aid and abet’ those who want to do evil to me? Isn’t aiding and abetting the enemy the very definition of treason? Isn’t this being a traitor to the cause of Christ?

It may seem that way at first, but when we respond to persecution by feeding and giving drink to our enemy we accomplish so much more than a temporary victory. When we do that we ‘heap coals of fire on his head.’

In other words, we cause a discomfort that is unanswerable. When we respond that way it is something the enemy cannot answer. He can respond to everything else – but we respond this way we don’t give him any reason of cause for his action.

I need to go back Uncle Tom and Simon Legree to illustrate this. Here Tom is submitting to Legree’s tyranny in a way that frustrates Legree.

‘"Mas'r Legree, as ye bought me, I'll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I'll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won't give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all,--die or live; you may be sure on 't. Mas'r Legree, I ain't a grain afeard to die. I'd as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me,--it'll only send me sooner where I want to go." "I'll make ye give out, though, 'fore I've done!" said Legree, in a rage. "I shall have help," said Tom; "you'll never do it." "Who the devil's going to help you?" said Legree, scornfully. "The Lord Almighty," said Tom.’

The hard truth is that Tom’s response didn’t help him personally. Legree was so disturbed that he had Tom beaten to death.

How did that work? As we saw a few days ago Tom’s response saw two other slaves saved.

Lest we think that is only fiction we can go back to the early church to find out how this response played out. For hundreds of years the believers had persecuted by the Roman government. From historical accounts they responded by loving and taking care of their persecutors. They did not take up arms. They did not riot in the streets. They did not attack the governing authorities.

Many of them suffered. Many of them died. But they persisted in responding God’s way.

And what happened?

In 311 Galarius was emperor. He had been one of the leading figures in the persecutions, admitted that the policy of trying to eradicate Christianity had failed. In 303 he issued an edict to renew the persecution which had somewhat backed off under Diocletian. But in 311 he issued an Edict of Toleration which finally ended the persecution of Christians.

Here is a part of that edict:

 "wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes."

God’s plan had worked. It worked so well that eventually the Roman government asked the church to pray for them.

Who says God’s way doesn’t make any sense? 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Live peaceably

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. – Romans 12.18

Peace is just a wonderful word. It is a wonderful goal. I think the vast majority of us would do almost anything to achieve peace. Most of don't relish conflict. 

But it comes. 

What are we to do when it does come? 

Martin Lloyd-Jones explains this verse this way – ‘Live at peace with all men unless they make it impossible for you to do so. The doubt is not with you, but them…You never be the cause of trouble.’

The idea is that when there is no peace it ought never to be our fault. We cannot dictate what others do, but we can decide what we do. Our part of any possibly volatile situation ought to be to avoid conflict and keep the peace. We strive for peace and strive not to be the cause of conflict. We ought to be the peacemakers.

But that might be taken too far. It might speak to a kind of Casper Milquetoast faith that cries out for peace at any price. This too is not right. We strive for peace, as much as possible, but sometimes we have to stand for what is right and let the chips fall where they may.

James addresses this when he writes ‘the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable.’ (James 3.17). The writer of Hebrews said that we are to seek peace with all men, with holiness…’ (Hebrews 12.14) There do come times when we have to stand for truth and holiness and purity even if it opens the possibility of conflict. Paul withstood Peter because he tried to seek the peace by acting one way around the Jews and another with the Gentiles.

So what do we do? How do we live at peace as much as possible while still contending for the faith? I have to go back to Dr Jones for an excellent description of how to put this verse into practice.

We must always stand for the truth of God’s word. There is no room for compromise there.
We must strive to be patients and helpful in all other matters that are the non-essentials.
We must always be sure to ‘speak the truth in love.’ There is no call to cause offence by our attitude or spirit.
We must never make it personal. It must not be about us being proven right.
We must always let the ‘peace of God rule in our hearts.’

Peace is not always possible – but we must always do our part to be peaceable even in times of conflict. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Good things for all men

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. – Romans 12.17

Goodness seems like such a simple thing. But maybe it is not all that simple.

Verse 17 gives a positive and a negative aspect of how we are to treat others.

On one hand don’t repay anyone for their evil with your own evil.

On the other hand have a regard for good things in the sight of all men.

Here Paul repeats what Jesus said when He said that if someone strikes us on one cheek we are not to him them back, but to turn the other cheek.

That flies in the face of what society says and it flies in the face of what we normally would do.

Some folks, even Christians, respond with something like ‘That’s just make any sense. It must mean something else’ and just ignore it.

Nevertheless there it is – how do we deal with it?

I like the way Martin Lloyd-Jones deals with this. He speaks of a whole change of attitude here. The phrase ‘have regard for’ means that we are always to keep how we can do good for others is mind.

Don’t worry so much about yourself; even if someone does evil to you you need to be looking out for ways to do good to everyone, including the evil-doer.

We have to ask ourselves where our focus is – is it on our own good or the good of others? The teaching is clear. There are more important that than a slap on the cheek. What is more important is an attitude of doing good no matter what. Do we have that kind of attitude in our daily dealings? 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Associate with the humble

Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. – Romans 12.16

Everyone likes to be somebody. If we can't be somebody we like to know someone who is somebody. It is always nice to be noticed and be associated with one of those ‘somebodies.’

The bad thing is that we can allow that desire to be a ‘somebody’ influence our Christian lives. Over the last 100 or so years the church in America and some other part some other parts of the West have enjoyed that. Christian leaders have courted presidents, premiers, prime ministers, and various other politicians. In some parts of the America politicians are forced to cosy up to the church for their political gain. 

I am not so sure that is what the Lord had in mind when He established His church. Here, as Paul is talking about the unity that comes with rejoicing and weeping with each other he uses mentions the oft used phrase ‘be of the same mind toward one another’ and then goes on to make another application.

Don’t set your mind on high things. We don’t need the places of worldly power and influence. Being ‘somebody’ should be the last thing on our mind because we are already somebody in Christ.

I like what he writes next – ‘associate with the humble.’ I don’t think my parrowphrase of this passage does it any disservice – ‘hang around with the regular folk.’

We don’t need to hobnob with the rich and famous. We don’t need to worry about partying with the politicians. We ought to be content to hang around with the common people – folks like you and me.

I love that. I love being around regular people. It seems like Jesus did as well.

I won’t even start with the last phrase here – ‘don’t be wise in your own opinion.’ I think I’ll grab that one the next time through in 4-5 years.  

Monday, 17 June 2013


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12.15 

The word of God is very clear when it uses the image of a body to illustrate the church. We are a family. We are a body. 

Sometimes it is any to forget that. Sometimes we can think that it is all about us. Our problems and our issues and our situations can seem so big that we forget about everyone else. 

But that is not how a normally operating body functions. When I stub my toe or bang my shin my whole body responds. I howl and jump up and down and groan and bend over and grab or rub the injured body part. When one part of the body hours the whole body feels it. 

On the other hand, when I got back from Dublin yesterday and pulled off my shoes my whole body was relieved. It was ecstasy. I oohed and aahed with pleasure. My whole body rejoiced when I pulled off my shoes. 

And so it should be with the spiritual body of Christ. When one part rejoices the whole body should rejoice. It should be second nature. 

When one part of the body weeps the whole body should weep. 

Whether it be joy or weeping we should never have to go through it alone. It's our job to look out for those rejoicing. When they do there is no room for jealousy or envy. We shout and rejoice and jump up and down with them. 

And when weeping comes sometimes all we can is draw up alongside and weep with them. 

May God give each of us that wonderful spriritual empathy that makes the body one. 

Responding to attacks

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. – Romans 12.14

Even in the most friendly and understanding culture eventually God’s children are going to face opposition. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the west have not had much real persecution in a long time. I have never seen it. Sure, I have been mocked and laughed at and made fun of, but I have seen nothing to resemble real persecution.

However we do see those little things, and one day we will see more. I know from experience that my gut response is to rise up and respond in like manner when someone abuses us, even verbally.

But what does God say?

As hard as it sounds God makes it clear – ‘bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.’

I don’t know about you, but that goes against anything I might think of when responding to being attacked.

When I read this verse my mind is drawn back to the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom was a slave who had several masters. One was kind, one was ambivalent, and one was vicious. The vicious owner was a man named Simon Legree. Legree hated Tom and he hated Tom’s faith in Christ. There are several interchanges between Tom and Legree when Tom shows the Christian way to respond to persecution.

The following gives us a clear example of how we ought to respond. It challenges my heart every time I read it. Please be forewarned that I am quoting directly from the book and there is an occasion of a now offensive word.

[Tom]…then drew his worn Bible from his pocket. There were all the marked passages, which had thrilled his soul so often,--words of patriarchs and seers, poets and sages, who from early time had spoken courage to man,--voices from the great cloud of witnesses who ever surround us in the race of life. Had the word lost its power, or could the failing eye and weary sense no longer answer to the touch of that mighty inspiration? Heavily sighing, he put it in his pocket. A coarse laugh roused him; he looked up,--Legree was standing opposite to him. "Well, old boy," he said, "you find your religion don't work, it seems! I thought I should get that through your wool, at last!" The cruel taunt was more than hunger and cold and nakedness. Tom was silent. "You were a fool," said Legree; "for I meant to do well by you, when I bought you. You might have been better off than Sambo, or Quimbo either, and had easy times; and, instead of getting cut up and thrashed, every day or two, ye might have had liberty to lord it round, and cut up the other niggers; and ye might have had, now and then, a good warming of whiskey punch. Come, Tom, don't you think you'd better be reasonable?--heave that ar old pack of trash in the fire, and join my church!" "The Lord forbid!" said Tom, fervently. "You see the Lord an't going to help you; if he had been, he wouldn't have let me get you! This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom. I know all about it. Ye'd better hold to me; I'm somebody, and can do something!" "No, Mas'r," said Tom; "I'll hold on. The Lord may help me, or not help; but I'll hold to him, and believe him to the last!"

As a result of Tom’s witness two of the slaves, Quimbo and Sambo, who had been guilty of beating Tom nearly to death at Legree’s instruction saw the reality of Christ.

"O, Tom!" said Quimbo, "we's been awful wicked to ye!" "I forgive ye, with all my heart!" said Tom, faintly. "O, Tom! do tell us who is Jesus, anyhow?" said Sambo;--"Jesus, that's been a standin' by you so, all this night!--Who is he?" The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wondrous One,--his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save. They wept,--both the two savage men. "Why didn't I never hear this before?" said Sambo; "but I do believe!--I can't help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!" "Poor critters!" said Tom, "I'd be willing to bar' all I have, if it'll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! give me these two more souls, I pray!" That prayer was answered!

Look at the very last line. Tom said that everything he has been through would be worth it if only Quimbo and Sambo were saved – and they were. 

Saturday, 15 June 2013


distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.  – Romans 12.13

Paul continues on here with some specific instructions on godly living as the sacrificed life. The tone is going to change just a little in the next verse as we are going to look at out behaviour in a world that is not necessarily going to like how we live.

But for now we see an oft repeated theme from the Old Testament, but really put forth in the New.

The two thoughts in this verse go hand in hand. Distribute to the needs of the saints. Given to hospitality.

There is never an excuse for Christians to ever have unmet needs. Of course, we are to seek to help all men, but we are also told that we have a special responsibility to the 'household of faith.'

We have to remember that we are all family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. As family we need to make sure to be aware that other parts of the family are not suffering. Paul spent a lot of time writing to the Corinthians about the need for giving, but not giving in general, but giving to meet other believer's needs.

When I read reports of my brothers and sisters around the world struggling for the necessities of life I wonder where we went wrong. Today some of the church will meet in multi-million dollar megastructures and sip their lattes and cappuccinos while other meet in dirt huts with no running water and pray about where their daily bread will come from. Budget committees will debate our how to spend the $100,000 organ budget while others will scrap together food from starving families to feed another family that is even worse off.

What is wrong here? How are we missing this clear command to ‘distribute to the needs of the saints?’

I was going to address the ‘pursuing hospitality’ as well but my heart is stirred and moved and challenged and convicted by the first part of the verse alone.

Are my resources going to meet the needs of the saints? Or are they going to further my list of extra possessions? 

Joy in hope

rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; - Romans 12.12

A hopeless life must be the most awful life imaginable. Hopelessness is a miserable state. It can impact anyone. It is the hopeless life that plays a huge role in the vast numbers of suicides that dominate our Irish culture.  I obviously don’t want to over simplify an difficult and complication situation, but there is an obvious connection. If there is no hope then we get discouraged. Continued discouragement is a major factor in depression. Depression can lead to despair, and despair unchecked can lead to desperation. When people are desperate there can seem like no answer but to end it all.

But as Paul writes here the believer does have hope. No matter how bad it gets here we have the promise of eternal life. That hope makes it all bearable. The hope is not a vague wish that maybe it is going to happen, but it is the hope of full assurance that this is not all there is.

So how should hope affect us? It should cause us to rejoice. It should cause us to be patient in our trials. It should cause us to continue steadfastly in our prayers.

Believers have the precious promises of God. He is with us. He watches over us. He is in control. He knows what we need. We know that our eternity is secure.

O Lord, give us the strength only You can provide to put our hope in You. Help us to rejoice in that hope so that we rejoice in the Lord no matter what comes our way. Remind us that we can’t always rejoice in our circumstance, but we can rejoice in You. Help us by that hope to be patient in our temporary trials.

Let that hope drive us to our knees in prayers of reliance on You. Keep us steadfast in those prayers no matter what comes our way. 

Help us to share that message of hope to those who are hurting and in despair. 

Friday, 14 June 2013


not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; - Romans 12.11

The practical programme for living the sacrificed life just continues. This particular verse really nails some thoughts about our day to day service.

It is easy to get down and discouraged in God’s work. When that happens it is easy to slack off and be less than diligent about our service. It is even, believe it or not, possible to get spiritually lazy.

The old King James used an interesting phrase to start this verse - 'not slothful in business.' While to our ears this seems to mean that we need to be busy in our business dealings to the 17th century reader it had a differed, but very clear meaning. The picture is really clear though – don’t be like a sloth when it comes to things that should be keeping you busy.’

We can put that pretty bluntly – stop being lazy in the work you should be diligent about. Instead be fervent (like a boiling pot of water) in your service for the Lord.

I know most of those reading this are believers. I suspect most, like me, are truly striving to serve the Lord. I would guess that serving the Lord is high on our priority list.

But when I read this verse I wonder just how much our service, or maybe it’s just my service, compares to this standard.

Not letting my diligence lag? Fervent in spirit? Can I (we) honestly look at our service and say it meets that standard.

Powerful challenge here today. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Giving preference

 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another; - Romans 12.10

Brotherly love

That sounds like a pretty good recipe for a successful relationship, doesn’t it?

Kind affection comes first. This is as simple as showing nice to each other. It is being kind. It letting our love for each other be unmasked. That sounds pretty simple, but it is sorely lacking in the church. We get so busy with our own plans and goals and agendas that we forget to be nice.

Brotherly love goes hand in hand with that doesn’t it? Love motivates us to put others before us.

And that leads us to ‘in honour preferring one another.’

I like what Martin Llloyd-Jones says about this little titbit. ‘This…appears to be obvious, but the more you analyse it, the profounder you will find it to me.

We honour something when we examine it and see its worth. We decide that it is worthy of honour when other things are not. When we truly honour someone or something we show it respect. This word for preference means that we take the lead in honouring each other. We don’t wait to be honoured in order to show honour.

That’s pretty deep. I see the value in others and choose to honour them by giving preference instead of demanding preference for me.

What that means is that in brotherly love I don’t worry so much about me. In fact, I really shouldn’t be too concerned about me at all.

‘Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for—Others.

Others, Lord, yes others,
Let this my motto be,
Help me to live for others,
That I may live like Thee’*

*Charles D. Meigs, 1917.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Evil and good

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another; - Romans 12.9-10

Abhor evil. Cling to what is good.

It doesn't get much clearer than that does it? While we spoke of love with dissimulation regarding other yesterday, it also refers to our love for God. We are to love God with unmasked love, and a key element of that is to abhor evil and cling to, or as the old King James put it, cleave to that which is good.

Amos wrote of the same concept when he wrote ‘hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.’ Peter writes of the good man ‘eschewing, shying away, from evil, and doing good.’ All of these writings speak is one thing – holiness – and it is holiness that is the result of living a truly sacrificed life.

The two are in great contrast – the words are stark and very clear cut. You can’t get much more opposite than ‘abhor’ and ‘cleave.’ I am going to use the old King James word here because, though in this sense it is somewhat archaic, I really think the sense of the word is closer to the Greek word used here.

Abhor what it evil. Our English word here is not related to the Greek word, but to its Latin equivalent. If you look at ‘abhor’ you can see that it is related to our word ‘horror.’ The idea is to ‘reject with horror.’ That’s pretty close to the full meaning of the Greek word – ‘to shrink away with all abhorrence.’

It is not enough just to not take part in the evil of our world. Here we are told to shy away from the evil of the world with absolute horror. Does the evil of the world make us shrink back in horror?

Do we really have that kind of abhorrence of evil? Sadly I think many of us are pretty comfortable with flirting with the evil that we are supposed to ‘shrink away from with abhorrence.’

On the other hand we are to cling to or cleave to good. The Greek word there was used to describing gluing two pieces of wood together. This is how, by the way, husbands are to cling to their wives. While we are to shy away from the horrors of evil we are to actively stick to good like we are glued to it.

As we go through today let’s examine how we deal with evil. Will we turn away in horror, or we so deadened to its effects that we are comfortable just cozying up to it? 

I found this in my Valley of Vision the day after posting - I think it nail the idea of abhorrence. 

Give me abhorrence of all evil,
as a vile monster that
defies thy law, casts off thy yoke,

defiles my nature, spreads misery.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Without dissimulation

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. – Romans 12.

This section of Romans 12 is just a powerful series of instructions on putting into practice the teaching of using our gifts. We could almost stop and examine every single phrase in every single verse. We could spend many weeks over the next few verses as Paul teaches what it means to live the sacrificed life.

The first topic Paul addresses is love. It is amazes how often love comes at the top of the list when it comes to Christian living. 

Let love be without hypocrisy - or without dissimulation. 

I like the old King James word here - let love be without dissimulation. I like it because that word means more than just 'without hypocrisy.' From what I can grasp it seems truer to the meaning of the Greek word here.

A dissimulation roughly means a disguise.  It means something that is feigned. It is not real. It is fake. And yes, it is hypocritical.

True Christian love can be none of these. True Christian love is undisguised love, it is unfeigned love, it is not hypocritical. 

Fake love is one of the ugliest things we can come across. Fake love is self-serving. Real love is giving. Love without dissimulation is sacrificial love.

How does our love compare to the ‘without dissimulation’ standard? 

Using gifts

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12.6-8

Part of our marvellous diversity in the body of Christ is that God blesses us with different gifts. Though not having a gift is not any kind of excuse for not exercising our basic Christian responsibility God does bless us with a variety of gifts. Paul writes about this in his communication with the Corinthian believers, but he gives us a taste here.

God gives us gifts by His grace. Our gifts are not something we can take credit for. They are not something we can brag about. Interestingly, the word gift and the word grace come from the same Greek word. We cannot brag about our gifts any more than we can brag about the grace that saves us.

By God’s grace I am a teacher. I know that. Here God says that those who are teachers should use that gift by teaching. The same principle applies to the other gifts – if you have a gift use it as your gift. If God gives you the gift of opening up the mysteries of heaven to others do it by faith. If your gift is serving – serve. If your gift is exhorting – exhort. If your gift is giving – give liberally. If your gift is leadership – do it with diligence. If your gift is mercy – do it cheerfully.

Now of course this does not mean that we have an excuse to only do that for which we are gifted. Just because I am teacher doesn’t mean that I don’t give or show mercy or serve or exhort or whatever. Those are all just part of our Christian life. It is what is expected as we live as living sacrifices.

But we need to use the gifts God gives us. Learn more about them. Develop and practice and use those gifts for the glory of God and for the benefit of the body of Christ. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

One body

so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. – Romans 12.5

The various parts of our body have amazing diversity. Our body parts are designed so that some parts taste, some parts smell, some parts hear, some parts transport, some part pump blood, some parts transport oxygen, some parts turn food into energy, some parts fight off infection, some parts manipulate, and so on and so on and so on.  It is a marvellous system that is fearfully and wonderfully made.

And yet, with all of this diversity the body functions as one. When functioning properly all the systems of the body work together to carry out what we call life. I am glad for all of my parts – I would hate to have to try and eat with my ear.

Likewise the church enjoys and beautiful and wonderful diversity. With all of our different skin colours and nationalities and languages and cultures we are still one. With all of our strengths and weaknesses and abilities and skills and talents and gifts and powers and even our quirks we are all still one.

It is sad that we so often divide over our diversity. We are all one body and as such we are all members of each other. We need each other. We need our differences. We need all of us. We are not one unless we understand and appreciate the need for diversity as one body.

Isn’t it time that we learn to celebrate our unified diversity?

We are one body – let’s stop tearing that body apart with our own petty selfishness. 

More highly than he ought to think

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  – Romans 12.3

I think it is interesting to note the very first thing addressed after verses one and two in Romans 12.

Submit yourselves as a sacrifice
Don’t be conformed, but be transformed
Don’t think to highly of yourself

Huh? How did that get in there? It doesn’t seem that is so important that it would be the first thing mentioned after sacrifice.

But on second thought maybe it does really fit there. We are supposed to be living as a sacrifice. We are not supposed to be conforming to this world’s way. We are supposed to be being transformed to the image and the mind of Christ.

All of that requires humility. We can’t do any of that if we ‘think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.’ Being a sacrifice leaves no room for pride or arrogance or self-aggrandisement or ‘thinking more highly than we ought.’

Thinking soberly, or level headedly, means we see ourselves honestly. That means that we don’t too much about who get to be or where God puts us. When we think too highly we may think that we deserve better out of life. We may think that we deserve a better job, a better place to live, a bigger and more exciting ministry, or any number of ambitions.

Thinking too highly will always get in the way of sacrifice. It will always get in the way of service. It will always get in the way of straight thinking.

Paul also gives us a great warning in a letter to the Corinthians – ‘let him that think he stands take heed lest he fall.’

Let’s be careful thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought and just get on serving God. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Conformed or transformed

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 12.2

There are certain places where the word of God translates into English so beautifully. There are certain places where to King James translating committee chose just the right words so that they really stick in our minds. To be fair though, most modern translations have kept the same basic wording.

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

Don’t be conformed – be transformed.

Isn’t that a powerful statement?

The natural thing for us to do is just to conform to the world. It is easy to slide right into its mould. There are certain things and actions and behaviours and attitudes and speech and ideas that are just so easily conformable to. Everybody else does it. It just makes sense and it is the pattern that folks just naturally tend to fall into. We’ve all been there. Ephesians 2 tells us that we all walked according to the course of this world.

But conformity is not for God’s children. Instead God’s wants us to be transformed. We need a new mind, and that mind is the mind of Christ. When we get saved the transformation begins. We are made new in Christ. We are a new creature. We are dead to the penalty of sin. We are dead to the power of sin.

But we are not free from the presence of sin. We still have to deal with that. It is the presence of sin that draws us to conformity with the world.

So as we offer our bodies as living sacrifices we are to let the mind of Christ transform and change us.

When I take a careful look at the world around me there is not a whole lot that I really want to be conformed to. Why then is it so hard to let the transforming take place?

But we know the answer, don’t we? It is our sinful flesh that makes us think that conformity is better and that it is the road to happiness.

The pleasures conformity brings are temporary – the joys that transformation brings are eternal.

Don’t be conformed – be transformed. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013


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. – Romans 12.1

Romans 12.1-2 present, what I think at least, is a major key to what it really means to live the Christian life. There seems to have been an attempt to many circles to ‘soft sell’ the gospel – to make it sound like getting saved in the answer to all your problems, that once you are saved everything is going to rosy in the garden, and that you can just settle down on a bed of easy and ‘enjoy Jesus.’

We don’t tend to hear a whole lot about sacrifice. We don’t tend to hear the truth that salvation indeed comes with its joys and pleasures and peace and happiness and all that, but we don’t hear a lot about the struggles and the sacrifice.

Paul knew the need of teaching about sacrifice. When he wrote to these Roman Christians he ‘beseeched’ them. Paul was exhorting, them, extolling them, encouraging them, indeed begging them to do what he says next. This was important. It was vital. It had to be done.

But it isn't reliant on us. Paul continues, ‘by the mercies of God.’ If it were not for God’s never failing mercies we would be hopeless to do this task. We can’t conjure it up. We can’t just do what is required. We need to mercies of God to do what follows.

And what follow? ‘To present your bodies and living sacrifice.’ We sometimes say ‘lay it all on the altar.’ Have we given Jesus everything? Are we willing to sacrifice all of our lives to Him? That means we give Him everything, our hearts, our hands, our talents, our resources, our children, our lives, our ambitions, and our plans.

If we really trust Him we can do that because we believe that if He really loves us His way is going to be the best way.

And lastly – this is nothing but our reasonable service. And that service comes with the best rewards.

Elisha Hoffman penned these words in 1905 that I think do a marvellous job of summing up Paul’s instruction.

You have longed for sweet peace,
And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest,
Or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.

Would you walk with the Lord,
In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will,
To be free from all ill,
On the altar your all you must lay.

O we never can know
What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soul
He doth fully control,
And our all on the altar is laid.

Who can tell all the love
He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made,

Of the fellowship sweet
We shall share at His feet,
When our all on the altar is laid.

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest,
And have peace and sweet rest,

As you yield Him your body and soul.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Who has known the mind of the Lord?

"For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counsellor  ""Or who has first given to him and it shall be repaid to Him?" For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11.34-36

Sometimes we just can't understand what is going on. Sometimes we just can't figure out what in the world is going on. Sometimes we just can't figure out what God is doing.

The context here is understanding God and salvation. However Paul expands it to a general statement to tying into understand the mind of God.

Understanding the mind of God is an impossible task. We can’t simply because we are us and He is God.

Isaiah writes this -  ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’ 

We are sinners. God is perfect. We are frail. God is all powerful. God know, and we don't. 

When God speaks to Job after Job questioned Him He said "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.’

Job couldn't answer, and neither can we/ 

But when it all said and done there is something we do need to grasp – all things are of God, all things and through Him, and all things are to Him – because He is the one who is worthy of eternal glory.

A true test of faith is giving God the glory even when we don’t understand what is going on. What really matters is that God deserves the glory simply because He is God. One day we are going to get it and it will all make sense. It is time to stop trying to hold God to our standard. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

The unsearchable

O the depth

For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! – Romans 11.30-33

Who can understand God’s riches? Who can comprehend His knowledge? Who ‘gets’ His judgements. Who can question His ways? The answer to all of these is that no one is qualified to grasp the depths of our God.

But the question that brings all the up is that God shows mercy even to the disobedient who will turn to Him. how does God do that? how does He more out His mercy to a world that does not deserve it? we arent going to get it. We are not going to understand it. But that does not relieve us of a responsibility that we see here.

'That through the mercy shown you they might receive mercy.' Because we all, Jew and Gentile, are disobedient we all require God's mercy. Those of us who have received His mercy have the task of showing other God's mercy through our words and through our lives.

It think Paul explains it well in his letter to the Ephesians when he desribes our responsibility to preach of the unsearchable riches of God's mercy.

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (Ephesians 3.8)

No take backs

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. – Romans 11.29

A few days ago I mentioned a phrase that, though I have not heard it in ages, I am sure is not politcially correct. American children have used (and may still) to describe a person who gives something but eventually takes it back. I don’t know why that is a phrase – if any gave things and then took them back in dealing the American Indians it was the US government who gave them lands them lands and them took them back. Maybe a better term would have been a ‘government giver.’

When made trades as kids there was a general rule that was usually spoken out loud. We said ‘no take backs.’ That meant what it sounds like – the deal was final.

What do my childhood memories have to do with the book of Romans? A lot I think.

We have been reading about the gift and the calling of salvation. We have seen that it is all of God.

Here we read simply that God does what He says He will do. That is His nature. Way back in the book of Numbers we read - "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

God does what He sees when He calls us to salvation He doesn’t take it back. When He gives salvation He is no ‘Indian giver.’

There are no ‘take backs’ when it comes to God and His precious gift of salvation. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Sparing not the branches

Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.  – Romans 11.20-21

I like it when I come across a passage I have never noticed before. It is amazing after all these years that we still discover new gems and nuggets.

I mentioned a few days ago that last week the pope announced that anyone, including atheists, who do good works will go to heaven. Now I treasure my atheist friends. The ones I know seem to be good people who love their families and care about society. I believe that even when we disagree vehemently they want what I best for their family and friends and society in general.

But, saying that, the pope is still wrong. It seems that he has since backtracked a bit, but he still claims that as long as one is a part of his church they are safe. He is still wrong. He seems like a lovely like and an example of grace and humility, but he is just wrong on this.

And this passage makes it clear.

If anyone could get a pass to salvation it would be the Jews, God’s chosen people.

But even God's chosen people, the Jews, the natural branches were not spared. They were broken off because of unbelief. That means that anyone who does not believe is broken off from eternal life.

No race, no nations no religion, no denomination will be spared. Unbelief break everyone off from eternal life. Only standing in faith will give eternal life.

No more grace

And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.  – Romans 11.6

This little verse, though it sounds a little confusing perhaps, really explains works and grace. Paul is reasoning through the conflict of grace and works. He is how he puts it, parrowphrased slightly.

If salvation is by grace it can’t be by works. Because if it were by works than grace would no longer be grace. Grace would be cancelled out. If it is grace it makes to no sense to say it requires works.

If salvation is by works it can’t be by grace. Because if it were by grace than works would no longer be works. Works would be cancelled out. If it is works it makes to no sense to say it requires grace.

It makes no sense to say it is grace and works that saves. It is either grace or works.

And the Bible makes is clear which it is – ‘for by grace you are saved through faith, and even that is not of yourselves, is the gift of God. Otherwise one could boast that he saved himself.’

And if works could save why did Jesus have to die? Why could He just have come and taught the message of good works. If works could save it is certain that Jesus died in vain.

But grace and works do work hand in hand to achieve salvation but after salvation. People can of course do good works without being saved, that is obvious. But for the believe grace, received by faith will produce good works. True faith will always do it. It is ordained by God that those who are truly saved by grace, through faith, will walk in good works.

Works cannot bring about salvation – but true salvation always brings about good works.