Oct22ThuOctober 22, 2015
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There is a show on BBC called Crimewatch that reconstructs major unsolved crimes in order to gain information from the public which may help solve the case. They use Identikit software to produce composite pictures of criminals based on various eyewitness accounts. It is neat to watch the picture put together on screen; first the hair, then the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the ears. It is quite successful in identifying criminals. Often on the next show they will place a real picture of the criminal beside the composite and they are remarkably similar.
So, what if we put together a composite of the transformed Christian? What would he/she look like? If you hold up your life to Romans 12-15 does it reflect it? Is it similar?
That is what Romans 12-15 is answering.
Romans 12:1-2 is the theme verse.
Already we have seen:
These are great verses on biblical fellowship and community.
I very recently started watching a PBS documentary by Ken Burns titled, “The West.” In it one of the historians remarks how we are all products of our culture and how in our day and age we speak often of “I” and “me” but the early Indians had no such words speaking only of “we” and “us.”
What a powerful comment on our society! We worship the unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I.” Even though our lives depend on others from beginning to end, we have still managed to convince ourselves that we can do fine on our own. We preach independence as a virtue. If we are honest, we must admit that even as Christians we have been greatly affected by our culture of self.
It is precisely here we must not let our minds be conformed to the thinking of this world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The call to follow Christ is a call to die to sin and self. Do you remember the great commandment? What is the second? Do you see the connection between your vertical and horizontal relationships? You say, “I want to deepen my relationship with the Lord!” Great! That will happen in proportion to the degree in which you deepen your relationship with other Christians” and vice versa. The more you love God the more you will love others.
What is more remember 12:10. To be a Christian is to be a part of the family of God and just like any family we are to share our joys and sorrows. God does not want us to try to live the Christian life alone. He wants us to live in close relationship and love with other believers – i.e. to be part of a healthy local church!
So if there are those in our church body who are rejoicing we are to rejoice with them. As they have cause for rejoicing, because we love them and care for them so much, we enter into their joy with them. And if there are those in our church body who are mourning we mourn with them. Because we love and care for them we cry with them.
Christian fellowship is so much more than just a pat on the back and handshake and talking about the weather or the sports or politics. It means sharing the burdens and the blessings of others so that we all grow together in the Lord. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 that God has composed the body in such a manner “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” We are to feel for one another, entering into their joys and into their sorrows. I am not independent but rather I am connected with every other member of the body. We are not to be indifferent. It is distinctively Christian to be sympathetic and sensitive to those around us. After all, in Christ we belong to each other (Rom. 12:5). We are not our own. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” God’s comfort is not just for our personal benefit. We are to become God’s agents in extending God’s comfort to others in their afflictions. Paul writes in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” No matter how strong you think you are, you cannot bear your burdens alone and you are not supposed to. Remember the paralytic whose four friends so wanted to help him that they climbed upon the roof, pulled back the roofing material, and used ropes to lower their friend to Jesus because they couldn’t push through the crowd. We all need Christians friends in our life who do that for us! 1 Peter 3:8 says, “be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” Can you do any of that from a distance? No! “Sympathetic” means entering into and sharing the feelings of others.” Solo Christianity is unbiblical. Christian fellowship is biblical. Make no mistake about it – if you want to grow spiritually, Christian relationships matter. That is why we put such an emphasis on church membership. Church membership is Christians declaring “I can’t do it on my own.” It is declaring that spiritual transformation as God intends does not occur in isolation. It is declaring death to self focus. It is covenanting together to do exactly what Romans 12:15 says…to really care for and love others so much so that we weep and rejoice together.
Deep in our heart we all know this kind of fellowship is necessary and important but if we are honest we all to varying degrees find it quite difficult. In fact, it is quite challenging to find people who are willingly desiring to be humble and open and vulnerable. I myself find it quite challenging to put into practice. Why?
Background: Maybe you grew up or currently live in a context where because whenever you opened up it was used against you that you are generally untrusting of others. You have not lived in a forgiving, loving gracious context so the idea of being vulnerable or transparent is very frightening.
Self-Protection: Unfortunately what often gets in the way is we keep people at arm’s length. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, our tendency is to grab the fig leaves and cover up the hurt and shame and fear in our lives. We project this image of ourselves that we think most people will accept and hide the real us from fear of being rejected. We do not want to be exposed for who we really are and what is more we don’t know if we can trust people not to judge us or make fun of us or gossip about us so we keep people at a distance so that they won’t know if we are weeping or rejoicing or so that we won’t have to know if they are or not. I get that. Everyone gets that. Everyone is afraid so we have this suppressed transparency. The Bible calls it the fear of man and it is a trap.
Selfish: We are resentful or envious that others have joy and we don’t. We feel passed over. Perhaps that persons blessings, honors and welfare came at your expense or make your circumstances appear unsatisfying so you become resentful or jealous. Maybe you have been on the job hunt and someone else got the job you wanted or needed. Maybe on your sports team someone else got the position or award you wanted. Maybe your friend got a toy or a game that you want. Maybe someone is really gifted in a particular area and you are not. Maybe you desire a happy marriage, a nicer home, etc. By the way, this is a sin that sometimes we don’t think of being that serious but I would remind you it was probably this mixed with pride that caused Satan’s fall. Instead of rejoicing in God’s glory he wanted it for himself.
Indifferent. You are like a closed fortress of indifference. Charles Swindoll says the world is characterized by, “Indifference, non-commitment, disengagement, no sharing or caring…meals eaten with hi-fi headsets turned up loud, even separate bedrooms, each with a personal telephone, tv, and turntable, private toilet, and an it’s none of your business attitude. No hassle…no conflict…no accountability. No need to share. Or reach out. Or give a rip. Just watch the numbers and look at nobody.” Self-occupied. Indifferent to others. Maybe you saw this. A photographer by the name of Eric Pickersgill recently removed physical devices.
The results are sad and reminder of how easy it is for us to be sucked into our world so much that we become indifferent to those around us. Now don’t think the problem is the electronic devices. That is a convenient excuse but they are not the problem. In fact, more often than not those on their electronic devices are conversing with others. We have always been good at using things to the neglect of others.
Sinful: of course the greatest hindrance and root cause of all of this is because we are sinful. Just like verse 14 and the command to bless our persecutors this is quite radical! It is radical because it is not natural to so identify and love others that we rejoice and mourn with them. Jealousy and envy, hatred and malice, self and selfishness are our natural, sinful bents.
How do we overcome these hindrances? How do we learn to identify and rejoice and mourn with others? How do we develop this sort of biblical fellowship and community with one another?
Well first we must go to the root and confess our sin of selfishness, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency to God. We must confess it and turn from it. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are set free from self. As Christians we are set free to have transformational relationships with God and one another. We are set free to love one another as family and to share burdens sorrows and joys.
In Christ we are justified. In Christ we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. In Christ we are secure and have a new identity and are perfectly accepted and loved and therefore instead of trying to protect ourselves from others we are set free to love and serve others. We are set free to take risks and share our joys and sorrows free from concern about the opinion of others because God loves me and that trumps what anyone else might think. My identity is not built on what others think of me but on God’s love for me in Christ. When we know we are loved with a perfect love by God the Father we are released from the controlling opinion of others and able to rejoice and weep with others.
What is more, as a Christian God is now the ultimate thing in my life. He is my greatest joy and satisfaction so I don’t get angry and bitter and resentful when others receive good things in their life. By being both cherished by God and cherishing him as first in my life I am free not to be resentful.
What about indifference to the joys and sorrows of others? How does the gospel help with that? My identity is based on the one who so loved the world that he gladly died for his enemies. This leads me to love as Christ has loved me and to serve others as Christ has served me. I don’t do this because of how they may or may not respond but because God’s underserved mercy to me.
Now none of this is immediate. As Christians we are simultaneously saint and sinner. God is still working on us. There is still a lot of the world in us and it is continually trying to conform us. So when we practice biblical fellowship we don’t like it. We are perfectly happy keeping to ourselves. We are proud and don’t like to expose ourselves. So we struggle with this temptation to be superficial or put on a false veneer. It is more comfortable that way. It is also easier that way. Biblical fellowship is hard. It does not just happen. There is nothing spontaneous about it. It takes hard work and commitment.
But most of all it takes reminding ourselves of God’s mercy and God’s gospel and being transformed by the renewing of our minds. A local church is not a place to come and hide. It is a place to reveal our weaknesses our joys and sorrows so we can walk together in the power of the gospel. It will be awkward, difficult and painful but spiritual growth and transformation usually is!
So Christian, who are you sharing your joys and sorrows with?
Maybe you need to confess you have not been living in the power of the gospel but are guilty of being overtly self-protective, sufficient, or being indifferent. Maybe you need to ask the Lord to give you eyes to see and a heart to love and hands and feet to help those who are weeping.