Sermon November 14, 2004 : Romans 12 (Part 8)

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Dr. Roberto Miranda | Translator: Dr. Roberto Miranda
  • Length: 47:57
  • Date: November 14, 2004
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

Let’s go to Romans Chapter 2. I think by now most of the congregation can open with their eyes closed the 12th chapter, Romans because we’ve been there for many, many weeks now. We’ve been studying that chapter very, very deep contents and going through different points and examination, the call to Christian life that reflects the values, the character of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the spirit. We’ve also been dealing with Christian service and how Christian service should be conducted in the context of the congregation, what kind of attitudes should permeate the Christian service.

In verse 12 last Sunday we discussed the last part of verse 12, we are told that we’re supposed to be firm in prayer, constant in prayer, I think that’s what it says in English. Just to refresh our memory, the Greek word “proscarterontes” with respect to prayer that is translated steadfast or constant has the insinuation of a militancy, of insistence, of persistence, of just standing firm despite the fact that perhaps we haven’t received the answer to our prayers and being continuous about prayer.

Jesus talked many times about the need to pray without diminishing that activity, just being firm in prayer. We saw Jesus many times in prayer over the hole course of a night, particularly when important things were in play, such as His own crucifixion that was coming soon and He prayed in an insistent sort of way, it says that He prayed until He sweated blood and He clamored and wrestled before the Lord. You know when I said wrestled, that Jesus wrestled in prayed, immediately the association that came to my mind of Jacob wrestling with the angel and I think that’s the sense that probably would capture more this idea of being steadfast in prayer, being proscarterontes, being insistent. You know, Jacob told the angel: I will not let you go until you bless, and he paid a price for it, we know that.

One of the reasons why insistence is so important and not giving up very quickly in prayer, I think it’s in obedience to a natural law, in the natural world that we live, great things require many times, great efforts, great insistence, great exertion and many times when we have great petitions before the Lord, large, important things that we are asking particularly often when we’re interceding on behalf of someone and there is great struggle with respect to that soul, either because that soul is resisting against the word of God or because there are demonic entities that are trying to wrest that soul from the Lord and in situations like that or situations of great sickness in our life, or family problems or emotional wrestling, often prayer will have to be so powerful, so insistent, so militant, so intense that it will finally break through.

It is a natural rule and often the supernatural does in establishing contact with the natural working the natural, has to abide by some of those rules, so prayer must be constant, prayer must not be something that we do here and there and whenever we feel like it. Prayer is a discipline, that means that you do it, just like an athlete exercises himself repeatedly in order to obtain the benefit that he needs, so must we also in prayer continue. We must be constant, steadfast, insistent, practicing in prayer.

This other concept now comes into play in verse 13. It says: “….that with respect to the needs of the saints, we must participate in them”. I don’t know what the English….. Sam what does the English say? Sharing with God’s people who are in need and again in the Greek it’s the saints, with respect to the needs of the saints, sharing. We must be participating in it. There’s a hole lot of things we can get out of that idea. I was struck immediately when I read this by this idea of the word that is translated “sharing”, coinonontes. The word coinonía comes immediately to mind here and it is the same root here that is translated sharing. The word coinonía in Greek refers to being in fellowship with, sharing feelings, communication, intimacy, friendship, it is more than just taking out a buck as we do many times when we stop here in Albany street and Mass Avenue we’re often accosted by people who are on their way to an island there to sleep overnight, they’re homeless and they’ll stop us and sometimes just to get them out of our hair we’ll lower the window and we’ll take out a quarter and drop it into their…. But now believe me, they don’t like a quarter, they don’t want to hear any sounds, any tinkling, they want a dollar or more, they’re very demanding. But we do so in a kind of a…. in a passing sort of way, we just want to get him out of our way, so we give it to them and we continue on our way.

I think what the word is calling us here in giving and in sharing is something much more powerful than that, much more intimate. The idea is I think for us to identify with those that we are sharing something with, for it to be more than just an external action and that is very much in tune with the hole flow of Scripture which is that God is not a God that gives indifferently, God through the incarnation made himself a part of us, He had coinonia with the humanity and He descended into our condition and when He saved us, He saved us by proxy, I mean He stood where we stood, He felt what we feel and His action on the cross was not some sort of generic action, it was very much the intimacy of God, the person of God flowing and totally in communion with the human condition, feeling our sinfulness even, and our pain and our loneliness and our agony and our existential sense of separation from God, all these things Jesus participated in as He gave to humanity.

When we give to others, let’s not be simply distant in our giving, let us identify. There’s something here that is merely comes to my mind which is that we must ask the Lord: Father, make my heart tender to the pain of the human condition, make me sensitive to the needs of others, that I may be able to feel what they feel, that I may be able to be touched by the need of a brother or a sister who has some sort of lack in their life, or is going through some difficult situation, that I might not just give a quick passing word: yeah, God bless you, God is with you brother, yes, as we often do…. But no, to stop, to visualize, to put ourselves in their place and to for a moment experience what they’re going through and then out of that feeling emerge an action that has coinonia, that has a sense of fellowship with them. I don’t know there was a great saint who said, Lord, make my heart tender so that the things that wound your heart, also may wound mine. Our giving must be a product of feeling, identifying, visualizing, standing in the place of the person who is needy and asking the Lord: Father, make my heart tender, make me sensitive to the needs of the world, that I might not see pain as such a familiar thing that I become indifferent to it.

Nowadays we’re treated to 20 people died in Iraq in a car bomb, 37, 50 people were killed and by now our tendency is to just become hard to the human pain. 3 thousand people died in the World Trade Center, however many thousands died and you know there’s this tendency to become hard just like seeing so many movies where people get killed and blown all over the place. We must go back and have healing and say: Lord, make me sensitive to the one life that is lost to, one moment of human pain, allow me to feel that pain and let me be participatory in the pain. That’s an important element here. It’s very important to underline that element of sharing in the need.

Now, there’s another thing here, it says sharing in the needs of whom? Of the saints, there’s another element here. Let me just make clear that fellowship, that feeling of fellowship is for all of humanity but Scripture does call us to a special sensitivity to the needs of God’s people. Yes, God’s love is for everyone and we must practice love for every human being, you know, but there’s another dimension of love which is the Bible is very clear on that, the love that we must exercise towards our brothers and sisters in the faith, the members of our fellowship, and the members of the body of Jesus Christ because it is a special relationship of intimacy that we have with the body of Christ and that is something that is very clear and very insistent in the Bible so that’s really important to remember,. In all things, in every possible way we must exercise this kind of care one for another as members of God’s family and I think that that is the essence of what the Apostle there is requiring.

Just come with me quickly to Galatians chapters 6 verses 9 and 10 and you will see that clearly there. “…. Let us not grow weary of doing good, because in time we shall harvest if we do not grow weary”. Therefore, verse 10, as the opportunity arises, and we discussed earlier that the Apostle Paul in an earlier part of Romans 12 said, when the opportunity comes, when the cairos, when the moment of opportunity comes, let us serve. And here it says as the opportunity arises, let us do well, let us do good to everyone. Let’s do well, let’s do good to everyone, let’s be kind to every living being. “….. but especially to whom? Especially to the family of faith.

There is this call in Scripture that a church, a congregation, a fellowship should be very attentive to the needs, we should be very attentive to the needs of each other. You know as we look around here we have all kinds of dramas taking place here in our congregation, there are people who are feeling lonely, there are people who have their family and relatives back in Latin America, and they’re here by themselves working and just making ends meet to send some money back to people back in their own country, there are other who’re going through their drama and traumas in life in their particular stage of the Christian journey, there are people who have housing needs, extreme housing needs, economic, financial needs and we must be alert to those needs and we must take care of them. If you have an excess of good, share it with somebody, that is the glory and the pain of the Christian life.

You know sometimes we have this amount of money in our bank account and we’re waiting for that day when we retire and we go back home and build that little house, and you may even not get there but right now there are needs that people have and you must share, you must give to others, you must be attentive to that. You know there’s a corollary here as well, that is not as romantic or as mystical as what I’ve just referred to which is we must not abuse either, the generosity of our brethren and that has been from time immemorial a problem as well, that as God calls us to be generous also people should be very careful not to be abusive as well, or manipulative of the generosity of others within the church and that we should also treat each other with a lot of care and respect in that category as well. We must not make people weary, we must not manipulate, we must not be asking for more than we need or when we really don’t need and there’s another alternative, don’t lean on somebody else, find a way, there has to be a mutuality here, but we take care of each other. Everything has to have order, the church is a house of order even while doing good, I tell people, exercise discipline, care, soberness, wisdom and don’t be a fool in other words, ok? Even in doing good because a Samaritan is a long term engagement and we need to do it in a way that we don’t grow weary, we should not make other weary of doing good.

Let’s go to First Timothy chapter 5 for a moment, and we will see that even there 2000 years ago already the church was needing to establish some sort of order in this element of doing good and receiving good and there has to be some rules that needed to apply and I think it’s so true in any area of life with family, with people that love you and need you, with children, with a brother who is dependent and overly grasping and needy. We must have order even while doing good. First Timothy Chapter 5, verse 3, 4, this refers to widows in the care of the church. Timothy, the pastor, is receiving counsel from the ….. and church …., in other words, give money or support to the widows that truly are widows, in other words who fit under the implications of being a widows, that is being helpless, being needy. Look at this, it says “… but if a widow has children or grandchildren let these first learn to be pious and generous with their own family and to reward their parents because this is good and pleasing before the Lord.” In other words, before the church has to intervene in a need , there should be enough mutuality among God’s people, and enough sense of honor and integrity for God’s people to take care of each other. Children should take care of their parents, grandchildren of their grandparents and so on and so forth. It’s very important.

Verse 8 says: “…. Because if someone does not provide for their own and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith and is worse than a non believer”. That’s a big, big statement there. We need to take care of our own and we should not burden other systems unnecessarily with the needs of those that we, perhaps, can take care of, ourselves.

Go to verse 16, in First Timothy Chapter 5: “…. If a believer man or woman has a widow in their home or in their family, let them take care of that widow and let not the church be burdened, over burdened so that there might be sufficient resources for those that are truly widows, in other words for those that are truly destitute, in a system that it had no welfare, no social security or that kind of thing. The wonderful thing about this hole idea is this that yes, there’s a call on the part of the Gospel to provide for the needs of others, to be generous, to be giving, to be identifying in our giving, but on the other side as well there is need to be reasonable, to be generous also by not requiring more of others than they ought to give, not even of the church that really if we take care of our duty as Christians of providing for the needs of others, then the church will not be overly burdened, everybody will be happy and others will be willing to give more, because they won’t feel used and abused. So that’s wonderful, there is balance here that is so important. All of this is enclosed within this idea to identify ourselves with the needs of the saints.

The last concept here in this marvelous passage is “that we must practice hospitality”. Ten filos xenian yacontes. With respect to the love of the stranger, that’s the idea, filos xenian, we must pursuit it, we must be diligent about it. The word that is translated hospitality is a composite word made up of filos which is love and xenos which is stranger, so hospitality is the love for strangers and the way that this is constructed it says, with respect to the love for strangers, of with respect to hospitality, we must be diacontes, that means…. Actually the word here again is a word that means, not just…., it’s not a passive word to engage but rather to pursuit it diligently, to practice it actively. The point that I’m trying to make here is that with respect to hospitality it’s not just a matter of: ok, practice is, no, the idea is engage actively in it, pursuit it diligently. It’s the idea of grasp, go after it which is a much more active kind of calling, you see the word is very clear on how we should practice these Christian virtues. That’s why it says for example we must abhor evil and cling to what is good, it’s not just not liking or disliking evil, we must abhor and good should not be something that is indifferent and something that’s yeah, ok, it’s fine. No, we should just hold on to it with our nails and our teeth because it’s the only way.

Scripture often is sometimes more passionate than we give it credit for and sometimes it’s not convenient to see that side of it. You know something, hospitality is not optional in the life of the believer, hospitality is a requirement. Sometimes we live in a culture that is so demanding of our lives that when we go home we just want to lock it with every key and every lock that we find and it’s our refuge, we come home and we take our coat off and immediately we go to the refrigerator or make that cup of coffee and we go for the TV and we just love the warmth of the home, particularly in winter, and we don’t want anybody bothering us, we don’t want anybody interrupting our intimacy because we gave at the office, 48 hours that we worked. But the Bible says, it’s not an option, your home should be a refuge, not just for yourself or for your loved ones but also for others, and it is a requirements, we must be hospitable, we must love the stranger, we must love the needy. That goes with this idea of sharing as well and being a part of people’s drama.

If you look for example, look at Titus 1:8, and 7 before that in the requirements for a bishop, along with that he must be a good administrator of the things of God, he must not be haughty or given to anger or to drinking wine excessively, it says that “….. he must be hospitable”, that he must open his home to others, he must share of his hearth and so along with all the other requirements this idea of being hospitable, of exercising hospitality towards others. I think we should practice hospitality as a discipline, we must engage every once in a while in inviting people to our homes particularly those who are needy of that warmth of a family and inviting them to a cup of tea, or to a good meal and to a time of fellowship and intimacy with us and having the warmth, particularly among immigrant community hospitality is so necessary.

We need to be, there are people in our churches that need, in our university you sometimes, right in a dorm situation there’s always these kids, these young people who are not attractive, who are not cool, who are not good to have around, they’re not good conversationalist, they don’t dress with whatever and those are the once that we often neglect, and as Christians those are the ones that we should take care of most. Find the least attractive person, dressing in the least attractive way and share your love with them because it’s easy to share with those that’ll give something back to you, either good conversation or funny jokes, or an invitation to the movies, but what about the one who cannot reciprocate. Give them your hospitality. Give them the warmth of your being, or of your dorm room or of whatever and exercise true Christian love by going beyond what is natural and what is pleasant.

Let’s just embrace that call of the gospel to exercise hospitality to love the stranger, the one who is alone in our midst.

Let’s just finish with First Peter, chapter 4, verses 7 through 11 and you’ll see the beautiful, how should I say, how the affinity that the Holy Spirit establishes often in developing these themes, because here we have Peter saying very similar things isolated from Paul, and so we see the beauty of the spirit working in harmony with itself. “….but the end of all things is drawing near therefore be sober and be watchful in prayer.” So here we have this call we saw in Romans, be sober, to be watchful in prayer. “…. And above all things have amongst yourselves fervent love”.

This idea also that we say in the passage of Romans that we’ve been discussing above all things have amongst yourselves fervent love, so again the call, among ourselves, among the body of Christ there’s no excuse for… like a basical love, sort of a look warm love, no, love must be fervent and it joins with something we discussed earlier that this idea again of passion that in the things of the spirit we must be fervent, we must be near boiling point, that’s important. “….because love shall cover a multitude of sins”. Here we go again this coincidence “….host yourselves, give yourself hospitality one to another without criticisms, without criticizing each other”. You know this idea, why? Because when we host people, we have them to our homes especially there’s staying for a certain period of time, criticism can arise, either they stayed longer than they said they were going to stay, or we didn’t treat them well enough. It says: no, you know, host yourself, have yourself over but let them be this transparency, this gratitude and this giving with freedom to each other. “…. Each of you according to the gift that they have received minister on to the others, like good administrators of the multifaceted grace of God”.

You know, this idea that if God has given you a give, well exercise it. Exercise it in a spontaneous natural sort of way. If God gave you the gift of prophesy exercise it according to the measure of faith that you have received, if God gave you the gift of service, well serve; if God gave you the gift of being a leader, serve with absolute zeal and enthusiasm, in other words this idea that whatever we must not be lusting for the gifts of somebody else, but do what God gives you, give it in a natural, flowing, spontaneous, gracious sort of way. Don’t seek your own glory, but know that you’re simply and administrator, you’re simply a steward of the grace that God has given you. I somebody speaks, let him speak according to the words of God; if somebody ministers, let him minister according to the power that God gives, so that in every thing God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, it’s not about us. All that we do, let’s do it for the glory of God, if leaders, if servants would serve in the spirit according to the grace that God gives for the glory of God through Jesus Christ, there would be no problems in church, the problem is when the flesh intervenes and we are seeking our own glory, our own pleasure, our own discharging of what we feel that we have been given, that’s the problem. But if we had this idea it’s all according to the grace of God, it’s all for the glory of God, it’s not for me, it’s not about me, it’s about the Lord and so I must discharge my gifting with that sense of naturalness if you will. If we could wrap ourselves around that idea, what peace there would be in churches.

May the Lord help us in that way. Let’s just stand for a moment, let’s embrace the call of scripture today to be constant in prayer, to identify ourselves with the needs of others, particularly those of the faith. Say to the Lord: Father, make my heart tender, that I might identify, that I might feel as I give, the need of those that I ministered to. Let us also be loving towards the stranger, the stranger can be so many things, the person who’s fragile, the person who’s needy, the person who has nothing to give, the person who doesn’t have others around them, that is the stranger. That position of frailty we can find somebody, let us then be hospitable, let us embrace them, let us take them in to our own intimacy.

Let us embrace these values of the scripture right now, let us ask the Lord: Father, make me generous, make me tender to the needs of others and help me to love everyone, particularly those of the faith. Let’s be a family of faith, God wants churches that are family, churches that love each other, churches that greet each other, churches that have mutuality, that support each other, God wants a family worshiping, not strangers just sharing a seat or a space. There has to be that mutual integration of souls. That’s what God wants, that what’s blesses the Holy Spirit when we’re worshiping. Let us be a family, today is a good day to begin by greeting each other and blessing each other as we leave this place.

God we thank you for our English speaking brothers and sisters, they come from all over the place. What a joy! What a privilege! We bless their lives, we bless the churches and colleges that they represent, Father, their homes, their families, their studies. Father may you shower your blessing on their lives today. Thank you because you make us one, you make us brothers and sisters beyond the strangeness, beyond language, beyond praise, beyond culture, beyond gender, Father, we are one in Jesus Christ. We embrace that oneness today. We thank you because we have exercised the oneness of your family today here, in all kinds of beautiful ways and we celebrate that we glorify you. Send us to our home, Father, with joy, celebrating your goodness and we give you all the honor and all the glory.

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