SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 23 January 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 12:9-21
Sermon Series: “Christian Service” (#4)
I. Church is a living organism
II. We’re called to be members of Christ’s living church
III. Various gifts are given to build the body up
IV. Outdo one another, therefore, in serving in love
We’ve been focusing on the topic of ‘Christian service’ over this month of January. By ‘Christian service,’ we mean what we Christians do in church. What we do in the society and to the world is a part of Christian service, but we usually categorise our works to the unbelieving world as evangelism and mission. So, by ‘Christian service,’ I mean what we do in Christ’s church.
The NT is full of explanation and instructions on Christian service. Paul’s letter to Romans is not an exception. Especially its 12th chapter briefly yet deeply explains what Christian service is as well as what we should consider and pursue.
Rom. 12 begins with one of the well-known and well quoted verse – that is, v. 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This verse tells us about our absolute need of giving God our spiritual worship, and the next verse elaborates what spiritual worship is. That is, ‘not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewal of our mind.’ ‘Renewing our mind’ means, simply put, ‘discerning, knowing, proving or grasping the will of God’ then ‘aligning’ our mind to this will of God.
This is what we often hear people saying, ‘I don’t know what the will of God is.’ We too from time to time say the same, don’t we? But, as we heard and considered last Sunday, the will of God the Father is, as Jesus says in Jn. 6:40, that ‘everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.’ The will of the Son, Jesus Christ, is to do the will of the Father and lose none of the elect but raise them all on the last day. In order to do this, Jesus reconciles us to the Father and to one another through shedding of His blood on the cross. About this unity among us, He asks to the Father in Jn. 17 to keep us all as one, even as He and the Father are one.
Understanding this will of God and fulfilling it in our life is our ‘living sacrifice’ and ‘spiritual worship’ to God. This is, in another word, ‘Christian service.’ We worship God as His children, and we serve one another as members of the one and same household of God. One without the other is impossible – we worship our Heavenly Father through Jesus and serve one another in Jesus.
I. CHURCH IS A LIVING ORGANISM
In order to deepen our understanding of Christian service, we need to know what church is. This is because you and I are called to be members of Christ’s church. I believe that many of you know that ‘church’ is the body of Christ and its Greek equivalent is ‘ecclesia,’ meaning, ‘gathering of believers’ or ‘an organised local entity of believers.’
Then, is church as ‘gathering of believers’ an inanimate institution or a living organism? The answer is obviously the latter – church is a living organism. And this is for two reasons. Firstly, a local church is never a gathering of the same members – it’s membership changes constantly. Some churches experience this in a slower rate than some other churches but it is a fact that the membership of a local church is constantly changing. Over the past 120 plus years, this congregation at St Columba’s has welcomed numerous new faces while missing about the same number of familiar ones. The first congregation that started calling this church as St Columba’s was replaced by a constant influx and departures. This is so because every local church is a living organism.
In addition, the life pattern of a church is exactly like that of as any living organism. A church begins to exist at a certain moment in time. Then, that church grows and flourishes. Some over many centuries and others over a short period in time. Then, it dies and exists no longer. Although God’s eternal and invisible church grows continually to its fullness, this is the lifespan of every visible and local and temporal church on earth. A local church is a living organism.
II. WE’RE CALLED TO BE MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S LIVING CHURCH
Into this church, you and I are called and brought by the Lord. In fact, all Christians are called to be members of Christ’s living church. Never has any believer in both Old and New Testament eras been called to stand alone, apart from a gathering of believers. No, everyone whose name is recorded in the Book of Life is called and assigned to God’s living church.
This truth has sometimes been disregarded, if not dismissed, by some people in the process of stressing and emphasising personal salvation. But this truth is as important and weighty as individual’s salvation because once every forgiven sinner is cleansed, he/she is immediately brought into the Father’s household to be His child!
III. VARIOUS GIFTS ARE GIVEN TO BUILD THE BODY UP
This is the foundation, basis of our understanding of ‘spiritual gift’ mentioned in the Bible. Every spiritual gift listed in the Holy Book of God is intertwined with this fact that every born-again Christian is called to be a member of Christ’s living church. Never is any spiritual gift given to an individual as a medal of honour. Each and every gift God gives to Christians are for the benefit of church which is the body of Christ.
Let’s take for example a list of spiritual gifts from 1 Cor. 12. It begins from ‘the utterance of wisdom and of knowledge’ and goes on to mention such gifts as faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking as well as interpretation of tongues. But before listing all these, v. 7 states the purpose of all gifts – and please listen carefully – “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” All forms of the manifestation of the Spirit are ‘for the good of all who are members of Christ’s church.
Another list of gifts is given at the end of the same chapter, 1 Cor. 12, that includes apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administrating and tongues. And the same purpose for all gifts is mentioned in v. 27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church [such gifts as apostles, and so on].” Eph. 4:12 emphasises the same, saying this, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So, every gift is for serving one another. It’s never given to individuals as a decoration or sign of justification. For this reason, Charismatic’s claim of speaking in tongue as an ‘initial’ evidence or sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is wrong and misleading. Speaking in tongue is, alongside all other gifts, for the common good of the body of Christ, that is, church.
In other words, God has given you and me who are members of Christ’s living Church various spiritual gifts to serve one another – in other words, to enable us to give God our spiritual worship, living sacrifice – and to keep Christ’s Church continually grow and be mature.
IV. OUTDO ONE ANOTHER, THREFORE, IN SERVING IN LOVE
Based on what we’ve just heard, the command of God we read from v. 10 of our text passage for today amazes us. It says, “Outdo one another in showing honour.”
Before we look into it, let me explain what this phrase, ‘in showing honour,’ means. ‘Honour’ can also be translated into ‘worth’ or ‘value’ or ‘price.’ So, ‘in showing honour’ may mean ‘in proving the worth (or purpose) of the gifts received from God.’ For this reason, other English translations render this phrase as ‘in honour giving preference to one another’ or ‘going before one another,’ focusing on the aspect of ‘serving’ according to the purpose of spiritual gifts.
Now, coming back to the remarkable aspect of this command, ‘outdo one another,’ let me remind you that this is – I believe – the only command in the Bible that allows us to compete with our fellow Christians. Every other command we hear from the Lord is to count others more significant than ourselves. We’re urged to walk an extra mile with the person who forces us to go a mile, not to mention to turn the other cheek to be slapped. But this command, ‘outdo one another,’ allows us to compete, go against in contest with each other.
The message is that we Christians, members of Christ’s living church, should use what we’ve received from God to the fullest for the benefit of others. If you see your brother turning his other cheek to one person, you do it to two offenders, meaning, you compete with your brother in your church in forgiving others. If you notice your sister in the Lord comforting one whose heart is broken, you do the same to two or more. ‘Outdo one another’ in these; compete with one another in serving! What an incredible and overwhelming command this is!
What will surely come with it is an overwhelming, overflowing joy – don’t you think? You and I are in a competition; he and she go against in contest with each other, and we all rejoice! It is completely opposite to what once happened to Jesus’ twelve disciples. They disputed, arguing against each other who was to be regarded as the greatest. The mother of James and John visited Jesus on another day and asked Him to appoint her two sons above others, and it caused other disciples indignant. That sort of competition brings anger, hatred, which is no less than the sin of murder. But, this competition we’re allowed to be engaged brings the opposite, that is, joy and more joy in the Lord. Every competitor in this contest of outdoing one another will surely laugh and rejoice, and through our joy, bring God our spiritual worship, our living sacrifice which pleases our Heavenly Father!
This is constantly taught in the Bible – for example, Heb. 12:14 that urges us to, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness.” In establishing the Lord’s ‘peace’ and achieving God’s ‘holiness’ in the midst of all believers, ‘strive and keep striving,’ it urges – in another word, ‘outdo one another’ in serving! And let me tell you what the rest of Heb. 12:14 reveals – please listen carefully what it says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which [that is, ‘without striving for these’] no one will see the Lord.” The message it emphasises is, ‘as we strive, as we seek to outdo one another in serving, all of us who are members of Christ’s church will see the Lord’! The same is also taught in 1 Jn. 4:12 in these words, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us”!
This is overwhelming! You and I cannot see God, but if we LOVE ONE ANOTHER, if we OUTDO ONE ANOTHER in serving in God’s love, we will see God and His love perfected in us! You see God’s hand from your brother who serves you in Christ’s love; your sister hears God’s voice when she hears the word of comfort you speak to her in the love of God.
In conclusion, let me point out to you some daily applications of this amazing command. Firstly, know that you’re called to be members of this living church of Jesus Christ. As you’re called to be a member of this church, God has given you various gifts. And the gifts you have are for the common good of all church members. You ought to know what gifts you have and what to do in this church to benefit all. You cannot defer its use. Start something that seems to be easy to you, but always seek to serve with all your heart and might.
Secondly, change your views on this church to which you’re called and belong. I mean, stop considering this church as ‘their’ church or ‘his’ or even ‘her’ church, and start counting it as your own alongside your fellow church members. This church is OUR church, together with Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Church!
And lastly, always remember that, with the gifts you’ve received from God, there’s a part specifically assigned to you in this church. If you turn your face away from that specific portion assigned to you, that part, that section of Jesus’ living church will no longer function, if not die out. Altogether, this church is an orchestra. Each instrument has a part to play in the ensemble. When each of us play, we’re ‘outdoing one another in showing honour’ or the worth of our calling! ***