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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12

Meditation No. 1

Meditation Title: Living Sacrifices


Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.


As we concluded the series on chapter 9 to 11, we noted, ‘ This brings us to the end of Paul's specific thoughts about his own people, and chapter 12 onwards reverts back to instructions to the church though, as we see if we continue these studies, we are to note these things in the light of what we have just been considering.' We have again and again throughout these meditations called the reader to note the context, how the particular present verses ‘fits in' with that has gone before. It will be significant in terms of what the verse will lead into, but to understand it properly we will always need to see what it flows on from and the key word that reminds us of that in this first verse is, “Therefore”.


“Therefore” says ‘because of what has just been said, move on in this way'. Back in chapter 11 Paul had written, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (11:25) He is speaking to his readers as Gentiles, because that is what most of them were in Rome , and what most believers are today. In chapters 9 to 11 he had several times warned us Gentile believers to hold a good and right attitude towards the Jews and in respect of our own salvation.


It is that latter element that he returns to now, how we will live out our Christian lives in right and proper ways. At the end of chapter 11, before he moved into the doxology of verses 33 to 36, he had stated, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all,” (v.32) which was his way of saying that we are all sinners and we all need the grace and mercy of God to be able to enter into a meaningful relationship with the Lord. Appreciate and make the most of God's mercy is what he is saying behind this first verse.


When he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers,” he is showing the sense of urgency and importance that he is giving to what he is saying. We're all sinners but God's mercy is there to be received, so don't be casual about it, take hold of it, respond to it, let it do its work in you; this is critically important. What he is going on to plead with us is “in view of God's mercy.” Because we have received God's mercy, don't be casual about it but realise the wonder of it and respond fully to it. I think I need to repeat this: don't be casual with God's mercy. Realise it for what it is.


We deserve death and we have done nothing to deserve God's life, His cleansing and His forgiveness, let alone being adopted as His children and being given His own Holy Spirit. Nothing about us deserved any of that. We were 100% sinners. Left to ourselves we would be utterly self-centred and godless. We are what we are ONLY because God has reached out to us by His Holy Spirit, and ONLY because He convicted us of our need. The only thing WE did was surrender and confess what we were and what we needed. When we asked Him to forgive us and come into our lives and let the work of Jesus on the Cross be applied to us, we had nothing with which to persuade God that we were worthy of His salvation – because we weren't! Mercy is something that is simply given because the giver decides to have mercy, and that on no grounds of merit by the receiver, but just because He decides that is what He will do.


That is how incredible it is that we have been offered salvation. Now I have put it in that tentative way – we have been offered salvation – because although it is sure and certain when we surrendered to Him and received it, and although we are truly saved at the moment of our conversion, how we work that out in our lives on this earth until we go to be with Him, is more variable and tentative. Some people just totter into the kingdom and hardly change and go through life as nice people but with little of the life and reality of God's purposes being worked out in them, failing to enter into the fullness of what He has for them.


That is why Paul is ‘urging' them. He's not just saying, ‘it would be a nice idea if you did this'. No, he is saying that it is vital that you do this if (implied) you are to enter into and receive all that God has got for you as Gentile believers now fully receiving everything that His mercy can bring you. So what is he ‘urging' them to do – and note it is something to DO, not just think about – thinking comes next but for the moment this is all about an act of the will to DO something. What does he say to do? It is “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” A sacrifice is something to be offered up to God and destroyed. This is a call to utterly give yourself over to God and to His purposes for you, to die to the old way of life and let God do whatever He will with you now.


Note three things here. First, he speaks about offering your ‘body' so this is not some mere mental acceptance, this means giving over every aspect of what you do in your life. As an exercise you could think what you do with your head – that's the mind, and Paul is about to speak about that and we'll consider that in the next meditation. But then you have ears. What do you allow your ears to hear? Your mouth? What words do you allow to come out of your mouth? Your hands? What do you allow your hands to do? Your feet? Where do you allow your feet to take you? There is a whole fruitful field for meditation here.

But there is a second thing as well. This all sounds very dramatic to the new believer, but when you came to Christ you surrendered to him and asked him to lead you from now on. If that ‘surrender' is to mean anything, it means you want him to lead you in every aspect of your life.


And now the third thing! This reminds us of the picture of Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac. There God provided a substitute. In the same way today, God provides a substitute for your death – Jesus. In one sense God doesn't want you dead; you being a sacrifice means nothing except it is an indication of your utter willingness to let God change your life.


When you do this, it is “holy and pleasing to God” and, says Paul, “this is your spiritual act of worship.” If you want to know what real worship is, it is acknowledging God's greatness and your smallness, acknowledging God's great wisdom and your absence of it, and giving yourself into His hands because that is the best and safest place to be. May it so be!







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 2


Meditation Title:  Transformed Minds


Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Paul, we said, is urging us Gentile believers to go all out to receive all that God has for us in the salvation He presents to us, and to go all out in the lives we live for him. In the first verse we saw his call to us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, i.e. to give ourselves over completely to God for Him to do whatever He wills with us. We can do that because He is love and we can trust Him that everything He says and does in respect of us will be an expression of love. Moreover, because He is all-wise and all-knowing, He knows what is best for us as unique individuals.


Now even just saying these things in respect of the first verse, challenges our minds. Do we believe these things? Do we believe that we can trust ourselves to His love and His wisdom? Before we came to Christ we lived self-centred, self-motivated, self-serving lives and we depended on our own wisdom. We looked around us at how the world works and we accepted the world's philosophy that if we don't help ourselves, no one else will. We had to put ourselves first and others afterwards.


The apostle John in his first letter summarised this approach: everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 Jn 2:16,17) The ‘world' as John used the word meant the unbelieving, self-centred, way of living and he identified four characteristics of it in those two verses.


First he spoke of “cravings of sinful man” which refers to our self-centred desires. The world works, first, on the basis of what I feel and what I want. It's all about ‘me', godless me, self-centred me. Second, he spoke of “the lust of the eyes”. In my pre-Christ state I was driven by what I saw. If it looked good, I wanted it. That might be a partner, it might be clothes, it might be a car or a house or whatever. I went on the basis of what I could see. Third, he spoke of “the boasting of what he has and does”. Self-esteem in the world comes from having possessions, or having status. We show off the new car, we boast about our achievements. Again, it's all about ‘me'. But there is a fourth thing he speaks of in these two verses: “the world and its desires pass away.” All of these things are transient and the moment we die and move on into the next phase of our existence, all these things are gone and count for nothing in eternity.


That is “the pattern of this world” that Paul now speaks about and he calls us to no longer be conformed to this way of living. That, we have noted, was a godless and self-centred, materialistic and transient world and we ‘conformed' to it. We were just like everyone else, all living the same way, but ultimately we came to realise it was pointless, and hopeless and self-destructive. But now all that has changed. We came to that crisis point where we surrendered to God and gave up all that old life and laid down our lives to Him so that he could lead us and show us the new way of living that He has designed for us, and it is Christ-centred and Holy Spirit energised.


But if we gave it up at the point of our conversion, then we need to continue giving it up as we live out our lives in this new way, but to do that we need to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Our way of thinking changed at that crisis point but now we need to let that change become an ongoing process so that we start to learn to think all our thoughts ‘through Christ'. We mentioned just now about being Holy Spirit energised, but it is also Holy Spirit taught. Jesus said, “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26) He teaches us what is right and what is wrong. He teaches us how to live out these new lives and shows us new ways of living and He reminds us of things in the New Testament that were taught there and which now apply to our lives.


Because of the old sinful nature, because of the presence of Satan, and because of the pattern of the sinful ‘world', teaching plays such an important part in the life of the Church and in the life of the individual Christian. This is why Jesus' ‘Great Commission' at the end of Matthew's Gospel is so important: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you .” (Mt 28:19,20) New Christians are disciples of Jesus, those who he is training to become like him in character and in service. This is why the latter part of those two verses is so important. Teaching is a major part of the life of the Church (or at least it should be) but it is not merely teaching information and knowledge, it is teaching to DO what Jesus said. Before you can DO you have to BELIEVE and that involves having your mind transformed to God's way of thinking, Christ's way of thinking, no longer conforming to the way you used to think as part of that godless, self-centred way of living.


So it is first, give your BODY to God for Him to bless and transform every area of your life and then, second let Him transform your MIND so that you learn to take control of what you do in the way He shows. Check out your ways of thinking. In all honesty are you still conforming to the pattern of the ‘world'? Do you still need whole areas of your thinking transforming? Let Him teach you.   






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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12

Meditation No. 3

Meditation Title:  The Will of God


Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.


The subject of ‘the will of God' is sufficiently big that we felt it should be considered distinctly when approaching this verse. Perhaps a basic starting question might be, what do we mean when we talk about ‘God's will'? I think, putting it most simply, it is what God wants, and immediately the cynic might say, but suppose all God wants is pure selfishness, for His benefit, and it is at that point that Paul's description of God's will comes into play.


Paul speaks, at the end of the verse of “his good, pleasing and perfect will”. I would suggest all of this will flow out of the truth that the apostle John declares, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) In other words, everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love. We then have to ask, what is love? A dictionary definition includes the following: “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for.” In the Biblical context, I would suggest that this becomes, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others.” Everything that God thinks, says or does involves unrestricted good will towards you and me. Do you see that – it is good! It involves benevolence, the desire to do and achieve good.


From this we see that whatever God's will is, what He wants for us is good and, I would suggest from what we've just considered, will be pleasing to us. If there is someone who constantly has for us “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and who shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us, I think we can say without contradiction, we will be blessed by that, we will like that, and it will be pleasing to us.


But Paul also describes what God wants as ‘perfect'. I suppose the simplest way of handling this word is to say that it cannot be improved upon. I have often said that I believe, if when we get to heaven God allows us to look back on our history through His eyes, we will never be able to criticise anything He has ever said or done or not done in respect of us. Everything God does is perfect and cannot be improved upon. What God wants for us cannot be improved upon, because it involves God's perfect knowledge (He knows everything there is to know about me) and His perfect wisdom – He knows what is right in every circumstance and in every situation involving my life.


Now so far, we have just been dealing with theory or meanings of words but this is only so that we can apply these words into our lives and see how they affect and change our lives. Just to remind ourselves briefly of the context, Paul is urging us Gentile believers to make the most of our inheritance by giving ourselves totally to God so He can do what He desires with us, and also to allow our minds to be transformed by renewal. Now I am going to suggest something completely different about this latter part of the verse from anything I have ever heard any preacher say about it. Usually the emphasis is upon us doing the will of God but that isn't exactly what the verse says and although it is the end outcome, it misses or ignores what Paul is saying here.


We have examined the ‘bookends' of these verses, the things that go either side – the need for mind transformation on one side and what are the characteristics of God's will, on the other end, but in the middle is something quite surprising – what we are to do with this will of God: Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is.” That is intriguing. WHEN we allow our minds to be transformed through renewal, THEN we will be able to do two things. The first thing is to TEST God's will. This means you will check what is coming, what you think you are hearing and what is being told you and you will check it by your mind being renewed to come in line with what you find in the New Testament, and indeed throughout the Bible. This is why reading and studying the Bible is so important because it shows God's way. Moses asked of God, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 33:13) I want to know how you work, the sort of God you are, so I can come to know you (more fully) and, living in the way you want, I can thus find favour with you.


As we read our Bible, as we study it, hear it preached and so on, we will come to realise (as we assess it in our minds) that it is good and pleasing and perfect, and as we do that we will APPROVE it, and when we see it for what it is, and approve it and understand the wonder of it, so we will then live it.


Do you see something significant here? We aren't just given a set of rules (as Israel were with the Law of Moses) and told to follow them, we are told to consider, study, and think about the word of God that we have been given, so that as we do that with an open heart we will come to realise then the wonder of it, assess it and approve and rejoice in it – and then do it, because we see how good it is. God has put His Holy Spirit within us for just this purpose, to help us see, assess, understand and approve the will of God so that we may then do it, and in so doing we will be blessed – because it is good and pleasing and prefect. Hallelujah!







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Meditation No. 4

Meditation Title:   Self Worth


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


We have one of those link words here – ‘For' . We've just been thinking about God's will, how it is a case of entering into it by experience, not merely an intellectual thing, and so now it is as if Paul is saying, ‘It's because I've also been through this change that I have received God's grace which has enabled me to be an apostolic teacher, and it is on those grounds that I now encourage you: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you…..” (v.3a) i.e. the will of God has brought me by His grace to this role, so please heed me.


So what does he now want to convey? “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” (v.3b) Remember the flow. He's focused on the Gentile believers in Rome and has in the previous chapters warned against looking down on the Jews, even though at the moment they are generally in a state of unbelief. Humility is about having a right assessment of yourself, and there are always two sides to it – my weakness and smallness, and my greatness in Christ. How do we get that balance? “Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (v.3c) ‘Sober judgment' simply means without any fanfare or hype, thinking coolly, calmly and rationally without emotion. This is the way we look at ourselves, which helps us face the sort of people we used to be and outside of Christ have the tendency to be.


It makes us see a) our need of the Father's love, b) the Son's work on the Cross and c) the Spirit's outworking in daily life. But it is not all negative as these three things show, but a) receiving the Father's love, b) relying on Jesus' work on the Cross and c) being open for the energizing, directing and leading of the Holy Spirit is all faith stuff.


And so we look at who we are with the eyes of faith and realise we are a) the recipients of the Father's love, b) recipients of the saving grace work of Jesus, and c) recipients of the guiding, directing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. We may have surrendered at the point of our conversion, but all the rest is the work of God – but that makes us great – in Him.


But to emphasize his encouragement to keep a right perspective about ourselves, Paul goes on to remind us that we are part of the body of Christ, the Church: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (v.4,5) His simple point is that each one of us is a part of this body – and without it we are nothing – and being an individual member of this body with many members, we need and reply upon all the other members.


Now although Paul goes on to mention various workings of the members of this body – and we'll consider those in the next meditation, here he does not go in any detail into this concept of the body and our mutual reliance, but he does that elsewhere. If you are not sure about these things, let's have a look at them.


First of all, remember the concept of the church being the body of Christ. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body .” (Eph 1:22,23) Speaking of us he wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ , and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27). Emphasizing our unity and diversity he wrote, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Cor 12:12) and in the following verses emphasised the fact that we need one another: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many,” (1 Cor 12;14) and “there are many parts, but one body,” (v.20) and “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (v.26)


Remember, as we finish, Paul's flow in these chapters. In chapters 9 to 11 when he was considering in anguish his own people, he exhorted us Gentiles not to think too much of ourselves, for we too are vulnerable to backsliding, hence when he comes to chapter 12 he puts this plea in, for us to surrender our bodies wholly to God and to have our minds renewed and transformed. Part of that new thinking is to see ourselves as we are – humanly weak and frail but in Christ, glorious sons of God. But then again, we are not to get boastful about that because each one of us is a single member of this whole body called the Church which is supposed to be the representation and expression of Christ today, and we as individuals are simply parts of this body and we are all different and we all need each other. That is the right perspective we need as our minds are transformed.







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Meditation No. 5

Meditation Title:  The Gifted Body (1)


Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts , according to the grace given us . If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.


We have in these verses what we might call ‘gifts of grace' . In Eph 4:11 we find gifts of ministries to the church while in 1 Cor 12:8-10 we find what we simply tend to call the gifts of the Spirit, although the truth is that all these ‘gifts' in whatever form we find them, are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us.


Paul's emphasis here, remember, is awareness of who we Gentile believers (and the few Jewish believers) are, that we are redeemed sinners (Rom 11:32) who are what we are by the joint working of the work of Jesus on the Cross and the work of the Spirit in us now. We are what we are, first and foremost, because of what the Holy Spirit has done in us and what He has given us. Why He gives any individual what He gives is a mystery. It may be that He looks at the sort of person He sees we are and apportions ‘gifting' to match what He finds in us. It is a mystery, but when we say he apportions gifting, we simply mean He gives us a specific enabling – that is grace in this context. Grace is God's ability in us to enable us to cope with life and to be the people He calls us to be. It is God's ability being expressed in us that enable us to be and to do.


Thus Paul says, We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” This is the marvel that God gives us different things; we don't all have the same, so what we see is that we find ourselves particularly comfortable doing one particular thing and that is the ‘gift' that others observe in us. That ‘thing' seems natural to us, although it may not to someone else. Now before we look at the list of examples that Paul gives us here, note that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good' at doing one particular thing. Look at each of the things in this light for a moment.


Paul starts, “If a man's gift is prophesying” (v.6a) but in 1 Cor 14 we find him saying there, “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy…I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:1,5) What I have observed in my own experience is that if I am teaching a group of say ten people to learn to step out in the gift of prophecy, on that evening (as it tends to be) every one of them will receive a word from God for another in that group, i.e. they all prophesy, but watch say six months later and of that ten, two of them never get and bring a word again, five of them will have a word on occasion and three will receive words regularly. It is as if the grace is there to do it, but the faith is not there for it, which is why Paul continues this verse about prophesying, “let him use it in proportion to his faith .” (v.6b)


Bearing in mind “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort,” (1 Cor 14:3) there is a lot of difference between a word that says, “The Lord says he loves you and is blessed by you,” and another word that says to a childless couple who have been told they cannot have children, “The Lord says that this time next year you will have a baby.” Both are good words but the significance of them, or the potential for them to be wrong, is clearly very different. Thus person ‘A' may have confidence to bring the more simple but nevertheless encouraging word but not go beyond that, while person ‘B' finds greater faith rising in them to speak out God's word and finds the ‘weight' of what they bring grows and thus the ‘proportion' of their faith grows. I suspect that that is how it is with each of these gifts of grace that Paul puts before us here.


The second thing on Paul's list of examples is ‘serving' : “If it is serving, let him serve.” (v.7a) Now again Scripture indicates that we are all to have a servant heart. Do you remember Jesus' teaching his disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) and of course at the Last Supper after washing their feet he told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:14-17) Being a servant is thus the calling of every disciple.


So why does Paul make ‘serving' a gift of grace? The word used is ‘diakonia' meaning a practical service ministry. It is the word used to describe Martha's serving Jesus (Lk 10:40) In Acts 6:4 it is used in the phrase “the ministry of the word,” simply meaning serving in the ministry of the word. In 2 Cor 5:18 it is the word used in the phrase, “the ministry of reconciliation,” again simply meaning serving in the ministry of reconciliation. So here we have ‘serving' or ‘working for others' as something that naturally flows out of this particular person and they find a joy in it, in ways that others do not. Perhaps, we might suggest, this working develops into the ministry we might call it of being a ‘deacon' in the church, one who serves the church in the more practical ways (see Acts 6). We'll consider the others in the next meditation







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Meditation No. 6

Meditation Title:  The Gifted Body (2)


Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.


As we started to consider these verses in the previous mediation we noted that these ‘gifts' are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us, i.e. it is God's ability being expressed in us that enables us to be and do. We also noted that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good' at doing one particular thing as the Spirit enables us. We considered prophecy and serving.

We then find, third in Paul's list of examples, ‘teaching'. Now again we find the writer to the Hebrew declaring, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again,” (Heb 5:12) where he clearly implies that part of the growing process or process of maturity in the faith, is becoming capable to teaching new believers. But there are some for whom imparting or sharing spiritual truths to a wider audience and bringing understanding to them, is what comes naturally and blesses them. Obtaining pleasure from the role is perhaps one indication that it is from the Lord – not always, but sometimes – because the Lord wants us to enjoy being the people He is making us to be. When we are blessed we bless others.


Then comes ‘encouraging'. Again this is something we are all exhorted to do by Scripture: “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess 5:11) and “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage --with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2 – for preachers at least), and encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) and “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) There it is; in so many different ways we are exhorted to strengthen, support and build up one another, and yet there are those who are particularly good at it, and it is something that just pours out of them all the time.


We might think that when we come to ‘contributing' this is different but Paul says it is “contributing to the needs of others,” i.e. we see someone in need and we reach out and meet that need. But again we see this in general teaching to all of us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36) Yet there will be some of us who have material resources and we feel moved to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Such people are exhorted by Paul, “let him give generously.” In other words, don't hold back on your feelings, respond fully and be a big blessing!


Then he speaks of those whose grace gifting is ‘leadership'. I confess this one seems more difficult to apply more generally to all of us. Yet in Paul's teaching we find “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1). The emphasis, I suggest, is on the role being a noble task, for indeed people can wrongly set their hearts on prestige, yet in the spiritual world they really do not know what they are doing. In the early church it often meant sacrifice and persecution. Leaders in the New Testament were either called ‘elders', where the emphasis is on wisdom and maturity, or ‘overseers', where the emphasis is on the role of watching over and guarding the flock of God, and looking after it.


Leaders also hold a high level of accountability to God for the flock. See Acts 20:28-31 for the burden of responsibility that Paul conveys. But leaders are those who go ahead, in spiritual maturity and in grace and in faith. They need all those to counter the wiles and attacks of the enemy and to be God's channel to meet the needs of the flock. To the person who finds God putting this desire on their heart and being recognized by the flock of God, his instruction is simple: “let him govern diligently.” Govern here simply means carry out the caring, protective and administering role that God has given you. To do it diligently means to do it with care and perseverance.


Finally Paul speaks of the grace gifting of “showing mercy.” Commentators often speak of this as ‘Caring for the sick, the poor and the aged.' But I think that is limited and underplays the gift. Mercy in the New Testament is usually spoken about in relation to the Lord (and there is virtually no injunction for us to show mercy to one another) and is simply undeserved good expressed to us. The emphasis is on the ‘undeserved' element


Yet James taught: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13,17) In other words the humble life is one that flows from understanding wisdom and goes on to express wisdom, and included within that is being ‘full of mercy'. Mercy here means, not looking down on those in less fortunate circumstances than you, but expressing all of God's goodness to them. The person who finds grace within to do this in abundance, is not to do it in any heavy way but, says Paul, “let him do it cheerfully.” That way you can't be heavy handed in being a carer, a giver, a blesser! Remember, it's all the grace of God in and through you.









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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 7

Meditation Title: Right Attitudes to One Another


Rom 12:9,10 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.


Perhaps because Paul has just started speaking about ‘the body' and our differences within the body, with our different giftings, ministries etc., he becomes aware that we thus move into an area of potential difficulty in respect of relationships; differences always do that. Instead of saying love one another despite your differences, he simply makes it more general and we find the next verses are made up of a bunch of quick-fire exhortations, the first group of which we might suggest are all about right relationships, or right attitudes towards one another.


He first starts out, Love must be sincere.” (v.9a) Now the fact that he starts with love is not surprising because it is a primary quality in the Christian world: “God IS love,” (1 Jn 1:4:8,16) and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” (Mt 22:37-40) and “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34). Each of these verses show us the vital importance of love in our Christian experience.


We might imply, therefore, that all of the grace gifts or ministries that we have previously considered must be an expression of God's love. We are not to ‘perform' them simply because we have been told to do these things, but they are to be an expression of God's love through us. If we prophesy we are to communicate God's loving heart. When we serve one another it is simply to be an expression of God's love through us, one to another. If we teach we should be seeking to convey God's loving heart through the truth He has revealed. If we encourage , it is an expression of God's loving desire to build up and strengthen each one of us. If we contribute it is to be an expression of God's loving desire to meet our needs. If we lead it is to be an expression of God's love, care, protection and provision for the flock as a whole. If we express mercy , it is simply a loving expression of God's total acceptance of each and every one. As Paul says, “Love must be sincere , or real or genuine, flowing from the Holy Spirit's presence within us.


Now perhaps as he says this, he thinks of the innate goodness that comes with this love. God's standard for all things, if you like is goodness. A simple definition of ‘love' may be ‘ unrestricted or unlimited good will towards another' and that by definition involves goodness. Psa 34:8 says Taste and see that   the LORD is good and that is repeated many times in the Bible. Everything about God is good and so perhaps it is no surprise that Paul's second mini-exhortation is Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (v.9b)


Note that he doesn't say, “don't do what is evil” and he doesn't say “do good.” He goes deeper than that. This goes deep into our emotions, into what we feel. When we have a hatred for evil we will steer clear of it. We will be revolted by it. But when he says, cling to what is good ” he is saying make having it an essential in your life. When you cling to a rock face of a cliff you are holding on for dear life. It is vital to your life. When you cling to a person there is an indication they are incredibly important to you for one reason or another. Paul is thus saying do all you can to hold on to what is good in your life and around your life. So much of modern life (and especially that seen on TV) is not ‘good'. If nobody else is concerned about it, we should be. Goodness is a diminishing currency in this godless world.


His third of these mini-exhortations is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” (v.10a) You might think after the first one, “let love be sincere” that nothing else need be added but in this third one Paul puts the emphasis on love within the church when he says “one another”, meaning other Christians and when he speaks of “brotherly love.” Someone has said this is love within the family. This is not the all-encompassing agape love of God Himself that is utterly sacrificial, but a more specific form of relationship (in the family) expression.


His fourth of these mini-exhortations in respect of relationships simply states, “Honor one another above yourselves.” (v.10b) When writing to the Philippians, Paul had written, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) Put others first might be an expression of this verse, thinking well of them, so well in fact that you see them as better than yourself. What a way to bless them! Elsewhere he says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Eph 5:21) and “serve one another in love.” (Gal 5:13) Each of these is a way of blessing the body of Christ, maintaining unity so that the body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:16) May it be so!









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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 8

Meditation Title:   Maintaining the Faith


Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.


We have noted that these verses are made up of a bunch of quick-fire exhortations, the first group of four of which we might suggest are all about right relationships, or right attitudes towards one another. The second group of four we are calling, ‘Maintaining the Faith' because they move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. Two dangers in the Christian life are that we either become so focused on the social side of the faith that we forget it's all about relationship with the Lord, or we so focus on our spiritual contact with the Lord, we forget there is a whole social dimension or outworking of the faith. If we focus on only one side then we miss out on 50% of what the Faith is all about.


So here Paul brings the balance of the way we work out what we might call the spiritual side of the equation. The first of these four mini spiritual exhortations says, Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (v.11) Now this one suggests three components of spiritual faith – zeal, fervor and serving God.


A dictionary definition of “zeal” is ‘intense enthusiasm, as in working for a cause; ardent endeavor or devotion.' Now there are those people who like to appear ‘respectable Christians' and who decry any form of emotion expressed as ‘emotionalism' and imply that is something bad, but that does not conform to what the Bible teaches. Paul is saying, according to this definition, “Never be lacking in intense enthusiasm or ardent devotion”. We will be ‘enthusiastic' or zealous about our faith when the wonder of it has really moved our hearts. We will have ‘ardent devotion' when we realise the wonder of what Jesus has done for us and how much God loves us.


“Fervor” , the second of those three components, is another way of expression the same thing. A dictionary defines ‘fervor' as ‘great warmth of emotion; ardor; zeal. ' “Spiritual fervor” is that warmth of emotion that is felt towards the Lord and, again, we will feel this when we see and understand what the Bible says God has done for us in His expression of His love towards us, and the Holy Spirit touches our hearts, revealing the reality of it.


“Serving God”, the third of these three components to this first of these four spiritual exhortations, is simply the outworking of that zeal and fervor. The key reality of the Christian faith is that God has called us to Himself to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and that is in character and in service. We not only take on his character but we also enter into and share in his ministry or service. A verse we regularly quote is, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. ….. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) We aren't called to become like Jesus so that we may hide away in a corner (or a spiritual ghetto) but that we shine in His world and reveal Him. We do this when we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and do what He puts before us. This may be sharing about Jesus, it may be offering to pray for another (including praying for healing), it may be listening to another and offering wisdom as God gives it, or it may simply be offering help and expressing goodness.


Before we move away from this first triple-expression spiritual exhortation, (and we'll see the other three spiritual exhortations in the next meditation) we would do well to see this exhortation in a wider sphere.


In chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, Jesus comes to seven churches in Asia Minor and points out to them things that need putting right. Some of the things are in respect to specific people or problems that were occurring in that first century but in two of them there are two warnings that fit in here. To the church in Ephesus , after praising them for a number of really good things, he warns, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love .” (Rev 2:4) This was a church that lost that first fervor or warmth of emotion for the Lord. The other warning that fits here was to the church at Laodicea , where Jesus said, “you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold . (Rev 3:16) Again this speaks of lack of zeal or fervor. They have sunk into what can only be described as tedious and boring Christianity! It is mundane and almost lifeless. Oh that they were on fire for God!


There will be this zeal, this fervor, this passion, when we are open and obedient to the Holy Spirit and things happen. When God speaks, we hear and respond in obedience and He does things that are thrilling. When we see God moving in and through us that is thrilling. On one occasion after the disciples had been sent out to do ministry in pairs, we find, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) It was thrilling what happened and I suspect they couldn't wait to get out and do some more. How do you think the disciples felt after they had participated in the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand? Thrilled, excited and amazed! Zeal and passion can come when we simply read and realise the wonder but, I suggest, it is best fueled by simple obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, because then we step out and do His bidding and see Him moving in and through us. I remember John Wimber once telling about how a young (I think teenage) girl prayed for healing under his guidance and saw a physical change take place before her eyes. He commented, “She was hooked!” It is thrilling to be involved with Jesus in whatever it is he wants to lead you into, and ‘serving God' is not a hard thing.


When we realise how wonderful Jesus is, how wonderful God's love for us is, we won't be afraid to venture out at His bidding. To conclude, remember the parable Jesus told: “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.” (Mt 25:14,15) The scary words are “according to his ability”. Jesus hands out according to the faith level he finds in us, how we have so far responded to His word. He concluded with the teaching, “everyone who has will be given more.” (v.29) God gives according to what he sees we do with what He has already given. Do we have to stick with a small amount of faith? No, we can ask Him to enlarge it, but it's all about what IN REALITY we think of God, for one man who did nothing with what he had been given, except bury it and maintain it, said, “I knew that you are a hard man.” (v.24) Rubbish! To the one who doubled his five, the master declared, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'” THAT is what the Lord wants to happen! Zeal, fervor, serving the Lord. Then joy!











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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12

Meditation No. 9

Meditation Title:  Maintaining the Faith (2)


Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.


We started considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervor and serving God, about maintaining a bright and vibrant spiritual life if you like, that comes from obedience to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.


The second mini-exhortation simply says, “Be joyful in hope.” Hope is all about the future and the truth is the Christian is always looking to the future as well as living in the present. This is another of those things where there are two aspects to the Christian life and if you only have one you are missing out. Yes, we are called to live in the present and the danger can be that we are so dissatisfied with the present and look for something better in the future that we fail to enjoy all of the Lord's provision and goodness here and now. But living in the present is only one part of our lives; there should be and always will be a ‘future dimension' for the Christian who is alert to their Lord.


This ‘future dimension' again has two goals. The first one is in respect of the person I am changing to become. We have recently noted at one point, the fact that our lives are a process where God is changing us into the likeness of Jesus, but it is a gradual thing (2 Cor 3:18). The truth of the Christian life is that it should be changing all the time as we allow the Lord to work in us and make us more and more like Jesus. Many of us forget this, but this is a central truth that is taught in the New Testament. The second goal is that we are looking forward to eternal life, the life that goes on with God in heaven after we die here on earth. However hard and however difficult life is while we are here on earth, and especially if we have to suffer illness or disability, we know that there is coming a time when we will be made anew and given a new body in heaven where there is no pain and no tears or anguish.


But all of this is in the future and, if I am honest, the reality of this future dimension varies and comes and goes, so there may be times when I am very much aware that I have a different future and times when I forget it. But, I suggest, we think more about it when we realise the limitations and frustrations of our present life, when age, infirmity, illness or whatever press in and make life difficult. Perhaps it is when we look at the church or at one another's lives and long for something better in the future. Speaking of Abraham, the writer to the Hebrews said, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” (Heb 11:10) and then of Old Testament people of faith in general he wrote, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one.” (Heb 11:13-16)


Thus all of us live with a certain measure of frustration with the present world. We see the sinfulness of mankind, we see the folly of human beings making godless decisions that only bring hurt, confusion and more upset, especially as nations struggle with one another and bigger nations threaten smaller nations, and so-called ‘world leaders' struggle to know what to do as they look down on smaller nations behaving badly. In the lifetime of most of us, we have seen big nations fighting for or over Iraq , over Pakistan and over Syria and again and again question marks are raised as to the wisdom of courses chosen by ‘world leaders'. At a domestic level we watch the dissolution of marriage, the removal of boundaries around male and female and so much more and we look on and wonder, “Where is all this going?” We live with the frustration of the folly of sin, and sometimes we ourselves give way for a moment and say or do foolish things and need to receive God's forgiveness all over again.


And all the while we have, deep down, this yearning for something better and the reason we have it is because the Holy Spirit is working within us to reveal just what is going on now and to give us a glimmer of something better in the future.


Hope is all about the future and Christian hope is a strong assurance of what WILL come. But the call is to “be joyful in hope.” There are the Christian futurologists who talk about the world getting worse and worse towards the Last Day, and with their pronouncements seems to come a heavy gloom but Paul calls us to be joyful and there are a number of reasons to be so.


Number One: whatever the future holds, we know that we are established in God's love by the work of Christ on the Cross and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives. That love, as Paul shows in Romans 8 means that nothing can separate us from this wonder. Number Two: as we just noted, we have the Holy Spirit within us and He is working out God's plans and purposes in and through us and that also is a wonderful thing. Number Three: as we have been saying all through this meditation, God is working towards something better for us who are His children and we can be confident in that. Whatever happens to the rest of the world, your future and mine is assured by the work of Christ. Hallelujah!


So, whatever clouds the world seeks to waft over our horizon – be joyful! He is with you and will never leave or forsake you and His plans for you will not be thwarted! Remember Solomon declared, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) That is the reality of God's purposes for you and me. The world may be getting darker for godless, self-centred sinners, but for the righteous, the children of God, the path just gets brighter, and it does so because we get nearer and nearer to meeting with God and His purpose is that His glory shines in and through us and before us more and more. May it be so!








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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title:  Maintaining the Faith (3)


Rom 12:11,12   Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.


We have been considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervor and serving God, about maintaining a bright and vibrant spiritual life if you like, that comes from obedience to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the second mini-exhortation was about being, “ joyful in hope.”


Which now brings us to the third of these mini-exhortations about our relationship with the Lord: “(Be) patient in affliction” Some translations speak of ‘tribulation', ‘trials' or ‘trouble'. If we examine all these words they will fill out the picture here. When you are ‘afflicted' something comes upon you, normally something unpleasant. ‘Tribulation' is about suffering adversity or difficulties. ‘Trials' in scripture are things that test our faith and ‘trouble' is simply difficulties.


Now the intriguing thing about this exhortation is that Paul expects there to be affliction or adversity in life, which counters those who say the Christian life will always be easy. It won't. We live in a Fallen World where things go wrong and where sinful mankind and enemy powers hinder and work against us. That's not taking into account that we ourselves sometimes get it wrong and bring trouble on ourselves. So sometimes life WILL be difficult!


But when Paul counsels “Be patient” he is implying that this affliction or adversity will not last. Being patient suggests we are waiting until something happens and in this case it is that the affliction or adversity comes to an end. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) In the world we WILL have trouble but that doesn't mean that we cannot have his peace and we are to rest in his love and in the knowledge that he is Lord over all things. Some times he seems to hold back and allow the enemy reign but ultimately he will keep and preserve us in his love, even if it means we lose our life in the process.


Jesus warned the church at Smyrna , “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) That is amazing! Jesus knew it was going to happen and allowed it to happen. He allowed it to test his people and he knew that it would be of limited duration.


But it isn't always like that: Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:59,60) as was James (Acts 12:2) while Peter was miraculously released from prison (Acts 12:6-10). We should also remember that of the eleven surviving apostles (after Judas committed suicide) ten of them died for their faith. Only John died of old age – and that after a period of exile on Patmos (Rev 1:9). Down through the centuries of the history of the Christian Church there have been thousands and thousands who have been put to death for their faith. In Revelation we find these sobering words: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed,” (Rev 6:9-11) and this in the light of the Lamb who is in control undoing the scroll of the end times, seen in chapter 5.


A little later in Revelation we find, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:9,14) There are a large number of believers who will pass through the period known as The Great Tribulation. Whatever it is, it will be difficult and we are told to stand firm in such a time. Speaking of that time, Jesus said to his disciples, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 24:9-13) A hard time, but it will be possible to stand firm!


Before finishing we must remember the apostle Paul himself who testified: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:7-9) There he recorded personal affliction, something from the enemy that he found troubling in himself which he cried out to the Lord for removal – yet he was told that God's grace was sufficient for him, and he also realised it was to stop him becoming proud because of the great revelations he had received. Remember, the call is to be patient in this affliction. It IS limited in duration and God's grace will ALWAYS be there to help you cope. That is His promise.







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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12

Meditation No. 11

Meditation Title:  Maintaining the Faith (4)


Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.


We continue considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervor and serving God, the second mini-exhortation was about being, “Be joyful in hope,” and the third was about being “patient in affliction”

Which brings us to the fourth of this little group: “(Be) faithful in prayer.” How simple and yet how dynamic! But that is true of each of these four, just a few words but they say so much. The first thing that strikes me about this, and although it is true of each of them, I realise I don't think I have picked it up yet, is that this needs saying. The reality is that for each of these things we can flag and so need Paul's encouragement to keep on with them. How easy it is to let zeal flag under the materialistic and atheistic pressures of life in the modern West. How easy it is to lose hope, to be frustrated, angry and jaded in affliction, and now, to give up on prayer.


Prayer, as I have found myself saying so many times when writing these meditations, is something much spoken about but so often so little done. Prayer is one of the greatest mysteries in the Christian life. Why pray when God knows every word you speak even before you utter them? The simple answer is that fathers like hearing their children even when they know exactly what they are going to ask for. Why pray when we have a sovereign God who is all powerful and can do what He likes? Why should we dare tell the all-wise God what He ought to do? The answer seems to be because we need to talk out things before the Lord, to come in line with His will. As we pray so we come to a realization of what it is He wants. I find that when I start thinking about it, I have so many questions. For example, if I don't pray will God stop moving? I'm sure the answer is no. Then there is will the prayers of five hundred people be more effective than if five people pray? That raises the question, what does ‘effective' mean? What is effective prayer? The answer the scripture seems to tell me is that which is in line with His will and starts its life in heaven.

So yes, we can have lots of questions and often few answers, but at the end of the day there is something inside me (the Holy Spirit!) that makes it seem natural at times to want to talk to God. However the fact that Paul feels it is necessary to encourage us to be “faithful in prayer” suggests that it is so easy not to pray that our ‘natural' tendency will be to stop praying. So, for a moment, let's consider some of the New Testament exhortations to pray. If we pray for no other reason that we're told to, that's not too bad.


The Gospels start off with the challenging, “But I tell you: Love your enemies I and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and when Jesus says, “And when you pray , do not be like the hypocrites,” (Mt 6:5) he is speaking to a culture that does pray. Prayer was clearly a part of the culture of the people of God. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray ,” (Mt 14:23) is just one example of the fact that Jesus prayed on his own sometimes. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them,” (Mt 19:13) is an example of a practice of Jesus, to pray over others. Into Acts we find, “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray ,” (Acts 10:9) which shows us that Peter seems to have maintained it as a regular practice. Later we find, “All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray ,” (Acts 21:5) which suggests that before setting off on a further leg of his journey, Paul and his companions prayed (and perhaps for those they were leaving). Paul wrote to the church at Rome , “his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times,” (Rom 1:9) which is quite amazing because he had never been there yet.


In Paul's letters, prayer is a frequent subject: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:26) “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.” (1 Cor 14:14,15) “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Eph 6:18) “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes 5:17,18)


In James' letter we also find, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray . Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:13-15)


Peter in his first letter taught, “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) John in his first letter taught, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) Jude in his letter taught, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20)


So prayer may be a mystery but it was taught by Jesus and his apostles and they all did it. For whatever the reasons may be to pray, apart from simple obedience to Scripture, the Biblical teaching is pray. Satan, the world, sin, tiredness etc. etc. will suggest we don't pray which is why Paul now exhorts us – be faithful in prayer, i.e. keep at it, do it!









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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 12

Meditation Title:   More on Relationships


Rom 12:13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another


We move on to the next block of what I have called mini-exhortations because each one s short and pithy, and there are a lot of them. As with verses 9 and 10, these are verses about how we respond to other people, and there is so much here. Each one is a mine of truth waiting to be explored, a variety of facets for Christian living.


Paul starts this block with Share with God's people who are in need.” (v.13a) In the sixth of this series we noted the following but it is worth repeating: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36) So there we have the New Testament Church teaching first from the apostle John and then from Jesus. We are a body and members of the body care for one another but Jesus took it further to imply that we care for all who cross our path and are needy – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the prisoner. Today, in the UK at least, institutional society meets all these needs, yet there is still room for the Christians to bless others.


Yet Paul's focus here is specifically on the Christian Church – “God's people” – where if we see needs we meet them as we are able. It was a mark of the early church that they cared for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44,45) As they grew in numbers and they set up ‘programs' to meet the needs of the needy among them, they had difficulties: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) and thus they had to organize more carefully (Acts 6:3-6).


Sometimes we can get institutional in our thinking and we need freeing from that. I once had a lady in the church come to me as its main leader and share her concern for another lady who did outreach lunches from her home and who was short of tea towels. Couldn't the church buy some for her, was the question asked of me. Of course, I replied, but what a lovely opportunity for you to bless her personally by getting them for her. ‘Need' can be a very varied thing and a person ‘in need' may simply be someone who doesn't have the resources you do and doesn't feel able to spend on a particular thing in their life. Over the years I am aware that I have given money to someone who need to go to Agricultural college, money to someone to have a holiday, someone money to go on a Bible retreat. None of those things are ‘basics' of life but they were things that became ‘needs' in the light of the will of God for that person, what He wanted to do to bless their life. Yes, as a church we gave to people with more basic needs, on one occasion we took a young man to a supermarket when he was out of work and told him to totally fill up the trolley with food for his family. Needs can be many and varied and our means of meeting them equally so.


On one occasion, as a church we were planning to take the church away for a weekend retreat but we knew that we had many people living on state benefits who just could not afford the cost of such a weekend. As we prayed about what to do, the Lord gave us the wisdom. We went to the church and told them in two month's time we would take a one-off free-will offering. All we asked them to do was, in that two months, ask the Lord how much He wanted them each to put it. It could be nothing, it could be one pound, five pounds, fifty pounds or whatever He said. When the day come, without any fanfare or winding people up, we simply took the offering in the middle of the Sunday morning service. It came to twice as much as we actually needed to cover every man, woman and child in the church – including a couple of unsaved husbands who had trouble believing it. The extra we put away for the next retreat. The needs of ‘the poor' were met.


In this day of state benefits and institutional caring, it is so easy to dismiss this exhortation and we say, “We don't have the needy with us any longer,” but that is so untrue and especially so in days of financial difficulty in this second decade of the twenty first century. Needy people mean anyone who is struggling to make ends meet and whose lives are restricted because of it. If we have more resources than they do, this word comes to us.


But the key issue is what does God the Holy Spirit say to us? It is also so easy to become guilt-ridden because of these things and He doesn't want that. Why not enter into a new faith dimension where you ask the Lord to put on your heart people He wants you to bless in this way – and then how He wants you to bless them. Sometimes it is right to give anonymously but sometimes it is right to give face to face to bless the person and build your relationship with them. It's who HE wants to bless and HOW He wants you to bless. Why not ask Him now.









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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 13

Meditation Title:  Practice Hospitality


Rom 12:13     Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.


In this next block of what I have called mini-exhortations about how we respond to other people, we first considered sharing with those in need. Some link that with the next of these, “Practice hospitality” but I think this second one is bigger and more specific than simply providing for those who are needy.

Hospitality is usually simply defined as ‘ the act, practice, or quality of being hospitable; providing solicitous entertainment of guests.' Being hospitable was one of the required criteria for an elder or overseer: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable .” (1 Tim 3:2) and “he must be hospitable , one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:9) Thus it was considered a virtue to be exampled by those in leadership in the church.


The origins of the word suggest one who is ‘a friend of strangers', as we see in Heb 13:2 – “Do not forget to entertain strangers , for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet 4:8-10) We have shown the context here because it appears to come as an expression of love and care, using the resources you have to bless others.


The Biblical context for providing hospitality was usually in respect of providing for travelers. Unlike today where we can get on the internet and book a room in a hotel, in Biblical times providing overnight lodging was more difficult, as we note every Christmas when we think of Joseph and Mary who found there was no room at the inn. The earliest Biblical example of providing hospitality is probably Abram when the Lord, in the guise of three travelers, arrived where Abram had his tent set up: “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way--now that you have come to your servant.” (Gen 18:1-5) There ‘hospitality' comprises providing washing facilities, opportunity to rest, and provision of food (and drink).


In the example of Moses, the absence of the offer of hospitality was noted by Reuel: “Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, "Why have you returned so early today?" They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock." "And where is he?" he asked his daughters. "Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” (Ex 2:16-20) He considered them very remiss for not having invited Moses in. Such was the Eastern custom.


When Moses was spelling out the Law, his condemnation of the Ammonites and Moabites was not only because they had hired a seer against them, but because they had not practiced hospitality in respect of them: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4)


In the New Testament, Jesus expected hospitality would be provided for his disciples when he sent them out: “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.” (Mt 10:11) When Jesus rebuked Simon the Pharisee, it was in respect of his absence of hospitality: “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet , but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss , but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head , but she has poured perfume on my feet.” (Lk 7:44-46) Three expressions of good hospitality: provision for refreshing, a warm welcome and general blessing.


Providing hospitality for others, not only provides for their natural needs, it also generates care in such a way that fellowship flows and security ensues. Through providing hospitality we make others feel good and that builds relationships and makes the body stronger. Providing hospitality is not keeping up with the Jones' by providing bigger and better food, but is about providing a warm and caring and loving environment for your guests, whereby they feel loved, cared for and blessed. The illustration of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-42) shows this clearly. One sister was concerned with appearing good by the quality of her provision, while the other made personal contact with Jesus the priority. Hospitality is more than providing food; it is also providing you.









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Meditation No. 14

Meditation Title:   Reaching Out


Rom 12:14-15   Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.


There is a sense when sometimes we encounter people if we are honest we would rather push them away than get in close contact with them. Paul has just said, Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality,” (v.13) and that dealt with people generally in need and those travelers in specific need, needy people in general if you like, and they are no threat, just possibly a drain on our resources, physical and grace perhaps, and so depending on how strong we are feeling in the faith, we will reach out to them or shun them (that's being honest!).


But then he turns to a group of people who we would definitely prefer to push out of our lives, those who persecute or oppose us. In the West, Christians are clearly a minority in whichever country you look, and with the ways of the world and the workings of Satan, hostility, opposition and even outright persecution will become more regular features of modern life unless the Lord turns up in revival.


Now I suspect that if the church was truly moving as Jesus in our communities, then we may find more acceptance rather than rejection, for blessing should be coming to any community as it did when Jesus turned up. Perhaps that is why in Acts we read of the church “enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:47) and later on “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13) The power and goodness of the Lord was clearly with the early church so that the common people thought much of them, even if they were scared because of the holy presence of God with that early church. So persecution isn't the only option.


But persecution and opposition is so often an experience of the church. It has been throughout the period of church history and it still is in varying degree around the world. So what is to be our response to those who come against us? Is it to push them away or even flee from them? No, not according to both Paul and Jesus: “ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” says Paul and “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” says Jesus (Mt 5:44)


When you ‘bless' someone you seek God's goodness for their lives. A ‘blessing' is a prophetic declaration of good intent from heaven for that person. We sense God's feeling or desire to bring good to this person and we declare it over them. That is what Paul says we are to do with those who persecute us. I have often wondered, when I have heard of the persecuted church around the world, are those believers actively seeking the goodness of God for those unbelieving persecutors? I similarly wonder if I would actively seek the good of those who, one day, might actively oppose me.


This is more than simply turning the cheek, this is actively looking to see them blessed – and that may simply mean for them to experience good from us even before we attempt to share the Gospel with them. Salvation is the ultimate good for them but before they can hear it, maybe their hearts need melting by God's goodness and love expressed through us. Yes, there will be some who are so hardened and so in Satan's clutches that they will not be moved by goodness coming to them, but there will be others who see and hear our responses and are moved by those right responses. But this is more than just right actions on our part; this has to be a right heart first of all, a heart that doesn't seek to push away, but a heart that seeks to reach out to those who are uttering falsehoods about us, or even taking action against us.


Perhaps the life of Saul who became Paul should act as an incentive for us. Here was a man who was actively persecuting the early believers, putting them in prison and assenting to their deaths (Acts 8:1). But Saul was utterly sincere – wrong but sincere. He believed that his position was the right one and the Christians were a heretical sect causing harm to Judaism. Thus those who oppose us may believe they are right and we are wrong. They may also have wrong motivations, feeling our righteousness reveals and is a threat to their unrighteousness, but whatever the motivation, the call is to bless them. They may be a Saul and they may turn back to God.


But Jesus was even more proactive in his teaching when he says love and pray for them. This does really need a heart turnaround to be able to do this. We have to see these people as those who God wants to bless and draw to Himself. Remember what we've said previously, no one is too hard for the Lord, and the apostle Paul is again a good illustration of this. Imagine you were a Christian in Damascus and the word comes to you that the persecutor Saul is coming to town. Fear or faith? Is this man too far beyond the reach of God? Could something change tomorrow so our lives will not be under threat from him when he arrives? Is that a possibility? It definitely was a possibility – and it happened! Hallelujah!


Just before we finish, you may not be suffering persecution and you may not see it coming, but if this word applies to those who are really, positively against us, how much more must it apply to those Christians with whom we do not get on? Whoever we feel uncomfortable with, the same thing applies – love, pray for and bless them! When we do that we may find the Lord moving to change both them and us.


I may have told this story somewhere in the many meditations somewhere before, but it is a good story and true. Once I had a man come to me and say, “I'm leaving the church.” I asked why and he explained that in his house group there was a woman who just seemed to be utterly opposed to him and nothing he could do or say seemed to be able to change that and so, he concluded, “one of us needs to go, so I've decided it had better be me.” Well, I counseled him to not make any move just yet, but to determine to pray for this woman every day for the next month. Several months later the two of them appeared at my front door looking like love lost young people and simply said, “We'd like you to marry us please,” and they've lived many happy years together since! Put the person or people in God's hands and look for His blessing on them; you never know what might happen!








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Series Theme: Meditations in Romans 12


Meditation No. 15

Meditation Title:  Identifying with Others


Rom 12: 15   Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.


We said in a previous meditation that there is the temptation sometimes to push people away, people who for one reason or another don't ‘fit' with us or perhaps where we are at the moment. We've just seen in the previous meditation the tendency to push away those who persecute us and now when we come to this verse, I want to suggest that although this is a very different group of people (or two groups perhaps), there can still be that same tendency – if we re being honest with ourselves – to want to avoid, shun or even push away these people.


Paul's next mini-exhortation(s) begins with something, Rejoice with those who rejoice”, so mundane that we might, at first sight at least, think it is so easy, but the truth is that in both of these little exhortations there is a requirement to bring your heart in line with that of the other person and that isn't always easy.


There are times when it will be easy for we will find a unity in also being blessed by a person, a thing or a circumstance in the same way as others around us, but supposing the cause of the rejoicing is not something particularly close to my heart. I have sometimes heard believers who pray for people in a particular part of the world, giving testimony on their behalf of things that have happened that appear blessings from God. Well yes, God does bless people all over the world, so what? But these blessings have blessed someone nearer to me, someone with whom I fellowship. It has meant something to them and they are rejoicing in it and if I come along like a little dark cloud, it can quench their pleasure which, at the very least, is a miserable thing to do! Rejoice with them!


Then there are those happy-go-lucky Christians who live in a make-believe world and for whom nothing ever goes wrong – or at least they would deny that it did – and so whom life is always wonderful and every time there is an opportunity for giving a testimony at church, they stand up and the rest of us groan. But hold on, they are rejoicing and as childlike as their faith may appear to be, it is faith and they are blessed (for the moment at least – next week they may be in the depths of despair!). But, hey, why rain on their party now. They are blessed by God, they are rejoicing and so why not join in and rejoice with them.


This leads us to face the horrible truth that actually people who are more blessed with God and life generally are sometimes sickening to be with. I was once going through a down time with God though did not realise it at the time. I had been filled with the spirit, exercised spiritual gifts, knew the joy of the Lord and then for some reason or other took on board teaching that denied these things, and so shut down. A little while went by before the Lord gracious dealt with me and in the same day, at intervals, put three ‘frothy Christians' across my path (that's how we see them don't we). They were all people who I knew had been filled with the Spirit. By the end of the day I went before the Lord and said, “Lord, I have been stupid. I had your joy and rejected it. I know I can argue from both sides of the theological fence, but these three you have sent across my path have something I haven't got and I would rather have the lives that they have than the way I'm feeling now. Please forgive me.” And He graciously restored me, filled me afresh and I knew again the joy of the Lord. So come on, do these ‘frothy' people who cause you aggravation have something you don't have, and is it time to do something about that?


But then comes the question of mourning: “Mourn with those who mourn.” It sounds simple at first sight but it's not. The problem (from my point of view) is that people mourn in all different sorts of ways and you have to let people be the people they are. I have lost my parents and my wife's parents and I have mildly regretted their going, but they have all gone to heaven which is a gloriously better place, and knowing the difficulties with health they each struggled with, with that reality firmly in my heart and mind, my mourning was of a shallow emotional kind.


But I have taken funerals where the mourners come in sobbing their hearts our and although the service serves to bring a measure of comfort, afterwards I see them sobbing again – and they'll probably carry on sobbing for weeks or month to come. For goodness sake, get over it, they've gone and there's nothing you can do about it, live with it! Well no, that's not empathising with where they are and it is not mourning with those who mourn. We may want to bring comfort but we cannot hasten the natural progress of these things.


I was always impressed with Job's three friends when they first arrived. They just sat with him for a week, saying nothing, and that's all he wanted, and often in these situation it is all we want. Comforting words, although well meant, don't touch the awful ache in our hearts; only time and the Lord can deal with that. He is, after all, the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3). Sometimes people just want you to be there for them and that means standing with them and sharing what they feel without denying what they feel. A hug and a tear can often be more helpful than lots of well-meaning words.


So there we are, we are called to put aside what we're feeling and join in with those around us who are either rejoicing or mourning. It means empathy and it means unity. In putting aside ‘self' we bring into being an opportunity to build unity, love and acceptance of others. May it be so.







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Meditation No. 16

Meditation Title:  Humility


Rom 12:16-18 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.


I have a feeling that if Paul was writing this chapter for a modern magazine, he might entitle it something like “Thirty Five ways of living at peace in today's world”, or something similar, because it is a bit like that, a list of mini-exhortations about how to live as the children of God.


Moving on from responding to people we might prefer to push away, Paul then deals with how we should live our lives in such a manner that we are a blessing to others because ultimately, although he doesn't say it, we too, like the Jews, are called to be a light to the rest of the world and are to reveal God to all others.


In a world where there is so often upset and conflict, Paul encourages us to be different: Live in harmony with one another.” (v.16a) I recently saw a TV program about a couple (he was an architect) who decided to build an ultra-modern house in a beautiful setting, a house that stood out as a pile of square boxes, in a row of houses that were old and traditional. More than that, somehow they had got planning permission to build about twenty feet in front of the previous building line so their house not only stood out but blocked the view either way. It was a statement of selfish lack of concern for anyone else and of course the neighbours were horrified. To live in harmony with other people means we give consideration to them. The household that blasts out music all the time so loud it can be heard three quarters of the way down the street, is saying, ‘we don't care about the rest of you. We don't care if we take away your peace.' Examples of failing to live in harmony. The household that grow massively developing Leylandi trees blocking out the light and views for the neighbours are failing to live in harmony. Living in harmony requires being considerate.


So often such behaviour is a demonstration of self-centredness which is a cousin of pride. Hence Paul counsels, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (v.16b) Pride looks down on other people, may even despise them, thinks little of them, and certainly doesn't want to have anything to do with such lesser beings! Many of us are what sociologists call ‘middle-class' which means we have certain values and standards (although those have been eroded in recent years), often a strong work ethic and are tolerably well off. As the famous John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch demonstrated, the tendency is for ‘the upper class' to look down on the ‘middle class' who look down on the ‘working class'. However, the moment we make such distinctions in our mind we put up barriers and God's love sees no such barriers and wants to reach all men and women whoever they are. Paul is aware of all this and thus counsels about associating with people outside of your social grouping and not being conceited or proud about your own position. Again and again Scripture warns against this. Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3:34 warning that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). In his famous ‘love passage' Paul says , “Love is …. not proud.” (1 Cor 13:4)


But Paul is also aware that living in harmony is not always easy because other people are not always nice so he says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” (v.17a) In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus picked up on having this right attitude: “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Mt 5:38-42) Everything he said there was about having a gracious response towards those who mistreat you. Without God's grace we cannot be these people, yet this is our calling.


He continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (v.17b) Now that is a near impossibility but we can at least aim for it. When Paul spoke about the gift that had been collected for the church in Jerusalem , he explained, “And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” (2 Cor 8:18-21) He was sending Titus along with those who were taking the gift, as a guardian to ensure the safety of both the carriers and the gift, so there could be no room whatsoever for any criticism or gossip about potential wrong doing.


When Paul wrote to Timothy about elders (overseers) he declared, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders.” (1 Tim 3:7) Reputation in the eyes of the world is important and so, Paul concludes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (v.18) If we are to be a light to the rest of the world it is important how we appear to them. Very often we appear insular and self-concerned and sometimes we don't react well to those who disagree with us in ideas or behaviour. We aren't called to agree with their godless, self-centred, unrighteous behaviour and lifestyles, but we are called to live at peace with them so that we maintain open channels of communication with them so that we have such channels through which the word and love of god may flow when the opportunity is there. Let's bear that in mind always.








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Meditation No. 17

Meditation Title:   Bless the Opposition


Rom 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.


We have just seen Paul writing, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (v.18) and sometimes it is very difficult to leave at peace with everyone because there are sometimes those who seek to actively harm us and so, perhaps, it is with that in mind Paul continues, “Do not take revenge, my friends,” (v.19a) for if we do we become just like them but as we've already seen in other meditations our call is to not only live at peace but to pray for our enemies. How can you pray for someone and see to exact revenge on them?


But Paul has another reason for saying ‘don't take revenge' because if we try to we will be getting in the way of the Lord. He cites the Law: “for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord .” (v.19c) Revenge is the prerogative of the Lord. He knows when it is due and the right way it should come and thus if we interfere we will not “leave room for God's wrath.” (v.19b) We are to leave any repercussions coming back on those who attack us to the Lord. He deals with them far better than we can. It is a hard stand to take but we are not to come back against those who attack and seek to harm us. It is a real place where faith is required.


Indeed, Paul goes on, rather than seeking to harm your enemy, seek to do him or her good: “On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” (v.20a,b quoting Prov 35:21) What a witness that is! This certainly comes into that category of actions that Jesus spoke about when he said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) Helping your enemy is clearly one of those ‘good deeds' that will reveal who you truly are and will reveal the Lord to watchers.


He concludes the quote with the next verse from Proverbs: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (v.20c, quoting Prov 35:22) The origin of the phrase about heaping burning coals on a persons head was in respect of bringing a terrible punishment and pain on a guilty person. Here the good deeds returning to the attacker would strike his conscience and act as a form of punishment that would convict him. The Egyptians also had a similar thing where walking with such a bowl on your head was a sign of repentance and contrition, and so the same thing would be implied, that the good act being returned for the bad act would bring about repentance.


To summarise all this, Paul concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (v.21) The temptation when bad is done against us is to retaliate but if we so do, as we said above, we become just like our attackers and we join in doing evil. Their evil would thus overcome us as we succumb to evil by doing the same. No, says Paul, there is a better way, a more positive way and it is by doing good back to them. Not only may we convict their hearts but we stay in the place of righteousness. Good responses, good deeds will act like salt and will purify the situation (Mt 5:13), changing it for good. Again and again in world politics we see nation against nation, nation responding to violent nation with more and more violence and all that happens is that it gets worse and more and more people die. Instead someone needs to have the courage to say, “We will not retaliate, we will do good” and break into the violent cycle.


So what have we seen in this chapter. Let's summarise it:

v.1-2   A call to consecration of body & transformation of mind

v.3   A call to humility

v.4-8   Encouragement to operate gifts of grace

v.9,10   Mini-exhortations to maintain right relationships with others

v.11,12 Ditto your spiritual life with God

v.13-21 Ditto in respect of relationships with all others in the world.


This has not been a chapter of deep theology but of immense practicality. Paul has another of this exhortation-packed pieces in 1 Thes 5:14 onwards. They are a Christian behaviour spectrum and brilliant for anyone launching out in the ways of meditation. You can ponder on each little bit achieving much value. They push us back into the arms of God, either by the exhortations about the spiritual life, or for the grace to live in harmony with the rest of mankind and especially those in the household of faith. There will be even more of this ‘behaviour focused teaching' in the following chapters in Romans and when we get to chapter 15 more reminders that most of us believers are Gentiles which is amazing. Well there are lots more wonderful things to see in Romans, so may I encourage you to press on with it.