True and proper worship (Romans 12:1-21)

Chatswood Baptist Church

In view of God’s mercy

The Lord Jesus told a story of a servant who owed the king an incredible amount of money, 10,000 talents which in today terms, at least by my calculation which are admitted pretty rough, would be billions of dollars. One talent was the equivalent to 20 years of a day labourer’s salary so to make 10,000 talents one man would have to work 200,000 years to make that much money. It was a vast amount of money. I tried converting it into an equivalent amount in Aussie dollars and if my maths is right, it worked out to be more than 7.4 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money. You would be around the twelfth richest person in Australia if you had that sort of money doing better than someone like James Packer although not as good Gina Rinehart who is the richest person in Australia with 31 billion dollar.

We aren’t told how the servant lost the king’s money, but we are told that when it became time for settling his account with the king, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the money – somehow, he had lost it. And since he didn’t have the money, the king ordered the man and his family and all that he had to be sold to repay something of what the many owed the king. But the man pleaded with the king and he asked him to be patient with him and he promised that he would pay back everything.  The king took pity on the man and did more than even what the man was asking for. He was merciful to him and he forgave the man his debt. He wiped the whole 10,000 talents from the books and let the man and his family go without having to pay or even having to promise to pay any of it. It was act of incredible kindness on the part of the king and you expect such kindness to have an impact on the one has been shown it.

But that wasn’t where the story ended. The Lord Jesus went on to say that it wasn’t long before this same servant came across a fellow servant who happened to owe him some money. In this case the debt was just a relatively small amount. It was nothing in comparison to what that servant had owed the king. It was a mere hundred denarii which was one hundred days wage for a labourer which was nothing compared to 200,000 years’ worth of wages that the servant owed the king. But when this servant pleaded with the servant who had been forgiven his debt the man’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The servant who had just be forgiven all his debt threw his fellow servant into prison until this man’s debt was paid in full.

When the king heard what this servant had done with the other servant, he wasn’t pleased with him. He summoned him and rebuked him calling him a wicked servant and threw him into prison. He pointed out that he had forgiven him all that he had owed the king and said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your, fellow servant as I have had mercy on you?”

Jesus told this story when Peter asked him how many times would he need to forgive his brother? It was a parable about forgiveness but today I’ve retold the story because highlights something about how God’s mercy ought to impact those who have received it. What the story shows is that God’s mercy ought to leave its imprint on our lives. It ought to impact us and change us and shape us as people. It ought to affect who we are and change the way that we behave towards other. The mercy that God has poured out on us in the gospel of Christ should leave its indelible mark on our lives and if it doesn’t there is something wrong.

For eleven chapters Paul has been expounding the mercy of God that has been revealed and poured out in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. In chapter 9 to 12 in his discussion about the Israelites and the gospel Paul has made it clear that the only reason that anyone is saved is because of God’s kindness and mercy. He wrote that it doesn’t “depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (9:16). Now in chapter in view of the mercy God has poured out on us Paul in chapter 12 calls believers to respond by offering their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Paul calls this our true and proper worship. Today I want to look at what this true and proper worship involves and the impact that God’s mercy ought to have on our own lives.

Our true and proper worship

The first thing to note is that our true and proper worship involves the presenting of our whole self as a living sacrifice to God. We are totally given over to his service. As one writer puts it the response to God’s mercy is to be “total and all encompassing”[1].

Our whole life as a living sacrifice

By referring to our bodies Paul is referring to every part of ourselves. Paul wrote in chapter 6 and verse 13.

Romans 6:13

Do not offer any part of ourselves to sin as instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness

In chapter 6 to offer yourself to God was to offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. It was to offer everything, holding nothing back. This is surely what Paul means by talking about the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice. It’s our whole self, set apart for God (holy), to do his good and perfect will and so to be an instrument of righteousness in this world.

The response is all encompassing and total. Nothing is to be left in reserve. It isn’t just a matter of our giving God a bit more of our time on a Sunday or fitting him in when we don’t feel too busy at work or squeezing the Lord in when we have nothing else on or after we have made enough money to sit back and enjoy life . It isn’t just a matter of giving him a part of our lives or giving back a bit of what we have been given. All our lives are to be set apart for him and all of the time. It doesn’t start when feel we have enough time, but everything we do from here on in is to be done so that we might always be pleasing to him doing his good and perfect will. This is our true and proper worship. This is what is reasonable in view of God’s mercy that has been poured out on us.

The renewing of our mind

But such a transformation of our lives involves the renewal of our minds so that we might know and approve of God’s will. This just doesn’t all happen automatically when you become a believer. Our orientation changes but our minds need to be renewed so that we might know and approve of the will of God.

Romans 10:2

Do not conform 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. [2]

Like everything else in the world our minds have not escaped the effects of sin and the influence of the world in which we live. Paul wrote in chapter 1 of Romans that because humanity didn’t glorify God or give thanks to him as their Creator, that their thinking became futile, and our hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21). Sin has had its effect on both our natural desires and our intellect and reason (the way we think and naturally behave) and all the effects that sin has had on us aren’t immediately removed when we become a Christian. Paul argues that sin is no longer is in charge (our master) in chapter 6, but sin has worn some deep grooves in our lives that we can easily fall back into and the work of transformation is a process of growing more and more like the Lord Jesus.

Such a transformation can now happen because the Spirit of God lives in us and we have the word of Christ that teaches the mind of Christ. The Spirit uses the Word of Christ to renew our minds so that we might all have the same mind and attitude as Christ (Phil. 2:1-5). In this way, we are being renewed in knowledge in the image of our Creator (Col. 3:10) so that like Christ we might not only know the will of God, his good and perfect will, but so that we might also approve of it and want to do it.

God’s good and perfect will

But what is God’s good and perfect will? This is what Paul begins to expound in this chapter. In verses 3 to 8 he explains that it involves all of them being sober minded and then in verses 9 to 21 he tells them that they must have a sincere love, the type that always shuns evil and clings to the good.

Be sober minded (v3-8)

Paul firstly says that we are to think of ourselves with sober judgment. We are to be sober in thinking about ourselves not thinking of ourselves more highly that we ought because what have we have on account of God’s grace.

Romans 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 faith God has distributed to each of you.

Paul is always conscience of the grace of God at work in his life. What he says to them as the apostle to the Gentiles he says because of the grace given to him.  But that same grace has been at work in all our lives. We are to think of ourselves with sober judgment as it is God who has literally given us the measure of faith that we have so that we might belong to the body of Christ. As Paul explains to the Ephesians, we have saved through faith but he then went on to say (Eph. 2:8) that even this faith “is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast.”

Our faith doesn’t distinguish us from other believers, but rather it is the evidence of our common experience of God’s grace in our lives. Paul explains that all of us because of this faith which is common to all of us are now members of the same body and all the members belong to one another. We might have different gifts according to the grace given us, but again it is God who has distributed these gifts according to his grace (v6) and Paul explains in other place that he has given us these gifts for the common good and the building up of the body. So it doesn’t really matter what we gift we have we are to just get on with doing God’s will and using whatever gift he has given us for the sake of the body of Christ and for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

Romans 12:6-8

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

We are to humbly serve one another using whatever gift God has given us for the good of the others. If our gift is that of encouragement then we are to encourage others, if it is to teach, Paul says then start teaching, if it is to serve, then start serving in whatever practical ways you can serve and help the body. If it is leading, then step up and lead or if it is to show mercy then get on with helping others in need. This is God will for his people, this is what is good and what pleases him and it is part of truly worshipping him.

Serving also grows you. We grow more like Jesus by serving others for he said he came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:4). Paul wrote to the Philippians and told them that they were to have the same attitude or mindset as Christ not doing things out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but rather in humility valuing others above themselves, not looking to their own interests but the interests of others (see Philippians 2:3-4).

Brothers and sisters, this is the mindset we are to have, and it is part of what it means to love and worship our God and not this world. You gather together not just so that you can sing praises to God but so that you can be part of community that is learning to love and serve one another to the glory of God. I want to encourage you that if you aren’t already part of serving team here at church then please talk to one of the pastors about how you can learn to serve and use your gifts as part of team who encourage one another to learn to love and serve others like their Lord and Saviour.

Love must be sincere

This brings us to Paul second point about God’s will. Love must be “sincere” or “genuine” or as the Christian Standard Bible puts it, it is to be “without hypocrisy”. Paul defines this sort of love saying that it hates evil and clings to what is good. Douglas Moo says, “that love is not genuine when it leads a person to something evil or to avoid doing what is right.” This will mean different things in different situations and Paul goes on to illustrate what this sort of love is like in our relationships with our brothers and sisters within the church and how we might display this sort of love even in a world that might persecute us and make life difficult for God’s people.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love

Within the church it means to be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Romans 12:10-13

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

The word for “love” that is used in verse 10 is “brotherly love” (Greek = philadelphia), the sort of love that we have for the members of our family. I’m not sure whether the translators of the 2011 edition dropped the reference to “brotherly love” to just be more politically correct but at least the translators of Christian Standard Bible capture the intent of the particular word that Paul has chosen to use when they translated the verse.

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters”. (Christian Standard Bible)

Believers are to be devoted to one another in the same way that we should love and care for the members of our own family. This is God’s will and Paul goes on to explain that this involves honoring one another above ourselves (v10), putting their interests above our own and sharing with the Lord’s people (the saints) who are in need and practicing hospitality (v13) and sharing what we have with others. We are to deeply care for one another.

The sort of love that we are to have for one another is sprinkled throughout these verses. It comes up again in verses 15 and 16. Brotherly love means sharing our lives with people even those that one time we might have associated with.

Romans 12:15-16

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. [3]

Family share in one another joys and sorrow. We share in one another’s burdens together, and we share one another’s joy. This year we flew up to Cairns to share with our eldest son his graduation ceremony after it was postponed from last year. We were so looking forward to being there with him and share in his joy. We wanted to be there on this special occasion to see him get his degree and share in his joy of having all his hard work recognized and celebrated. We wanted to take him out to dinner and celebrate with him. It is part of what it means to love one another and be family. He has also known great sadness this year losing some close friends at sea and that also has laid heavily on our hearts and we feel that and share his burden.

In a similar way we are to share our lives with one another caring for one another and associating with one another no matter from what walk of life we come whether that be high or low, slave or free, blue collar or white collar. Verse 16 again repeats the main idea from verse 3 and although it doesn’t appear in our English translations the verse literally mentions our “thinking” again using the same basic words three times that was used in verse 3 when Paul talked about how we were to think about ourselves. The mind that is being renewed learns to think in the same way as the Lord Jesus about people.

Keep serving the Lord

Of course, in all of this we are to remember we are serving the Lord and we are never to be lacking in zeal, but we are to keep our spiritual fervor doing what we are doing because we know that we are serving and seeking to please him.

How we keep our spiritual fervor going I think partly gets answered in verse 12. We firstly need to have our hope rightly placed so that we can keep on rejoicing even when the times are difficult, and it is hard to keep doing the will of the Lord, the good that he wants us to do. We are to be patient in affliction knowing that our present sufferings (as Paul says in Romans 8), are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). We are to be faithful in prayer knowing that the Lord stand by us and strengths us for what we need to bear and so that we are not overcome by evil as Paul writes in verse 21.

Romans 12:21

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

This is the last thing Paul says in this chapter, but the idea has been there since verse 9. A love that is sincere is one that hates what is evil and clings to what is good even in the face of evil. Love keeps doing the good in the face of evil. It is hard to love and keep doing good to others when all you get back is hate and bitterness and evil in return. But good is overcome by evil when we stop doing good and return evil for evil. It was the Lord Jesus who said…

Luke 6:27

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

This is his way of thinking, it’s his mindset, his attitude and Paul reflects that way of thinking when he wrote in verse 14 of this chapter…

Romans 12:14

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

This is the mind of Christ; it is his way of thinking and it was Paul way of thinking and it’s to become our way of thinking. It is not the natural way to think about our enemies. It is not the way the world thinks. But you and I are to no longer conform to this world. We are to save the same mind as Christ.

From the cross he prayed for those who put him there and he cried out to God, his Father, to have mercy on them. While they were mocking and spitting on him, he was praying for them, that they might be forgiven. And on the cross, he showed us what true love is like. He laid down his life for his enemies and saved all of us who had turned our backs on God. He overcame evil with good. And this is the attitude that we are to have and grow in as the Spirit takes the word of Christ and changes the way we think and behave.

True worship

True worship means become more like the Lord Jesus Christ. It means growing in our  understand what the will of God is by growing deeper in the Word and asking the Spirit of God to change us by helping learn Christ and his mind. It means learning to love and serve one another and even our enemies. It means always clinging to what is good and hating what is evil no matter what others might do to us. We aren’t not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. And we do it because of the mercy God has shown us.

Friends let the love and mercy of God that has come to us in Christ imprint itself on your hearts and minds. Offer your whole self as a living sacrifice doing God’s good and perfect will for this is your true and proper worship.

[1] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, TNICNT, p750.

[2] Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 12:15–16). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.