Hello again, everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the blog, but I hope to keep a more frequent schedule here on out.
Sunday’s epistle reading, from Romans 12, takes worship out of the Sunday morning, once-a-week, traditional setting. While we may look at worship as a few hymns or choruses, one or two responsive readings, maybe an offering and a doxology and a sermon, Paul took worship to much greater heights.
“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” (Romans 12:1).
Spiritual worship: not just your run-of-the-mill gathering at a local church building. Paul views spiritual worship as a way of life, a moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day way of life. This isn’t the kind of onetime sacrifice that happens one minute and is over the next. Spiritual worship is an ongoing sacrifice, a continuous process of humility and transformation.
This is one of those passages that humbles the preacher as much as, if not more than, those who hear the message. How can I tell others about being a living sacrifice, a transformed individual, without recognizing the areas in my life that need reconciliation and change? Where do I need to be renewed? Okay, folks, this isn’t just a simple sermon. This is life-changing stuff.
Paul continues by giving us three specific ways in which we can display this spiritual worship: First, be humble; second, be the Body; and third, be what God made you to be!
“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” (Romans 12:3). Humble: In modern America, the term often refers more to lower level housing or clothing, or perhaps to a person whose appearance doesn’t fit the “Entertainment” standard of our culture. In truth, however, the humble person isn’t lacking, but rather is stable; not left behind, but strong.
Growing up, one of my biggest fears was embarrassing myself by realizing everyone else thought I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Just when I thought I was pretty good at something, I was so sure someone else would let me know I pretty much stunk! So I put down myself before anyone else could. This isn’t Paul’s solution.
Paul tells us to use clear thinking paired with faith from God. In other words, when we allow society’s “pattern” to define our goals, paths, and dreams, we are thinking with darkened, untransformed minds. Rather, Paul challenges us to recognize who we are and are not by seeing with clarity.
Okay, we know that “pride goeth before a fall” and that we shouldn’t raise ourselves up above others. But did you ever think that false pride, putting ourselves down, is just as wrong? Paul tells us to see ourselves with eyes of faith, eyes that recognize God’s blessing and calling on our lives. Seeing things as they really are brings glory to God. We recognize that who we are is a gift given to us by God, and as the old saying goes, “God don’t make no junk!”
Paul challenges us further, reminding us that we belong to one another, that we are one body in Christ. “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). So much for the old saying, “Who does she think she is?” A part of you, silly. Paul uses the analogy of the physical body, that each of us is an important part of the whole, to demonstrate the necessity for a transformed life, a life of spiritual worship.
A living sacrifice is one that recognizes his or her own importance alongside the importance of others, that we are all necessary in God’s kingdom. There may be moments when one body part is elevated above others, for example, when the hand is writing, the foot is probably not doing much, but in the overall view of things each part has its moment. Living a transformed life will cause me to recognize others around me, to lift them up and support them, and to be supported by them when I am challenged.
Finally, Paul emphasizes the differences between us all. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6). Who we are in Christ and what we are called to do all goes back to who God is. It is by grace that we are called to be a part of the body. Through that grace, by faith, we receive gifts and callings, we are placed in the Body of Christ in an optimum position, which brings to pass the will of God in our lives and the lives of others. A living sacrifice not only sees clearly, knowing our limits and our blessings, but recognizes that he or she is not alone. We are each a part of the others. And finally, as a living sacrifice, we use the gifts given to us and celebrate the gifts of others as we together serve God.
Are you living? Are you sacrificing your own pride or false pride? Are you using the gifts God has given to you so that the entire body may be supported? Twenty or so years ago a woman came to our door. She needed help moving a piano into her trailer there in the college court. We were busy studying and told her maybe later. She and I talked a little more and I returned to the house. Before we returned to our studies–for the life of me I can’t even remember what it was–I explained to Don that Linda was a widow, with a daughter in high school, and had just moved to Springfield to prepare for ministry. It didn’t take long for both of us to remember “care for the widows and orphans.” Don immediately made his way to Linda’s home to help her and several others move the piano.
A few days ago, we found ourselves in a rather tight financial spot. The van had needed some major repairs, and because of that there wasn’t much left for groceries or anything else, for that matter. Moving through the grocery store with the kids, deciding what we could get and what we’d need to put back in order to pay for it, I was surprised to see an old friend: Linda. She was back in Springfield after ministering overseas for several years. We talked and caught up before heading our own ways.
As always in lean times, the checkout computer was making me anxious as I waited for the total. Did I have enough? Did I count right? Just as I pulled the money out of my wallet and started to count, I heard a familiar voice, “I’m paying for this. Give me her ticket.” Embarrassed, I turned around, and there was Linda, insisting that she pay for my groceries. Of course, I protested, until I remembered that this was what the body of Christ referred to: We help each other when we have need. What a blessing! Thank you, Linda, for reminding me that I’m not alone in this journey.
The icing on the cake? Linda’s daughter will be my daughter’s middle-school French teacher this school year.
A living sacrifice? Knowing who we are in Christ, supporting each other and being supported, and using the gifts we have received from God, that’s a living sacrifice, a transformed life. Lord, help us to see as you see, and to be all you have called us to be, that your name may be glorified in all we are.