Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Spirit Filled Life [Romans 12:9-11]

There are three places in Scripture where the apostle Paul discusses the gifts of the Spirit that have been strategically placed in the body of Christ. They are Romans 12, I Cor. 12, and Eph. 4. I do not believe it is mere chance that in every single instance following these discourses, Paul plunges into a serious dialogue around Christian ethics. In Ephesians 4, Paul spends the rest of that chapter talking about walking as the new self. In I Corinthians 13, he draws us a clear picture of what Christian charity really is. Finally, in Romans 12, he spends a great deal of time talking about the Spirit-controlled life. It is here that I wish to direct your attention in this blog. Romans 12:9-21 represents one of the most abstemious portions of Scripture in the entire New Testament. Robert Mounce comments, Nowhere else in Paul’s writings do we find a more concise collection of ethical injunctions. In these five verses are thirteen exhortations ranging from love of Christians to hospitality for strangers. There are no finite verbs in the paragraph. There are, however, ten participles that serve as imperatives. In the three other clauses (vv. 9, 10, 11) an imperative must be supplied. Each of the thirteen exhortations could serve as the text for a full-length sermon. What they deal with are basic to effective Christian living. Here, Paul draws out a picture of what the spirit-filled life actually looks like. Moreover, it is no accident that these instructions immediately follow his discussion on the gifts. I want to spend a little time talking about what the spirit-filled life actually looks like according to the apostle Paul.

First, there is this nagging question of love. Paul says, Let love be without hypocrisy. The Greek text actually says, Ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος. The love is absent hypocrisy. One writer implies that if love is the sum of virtue, then hypocrisy is the epitome of vice. Christian charity is the foundation for all Christian living. The two great commandments express this clearly when they mandate that we are to love God with our whole being and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A Christian without love is a living contradiction. The absence of love in the life of a believer so-called is proof of the absence of God. If you have no love in your heart for your brother, there can be no love in your heart for God. Alas, one may claim: what if my brother wronged me? I suppose you have never wronged another and found yourself in need of forgiveness. Perhaps all the wrongs you have committed against our Holy Father have slipped your mind. The answer is to get up and go to him straight away. You are to delay not a moment in your action to reconcile with your brother. It is that important. Christ forbad anyone to continue with their sacrifice, if, in the middle of the offering they remembered their brother had something against them. Stop! Jesus said. Stop it here and now and get on to your brother first. Be reconciled this instant. Then, and only then you may return and offer your gift. Luke 17 and Matthew 18 instructs us to forgive our brothers for any sin they have committed against us. Peter, as he was prone to do, pressed for legalistic details. Jesus’ answer was astonishing. There is no end to forgiveness should your brother seek it from you. That is Christian charity. That is Christian love. That is love without hypocrisy. Too many Christians are living in counterfeit love today. They have not surrendered their love to Christ. They continue to decide whom they will love and whom they will loathe. Know Christ; know love. No love; no Christ!

ἀποστυγοῦντες τὸ πονηρόν, or abhor evil. This word means to have a vehement dislike for something or someone to the point that you avoid it or them. One of the ways a person can tell that they are not a genuine Christian is if they love sin. Sin is evil and genuine Christians hate it. Cranfield writes, “Christians are to abhor, to hate utterly, that which is evil, and to cleave firmly to that which is good.” [Cranfield, C.E.B. ICC, Romans – II, 631] Moo says, “Genuine Christian love, Paul is suggesting, is not a directionless emotion or something that can be only felt and not expressed. Love is not genuine when it leads a person to do something evil or to avoid doing what is right – as defined by God in his Word. Genuine love, the real thing, will lead Christians to that good which is the result of the transformed heart and mind.” [Moo, Douglas. NICNT, Romans, 776.]

κολλώμενοι τῷ ἀγαθῷ, cling to, attach to what is good. The abhorring of evil should not be viewed as a separate activity from clinging to what is good. Part of abhorring evil involves clinging to the good. Christians are to seek out the good and when they find it, they are to attach themselves to it with great diligence. Morris comments, “It can mean to glue though this use does not occur in the New Testament. But it indicates that the tie it denotes is of the closest sort. The Christian’s attachment to the good is a very firm tie, and not a casual approval. The Christian is committed to the way of goodness; his whole life is wrapped up in it (glued to it).” [Morris, Leon. PNTC, Romans, 444]

τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ εἰς ἀλλήλους φιλόστοργοι, being devoted to one another in brotherly love. There is that word again. The divine love that rushes into the life of a Christian upon the Spirit’s baptism displays itself in a variety of ways. Louw Nida says, “pertaining to love or affection for those closely related to one, particularly members of one’s immediate family or in-group – very loving, warmly devoted to, very affectionate.” In many cultures, the idea of warm affections is driven by the emotions. The problem with emotions is that they are also affected by sin. Emotions are not supposed to control how we decide to think and feel about others. The Spirit is. One writer says that Christian brothers are to be tenderly affectionate toward one another in the bonds of brotherly love. [Mounce, NAC.] Morris says, “Paul is underlining the truth that Christians are members of one family and that accordingly they should have a warm and fervent love for one another. They should be a family not only in a formal sense, but in a sense that is marked by a love not seen elsewhere.” [Morris, Romans PNTC] However, the Christian community suffers from a radical lack of love in many cases. People’s attitudes and behaviors are not only no different from unbelievers; in many instances, it is worse.

τῇ τιμῇ ἀλλήλους προηγούμενοι, without getting into the technical difficulties around the precise meaning of this phrase, the best way to look at Paul’s meaning is that Christians are to prefer others over themselves. The NAS says, “give preference to one another in honor.” Humility should be a predominant trait in the Christian community.

τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί, not lagging behind in diligence. What then is the diligence Paul is referencing here? Diligence means a swiftness of movement, an earnest commitment in discharge of an obligation or experience of a relationship. In the Greco-Roman literature, it is often depicted as an extraordinary commitment to civic and religious responsibilities. The idea is that we are not to by lazy when it comes to zeal. What does this look like? It looks like an earnest prayer life. It looks like serious study of Scripture. It looks like serious application of God’s word to every aspect of our life.

τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες, fervent in spirit. Morris comments, “It important that the human spirit be on fire, but Paul is not referring to something that occurs by some natural process but as a result of the indwelling Spirit of God.” [Morris, Leon. PNTC. Romans. 446] One hearkens back to Rev. 3:15 and the lukewarm condition of the Laodiceans. To be lukewarm is not to feel a certain way. The lukewarm condition manifests itself in our daily actions. Moreover, the lukewarm condition is not determined by how often one attends church and Sunday school. In addition, the lukewarm condition has little to do with emotions and even with how often one enters the prayer closet. Unbelievers pray every time they are in need of one thing or another and feel out of control to obtain it. To be lukewarm is to lay the holy things of God aside in the interest of your own desires. It could be divorce for the man or woman who no longer wishes to honor their marriage covenant for selfish interests. It could be the man who ignores Christ in preference for professional status and material gain. It could be the pastor who holds back the truth from those who desperately need it because he knows it could upset the smooth arrangement of his church. To be fervent in spirit means to be zealous of the things of God. It means you enthusiastically engage in complete and total surrender to all things godly! Your desire is complete and total surrender to God’s word for your life regardless of the cost. This is NOT an emotion. This is action that is borne from true Christian affection. You serve the Lord with great enthusiasm.

τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες, serving the Lord. Literally being a slave of the Lord. John MacArthur writes in his book “Slave”: “For these faithful believers, the name “Christian” was much more than just a general religious designation. It defined everything about them, including how they viewed both themselves and the world around them. The label underscored their love for a crucified Messiah along with their willingness to follow Him no matter the cost. It told of the wholesale transformation God has produced in their hearts, and witnessed to the fact that they had been made completely new in Him. They had died to their old way of life, having been born again into the family of God. Christian was not simply a title, but an entirely new way of thinking –one that had serious implications for how they lived – and ultimately how they died.” [MacArthur, John. Slave. 9] Spirit filled husbands and wives do not abandon the marriage covenant on a whim. Christian executives do not cast aside the Christian ethic for the sake of profit. Students do not check their Christianity at the door of the school or university for the sake of getting along. Christian husbands do not cast aside the needs of their wives for their own selfish interests. Christian wives do not attempt to rule the house out of accord with Paul’s instructions. The word serving in this text is the same Greek word for slave. We are slaves to Christ. Now for many people in the Christian community, this does not mean much. They continue to think and act in a way that would lead one to believe that they never subject anything they do to their professed Lord and Master. They do as they please! They think as they please. Pastors preach and manage their churches as they please. It is as if God has placed us in complete charge and control of our own lives, families, jobs, and churches and we are free to go about our business without considering Him or anything He says. Well, at a minimum we seem to think where it is convenient we can leave off consulting God. For conscience sake we consult him from time to time so that we don’t feel like a complete pagan. Such is not the mark of a Spirit-filled Christian. For the Spirit-filled Christian, God is our all in all. What He says means something to us. He brings us to stations in life for His purpose and our good. The life of the Spirit-filled Christian is marked with love, kindness, forgiveness, and peace. Spirit-filled Christians are humble, yet strong as a lion when it comes to defending truth. They do not shrink away from truth. They are not after their own self-interest. They recognize that all things are Gods to do with as He pleases. They have a burning desire to please Him with everything they are. May God grant us the grace and kindness to be filled with His Spirit and to demonstrate this by our actions every day in every way.

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