Tag Archives: Christian Living

Logical Worship

In the letter to the believers at Rome, the structure of the book should be familiar to those who have read other divinely inspired letters from the pen of the Apostle Paul.  In Romans, the section on practical application is built upon a robust doctrinal theology.  This transition from doctrine to practice occurs in chapter 12 with the familiar call to the believer’s renewal of the mind.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

It’s noteworthy that the exhortation begins with an appeal, parakaleo, essentially meaning to beg or plead.  It’s one of Paul’s most regularly used words, upwards of 50 times. This appeal from him is rooted in the ever important, therefore, which helps link what was said previously, essentially all of the book, but most notably 11:32-36, with what will follow, the exhortation to holiness and the subsequent Christian ethical commands.  In the passage noted from chapter 11, the mercies of God were central to understanding the salvation that comes through God as a product of His divine mercy, which of course was built on Romans 9:15ff.  It’s upon these mercies that this section is founded with the appeal to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Three ideas conveyed in this sentence links this exhortation with the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system, presentliving sacrifice, and spiritual worship, giving way to a New Testament priesthood and a sacrificial system flowing out of the Priesthood of Christ and the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for sinners.

First, present, was used earlier in the letter in Romans 6:13, 16, and 6:19 and is sometimes unfortunately translated as yield.  It is used commonly in the Septuagint as a technical word in the context of presenting a sacrifice to the priest and it conveys the idea of presenting something, here it’s presenting yourself, to another’s disposal.  It’s as if we presented ourselves to God and said, “Here I am, do with me what you will.”  A similar idea may perhaps be seen in the presentation of Christ in the temple, Luke 2:22-23.  As with the language of the Old Covenant sacrifices and as with the presentation of Christ, the presentation that we bring is our whole self, our whole body – the whole man, as it were.  A similar idea was discussed earlier in Romans through the passage on our union with Christ and the necessity of our sanctification,

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:12-13

Above, we are also exhorted to present our members, individual components of our bodies, to God as instruments for righteousness.  In other words, do not present your body to sin and Satan saying to them, “Here I am, do with me what you will,” rather, as we have seen we are to present ourselves to God in this way, fully disposed to Him for His bidding.  There are only two realities, two options towards which we may present ourselves, God and righteousness or Satan and Sin.  We ought to linger here longer.

Second, and perhaps more clearly seen as an Old Testament connection, is the calling to present ourselves as a living sacrifice.  While there is certainly a relationship between the Old Covenant presentation of sacrifices and our own New Covenant presentation of ourselves as a sacrifice, we need to be clear that the sacrifice of Christ is the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant sacrifices, as well as the priesthood, though our Lord’s is after the order of Melchizedek.  However, what is being established here is that on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and His Priestly mediation, we as believers by way of our union with Him, are a priesthood after the order of Christ.  Our sacrifices are ourselves.  It is not a dead sacrifice, nor is it one that is brought to die (though figuratively we do), but one that has been brought from death to life now to live a life of service unto God.  Furthermore, we see that our sacrifice is holy and acceptable, two adjectives which can only be true of those in Christ.  Just as the Old Covenant sacrifices were to be set apart, without blemish, and were made acceptable by the priest, so too have we been made holy by the blood of the Lamb and are acceptable to God on the basis on Christ’s finished work.  The appeal that is being made here is for believers, on the basis of their faith in Christ, to present themselves as a holy, acceptable, living sacrifice to the God who made them and redeemed them.

Finally, we arrive at our last idea connecting these New Covenant realities with their typological shadows from the Old Covenant here through the phrase, spiritual worship.  To reiterate, the presentation of the sacrifice in the Old Covenant was the prescribed worship that God had commanded.  Under the New Covenant, there is prescribed worship as well and for the believer it begins with the sacrifice of themselves unto the service of God.  Here, that concept has been translated as spiritual worship in the ESV, but it is translated elsewhere as reasonable service.  The word translated as spiritual or reasonable is logikos, from where we get the English word logic. It is by logic or reason that this service/worship is being offered to God.  Whereas under the Old Covenant, the worship could often be monotonous, routine, and outward, under the New Covenant it is to be logical, reasonable, and from within.

Summarily, on the basis of all that has preceded this new section in chapter 12, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that justification is by faith alone, that we are born sinners in Adam yet redeemed by Christ, that our salvation freed us from slavery to sin, that there is a war even now in our members between the fleshly desires to sin and the spiritual desires for righteousness, that there is now no condemnation in Christ, that those whom He called, He also justified, and will also glorify, that it is on the basis on God’s good pleasure and mercy that anyone will be saved from His wrath, on the basis of all of these truth’s summarized as the mercies of God, our logical worship is to present ourselves unto this same all-sufficient and holy God to say here I am, do with me as you will.  That is what Paul pleads for believers to do, as I plead in my own heart for myself, and for all those who read this sermon.

Let’s conclude where we began, by looking at the passage again from Romans 12, this time with the translation from Kenneth Wuest, who brings out and elucidates many of the ideas which we examined above.

I therefore beg of you, please, brethren, through the instrumentality of the aforementioned mercies of God, by a once-for-all presentation to place your bodies at the disposal of God, a sacrifice, a living one, a holy one, well-pleasing, your rational, sacred service, [rational, in that this service is performed by the exercise of the mind].

 

Boiling Over

 

In the midst of the practical applications flowing out of the doctrine that was so clearly lain out in the book, Romans 12:11 presents us with a command in the form of an exhortation,

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Slothful

There are four key terms that should catch our attention from this passage and examining those will be the purpose of this post.  First, we see the command to not be slothful.  This word conveys the idea of being sluggish or as the NASB translates it, lagging behind.  We might think of it as not keeping up with or neglect of.  It only occurs 2 other times in Scripture, once in Philippians 3:1, translated there as trouble, and the other in Matthew 25:26, which has a nearer use to ours found here in Romans.

In that passage, we find ourselves in the midst of what is often referred to as The Parable of the Talents.  A man going on a journey calls his servants (doulas – slaves/bondservants) and gives talents or money to each.  To one he gives 5 talents, to another 2, and to another 1, “each according to his ability.”  The first servant traded with the talents and made 5 more.  The second made two talents more, while the third buried his single talent.  At the master’s return, each reported what they had done with their money.  The first two reported doubling their talents and were rewarded with commendations and the familiar, “enter the joy of your master.”  The third servant reported to the master saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’”  Which leads us to the use of our word, slothful, in the response from the master “You wicked and slothful servant!”  The servant that failed to use or invest the talents that he had been given was rebuked for being slothful, i.e. failing to utilize or make profit from what he had been given.  That is the idea behind slothful in our passage.

Zeal

The command not to be slothful is specifically applied to zeal, our next word under consideration. A slightly more commonly used word in the Greek New Testament, can also mean, “in diligence” or we might say earnestness and it implies effort.  Interestingly, one of it’s uses occurs at the end of the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews and is contrasted with sluggishness (though a different word than ours above), And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12

Prior to this use in Romans 12:11, zeal was referenced in verse 8, “the one who leads [or gives aid], with zeal”.  Combining our two words thus far and we find that our exhortation is to not be sluggish or lazy in our efforts.  What exactly these efforts are, we will get to shortly.

Fervent

Moving from the prohibition, do not, to the positively stated contrast, do, we are told to be fervent in spirit.  Another infrequently used word primarily means to be hot to the point of boiling over, as with water in a pan or a hot spring bubbling over.  It’s only other use is a reference to Apollos from Acts 17, who was fervent in spirit, teaching “accurately the things concerning Jesus.”  With this, it may even help us to conclude that the opposite of fervency would be lukewarmness, even cold, which may lead us to better understand the idea of slothful used above.

So then we have “do not lag behind or be slothful in your efforts, rather be boiling over in spirit.”

Serve

In case we would be left wondering how one expresses such a boiling over, the mystery is resolved by the final statement of our passage, serve the Lord.  The same word used here for serve is the verb form of the word servant used above in the Parable of the Talents.  More appropriately, it can be translated as a slave or bond-servant, though synonymous, it is different from diakonos, from which we have (incorrectly) transliterated deacon.

As should go without saying, the servant is to yield in submission and obedience to their Master, this is service.  Elsewhere, we know that we are not our own and have been bought with a price, placing us in a joyful servant-hood of our Master Jesus Christ.  But we may ask, how are we to serve?  Certainly it would be inferred to serve, boiling over with effort, but what would that look like on a practical level?

Service, in this sense, would imply obedience to the commands of the Master, but we mustn’t stare blankly at lists of do’s and don’ts.  Simply put, it is love, flowing from a love for Christ, that works towards the spiritual and physical well-being of others, prioritizing believers, with the goal of entering the joy of the Master.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

How then Shall we Live

 

The author of Hebrews, under Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned in many respects what could be considered a masterful sermon.  For twelve chapters, he has unfolded the finished work of Christ and His superior mediation of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant all the while leaning heavily on the prior revelation of God to buttress his arguments thereby showing the continuing relevance of the Old Testament.  Sprinkled along the way were warnings against falling away, which comes through progressive hardening of the heart brought on by negligence of faith and duty.

In the final chapter of this majestic tapestry, he shifts his focus away from the doctrinal to the practical.  This pattern is what that every good sermon, every good preacher, should follow in laying out first doctrine, here the finished work of Christ, followed by the implications that it has upon the Christian life.  We may say summarily, orthodoxy should always lead to orthopraxy.

Sometimes we may hear preaching that is heavy on the duty of Christian life that can come off largely as moralism or legalism, a kind of “Christian” lifting up by the bootstraps.  Other times we may hear preaching that is so doctrinally heavy that it is distanced from the heart of the hearer.  Balance is key, and naturally as a product of Divine inspiration, Hebrews has it.

Chapter 13 begins with an attention towards relationships among believers and an exhortation to “let brotherly love continue”.  As would be expected, this flows out of the doctrinal portion of the sermon, as biblically it follows subordinately after the first greatest commandment, namely to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

In a sense, all that is to come in this passage concerning a believer’s relationships within the body of Christ is developed from 12:14, “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Peace with God is obtained on behalf of the believer through Christ’s shed blood, therefore, we are now to have peace with others and the first point in this relational peace is brotherly love.

This exhortation is not new, but seemingly builds on the author’s statements in 6:10 and 10:24 and though expressed as an imperative, there is a commendation here as well in the congregation’s “continuing” in love toward the brothers, an action they were clearly already engaged in and now being encouraged to continue.

Second, we read that hospitality is to be shown to strangers.  This seems clearly to draw upon Jesus’ illustration in Matthew 25:31-46, though here we get the addition of the supportive statement, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  The mention of angels purposefully ties into 1:14 “are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”  The point of the passage is that angels have a role in plan of God to minister to His people.  Surely drawing upon the experiences of Old Testament saints, such as Abraham and Jacob to name a few, as well as their prominent role in their encounters with New Testament believers (See Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, etc).  This instruction should serve as a warning for us to show hospitality to all, regardless of the whom or the where.  In short, the relationships and encounters that we have here on earth are not trivial, but have eternal consequences.  There are no meaningless encounters.

Third, we see the relationships with those who are in prison addressed next.  This isn’t a general statement meant to apply across the board towards prisoners, as though a passage to support prison ministry (though that is certainly a fine ministry).  Instead its focus is narrowed to those who have been imprisoned on account of their faith, ala the Apostle Paul.  Additionally, this exhortation is not limited to those who are in prison, but extends to those who have been mistreated, again on account of their faith.  This verse, along with its internal parallel with 10:32-34, gives us great insight into why the Hebrews were faced with the temptation to surrender their faith in Christ and return to Judaism, namely on account of persecution.  Unity in the body of believers is seen as the driving motivation to minister to those who have been mistreated or imprisoned for the sake of Christ.  If the pinky toe is injured, the whole body feels the pain.  So too if one believer is imprisoned or mistreated the whole body should empathize.

The fourth area of relational peace that the author wishes to emphasize is marital, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”  Implying that all of you hold the marriage bed in honor, we find the exhortation to keep it undefiled.  In other words, keep it unstained, unsoiled or positively keep it chaste and pure.

This passages dovetails with the previous chapter’s warning example of Esau, “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Heb. 12:16  Additionally, the undefiled nature of the marriage bed parallels the undefiled nature of Christ our High Priest, 7:26.

Two words are used to describe the nature of undefilement, sexual immorality, or fornication, which is general in nature, and adultery, which is more specific in nature.  The former addresses all acts sexual in nature that are contrary to God’s design for marriage and is denoted by the Greek word pornos, the origin of the English word for pornography, if that gives you any additional insight or application towards what might constitute defilement of the marriage bed.  The latter term, adultery, as mentioned is a more specific action targeting sexual relations with another, whether they too be married or not (see Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:27-5:32, et.al.).

As the author enters into this very practical section of Hebrews, we must not lose sight of all that has come before it.  Like a master weaver, he has grounded these exhortations in the finished work of Christ.  All that he now instructs for the Christian life finds its basis, motivation, and strength in this such that there is no room for legalism and certainly no room for neglect of Christian duty.  Be exhorted Christians to be at peace in your relationships.  After all, it is through Christ that you have peace with God the Father, so then let that peace flow through you unto others in the body.

Soli Deo Gloria