The Volunteer’s Manner – Romans 12:1-21
Let us pray
I want to start this morning with a confession.
I used to work for McDonalds. Now it was a long time ago – it was a Saturday Job when I was at sixth form college – and I only worked there for two years. And despite working there – or perhaps, because I worked there – I still eat the burgers.
Now there were parts of the job I quite liked – the cooking – there are few things in life like having 48 pieces of meat cooking away on a griddle in front of you – it’s like the ultimate barbeque. And there were parts of the job that I didn’t mind – like putting the rubbish in the skip – a nice discreet job with a sense of completion – or cleaning up out back. And then there were jobs I didn’t like so much.
And this really is the confessional part. My least favourite jobs were serving the customers, and cleaning tables. Nothing wrong with the tasks – just the people.
Today as we look at Romans 12, and consider The Volunteer’s manner – how should we serve Christ? – we are face to the face with the reality of service, of working for others. And whatever we do, there are always some aspects of a job that we like, and some we don’t – some things we find easy, some hard, some people we find it easy to get on with – and other people.
In these real situations – how should we serve Christ?
Let’s look at Romans 12 together – it’s on page 1139 of the bibles in the chairs, as we consider
1. The foundation for our service (v1-2)
2. The facilities for our service (v3-8)
3. The focus of our service (v9-21)
1. The Foundation for our service (v1-2)
Let’s work our way through these opening verses of Romans 12, because they are absolutely foundational for our understanding of the manner in which we serve.
Paul opens with these words:
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,
Two things to notice. First. This is Romans 12, not Romans 1. Paul has been writing a long letter to the Christians in Rome, and in the last eleven chapters he has outlined the Christian gospel – that Christ died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, and that we can know him as saviour and Lord through faith, not by our works.
And second, what Paul says in the rest of chapter 12, and in the rest of the letter, is a therefore – it’s in view of God’s mercy – because of what I have already told you. Paul is going to urge his readers, including ourselves, to do many things in chapter 12 – but we need to relate everything he says back to this verse.
The foundation for our service: we serve because of what Christ has done for us
We serve, because Christ died on the cross for our sins. We serve, because he took the punishment we deserve. We serve, because he served us. We are only able to serve because he has saved us.
And having laid down the context, Paul outlines three characteristics of our service:
Romans 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.
We serve wholeheartedly – with our bodies – with everything we have – because we’ve been totally saved by Christ.
Look at Romans 8:1-2:
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
When Paul talks about becoming a Christian, he doesn’t talk about a voyage of self-discovery where Christ points out some helpful ethical markers on the way. Paul talks about moving from death to life. Dead people don’t make themselves alive – Christ has given us life, and so we offer everything we have to him – we serve wholeheartedly.
We offer our bodies as living sacrifices – and Paul talks about this as our spiritual act of worship. Spiritual as in that which is inside us, and real – and the right response to what God has done.
And worship – the offering of our whole selves to God, wholeheartedly is worship. Not worship as in what we do on a Sunday morning collectively – although that is part of it – but worship – what we do with the whole of our lives. Paul uses a word which used to describe what the Jews did in the Temple in Jerusalem, at certain times, to what we do with the whole of our lives – not in one place, but everywhere.
This is spiritual worship – to serve God wholeheartedly
Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,…
We also serve in a way which is world-denying.
Now that’s doesn’t mean that we retreat to the desert or the mountains to avoid being contaminated by the world, so that we can lead lives of contemplation. But it does mean that we don’t live lives which are shaped more by our surrounding culture than by Christ.
Let’s take an example. I wonder how many of you woke up this morning, and wondered whether you really did need to go to church this morning. After all, most people don’t – and instead they get to do fun things like going shopping, watching their kids play football, reading the paper, and above all lying in bed. Wouldn’t it be nice to just have the odd Sunday off, to do some of these things?
Well we all made the right decision this morning. But isn’t it tempting to think in worldly ways – to see what goes on around us, and to want to live like that. To think in ways that owe more to our individualistic culture than they do to the fact that we are the body of Christ – after all, we don’t come to church for ourselves – we come for everybody else’s benefit.
Sometimes serving Christ is going to cost us – we have to be prepared to be world-denying
Romans 12:2 …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 encourages us to be wholehearted, and world-denying – but he also reminds us that we are having our minds renewed, as the Spirit of God which we received when we came to know Christ as Lord and Saviour works in our hearts.
He reminds us that we are able to serve according to God’s will because we have been transformed by Christ.
Yes, we will continue to struggle, and continue to make mistakes, and continue to be frustrated at our own failings, a frustration paul himself knew well:
Romans 7:19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
We have been renewed – and yet we wait for that process to be finished – we struggle - but we are able to serve God, because he has renewed our minds. We are fit for service.
The foundation for service. We serve because of what Christ has done for us. We serve wholeheartedly, in a way which is world-denying, and we serve according to God’s will, seeking to do his will as he renews our minds.
2. The facilities for our service (v3-8) – we serve as we are enabled by Christ
Two main points here.
First, we serve with humility – look at verses 3 to 5:
Romans 3:3 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. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Don’t exaggerate your importance. Don’t think you are better than you are. Remember to measure yourself against the proper standard – the measure of faith, which reminds us that Christ has done everything for us.
And remember that we need each other. Like a human body, we need all our bits to function effectively. We are many but we are one body – we need them, and they need us.
So don’t think more highly of yourself than you should – be humble, and remember how we need each other.
Think of the service this morning – how many people did we need when we came into church, so that we could be sitting where we are now?
And then v6-8:
6 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.
7 If it is serving, let him serve;
if it is teaching, let him teach;
8 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.
Paul lists seven gifts here. The list is not exhaustive - it doesn’t include everything we would call a spiritual gift – but it does indicate that we have different gifts, and that whatever the gift, we should be using it faithfully.
If I can serve, I should serve – if I can teach, I should. If I can show mercy – by visiting the sick or the dying or the bereaved – I should – cheerfully – serving God.
We all have gifts that God has given us. We might not be sure what they are – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. God has given us a way in which we can serve him – and he is concerned about how we do it.
We’re not to be selfish -that’s verses 3 to 5 – forgetting that we rely on others, and that we’re not doing this for our own ends. There isn’t a career path in Christian service – well, if I spend a few months on the coffee rota, then I can move onto the welcome team – and from there I think I’ll make the move into youth ministry, because we really could do with some babysitters for the kids. We’re not in this for ourselves.
And we’re not working for our own self-fulfilment. Now I’m not saying that serving isn’t fulfilling – it can be very fulfilling – but that’s not why we do it – we do it because God has enabled us to do it; he has given us a gift to share with others.
Because some times serving is hard. It’s not all 48 burgers on the grill and putting the rubbish in the skip. Sometimes it’s serving the customers, with all their failings, and wiping up the tables. And at that point, it’s not very fulfilling.
Put simply, we serve with the gifts Christ has given us. And the word service carries with it the idea of lowly service – waiting at tables. We serve – we are servants – we serve as Christ has enabled us.
3. The focus of our service (v9-21)
We’ve seen that the foundation for how we serve is what Christ has done for us
We’ve seen that the facilities for our service are the gifts Christ gives us to use in his service
And now we come to the focus of our service
And we come to Romans 12 verse 9, and a section about love in action.
Love in action in two different ways.
First, as Christians relate to one another – look at verses 9 to 13:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Here we get a whole series of exhortations, of instructions, about how to live in a loving way. If our love is to be sincere, we must hate what is evil – and not only that, but do good things.
What does this mean in practice?
It means that we devote ourselves to each other – we love each other as we love those in our families. Now the bonds of family love are not unbreakable – but they run deeper than a cross word, or a few minor hurts.
We should honour one another – recognizing the strengths and accomplishments of others, above our own.
We should not be lacking – we shouldn’t be lazy, instead we should seek be open to the Spirit, in the service of the Lord
When the times are good, we rejoice. When the times are bad, we are patient. And in the good times, and the bad times, we pray.
We look out for those in need.
And then verses 15 and 16, in a similar way
Romans 12:15 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.
Paul gives us many practical ways in which we can serve one another, thinking of others not ourselves.
And then he talks about how we relate to those who aren’t Christians, but who, as verse 14 says, persecute Christians.
We can’t be exactly sure what the situation was that the Roman Christians were facing. But we can be clear on the principle – overcome evil with good:
Romans 12: 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul picks up on Jesus’ radical teaching about how we deal with enemies. We don’t fight them – we live in peace. We don’t take revenge, for that is down to God. Instead, when they are hungry we feed them.
But look again at verse 20:
20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Because Paul is not just giving us ethical direction here – he is also helping us to see the purpose that God has for us – what our focus should be.
Why do we bless our enemies? Because when we show the sacrificial love to them, we make them ashamed of what they do, and that shame might bring them to repentance – as they recognise the sacrificial love which Christ showed for them on the cross.
And of course, we pray that by seeing God’s people at work in love for one another, by seeing the way in which we behave towards them, by hearing what we have to say to them, we pray that people will come to know Jesus as saviour and Lord – but we know that even if they don’t we have done our service with the right focus – because we have been seeking to what God wants us to do – we have been seeking his glory.
We serve in view of God’s mercy – he has made us a new creation in Christ, and he has made us for a purpose. And that purpose is that we should glorify God using the gifts we have been given by God, as we tell the whole world about what God has done. Our purpose, our focus, is God’s glory.
In our real situations – how should we serve Christ? What should be the volunteer’s manner?
A life of whole-hearted service, denying the world, seeking to do God's will. Not looking at gifts as things to be exploited, or even enjoyed - but as opportunities to take up a cloth and clean some tables. Because we clean those tables to the glory of God.
Let us pray
James Hughes 13th March 2005