BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/'A call to diligence'
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 12:00 PM
What are the character qualities of a Christian? How does a Christian relate to others, even persecutors? What ought the Christian attitude be to ourselves? Paul is concerned in Romans chapter 12 verses 11 through 16 to speak to each of those questions. He does not say everything that could be said, but he does highlight several important things.
The character qualities of a Christian.
Paul gives us eight qualities in this passage. Eight qualities of the disciple of Jesus. Let's just walk through these qualities. Paul starts off by saying, "Not lagging behind in diligence." He's exhorting us as believers in love, not to lag behind in diligence. He is telling us not to be slack in zeal. He is warning us against spiritual laziness.
Paul goes on to say that we ought to be fervent in the Spirit. We are to work with spiritual energy. This passage translates literally "in the spirit toiling." He's emphasizing to us something of the intensity that ought to characterize out desire to serve in the Christian church. The Christian is to be on fire for God.
Paul in verse 11 says that we ought to be serving the Lord. If you're going to be a servant, serve. What's the manifestation of spiritual energy for Paul? Some ecstatic experience that the individual has? No, the great manifestation of spiritual energy in the Christian life is serving the Lord; not serving our own interest, but genuinely doing what we do because we want to please the Lord.
Look at verse 12, where Paul says that we are to rejoice in hope. The faithful Christian disciple rejoices in hope. He has an ability to rejoice in light of this profound hope of glory and of salvation to come. The hope of future glory in salvation is able to animate our rejoicing even in the midst in the most real and severe and overwhelming trials in this life.
Then Paul says, that we are to be persevere in tribulation. His language is to say that we are to endure in the midst of deep and serious trouble. When the Holy Spirit enables us to perseverance, the spirit enables us to not simply bear up under stress, but the Spirit enables us to continue to be useful in kingdom service despite that stress, and despite that trial.
Look again at verse 12, "Devoted to prayer," Paul says. Persistent prayer is of course a part of the Christian life. Charles Spurgeon said, "A prayer-less soul is a Christ-less soul." Matthew Henry once said that "Those who live without prayer live without God in this world." John Calvin believed that prayer was the summary evidence of everything in the Christian life. The Apostle Paul is here calling us to be faithful and persistent in our prayer as a necessary part of the Christian life.
Paul goes on in verse 13 to speak of our giving generously to needy Christians without any condescension. Notice in his phrase, "contributing to the needs of the saints." Paul is calling on Christians who are part of the Christian fellowship to tangibly share with one another especially those who are in need.
In verse 13, there is also the call to practice hospitality. The word hospitality actually means, kindness to strangers. So Paul here is giving this exhortation to us to take in brothers who are strangers for the sake of the gospel, to practice hospitality to brothers in the Lord who you don't know.
I would suggest to you that a very helpful exercise for you would be not simply to go through this list and ask, "Well Lord, to what extent does this characterize me," but actually go through the list and say, "Lord, cultivate this quality in me. You see the character qualities listed by God? Pray them back to Him. You can be sure that God will be anxious to respond to that particular prayer.
How the Christian relates to others, even enemies.
In verse 14 and 15, Paul turns from the subject of character qualities to talk about relating to others. He talks about relating not only to those with whom we might be on a friendly basis, but about relating to those who are enemies. He tells us here that the faithful Christian disciple blesses, refrains from cursing, and sympathizes with others.
"Seek God's blessings on your persecutors. Bless those who persecute you." Then he repeats just in case we didn't hear him the first time. "Bless and do not curse." He knows how hard this particular directive is and so he repeats it and states it in the negative. This is an utterly otherworldly approach to ones enemies.
Sometimes Paul let himself be persecuted, despite the fact that he could have sought legal refuge from that persecution. The choice that he made was usually dependent upon what would best serve the interest of the kingdom of God. Other times, Paul avoided that persecution by seeking legal protection. You can watch him do it on his missionary journey. Paul is not telling you everything about how you relate to persecutors, but conveying the big picture. God does not want your hearts to grow narrowed and hardened against those who are now your enemies and the enemies of God.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep." For one thing this reminds of that the Christian has a generous spirit in relating to others and has a tremendous concern for the state of hearts for others. The Christian is sensitive to the state of another person's heart. The first directive I think, here in verse 15, is the hardest of these two directions. I think that it is harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to weep with those who weep. In rejoicing with those who rejoice, I think we manifest our Christian love in an extraordinary way. It is perhaps harder than mourning with those who are in mourning. Why?
Often times we are called upon to rejoice with other people for whom God has granted a certain blessing that he has not granted to us. It is difficult to rejoice with them in the very thing that you are waiting upon for the Lord to do in your own experience, but it is a mark of grace when you are able to do so.
The Christian's attitude toward himself.
Then in verse 16, Paul gives three directives regarding our attitude towards others and our own self-estimation. He tells us that basically the basic Christian disciple is humble. He tells us "be of the same mind toward one another." In other words, have the same concern for all the brethren. Favoritism is pandemic in life. Favoritism is everywhere, it's universal. Paul is saying that in the Christian church we ought to contradict that epidemic. We ought to have a love for all the brethren, have the same concern for all the brethren. It doesn't mean that you don't have friends that who are especially close, but it means that you guard against the spirit of favoritism in the congregation.
He goes on to say, "do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly." In other words, don't think to highly of yourself. Don't think that there are some people within the Christian church who are just frankly, beneath you. An over estimation of one's own self importance is a sure sign that gospel humility is lacking in an individual. When a person becomes too important to do something, well that's not a good spiritual sign.
Then Paul concludes by saying, "Do not be wise in your own estimation." Don't be conceited, don't be wise in your own sight. This again is a mark of a lack of spiritual grace in a person's life. Humility is one of the great graces of life. Robert Haldane says that "self conceit is an evidence both of a weakness of mind and of ignorance." None of us ought to think to highly of ourselves. When we do, we are waiting for a fall.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is senior minister of The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson. He can be reached at 601-353-8316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.