We’ve spent a few weeks now exploring the book of Romans, particularly focussing on the development of the early church and what we can learn about being Christian community.
In the last of the series, we look at the writer of Romans, Paul; at his character and at what God might want to challenge us about as we do this.
Remember Paul is a very different man from when he was named Saul. He’s gone from being a hater and murderer of the followers of Jesus to one of their key leaders. This came about through a radical realisation of God’s love for him – his heart was captured by Jesus and from then on he was a different man.
As a follower of Jesus, he understood his role as someone who was called along with all other followers to declare and demonstrate the kingdom of God to those who had yet to hear about and experience it.
For Paul, this particularly meant taking the good news to the gentiles. As he says in verse 20 of Chapter 15,
“My driving ambition has been to announce the good news in places where the Messiah has not been named, so that I can avoid building on anyone else's foundation”
You and I share in this mission, to connect people to God and in doing so also connect them with the wider people of God. Paul saw this as a priestly action; an offering to God that gives him great joy. (v16) The challenge to each of us therefore is:
‘Do we share the same conviction that Paul did; that the gospel is good news and our job is to help others encounter it’.
If like me you sometimes find Paul’s conviction a little bit intimidating, then maybe we need to seek God afresh and ask him to renew our minds; ask him to give us a passion for and confidence in the good news of the gospel once more.
And as Paul reminds us in v18, it’s Christ who does the work in and through us; we simply need to seek him and make ourselves available.
“Far be it from me, you see, to speak about anything except what the Messiah has accomplished through me for the obedience of the nations, in word and deed,” v18
Maybe there is also something to learn about expectations from this passage. Paul obviously had big plans to carry the gospel to Spain (v24). For him this will have been the edge of the known world and therefore was a great mission opportunity.
Did Paul ever get to Spain? There’s no evidence whatsoever that he did. But his desire to do so and the fact that he wrote Romans as part of the preparation for the trip teaches us something important.
Tom Wright suggests this in his commentary on this passage,
“Perhaps God sometimes allows us to dream dreams of what he wants us to do, not necessarily so that we can fulfil all of them - that might just make us proud and self-satisfied - but so that we will take the first steps towards fulfilling them. And perhaps those first steps (as they appear to us) are in fact the key things that God actually wants us to do…. We should never underestimate what God will do through things which we see as small steps to a larger end.”
Wright, Tom. Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 1964-1966). SPCK. Kindle Edition.”
So let’s have the big expectations for what we would like to see God do, but also hold them lightly knowing that things don’t always turn out the way we expect.
And as we look towards these big expectations, what are the small steps we need to be taking now? Who are the people in front of you, in your street, at your work place, in the places you live, that you can make friends with and show something of the good news of God to?
It’s nothing new and we don’t need permission to be getting on with it.
Spend time with God, put yourself in places where you meet non- Christians (or recognise the places you are already in), make friends, love them, look for what God is doing and join in with Him.
And as we do this we will be part of the fulfilment of this wonderful verse from Isaiah that Paul quotes:
“‘Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.’” V21
Written by Mike Rutter
The way we treat and relate to each other is very close to God's heart. It's a topic that Jesus, Paul and the other apostles come back to time and again, which is, after all, why there are 50 'one another' commands in the New Testament.
It all starts with the character of God. God is really, really good. He is amazing. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness. These hardly even scratch the surface of who he is and what he does.
That's where the commands to love each other come from, out of his heart.
God's love is never exhausted, tired, resentful, impatient. He is always and forever really, really good.
If you have children, you will know that it gives such joy when they show love to one another, and such pain when they don't. God's heart is for all his estranged children who live in our city.
The gospel is attractive when the way we treat and relate to each other reflects the heart of Jesus.
In the passage from Romans 15, the basic fundamental command is:
'Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God'. Have a soft heart to God and to one another just as God's heart is full of grace towards you. A heart that is soft echoes God's own heart and is naturally tuned towards him.
One of the enemy's primary tactics in our very individualistic age is isolation. In its turn, isolation brings suspicion and fear. In New Testament times the gospel crossed so many rigid social barriers, maybe that's why there are so many parts about encouraging each other
Sin divides - when Adam and Eve broke their relationship with God, they also broke something with each other, blaming and complaining. The gospel brings relationship back again. We love each other because Jesus loves us, and calls us into covenant community with the Father, which means we are brothers and sisters who share in the one covenant. A community that works well is so attractive.
Have you made up your mind you are in it for the long haul regardless?
Who encourages you, and who do you encourage? Who lives close to you?
Written by Peter Findley
In Romans 14 we find Paul trying to help the early church understand what it means to be free in Christ. In Galatians 5:1 it says “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free” – but what did this freedom look like and how should it be used?
Often issues arose from gentiles (non-Jews) coming to faith. This raised questions as to what the requirements were for living life as a Christian which resulted in much debate, often around what food was permitted to be consumed.
Paul states clearly in his writing his belief that in Christ there is nothing unclean (Rom 14:14). In fact, everything is permissible, but (and this is key) not everything is beneficial (1Cor 10:23).
Before we explore what this means it’s important to remind ourselves that God desires relationship with you and me and he gives us the free will to choose whether to respond to his invite. A key premise of the Christian faith is that we are able to come into relationship with God not because of anything that we’ve done but only because of the work of Christ on the cross. Because it is about relationship freely offered, it means that you and I are free from having to worry about what we do and whether or not this affects our standing with God.
But even though we have this freedom in respect of our salvation, there are still consequences to our choices both for ourselves and for the rest of the body of Christ. Our freedom, wrongly used can cause pain and there is an expectation that as we grow in maturity as a Christian we learn to use our freedom well, to build up and to strengthen the body. As Paul says in 1Cor 13, love must be the context within which we express our freedom as Christians.
So Romans 14 deals with Christians who were using their freedom in a way that was causing pain to others’ in this case their freedom to eat all meat when for some this still caused offence. In one sense it doesn’t matter what the freedom is that is being talked about. What matters is that even if you or I have the freedom to live in a certain way or to make particular choices, if this is done in a way that has no sense of love for someone for whom our actions might cause offence or even worse be a stumbling block to their faith, then the object of our freedom actually becomes as if it was unclean.
The highest expression of our freedom in Christ is not the flexing of that freedom but is actually the preferring of the weaker brother or sister in this area, even if that means we sacrifice our right to that freedom. It matters more that we do all we can to build up our fellow brother or sister and avoid any possibility of causing them to struggle or stumble in their faith.
A good illustration of this sacrificial preferring of our brother or sister even if it means losing our right to make a particular choice was the recent actions of Alistair Brownlee giving up his ‘freedom’ to win a triathlon race in order to help his ‘weaker’ brother Jonny Brownlee who was struggling.
Paul talks about running the race well when talking about living the Christian life. This passage in Romans helps us to understand that a key component of doing this involves us encouraging and helping our brothers and sisters to cross the line with us, even if we have to slow down a bit in order to help them.
The message translation of this passage I think helps to bring clarification to what Paul is saying. As you read it, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about how you can be someone who uses your freedom in Christ to build up, and also ask Him to challenge you about where you may have done the opposite:
14 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.
15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat [they think is ok to do or not to do as a Christian], you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!
19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face [or to do the things your prefer] but to share the life of Jesus.
15 1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
Written by Mike Rutter
Romans 11:33 - 12:8
Paul wrote this letter at a pause on his ministry. He had been planting churches for 25 years across 3 missionary journeys and was ready for a fresh challenge, taking the gospel to Spain. He was in a transition season, waiting for the next piece of his calling to play out. Transition seasons cause us to deeply reflect and that is what this writing suggests - the weight of thought and doctrine in this letter has 25 years of reflection and experience behind it.
What strikes me in Paul’s doxology in Romans 11:33-36 is that there is a depth of theological humility. A paraphrase for this passage could be ‘in all my time in knowing Christ i have realised that he is too big, too amazing for me to know fully, he is mysterious and I cannot box him. He is everything.’
Heidi Baker and Mother Teresa are two people who speak in a way that shows they have lived a life reflecting on the most important thing, the essence of what it means to be in Christ.
Paul says that the essence of being Christ’s and responding to what he has done is to worship.
1. Worship that is everything
The readers of this letter would have been really familiar with the concept of animal sacrifice. It would have been everywhere not just in the Jewish temple but in the pagan religions too. The animals would have been ignorant in the walk to the temple being prepared for sacrifice. Completely unaware of what their fate held.
In contrast Paul is urging us to being willing in our sacrifice of our lives before God, the term ‘spiritual worship’ in Greek implies our rational and logical response to God based on who he is to Worship. So Paul has described after 25 years experience who God is and then says what else could you do? What other way is there but to live out your life as worship?
Worship in the Old Testament where sacrifices were offered was like our Sunday worship - the corporate act of praise and thanksgiving. However, in the New Testament we are told we are the temple. Our lives are the sacrifice, worship becomes everything we do. There is no secular and sacred divide in the New covenant walk. Our every day choices and decisions, what we do with our money both what we give and what is left in our bank account, how we love our spouse and children, how we talk, the language we use, how we speak about others, the posture of our hearts is all worship.
2. Worship that brings transformation
This journey of daily choices and renewing of the mind causes transformation in us. When we change the way we think we change the way we live. Our thought life, what we think, what we meditate on has a direct effect on our ‘Worship’.
We have to ask ourselves this question: are we secular or Christian in our thinking? What is the predominate voice that forms our thinking and therefore our worship? What do we spend the majority of our time receiving as the world view? What do we do when we are offended? This can be a real indicator for whether the world or God is forming our mind.
We are to be formed by thinking on God’s ways, character and truth. Is it the world or is it Gods word and His spirit that is forming us?
Paul in 2 Corinthians talks about how we changed and transformed from one degree of glory to another and as such our expectation needs to be continual transformation. Our testimony should be not that we were transformed for the first couple of years after knowing Jesus but that our lives are ever increasing in the reflection of Christ. Transformation is not automatic. We don’t become different thinkers when we come to Christ but as we worship, in time, in process, our thinking does change and become completely different.
How do we know if our worship is pleasing to God? If we are being transformed? How do we love others, especially those who differ to us? The answer i gave to what i have learnt about God in the last 40 years is this - God is not interested in my success, the size of my church or the numbers of people that came to faith but when I meet him he will ask me Did I love? Did i love Him with all my heart soul mind and strength and did i love others?
As such the key outworking of our worship is one another ness, Transformation is lived out in community.
Having a sober judgement of yourself like Paul is suggesting requires an honest hard look at yourself. Being aware of your strengths and gifts but also your weaknesses and areas of vulnerability to sin.
It is pride that believes we do not need each other, that we’re happy to go it alone, that church isn’t necessary but that isn’t biblical and does not reflect what Jesus modelled. We are one body whether we like it or not. It’s the spiritual reality. This body, our church, is supposed to love us and form us into more of the likeness of Jesus. It happens through acting in love to someone in your community and to your friends who need your support, but in my experience it’s most especially worked out in loving those who offend and hurt you.
Our worship will be our witness if we allow every area of our lives to be on the altar.
Written by Annwen Stone
When I became a Christian, it wasn’t because I’d been convinced by good arguments; although a faith that makes sense was and is important to me. It was because I met a group of people whose main priority in life was to follow Jesus. Sitting around a kitchen table with them, listening to them talk about God as if they knew him, rather than knew about him was what turned my gaze towards Jesus. It was their focus on Jesus that caught my attention.
God has always sought relationship with people. In Genesis 12 God emphasises his commitment to relationship when he says to Abram,:
“I will make you into a great nation,
And I will bless you
I will make your name great
And you will be a blessing…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”
Throughout the story of God’s people, things go well when they look to God first, when their focus is on him. When they don’t, well, you know the stories.
Too often the blessing they received as the people of God became their focus, which skewed their perspective and led to them seeing other nations as inferior, rather than people groups that God wanted to bless through them.
God’s heart is for relationship with all people groups, it always has been. He chose to bless the people he called to himself, Abraham and his descendents out of his love for them and in order that they would become a blessing to all nations. This has always been his intention. Relationship with him first which brings blessing and then that blessing overflowing to bless others. This is the order of things in God’s plan.
Whenever this order is rearranged, things don’t go well. If the focus becomes the blessing then eventually the people of God cease being a blessing to others. If the focus is relationship with God first, then the blessing comes and the people of God become a blessing to others.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you” Matthew 6:33
This is why Jesus got so frustrated with the religious rulers. They weren’t leading people into relationship with God, instead they were putting heavy burdens on them. They’d lost perspective on who they were and what they were called to be….. a blessing.
For you and me, it is always about the relationship with God first, never primarily about the benefits of that relationship. The truth is, when we focus on what we want from our relationship with God, we end up with something much less than if we focus on him first.
In our new sermon series we are looking at what it means to be a people of God who live as family. I love being a part of the family of God. I meet people who I would never otherwise meet and I get to journey with them, joining in with God as he brings life and hope and salvation to all people. It constantly amazes and humbles me that he chooses you and me, his body here on earth, to partner with; to be a blessing to others.
For you and me to be the healthy body of Christ, we need to ask ourselves a very important question.
What is our focus?
Just as has been true for the people of God throughout time, it is always tempting to allow our focus to be what we can get from the relationship with God rather than God himself.
I need you to be someone whose gaze is on Jesus first. You need me to do the same. If you and I pursue Jesus with all our hearts then we’ll be and will increasingly become the family God wants us to be; his people, blessed to be a blessing. It goes deeper than just our feelings; it’s a longing from the depths of our being (Psalm 130). There will be some days when ‘we just don’t feel it’, but that’s ok, it’s about grace and it’s about encouraging each other, spurring each other on.
What is God saying to you in this? How are you prioritising relationship with him with the choices you make?
Start by reminding yourself of his love for you; remember that turning to him is always a response to his love for us first, it’s never a duty.
Being amongst people whose focus is on Jesus is what attracted me to faith and it continues to encourage me today to turn my gaze to him.
As we move into our One Another series on ‘Living together as family’, let’s remember this simple truth; people who pursue Jesus become people who bring blessing others. It’s a wonderful calling to have and a great adventure for us to go on as a people together!
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart…..and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10
Written by Mike Rutter
This term our sermon series is going to be based in the book of Romans. As we do this we are going to be looking at the ‘One another’ verses that can be found in the Bible (did you know there are over 50 of them?); so we’ve called the series ‘Love One Another-Living as Family’.
We are looking forward to exploring what these different ‘One Another’ passages mean. One of the ways we are going to do this, that we’d love you to start thinking about will be to encourage everyone to get to know one another better by eating together in each other’s houses; a sort of ‘Come dine with me’ but without the rating system! The value behind this is to enable us to get to know each other better and give attention to who we are called to be as the people of God.
The series is going to start on 29th January and will last for 9 weeks, so get the dates in your diary and perhaps put up 1Peter 4:8-9 on your fridge.
“8 Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins. 9 Open your homes to each other without complaining.”
And if you really want to go deep, the greek word for ‘One another’ is ἀλλήλων, pronounced ‘ah-LAY-loan’. Try and drop it into conversation during coffee time….people are certain to be impressed.
Written by Mike Rutter
Each blog is written by our Sunday speaker as a follow up to their talk.