12. More on Relationships

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 12:  More on Relationships

Rom 12:13  Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another

We move on to the next block of what I have called mini-exhortations because each one s short and pithy, and there are a lot of them. As with verses 9 and 10, these are verses about how we respond to other people, and there is so much here. Each one is a mine of truth waiting to be explored, a variety of facets for Christian living.

Paul starts this block with Share with God’s people who are in need.” (v.13a) In the sixth of this series we noted the following but it is worth repeating: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  So there we have the New Testament Church teaching first from the apostle John and then from Jesus. We are a body and members of the body care for one another but Jesus took it further to imply that we care for all who cross our path and are needy – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the prisoner. Today, in the UK at least, institutional society meets all these needs, yet there is still room for the Christians to bless others.

Yet Paul’s focus here is specifically on the Christian Church – “God’s people” – where if we see needs we meet them as we are able.  It was a mark of the early church that they cared for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44,45)  As they grew in numbers and they set up ‘programs’ to meet the needs of the needy among them, they had difficulties: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) and thus they had to organize more carefully (Acts 6:3-6).

Sometimes we can get institutional in our thinking and we need freeing from that. I once had a lady in the church come to me as its main leader and share her concern for another lady who did outreach lunches from her home and who was short of tea towels. Couldn’t the church buy some for her, was the question asked of me. Of course, I replied, but what a lovely opportunity for you to bless her personally by getting them for her. ‘Need’ can be a very varied thing and a person ‘in need’ may simply be someone who doesn’t have the resources you do and doesn’t feel able to spend on a particular thing in their life. Over the years I am aware that I have given money to someone who need to go to Agricultural college, money to someone to have a holiday, someone money to go on a Bible retreat. None of those things are ‘basics’ of life but they were things that became ‘needs’ in the light of the will of God for that person, what He wanted to do to bless their life. Yes, as a church we gave to people with more basic needs, on one occasion we took a young man to a supermarket when he was out of work and told him to totally fill up the trolley with food for his family. Needs can be many and varied and our means of meeting them equally so.

On one occasion, as a church we were planning to take the church away for a weekend retreat but we knew that we had many people living on state benefits who just could not afford the cost of such a weekend. As we prayed about what to do, the Lord gave us the wisdom. We went to the church and told them in two month’s time we would take a one-off free-will offering. All we asked them to do was, in that two months, ask the Lord how much He wanted them each to put it. It could be nothing, it could be one pound, five pounds, fifty pounds or whatever He said. When the day come, without any fanfare or winding people up, we simply took the offering in the middle of the Sunday morning service. It came to twice as much as we actually needed to cover every man, woman and child in the church – including a couple of unsaved husbands who had trouble believing it.  The extra we put away for the next retreat. The needs of ‘the poor’ were met.

In this day of state benefits and institutional caring, it is so easy to dismiss this exhortation and we say, “We don’t have the needy with us any longer,” but that is so untrue and especially so in days of financial difficulty in this second decade of the twenty first century.  Needy people mean anyone who is struggling to make ends meet and whose lives are restricted because of it. If we have more resources than they do, this word comes to us.

But the key issue is what does God the Holy Spirit say to us? It is also so easy to become guilt-ridden because of these things and He doesn’t want that. Why not enter into a new faith dimension where you ask the Lord to put on your heart people He wants you to bless in this way – and then how He wants you to bless them. Sometimes it is right to give anonymously but sometimes it is right to give face to face to bless the person and build your relationship with them. It’s who HE wants to bless and HOW He wants you to bless. Why not ask Him now.

Woe to well-fed

Readings in Luke Continued – No.19

Lk 6:25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

It is important always to check the context of Scripture, and sometimes the context is critical to understanding a verse. Yesterday, when we started looking at these extracts from this sermon on the plain, we said that they were two sets of verses, the second being the counterpoint of the first. We therefore need to go back and see the second verse in the first, preceding set: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” (v.21a). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel we find it recorded as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” (Mt 5:6) indicating a clear spiritual purpose behind Jesus’ words. It is probable, therefore, that Jesus’ words here in the first phase recorded by Luke have spiritual impact, and, as we noted yesterday, the second phase have impact on physical life with a spiritual significance.

So, in that case, Luke observes Jesus balancing out the spiritual with the physical. Those who hunger after God will be satisfied – for He will respond to their hungering by drawing them to Himself and satisfying them with Himself and all that flows from Him. Now comes the counterpoint, the opposite ‘woe’ that balances out the blessing: “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” We need to see this verse in the light of the one before it that we considered yesterday: “woe to you who are rich,” and see the same sort of thing. With that verse we said that Jesus was warning against affluence that can anaesthetise us to our need of God. When we are well off we can feel secure, though it is a false security, and not seek the Lord. The same thing now applies in today’s verse.

Be warned, implies Jesus, when you are well fed, you can feel comfortable, at ease and careless of your real need. Have you ever had a big meal and afterwards just felt almost on the edge of sleep? Good food and plenty of it can leave you feeling like that. In that state you have no concerns, you just feel good. But that feeling will wear off until the next big meal. Some of us eat for the comfort we find after such a meal, but this is a temporary comfort, one that lasts as long as the food in my stomach. There is very obviously a danger therefore in being ‘well fed’. It anaesthetises us to the real state of affairs. We can be well fed physically but starving spiritually. As Jesus said to Satan, “Man does not live on bread alone,” (Mt 4:4) and he didn’t mean we need lots of different sorts of food. He meant we need spiritual food as well as physical food.

Is there an implication in our verse today that judgement will come on the well fed so that one day we will be hungry? I suggest not. As with riches, it is not wrong to be well fed, but we are to be careful that being well fed does not mean we slip into spiritual poverty, which is easy to happen in a state of ease. But what about if we are well fed and ignore the plight of those who are starving? Now that is another situation. Yes, the Bible does indicate that there will be an accounting and so if we have ignored the plight of the poor when we have riches, we will be held accountable, and yes, God’s judgement does often take the form of the opposite to that blessing we have been carelessly enjoying.

Yet, here there is an obvious difficulty. Because there is still so much poverty in the world, we sometimes feel powerless to affect it in any meaningful way, especially when we appear to live in a ‘global village’ where we are aware of the plight of people across the globe. Will our slender resources (slender in the light of the world’s need) even make the slightest dent in that need? Can we affect the political situations that promote poverty and keep people poor? The answer is probably no, and the best we can do is ask the Lord to show us how we may help somehow and ask for wisdom to bring ongoing change. Giving to enable a man to start a business, through which he can feed his family, may be far better than simply providing only the food. Both are needed but the start up for a business means that in the long term the need is reduced. There are also those who would argue that unless we give to enable the spread of the Gospel to enable changed lives, we will simply create less hungry sinners. These are just some of the issues that arise when we start considering the plight of the needy which this verse starts making us think about.

God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor 9:7) wrote Paul and perhaps that verse more than most indicates God’s desire to find people with open, generous hearts, who are not only concerned to provide for themselves. Perhaps giving should start on our own doorsteps. What are the physical and material needs in our own locality? How can we help those in our own congregations who are on benefit? How can we invest in their lives to ease them out of situations that perpetuate the need for benefit? No, man may not live by bread alone, but it helps! There are obviously clear spiritual warnings behind this verse, but they may extend to cover warnings about our attitudes and actions in terms of what we do with the wealth that we have. There is much food for thought here.