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.

22. Prisoner-Servant

We return for the next two weeks the the lighter meditations in Ephesians that we started a while ago.
Ephesians Meditations No.22

Eph  3:1,7 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.

We have taken two verses, one at the beginning and one at the end of this train of thought. It is a strange passage because Paul starts out in one direction and then steps out of the main train of thinking, so to speak, to explain something of his ministry. His starting point is yet another link phrase, “For this reason” referring to the outworking of the Gospel of grace and the bringing about  of a community of God’s people that he has just been referring to. In verse 1 he refers to himself as a “prisoner of Christ” and then in verse 7 as a servant.  Now there are those who suggest by this reference to being a prisoner it means he was in prison at that time of writing. Now although that may possibly be true, he says a prisoner of Christ and not a prisoner for Christ.  He is bound to Christ and to his purposes – for the sake of you Gentiles – because of the nature of his calling and it is that which follows and, we suggest, that is the explanation for his description of being a prisoner of Christ. Having used that description he suddenly feels he ought to explain it, and that is what follows in the following verses.

He refers back to his background: Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,” (3:2) referring, we suggest, to his calling on the way to and in Damascus (see Acts 9). He says, “I’m sure you heard about how I came to receive this administration or stewardship of this ministry that I have” i.e. how God dealt with him so that he would administer or speak out the Gospel with which he was entrusted as one of God’s stewards. But here he doesn’t call it the Gospel, he calls it the administration of God’s grace, or the outworking of God’s grace that he has been writing about in so much of this letter so far. It was given to him so that he could give it to others.

Now he further describes this administering of the Gospel in the form of God’s grace, describing it as “the mystery made known to me by revelation.” (3:3a) and then adds, “as I have already written briefly.” (3:3b) which makes us think back to where he has referred to this ‘mystery’ before. It was, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (1:9). There we noted that a mystery is simply something that had previously remained hidden but which has now been revealed. Throughout the Old Testament there had been all those prophetic indicators of one who was to come, but the understanding of it had remained a mystery until the coming of Christ.

Paul has had the special privilege of being an administrator of this mystery as it has become revealed through Christ, and hence he goes on to say, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” (3:4) In other words as we have gone through this letter and marveled at the truth that we have found here, we have to acknowledge that Paul really had been given incredible understanding of this amazing truth about Christ and how it impacts our lives. Some have suggested that this letter contains some of the most sublime teaching in the New Testament epistles. Here it is as if Paul steps out of his teaching role and gets us to look down from above on the very nature of this letter as an additional means of appreciating the wonder of our salvation.

Three times in this letter so far he has referred to this ‘mystery’ and he’s going to use that word four more times before he finishes. In so doing he emphasizes that it is a revelation that has come from God, not something made up by man, not something as modern atheists suggest, that had evolved in human thinking. Oh no, this had remained a mystery for centuries and it was only with the coming of Christ that it was revealed and, again, it was not clever philosophical thinking, but simply the revelation of the Son of God in time space history, and then the recognition of who he was and what he has achieved. That’s why Paul was able to go on to say it was that, “which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” (3:5) The coming of this Gospel was a Spirit revelation to particular men who the Spirit of God gave revelation and understanding. Once they saw it, it was there for the rest of us to see as well.

As he has indicated previously in the back part of chapter 2, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (3:6) That’s the mystery, that’s the wonder that he has been privileged to ‘see’, that Gentiles are now on the same footing as Jewish believers, all the same, all part of the same body and all partakers of the promises of God through Christ. It is because of this that he goes on to say, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” (3:7) It was by God’s power working in and through him, that he became a sharer of the mystery of God’s will in Christ that had been previously hidden but had now been made known. Thus he was a prisoner to this incredible revelation which held his heart, and because of that he was now a servant of God and of His people, to whom he came to minister. How wonderful!