8. Maintaining the Faith

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 8:  Maintaining the Faith

Rom 12:11,12   Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

We have noted that these verses are made up of a bunch of quick-fire exhortations, the first group of four of which we might suggest are all about right relationships, or right attitudes towards one another. The second group of four we are calling, ‘Maintaining the Faith’ because they move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. Two dangers in the Christian life are that we either become so focused on the social side of the faith that we forget it’s all about relationship with the Lord, or we so focus on our spiritual contact with the Lord, we forget there is a whole social dimension or outworking of the faith. If we focus on only one side then we miss out on 50% of what the Faith is all about.

So here Paul brings the balance of the way we work out what we might call the spiritual side of the equation. The first of these four mini spiritual exhortations says, Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (v.11) Now this one suggests three components of spiritual faith – zeal, fervor and serving God.

A dictionary definition of “zeal” is ‘intense enthusiasm, as in working for a cause; ardent endeavor or devotion.’ Now there are those people who like to appear ‘respectable Christians’ and who decry any form of emotion expressed as ‘emotionalism’ and imply that is something bad, but that does not conform to what the Bible teaches. Paul is saying, according to this definition, “Never be lacking in intense enthusiasm or ardent devotion”. We will be ‘enthusiastic’ or zealous about our faith when the wonder of it has really moved our hearts. We will have ‘ardent devotion’ when we realise the wonder of what Jesus has done for us and how much God loves us.

“Fervor”, the second of those three components, is another way of expression the same thing. A dictionary defines ‘fervor’ as ‘great warmth of emotion; ardor; zeal.“Spiritual fervor” is that warmth of emotion that is felt towards the Lord and, again, we will feel this when we see and understand what the Bible says God has done for us in His expression of His love towards us, and the Holy Spirit touches our hearts, revealing the reality of it.

“Serving God”, the third of these three components to this first of these four spiritual exhortations, is simply the outworking of that zeal and fervor. The key reality of the Christian faith is that God has called us to Himself to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and that is in character and in service. We not only take on his character but we also enter into and share in his ministry or service. A verse we regularly quote is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. ….. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) We aren’t called to become like Jesus so that we may hide away in a corner (or a spiritual ghetto) but that we shine in His world and reveal Him. We do this when we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and do what He puts before us. This may be sharing about Jesus, it may be offering to pray for another (including praying for healing), it may be listening to another and offering wisdom as God gives it, or it may simply be offering help and expressing goodness.

Before we move away from this first triple-expression spiritual exhortation, (and we’ll see the other three spiritual exhortations in the next meditation) we would do well to see this exhortation in a wider sphere.

In chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, Jesus comes to seven churches in Asia Minor and points out to them things that need putting right. Some of the things are in respect to specific people or problems that were occurring in that first century but in two of them there are two warnings that fit in here. To the church in Ephesus, after praising them for a number of really good things, he warns, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4)  This was a church that lost that first fervor or warmth of emotion for the Lord. The other warning that fits here was to the church at Laodicea, where Jesus said, “you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold. (Rev 3:16) Again this speaks of lack of zeal or fervor. They have sunk into what can only be described as tedious and boring Christianity! It is mundane and almost lifeless. Oh that they were on fire for God!

There will be this zeal, this fervor, this passion, when we are open and obedient to the Holy Spirit and things happen. When God speaks, we hear and respond in obedience and He does things that are thrilling. When we see God moving in and through us that is thrilling.  On one occasion after the disciples had been sent out to do ministry in pairs, we find, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) It was thrilling what happened and I suspect they couldn’t wait to get out and do some more. How do you think the disciples felt after they had participated in the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand?  Thrilled, excited and amazed!  Zeal and passion can come when we simply read and realise the wonder but, I suggest, it is best fueled by simple obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, because then we step out and do His bidding and see Him moving in and through us. I remember John Wimber once telling about how a young (I think teenage) girl prayed for healing under his guidance and saw a physical change take place before her eyes. He commented, “She was hooked!”  It is thrilling to be involved with Jesus in whatever it is he wants to lead you into, and ‘serving God’ is not a hard thing.

When we realise how wonderful Jesus is, how wonderful God’s love for us is, we won’t be afraid to venture out at His bidding. To conclude, remember the parable Jesus told: “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.” (Mt 25:14,15)  The scary words are “according to his ability”. Jesus hands out according to the faith level he finds in us, how we have so far responded to His word. He concluded with the teaching, “everyone who has will be given more.” (v.29) God gives according to what he sees we do with what He has already given. Do we have to stick with a small amount of faith? No, we can ask Him to enlarge it, but it’s all about what IN REALITY we think of God, for one man who did nothing with what he had been given, except bury it and maintain it, said, “I knew that you are a hard man.” (v.24) Rubbish! To the one who doubled his five, the master declared, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”  THAT is what the Lord wants to happen! Zeal, fervor, serving the Lord.  Then joy!

5. The Gifted Body (1)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 5:  The Gifted Body (1)

Rom 12:6-8   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. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 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.

We have in these verses what we might call ‘gifts of grace’. In Eph 4:11 we find gifts of ministries to the church while in 1 Cor 12:8-10 we find what we simply tend to call the gifts of the Spirit, although the truth is that all these ‘gifts’ in whatever form we find them, are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us.

Paul’s emphasis here, remember, is awareness of who we Gentile believers (and the few Jewish believers) are, that we are redeemed sinners (Rom 11:32) who are what we are by the joint working of the work of Jesus on the Cross and the work of the Spirit in us now. We are what we are, first and foremost, because of what the Holy Spirit has done in us and what He has given us. Why He gives any individual what He gives is a mystery. It may be that He looks at the sort of person He sees we are and apportions ‘gifting’ to match what He finds in us. It is a mystery, but when we say he apportions gifting, we simply mean He gives us a specific enabling – that is grace in this context. Grace is God’s ability in us to enable us to cope with life and to be the people He calls us to be. It is God’s ability being expressed in us that enable us to be and to do.

Thus Paul says, We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” This is the marvel that God gives us different things; we don’t all have the same, so what we see is that we find ourselves particularly comfortable doing one particular thing  and that is the ‘gift’ that others observe in us.  That ‘thing’ seems natural to us, although it may not to someone else. Now before we look at the list of examples that Paul gives us here, note that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good’ at doing one particular thing. Look at each of the things in this light for a moment.

Paul starts, “If a man’s gift is prophesying” (v.6a) but in 1 Cor 14 we find him saying there, “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy…I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:1,5) What I have observed in my own experience is that if I am teaching a group of say ten people to learn to step out in the gift of prophecy, on that evening (as it tends to be) every one of them will receive a word from God for another in that group, i.e. they all prophesy, but watch say six months later and of that ten, two of them never get and bring a word again, five of them will have a word on occasion and three will receive words regularly. It is as if the grace is there to do it, but the faith is not there for it, which is why Paul continues this verse about prophesying, “let him use it in proportion to his faith.” (v.6b)

Bearing in mind “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort,” (1 Cor 14:3) there is a lot of difference between a word that says, “The Lord says he loves you and is blessed by you,” and another word that says to a childless couple who have been told they cannot have children, “The Lord says that this time next year you will have a baby.” Both are good words but the significance of them, or the potential for them to be wrong, is clearly very different.  Thus person ‘A’ may have confidence to bring the more simple but nevertheless encouraging word but not go beyond that, while person ‘B’ finds greater faith rising in them to speak out God’s word and finds the  ‘weight’ of what they bring grows and thus the ‘proportion’ of their faith grows. I suspect that that is how it is with each of these gifts of grace that Paul puts before us here.

The second thing on Paul’s list of examples is ‘serving’: “If it is serving, let him serve.” (v.7a) Now again Scripture indicates that we are all to have a servant heart. Do you remember Jesus’ teaching his disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) and of course at the Last Supper after washing their feet he told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:14-17)  Being a servant is thus the calling of every disciple.

So why does Paul make ‘serving’ a gift of grace? The word used is ‘diakonia’ meaning a practical service ministry. It is the word used to describe Martha’s serving Jesus (Lk 10:40) In Acts 6:4 it is used in the phrase “the ministry of the word,” simply meaning serving in the ministry of the word. In 2 Cor 5:18 it is the word used in the phrase, “the ministry of reconciliation,” again simply meaning serving in the ministry of reconciliation. So here we have ‘serving’ or ‘working for others’ as something that naturally flows out of this particular person and they find a joy in it, in ways that others do not. Perhaps, we might suggest, this working develops into the ministry we might call it of being a ‘deacon’ in the church, one who serves the church in the more practical ways (see Acts 6). We’ll consider the others in the next meditation

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!