Having established eleven chapters of closely argued doctrine, Paul now shows us how we should live in the light of that doctrine. This combination of doctrine plus lifestyle in us is both essential and irresistible. The eleven chapters of doctrine are difficult because they challenge our understanding, but the following chapters on lifestyle are hard because they challenge our will and our motives.
Just before Paul’s spontaneous hymn of praise in the last four verses of chapter 11, he ends the entire doctrinal section with: “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they (Israel) too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all”.
That first linking word in Romans 12 is ‘Therefore’ – in other words, do what follows in view of everything that has already been written, and in view of God’s mercy to you, in particular. (If ever you see a passage of scripture begin ‘Therefore’, always ask yourself what it is there for!). The first two verses of Romans 12 summarise what should be our entire response to Romans chapters 1 – 11; the rest is just detail! What God requires is:
- Complete commitment to the will and pleasure of the Lord (v1); leading to…
- Complete transformation of our thinking (v2)
The offering of the body as a living sacrifice is probably written to contrast with the Jewish temple sacrifices that were offered and then destroyed for ever; but a living sacrifice is something which is daily and unending, a yielding of the will to God and a taking up of the cross daily to follow Christ. The mindset is “My life is no longer my own” (1 Cor 6:9) and “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). All this is our true worship, genuinely offering God his true ‘worth’, for all he has done for us.
We must not be like a liquid that takes on the shape of its container – just conforming to the world’s shape – but be prepared to be different and not to ‘fit’ entirely, rather like a solid. If we are so conformed that we blend in completely, then there will be nothing to distinguish us from unsaved lifestyles and nothing to encourage the unsaved to change to be more like us and to be like Jesus.
Romans 12:1-2 in The Message translation give a fresh insight into its meaning:
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
How do we ‘stand out’ then? It is not practical just to be different in every way, or to act weirdly, dress differently or abstain from perfectly normal behaviours. What we must do is to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, starting with our thought lives. The word ‘Transformed’ is the same as when Jesus was ‘Transfigured’ in the gospels – a complete and radical transformation. It is also found in the verse: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we pray, seek His face, read, and meditate on his word, and listen to those who disciple us, we will be transformed in our thinking. Then we will know where to blend in with human behaviour and where to be different.
Jesus himself embodied every facet of verses 1 and 2. As we put them into practice, we are merely imitating him!
In terms of the practical details, verses 3-8, much of this is similar to 1 Corinthians 12 (which we will read about later on), viewing ourselves as a part of Christ’s body on earth. We are no more important nor less important than every other member. So we manifest the gifts of the Spirit in the light of that key fact – not for our own benefit, but for the growth and maturity of the whole body. They are gifts from God to others through us. Verses 9-13 show many practical ways in which Body members can show Christ’s love for one another.
Verses 14-21 illustrate ways in which we can show Christ’s love to the unsaved. In particular, the need not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath is another key concept. The quote from Proverbs 25:21-22 refers to ‘burning coals’, which could imply a conscience stirred up by the Lord. We cannot be other people’s consciences, nor should we be an obstacle in God’s interaction with those consciences.
Living peacefully and overcoming evil with good is a truly Christian philosophy that has been copied very little by other world religions; as we do these things, the light of the gospel shines all the more brightly.
1 CHRONICLES 6
1 Chronicles 6 is a big chapter (81 verses!). Everything in it relates to the tribe of Levi. The first section lists the line of the high priests from Aaron until the Exile. They were all from the Kohathite family. Then in verses 16-30 are the genealogies of the rest of the Kohathites, the Gershonites and the Merarites. After that, 31-48 are the Levite musicians appointed by David to lead in the music and singing – from all three families. Finally, the Levite towns are outlined, throughout the land of Israel.
Since Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were put to death by the Lord, because they offered unauthorised fire, the high priests from then on were, of course, descended from Eleazar and Ithamar. The list in the first 15 verses is shortened, compared to the ones in the books of Samuel and Kings. In verse 28, we find Samuel, the son of Elkanah, who led Israel so well for many years.
David had three main music leaders, one from each family: Heman (Kohath), Asaph (Gershon), and Ethan (Merari). Clearly David regarded music and sung worship as so important that he wanted large numbers of full-time men who specialized in this role. The music leaders were responsible to the king, and their own sons were discipled by them. Prior to the temple being built by Solomon, this form of worship all went on in the tabernacle, where the Ark was placed.
The descendants of Levi were allotted towns, but not lands throughout Israel, as God had promised through Moses.
We must emulate David in placing a high regard on the value of music and singing in the worship of the Lord, whilst recognizing that this is just one way in which he requires to be worshiped. Romans 12:1 makes is clear that our entire lives are meant to be living sacrifices and acts of worship; sung worship is an essential part of this, but not sufficient on its own. Furthermore, there is always the danger of being a people that worships God with ‘lips’ only, rather than the whole heart! (Mark 7:6). The other practical point is that there is no such thing as Christian music – only Christian lyrics – so we must not get too carried away with styles of song, rather than their substance.