SI: This fall and winter we’re looking in detail at one chapter in the Bible—
Romans 12. The first eleven chapters of Paul’s letter to Roman church doctrine.
It’s the most thorough doctrinal presentation of the Gospel in Bible.
Paul expounds God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ in all its beauty.
And then, after Paul has finished proclaiming all that God has done for us,
he says, therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, this is how you are to live.
And he turns to the practical side of the Christian life.
Some of you here like doctrinal passages of Bible and doctrinal sermons the best.
You love hearing about God’s grace, what God has done, what Jesus has done.
That’s the sort of message that encourages you most and helps you along.
Passages and sermons on more practical matters leave you a little discouraged.
Because you hear them and think—I’m not anywhere close to where I should be.
Your failures and weaknesses stand out and you focus on them.
But there are some of you who are the exact opposite.
The heavy doctrinal passages and doctrinal sermons leave you a little cold.
It’s not that you don’t think they are important, but don’t help you very much.
You leave thinking: So what? Help me out here, tell me what I need to do.
You love practical passages and sermons.
The more specific the better, the harder it pokes you the better.
Rather than discourage you, you feel this is something you can use.
Well, Romans 12 is that kind of practical instruction.
So I apologize to all you doctrinal introverts. I feel your pain.
We’re all different in the body of Christ.
And that’s exactly what this passage presses home.
INTRO: I read an article recently about latest discoveries about human genome.
I didn’t entirely understand it but I think I got the gist of it.
It summarized the findings of a scientific project called the Encyclopedia of DNA
Elements, ENCODE. 442 researchers from the United States, Europe and Japan.
The prevailing theory until very recently was that 98% of the human genome
did nothing. It was called junk DNA. That term was coined by no one less than
Francis Crick himself. He said in 1980 that it would be folly for scientists to hunt
for any beneficial function from this DNA. That has been accepted as fact.
The scientific establishment argued that this was evidence of evolution.
This junk DNA is leftovers from of millions of years of mutations.
Made argument: Why would a creator insert worthless code into the genome?
Well, project ENCODE has discovered that these supposedly inactive,
non-coding regions of DNA actually contain complex switches that turn other
genes on and off. And these switches aren’t next to the genes they control.
The article described the chromosome as a coiled chain in a bucket.
Links that aren’t close to each other on the chain might be touching because of
the way the chain is coiled. That’s the way these switches work. Very complex.
The lead coordinator, Ewan Birney, estimates that we’ve uncovered one tenth
of the human genome’s secrets. He said: “I get this strong feeling that previously
I was ignorant of my own ignorance, and now I understand my ignorance.”
Also said they are realizing the genome is like a jungle with not one,
but many layers of information.
The findings of ENCODE were such a jolt to the scientific establishment that there
was a backlash. Part of the reason was the fear that this is evidence of design.
One biochemist at the University of Toronto, Larry Moran wrote:
“Creationists are going to love this. This is going to make my life very complicated.”
But Ewan Birney stands by the study and says that he thinks further research will
show that 100% of DNA is biochemically active.
In the meantime he has recommended that scientists junk the term junk DNA.
Our bodies are amazing, aren’t they.
Even the parts we can see, our hands and fingers, our eyes and ears
are amazing in their design and complexity.
How much more those parts inside us—our bones, organs, veins, nerves.
And then this whole realm of the cell and chromosomes.
But for all this interconnected complexity, our bodies are unified.
They function as one thing. Yesterday when you were watching football you
I bet said at least once to the person watching with you—
Wow! Did you see that play? Did you see that throw? Did you see that catch?
You were amazed and thrilled at seeing that athletic body—
not just hands but brain, heart, lungs, blood, nerves, cells all functioning as one.
It doesn’t require some kind of anatomical huddle before the play.
OK: Feet, legs—are you ready? Hands, fingers—do you remember what to do?
Heart, lungs—get ready to pump. Eyes, brain—get ready to see and process.
No—It just works and it is magnificent to behold.
And sometimes something goes wrong with just one part—one tendon in one knee.
And that’s that, the whole body can’t carry out its athletic work.
This image of the body—its unity, diversity, and interdependency—
was the Apostle Paul’s favorite illustration of the church.
He coined it. When we call the church the body, that’s Paul.
He doesn’t develop the idea much in these verses, but 1 Corinthians 12,
Ephesians 4, Colossians 1 and 2, he expounds on this metaphor.
Here in Romans 12 his main point is that the only way you can respond rightly to
the grace of God, be a living sacrifice, renew your mind, think of yourself as you
ought to think is to be a part of the church.
You can’t be the Christian God wants you to be, you can’t grow, you can’t mature,
you can’t be effective, you can’t give yourself body and mind to the Lord
apart from life in the body of Christ.
Your identity, your role in life is inseparably connected to church.
You aren’t fully you apart from the church.
And the flipside is that the church is not who it should be without you.
The doctrine of the church is supreme in Paul’s view of the Christian life.
And the reason is because it is supreme in Jesus’ thought:
Jesus said: “I will build my church.”
Didn’t say: “I will build each believer and let him life for me as he thinks best.”
So knowing and loving and taking your place in the church is a way of knowing
and following the mind of Jesus Christ.
1. You must keep the unity of the body.
2. You must honor the diversity of the body.
3. You must participate in the interdependency of the body.
MP#1 You must keep the unity of the body.
Paul doesn’t explicitly command unity in these verses—he describes it.
“In Christ, we who are many form one body.”
The first two words of that sentence are the most important, In Christ.
The unity of the church is in Christ.
There are all kinds of unity in the world.
There can be unity based on a common interest, on a common enemy.
The Soviet Union was unified. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
It was a unity based on coercion and terror.
But all of those forms of unity will eventually collapse.
The unity of the church has a supernatural source and an eternal foundation.
It is a unity in Christ.
Why that preposition? Why doesn’t Paul say, By Christ, we who are many. . .
By Christ’s power, by Christ’s command he has made us one.
This phrase in Christ is enormously important.
It points to the covenant. We are in covenant with God through Christ.
Covenant is the way the Bible primarily describes our connection to God.
The Covenant is God’s personal and formal relationship with his people.
The way the covenant works is that there is a mediator, there is a head,
and he represents people. The people are in him.
And his actions are then attributed to the people he represents.
Adam was our first covenant mediator and in Adam we sinned.
In Adam we received the curse of death. In Adam we were going to hell.
But Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant.
And if you are in Christ by faith, everything he has done is attributed to you.
Primarily his life, death, and resurrection. You receive grace in Christ.
Justified in Christ, forgiven in Christ, God supplies needs in Christ,
have every spiritual blessing in Christ, presented to God perfect in Christ.
Here’s the huge and wonderful thing about the church, and Paul’s point.
We experience all of these in-Christ blessings together, not as solitary individuals.
That means we are redeemed together, justified together, forgiven together.
It means our needs are met together, we are loved by God together,
and we will be living forever together because we are in Christ.
We don’t create church unity, it is the supernatural work of Christ our mediator.
But we must be what Christ has made us to be.
We are one. We must act as one. We must practice unity. We must keep it.
Now, there are several things I could say here.
I could say: Don’t do things that are contrary to our in-Christ unity.
Don’t gossip. Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. Don’t hold grudges.
Or, I could skip down in this chapter and focus on some of Paul’s unity commands.
“be devoted to one another, live in harmony with one another,
be willing to associate with people of low position.”
Let me challenge you another way. Keep the unity of the body by enjoying it.
Psalm 133, read earlier describes our in-Christ unity with two images.
It’s like anointing oil poured out on Aaron’s head. Oil a luxury in ancient world.
Fragrant oil with special aroma announced the high priest—a picture of Christ.
It’s like dew falling on falling on mountains and hills. In dry Middle East, moisture
cherished—dew life-giving and refreshing. OT picture of Jesus the living water.
For people of that time, both images of great pleasure. Things to enjoy.
You keep the unity of the body by enjoying it.
The only way to enjoy it is to participate in the life of the church—
in the weekly rhythm of worship, prayer, fellowship that Christ has established,
and in the mutual experiences of God’s faithfulness over the long haul.
In those settings that you participate in the in-Christ blessings of other Christians.
There’s a photo we took in May 2002, 10th anniversary of church, in my study.
I can barely look at the faces without feeling sweetness and pain.
And every time I say: Lord Jesus, thank you for being faithful to this body.
I could show many of you that picture and you would feel the same.
But it doesn’t matter if you came after that day, even if joined this year.
If participate in body, and enjoy it, you will have own memories.
Some Christians find it easy to enjoy the unity of the body, others acquired taste.
But church unity is worth acquiring a taste for it if don’t have already.
The very last line of Psalm 133 says:
For there (in church unity) the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Life forevermore: Church unity is a foretaste of heaven. Eugene Peterson:
Heaven is nothing quite so much as a good party. Assemble in your imagination all the friends you enjoy being with most, the companions who evoke the deepest joy, your most stimulating relationships, the most delightful shared experiences, the people with whom you feel completely alive—that is a hint of heaven, “for there God bestow his blessing, even life forevermore. ”
MP#2 You must honor the diversity of the body.
Honor diversity—that sounds like a sensitivity seminar.
The word diversity has been so twisted by political correctness
that now it means conformity to a particular social agenda.
But I’m going to reclaim it here for this sermon point.
One body, many parts.
Paul says that in the unity of the body are many members,
and these members do not all have the same function.
Then he uses this to go on and talk about this subject of gifts.
He says in verse 6 that we all have different gifts according to the grace given us.
Rather than think about our own gifts, or what my gifts might be.
Let’s consider what this means in our dealings with each other.
It means that every member of the church has been put here by God
and has a place and purpose in the body. You have to honor that.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he develops this idea.
There were lots of conflicts, lots of division in that church.
Paul says you are one in Christ, united in him, one Spirit, one baptism.
There are differences, but all part of the same body.
Imagines what would happen if parts of body began to disrespect each other.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I
don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are
indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable
parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has
given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.
Of course, the parts Paul is talking about are people. Flesh and blood individuals.
He’s talking about the people in your church. Honor them. Indispensible.
There are a few things my dad said that had an immediate impact on me.
I distinctly remember him saying them. I remember the light bulbs going off.
I remember something he told me about the sovereignty of God—
an object lesson I’ve never forgotten that shaped my thinking forever.
And I remember something he told me about the church—
that convicted me then and ever since.
One evening, there was a knock on the door of the church manse.
This was in Tuscumbia, where my dad was pastor at First Presbyterian Church.
The visitor was a very strange woman.
She had been, many years earlier a kind of missionary in the hills of Kentucky.
There was an old, rundown house she had inherited in Tuscumbia.
It looked like a haunted house to me. She lived there alone.
She would wander the streets, and sometimes come to our house.
My sister and I did not like that. She was a little frightening.
So after she had left we told my dad that we wished she wasn’t in church.
He didn’t get cross or rebuke us. He asked two questions.
Who is going to accept her if not the church?
The world doesn’t have any love for a strange old missionary lady.
What would the church be if it turned her away?
It would be no different from the world.
Listen to this: I read it in a sermon this week. It’s a little long, but good.
(In the church) there are the shy and the bombastic; there are the cheerful and the morose; there are the refined and the unsophisticated; there are the likeable and the obnoxious; there are the clever and the dull; there are the gifted and the inept; there are the mature and the childish and everyone of us has less attractive qualities. Christianity begins with the admission that God did not love us and Christ did not die for us because we were any great shakes. We were not and are not. You know the old verse:
To dwell above with saints we love, Indeed! That will be glory.
To live below with saints we know, That is another story!
But our Heavenly Father did love us and Christ did die for us. And, as a result, we know, you and I know, brothers and sisters, that we ought to be willing to make every effort, ought to be willing to make great sacrifices, to love others as God and Christ have loved us. And the fact that God and Christ loved those brothers and sisters of ours, just as he loved us, means that it matters not one whit how much they irritate us, or how little we have in common with them. We are one with them and must behave like it. Anything less is an affront to the grace of God that has been lavished on us.
As Augustine said of his friend Alypius: “We were washed in the same blood.” Say that about your brother or sister in Christ. Does that fact not compel you to love and be patient and gentle with him or her? We were washed in the same blood. When we fail, let us mourn our failure and repent of it furiously. And then let us set out to treat our brothers and our sisters, perhaps especially those we might otherwise avoid or ignore or resent, with considerable love and kindness for no other reason than that by doing so we walk worthy of the calling that we have received.
Do I have to be more specific? I don’t think so. I’m thinking of people right now.
And I’m sure you are too.
MP#3 You must participate in the interdependency of the body.
That sounds complicated, but here it is in verse 5.
“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Let me read this to you in another translation—ESV.
“so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
In Christ, as a member of the church, we are individually members of one another.
Paul is saying that your true individuality is found, discovered, experienced—
in relation to the body of Christ.
I am part of you, you are part of me. I am like your eye or ear or hand or foot.
You are like my eye or ear or hand or foot.
Each individual is part of the other individuals in the body.
That’s who I am. I am part a part of you.
Which means that my individuality, my identity as God has created me to be
cannot be known except in serving you as I rely on Christ.
And yours cannot be know except in serving others in reliance on Christ.
Paul values individuality so highly that he does not fail to tell us how our true
individual selves can be known—and that is by living in connection with other
believers and serving and being served in the body of Christ.
Another childhood story, this one not as serious:
I heard my sister walk in the door crying—wailing would be a better word.
Sobbing, scream in grief and anguish. I walked to see what was the matter
and I noticed two things—one, that she had a very short haircut, and two
that she was holding in each hand her dirty-blonde pony tails.
The story I pieced together was that she had gone to the beauty parlor,
and had said that she wanted a short haircut.
And the hair stylist, with what you would call in a doctor, had poor bedside manner.
Instead of talking about short hair, and easing into it, had taken her shears and just
lopped off my sister’s pony tails. That brought a hysterical reaction.
She came home cradling them, and put them in a cigar box.
Here’s my point, removed from her body, those pony tails served no purpose.
Attached to her body, they enhanced her femininity, or her girlishness.
Apart from her body they had no identity, in fact, they were ridiculous.
Cruel brother that I was, I couldn’t help laughing at the way she cradled them.
If you are not participating in the interconnectedness of the body,
serving and being served—then you are a ridiculous Christian with no identity.
There is a word that Paul uses over and over in his letters, allalous.
Just one word in Greek, but in English translated “one another.”
This is Paul’s practical instruction for interdependency of the body—
starting in this chapter, Romans 12, and then surveying all of his letters.
Be devoted to one another, honor one another, live in harmony with one another,
stop passing judgment on one another, accept one another, admonish one another.
Hard to balance those, isn’t it? Accepting and admonishing. I’ve blown that.
Greet one another with a holy kiss, agree with one another, serve one another,
be patient, bearing with one another, be kind and compassionate to one another.
Speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
submit to one another, forgive the grievances you have against one another.
Encourage one another, build up one another.
Hebrews says: Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
James says: Pray for one another and confess your sins to one another.
Peter says: Offer hospitality to one another.
And John says again and again: Love one another, love one another . . .
Two thoughts, first of all, you can’t obey any of those commands of Christ,
if you aren’t participating in the interdependency of the body.
And other believers can’t obey them in regards to you. How can someone greet
you, be kind to you, serve you, admonish you—if they don’t know you?
But second, and most important—you can’t obey those commands at all!
This list of one another commands makes me feel one inch tall.
This list condemns me as a miserable failure as a member of the body of Christ.
And that drives me right to Jesus Christ.
Only in him can you approach this list and body life with joy and gratitude.
Because as the head of the body, as your covenant mediator, he has kept
all of these perfectly in your place.
Yes, we are bound to love one another, as Christ has perfectly loved us.
Yes, we are to accept one another, as Christ has perfectly accepted us.
Yes, we are to forgive all grievances, as God in Christ has fully forgiven us.
Yes, we are to be kind to one another, as God’s kindness in Christ repentance.
Yes, we are obliged to pray for one another, as Christ ever lives to make
intercession for the saints.
Jesus Christ did all things well, not only as our example but as our head,
in our place, as our Mediator and perfect substitute.
And so as you receive the bread and cup this morning,
consider the One who did for you all that is required of you.
That glorious truth should prompt all of you who are in Christ
to re-dedicate yourself to his body, this body,
to Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church, to all the individual members of it.
To keep and enjoy the unity of the body, to honor the diversity of the body,
as different and strange and hard to understand as some of those members are,
and to participate fully in the interdependency of the body.
Serving and being served, and finding in that, your purpose and calling.