As I sit and prepare for Sunday School, I cannot tell you how excited I am for this lesson. I constantly hear calls for “unity” in the church but, very few of the proclaimers for unity, actually give a clear path of action, a blueprint if you will, that leads to Biblical unity. The vague call is “we just need to love more”. I understand that but, how to you express that call in concrete ways? I am a concrete thinker because when concepts are concrete, people are more likely to apply them. When concepts are abstract, people are less likely to apply because they are not sure what or how to apply the concept. God’s Word presents concepts in concrete ways so that we are able to apply them. In fact, when Jesus gives many of His teachings in parables, He lays the understanding and application in the lap of the audience by exclaiming, “he who has ears, let him hear”. In other words, if you heard this message, you are responsible to understand it and then apply it to your life. This is why God teaches concepts to us in concrete ways, because He wants us to understand them and then apply them. If we have a hard time with understanding, then the Lord tells us to ask Him for understanding and He will give as much as we ask for, without chastising us for asking again and again. In this lesson, we are going to examine Romans 12 in order to discover the blueprint for unity in Christ.
I. Devotion to the Lord
This chapter begins with the foundation of unity, a genuine relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. If a person has not dedicated his or her life to following Christ, Biblical unity cannot take place. The reason that it cannot take place is because the selfish, sin nature of that person is calling the shots. This person will desire to be served instead of desiring to serve.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
There are four verbs, two of which are commands, in this passage that we must understand if we are going to be able to follow the blueprint for Biblical unity. First, we will begin with two of the verbs that are not commands and then we will look at the two verbs that are commands.
The Verbs that are not commands:
- Present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God.
- Prove/Live out the will of God.
The Verbs that are commands:
- Command number 1 – Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world.
- Command number 2 – Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The first verb is “to present” your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God. The verb is presented in the infinitive form in English. In Koine Greek, the verb is presented as a completed action in the past with present implications. It could have been translated, “since you have already presented your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God” now do the following. The Apostle Paul is writing to people who have already accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They had already given up the leadership of their own lives and turned that leadership over to Jesus Christ. In order to be able to obey the two commands that follow, this first event has to have already taken place. Only disciples of Jesus Christ are able to obey the commands of verse 2. Let’s examine those commands now. The first one is “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world“. This is a direct command but in Koine Greek, Paul tells the audience “you have to do this but you cannot do it in your own strength, you do not have the ability, you need an outside source to help you“. If you are not aware and if you are not intentional about your actions, you will automatically be conformed to the pattern of this world. Temptation is all around you. You have a sin nature in you that wants to respond to that temptation and lead you to sin. If you are not intentional about your attitude and actions then, you will cave to temptation and sin. Being aware is not enough. You need help from an outside source to keep you from caving to temptation and sin. The second command reveals the outside source that can help you. The second command is “be transformed by the renewing of your mind“. The way this reads in Koine Greek is “you cannot transform your mind, you can only have your mind transformed from an outside source“. The outside source is what reveals the will of God. In other words, the Word of God is what is going to renew my mind so that I can cry out to God for help and not give in to temptation and sin. Once I understand my need for help and I cry out to God for help, I am able to do what the final verb reveals in this passage. I am able to prove or, in other words, live out the will of God. This will is good, acceptable, and perfect.
So, even though you want to walk in Biblical unity, it is impossible on your own. First, you must be a follower of Jesus Christ. Then you have to realize that if you are not aware and intentional, you will automatically be conformed to the pattern of this world, that is, giving in to temptation and sin which will produce disunity. When you expose yourself to the Word of God, It renews your mind and gives you the ability to cry out to God for help. God will help you accomplish His good, acceptable, and perfect will which ends up manifesting in Biblical unity. Have you dedicated yourself to following Christ moment by moment, day by day? Are you allowing your mind to be renewed by being a diligent student of the Word of God? What steps are you taking to keep yourself from being conformed to the pattern of this world? Remember, if you are not intentional, your default is to develop worldly habits.
II. Devotion to serving others
When a person connects with God through faith in Jesus Christ and is born again, he or she receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s presence takes up residence in the life of a person. The Holy Spirit brings spiritual gifts to the life of the person. These gifts are to be employed in serving others. No spiritual gift is to be used in serving self. There is a change in attitude. When I have a spiritual gift, I do not want to employ it to meet my own selfish desires. I want to employ that gift for the benefit of others.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Romans 12:6)
What are the results of employing my spiritual gift to serve others?
1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3 “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6)
According to Acts 6, we see that the gifts bring about unity, resolve conflicts, and allow each member of the body to serve according to his own gift. Do you have spiritual gifts? Do you know what those spiritual gifts are? Are you using your spiritual gifts to serve others? Does the employment of your spiritual gifts produce unity, resolve conflicts, and allow each member of the body to serve according to his or her own gift(s)?
Now, let’s turn our attention to the things that we need to do in order to see Biblical unity manifested in our own lives and in the life of the church. This manifestation will overflow into our neighborhoods and bring transformation to our community.
III. Devotion to unity
This section is full of verbs because this is where the action is. We are going to examine Romans 12:9-18. These 10 verses contain 24 actions. We are just going to cover 5 of them for the sake of time and space.
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
The first thing that we learn is that love is to be without hypocrisy. This means that our actions flow from our motives. When our motives are deceptive, our actions will reveal it. If our love flows from insincere motives, it is no longer Godly love. It becomes selfish love and extremely conditional. Do you love and serve others out of sincere motives? Are your actions and service conditional? In other words, do you do what you do for the benefit of others, no matter how they respond? By nature we are insincere in our actions. We usually have hidden, deceptive motives. When we are not walking with the Lord in obedience, our motives get warped. Disunity will be the result of this. The second thing is that unity is a two way street. It takes two to tango. In other words, I can seek unity but the other person has to do the same for Biblical unity to manifest itself in our midst. This is seen in a practical way by our reaction to sin. The second action in this section is to abhor evil. If I run away from evil and you do the same, we will be unified by the fact that we are going in the same direction. A major stumbling block to unity in the church is that not everyone abhors sin. Some like to hang around it. Unity around sin is not Biblical unity. We cannot be “unified” at all costs, as some would like to proclaim. The third action flows from the second. When I run away from evil, I run to the direction of good and I am to cling to good. The idea is best described with the example of a magnet and metal objects. Sin is a magnet and good is also a magnet. By running towards one or the other, I get sucked in to one magnetic field or the other, depending on which direction I run. Unity around doing what is good is Biblical unity. Unity around sin is anything but Biblical unity. We must desire one and reject the other, so, the idea of unity at any cost is not a Biblical idea. The fourth action is that we are to be devoted to each other in brotherly love. I serve you with my spiritual gift for your own good. You serve me with your spiritual gift for my own good. We develop a personal relationship when we live in Biblical unity like this. We have sincere relationships. We do life together. We get involved in each other’s lives. This is what Biblical unity looks like. We do not just tolerate each other. We love each other and dedicate ourselves to serving each other. The fifth action is develops out of our personal relationship with each other. We serve the Lord together. God is not looking for lone rangers to serve Him. He is looking for people who want to be part of a team. Are you part of a team, doing life together so that you can serve the Lord together? This is what real Biblical unity looks like. If you are not seeking this type of unity then the unity that you promote and call for is not Biblical unity.
May the Lord help us dedicate ourselves to Him, dedicate ourselves to serving one another, and dedicate ourselves to serving the Lord together!!!