This devotional will be the final installment in this more-than-year-long series, and we thought Chris Spencer’s charge to the congregation from the 4/25/21 evening service would be a fitting way to end it. So as we move forward together as a church, let us be joyful in hope, patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer!
The charge I have for all of us tonight is from Romans 12. Starting at verse 9:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13
This text is fitting for the occasion because directly preceding it, Paul describes the giving of gifts of grace to the body: one body with many members, having different functions and roles, receiving varying measures of grace for their callings. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Paul does the same sequence, going from spiritual gifts and the diverse members of the body directly to how to love one another. “And I will show you a still more excellent way,” he says of the ways of love. It is not difficult to understand why he thinks we need to hear 13 rapid exhortations after telling us about varying gifts and functions in the body – this is a scenario ripe for trouble in our natural inclinations. Self-sufficiency, self-rule, self-love are deeply embedded in these bodies of death. How can we possibly accomplish this charge?
The answer to that question is found in verse 1 of chapter 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Paul’s appeal to us is that we can only do this by the mercies of God. You hear it with the therefore. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” The preceding chapters of Romans are summed up with that one phrase, “by the mercies of God.” He starts with 11 chapters of rich gospel explanation:
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [3:23]
- For the wages of sin is death [6:23]
- But [Christ] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification [4:25]
- He brings us to faith and pours out his Holy Spirit on us [5:5]
- Not only is there now no condemnation, we are more than conquerors [8:1, 8:37]
- God is now for us, and no one can be against us. He graciously gives us all things [8:31-32]
- His providence is such that all things work together for our good [8:28]
- His love is such that nothing can separate us from it [8:38-39]
Only by these mercies of God in Christ Jesus can we present ourselves as living sacrifices, each submitting our work fully to our king, interdependent with his church, entrusting him with the outcome.
It’s not a perfect picture, but one image that may be helpful is that of a benevolent king leading his army in the restoration of his rightful kingdom. We were, each one of us, traitors to this king, but in mercy that cost him everything, he not only granted us pardon but gave us royal standing in his kingdom. As evidence of our gratitude and desire to serve him, we present ourselves for duty, willing to give all we have for the sake of his kingdom. He gives all manner of gifts and equipment to us for the accomplishing of his work. There are infantry and cavalry, cooks and nurses, scouts and captains and generals. Some are out on the front lines, others are rarely seen. All are following him. This does not mean that there aren’t conflicts. As he goes ahead of us, there can be arguments about which way to go, or what to prioritize as we follow him. But because all trust him and his sure victory and all remember the mercy they were shown, we are able to genuinely love and honor each other.
In closing, I want to focus on three specific ways we can press on together by the mercies of God:
- Rejoice in hope – what is visible and what is temporal is a very, very small fraction of our ultimate reality. We have such a great hope and such a sure hope that we can rejoice in it even right now. This joy honors our Lord and is encouragingly contagious.
- Be patient in tribulation – because of that assured hope, we can be patient. We know the end. It may not feel like it, but it is only a short matter of time. For the joy set before him Christ endured the cross. Let us endure patiently together
- Be constant in prayer – Matthew Henry says that prayer is a friend to hope and patience. God knows our frame and exactly what we need; exactly what our church needs. He is for us – his power, his wisdom, his love all working for his glory and our good. Ask him!
And finally, as Paul reminds us just before chapter 12, all of this – the source, the means, the destination, the purpose, are His:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.