As Paul reached out to find a simile to adequately describe the church of Yeshua Ha'Moshiach, the one he came back to time and time again was the comparison between the church and a body. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians Paul makes over 30 references to the body of Christ.
The analogy of the "body" applies to two definitions of the church. Yes, it does refer to the Church universal. That is the great all encompassing group of Christians throughout the world who call themselves by so many different names. However, I think that the local church also needs to be viewed as the body of Christ. Each local church is to function as the body of Christ. In Romans 12:9-13 Paul gives the church at Rome and the church triumphant some principles of body life. This is how we are to live!
As we read through the New Testament, we see some of the dynamics of those early days of the church were unique. Yet the essence of what they did: fellowship, prayer, worship, rejoicing, giving, meeting one another's needs, exhorting one another, supporting one another, caring for one another, constitute the very essence of ongoing body life for the church in every generation.
Nowhere does the contrast between the world's way of thinking and the biblical mind become more apparent than in verses 9-21. The kind of living that Paul calls us to is abnormal. It is unnatural. It is supernatural living. The five verses from Romans 12:9-13 contain 13 exhortations. Paul is giving ways to build up the body of Christ:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 NASB
Paul tells us that loving without hypocrisy involves hating what is evil and clinging to what is good. This is the only time that Paul, or any New Testament writer, tells believers to "hate" evil. We only know good and evil from the objective standard of the Word of God.
Paul goes on to tell us that love expresses itself in the church by devotion to one another. It holds the other in honor and gives to the other the place of preference. True love seeks the good of our brother, even at our own expense:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; Romans 12:10 NASB
The word "devoted" is from the Greek word philostorgos, which is a combination of two words: phileo, which means: "a love of friendship and camaraderie, warm affectionate love." And the word storge, which is the love of affection that arises through natural attachment, it is a natural family love. So philostorgos refers to a special kind of love. It's used only here in the whole New Testament. But it is not a rare word outside the New Testament. It refers to: "tender affection, particularly family affection." So Paul is calling for Christians to have "tender affection toward each other in family love."
The he adds: in "Brotherly love"--this is from philadelphia, which comes from two words: philos, which means: "tender affection, fondness, devotion," and adelphos, usually translated: "brother," but it literally means: "one born of the same womb." So the word philadelphia literally means: "tender affection owed to those born from the same womb."
So he uses two words that express kindred love in the same phrase, which makes a very strong statement. Love each other as kindred, and love each other as kindred, twice in a row. It is not just a theological love, it is an affection; a tender, kind, caring, concerned affection.
Paul uses this kind of language, not for biological families, but for the family of Christians--the Church. Here is the kind of devotedness that is called for within this body of believers. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." The basis of concern for one another is not that we know each other well or enjoy one another, it is that we are related to one another!
Notice what Yeshua said in regards to this subject:
Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." Matthew 12:47-50 NASB
Yeshua changes the order of relationships and shows that true kinship is not just a matter of flesh and blood. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God transforms all our relationships and requires a new order of loyalty to God and His kingdom.
All believers, every believer is part of our family. And we are to love all believers everywhere all the time. That's hard because most of us have some inner qualifications. We don't like this group or that denomination. Maybe we're not comfortable with people who are Arminian or Futurists or those who speak in tongues or with those who use a prayer book. God's kingdom is not limited to graduates of one seminary or members of one denomination or to people who look, think, and act just like us. God's kingdom embraces all true believers no matter who they are or what church they happen to attend. It seems that Christians today want to divide over everything. Steve Ham has a video out entitled: Should We Divide Over the Age of the Earth? And from reading the blog about the video, I assume his answer is," Yes!" Where does it stop? There are some things we need to divide over, but let's make sure they are major issues.
We are talking about supernatural living here. If you don't feel this way toward believers then you need to pray that God would change your heart toward His other children.
If what he said so far is not enough to make your head spin and make you feel very inadequate, Paul goes on to say: "Give preference to one another in honor"--the word "preference" here is from the Greek proegeomai, which means: "to go before and show the way, to lead the way, set the example." And the word "honor" comes from the Greek time, which has the idea of valuing, respect, or even kindness. We are to lead the way in giving respect to one another.
The Greek word proegeomai actually has a sense of competition about it, and could be translated: "outdo one another," which is very accurate. In the Christian context, it means that we take affirmative action to make sure that others receive preferential treatment before we do. This obviously goes so much against our human nature that it is not possible without dependance on the Lord.
This is hard for us to do within our own churches and families, now imagine how hard honoring one another would have been for the Jewish and uncircumcised Gentile believers meeting together in the synagogues in Rome. But this command is to honor each other above themselves; that would have seemed well-nigh impossible.
Just in case you're hoping that this command is just for the Romans, Paul gave this same command to the believers in Philippi. And it applies to all of us as well:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; Philippians 2:3 NASB
The words "humility of mind" are one word in the Greek, tapeinophrosune, it means: "humiliation of mind," i.e. modesty, humbleness of mind, lowliness (of mind). This word is not found in any Greek writings before the New Testament, which means the New Testament writers invented this word. The adjective form, tapeinos, was often used to describe the mentality of a slave. It conveys the idea of base, shabby, scummy, unfit, low, common, useless. Humility was never seen in the pre New Testament world as a virtue. It was ugly and never to be sought.
To the pagans, humility was a vise, and I believe it still is. The world encourages pride, the world says you are somebody, think highly of yourself, you're better than others. The sad thing is that this attitude is also prevalent in the Church. Even though the Word of God clearly tells us to think humbly of ourselves.
Paul defines humility as esteeming others better than yourself. If you're humble, this will be easy for you. So, are you humble?
John Calvin, commenting on this verse, wrote, "Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this is the worst. Hence it is not surprising if humility is so rare a virtue. For as one says, 'Everyone has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.' What pride! Afterwards from a foolish admiration of ourselves arises contempt of the brethren. And so far are we from what Paul here enjoins, that one can hardly endure that others should be on the same level; for there is no one that is not eager to be on top."
We are to regard others "more important," huperecho (to hold oneself above, to excel; superiority,higher, supreme). This could be translated: "thinking of others as superior to yourself."
Imagine a horizontal line with an "S" on one end for those you esteem Superior to yourself, and an "L" on the other end for those you think are Lower than you. Now, if you are honest, where do you put yourself on that line? You no doubt have some people who you regard as superior to yourself, unless you have been really eaten up with pride, but think of all those people who you think you're better than. There's probably a lot more of these. It may look something like this:
You might say (to yourself) of those people who you think are lower than you, "But they're low lives, they don't even use the brain God gave them, they're really messed up. How can God expect me to think of them as superior to me?" Ah, the pride is really showing now, isn't it? Dwell on this long enough and you'll see the depth of your pride.
do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NASB
The word "look" is skopeo, it means: "to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others, looking to meet the interests of others and not just ourself. We need to hear this; we are so consumed with ourselves that we have no time for others.
If we esteem others as better than ourselves, we will look out for their interest, we'll be concerned with their needs. Just in case you're thinking that this is impossible, I want you to see that Timothy fleshed this out, Paul said this of him in:
For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:20-21 NASB
Notice that he doesn't say that others care for themselves and not you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ, to love Christ is to love His people.
not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Romans 12:11 NASB
"Not lagging behind in diligence"--Paul is challenging us to put as much effort into our Christianity as we do into our work or sports.
We are to be "Fervent in spirit"--this word fervent is from the Greek zeo, which has the idea of:"boiling." This same Greek word is used of Apollos in:
This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; Acts 18:25 NASB
He was "fervent in spirit"--this is referring to the human spirit. He was a fervent preacher of the truth, as he understood it.
The Christian life ought to be filled with enthusiasm. Perhaps Paul is referring to what he has just written--urging the believers to be diligent, with no hint of laziness, in their devoted love and preference for each other.
Our diligence and fervent spirit is to be in: "Serving the Lord"--all we do for our brothers and sisters is service to the Lord. How we serve one another is how we serve Christ. We see this service to the Lord in Epaphroditus of the Philippian Church risking his life to minister to Paul while he was in prison in Rome:
Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. Philippians 2:29-30 NASB
The "work of Christ" that he almost died for was service to Paul. We serve the Lord by treating others better than ourselves, by loving our brothers.
This diligent, fervent spirit is what is called for in the great commandment:
And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Luke 10:27 NASB
We love and serve the Lord by loving and serving our brothers and sisters:
If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. 1 John 4:20-21 NASB
That's clear enough, isn't it? You love God by loving your brothers.
rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, Romans 12:12 NASB
Behind these first two phrases lies the hope of our Lord's return. Paul has already written about this theme in the opening verses of chapter 5. Having explained the sufferings that the church is called to endure as she bears witness to the one who has called her.
What is HOPE? Let me give you the biblical definition of hope, because the word "hope" has come to have a different meaning today than that which was originally used in the New Testament. Today it indicates something of contingency; an expectancy that something will happen, but there is some question as to whether or not it will really occur. We say, "I hope they'll show up," indicating some uneasiness or uncertainty about the future. But this is not the New Testament usage.
In the New Testament, "hope" indicates an absolute certainty about the future, an attitude of eager expectancy, of confidence in God and His ability to do what He has promised. The "hope" that the Bible speaks of is the coming of Christ to judge His enemies and vindicate His saints. This was the hope of the transition saints, and they rejoiced in this hope.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope Romans 8:20 NASB
God subjected man to futility, but He did so in hope! It's God who cursed the creation, but He did it in hope. What was this hope? At the same time that God cursed man He also gave him hope of deliverance:
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23 NASB
Paul explains hope as the substance of their full salvation--the redemption of the body of Christ.
Do we have hope today? Yes, all of us who have placed our trust in Yeshua have the hope of heaven--"But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." We don't "see" heaven, but we have an absolute certainty about the future. Hope sustains us in living and in dying--and everything in between, since our lives do not depend on the government or our employer or good fortune, but rather on Christ alone.
"Persevering in tribulation"--the word "tribulation" is from the Greek thlipsis, which means: "pressure (literally or figuratively), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble." This is a strong term and does not refer to minor inconveniences, but to real hardships. It was used in reference to squeezing olives for the oil, or squeezing grapes for the wine.
It's typically the external pressure that affects you inwardly. It can be anything that gets in the way of our faithfulness to Christ; anything that presses us so that it is difficult to go forward spiritually. For some it is the threat of bodily harm for living as a Christian. For others, it is the opposition of spouse or children against your faith in Christ. For others, it is the lure of the world to compromise your faith in Christ. Paul uses a present participle to describe the ongoing practice of "persevering in tribulation."
"Devoted to prayer"--the word "devoted" is from the Greek proskartereo. It first meant: "to be strong towards, to endure in, persevere in." It came to mean: "adhere to, persist in, to continue to do something with intense effort," with the possible implication of: "despite difficulty." It points to constancy, purpose, or resolve. Out of ten uses of the verb and one use of the noun in the New Testament, six are connected with prayer.
The word for "prayer" here is proseuche. This is a general word for prayer, it means: "to humbly prostrate yourself before someone." It has the idea of submission to God. Now listen to this: Sometimes proseuche was used in Jewish writings as a synonym for "synagogue" since Jewish synagogues were essentially places of prayer. Could there be double meaning here? Could Paul be saying, "Be devoted to the synagogue"? It's interesting that he says, "persevering in tribulation," and then says, "devoted to prayer." There is no doubt that the believing Gentiles were being persecuted in the synagogue. Is this Paul telling them to hang in there???
What does this mean to be devoted to prayer? It means that we are to pray often and to pray regularly. Prayer is not to be infrequent, and prayer is not to be hit and miss. Being "devoted to" prayer means that we are not haphazard, and we are not forgetful. It means we take steps to see that it is part of our regular life, the same way eating and sleeping are.
Prayer is vital to a believer's spiritual health. Prayer is a life priority. It connects me with God and it connects me with God's provision for my life. Prayer declares our dependance upon God. We live in a culture of self-sufficiency: We'll be our own gods, thank you very much, and we'll take care of our own needs. But prayer is our recognition that: we are not adequate, we're not sufficient, we need help. Therefore, I'm not praying because I'm going to get God to do what I want. I'm praying because I'm desperate, and I need Christ. Brethren, this is one of the most demanding of disciplines! Yet it is also one of the most rewarding.
contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Romans 12:13 NASB
The word "contributing" is the Greek word is koinonia, which means communion, sharing, partnership, fellowship. That means I'm partners with other saints, and if they have a need, we're partners. Our resources are for each other, right?
In Acts chapter 2 and 4 it describes the early church. They were selling the things they had when someone had need, taking the money gained from the sale and giving it to the people who had the need:
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:44-45 NASB
The Greek word translated: "common" is from the same root as the word for "fellowship" in verse 42. That tells me something about real Christian fellowship. Fellowship is more than merely hanging out with other Christians. It involves a commitment to one another.
This is how the very first Christians lived. Stop and think about this, it is staggering. They were selling their stuff to meet the needs of others. When is the last time you sold something to help out another believer? Wow! This is love, these are Christ's disciples.
These saints encountered different needs. Some faced poverty due to their faith. Times were hard for others: famines, drought, disease, and other needs faced the saints. Many were dispersed from their homes to travel to Rome or other large cities in hope of finding work, and squeezing out a living.
This injunction to care for one another regularly appears in the New Testament (Acts 24:23; Gal 6:10; Eph 4:28; Phil 2:25; 1 Tim 6:18; Heb 13:16). The apostle clearly could not conceive of a believing community not giving care towards those who were in need, as his letters to the Corinthians make abundantly clear (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9). It is thought by some that there is the possibility of a veiled hint that the Roman Church was providing for the destitute members of the impoverished Jerusalem Church.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 1 Timothy 6:17-18 NASB
That's part of Christian duty, make others your partner, make others your co-partner so that all you have is theirs if they have need.
Christians are to be conscientious when it comes to the needs of the brethren and to seek ways to participate in their needs. Sometimes it is money that is needed; other times it is a hand in a task; still other times the need is one of presence more than money. In our text, the primary focus is on Christian benevolence, seeing need among the brethren and seeking to meet it.
In these days when we have so much social help available--unemployment insurance, Social Security, welfare, Medicare, etc.-- we tend to forget that there are still human needs, and that we have a responsibility to meet them. I think we need to be reminded at times that people are still hurting, and that it is a direct responsibility of Christians to care for one another's needs.
"Practicing hospitality"--hospitality is from the Greek word philonexia. It comes from philos, which means: "love," and xenos, which means: "stranger." It means: "loving strangers." This is a very strong statement, it literally means: "Pursue the love of strangers. And the verb implies continuous action.
We don't usually think of hospitality as one of the top commands, but the Jews saw it as number one. Where did the Jew get the idea that hospitality was so important? They got this idea from the Torah!
'When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 'The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 NASB
Israel was told to love strangers as they loved themselves:
"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21 NASB
"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 NASB
The Lord threatens judgement on those who don't love strangers:
"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5 NASB
When Job was protesting against his sickness, one of the virtues that he said he never neglected was hospitality:
"The alien has not lodged outside, For I have opened my doors to the traveler. Job 31:32 NASB
God not only wanted Israel to love strangers, He wants the same from us, his church:
Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 1 Peter 4:9 NASB
Hospitality is a duty of love, which is why commands about hospitality were linked together with commands to love:
Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB
The writer commands them to "let love of the brethren continue," and then he says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers." The word, "hospitality" is from the Greek word philonexia (fil-o-nex-see-a). It is the same word we saw in 1 Peter 4:9. So, the writer of Hebrews is saying that "entertaining strangers" is a matter of love.
I read something that made me feel really guilty. So I'd like to share it with you, too! Dr. David Batsone told the following story to illustrate Christian hospitality:
A flatbed truck of Salvadoran refugees lumbered down the main road of the village and stopped in front of us. The refugees were fleeing the aerial bombardment that we could hear in the distance. They carried all of their meager worldly possessions with them.
My wife and I were eating lunch at an old wooden table outside the one-room cardboard-and-palm-leaf hut of our hostess, Sandra, and her family. Twelve people lived in that small hut, and the lunch that Sandra had prepared for us went well beyond the means of her family.
As the truck dropped off some people who were seeking shelter with relatives in the village, Sandra jumped up and grabbed the tortillas and beans that had not yet been eaten. She ran over to the truck and gave the food to the refugees, who wasted no time in filling their empty stomachs.
Returning to the hut with a joyful smile on her face, Sandra said, 'Isn't it wonderful that we can serve others? God could have called the angels to do all of the work that needs to be done. God doesn't need us, but He allows us to participate!'
How many of us would have the same attitude under those conditions? That is true hospitality. That is love in action. That is a true reflection of our wonderful God who loves us.
In the time of the New Testament, there were no such things as hotels or motels. The only "hotels" around were brothels. So, one of the first practices that the early church set up was the practice of hospitality so that those in the Christian community who traveled, whether for business or for the purpose of preaching and spreading the Gospel, would have safe places to go to. By the time of the crusades, the church as an institution set up official hospices--places where officials of the church could stay a night. When the crusades happened, many of these were transformed into care centers for the wounded, sick, and injured. After the crusades, people discovered that they could make a living giving travelers a place to rest, so the hotel was born. These many hospices that were set up became places where the church took care of the poor, sick, aged, and crippled. Thus the concept of the hospital was born.
Today, though, of course the times are different. When people travel, they much more often stay in a hotel; they are safe, and they don't inconvenience others. Still the Scriptures repeatedly tell us to practice hospitality to one another, there is still a great need for it today. Alexander Strauch, in his book, The Hospitality Commands, writes this:
At heart we are all selfish, and selfishness is the single greatest enemy of hospitality. We do not want to be inconvenienced. We do not want to share our privacy or time with others. We are consumed with our personal comforts. We want to be free to go about our business without interference or concern for other people's needs. We don't want the responsibility and work that hospitality entails. We are greedy and don't want to share our food, home, or money. We are afraid that we will be used or that our property will sustain damage. All of these attitudes are selfish, and selfishness is sin.
One of the most neglected practices among Christians in the 21st century is hospitality. There are lonely, hurting people everywhere who need a human touch, a word of encouragement or counsel, and a sense of belonging. What are you doing about it? Do you make any effort to reach out to others?
Nothing complicated in this text--just a call to faithfulness in living as a Christian in the body of Christ. That's "Body Life!"
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