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Romans 12:1-10 Gifts & Ministries of the Holy Spirit Part II

April 27th, 2009

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The book of Romans is the closest we get in the Bible to a single explanation of God’s plan of salvation. It starts in chapter 1 with dark comments on the way things went wrong for the human race. Having been made to worship God, men and women turned instead to the worship of created things. The result was foolishness and darkness (Romans 1:21-23).

Well, chapters 2-11 explain how God wins. Through the work of his son Jesus, God has brought a new ‘race’ into existence. And you can tell by the way they worship. You see the book of Romans, when it gets through describing God’s plan, and moves on to the life of those who are rescued by God, automatically starts with worship (Romans 12:1).

Renewed to Worship

The point? Those who belong to Jesus have their minds renewed (Romans 12:2) so they can offer worship, which is ‘reasonable’ (the meaning of the word in Romans 12:1, which is commonly translated ‘spiritual’). Reasonable worship is the opposite of the futility and foolishness of the idolatry of chapter 1.

So Romans, amongst other things, is about God fixing broken worshippers and, by the Holy Spirit, giving them the right mind.

Renewed to Serve

This book then goes on to talk about how these new people, with new minds, treat one another. In these verses we are told how they need to use the gifts God graciously gives to them ‘according the measure of faith assigned’ (Romans 12:3). God has not brought into existence a random bunch of disconnected superheroes and a few nobodies. He has placed us in a body – a body in which everybody plays a part, in which everybody is needed.

This means the end of individual pride and selfish ambition. That is like a cancer in this body. Members which function without the ‘renewed mind’ agenda are dangerous and need correcting. They are ‘conforming to this world’ (Romans 12:2). The antidote is to serve according to the grace and faith that God uniquely gives. This means God’s strength, not our selfishness, is the driving factor.

We’re then given some examples of how different gifts serve the body

  • Prophecy
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhorting
  • Contributing (giving)
  • Leadership
  • Mercy

Renewed to Judge Rightly

Without the goal in mind being the good of the whole body, and without the energy coming from the Holy Spirit, our ‘service’ becomes self-aggrandizing. If we ‘outdo one another’ it should be in ‘showing honour’ (Romans 12:10).

To avoid missing the point we need the sober judgement, which comes from the gospel – a gospel view of ourselves.

This means reflecting on how all that we have (our salvation, our faith, our gifting) is a gift from God – therefore it is nothing we can boast in (1 Corinthians 4:7). We mustn’t idolize our own gifting or we’ll lose perspective and react fearfully or proudly whenever our false self worth is threatened.

To think soberly about oneself is to remember one is nothing special and one has no better thing than Jesus, with whom we must be completely satisfied, however well our gift is received!

We must also avoid idolizing other people’s gifts, to the point where we wish we were someone else and, instead of practicing our own measure of faith, submit to unbelief.

The main gift of the Holy Spirit is a renewed mind. With that in place everything else falls into place.

The final thing we need to do is settle with the fact that God has put us in a body. The best way to discover our gifts is to find out what it is we do which truly builds up other members. Then we can go crazy playing to our strengths. But this is humbling as we need to start accepting the evaluation of the people around us.

That can hurt but the gospel helps us to remember we are nothing special in ourselves – but loved as the most treasured possessions of almighty God! This means we can afford to get our ‘spiritual gifts ego’ jilted from time to time.

Mount Carmel – Gunfight at OK Corral

April 19th, 2009

Elijah arrived at Mount Carmel for the showdown with the prophets of Baal. This represents the climax of Elijah’s ministry.

God often allowed Israel to be up against overwhelming odds where his hero stands virtually alone so that God can break in and demonstrate that salvation comes ultimately from God.

Moses stood against mighty Pharaoh and his army. David stood against Goliath and the Philistine army. Each of them stood virtually alone. Gideon had to cut his army down to only 300 to stand against the tens of thousands of Midianites. Each time God wanted to demonstrate His own power to intervene with salvation.

God always needed a mediator who would represent Him through obedience and faith so that He could work through His agent to bring deliverance.

Elijah represented God on this occasion. He showed complete contempt for the false religion represented by Baal. The Bible never suggests that all religions ultimately lead to God. False religion is despised (Romans 1:21-23).

The exposure of false religion
The prophets of Baal begin their ritual leaping around the altar.

They move on to ‘cutting themselves’ and displaying the kind of self-harm sometimes associated with religions that try to rid themselves of guilt through asceticism, special washings, pilgrimage etc.

Thirdly, they raved, moving into a frenzy totally unrelated to life.

Some reject Christianity because of its outrageous claim to be uniquely right. Many would argue, ‘How can only one religion be the right one?’ but this is not a scientific reason to question but rather an emotional response of rejection. It is not logical.

Not all religions lead to the same conclusion.

Restoring the covenant relationship
Elijah invited the people to draw near and rebuild the altar with its reminder of the twelve tribes and God’s covenant relationship to them, as reflected in Exodus 28:17-21 by the twelve beautiful gems on the High Priest’s chest, each expressing God’s tender love towards His people.

Elijah, the obedient servant, prays according to the will of God and fire falls.

Jesus said, ‘If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you’ (John 15:7).

Another greater showdown

Before we close, let’s remember another hill where another encounter took place, another crowd stood against a single mediator.

On this occasion, instead of the mediator taunting like Elijah did the prophets of Baal, he himself is being taunted.

‘He trusts in God let Him rescue him if he delights in Him.’

‘If you’re the Son of God, come down from the cross.’

‘He is the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him.’

No fire falls from heaven. No answer comes from the sky. They cry, ‘He saved others, he cannot save himself.’

If Jesus the great mediator of God is going to save us, he cannot save himself. There can be no answer from heaven. There can be no miraculous escape. He must endure the suffering that others might be saved.

Later, Paul explains, in Colossians 2:14, ‘He cancelled the writing that stood against us with its legal demands. He set it aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open shame by triumphing over them.’

He could not save himself because he was saving us.

This is the greatest showdown of all time. Salvation is from the Lord. He must save. He must deliver.

This is Jesus in his glory
King of heaven dying for me.
It is finished, he has done it.
Death is beaten
Heaven beckons me.

You can watch or listen to this sermon here

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Apostles and Evangelists

April 6th, 2009

Sunday before last at CCK I preached the fourth of six messages on the theme of the Holy Spirit. The focus this time was on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (and this will remain as the theme for the rest of the series). I looked especially at the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 and we finished the evening service with one of our occasional Q and A sessions.

I only had time to take a couple this time as the first two needed long answers.

Another that came in, however, was worth a quick blog entry:

The foundation of the church was laid long ago, so why do we still need apostles?

There is a sense in which the foundation of the church was laid long ago. The first apostles in that respect were unique. The whole church through history was given its foundation in the complete writings of scripture – and there is no authority above the scripture. Any ‘Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ suggesting otherwise (or claiming some secret interpretation of scripture over against the obvious one) should be ignored – or pushed off a cliff. Yes in that sense the foundation is complete, final and not to be supplemented.

But to deduce from this that all the foundation laying in church life has been done forever is a mistake. Every generation – and indeed every church – will have foundations: non-negotiable deal-breaker characteristics, doctrines, values, principles, goals and sustained passions. These exist by default. In any given community, you keep pushing and you’ll soon find what these things are. What are these people living for? What makes them tick? What can you get thrown out for? What is the mission, how do you know who is in on it, and on what basis do you get in? The answers to these questions are your foundations.

Either these foundations will be laid down by accident or deliberately. The people who lay them should not do so according to preferences. The first apostles knew they were servants of revelation and insisted that this revelation should be set down at the very heart of every local church. When they laid this foundation properly, their work would take them elsewhere. This is surely the kind of activity Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 3:10 every local church needed apostolic foundations. With these in place in a key city, Paul could consider a whole region to have as good as received the gospel (Acts 19:10; Romans 15:18-19).

Apostles given by Jesus to the church today must continue to lay foundations in every church. The major difference between today’s apostles and ancient ones is that today’s apostles submit to, and apply, the scriptures – they don’t write them!

On another note, I also taught that Sunday on the Ephesians 4:11 gift of evangelist and referred to Phil Turner as a good example of this gift in CCK. Well I like to think I was proved right this week. Phil preached at our services today and saw at least 22 people make a response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Aside from baptizing 16 new believers – 8 at each service – I’d say that made it a good day. Jesus is giving gifts for the building of his church