Offer Yourself To God As A Living Sacrifice; Renew Your Mind So You Will Be Able To Live The Right Way; Understand Your Gifts So You Can Serve The Best Way; Other Instructions For God-Honoring Living
The letter to the Romans was written by one of the greatest men who ever lived. Paul was an apostle (a representative of the Lord), a prophet and a great rabbi. A lot of books have been written about theology, which is the study of God and what God wants and what He does and how He works. This may be the greatest theological work ever written.
So far, Paul has spent 11 chapters on theology. Now, the Rabbi helps Christians and Messianic Jews understand how we are to live in light of those great theological truths. The first thing he mentions: we are to dedicate ourselves to God. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. When someone has the right to kill you, but instead, spares you and blesses you beyond measure, the proper response is to pay him back in a really significant way. God has been so merciful to us. Because of our sin and rebellion, each one of us deserves to be destroyed. However, the Lord spared us and made us into His glorious sons and daughters, eternal companions of the King of Kings. The proper response to such mercy and grace is to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
According to the Torah – bulls, goats, sheep and pigeons were offered as sacrifices to God. They were not living sacrifices, however. The living animals were killed, their blood was used for atonement and their bodies were completely burned, or partially eaten and the rest of their bodies burned. The animal that was offered to God was completely used in the worship of God.
You ask someone – how do you worship God? I think most will answer something like: by going to church and singing songs of praise to the Lord; listening to the message; eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion; by praying; by giving money to the church. Rabbi Paul would say: those things are good. They are expressions of worship. But there is a higher and truer form of worship, and that is giving yourself to God – fully, completely, devotedly, like a living sacrifice. From that higher form of worship, those other expressions of worship will flow naturally from you, and you will be able to serve God the way He wants to be served; and you will live the way He wants you to live – a life that is characterized by holy living.
It’s not easy to be a living sacrifice. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and Rabbi Paul let’s us know how we can do it. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Have you ever noticed that when spend a lot of time with someone, he starts to rub off on you? You begin to think like him and maybe even talk like him? When you are surrounded by people who share the same values, you are influenced by them and begin to share their values.
The world is in rebellion against God; and the way people think does not reflect the way God thinks. Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Your ways are not my ways. Since we are surrounded by a world whose thoughts contradict God’s, we need to make a conscious decision to reject the world’s way of thinking and replace it with God’s way of thinking. We need to reprogram our minds so we won’t be conformed to the world.
How do we do that? We begin each day by redirecting our minds to talk to God. We ask Him to fill us with His Spirit, so that we will be close to Him and have the ability to think the right way and live the right way. Then, during the day, we have a running conversation with God. We talk to Him about things that interest us and concern us. We praise Him for who He is and what He has done, is doing and will do. We thank Him for all the many things He does for us. We ask Him to meet our needs and the needs of others.
One of the greatest assets that helps us renew our minds is the Word of God. Ideally each day, and ideally at the beginning of the day, we read the Word of God. That helps refocus our thoughts on God and what is important to God. During the day, we think about the Word of God and try to apply its teachings to every situation we face, every decision we need to make.
If we do this, we will be able to live in the way God wants us to live. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. To approve the will of God means to understand what God wants from us, and agree with what God wants from us, with the intention of putting it into practice.
What does God want from us? He wants us to be holy. He wants us to be righteous. He want us to live like Messiah. What God wants from us is good and perfect and pleases His good and perfect nature. And, who doesn’t want to be righteous and holy, and live like Messiah and please God’s good and perfect nature?
Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice.
Renew your mind so you will be able to live the right way.
Understand your gifts so you can serve the best way.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you (and Paul was given an extraordinary amount of grace, so we should listen very carefully to what the Lord’s Representative has to say): Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. People without faith tend to think of themselves more highly than they should, or sometimes more lowly than they should. If they think too highly of themselves, they will get into positions for which they are not equipped, and they may harm themselves and others. If they think too lowly of themselves, they may not rise to the challenge and thereby deny themselves and others of the things they are capable of achieving.
The Lord gives every Christian, every Messianic Jew a measure of faith – the ability to know spiritual truth. Some know more. Some know less. With they faith they are given, and with the abilities they are given, they are able to serve God in various ways. We need to understand what we are capable of doing and find our place to best serve Messiah’s Community, which is like a body that has many parts which have many functions. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Messiah we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Prophesying: if the Lord speaks clearly in a supernatural way to someone regarding what He is thinking, what He wants from the Community, what will happen in the future, it helps all of us. Is it possible for people to prophesy today? Yes. I have known of a few instances of this. Prophecy is possible today, but it is much rarer than those in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement would have you believe. Be very discerning.
Serving: There are those who have a special ability to help. While there are those who are specially gifted to serve, all of us need to serve in some way within the Community. In most churches or Messianic congregations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Baruch HaShem, praise the Lord, here at Shema, there is a much higher percentage of people who do the work. If you are not serving in some way, talk to me, and I will help you find something to do.
Teaching: There are people who are gifted by God to understand the Word of God and communicate its truths in an understandable way to others.
Encouraging: These are people who have the ability to lift the spirits of others; to give others hope so they can meet their challenges; so they can persevere.
Giving: The Lord will equip certain people to be specially generous. Years ago, I remember reading about a man who had this gift. As I recall, he didn’t marry. He worked. He lived very austerely. He spent as little as he could on himself. He gave the money he was able to save to ministries that brought the Good News about Messiah to others. Over his life, he was able to give, I think it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, to missions – and hundreds of thousands of dollars back then would be worth much more in today’s money. This man He had the gift of giving.
Leading: This is the ability to guide the life of the Community, to lead others, to give direction, to take initiative, to give vision.
Showing mercy: God will gift some with an extra ability to be merciful. They are able to be very kind to those who do not deserve their kindness.
Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice.
Renew your mind so you will be able to live the right way.
Understand your gifts so you can serve the best way.
Other instructions for God-honoring living.
Love must be sincere. Have you ever been betrayed by someone who claimed to love you? It can be devastating. Our love must be genuine, based on the truth, motivated by doing what is best for the ones we claim we love, not motivated by the desire to gain something for ourselves.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. There is good and there is evil, and as we get closer to God, and as we grow spiritually, a more intense dislike of evil should grow; and a more intense love for those things that are good should grow.
Be devoted to one another in love. When you make something a priority, when you will give it your time and attention, you are devoted to it. We are to be devoted to our brothers and sisters, and our devotion is to be expressed by loving them. To be devoted to one another in love, you need to know the members of the Shema community so you can care for them and help them. To be devoted to one another in love, you have to be committed to your community, come regularly, get involved, make an effort to get to know people, and try to help them. It’s hard to do that if your life is so busy outside of the community that you have no time for your brothers and sisters in the community.
Honor one another above yourselves. People tend to honor themselves – pointing out their accomplishments, their wealth, their higher status – so that they can feel good about themselves. But God has freed us from the need to honor ourselves because He has honored us by making us His exalted sons and daughters. We are exceedingly precious to Him. And now we understand that whatever gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities we have, have been given to us by God; so when anyone uses those gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities, God is being honored. Knowing this, we can feel good about ourselves without having to honor ourselves or dishonor others. We can honor others for their accomplishments without feeling threatened or diminished.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. We are to be passionate about the Lord and the things connected to the Lord. We are to be serving the Lord – with enthusiasm. What does this look like? Talking to God throughout the day. Reading the Bible regularly. Being involved in Messiah’s Community and doing something to build the Community. Concerned about proclaiming the message of salvation. If you have lost your zeal; if you are not serving the Lord, talk to me. Let’s find a way to change things.
Be joyful in hope: Hope is faith that pertains to the future. Hope nourishes us. Hope sustains us. Having hope creates joy in the present, a joy that is not dependent on our circumstances. To have hope we need to be sure about our resurrection; eternal life in the New Heavens and New Earth; our great inheritance. To be joyful in hope, frequently remind yourself of these promises from the Word of God.
Patient in affliction: In a fallen world that is satanically controlled and in rebellion against God and under a curse, there will be affliction, trials, hardships, difficulties, unexpected reversals, persecution. We are not exempt from this. Affliction is to be expected. And we know that the Lord uses affliction to purify us and strengthen us. Affliction is to be patiently endured – which we are able to do, since we know these truths and since the Lord has promised that His grace will be sufficient for us.
Faithful in prayer: Prayer does not come easily to most of us. But, the Lord wants us to become faithful in prayer, reliable in prayer, consistent in prayer. We do that by disciplining ourselves to talk to God as soon as we wake up. “Good morning Father. Help me be close to You today. Fill me with Your Spirit today. Help me walk with You today; do Your will today; resist temptation today; be like Yeshua today.” Then, we discipline ourselves to have a running conversation with God throughout the day. We talk to Him about things that interest us and concern us. We praise Him for who He is and what He has done, is doing and will do. We thank Him for all the many things He does for us. We ask Him to meet our needs and the needs of others.
Share with God’s people who are in need. People are selfish by nature. We are to share our resources with our brothers and sisters when they have a genuine need.
Practice hospitality. We are to make others feel welcome around us. We try to be warm and friendly. We invite people into our home. We invite people to join us for a meal at a restaurant. When we meet on Shabbat, we get here early. We welcome people. We introduce ourselves to others, especially to those who are new. We express interest in them. After the service, we stay late and do the same thing.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse: We can expect to be persecuted by a world that is anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-righteousness. And, our society is increasingly anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-righteousness. It’s natural to respond to those who persecute us with hatred, but we are not to respond that way. We do not ask God to harm our persecutors, make them suffer, but bless them – especially by helping them come to know the truth so they can be saved.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Fallen human beings are selfish. The Lord wants to free us from our self-centeredness and become sensitive to the emotional condition of others. When they are happy, successful and prosperous, don’t resent them. Be happy for them and with them. When they are sad, don’t avoid them and their pain. Sympathize with them and comfort them.
Live in harmony with one another. It’s difficult for people to get along with people. People do and say things that annoy us or offend us. The Lord wants His sons and daughters to live in harmony with one another. We are to make an effort to be easy to get along with. We are to make an effort to get along with others. We are to overlook the small, irritating things that people do and say. If something bigger happens that we can’t ignore, we strive for reconciliation so that harmony is maintained.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Most people are proud and conceited. They think too highly of themselves and too little of others. And they only associate with those who are in a similar position to them. We are to be different, because we know that every human being is exceedingly valuable – not because of their accomplishments or how much money they have, but because they are made in the image of God. The Lord makes everyone and gives to each their gifts, talents and opportunities, including ours. Therefore we are not to think we are better than those whom the Lord has given fewer gifts, talents and opportunities. The world has a pecking order based on wealth, beauty, intelligence and accomplishments, and people want to associate with those in their pecking order or higher on the pecking order. Don’t think that you are better than those who are in a lower position. Associate with everyone, including those who are in a lower position.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. It’s natural for fallen human beings, when they are hurt, to hurt the one who hurts them. When they are hit, to hit back. When they are insulted, to return the insult. We are not to respond to evil directed against us like people in a fallen world do.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Christians and Messianic Jews represent the Lord. We represent the truth. We are being watched by the world. We need to be careful to do what is right.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. In this fallen world, it’s hard to maintain good relationships with others. We are to try to have good relationships with everyone. Be someone who is gracious, forgiving, patient, who overlooks slights, who overcomes evil with good, who blesses when he is harmed, who seeks reconciliation, who takes the initiative to make peace.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. When someone harms us, we are not to harm them in return. We trust God to deal with the one who has harmed us in His time and His way. As he does so often, the Rabbi reinforces this with a quote from the Bible, in this case Deuteronomy. For it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Instead of hurting the one who has hurt us, we are to do the opposite. The Rabbi again quotes from the Word of God, this time from Proverbs, to reinforce his point. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” We are to go out of our way to do something nice to the person who has hurt us. Why? That will confuse him. That will get him thinking. That may help him examine his actions and turn to God. Doing something nice for an enemy may turn him into a friend. Isn’t this what Messiah did for us by dying on the cross?
God’s way for us to overcome evil is by doing good. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. We overcome evil, not by doing evil and becoming the thing we hate, but by responding to evil by doing good; by acts of love, mercy and kindness.
Father, help us to offer ourselves to You as a living sacrifice. Enable us to renew our minds so we can live the right way. Help us understand our gifts so we can serve the best way.
Help our love be sincere; to be devoted to one another in love; to share with Your people who are in need; to practice hospitality; live in harmony with one another; honor one another above ourselves.
Help us to never be lacking in zeal, but fervently serve You.
Work in us so we are joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Help us rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Help us not be proud or conceited, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Enable us to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone; live at peace with everyone.
Help us bless those who persecute us; not repay anyone evil for evil; not take revenge; not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.
Enable us to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.