Last week we discussed in some detail Paul’s directive to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.  The previous time we got together we looked at Paul’s injunction to love without hypocrisy.  Both of these teachings are from a list of behavioral instructions found in chapter twelve of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Today we will consider the third injunction in Paul’s list.

       Romans 12:10:  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

        As stated last week, I call these teachings of Paul injunctions because Paul is not merely suggesting ways of behavior in his letter to the Roman Christians.  Paul is instructing the Romans that this is the kind of behavior that is expected of a Christian in response to the grace of God.  Remember, Paul begins this portion of his letter to the Roman Christians by making it clear we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Paul calls this out reasonable service to God.  Paul also sees this as our response to the mercy of God and as the method by which we worship God.

       Romans 12:1: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.

       To sacrifice is to behave in a way that may not always be convenient to us.  To sacrifice is to do things that just may interrupt our schedule or infringe on our personal routine of things.  To be holy is to be separate; it is to be distinguished from what is usual.  When Paul speaks of offering our bodies as living sacrifices he is obviously speaking in spiritual terms.  Paul is speaking of our behavior exemplifying that of one who has become a recipient of the grace of God and is now responding to such grace by submitting to the will of the author of such grace.  Paul makes this clear in verse two.

       Romans 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

       To be a Christian is to be transformed. I think we all understand what transformation means. It simply means to change.  We are all familiar with an electrical transformer. We see them mounted on posts or at sub-stations throughout the communities in which we live.   These transformers take high voltage electric power being transported by the power company and change it to a lower voltage of electric power which can then be safely used in your home.

       God has made available to us the power of His Spirit which we are to experience as a transformed way of thinking, a thinking not patterned after what is common in the world but a thinking based on selfless behavior that seeks to accommodate the needs of others even at the expense of accommodating our own needs.  That is what it means to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. 

       Romans 12:3-5: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  

       During his ministry, Paul, on more than one occasion, parallels the church to the human body.  The human body has many parts or members, as Paul calls them. They are all important to the functioning of the body.  It should be noted here that Paul is living nearly two thousand years before the advent of modern medical science which has built machines to keep the body alive without the function of vital parts. For example, the body can be kept alive without a heart while a machine pumps blood through the system.  A dialysis machine can do the job of non-functioning kidneys.  Paul however is viewing the body as an interdependent organism where all its parts are important to the proper and normal function of the whole. While some parts play a more vital role to the function of the whole, such as the heart, liver and kidneys as opposed to a hand or foot, Paul is making the point that all the parts have a role to play and the failure of any one part impacts the normal and designed function of the whole. 

       Paul parallels this to the Church which is made up of many members, all of whom have a role to play and we are to respect each other's role and interact accordingly.  Paul is not saying that all functions are of equal value or importance to the whole. In his letter to the Corinthians Christians, Paul shows different roles or functions have different levels of value to the whole just as our body parts have different levels of value to the whole.  For example you can’t live on your own without a heart, liver of kidneys. You can live quite well without your appendix.  Many have had their appendix removed.  The same is true of tonsils and adenoids.  These three glands, however, have been found to have function in the body, mainly in the area of immunity and protecting the body from pathogens.  So while you can live without these parts, the overall function of your physiology is mildly compromised whether you realize it or not.

       The same is true with the church.  The church as a body or group of believers in Christ is composed of many members having different roles and functions.  Some of these roles and functions are hardly noticed while others are noticed all the time.  Paul takes note of this in his letter to the Corinthian Church.

       1 Corinthians 12:14-26:  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

       Paul speaks in terms of certain parts of the physical body seeming to be weaker or less honorable than other parts of the physical body and analogizes this to the spiritual body of Christ which is the Church.  Paul speaks in terms of certain roles or functions in the body of Christ appearing to be less noteworthy or necessary.  For example, someone who sets up chairs every week may be hardly noticed, simply taken for granted and considered by some to have a marginal role in the overall function of the church as compared to the church pastor, music director or some other higher profile responsibility.

       Paul is teaching that all members of the body have an important role regardless of how noticeable such role may or may not be.  Paul sees the seemingly lesser roles as indispensable to the body as a whole if the body is going to function in a viable way. He goes on to say that such seemingly lesser functions are in fact worthy of greater honor because they are so necessary to the overall success of the body.

       Take for example our own fellowship.  You see me up here week after week leading praise and worship and giving sermons.  You see Donna and Marsha giving announcements and doing intercessory prayer and administrating communion. You see Correta and Kenney doing special music.  What you also see but may take less note of is  Ed or Kevin, setting up our sound and video equipment, Rich and Maryann and Gordan setting up the snack table and Dennis and Maryann processing the weekly offerings.  Then there are others who may not have visible roles at all in our congregation but who go out of their way to drive others to church, visit the sick and function as prayer warriors.    

       Just like the human body which needs all its parts to facilitate normal functioning, so does the body of Christ need all its parts to have viable, successful function.  Just as the physical body has parts that some may consider of less importance, just remove or injure one of those parts and see what impact it has on the rest of the body.  We all know how it impacts the body when you stub your toe or sprain a finger.

       Paul is simply teaching that we are to express equal concern and give appropriate honor to all parts of the body.  All parts have a role to play and we are to encourage one another and show appreciation to one another for the roles we fulfill in the body of Christ. This brings us back to our focus scripture for today.

       Romans 12:10:  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

       You will notice that time after time we see the central theme of Scriptural teaching as being other centered rather than self centered.  Other centeredness is to focus on the needs of others even at the expense of meeting personal needs.  This is the manner in which we are to conduct ourselves and this is what it means to present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which Paul sees as our spiritual act of worship.  This is what it means to exercise and express the spirit of God in our lives.  When we behave in an other centered manner we express the Spirit of God.  Paul wrote to Timothy that the Spirit of God is a Spirit of power, love and sound mindedness.  Therefore the Spirit of God is a Spirit of mercy, compassion and outgoing concern for the welfare of our fellow man.  When we or anyone else behaves in this manner it is a manifestation of God’s Spirit. 

       Years ago I remember a pastor in Worldwide, and it may have been Carl McNair, saying that God’s Spirit is not limited in expression to Christians.  While Christians, because of having a more definable relationship with God, can ask for, receive and express more abundantly of God’s Spirit, in reality God’s spirit permeates the universe and when someone behaves in harmony with the dynamics of God’s Spirit, God’s spirit is being expressed.  When people respond to the needs of others they are expressing God’s Spirit in their behavior.  When people, regardless of their religious belief system, express outgoing concern for their fellow man, God’s Spirit is being expressed.  God’s Spirit is being expressed by the relief workers sacrificing time and money in helping the earthquake victims in Haiti and now in Chili.  God’s Spirit is being expressed in the personal sacrifice involved in looking after a sick child, attending to the needs of an invalid confined to a wheel chair or simply lending a compassionate listening ear to someone going through a difficult time in their life.

       I have a friend who pastors a small church in Vernon Wisconsin where I have been doing some speaking for the past two years.  His name is Joe Romano and his wife Diana suffered a stroke several years ago and is confined to a wheel chair with limited ability to speak. Joe has to do virtually everything for her.   I have watched Joe caring for his wife now for several years and I have always seen him do so with a very caring attitude and not just going through the motions of required care he knows he has to do because no one else is available. I would say Joe is expressing the Spirit of God in caring for his wife.

       I am sure you all can identify these kinds of behaviors in people you know or perhaps in yourself.  This is the kind of behavior Paul is referring to when he says we are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and honor one another above ourselves.  We are to do this as we interact with each other in the body of Christ and as we interact with those outside the body of Christ.  When Jesus walked the earth as a human being he interacted with all levels of society and expressed the law of love to all he came into contact with. 

       The law of love is expressed in how we interact with our fellow man.  Jesus expressed forgiveness, mercy, compassion and genuine concern for the welfare of those he interacted with.  As I discussed last week, the expression of these dynamics of love is not to be viewed as accommodating, justifying or condoning sin.  Jesus is never seen as doing any such thing.  What Jesus is seen as doing is defining love as the avoidance of sin.  Jesus taught love is the fulfilling of the law.  This is how the law is summarized in scripture.  The law of love is doing no harm to your neighbor and this law is based on foundational principles of behavior defined by God Himself as we discussed last week.

       In the list of behaviors Paul provides to the Roman Christians, Paul is simply giving examples of what it means to live the law of love.  Being devoted to one another and honoring one another over and above ourselves is basic to expressing the law of love.  It is the human tendency to think more highly of ourselves than someone else.  While admitting to obvious differences in talent, education and various other proficiencies, we humans still like to conclude we have some kind of edge over someone else that makes us superior. 

       What we all need to keep in mind is that all humans have the same physical, spiritual and emotional needs.  All humans experience physical and spiritual pain.  I am using the word spiritual here in the broadest sense to include all mental cognitive activity.   All humans from time to time experience doubt and insecurity as to their personal worth.  It is at such times that we humans are most vulnerable to how others relate to us.  No one likes to be belittled or put down.  While we often belittle one another in jest, even here we must be careful and know the individual we are jesting with.  I have known people over the years who are extremely sensitive to the slightest comment that infringes on their sense of self worth.

       It is extremely important that we get to know people at a deeper level.  In modern society so many relationships are superficial.  This is even true of husbands and wives, parents and children and between siblings.  Family members often fail to share their deeper emotional and spiritual needs and concerns.  While e-mail, face book and twitter have enabled a great explosion in social net working and has provided for greater communication all around, there is still the need for face to face communication where people can share sensitive problems and concerns and learn to serve each other at a very personal level.  It is at this personal level of communication where we learn to appreciate our common humanity and where we develop the ability to respect each other in the manner Paul is teaching.

       Philippians 2:3-5:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

       We know Jesus did not look to his own interests.  If He would have, He would never have submitted himself to the terror, suffering and humiliation of the cross. We sometimes look at the life of Christ and conclude He just automatically lived a sinless life, voluntarily went to the cross and had no great difficulty in doing any of this because of being who He was.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus was a human being like you and I and had emotions and the pills of human nature just as we do.  Doing what He did, did not come automatic.  The writer to the Hebrews points out Jesus was made like us in every way.

       Hebrews 2:17-18: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

       Scripture strongly points to Jesus being totally dependent on God the Father for His ability to fulfill His Fathers will as the anointed one to bring salvation to mankind. While Jesus was in the flesh, He is seen as having to work hard at maintaining the necessary ability to remain sinless and to actually learn obedience. 

       Hebrews 5:7-8: Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.

      We get the sense that Jesus prayed to His Father often for the strength to succeed as we saw in Hebrews 5:7-8. Jesus prayed all night before He chose His twelve disciples (Luke 6:12).  He arose early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35). He prayed for hours before His crucifixion. He explored with God the possibility of having His pending ordeal mitigated.  As a human being, Jesus did not want to have to experience the trauma of the crucifixion.  We are all familiar with the account in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked God if there was another way to accomplish what had to be done to facilitate salvation for you and me.  Yet Jesus maintained our interests above His own.  He maintained the interests of His God and Father above His own. 

       Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.

       Jesus experienced the nature and emotions of being human. He didn’t consider Himself above his fellow humans but humbled himself unto death in order to provide for our salvation.  Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice.  Paul instructs that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices.  Paul is not instructing us to make the ultimate sacrifice.  We are to be a living sacrifice and we do this by doing what Christ did.  Rather than look to his own interests Jesus looked to the interests of others.  In order to do this we must always strive to maintain awareness of how what we do affects the interests of others.  A basic interest to all of us is to be respected.  There probably isn’t a human alive who does not want to be respected.

       To respect someone is to treat them as having worth equal to your own.  Regardless of differences in talents, abilities, education, wealth, etc., all humans have intrinsic worth. All humans are made in the image of God.  All humans deserve to be treated with dignity, even when they sin and even when their sin may negatively affect us.  We all sin.  Sin is a recurring behavior with all humans.  While treating others with dignity and respect doesn’t mean we accommodate or participate with them in sin, it does mean we recognize their human condition and do all we can to help them to repent of sin while maintaining respect for their human worth. This is the message of Romans 12:10:

       Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.