MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 6, 2000 FROM ROMANS 12:15-16

 

          Christian community is once again Paul’s focus as we turn to our text in Romans 12.  You’ll recall in this section of Romans, Paul is showing the natural outgrowth of a life and/or church that has truly accepted the gospel.  This gospel, which Paul has been treating for the better part of the first eleven chapters, is powerful, not only to save us from hell, but also to transform our lives.  This transformed life is different from the world—it does not conform to the values and ways of the world.  This life, brought about by a renewed mind, enables us to know what the good, perfect and acceptable will of God is for our lives.  A large part of God’s will for us, and the expression of the gospel Paul treats first in this section is the display of Christian community.  The life transformed by the gospel should be a life filled with sincere, unhypocritical love for other believers according to verse nine.  We know that the over riding Christian virtue is love.  We will see this later when Paul says in 13:10 that love is the fulfillment of the law.  The foundational fruit of the gospel in a person’s life, is seen FIRST in the presence of Christian community marked by love.

          Last week, we saw that Christian community not only expressed itself within the local body, but is also manifest to those outside the local assembly.  We saw this in two expressions.  In verse 14, Paul says we are to “Practice hospitality.”  We saw that to practice biblical hospitality does not require a great deal of skill or culinary expertise.  To practice hospitality is simply to proactively pursue opportunities to do good things to strangers, to make them feel welcome and at home.  We applied this in the area of our local church.  If Paul’s command means anything for us, it means that visitors or new people we don’t know should be the recipients of our sincere and proactive love and friendship.  They should look on their experiences with the body here as being filled with genuine care and concern for them.  The reason or motive we are to minister with this vigor is not to get people to come to our church or fill our coffers.  The motive is love.

          Another way we saw this Christian community is expressed to those outside the body is to those who persecute us for Christ’s sake.  Paul says we are to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”  Doing good to and praying for those who are in some way dedicated to injuring us socially, emotionally, professionally or physically is not something we can fake.  Loving those who persecute us is an especially God-glorifying behavior because if it is occurring in our lives, there is only one reason for it—the grace of God seen in a gospel-transformed life.   We saw that for Christians, persecution is not the rare exception but the reality, even in our comparatively tolerant culture.  Second Timothy 3:12 reminds us that “…EVERYONE who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  In light of the fact that not many North American evangelicals have tasted any form of persecution, we said that for many believers here the most appropriate question is not, “how do I bless those who persecute me?” but rather, “why am I not in some way being persecuted?”  When we are persecuted, we should, by God’s grace be seeking ways to be a blessing to the persecutor.  This is what the gospel looks like with skin on.  It looks like Jesus.

          As we move on in this section in verse 15, Paul returns again to treating expressions of love within or inside the Christian community.  In verse 15 he gives another expression of this love which marks a gospel-influenced community when he says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  This is a short little sentence, but this statement (with the force of a command) is a powerful indicator in our lives of the presence or absence of this love Paul has been talking about. This simple, short admonition can be a telling barometer of how much real love for one another we have in our hearts.  Paul’s basic point here is easy to catch.  The basic gist of this teaching couldn’t be more clear.  When someone in the body of Christ rejoices over something good in their life, we are called to celebrate with them, sharing their joy.  Conversely, when a person in the body is mourning or hurting in some way, community love is seen in the lives of those believers who put on the sack cloth with that person and share their grief.  You’ll notice at the heart of this community love is sharing.  Community love is a sharing kind of love.  As we’ve seen before in verse 13 and in Acts chapter two, it shares material goods.  But here we see that this sharing also involves a sharing of each other’s joy and each other’s grief.

          We see this sharing nature of love expressed in rejoicing with those who rejoice in Luke 15.  The context is important here.  Jesus is surrounded by Pharisees and teachers of the law who are disgusted that he was focussing so much of his efforts on disreputable “sinners.” In that context, Jesus tells three parables about lost things.  One man loses a sheep and later finds this lost sheep.  His response is in verse six.  It says, “…he calls his friends and neighbors and together and says, “Rejoice with me:  I have found my lost sheep.”  In the next parable, a woman loses a coin and later finds it.  When she finds it, her reaction is the same as the shepherd.  “…she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me:  I have found my lost coin.”  Finally, Jesus tells the parable about the lost son and we all know that when the lost son is “found” the father rejoices, but the older brother refuses.  He instead chooses to respond with, “Hey, what about me?”  The lesson the Pharisees would have clearly heard in those parables is this—You’re just like that older brother.  Something wonderful is happening to these sinners—the lost are being found, but you refuse to rejoice.  One implication of those parables is that when you love someone and something good happens to them, a natural expression of that love is that you rejoice with them.  And by extension, when something good happens to someone in the body and we fail to rejoice with them, something is drastically wrong.  Just as something was drastically twisted about the Pharisees.

          This point is the first of two basic truths which lie at the heart of this exhortation Paul gives in verse 15. We know from this text, and from other biblical texts that touch on this, that this sharing of joys and sorrows is a vital part of what biblical, agape love is.  The first point is simply this:  If we don’t share joys and pains with each other, we don’t love each other.  Let’s look at four elements of this kind of love as Paul outlines them in First Corinthians 13 and see how these expressions of agape mandate that we share each other’s joys and pains if we truly love them. The first element of real, agape love is found in 13:4 “Love does not envy.”  Perhaps the main stumbling block to rejoicing with people who rejoice is envy.  We know from texts like Matthew 27:18, the reasons the Pharisees did not rejoice at all the good things Jesus was doing for people, but instead wanted to kill him, was “out of envy.” So when we envy instead of rejoice, we are, at that point, taking the role of the Pharisee.  Notice that envy and love are mutually exclusive.  There will be no envy in genuine love because envy has nothing to do with love.  If we find ourselves envious of our brother or sister, we do not love them in that area. 

Let’s illustrate.  Let’s say that you, as a member of the body purchase (in a biblically responsible manner) a new possession—a house, a car, a boat, whatever.  The reaction Paul says the other members of the community should have is to rejoice with you.  This is part of loving that person in community.  And this love should be expressed by, for instance, offering to throw you a house warming party or maybe sending you a plant.  If we love you, we will glow with enthusiasm as you tell us how you’re going to decorate the place.  That’s what love looks like in that context.  If we envy you over the blessing God has given you, we walk through your new home with gritted teeth.  We minimize the significance of the blessing and we send clear signals that we really don’t want you to go on and on about your new home.  Love on the other hand, listens at length to your hopes and dreams and joys connected with the house.

Maybe you welcome a new family member—a new baby or a new son in law or daughter in law.  Perhaps you get a promotion at work, or maybe even land a new job with much better pay and benefits.  Or maybe you receive a high honor or are publicly recognized in some way.  Maybe God has revealed himself to you in a powerful new way.  Love is expressed in sharing your joy.  If we truly love each other, we will WANT great things to happen to each other.  If we truly love each other, we will WANT nothing but the best for each other in all areas of life.  The reason envy is so repulsive and so completely contrary to love is because love is always OTHER-centered.  Agape love is, by definition, focussed on someone other than yourself.  Envy is so perverse because it looks at the blessing God has given you through the lens of self.  The presupposition behind envy is, “God made a mistake in not giving that blessing to ME!  I would be able to rejoice with you in this if only He would have given it to ME TOO!!”

Envy is all about me.  And this leads us to the second aspect of love that is violated when we fail to rejoice with those who rejoice.  Paul says in First Corinthians 13:5, “[Love] is not self-seeking.” This self-seeking can be expressed in several ways.  One way is when we just don’t exert the energy to rejoice with others because we are too focussed on ourselves. Self seeking is often seen in indifference to something wonderful that has happened in a brother or sister’s life.  A yawn of boredom from someone when you are rejoicing is a sign that they just don’t really care all that much that you have had something great happen to you.  Many of you who have gone on short term missions trips have been part of debriefing sessions.  The leaders give you some helpful counsel which will enable you to process your time in ministry in ways that will make them more valuable. 

Tragically, one of the pieces of advise that is routinely given to many returning short term missionaries is, “Don’t be disappointed when you go back all excited about your experience because the people back in your churches you talk to will not be all that enthusiastic about it.”  Do you hear what they are telling people who come back to churches like ours?  They are saying, “Don’t expect the people back in your churches to rejoice with you as you rejoice--don’t even expect them to share in your enthusiasm or excitement.” “Don’t expect them to express love to you in this way!!” What an indictment on the local church!!  We are so far from community love that missions agencies just accept as a matter of course that the reaction of the church to returning short-term missionaries will be, on the whole, little more than indifference.

Now, let’s look at two aspects of true agape that are violated when we fail to “mourn with those who mourn.”  Now, most people would admit it is harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to mourn with those who mourn and that is probably true.  But those who have done some significant hurting will tell you that those in the body who express true agape to them in times of mourning are more rare than you think.  Let’s think about two abuses.  Paul says in chapter 13:1, “love is patient.  By application, that means love hangs in there with those who mourn.  It is a sad fact that people in grief counseling will tell you that people who mourn the loss of a loved one can expect that after 30 days of the death of a loved one, almost all the emotional support which was there initially for the survivor will vanish.  And yet, for those of you who have lost a loved one, or been through a divorce, or suffered a severe, life changing set back of some sort, you know that some of the most intense grieving doesn’t even BEGIN until after a month has passed. 

Some of you could have written this scenario.  It’s many weeks after the loss and you are just dying inside at times from the sense of loss.  The pain seems too much to bear.  But you feel so out of place saying anything about it to the church because clear signals have been sent to you from certain people that they have heard more than enough about how sad you are over the loss.  Its time for you to move on.  And so you grieve in solitude at the time when the body is called to “mourn for those who mourn.”  Part of what separates agape, community love from the love that is conformed to the world is that agape community love doesn’t get tired of ministering to those who are in pain.  It hangs in there.  It doesn’t impatiently tap its foot waiting for the person to just “get over it.” 

A second aspect of love implied by Paul in “mourning for those who mourn” is seen in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “love is not rude.”  The word translated “rude” literally means “inappropriate” or “not fitting.”  To mourn with those who mourn in a way that shows community love means to mourn with them in ways that are appropriate to them.  That means sharing with them what will truly comfort them and not plowing them over with the pious platitudes.  A woman loses a baby in miscarriage and someone responds to her with, “Well, you know the child would probably have been deformed—it’s probably best this way.”  Is that supposed to encourage that person?  There is a time and a place for all hurting people to hear the counsel of Romans 8:28—“All things work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose.”  That can be a marvelous hope builder, but we must be very sensitive to know when that person wants or needs that bit of truth.  When used insensitively, attempts to comfort can actually be expressions of rudeness.

The safest and often the best thing you can do for most people when they are sad over any kind of loss is just what Paul says, “mourn with those who mourn.”  Just be there and sit with them and cry with them because their greatest need is often just compassionate companionship.  Crying with someone you love who is crying is a very natural thing to do.  Just knowing that someone who cares is there with them can be a great blessing.  The best thing Job’s comforters did for him was recorded in Job 2:13, “…they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.  That was great ministry!  Their problem was, they couldn’t let well enough alone and had to open their big mouths.  That’s when they went from being comforting to rude even though many things they said to Job were true.  The first point is if we don’t share joys and pains with each other, we don’t love each other. 

That truth points out that it is the very nature of love as God defines it to share joys and pains.  Its also true that part of the essential nature of the body of Christ as He designed it is to share the joys and hurts of its members.  It’s not just the nature of love that mandates this kind of sharing.  It’s also the very nature of the body of Christ, the church.  We see this in Paul’s major discussion of the body of Christ as a body in First Corinthians chapter 12.  In verse 12 of that chapter, Paul says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”  In this chapter there is repeated interplay between the oneness of the body and the plurality of its parts.  Those truths are stressed over and over again.  The body is one.  There is a unity in the body just as our human bodies are unified.  The nourishment we take in benefits not only the stomach, but also the muscles and blood and bone because the body is a unity.  When you break your leg, it not only effects your leg, it effects the rest of your body as you use different muscle groups to walk.  The reason is because the parts of the body do not function independently, but interdependently with each other.

The body of Christ is the same way.  What effects one part of the body, effects the other.  Paul even says as much in 12:25.  …If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  Paul DOESN’T say here that if one part suffers, the other parts must work hard to vicariously identify with that suffering part.  He doesn’t say that when one part is honored, every other part has a moral obligation to be happy about it.  NO.  He states these truths as facts based on the essential unity of the body.  He says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;…”  He states it as a matter of fact and the reason is because of what he has already said in verse 12—the body is one.  There is this interdependence and intimate relationship that exists among the body’s unified parts.  This is simply the way it is.  For us to think or act otherwise is to deny the essential nature of the body.

So our second point which mandates us to share joys and pains is simply If we don’t share each other’s joys and pains we are denying our essential nature as the body of Christ.  Again, we come back to the point we made a few weeks ago.  God designed humanity NOT to function independently in isolation from each other.  He created us as interdependent, social beings as part of a race that is to relate to each other.  We simply are not wired to live in isolation anymore than a nose or a foot can exist independently.  If we saw a foot walking around independently from a body, we would assume there was something radically wrong with our eyesight.  That’s science fiction.  Yet, ironically, we in the North American church, for the most part, attempt to live out our Christianity as a single body part working alone.  That’s not the way we were designed.  That’s a mutation.

That means by application that our joys and pains are not intended to be celebrated privately.  They can’t be because to do so would be to run contradictory to the essential nature of the body of Christ.  “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; when one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  For us to try not to burden others with our pain runs contrary to the way God created us.  We might just as well try to breath through our navels.  Burdens are intended to be shared.  We should never boast, but when the Lord blesses us in some way, we must not believe the devil’s lie that we shouldn’t share it with someone.  We are to share it with others in the body so that the blessing he has given to one member can become a source of joy for other parts of the body.  We must share our pain with others, so they can receive whatever the Lord has for them as they share it with us and God can be glorified as the body works according to his design.

Again, this completely cuts against the grain in the perversely independent North American church where church is viewed more like a game of solitaire than team tug of war.  So many believers see their walk with God ONLY in individual terms.  Though there is a private element to our walk with God, but we are not fundamentally created to function independently from each other—Christianity is a group endeavor.  If you’ve ever competed in a contest of tug of war, you know what its like to, all of the sudden, lose a team member to a muscle pull.  It makes more work for you, doesn’t it if you are to win?  What happens to them, effects you!  There is an interdependence in that relationship that in some way illustrates the Christian life as God designed it.  This interdependence is part of what it is to be part of the body of Christ.  The fact that we haven’t really got the foggiest notion of what that is about in this culture makes for a very weak church.  The enemy of our souls, like any predator, preys on those who he can isolate from the protection of the group.  If we live out our faith in individual cubicles, it makes us sitting ducks for Satan.

Part of the great strength of the body design is that pain and suffering are absorbed by more than part of the body.  When we suffer with others, they simply don’t suffer as much as when they have to suffer alone.  The suffering is actually spread out among other parts of the body.  That is a radical concept, but its true.  Conversely, if one part is blessed and the other parts share in that joy, the joy is multiplied.  The entire body is in some way strengthened by the blessing of the one.  So, pains are dispersed and joys are multiplied.  That is the way the body is intended to function.  If we are not doing that—if we are not sharing both our joys and pains, then we have become a horrible distortion of the body of Christ.  And Christ is dishonored because we are telling him that our way of functioning as individuals is better than a group dependent upon each other which is his design. 

Do you see how warped it is NOT to weep and rejoice with each other?  Can you see how utterly perverse it is for us not to do this?  First, it’s a denial of the essential nature of love.  Love, by its very nature shares joys—it does not envy and is not self seeking.  Love by its very nature shares pain—it is patient and it is not rude.  Finally, it’s a denial of the essential nature of the body of Christ not to share pain and joys with one another.  This is the way God built us.  May God give us the grace to love according to true love and work as He designed us as His body.

 

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