Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
17 September 2017
Romans 12:1-13 / Membership Vow 4
Live, Love, Laugh
In case you are just tuning in, we are half-way through our series on membership vows.
We have been covering one vow a week for the past three weeks.
The first vow asks: Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
The second vow asks: Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon him alone for your salvation as he is offered in the gospel?
The third vow asks: Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ?
Those first three vows deal with our commitment to Jesus Christ. But these next two vows deal with our commitment to his Church.
The fourth vow asks: Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
The fifth vow asks: Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
We will focus on the fourth vow today and the fifth vow next week.
As we have done through this whole series, we will turn our attention to the Book of Romans in order to shed some light the meaning and purpose of the vows.
So far, we have touched on Romans 1-8 in our coverage of the first three vows. Today we will touch on Romans 12 in our coverage of the fourth vow.
If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word from Romans 12.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, the hearing, and the preaching of his word. And all the church says: Amen!
Synopsis — Five Main Points
Live as a Sacrifice. Lower yourself before God and Man. Link yourself the Body. Love one another. Laugh and Lament in times of Joy and Sorrow.
Here in Romans 12 we see many personal and practical ways to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of our ability.
I will focus on just a few.
Live as a Sacrifice – vss 1-2
The first thing you must do is live, move, and think like a worshiper. You must deliberately and intentionally present your body and mind, your heart and soul, to the Lord day in and day out.
John Calvin’s life motto: My heart I offer you Lord, promptly and sincerely. (“Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere” – Johannes Calvinus)
Not a bad motto. Some of you might even wish to make it your own. In light of God’s mercies towards sinners, this is our spiritual worship — literally, the reasonable service (λογικὴν λατρείαν). Serving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and body makes sense.
The point is this: in light God’s tender compassions and mercies towards you, the pattern of laying down your life on the altar day after day, for Christ and the church, is ultimately transformative inside and out.
By doing this you are enabled to assess, discern, and evaluate the will of God. To ask what is the will of God? is also to ask what is God’s wish and desire for our life? What does the Lord require of us?
The only way to know that is to lay down on the altar, to lower ourselves before the face of God.
That brings us to the next point.
Lower Yourself Before God and Man – vs 3
Another way you can support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability is to lower yourself before God and Man.
We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We all have an inflated, elevated view of ourselves in some ways.
We think we are more spiritual, more secure, or more stable than we really are.
We imagine we are smarter and stronger than we actually are.
Taken together that means we are prone to be condescending towards others. We expect others to follow us, serve us, cater to us, submit to us, but we do not want others to expect us to do that for them. This lofty attitude is nothing other than deep-seated pride. Yet we are called to be sober-minded, to cultivate a lowly, realistic, even-keeled attitude about ourselves.
You’re probably never going to be the smartest guy in the room or the sharpest knife in the drawer. So what?
All the Lord calls you to do is think of yourself in light of his tender mercies towards you.
What does God think about you apart from Christ? You are a sinner justly deserving His displeasure and without hope save in His sovereign mercy.
What does God think of us in Christ? You are a saint resting upon Christ alone for your salvation.
Do you see how the gospel cuts through the illusions and clears our vision?
When you see yourself in light of God’s mercies, you feel less inclinded to put on airs, to puff up your ego, to bloat your resume, and more inclined to find your identity in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You are free to walk by the measure of faith which God measured out for you.
So, instead of walking by sight, you walk by faith; instead of trying to save your life you lose. You lower yourself and lay down your life on the altar.
That means that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit even as you support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability.
That brings us to the next point.
Link yourself to the Body – vss 4-8
The fourth vow is about your commitment to the Church of Christ which is his body. In Romans 12 we see the absolute necessity of linking ourselves to the Body of Christ.
Just as a limb cut off from a tree will not live for long, so a Christian without a real connection to the Church is not going to make it as a Christian for very long.
To put it in more graphic terms, a finger, an arm, or a foot that is detached from the body will die apart from the life of the body.
That is why each and every follower of Christ must link himself to Church of Christ. In this way the body of Christ displays the varieties of God’s grace in all its unity and diversity.
To be clear: we are not simply to lump ourselves in with a group of people, but to link ourselves in to other followers of Christ in inter-personal relationships.
Each and every one of us is a members of the body of Christ. We must link ourselves to one another in the communion of the saints.
We need each other in ways that we cannot even imagine, but in ways that God has already provided by linking us to Christ and the Church.
As the text says, all the members have different gifts and none of the members have the same function; we have the responsibility to use whatever grace-gifts God has given us both to exalt the Lord and to edify one another, for the glory of God and the good of the Church.
I won’t take any time now to unpack to meaning and significance of all the grace-gifts listed in the text. Suffice it to say for now that some grace-gifts are more tangible and visible than others; some are more subtle and invisible than others; some are more cerebral and others are more hands-on; some are loud and others are quiet.
All are necessary. None is more important than the rest. All are inter-dependent. None is more essential, more important, more necessary than the rest.
All work together for the good of the Church. How? In love.
That brings us to the next point.
Love One Another – vss 9-11
When you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability, you are not just promising to support one holy catholic Church in a generic sense. You are making a promise to support to support this congregation, to support these people and the ones God will send to us. Look around at the men, women, and children sitting beside you, in front of you, around you. You are promising to support each other in love.
To support means you will lay down your life for one another, make yourself lower than one another, and link yourself into one another in love. It is only in that posture and only from that position that you are able to up-hold the worship and up-hold work of the church.
Love must come out of our mouths and our finger tips. It moves us to ask not what the Church can do for us, but what we can do for the Church. It stirs up a holy competition among us that moves everyone to ask “what’s the most I can do for others?” not “what’s the least I can do for myself.” It keeps us from sitting back as spectators and calls us to get involved as servants.
Not only when things are good, but also when things are bad. Especially when things are bad.
That brings us to our last point.
Laugh in the Midst of Troubles – vss 12 -16
In this last section, Paul gets raw and points out some hard realities.
Life is going to get dark, painful, difficult, needy, and messy. You, your marriage, your children, your friends, your neighbors will face trouble. Even your Church will have trouble. Especially your Church.
Think of all struggles, growing pains, heartache and loss we have experienced over the past few years. It ain’t been no easy stroll in the park. And yet here we are — still growing in the grace and truth of the Lord.*
(Also, think of all the sweet, good times, happy moments and love we have experienced over the past few years. It ain’t all been doom and gloom.)
Now, none of you need me to remind you that the world is full of trouble. It’s out there; and it’s in here.
We have all been tested by all kinds of troubles. No one is exempt from trouble.
So what must we do when times get rough? An old song says, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Sadly, many people think that means they can abandon ship, bounce off, cut ties, disappear, exit stage left, fade away, get lost, hide.
But the gospel requires us to respond to hard times as followers of Jesus Christ, to do what Jesus did with hard times and hard people.
How can we do that?
We do it by taking up the cross together, facing the trouble together, and walking into the storm together. It means gathering for worship, declaring God’s praises, coming to the Table, and scattering on mission together —
joyfully, patiently, deliberately, sacrificially. One for all, all for One. Not every man for himself.
Now, it’s good to be sober-minded, but it’s not good to be so serious that you can’t belly laugh, crack a smile, delight in the Lord, enjoy a good story, feel good about Christ and the Church.
We need to laugh together and not just lament together.
If we truly endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ, we will support the worship and work of the church —
by living as sacrifices, lowering ourselves before God and man, linking ourselves to the Body of Christ, loving one another, and laughing in the midst of troubles —
just like Jesus.
He did all these things and more for the sake of his Church, for the sake of his followers, for the sake of people just like you and you and you and you.
In conclusion, I want to draw your attention to the very end of the fourth membership vow. Notice that it says, “to the best of your ability.” You know what that means?
It means you will support the worship and work of the Church to the best of your ability, not someone else’s ability;
It means supporting the worship and work of the Church according to the measure of God’s gifts of grace and faith for you, not according your flesh or personality type;
It means supporting the worship and work of the Church by grace through faith, as an individual follower of Jesus, not just as a family member or a fan of Jesus.
It means supporting the worship and work of the Church with your time, your treasure, and your talent.
In light of God’s mercies, we each have different skill sets and different abilities. Some of us are more mature than others. Some of us can give more than others. Some of us can teach better than others. Some of us can pray better than others.
As followers of Jesus Christ, all of us can do something, share something, offer something to support the worship and work of the Church to the best of our ability for the glory of God and the good of his people.
Not long ago I read in an article on church membership that said:
Joining a church…is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable, and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.
Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together [in Christ].
If you are inclined to answer this vow in the negative, let me just say that while you might be a Christian, you cannot be a member of this (or any other) congregation in any fruitful or faithful sense. Why?
Your unwillingness to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability will come out in your life sooner or later.
I speak from experience. I have been in the ministry long enough to notice some recurring patterns in people.
I have noticed that people who gladly make a commitment to Christ, but will not make a commitment to a local congregation of his church usually end up church-hopping and church-shopping. Why? They ask what the Church can do for them, not what they can do for the Church. So they withhold their gifts, talents, and skills from the Church.
This kind of non-commitment leads to a spiritual form of casual dating at best or sleeping around at worst. It never ends well for anyone.
However, if you are inclined to answer this vow in the affirmative, let me say that there are many many ways to keep this vow as revealed in Romans 12.