Scripture Reference: Romans 12
Finding Your PrioritiesDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 21, 1996
Selected highlights from this sermon
The church is not a building, but a group of people knit together as the body of Christ. God wants us to submit to Him and serve Him, as well as His body.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer helps us to understand what the church is and how we can be living sacrifices, serving God and each other with the gifts He’s given us.
So let me begin today by asking a question. What is the Church? Is it a building? Well I am sure that by now you know that the answer is “No, it is not a building.” In fact, in the New Testament that word Church is used many times, and it is never used for a building. It is always used for a group of people. Well, what is it that binds the people together? What brings people here? Is it because we have a common interest in the same music styles and we all like to come together and sing many of the same hymns and listen to sermons from the Bible? Is that really what bonds us together here at the church? Well, it may be part of it but that’s not the main point.
Is it because we share common values? We are all upset with the immorality of our country. We are all pro-life. Is that what binds us together? No, we may agree on those things but that’s not what binds us together into one.
Remember that the Church is not a collection of individuals. The Church is a body. It is an organism that has been created by God and we are a part of Christ, and therefore a part of one another – members of His Body, of His flesh and of His bones. And as we emphasized last time, there is nothing that you can do to get away from the fact that if you are a believer, you belong to the Body. You are stuck with us, just like my thumb is stuck with the rest of my fingers. That’s it.
Well all of us, I hope, would like to live in such a way that we die with very few regrets. In fact, you know that one of the purposes of Moody Church (It can be stated differently.) is to prepare for eternity. Somebody asks, “What’s Moody Church all about?” The answer is, “They are preparing to live forever.” And we know that we are going to give an account in the Judgment Seat of Christ for the way in which we lived, and we all want to do as well as we possibly can. How? What should our priorities be?
Well I’ve chosen as the text Romans 12, a very familiar passage of Scripture, but we shall look at it in its context. In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul is going to argue that first of all we should submit and then we should serve in that order. And we will be talking about spiritual gifts because the title of this series of messages if Finding Where You Fit. And we want to help you find where you fit within the Body.
Notice it begins by saying, “I urge to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The first phrase to underline is to present your bodies – those three words. Present your bodies to God. Isn’t that amazing that God would be interested in these bodies, whether they are wrinkled or smooth, whether they are strong or weak, whether they are old or young, whether they are beautiful or not so beautiful, whether they are the right weight or not the right weight in relationship to your height? We are to give our bodies to God.
Now what I’d like us to do is to notice how this offering is to take place and some of the characteristics of this gift that we are to make to the Almighty. First of all, notice it is voluntary. “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Nobody is forcing you to do this. This is something that Paul is saying you should agree on. Now notice the contrast in the Old Testament. A lamb was chosen and laid out on the altar. It had no alternative. Nobody went to the lamb and said, “You know, we’re looking for a sacrifice and you look pretty good. Would you consider this?” No, the lamb that was chosen had no say in the matter. It was put to death and it died. But God is no longer interested in those dead sacrifices. He is interested in the living sacrifices, and while, if we are His people, we have been chosen, the other fact, of course, is that voluntarily by the work of God in our hearts, God wants us to be willing to give ourselves to Him. This is a voluntary choice. “I urge you to make it.” It is voluntary.
Secondly, it is complete. Now when that lamb was taken in the Old Testament and laid out on the altar, everything was accounted for. That which was not burned would have been eaten. It was a total sacrifice to God, and Paul says, “That’s the way you should give your body to God.”
I think personally that it becomes much more meaningful if we give our bodies to God piece by piece. It means that when we yield to God we give Him our eyes and we say, “Whatever we see we want these eyes to receive those things that please You.” We have to give Him our hands and say, “Whatever these hands do, may these hands please God.” “Wherever these feet take me, may they take me to places that please God and not to those places that grieve the heart of God. Whatever my mind thinks I want to give my mind to God, whatever it may have within it. And then my heart and my affections.” It is a total submission of ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. It is voluntary. It is complete. It is a priestly sacrifice.
Maybe you didn’t know that you were a priest and that you could even offer a sacrifice. In the Old Testament it was limited to the priests. The people brought the sacrifices but the priests had to offer them. Here we are invited to offer these sacrifices because we are priests before God. And the Scripture says that it is acceptable to God. Christ makes our yieldedness acceptable.
In the Old Testament, you have the sacrifice of praise. You have the sacrifice of wealth. But here we have the sacrifice of ourselves. And when that happens God sees that He really does have all of us, every bit of us as a sacrifice to God. It is worship. Notice it says (and this is the New American Translation), “It is your spiritual service of worship.” That’s the way you worship God.
Now we come together here at the church and we sing hymns and we are led in prayer, and we are led in Scripture, and we have an exposition of the Word, and in a sense that, of course, is worship. In fact, we have a committee that meets together because we want to do all that we possibly can to make this a worship experience. My friend, today, worship does not stop at 12 o’clock on Sunday. Worship happens 24 hours a day. Worship is also supposed to happen on Monday and on Tuesday because worship means that I have given my body to God as a sacrifice for Him to use it as He wills, and that is something that I am committed to day in and day out. It is worship that is acceptable to God.
And finally let me say it is reasonable. The King James says, “which is your reasonable service,” and certainly it is reasonable. You know when Paul says in chapter 12, verse 1, “I urge you by the mercies of God,” you can’t understand that unless you realize what happens in chapters 1 to 11. Paul talks about sin, the fact that we are born in sin and slaves to sin. He talks about redemption. He talks about sanctification. He talks about the role of Israel in God’s plan and how the Word of God will never fail. And he breaks out in that great crescendo of praise in chapter 11, verse 33. “Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Now in light of that, isn’t it reasonable to say, “God, here I am totally?”
Now let me ask you a question: Why is it so easy to do that on Sunday – to put ourselves on the altar on Sunday – and then find ourselves crawling off the altar on Monday? Why is it? Well, he says in verse 2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of the mind.” It is the pressure of the world. It’s the pressure of the world without that corresponds to our old nature within and that’s why sacrifice of this kind is very difficult. It is not at all easy. There is such a thing as the suffering of temptation.
You know that Phillips puts it this way. He says, “Do not let the world push you into its own mold,” and that’s a very interesting translation. You know that when you have a mold, that means that all the fenders go into this mold, and that’s why when they get taken out and they get put on a car, all those cars look alike. I don’t know how many of you remember these days but I can actually remember back to the fifties. Isn’t that amazing? I can remember before I was born. But in those days you could see a car a half mile away and tell which one it was, because there were just Fords, and every Ford looked alike, and the Chevrolets all looked alike, and then I think you had the Plymouth and one or two other kinds, and that was it. Those were the only kinds. They all looked alike. Today I can’t find my own car in a parking lot. It is so confusing.
Listen, my friend. Do you know what the world says? It says, “You are all going to look alike,” and the pressure is there to see the same movies, to be bought at the same price, to love the same money, to fulfill the same lusts. The pressure of the world is there, and that’s why it’s so difficult to stay on that altar. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed,” And the Greek word is metamorphis. It’s the same word that is used for the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How often do you need to have your mind renewed? Every day before nine o’clock in the morning! Every day before nine o’clock in the morning you spend that fifteen minutes poring over the Scripture and saying, “God, I won’t put the Scripture down until I have a promise or something from your Word to sustain me.” He says, “By the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Now here’s what Paul is saying. First of all he’s saying, “I want you to submit.” And now he says, “I want you to serve.” If you underline the words present your bodies, now you can underline the phrase prove what the will of the Lord is that is good and acceptable and perfect. And how do we prove it? We’ve given ourselves to God. We have yielded ourselves to God, and now how do we prove His will?
Now you are looking at the text, aren’t you? You know, I believe we make a big mistake in stopping at the end of verse 2 and preaching a message and telling everybody to go home. I think that verse 3 is a continuation of verse 2 because he says, “For through the grace that is given to me.” He is still thinking of the very same idea, namely the will of God. And what he’s going to say is, “The way in which we experience the will of God is first of all to know ourselves.” “For through the grace given to me I say to every man (and this, of course, includes all the women) not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think as to have sound judgment as God allotted to each a measure of faith.” To know whom you are! Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.
Have you ever noticed in business or in work relationships how oftentimes a person’s perception of himself is so different from the perception that other people have of their abilities and their gifts and their talents? And we’re all subject here to the possibility of deception. Remember this! If you believe a lie, it becomes the truth for you. And if you think that you are something that you are not, you actually believe that lie and find it very difficult to accept the truth. You know, of course, that all of us struggle with thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and we express this, first of all, through bragging. But everybody knows that nobody loves a braggart so we do it in another way. We don’t overvalue ourselves but we pretend to undervalue ourselves, hoping that someone will correct us, hoping that somebody will set the record straight. So a woman might say, “You know, I’m so sorry for the food that I’ve just cooked you because I’m just a terrible cook.” What she wants you to say is, “Hey, you’re not a terrible cook. This tastes great.”
Somebody says, “I’m not very good at speaking,” and what he or she want you to say is, “You are very good at it. Really!” They want you to correct them. You know, the way to expose the hypocrisy is, of course, just to agree with them. Simply say, “Yes, that’s right. I agree. You are a terrible cook. (laughter) Yes, you aren’t very good at that. As a matter of fact, you are very perceptive when it comes to this.”
Please don’t miss this point. Do you know what Paul says? He says that you should not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think as a way of having sound judgment. The Greek word means sanity. Come to think of it, what is a characteristic of insane people? They think that they are someone who they are not. You can go into mental institutions and find those who believe they are Jesus Christ or Napoleon. They don’t really know who they are and they are thinking of themselves in terms of someone else. If you want to be sane, know who you are.
Okay! Know yourself. That’s the way you’ll know the will of God. And then know your gift. Verse 4, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ (And aren’t you glad that they do?) according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.”
And now he lists seven. And could I say that many people believe that these are the basic core gifts? Probably you have one of these seven.
He says, “If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith (That’s the ability to give forth the Word of God and to exhort men and women to repentance and faith.); if service (verse 7) in his serving (Do well in your serving.); or he who teaches, in his teaching (The ability to communicate God’s truth); or he who exhorts in his exhortation (Exhortation and teaching are related but an exhorter is always very anxious to see the change in the lives of people because of the Word of God and the way in which he has taught it. He always aims toward changed lives); he who gives, with liberality. Now most of the giving in the early Church was secret. Some of it may not have been but the person who has the gift of giving usually does it secretly. He’s not like the person who stood up in a meeting and said, “I would like to give $100 to this project but I would like to do it anonymously.” Not like that! No! And then notice it says, “He who leads, do it with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
And so those are the seven gifts. And what I interpret Paul to be saying is this: “If you want to know the will of God, if you want to know where you fit, you must know yourself and you must know where you fit and how your serve in the Body.” What Paul is really saying is, “First of all you submit and then you serve,” and that’s the order.
Now let’s look at the continuation of these verses. Paul now goes on to show that we should support one another because remember we are not a law unto ourselves. I pick up the text in verse 9. “Let love be without hypocrisy.” There is a kind of love that is very hypocritical. There is a kind of service that does it out of a sense of duty but pretends that it is being done out of love.
“Abhor what is evil.” My, that text in itself could be a message today. Rather than loving what is evil, we should abhor it and cling to what is good.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind.”
What’s Paul getting at? What he’s saying is that it isn’t simply enough to serve. He says, “You must serve in relationship to the entire Body.” He says, “You must serve to support others. You must serve in such a way that you become concerned about the other cells of the Body that are around you, because we are working at this together.”
Now, looking at your Bible one more time in the 12th chapter, I want you to notice something. In chapter 12, verse 1, he said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” In verse 4, he talks about the Body of Christ. He says, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ.” What Paul seems to be saying is that the reason we should give our bodies to God is because our bodies are actually the Body of Jesus Christ. This is Christ on earth. You and I are Christ on earth. I don’t mean to say at all that we are divine like Christ is, but we are His representatives. “As Thou has sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” We are that Body.
Now the human body heals itself. In fact the ability of the body to heal itself is awesome. It is something that scientists can’t explain because, you see, they can create various elements. They can put something together that is perhaps as strong as a bone, but when it breaks, it can’t heal itself. Yet God has given the Body the ability to heal itself so that if it functions properly it can be healthy and strong and impact society, and impact the world.
I want us to consider for a moment the Body gathered. That means us together on Sundays, and during the week in small groups. That’s the Body gathered. The reason that the Body gathers is to grow and become strong, so that if you have a broken bone it is our responsibility to restore you to help you to fix it. And some of you have slipped in life, haven’t you? You may have slipped morally, or you have slipped spiritually, and you feel as if you are now no longer part of the Body or that you could never really be restored in a full sense to the Body. It’s our responsibility to help you to do that.
You know, Paul says in Galatians that if any of you is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual are to restore such a one with a spirit of weakness, and with the recognition that you yourself might be tempted. When you have a broken bone it has to be set tenderly. You don’t want somebody to take a crowbar and to try to set it. And we are in the bone-setting business.
So if you have fallen, we want to restore you. If you have a disease, we want to heal you by giving you the right nutrients, by giving you the right vitamins, through the right teaching, through the right fellowship, through the right interaction in our Sunday school, in the ABF's, in the small groups, in the choir. In all of our relationships what we want to do is to help you be healed.
Now sometimes the body has a malignancy, and those are some cells that have just decided that they are going to do their own thing and not think of the good of the body. And that malignancy (such as cancer), these are healthy cells, but they are no longer acting for the good of the body. What they are saying to themselves is, “We are going to do our own thing and we are going to become strong in ourselves.” Now that’s why there are times when the Body needs church discipline.
The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding a man who needed discipline in the church that was overlooking it, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump, so get rid of that man.” It’s not getting rid of him permanently, but to restore him, and cut yourself off from him, and excommunicate him from the church. So that’s a part of our responsibility too.
You see what God is saying is that we need each other. We need to submit, we need to serve, and then we need to support. “Be devoted to one another, rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep and bring everybody along as the Body grows.”
Today in your bulletin you have a statement of our vision for Moody Church, and I hope that you take it home and memorize it. It is “to be known in Chicago as a caring, culturally diverse community,” and a lot of weight rests on that word community because this isn’t simply an ordinary community. This is a community that has been bonded together by Christ Himself, that we might represent Christ through a clear witness and quality ministries and individual lifestyles. Don’t overlook that because there is such a thing as the church gathered, but there is also the church scattered – the church gathered on Sunday, the church scattered on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, and that’s where ministry happens. That’s where there is the fire of God in the life of Moody Church.
Remember when Jesus went to His hometown and He took the scroll from the synagogue and he began to read. Isn’t it instructive as to what the people said? They didn’t have any complaint about what He was reading but what they said was, “Why is He doing that? This is the carpenter’s son. Carpenters aren’t supposed to read the Bible. This is for the priests.” My friend, today, the average person in the city of Chicago thinks this. “Why are you talking about God and you’re just a carpenter? Pastors and priests are supposed to be doing that.” I want you to know today that no matter what we preach, no matter what we sing and no matter what happens within this building, we will never impact the city of Chicago for Christ until there is a vision of every single person believing that he or she has been planted by God in their community and in their vocation to represent Jesus Christ - until every carpenter knows that he is a carpenter for Christ, until every banker knows that he is a banker for Christ, until every hospital worker knows that he or she works there for Christ, until every hairdresser knows that he or she is there for Christ. We will never enliven the city of Chicago and the city will never talk about Christ, because we are His representatives.
Have you ever noticed this? Turn to Acts, which is a book just before the book of Romans, and let’s look at chapter 1. Now the book of Acts was written by Luke just as the book of Luke was written by Luke. But notice what Luke says. He says, “The first account I have composed, Theophilus, is about all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” (The word Theophilus means lover of God. That would be a nice name to name a son.), What he’s saying is, “I wrote the book of Luke to tell you the things that Jesus began to do and to teach.” Now the book of Luke ends with the ascension. Could it be that what Jesus Christ began doesn’t finish, that He begins something and then ends it halfway? No, the book of Acts is a continuation of what Jesus began both to do and to teach.
You see the body of Jesus Christ, the physical body that was raised from the dead is now in heaven, but Christ says, “I am on earth just as surely as I was during my incarnation because I am now there in the lives of my people, and they are my Body and they continue to do and to teach what I began. And you read it in the book of Acts, and then you read it through 2000 years of Church history with varying degrees of success and failure, the Church continues the work of Christ.
My friend, today, will you remember that you have been created by God for His glory? You have been saved for His glory, and now you represent Christ for His glory wherever you may work, serve or live. You represent Him. So Paul is saying, “First of all, submit yourself to God.” Give your body to God. Simply say, “Lord, all that I am, all that I have, all that I ever hope to be, I give to You.” And if there are some mountains in your life that you think that God cannot overcome, I want you to see today that God is greater than those mountains of limitation and greater than those mountains of sin. God is greater. You submit.
Secondly, God wants you to serve. Find out what your gift is, but then you support. Let there be no person who has broken a bone but that there is someone who is willing to help it be restored. Let there be no person who is lonely or feels rejected but that someone is willing to make them a part of the circle again. We support, recognizing that the purpose of it all is that we might glorify God through representing Him when the Church is scattered. Gathered today – scattered tomorrow!
Some of you may know the story of the church in Berlin – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, built in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm the First – to which you can go and you can see reliefs of the Kaiser and Christ together, because in those days the nationalism of Germany was such that it was believed that those who died in World War I were actually martyrs for Jesus Christ. But nevertheless the church was terribly bombed during the war, and you’ll never understand the extent to which the bomb damage really happened unless you see a picture of how it originally looked, and only really a part (the part that supports the steeple) is still there. And the people of Berlin decided that they would not restore the church completely. They would allow all the bomb damage to be there as a memorial to World War II with a hope that it would never happen again.
In the church there is a statue of Christ, which fell during the bombing, and its right arm was broken off. And they were going to restore the statue, and finally they decided, “No, we won’t,” and they haven’t. You can go there to Berlin today, and you can see the statue. Christ stands there but without a right arm. What the people wanted to say is, “We are His arm,” and that’s the bottom line. We are His body, and we are His arm.
If anyone is going to minister to unwed mothers, we are the ones who are going to be doing that. If anyone is going to be ministering to single mothers whose husbands have left them, we are the ones who are going to do the ministry, because we are Christ to that person. If anyone is going to minister to those who are broken in body and broken in spirit and helplessly addicted, we are going to be doing the ministering, because we are the hand of Christ, His Body. If anyone is going to have to know the Good News of the Gospel and how they can connect to God and become a part of Him, we are going to do that because we are His Body.
And tomorrow morning I am going to think about the members of Moody Church, and my heart is going to well up with praise and gratitude to God, knowing that the church gathered is now the church scattered with not just a representative of Jesus Christ located here, singing the songs and listening to the message. But we are now scattered throughout Greater Chicago everywhere, being Christ, being the Body, energizing, giving life, restoring and blessing. That is our calling, and when we find where we fit, we’ll die without regrets.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we thank You that very graciously You have allowed us the privilege of living in a day and age when the Body of Christ is so sorely needed in our broken world. We think of the pain of abuse and we think of the heart-wrenching decisions that people have made, and of the mothers who have had abortions, who need to be restored, and need to be affirmed and know that they are forgiven and cleansed. And we think of all the fathers who have neglected their children. Where can we even begin? The needs are so great, but we thank You today that You have called us to do Your work and to continue what You have begun.
Lord, everybody is coming out of the closets today. And we pray that believers might come out of the closets, and may Your grace and Your love be extended to all. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.