SERMON: I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17)
We have probably all done things of which we are (or should be) ashamed. We’ve all had times when we haven’t treated other people right; times when we’ve put ourselves and our own interests before others; times when we’ve looked longingly at things which belong to someone else; or simply times when we’ve been ungrateful, when we’ve not been satisfied with the things that we have.
Furthermore, there may well be things that we are holding back from doing right now. Like calling someone we have neglected for too long; like not helping someone we know, who we know is in need of help; and like giving a hand to someone who is selflessly caring for others.
There are probably also things that we know we should do but are too unsure of ourselves or too embarrassed to get involved. Maybe we lack courage, or maybe we are scared about what others might think.
It’s very refreshing then to hear some words of Paul. Words which reflect the idea that whilst he had done many things of which he was ashamed—and persecuting Christians was one of those things of which he was not proud—the one thing that he was not ashamed of (having become a Christian) was to stand up and proudly tell others about his faith.
Indeed the words of Paul from his letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes—the Jew first, then the Greek. For from the beginning of faith to the end, the righteousness of God is revealed in it. And as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Now when I say that Paul was proud of being a Christian and proud to share his faith, I don’t mean that in a negative way. He wasn’t pushing his own barrow. Rather, I mean that Paul had something to be excited about, and he consequently wanted to tell all and sundry what Jesus had done, and what the gospel meant.
B. TWO REASONS WHY PAUL WAS NOT ASHAMED
So what is it that made Paul stand proudly and proclaim the gospel, whilst others were tempted to hold back? Well, I’m going to tell you that it had nothing to do with his gifts and abilities. Because it wasn’t that he was a particularly good speaker. On the contrary he was criticised for not being one. And as for his letter writing . . . Well even though his letters are quite strong at times, he does have the reputation for getting side-tracked and losing the thread of his argument. So what was it that motivated Paul to proudly proclaim the gospel? Well, as far as Paul was concerned there were two things:
1. A Message of Salvation (verse 16)
And the first was that the gospel was a message of salvation—of which they are at least three aspects:
a). Saved from the Wrath God
The first aspect is that people are being given the opportunity to be saved from the wrath of God. It is about the opportunity for people to be guided through all the human trials and divine judgement and come out the end to receive eternal bliss.
Now this salvation may have something to do with hope for the future. (Because salvation can only be completed when the Messiah returned in glory). But guidance through human trials now, is very much an everyday reality too. Consequently the salvation message is very much a current day reality as well as a hope of things to come.
b). Only God has the Power to Save
The second aspect is that God uses his power to give people the opportunity to be saved, which only God has the power to do. It is about the opportunity for people to have a solution to sin, where all human solutions fail.
But yet again this salvation is not merely an announcement of the fact that salvation will take place at some future time, but it is the announcement of the operation of God’s power working towards salvation. Power that is evident in the here and now.
It is a work begun in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. And subsequently it is work that continues on, daily, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
c). For All Who Have Faith
And the third aspect is that people are being given the freedom to choose whether to be saved or not. It is the opportunity for people to choose for God and receive salvation, or to choose against God and receive eternal damnation.
In other words, everyone (without exception) is given the choice. But the salvation of the future and the salvation of every day, is only given to those who choose it.
God’s gift of salvation, whilst open for anyone to choose, is effective for only those who have faith. It is only effective for those who accept the power of God, and therefore submit themselves to him, trusting themselves wholly to his grace and wisdom.
Now this gospel may have been delivered to the Jew first, but it is shared amongst the gentiles too, as was intended. And the reason for that, is to illustrate the inability for anyone to keep the Old Testament law. It is to illustrate the nature of sin and the consequent need for divine intervention.
2. God’s Righteousness Revealed (verse 17)
So the first reason that Paul was proud and not ashamed of the gospel was because of the relevance and importance of the salvation message to every single person that has ever lived. Without it, people are condemned. With it, people have the opportunity to be saved.
However Paul’s second reason why he was not embarrassed about the gospel, takes the whole thing a little further. Because as far as Paul was concerned the gospel revealed something of the nature of God too. And again it comes in three aspects:
a). God is a Righteousness God
The first aspect is that God is a righteous God; that God is perfect and needs to deal with all the things that are not perfect around him.
On God’s side, the whole concept of the need for salvation means the operation of his righteousness. And that isn’t just an attribute of God, it is something that he does. It is part of his whole being. And consequently for people to meet God’s standards, they need to be found righteous too.
Consequently before salvation can be received by anyone, they have to face God—the righteous judge—in court. And in this court, that person has to secure the verdict: righteous.
b) God is a Caring God
The second aspect is that God cares for his creation. Indeed he cares and loves his creation so much that he has found a way to secure that righteous verdict. And this is only possible because God sent his Messiah to suffer humiliation and death.
A verdict of righteous, therefore, is available, but only through faith in Jesus. Faith being the only human attitude corresponding to God’s grace.
c). God Honours Freewill
The third aspect is that God cares so much for his creation, that he respects people’s freedom to choose. That even after having given the opportunity for people to be accepted as righteous, he is not prepared to impose himself on those who are unwilling to trust him or accept him.
Consequently only those who live by faith will live. A state which doesn’t just talk about future salvation but relates to life in the here and now as well.
There are two reasons, therefore, why Paul was confident and was not ashamed to tell others of the gospel, and they have nothing to do with either his ability to speak in public—about which he was criticised—or about his letter writing ability either.
Rather, it had to do with the content—the good news—of the message of salvation, and the need for all to hear it. And it had to do with the fact that in that salvation message, God had revealed much about himself.
Now, as I said earlier, Paul had, himself, done many things of which he would have been ashamed. Not least of which was the persecution of early Christians. However, once he had become a Christian, once he had faith, all that changed. He too became bold and went out and shared his faith; he was proud to be stand up and call himself a Christian; and he was proud that he had been given the responsibility by God to tell others about what he believed.
And in this, is a challenge to us all. Because if we are Christians, if we have really received the salvation message ourselves—whether we are good speakers or good writers or not—we too should be proud enough to stand up and proclaim the gospel.
And how we can do that is by remembering three simple things.
1. Needing God’s Help
Firstly, to remember that we all need God’s help—and people everywhere need to be told that they need his help too.
If God is a righteous God, then he needs to deal with sin; with all our mistakes and failings; with all the things we’ve done wrong; and with all the things that we’ve failed to do. The one thing we can guarantee is that no-one is exempt from needing God’s help. It doesn’t matter what people do or how people try, anyone who has even made one mistake needs God’s help. And that help is available because of the death and resurrection of God’s son. Because come judgement day, we will be judged based on every single thing that we have done wrong. And even if we have only done one thing wrong—no matter how small it was—we will still deserve eternal damnation, not eternal life.
The only way for us to avoid that sentence is for someone else to pay the penalty for us. And in order for that person to be able to do that, they must have lived a sin free life. Now only Jesus—God’s son—could do that. And consequently only by putting our total trust in Jesus can we be saved.
2. Righteous Living Now
The second thing that we need to remember is that whilst the full effect of salvation still lies in the future, salvation is also something that should be embraced in the here and now. Our future salvation should be life changing in the here and now. And people need to realise that too.
Because even if we have accepted God’s message of salvation, it still matters how we live life now. If we are prepared to accept God’s judgement as “righteous” in the future, righteousness in the present should be our way of life now.
Righteousness isn’t just another attribute of God, it’s the way that he lives—it exudes out of every part of his being. Therefore to be faithful to God, it should be part of our very being too.
3. The Need to Choose Faith
And, the third thing we need to remember is that only those who respond positively to God will receive salvation. As a consequence, we have a responsibility to make sure that others around us are aware of God’s love and are aware of the choices that he brings.
Now, obviously, not everyone will accept the salvation message. Some might object most strongly; some might sit on the fence; and many will have the totally wrong idea about what the Christian faith is all about. But regardless of that, only those who choose salvation will inherit eternal life. And if we have been recipients of God’s message and his grace, then we have an obligation to share the choices that we all have when it comes to salvation too.
Now as I said at the beginning: We have probably all done things of which we are (or should be) ashamed. We may even have things that we are holding back from doing right now. And sharing the gospel may be one of those things. But we need to remember that Paul had also done things of which he was not proud. And yet in this passage he was proud to stand up and share his faith.
And why? Because he knew the seriousness of the issue; he knew that people would be lost unless they had an opportunity to respond to the gospel, and he wanted people to have the chance to respond positively to God. But more than that, he also wanted people to understand something of the nature of God, and the depths God was prepared to go to save his creation—you and me.
Now Paul wasn’t a great speaker, he wasn’t a great writer either, but he did have a concern for others. He was willing to have a go. The question is, do we have that same pride in the gospel? And are we concerned for the spiritual welfare of others as well?
Posted 7th August 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Dealing with Our Faults and Failings (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8)
We’ve all done things of which we are not proud; things which we hoped would be long forgotten.
As a consequence, some people live in a nightmarish world, where they are constantly reminded of their faults and failings. So much so, that their memories keep them from their sleep and plague them every minute of the day. But even those of us who have put the past behind them, every now and again are reminded of the things of which we are ashamed. And that can be through someone reminding us of what we have done, or through a seemingly unrelated event that triggers off a memory of something best left behind.
No matter who we are, and where we fit into these two alternative scenarios, the reality is that we have all made mistakes, and we have all done things of which we’re not proud.
And should we be tempted to say “I’m not like that. I’ve never made a mistake. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done,” we have two notable passages from scripture that we should consider. The first is from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And the second is from 1 John “If we say we do not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Whether we like it or not, as far as God is concerned, we all fail. We all fall short of the perfection that he demands. Not one of us can claim to be better than anyone else. In God’s eyes we’re all the same; none of us meets his standards. (And there’s probably something comforting in the fact that we are all in the same boat.)
And that’s a pretty sad state of affairs. It also means we have to live with consequences of our actions. But, having said that, the Bible does spell out a solution.
Because the Bible tells us, that if we acknowledge our weaknesses, we can be free to move on. It’s what we do with our mistakes that’s important. Because yes, we can live in the past, and let our past haunt us again and again, or we can live in the present and every now again be reminded of our faults and failings. But forgiveness needs to be brought into the equation. We need to acknowledge our mistakes, but we also need to bring forgiveness to the situation.
Which is why Paul’s solution to the divided congregation at Colossae were these words of wisdom, “If anyone has a complaint about anyone, bear with one another and forgive.” (Colossians 3:13a). Paul knew that if the Colossian church was to have any future, they needed to put the past behind them. All the infighting and differences had to be resolved. He also knew they had to treat each other as equals. And forgiveness does exactly that.
Now one of the things about lack of forgiveness is that it keeps the wounds open. The result … Anger and hatred grow more and more intense, and the person who refuses to forgive gets more and more bitter. So forgiveness, accepting our failings and putting the past behind, offers a real solution to dealing with past mistakes.
But even then, forgiving others, on its own, is not enough. Because without God’s forgiveness, any forgiveness we give will be incomplete. Yes we can forgive others, and they can forgive us (although others forgiving us back is never guaranteed). But what we need to realise is that every time we make a mistake, every time we leave things undone, every time we fail to forgive, we lose part of what it means to be human.
Indeed, in the book of Genesis, in the story of creation, on the sixth day, we can read, “God created mankind in his own image; he created them in the image of God. He created them male and female.” (Genesis 1:27). As a consequence, although we have been made in God’s image, each time we make a mistake we lose something of the perfection that God demands. And that brings us back to the starting point—we all fall short of the glory of God.
But when God forgives us, he restores us back to the way he created us—in his image. And that state not only guarantees our eternal existence with God, but it gives us the model on which we are to live our lives. So with true forgiveness, we need to acknowledge our mistakes, and to some extent live with the consequences, but we don’t have to live with our mistakes constantly haunting us every minute of the day. We need God’s forgiveness. And if God can forgive us, then how much easier is it for us to forgive ourselves.
The Christian faith, then, provides the ideal solution to the problem of the past. Because we’ve all done things of which we are not proud; things that we had hoped would be long forgotten. But it does require the need for us to acknowledge those mistakes, the need to forgive others, and the need to be restored by God to be “in his image.”
Unfortunately, despite that, God’s solution is one that many people continue to refuse to accept. As a consequence, they continue to struggle through life.
So let us today embrace God’s solution, and live life with the hope of eternal life with God, free from any nightmares from the past.
Posted 26th July 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: People of Promise (Romans 4:13-25)
Have you ever been let down? Have you ever had someone promise to do something, only for them to fail to deliver on their promise?
You could have bought something that needed to be delivered and made careful arrangements to be in on the day and time agreed. But when the day came, and the time passed, the item wasn’t delivered. And when you rang up to find out what had happened, you were told that item hadn’t even left the store, and no one had bothered to let you know.
You could have called a serviceman, someone who was supposed to come and fix your washing machine. You’d changed your schedule so that you could be in, but again they didn’t turn up. And when you inquired to what went wrong, you were told that they had another job on, and no one had bothered to let you know either.
People making promises and failing to deliver, can be very hurtful. It can be very frustrating, as well as being a waste of time. And it can be even worse when it’s a member of your own family or a very close friend.
Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to promises, there is a tendency to become sceptical? With so many disappointments, where people say one thing and then do another—and demonstrate they can’t be relied upon—it’s not surprising when people don’t hold promises in store.
It’s also not surprising when people try to become more self-reliant. After all, aren’t those words “It would be easier to do it ourselves” commonly heard. And Do-It-Yourself is often used a symbol of a world where there is growing reluctance to be dependent upon anybody else.
Having said that, if I were to tell you a story of a seventy-five-year-old man, whose wife was about ten years younger, and he was told to leave his country (Genesis 12:1-2) and was promised to be given a land far away, what would you think?
If I were to tell you that part of that promise was that that he would become the father of a great nation, what would you say?
And if I were to tell you that twenty-four years later, that the wife now ninety years of age (Genesis 15:4)—and had not been able to bear any children and considered herself too old to have children—was reminded of that promise, how would you respond?
Well, the woman, Sarah, just laughed (Genesis 18:13).
3. People of Promise
And I can understand why. Because many of us have reason to be very sceptical about promises. And it is often easier to rely on our own selves and our own abilities, rather than on the promises of someone else.
We have an air of scepticism regarding the keeping of promises. And as the expression goes: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And yet God’s people are supposed to be different.
And by that, I don’t mean that we should be taken in with all the promises that come our way. We shouldn’t be that naïve. But we are supposed to be a people of promise, as Paul explained in his letter to the church in Rome.
B. A PEOPLE OF PROMISE
1. The Promise of God (13-18)
Now part of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to remind the Romans believers that they had two options in life: They could either choose to do things their own way or they could depend upon the promises of God.
In other words, they could stick with trying to obey God’s laws as best they could, using their own strength and abilities to see them through. But with the risk that if they made even one mistake in life, they wouldn’t make it, they wouldn’t match up to God’s rules, and therefore they wouldn’t be good enough.
Or they could live by faith, believing that God’s promises were true, that God knew their predicament—their inability to measure up on their own—and had come up with an alternative that didn’t require them to meet his impossible standards. But it was an alternative steeped in promise and needed to be accepted as a free gift from God.
And if they took the second option, that didn’t mean they could throw away the rules as being irrelevant. Because that wasn’t true, they were still important. But what this second option did do was to put God’s rules into perspective.
Because far from being rules that could be kept in order for people to earn their own salvation, the rules were there to show the gulf—the exceedingly large gap—between God’s standards and theirs. And as a consequence, what those rules did was to point to the need for dependence upon God for an alternative solution—to be dependent upon a promise, rather than their own abilities to meet God’s standards.
2. The Example of Abraham (19-22)
What we find then, from Paul, is that the Bible’s teaching goes against the grain of what we often experience. Because from our worldly experiences we have been taught not to trust in promises. And that isn’t just a modern-day phenomenon, it would have been equally true of the experiences of Paul’s readers too.
Which is why Paul, reminded his readers of an instance where God’s promises were kept, despite a seemingly impossible situation. Indeed, he used God’s promises to Abraham to remind his audience that even though other people could not always be relied upon, God’s promises could—one hundred percent.
Now we’ve already discovered that Abraham at the age of seventy-five had been promised a male heir. And at the age of ninety-nine his heir had still not arrived. We’ve also discovered that Sarah’s response to the promise, at aged ninety, was that she laughed at the whole idea. Furthermore, we also know from the original story that when she was about seventy-five years of age, she’d given up hope, and in order for the family line to continue, she had given Abraham her servant Hagar, so that he could have a son and heir.
And yet, Paul said, that despite his age, Abraham even at age ninety-nine never gave up. He believed God’s promise to be true. And Paul said, “Yet he did not waver in unbelief regarding the promise of God but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God. He was completely convinced that what God had promised he was able to do.” (Romans 4:20)
3. The Universal Principle Applied (23-25)
For Paul, then, the example of Abraham was very important. Because despite the fact that people promise things they don’t deliver, and despite the seemingly impossible situation, Abraham has shown the way when it comes to the promises of God. Indeed, he has demonstrated the importance of being a man of promise, not wavering in his belief that God would deliver what he promised.
And in the same way that Abraham responded to the promises of God, so Paul expected the members of the church at Rome to respond to the promises of God. And the promise that the people of the church in Rome could rely on, Paul stated, was that come judgement day they could trust in God to see them through.
Yes, on judgement day they would all have to face judgement. But if they held on to the promises of God—promises based on the fact that he sent his Son Jesus as a substitute, to take the punishment we deserve, because we don’t measure up—if they could hold on to that promise then they would inherit eternal life.
And the implication of that is that if they were not willing to be people of faith—and if they wanted to join with Sarah in laughing at the whole suggestion, preferring to go their own way—then they would be judged on their own merits. And as a consequence, would be found to be wanting.
It’s a fairly simple message, and Paul probably couldn’t have put it much plainer. The reality is that God did give Abraham a son, Isaac, through Sarah. And so God is the one person who can be relied upon to keep his promises, even when other people fail.
As a consequence, God’s promises have some very important implications, that are worth noting. Because the promises of God do not just relate to Paul and the church in Rome, they are very much relevant for us today too.
1. What God Has Promised
And the first implication is . . . the magnitude of what has been promised.
Because God isn’t just offering us a comfortable home, good friends, good health, or a steady income. No! None of those things come even remotely close to what God is offering. What God has promised is nothing more that immortality. But an immortality with a difference. A commitment that we will live in heaven with him throughout eternity. In other words, no more corruption, no more sickness, no more pain, no more world gone crazy. But peace, a meaningful existence, the glory of everything heavenly, and being in the continual presence of our creator and redeemer. In other words, nothing less than the gift of eternal life—a life we can’t even begin to imagine.
2. God’s Ability and Willingness to Deliver
The second implication is . . . that God doesn’t make empty promises.
Others around us may say one thing and then do another, but not God. God has the ability not only to promise great things but to deliver on his promises. And the experiences of God’s people, and Abraham in particular, have shown that he can be relied upon time after time after time. Indeed, unlike our experiences in this world, with God we can be certain that he will not fail. For even a promise of this magnitude is not impossible with God. For as Mark quotes Jesus: “With man, it is impossible, With God anything is possible.” (Mark 10:27). And many of God’s people can personally say “Amen” to that.
3. God’s Timing
The third implication, however, is a warning about timing. For when you’re talking about God’s promises, the one thing you have to be clear about is that God does things in his own time not necessarily ours. And as a consequence, we have to stick with the promises of God.
In the case of Abraham, he was seventy-five when God promised that he would have a son. And when he had reached eighty-five, Sarah had given up waiting and had given him Hagar to produce an heir. Indeed, it was only when Abraham was ninety-nine (and Sarah ninety) that Sarah became pregnant, and the promised son, Isaac, was born.
God did what he said he would do, but in his own time and in his own way. He did not necessarily conform to the expectations of either Sarah or Abraham. Consequently, even today, we can expect that any promises that God has given, will also be done in his timing, not necessarily when we expect or hope.
4. Our Need to Believe
And the fourth implication, and most importantly for us . . . is the need to hold on to the promises of God.
Now God’s rules should instil in our hearts the idea that trying to keep them won’t get us to heaven. For they are there to show the gulf between God’s standards and ours. As a consequence God doesn’t expect us to them. He knows we can’t. But he does expect us to try. As a consequence, we need to take seriously the promises of God. Because if we don’t, then come judgement day we’ll be on our own, and even one mistake will disqualify us from sharing in eternity with him.
Holding on to the promises of God, being a people of promise, then, can leave us in a bit of quandary. After all, it’s not always popular to have some sort of “religious” affiliation, and we will face pressures from others to conform. We will face pressures not to pursue the promises of God.
But what we have to consider is what is at stake. After all, some people are happy to play not only with their own lives but with other people’s too. And as far as I’m concerned, my life is not theirs to play with. They aren’t God, and they cannot offer me either a relationship with my creator or eternal life. Only God can do that. And that is why being a person of promise is so important to me.
In the world today there are many people who make us promises. And unfortunately on many occasions, those promises are not met and we are faced with disappointment. As a consequence, it can seem easier not to rely on others, but to do everything yourself.
But in regard to our spiritual welfare, it’s not that simple. Indeed, as we have discovered, it has to be the other way around. And it has to be like that, because there’s one thing we can’t do ourselves—and that is to live good enough lives to get into heaven based on our own merit.
But God has given us a promise—a promise that will ensure our eternal wellbeing. It is a promise that doesn’t rely on keeping of his laws—because we can’t. But it is a promise that is based on the fact that Jesus substituted himself for us on the cross.
So today, are we a people of promise? Do we rely on God for our eternal welfare? Or are we convinced we can do the impossible and get to heaven based on our own merit? The choice is up to us.
Posted: 15th February 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Being Members of God's Team (Romans 5:12-21)
With the end of the test matches, one day internationals and the 20/20 games in Australia, the indications are that the cricket season is almost over. And that will invoke a variety of responses. Some will be disappointed—because they enjoy the cricket—whilst others will be clapping their hands, relieved that it’s all over for another year. But for others still … Well the end of the cricket season may be here, but that means that the football season is about to begin. And that means many more hours entertainment, or boredom, depending upon your point of view.
Now whether one likes cricket, football or any other team sport, at the beginning of each season, there is one thing that can be guaranteed. And that is, that whatever the game, the list of players that make up the team will invariably have changed. Some players will have been dropped. Others will have changed positions. Some of the older players will have retired. And there will be new players to fill the gaps. Indeed, whatever team game we follow, we can be sure that, at the beginning of each season, the teams will have changed.
And just as that is a feature of sport, so it is true of life. Because life changes direction. And in the organisations that we deal with, or belong to, it’s not always the same people that are in charge. Even the contacts that we have change. Indeed some people are dropped down the team, whilst others change position. Some people retire, whilst others fill in the gaps. And regarding God’s team it’s just the same.
B. EXAMPLES OF CHANGES TO GOD’S TEAM
1. Saul and David
For example, Israel’s first king, Saul, started off well. He fought the people’s enemies and made quite a name for himself. And in the early years of his reign he appeared to follow all the ways of God. But it didn’t last, and after a while everything fell apart.
Without authority, for political purposes and against God’s wishes, he took on the role of a priest—a job he was not authorised to do (1 Samuel 13:7-10). Consequently he was told by God that he was off the team. Furthermore, he was told that the kingship would not follow the expected inherited path to his son Jonathon. But it would go to a shepherd called David instead.
2. Moses and Joshua (Numbers 20:9-11)
For example, Moses was a great character of the Old Testament. He wasn’t a great speaker, but he was chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery, and take them to the Promised Land. And it wasn’t an easy job, with all the mumbling and grumbling of the people. But Moses was steadfast in the task, and constantly giving God his due.
But one day Moses got so exasperated with the people’s moans and groans, that he left God out of the equation. As a man of faith, he slipped in his acknowledgement of God. He failed to give God honour for providing his people water in the desert. And as a result, God retired him early.
Yes, Moses had generally been a wonderful servant. But despite that, he told Moses that he would no longer be the person to take the people into the Promised Land, and he took him to himself instead.
3. Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19)
And for example, Elijah the prophet did many great things in the name of God. But one day it all got a bit too much. He was tired of fighting God’s battles on his own. And with his life being threatened, he ran for his life. He even asked God to take his life away.
But this time God didn’t dismiss him. He didn’t retire him either. What God did was to change his role. He provided Elisha as a companion. And he then used Elijah to train Elisha to take his place. And only when Elisha’s training was complete, did God take Elijah to himself—in a chariot.
As we can see, then, it’s not just cricketers or footballers or other team sport where the team players change. It’s true of the different organisations to which we belong, and it’s particularly true of God’s church too. Things change. And over the centuries—even in the pages of the Bible—the leaders of God’s people, and the roles they played, changed too.
C. BEING ON GOD’S TEAM
Now I’m sure that the idea of God shaking up his team—dropping Saul, retiring Moses and re-positioning Elijah—might seem a little scary. After all, how often in church have we heard that we need to be on God’s team? And how often have we heard that that we depend upon being members of God’s team for life with God in eternity?
I’m also sure that most of us have never aspired to be great leaders. Indeed, the majority of us will have never wished to hold positions like Moses, Elijah and King Saul. Nevertheless, what their examples show, is that we need to be constantly on our toes. And, indeed, that we need to be continually reminded of the criteria that God uses to be members of his team.
Now fortunately for us, that couldn’t be more simple. Because in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, in ten verses, he reminds us of the criteria to be on God’s team. He describes what will exclude us, and he describes what is required to guarantee our membership. He then leaves it up to the reader to make the choice. And very simply put, he provides two alternatives. “Do we model our lives on the person of Adam,” or “Do we model ourselves on the person of Jesus?” It’s that simple.
Now Adam was an historical figure. He was created by God, and he was placed in a garden where everything was laid on for him. He could eat as much food as he wanted. He didn’t have to labour for it. He didn’t have to do anything. Everything he needed was there, ready for his use. But there was one condition of his presence in the garden. And that was that he was not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden.
And if he had done what he’d been told, he would have been fine. However, one of the aspects of God’s creation is that he created us with freewill. And that meant for Adam, he had the ability to choose. He could be obedient to God, or he could be disobedient. The choice was his. And right from the start Adam found that the forbidden fruit was far too tempting to be left alone. So he took the fruit and ate it. Indeed, he did the one thing he was told not to do.
Now, for his sin, Adam was punished. He was kicked out of the Garden. He was told that from then on he would have to fend for himself. And so with that decision to disobey God, death and sin came into the world. And Adam’s relationship with God … Well that was damaged by his decision to follow his own wants and desires.
2. Choosing Adam
And, you know, that is exactly the kind of model that most people live with today. Created by God, we are all given choice; we all have freewill. And although God has given us a list of the things that we should and shouldn’t do—and all for our own benefit—the reality is that we constantly give in to the temptation to disobey God. We don’t want to resist. And as a result we reject God, as surely as Adam rejected God in the garden.
We reject God, when we fail to place God as number one in our lives. We reject God, when we consider our own wants and desires more important than his. And consequently when we reject God, we effectively reject ourselves from being members of his team.
The alternative, however, is to reject the model of Adam, and to choose the model of Jesus. Because when Adam failed, he was effectively knocked off the team and replaced by Jesus.
Now in contrast to Adam, Jesus lived a perfect life. He took seriously his relationship with God. Yes, he had freewill just the same as Adam, but never at any time did he choose to use that freewill to go against God’s wishes. Indeed, even when Jesus was desperate to avoid the horrors of the crucifixion, he was obedient to the end. He did everything that God asked.
And because of that, Jesus’s sacrifice has had the effect of compensating for the effects of Adam’s disobedience. Indeed, it has made it possible for God to undo the effects of Adam’s sin. So that whereas Adam’s disobedience brought in sin and death, Jesus’s obedience brought in righteousness and life.
4. Choosing Jesus
Whether we are on God’s team or not, then, revolves around the choice: Do we style our lives after Adam or do we style our lives after Jesus? If we want style ourselves after Adam, we need do nothing, because our natural tendency is to put ourselves first, and God last. But if we want to style our lives after Jesus, then we need to do two things:
The first is that we need to acknowledge that we’re not perfect, and that we’re totally dependent upon God for our salvation. That’s the first part. And the second part is that we need to adopt the model of life of Jesus for ourselves. We need to look at his life and imitate it.
Jesus always put God first. He continually told others about God. He encouraged and built up other believers. He was very unselfish in the way he lived his life. And he was prepared to go to any extent in his obedience to God.
Now this second part, imitating Jesus, is very important. But it is useless without the first being dependent upon God. Because unless we are dependent upon God, imitating Jesus is just going through the motions. To be members of God’s team, and to remain members of his team, then, we need to admit our mistakes, and we need to admit that with all the will in the world, that we will continue to make mistakes. We need the forgiveness that only God can provide. And then, if we can do that, then the need to imitate Christ, as a response to faith, kick in.
Modelling our lives on Jesus, then, is not enough in itself. That’s why living a good life, doing our bit, and helping others will never, on their own, be enough to make God’s team. We first of all need to believe. We need to have faith. And that faith should then manifest itself in being imitators of Jesus. And our faith should be something that is evident for all to see.
In our lives, then, we have a choice. And the choice is whether we want to be on God’s team or not. We can follow Adam’s way—in other words we can follow the desires of our own hearts. In which case we will not be on God’s team at all. Or we can become totally dependent upon God, and then follow that up by imitating his son Jesus Christ. It’s that simple.
Well I say it’s simple, because our three examples of Moses, Elijah and Saul show that it’s not that easy to carry out.
Indeed, Moses and Elijah would have to be two of the most respected leaders of the Old Testament. And yet Moses slipped, and everything got too much for Elijah. Neither found being on God’s team easy at all. And as for King Saul … well you really have to ask the question, was his apparent faith simply a matter of political expediency? In other words, was he just going through the motions? Was he really ever on God’s team at all?
But, furthermore, being on team isn’t that simple either. Because the example of Elijah shows, that even once on God’s team, God is not averse to changing our roles. And we should be alert at all times for any changes in direction that he might choose. But isn’t that what any good coach does?
Being on God’s team, then, is a result of a spiritual decision. A decision required by each and every one of us. It’s not a matter of trying to be good, trying to keep the rules, trying to do good deeds etc., but it is a matter of trust, and a matter of obedience.
The examples of Moses, Elijah and King Saul all indicate that, like Adam, none of us are perfect. We will all make mistakes. We will all get tired, and do all sorts of things that make us unworthy of God’s team. But Jesus’s obedience achieved far more than the damage of Adam’s sin. And so to continue on God’s team it is simply a matter of continuing to have faith, and continuing to imitate Jesus too.
As the cricket season winds up, and the football season is about to begin, then, we are faced with the prospect of a new list of players, different to the team that played last year. And that is true no matter what team sport we choose. Some will have been dropped for newer players, some will have retired, and others will have changed positions.
But the idea of teams changing isn’t just related to sport. Indeed, it is just as relevant to everyday life and to the church too—as the examples of Moses, Elijah and King Saul clearly indicate.
The important thing for us, though, is to remember what is required to be on God’s team. Because we all need to be on our toes. We can follow our own ways, like Adam, and exclude ourselves from God’s team. Or we can admit that we need God’s help, and imitate God’s son.
We have a free choice. But which is it to be?
Posted: 3rd March 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: The Role of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-17)
1. Important Christian Festivals
If you were to ask me which were the most important festivals in the life of the church, I would firstly suggest Good Friday/Easter with the death and resurrection of Jesus—without which the Christian faith wouldn’t exist. (And in the early church the death and resurrection were celebrated as one event). And the second would be the Ascension of Jesus, coupled with Pentecost (the birth of the church, through the giving of the Holy Spirit), without which none of us would be sitting here today. (Which again were celebrated in the early church as the one event).
Yes, I’m well aware that some might argue that Christmas should be included as a major festival, because without the birth of Jesus none of these events would have been possible. But in the early church, neither Christmas (the birth of Jesus), nor Epiphany (the presentation of Jesus to the world) were celebrated. Indeed, they were only introduced in the fourth century A.D. as a means to discourage people from involving themselves in pagan festivals.
So getting back to fundamentals . . . God’s solution to the problem of sin (Good Friday and Easter), and the empowering of God’s people enabling them to take God’s message to the world (Ascension and Pentecost), would have to be the two most important events in Christian history.
And that means that the celebration of Good Friday and Easter—with the death and resurrection of Jesus—and the celebration of the Ascension with Pentecost, should be the two most important festivals in the Christian calendar too.
2. The Problem with Pentecost
Now, I say should, because unfortunately, Pentecost, with the giving of the Holy Spirit—and with the gifts that the Holy Spirit brings—makes some Christians feel very uncomfortable indeed.
Now that may be because of the excesses of the Pentecostal movement with some, for example, insisting that everyone should be able to speak in tongues. (And that’s been a problem since early times and was particularly a problem noted by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Church.) However the reality is that we need the Holy Spirit—each and every one of us. And we need him for the reasons that the Apostle Paul outlined in his letter to the church at Rome.
B. THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Romans 8:14-17)
Because in the few verses that we read from his letters to Romans, today, Paul spells out the importance of the Holy Spirit in every believer’s life.
1. The Guarantee of Salvation (14)
And Paul’s first point is that anyone who truly believes has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. And by implication, anyone who doesn’t believe hasn’t.
For Paul, it was that simple. Those that believe—and consequently, have the Holy Spirit living in them—are free to live in a special (and restored) relationship with God. Whereas those who don’t believe—and consequently, don’t have the Holy Spirit—remain slaves to the world and slaves to sin.
For a Christian, then, the Holy Spirit is not an optional extra. Rather, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer which makes that person acceptable to God. Indeed, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the one and only thing that guarantees a person’s salvation.
So when God looks down at mankind . . . yes, he may be tempted to wipe us off, to give up on us for all our past failings—and because we continue to make mistake after mistake in not putting him first in our lives. (And that’s what we’re told he will do with everyone who doesn’t believe.) But that’s not what happens when he looks down at a Christian. Because what God sees, when he looks at a believer is, yes, all the mistakes and failings—that doesn’t change. But with a believer, God sees beyond that to the Holy Spirit living within them. And when he sees the presence of the Holy Spirit, God knows that all those faults and failings have already been dealt with, because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
2. Sons (and Daughters) of God (15-16)
And as a consequence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a believer’s life, Paul’s second point is that the Holy Spirit changes the whole dynamics of a person’s relationship with God.
Now, for most people, God (if he exists at all) may be the creator. And he maybe someone who they hope will answer their calls for help, as and when required. (A relationship based very much on the need to maintain a distance between themselves and their creator.)
But when the Holy Spirit dwells in a believer, it means that a much more intimate relationship with God is possible. Indeed, not only does our adoption by God, as his children, become possible. But the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of it.
For Paul, then, what the presence of the Holy Spirit allows God to do, is to let him treat a believer as though they were his own flesh and blood. And that whatever is his they can share in too.
Now this isn’t a case of God just picking one or two people for special treatment. For the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that everyone who has the Spirit within them is part of God’s adopted family and has the same rights of intimacy with God as any other believer. And that is a big change from Old Testament times, when only one of the tribes of Israel, the Levites, were set apart to act as intermediaries between the people and God.
Indeed, what made Pentecost so special, was that when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’s followers, not only did it dispense with the need for intermediaries—for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life allowed and guaranteed direct access to God—but it allowed access to God in a very special and intimate way.
As a consequence, even Paul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, was able to describe his new relationship with God in terms of “Abba! Father!”
Now, the term “Abba” would not have been used by the Israelites in Old Testament times when addressing God—it was too intimate. But it was a term that Jesus used, and has the modern equivalent of something like “daddy.” And that’s indicative of the kind of intimate relationship that the dwelling of the Holy Spirit brings.
3. Joint Heirs with Christ (17)
And Paul’s third point is, that in addition to the Holy Spirit making every believer a part of God’s family, his presence also makes them God’s heirs, but with all the responsibilities that go with it.
Now the idea of adoption in today’s terms is not always seen in a positive light. But in biblical times, adoption was very precious indeed. Indeed, in the first century AD, an adopted son was someone who had been deliberately chosen to perpetuate a man’s name and inherit his estate. He was not considered inferior in status to a natural born son at all. On the contrary, an adopted son might well have enjoyed his new father’s affections more fully than any natural son may have done.
What this means then, is that if we are children of God, we are also heirs of the Father and joint heirs with Christ.
Consequently, just as Jesus suffered to made it possible for men to enter the kingdom, by denying a life directed to worldly things, and by giving up his life for others on the cross. So the expectation is that a Christian should give up the ways of the world too, for a life style where God—and others—are at the centre.
The end result, however, is that those who believe—those who have the Spirit dwelling within them—may have to face many hardships in keeping the faith. But, in the end, they will be vindicated, and glory with Christ will be their reward. And all because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As you can probably see, then, Pentecost—the day that God sent his Holy Spirit upon his people, the day God’s church began—is a vitally important part of our Christian heritage. Is it any wonder, then, that in the early church the festival of the Ascension with Pentecost was considered the second most important festival of them all? The first being the combined festival of Good Friday with Easter.
Which is odd, when you consider some people’s attitude to both Pentecost and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And I say that for two reasons:
1. Rejection of the Holy Spirit
The first is that when people hear the story of Pentecost—when people are confronted with the concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—my experience is that many people want to run or hide. They want to wipe their hands of the Holy Spirit, and want nothing to do with him. Because it’s all a bit scary.
But as you can probably see, that’s a big problem. Because without the Holy Spirit, where is our adoption as children? Without the Holy Spirit, where is our inheritance? And without the Holy Spirit, where is our guarantee of eternal life?
So rather than be scared, we should embrace the Holy Spirit. We should accept that we need what the Spirit is all about: the guarantee, the adoption, and the inheritance. And we should consider that if we need those three basic things, then maybe we need whatever else he has to give as well.
We shouldn’t be scared of the Holy Spirit. And he shouldn’t be the cause whereby we put a barrier around ourselves, where we limit the things that Holy Spirit can do with us. On the contrary, we should be open to the Spirit’s prompting and leading, and to everything he suggests. After all, it is in our own best interests.
2. Two Classes of Christians
And the second reason I say that some people’s attitude to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is odd, is because of the way that some have tried to rearrange the facts to suit their particular beliefs.
Now, a good example of this is the teaching, which pops up every now and again, that there are two types of Christians: those who have the Spirit within them, and those who don’t. It’s a teaching that began in New Testament times—and it dogged the first century church at Corinth—and has continued until today.
But it’s a teaching based on the belief that if speaking in tongues is the lowest of the gifts then every believer should be able to do it. The ability to speak in tongues, then, being evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and, by implication, an inability to speak in tongues, implies the Spirit’s absence.
However, it’s an odd teaching. Because it takes quite a leap to come to that sort of conclusion. Indeed, it flies in the face of what the bible teaches. It flies in the face of Jesus’s teaching to Nicodemus (John 3:5), of the need to be born of water and the Spirit. It flies in the face of Paul’s teaching to the church at Corinth, where Paul specifically stated that not everyone would exercise the same gifts, and he wished that all believers could speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). And it flies in the face of the Old Testament prophecies—that all believers would be filled with the Holy Spirit—which were fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
Indeed, the bible is very black and white. You’re either a Christian or you’re not. And whether you are or not depends upon whether you have the Holy Spirit living in you.
Pentecost, then, is a very special day in the life of the church. And the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith.
When a person becomes a believer, then, they receive the Holy Spirit as part and parcel of their conversion. And it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that is their guarantee of eternal life. It is the means by which they are adopted by God, to be one of his children. And it is the means by which they become an heir, or joint heir, of the Father and Jesus Christ himself.
When we consider the major Christian festivals, then, the Ascension of Jesus with Pentecost is a very important festival. In the early church, it was the second most important festival, after Good Friday with Easter. And it should be the second most important Christian festival even today.
It is not a festival that should be tucked away because some get scared about the role of the Holy Spirit. And it shouldn’t be passed over because of the reinterpretation and abuse that has dogged the church from the first century church in Corinth to the church of today.
Pentecost, and the giving of the Holy Spirit, was a major event in God’s plan for salvation. It is something that we should all celebrate. But it is something that we should embrace with all our heart too.
Posted: 26th March 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Unity in Diversity (Romans 12:1-21)
Now the Apostle Paul was obviously aware of that when he wrote his letter to the church at Rome. Because, in this instance, Paul was writing to a specific church, but one he didn’t know personally. And yet despite that, he knew from experience, that even in Rome there would be a variety of backgrounds, views, and practices, and that the people would need to learn to work together.
So what was it that Paul suggested to the members of the church at Rome? Well, he suggested three things.
The first thing, Paul suggested, was that diversity not uniformity was the mark of God’s handiwork. Indeed, if diversity was apparent in nature and in God’s grace, then nowhere should it be more apparent than within the Christian community. Now the church in Rome, obviously, would have included men and women from the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament and capacity. And as Christians they would have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. But this diversity, Paul suggested, was a very healthy thing. And rather than squash it and make every the same, people’s diversity should actually be encouraged and nurtured.
Secondly, because and by means of that diversity, Paul suggested, that all should learn to co-operate for the good of the whole. Whatever kind of service was rendered in the church, it should be rendered heartily and faithfully—whether it be prophesying, teaching, admonishing, administering, making material gifts, visiting the sick, or performing any other kind of ministry. In other words the diversity of gifts should be encouraged, with the intention of building up the whole.
Then, thirdly, Paul suggested, that there was the imperative of Jesus to consider. And he suggested the need for them to have a deep, unaffected and practical love, reminiscent of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, mutual love, sympathy, and honour within the brotherhood of believers was to be practiced. Furthermore, that love and forgiveness was to be projected outside of the fellowship—not least of all to those who persecuted them or wished them ill.
Now obviously what Paul was promoting was a very high ideal, which should relate to every Christian group. And as a consequence his teaching regarding unity in diversity relates to every congregation, every denomination, as well as the church universal itself.
So when Paul encouraged the church in Rome to strive for unity in diversity, we could say—as students of human nature—that’s not possible, people will never be like that. And in that you may be right. And yet the Christian faith has many high ideals, including how to live and how to have a perfect relationship with the creator. As a consequence, yes, we should acknowledge our faults and failings and limitations, but we should also reach for these high ideals too.
And that means that in our own churches and between our denominations, we need to strive for this unity within diversity. Indeed, we need to encourage each other to use our differences. And we should then use those differences to encourage and build up one another in the faith.
Posted: 22nd September 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Come as You Are (Romans 12:1-21)
1. Come as You Are
Four words: “Come as you are.”
Now it may not always be easy to “Come as you are,” but that is how we are expected to come to Jesus.
For example, when Jesus saw Peter and Andrew casting their fishing net into the lake, he called to them to follow him. And that’s exactly what the two brothers did. They stopped what they were doing, and immediately followed Jesus. (Matthew 4:18). Furthermore, when Zacchaeus the tax collector was hiding in the tree, Jesus called him down, and invited himself to his house for tea (Luke 19:5). And those are just two illustrations of where Jesus called people to “Come as you are.”
Of course, not all instances of Jesus calling people to “Come as you are” ended happily.
For example, there was a man who wanted to bury his father first before he came to Jesus. However, if his father was truly sick or dying, he wouldn’t have been talking with Jesus (Luke 9:59). And there was the man who wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family (Luke 9:61-62). But in reality, both were looking for excuses not to “Come as you are.”
In the New Testament, then, there are many examples where Jesus called people to “Come as you are.” And perhaps this is best illustrated by the example of the towns he denounced in which he had performed most of his miracles. Nevertheless, even though they hadn’t responded in the way he had hoped, he continued by saying, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will refresh you” (or words to that effect) (Matthew 11:28).
And so today, as in Jesus’s day, we are to come exactly as we are, and we are to leave all our cares with Jesus. We don’t need to disguise things, cover things up, or put a gloss on things. We don’t need special clothing or disguises to protect us. However we are—whatever we’re going through—we are to “Come as you are” to Jesus.
2. Life Changing Results
And, of course, that’s not always as easy as it sounds—as I have already illustrated. After all, it takes courage to drop everything and present ourselves to our God, warts and all. It takes courage to face up to who we really are. And it takes courage to bare ourselves to show who we really are to those around us. But if we do, the results can be life changing.
After all, we all need to “Come as we are” to Jesus in order to receive salvation. That is why Jesus came, that is why he died, that is why he was resurrected from the dead, and that is why Jesus calls us all to come as we are. But having done that, we also need to “Come as we are” in the context of an ongoing relationship with him too.
B. PAUL’S TEACHING
And I’d like to expand on the issues of an ongoing relationship, particularly with chapter twelve of Paul’s letter to the Romans in mind.
Because in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he had for the first eleven chapters concentrated on the basics of the Christian faith. He had told them what they needed to know in terms of the theory: how to be saved (justification); how to grow and become more Christ-like (sanctification); and the reward that awaits them in the future (glorification). And then in chapter twelve it’s like Paul’s said, “Enough of the theory, we now need to put it all into practice.”
So instead of more teaching, he challenged the people in the church—people he didn’t know— to live the Christian life. And his exhortation covered three basic areas.
2. The Need to be Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind (1-2)
And the first is that he challenged those who “Come as you are” to be transformed. In other words the first step in any Christian’s journey is to put away the past, to put away previous thinking, to put away worldly ideals, and to allow God to transform our thinking. To start thinking in a godly manner.
After all, it isn’t good enough to simply to accept Christ as our Lord and saviour, and then do nothing about it as though nothing’s happened. Our commitment to Christ has to be whole-hearted. And nothing short of committing our whole lives to him—with no area of our lives untouched—is what he demands.
We are to commit ourselves and our bodies as a sacrifice to God. A total sacrifice. So that only God, and doing what he wants us to do, is the focus of our lives.
3. The Unity of the Body despite the Diversity of Gifts (3-8)
Having said that, however, that doesn’t mean that we are all to become identical, so that we cannot tell the difference between one Christian and another. On the contrary, Paul’s second point is that in giving our all to God, God will respond by giving us different gifts and abilities.
God wants us to continue to “Come as you are” although now transformed. But he wants us to exercise our gifts and talents, including the new spiritual gifts that he has given us. He doesn’t want us to keep them hidden away.
a). Diversity is the Mark of God’s Handiwork
In other words, Paul suggested that our diversity—our differences—are actually the marks of God’s handiwork. So just as in nature we see different varieties even within the same breed, so it is in God’s grace too. And nowhere should that be more apparent than within the Christian community.
Now the church in Rome would have brought together men and women with the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament, and capabilities. And since they had become Christians they would also have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. Yet this diversity, Paul suggested, was a very healthy thing.
So rather than squash the diversity and make everyone the same, people’s diversity should actually be encouraged and nurtured. And in that regard people should be encouraged to “Come as you are” and they should be encouraged to share their particular gifts and talents with the rest of the Christian community.
b). Unity as a Result of Diversity
Because what Paul also recognised was that if people used their gifts and talents, the end result would be something greater than the sum of the parts.
Our different gifts and talents have a purpose beyond ourselves. We are each different for a reason. And that is because if we come, and contribute whatever we’ve got, we can make the whole so much better.
If we were all the same, what could we offer God’s church? Where would God’s church be? But if we’re all different, and we pool our resources, think what difference it would make.
So whatever service we can provide needs to be rendered in the church. It needs to rendered heartily and faithfully. And no matter what our particular talents may be—whether it is prophesying, teaching, admonishing, administering, making material gifts, visiting the sick, or performing any other kind of ministry—the diversity should be encouraged, with the intention of building up the whole.
4. The Central Demand of Love (9-21)
However, whilst there is the potential of unity in diversity, this can only be achieved in the context of love. So Paul’s third point is that there is the imperative of Jesus to consider. There is a need to have a deep, unaffected, and practical love, reminiscent of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Yes, we might have our differences. And some people’s gifts might be more upfront than others while others work more behind the scenes. But fundamental to our unity in diversity—and binding those two things together—is the need for an attitude of mutual love, sympathy, and honour within the fellowship of believers. An attitude that should have a flow on effect to those outside of the fellowship, and to those who persecute us or wish us ill.
Unity in diversity, then, is very important, and one on which the health of God’s church depends. But it can only work on a foundation of love.
Now what Paul was advocating was simply that in addition to us “Coming as you are” to become a Christian, it is vitally important to “Come as you are” in regard to living the faith too.
Yes, the act of becoming a Christian involves transformation—a process that will be with us for the rest of our earthly lives. But we are also to come as we are bringing and using all the gifts and talents that God has given us too.
And lest we forget what we mean by the church, our unity in diversity should involve not only the congregations we belong to, but all the other churches within our denomination, all other denominations within our area, and the whole worldwide church too.
1. The Impossible Dream
But just how do we do that? After all, we’re such a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, and different cultures. And the way we think, and act, can be so different from one another.
After all, unity within diversity may be a great ideal. But is it an “impossible dream”?
2. High Ideals
Well in one sense if would be very easy to think that way. It would be very easy to give up before we have started. After all, it is an ideal that stands out distinctly from our experience of reality. Except for the fact that one of the things about the Christian faith is that it has many high ideals. It has the ideals on how to live a perfect life; it has ideals about how to have a perfect relationship with our creator; and it has ideals about how to live in harmony with one another.
And one of the things about the Christian faith is that despite acknowledging the huge gulf between ideal and reality, we are still encouraged, even commanded, to reach for these higher ideals too.
3. Getting Back to Basics
That means we have to find a way through all the “I can’t do that,” “I’ve tried it before,” “It doesn’t work,” and all the other well-worn expressions we know so well. We need to strive for a way to make a difference. And what better way is there, than to “Come as you are” to Jesus.
Because only Jesus can transform our thinking. Only Jesus can give us the gifts and talents to do the tasks required. Only Jesus can use our gifts to unite our church and actually make our church stronger. And only Jesus can help us do all those things in love.
4. The End Result
So if we come with an open mind, unencumbered by any prejudices, discriminations, dislikes, hatred, and whatever other feelings are within and between our churches, then we will begin to see the gulf getting smaller, the congregations to which we belong being transformed, and more diversity within the church as a whole. And all spilling out into the communities in which we live. And it all begins with Jesus, and us “Coming as you are” and being willing to be used by God as he chooses.
Just because some things look impossible, doesn’t mean that they are. Yes, something may seem impossible to us, but they’re not impossible to God. And God is very good at using people, people like us, to do the impossible. But we need to be willing to be used.
“Come as you are” that is the message.
But if we do come, how willing are we to being transformed? How willing are we to become more godlike in our thinking? And how willing are we to become more like God originally designed us to be?
After all, what gifts and talents has he given us to use in his church and beyond? And are we willing to use them, not just for ourselves, but to build up the whole? Are we willing to promote unity in diversity? And will we practice love—mutual love—within our fellowship of believers? A love that will spill out to those outside our fellowships, even to those who give us a hard time.
In today’s world we face many challenges. But perhaps none more so than to take our place in the life of God’s church and to be God’s chosen people.
“Come as you are.” But the question is, “Are we willing to do so?”
Posted: 3rd April 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis