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
DEVOTION: Unity in Diversity (Romans 12:1-21)
Getting any group of people to agree on a particular idea or action is not always an easy thing to do. People come from different backgrounds, have different likes, different priorities, etc. So getting any group to agree on something can be a major task. As a consequence, the idea of unity within diversity might seem to be an impossible task. Nevertheless, it is a biblical idea, and one that relates particularly to the Christian church. And that means, that it is an idea, that as Christians, we need to learn to embrace.
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