- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 10 focuses on Romans 12:1-2,9-18.
If there were ever a manual on how to behave like a Christian, aside from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7, this one chapter in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church would be it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the practical outworking of a regenerated soul. Paul makes the absolutely crucial declaration that, in the eyes of God, there is no distinction between body and soul. The two passages parallel one another.
This was a radical way of thinking in a day and time when Gnostic philosophy threatened the very bedrock of the new Christian mindset. Gnostics argued 20 centuries ago, and still do, that how a person believed and how they behaved were in no way connected. One could believe in God and live in godless ways. Can we argue that the Gnostic way of thinking is not fully present in the church today?
What do our massive, multi-million-dollar, high-tech sanctuaries in the very heart of communities where people live on the streets and beg for their daily food say to them about the God we claim to serve?
I’m trying to remember the last time I performed a wedding for a Christian couple who were not already living together or at least sexually active. None come to mind. This is not judgment. It is a simple observation. My own son, a true Millennial whom I baptized as a child now in his young adult years, told me that he has no problem with Christianity; he simply sees no personal relevance in it. I had nothing to say in response.
Believing and behaving
Romans 12 is Paul’s way of proclaiming something incredibly vital to the faith of those who follow Jesus. There is no distinction, in the eyes of God, between what we claim to believe and how we behave. To God, how we behave is what we believe. We cannot distinguish between soul and body. Not in this life.
There is real hope for believers in that truth. We can and should stop now and then and let our behaviors trace us back to our own souls. In terribly confusing ethical situations, our faith conscience can be a legitimate gyroscope that points the best way forward.
In my earliest years of adolescence, our church was planning to conduct what we then called a “revival.” The deacons had all been charged with distributing fliers throughout the entire community of some 10,000 souls. Each deacon was assigned a specific area in the community for distribution.
One deacon, an older and very wealthy man, recruited me and several or my friends to help him with his assignment. He promised each of us who helped a steak dinner as a reward. One Saturday, my friends and I piled into his luxurious sedan and took the ride, quite literally.
When he stopped, we’d all pile out and blanket a given couple of blocks with front-door-hung revival fliers. We’d get back in the car and drive a bit and do it all over again, licking our chops like a hungry mutt as we fantasized over that steak dinner. In the 1960s, in Brownfield, Texas, steak dinners were an extremely rare treat, hard to come by. At home, steak was a once-a-year birthday treat.
When we finally finished our route, the deacon said: “Hey, guys, I forgot something I have to do. I’ll get you that steak dinner another time.” We all piled out, fully trusting that he was a man of his word, not a man completely disconnected from his word. Over four decades later, I’ve finally given up on getting that steak.
The deacon’s deceit means nothing to me now, except to remind me that what I say and what I do, in the eyes of God, are inseparable. I am what I do, not what I say.
Love and joy
“Let love be sincere,” Paul says (v. 9). He goes on in the next several verses to describe love as holding onto what is good, no matter how evil may appear to prevail. Love involves serving Jesus in the way we care for, forgive and bless one another, Christian or not.
Loving others involves an act not mentioned enough in sermons and lessons— hospitality (v. 13). That means that we don’t think of whatever assets we have as something that belongs to us, only as something that belongs to God and for which we are stewards, not owners, commanded to use those assets in some way to bless others. That’s is why I still do weddings I don’t understand.
The story is told of Mother Teresa working in a food line one day. A woman came up to her and received her simple cup of ground meal. Mother Teresa and a colleague watched as the woman took her full cup, crossed the street and poured half of what she’d been given into another woman’s cup.
The colleague was curious. Referring to the woman who gave away half of her food, she asked Mother Teresa, “Why didn’t you give her friend a full cup, too?” Mother Teresa responded, “Because I didn’t want to take away from her the joy of giving.”
The true joy of the Christian faith is not found in how pinpoint accurate our doctrines about God may happen to appear. Joy comes to those who live out their faith, even if it makes no apparent sense to anyone but God.
Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger in Fort Worth. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.