Since I read and listened to my first biographical sketches of various Christians throughout the ages of the church, one thing has struck me:
They generally point to devotion to God in Christ Jesus, in service and sacrifice.
Another thing strikes me: We have the greatest of such sketches in the gospels, of our Lord Himself, and in the Acts, of the apostles of our Lord. Paul’s biography, gleaned from both Acts and his epistles, is particularly striking, if not as much as that perfect example of Christ Jesus.
The last thing that strikes me is that all these point us to the source of all truth, which is the special revelation of our God in Christ Jesus which we call the Holy Scriptures.
We do not match up to the biographical sketch of our Lord; we will likely not match up to that of the apostle Paul, or even such as the great preachers, theologians, Reformers, Puritans, and even many who were not among the learned, but quietly modeled devotion to our Lord in their everyday life until such a time as someone modeled that life in a biography.
We are not supposed to match these whose lives have been temporarily immortalized in such a manner. Their lives, from the apostles onward, are to point us to the impossible example of that Life which we are to follow after, knowing we will not match it until such a time as God has decreed to bring us to that perfection which we so imperfectly work towards, by that same grace that saved us.
Romans 12:6-18: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Each member of the church is integrally joined to the others. I speak of the local church here, in the most practical terms, not of that mystical union of each and every member of Christ’s church universal, which is always a factor inherent in considering these practical aspects of application.
In this passage, the apostle puts forth that practical application that is directed to the church of Rome. The words in bold highlight that which is true of the love of Christ, and without negating the necessity of discipline in the local church, certainly gives a context within which such will be practiced with the necessary discrimination.
Frequently, upon hearing Christian biographies of famous men in church history, we react in the same way that we do to the example of Paul: I can never be like that! The good news includes within it more good news, and that is that we are not called to be like others, but to exercise that which the Lord has given us within the context of the local body in a manner which both glorifies the Lord, and deems others as more worthy than ourselves (for these two are inseparable). Biographies, whether those in Holy Writ or those throughout the pages of the history of the church, should wake in us that desire to follow hard after our Lord as those the biographies are about, yet be tempered with the realization of that grace with which we were saved, are being sanctified, and will be glorified. Ultimately, we can never, this side of glory, be like He who died for us, or even like many who have been specially gifted to be such a Christ honoring example of that same grace of our Lord and God; we can, however, be that which He has decreed we be, and this should be done in a humble, mutually dependent manner, from the elder who leads, feeds and protects the flock, to the one who, by the world’s standards (and too frequently, these have been brought into covenant relations within the church, which is the reason we are taught, admonished, and encouraged so frequently by such as is in this passage from Romans), is the meanest, least esteemed member of the congregation.
The last verse in this section from Paul’s epistle to the Roman church is quite practical, and relies, for its applicational punch, on its association with the rest of the passage. Peace is the outcome of order, so where you have order, there will be peace. (1) Nowhere should this be more evident than in our corporate relations with one another, on the Christian Sabbath during the worship service and studies, and throughout the week. This extends to our dealings with those outside the household of faith, but the thrust is towards those within, primarily. Such pragmatism runs throughout the apostle’s writings to the church, couched within paeans of doxology and didactic, theological depth, and such should also run through our relations with one another in the same manner.
I recently read a book entitled The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People, by Matthew B. Redmond. There is much to commend the book, not least of all its plain writing style and addressing of a subject many believers need to hear.
We have been inundated with terms like “radical,” “revolutionary,” and similar descriptive terms, as referring to that which each and every believer in Christ must do. Matthew B. Redmond’s book, much like Paul’s passage in this chapter of Romans, is a much needed balm for those whose lives are devoted, however imperfectly, to their Lord, God and Savior, yet who cannot participate, for providential reasons, in great theological or evangelical endeavors. They can, however, be faithful with what God has given them, at the place He has put them, within the context of the local body, and that is what this post seeks to highlight.
Not all are teachers of the Word; not all teachers of the Word have the opportunity to go out and participate in formal evangelism (though the evangel should be at least implicit in their teaching, and where explicit in the passage[s] being taught from, brought out explicitly). If we are honoring others within the congregation – indeed, seeking to endeavor to outdo one another in such honor – and doing that which Christ has gifted us to do, being faithful in reading and study of the Word, in prayer, and sharing the gospel as He gives opportunity, we may be excited – and even intimidated – by the biographies of Christians more famous than ourselves, but we must keep in mind that we are neither these people, the apostle Paul, or any other from church history. We are that member of the body which gives generously to support the ministry, or teaches faithfully, laboring in the Word; we are that member who shows acts of kindness out of proportion with that which is generally considered kindness, or that member who leads the others in a manner consistent with the doctrine and faith of our God in Christ Jesus.
None is better than the other, nor should any seek to be the other; however, all are absolutely dependent upon one another, and each is completely dependent on that grace of God in Christ that not only gave them eternal new life, but changed their temporal lives, now, to do that which shows the glory of God in Christ Jesus through covenant relations with the other members, no matter how plain or spotlighted that might turn out to be. God gains the glory from even the most unnoticed and innocuous of believers, as He has ordained.
Soli Deo Gloria – Bill
(1) My favorite lexicon, Louw & Nida, defines peace in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33 as a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility—‘peace, tranquility – this naturally connects to the meaning of “order” as found in 1 Corinthians 14:40 – 62.7 τάξιςb, εως f; τάγμα, τος n: a proper and correct order—‘right order, good order, in order, in an orderly manner.’
τάξιςb: πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω ‘everything must be done in a proper and orderly manner’ 1 Cor 14:40; χαίρων καὶ βλέπων ὑμῶν τὴν τάξιν ‘rejoicing to see your orderliness’ Col 2:5. In Col 2:5 τάξις may refer to the orderly manner in which the church at Colossae conducted its affairs or carried on its worship.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (246, 612).). New York: United Bible Societies.