For Our Good

Read Romans 8:26-28

Socrates was considered to be one of the wisest philosophers and teachers of Ancient Greece. He created a method of teaching and discovering which was based on a series of dialogues between himself and his pupils. A subject is chosen and the dialogue commences. As wise as Socrates has been purported to be, he is quoted as saying, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” This humility seems to indicate that Socrates understood his limits.

Humans have limits. This truth is evident in Paul’s words found in the letter to the believers in Rome. Paul indicates the human weakness and inability to even pray correctly. But Paul states this is not a point of despair for us because the Spirit intercedes for us. The One who intimately knows the will and thoughts of God also knows us intimately. Where we are unable to utter, the Spirit communicates in ways beyond us. This is done because God desires all aspects of life to work toward the good of us who love God and are called by God.

Much like Socrates, when we take an honest inventory of our knowledge and abilities, we are deeply aware that as gifted as we are in these areas, we have so much farther to go. Paul’s words to the Romans bring comfort to us in the midst of such a revelation. Having the assurance that we have God constantly working on behalf of us even to the point of interceding in our weaknesses and prayers, provides us a boost in life. Our God, who is powerful enough to create all we see and cannot see, is tirelessly working to bring good to us. What amazing love is this?

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

All Are Needed

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

One of the great joys of childhood was the fun which was had with a Lego set. Adults have a mixed view of Legos. Some adults still love constructing with a set of Legos. All adult parents hate when they locate one or a few Legos on the floor with their feet, especially at night. Anyone who has enjoyed Legos knows how the various sizes and colors of Lego pieces allow one to create some amazing structures. All the pieces are important if you are going to create a recognizable structure, character, or scene. Few things can be more irritating than when one or two pieces go missing.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul speaks about the importance of each person. First he points out that one person is not more important than another. God has given each person gifts that are important to the one body to which we all belong. Every member has something to contribute which is unique and benefits the whole body. He then encourages each person to use their different gifts in ways which provide the greatest benefit to the body.

These days we tend to think more individualistic than communal unless we are in a time of crisis. This type of thinking seeks benefits for self rather than for others. Arrogance can easily be a characteristic of an individualistic thinker. This passage calls us to have an opposite perspective. We are to realize that while we each have unique gifts, God gives those to us so combined the whole body benefits. Like our Lego creation, each person is needed to create the body which God has planned. We are to bring our gifts together as a community. When we do, the result will be more amazing than anything Legos can build.

Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.