November 13, 2011

One in Christ - Nov 13, 2011

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Today’s reading from Romans is all about Christian Unity.

Maybe you’re not familiar with our church, so, let me say this: we’re not a church that wants to teach you how to earn heaven. The Bible says we can’t do that. The Bible says you and I are guilty of sinning against God in endless ways, and we simply can’t undo what we’ve done.

Our church is about telling people what God has done for hopeless sinners like us. He has given us a Savior. Our sins were placed on Jesus when He hung on the cross. God’s Son suffered hell in our place, and when He died, our sins were swallowed up in His sacrifice. Because of Jesus, your sins stand forgiven.

To prove that He accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, God the Father raised His Son from the dead. Because Jesus lives, so shall we.

The section from Romans we’re going to study today doesn’t focus on this message of sins forgiven through Jesus. It focuses on Christian Unity.

Through simple turst in Jesus, we are united to Him. Made one with Him. We are also united to our fellow Christians. We are “one in Christ”.

Let’s read what Paul has to say about how Christians should function in this unity.

Romans 15:1-2 “1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.”

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was go to “open gym”. Once a week in the little town of Lemmon, SD, they would open the gym up to anybody who wanted to play some basketball.

All sorts of players would come. Young and old. Clumsy and skilled. We’d shoot from the free throw line to pick teams, and then we’d play a few games.

What you really wanted at open gym was to get into a game with the better players. Ones that were just about at your skill level, but a little better. That way you got to challenge yourself and hopefully grow as a basketball player.

Of course, sometimes you got in a game with people who were good basketball players, but who weren’t really good team players. Sure, they could drive the lane and score. They could sink three-pointers. But, they’d take the jump-shot when you were open for a lay-up. They’d take the long shot when you were in position for the easy basket. These players probably got better from playing at open gym, but they certainly didn’t help their teammates grow.

And then there was Brett Odenbach. Brett wasn’t the best player out there, but he was the best team player. He could have hogged the ball and won a lot of games. He was good enough to do that, but he didn’t. Brett had a way of including everyone on the team, even if they weren’t the best players out there.

I remember seeing Brett lead his team to victory against others teams that obviously had better players. Our high school coach even took notice of Brett’s talent. He told us, “That’s the type of player you want to be, one that brings everyone else’s game up a notch.”

That’s the type of Christians we want to be too. Team players. People includers. Self-less servers who not only tolerate the weaknesses of our fellow Christians, but who support and strengthen them, bringing their game up to the next level.

In Romans 15, verses 1-2, Paul says…
“1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV).

As followers of Christ Jesus our Savior, we are “one in Christ”. We are united to Him through faith, forgiven sinners, reborn Children of God. We are on Christ’s team, under his leadership.

Being one with Christ, we are also joined to our fellow Christians. We are teammates under Christ. And as such, putting up with our teammate’s failings isn’t optional. Being one in Christ means that we are called to work together.

What this means is that we have to learn to forgive our fellow Christians. We have to continually correct and encourage. We have to voluntarily give up control at times, and give others the opportunity to grow. We have to see that in Christ, our lives are not “all about me”. In Christ we are called to selflessly serve our fellow Christians.

Romans 15:3-4 “3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

When Moses went to Pharaoh in the name of the LORD and told him to let the Israelite people go, Pharaoh replied,
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2 NIV).
Then Pharaoh increased the burden on his Israelite slaves. He commanded them to manufacture the same number of bricks that they had before, but he no longer provided straw for them to use.

When David went to fight Goliath in the name of the LORD, Goliath said…
“’Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’” (1 Samuel 17:43-44 NIV).

When the armies of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, surrounded Jerusalem this message was sent to King Hezekiah:
“‘…Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.” 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them…” (2 Kings 19:10-12 NIV).

Throughout history people and governments opposed to the true God have insulted and threatened God’s people. Even God’s own Son had to endured ridicule and threats because He was faithful to His Heavenly Father.

It’s just like Jesus told his followers,
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you...” (John 15:20 NKJV).
If they hate the God of heaven, they are also going to hate His followers.

Through faith in Christ Jesus, we have been made His people. Forgiven sinners. Part of the family of the true God. Being one with Christ means that we have to endure abuse from people who hate the LORD.

But here in Romans, Paul’s main point isn’t that we have to put up with anti-Christian people and governments. In this section Paul is mainly talking about how Christians have to put up with each other.

He mentions the insults of the un-godly as an argument from the greater to the lesser. If we can endure the attacks of the wicked and the insults of the godless, certainly we can put up with the failings of our fellow Christians.

Paul says that everything in the past was written to teach us. Eventually, the Israelite slaves were freed from the heavy hand of Pharaoh. God freed them from slavery and gave them their own land.

After Goliath’s taunts, David brought the arrogant giant down with a single stone flung from his sling.

One morning not long after Sennacherib warned Israel not to trust the LORD’s promise of protection, Sennacherib’s army woke up to find 185,000 men dead in their camp. For the angel of the LORD had visited them in the night.

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Our hope is built on this: The LORD is trustworthy. He keeps His promises. He promised to send us a Savior from sin, and He did. Christ Jesus is died in our place, setting us free from sin, guilt and hell.

With Christ’s sacrifice in mind, forgiving the sins of our fellow Christians shouldn’t be too difficult.

Romans 15:5-6 “5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here Paul prays that his fellow Christians in Rome would have the same attitude of mind toward each other than Christ Jesus had. Jesus’ attitude is described in 1 John 3, verse 16. There it says…
“16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 NIV).
Here we have both the example of Christ, and the power source to become like Christ. Our sins have been forgiven because Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. He put sinners, like us, first. Now, as forgiven sinners, we ought to lay down our lives for each other.

So, we’re back to where we started. Self-less serving in Christ’s name. But Paul adds a final thought in verse 6. He says…
“…so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6 NIV).
A Christian attitude means putting others first. But a Christian attitude also means putting our Master and Savior above all things and people.

God wants us to have the same mind, but that doesn’t just mean agreeing with each other. God wants us to have Christ’s mind. So that with “one mind and one voice” we can glorify God.

True unity in Christ exists where people believe and teach what CHRIST taught. If all the Christian churches of the world joined up as one church, that wouldn’t be pleasing to God. Churches today teach different things. They don’t have a unity of mind and voice. False teachings and strange interpretations have crept in and are taught as God’s truth.

You can have the same roof and the same name, but if your unity isn’t based on a genuine, common confession of what the Bible says, you’ve got a problem.

How can you have one mind and one voice as a church, if you believe and teach different things? How can you have one mind and one voice if that mind and voice is not molded by the mind and voice of Christ?

This isn’t a popular thing in our time. Many Christian churches have joined together with others because they believe Christ is their Savior. Great! But Jesus has many other things to say beyond the cross of forgiveness. If we’re going to follow the Savior, we can’t pick and choose which of His teachings we’ll keep.

This isn’t the only place in the Bible where God talks about true Christian unity.
“10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV).

“11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV).

“…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 NIV).
In the book of Acts, Luke describes the first Christian fellowship in Jerusalem as being devoted to holding on to the teaching they received from Christ’s apostles. It says…
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV).

Now, don’t get me wrong, and don’t misunderstand Paul either. He’s not saying we all have to have the same favorite color. He’s talking about having the same doctrine. When God says it, we teach it.

That is how God gets praised. When we say, “What you said God. That’s the truth. We’re going to teach your Word, and your Word alone.” That’s when God gets the glory.

True unity in Christ is about self-less serving, learning from the example of past Christians and uniting under the Words of Christ.

To close our devotion today, I’d like to pray that God would help us in these area.

Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to forgive our fellow Christians when they sin against us. Move them to forgive us also. Help us to see ourselves as part of Your team Jesus, so that we support and strengthen each other. Help us not to feel awkward praying with one another. Help us not to feel strange encouraging each other with your Word. Help us to continue to study your Word at home, in Bible Classes, in Worship and countless other places so that we are encouraged by the examples of Christians who came before. Lord, keep us teaching what your Word says, and what Your Word says only. Guard our hearts and minds from false teachings, and false teachers. We believe that we are ONE IN CHRIST, forgiven in Him and united to each other in Him. United to you, Father, through Him. Help our unity to grow more complete and stronger this week. Amen.

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