Living in Maturity
Paul often talks of the power of the Gospel and the precious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. He writes of the church and the problems and the need of strong leadership along with so many other subjects of priority to Christians. But in the 12th chapter of Romans Paul speaks of the qualities of a mature Christian. Let’s read his thoughts on this subject.
Romans 12:9-21 NIV
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Characteristics of a Maturing Christian - vv 9-13
The greatest characteristic of any Christian but particularly the maturing Christian is love! We are to display the love of Christ in all that we do and say. His love should shine through us. Does that kind of love shine through you? Love is the secret of Christian conduct. The principle that created and still maintains the church is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”) The love of the Christian should be without hypocrisy – it should be pure and sincere like that of Christ. “We love because he first loved us.” As a growing Christian each of us should abhor/hate with deep emotion what is evil. We have tried to tell the world that we hate the sin but we love the sinner but it is hard for the world to truly see that when we express more hatred than we do love. Can you hate the sin, the evil and yet love the sinner? Do you think that it is possible for you to hate just the sin and not hate the one who commits or lives in that sin? Jesus did and He calls for His disciples to do what He did. (Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”) Loving good should be as if you were cemented to it. Being devoted to one another in brotherly love is to give honor to others above oneself. (Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”) Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” is a city which was named such so that it could describe the Christian love William Penn knew its citizens had for one another. Maturing believers should be able to express with their lives tenderness and affection for one another. Someone has said that you should be nicer to a brother in Christ than your blood brother who is lost because you will live with him throughout eternity. Do you live a life that shows your love for your Christian brother? In these verses Paul has suggested that believers should not be lazy about their faith and actions for Christ, for it would not bode well to be called a lazy Christian. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to control us and our actions. Be a hopeful and joyful person and even though things may not be positive today have hope and rejoice for the time will come where the circumstances are more favorable. I see this attitude expressed in many lives of our church family as they have gone through tough and difficult times in their lives. Matthew Henry says, “Those who rejoice in hope are likely to be patient in tribulation.” It is amazing how God uses the simple things in life to teach us that joy is important and it can train us for the times in our lives that we have little to rejoice over, but if we have been faithful to Him in prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit He will prepare us for hard times. Illustration: In a church service they were giving favorite Scripture verses. A man stood and said that his favorite verse was "It came to pass." Everyone looked puzzled. The preacher stood up and said, "Brother, how in the world can 'It came to pass' be your favorite?" His answer was, "When I have trouble, and when I have problems, I like to read that verse, 'It came to pass,' and I know that my trouble or my problem has come to pass; it hasn't come to stay." He was looking for a new day out there, and that is what Paul has in mind when he says, "rejoicing in hope." (Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee) God is calling us to share with those in need. Our own church fellowship has the ability to do that because you give and now we need you to give. Now we need you to give even more for we are running low on our Vic Wilson Fund, which is where we help our church family with their personal needs in times of financial difficulty. Kind words are not enough in times like that, they need physical help. James instructs us in James 2:14-16, 14 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”) Have you given anything to the Vic Wilson Fund lately or ever? While caring for others there is a need to show hospitality. The church of old was hospitable on many occasions because at times many were traveling preachers sharing the Gospel. Others needed help just for nightly accommodations, which gave the Christian a chance to share his or her faith. Hospitality is more than letting someone stay in your home. Recently Focus on the Family has been replaying a story told long ago about “A Man Called Norman” a neighbor of Mike Atkins who was an evangelist. God began telling Mike to love on Norman who was very weird, a recluse of some kind. It is a long story but the crux of the story is that Mike learned that he needed to be hospitable to Norman in many ways including inviting him to his home but also inviting him into their family. It is a great story and there is a video of it that will bless your heart if you see it.
Actions of the Maturing Christian - vv 14-16
We have talked a lot about persecution of Christians lately. Can you bless someone who has persecuted you rather than retaliate against them? That is a hard saying! Is it true that brothers and sisters in Christ persecute one another? Most of what we hear of are non-believers persecuting Christians but surely not Christian against Christian? Whether or not they are true believers they are part of the church but it does happen. Yes, you can bless them! You can bless them only in Christ for it to be sincere. Again the power of the Holy Spirit is what we need to live the Christian life and to be maturing in the Lord with our life we need to rely upon His precious Spirit. We should speak words of goodness and kindness to others and pray for them. Bless and continue to bless. If one curses another you have just devoted them to destruction. Never express yourself in violent or profane way but do what Jesus taught us, Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We should live like Stephen who even though he was condemned to death by the spiritual leaders of his day, did not curse but looked toward heaven to see his precious Savior at the right hand of God. And live as our Jesus lived and died, when He was on the cross He prayed and forgave those who had condemned Him and then those who had crucified Him. The Roman church needed encouragement in this subject, they lived under persecution regularly and they needed to know what their Christian response should have been. They were to bless and not to retaliate but respond with goodness and kindness. We need that advice too. One of the great benefits of the Christian Church is you have people who are your family who when there are times of rejoicing others rejoice with you but when there are times of trouble and weeping there are those who weep with you. Jesus went to the grave of His beloved friend, Lazarus, and He wept for His friend more so than the others for many came only because it was the custom. We are to be Christ-followers, rejoicing and weep with others when needed. Do you care enough to weep with another member? Remember the secret of the Christian life and church is loving like Christ! What does live in harmony mean? The church would be of the same mind one toward another. Not necessarily uniformity of thought but that the mind of Christ is being lived out in the church as a whole (Philippians 2:5, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”) Folks would lead lives of agreement in actions and ideas based upon their harmony in Christ as believers. While living in harmony is our goal it is almost impossible if we witness pride in the fellowship. Without Christ’s love there is no harmony in lives or the church it is the guiding principle. But where there is pride or conceit there cannot be the love of Jesus and there can’t be harmony in a life or the church. When one thinks more highly of themselves than they should, they can’t put into practice the unity that is needed in the fellowship, and the fellowship can’t survive when there are some who feel they are “above” others. I have seen this in churches and it is devastating to the church as a whole as it is to individuals who are affronted. Our Father teaches us to associate with others through humility and to seek to put others before ourselves.
Trusting God in this World as a Maturing Christian - vv 17-21
Our God is all wise and all powerful, so we can allow God to play God and not have to take up His job description when evil has been done to us. Our God has said that it is His right and responsibility to take revenge when you have been done wrong. If our lives are characterized by doing right and living a good life, then we can be seen by others without fault and God can be our protector. If we do wrong as the scripture says then we must fear judgment but if we do right then we have nothing to fear. When one lives in the light of the Gospel, as Christ has taught His disciples, then we can be assured of His presence and strength in our lives. Notice the scripture says, “as far as it is possible live in peace with everybody.” It might not be possible with some person but after trying let God have it from there without worry or regret. One of the great characteristics of God is that He wants to be responsible for the Wrath of God that comes because of evil doing; He does not pass that on to someone else. Notice He says we should act kindly to those who are enemies and God will take care of the rest. We are to overcome evil with good. Practically that is not easy but with the Lord’s guidance He will lead us to be specific in what we can do. Remember love is the secret…love then to death! As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace. To live a maturing Christian life is to live by the Spirit of God and in the Love of Christ. Without either of them there is not a mature Christian life. We have all been called to grow in Christ and each should seek the Lord for your growth opportunities. We all generally grow through the “valley of death” experiences not the good times. Pray and seek God for His guidance and help as you live your life for Him daily. Deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow Him, and grow in Christ along the way! Can you live like Paul describes in these verses? Yes you can!