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About this series
Becoming a Romans 12 Christian
Being a genuine disciple of Christ flows out of a relationship with Him. It's about experiencing God's grace, not earning His love through performance. A real relationship with Jesus Christ will produce a follower whose life looks progressively more like His life. Romans 12 provides a relational profile of an authentic disciple: someone who is surrendered to God, separate from the world's values, sober in self-assessment, serving in love and supernaturally responds to evil with good. Christians who live out this kind of lifestyle are what we call r12 Christians. God is willing to go deeper and grow you into a real disciple - are you ready?More from this series
Did you ever wonder why so many Christians get spiritually stuck? The Bible’s very, very clear. It says, “If any man, if any woman is in Christ, the old things pass away; behold, all things become new.” And yet, you meet people–sincere, good, I don’t mean slackers–I mean people that really love God. They’ve seen transformation in some very significant areas, and they’re even in the Bible on a regular basis, and they really want to grow, and yet they hit a ceiling or they stall.
There are just some area that just seems to…the temper just never seems to get under the Spirit’s control, or how they say certain things or the way they judge people, or there’s a little private eating disorder over here, an addiction maybe, even on the Internet. And then they feel terrible and they promise God and they recommit their life about twenty-five times. And then they just feel stuck.
That’s where Andy was when he came and talked to me, except I would have never dreamed Andy was stuck. Andy came when I was pastoring another church many, many years ago. And I met him, and the first ten, twenty minutes, I thought, wowee. We were really growing at the time and we were longing for leaders, and he moved in from out of town.
And I met him, met his wife, just got to know him, and it was just like, wow, just so got a heart for God. Got up in the mornings, was spending time with God. I saw his family. He had been through... been a Christian for quite a while, so he’d been in leadership positions and churches. And Andy was a great guy, warm and caring. And I would never have dreamed that there was a little pocket, a little pocket in Andy’s life that he was stuck.
And he asked if we could grab a cup of coffee, and he had something he really needed to share with me. I said, “Sure, Andy, be glad to.” And we sat down and he began to tell me about that compartment that had been sealed off, that he tried so hard and he was stuck.
He said, “You know, it started when I was about, oh, eight or nine years old, and a Sears catalog came in the mail and I was flipping through it and found myself in the lingerie section. And then later I found some magazines underneath my dad’s bed. By the time I was a teenager, I was fully addicted to at least soft porn. When the Internet happened, it was just overwhelming, the access and the privacy that you could have.”
And he said, “Chip, I have prayed, I’ve fasted, I’ve memorized verses, I’ve begged God. I’ll go for a few weeks or a few months, and just my whole life...my wife, I love her, I’m absolutely committed to her, my kids. I’ve tried to do all... but this, I’m stuck.”
And then he shared with me, he said, “I heard something on the radio about this group of people, and they are meeting.” And he said, “For about the last six months, I’ve been driving forty-five minutes on Thursday night, and I’m meeting with this group of people and I got unstuck.” The answer to why he was stuck despite God’s Word and all the rest came when he met with that group. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about it.
But as you see on your notes, part of the answer is that the greatest seed in the greatest soil cannot grow in the wrong environment. You might write “Luke chapter 8” or “Mark chapter 4,” parallel passages, and Jesus is talking about calling Himself, He’s the sower, and what He sows is the seed, and the seed is God’s Word, and the soil is the human hearts, the various receptions that the Word of God receives.
And if you know the story, some is on the path and some on the rocky soil. And it’s just the condition of different people’s hearts. And some, where it’s thorny and others is good soil, good and honest hearts, people who are really honest and really want to grow.
But here’s what I want you to get: The greatest seed, God’s Word, in the greatest soil, a good and honest heart, cannot grow in the wrong environment. There are certain things in your life and in my life, in every believer’s life, transformation won’t occur, no matter how much you’re in the Bible, no matter how honest and desiring your heart is, apart from you being in this environment where it can occur.
What I want you to see is there is a specific ecosystem or environment that God has that brings about transformation when the seed of God’s Word in your heart and mine is there. And if it’s not there, certain things... you’ll just get stuck.
Notice in your notes, a little biblical background here, the command of Jesus requires a very specific ecosystem or environment. The very last night on the earth, He’d washed their feet, and then He turned to them and He looked them eye to eye, and He said, “I want you” – this is the new commandment – “to love each other in the same way I’ve loved you.” Sacrificially, authentically, lay down your life for one another. But it requires an environment.
The second is the example of Jesus requires a very specific environment. When He wanted to change the world, He started by teaching. And He went and there was multitudes and thousands and thousands of people, and He did miracles. But then when He wanted to get the team together that would change the world, He stayed up all night, He prayed all night, and He chose twelve to be, the text says, “with Him.”
The multitudes heard the truth. The twelve learned to live the life. There was an environment that they needed to be in for all that truth to get down in their soul and their lives and their relationships.
The practice of the Early Church and its impact argue for the same environment. You know the story. They were committed in Acts 2...the apostles teaching, and to the fellowship of gathering together, and to the breaking of bread, and to the Lord’s supper.
It says, then, they gathered how? In the temple courts, and Peter or John or someone would preach and teach all these brand new Christians. And then where? From house to house.
Finally, the Church history – past and present – confirms this specific environment for spiritual growth and transformation. And whether I could take you back to the Moravians or the Wesleys or the Welsh revival, and they would get these little societies together, or I could take you to Korea that was completely non-Christian, five, six decades ago, and the cell movement or the small group movement now spanning the earth.
Here’s what I want you to get: The specific environment or ecosystem in which the seed of God’s Word in your heart that’s honest and good and wants to grow is authentic community. It’s authentic community. Notice the form that it takes is a small group. The group could be three people, four people, ten people, but that’s just the form, that’s the container.
Never, ever confuse just being in a small group with authentic community. I’ve been in small groups that there’s no authentic community, haven’t you? Have you ever gone to a small group and someone opens the Bible and reads a little bit, you know, or maybe you watched a little part of the DVD, and someone says, “Well, what did you get for question four? What did you get for question seven? Oh, that’s nice, that’s nice.”
And then some deep question is asked and the answer is, “Oh, maybe I should... I should probably not work so much.” “Oh, okay, thank you for sharing so deeply. Are there any prayer requests?” “Yeah, my hip really hurts, it really hurts,” you know? And then you kind of get over with that, then you get up and the ladies are over here, “Did you hear about that Nordstrom sale or Macy’s? Do you know what’s going on there?”
And the guys are over here going, “Man, those Giants are doing it now. The 49ers, I’ll tell you what, that linebacker.” And then you eat a few more little treats and you get in your car and say, “Wasn’t that great?” Well, it was, but just don’t call it authentic community. It’s a good start. It’s a connection. At least you know some people.
But authentic community is deeper. Authentic community is this environment where people lay down their lives for one another. Authentic community is where you take a group of people and they say, “You know what? We’re going to change the world,” and they were around Jesus. Authentic community is living under persecution and hearing God’s Word and going from house to house to support one another to live it out.
In fact, it raises two very important questions. Question number one is: What is authentic community? And then question number two is: How do you get it? And the answer to both those questions is in Romans chapter 12, verses 9 to 13. If you’re just new with us, we are going through the chapter in Romans 12.
And in verse 1, we learn that what God really wants from all of us is – what? He wants us surrendered to Him, all we are, all that we have. In verse 2, we said there’s an enemy of our soul. There’s a world system that’s trying to woo and seduce our heart away from our Savior.
And we’re “not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind,” to be separate from the world’s values.
We looked at verses 3 through 8, and we learned that we’re not to think too high or too low, but to have a sober self-assessment, to know where we fit in the body. And now what he’s going to talk about is serving in love. He’s going to talk about: what kind of relationships are we to have as fellow believers?
And if you look at your notes there, in verse 9, you’re going to see that authentic community is the “real you” showing up. Verse 10 is going to say that the “real you” needs to meet real needs. And then in verse 11, he’s going to say the “real you” needs to meet real needs but for the right reason. And in verses 12 and 13, the “real you” needs to meet real needs for the right reason and do it in the right way.
For some of you, you’re where my friend Andy was. You love God, you have a good heart, you’re taking in God’s Word, but you’re stuck. There’s a ceiling. You have these outbursts of anger and you feel terrible about it. You have issues in your life that you know you don’t want and you’ve told God “I’m sorry” and you want to change and you’ve tried hard to change, but you still don’t see any radical transformation.
I’m telling you, this moment on this day may be God’s answer to the environment in which some of those things you’ve struggled with so long He can change. But it doesn’t happen alone. So let’s look together, what is authentic community, and maybe more importantly, how do you get it?
First, from verse 9, authentic community is the “real you,” not a projection of yourself.
See, you can’t have authentic community unless the “real you” shows up. Authentic community, he says, “Let love be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.” The two characteristics of the “real you” showing up is, one, authenticity, and two, it’s purity. Where the Word says, “Let love be sincere,” circle the word “sincere” and write above it “hypocrisy.”
Paul is borrowing from the Greek of his day, and in the Greek theater of that day, they were all male actors. And so if you were a good thespian, you could be able to throw your voice and you could play a male part, a female part, an old person, a young person. And they dressed up in different costumes, and then there would be a mask that you would wear. So you would throw your voice.
And Paul takes that word for the mask, and that’s this word. He says, “Let love be without a mask, without hypocrisy.” Let the “real you” show up. Yes, you got to be discerning and you got to be careful of who you share the “real you” with, but he’s saying that authentic community isn’t just getting in a small group. It’s when the “real you” is showing up and you let people see who you are, progressively, wisely, discerningly.
In fact, jot in your notes, if you would, “Acts chapter 5.” This is important. This is beyond important. Some people never experience this their entire Christian life, and they can never figure out why they don’t experience the transformation power that God has promised us in Scripture.
Now, I didn’t grow up as a Christian. I never opened the Bible until I was eighteen. And so my first trip through the New Testament was like, “Oh, wow.” I mean, really. It was like, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. I didn’t even know the names of stuff. And then I got to Acts and I figured out, okay, this is the Early Church history. And Jesus ascended, He went to heaven, and in chapter 2, the Church is born, and chapter 3, he and John are doing miracles. And it’s pretty exciting stuff.
And then you get to chapter 5, and the Church is exploding, and so there are all these needs. I mean, tens of thousands of people are now in the Church in a very short amount of time. And about eighty percent of them are slaves, and a very small percentage are pretty affluent people, some in Herod’s household and others.
And they did this – in this time of emergency – they did this sort of unusual thing where they all came together and they said, “We need to help each other. We need to be devoted to one another.”
And so in chapter 4, it gives an example of this very wealthy man who had a piece of property in Cyprus on this island, which is the equivalent of downtown San Francisco or Manhattan, in that day. And so he sells it and he takes the money, and he says, “Look,”– I don’t know this for sure – “but I got a second home. You know, there’s a piece of property. You take this to meet the needs of the people in the church. They’re really hurting.”
And I think a buzz happened in the church where, wow, it was so sacrificial, it was so generous. And people were like, “Boy, I guess this is what it means to love one another.” And his name was Barnabas. And I think Barnabas got this reputation because they started calling him the “son of encouragement.”
And the story goes on in Acts chapter 5. And jot that down because before your head hits the pillow, you ought to read it. It’s not very long. It’s very interesting. But I’m a brand new Christian and I’m reading this. So there’s this young couple. I’m guessing they’re young. Maybe they’re not young. But Ananias and Sapphira. And so they kind of look around and they think, “Wow, everyone’s talking about Barnabas. We wish people would talk about us like that. We sure wish people would think we’re that generous and loving and kind.”
And so they hatched this plan. And the plan is, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to sell this piece of property, and we’ll get the money, and we’ll tell people that we sold it for this much money and, we gave it all away, but we’ll really keep back the money for us, so we’ll kind of have our cake and eat it, too. We’ll appear generous and loving and sacrificial, but we’ll still have the major part of the money.”
And so, he comes and talks to Peter, and God reveals to Peter what’s going on. And Peter says, “Ananias, why have you lied to the Holy Spirit? Before it was sold, it was yours. After it was sold, it was yours. You aren’t compelled to give a little or a lot.” The issue is integrity. And then right there, bam, he dies. I mean, literally drops dead. And the young men come and pick him up. For what? His hypocrisy. The very first sin in the Church is hypocrisy, and the judgment is death.
His wife comes a few hours later. And I’m thinking Peter’s going, “I sure hope she’s not in on this.” And so he says, “Sapphira, it’s good to see you. How are things going?” “Oh, pretty good.” “How are the kids?” I’m adding just a little.
And he says to her, “So did you sell this piece of land for such and such a price?” “Oh, yes. You know, Ananias, when you’re married to such a generous, loving, kind, amazing husband like I have, and we sacrificially have given it all away…” I’m again reading between the lines.
And Peter looks at her and, I think, just with sadness in his heart, and he said, “The young men’s feet who took away your husband shall take you away as well.” Bam, she dies on the spot. And it says a great fear came among the church. Yeah, are you kidding?
Now, you’ve got to understand...can you imagine if you’ve never read the Bible before and this is your first time through the New Testament and you’re a brand new Christian, you’re thinking, so this is what happens to hypocrites? I’m in trouble. I mean, literally it was like, whoa. In fact, if God was acting in this way, I think He was going to make a point. See, if hypocrisy gets in the mix, it’s like leaven and bread. It spreads. And when people aren’t authentic, the message of Jesus would have been wiped out within a few years.
And so God wanted to demonstrate how important this was. I often thought later when I was a pastor, if God did that for twenty-four hours in the church all across America, all of us would have to turn in our pastors’ badges and become morticians. Probably a lot of us pastors would need other pastors who are doing better than us to bury us.
But do you get it? Do you really get that church, quote, was never, ever intended to be a group of people that come to an event and feel like in some way they’re doing something morally positive because they come to an event, and listen to someone talk about God, and even sing a few worship songs to Him, and then file out, and live life their own way, and not be absolutely connected to one another, and have a safe environment where the “real you” shows up? And you know why the “real you” doesn’t show up? The same reason the “real you” doesn’t show up in me. He says, “Let love be without hypocrisy,” and then it says, “Cling to what is good, hate what is evil.” Literally the word is “abhor what is evil.”
It’s that picture... I remember doing a word study on this, and it’s a picture of being on vacation for like three or four weeks, whoever gets that much time, but that’s really hypothetical. But you’ve been out of town for a while, and there’s a carton of milk or some fruit, and you open the carton of milk to smell it to see, and oh. Have you ever done that? And the smell is so bad you want to throw up. That’s this word. It says, “abhor evil.” Most of us are spending this...I wonder if this is wrong, how close can I get to sin without falling in?
So people in counseling will ask me questions like, “Well, is this rating, this rating, or this rating in this movie, do you think it’s okay if I can do this?” Or, “You know, we’re dating right now and we’re doing this, this, this, and this. Is that really sexual sin or can we...?” Or “We have so much money and I want to know is it the gross or is it the net or is... Could I take a percentage...?” It’s kind of like, “How…?” Instead of, what’s it say? “Cling to what is good.” That’s completely the wrong question.
The issue isn’t: how close can I get to sin “without sinning”? It’s: how close can I get to God? How pure can I live? Because when you’re pure, not perfect, pure, the “real you” can show up because you can be honest.
And, one of the most powerful and significant experiences you will ever have in your life is being in a small group of people that’s really safe, that really love you and you really love them, and the “real you” shows up, the “real you” that’s making great progress, the “real you” with the frustrations and hurts and struggles, the “real you” with the real problems. And as you bring your struggles, you’re not judged. You’re loved. And the “real you” that needs help gets support and the “real you” that needs accountability, and as we all do, an occasional rebuke. And, you know, “What were you thinking? You kind of violated our trust by that.”
See, that’s a fundamental part of authentic community, and a lot of people never have that. And so enormous amounts of energy…what we end up doing, instead of allowing God to transform us, the energy is, we have to do sin management. And so we’re spending all this energy trying to either hide or deal with our guilt or deal with our shame or drown it out with food or work or money or shopping or speed.
And so when the “real you” shows up, that’s the beginning of authentic community, but it’s beyond that. It meets real needs, not superficial or convenient ones. Authentic community doesn’t happen when you do a little nice thing or a little nice thing here and it doesn’t really cost you very much. Authentic community happens when the “real you” shows up. Notice it says devotion – “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – humility –“giving preference to one another in honor.”
Real needs getting met always involves devotion on our part and humility. The word “devotion” here is strong. He’s saying you need to be committed to one another and lay your lives down for one another like you would for blood relatives. For people that you feel this moral responsibility for. And it says, “Be devoted to one another”– how? In brotherly love. Philadelphia, that’s the word. We named a city in Pennsylvania by that. It’s this commitment of family love, of being there for one another, of doing whatever it takes.
I thought I knew what it meant to kind of be devoted, and love. I was a new Christian, and after probably, I guess it was about five or six years, I’d been coaching for a couple of years after school, and Theresa and I were married and we had two small kids at this time. And so, I was shocked, literally shocked that God called me into vocational ministry. I thought, I just can’t imagine ever Him being able to use someone like me. I’m a teacher. I’m a basketball coach. I can’t imagine being a pastor. But He made it clear, so we went to school, and after about a year there, built some relationships.
We stayed in a little apartment complex. Actually, it was a huge apartment complex, but it had like these, apartment here, apartment here, apartment here, apartment here. They were little quad things. And so you really got to know the people. You shared one hallway. And I came home after school. It was in my first or second year, and Theresa’s eyes were all red. I said, “Honey, what is going on? You okay?” She goes, “Oh, I spent all afternoon with Pat, you know, right across the hall.” I said, “Well, what’s going on?” She goes, “Well, her husband left her.” I said, “Oh, you got to be kidding.” And they’d gotten really close. They had a little boy the same age as my little boys. They were all about five years old. And she goes, “It’s worse than that. The bank accounts are emptied.” He left her, they have a two or three-week-old newborn, and she has no money. And we just prayed and cried. I thought, “Wow.”
So I’m thinking, my heart’s really going out to her, so I’m thinking it’s really spiritual, so, “Honey, you want to pray for her?” She goes, “Well, actually, we did that.” But I’d been thinking about it and we talked over dinner and she goes, “I think we should…in two days, her rent is due and they’re going to kick her out if she doesn’t have rent money, and I think we should pay for her rent.”
And my portfolio at this point is very easy to keep. I can keep it in my head. We don’t have a savings account because there was no need. We had a checking account. And I made under a thousand dollars a month on straight commission as I went to school full-time.
So I said, “Honey, if we paid for Pat’s rent, our rent is due in ten days, and the moment we pay for her rent, we will have ten dollars in our checking account.” She said, “I know.” Oh. When you marry above yourself, it’s really not very good at times, you know? And so it was like, you know what? Okay. But you know what it was? It was being devoted isn’t like, “Oh, I hope it goes well for her. I heard she had cancer. You know, that family’s going through a rough time.” No, no, it’s like we’re in this together. She’s family.
And so I’m figuring I’m probably going to have to learn how to be a pastor someday, might as well start now. And so, Okay, Lord, here it is. And we write the check. And by the way, it was not noble. I think people get this idea that when we take big steps for God...“Yes, God.” Most of my really big steps are like, “Yes, God.” You know? I don’t really want to do this. I’m pretty... but, okay, I’m going to claim Your promise: “But my God will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” You said you’d do that and the context is giving, being generous, Philippians 4:19, I’m standing on that passage.
Our rent’s due. No money. We have a three-day grace period. First day, grace period, no money. Second day, grace period, no money. Third day, Hey, yo! Which part of this verse am I misinterpreting or, you know, what’s the deal?
And that day in the mail, that day, an envelope came, a business-size envelope, and in the left-hand corner it had a football helmet that was green and yellow, and it was from Lombardi Avenue. I got a letter from someone from the Green Bay Packers. It was like, what is this?
So I open the letter, and the letter says, “Hi, Chip, I’m sure you don’t me. I met you about six years ago or so. I was a senior in high school at the time and you taught a Bible study in San Jose. And I later went on and played college football and I was the first quarterback taken in the draft. And I’m playing for the Green Bay Packers now. And when you taught that Bible study, all I can tell you, I can’t really remember even what you said, but something happened that changed the spiritual trajectory of my life. And I’ve never forgotten it. And I’ve not thought of you for six years, but this is weird, out of the blue you came to my mind, and I’m supposed to send you this thousand dollars.” I mean, it was just like, oh.
You know what happened? I got to experience authentic community. This is how God works. This is normal. He puts people in your life that you have some more time than they have, you have money that they don’t have, you have energy that they don’t have, you have spiritual gifts that would help them that they don’t have, and you don’t nod and think, Well, I went to church, I read the Bible, I went on a missions trip. You think, I’m a part of this community.
And that need is a red light going off on my soul to love them. And I will tell you what, we got tight with Pat. It was like twenty years later got a postcard. “Theresa, I saw somewhere you and Chip and da-da-da. I just want…” And a picture of her and her grown son and the little one. And our hearts were connected to Pat. Why? Because wherever your treasure is, your heart follows it.
And then I got to see that God also... that was the first of many lessons. That was a… whoooooo. And after that, in the last thirty years, we’ve done that scores of times, scores of times, never knowing for sure how God will supply. My testimony: He always does. And what we’ve experienced is God.
See, at the end of the day, you know what most Christians don’t know? God is real. He’s not a philosophy, He’s not a formula, He’s not a moral code. Jesus is a person and He’s real and He loves you and He made promises and He wants you to stand on them.
And you take risks, which are called faith, and you love one another and people get loved through you, and then He supplies. When the “real you” meets real needs through devotion and also through humility, because at the end of the day, you know what? You have to think more of other people than yourself.
Jot in the corner of your notes: Philippians chapter 2, if you will, verse 3 and 4. The apostle Paul says… think of how all-encompassing this is: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourself.”
Boy, would that change your small group, would that change your family? “Each of you should look not only for your own interests but also the interests of others.” In fact, he goes on to say, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus that although existed in the form of God, He didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He humbled Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, becoming obedient even unto death.” Humility. Humility is putting other people, giving preference, where you lift them up.
I had the privilege of working with someone that’s modeled this for me, and there are a number of people that do it, but I just have the longest history with a guy named Greg.
He came out of the Silicon Valley, early days of Palm Pilot, later went to Cisco, project manager, later was a volunteer over in Santa Cruz, and forty or fifty volunteers did lights, sound. Real super-techy guy. When I went to Walk Thru the Bible, he came with me and was just…he’s just a manager of just tremendous ability. And as Living on the Edge went out on its own, he ran all of Living on the Edge, the broadcasting, the money, the finances, the operation, everything.
And we started to grow and there was a guy who came along. He wrote a strategic plan for us. And he had led a huge ministry in the United States, and I’ll never forget. He met with me, he said, “This is really exciting, and I think God’s in it. I’d like to help you fulfill it.”
And a little humility, I said, “Well, I now know what you’ve done in your life and you now know all of our books. I could pay you maybe half of what you’ve ever made. This is an amazing downward mobility opportunity for you.” And he looked at me and he said, “I’ll take it.” And Andrew came, and in the next three and a half years, he tripled the size of everything that happened at Living on the Edge.
But here was the interesting point. Greg is really good into the people and roles and personnel and HR and all that stuff. I’m not. And we sat down, the entire executive team of Living on the Edge: me and Greg. There are two of us, you know? And he said, “If we hire Andrew, you need to know something.” I said, “What’s that?” “In about six months, he needs to lead the whole organization, and I need to be just over broadcasting and just technology, because his gifts and what he’ll bring, he’s far better. He will bring what I don’ t have, and there’s no way the ministry will be what God wants it to be unless he has that role. So I’m just telling you that he needs to become my boss.”
And when’s the last time you ever worked or met anyone who had the power to hire someone that when he hired them he knew: they will become greater, I will become lesser, he will have a higher role, make a higher income, and I will move down because I want to serve you, serve God, and the mission is what matters. You know what that’s called? Giving preference.
See, when you walk into a small group, or when you walk into church, or when you are in your family and sit around at the table, which I hope you do, all of us either have one or two sets of lenses on. One lens is: who asked me a question? Who cares about me? Why didn’t anyone give me a hug? How come everyone seems so happy and no one cared about me? I went to the small group and no one seemed to really listen when I was telling my story, and I’m lonely and I need a friend and what about…? And what about...? And that’s one set of glasses.
And other people go with a set of glasses that say: I’ve got needs and God knows what they are, but I wonder who He wants me to be a conduit of grace in this small group, or when I get home from work, I’m absolutely tired, I don’t want to talk about all that stuff I went through, but I bet my wife or my husband or some of my kids, they’re going to need someone that’s alive and caring, and I want to engage and find out: how can I put them above myself? How do I give them preference?
And here’s the weird part: Those people who do that experience amazing joy, and people flock around them. Because Jesus said, “Give and it’ll be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over back into your lap, for in the same measure that you give…”
And it may include money, but He wasn’t talking about money. “In the same measure that you give, it’ll be given unto you pressed down, shaken together and running back.”
See, that spiritual ceiling, where we get stuck is often the “real you” doesn’t show up.
And if the “real you” doesn’t show up, often we’re not meeting real needs. We’re just meeting convenient or superficial needs.
But then he says not only does the “real you” and me need to show up and meet real needs, but he says you need to do it for the right reason, not to please people. He says, “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Not lagging behind in diligence. Literally the word is “slothfulness.” The literal meaning of it is not being slow.
Fervent in spirit is a picture of water coming to a boil. It has this idea of when the bubbles come up, right, just before the… [indicating], when it’s boiling. This energy, this passion, this focus, fervent in spirit, not obligation, duty, “I guess I got to do this, got to go to this group, and so-and-so has a need, what do you think? I guess we ought to help him, blah, blah, blah.”
That’s not the picture. And notice the focus isn’t: what will I get or will people think better of me? I’m not going to be slow about the promptings that God gives me. I’m going to be filled with enthusiasm that comes from God, and I’m going to do it not even just for them but to serve Him.
How many of you have ever been talking with a close friend or been in a small group, especially a Bible study, and someone in the Bible study said, “Hey, would you all pray for me? I’m lazy and I need help with my laziness.” Can I see those hands?
See, most people, especially Americans, none of us think we’re lazy. But part of it is we have a warped view of what laziness is. We think laziness are people who watch seven hours of TV, play four hours of video games, and eat chocolate bonbons on the couch for days on end. They’re lazy.
Biblical definition of laziness is not doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. A lot of – we mask our laziness with good things. God speaks to your heart and He says, “You need to apologize to so-and-so.” And so you think, Oh, wow, I think I’ll go read a chapter in the Bible or pray. Guess what. It’s not God’s will to pray or read a chapter in the Bible when He says, “Go apologize to so-and-so.” See, laziness is refusing to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. And we have all kinds of denial and avoidance. And he says, in your motives, don’t be slothful. Be enthusiastic. Notice at the bottom of your notes. Genuine service to God is characterized by diligence, excellence in what we do and how we do it, and enthusiasm... passion to serve God and love people, not please people or impress people.
My dad was an alcoholic, a great guy in general, but just... one of the roles in an alcoholic family is making peace and fixing things. Well, once I came to Christ, I didn’t realize it. It took me a while to get going spiritually, and when I finally got going, what I found out was, I was still trying to fix things and work out my dysfunctional issues now in the body of Christ.
And what I found is this group of people who call themselves Christians, and I was genuinely transformed and lots of great things were happening. But I found if you memorized a lot of verses, and you served people, and if you said the right things and you just kind of went off the charts in your performance orientation to, quote, what looked like loving people, you got a lot of strokes and affirmation.
And so after a slow start, I went nuts. I memorized hundreds of verses. I was in this Bible study, led this Bible study, was in this group, did this. I was just like a maniac. I was such a maniac that there were times I thought, I make myself sick.
And I had this opportunity, you know, if you were a leader on this campus, you could go to this special thing in the summer that only a few people could go to and you memorize these verses, and everyone would go to the city and you’d get a job, and then there’d be, like a hundred or two hundred, and you’d be on teams of five. You would have a team leader and four people and they would help you grow, and you got a job and you did evangelism. It was like a hothouse for spiritual growth. It was really, really beneficial.
But this particular group had a very structured approach to sanctification or how you grow spiritually. And their approach combined with my warped personality and background was like the perfect storm to create a Pharisee. And so I really thought by the end of that summer: you need to do this, you need to do the Bible study, you need to share your faith, and you need to do this. By the end of that Bible study, you go to the end and your team leader would meet with you individually and give you an evaluation and say, “As you go back to your campus, here’s something to think about to really help you grow your campus ministry.”
And, some of the people were talking and they were a little uptight like, Wow, this might be very threatening. I’m thinking this is going to be great. Because in my private world, I’m thinking I’m more disciplined than anybody here. If they were going to give an all-star, most-valuable-Christian award…you know?
So I’m supposed to have this meeting with John, my team leader, and I literally can’t wait. I’m thinking I’m finally going to get some pats on the back that I really deserve. And he’s going to tell me just…it’s probably you, Hudson Taylor, Dawson Trotman, Martin Luther, you know. You and the boys are going to make a big impact someday…it was so sick.
And let me pick up the story because it’s too embarrassing to tell.
“John was quiet. He’s my team leader and had a very understated approach to his leadership. I was honestly looking forward to the meeting, and I secretly hoped that he had noticed the discipline and what I modeled for the other members of my team, the servanthood that I had demonstrated in our relationships, and the knowledge and faith that were rapidly developing in my life. I had worked hard and was ready for that good pat on the back.
“Our meeting didn’t go as I expected. Although I was full of zeal and performed well throughout the summer, John’s evaluation stunned me. His assessment of my spiritual growth was far different than my own. With very few words, he said he appreciated getting to know me throughout the summer and that God had revealed three verses on his heart that he wanted to share with me. He handed me the note cards and said, ‘I pray God really speaks to you as you go back to your campus.’ Anticlimactic.
“So I’ve got these three, 3x5 cards with verses that he had handwritten out. The first one said, ‘For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God, or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ,’ Galatians 1:10. And I thought, Hmm, that’s an interesting verse.
“Second verse, John 5:44: ‘How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?’ There may be a message here. All doubt was removed by the last verse, Luke 16:15: ‘And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your heart. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”’”
See, the “real you” can show up and you can meet real needs and you can do it to serve you, like I did, to get affirmation, to get strokes, to play a game inside the Christian community where you appear loving. But what you really do is you end up using all the verses that you know and all the good deeds that you have to create a little world where you just send a different hologram of a fake and phony person that’s working out your own dysfunctions to get people to accept you rather than say, “I am accepted in Jesus.”
And the acid test of your motives is always when you get treated like a servant, when no one notices, when they don’t say thank you, when you’re not rewarded, when you feel like the only one that sees what I’m doing is God. The only one that really seems to care is God.
And in your heart of hearts, if you can say, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, I’m serving an audience of one.” People’s response, people’s strokes, people’s affirmation. God, when it comes or if it doesn’t come, that’s not why I do what I do. It’s the “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason.
And finally, it’s in the right way. Authentic community is always going to be played out in the context of pain and difficulty and challenge. In a fallen world, it’s really, really hard to make the time for authentic community. It’s really hard to be honest when you’re bombarded.
And so in the right way is not in your own strength, not in what you can do, not in the power of your personality, not as Jesus as some sort of ideal model, “I’m going to work hard and I can love people and I can be real and I can do this and this is how much money I have.” No, no, no. He says your focus – the right way – is there’s an upward focus and there’s an outward focus. And it says you need to rejoice in hope. That’s a mindset. Not rejoice in circumstances or people’s response.
He says, what do you need to do? Persevere in tribulation. In other words, in the midst of when it’s difficult, you refuse to give up because you’re going to do life with this group of people, and it’s hard and everything in you wants to give up, but you refuse to. And you’re going to help people make it through. And your resource is going to be devoted to prayer.
You’re going to have multiple times where… “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent, I don’t know how I’m going to solve this problem, I don’t know how I’m going to heal this marriage, I don’t know how I can break this addiction. But God, I’m asking for Your help, and I’m going to share my life openly, in authenticity with a group of people that are safe and we’re going to go through this together.”
And there’s an upward focus. It’s not your resources. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in every child of God. You have all the power you will ever need, but that power gets accessed through His Word and through the community of God’s people, and that power gets accessed as you pray.
One of the greatest evidences of genuine humility and dependency is your prayer life. And I’ve been there. You know what? When your life basically is like you get up, you grab a cup of coffee, you get in the car, you run, you’re going, there’s a big meeting, got to do this with your kids, got to make a big decision, and you do all that, and you’re not on your knees saying, God, I don’t know what to do; God, I don’t have the wisdom; God, I don’t know how to do this with one of my kids; God, I need…please.
When you’re not doing that, what you’re saying to God is, I know You created the world, I know You’re all-wise, I know You know everything that’s happening today, tomorrow, and forever, but I really don’t need that kind of help. I think that’s the definition of arrogance, isn’t it? Our prayerlessness basically says, I got this one. You just keep that world spinning. I’ll handle this one. And God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. That’s tapping His supernatural resources.
And so there’s an upward focus, and then it’s followed by an outward focus. An outward focus says…notice what it says. It says, “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing or pursuing hospitality.” It’s where he says there’s an outward focus. The resources are…there are times where God’s going to ask you to contribute.
The real meaning of contribute is contribute, like give money away to people in need, give time away, give things away to someone that doesn’t have what you have that’s a brother or sister in Christ, contribute to the needs of the saints – fellow believers. And when you do, it’s like, what about me? God says, “I got that one covered.”
And then it says: “pursuing hospitality.” Literally the phrase is “pursuing strangers.” See, you can get into authentic community. I think this is added at the very end for a very important reason. “It can be us four and no more. We got the greatest Bible study, we’re really close, we’re so authentic, we’re open, we can share anything, we’re super-supportive, we’ve been doing this for twenty-five years with just us.” Wow. Goody for you. I wonder if there’s anybody else in the church that might have needed this in the last twenty-four or five years.
Who are the people that are unlovely? Who are the people that are lonely? Who are the people that need you to pursue and open your home and open your heart and invite them to a meal? Who are the people that need you to be the presence of Jesus? See, this is what breaks the ceiling. This is how you get unstuck. The seed of God’s Word in a good and honest heart – the soil – in the environment of authentic community. The “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason in the right way is where supernatural transformation occurs.
It mattered so much to Jesus. Notice how He closed His last prayer recorded in Scripture. He says, “My prayer, Father, is not for them alone,” His disciples, “I pray also for those that will believe in Me through their message,” that’s us, “that all of them,” notice, “may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us.”
The Trinity has authentic community. And Jesus is praying to the Father that we could experience what They experience and then we could experience with Them. And then look at the purpose clause, “so that.” This is why this is so important. “So that they may believe You sent Me.” The greatest apologetic on the face of the earth is when you love authentically, brothers and sisters, with the “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason in the right way, those outside of Christ will understand and believe that Jesus could be their Savior, too.