May 29, 2022

By God’s Grace

Passage: Romans 12:1-18

When Dr. Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a traffic officer and charged with speeding.  Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.  The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?"  When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That will be ten dollars a dollar for every mile you went over the limit."  The judge needed to complete all the paper work and asked the name of the offender in front of him.  When Graham said who he was the judge replied, “You're not the real Billy Graham – the famous Evangelist?”  The response came, “I'm a bit embarrassed to say, 'Yes, it's me.'”   The judge replied, “You have violated the law.  The fine must be paid.  But you've done far more good than bad in life.  I can't make you to pay this fine.  I'm going to pay it for you.”  The judge took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner!  "That's how God treats repentant sinners", said Billy Graham.  “He is a God of grace that wipes out the sins that are written next to the names of His children.”   But when we pause and think how God did it, we think more profoundly of His grace.  In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Can there be anything greater than this that God has done for us?  But then my friends, we have to ask ourselves the question, “How do I respond to the grace God bestowed in my life?”

In Romans 12: 1-8 there are profound thoughts the apostle Paul wrote about.  First of all We Have To Humble Ourselves.  Verse 3 might sound a bit harsh to someone whose walk is not with Christ.  It's almost like it can read – “In God service there is no room for those who are over confident in themselves.”  But my friends, what Paul wanted to say was, “God's grace was so expensive and unique of what He did in Christ that no one should ever forget – the focus should be on God alone.  We should never try to steal the spotlight.”   Listen again to verse 3, “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 measure of faith God has given you.”  Some translations or paraphrases read: “Don’ t have an exaggerated opinion of yourself or of your own importance.”   Pastor Bob Russell preached at the large Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for 40 years before he retired.  But that church wasn’t always large.  Russell went there when Southeast had 120 people in 1965.  When he left their membership was over 18,000.  How could Russell not be proud of what he had accomplished?  It would be easy to pat yourself on the back if you were Pastor Bob Russell, but he didn't do that.  When a local newspaper reporter asked him about his tremendous success he said, “It was God's work each day I kept myself busy with.  By His grace He enabled me; by His grace he added people one by one until we reached the numbers we have today.  To God alone be the glory.  If it wasn't me, He would have used any other person and made him or her just as affective.”  That's what you call humility.  Can you recall what we read in Matthew 6: 2? “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”  How can we put it simple to someone who would ask us about the meaning of that verse?  “Don’t blow your own horn!”  Friends, we live in a world where prestige and positions have become so important.  And it's sad that there are churches where the message comes across, “We are way at the top of all the churches, not just in this city or province, but in the whole country.”  Again Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought...”  Where did Jesus find people to be His disciples?  At the lakes catching fish; at the places where they made tents and where they worked the skins of animals in leather merchandise.  Those men were not reckoned important by the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Teachers of the Law to be included in the ministry of that time.  They would have asked first of all, “Do you have the right credentials?”  Can we only humble ourselves before God?  Can we become like Francis of Assisi and his brothers who went into caves and humbled themselves before God?  They asked God to remove any pride they might have had.  Yes, my friends, we should be like John the Baptist, who cried out, “He has become greater and I less.”  John 3: 30.

There is a second thought St. Paul tells us about – In God's Grace Include Others.  We read in verse 4, “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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  The analogy Paul used in this verse is the best to explain that in the church of Christ people need one another.  He talked about the human body.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he made the same point.  And what he really wanted to say was, “How can the hand say to the arm, 'I don't need you' or the arm to the hand, 'I don't need you.'”   My friends, what would happen to the church of Christ if Christians turn to one another and say, 'I don't need you any more'?  The doors of any church will be closed faster than any of us could ever imagine.  Just look around in this sanctuary and see body parts of the same body of Christ that are different and unique.  We can't be the same and we don't have to be the same.  No, God made us all so special for His work.  I will never forget the disappointment of one candidate for ministry who completed his studies quite a few years before I did.  He didn't receive a call to a church for full-time ministry for three years.  He was devastated and thought that he was wrong about God calling Him into ministry.  But then he became involved in the Industrial work force.  He was a perfect fit and before he knew it, he proclaimed the Gospel in the work place.  He was allowed to have services once a week and the “Industrial” church grew.  People who never saw the inside of a church had been reached by God's grace.  The former student received ordination from the Dutch Reformed Church about 10 years after he completed his studies for that specific ministry.  He shared his journey at a church convention, “I thought God didn't want me to serve in His church.  How wrong I was – He had something else in mind for me.  He expanded my boundaries and placed me in the end in a place I never thought I could work for Him.”   It's so true what St. Paul wrote, “... these members do not all have the same function...”   We need to include one another where we serve God in many special ways; we need to include all people who serve in ways only God can make possible.  Can we appreciate that there are ministries different from what we are used to? – outreach to street people, ministry to drug addicts, ministry to abandoned kids or abused women.

St. Paul concludes in Romans 12: 1-8 – after you humbled yourself and you included others, Use You Gifts.  Let's listen again to verses 6-8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”  Paul wants to remind us - “You all have received gifts.  None of you can say, 'There is nothing productive I can do for God.'”  In God's grace we all were gifted and those gifts need to be used in His service.  You see, we don't have to look across at one another and wonder, “Has he or she perhaps been gifted more than me?”  That's never supposed to be a part of our thinking.  Think of those people who contributed something others thought at the time was insignificant.  There was a servant girl of Naaman's wife who said that he needed to go from Syria to Israel to be healed from leprosy.  He received healing, because a servant girl was God's instrument.  What about a boy who had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish?  Jesus' disciples thought it was a waste of time to even try and do something with it.  But it fed more than 5000 people on that day.  God works in wonderful ways and He has something wonderful He wants to do through you and me.  He comes and says, “Use your God-given gifts and you will be surprised how far I will take them.”  Let's never forget that by God's grace we all have been called for great works.  Let's make ourselves available.  And then we have to pray like Paul Althuis prayed, “Lord in myself I will never be capable.  Take me far beyond my ability and accomplish in my life what You have called me for.”  Let's bring ourselves to God on a daily basis.  By His grace, we will be affective.