The Response of the Saints (cont)
In the first article in this series it was observed that in ch.12 the apostle makes an appeal for the presentation of the believers' lives, in sacrificial service. He teaches that this can only be accomplished by the transformation of the saints' minds by the work of the Spirit of God.
In the remainder of ch.12 the apostle sets out in detail some of the features that ought to mark saints seeking to live such a life for God. It is remarkable to notice that they are invariably exhortations about individual relations with others; for a transformed and renewed mind will avoid the selfishness prevalent in the world today. Believers ought never to be characterised by self-interest (Phil 2.5ff).
Selfishness often results when individuals think wrongly about themselves. The apostle deals with this issue in v.3. Saints should assess themselves soberly, that is accurately, without being carried away emotionally. Such an assessment in the presence of God will disclose that all the believer has to glory in is what God has brought him into. As has often been taught, the assessment is to be according to the measure of faith; that the consideration is to be a spiritual exercise enabled by the results of faith.
It is surely no coincidence that the apostle immediately turns to deal with spiritual gift, emphasising the fact that it is God-given. This is one area where the pride of the human heart is often evident, with carnal attitudes leading to glorying in public exercise of gift. However, as the apostle is teaching here, true spiritual gift is always divinely and sovereignly bestowed, and that for the edification of local companies of believers (1 Cor 12). The apostle reminds the saints that although there is a positional (and should also be practical) unity among the assembly, there is a diversity of role and gift. (The writer appreciates that not all see the local church here, but respectfully takes the view that the exercise of gift is consistently linked with the testimony of local churches, albeit some gift will be exercised to the benefit of a wide range of such local companies.) It is not Biblical to seek to impose uniformity of behaviour when matters of personal preference rather than morality or doctrine are concerned. Verse 5 makes clear that individuality in collective testimony, properly understood, is to exercise the personal gift divinely bestowed. Is gift being developed and exercised (2 Tim 1.6)?
The apostle then turns to deal with particular gifts. Having appreciated the bestowal of divine gift, the spiritual saint will use the God-given gift (v.6), even if there is personal cost in doing so. That is the consistent theme in the teaching of the section: gift should be applied and developed in the saint exercising it (for the benefit of the saints as a whole) to the fullest extent God has enabled.
The first gift to be considered is that of prophesy. Space does not permit a detailed examination, but the writer imagines that readers will also be convinced from the Scriptures that this gift was transitional in order that the saints could be brought the word of God, until the Scriptures were completed (see for example Eph 2.20; 1 Cor 13.10). The principle taught does, however, hold true: the gift was to be exercised according to what God had given. In other words, it seems to the writer that different levels of ability (in the same gift) may be given to different believers. The challenge is not how gifted we are, but how, with God's help, what has been bestowed is used.
Other gifts are then listed. Each time the emphasis appears to be in relation to ensuring that the gift is exercised. It has to be done simply, liberally, and cheerfully, taking the regulating words in relation to various gifts.
In the final section, from v.9 onwards, the apostle then turns from how the bestowal of spiritual gift ought to mark the believers, to how they ought to behave. In particular, it seems no accident that much of the text is concerned directly with the treatment of other saints. This is a line of ministry ignored at peril; there cannot be proper harmony if the saints are treating each other in a manner that is not Christ-like.
The first mark of salvation the apostle calls for is genuine love, rather than hypocrisy. True love is a divine attribute, only properly understood in salvation, and which gives us the capacity to love. In the context, the apostle is calling for love in attitude and action, probably particularly to the believers, rather than empty words. Speech is easy, sacrificial giving for others is costly. It is the latter we are called to, and such was our Saviour's example. In a sense the other norms of behaviour expected from saints, as listed by the apostle, will all flow from genuine love for God and His people.
In the next verse the apostle makes clear that the love of relationship must be seen among the saints, and that it should be a continual exercise and desire to show honour to the other. Sadly, sometimes assembly testimony is marked by personal enmity rather than brotherly love. Such behaviour is not acceptable and generally reflects carnality whatever excuse is offered.
Evil is not simply to be ignored, or tolerated. It is to be abhorred. It is to be viewed by the believer in the way God sees it. In a world where evil is being condoned and even promoted, continual care must be taken to measure our thinking against the Word. It is then made clear that effort should be made to hold to that which is good (and hence of God). Such an exercise will most likely result in evil being thought of in the right way.
In the latter part of v.11 the apostle exhorts against laziness in the service of the Lord and indicates that instead there should be a zealous fervency in doing His work. It is easy to be apathetic. However, as believers we should be redeeming the time (Eph 5.16). Note that the fervency is not just in any activity, but is to be channelled into serving the Lord.
As readers understand, the pathway can be difficult. Saints should not only seek to demonstrate patient endurance in difficult times, but also rejoice in the understanding that the Christian hope is not diminished by difficulties. The final part of this triple exhortation in v.12 is for constancy in prayer. To rejoice or to endure, the Lord's presence is needed. It should come as no surprise if things are a struggle when insufficient time and exercise is being spent with Him.
Next, v.13 encourages the meeting of the saints' needs. Many still have practical needs and many more have emotional and spiritual requirements that could be met by others doing what God has enabled them to do to give support. In order to be a help the saints do need to get to know each other. Sadly, in many places hospitality seems to be practised to a lesser degree than it once was.
The verse does not speak of fancy houses and the finest food, but rather a place where the saints are welcome, a safe environment for weary pilgrims, where there is love for God and His people. Inevitably there is a great blessing for those willing to make the personal sacrifice to show hospitality. Similarly, there ought to be empathy with the circumstances of others (v.15), which will likely be a pre-requisite of fulfilling the command of v.16 - to live in harmony.
This is a theme continued in v.16: a true concern for other's needs will lead to impartiality. Time will be spent with those that are "lowly" in the world's eyes; it is worth bearing in mind that those poor in the world may be the richest in spiritual terms.
Finally, another theme of behaviour taken up from v.15 onwards is the treatment of those opposed to the believers. The text effectively calls for the example of our Lord Jesus Christ to be followed (1 Pet 2.23). The grace and glory of the Lord Jesus should now be displayed in those he has sanctified. Those attacking should be blessed not cursed. The right thing should be done, rather than being disregarded in order to settle some score (v.17). Instead of trying to defeat evil with evil, the enemy should be treated with love so as to convict him of his sin (v.20). Ultimately, however, it is not for saints to avenge or seek revenge; sinners will be dealt with by God in due course (v.19).
To be continued.