Starting a New Year: Part 1

Today is a special day, it is the first day of a brand new year. For some of you, starting a new year is a really big deal. For others, not so much. Many will make New Year’s resolutions. Others hate New Year’s resolutions. For those who like New Year’s resolutions, you may be thinking of ways to improve your life. A better diet and more exercise. These are huge for those who like setting resolutions. Or how about improving in other ways? How about doing better in school, being a better spouse, improving in your job, being on time, worrying less, getting organized, reading more books, watching less TV, spending more time with the kids, obeying parents more consistently, finding a new ministry in which to serve, being content, going to the doctor for a dreaded physical, being more compassionate, less selfish, reading the Bible through? The list could go on and on. There are so many ways that we can improve. For the non-New Year’s resolution types, maybe you just shrug it off, having tried many of these things before, and see the first day of a new year as nothing really noteworthy at all.

Well, the truth is, for us as believers, there are all sorts of ways that we need to grow. Much change is needed in each of our lives. But with busy lives, and being a people in such need of change, where do we start?

Well, God has given us a certain priority by which we are to live. The first great command is that we love God primarily. The second is that we love each other, love our neighbors. So love God and love people. This is a sort of priority, but the interesting thing is that though these are number one and number two priorities, there is a sense in which obeying these two are following all the commands of God, so in that case, all the commands are very important and wrapped up in these two. Here is what Jesus said:

Matthew 22

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So we fulfill all of the commands as we follow these two commands. That makes it sound simple, right? It’s not really simple. In fact, today we will look at a passage of Scripture that helps us to better understand how to live out these two commands. But as we look at this passage, I want to first give you a warning.

You cannot live out God’s commands on your own. If you are a Christian, you were saved by God through Christ. If you are a Christian, you will live in obedience to God only in the strength of Christ as you submit yourself to Him. You need Him, I need Him to have any success in living for Him in this new year.

We are going to look at Romans 12:9-13. I’m going to read it in a minute, but as I do and as we look at it together, I want you to take this seriously and think about how you will live this passage out in 2017. Here is what I would encourage you to do after our study together. I would encourage you to first of all pray. Pray and ask God to give you the strength you need in Christ to live out these verses. Pray and admit your inability before God to live for Him on your own. Pray and repent of the ways you have failed and believe that God will be with you and strengthen you as needed as you trust in Him. It is a high calling to be a Christian. It is a path we are on that demands God be with us. Ask Him to help you, I am asking Him to help me.

Listen to what we have been called to:

Romans 12

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

What we see here is perhaps the most concise passage of what the Christian life should look like on a very practical level. What we see here is thirteen exhortations. So whether you are a New Year’s resolution sort of person or not, if you are a Christian, these are for you for 2017. God can work these actions and attitudes in us. He created the world, He sustains the world, He controls the world, He upholds it, and He will end it according to His power. He can work these actions in us. It is hard, I know, to believe it, but He can. We must pray that He will.

A tremendous list, we won’t get through them all today, we will finish next week, but let’s begin.

The first of the thirteen exhortations is perhaps the one that is necessary for the rest. Paul says first of all, “Let love be genuine.”

True Biblical love is perhaps the greatest mark of a true believer. Love leads the way. What is true biblical love? Love is giving to another what you can because you know God wants you to. Love is looking out for the good of others. Love puts me second to you. Love does not act based on what another deserves, but simply according to what is best for the other.

1 Corinthians 13

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christian love mirrors God’s love. God loves so He gave, He didn’t just give a little, He didn’t just give something of little consequence, no, He gave to His own hurt, He gave His only son. And to whom did He give His only son? To the most undeserving of people. His love is extreme and our love is also to be extreme.

When Paul says that love is to be genuine, then he must be saying that sometimes it is not genuine. Many are good at faking love. Many of us may be good at pretending love. You know what I mean – being nice, even kind to another in order to get something we want from them. That is not genuine love. Genuine means without deception or hypocrisy.

William Bicksler writes, “There is a danger that in certain cases what looks like love is actually something quite distinct. Calvin comments, ‘It is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess.’ Love must never be used as a disguise for ulterior aims. True love is free from all pretense and hypocrisy.”

Our love is to be real, to be genuine. If we are not living sacrificial lives for others then we have not yet begun to love. If we are not inconvenienced by others, willingly so, then we have not begun to love. If we don’t sometimes feel pain because of the extreme measures by which we are giving, then we have perhaps not begun to love.

Will we genuinely love because God has genuinely loved us? Keep this in your mind throughout your day, write it on a card, set a reminder on your phone, think on this as you go your way and ask yourself, who am I loving most right now? God and others, or myself? Ask for God’s help, ask for His strength, let love be genuine in you.

Next Paul says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

This is a tough one when, in our society, so much evil is generally accepted. I sometimes wonder if we even recognize evil much anymore, much less abhor it. Anything that stands in contradiction of God’s Word, of His character is evil. Lying is evil, sexual sin is evil, filthy talk is evil, laziness is evil, love of money is evil. Maybe these are obvious evils. But how about this: not loving genuinely is evil. One commenter said, “To love God is to regard evil with horror. Unfortunately, familiarity with a culture that is shaped by the forces of Satan has lulled too many believers into a state of general tolerance for whatever deviant behavior is in vogue at present. We are to abhor evil because it is the enemy of all that leads to Christlikeness.”

Do we flirt with sin or do we abhor it? Do we laugh at sin or do we hate it? Do we shrug at sin because everyone does it, or do we despise it? Are we comfortable with some sin or are we actively rejecting it? Have we willingly let sin live in us or are we fighting against it? Do we hate what God hates?

Look, I know this is a battle. It is a real battle. The remnants of our flesh draw us to particular sin. But when they do, do we just give in or do we remember we have been changed, we have been bought with a price, we are new creatures and as new creatures we have a new master whom we are to serve?

Do we only abhor evil we see in others, or do we see our own sinful tendencies as evil too? What about gossip, what about pride, what about worry, what about sinful fear, what about discontentment, what about complaining, being dissatisfied with what God has given to us? Taking our eyes off of Christ and failing to trust in Him, all of it is sin and evil. Do we take it all seriously and are we on our knees asking for His help? We need Him to help us abhor evil, for if it is up to us alone we will love certain evils. Are we asking Him to help us?

Can we get up every morning and say, “Lord, please help me today to abhor what is evil, not just what I see in the world or in others, but what may also be in me”?

To abhor evil is also to hold fast to what is good. To hold fast to is to “glue or hold together.” We are to be glued to or grab hold of and not let go of what is good. The good is to be a part of us. This is simply turning from evil, abhorring evil, and being joined with good. What is good? Good is all that God defines as good. It is not just what we make up in our minds to be good, it is what God says is good. We know what is good not because of our feelings or our own wisdom but by what God says. It is good to live in obedience to what God has said in His Word. That is how we know what good is.

When people start saying, “Well, to me good is…” or, “I think good is…” we need to be careful. It does not really matter what good is to someone unless that someone is God.

It is good to forgive, it is good to love, it is good to evangelize, it is good to pray, it is good to glorify God, it is good to help orphans and widows, it is good to stand for life, it is good to praise God, we know what good is because God has made it plain to us in His Word. Holding on tightly to that which is right becomes a necessity in view of our natural inclination to fall back into sin.

Now, I want to finish this passage next week before we return to our study through 2 Timothy. But I really want to encourage you, strongly encourage you to take these verses, verses 9-13, what we have looked at today and what we will finish next week, and read them again and again during this week. I want you to pick up your Bible, open to this passage, and before you read it go to God in sincere prayer and ask for His help. You know what, you may not really have any desire today to do this, and I get that, so maybe your prayer will be first of all asking God to change your desires. Asking Him to work on your heart, for a desire to change. a desire to live this out for Him. But it takes more than a desire, it takes God’s strength in you and in me. We have to have that or we will fail every time. Do you wonder why you try and you fail? Maybe because you are depending on you. It can’t be that way. We need God’s mighty work in us every day, every moment of every day.

Ephesians 6

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

It is His strength, it is His might, it is His armor. On our part it is submitting to Him and His strength and His might with His armor. It really is about Him and about us letting go of our futile, proud efforts.

It’s a new year! It can be a fresh start. A recognition of our desperate need for the power of God in us. No more foolish reliance on self, but trust in our faithful Lord.

Romans 12

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.