Starting a New Year: Part 2

Last week being New Year’s Day, we talked about how to begin a new year in a way that is honoring to our Lord and reflects the new life we have in Christ. Some of you have set New Year’s resolutions and some have not. But either way as Christians, we can and should be willing to take an honest evaluation of our lives, and in that evaluation see areas where we can change to better show our love for our Savior. Showing love to our Savior is living for Him in the ways He instructs us. None of us are living out His ways perfectly, so we all have room to grow. Now, when talking about obedience, we cannot forget how desperately we need the strength of Christ to be succesful. We cannot, not any of us, we cannot consistently live for Christ in His way unless He is doing it in us. We need Him.

We cannot go it on our own, that leads to frustration and failure. We were not saved to now Iive on our own. We were saved so that we can now rely fully on Him to work in us. We must pray for Him to complete His work in us, and that means praying that He will change us, that He will sustain us, that He will lead us to obey, that He will give us strength, that He will give us new desires, that He will lead us. We need Him.

As we finish the passage that we started last week, which is Romans 12:9-13, I think, unless some of us are delusional, I think we will all see clearly our need for Him. I say this because we cannot live out Romans 12:9-13 without Him. I hope that will be clear. If it’s not clear, then it is my lack of accurate exposition, because it should be clear that we need Him to live in these ways.

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.

We ended with verse 9 last time, so let’s pick up with verse 10: “Love one another with brotherly affection.”

Now, it is not good enough, I need to say this, it’s not good enough on any of these commands that we will look at today to say, “Yes, I did this once, now let’s move on.” Each of these are to be continuous, they are ongoing, they should be a part of our lifestyle. So when we read, “Love one another with brotherly affection,” that means today and tomorrow, every day that we have left on this earth.

Now, what does this mean specifically? What are we being called to here? This is being kindly affectionate. We are to have tender affection for one another as Christians. Loving one another in this way is not optional. It is a feeling of fondness or liking each other. Now think about this. Have you ever said this of a believer: “I don’t really ‘like’ him or her?” Have we considered that this is sinful? Sinful not to like another believer with this kind affection?

We may have said something like, “Well, I will love her because God says I should, but I don’t have to like her”? Hmm. Are we free to be that way? It looks to me like we are called to love with an agape love of commitment, looking out for one another’s good and loving with a tender affection. If we can say, speaking of another believer, that we don’t like them, then we should repent. Why don’t we like them? What is going on in that relationship that we would say that? What must we do to change that? Well, first we must pray, we must beg God to change us – not them, us. We must recognize our need for God’s work in us. Pray that God will change our heart, pray that we will gain tender affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Will you do that? We need to do that.

Next we are to, with the strength of God’s might, “outdo one another in showing honor.”

I think a better translation is “prefer” rather than “outdo.” Some other translations say “prefer” or “give preference to,” or even “esteem more highly.” The idea is to really show an eagerness, so in this case, show great eagerness to honor others. The word honor is a word of status, to look at other people as holding a higher status.

Think of it this way: you walk into a room of believers, say our church on a Sunday morning, and you see all the people, and with great eagerness you approach each one with a desire to show them great honor. Honor in how we speak, in how we listen, in how we carry on a conversation, in the way we approach them. We are not avoiding some and honoring others, but honoring all, everyone. This is to be our attitude. It is living out Philippians 2:3-4.

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I know that we all honor others in how we approach and communicate at times, but let’s not think that is sufficient. It is not that we are to do this occasionally or with discretion, but always with everyone. That is the challenge, and knowing our own hearts and inability to do this with eveyrone, we must acknowledge our need for Christ.

Men, we can’t even do this consistently in our homes with those we love the most, much less with people whom we have not yet learned to love. But this is what we have been called to.

Our tendency can be a desire to be honored. Husband or wife, you come home from a very busy, or you’ve been home having a very busy day, a trying day, and what do you want? Perhaps honor. “Look what all I have done, look at how I have been serving you in this busy day, look what all I have had to put up with out there! Now it is time for you to honor me, to serve me, to think highly of me and my efforts, to bend your will to my will.” But no, that is not for us. Even when we are tired, and feel needy, we are still to honor our fellow believer. Instead of waiting for others to honor us, we are to beat them to it, showing honor.

Now let me pause here before we go on. This is hard stuff. I used to think, you just read the Bible and do what it says. Now I think, you read the Bible and you beg God to give all you need to help you obey. “Give me the desire, give me the will, give me the strength, give me the consistency, give me perseverance.” There is more to it than simply obeying, we must include faith and trust in God to help us obey.

God tells us that we are to walk by faith through this life, right? That means walk believing God can do in you and in me what He wills to do. And what does He will to do? All that He has said He wants us to do in His Word.

Our mantra should not be, “Just do what is right.” We should throw ourselves at the feet of Christ, asking Him to help us do what is right, and then, by faith, do what is right.

Now, please don’t start condemning yourself because of your failure here or tune me out due to discouragement. That is not the right response. Our response should thrust us to God for help, our response should lead us to the foot of Christ’s throne for strength, our action should be to not lament the past and get stuck there, but lead us to go forward, not on our own but in the Lord’s might. Look, we are all the same. We are all failures in our own strength, it’s not just you, it is me, and all of your neighbors around you this morning. We are in this together, and together with one voice we can cry out for God’s help.

Verse 11 is important and it really helps us with all the rest.

11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Why is this important? Because we are, most of us are, prone to laziness when it comes to spiritual zeal. Let’s be honest. What does this mean? Both zeal and fervent, two words from verse 11, are connected with “serving the Lord.”

Zeal is is an eagerness to do something with a readiness to expend energy and effort. It is being in a ramped up state of wanting to get out and do something. That is zeal. You know that feeling. Think about it. Think about when you have been so excited to do something that you couldn’t hardly stand it. What do we call this heightened excitement? It is zeal.

Paul says do not be lazy in serving the Lord, but be zealous. So you can take all of the thirteen commands in these verses and ask, “Am I zealous to do this?” Because each of these are a way to serve the Lord. Am I zealous to love genuinely, to abhor evil, to cling to what is good, to love with brotherly affection, to outdo or prefer one another in showing honor? And so on. Do I approach each of these with a readiness to expend energy and effort with great readiness?

To be fervent is to be intensely passionate. If you put these two together, that is zealous and fervent, you see quite a dynamic proposition. Here is what we have: eagerness, readiness to expend energy with passion. All of this for what? Sunday afternoon football? No. A long-awaited vacation? No. Just the right words from one you love? No. All of this – eagerness, readiness to expend energy with passion – all in serving the Lord. This is to be descriptive not of simply worldly pursuits, but of serving our Savior, this is to describe us as Christians in living out the Christian life!

Is this who we are? Does this describe our service, our approach to serving our Savior?

There is more. We are to:

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Rejoice in hope. Hope in this sense is a confident trust, not an uncertain expectation. We can have confident hope in our guaranteed Christian future. Our future is sure in Christ. We know what it holds because God has told us in His Word.

Paul warned us against remaining content with earthly joys and counseled us to raise our minds to heaven. The apostle Peter spoke of being born anew “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:3). The reality of that hope brings joy. This world will have its full share of difficulties (John 16:33). I don’t have to tell you that. In this world we do have troubles. But they are temporary and they will not compare to the joy ahead. The believer is to be steadfast in times of trouble because our future with Christ is sure. We are often told to just live in the moment. That is good advice at times when it means enjoying God in the moment. But when life is turbulent and hard, we need to train our minds to the future and remember, remember all that God has for us, and primarily that we will one day be with Christ, be with Him, secure with Him, enjoying Him, and it will be forever. Rejoice in hope!

Also, because of this we can be patient in tribulation, right? Even in tribulation, God is at work. He is working in and around us. We may know very little of the ways in which He is at work, but His love compels Him to work for our good. Patience requires trust, and it is God whom we are to trust.

Also, be constant in prayer. If we are going to rejoice in hope and be patient in tribulation, then we must be constant in prayer.

This idea of praying constantly has always been a mystery to me. In the last couple of weeks I have been asking God to really help me with this. You can ask my wife, I don’t multitask well. I wish I did. I admire those of you who do. I know some of you can have about a hundred things going on at once and do them well; not me. Praying while doing other things can be hard. And yet we are told to pray always. We are to be constantly connected to God in prayer.

One commentator said, “No man should be surprised when life collapses if he insists on living it alone.” Another writes, “Most Christians will confess the difficulty of maintaining a regular and effective prayer life. The reason is not difficult to discern. If Satan can keep us out of touch with God, he will not have to worry about any trouble we might cause for his evil kingdom.”

I am trying to learn this and practice this, that is constant prayer. Can you imagine the effect of this? Asking God about everything you do, praising God for His glory all around? Seeing a need and asking for God’s provision for yourself and others? Confessing sin all day long. The awareness of His never ending presence. His holiness always before you, and yet His love in His care? All these are benefits of prayer. Also, a demonstration of our need for Him and dependence on Him. Let’s do this, let’s try this, let’s ask God to work this discipline in us! Be in constant prayer!

We will wrap up with two more commands for us.

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We can do this by giving to the needs of the saints and showing hospitality.

Poverty was rampant in the early church. Some had lost their jobs due to coming to Christ. Persecution was real and painful in this way. There were real needs. There are real needs today, and each of us has opportunity to give to help others. We do this as a church, but we can also do this as individuals. I’ve got to tell you, I have never been a part of a church, and been around individuals in a church, who have been so generous to give to known needs of people as I have here. It is incredible to see. It is a joy to watch, it is encouraging, and as we see it is biblical. When we give we are trusting God for His provision for us. If you are not giving regularly, whether to the church which distributes to known needs or to individuals, I would encourage you to do so. It is a joy to give, and God, who is generous with us, is pleased when we are generous with others. Showing hospitality is also giving.

This actually means pursuing the love of strangers. So not only are we to meet needs of people we know, but we can also help some that we don’t know, strangers. How can we help strangers? That’s a great question and one we should explore together. In New Testament times of great persecution, the church people would have traveling Christians in their homes. We aren’t in that same situation, yet we are to find ways to reach out to not just our friends but also to strangers. This reminds me of a passage in Ephesians where the Gentiles, which would be us, were once strangers and aliens but were brought near by God into His family through Christ. As God approached us, so are we to approach others who may be strangers.

In closing, I feel like we have gone through a lot of information today. But in closing I want to say this. If you didn’t get anything out of this message and last week’s about all the ways we can, and should, live our lives for Christ, I would like you to get this: our greatest need in this Christian life is the power of Christ in us to help us live it. There is a sense in which I hope you are overwhelmed by these thirteen commands. There is a sense in which I hope you feel helpless to live them all out on your own. I hope you were able to recognize and admit your inabilities. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to affirm this truth that we cannot live out God’s Word in our own strength. Please know that and please don’t try to.

Start with going to God, start with prayer for His work in you. When we read this, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” that is a statement of the hope of obedience. Did you know that? It is a statement that gives us hope that we can live out this Christian life for God’s glory! He is at work in you and in me, He is working out His visible glory in us.

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.