True story or not. It goes like this. A new preacher shows up in Appalachia, and his congregation welcomes him warmly. They love his first sermon on the Ten Commandments and his second about fire and brimstone on those unfaithful to their marriage. The third Sunday he preaches again the sins of drinking. The congregation falls silent. Finally, one man in the back stands.
“Son, you’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling.”
After the good news of righteousness by faith in Christ, the steadfastness of God’s love, and the mysterious sovereignty of God for which he is glorified, Paul is about to go to meddling.
He beings with two radical exhortations. In view of God’s mercy (Romans 1-11– (http://theoldpreacher.com/in-view-of-gods-mercies/), it’s urgent that the church obey them.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (12:1).
Paul made similar appeals earlier . . .
“No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and no longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:13).
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (6:16).
“I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (6:19).
Paul uses the same Greek word in 12:1 as in the three verses above, where he warns believers not to put their body parts at the disposal of sin. Instead he appeals to them to put their “members” at the disposal of righteousness. This they should do because they “died to sin” with Christ (6:2). In 6:13, their “members” are “instruments” or “weapons” either of wickedness or righteousness. In 6:16,19 their offering results in slavery either of sin/wickedness or obedience/righteousness.
In 12:1, however, their “offering” is an act of worship. To live lives set apart (“holy”) and acceptable (“pleasing”) to God. They must joyfully, willingly offer their bodies as a sacrifice to God. Not to merit right standing with him, but because he’s mercifully given it.
This, Paul says, is worship. Not the acts performed in the temple (9:4), but set-apart and pleasing to God acts lived out in daily life. Paul calls such worship “logikos”, meaning either logical in view of God’s mercy or spiritual over against what’s merely external–or perhaps both.
John Stott (major leader of evangelical Christianity in the 2nd half of the 20th century) commented on what such living worship is like . . .
” . . .our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2).
J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase memorably captures Paul’s meaning: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
The Greek, suschimatizo, literally has the idea of making a form from wood, then pouring cement into it. Figuratively, it means here not to allow one’s thinking (and thus conduct) to be shaped by the aiown (“this present age”).
Example: This present age promotes sexual intimacy before marriage. So it’s common for couples to “live together” before marriage. Professing Christian couples too. Despite the creation mandate that sexual intercourse consummates marriage.
Example: This present age (vainly) avoids suffering at all costs. So we stuff ourselves with drugs and undergo surgery (that brings its own suffering) to be “well.” Despite the fact that God has ordained suffering for his good purposes.
Instead of “conforming to the pattern of this world”, Paul urges the church to “be transformed (metamorpho-o—referring to a change of form in one’s inner nature) by the renewing (anakainosie—referring to spiritual renewal) of your mind”.
“Test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The Greek, dozimazein, means to test in order to prove. James Dunn (British New Testament scholar) explains, “What is in view is something more charismatically immediate than formal — ‘the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment’ . . . [and] that we learn of the perfection and purity of God’s will by experience, in consequence of which we approve it for what it is: good, acceptable, perfect.”
Such thinking/living is becoming rather rare these day. Harry Blamires (20th century Anglican theologian, literary critic and novelist) wrote . . .
“The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic. There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality. . . . But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization” (Harry Blamires).
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What, then, can we take away from Paul’s introduction to going from preaching to meddling? Indeed, this is “meddling”, because Paul is telling us how we should use our own body and how we should think with our own mind! In view of God’s mercy in Christ, my body is not my own to do with as I will, nor is my mind to think as I will.
Blamires’ diagnosis concerns me: How much does this world squeeze me into its mold–and I’m asleep to it? I’m way past world-acceptable sin of sex before marriage! But, what about suffering? Instead of praying for healing from it, should I pray, “Your will be done”?
And what about thinking? It’s certainly not a sin to learn and try to understand as much as possible. But can I really (especially when it comes to my life) accept the facts that God’s wisdom and knowledge are unfathomable and his ways beyond my understanding?
I think I like Paul better when he was preaching (Romans 1-11). But now he’s gone to meddlin’ about how I use my own body and mind.
But God’s mercy in Christ grips me. And I want to worship him. Not just with my voice in a Sunday service, but with my body and mind in my life.