Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Romans 12:9 – Genuine Love

In verses 9-21 of this chapter Paul mentions attitudes that a Christian will have and actions that a Christian will do. The list looks very challenging, although we must remind ourselves that Paul is describing normal everyday Christianity. He is not presenting a target that is out of reach, even although it will never be done to perfection. So we should look at the items and say, ‘This is what God wants me to do.’ We could regard the various items as part of a prayer list that we could all engage in on a daily basis.

I would suggest that the first item mentioned – genuine love – is intended to cover all the rest. The phrase does not have a verb in the original text, so it is possible to read ‘genuine love’ as a title of the passage, indicating that the subsequent commands are connected to it.

Paul speaks of Christian love frequently, with the best known being the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. But I think that we have a parallel passage here, one that mentions Christian aspirations and activities that reveal the existence of genuine love.

The word that is translated ‘genuine’ is taken from the practice of actors who wore different masks depending on what role they were playing. For example, if they were acting out a comic role, they would wear a mask that indicated that is what they were doing. The obvious thing about such a mask is that it all depended on the audience. It is also the case that the audience knew that the mask was indicating pretence. We know that it is easy for us to wear a mask in front of Christians and imagine that we are conning them. Maybe we should remember that it is easy for an audience to identify an actor!

We will think further about genuine love tomorrow.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Romans 12:6-13 – Some gifts

Paul mentions seven gifts and it is possible to divide them into two kinds, those connected to communicating the faith and those connected to practical expressions of Christian living.

The first gift that is mentioned is prophecy. This is probably a gift that was temporary in the sense that prophets belonged to the foundation of the church. The person who had this gift often passed on a message from God for the present. Even although they were given information in this way, a way that we know little about, their words had to be assessed (1 Cor. 14:29).

The second gift is serving and it looks as if this term covers a wide range of activities. Perhaps we are meant to observe through the mention of prophecy that all gifts need the Holy Spirit and through the mention of service that all gifts express our obedience to Jesus as Lord. If this suggestion is correct, then Paul is reminding the Romans that spirituality and service go together.

The third gift is that of teaching and this is a reference to the individuals who have the responsibility of teaching the doctrines of the faith. In today’s terminology, this is a reference to the pastor or to the minister. Of course, there can be more than one in a congregation, although it has become the general practice only to have one.

The fourth gift, exhortation or encouragement, indicates that there are other forms of teaching in a congregation in addition to that given by the pastor. Exhorters and encouragers could cover those who lead small groups or engage in teaching on a personal basis. They may not have the competence of the teacher to speak to everyone in the way that he does, yet they are sufficiently gifted to make an essential contribution to the life of the congregation. And exhortation and encouragement are always needed.

The fifth gift is that of contributing. It is likely that this gift is connected to a person with ample resources to share. Does Paul suggest that God leads some wealthy Christians to give in a sacrificial way when a particular need arises? The obvious example of this gift is Barnabas, and perhaps a picture of his old friend when through Paul’s mind when he mentioned this gift.

The sixth gift is leadership and here Paul probably has in mind the eldership of a congregation. Today, the word ‘leader’ is virtually meaningless because it is used in a variety of circumstances in which leadership is not an obvious feature. By definition a leader is an individual who people follow because they recognise his authority and trustworthiness. How will other Christians in a congregation recognise a leader of it? They will observe his zeal for Jesus and his kingdom.

The seventh gift mentioned by Paul is probably a reference to those who have the role of deacons in the congregation. A deacon provided practical help to needy people. It is obvious from Paul’s comment that a deacon should be a person marked by cheeriness. The role is a ministry of encouragement and an expression of brotherly love.

The list that Paul gives here is different from other lists given in the New Testament, perhaps a reminder that not all possible gifts have been mentioned. Yet as we think of them, we can see that the use of spiritual gifts is varied, valuable and vital. Paul says the gifts should be used, and the way to use them is by faith in God and by a focus on those areas of church life in which they can be most effective.

The presence of spiritual gifts is a reminder that each believer should be dedicated to serve God through the gift he has provided, should be depending on other believers to use the gifts they have been given, and should be determined to make the church as effective as possible.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Romans 12:4-5 – Using our Gifts Together

Paul refers to an illustration that he uses several times in his writings, that of the church as a body. When we think of a body, we think of its members functioning together simultaneously. The members are not the same, yet each is essential in order for the body to function properly. The same is true of the church. To the extent that one member does not function as he or she should, the church is hindered, which makes very serious the failure to function in the particular way God intended.

Some people have in a humorous way, depicted what happens when a church does not behave like a body. They do so by using other illustrations and here are two of them. One illustration is that the church is like a bus: the minister is the driver and the members are the passengers. They drive to all kinds of interesting places, enjoy each other’s company, but they don’t make contact with people not on the bus. Sometimes it stops at a bus stop, but no effort is made by the driver or the passengers to invite others on board.

Another illustration is that of an aeroplane. The minister is the pilot, the crew are the staff, and the members are the passengers. The plane takes off and climbs out of sight of people on the ground. Eventually the plane is put on automatic pilot and people snooze away the time on the flight or else read something. It arrives at its destination with the same number of people as when it started.

The point that those humorous illustrations stress is that only a few people are doing anything whereas the imagery of the body requires everyone to do something, and the something each does is their gift, whatever it is.

Paul mentions that the illustration of a body reveals that a church is composed of persons united to one another. The illustrations of a bus and a plane gave to each person a separate seat as it were whereas the illustration of a body stresses the necessity for each person to do his part. On the bus and the plane, it all depends on one individual – the driver or the pilot – fulfilling his role. In the illustration of the body, it depends on all of them doing so.