Truth for Life
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Truth for Life

Romans 12:15–16  (ID: 2802)

What should we expect to see in a church family that is shaped by grace? In this sermon, Alistair Begg shows us how sympathy, harmony, and humility result in a loving community shaped by God’s mercy. As a people who belong to Christ, we must carefully and thoughtfully consider the truth of the Gospel of grace. By living out its implications, churches become welcome places for all whom Christ calls to follow Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

Shaped by Grace

Romans 12:1–21 Series ID: 26302

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to turn together to Romans chapter 12; it’s page 803 in the church Bibles. Page 803. Romans 12:9:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

Father, with our Bibles open before us, help us to study them in such a way that we understand, and then in understanding to believe and to obey and to live in the light of all that you teach us by the Holy Spirit. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Well, what should we expect to find in a church family that is shaped by grace? Paul is going a long way to answering that question here in this series of exhortations in Romans chapter 12. We’ve been working our way through them. We took a break for 1 Chronicles 29, and we’re back. And this morning I want us to look at three of these characteristics in verses 15 and 16. And the characteristics to which we will turn are, first of all, sympathy, and then harmony, and then humility.

But before we get to that, we need to remind ourselves that Romans was not written to us. Romans was written to believers who were living in Rome in the first century. And until we acknowledge the recipients of the initial letter, we do a disservice to the instruction if we try to make a direct line between Romans and ourselves. If we’re going to apply the book of Romans in Cleveland, we must first of all get to Rome, and then from Rome arrive in Cleveland. We can’t go directly to Cleveland.

Christianity demands at every point careful, thoughtful consideration of the truth.

So we remind ourselves that the context to which Paul wrote was diverse; it was multiethnic; it was primarily made up of people who had come from both a Jewish and a Gentile background—people whose lives were not only dissimilar to one another but who in many ways were opposed to each other by dint of their ethnic backgrounds and the convictions that they shared. It is therefore a great miracle—a miracle of grace—that finds him writing to a group who are united. And the reason that they are united is because they have a shared discovery of the mercy of God. And throughout the book of Romans, he is pointing out the various places along the way where the unfolding story of God’s plan and purpose to have a people of his own becomes unmistakably clear. And so, for example, in chapter 3, he points out that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.”[1] “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” The reason he has to say this is because there were some people saying, “Well, I’m sure there are dreadful sinners out there, but I’m not one of them. Because, you see, my background is this, or my background is that.” And people still do that today, don’t they?

Also, these individuals were the beneficiaries of the same grace. They were facing the same predicament as sinners, and they had found the same grace. Romans 3:24, Paul describes them having been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And then, together they have been set free from sin and have, as he puts it in 6:[18], become “slaves [of] righteousness.”

So this is the group: a diverse group, Jews and Gentiles from all different places, gathered in congregations in Rome, on the receiving end of this great theological treatise, and Paul is reminding them, “You were all in the same boat, in need of a Savior. You have now been brought into the wonderful experience of forgiveness through that Messiah—namely, Jesus. You have been set free from being under the bondage of sin and being its slaves, not so that you can do whatever you jolly well please, but in order that you might become the slaves of righteousness—in order that you might be committed from your heart to doing the right thing under God.” And it is to this multiethnic congregation that he has, after he reaches chapter 11, begun these great exhortations which begin with Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I beseech you, brethren, on account of the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.”[2]

And what he makes clear to them immediately is that if they’re going to do this, then that kind of radical living will emerge from radical thinking. And it is imperative that they are being transformed “by the renewing of [their] minds.” Some people tend to think of Christianity as a kind of slide into never-never land; as a disengagement with the realm of the rational; as a being absorbed into some kind of spiritual miasma. But in actual fact, Christianity demands at every point careful, thoughtful consideration of the truth.  And that’s why I say to you, as best as I can and as often as I can, “You, I gather, are sensible people; therefore, you should be examining this Bible for yourselves and by yourselves.”

And when you read it, along with these early readers in Rome, you will be reminded of the fact that like them, if you are in Christ, you belong to Christ; and because you belong to Christ, you have no freedom to believe what you want —not if you belong to Christ! If you belong to Christ, you have no freedom but to believe exactly what Jesus taught. Therefore, you can’t come up with your own view of marriage. You can’t come up with your own view of sexuality. You can’t come up with your own view of finance. You can’t come up with your own view of how to deal with the world. No, your view—our view—is now the view of our Messiah, of our Teacher, Jesus.

That’s one of the reasons that Christians are “peculiar people.”[3] Because we are now attached—organically attached—to Jesus. Therefore, we have no freedom to believe whatever we want, only what he has taught. And secondly, we have no freedom to behave in any way we choose, but only to behave in a fashion that is under the lordship of Jesus.

That’s what makes it so radical. And that is one of the reasons, of course, that people turn away from Christianity in favor of other religions: because so many contemporary religions offer you absolute latitude in every way, with a little dose of spirituality. You don’t have to have any change in your lifestyle; you can pretty well make it work whatever way you like. Not so, Christianity.

And so, he’s writing to these Roman believers, making it clear to them that they daren’t be content with simply knowing the truth; they need to be living the truth. This is just what Jesus himself had said to his disciples. He said, “Once you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”[4] They’re not simply knowing them; but the blessing of God always is attached to the obedient child of God. There is a direct correlation between obedience, submission to the lordship of Jesus, and the enjoyment that comes from living in light of the truth.  So the truth is, if you like, truth for life. And the impact that these believers had on first-century Rome was not first of all as a result of their ability to articulate their doctrinal position, because much of that they were only getting as they went along. But the real impact that they were going to make in Rome was on account of their behavior, which was actually an expression of their newfound belief in Jesus.

And that, of course, makes perfect sense. Because if you think about going out into the communities of suburban Cleveland this morning, it will be highly unlikely that people will be coming up to you and asking you to give a sort of doctrinal summation of your theological pre-suppositions and beliefs. Largely, they don’t give a rip about your doctrinal position and wouldn’t really have much time to listen to your explanation even if you volunteered it. So the real point of connection is not going to be at the level of belief, initially; it’s going to be at the level of behavior. It’s going to be how I behave that might give me an opportunity to explain what I believe. It’s much easier for a church just to get focused on what it believes: “Oh, we believe correctly, we believe properly, we believe this, we believe that. The world says, “Yeah, but how do you behave?” That’s the challenge—the challenge in the little poem that many of us have known for a hundred years:

You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do,
And the words that you say.

And men read what you write,
Distorted or true;
So, what is the gospel
According to you?

Paul has laid down this great theological foundation. He now comes to the imperatives in chapter 12, and he says, “If you’re going to live this truth out; if you are going to be a church family in Rome that is shaped by grace”—if, in submission to the instruction of God’s Word in the book of Romans, we are going to be a church family in Cleveland that is shaped by grace—“there are certain things that will be emblematic of that family. Because,” he says, “not only do you belong to Christ, but you also belong to each other.” This is an organic relationship that affects everything. It’s not that we have simply adopted a set of beliefs that we’re trying our very hardest to hold to. It’s not that we have embraced a series of mantras, or like a Buddhist, just trying to go through the routines. No, we’ve actually been organically put in Christ: “If anyone is in Christ, they’re a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come.”[5] We’re no longer what we once were.

And not only are we in Christ, but because we’re in Christ, we are in one another. That’s what he’s saying: “Each member”—verse 5—“belongs to all the others.” There is something, then, that is both natural and supernatural. The analogy—the metaphor—is straightforward; we understand it. But the expression of it demands the supernatural attendance of God—especially in the realm of, number one, sympathy.


Sympathy. That’s how I’m choosing to summarize verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Sympathy we understand when we use it in a sentence, but if someone asks us to define it, we might be a little hard-pressed. So let me just give you a couple of definitions. This is from the OED: “An affinity or correspondence between particular subjects enabling the same influence to affect each subject similarly or each subject to affect or influence the other.”[6] Once you’ve read that, you say, “Now I think I’ll go and look for a definition of the definition.” Okay? “I liked it better when I just thought I knew what sympathy was.” Well, if you view it physiologically or medically, it may actually help a little better: “A relationship between two organs or parts of the body such that a disorder or condition of the one induces a corresponding condition in the other.”[7] Sympathy.

Sympathy is not simply observational. Sympathy actually is identification with and in the experience of the other person.

It is the opposite of apathy. You remember that the university Freshers’ Week, they had all their societies, and someone had put up on the board that the Apathy Society would meet four o’clock in lecture room C. Nobody showed up, and they classed it an outstanding success. So apathy is the “I couldn’t care less”; sympathy is, “I couldn’t care more.” Sympathy is not simply observational, but sympathy actually is identification with and in the experience of the other person.  And he points out here that this sympathetic experience, this empathy, will be served in the realm of both encouragement and disappointment: with joy, “rejoicing”; with weeping or “mourning,” weeping.

Now, of the two experiences, let me ask you, what do you think is the harder? Do you think it’s harder to “rejoice with those who rejoice” or to “weep with those who weep”? I would suggest that the former presents a greater challenge. It’s much harder, I find, to enter into the encouragements and joys and successes of other people. There’s a perversity about us, by human nature, that is resentful, and in someone’s success or encouragement, or the favor of God, or a spiritual gift, or whatever it might be, instead of it becoming an occasion for us to say, “I bless God for this and I’m thankful for it,” it actually becomes the occasion of envy.

Now, by self-effort it’s possible for us to modify our behavior. There’re lots of books available to us in the self-help section that will tell you how to deal with this and how to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice. And they will give you all kinds of ways to be able to smile artificially, or to conceal our envy with superficial language, or to embrace a form of passivity or stoicism which is essentially, like, “Who cares?” and you can learn how to just say to yourself, “Who cares?”

The Christian church will deal with none of that. Because it gets to the very nub of things when I recognize that there is a huge difference between not showing envy and not feeling envy. Behavior modification can get us to the point of not showing it; it’s going to need spiritual transformation to get us to the point of not feeling it. 

Now, this is where the metaphor is crucial, and an understanding of what has happened in becoming a Christian, what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, what it means to be identified with the people of God in a way that is both intrinsic and organic. We are on the same team. And if you have played on a team, then you will have had the experience of the intense joy that is yours at the success of another individual. The fleeting moment of envy that you experienced when you said, “I wish I had scored that try, I wish I had made that final basket, I wish I had scored that goal,” will be subsumed under the overwhelming reality of the joy that we experience when we are actually on the team. One of the ways that we discover we are not on the team or in the team is when we are absolutely unable to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Let me show you my favorite picture, at the moment, from the world of soccer. There it is. I want to suggest to you that that picture—that is Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, both playing for Manchester United—if you look at the fellow, Rooney, who has that guy’s face in his hands… Both of those men make outlandish sums of money. They’re both in their twenties, and they’re both kicking a ball around. They’re actually now rivals, because the guy whose head is in the other fellow’s hands now plays for Real Madrid; Rooney still plays for Manchester United. So this picture is a piece of history, because they’re no longer on the same team. But Ronaldo, the one on his knees, had just scored an amazing goal, and Rooney is rejoicing with him as he rejoices. When I saw that in the Daily Telegraph, I cut it out immediately. And I said, “That—that gaze between those two sets of eyes—is what Romans 12 is about: rejoicing with those who rejoice.”

Now, let me show you the one about the mourning. No, I don’t have one on the mourning.

Essentially, it’s a reminder to us that there is no I in team. And to “weep with those who weep” is, I think, an easier challenge, is it not? There is something in our nature that cries at the sight of sadness. Therefore, it is actually in some measure easier to enter into people’s sadnesses and disappointments. But you know, there is a perversity still about this which, in the back of our minds we’re saying, “Man, I’m glad that isn’t me.” And it is the sense that it hasn’t happened to us that makes us feel okay enough to tell them that we really care about the fact that it has happened to them. It’s actually possible for us to be glad at the calamities of other people.

Listen to John Murray: he says, “Our love of others will constrain in us the sorrow of heart which the providence of God metes out to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”[8] “Our love of others will constrain in us the sorrow of heart.” It’s a good word, constrain; it’s a good verb, isn’t it? Because he’s not saying that this will just be sort of swallowed up on an emotional thing. But because we have been called—verse 9—to a “sincere” love of one another, then our sincere love will be the basis of the constraint of our feelings, so that that which by nature we may be tempted to do—become envious or jealous—we are constrained by love; the love of Christ constrains us.  And Chrysostom says, to rejoice with one who is honored “requires a … noble soul … not only to keep from envying, but … to feel pleasure with the [one] who is [esteemed].”[9] Sympathy.


Secondly, and more briefly, harmony. Harmony. Verse 16a: “Live in harmony with one another.” Once again, this has to do with thinking. The King James Version had it right when it translated the phrase, “Be of the same mind one toward another.” “Be of the same mind one toward another.”

The basis of this harmony is found in submitting to the conductor—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ—and to the score—namely, to the Scriptures. If we misunderstand this, then we may be tempted to think that what Paul is urging upon the Christian church in Rome was some form of uniformity, so that they would all look the same, all dress the same, all act the same, all vote for the same political party, all engage in the same stuff all the time. No, that’s not what he’s saying for a moment! They were a diverse group by background; they were diverse in relationship to the gifts that God had given them; the very fact of their difference made something of the wonderful variegation of the nature of their relationships with each other; but when it came to the issues of the gospel, then they were to be of the same mind as one another.

And you have this, I think, worked out by Paul in other places. I’ll just give you a couple. First Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers,” he says, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought”—“perfectly united in mind and thought.” Or when he writes to the Philippians, he’s doing essentially the same thing, making the same call. Philippians 1:27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.”

And this, I think, is essential for us to grasp: that when we think in terms of the body of Christ moving and living harmoniously, it is not—it dare not be—as a result of the coercive influence of little autocrats in local congregations telling people, “Now, you don’t need to think, you just need to listen. I’ll tell you how to think. I’ll tell you this.” No. You have to have the people saying to you, “It is absolutely imperative that you think.”

When it comes to the issues of the gospel, when it comes to the issues of truth, when it comes to the matters of the main things being the plain things, then we must live in absolute harmony.

But all of our thinking where there is diversity politically, intellectually, socially, and so on is perfectly understandable and makes up our lives. But when it comes to the issues of the gospel, when it comes to the issues of truth, when it comes to the matters of the main things being the plain things, then we must live in absolute harmony . We cannot go in four or five different directions. And even when it comes to matters of secondary importance, nevertheless we have to have some decision. We have to some modus operandi by which we’re able to say, “This is what we do, and this what we do as a church family.”

And so, when we think in terms of harmony, don’t let’s misunderstand this. I’m not talking here about uniformity to a perspective vis-a-vis building a building, or a children’s wing, or whatever else it is. No, what we’re talking about here is harmony as it relates to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the clear instruction of the Bible, submitting to the source of its authority in Jesus, we move forward. And when Paul writes to the Philippians, he says, “You know, and if some of you think diversely about this and you think in other ways, eventually God will make that clear to you”—that there is a correlation between spiritual maturity and living in this kind of harmony.


And then, thirdly, he comes back again to what he’s mentioned before, this matter of humility. Humility. “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” If you have an NIV, you will notice there is a footnote there with a little c, and at the bottom of your page it is translated, “or willing to do menial work.” The reason that you have that little footnote is because the word for “people” is not in the Greek; the word for “men,” as in the King James Version, is not in the Greek. It is added because that is the sense that the translators thought was being conveyed here.

The intellectual bubble of pride needs to be burst constantly.

But each one is equally valid: don’t be so proud that there are people you won’t associate with, and don’t be so proud that there are jobs which you think are too menial for you to do. Don’t be a snob! That’s what he says. No snobbery! Snobbery exists like a horrible virus all over the place, and in two particular areas: in the realm of the mind and in the realm of money.  Mind and money. We don’t have time to tease it out; I’ll give it to you, you can work it out on your own. First Corinthians 8, Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, … love builds up.”[10] And he takes on the Corinthians and he says, “Be careful, you intellectual and doctrinal snobs. Because you think you know so much—and you do know a lot—don’t think that your knowledge is the key. Because all you’re getting with this knowledge is a fat head. It is love which builds up the body of Christ.” Now, he’s not arguing for idiots in positions of authority. He’s simply pointing out that the intellectual bubble of pride needs to be burst constantly . And secondly—and we mentioned this in passing last time—in the realm of finance or money. First Timothy 6:17: “Command those who are rich in this present [age or at this point in time] not to be arrogant [or] to put their hope in wealth.”

And this, again, is one of the great distinctive things about the Christian church. It is not that the Christian church is full of sort of a group of people who are intellectually incapacitated. Many of us are. But it’s not the whole story. It is not that the Christian church is just full of people who’ve got no money to buy themselves a hamburger. Some of us are in difficulty, but it is not the whole story. But it is that the power of Jesus Christ invading the personhood of the individual and the parameters of the church radically alters these things—so that, whereas in the secular community our status, our significance, our influence, and so on is largely measured at the realm of the intellect and at the realm of social respectability, “in the church of Jesus Christ,” he said, “forget that stuff! Forget that stuff! Don’t you ever say that there’s no one that you can’t spend time with. Don’t you ever say that there’s a job that is beneath you.” You can’t do that, because remember, Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.”[11]

Now, when you think about the clarity of the Bible in relationship to the issue of saying no to pride—and he goes on to say, “Do not be conceited,” which just means, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”[12] Don’t be so prepared to listen to yourself that you’re unprepared to listen to anybody else. That’s the wisdom of the world. “Don’t be like that,” he says. And yet, when you think about the history of the church, right up to the present day—it’s a real problem, isn’t it?

It’s very uncomfortable when you read James chapter 2. “Somebody comes into your fellowship,” says James in the first century, “and he’s from a really nice background and so on, and you’re tempted to find a very nice seat for him. Somebody comes in off the streets, say, ‘Hey! Find somewhere to sit. Sit at the back, or over on the side,’ or whatever it might be.”[13]

It’s not that the New Testament says you shouldn’t do that; it actually vetoes doing that. It says that one of the distinguishing features of the people of God is that the things that mark the general community are no longer present. 

Now, the thing about this that makes it so special is not that it involves anybody saying,
“Well, you know, I’m not really a musician. I couldn’t call myself a musician. I’m just, you know, I just fiddle around with it.” That’s not true; you’re a member of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. What’re you trying to do? Why did you say that? You are a brilliant musician. We rejoice with you in the gifts that God has given you. But I’ll tell you what: we’re impressed that you would be prepared to offer your gift to us, because only a very small percentage of this congregation actually comes on Thursday nights and supports your Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. You had every right to say, “I don’t think I should play for you; you never come to listen to me.” We rejoice with you in your gifts. Nor is it, on the other end, that somebody says, “Well, I am this,” or “I am that,” and has to exalt themselves to a position beyond which is obviously true of them. No, you can just be yourself.

That’s what home means. See, being in your house, you can be yourself. Sue will ask me, “Do you want to go out and eat?”

I said, “No I don’t want to go out and eat. I want to be home.”


“I can wear what I want. I can sit where I want. I can lie on the floor, I can stand up, I can sit down. I can do… I’m home!”

That’s what the psalmist is saying in Psalm 84: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord [of hosts].”[14] “I love going home,” he says. “I love going to the temple. When I go to the temple and I look around, I find sparrows up there, and I find the swallow has made its nest. And when I get in the comfort and capacity of that home, I just rejoice in the splendor of your goodness.”[15]

How does that relate post-incarnation? “We’re the people of God, [joined] by his name, called from the dark and delivered from shame, … saints ev’ryone.”[16] We’re home! Take your shoes off. We’re home! You can be honest. We’re home! You don’t have to like everything. We’re home! That’s your sister you’re sitting next to. We’re home! Under the same roof, sharing the same convictions. No need to pretend. No need to be a smart aleck. No need to apologize. We’re home!

Now, you see, if a congregation gets this—and I’m not sure we’ve got it yet; I think we’re very interested in it—but if a congregation gets this, man does it change the perception. It changes the flavor. It changes everything! Because in the same way that houses have smells… and you’re, “No, you’re not supposed to say… houses have fragrances.” Every house has its thing, you know? You go in, smells old, smells clean, smells like flowers. Smells! Okay? Your initial perception in walking into a place is actually probably as much through your nasal passage as it is through your eyes.

When people come into Parkside, what do they get? I’m not being funny, now; I’m really asking the question. Because I don’t want anybody saying, “Well, I couldn’t come to Parkside; I’ve got nothing to wear.” If that’s the case, then let’s, you know, let’s go. Whatever it’ll take to help them. You want me to wear a t-shirt and jeans? I can do that. If that helps you, then I can do that. I mean, I sleep in a tie, but I can do that for you. Because you’re my brother, you’re my sister. I don’t want anybody to say, “I can’t go to Parkside, ’cause I’m not bright enough for Parkside. I can’t go to Parkside,” whatever it is! We are Parkside. We’re the ones making the smell. We’re the ones creating the perception.

And the history of the church in the West is horrible in relationship to this. You think about it in terms of even Britain, never mind America. You take Britain: it’s going along; you’ve got St. Patrick, who was Scottish; he comes over, we get the thing started, it’s going fine and nice and everything. Then, all of a sudden, it gets horribly respectable. And suddenly, all the vicars are geniuses and all come from aristocratic backgrounds. The mine workers and the people that are the mill workers, they have to sit somewhere else. The owners are in the key positions. The proletariat, who know their place, are here. I don’t want to make more of it than it is, but you can make a strong argument for the fact that the brighter the clerics became and the more sophisticated their backgrounds, there was a direct inversion in relationship to people who didn’t come from those backgrounds having any interest in—appreciation for—the very gospel that they sought to convey.

That’s why I love the Jesus Movement in the ’60s. I wasn’t here for it, but I loved it. I couldn’t wait to get to California to find out what that was all about. And one of the singular blessings of my life has been to enjoy the relationships with all the guys from the Calvary Chapels all around the country. I was just at one in somewhere—Tucson—two weeks ago. And as I was greeting people afterwards, a lady came to me and said, “You know, my friend said to me, ‘Isn’t it kind of weird that Alistair Begg is at the Calvary Chapel thing? Do you know what Alistair Begg believes?’” In other words, somehow or another, my theological predilections were such that they shouldn’t be with these Calvary Chapel guys, because all you need to be a Calvary Chapel pastor is a Bible and a pair of jeans, as I said last time.

It’s the work of the Spirit of God supernaturally to create the kind of organic unity that expresses itself in sympathy, in harmony under the gospel, and in a genuine sense of humility.

But I love that. And I love the fact that Chuck Smith did what no one else would do—when all the conservative evangelicals were holding up their hands in opposition to these hippies that were turning to Christ, and Chuck Smith said, “Hey, you can come here if you want.” They had a smell to them; it was called marijuana. They had hair. They had bare feet. They had bad manners. And they only knew one thing: that the guy that met them at Haight-Ashbury, or met them on the beach, or met them in the bar, told them, “I have met Jesus of Nazareth, and he has changed my life, and I would like to introduce him to you if you would like to meet him.”

“What would I have to do? Would I—”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“Well, how should I come?”

“You’re looking great. Come exactly as you are.”

And they came exactly as they were. And all these years later, all across the country, they’re still like that.

And the danger for us is, of course, adopting a posture that isn’t true to us. But the equal danger is that we unwittingly send a fragrance out which repels rather than attracts. I don’t know many people who go in and say, “Oh! So we’re having fish this evening!” It’s usually like, “What in the world is that?”

“Oh, you’re going to like it.”

“Convince me.”

I think you get this, don’t you? I’ll stop now. You get it. It’s the work of the Spirit of God supernaturally to create the kind of organic unity that expresses itself in sympathy, in harmony under the gospel, and in a genuine sense of humility.  

Father, thank you that we can read our Bibles by ourselves, we can go away and think these things out. Look upon us in your goodness and kindness, we pray, as a church. Help us to love being together. Help us to love each other. Help us to have as much interest in, as it were, being home as the psalmist did in relationship to the temple. Save us from worldly wisdom. Give us the wisdom that comes down from heaven, that’s “first of all pure, and peaceable, and gentle, and open to reason.”[17] Help us to lower our topsails, as it were, instead of sailing down the canal to draw attention to ourselves; grant that we might make it under the drawbridge of heaven, as it were. For it’s a low entry there. We want, Lord, to be now what you want us to be in order that in the future other generations may arise and bless you. And we desperately look to you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Romans 3:9 (NIV 1984).

[2] Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).

[3] 1 Peter 2:9 (KJV).

[4] John 13:17 (paraphrased).

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (paraphrased).

[6] Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (2009), s.v. “unconscious sympathy.”

[7] Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (2009), s.v. “medical or physiological sympathy.”

[8] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 135.

[9] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 22, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1, vol. 11, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans, ed. Philip Schaf, Christian Classics Ethereal Library,

[10] 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV 1984).

[11] Matthew 11:29 (KJV).

[12] Proverbs 3:7 (NIV 1984).

[13] James 2:2–3 (paraphrased).

[14] Psalm 84:1 (NIV 1984).

[15] Psalm 84:1–3 (paraphrased).

[16] Wayne Watson, “People of God” (1982).

[17] James 3:17 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.