We Belong Together — Part Two
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We Belong Together — Part Two

Romans 12:3–8  (ID: 2781)

No matter how God has equipped an individual, the purpose for our spiritual gifts is the same: the harmony, well-being, and growth of the body of Christ. In this message, Alistair Begg reminds us that our gifts are meant not for our own personal fulfillment but for the impact and growth of the community of believers. As followers of Jesus, we belong to each other, and we gather together not only to receive but also to give.

Series Containing This Sermon

Shaped by Grace

Romans 12:1–21 Series ID: 26302

Sermon Transcript: Print

I’d like to read our Scripture reading—as we read it this morning—twice this evening, both from a paraphrase. I’m assuming that you’ve already memorized these opening verses of Romans 12; we’ve read them enough times in the last couple of weeks. And you can have your Bible open there, and I want to read the opening verses of—actually, the first eight verses—first as they’re paraphrased by Phillips and then as they’re paraphrased by Peterson. And I do so purposefully, just in order to help us get a flavor for what is being conveyed. And Phillips paraphrases Romans 12:1 and following in this way:

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

“As your spiritual teacher I give this piece of advice to each one of you. Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. For just as you have many members in one physical body and those members differ in their functions, so we, though many in number, compose one body in Christ and are all members of one another. Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all [that] we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who wields authority think of his responsibility; and let the man who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully.”

And then Peterson paraphrases it as follows—and his style is even more down there—it begins as follows:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, [and] not by what we are and what we do for him.

“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or [a] cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

“If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”

Gracious God, we come to you in the evening hour, and we’ve had a whole day already, and many of us are tired, and our minds are distracted by the concerns of the week that is before us. And so it’s going to take a superhuman effort, as a result of your divine enabling, for us to focus on the truth of the Bible and to learn from it and, most of all, to be changed by it. But we look away from ourselves to you to accomplish this, believing that this is best. And we humbly pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, we’re picking things up from where we left off this morning. We said that it was justifiable for us to think in terms of the exhortation that Paul gives in verse 3, and then the illustration that he employs in verses 4 and 5, and then the application that he makes of that in verses 6 and 7. And so we return to that, picking things up in verse 4, which is where he provides this illustration.

The Illustration: The Body

The illustration, of course, is not unique to the book of Romans. In fact, this is not the most usual use of it, and this is actually the only place in the entire letter of Romans where Paul uses this terminology of the body.

We need only to wriggle our toes in our shoes or to look down at our hands or to look across at our neighbor for a moment, and we realize that we’re all fearfully and wonderfully made.

If you want to cross-reference it and flesh it out, then you can do so by a careful reading of Ephesians and Colossians, and particularly by reading 1 Corinthians and chapter 12. Illustrations are helpful when they set forward the purpose of the illustration; they’re unhelpful when they become a distraction. And the most helpful illustrations are the ones that are obvious and easily applied. And, certainly, this fits the bill when we think in terms of the body, because we don’t have to go anywhere in our imagination to follow his thinking. We need only to wriggle our toes in our shoes or to look down at our hands or to look across at our neighbor for a moment, and we realize that we’re all fearfully and wonderfully made.  We all have a body that is made up of a variety of parts, and as a result of the parts, we have various functions. Not all of them are seen, but all of them are important. And clearly the parts that are unseen are doing things that are absolutely vital for us even now.

And the effectiveness of our physical frame is directly related to its submission to the control tower, to the head.  When our bodies become disconnected in any way—psychiatrically or physically impaired as a result of nerve endings and so on—then it has an immediate and obvious effect on our ability to function. And in the same way, when things go wrong in the body, one of the places that they look is immediately the head. That’s why there is an increasing use of CAT-scan technology, as we have the ability to go in and look at the control tower and see exactly what’s going on. So that when things have gone wrong down below, as it were, it is often because of a disconnection to the head.

That actually holds true in the body of Christ as well. Paul speaks of those, of the man who is puffed up with pride and who has too much to say for himself and who’s a jolly nuisance to the church family, and what he says of him is “He is disconnected from the Head.”[1] And when John identifies Diotrophes for us in his third letter, the problem with Diotrophes is that he is disconnected from the body because, by personality, he wants to dominate everything and put himself first.[2] The effective function of the body physical and the body spiritual is when it works in coordination under the headship of Christ. 

Now, the words that I wrote down in my notes just to help me are these words: obviously, unity, because we are not living in isolation when we come into Christ; plurality, because we’re made up of many different bits and pieces, just in the same way as is true of our bodies; diversity, because the functions of the body are diverse and necessarily so, not only in the human frame but also in the body of Christ; harmony, because it is when these things are working in coordination and in cohesion with one another that we can enjoy harmony; and also identity, insofar as we saw this morning that we cannot actually and ultimately be ourselves when we are by ourselves. Because it is in the context of the framework of the body in Christ that we understand who we are and where we fit. If we are removed from the body of Christ—if we’re not connected to the Head, if we’re not physically, organically connected in some way to one another—then we may cherish all kinds of ideas about our significance, and it may be absolutely untrue.  

Incidentally and in passing, this has something to say to those who continue to come to Parkside, choosing not to identify yourselves in an organic way by becoming members. I think that sometimes people stand back from membership because they think it is a triviality or that it is simply a happenstance or some process of organization. But it is actually not. It really is wrong for us to be placed in Christ without being identified fully with a local body of Christ.  Because it is in that context that we can both serve and we can discover our usefulness, and we can be counseled and urged and inspired and corrected and disciplined and so on.

And this comes across very clearly, doesn’t it, when he says that in this body we are belonging to all of the others? It’s not that we simply belong to the body, but we actually belong to each other. And as I said this morning, at least in one of the congregations—I can’t remember which one—for Paul to make this statement was fairly revolutionary in the context of Rome. Because the people had come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. There were Jews and Gentiles who had been converted, there were people who’d come from Greece, and so on. And they were diverse ethnically. And yet he says to them as he writes to them, “We actually all belong to each other.”

Why do we gather as a church? Not in order that we can receive, but we gather in order that we can give.

So the question is not “Are you going to church?” because we are the church. The question is “Why do we gather as a church?” And the answer is, we don’t gather in order that we can receive, but we gather in order that we can give.  The real reason that each of us is here this evening is because of what it means to the person sitting next to us, in front of us, or behind us—because of what we are contributing by our presence, by our songs, by our prayers, by our fellowship, by our identifying with one another as being important to each other on this evening, on the first evening of a new week.

And what Paul is going on to say is that when he speaks about spiritual worship, he’s not thinking here about worship that involves singing, first of all, or worship that involves praying, but actually worship that involves serving. And that service is taking place within the context of the body.

Now, when you think about it, we use this terminology outside of Christian things, don’t we? Every so often, someone’ll ask you a question. They say, “Do you belong anywhere?” “Do you belong anywhere?” They’re usually asking it if you start to talk about golf. And the question is “Do you actually play at a particular golf club?” Or they may say—if you tell them that you have been exercising—they say, “Do you belong anywhere?” In other words, is there a place that identifies you as being on its lists? Would people miss you when you were absent? Would they say, “I haven’t seen you for a little while”? Do you belong somewhere? Are you attached? Are you engaged?

And, of course, the mindset of the world is that significance is found in belonging to certain places. And the more significant the place, the more significant the membership; therefore, the more significant the member. And what Paul is reminding these folks is that when the grace of God turns us upside down, then we find that it matters increasingly to us that we have been called into a relationship with one another; we’re diverse in the gifts that have been given; we form one body; none of us on our own make it up, only together; and each of us belongs to each other.

Now, I think it’s Isaac Watts who wrote the hymn, which is essentially a paraphrase, that we sing intermittently. It’s not a favorite, I don’t think, of the congregation; it happens to be one of my favorites, but since I am not the body and only part of the body, I only get to sing it every so often, and that’s why I can’t even sing all nine verses. But, anyway, it’s the same kind of thing—not that I’m feeling bad about those three verses—but the hymn, you will remember, begins, “How pleased and blest was I, to hear the people cry, Come let us seek our God to-day!”[3] So, in other words, the picture is pretty clear. He’s within the community in which he lives, and the cry goes out, “Let us go [up] to the house of the Lord.”[4] And as someone issues the call and exercises the leadership, people are starting to come out of their dwellings, and the word is on: “We’re going to make our ascent up to the hill of the Lord and to the temple where God’s people gather.” And so the psalmist says, “It was a matter of great joy to me to hear the people saying, ‘Let us seek our God today.’”

And that little paraphrase goes on until it reaches the verse which begins, “My tongue repeats her vows, Peace to this sacred house! For [there] my friends and kindred dwell.”[5] That’s the main reason that I like that hymn; I like it for that line. And I hope you will like it for that line, and I hope that that line will mean something to you. I’m not just here to attend. I’m not just here to show up and teach. God has asked me to, that’s fine, and I do. But I’m here because my friends are here, and my family are here, and I don’t like being separated from my family. It pains me physically and it pains me spiritually, and it matters, because you matter to me, because I belong to you and you belong to me. And that picture is a vastly different picture from the idea of the church as a building and the functionality of things divorced from the very vital, pulsing, personal dimension that is conveyed in such an illustration.

The Application: The Body’s Gifts

From illustration he goes to application, and his application comes in verse 6. “We all belong to one another,” and then he begins, “Of course, we have different gifts.” He mentions here seven gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12, you have a list of nine gifts. In Ephesians 4, you have a list of either four or five gifts—five if you regard pastor-teacher as two gifts, four if you regard pastor-teacher as one gift. And that’s not a matter of discussion this evening.

We ought to regard these lists, taken individually—or even collectively—as being selective rather than exhaustive.  I don’t think there’s any encouragement for us in the New Testament to think that, if we do not find ourselves categorized under one of these headings, that, somehow or another, whatever God has given us is either extraneous or is irrelevant to the purposes that he has for his people. No, if we see these things as being selective rather than comprehensive, then we will, I think, be on the right track.

Whatever the gift is, it is given for the well-being of the body.

The fundamental point that he makes and which we must get—and therefore, let’s put it right up front—is simple: that whatever the gift is, it is given for the purpose of the well-being of the body. Whatever the gift is, it is given for the well-being of the body.  It is not given for display, it is not given for an opportunity to advance one’s cause, but every gift that is given is given in order that the unity, the harmony, the progress of God’s people might go ahead as God intends—so that the gifts, when we find them in the Bible, are not toys to be played with or things to be used to attract people to us, or even to God, but rather they are tools to be used.

If you like, we would find these not in a toy box but in a toolshed. And God gives these to his church in order that, when they’re exercised as he intends, the body of Christ might be built up. And so the gifts are only able to promote that kind of harmony, that kind of well-being, when they are exercised in a spirit of genuine humility. Which, you understand the progression of his thought: “I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but … think of yourself with sober judgment.”[6] He wants to settle this issue of the primacy of humility before he then goes on to speak about the importance of the gifts. Because if we get the cart before the horse, then the gifts may actually be chaos, and that is exactly what he has to deal with in part in 1 Corinthians 12. Because you don’t just give power tools to children; you don’t just give them chain saws to run around with. You don’t give them big electronic drills and things that plug into the wall—not unless you want absolute mayhem. It has to be under control, under the auspices of sanity, and so on.

And so, that’s what you find when you come to these lists. This list, you will notice, distinguishes between speaking gifts and serving gifts. This is not unusual. You’ll find the same in 1 Peter 4, where he uses the very phraseology, “If a man’s gift is speaking, let him speak as the oracles of God. If it is serving, let him serve in that way.”[7] And you will notice that there are these gifts in the beginning here that are identified in this way.

There is some question—I can just mention it to you, but I’m not going to pause on it—but if you look at verse 7, it says, “If it is serving, let him serve”—no, “If it is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith”—then verse 7, “If it is serving, let him serve.” In the King James Version, that is translated, “If it is ministry, then let him minister.”[8] And there is a significant argument in favor of that referencing not a serving gift but actually a speaking gift. So that it would be, “If it is the ministry of the Word, then let’s make sure that he ministers the Word.” You say, “Well, that seems a little strange.” Does it? Did you notice that in both the paraphrases, that’s exactly how they paraphrase that. They didn’t paraphrase it in terms of a serving gift, they paraphrased it in terms of a teaching gift—presumably, largely influenced by the King James and by their own study. I don’t happen to concur with the view, but who am I? And you’re sensible people and you can figure it out.

Well, let’s just go through them. First of all, prophesying—prophesying. When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he says that the church is built on the very foundation of the apostles and of the prophets.[9] And in Ephesians 4, when he lists the gifts that are given by the ascended Christ to the church, it says that “he ascended [up] on high … and [he] gave gifts to men” and “he … gave … some to be prophets, some to be evangelists … some to be pastors and teachers.”[10]

Now, this prophesying gift is hard to come to terms with. It’s hard to come to terms with because it’s difficult to know, actually, what it was understood to be, even in apostolic times. Because there is clearly a distinction between the gift that attaches to the apostles, which is to be believed and to be obeyed, and the gift that is given to a subsidiary role of prophet, which is to be tested and assessed.  The gift that is given to the apostle is universal in its application; the gift that is given to the prophet tends to be localized in its application.  And not only do genuine and sincere Christians differ about their understanding of what this meant in Paul’s day, but they also differ as to what it means today.

So what can we say without getting ourselves tied up in knots? This prophesying has to do not simply with speaking about God but has to do with speaking from God—from God. And that is why the gift of prophesying was to be considered and to be tested.

Let me cross-reference it for you, so that you’re not just shooting in the dark: 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is referencing the same area, and he says in 1 Corinthians 14, “Two or three prophets should speak, and … others should weigh carefully what is said.”[11] So, in that context, the revelation that is being given is a revelation which always has to be tested; it has to be weighed. And if we were to allow for such revelations, for such words of prophecy, to be expressed today, then it would be for them to be tested and to be weighed in the same manner. And the direction that is given here to the one who exercises the prophetic gift—“If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith”—I think that the translation ought to be “in proportion to the faith.” And if you have the NIV and you’ll note the footnote down at the bottom of your page on the right-hand side, there’s a little b there in verse 6—you will notice that—“If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his”—and that’s where the b is, “his faith”—or, it says, “let him use it in agreement with the faith”—“in agreement with the faith.” In other words, neither then nor now is anybody able to advance something as coming from God, as being revelatory, unless that is clearly to be seen and found in agreement with “the faith … once delivered [to] the saints.”[12] And so that subsidiary role of prophesying needs to be understood in that way.

We then go to verse 7 and “serving.” And as I’ve already said to you, I think that this has to do with diaconal ministry. It has to do with the ministry of the deacons, the serving ministry. And so he makes the same statement, doesn’t he? “If it is serving, let him serve.” In other words, don’t neglect the responsibility, don’t miss out on the privilege.

In our heart of hearts, when we engage the gift that God has given us, it is a gift; therefore, we take it as a gift and we simply serve.

At the same time, the very straightforward way in which he states all of these, each of them seems to contain an inherent warning. And the warning is simply, “If you’re going to serve, just serve.” You know, don’t go around blowing a trumpet, telling everybody you serve.[13] Just serve. And if you’re going to serve, just serve. Don’t use it as a means to an end; don’t serve to feel better about yourself; don’t serve so that people will say, “Oh, I noticed she was serving!” People may say what they choose; you’re not responsible for their reactions. It’s perfectly legitimate for them to respond with gratitude to acts of service, but in our heart of hearts, when we engage the gift that God has given us, it is a gift; therefore, we take it as a gift and we simply serve. 

If you think in terms of the responsibility of serving in that diaconal way—which is just an adjective from deacon—then 1 Timothy 3:[12–]13 I think actually has something to say to us: “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well,” and then, concerning their responsibility of serving in that way—verse 13— “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” If you’re going to serve, serve. Serve well, and don’t be a Pharisee. Remember Jesus said, “They do this, they give their alms, because they like to be seen by men. They already have their reward.”[14]

Thirdly, teaching—teaching. “If it is teaching, let him teach.” Here we go again, the same thing. The purpose of the teacher—why do we have teachers? So that we can learn. So the purpose of the teacher is to ensure that people learn. If God gives to you a teaching gift, the exercise of that gift is to result in the learning taking place in those under your tutelage. The gift of teaching is not given so that the teacher could enjoy teaching, or because the teacher feels fulfilled in teaching, or so that people will say what a good teacher you are. You’ll know you’re a teacher because you want people to learn ; that’s how you know you’re a teacher. If you’re a teacher because your husband only makes x and you need y in order to go on vacations, you’re a teacher in name only. Frankly, you oughta quit, in my humble estimation, because you don’t really have a teacher’s heart. A teacher wants people to learn, not so that they will say, “You’re marvelous,” not because it makes the teacher feel good when he does it, but because people learn.

In the same way, encouraging or exhorting—number four. “If it is encouraging, let him encourage.” Or in some translations, “If it is exhorting, let him exhort.” And these two—teaching and exhorting—tend to go hand in hand in the role of a pastor and teacher. The gift of exhorting or encouraging is, I think, here the gift of being able to press home the implications of the teaching and to urge upon people the necessity of responding to the teaching. Teaching is directed to our minds, to our understanding, and exhorting or encouraging is addressed to our emotions, is addressed to our hearts, is addressed to our wills.  

Teaching provides the information, and exhortation says, “Let’s do something with the information.” Teaching, if you like, may lay out the map: “The distance from here to the Green campus is some forty miles. You go down 271, and then you get on 8, and then you get off at 70-something, and then you get off at Arlington Road, and then…” and you go. So I can tell you all of that, I can lay it out for you, I can put it up on the screen, and I can teach you how to go to the Green campus: “Here you are; I’m going to ask you to memorize this. We go down here, and we go. I’ve taught it all to you.” I say, “Good night. Thank you.”

No. I’m going to say, “Let’s go to Green! Let’s go! Now you know where it is. Let’s go there!” That’s exhorting; that’s encouraging. Teaching is simply “This is how you get to Green; have a great afternoon.” Exhorting says, “Let’s go to Green! You know where it is now. Let’s go!”

So when you think in terms of the teaching of the Bible, the preaching of the Bible, some people are actually pretty good at teaching. They can teach. They can give you the information. But they don’t necessarily have this particular gift of being able to exhort and to encourage and to drive home the implications. The late John Murray, when he was asked about the difference between a lecture and actually preaching, said the difference was that in preaching there was a personal, passionate plea, and that that plea involved saying, “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, be reconciled to God.”[15]

The teacher might say that “God has come into the world to reconcile sinners. He has achieved this by his death upon the cross, and I thought you might like to know that. Have a great afternoon.” Faithful teaching. Faithful teaching! But it misses the exhorting: “I beseech you, by the mercies of Christ, now you, receive God’s reconciliation!”

“So,” says Paul, “if that has been given to you, make sure that you exercise it, again, in order to see lives changed, not to gain influence or notoriety.” Because you see how easy it is for us to turn the good gifts that God has given us into things to set forward our own agenda or to make ourselves feel good or to make ourselves look good. So God gives you a gift to be able to exhort and encourage people in that way; you may abuse it by simply enjoying the fact that it exists and is apparently effective or because you’ve managed to gain influence.

“Contributing to the needs of others.” Giving. If you’re going to give, “give generously.” Again, the same point as ad nauseam now, but giving in churches, from my experience—not my experience at Parkside, I hasten to add—but giving, in my experience in other churches—and I mean that in all sincerity; I’m not trying to just pat ourselves on the back—but it is not unusual for me to go to churches and find out that there are people who give in these churches, and everybody knows who they are, and everybody is in awe of them. Because by their giving they have gained influence, and by their giving they enjoy praise.

Now, whether their motive in giving is to gain influence or enjoy praise, I don’t know. But when we give, the danger is always there, is it not? I mean, I think genuine philanthropy builds a building at a Cleveland Clinic without your name on it. Go ahead and do it. Go ahead! Call it the “No-Name Building.”  Have everyone in Cleveland drive past it and say, “I wonder who gave that money for that.” But it doesn’t happen, does it? No! ’Cause we have to have our name up there. Paul is saying, “We don’t want to do that. The gift came from God, the gift has been given for the well-being of the people.” Do not give, don’t contribute to the needs of others, with ulterior motives. Don’t fall foul of Acts chapter 5—Ananias and Sapphira, remember?

Sixthly, leadership. “If it is leadership, then govern diligently”—“govern diligently.” Paul has a lot to say about the nature of leadership in all of his epistles, not least of all in his pastoral epistles. And when he writes in 1 and 2 Timothy, he gives all kinds of instructions in relationship to leadership. And in 1 Timothy 5:17, he says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” When he writes to the Thessalonians, he writes as follows, 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. [And] live in peace with each other.”

Here is something that we need to know and need to know clearly: leading is serving. Leading is serving. I mean, let’s say we go through to the Commons this evening, and something has happened, and all the tables are turned upside down and coffee has been spilled everywhere. And we all walk through, and we find the circumstance. It won’t take very long before a leader emerges. Someone’ll say, “Come on, let’s pick this stuff up.” And other people standing around will say, “Oh yes!” So the person serves by leading. Leading involves serving.

If you’re a leader, you know that every so often you say to yourself, “I wish somebody else was the leader; I wish somebody else could talk for a while.” Now, it may be that the people in the car are going, “We wish somebody else could talk for a while as well. Maybe we can get the two things together and make some progress.” But the fact is, we understand that to be the case. Someone has to step up and take a lead. Somebody has to give direction. And, says Paul, if you’re going to lead, don’t lead for notice, don’t lead for reward, but lead in order that the people of God may be united, may be harmonious, and may end up where God intends for them to be. And if you’re going to lead, do it diligently. Don’t be a slacker. Don’t be a complainer. See the job through right to the end. Go where you’re sent, stay where you’re put, do what you can.

And finally, seventhly, “showing mercy.” “If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Now, those of you who are involved in acts of mercy—and I know some of you are, and some of you have been, not least of all with elderly members of your family… And I honor you for what I know of you and what you do. Because what you do in the care of those people, in exercising mercy, is hard if you only had to do it one day, but when you have to do it every day and sustain it, the great danger, I think, is that you become embittered, grudging, and you do it in a perfunctory fashion. Because I don’t think it’s easy to do those things, to show mercy. And it is a mark of Paul’s pastoral insight that he should use “cheerfully” as his adverb. Cheerfully! Of all the things that he puts his finger on, cheerfully! “Oh, do I have to do it cheerfully? Can’t I just do it grudgingly? I mean, don’t I get points for just doing it? Do I have to do it cheerfully?”

Listen to Calvin, and we’ll use this as a close. Calvin says, “For as nothing gives more solace to the sick or to any one otherwise distressed, than to see men cheerful and prompt in assisting them; so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given, makes them to feel themselves despised.”[16] Do you get that? To observe sadness in the countenance of the caregiver is to make the one cared for to feel despised.

You see how intensely practical and how wonderfully relevant this is? Who can make you cheerful in these circumstances? Who or what? The grace of God. Who can make us diligent in the exercise of leadership? The grace of God. Who can safeguard us against the tyrannies that attach themselves to the exercise of gifts in a way that draws attention to us rather than to God? Only the grace of God. And in all of this, disposition of heart is crucial. Attitude is crucial. So the adverbs are important: “generously,” “diligently,” “cheerfully.”

Gifts are gifts. The source is God; therefore, no boasting. Gifts are for the benefit of the body; that’s the purpose. Therefore, they’re to be exercised to achieve that objective, not our own selfish agenda. Gifts are various; therefore, we need the diversity that God provides so that we might become all that he intends.

If we learn to see ourselves in this way, if we learn to live in this kind of harmony with one another, if Parkside begins to be framed by grace, whether down in Green or up here in Bainbridge, then I think God, who wants to make sure that he gives new children into safe families, may actually begin to answer our prayers to see unbelieving people becoming the committed followers of Jesus Christ. Because he can’t just save them and put them anywhere. He is looking for good homes in which to place his adopted children. And when grace shapes Parkside, then perhaps we will see something of the influx for which we gathered in prayer on Friday night, and for which some prayed this evening, and for which we will pray on Saturday morning, and so on. I trust that that will be so; I trust it will.

Father, we thank you that the Bible cuts to the quick of our everyday living, exposes the impure motives of our hearts, confronts us with the fact that we’re so devious that we can take even your good and best gifts and turn them into sinful projects for ourselves. Lord, forgive us and help us. Come and meet with us as a church family, in the silent places of our own hearts, so that we might keep short accounts with sin in our interpersonal relationships with one another, in our dealings as a church. Thank you for all the many, many gifts and graces that you have showered upon us. Help us to acknowledge always their source, their purpose, and their objective. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Colossians 2:19 (paraphrased).

[2] See 3 John 9.

[3] Isaac Watts, “How Pleased and Blest Was I” (1719).

[4] Psalm 122:1 (NIV 1984).

[5] Watts, “How Pleased and Blest.”

[6] Romans 12:3 (NIV 1984).

[7] 1 Peter 4:11 (paraphrased).

[8] Romans 12:7 (paraphrased).

[9] See Ephesians 2:19–20.

[10] Ephesians 4:8, 11 (NIV 1984).

[11] 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NIV 1984).

[12] Jude 3 (KJV).

[13] See Matthew 6:2.

[14] Matthew 6:1–2 (paraphrased).

[15] 2 Corinthians 5:20 (paraphrased).

[16] John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 12:8.

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.