Thursday, February 21, 2013

True Worship according to Paul in Romans 12:1

How many people when they think of Christianity think that being a Christian is a matter of sitting in church on Sunday, singing a few hymns, and putting money in the offering bag? Is that all there is to Christianity?

Christianity is not about sitting in church. It is about transformation! Paul understood that God’s plan of salvation, which encompasses Jews as well as Gentiles, has implications for how we live. Being a Christian involves following God’s way of life.

Paul writes in Rom 12:1 about this transformed way of life in Christ in terms of believers presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God. In ancient Israel, worship at the temple involved bringing sacrifices to God. These were offered up as symbols of a person’s dedication to God. These sacrifices usually consisted of animals that were dedicated to God by being killed. In being killed, they were being removed from ordinary human use, and handed over to God for his use. Paul indicates that Christians should view themselves as sacrifices, but we are called to be a living sacrifice, not a dead sacrifice. The idea here is not that we serve God by literally dying for him like an Old Testament sacrifice, but that we serve God as we live in our bodies in the here and now. Every day of our life is supposed to be dedicated to God.

Paul describes the kind of sacrifice that we are to be in terms of being holy and pleasing to God. The concept of holiness in Greek has connotations of that which inspires religious awe or fear, or that which is fitting or appropriate in a sacred context. But underlying this Greek word is the use of the word קדוש in the Hebrew Bible. קדוש expresses the idea of separation from common use in order to be consecrated to God. Being holy means that we are to give ourselves over to God for his service. Being a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God means that we are to be dedicated in our service to God in a way that is appropriate in terms of what God desires.

Paul says that dedicating ourselves as a living sacrifice constitutes our spiritual worship. The word translated as spiritual in the NIV usually means rational or reasonable. The word translated as worship means service, and has connotations of the service that the Levitical priests offered to God in the tabernacle/temple. What then is this rational worship? It involves using our thoughts and minds to direct our bodies in the service of God. Paul speaks about the need for a mind-transformation in Rom 12:2, so he probably wants us to understand that being a living sacrifice for God as we engage our minds for him in our daily lives is the kind of worship that we are to show. This service is mind-full, always mindful of God and what pleases him. This is the kind of worship that God desires, and it contrasts with the physical worship of God that took place in the temple in Jerusalem. For Paul, therefore, Christian worship is basically a new way of life based on a new way of thinking.

The motivation for us in offering ourselves in this kind of worship is particularly God’s compassion that has been shown to us in his plan of salvation. All human beings (apart from Christ) have sinned, but God has chosen to be compassionate. The meaning of the word translated as mercy in the NIV indicates that God has identified with our pain or grief. As the word compassion implies, God has felt our feelings. God has felt our passions of pain or grief, and has been moved to do something to help us. Seeing us tormented on the pathway of death, God sent Jesus into the world to rescue us; and a key part of that rescue involves us being set upon the way of life, no longer serving sin but serving God instead. God does not have to save anyone, but he has! And in response to his mercy, it behooves his people to respond to his compassion by offering themselves in grateful service to him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Giving God the First Part of Our Income

One of the characteristics of a wise person, according to Solomon in Prov 3:9, is prioritizing the use of one’s resources for God: “Honor Yahweh from your wealth, from the first part of all your produce.”

The question for Christians in the light of this is: how often do we have God at number one on our shopping list? Most of us spend money firstly on the things that we need to spend money on; and if we have any money left over, then this is either used on purchasing discretionary items or saved. If you have a family, there is always the weekly shopping to do. Then there is the phone bill, the broadband bill, the electricity bill, the water bill, and petrol for the car. If you do not have a family or are still living at home, then you tend to spend your money on yourself … what clothes you might like or the latest gadget you want to buy. Some of us may currently be saving up money in the hope of buying a house one day, or maybe your eye is on going overseas for a holiday. The problem is that we plan all of our own expenditure before being concerned about how we can promote God’s work in the world. We spend money during the week, and sometimes it is only when Sunday arrives that we think about giving a little bit back to God.

But Solomon says the first part of our produce or income should be given over to God. The teaching in this verse reflects the laws of Exod 23:19; 34:26; Num 18:12; Deut 18:4, which state that “the first part of the firstfruits of the ground” should be brought to the Lord in the temple. How many of us when we receive a pay cheque, or when our wages are paid into our account, think straight away about we can use some of that money for God and his purposes? If you were suddenly to receive a cheque for $100,000, what thought would come to your mind? Great, now I can pay off my mortgage faster! Or great, now I can go overseas on holiday for three months! Or great, now I can buy a new car, and still have some left over! Instead, the proper response should be something like: Wow, God has given me these tremendous financial resources; how can I use some of this for him by promoting the work of his church or through caring for those in need? What we immediately think in our heads as we receive the money in our hands shows up our priorities. The wise person has contributing to God’s work as a priority. God should be first on our list of expenditure.

When giving to the church or to Christian causes, we should not think that this is lost money. Obviously to give to the church to the point that we cannot provide for ourselves or our family is not correct, but having said that God actually tells us that having his expenditure at the top of our list is the way to wealth. Proverbs 3:10 teaches that the generosity that we show towards God is multiplied back to us as God generously responds. Storehouses filled with abundance, wine vats bursting with new wine … all of this is a picture of God’s blessing (both physical and spiritual) upon those who generously contribute to God’s plan for the extension of his kingdom in the world.