October 11, 2010 David Balzer

Romans 12:1-17: An “Alive And Kicking” Sacrifice

In 2000, Dr Matthew Lukwiya* was an African Christian running a large hospital called St Mary’s, near his home town in northern Uganda.

 

He offered his body as a living sacrifice to his God. He was devoted to serving his own people with every breath. And, in the end, he LOST his life because he offered it as a living sacrifice.

 

He’d grown up poor. But right through school, he was always top of the class. After winning a series of scholarships, he went to Uni, and eventually graduated from medical school*. He started work as an intern at St Mary’s hospital in 1983.

 

When he left to do post-graduate work in England in 1990/ most of the hospital assumed he wouldn’t come back. The lure of a better life abroad causes tens of thousands of African professionals to leave, and never come back. But Dr Matthew never considered it.

 

He went straight back to Uganda. Straight back to St Mary’s hospital*. And he was there until 1998. Running the hospital, serving his people.

 

From 1998, for the next two years, he was away doing more post-graduate study. Until the morning of October 7, 2000.

 

He got a call from another doctor back at St Mary’s. “There’s a strange disease killing our student nurses.” It had everyone stumped. They’d never seen anything like it. The usual antibiotics did nothing. A victim began bleeding from the mouth just as she died. “We need you,” the doctor pleaded.

 

Dr Matthew left straight away. And arrived at St Mary’s that evening. Just in time to witness the death of a young nursing student.

 

Dr Matthew hadn’t seen anything like it EITHER. But he suspected Ebola virus. And blood tests later confirmed it.

 

It was highly contagious. And deadly.

 

A week later, there were 60 suspected cases at St Mary’s. All in an isolation ward*. The health workers who cared for them wore protective gear, including gloves, masks, and goggles.

 

Droplets of saliva or blood landing in the eyes, nose or mouth are the most likely sources of infection.*

 

But despite the precautions, more people still got sick. Twelve workers died*. Nurses became more and more reluctant to come to work.

 

But Dr Matthew led by example. He was in the Ebola ward every morning at 7 am, and he finished up about 8 at night.

 

“Think with your head, not with your heart!” he shouted at one nurse in late October. She’d rushed to clean up after a patient who’d vomited on the floor. He made her pour bleach all around the patient before she went near.*

 

By late November, the situation was at its worst. In one 24 hour period, 7 people died at St Mary’s.*

 

Like most of the workers, Dr Matthew didn’t always wear eye protection. And it was this lapse that probably cost him his life. About this time, he came down with a terrible flu. Then a fever. Everyone suspected Ebola.

 

A nurse overheard him praying that night. “Oh God, I think I will die in my service. If I die, let me be the last.” Then, in a strong voice, he sang “Onward Christian Soldiers!”

 

The blood tests proved it was Ebola. His condition quickly got worse. On the night of December 4, his lungs haemorrhaged, and the doctors couldn’t do anymore. He died at 1.20 am on December 5.*

 

A man who’d offered himself as a living sacrifice, and paid for it with his life.

 

Romans 12 v1 says,

(Rom 12:1 NIV)  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.

 

Am I being unrealistic to suggest we follow Dr Matthew’s example? Is that just too FANATICAL? Too EXTREME? Perhaps you’re thinking? “You’ve finally lost it, David! God doesn’t really expect THAT sort of living sacrifice. He’s just talking about living a good sort of life. Being nice to people. Considerate.”

 

Fair enough! Certainly that’s the way MOST Christians go through life. Including me!

 

But to give your life?! It’s a fairly huge gesture, isn’t it?

 

But the problem is/ we’re comparing it to our grey, fairly boring kind of lives. And that’s the wrong comparison to make. We’re not to compare our lives to each other to see who’s doing the most, or the biggest, or the most sacrificial.

 

Paul says “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES…”

 

If we want to compare our service to ANYTHING/ it should be to THE MERCIES OF GOD. Which Paul’s just spent 11 chapters telling us about. It’s because of what God’s done for us in Jesus/ that we’re to RESPOND by offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Anything we do is to be compared to the depths of the mercy God’s shown. And when we think of it like that/ even Doctor Matthew’s life becomes a pretty small token of appreciation.

 

IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. That’s the measuring stick we’re to use.

 

The start of Ch 12 is really a hinge in the book. After 11 chapters of telling us what GOD’S done. He’s now going to focus on what WE can do IN RESPONSE.

 

And there’s three areas we’re going to look at today. Three areas in which we respond to God’s goodness. To God, to SELF, and to OTHERS.

 

1. In relation to God (1-2)… Being a living sacrifice

First. How do we treat GOD in response to his mercies? We’ve just read it. V1. By being a living sacrifice. Paul uses the language of the temple. The sort of thing his hearers would be familiar with.

 

The way to respond to God/ is TO OFFER SACRIFICES. But Paul’s not interested in lumps of meat. You don’t get God on your side with some sort of spiritual bonfire.

 

God’s interested in you offering YOUR OWN BODIES. Offering them as LIVING SACRIFICES. Sacrifices that are “alive and kicking”.

 

Let me say four things about that.

 

1. Just like a normal sacrifice, God wants our living sacrifices to be HOLY and PLEASING.

 

But it’s a WHOLE LIFE that’s to be holy and special – not just a cup or an altar or a spotless lamb. A WHOLE LIFE that’s pleasing – not just the way the meat’s cut up, or the smoke from some temple-incense.

 

2. And THAT sort of sacrifice HAS to be more than set times and set places. It’s LIVING. That’s EVERYWHERE.

 

LIFE is everywhere, All the time. No clocking off “work”, then clocking on “church”. No swapping personalities in the car as you go from home to Bible study.

 

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, open all hours, life-sacrifice!

 

3. And it’s your BODIES. Not just your mind. A Christian sacrifice is more than just some sort of spiritual meditation. That takes you OUT of the world. Makes you pure and distant from all the mess of the REST of life. It IS life. It’s messy, and complicated. And hard work. And where mistakes are made.

 

It’s bodies. And that means sacrificing your HANDS AND FEET. Your MOUTHS. And EYES. And WALLETS. And CARS. And HOMES. And HOLIDAYS. And FREE-TIME.

 

4. But notice that it’s all to be done IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES? If the things you do AREN’T done in response to God’s goodness – they’re not service for God.

 

Lots of people do lots of good things for lots of reasons.

 

But our lives are to be IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. So make sure you don’t offer your bodies as living sacrifices in view of A PROMOTION, or in view of WHO’S WATCHING, or in view of EARNING BROWNIE POINTS WITH GOD.

 

IF WHAT-YOU-DO ISN’T AIMED AT SAYING THANKS TO GOD, IT’S NOT SERVICE TO GOD.

 

But the flip side of that/ is that, as long as you’re saying thanks to God/ almost ANYTHING can be service to God. Setting up chairs. Mowing lawns. Washing dishes. Delivering papers. Changing nappies. If it’s done IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES, it’s a true act of service. Of WORSHIP.

 

Perhaps all of this sounds DISCOURAGING. Much harder to do than just burning a candle, or chanting a prayer.

 

“Dave, you’ve just raised the bar so much higher! I didn’t feel like I could please God BEFORE! Now, there’s NO WAY I can measure up to that sort of standard!”

 

You’re right! We can’t measure up! That’s why we do things in view of God’s MERCIES. All of this is only worth something if it’s offered IN RESPONSE to God’s free gift of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s only because God accepts Jesus’ sacrifice that he even takes a second look at OURS.

 

And it’s BECAUSE of Jesus’ sacrifice that God reckons OURS is GREAT!

 

2. In relation to Self (3-8)… Being a part of the body

So what sorts of things are we talking about? Let’s get specific! Verse 3 and following helps fill in the picture. It’s Paul’s SECOND point. We respond to God’s mercies in relation to SELF. By being a PART of the body. Look at v3.

(Rom 12:3 NIV)  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: DO NOT THINK OF YOURSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT, but rather THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGMENT, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

 

To be any use as a living sacrifice, you need to have the right understanding of who you are. To THINK RIGHTLY ABOUT YOURSELF.

 

Don’t think too highly of yourself.

 

It’s GOD who gives you gifts, and the faith to use them. So don’t be PROUD. Be GRATEFUL. You can’t be proud of GIFTS. Because you can’t EARN gifts.

 

And you’re not the ONLY ONE with gifts. Verses 4-5. EVERYONE’S got them. And you need others, just like they need you. In that sense, there’s nothing more special about you than anyone else in God’s family.

 

Just like in the human body. Each organ has a different job. The kidneys filter. The heart pumps. The eyes see. What job they do makes them what they are.

 

If he could talk to each of these organs, Paul would say, “Think of yourself with sober judgement according to what job you’ve got. It’s your filtering that makes you a kidney. You’re pumping that makes you a heart.” And so on.

 

And when it comes to the people of God, he says, “Many people form one body because each person is connected to Christ. And that means each of you belongs to everyone else.

 

Part of thinking clearly about yourself is recognising YOU BELONG TO OTHERS. And they belong to you. Others NEED you. And you NEED others.

 

We all NEED other people/ to USE THEIR GIFTS for our benefit. That’s what vv6-8 say.

(Rom 12:6-8 NIV)  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. {7} If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; {8} if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

 

Let me say five things from these verses.

 

1. Firstly, you have GIFTS. What you have, and who you are, come from God. It’s not your own doing. So don’t be proud. Be grateful.

 

Think clearly about yourself.

 

2. Secondly, we all have DIFFERENT gifts. No one has YOUR combination of gifts. There’s a job that’s JUST RIGHT for you. And YOU’RE THE ONE God’s got lined up to do it.

 

Our gifts COMPLEMENT each other. God has spread everything around so ever task is covered. No one is excess baggage – superfluous – sitting there with nothing to offer.

 

3. Thirdly, if God’s divided up the gifts to each part, then you’ve got a responsibility to DO YOUR BIT. You’re only a TRUE part if you use your gifts. Otherwise you’re A LEECH. Not contributing, but just enjoying the benefits.

 

Sitting back and expecting others to influence and encourage you means EVERYONE misses out.

 

Do your bit. That’s Paul’s message as he lists some of the jobs. If your gift is prophecy – then prophesy! If it’s serving – serve! Teaching – then teach! If it’s encouraging – then encourage!

 

That’s some SPEAKING gifts. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s all sorts of ACTIONS as well. If it’s contributing to the needs of others – then do it generously. If it’s leading – then don’t be slack. If it’s showing mercy – don’t be a martyr. Do it cheerfully!

 

4. And a fourth point. Do your bit by using YOUR gifts. Don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re not a Kid’s Church teacher, don’t do it just because no one else will do it. If you can’t sing a note, don’t lead the singing. If you’re too busy at the moment at work to make the meetings, don’t volunteer for management committee this year.

 

Use YOUR gifts. It would be silly for an EYE to try pumping blood, or an EAR to smell. (Though I HAVE heard of feet smelling, and noses running. But that’s ANOTHER story.)

 

And the flip side of that is/ don’t NEGLECT what you have. Don’t give up offering hospitality because no one returns the favour. Don’t rest on your laurels because you’ve been doing the job for five years, and now you think you’ve deserved some “me-time”!

 

The whole body is built up as you use your gifts. And that includes YOU. When you’re doing your part YOU’RE built up too. YOU miss out when you don’t use your gifts.

 

5. And a final point. Notice that we’re to have the right ATTITUDE. Don’t do your part RESENTFULLY or BITTERLY, or out of PRIDE.

 

It’s only service to God, in view of his mercies, when it’s done with the right attitude.

 

Contributing GENEROUSLY, or governing DILIGENTLY. Showing mercy CHEERFULLY.

 

Think of yourself with sober judgement. You’re part of the whole body. Do your bit!

 

3. In relation to others (9-16)… Being the body

Paul’s third point/ from v9/ is that we respond to God’s mercies in relation to OTHERS. Being the BODY.

 

It’s not just to do with yourself. In a sense, that’s what Paul’s been talking about in the last section. But here, he expands on the way the whole group of God’s people are to act.

 

If you like, Paul paints a picture of what the perfect group looks like. And his big point is LOVE’S the key. No matter how many gifts everyone’s got, they’re nothing without love.

 

Not love in the sense of emotions. But love in terms of A CONSCIOUS DECISION. Selfless, service, putting others before self. An act of the will. THIS is the love we’re to have for each other.

 

Love’s the key!

 

In fact, we could almost make “love” the subject of this section. Love is … Love is… . Listen to how this sounds. And ask yourself the question – does this describe ME? Does this describe US?

 

Love is sincere. It’s not phony or fake.

Love hates evil. And sticks like glue to good.

Love is affectionate towards everyone with brotherly love. It makes everyone brothers and sisters. And offers a wonderful cure for those of us who are lonely – single OR married.

 

Love honours others more and more. Puts them first. Gives them the benefit of the doubt.

 

Love sticks at a job without being lazy.

Love comes from being on fire in the Spirit, and love is motivated by slaving for the Lord.

 

Love rejoices, patiently and faithfully and prayerfully hoping for the future. Whatever goes on around it.

 

Love chips in to meet the needs of God’s people.

Love goes looking for strangers to be hospitable to.

Love blesses, rather than curses, its persecutors.

And, when it comes to God’s people, love cheers with people who are cheering.

And instead of trying to cheer up the mourning, love has a good cry, too.

 

Love bends over backwards to live in harmony with others.

It doesn’t presume that it KNOWS better than everyone else, or DESERVES better than everyone else.

 

Love hangs out with the unlovely, and the unlovable.

 

This is the way we’re to do our bit. To use our gifts. This is the way we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. In response to God’s mercies.

 

It was THIS SORT of LOVE Doctor Matthew showed. He gave his life so that others might live. Remember his prayer – “If I die, let me be the last!”

 

God answered his prayer. Among the health-care workers who fought Ebola at St Mary’s, he WAS the last to die.

 

But even though our lives might never measure up to the standard of HIS sacrifice. God calls us to love like he does. To love/ because he first loved us. To love IN RESPONSE to his love.

 

And no act of love can compare to that of God/ in sending his Son, Jesus.

(Rom 5:5-8 NIV)  God has poured out HIS LOVE into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. {6} You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. …{8} God demonstrates his own LOVE for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

(Rom 8:35-39 NIV)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …{37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him WHO LOVED US. {38} For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from THE LOVE OF GOD that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

How do we respond?

(Rom 12:1 NIV)  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.

 

Let’s pray.

 

 

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