KEEP THAT LIGHT SHINING
Dear friends in Christ,
In our church body training to be a pastor includes a vicar year. People probably don’t understand that word. It is an intern year. Three years are spent at the Seminary learning at the feet of some pretty gifted professors and one is spent in a parish. The faculty used to say that students went to the vicar year as boys but returned as men. There was a lot of learning that took place.
I spent it in a large congregation that had two pastors. One of the pastors was a well-respected man who had been in the congregation for thirty years. He actually grew up in the congregation. He had been a co-pastor with his father for a couple of years. Between he and his father the years their family was associated with the pastorate in that congregation was seventy years. My supervising pastor was a real gentleman. He was connected all around the city. He was very gifted at the hospital bed. The older people wanted him to do their funerals because they had known him and his family for such a long time.
The other pastor was only five years older than I was. He was a good teacher and preacher. He was clever with words and had a way of explaining complicated things so they made sense. What I loved to do was to sit in an office and listen to gems of wisdom that came from them. One of the things that really stuck with me over the years was when they agreed that there would be times when the sermons a pastor wrote all sounded alike. Ultimately, as a pastor is not called to preach a sermon on how to balance a checkbook or talk politics. The apostle Paul said that it was his purpose to preach “Christ and him crucified.” The objective that pastors have is that if you die between now and next Sunday, we want you to be confident that you are going to heaven because of Jesus. When you come next week, we want you to hear it again. As Luther said to hear about grace is like a good song; you can hear it over and over again and never get tired of hearing it. Because of that grace you heard last week the theme, “Let Jesus’ Light Shine through You.” This week is not much different - “Keep Letting Your Light Shine.”
One of the reasons the sermon themes sound the same is because we are in the same chapter of Romans as last week and the week before. In the verses just previous to these (verses one through five), the apostle instructs God’s people not to think of themselves more highly than ought. He calls for humility by saying how that can be done: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Through the Holy Spirit God distributes gifts to serve each other. Don’t deny having any gifts and don’t be lazy and selfish in not using them for another person’s good.
Seven gifts are listed. Don’t think that these are an exhaustive list of gifts. The point Paul is making is that once the gifts are recognized, humility will move God’s people to use them for other people’s good. And understand another point here. These gifts are not just for church workers. We are all church workers. We all become that when God called us to faith. These are not for “pastors only.”
Let’s look briefly at these gifts that are listed. “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith.” We use that word to mean “to foretell the future.” A biblical scholar that I have great respect for says that the word “prophesy” means to “declare the will of God.” That can apply to the past and the future. So it means to “make the will of God known.” That is being done when pastors preach and teachers teach and when parents instruct their children.
There is another interesting and meaningful thought this verse provides. Paul says that anyone who has the gift of “making the will of God known” should “prophesy in accordance with your faith.” While the translation here uses “your faith,” the original says in accordance with “the faith.” There is a difference in meaning that is rather meaningful. If this verse is translated that people need to use the gift of prophesy in accordance with “your faith,” the person will use it depending on whether his/her faith is mature or new. Someone who is mature can make God’s will known more boldly and authoritatively because he or she is more knowledgeable about the Bible than others. Someone new to the faith should consider more deliberately and cautiously.
When it says that people should prophesy in accordance with THE faith, when he claims he is declaring the will of God should always be compared to the faith, the true Christian faith, as it is revealed in the Bible. What a person believes should always agree with and compare favorable to the revealed will of God in the Holy Scripture.
There are many hucksters out there claiming that God speaks to them and through them – prophesies - in dreams and visions. Those dreams and visions need always to be compared to the Scriptures on which the Christian faith is founded.
“If it is serving, then serve.” I do believe this is a gift that is very common but extremely important. It is not hard to understand what it means. It requires humility. It means working with God’s church in a supportive role, very often in a “behind the scenes” manner. Serving is helping with the menial and special areas where help is needed.
“If it is teaching, then teach.” This means to be able to explain the Word of God in a way that others can understand it. This is a gift that matures as we practice it. People get better at it the more they do it. It comes from watching others and it comes from learning the Scripture more and more. It comes from a heart that knows the love of Christ and wants to pass that love along.
“If it is to encourage, then give encouragement.” The Greek word means “to stand along side someone.” People have the gift of giving good advice and counsel. Patience is required.
“If it is giving, then give generously.” This is sharing one’s possessions with others in an extra generous way. It is not necessarily a gift given to the wealthy. While the wealthy might be in a position to give, this gift comes from a generous and compassionate heart. A widow in the Bible gave very little but she gave everything she had.
“If it is to lead, do it diligently.” The people who love to serve need someone to lead them. This is that person. Having the leadership gift is being able to stand up in front of others to inspire and motivate a group to get things done.
“If it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” This is the gift of coming to the aid of someone who has a need and doing something to help them.
Our sinful self can do one of two things with those gifts God has given. Paul warned against arrogance and purposely choosing to avoid using gifts that are there for the common good of others. When people think their time is more precious than anybody else’s, when people think that tasks that need the gifts mentioned and others should be in the hands of others, that’s sin. Or that they are somehow above the task that needs to be done, that’s sin too.
But paradoxically there is another reason why people don’t serve. We underestimate the gifts God has given, or never bother developing the gifts that can be developed. How would you feel if you gave someone a gift for Christmas, but the person never used it or wore it? How do you think God feels when he gifts people but those gifts are never used for the common good of others? Let our light shine within God’s church by using the gifts God has given.
The second division of these verses deals with letting your light shine to people inside and outside God’s church. Letting your light shine starts with love.
When someone is asked to give a definition for love, many hem and haw. Love is a huge subject. It is hard to define. Yet there is a whole chapter of the Bible on love – I Corinthians 13, a very famous chapter. In the middle of that chapter, verses four through seven, there are eight phrases that states what love is and eight phrases that state what love isn’t. Read it yourself.
From verse nine to sixteen Paul defines love. Each verse is a sermon all by itself. I will try to keep a comment short and pointed. “Love must be sincere.” The Greek word translated ‘sincere,’ literally means “not to be hypocritical.” Don’t be a phony. We often can gush and mush over things but when it comes to walking the walk, we find a park bench. Jesus didn’t just say he loves us, he proved it by dying for us. Love is not a theory, it is real.
“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” A child once asked me the question if it is okay to hate the Devil because God says he wants us to love everyone. The devil is evil; he created evil. It is okay to hate the Devil because the Devil is evil. I can also say that the Devil hates you especially when you “Cling to what is good.”
I once typed the question on Google, “What is the strongest glue known to man?” The answer I received is that it depends on the surface to which the glue is bonding. It is really all about chemical formulas. Some glues will stick to some surfaces and not others. When Paul writes “Cling to what is good,” he is saying stick like glue to that which is good. Don’t let anything break that bond with what God says is good.
From verses ten through sixteen there is a characteristic that we as blood bought people are going to strive to accomplish what God sets as perfect goals. Allow me to read these verses and think about the characteristic that we need. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. I am going to skip verse twelve and address that verse separately. “13Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” What characteristic is needed? A deep and heavy dose of humility. To be devoted to others in love requires humility. To share with those in need, to practice hospitality, to bless those who persecute us and be willing to associate with those who are living in the streets and have no home, requires a setting aside of pride. William Bradford, of Plymouth Colony fame was to have been the one who coined the phrase, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” In other words, I could have suffered misfortune too, but only because of God's mercy I have not experienced that destiny.
Christ gives us instruction so differently from the philosophy of this sinful world. It is upside down. Letting your light shine is not the Donald Trump kind of braggadocio. Light shines when humility is displayed and Christ is glorified. Light shines when humbled people understand that Jesus the light let the light of his life go out for three days to save to bring us to the everlasting glorious light of heaven.
One last thought on verse twelve of Romans twelve! Most companies and organizations these days have a mission statement by which they operate. A mission statement is a way of communicating the purpose of the organization or company. The mission statement for American Standard Corporation, the company that makes Trane Air conditioning and plumbing supplies and other things is the following, “American Standard's mission is to "Be the best in the eyes of our customers, employees and shareholders." There are many others.
Look at Romans 12: 12. It really is a wonderful mission statement for each of us, our families: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” We ask Jesus to forgive us when we fail, but ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to live those words and by those words. In doing so, the Light of Christ keeps shining through us.