Romans 12:1-8 – On Being Worshipers and Servants

Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Because of the kindness that God has shown me, I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers. Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other. God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully. (God’s Word)

China and Clay

Every person is important. Everyone is needed. Each individual is to offer their entire lives to God through worship and using their spiritual gifts. Every believer is to be active in building up others. 

When I was growing up, we had a fine China set that my parents kept in a beautiful China cabinet.  The set and the cabinet are old and were a prominent part of our house. However, we almost never used it. I can only remember once or twice that my Mom got the China out to use.

God is not looking for fine China believers who sit unused in a cabinet church. Instead, the Lord is looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. God wants ordinary table-wear that can be handled in a crash-and-bang world.

Followers of Jesus Christ are to be like a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world; and, where common plates and cups are used again and again to provide a hungry population with the Bread of Life.

Jews and Gentiles

Within the ancient Roman Church were both Jews and Gentiles – two groups vastly different from each other.  They tended to keep to themselves and only operate within their familiar and comfortable circles of friends and relatives.  But the Apostle Paul wanted them united through using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire congregation, and not only within their respective groups.

We are to give ourselves in service to one another because of God’s mercy in Christ. Since God has saved us from our guilt and shame, we are to have a grateful response of worship that is dedicated to serving everyone. 

Worship and Service

The word “worship” in today’s New Testament lesson is where we get the word “liturgy.” That is, Paul’s vision for the church was to have daily liturgical rhythms of spiritual worship, not just on Sunday when we might pull out the fine China and try to impress people.

Paul did not guilt people into serving. Rather, he straightforwardly exhorts all Christians to appropriately respond to God’s grace by offering their lives in sacrificial service as a form of gratitude to God. For this response, our mental faculties must be renewed through saturation in Scripture. It is here we discern our spiritual gifts, know what God wants us to do with those gifts, and use them effectively in the church and the world. 

Grace and Gifts

Grace is given to every believer in Jesus, not just a select few. We all have different gifts and are graced with abilities for the benefit of other, without exception. When everyone collectively exercises their spiritual gifts, then there is clarity in knowing the will of God.

All Christians must share and work together by utilizing God’s grace, instead of getting burned-out because others are not serving. Grumbling about what others are not doing begs the question of whether we are over-functioning, or not.

It could be that we have succumbed to the danger the Apostle Paul warned us about: thinking so highly of ourselves that we believe our gifts are superior to others, so we need to maintain our control and hegemony in the group. This is a terribly misguided notion. 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV

We belong to one another. Therefore, one major way of giving to God is through offering ourselves to each other with equity and without favoritism. We must not separate Christ from his church. To say that we need God, but do not need the church is to really say that we do not need God because the two are inseparable. Nowhere in Holy Scripture do we find individual Christians doing their own thing, isolated from a committed group of people, the church.

When Jesus called people to follow him in service to God and a world in need, some gave him excuses that they were busy and had other pressing matters to attend to before they could follow him. Jesus simply left them and told them they were not fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62)

When people were pre-occupied with building wealth, or gaining power, or jockeying for influence, Jesus told them to stop it, exercise some faith, and seek first the kingdom of God.  Build your treasure in heaven, Jesus said, because it will be permanent; and, not on earth where it is temporary. (Matthew 6:19-34)

Spiritual Gifts and Abilities

We are graced by God with abilities which God fully expects us to use. “Cheap grace” is merely embracing Christ as a personal Savior but not welcoming him as the Lord in whom we must sacrificially give our lives to service in the church and the world. Spiritual health and vitality cannot exist apart from every person using God’s given grace to contribute to the functioning of the Body of Christ. 

The list of spiritual gifts Paul provided is not exhaustive but represents a combination of speaking and serving gifts necessary to bless humanity. Paul exhorted the church not to restrain people’s service but let them go at using their spiritual gifts, full bore:

  • Speak what God has revealed. Prophets do not foretell the future. Rather, they have “inspired speech” from God that addresses what God’s people are to do in consideration of Scripture. 
  • Serving. Servants give themselves to all types of hands-on service. 
  • Teaching. Teachers instruct the faithful in all the revealed will of God. 
  • Encouraging others. Encouragers both speak and serve, coming alongside others and helping them to do something with both verbal coaching and tangible help. 
  • Sharing. Givers live a simple life so they can give generously and contribute to the needs of others. 
  • Leadership. Leaders get out in front and show the way in obtaining the will of God. 
  • Helping people in need. Helpers show mercy by seeing down-and-out hurting people and being a conduit of God’s grace to them.

There is no one person who possesses all these gifts. That’s why everyone must work together to have a spiritually healthy community. A spiritually toxic community is the inevitable result of only a few people using their giftedness.

To avoid relational toxicity, and embrace communal harmony, our minds need transformation through renewing practices of godly sacrifice, regular worship, pursuing unity, and becoming aware of our spiritual gifts.

Here’s three ways we can discover our gifts:

  1. Pay attention.  Every spiritual gift reflects God’s grace and character, and so, you will find joy and satisfaction in expressing it. Your spiritual gift will be a place of deep spiritual formation and growth in your life, as God uses it both to powerfully connect you spiritually and to expose areas of your soul that need forgiveness and redemption. 
  2. Try. Give it a whirl. Volunteer. Connect with a service or ministry or try doing what you feel might be something God wants you to do. Gifts are primarily discovered from others observing and affirming your gift and not so much by going through a research process. The encouragers among us will be happy to affirm the gifts of others.
  3. Develop. All spiritual gifts need growth, cultivation, and development. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God. (2 Timothy 1:6)

We will find our greatest delight in life through engaging in worship of God and service to others. That leads to a spiritually healthy Christian community that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

God of grace, stir up the spiritual gifts of your people. May the gifts your Holy Spirit has decided to give us be activated and used for your glory and the edification of others. May you grant peace and joy in churches everywhere so that no one will be jealous or covetous about anyone else’s gifts. May these gifts grow and develop in love so that the fruit of the Spirit will be truly manifested. May you receive all praise honor and glory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:3-17 – Proclaim Good News

Jesus de Greatest, statue in Nigeria

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (New International Version)

The Apostle Paul clarified the foremost mission of Christianity to the Corinthian church: Preach the gospel. 

Everything else Paul did – from healing people to gathering offerings for others, and from making tents to journeying around the Mediterranean world – he did with the central focus and aim of proclaiming the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

Unfortunately, the Corinthian believers had lost sight of this urgent and needed imperative of proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Instead, they hardened into opinionated groups. Disunity amongst them was rampant and rancid. In short, the church made secondary matters of first importance. So, Paul wrote to correct this situation, which had gotten completely out of hand.

The proclamation of the gospel in Word and Sacrament needs to be at the core of every church and every believer’s life. When it isn’t, there are factions, special-interest groups, and condescending attitudes which fill the vacuum left in the center.

There are some things, maybe most things, we can agree to disagree with. Yet, when it comes to the good news of forgiveness and grace in Christ, we are to be of one mind. It is imperative we agree together that the heart of Christian mission is the gospel.

Unity around the gospel won’t happen if everyone is listening to competing voices.

Some believers have their favorite pet preachers. They follow that person and listen to them. That’s fine – to a degree. Yet, problems will inevitably arise because some practices happening within a particular church or faith community may not sync with the pet preacher or teaching. And if several individuals have different folks they follow, it can get messy in a hurry.

Following one person over another, Paul insists, is not the real issue in Christianity. Rather, it’s proclaiming the gospel – and not some person or their ideas. Believers need to put a whole lot more energy into using their spiritual gifts, rather than putting a crown on some worm of a preacher.

People can disagree on a lot of things, and that’s okay. But, in the church, there ought always be agreement and unity in building ministry around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Everyone in the church, without exception, has a role to fulfill, a gift to exercise, in proclaiming good news. For me, I enjoy teaching Scripture to unbelievers and answering their questions, as well as mentoring believers in the cardinal doctrines of faith and practice. 

Others proclaim the gospel through hospitality, or partnering with others, or even inviting people to events and bible studies. In all the myriad ways God has gifted us, whether it is in serving or speaking, we are to use that gift not to advance a personal agenda, but to preach the gospel.

In this season of the Epiphany, Christians celebrate that the gospel has come to Gentiles and not only Jews. The light shines on all people, not just some. Therefore, followers of Jesus are to let their light shine, as our Lord exhorted us:

“You are the light that shines for the world to see. You are like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden. People don’t hide a lamp under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand. Then the light shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, ERV)

Blessed Father, Son, and Spirit, you are One God, perfectly united and in continual harmony. You have loved humanity to such a degree that you orchestrated a great deliverance from sin, death, and hell. Help your entire church to resolve petty differences and fix a gaze firmly and graciously on proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Welcome, friends! Luke 4:14-30 is the account of Jesus reading the words of Isaiah the prophet to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for prisoners. How Christ used those words caused a huge commotion, and still does. Let’s find out together what happened. Click the videos below and let us consider Jesus….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 4:14-30

Gracious God, you bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and free prisoners from jails. Please come to us and send us out, as forgiven people, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Amen.

Judges 4:1-16 – It Takes a Woman

Orthodox icon of Deborah

After Ehud died, the people of Israel again did what the Lord considered evil. So, the Lord used King Jabin of Canaan, who ruled at Hazor, to defeat them. The commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera, who lived at Harosheth Haggoyim. The people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help. King Jabin had 900 chariots made of iron and had cruelly oppressed Israel for 20 years.

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet. She was the judge in Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm Tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. The people of Israel would come to her for legal decisions.

Deborah summoned Barak, son of Abinoam, from Kedesh in Naphtali. She told him, “The Lord God of Israel has given you this order: ‘Gather troops on Mount Tabor. Take 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun with you. I will lead Sisera (the commander of Jabin’s army), his chariots, and troops to you at the Kishon River. I will hand him over to you.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I’ll go. But if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

Deborah replied, “Certainly, I’ll go with you. But you won’t win any honors for the way you’re going about this, because the Lord will use a woman to defeat Sisera.”

So, Deborah started out for Kedesh with Barak. Barak called the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali together at Kedesh. Ten thousand men went to fight under his command. Deborah also went along with him.

Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites (the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law). Heber went as far away as the oak tree at Zaanannim near Kedesh and set up his tent.

The report reached Sisera that Barak, son of Abinoam, had come to fight at Mount Tabor. So Sisera summoned all his chariots (900 chariots made of iron) and all his troops from Harosheth Haggoyim to come to the Kishon River.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Attack! This is the day the Lord will hand Sisera over to you. The Lord will go ahead of you.”

So, Barak came down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men behind him. The Lord threw Sisera, all his chariots, and his whole army into a panic in front of Barak’s deadly assault. Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth Haggoyim. So Sisera’s whole army was killed in combat. Not one man survived. (God’s Word)

Deborah was a leader – and a darned good one. And, to state the obvious, she was a woman.

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in both the church and the world. Perhaps you wonder why I state such a thing, being that more women attend church than men, and that there slightly more women in the world than men. But I stick to my statement. The reality for many churches and untold institutions around the world is that only men can hold positions of authority.

Within some churches and Christian denominations, the reasoning goes something like this: “The Bible says women can’t serve over men.” That’s curious. So, in other words, in the West, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches.  

Those who are of the belief that a church office is based upon gender instead of just good old calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up,” then what does that say about our theology? That God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else, besides women, are free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men? Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined, and they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?

I could go on, ad infinitum ad nauseum, but I think you get the picture. The absence of women in leadership is problematic because there are actual women leaders in the Bible. So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  

All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender. 

There are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not. They suppress their gifts and calling. They think they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them. They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions. And it’s eating them from the inside-out.  

Some women think there is something wrong with them. But the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority. What’s more, we are missing the blessing of God because of inequity. It’s high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.

I have a wife and three daughters. All four of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male who holds a range of authoritative positions in the church and the world. To have the ladies in my life using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth. I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  

Even more than that, I believe it is to the joy of Jesus, as well. We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women. They don’t need to be put in their place or dismissed as too emotional or weak. The good ol’ boy systems of the church and in the world need a swift kick in the rear. I, for one, am a man who believes in practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.

How about you?