Working in Concert
(Romans 12: 1-13)
Like many of you, I do my best singing in the shower. I’ve always loved to sing but was undisciplined in my singing and didn’t realize that if you were singing with a band or a group of singers, you sounded your best when you worked in concert. Most of you know that I belong to a men’s singing group called Singers In The Rain. I’m one of the charter members having been with the group from the beginning some eight or nine years ago. During that time, Hazel, our ever-patient director, has managed to knock off a few of the rough edges and readily reins me in whenever I go on a musical walk-a-bout. As a group, we’ve learned how much better we sound when all four voice parts are in tune and working together. Even within the four parts you have different voices that lend tone, richness and brightness to the part being sung. Sometimes, during the course of a song, the lead may change, there may be key changes, changes in dynamics and tempo and within the song there are melodies and harmonies. But there is only one head who leads the group, Hazel, who works with us individually, in sections and as a group to get the very best sound possible. There are times when our individual talents shine and other times when our combined talents as a group resonates. There have been songs that, no matter how hard we work, just don’t come together and don’t make into the program for our year-end concert. Not this year, but maybe next year. To do what we do successfully requires practice, persistence, patience and direction.
This is what the Apostle Paul is describing as a church body where Christ is the head of the church and the Spirit leads and guides us in all we do in the name of Christ. I’ve used Eugene Peterson’s The Message for today’s scripture as it really puts our working relationship into language we can understand. Paul is telling us that we’ve all been given different talents and gifts, whether we realize it or not. Some gifts come naturally while others have to be developed, refined and polished. According to Paul, the mission of the church can only be accomplished if the entire church body is working in unison. The mission will never be accomplished through the efforts of one mortal person.
So, Paul says, 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. Paul is telling us that our everyday life, the way we live, should be an offering to God for all He has done for us. Live our lives in gratitude for all God has done and show it in all we do. He says, embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve all the blessings bestowed upon me by God and it just blows my mind. It’s so humbling, you just want to stop what you’re doing and quietly say, “Thank You, God.” Paul tells us that if we fix our attention on God, we’ll be changed from the inside out. We need to readily recognize what God wants from us, and quickly respond to it. Paul tells us that, unlike the culture around us, always dragging us down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of us and develops in us a well-formed maturity. We endeavor to live humble, God-centered lives focused on others and not self.
Paul is telling us that now that we understand the foundational truths of following Jesus Christ, here is how to live them out, how to put the truth in play, how to make the truth a part of our daily lives. Paul points out, the only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. In this way, Paul explains, 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. Paul says that 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. Individually and apart from the body, we don’t amount to much but, when we are fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, we move ahead and be just what we were made to be, free from envy or pride in that there’s no need for us to compare ourselves to each other or be something we’re not.
Paul says if we preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else. It’s a simple message, so why over-think it or make it complicated? If you help, just help, don’t try to 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. Through it all, Paul tells us to keep a smile on our faces.
This passage gives us much to think about. We have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to present your body as a living sacrifice for God? I think it means you are giving your entire being to God to be used in his service. You set no conditions or parameters. You just tell God to use you, as he sees fit, as long as you have breath to breathe. We have to recognize that we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. It’s not even necessarily one gift. One gift may be obvious, but we must not overlook other lesser-gifts, or the willingness to do the work nobody else wants to do, which is a real gift when you think about it. Encouragement and giving are equally important. You may not be able to do what you once did, but you can still encourage, pray and support. You may find you are now in a position to give, or even give more.
Nineteenth century evangelist Dwight L. Moody once observed, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the alter.” What does that say about our tendency to hesitate in surrendering ourselves to God? We may be asked to do something outside our comfort zone. We may feel insecure, inadequate and unsure of ourselves or our abilities. We fear ridicule, rejection and failure. We’re good people and we want to do the right thing but it’s challenging for us to think and act like parts of one body. Life gets in the way. What the Spirit is leading us to do may not be what we want to do, or it may not be what we think should be done. This requires an attitude adjustment which is what Paul meant when he said we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need to adjust our focus and the way we see people and the events around us. We need to see things in the light of Jesus Christ.
The challenge for a follower of Jesus is never as much as what to do, as where to start. Most of what God instructs us to put into action doesn’t require that we go somewhere else to practice. We can start practicing love, peacemaking, and patience right where we are. We just have to remember to work in concert with one another. Sometimes, we sing the lead, other times, we sing in harmony and still other times, we sing back-up, and in the end, we sing a love song for God that is pleasing to Him and that draws the least, the last and the lost to him so that they too can bask in his love and sing his praises.
Please pray with me.
Have your own way, Lord. Have your own way. You are the potter and we are the clay. Mold us and make us according to your will. Search us and try us, Savior today. Wash us just now, in your presence we humbly bow. Hold over our beings your absolute sway and fill us with your spirit so that all can see your son, Jesus Christ, living in us. Magnificent God, move us to work in concert in the name of your precious son, Jesus Christ, amen.