Sunday, January 11, 2015

Spiritual Exercise

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.         Romans 12:4-8  NASB

One of the things I liked to do when I was teaching Sunday School was to start the class by asking a question which would help focus attention on the subject we were about to discuss.  Since we brought up the subject of fitness last week, I would like to take that a step further today and start by asking this question; “does studying the Bible make you a stronger believer, or just a smarter one?” 

Have you ever begun an exercise program on your own and failed miserably?  Have you ever wondered why?  Could it possibly be that it was because you had no idea how to go about it, and without a plan your efforts were wasted?  Something that I was taught early on about exercise and fitness was to identify my weaknesses, and then to program my exercise plan to target those with the idea in mind that the goal was to achieve an overall and balanced stronger body.  Our spiritual fitness goals should be much the same and to do that means a balance between knowledge and service.

If you study Paul’s letters in the New Testament, you will find as I did that quite often he describes the life of a believer in such a way as to emphasize the importance of both studying and then serving.  In his letter to Timothy Paul tells us to study in order to show our commitment to God, and here in Romans Paul tells us to exercise.  In chapter twelve from his letter to the Romans, Paul states that not only do we all have gifts given to us by God, but each of us is to exercise those gifts as our responsibility as part of the body of Christ.  In order to do that, our first step should be to study with the idea of identifying what our gift is so that we can then plan how to exercise it. 

Of course, when it comes to exercising our gift, we do that in a public way as part of the body serving others.  I suppose in a way, Paul is telling us that our gift is to be exercised in public and not at home where no one sees us.  Having been a member of several gyms, and having worked out in public for longer than I can remember, I have some interesting memories of some of the individuals I have had occasion to observe while doing so.  It might be just me, but it certainly seems that quite a few people seem to grow a larger head while trying to grow their other muscles too.  I think many of us have seen those people walking around the gym on more than one occasion, and laughing inside at how they appear to others.

Call me crazy, but this is the first thing that came to my mind when I read what Paul had to say in the rest of this chapter when he talks about the importance of our attitude when serving others using our gifts.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.                    Romans 12:9-21  NASB

I find it interesting that Paul first tells us to find our gift so that we can serve the body, then spends the rest of the chapter telling us to “check our attitude” while doing so.  To be sure, as much as we might hate to admit it, I’m sure many of us have observed others in the body who we think need to study this part of Paul’s letter, and without a doubt we should look at ourselves in the mirror as well.  Why is that?  Although the knowledge we obtain comes from our diligence in study of the Word, the power to perform service comes not from our own efforts, but from the Holy Spirit who lives inside.

 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”    Acts 1:8  NKJV

No one knows our limitations more than the one who created us, so in His infinite wisdom He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who believe as a source of the power we need to serve Him with our gifts.  This of course, removes any possibility of using the excuse of lacking the strength to do anything the Father might ask us to do.  The source of our power comes from the Holy Spirit and there is nothing God will ever ask of us that we are not capable to do with the Spirit’s help.  Although we might be weak as kittens, we have the strength of lions thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.        Ephesians 3:20-21  NKJV

The more we exercise our muscles, the stronger we get.  The more we exercise our gifts using the power of the Holy Spirit, the stronger our confidence grows with the knowledge that God can do “exceedingly abundantly” more than we could ever imagine.  Start this New Year by committing to a spiritual exercise program and see just how much God can accomplish when we choose to serve Him with the gifts He has given us.

Keep watching.