Monday, December 06, 2010

Sermon on Romans 15:4-13, for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, "With One Voice"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A runner strides along the racecourse, pushing toward the finish line. The marathon is a grueling race, and the frequent splashes of water on the face, and cool hydration for the body are life in this contest. The mind reduces to one single focus—finishing the race. The rhythmic pounding of legs against pavement makes the knees feel weak and wobbly as the runner grows weary. Then all of a sudden the runner hits “the wall”—the point where their body and mind conspire to convince them that they can’t possibly go any further. Their strength reserves and energy are exhausted, they’ve reached an insurmountable obstacle, and the only rational choice is to give up. Marathon runner Jerome Drayton put it this way: “To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.” But a great many marathon runners have pushed through this “wall” and found the inner strength and focus they needed to finish the race. Against what their mind and body told them was impossible, they pushed on and finished the race.

Much like a marathon, the Christian’s life is an endurance race. Endurance is so important for the Christian for the same reason that it’s important for an athlete. If you give up or lose sight of the goal before you finish, and quit, then you lose the race. In life, if we give up faith or lose sight of the heavenly goal, then we’ll fail to reach the prize. But many “runners” in life hit “the wall” for various reasons, and body and mind conspire to make us give up. An incurable disease strikes us, a mountain of debt stands in our way, a deep hurt or wrong stands between you and another person, work at your job seems to mount faster than you can complete it. You may feel as though you’ve struggled and fought to the breaking point, you’ve tirelessly climbed the mountain, you’ve continually sought peace, you’ve worked yourself weary. We’re exhausted and want to give up. And in real life, we don’t always pass every obstacle before we reach the finish line.

It’s for this reason that the Scriptures are written and given for our encouragement and hope. As Paul says in Romans 15:4, through the encouragement of the Scriptures we have hope, and the Bible was written for our instruction. The Bible is filled with the stories of saints who ran the same race, faced struggles and “walls” like us, and endured in their faith to finish the race. But most important is not how well we can imitate their example. Being told to imitate Lance Armstrong while you try to win the Tour de France might not help you much in winning the competition, if you can’t measure up to his standards of athleticism and competitiveness, or you just don’t have the natural ability. So those stories of the saints are not just “character studies” for us to find people that we may or may not be able to imitate. But rather they are examples of frail and sinful human beings like us, who finished their race because they trusted in God. And as the writer to the Hebrews tells, we run the race by looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. The One who finished the race before us and finished the race for us.

We endure and we can finish the race, because this is God’s gift to us. He’s called the God of endurance and encouragement. He gives us His Scriptures to fill us with endurance, to show us the hope of the finish line. To show us those who’ve reached the finish line, not because of their own worthiness, but because of Christ working in them. He gives us the baptismal splashing of water that is a daily refreshment to our soul as we run that race, and are splashed with the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. So with this kind of encouragement from Christians who’ve gone before, and by encouraging each other as we run in the race, we can compete to the finish line and share in the prize already won for us by Jesus. If we live in harmony with one another, as Paul says, we will together with one voice praise God.

Let’s look more closely at that harmony that God offers, and what the goal of that harmony is. Romans 15:5-6 says, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” First of all its greatly important to notice that its God who gives such harmony. Man-made attempts to create harmony or unity may differ in their success, but are rarely permanent and unbreakable. Sadly, the Christian church has a long history of disharmony, caused by issues ranging from the heart and core of Christianity to quite trivial matters. And Christians have made various attempts to recreate harmony on their own—forgetting who it is that gives perfect harmony. Those attempts that have rested on human efforts have so often failed, while those attempts that have rested firmly on God’s Word have held strong and endured.

So what is this harmony, and how does it happen? What is translated as “harmony” is literally “to think the same” or “be likeminded.” Paul says that God will give us this like-mindedness among one another, according to Jesus Christ. God creates harmony by guiding us to be of one mind in Christ as we also share the same love of Christ (Phil. 2). That harmony or like-mindedness grows out of God’s Word, which is written for our instruction, encouragement, and hope. Jesus saw Himself and God’s Word as the source of unity when He prayed before His crucifixion, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one...[and] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:11, 17). Unity is found in Jesus, who keeps us abiding in His Word.

If there is disharmony or disunity among us as Christians, who believe in Jesus, then the path to harmony is on God’s Word. Through it’s clear light alone will we be restored to a unity of faith. Those who won’t walk on that path will not find that harmony, whatever human attempts they use. The way some people talk about truth today, even in some new movements from within the Christian church, they talk like truth is a fluid, changing, and unreachable thing. It might as well be like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall. In some of these movements, the idea is that multiple and even contradictory ideas of who God is, what salvation is, or what it means to be a Christian, should all be held in a tension. This is the man-made path they propose to Christian harmony and unity. But this is poles apart from the God-given harmony of thinking the same or being likeminded in faith. That’s like saying that people walking down all kinds of paths going in different directions are walking together in step. It’s simply nonsense. But in God’s Word, a path to harmony is possible and attainable. Truth is unchanging and knowable, and God’s Word gives a clear light to show the way.

Paul further describes unity here with the word “together,” and “with one voice.” That the purpose of this God-given harmony is so that we can together, with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Together in the original Greek is a more powerful word: “homothumadon.” Homothumadon means “with one accord.” Its more than a “togetherness” that a group of fans might experience while watching a baseball game. It means that people are united in thought and action. It’s when the people of God are unified in their belief, and express that belief in their acts of love and worship. This kind of “accord” or agreement again is a God-given gift, and gives expression to the “one voice” of worshipping God.

Can you picture what it means to speak as Christians “with one voice?” Or to worship God with one voice? Will it be a squeaky, weak, or timid voice; one filled with fear? Will it be an indecisive or wishy-washy voice? No! The Word of God must be our one voice, and it alone can give us the “homothumadon”—the one accord—that galvanizes Christians into unity of faith and action. The “one voice” of Christians will then be the voice of power and confidence and strength, that sets the devil at a run. We speak one little word—Jesus’ name—and the devil is defeated. He cannot overpower us if God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. So let God’s Word be on your lips! Learn it, meditate on it, and confess it!

And that “one voice” is to be used in glorifying God. Our voice is an “instrument of praise,” and thus it’s not fitting that our voices be used in false talk or creating division. Rather, we are to sing together in harmony as Christians. Not a musical harmony, but the spiritual harmony of being of one mind. But music is our expression of praise to God. How many of you are not confident of your skills in singing? For the longest time I was not confident in my singing, and was off-key or monotone, or just couldn’t reach the notes. Some people might say I still shouldn’t be confident in my singing! But whether or not you were cut-out for singing in the choir, God wants to hear you life your voice in unison with other Christians, singing praises to His name. Don’t be afraid to sing aloud to God! He isn’t concerned with whether you’re a monotone, or off-key, or whether you’ll win any singing competitions, but God desires to hear our worshipful song rise to praise Him and Jesus Christ our Savior. Singing together with a crowd of powerful voices can be a skin-tingling experience.

Paul explains that the reason Christ came into the world, the reason He humbled Himself to be a servant to the Jews, was to show God’s truthfulness and confirm His promises, so the Gentiles (that’s us!) might see and believe and glorify God for His mercy. The whole witness of the Bible confirms why we should have endurance and hope, because in the end God is always faithful to His promises. And sending Jesus into the world to serve us by His death on the cross to take away sin, and His resurrection to secure eternal life for us—this is news that can’t help but open our mouths with songs of praise. Paul quotes a litany of verses from the Old Testament to show that God always had it in mind to bring both Jew and Gentile into His kingdom and rule. That all along God desired to unite the Jews and Gentiles. Namely that people of every nation, tribe and language would be united in one voice, praising God.

Praise God and sing His name! Let your mouth be filled with songs of what He has done! Rejoice! Be filled with the joy that comes from God keeping all His promises. Praise and extol Him! Extol means lift up, raise His name to the highest height! There is no God greater than our God—there is no Savior who has done for us what Jesus did, in taking our sin to the cross. In Him, in Jesus Christ, we Gentiles have hope. Not hope that disappoints, but a sure and heavenly confidence that God keeps His promises.

We’ve come full circle to see the purpose of the Bible—the Scriptures. To give us hope—hope in Jesus Christ. To keep us running, keep us enduring in an often difficult life, to encourage us as we run the race to the finish. With God-given harmony in His Word, we can be filled with hope, and we find our voices tuned together in one voice of spiritual harmony, singing praise to God for all He’s done. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. How do the New Testament writers use athletic imagery to teach us the importance of endurance? 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; Heb. 12:1-2. What are the obstacles or “walls” that you face?

2. What are the purposes that Paul names here, for why the Scriptures were written? Name at least 3. Are the stories of saints in the Bible merely “character studies” for us to imitate? Why or why not? How does Jesus’ completion of His race help us in a way that a competitor like Lance Armstrong completing a race does not?

3. Describe what God-given “harmony” or “like-mindedness” is like. Where does this harmony come from? Philippians 2; John 17. Why are man-made attempts for harmony (in the church) most likely to fail? What is the solid ground for building harmony?

4. Homothumadon is a Greek word that means “with one accord.” How do Christians united in mind and action present a powerful voice for good?

5. Paul quotes four Old Testament passages that show the Gentiles will also join in praising the God of Israel. They come from 2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; and Isaiah 11:1, 10. How do these passages affirm God’s grace for the Gentiles, even in the Old Testament times? Why would they glorify God? (Rom. 15:8-9)

6. How does God’s faithfulness to promises create endurance and hope?

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