If you go into your local 'Christian' bookstore, you'll find a plethora of self-help books with titles like, 'Living Your Best Life Now,' 'The Secret to Success,' and 'The Fine Arts of Living.' What these books all have in common is that they have little foundation in Scripture. So save your money and instead join Stephen as he shows us from Romans 12:12-13 the 'Fine Arts of Godly Living.'
The Fine Art of Godly Living
Psychology Today sent out a survey to more than 50,000 of their subscribers. The survey asked them top respond with how they found happiness and what they considered happiness to be. They received responses from all over the country. The results were insightful. Those on the poor end of the economy scale believe they would find happiness if they became richer. In fact, their most common hope was related to winning the lottery. Then again, the wealthier subscribers to Psychology Today admitted that they weren’t happy either, even thought they had all the things needed to sustain life and leisure.
I read a copy of the note written by a wealthy executive, before taking his life a few years ago. His note was printed only recently in one of the newspapers I was reading – in fact – this past week. He wrote, in effect, “I’m bored and I’m tired of playing games; I’m tired of accumulating things and I’m tired of living with me.”
He had everything but happiness.
The editors of Psychology Today recognized from the results to their survey what this man tragically admitted.
In this magazine survey, the editors realized that occupation, geography and climate had nothing to do with happiness either. People were just as unhappy in Florida in the winter as they were in Minnesota. Whether or not they were presidents of companies or minimum wager workers.
Truth is, there was no consistent path or pattern to happiness; in fact, most of the people who responded were convinced they were not genuinely happy and didn’t know how to find it.
I find it ironic that our founding fathers put into print what is nothing less than the frustration of the human heart. Signed in 1776, on July 4th in Philadelphia, the document read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In a way, they were prophetic! You have life . . . you can have liberty . . . but you can only pursue happiness – as if to say “you will probably never catch it.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not in the pursuit of happiness, but in the pursuit of holiness, that you will ever discover real living . . . genuine liberty and authentic happiness.
You pursue godlikeness and you will discover happiness along the way. Why? Because the discovery of godliness is a deeper discovery of the character of God.
“True happiness,” Jonathan Edwards wrote, “with which our souls are satisfied, is the enjoyment of God . . .fathers and mothers, husbands, wives or children, are but scattered beams of joy, but God is the sun; the company of earthly friends are but streams, but God is the fountain. These all are droplets, but God is the ocean.”
Adapted from a citation of Jonathan Edwards, Heartcry! (Issue 26, 2003)
Ladies and Gentlemen, genuine life . . . real liberty . . . authentic happiness are not found by pursuing them; they are found by pursuing Him.
And those who will truly pursue God will pursue His character.
What does this pursuit look like . . . how do you measure progress . . . are there guidelines to help us on my journey?
Today, I want to wrap up this 3-part series I have entitled, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Godliness. Today we arrive at the end of Paul’s sentence. It began in Romans chapter 12 verse 10 . . . let’s back up to the beginning of his thoughts along these lines with verse 9. Let love be without hypocrisy, abhor what is evil, cling to what is good – literally, be glued to good things; 10. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11. not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (now for our study today) verses 12 and 13. Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Several qualities of the believer’s life are found in these two verses – we could call them:
The Fine Arts of Godly Living.
Go back and look again at the first one in verse 12. Rejoicing in hope.
Literally, “In regards to that which you confidently hope? Rejoice!”
This is the art of matching your emotions with your convictions.
This is nothing less than being in a state of spiritual optimism.
Why? Because our theology is grounded in the promises of God.
We have a living hope – I Peter 1:3; a dying hope (I Corinthians 15:55).
We have the blessed hope (I Corinthians 15:51-52) and an eternal hope (Titus 3:4-7 where Paul wrote, “That being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Not too long ago one of our astronauts lay strapped into his capsule, ready to be launched, when a reporter interviewed him via radio. “Are you worried?” the reporter asked. The astronaut replied, “How would you feel, if you were sitting on top of 150,000 parts, each of them supplied by the lowest bidder?”
Is not our faith constructed by the creator of the universe?
Is not our hope built upon the Rock?
We are strapped by our faith to the unchangeable purpose of God . . . and we are ready to hurtle at any moment, straight into the city of God, and the glory of heaven.
Our belief in God gives hop and hope produces joy.
What bride will walk down the aisle toward her beloved with a frown on her face . . . that will probably come later.
You see, we happen to be wearing the garments of the bride of Christ . . . walking down the aisle of history toward our Bridegroom – in whom we will never be disappointed.
Paul wrote to the Colossians, “We have joy because we have Christ within us, even now, who is the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:27).
When Paul writes to rejoice in our hope, he simply means to look like you believe it’s true!
This is the art of developing the emotions that match your convictions.
But I want you to notice that spiritual optimism does not rule out spiritual realism.
The very next words Paul wrote were these (12b) “persevering in tribulation.”
Nobody’s throwing rose petals in the aisle of life.
The word tribulation could refer to trials of any kind. The Jerusalem church was, at this moment, suffering through a famine.
To make matters worse, believers had been disinherited from their families – Paul included.
Paul, the realist would write in his journal, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Rejoicing in hope is spiritual optimism. Persevering in tribulation is spiritual determination.
Not only are we the develop the art of matching emotion with our conviction, but here we are to develop the art of running the race no matter how often the goal line gets moved.
Running the race, no matter how often or in what way, the goal line gets moved.
- You thought next week would bring relief . . . it didn’t.
- You thought that problem would be resolved . . . it wasn’t.
- You thought the report from the doctors would be positive . . . it isn’t.
Would you notice that Paul does not say, “persevering if tribulation” – but, “persevering in tribulation.”
Nowhere in the New Testament is the believe promised freedom from tribulation – thlipsis – pressure, trouble, tribulation.
It happens to be a part of life . . . and the pursuit of godly living.
You cannot choose whether or not you will suffer.
You can’t even choose how you will suffer.
You can’t choose when you will suffer.
You can’t choose how long you will suffer.
But you can choose to endure – to persevere. The Greek word literally means, “to remain under” – or, “to bear up under.”
In other words, the art of endurance is more than just hanging on; or running away.
It is outlasting it . . . it is staying at it . . . and it is ultimately defeating it by becoming better because of it.
Roy Laurin, Romans (Kregel, 1988), p. 429
Trouble is, the average Christian has been taught that their belief in God provides a vaccination against suffering. Most Christians expect to get through life unscathed . . . without ever being bruised . . . and we cry out if we are ridiculed or mocked or ignored as if some unexpected wrong has been performed.
Adapted from R. C. H. Lenski The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg Publishing House, 1936), p. 771
The average pastor today is being pulled into the current of accommodation . . . whatever we do, we can’t look out of step; or intolerant.
I heard one internationally know preacher on Larry King recently being asked the question, “Do you believe homosexuality is a sin . . . and he looked down, stammered a bit and then said, “You know, I believe there are a lot of kinds of sin in the world, pride is one of them . . .”
Completely refusing to answer the question.
Another evangelical pastor (supposedly) a well known, best-selling author, was asked on prime-time television, “Do you believe in hell?” And he said, “You know, I choose not to talk about that . . . I want to focus on the positive side and talk about Jesus.”
How can you talk about Jesus without talking about what Jesus did – He came to rescue us from what? Hell.
How can you talk about Jesus without talking about what Jesus said, on several occasions; such as the one in Matthew 23 where Jesus is condemning the religious, pious, hypocrites of His day when he said to them, “Woe to you, because you travel about on sea and land to make one convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” In other words, “your disciples are twice as likely to die condemned and bound in hell because of your hypocrisy.” Later in that same message Christ said, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you going to escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23:15 & 33).
The average church and the average Christian would never talk so intolerantly today.
How many times have you seen someone since 9/11 push a microphone toward a Christina leader or pastor and pigeon hole them with the question, “Do you believe that Muslims are going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus?” I haven’t heard anybody yet answer it – “Yes, that’s why we’re dedicated to the missionary enterprise . . . we happen to believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.
Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus Christ knew how politically incorrect He was when He added, “And no-one (literally, not even one) comes to the Father except by Me.”
You want pressure at work and ridicule on the campus and affliction in your family? You want to be passed over at the job? You want to be left out of the circle?
Make a public testimony of your faith in Jesus Christ.
The real question is, “Do you want to pursue godliness?”
Peter wrote to Timothy, his young disciple, “Indeed, Timothy, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
So Paul writes to the believer in Romans 12:12, assuming that his audience wanted to pursue holy living, and he didn’t write them to tell them that they might suffer affliction and tribulation. He wrote them to tell them what to do because of it!
Literally, “in regards to your tribulation . . . endure it!”
Stay at it . . . remain under it . . . accept it . . . don’t run from it; don’t retreat from it . . . expect it . . . you are joining in the fellowship of His sufferings . . . but don’t ever forget, you’re not the only one with scars . . . your Savior, in fact, chose to keep 5 of His scars, forever.
The question immediately comes, “But how can I make it through the suffering and the pressure and the difficulty?”
Paul quickly adds the answer in the very next phrase – “devoted to prayer.”
This is not simply an act of prayer . . . this is a life of prayer.
The word translated “devoted” means literally to hold fast to, to give attention to, to be faithful in.
Rienecker/Rogers Linguistic Key to the Greek NT (Regency, 1976), p. 376
Paul is literally saying, “In regards to your prayers . . . continuing.”
Which is a fascinating exhortation. But right where we live!
Our problem isn’t that we pray to little . . . it is that we do not pray.
And when we do, we easily tire . . . there seems to be little fruit from it . . . the answers don’t come fast enough . . .
Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote in his commentary on Romans, “There is no work quite so difficult as praying to God.”
Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Kregel, trans. 1954), p. 176
That’s why Paul is not exhorting us to be more eloquent in prayers . . . or to be longer at our praying.
As a matter of fact, he isn’t really referring to the act of prayer as much as he is the attitude of prayer.
Continuing in prayer . . . being devoted to prayer is not a 5 minute exercise . . . or a 60 minute exercise. It is a way of life.
You could translate this phrase to read, “in regards to praying, continuing.”
In other words, Paul is saying then, “walk through life continuing in conversation with God.”
This is the art of developing a conversational lifestyle with God.
It doesn’t have to be eloquent . . . God isn’t counting scripture references . . . I remember discipline a new believer – he had come to faith in Christ as a former member of a motorcycle gang – joined our singles class I taught in Dallas . . .the first time he prayed out loud he ended by saying, “I’ll see you later.”
But isn’t this prayer – an ongoing conversation with God. And saying “Amen” really only means, “To be continued!”
Ongoing devotion to God.
Like the time I read about, when D. L. Moody, the great evangelist and church leader of the 1800’s, an incredible worker who pioneered so many different ministries . . . I read recently that he was traveling with some colleagues . . . it was late at night when they finally finished their ministry tasks . . . one man wrote that he observed Moody rolling into bed and saying allowed, “Lord, I’m tired. Amen.” And he fell asleep.
I read some time ago about a believer who had lived a rich life for God – he was marked by his close relationship with the Lord. He lay dying with cancer in his hospital room. The hospital chaplain stopped in to visit him and he saw, beside the man’s bed, an empty chair. He commented to the old gentleman lying there, “Ah, I see you’ve had a visitor?” He responded, “Oh no, I haven’t had a visitor come for a while now. But you see, when I became a Christian, early in my young life, a friend told me that praying was like talking to your best friend. When I heard that, I decided that every day I would pull an empty chair toward me, wherever I was, whenever I could, and invite Christ to sit there and we would just talk.”
I was reading the account provided by this man’s daughter who wrote about her father’s passing away, “My father seemed so content in his hospital bed that I left him for a few hours. When I got back, I knew that he was gone. He’d gone to be with His Lord. But the interesting thing was, his head was not resting on his pillow. His body had turned and his head was resting on the seat of that empty chair . . . as if on the very lap of Christ.”
Wouldn’t you like to die like that?
The Apostle Paul is not asking if you want to die like that! He is asking if you will live like that!
As it relates to your praying . . . continuing as if it were a never fully completed conversation!
Just like my kids IAMING their friends – it never ends.
Pursuing godly living is the art of developing a conversational lifestyle with Christ.
4th: Pursuing godly living is developing the art of an open hand and an open heart.
Paul writes in verse 13. Contributing to the needs of the saints.
As it relates to the needs of the saints . . . contributing.
Fascinating that the word “contributing” comes from the koinoneo. The noun form is well known – koinonia – communion – fellowship.
We talk about the koinonia of the early church – the fellowship they enjoyed. Paul is telling us to fellowship in regard to the meeting the needs of other believer’s.
Whenever the word “need” appears in the plural form, it normally refers to those things with are met by financial contribution.
This is developing the art of an open hand.
I received a letter a few weeks ago from an inmate who is listening to our Sunday morning sermons through Wisdom for the Heart’s radio ministry.
He wrote, “I’m not given money in this prison, so I can’t contribute to help you in that way, but I do earn postage stamps – and I’m gonna begin sending you a portion of my monthly stamp allotment to help you spread the word.”
He is developing the art of an open hand and an open heart.
These are the godly ones who happen to know what it means to fellowship financially.
I received last night an email from the pastor in Louisiana that we are going to partner with . . . he talked about the tangible ways we can help . . . and we will be giving you information on how to do that as we develop this art as a church family.
The pursuit of godliness requires the development of the art of an open hand . . . and an open heart.
There’s one more . . . the last part of verse 13. “practicing hospitality.”
Christianity is not only the religion of the open heart and the open hand, but the open door!
William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 167
Somebody said, hospitality is the art of making people feel at home even when you wished they were!
Biblical hospitality is vastly different. It is developing the art of making people feel as if your home belongs to them.
You have to understand something of Paul’s generation.
Believer’s were without homes . . . messengers were traveling from church to church . . . exiles were wandering about – in fact, our Lord Jesus didn’t own his own home, but depended upon the hospitality of others for a roof and a bed.
The inns of Paul’s day were few and far between. And they were usually run by organized crime. You could be risking your life to stay in an inn – not to mention your health. Records indicate bedding infested with lice and bad food as the normal course of affairs for the Roman Inn. It was the place criminals came to plan their next series of crimes. It was the last place you’d ever want to stay.
The solution was simple . . . Paul told the believer “pursue hospitality.” Practice the art of an open home.
By the way, hospitality and hotel do share the same etymology. As well as hostel and hospital.
In fact, it was the Christian church who developed the hospital as a more advanced way to meet the needs of others with specialized help.
Paul is challenging the early Roman believers to, “Practice opening your home to people in need.”
The word used here for hospitality is a compound word (philoxenia) which literally means, “love of strangers.”
In other words, practice inviting into your home those whom you do not know very well, or know at all.
Isn’t it convicting then that most of our hospitality is something we usually reserve for people we already know? And already know we like.
That isn’t what Paul is talking about. Hospitality is a demonstration of helping strangers.
You can practice it by the way, every Sunday, as we welcome strangers into this, your other home, right?
Marsha and I will never forget attending the huge First Baptist Church of Dallas when I was in seminary. We attended the service and as we were dismissed, the grey headed couple in front of us turned around, introduced themselves with wonderful smiles and said, “Please come home and eat dinner with us today.” We didn’t know what to say . . . we had family visiting in town that afternoon and were unable to go, but to this day I regret not taking them up on their offer. We talked to them for a while and asked them questions like, “How often do you do this unusual practice of inviting people over to your home for dinner?’ They said, “Every Sunday . . . we especially look for visitors to invite to our home . . . we have extra food already prepared for guests.”
How many of you have ever been invited to someone’s home after church? How many of you would like to go to someone’s home after church?
John Piper recently challenged his church family from this same text, he wrote, “greet people and welcome them warmly to this church; invite them to your Sunday school class, show them where the nursery is. Let them read the hospitality of God in your smile.”
The context of this text could be arguably dedicated to showing hospitality to strangers among the Christian community. In other words, opening your own home to other believers who have lost their homes.
And in the first century this would not be uncommon.
Many Christians were in exile. Pastors and evangelists were traveling, like Paul from city to city, entirely dependent upon the homes of believers for sustenance.
Have you ever shown hospitality to another believer?
Why not start that practice . . . remember, you’re not trying to impress anybody . . . it isn’t your place settings that matter, or the condition of your carpet . . . it’s your heart that matters.
I remember being deeply moved after teaching a class in Chennai, India to some of the Hindustan Seminary students. It was sweltering hot – in the middle of July. As I was leaving the building, an Indian woman who had been in an earlier class I taught, was standing out on the walk-way holding an umbrella up in the air, open. She smiled and asked me to come with her to meet her husband who was still at home. She held the umbrella up over my head as we walked – which I learned later was a little like washing someone’s feet. She guided me to their apartment which was nothing more than a cement square – cement walls, cement floor, cement ceiling. I sat on a chair and enjoyed fellowship with a couple so filled with the love of Christ for someone they’d never met.
Later, I visited a small church in one of the villages. When we arrived, the auditorium was without any chairs, simply because people sat on little rugs or garments. But there were three chairs placed for myself and two others. The people gathered around and sat down – all ages – as we shared greetings and messages. Then they went to get their treasures – they brought to us, our own Coca-cola . . . in glass bottles . . . let me tell you, there are few things more difficult to the American southerner who has everything with extra ice, that to drink a warm Coca-cola . . . but it was hard to drink it, not because it was warm, but because I was drinking something the children around me had never tasted . . . it was for visiting guests of honor . . . what hospitality.
I have sat in a dark hut in Africa – block walls and thatched roof, while the wife of the church leader brought me a tin cup with sweet tea – tea leaves boiled with sugar and water and milk . . . what hospitality. I have never drunk from anything finer than that tin cup.
Four college students invited me to their apartment near N.C. State not too long ago. They wanted to fix me a special meal – deer. At first I thought they were kidding . . . but they were serious. I had never tasted deer before. But they had killed the deer, dressed it, and prepared the most tender portion, I would later learn, and cooked it for me to eat . . . we sat down and had a splendid feast, sharing together love between strangers who happened to belong to the same family.
This doesn’t mean you have to have it all together. Paper plates are just fine. Paper napkins and plastic forks work!
By the way, entertainment and hospitality are two different things. Entertainment focuses the attention on the host and hostess. What they have planned . . . what they are serving. Hospitality focuses on the guest. Who they are and what they need.
One of the marks of the growing believer is a desire to entertain less, and share their love for Christ and His church more!
Are you in hot pursuit of god-likeness?
Here’s how you can tell . . . you are developing these spiritual fine arts:
1. The first is spiritual optimism; which is developing the art of matching your emotions with your convictions.
2. The second is mental determination: developing the art of running the race no matter how often the goal line gets moved
3. The third is private devotion: developing the art of a conversational lifestyle with Christ.
4. The fourth is financial generosity: developing the art of an open hand and an open heart.
5. The fifth and final one is physical availability; developing the art of making people feel as if your home belongs to them.
I highly recommend you begin that one today!
Don’t leave here today saying, “Colonial is so big, I didn’t know anybody around me . . .” Uh, uh, say instead, “Colonial is so big, that every time I come, I get to meet somebody new.”
Don’t leave here today saying, “Yea, hospitality alright . . . nobody invited me to dinner.” You missed the point – Paul is challenging each of us personally to do the inviting!
And listen – everybody’s hearing this same message today, so no-one will think you’re strange . . . in fact, you’ll probably convict them all the way down to their socks for not asking you first.
Single guys, this is your golden opportunity. If I ever gave you an opening, you can drive an 18 wheeler through this one. You can thank me later!
Let’s end this service by having you stand and make some dinner plans – for either after church, or after our programs tonight.
Go ahead . . . stand up and find out who’s joining you for dinner.