The Apostle Paul knew of no better way to make it through the fog of life than to follow Christ's footprints . . . step by step. Do you?
“Impersonating the Savior”
Romans 15:1-3 & 8
Forbes Magazine recently reported, “It’s no secret that Tiger Woods is a marketer’s dream.” He has been able to successfully create a household awareness of the Nike brand.
More than likely, if you see a picture of this golf professional, or watch Tiger play in a televised match, he will be wearing a hat with the Nike symbol on it . . . and shirt, and shoes, and gloves, and his golf-bag and golf-balls will also bear the brand.
And Nike couldn’t be happier – in fact they’re so happy about it, they are willing to pay Woods an estimated 105 million dollars just to wear their brand.
Listen, I’d be willing to wear their stuff for half that amount, wouldn’t you.
The strategy behind a brand is to find some way to make the product or service memorable, identifiable.
So a cow, standing on it’s hind legs has captured the imagination of millions of people, as it holds a placard with a message, begging the public to “eat more – what? – chicken.” Since they launched what they call the “cow-campaign”, it’s brand awareness has grown to 81 percent and Chick-fil-A sales have gone from 500 million to 1.7 billion. Thanks to a cow.
Five years ago hardly any of us would have known what AFLAC was – until their marketing agency had the courage to tell corporate headquarters that their company name sounded like a duck.
AFLAC’s CEO told the agency, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you get people to know the name of this company.”
Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2004
The Wall Street article went on to report that this once obscure company is now a household name, and business is booming, thanks to the duck.
In the advertising agency, this is called the power of the brand. Something or someone, representing a product or service – identifies the public with that service.
And so, whenever anyone sees that person or symbol or animal or sign or hears that song or sound – they immediately think of the product.
Who would imagine – when people see that cow, they think of chicken.
And when they hear that duck they think of insurance.
The trouble comes when our actions don’t reflect the product we’re supposed to represent.
The Boston Globe ran a brief piece of ironic humor when they wrote about the annual meeting of The American Heart Association – now joined by 300,000 doctors, nurses, and researchers. Many of them met at their annual meeting in Atlanta and one of the key issues was fat-filled fast food – [like bacon cheeseburgers, double quarter-pounders, super sized French fries] – all that stuff you’re gonna eat in a couple of hours.
In fact, I’m being paid by McDonald’s to say that.
When one cardiologist was interviewed about where he had been eating lunch during the convention – which happened to be fast food – and asked whether or not he was setting a bad example, he responded, “Not really . . . I made sure I took off my name tag before I went in.”
Boston Globe, November 10, 1993
Tiger Woods is considered to be, from head to toe, a Nike man – from head to toe he sells for the kingdom of Nike; and the richest endorsement deal in sports history is on the line.
The Apostle Paul has told the believer that we are to be, in a very real sense, advertisements of the Kingdom of God.
We also are to be clothed, Paul wrote to the Colossians, as God’s chosen people, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
He wrote to Titus, We are to adorn our lives – as we robe our bodies, with the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect . . . which instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly. (Titus 2:10)
We are to put on – as if it were clothing – the new self – marked by holiness and truth (Ephesians 4:24)
These are the brands of the Kingdom of heaven.
How valuable are we as the advertising agency of Heaven?
How well do we wear the brand of the beloved?
F. B. Meyer wrote more than a hundred years ago, “We ought to be Christians in large type (or font) – so that it isn’t necessary for others to have to use their spectacles in order to detect our character . . . the message of our lives should resemble the big advertisements which can be easily read on the billboards by all who pass by.”
F. B. Meyer in Our Daily Walk, quoted in Christianity Today, Volume 33, no. 10
Paul Gilbert put this challenge into poetry when he wrote,
You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do,
By the words that you say;
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say – what is the gospel according to you?
Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 275
One of the best ways to reveal the gospel is to reveal the character of God.
Earlier in Romans chapter 13 Paul challenged the believer to put on the Lord Jesus Christ – Romans 13:14.
Wear the identifiable brand of His character.
How do you do that?
One of the best ways to advertise for Jesus Christ is to follow John’s instruction in his third letter where he wrote, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” (3 John 11)
Don’t copy evil . . . don’t impersonate evil people – but good.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1)
He even went so far as to write to the Ephesians in chapter 5, verse 1, “Therefore, be imitators of God.”
Imagine that . . . be imitators of Paul . . . be imitators of Christ – which means you are actually imitating God.
In other words,
- if you want to represent the kingdom, imitate the King;
- if you want to advertise for the glory of God, wear the brand of godly behavior;
- if you want to promote the excellencies of Christ, develop the character of Christ.
Even though impersonating our Lord is something we will never perfect, it is our pursuit.
If there is ever a difficult time to model Christ it is in regard to treating another person right, even when you are convinced they are wrong.
Within this context, how are we to act like Christ – how are we to imitate Christ – what are the brands of the beloved?
Before we dive in to Romans chapter 15, I want you to know that even though we’ve begun a new chapter, the context is still regarding grey matters.
Thus far, in regards to the treatment of one another, as well as the determination of what is right or wrong in our own lives when the Bible is unclear or inconclusive, we have discovered:
- the principle of protection
- the principle of reputation
- the principle of edification
- the principle of consideration
And now, the principle of imitation.
At least four qualities of Christ’s character surface in this text, for us to imitate.
First, the quality of supportiveness
1a. Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength . . .
You could circle the word “ought” in your text. This is not a suggestion – it is an indication of what truly strong believers do.
You, who are mature in your faith, what you ought to do is bear the weaker ones along.
Ray Stedman writes in regards to the stronger believer helping the weaker believer along without forcing opinions or changes upon them that they’re not ready to assimilate; he writes,
We can compare this to crossing a swinging bridge over a mountain stream. Some people can run across a bridge like t6hat even though it does not have any handrails. They are not concerned about he swaying of the bridge, or the danger of falling into the torrent below. But others are very uncertain on such a bridge. They shake and tremble; they inch along. They may even get down on their hands and knees and crawl across the bridge. [Bear with them]. It is like that with these moral questions of [grey areas]. It would be cruel for someone who had the freedom to cross boldly to take the arm of someone who was timid and force him to run across. He might even lose his balance and fall off the bridge.
Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 224
So, bearing one another’s burdens is another way of saying “bearing with them.”
The word bear – bastazw – means to carry, to endure. It’s more than saying, “Wow, that weaker brother sure has a problem; (ha) get a load of that weaker brother.” No, it’s “How can I help my weaker brother along?”
That’s what the strong ought to do. And in so doing, exercise true maturity in Christian liberty.
A lady in our church came up to me last Sunday and said, “You know what I’ve memorized about this issue of Christian liberty and freedom?” I said, “No, what?” She said this – and I asked her to email it to me and she did – here it is; “Freedom is not the liberty to do what you want, but the liberty to do what you ought. And it is true freedom when what you want to do is what you ought to do.”
Paul said as much to the Galatians when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
In other words, “Bear one another’s burdens and impersonate the Savior!”
- Watch the Savior patiently instruct Peter after he stumbles and falls;
- Watch Him carefully instruct James and John after their ambitious hearts are revealed;
- Watch Him condescend to Thomas when he doubted;
- Watch Him even with Judas at the table . . . if you take note of the timing of events, you discover that Judas was seated at the table with his 30 pieces of silver in his pouch – even then Jesus called him “friend.”
Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969), p. 243
- Hear the words of Christ from the cross, “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) And the tense of the verb indicated that Jesus Christ uttered those words, not once, but over and over and over and over again. Father forgive them . . . Father, forgive them . . . Father, forgive them.
- Then, listen as the resurrected Lord enters the upper room and His first words to his faithless and weak disciples were not some well deserved rebuke, but, to their shock I am sure, came His words, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
You want to impersonate the Savior! You want to be a walking advertisement for the Kingdom of heaven?
Imitate this quality of supportiveness.
But that’s just the beginning.
Imitate not only the quality of supportiveness, but secondly
The Quality of Selflessness
Notice the last part of verse 1. And not just please ourselves. 2. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
Do you know the lyrics to this song?
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a beautiful feeling,
Everything’s going . . . my way.
That’s our kind of song, isn’t it!
It’s a beautiful day . . . because it’s going my way.
I received this from a number of people over the last several months – you’ve probably gotten the same email;
An elderly man in Phoenix called his son in New York and said, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are splitting up – it’s been 45 years and we’re through.” “Pop, what are you talking about?” his son asked – he couldn’t believe it! His father said, “It’s true, we’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about it, so you can call your sister in Chicago and tell her . . . talk to you later.” Frantic, the son called his sister who just erupted on the phone . . . “there’s no way this is gonna happen . . . I’ll take care of this!”
She called Phoenix immediately and shouted, “You are not doing anything until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow; until then, don’t do a thing!”
The old man hung up the phone and turned to his wife with a grin, “Okay, they’ll be here tomorrow for Thanksgiving and they’re buying their own tickets . . . now, what are we gonna do about Christmas?”
Can’t you just hear this guy singing . . . oh what a beautiful day . . . everything’s going my way.
I’m sure somebody made that story up.
You might circle one word that appears three times in these verses – it’s the word please.
In the original language, it translates the verb aresko (areskw) which means to render service to; to endeavor to please someone else instead of yourself.
Adapted from W. E. Vines, Expository Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, 1997), p.860 & Ralph Earle, Word Meanings (Baker, 1974). P. 211
Notice the word appears again in verse 3. For even Christ did not please Himself.
Paul wrote to the Philippians the stunning description of Christ’s selfless determination to come to this planet. He, who being in the very form of God – that is the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped – hung on to – but emptied Himself (literally, He emptied His hands of Divine rights and privileges). (Philippians 2:6-7)
Do you think Jesus Christ pleased Himself when He came into this world – born of a peasant couple who barely eked out an existence as a carpenter.
It’s as if the Triune God held a meeting and made sure they did everything possible to prove that Christ’s coming was in no way pleasant – much less pleasing to Himself.
Born in a dugout cavern, surrounded by the stench of a barnyard – without the help of physician or midwife – born to an unwed girl who would never live down the accusation of immorality – born to an adopted father, one early church leader said, was a maker of wooden plows.
The only peak behind the curtain was an angelic chorus who alerted the shepherds – who then came to testify, ironically so, for they were a profession considered unclean by the Jewish leaders and unable to testify in a Jewish court . . . all of it shouts – Jesus Christ did not please Himself.
While we might say we would like to be like Christ, none of us would ever say we would like to be born like that – and grow up like that – and endure that.
The selfless Savior did
If you’d like to impersonate the Savior, imitate the quality of supportiveness and selflessness.
Along that same line, let me give you a closer look at another quality to imitate;
Third, imitate the quality of sacrifice
Notice verse 3b. but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.”
Here, at this point, Paul drops in a quote from Psalm 69 – one of the great Messianic Psalms . . . that is, a Psalm filled with prophetic statements that Christ will fulfill.
This Psalm will tell us that:
- the King will be hated without just cause by His enemies (v. 4);
- he will be rejected by the literal biological sons of his mother (v. 8);
- He will experience the deepest agony any soul could endure – and with much weeping (v. 10);
- He will be made fun of by the people (v. 11);
- He will be criticized by the leaders (v. 12);
- and he will be the subject of perverse songs and mockery by His ungodly world (v. 12).
Is it true? Did our Lord experience all of these reproaches?
- Was He hated without just cause by His enemies?
The very first time Christ opened His mouth to preach in a synagogue, the entire audience arose in rage and led Him out to throw Him off a cliff – He miraculously escaped.
Study the hatred of the people and leaders of Israel and it will defy all logic.
When Christ cast out demons, the leaders accused Him of being in league with the devil.
- Was Christ rejected by the biological sons of his mother as David wrote?
We know from Mark’s Gospel that Mary and Joseph had at least 6 children, maybe more. The names of four sons and 2 daughters are recorded in Mark chapter 6:3.
We also know that they thought Jesus had lost his mind; John 7:5 records, For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”
- Did David’s prophecy come true that the King would experience the deepest agony any soul could endure – and with much weeping?
Who could doubt that agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus underwent such agony of soul that the capillaries underneath his skin burst and his sweat was mixed with blood.
The tenses of the verbs in John’s Gospel indicate that Jesus didn’t just kneel and pray, but he fell to his knees and prayed and then got up and staggered and fell again to his knees and prayed and over and over again.
No one has experienced agony of soul like Him.
- Will He be made fun of by the people, as David sang in his 69th song and verse 11?
There is not another person I know of whose name has become a curse word. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, Confucius . . . Oh Mohammed . . . Well Buddha.”
- Will Christ be criticized by the leaders of His nation?
- Will the Lord become the subject of perverse songs and mockery by His ungodly world?
He was then - for they mocked Him even as He was dying. No matter how much you might hate someone, can you imagine the depth of hatred that would mock and curse someone who was in the midst of dying a horrible death?
The leaders sneered at Him, Luke recorded, “You saved others . . . save yourself! And the soldiers mocked Him too saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” (Luke 23:35-37)
Why the mockery of Christ? Why, to this day are there
movies and plays and songs and comedians that love to make fun of Christ.
One of the best selling novels of our day, The Di Vinci
Code mocks the claim of Christ’s deity by saying that
Jesus married Mary Magdalene and raised a family in
That is neither true nor new.
It’s the repackaging of an old lie, drunk with arrogant pride that loves to mock the symbol of all that is Holy and pure.
I found it fascinating to read Donald Grey Barnhouse’s commentary on this text and hear him tell of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City that put on a ballet called, “The Sin of Jesus Christ.” One of the dancers, representing Jesus Christ, was on a cross; Mary Magdalene danced sensuously before Him, and an evil character portraying Satan danced with Mary until Jesus came down from the cross and wooed her back to Him and away from His rival. The reviews in the leading newspapers and magazines critiqued the music and the dancing, but there was not a word about the blasphemy of this production.
By the way, it was performed in 1959.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 40
The world hated the Savior then and it hates Him today.
Do you want to get angry and lash out at their
blasphemy? Do we riot in the streets and take the lives of hostages for such blasphemy against our true and living Lord? No – the world is blinded by the god of this world. Would you get angry at a blind man if he stepped on your foot?
The truth is, the hatred of Christ fulfills the prophecy of scripture.
Before He ever touched the planet through human birth and form, He had already been named by the prophet Isaiah, “The Man of Sorrows . . . He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . despised . . . oppressed . . . afflicted . . . a lamb led to slaughter.” (Isaiah 53)
The willingness of Christ to please the Father despite the misunderstanding, ridicule, slander, persecution, hatred, slander, mockery, cruelty, brutality, and death, is only one more thing Paul is bringing before the strong in Romans 15 who dares to be like Christ!
Is it any wonder that so few would ever say, “I will be willing to impersonate the Savior . . . I am willing to impersonate the Suffering Sacrifice.” But is that not what Paul has called us to – I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice . . .
I will share His grief . . .
I will respond to my sorrows like Him . . .
I will bear the slander and misunderstanding of others . . .
I will embrace the cross.
For those who will be the strong ones – bearing the burdens of the weak ones – striving for the unity of the body and the edification of the believer;
- Imitate the quality of supportiveness
- Imitate the quality of selflessness
- Imitate the quality of sacrifice
And finally, imitate
4. The Quality of Servanthood
8. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God . . .
What you could expect Paul to write is “I say that Christ has become the sovereign to the Jews on behalf of the truth of God;” or, “I say that Christ has become the Lord – the Master – the King who reigns. . .”
But no – He has become the servant.
What’s really shocking to first century ears is the Paul’s connection of servant and Christ. Christ is the Messianic title of Sovereignty . . . the Messiah comes to reign . . . to throw off oppressors and mount the throne of David.
Christ and Servant are not connections, they are contradictions to the human mind and spirit.
Oh, but Christ came, and took on the form of a bondservant and humbled himself – even to the point of death.
You want to impersonate the Savior?
Sign up to play the servant.
You say, “Well, I think I’m already there . . . I think I’m doing pretty well in the category . . . but how can you tell?”
You will not know be able to tell if you have a servant’s spirit until someone treats you like one.
Then you will know!
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators was visiting Taiwan on one of his overseas trips. During the visit he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians. The trails were wet, and their shoes became caked with mud. Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman. Without hesitation the man replied, “The morning after we arrived at the village, I arose from bed to get dressed and discovered that the Christian leader from America had arisen before me and removed the mud from my boots . . . what I remember most about him is this – Dawson Trotman cleaned my shoes.
Adapted from Jerry Bridges, “Loving by Serving,” Discipleship Journal (May/June 1985)
Paul writes so clearly, none of us can miss it in Romans 15:1. Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.” 8. For I say that Christ has become a servant . . .”
This is the principle of imitation . . . and it is so rare, that if anyone practices it around you, you will more than likely never forget it!
And that’s the way to make your way through the fog of life – and help other Christians find their way too.
I recently read a story that I’ve tracked down and verified – it was actually first put into print a few years ago by a Rabbi. In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. It is formally known as The Jewish Center for Special Education.
Some children remain in this school for their entire school career, while others can be main-streamed into conventional schools. At a fund-raising dinner for the school, the father of one of the mentally disabled children delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.
After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is the character of God?”
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish. “I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the character that he seeks is in the way people treat my child.”
He then told the following story. One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?”
Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”
Shaya and his father were thrilled. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning,
Shaya's team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.
However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya, and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his team-mate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.
Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were; so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.”
Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third." As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya, run home."
Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as if he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day,” Shaya’s father said softly with tears rolling down his face, “those boys revealed the character of God.”
Adapted from Rabbi Paysach Krohn, “God’s Perfection” on preachingtoday.com
No matter who the audience is, when a person impersonates the spirit of sacrifice and selflessness and supportiveness and Servanthood . . . no one ever forgets.
And as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned . . . there isn’t any better way to make it through the fog of life any better way than surrendering to this principle of imitation.
Impersonating the Savior
Which is just another way of saying with Paul, “That I may know Him; the power of his resurrection . . . and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)