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Beyond Greeting Cards and the Golden Rule

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
August 10, 2023 12:00 am

Beyond Greeting Cards and the Golden Rule

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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August 10, 2023 12:00 am

Listen to the full-length version or read the manuscript of this message here: In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul challenges us to stop believing society's self-preserving, self-serving criteria for relationships, and start demonstrating to the world that real love -- God's love -- goes far beyond greeting cards and the golden rule.



Just reading that final paragraph will allow you to see why I want to call this series of studies the grace factor. This is the dynamic of grace and it should dawn on us all that we have inherited grace from God. Now we are to be a people marked in our relationships, our activities as giving grace to people who might not deserve it either. We as sons and daughters of a gracious God should become gracious people too.

My guess is that we all know intuitively that the principle Stephen just described is true. As recipients of God's grace, we should be demonstrating grace to others in our relationships. How are you doing with that? If we're honest with ourselves, we all know that we sometimes fall short. We don't always extend the same grace that we've received. Today, Stephen's going to dive deeper into our relationships and help you understand what grace filled relationships look like.

Let's get started. On March 11, 1830, I have read about a little British girl who was doing her lessons with her tutor. And up to that point, this little girl certainly realized that she was a member of a wealthy family, a great privilege and advantage and luxury that many others did not have.

But on this particular day, the lesson had to do with the royal family. And I have read that as she studied that genealogical chart in her history book, she suddenly became aware of the astounding fact that she was next in line for the throne. It struck her young mind for the very first time that she would one day be the queen of Great Britain. Historians record that at first, little Victoria burst into tears, weeping over the sudden awareness of responsibility and privilege. Then through her tears, she looked up at her tutor and with great determination delivered those immortalized words, if I shall be queen, then I shall be good. She had grasped the relationship between where she would sit and how she should act. It dawned on her that who she was going to be should affect what she was going to be like. The Book of Romans, Paul is developing a relationship between who we are, that's chapters 1 through 11, and how we act.

That's chapters 12 through 16. And it's as if he wants it to dawn on us that we are royalty. We are heirs to the throne, as it were.

So we must act now a certain way. You may remember he began his rather practical comments in verse 3 by saying in Romans 12, 4, through the grace given to me, I say. In other words, because I am a recipient of the grace of God, grace being what?

Unmerited favor, right? Receiving something undeserved from God. So then I want you, Paul will say, to treat everybody else with the same grace. Look at verse 14, where we pick up our study and let's go to the end of the chapter.

I don't want you to get the idea we're going to cover all of this today, but let's just read it, okay? Verse 14. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and curse not.

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 upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Just reading that final paragraph will allow you to see why I want to call this series of studies the grace factor. This is the dynamic of grace, and it should dawn on us all that we have inherited unmerited, undeserved grace from God. Now we are to be a people marked in our relationships, our communication, our vocabulary, our activities, as giving grace to people who might not deserve it either.

I want to repeat it as simply as I can. We as sons and daughters of a gracious God should become gracious people too. In case you're wondering who everyone else might be that we're to show grace toward, Paul introduces us back in verse 14 and 15, which we'll cover today to three people.

Someone who is causing you heartache, someone who is experiencing heartache, and someone who is enjoying happiness. Let's take a closer look at the first one. Paul dares to suggest this. Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not. This is one of those verses that you read and you think, yeah, right. Paul doesn't expect me to take this literally. You know, it's just one of those things Christians say. Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not.

That's great. Paul, you know, he could do that. He was the giant of the faith. He's just writing this down to maybe make us feel a little guilty that we don't bless enough. Maybe we should persecute those who persecute us a little less. I can't imagine, could you, that Paul is literally telling us, here's how we're to respond to those who persecute us, literally pursue us.

But he is with this kind of grace. Our nature is to do anything about this, right? That's why we pull up behind a car that has a bumper sticker on it that says something like, don't get mad, get even. We go, yeah, that's right. I'm thinking about that today.

Somebody I need to get even with. Or maybe another bumper sticker that says, do unto others before they do it unto you. It's a good one. It's the American mentality. You need to understand that Paul is summarizing here what Jesus Christ has already said earlier. We know it is the golden rule from Matthew 7, verse 12, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That's different, isn't it? It happens to be a radical departure from human nature. In fact, for us, it might be the greatest test of grace.

Take the initiative. Jesus, recorded by Luke, said it this way, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, Luke 6. That's summarized here now in Romans chapter 12, verse 14. And listen, that statement, you have to understand, nowhere in pre-Christian Greek literature do you ever hear the suggestion that you are to bless, that you are to eulogize an enemy. You might say some nice things about your enemy when he's dead, but you don't eulogize a living enemy.

That's the word used here. Say kind things about that one who is saying hateful things about you. No wonder this is so radically different from what the world could come up with. The world does come up with some commendable versions of how to treat enemies. I discovered in my research that about 500 years before Christ preached this sermon on the mat, Confucius and his disciples declared that the one word which should be a rule for life was this word, reciprocation. Confucius supposedly said it this way, what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.

And that's about the best that the world can come up with. You don't want to be treated mean, well don't treat people mean. This was common wisdom. Socrates said basically the same thing as did Philo, a first century philosopher and theologian. But that's not what Jesus Christ was saying at all. You do not live by reciprocating. You live according to this one word, which is grace. It isn't that you respond as others treat you or you don't do things to others that you don't want them to do to you. You do to others what you wish they would do to you.

That is not reciprocating. Anything that is grace, nothing short of it. In fact in that same Sermon on the Mount recorded by Matthew, it's summarized here in Romans 12, in fact why don't you turn back to Matthew chapter 5. Matthew chapter 5, where the Lord will not only deliver the golden rule, we won't deal with that, but where he gives us illustrations where we're to go way beyond it. Way beyond it. Look at verse 41 of Matthew 5. Verse 41, whoever will force you to go one mile, go with them how many? Two.

In other words, go beyond. During the days of Jesus Christ, the law allowed a Roman soldier to force any citizen to carry his gear for one million, which is where we get our word mile. He could compel anybody to carry his heavy gear. And to the Jew this was especially disgraceful. They had to carry the gear of their oppressor. Not only that, they had to touch unclean things belonging to a Gentile and they just got all over them. Jesus is saying here that if you're compelled to carry the gear of some Roman soldier for a mile, at the end of that mile say something like, listen, I belong to Jesus Christ and because I belong to him, I'm going to keep carrying your gear.

In fact, I'll go another mile. You can imagine what the Roman soldier must have thought. What grace to do something like that.

Look back at verse 40. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, go further. Let him have your coat also. The tunic was the undergarment. And even in Moses' law, if someone took your property or sued you for that property and took that tunic, that undergarment, they were not allowed to take the coat. The coat was very important.

It doubled as a blanket during those cold nights. So the law prescribed as it related to property, they could have your tunic undergarment, but not your coat. And Jesus says, look, I want you to go beyond. If somebody has a right to your tunic, give them what they do not have a right to give them your coat. When it comes to your property, your liberty, he is in effect saying, take the next step. It's a radical step of bestowing grace upon ones who don't deserve it.

Look back at verse 38. You've heard that it was set an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth. Of course, they'd heard that that's the law of reciprocation. That's the best the world could come up with.

In fact, it was part of the law. At least don't do that. But I say, verse 39, do not resist him who is evil. Note that the one who's evil, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. Now, what does he mean there? That we're to go around looking for a beating? That we're going to be a doormat?

And if somebody slugs us, you know, we're just going to say, well, give us another shot. That isn't what he's saying at all, but we miss it in our culture. If I'm going to fulfill or someone fulfills this declaration of the Lord, the only way a right-handed person, which is the normal case in the world, is able to slap someone on the right cheek is to reverse the direction and with the back of the hand slap the right cheek. You see, this wasn't a reference of harming the body. This is a reference to harming the honor and the dignity of somebody. I am going to dishonor him. And in that culture, that means I'm going to with the back of my hand slap him on his right cheek. And Jesus said, if someone dishonors you, if someone insults you, if someone embarrasses you, turn the other cheek. In other words, let them go with their left hand again and again and again.

That's the point. Jesus Christ is telling us to do something that would take great courage. You know, it would actually be easier to be beaten than dishonored. Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other. Christ is effectively saying that we should be willing to be ridiculed for his sake, willing to be dishonored.

Jesus physically felt the back of a soldier's hand on his cheek. But this would be opposite of our own nature where we dish it back as quickly as we receive it. You don't sit there and you don't take anything off of anybody ever. You say, but Stephen, you're in church, you know.

We don't do that. You're preaching to the choir. How many Christians have said, I'm praying that God will give me another job because they make fun of me at that job and I know God doesn't want me to go through that, so I'm leaving that company. I'm never going to speak to that family member again. They mocked my faith. They made fun of me. They don't appreciate me.

I'm changing schools or classrooms because those students pick on me for my faith. They dishonor me. They make fun of my religion. I'll show them.

I'm moving to another apartment or home. My neighbors know I won't retaliate because I'm a Christian and they make life for me miserable. They mock me.

They make fun of me. I'm moving away. Surely God does not want me to be unhappy and go through this kind of unhappiness. Oh, Paul summarizes the teaching of our Lord in Romans 12 14 by telling us to do the unimaginable, the unthinkable, the unnatural to our own fleshly nature to move beyond the golden rule and actually bless those who persecute you, bless, eulogize and curse not.

What a test of grace. Now, verse 15 introduces us to another scenario. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. The early verse had a definite article, which means there is someone in particular that is persecuting you or making life miserable for you. But here there is no article.

He is simply saying it this way. Rejoice with whomever you see rejoicing. Weep with the weeping ones. Whoever's weeping, you go weep with them. Christianity, by the way, does not strip the believer of emotion. If anything, it intensifies it, whether it's laughter or crying. One author wrote perceptively these words, Christianity is neither denying life's hardships nor dulling life's excitements. Our perspective of eternity in Christ frees us to enter into the full emotion of living. Both laughter and tears are appropriate before God.

Think of it. Our Lord went to a wedding feast. He, a single man, entered into their joy. He did not show up and say pipe down.

He entered in. For the believer who will demonstrate the grace factor, we are introduced to the second person who is rejoicing. And Paul says we are to rejoice with the rejoicing ones.

And you want to know something? I think that's harder than weeping with those who weep. It's easier to weep with the sorrowful than rejoice with the successful, especially when we aren't enjoying the same success. You can cry with someone you work with when they come by their cubicle and they say, oh, I lost my job. And you cry with them. But they show up at having been promoted over you. You won't believe it. I'm your new boss. Praise the Lord. That's great. You ever notice in Sunday school, the prayer requests far outnumber praise reports?

I mean, you're downright sick of those. So and so got a job promotion. So and so closed on their house. So and so's child made first string. I'd rather talk about prayer requests. The touring and grace means that if one member is honored, Paul wrote, all the members rejoice with him. First Corinthians 12, 26. It is to adopt the attitude of Paul who wrote, my joy is when you have joy.

Second Corinthians 2, 3. The opposite of rejoicing, by the way, with those who are rejoicing would be what? The opposite might be envying those who are rejoicing. It might be competing with those who are rejoicing, maybe avoiding those who are rejoicing, maybe resenting those who are rejoicing. Oh, God, why is it that your hand is always on the other guy?

You can console, but you cannot congratulate. You're not alone, by the way, in the struggle. We all struggle with this. Listen, as Paul instructed the first century church through Titus, for we were foolish.

How? We spent our lives in malice and envy. In other words, we ran around just envying everybody. Everybody had a better story.

Everybody had better stuff. That's the life of the unbeliever. And we come into faith in Christ and we carry that old nature with us and we easily envy. He said, but the kindness of God, our savior and his love for us appeared. He saved us that being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs. So be careful to engage in good deeds.

Did you catch that? We are heirs by the grace of God. So now engage in showing grace to everybody else like little Victoria, you know, let it dawn on us that we are royal heirs to the throne. So we shall be good.

How? By demonstrating graciousness, rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, asking God to cleanse our motives and our selfishness and our heart of envy. And we practice it even though it may be awkward or difficult, and maybe our emotions are back there and our demonstration of grace is here, knowing that eventually emotion will catch up to the right kind of activity.

Paul introduces us to the third person. Weep with those who weep. By the way, these are imperatives.

You could draw an exclamation point after the phrase rejoice with those who rejoice, exclamation point, weep with those who weep. These are commands. The problem is not can't. The problem is won't. I can do what? All things.

He doesn't command what he cannot enable us to do. Now weep with those who are weeping. This is going well beyond greeting cards, though they are nice to get in the mail. This is entering into the suffering. I've heard a few illustrations from our own body. There are friends I heard of recently who painted the home of a single mother who was abandoned by her husband, leaving her with her young children. They went into her home while she was away for the weekend and fixed everything, painted everything, cleaned the carpet. I heard of a woman who came over and cut and styled the hair of a widow, a group of guys who showed up to mow the grass of a terminally ill man. See, that is entering into the world of suffering and caring. This is the Lord, by the way, showing up at the funeral of Lazarus. And he did not say when he showed up, wipe those tears away. Do you not believe in heaven? Where's your faith?

Don't you believe in God? What did he do? Big tears formed in his eyes and course down his weather beaten cheeks and they splashed on the ground. See, Jesus Christ never ran away from people who were grieving. He embraced them and he wept with them. Let me read this text again with this in mind. Maybe it'll give a little more insight on the character of our Lord.

Listen to this. Isaiah said, he was the man of sorrows. He was acquainted with grief. Surely our griefs he himself bore and our sorrows he carried.

By the way, he's still doing that for us today, isn't he? We have a high priest who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities until that day when sorrows will cease and grief will be no more. These are the three people Paul introduces to us and our gracious response to the one who is experiencing happiness. They may not feel they need grace at the moment. They're on top, but you share it with them as you set your own lot in life aside and celebrate their success. Secondly, to the one who is experiencing heartache. They do not feel grace. They may have reached the conclusion they'll never feel it again. And you come along and remind them of it and demonstrate it as you enter into their sorrow and give them hope.

Third, the one who is actually causing you heartache. This is your enemy. They do not deserve grace, but you offer it because you understand that grace is given to those who do not deserve it. By the way, don't ever forget that the man writing this letter saw a demonstration of it like we probably have never seen. Paul had stood by when Stephen preached his first and final message and the Jewish crowd became incensed at his claim of Christ's deity and they picked up stones and they began to pummel him with rocks, putting him to death under the law as they interpreted it for blaspheming God and they pummeled Stephen. Paul stood by watching the garments and Paul heard Stephen say just before he died, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. Do you think he ever forgot that? I think it's interesting that St. Augustine, fourth century theologian, said this. He said, the church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.

There is no telling who will be brought to the body by the contagious grace and spirit that we exhibit in life. Let me wrap things up by telling you this one story, Watchman Nee. Maybe you've heard of him. He was a Chinese church leader and theologian.

I have all of his books in my library and I've read most of his most popular book, The Normal Christian Life, which is his comments on the book of Romans. He lived in the past generation. He told the story of a Chinese Christian he knew who owned a rice paddy next to a rice paddy owned by an atheist communist. The atheist had scorned his Christian neighbor. He had mocked him.

He had wanted nothing to do with his faith. Furthermore, he sort of added insult to injury. This Christian farmer irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal next to his field. Every day after several hours of pumping, his rice paddy would be covered with water. But then when he left his field, his neighbor would come and remove the boards that allowed the water to flow from the Christian's field down into his own field, thus draining the Christian's field of water.

He did this every day. The Christian struggled with his resentment and anger until he prayed, Lord, if this keeps up, I'm going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I have a family to care for. You know, this is not fair. This is not right.

What am I to do? In answer to his request, Watchman Neece said, the Lord impressed on his heart the truth of this text that we're hearing. The next morning, he arose much earlier than usual in the pre-dawn hours of darkness and he went and removed the boards from his field and then started pumping water into the field of his neighbor.

When it was full, he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice field. In a few weeks, both fields of rice were thriving and this communist had come to faith in Jesus Christ. Why not? This testimony would be too unnatural to be dismissed, too gracious to be ignored. And he, like we, have ample opportunities to act out who we are. It should dawn on us, Paul is saying, it should dawn on us that we are in line to reign. We are royal sons and daughters of God headed for the throne. We then declare by the grace of God, we will be good. We will act who we are. Even in suffering, in the presence of success, in the presence of sorrow, we could choose to avoid it and run from it and ignore it. But we choose to endure it and enter into it and embrace it and thus demonstrate this contagious thing.

It is the grace of God. I'm glad you joined us here on Wisdom for the Heart. Stephen is working his way through a series called Grace Factor and this lesson is entitled, Beyond Greeting Cards and the Golden Rule. We'd love to hear from you. You can write to us at Wisdom International, P.O. Box 37297, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27627. You'll also find us on social media. However you choose to interact with us, I hope we hear from you and I hope you'll join us next time for more Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-10 09:54:58 / 2023-08-10 10:05:03 / 10

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