Rom 12:1-6 (to “gifts”)
2 Timothy 1:14; 2:1,19-22
I would like to speak about individual responsibility. I want to speak firstly of the obligation of every man, woman and child of responsible age to heed God’s call in the gospel, to repent and put their faith in Christ; and then to speak about the responsibility of individual believers to lay their bodies upon the altar and to undertake Christian service. I next want to speak about a believer’s individual responsibility in a local company; and, finally, of our responsibility to the Lord Jesus when things go badly wrong within the Christian profession.
Individual responsibility is taught in the Bible from beginning to end. Often in our society people blame their upbringing, or their environment, or other things when they commit evil. But in the Bible God teaches each of us to be responsible for our conduct. When God challenged Adam after our first parents had sinned, he blamed his wife (Gen 3:12). When God then spoke to Eve, Eve blamed the devil (v13). Both of them tried to avoid personal responsibility. When God later challenged Cain after he had murdered Abel, he said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9): he did not accept responsibility for his evil action.
Alas, sin invaded the world: all humanity – men, women and children – have failed in responsibility. But right at the start of the reign of sin, God provided the answer. He said that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). God also provided coats of skin to cover man and his wife. God looked on to the incoming of Jesus, the One Who would annul Satan, and through His death would deliver souls from the power of Satan. All are responsible to recognise they are sinners and avail themselves of God’s wonderful offer of salvation in Jesus.
So, in the Epistle to the Romans, where we get the teaching of the gospel, Paul says, “The same Lord of all is rich towards all that call upon Him.” Despite the billions of people who live in this world, Jesus has the answer for every man, woman and child who has failed in responsibility; He alone has the answer. He “is rich towards all.” He can provide forgiveness of sins. He can provide peace with God. He can provide the gift of the Holy Spirit. What rich provision of God!
Are there any here still in their sins, who do not yet know the Saviour for themselves? It says here, “Every one whosoever, who shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” Every one! Provision is there for everyone to call on the name of the Lord to be saved from wrath, to be saved from hell, to know that God has cast our sins behind His back (Isa 38:17) because of the finished work of Jesus. How wonderful to know that our sins are gone, and gone for ever!
That is just the beginning of our blessing. It is also a joyful matter to experience the strength that comes from Christ as we believers go through this world, with all the pitfalls and difficulties that there are in it. You and I can call on the name of the Lord any time of the day or night. Nehemiah had several very short prayers. He asked God to strengthen him several times, and God did strengthen him! When he was afraid before the emperor, he prayed (Neh 2:2‑4). He proved that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
You boys and girls at school, you can call on the name of the Lord any time – in the playground, at your studies, at night, when you are going through difficulties. Those of us who are older also must continually call on the name of the Lord. Whatever the difficulties, at home, bringing up families, at work, in ill health, call on the name of the Lord and prove the blessing that comes from Him. He is a wonderful Saviour!
O Jesus, Friend unfailing,
How dear art Thou to me!
I now want to speak about our responsibility as believers.
I have observed that when people come to faith in Christ, they immediately wish to please Him, to commit their lives to Him. I think that is a normal response of anyone who is genuinely affected by the saving grace of Christ, and that is what Paul enjoins in Romans chapter 12. He says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice.” He emphasises the believer’s individual commitment to Christ.
The first service that he enjoins is to present our bodies a living sacrifice. In Old Testament times, Israelites brought animals to be offered to God. These sacrifices pointed on to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We are not enjoined to offer an animal sacrifice: we are exhorted to offer ourselves, each one of us individually, to present our bodies a living sacrifice. My body does not now belong to me, it belongs to Christ. Paul says elsewhere, “Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit … and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19).
Paul says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice,” and that it is to be “holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service.” When I realise how much Jesus has done for me I should then commit my life wholly to Him, and “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Paul then warns us of matters that will hinder us from holding our bodies for the will of God. He says, “Be not conformed to this world.” The world is constantly trying to drag us down to its level. Jesus, when here, lived for the pleasure of God. The world does not live for the pleasure of God. The world lives for its own pleasure, for its own glory, for its own aggrandisement, for the glory of man, for satisfying the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Those are the principles upon which this present evil world is built. But the Christian, as coming under the sway of Christ, should not be conformed to this world. Every one of us, old or young, has to beware of this tendency. The world is all around us; we are surrounded by evil things, and we meet people who are not followers of Jesus. Our constant tendency is to be dragged down to the level of this world. If that happens, God and Christ and the precious things that centre in Jesus then cease to be the prominent focus of our lives.
So we are enjoined not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Earlier today we were referring to the importance of prayer, of reading the Bible, and the importance of cultivating a personal link with Jesus. That is to be on a continuing basis, by feeding our minds on Him and on what He has done. The Bible says of the spouse in the Song of Songs, “Who is this, she that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke?” (ch 3:6). “Pillars of smoke” would suggest a sustained line of sacrifice. In the tabernacle system there were daily sacrifices. We Christians need to be maintained day by day in presenting our bodies a living sacrifice.
I sometimes ask myself, ‘Is my commitment to the Lord Jesus as much as it was 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago? 40 years ago?’ Each of us knows when we first committed ourselves to the Lord Jesus, but this commitment must be maintained. We cannot help the ageing process, being in ill health or becoming frail and weak and being unable to do things we could do before, but there is no reason why our commitment to the Lord Jesus should not be maintained. Younger people should see older Christians committed to God’s will, and seeking to stand for the things of God.
Paul also gives another warning to each believer. “I say, through the grace which has been given to me, to every one that is among you, not to have high thoughts above what he should think; but to think so as to be wise.” We are all in danger of having inflated ideas about ourselves, of our own importance and of our own status, even among fellow Christians. I believe our links with others are hindered if we cultivate inflated opinions about ourselves. What an example we have in the lowliness of Jesus! Paul writes in the Epistle to the Philippians about the mind that was in Christ Jesus – the mind to go down. He refers to His stoop into manhood, and the way He “humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross” – and he says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5-8).
Paul then refers to “one body,” because we are not intended just to be isolated Christians. One of the great truths entrusted to the apostle Paul was that the Church, the assembly, is one body in Christ. So he says, “As in one body” – that is, the human body – “we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; thus we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other.” So, believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, you and I, form part of the one body in Christ. Two practical aspects that hinder the working out of “one body in Christ” are stated here. One is conformity to the world, because the one body in Christ is distinct from the world. Jesus said, “Ye are not of the world … as I am not of the world” (John 15:19, 17:14). The other danger is being inflated with high thoughts of ourselves. We need lowliness of mind to be able to fit in with one another and work things out together in the one body in Christ.
Now, that does not mean that everyone has the same office, because Paul then goes on in the chapter to say, “But having different gifts.” We are all different. I was reminded about such differences recently when I was listening to some brothers engaged in open-air preaching. Some people are good at that, and some people are not. We have not all been given the same gifts from God. Having put our body on the altar as a living sacrifice, each of us should then find out our unique service. Every believer has a measure of grace from Christ on high. We are not robots: we are not created from a production line. Everybody is different. We should learn to merge with others, but should also find out what each of us is given that is special, and seek God’s help to fulfil it.
I now want to speak about the individual overcomer in Revelation. John wrote the book of Revelation when he was in Patmos, banished there because he was a believer true to Christ. He was there “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:9). His body was on the altar – his body was presented as a living sacrifice. While in Patmos, John received an amazing vision from God, and he was told to write three things: what he had seen; the things that are; and the things that are about to be after these things (ch1:19). It is very important for us to differentiate these three aspects.
First of all, John saw Jesus in a way that he had never done before. Now, the apostle John knew the Lord Jesus very, very well. No disciple had known the Lord Jesus better when He was on earth than the apostle John. John lay in His bosom and leant on His breast (John 13:23,25). Even the apostle Peter, at one stage, requested John to ask Jesus about a difficulty because John was so near Jesus (John 13:24). John says in his Gospel, “We have contemplated His glory” (John 1:14). Yet when Jesus appeared in Revelation 1, John was frightened. Why was that? Well, the Lord Jesus was seen clothed in judicial clothes, as a judge; He was not administering kindness and grace, but was about to judge. Later, John would see the Lord Jesus come forth to reign as King of kings with the armies of heaven following Him (Rev 19:11‑16).
Secondly, he saw the Lord Jesus walking amidst the seven golden lamps, among these seven churches all located in present-day Turkey. John saw the Lord Jesus personally, walking amidst the seven churches. I am sure it is also a picture of the history of the Church from the days of the apostle to the rapture of the Church. These are “the things that are.”
Thirdly, John was told to write the things that were to be “after these” things. (See also ch 4:1.) At that stage, John is caught up into heaven. He then has a vision of the Church when it is taken to be with Christ in heaven and when many judicial activities then take place on the earth.
But in chapters 2 and 3 John sees the Lord Jesus walking among each of the seven assemblies (or churches) and records His messages for each of them. In five of the seven assemblies the Lord Jesus tells them to repent, because there were features in them that were not according to His mind. That was so even in John’s day! But in all seven of them there is a message to the overcomer. Irrespective of which company of Christians you are in, even if you think it is the best on earth, you still need to be an overcomer. Every single one of us must be an overcomer.
Just because it is right that believers should merge with each other and work things out together as enjoined in the Bible, our personal responsibility to the Lord is not negated. Each of us here has a personal responsibility towards the Lord. The call, “He that overcomes,” applied to Ephesus and to all the rest of the seven churches. Although Jesus did not criticise Smyrna or Philadelphia, yet there is still the message to each of them, “He that overcomes,” along with the injunction to hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. However, I specially want to speak about Laodicea. To be honest, I feel more comfortable speaking about Laodicea than I do about any of the others, because I understand that assembly best.
The Lord Jesus commences by presenting Himself in a unique way, a beautiful presentation that should awaken the desire of everyone who heard it to be true to the Lord. To Laodicea Jesus says, “These things says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” Let us think about Jesus as the faithful and true Witness. No-one fulfilled his responsibilities better than Jesus. He did it perfectly. Whatever situation He was in, whether with His parents as a boy of 12, whether tempted by the devil in different ways, whether engaged in His service of healing, preaching and teaching, He was the faithful Witness. What a wonderful example for us!
But this church in Laodicea was rich; they had grown rich and they were in need of nothing (v17). They did not need Jesus! Terrible thing, is it not? It is sorrowful that professing Christians can go on with certain routines, or many outward activities, and yet Christ be kept out. They did not realise what a terrible state they were in. How easy it is for that to happen! We can have meetings, read the Scriptures, talk about the Scriptures, and Christ be kept out! They thought they were all right, they did not think they needed anything else, they were grown rich, everything was apparently going well – but Christ was outside. Have you ever felt that? I remember being where I felt Christ was outside. John was not referring to the Jewish synagogue or heathen temple, but to the assembly of God, which would comprise all the believers that were in Laodicea – and Christ was outside!
What does the Lord Jesus do? Does He give up on them? No, He does not give up. In His grace He is knocking at the door! Think about Jesus – He is knocking at the door, knocking at the door of this church, Laodicea. Jesus has His own way of seeking to get in and make His presence felt. Each individual in this assembly was responsible to open the door to Jesus. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and am knocking; if any one hear My voice and open the door.” “Any one!” Notice that, a message to each individual: “If any one hear My voice and open the door.”
Think of what blessing that individual believer receives from the Lord. “I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with Me.” Is that not beautiful? That is what Jesus wants to do to each of us here. He wants us to enjoy His company and He wants to enjoy our company. That is normal Christianity. We were speaking earlier today about abiding in Christ. He says, “Abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4). If we are abiding in Christ and He in us, we shall know what it is to sup with Him, to enjoy His company, to know His precious things.
So here is a word to the individual. Even in this company in Laodicea He says, “If any one hear My voice and open the door, I will come in unto him.” “Unto him” – notice that: it is the individual that gets the blessing of Jesus coming in and supping with him. Jesus says, “I will … sup with him;” He will enter in to our circumstances, each one of us individually, as we open the door to Him and sup with Him.
Jesus sups with you. You sup with Him. I think the order given in this verse is important. He says, “I will come in unto him and sup with him,” so that He comes into your individual situation. He knows all your circumstances. He knows my circumstances. He wants to come in. He wants each one of us to know what it is for Him to enter sympathetically into our circumstances. He would bring in His own help and support exactly where we are. Then He wants us to sup with Him. He wants us to enjoy privilege with Him and have a foretaste of heaven. He wants us to enter into the precious things of God that centre in Him. Think of that promise to the individual in the church in Laodicea who opens the door to Christ.
Jesus does not give up on anyone here tonight. How many people there are within the Christian profession! How many places there may be that have very little, if any, room for Jesus! But how precious to let Him in, to sup with Him – He understands your situation, He would help you and guide you and support you and lift you up so that you might know what it is to sup with Him.
I want now to speak a little about 2 Timothy, because this letter provides individual guidance when things go badly wrong. Paul wrote this final letter to Timothy, a person who had accompanied him on several of his journeys and had probably been converted through Paul’s ministry in his first journey from Antioch. Timothy had received considerable instruction from Paul. Paul loved him and trusted him. He had served with Paul “as a child a father … in the work of the glad tidings” (Phil 2:22).
Paul knew that the state among believers was not good. He says in chapter 1 of this letter to Timothy, “All who are in Asia … have turned away from me” (v15). That was very sad, because many of the believers in Asia had been converted through Paul’s preaching. In chapter 2 he speaks of “men who as to the truth have gone astray,” who were saying things that were overthrowing the faith of others (v18). In chapter 3 he describes those “having a form of piety but denying the power of it” (v5): an imitation of Christian practice, but not genuineness of faith. In chapter 4 he says there would be a time when persons “will turn away their ear from the truth” (v4).
We live in these times. People have not only turned away from Paul personally, but today Paul’s ministry is largely discredited by many who take Christian ground. Not everyone discredits Paul’s ministry, but many have turned away from it. Now, to turn away from Paul’s ministry is very serious. Paul was entrusted with precious things. He was entrusted with the truth of the glad tidings for the nations, the glad tidings of the glory of the blessed God. Paul was entrusted with the truth of the mystery, the truth that Christ is our Head in heaven and that He has His body here. He taught the distinctive heavenly calling of the Church, it being not of the world as Christ is not of the world. He was entrusted with the truth of the rapture of the Church. He was also entrusted with the truth of divine order and the relative functions of man and woman in the local assembly. We can see therefore that it is a very serious thing to turn away from Paul. I believe turning away from Paul is iniquity – we should learn to name things as Scripture names them.
The exhortations of Paul to Timothy should be heeded by every believer. Paul says, “Keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit entrusted.” Some commentaries on 2 Timothy say such statements apply to those who are ministers or in positions of leadership, and it certainly does apply to all who undertake Christian ministry; but 2 Timothy emphasises the individual responsibility of each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, because chapter 2 specifically calls on “every one” who names the name of the Lord. That is you, me, and every other believer.
Paul is saying to Timothy, ‘Look, you have been entrusted with the most precious things in the universe, which you have received through my ministry. Look after them!’ If others surrender divine things that are taught in the Bible, do not you give them up! Do not let me give them up! Let me stand by what is contained in the Scriptures!
Later on he says, in chapter 3, “Abide in those things which thou hast learned … knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (v14). Timothy had learned those things from the apostle Paul, and he is told to abide in them. This applies to each of us now. Hold on to them, do not let them go.
We cannot carry out these injunctions in our own strength, but God has given to each believer the gift of the Spirit. He says in chapter 1, “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion” (v7). Let us each hold on to what God has given us, which is taught in the Holy Scriptures.
Paul also says, “Be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.” I think that is a lovely expression. I think of an enormous reservoir which will never run out. Where I live the authorities have imposed a hose-pipe ban because the reservoirs are low. I tell you, nothing will ever run out in the reservoir that is in Christ Jesus! Everything is safe and secure up there. What you and I have to do is be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He gives us the needed supply to enable us to keep going.
Later in chapter 2, after referring to bad doctrine that was being taught, Paul then tells us that “the firm foundation of God stands.” God has not changed since the day of Pentecost, since the days of the apostles. God’s standards are the same. God’s truths are the same. The Holy Spirit is the same. Christ in glory is the same. The firm foundation of God stands, and the Lord knows those that are His.
Now, the two expressions about the seal here come from Numbers 16, when there had been a great rebellion against God in the time of Moses. What were the people then going to do? God says, ‘Tomorrow I will make known who belongs to Me’ (v5). But then what they had to do was to depart from the tents of wicked men (v26). That is where these expressions come from, “The Lord knows those that are His;” and, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity.” The latter is my responsibility. It is your responsibility.
This is not withdrawing over a triviality. Paul names persons who were undermining the whole basis of Christianity (vv17‑18). Such subversive activities are going on today, undermining the whole basis of Christianity. What is a believer to do? The Scripture is plain: he is to withdraw from iniquity. Then he says, “If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in separating himself from them, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work.” Again, the individual is stressed: “One … shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified” – set apart for holy purposes – “serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
Then Paul says, “Youthful lusts flee.” Run away from them! You do it! I should do it! So we separate from iniquity, flee youthful lusts, and we then find others with whom to work out divine things.
When I was twelve I asked to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread, and a brother came to see me and he read this Scripture to me. I have never forgotten it. He was quite right to read this Scripture. He read this Scripture to help me to understand firstly that there are many people who belong to Christ, and secondly that there is a right way for the individual Christian to follow, where he can find the presence of the Lord and link on rightly in practical fellowship with others.
There are many things being said today about with whom to have fellowship. We should also remember that we can have fellowship in people’s sins. Have you ever thought of that? I will give you a few pertinent Scriptures to think about. “Do not have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather also reprove them” (Eph 5:11). “What fellowship [is there] of light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). “Lay hands quickly on no man, nor partake in others’ sins” (1 Tim 5:22). “Come out of her, My people, that ye have not fellowship in her sins, and that ye do not receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4). I just commend these Scriptures for your consideration. Before you start thinking about having fellowship with anyone, make sure, and let me make sure, that we are not going to having fellowship in others’ sins. The Bible teaches that association with evil is defiling. Do not forget that.
So, there is thus the obligation on believers, on each one individually, to withdraw from iniquity, an obligation to flee youthful lusts, an obligation to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. These last are four moral qualities of Christianity, a wonderful blend of qualities that each of us should pursue with others.
Paul then speaks of other things that should mark an individual believer. “A bondman of the Lord ought not to contend, but be gentle towards all; apt to teach; forbearing; in meekness setting right those who oppose.” Reaching out to others – even those who oppose – must not stop. Paul is not teaching isolationism. At the end of this letter, Paul also enjoins Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (ch 4:5).
So, individual responsibility is important throughout our lives. First of all, there is an obligation on every sinner to get right with God while it is still the day of grace. Then, having begun a life of faith in Christ, each one of us should place our body on the altar, to be here to serve God on a sacrificial basis.
2 Timothy uses the expression, “serviceable to the Master.” I think that means serviceable to the Master for praise and worship, serviceable to the Master in care for the Lord’s people, and serviceable to the Master in reaching out towards others.
Let us seek to be overcomers, as Jesus was an Overcomer, while we wait for Him to come again, to come into His rights. May the Lord help us to think about these things, and bless us all, for His name’s sake.
2 October 2010