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  • Writer's pictureClay Burgess

Toward the Mess (Sermon)

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

The concept of “sacrifice” runs throughout the Bible. To “sacrifice” means to give up something that is valuable in order to help someone else. Paul, writer of much of the New Testament, has shown that Jesus was sacrificed for our benefit. He gave His life so we could have life. But that was Jesus. The idea of sacrificing to serve sounds unappealing. We breathe the air of a culture that says the very opposite, sacrifice to serve yourself! If you have to sacrifice at all.

To sacrifice for others might mean getting involved in some mess. Afterall, people are messy and can be high maintenance and tiring. They might get the wrong idea—that you like them, thus they get clingy and it becomes difficult to find an exit strategy! Nobody wants to get hung up in that. Who has the time or energy to work through that for the benefit of someone else?

One of our connecting behaviors here at Connect Church is “move toward the mess.” It falls under the broader category of “Intentional Sacrifice.” It really is a good concept and looks really good on the wall, but is it happening down the hall? Is it occurring in our lives? Do we actually put it into practice?

Let’s pause…

What if the mess that needs moving towards is you? How would you want to be approached? What does the person approaching need to look like? How do they need to act in order to be helpful? You have been wounded, blindsided, and left hurting and disoriented. You are confused and unsure which way to turn. Your confidence has been rattled and the way forward seems very unclear. You need help. You are a mess. Your life is a hot mess! You need compassion and understanding…you need grace. You need love. What does that look like and how will I identify it? Let me show you. If you have your Bible or electronic device meet me at Romans 12.

The One Who Loves, Leads With Grace (9-16)

Romans 12:9—Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

To be genuine is to be sincere, without hypocrisy. It is a term used for mask wearing actors in the Greek world. True love is genuine. It does not pretend. Love does not wear a mask; it is not phony. Sometimes we are afraid to love. Perhaps we fear of rejection or fear commitment.

True love is not passive about evil but has an intense revulsion against it.[i] Abhor (hate) what is evil—draw away, why? Because it destroys and damages and hurts. Where there is love, evil is abhorred. It is not merely lamented nor covered up—it is hated![ii]

To Hold fast to (cling) what is good—means to be wedded to. We are to spend so much time doing good that we do not have time for bad. We must strive to cement, fasten ourselves so firmly to good that you cannot be separated. NOTE: reject sin without rejecting people.

Romans 12:10—Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor— Being mindful of others, courteous, sensitive to needs. Brotherly love—family kind of love. Honor one another above yourselves—put others first—in a friendly competition to treat one another well.[iii]

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)—Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

We should not be tooting our own horns or using others to lift ourselves up. Instead, we should strive with all our strength to show respect to each other, to esteem others and make them feel important.[iv]

Romans 12:11—Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

We are to be enthusiastic or excited! —never lacking zeal—diligence, working hard at accomplishing your goal. Spiritual fervor—boiling over. Don’t be lazy (show some intensity). Don’t have to be loud to be enthusiastic. The idea is in contrast to “apathetic.” Somebody who just doesn’t care.

Romans 12:12—Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer

Being positive, patient, and prayerful—be joyful in hope—can be positive because of hope (Romans 8). Patient in affliction—(persistence) assurance of ultimate outcome.

Trials are a necessary part of the Christian life; they stimulate faith and force us to depend on God. Trials are necessary for spiritual growth. They force us out of ourselves and into complete reliance on God.[v] When you are a mess it is difficult to see or think clearly, you need someone to walk with you and help you see and navigate the trials. You need someone to love you even though they hate where you are at…and you’re not crazy about the location either. You need someone who will help you move at the pace you are able, not the pace they think you should be going.

John Piper writes: “Impatience is a form of unbelief. It’s what we begin to feel when we start to doubt the wisdom of God’s timing or the goodness of God’s guidance. It springs up in our hearts when our plan is interrupted or shattered.”[vi]

“The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss. It’s a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience—to wait in his place, and go at his pace.”[vii]

‘“The key to patience is faith in the future grace of God’s “glorious might” to transform all our interruptions into rewards. In other words, the strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours. This requires great faith in future grace, because the evidence is seldom evident.”’[viii]

We cannot see His hand at work, so we waver, we doubt. In that space, we must be constant in prayer—prayer is faith in action.

John Piper reminds us: “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.”[ix]

Set a time and set a place and pray until you have prayed! Get up empty of self and full of God.

Romans 12:13—Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality

Followers of Jesus are to be selfless sources of blessing to those around them—share…in need—Christ followers are to be generous. We are to practice hospitality—giving of time to somebody. Hospitality flows naturally from love.

John Piper: “No amount of getting can satisfy the soul until it overflows in giving.”[x]

Rosaria Butterfield: “…hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient.”[xi] “Both the giving and receiving bless the church. And if we aren’t giving or receiving—tithes or hospitality—we are robbing God.” Having said that, she goes on: “…radically ordinary Christian hospitality does not happen in La La Land. It’s gritty and messy, and it forces us to deal with diversity and difference of opinion, with difficult people, with our own unrepented sin and hard hearts. It demands forgiveness before any of us is ready to cough it up.”[xii]

When you are in a mess you need the grace of generous hospitality. “Grace does not make the hard thing go away; grace illumines the hard thing with eternal meaning and purpose. Grace gives you company in your affliction.[xiii]

Galatians 6:10 (ESV)—So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Romans 12:14—Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them

The ideas is speaking well of others or as Phillips translates it: “Bless those who try to make your life miserable.” Bless—is literally “to speak well of.” We are to do the opposite of our natural inclination when someone mistreats us. Our inclination is to criticize them back. Instead of backbiting we are to affirm and encourage. Any fool can criticize and bad mouth someone, it takes a little more creativity to find something you can approve and affirm. When we are a mess, we need someone that will fill the gap with love and grace and encourage us to be better and strive for better. One doesn’t need another critic!

James 4:11a (ESV)—Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.
Romans 12:15—Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

The Christ-follower is not self-absorbed but empathetic and sympathetic to others. We rejoice with…weep (mourn) with… We must be sensitive to moods and avoid envy. When you are a mess, you need to be surrounded by someone who is alert to your situation and who will respond appropriately.

Romans 12:16—Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

We should aim at being humble and fair minded. To live in harmony is to be of the same mind and live in agreement with one another. Without a renewed and common mind, cannot live in harmony. The target…not proud…willing to associate with the lowly—Believers have a humble concern for others. Never be wise in your own sight—pride can be the greatest obstacle to unity.

Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)—Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

The difficult, the demanding, and the draining need to be loved and shown grace. You may be the mess that needs those desperately. In your mess, you do not need to encounter someone whose halo is on too tight! Do not be so quick to dismiss what others need because they do not look worth the trouble or effort…Remember, when you are messy, you do not look worth bothering with either. We are starved for grace…

The One Who Loves Leads With Grace Despite The Gross (17-21)

Romans 12:17—Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Resist your natural instincts to seek revenge could bring disrepute and harm to the cause. Paul calls for his readers to “think beforehand.” He instructs them to give careful thought and attention to doing the right thing when treated wrongly.[xiv] The idea is, take the high road.

Romans 12:18—If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Initiate peace, never instigate hostilities. NOTE—it is not always possible to live in peace. There are two actors in the story. But you are to try to live in peace with others, but we cannot force peace on those bent on conflict.[xv]

Romans 12:19—Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

Until we recognize that God will eventually set all accounts right we will never be able to settle our desire for revenge.[xvi] When we leave the hurt and vengeance with God it frees us from the heavy weight of bitterness. When we are hurting, we don’t need somebody who is trying to pay us back. We need somebody who will love us sacrificially and who is trying to bring us back to a healthy place!

Romans 12:20—To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Leave revenge to God and go against your desires for vengeance. Serve your enemy by being kind. By doing so, they may change…good deeds can bring conviction. Are you bringing a hammer or a hug?

Tim Keller wisely points out: “The gospel promises us justice, and reminds us that we are not the ones who give it.”[xvii] Jesus gave us an example to live by.

1 Peter 2:23 (ESV)—When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Romans 12:21—Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Seek to serve your foe. All 4 prohibitions say same thing with different words: Retaliation and revenge are absolutely forbidden to followers of Jesus. What do you need when you are a gross mess? You need love and grace despite the gross. How do you show love and grace to others? By treating them the way you have been treated by God.

How God modeled love. He moved to the mess with love and grace despite our gross.

John 3:16 (ESV)—“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 5:8 (ESV)—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to an earlier question: What does love require of me? It requires that you BRING GRACE DESPITE GROSS. Where can you show up today with love and grace? Go!

This is the manuscript for the sermon originally preached on 7/14/19 at Connect Church.


[i]Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans 2nd ed. in BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 645. [ii]Ibid., 645. [iii]Christopher Ash, Teaching Romans Vol. 2 (Scotland, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2015), 162. [iv]Grant Osborne, Romans (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 393. [v]Ibid., 396. [vi]John Piper, Future Grace rev. ed. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2012), 167. [vii]Ibid., 167. [viii]Ibid., 170. [ix]John Piper, Desiring God Twenty-fifth Anniversary Reference Edition (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011), 161. [x]Ibid., 178. [xi]Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With a House Key (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 35. [xii]Ibid., 121.

[xiii]Ibid., 200-201. [xiv]Osborne, 401. [xv]Ibid., 402. [xvi]Schreiner, 654. [xvii]Tim Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 127.

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