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I've always thought that there are some people who always seem to know the right thing to say ... but that I'm not one of them!
Apparently, that is wrong, because a set of pieces of research around the end of the last decade found that there is actually no agreement amongst people in general about what sort of comments are or are not helpful.
How can there be people who always know the right thing to say when there's no consensus on what that right thing to say actually IS?!
But when it comes to always DOING the right thing ... that's a different matter! We tend to be able to convince ourselves for the most part that what we did was the right thing ... it's just that sometimes, especially when times are hard, we seem to freeze at the point of decision.
There ARE times when we come to a point where it's all a bit too hard, confusing or painful and we can't see the way forward at all.
How do we work out the principles on which we'll make our decisions for times like that?
Writing to the Romans from Corinth
The apostle Paul wrote from cosmpolitan Corinth to a bunch of believers from five house churches living under all manner of difficult personal and public challenges at the heart of the evil Empire in Rome in the winter of 56-57 A.D. (More on the background HERE.)
They were a mixed ethnicity church with Jewish and non-Jewish people in their fellowship and Paul establishes in the first three chapters that whether you're Jewish or Gentile you are HUMAN and the trouble with 'human' is that they mess up.
The term that he uses is 'sin'.
So when it comes to doing the right or wrong thing, whether you are a Jewish persoon living by the Old Testament Law or a Gentile person living by the law of your own conscience, by virtue of simply being human all have sinned and fall short of the glory God intended for humanity, but are freely justified nonetheless by God's grace by means of the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.
(That's Romans 3:22-24, by the way ... check the link!)
The idea that - after all that had gone on in the Old Testament - the Jews were in the same boat as the Gentiles, well ... that threw up all sorts of questions for Jewish people trying to live with Gentiles in a mixed ethnicity church. So Paul answers their main questions in chapters 4-11 of that letter to the Romans.
And when he has DONE that, Paul refers back to what he said in chapters 1-3 about how a person gets right with God:
- all have sinned regardless of their background and
- are put right with God by God's grace alone on the basis of the price Christ paid for sin on the believer's behalf, and then says:
- 'on the basis of that here's how to live in the light of the fact that salvationo's by grace alone, through faith alone, with GOD getting all of the Glory'.
Given that Christ sacrificed to give you life, writes the Apostle in Romans 12:1, in view of God's mercy, present your bodily life as a living sacrifice to God, as THAT is what counts as reasonable and spiritual worship.
It all challenged the Roman Christians decision-making in a context where that was pretty tough already.
It needed to be brought down to specifics of course, so Paul addresses the guidelines for daily choices that the Gospel he's spelled out indicates for people whose daily lives involved making difficult decisions about how to live in their godless environment.
How do you know what to do?
The Apostle sets a three point set of target's for them to aspire to.
In the words of our Verse for the Day:
- joyful in hope,
- patient in affliction,
- faithful in prayer."
There is often (not always, but often) no clear 'right thing to do' in the Bible about our contemporary circumstances ... as all too often those circumstances have no direct equivalent in Biblical places and times.
Having said all of that, there are always
- principles to consider on which Christians' decisions will be made, and
- things to safeguard about our own spiritual lives so that we're close to the all-wise God Who leads us as we make hard decisions, by His Spirit, when they're needed.
Now, of course, there might be times when we could wish the Bible was a 'plumbers manual' of does and don'ts.
But the help Paul gives the hard-pressed believers in Rome as he writes from the seething sin-pot of Corinth about making hard decisions was concerned with preserving their walk with God through hard old times taking care of their relationship with God ... out of which fellowship with Him and good decision making flows.
It's good guidance for adults so that they "will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2). It's not rule-making for immature infants.
The first and highest priority when we are faced with questions and dilemmas brought on by the circumstances and situations of life, is to prioritise the state of our heart and our walk with God. That's because HE is the source of all wisdom and living in close fellowship with Him is the key to sorting out what you should do.
Of course, that way of life involves sacrifices in this world, but these are the living sacrifices that are appropriate and reasonable worship in view of God's grace, as Romans 12:1 has put it already.
Christ laid down His life in sacrifice to give His followers eternal life (as Romans 1-11 showed). It seems appropriate then that they should go on to live as living sacrifices for Him Who gave them life through His death on their behalf (and that's what Romans 12-16 goes on to develop).
No-one's circumstances and situations are the same as someone else's, and while Scripture gives guidelines and lays down principles they have to be applied. And only hearts that are right with God, living out the life of the Gospel (joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer) are going to be in a position to do that.
What are your grizzles today?
(Joyful in hope).
What is winding you up or grinding you down today?
(Patient in affliction).
What are you tempted to rush into today, to find quick fix solutions regardless?
(Faithful in prayer).
Life can be challenging and difficult.
God's Word has shown us by far the best way.