June 26, 2016
In the passage from Romans for today, Paul wrote about the “physical world” and the “spiritual world.” I think he liked to do that! In fact, I think it was one of his favorite subjects! As he did, he referred to the “physical” and “spiritual” parts of us. And he said something that could be scary if we think about it. He said, we can’t separate the two! The physical and spiritual parts of us are together! They are one! And he said that what we do with our physical bodies is our spiritual worship! Not just that it “matters!” Not just that it “says who we are.” It is our spiritual worship! If we understand that, and that doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable, it should!
As I said, Paul talked about that a lot! And so did the other New Testament writers. That’s because there were those around in those days who believed that the two, the “physical” and the “spiritual” were separate. They believed that, as long as they had the spiritual, as long as they had that connection with the Almighty, it didn’t matter what they did in the physical world! They could, and some did, get involved in the practices of the “pagan” culture around them. (You can only just imagine!) And they tried to say that was ok. Well, Paul said no! So did John! He emphasized, so strongly, that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us!” That’s what Jesus did! The spiritual and the physical became one!
We need to know that! We need to know that our spiritual and our physical lives are one. They are intertwined with each other and we cannot separate them. Because there seems to be a lot of that other way of thinking still around – even in our day! In fact, it seems always to have been around! And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll probably see that we think that way more than (I’m sure) we’d care to admit.
If you think bout it, that’s much “easier” for us to think that way. Isn’t it? It’s much easier if we separate our physical and our spiritual lives! But should we? Think about it this way. Ask yourself, how similar is your “church life” and your “outside of the church life?” Are those two things the same for you? Do you act the same way outside of those doors as you do in here? Or are you more “spiritual” than you are out there? Are you sometimes a different person the other six days of the week?
At camp this week, we talked about “chameleons.” Do you know what they are? Chameleons are lizards that can change their color so they can “blend in” with their environment. It’s their means of protection. And at camp, we talked about the way many Christians are like chameleons. They “blend in” with their environment, too. They are “spiritual” when they’re with other Christians, but they’re very “worldly” when they’re around “worldly people.”
The fact is, that God has always called his people to be “apart from” the world. He has always insisted that his people “behave” certain ways. In fact, he’s given certain “guidelines” for behavior. In the Old Testament – in the days of the “Old Covenant” – it was a series of Commandments. But there were those who thought that was all “over and done.” They thought that Jesus had made them “unnecessary.” And for some Christians, those who had not been Jewish before, they thought those Commandments were never “in force” in the first place.
Think about that. Paul himself said that the Gospel superseded the law – which was quite a statement coming from a Pharisee! He said that he believed that “the law of the spirit of the life in Christ has set us free from the law of spirit and death.” But Paul still believed that our actions – the way we live our physical lives – are important.
Even Jesus himself said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law. I have come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it!” In other words, “In me is the true way of doing what God commands!” And for Paul that meant that we are to “present our bodies as living sacrifices.” That’s what we read today. Our “Physical actions,” our “daily living,” is our “spiritual worship!” If you want to understand how spiritual you are, one of the things you have to ask is “how do you live your life?”
Years ago, I heard someone ask this question. “Would somebody know you were a Christian if you didn’t tell them?” In other words, would your actions show that you were a person of God? Think about that. If you didn’t say anything about it, would people be able to see that you are a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God?”
I think that’s a very good question. We could stop right there! But it was all deeper than that. Because in the time of Paul, “Sacrifices” were something the people know all about – maybe even more than we do! When we think of “sacrifice,” we think of something we “give up.” We think it’s something we do without in order to make something better. In their case, the Israelite actually brought physical sacrifices to the Temple. That was part of their “worship.” Those sacrifices were “offerings” that were part of their system of faith. They were part of the discipline of being “God’s People.” Now Paul was telling the people that it’s our “physical bodies” that are the “living sacrifice!” How we conduct our lives is our “spiritual worship.” Again, that was quite a statement, coming from a Pharisee!
I have to tell you that the world around us fights against us on this. The world tries to get us to “conform,” as Paul says here. I always loved the Phillips paraphrase. It says, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold!” The world will try to do that, both passively and aggressively. Yes, the world will sometimes come out and blatantly say, “Be this way!” or “Be that way!” or “Don’t listen to God’s commandments!” But there will be other times that the world will simply overwhelm us with its advertisements, it’s message, its comforts, and its physical influences!
I encourage you to be aware of all that. “Don’t let that happen,” as Paul says. Instead, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!” Think of your actions as offerings to God, as those “gifts” brought to the Temple by his people! Think of how your life and your actions are different because of all that!
So, however you choose to see it, don’t separate those two things – the physical and the spiritual! Don’t think of your “church life” one way, and your “outside of church life” another way! Don’t be a chameleon! Instead, make those two lives one! Present your bodies as “living sacrifices,” holy and acceptable to God. That’s “h-o-l-y,” meaning “sacred,” and “w-h-o-l-l-y” meaning “completely acceptable!” And know that all of that is your “spiritual worship.”
Eternal God, you have called us to be your people. You have called us to be “holy” – “apart from the world.” Help us to have the strength to do that. Help us to be renewed in mind and spirit. Help us to seek to follow Jesus’ example of love, and peace, and service. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.