I previously posted some essays for a study on Romans 12 (currently, I am part way through “body”, but have stalled a bit to read a couple of books on the Incarnation since it is relevant to “body”). In addition to the explanatory essays I also intend to prepare sermons. I think of the essays as prose and the sermons as poetry; one as explanation, one as persuasion (although both contain both elements, the emphasis is different.)
Below is the introduction to the sermon. The most common introduction in the circles with which I am familiar involves some sort of story which introduces the main point. So if I wish to emphasis self-sacrifice for a greater good, I may tell a story about soldier who risks much for his companions. This can be quite effective, because it can make an abstract idea concrete for those who are listening. Also a story, well told, gets the attention of the listener. It also provides a porch for the listener to enter the house. Since the sermon will always be coming after something else, getting attention and preparing the listener are valuable aims.
But that is not the only way to introduce a sermon. Below, rather than introduce a story, I seek to introduce a question. In this case, why did Paul chose a particular word? The sermon then acts to answer the question.
Romans 12:1–2 (ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Paul is writing a letter to people, many of whom he had never met; a letter to a church he had never attended. Throughout this letter, he has been very bold telling them what they must know; explaining to them how they are to think about the work of God in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing with the confidence and authority of an apostle of Jesus Christ.
The first 11 chapters have been development of doctrine. It is the most detailed, sustained explanation of the Christian life from a state of nature to glorification which appears in the Bible. He explains sanctification and answers questions about the deep things of election.
The final section of the letter, beginning here, sets forth practical instruction on how to live a Christian in the world, and with other Christians—which is often a far more difficult matter. He will give very precise and direct commands. The commands are often profoundly difficult, such as bless those who persecute you.
But here, when opens up this second he makes an interesting word choice. There is no word in English which has the same connotations as Paul’s word. When the word is used as a noun, it is used to the Holy Spirit, who is a Comforter in John 14. In 1 John 2, Jesus is said to be an Advocate; same word. There is also a verb with the same general meaning, and it can be translated exhort, or encourage, or beseech, or entreat.
It is not quite a command, but it is more than a suggestion. Paul is not offering opinions; he is an apostle and is giving direction. But he opens this series of direction with this interesting word. If you’re curious, it sounds something like this, parakalo.
Peter does the same thing in his first epistle. In chapter 2 and verse 11, we read
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11 (ESV) Peter is using the same word as Paul uses here. There are a few other uses of this word in Paul which we will have a chance to consider. Why would an apostle, such as Peter or Paul—the “greatest”, if we can use such a word in this case—of apostles; why would they begin their most urgent instructions as an appeal and not as direct requirement?
They will both follow up this introduction with direct requirements: You must do this, you must not do that. They know how to issue direct commands. Nor are they timid men. They both showed themselves to have uncommon courage. They were both willing to face the threat of certain death with great poise.
Nor were they unintelligent men who used words without thought. These were men who turned the world upside down by merely speaking. They brought no armies; they used no force. They had no political power. They did not command tremendous wealth. They were both Jews, who—to the Romans who knew about Jews—were strange people who would not eat pigs and who would not work on Saturday and who were circumcised. Their strangeness would certainly not increase their persuasive appeal. And yet, by merely speaking they transformed the world.
Their words are such that people in China and Chile, India and Indiana, Laos and Lagos, adhere to what they said and wrote. That is astounding. So, we cannot simply ignore their decision when they make a choice of words which may surprise us.
Why then does Paul, and Peter, use this word when it comes to a critical juncture. I believe there are two answers. The first answer: They are explaining to us, the nature of the obedience which a Christian should render to the command of God. The second answer: They are modeling for us, the type of leadership which should mark a Christian leader. Each of these ideas will need space to move and so there will be two sermons, one for each.
As to the nature of Christian obedience, there are three parts. The obedience of a Christian should flow from faith, hope, and love. Paul uses the word entreat, urge, beseech, because he was us to hear and see that our obedience flows from faith, hope, and love. He does not need to demand such obedience but merely stir-up our hearts and obedience will follow as a delight.
And so to the first point, The obedience of a Christian must flow from faith.