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Committing to Christian Relationships - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Romans 1:8-15

  • 2014-09-07 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


It is a joy for me today to invite you to take your Bibles and turn again to Romans 1. It was a great journey for me this summer, I hope for you as well, as we took a break from our study of Romans to look at the distinctives of our church, and I think those were foundational for all of us, but it is a special joy for me to invite you to turn again to this wonderful letter that has already enriched us so much.

This week, as I was preparing to teach this passage, I was reminded that most people today increasingly live in a virtual world. Now, there are benefits that come with the technologies that allow us to do that, but there is also an inherent and serious danger. The danger is this, we can end up building a virtual world around us that is based entirely on our personal preferences. We can intentionally block out of our lives everything we don't like.

You can choose what songs you want on your digital player and in your playlist. You can even choose a virtual radio station that only plays the selections you enjoy. You can choose who your friends will be. You can create a sort of virtual impression of yourself in order to present yourself not as you really are, warts and all, but as you want others to perceive you. You can choose what news you get and even the political filters through which you hear that news, either liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. You can choose, on the other hand, what voices and what ideas and what people to block out of your comfortable virtual world. In the end, we can create a virtual world in which everything suits our personal tastes and there's absolutely nothing we don't like. We can isolate ourselves from everything and everyone that doesn't fit what we have created and that doesn't suit our own desires.

Now, think about the disaster that occurs when people who have shaped and fashioned everything around them to fit their own tastes and their own preferences, when those people go to try to find a church to belong to. To their horror, they find the church that actually sing songs that aren't in their playlists and that are never on their Pandora station. I mean old songs, like songs written before the year 2000, and they discover that they can't cut out the parts of the service they don't enjoy, at least not easily, and they're forced to interact with people whom they would never friend on Facebook. And then, on top of all of that, they have to sit and listen to a message that takes 45 minutes or, gasp, 50 minutes when they've trained their attention to be about 20 seconds before the next click.

You see, there is a very real danger, and I'm not decrying the technologies, they can be useful tools, we all benefit from them, but there is a very real danger that comes with the technologies that allow us to do this because we can create a narcissistic, self-centered, self-consumed, utterly selfish world. A world in which there is nothing we don't like and that isn't like us.

But the church of Jesus Christ is, and always has been, completely unlike our virtual worlds. Frankly, it's messy. By God's design we are thrown together with people who are very different than we are, people with different backgrounds, from different social and economic circumstances. People from different races, with different interests, and of different ages. People who look and dress differently, people who prefer different kinds of music, people who have different opinions about virtually everything. And in His divine wisdom, that is exactly what Jesus Christ has determined is best for us.

In a world in which we can fashion our surroundings so that everything is comfortable and like us, you and I need to learn to value again the diversity and the differences in the body of Christ. We need to re-learn the value of belonging to God's family, where we share our lives with other believers who are not like us at all in many ways, and to enjoy life in what Paul calls the fellowship.

There's no better place to retrain our thinking, to break out of our growing sense of isolation, and to learn how to interact with people who are not like us, than by observing Paul's interaction with the Romans, because Paul and the Roman believers to whom he wrote shared very little in common, especially from the standpoint of the things that drive the contemporary church. They didn't fit the same demographic. Let me tell you. Paul was Jewish. He was raised in a strict Hebrew home. Most of the Christians in Rome were Gentiles and were raised in pagan, idolatrous homes. Paul had lived more than half of his life as a legalistic Pharisee. You can imagine what that was like. Most of the Roman Christians had lived lives of reckless abandon to sins of every kind, sins we will meet in the second half of Romans 1. Paul was raised out in the provinces, out in the large city of Tarsus but in one of the provinces out in the suburbs of the Empire. These Christians lived in Rome, the center of the Mediterranean world, the center of the political thought, the center of the culture.

Let me put it to you this way, Paul and the Romans would never have been Facebook friends. They would never have naturally hung out together. In fact, Paul had never visited their city and had never met most of these people, yet there was a rich and deep attachment that Paul still felt for these people, and it was because of one thing, they belonged to the same Lord and therefore they had the same Father and they belonged to the same family.

In Paul's personal comments to the Roman Christians in chapter 1 verses 8 to 15 we learn something profound. It's been my joy to study and think and meditate on this passage all summer, and I can tell you we learn in these verses what real Christian fellowship looks like. But before we begin our study of those verses I want us to first review what we have learned so far and let me just say that if you weren't with us in the spring when we began Romans, we studied the first seven verses, I encourage you to go back and go on-line and catch up with us because there's so much richness that's here, but let me just briefly review what we've learned about Romans so far.

Paul wrote the book of Romans from the city of Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey. It was probably late winter or early spring, January, February, March, April, somewhere in there, of the year 57 A.D. Now, Paul wrote this book in the middle of a huge transition in his life and ministry. He had just finished 25 years of missionary work in what we call Eastern Europe and he was about to begin a new ministry to reach Western Europe, beginning in Spain. It was against that backdrop of really radical change in his life that Paul wrote to the Romans.

Now, it's important to remember that Paul didn't found the church in Rome. In fact, he'd never visited there, or the churches there. That makes his letter to the Romans unique. So why does Paul write a church he didn't found and to people that he'd never met? Well, there were primarily three reasons we noted. First of all, and this drove everything Paul did, it was to glorify God and to exalt Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. Paul lived to proclaim the gospel and the book of Romans was just another chance for Paul to do that.

Secondly, He wrote this letter to encourage the Roman Christians to be established in the gospel. In fact, he writes to them in the paragraph we'll read in a moment, that he wants to come to them to establish their faith further in the gospel. He wrote this letter for the same purpose. And thirdly, he wrote this letter to encourage the Roman Christians to become his sending and supporting churches as he began his new ministry in Western Europe. Keep your finger here, but turn back to chapter 15. Chapter 15 verse 22,

For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions.

He's writing from Corinth, so he's talking about where he's ministered for 25 years, in what we would call Eastern Europe, and by "no further place" he means, I've really exhausted what I wanted to do here in ministry. I've touched all the major cities. I've planted churches,

and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain [There's his next ministry.] – for I hope to see you in passing, and [here it is] to be helped on my way there [that is, to Spain, to my new ministry in Western Europe,] by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul says, I want you to think about, I want you to pray about, how you can help reach Western Europe. Now, Romans is much longer than Paul's other letters. You can see that just at a glance. And it reads more like a theological treatise. Why is that? Well, if the Romans were going to support Paul's ministry in Western Europe they deserved to know firsthand the gospel he preached and so that's why he wrote this letter, and we are much richer for it.

Now turn back to chapter 1 and let me just remind you that the first 17 verses of this letter are simply the opening of the letter, a kind of introduction of sorts, and this section consists of three paragraphs. First of all, in verses 1 to 7 there are the basic greetings from Paul. In the greeting he introduces himself as the writer, he introduces the subject about which he intends to write, which is the gospel, and he introduces the recipients, and in doing that he really, as we studied together, gives them and us three reasons why Romans matters, why it should matter to you.

It matters because Paul wrote it. He gives his credentials in verse 1. He says, "I am a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." Romans also matters because it's about the gospel and in verses 2 through 5 Paul just gives us a thumbnail introduction to the gospel that he's going to really focus on at length in the rest of this letter and then in verses 6 and 7 we learned that Romans matters because of its intended audience. It had a unique historical audience, the Romans, with whom, as we discovered, we have much in common. But it had a spiritual audience, the Roman Christians, with whom we have everything in common and so this letter matters because it's written to us as much as it was written to them.

So that's the first section of the opening. The second section of this opening to the letter is Paul's thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans, in verses 8 to 15, and then the third section of his opening is the formal statement of the letter's theme. Here's what I'm writing about, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation," and then he goes on to give us a wonderful summary of the gospel message and its power.

Now, today we begin the second section in that opening to the letter, Paul's thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans. Let's read it together. You follow along, Romans 1:8. Here's the apostle Paul.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Now, this paragraph obviously describes the historical circumstances behind the writing of this letter. It records the personal interaction of the apostle toward the people who belonged to those churches in Rome and we could keep our discussion of this text at that sort of historical level, but I think if we did so we would miss so much of the richness that's here because this paragraph has so much more to teach us than merely the historical circumstances surrounding why this letter was written. So, as we study this passage together we will learn the first century circumstances that prompted Paul to write the Romans, but we will also learn, and I think more importantly for us, how Paul thought and how we should think about the fellowship of believers in the church, because by his example Paul shows us how to interact with others who've come to embrace the same gospel we embrace.

You see, Paul understood that the Christian life was never to be solely about our private relationship to God. You know, there are some Christians who think that way. You know, I've got the Lord, and He's got me, and I don't really need anybody else. Paul understood that was never God's intention. Instead, the Christian life was meant to be a shared life with other Christians. He understood the priority of Christian relationships and he delighted in those relationships. He loved his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he was committed to them. In Romans 1:8-15 we see, as we look over his shoulder, we see Paul's mindset toward his fellow believers and in this passage Paul teaches us by his example the commitments that we too must make to all of our Christian relationships.

So, let me give you, first of all, what we're going to learn. I'll give you the outline. I'll give you all of the commitments that are in this passage that Paul made to his fellow Christians in Rome and then we'll go back and begin to examine each of them carefully. So let me just give you a summary. Here are the commitments that you and I must make, as Paul made, to our brothers and sisters in Christ. First of all, you must thank God for all your brothers and sisters in Christ. Secondly, you must pray for them consistently. Thirdly, you must enjoy being with them. You see, Paul wasn't content just to have a letter writing campaign back-and-forth. He says, "I long to be with you." In a modern context he wouldn't be content to live out his relationship in social media. He understood that there had to be a personal connection that happens when two believers get face-to-face. Fourthly, we must promote their spiritual growth. When Paul was going to be with other Christians it wasn't about his having fun. It wasn't about his personal joy and pleasure. He saw it as an opportunity to be an instrument of God in their lives, to do something that would help promote and encourage their spiritual growth, and this is how we should view our Christian relationships.

Number five, we should pursue the mutual benefits of fellowship. This is remarkable. We'll study it at length when we get there, but here's the apostle Paul, he is an apostle and he has been 30 years a Christian, and yet he says to the believers in Rome, I'm looking forward to being there with you because your faith will strengthen and encourage me. He understood the mutual benefits of fellowship, you are never too old or too old in Christ to benefit from the fellowship of other believers, even those that are much, much less mature and much, much younger in Christ.

Number six, use your giftedness to serve them. Paul had unique giftedness. He was gifted to be an apostle. We don't have that giftedness, but Paul wanted to use the giftedness God had given him in order to serve those people. You don't have the gift to be an apostle, but you, if you're in Christ, have a package of giftedness that you were given at the moment of salvation and God intends for you to use that giftedness to serve the people of this church. It was never God's intention for anybody to belong to this church and come in week after week, sit, listen, and leave, and be disconnected. That was never God's intention. This is a body. Why do you think He calls it the body of Christ? Every member plays a role. You are supposed to use your giftedness to serve the people here.

Number seven, receive all Christians, even those different from you. Paul says, you know, God's no respecter of persons and neither am I. I will minister to the educated and the uneducated. I will minister to those who are culturally polished and those who are not. Listen, you as a believer are not supposed to look at the outward trappings of another person and decide, well, that person's like me and I like that person so I'm going to connect with them. No, you don't get to choose your family. Paul says, it doesn't matter, Greek, barbarian, wise, unwise.

And number eight, keep the gospel the main thing. Paul says, I want to come and I want to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. You say, wait a minute, these were Christians, they'd already believed the gospel. Well, you see the gospel is more than simply the truth of what Christ accomplished and that we need to repent and believe in His life and death. The gospel includes, as we will see from the book of Romans, all the implications of that reality. And Paul said, I want to come because I want the gospel, and the implications of that gospel, to continue to be at the center of our relationship.

So, look at that list. Those are the commitments that you and I must make to our brothers and sisters in Christ as Paul made them to the Roman Christians. And I also want you to look at that list, and if you look at that and then you look around at the people in this church and you say, "Yeah, I don't have any interest in that," then understand that you may very well not be a Christian at all. John the apostle says, "you can't love God whom you've not seen if you don't love His people whom you do see." They go together. When you are born of God, you will naturally have a love for His people. And these things, we may do them imperfectly, we need to learn how to do them better, but we have a desire to do them. If you're in Christ you want your life to look like this.

So let's look at these commitments. The first commitment that Paul modeled toward his fellow Christians is this, thank God for all your brothers and sisters in Christ. By the way, I should warn you, we're not to make it through those eight, just in case you're worried, you know. In fact, I really should warn you, we're not to going to make it past the first one. Okay, so relax. Look at verse 8, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world." Now, by "First" here Paul doesn't mean I'm going to begin a series and there's going to be a second and third. Instead, he means let me begin by saying this. This is something that was important to Paul. He wanted them to know that he gave thanks for them. The verb tense that he uses here in the Greek language implies that he frequently gave thanks for the Christians in Rome. And I love the way he expresses the object of his thanks, it's very personal. Notice he doesn't say, "I thank God," but "I thank my God." Reminds me of what he said in Acts 27:23, when he described God as the one "to whom I belong and whom I serve." If you're a Christian that describes you. God is the one "to whom I belong and whom I serve."

You see, Paul took God's most comprehensive promise in the new covenant seriously. When God said, "I will be their God and they will be My people," Paul said, Amen, I am His; He is my God. Like every genuine Christian, Paul knew God personally and he knew that he knew God, he's "my God."

Notice, he adds something about his thanksgiving here that he does nowhere else in the New Testament. He says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ." You know, I love the way the Scripture just tucks away these jewels of theology. That may be just a phrase you read past, right? "I thank my God through Jesus Christ." But that phrase is amazing in its theological import. Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying that I can't even approach God to thank Him if it weren't for Jesus Christ; I would be incinerated in drawing near to God in His presence. Christ has created access to the Father through His death and now I can approach God as my Father, with my thanks, because of what Jesus has done for me. Do you see what that phrase means? It is solely because of the cross work of Jesus Christ and His ongoing intercession for us in the Father's presence, that we sang about this morning in that song Before the Throne of God Above, it's only because of those things that God accepts your prayers and your praise. It's only because of Christ. Ephesians 5:20, "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." Hebrews 13:15, "Through Christ then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name."

Paul says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ," but specifically what was Paul thankful for? Notice verse 8, "I thank my God for you all." Paul thanked God for every genuine Christian in the churches in Rome, both those he knew and those he mentions in the sixteenth chapter of this letter, and those he had never met, which comprised most of the churches. You see, the bond of Christian fellowship is larger than just the people we know. I've had the privilege of experiencing this personally. By God's grace I've been able to travel to every continent on this planet except Antarctica and South America, and everywhere I've gone and ministered I've run into Christian people and even if we don't speak the same language, and we certainly don't have the same culture, we immediately connect. Why? Because we serve the same Lord. Because we have the same Father. Because we belong to the same family.

Paul thanked God for the fact of their faith. Now, that in and of itself is an interesting thing. Why would Paul thank God that the Roman Christians had exercised faith in Christ? "I thank God that you believed." You say, well, why wouldn't he thank them that they believed? Because Paul understood that their faith was a gift from God. As he says in Ephesians 2, "it," meaning salvation, the whole package, including faith, "is a gift of God." Paul knew that their faith was because of God's work in them and His gift to them. John Calvin says, "We are here taught that faith is God's gift. He who gives thanks to God for faith confesses that it comes from Him." Why were there Christians in Rome? Well, look at verse 7. It's because they were "beloved of God." It's because, verse 6, they were "called by God the Father to belong to Jesus Christ." God had loved them with an eternal love and called them to belong to His Son. So even here in giving his thanks, Paul can't help himself. His theology just sort of oozes out of him and he makes it clear, even in this thanksgiving, that salvation is by grace alone. When he heard there were Christians in Rome, Paul thanked God. He thanked God for setting His love upon them, for calling them to belong to Jesus Christ, for giving them faith to believe.

But notice Paul also thanked God, verse 8, "because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world." Now, Paul does not mean by world here that every person on the planet had heard about their faith. I mean, after all, we could argue that at that time in the first century there were people living in South America, in Asia, who had never even heard the name of Jesus Chris; they didn't know He existed. And there were undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of people within the Roman Empire and thousands of people within the city of Rome who had never heard of these small churches scattered across that great city.

Now, I make that note to you, and it's important for this reason, when you come to the word world in the New Testament you have to interpret it based on its context. It doesn't always mean every individual and that gets a lot of people in trouble. Clearly, here Paul doesn't mean that. Here, Paul undoubtedly means that there were Christians scattered across the Roman Empire who had heard about the faith of those in Rome. They were true followers of Jesus Christ in that great ancient city. And imagine how encouraging for those Christians scattered in little small pockets across the Roman Empire to know that Christ had redeemed a people for Himself, even in the city of Rome.

It would be like, today, if I said to you, "Did you know that there are good churches in New York?" Or if I said to you, "Did you know, there are Christians in Los Angeles?" You know, we think in those kind of places there's so much evil, and there's so much that's bad, and the city itself is so carried away with sin, to think that God is doing a work in that kind of setting encourages us. It was like that when Christians in the first century heard there were churches in Rome. There are churches in Rome? So Paul gives thanks to God that their faith was known across the Empire. In fact, he comes back to this in chapter 16 verse 19, he says, "For the report of your obedience has reached to all," that is, to places all over the Empire, to Christians all over the world.

Now, back in chapter 1 verse 8, when you read verse 8 you may not really be struck greatly by it. I mean, after all, this is pretty common for Paul. Paul does this, he expresses thanks to God for the churches to which he wrote, in all of his letters, with one exception. The only church he didn't express thanks for were the churches in Galatia and that's because the gospel itself was under attack there, but in other churches he did. Let me give you a few examples. Turn to Ephesians 1. I want you to see the pattern because I'm going to make what I think is an important point for us to get here. Ephesians 1:3; I'm sorry, not verse 3, verse 15.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making making mention of you in my prayers.

Turn to Philippians, Philippians 1, Philippians 1 and notice verse 3,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.

Look at Colossians 1:3,

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints.

First Thessalonians 1:2,

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Second Thessalonians 1:3, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as it is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever stronger."

Now, this is what Paul does in all his letters, but what I want you to understand is Paul is not just being polite. He's not being Southern. You know, letters are supposed to begin with thanks so I need to throw this in, so there you go; now let's get on to what I really wanted to say. No, this reflects his heart toward those he wrote. He really did thank God for them.

Now, what makes that remarkable is that Paul even thanked God for those churches with terrible problems. Take the church in Corinth, for example. You know about Corinth; they were wracked with serious problems. There were divisions as groups rallied around key leaders like Paul, Apollos, and Peter. They were tolerating, as a church, two people coming who were involved in an incestuous relationship and they weren't disciplining them. There were Christians taking other Christians to court. They were abusing their Christian liberty, many of them, so that some were falling into sin, and they were leading others into sin. There was the grossest kind of partiality at the Lord's Table, or particularly at the love feast, meant to celebrate their love for one another, the rich were gathering with their friends, their rich friends, and having this feast while the poor had nothing to eat at the love feast. Some were actually getting drunk at the Lord's Table and of course there was the misuse of spiritual gifts. That's what was going on in Corinth and Paul didn't ignore those sins. He confronted them; he corrected them.

But here's the key, listen carefully, at the same time Paul had the remarkable ability to look past all of those problems and to still thank God for the Corinthians, for the fact of their faith, for what God had done and was doing in them, and for their strengths. Look at 1 Corinthians 1. This one is truly remarkable in light of what I just described. First Corinthians 1:4,

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, and you are awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, how could Paul say that about the Corinthians? How could Paul thank God for the Corinthians? Frankly, they were nothing but a serious trouble in his life. And again, don't misunderstand, Paul wasn't slow to correct. He wasn't slow to confront harmful patterns of sin, but he had learned the secret to healthy relationships in a fallen world with fallen, imperfect people. The key, I think, is best contained in our English word ambivalence. Whether it's in friendship, or in marriage, or in the church, ambivalence is the key to relationships in a fallen world.

What is ambivalence? Webster's defines it this way, it is the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person. Like Paul, we can't ignore patterns of sin in the lives of the people around us. We have to confront them, as Matthew 18 describes, but the same God who calls us to confront sin also commands us to be quick to overlook the faults and weaknesses of others, those things that are, frankly, prone to irritate us. He commands us to dwell instead on what God is doing in their lives, on their virtues, and on their strengths.

Turn with me with to Ephesians 2; I'm sorry Ephesians 4:2. In this context, Paul has just called, in verse 1, us to, in a large manner, sort of a summary response to the first three chapters, "walk in a manner worthy of your calling," the calling described in the first three chapters and he begins with our unity. Notice verse 3, we are to "be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." How do we preserve the unity? Well, on both sides of this verse we're told how. Look at verse 2, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience," now watch this, "showing tolerance for one another in love." Showing tolerance is how we are to respond, not to the sins of others, the harmful patterns of sin, we're to confront those, but this is how we're to respond to the faults and weaknesses of others. The word literally means, the word "showing tolerance," literally means to exercise self-restraint, to endure, to bear, to put up with, something or someone. God says, I want you to put up with one another. In Colossians 3:13 the same word is translated, "bear with one another."

By the way, this attitude is not to be expressed grudgingly. It's not like you sort of grit your teeth and tolerate someone, in the sense that you're angry inside but you're not going to express it outside. Instead, it's the kind of toleration that springs from a heart motive of love for them. Look again at verse 2, "showing tolerance for one another in love." Because you love them you are quick to overlook their faults and weaknesses.

In my office here at the church I have a brass kaleidoscope that I purchased more than 20 years ago to remind me of this very point. I found myself, at that point in my life and ministry, not showing tolerance for the weaknesses and faults of the people around me. Instead, I was choosing to focus on their shortcomings and, frankly, was becoming disappointed by them, even angry, even embittered toward them. One day, by God's grace and the work of His Word in my heart, the work of His Spirit in my heart, I realized that it wasn't their problem, it was my problem, and I repented of that sin, and then I wanted to remind myself of the lesson I'd learned, and so as an object lesson I bought myself a kaleidoscope to remind me that it was all in a manner of how I chose to look at the people around me. After all, think about the kaleidoscope. You look at one end of the kaleidoscope and all you can see is just a bunch of rocks, but if you turn it around and you look through the other end, you see a beautiful pattern of geometric color and variety.

You and every person in your life have both strengths and weaknesses. If you choose to focus on the weaknesses in the people around you I can promise you this, you, over time, will find yourself becoming resentful and angry and embittered against that person. You will be tempted to pull away from that relationship rather than deepen your investment in it. On the other hand, if you will acknowledge the weaknesses of that other person, but you will choose to focus not on their weaknesses, but on their strengths, and you will thank God for them, faithfully, you are laying a foundation to grow that relationship. That is ambivalence.

When you think about your family members, and when you think about your brothers and sisters in Christ, don't focus on their weaknesses and on their problems, on the negative, but rather, like Paul, choose to focus on their strengths and on what God is doing and has done in their lives, and genuinely, from your heart, like Paul, thank God regularly for them. I love what Martin Luther writes about this passage. He says, "Christian love manifests itself in this, it rejoices in every good thing that it sees in others and thanks God for them." Christian love rejoices in every good thing that it sees in others and thanks God for them. This is how Paul was able to thank God for all of these people, even the troublesome ones.

Let me ask you this morning, can you honestly say that you often thank God for the Christian people around you? Let's start with your own home. Many of us have Christians who live in our homes. Can you honestly say that you thank God often for them, for their strengths, for their virtues, for the work God has already done in them, for the fact that He will continue the work He's begun? Or have you instead allowed yourself to focus on their weaknesses and their faults, on those things that irritate you, on those things that infuriate you, and have you allowed yourself to become increasingly angry and embittered against them?

Here's the first commitment that we must make in our Christian relationships. Like Paul, we should constantly thank God for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, for the fact that He set His love upon them, for the fact that He called them to Himself, for the fact that He gave them faith to believe, and for the fact that He is continuing His work in them, however slow that may appear to you, and that one day we will both stand in His presence, blameless and with great joy. Paul says, "I thank my God for all of you."

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for the example of the apostle Paul. Thank You for allowing us to peer over the shoulder of Your apostle and to see his attitude, his disposition, his spirit toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. Father, in the coming weeks may we learn from him. Individually, Father, help us to follow his model, to follow his pattern, to walk in his steps, and Lord I pray that as a church we would grow in these things as well. May we grow even more to be known as Your people who are committed to one another, who love each other, who thank God for one another, and who carry through on the other commitments that he so beautifully documents in this wonderful paragraph. Father, help us to learn, and by Your grace, help us to follow. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.