Summary: Are we flexible or inflexible? Churches and Christians tend to lean more toward inflexibility with a “This is the way we’ve always done it" attitude.
A Jewish man moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Every Friday the Catholics went crazy because, while they were unhappily eating fish, the Jewish man was outside bar-b-cuing steaks. So the Catholics went to work to convert him.
Finally by threats and pleading, the Catholics succeeded. They took him to a Catholic Priest who sprinkled Holy Water on him and intoned, “Born a Jew, raised a Jew, now a Catholic.”
Needless to say, the Catholics were ecstatic! No more delicious, maddening smells every Friday evening …… they thought. But the next Friday evening the scent of bar-b-que wafted through the neighborhood once again. The Catholics all rushed to the convert’s house to remind him of his new diet. They saw him standing over the grilled steak sprinkling it with water. As he did he said, “Born a cow, raised a cow, now a fish!”
The book of Romans, penned by the Apostle Paul, was written from the city of Corinth toward the close of his third missionary journey, approximately 20-25 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we remember, Paul, known originally as Saul (named after Israel’s first King Saul) had a dramatic conversion experience on the way to Damascus. He was in route to arrest Christians in that city, but after his miraculous conversion, he immediately began proclaiming the Gospel message. Paul was born about the time of Christ’s birth. Paul’s primary purpose in writing Romans was to teach the great truths of the Gospel of Grace to believers who had never received instruction. And unlike some of Paul’s other epistles, his purpose for writing was not to correct misguided theology or rebuke ungodly living – the Roman church was sound in its beliefs, but like all churches, it was in need of rich doctrine and practical instruction which this letter provides.
Paul’s rich letter to the Romans is filled with lots of practical application for the church and for our lives today. Listen to the words from chapter 12 and see if they apply in any areas of our lives.
But first, listen to the words of Jesus found in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 12 verses 6-8. Jesus had just been cornered by the Pharisees, the religious rulers of His day, regarding the breaking of the Sabbath law by feeding His disciples who were hungry. He said this, according to Eugene Peterson’s translation called “The Message.” Jesus said, “There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this scripture meant – I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual – you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man well understands the Sabbath, after all He’s in charge!”
God prefers a flexible heart over an inflexible ritual. When we consider change in our lives, are we flexible and open to God’s guidance? Here’s what Paul says:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Are we flexible or inflexible? Churches and Christians tend to lean more toward inflexibility. “This is the way we’ve always done it.” What about new music in worship, new people in the pews with new ideas, different ideas for outreach? All of these might confront some long held tradition that has more to do with ritual and very little to do with spreading the Gospel.
I believe God needs flexible hearts much more than inflexible ritual.
And the Apostle Paul closes chapter 12 with these words that we all should put into practice: (Romans 12:9-21)
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord, (quoted from Deuteronomy 32:35) Therefore: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. (Quoted from Proverbs 25:1-2.) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”