Romans 15:4-7 (NIV) 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
My dear friends in Christ,
Last week I brought out this beautiful little tree and I made it ugly. What made it ugly? The “deeds of darkness.” We found plenty of those deeds of darkness hanging on our own trees. They not only made us ugly—they also made dark! We fixed that though—the light drove away the darkness. These Christmas lights reminded us that Jesus is the Light of the World. Wherever he goes, darkness has to flee. Sin, the devil, even death can’t stay where the Light of the World is shining. We get to live in this light!
What happens when we take a bunch of lights and put them together on a Christmas tree? They shine brighter. One little Christmas light doesn’t add much light to the room, but as we add more and more lights, the tree becomes brighter and brighter. Sometimes there are so many lights it’s hard to look at the tree! That is awesome!
The problem is, we don’t like to shine together. We prefer spotlights. I’d like to take us back to the beginning of this chapter, verses 1-3. Paul said, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’” (Romans 15:1–3 NIV). Those words were written to encourage us. Paul continued, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NIV). The people Paul wrote to were struggling to live in unity. The Jewish believers struggled with Gentile believers who weren’t used to all the traditions the Jews loved. The Gentile believers struggled with Jewish believers who weren’t used to the Gentiles’ freedoms. Their lights weren’t shining brightly together. They were busy shining the spotlight on each other. Their accusations and attacks focused on what was wrong with everyone else. They had lost sight of the Scriptures, and as a result, they didn’t see anything good in anyone else.
We could also call that spotlight an “every man for himself” mentality. On the night of April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began to sink. Many boarded the lifeboats calmly. Others scrambled for the boats, pushing people out of the way, desperate for one of the precious seats. One man disguised himself as a woman to board with the women and children who went first. Others tried to bribe their way to safety. They were shining the spotlight on themselves and selfishly putting their needs ahead of everyone else!
What happens when the spotlight puts self ahead of everyone else, especially in a Christian congregation? What happens when sinful pride is the driving force? Imagine if everything we did was criticized, torn down, and trampled? Would there be much light in this place? Just the spotlight that highlights our deeds of darkness.
That’s exactly what we do, even with our fellow believers. Instead of shining brightly together, we focus the spotlight on ourselves. We talk about others instead of talking to them about our questions or issues? We put the spotlight on others’ mistakes and blame them for the things that go wrong in our lives. We turn the spotlight on our boss: “I’m unhappy at work because my boss expects too much from me and he’s always taking advantage of my time.” We turn it on our teachers: “I’m not getting good grades at school, so my teacher must not be doing his or her job.” We point it at our spouses: “I’m not satisfied in our relationship, so it must be their fault. They could be more attentive and loving.” We shine it on the bank: “I can’t ever seem to get ahead with my finances. If I didn’t have to pay all these taxes or student loans...I would be so much better off.” We shine the spotlight on our congregation: “I can’t stand going to church because _____________.”
We can always find a reason to shine the spotlight on something or someone else. What happens to this body of believers when only the spotlights shine? We slowly tear it apart. It happens over time. All of the little looks and comments and even our posture wears people down. They start to doubt their connection to the rest of the body, or they begin to look for hope and positivity somewhere else. Here’s a tough question: If we can’t find hope and positivity here, among God’s people, then where are we going to find it? The spotlights will go out, one by one, or maybe even a whole bunch at a time until there’s nothing left!
Is there anything that makes one of us better than anyone else? In our minds, yes. In reality, no! That’s why we need to turn back to the Scriptures. Listen again: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NIV). Everything written in the pages of the Bible is written to teach us about Jesus! Jesus opened his disciples’ minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Then he told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47 NIV). Jesus, our Savior, is our hope in this dark world. Isaiah prophesied about him: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV). Jesus is our hope because he is the one and only Lamb of God who sacrificed himself for the sins of the world. Jesus is our hope because he conquered death once and for all! Remember, he is the Light of the World. He has driven the darkness away and he shines brightly in each one of us!
Last night on the news I saw a story about the group Sandy Hook Promise. It’s a group of parents from the Sandy Hook tragedy who travel to schools and teach students how to recognize signs of violence in others and then be willing to say something to a teacher or other person in authority. They begin the training with something called Start with Hello. They gathered all the students in the gym for a version of “speed dating.” Instead of “speed dating” they were “speed friending.” “We got people from different grades and we put them all in the gymnasium, and each of them had two-minute conversations. And then you can see that people were, like, laughing, people who had never met each other. People were having full on conversations. Other activities include encouraging students to join someone eating alone, and to pass positive notes to friends and strangers.” They unplugged from their devices, their books, even their loneliness and talked to each other. Two minutes of conversation has made a huge difference in their lives!
If it works for high school students in that setting, what will happen when the Light of the World shines in each of us? What will happen when we talk to each other? Work together? Laugh together? Cry together? The hope and unity Jesus brings can smash through pride and blame. It leads us to work together so that many lights can shine brighter. Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5–6 NIV). Do we struggle with the blame game? We all do at one time or another. How can we have the same attitude of mind as Jesus had? First, ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now and why?” If I’m angry, what’s making me angry? If I’m sad, what’s making me sad? Once I have identified the emotion I’m struggling with, then I need to ask myself, “What does God’s Word tell me about this emotion and this situation?” Then it’s time to line up my will with God’s will. It’s not time to attack and tear down—it’s time to work together with the same attitude that Jesus had. I pray about it. I talk to the people involved. I work together with them. Maybe I even pray with them!
When we work together, did you notice what happens? We all start to shine with the glory of God! “With one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The lights shine brightly. Then more and more lights will shine, thanks to the brightness of Jesus’ love and mercy. Look what has happened to our little tree! Many lights are brighter, together! Lord, help us to shine over the darkness of our deeds. Help us to shine together so that we can give you all the glory and honor. Help us to shine brightly so others will see your light and join us in glorifying you forever! Amen.