YOU are the Excellent Ones!
It is such a privilege to be your pastor. To live life with you. To walk through valleys with you. To see you grow, serve, love, and labor for the Lord Jesus Christ and for your brothers and for your sisters in the Lord.
I want you to know that I see you. I see you loving the Lord. I see you laboring for the Lord. I see you serving each other—often sacrificially. And I am so thankful for you!
I am also so thankful for the atmosphere of the ministry here at Refuge, where we believe it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace. Where, by God’s grace, we serve Jesus together as co-laborers.
Thank you for cherishing what Jesus has done for you, which prompts you to see each other just as He sees us—greatly loved and fully approved. Thank you for living this out and for giving this to each other.
I am so thankful for how you help me to care for God’s flock in God’s way. You are such good brothers and good sisters to each other. You watch out for each other. You protect each other. You stand up for each other. And for that I am thankful!
YOU truly are the excellent ones, in whom is all MY delight!
“As for the saints who are on the earth ‘They are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.’” (Psalm 16:3)
In Romans 16, Pastor Paul concludes his letter to the Roman church with some of his co-laborers in Christ in mind.
In Psalm 16, David remarks about co-laborers like these when he writes, “As for the saints who are on the earth ‘They are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.’” (Psalm 16:3).
In our 50th and final study in Romans, we reviewed the names of these individuals that Paul called out and appreciated the qualities they demonstrated as they served the Lord. Watch our study of Romans 16 as we consider ‘the excellent ones.’
We long to live and walk in love—to have the humility to see others interests as more important than our own. To be a servant and bear the burdens of one another. And to build each other up in this most holy faith in Jesus.
Though we may revert to selfishness time and time again, we are not the only ones who fall into this trap. Scripture records the many struggles and successes of those who have also been changed by Christ as He called them to live out a new life of others-centered service.
So how do we lift ourselves and others out from the selfishness so common to our sinful nature? Through the tools that the Lord has given us—the word and prayer. There is no more powerful combination in ministry than the ministry of the word and prayer!
Do you desire to see others made strong in Jesus? Serve them with the word! Encourage them and build them up with God’s word. Then serve them by praying for them. Bring them constantly before the throne of grace. Battle for them in the Spirit. Ask Jesus to give them His grace, His mercy, His peace, and His strength.
It sounds so simple, but if we would be faithful in using these tools, it would profoundly transform our lives and the lives of those we love.
God has given us two important tools to minister to one another—the word and prayer. There is no more powerful combination for the lives of the ones we love than the ministry of the word and prayer. The Apostle Paul encourages us to wield them wisely as he demonstrates their proper use in Romans 15. Watch our study as we learned what it looks like to serve one another with the word of God and prayer.
Do you remember our study on legalism and license? All of us have certain tendencies and lean certain ways. If we’re not careful, our assets can become liabilities. What we perceive as strength can actually be weakness.
Some of us lean more towards legalism, and some of us lean more towards license. But if you remember, there is a third way—love. God wants to release us from the never-ending back-and-forth tug-o-war between legalism and license by calling us to simply walk in love.
Romans 14:13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” The entirety of Romans 14 helps us understand what it means to willingly limit our liberty for the sake of love. We can set aside what we have a right to so that we do not provoke others to stumble or tempt them to fall. Rather than making a list of what’s right and wrong in disputable matters, Paul simply calls us all to love and personal responsibility.
There is an old saying that goes: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity (or as we would say, love). Think about it—in the essentials, it is important to have unity because there are boundaries to the core components of Christianity. In the non-essentials (the disputable matters), it is important to understand that there is liberty and personal conviction that can vary.
But in everything, there ought to be love. We should receive one another—not to argue or to judge—but to love and to serve. We should be ready to lay down our liberty and our very lives as well—all out of love for one another.
As a believer, your love may be tested more by Christians who disagree with you than by unbelievers who persecute you. So what should you do when your brother or sister in the Lord disagrees with you on non-essentials issues?
Paul addresses this in Romans 14. One could say that this chapter is an equal opportunity offender—if you listen close, you will find yourself somewhere in this chapter. This portion of scripture has answers to a lot of the questions that we ask about others, but the answers may not be what we would expect.
Watch our study of Romans 14 as we consider what it looks like to limit our liberties in love.
“That they may see…”
The emphasis on application and behavior we read about in Romans has nothing to do with scoring points with God or earning our salvation. It’s so that the watching world would see our good works and be prompted to glorify God.
The world is reading our behavior. As representatives and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are the only thing they are reading about to learn about Him. So if there is no difference between us and the world—if we’re no different in how we act or behave, if there’s no difference in our conduct and behavior—then there is nothing that would prompt them to ask why we are different.
But when we behave differently as a response to who God has made us, the watching world is intrigued. When our identity is in Christ and we live that out, we demonstrate to the world who Jesus is. The world is looking for something real and genuine, something stable and secure, something rooted and grounded in truth, something that looks like genuine love. The only way they will see this is through our behavior as followers of Christ.
So live a life of love so intentionally and fervently that the watching world would read your behavior and be so captivated by it that they would wonder ‘why?’ which would lead them to ask, “why?” Then tell them about Jesus and what He did for you and what He wants to do for them!
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Our motivation for doing good works isn’t to impress others, gain their admiration, or give us more attention. Our hope is that people would see our good deeds and glorify God.
The good works we do and the obedient behavior we aspire to is not an effort to score points with God or to win friends and influence people. Our participation in good works is a part of what God uses to intrigue the watching world—so that they would wonder why we are the way that we are and ultimately see the Lord.
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul points to many opportunities we have as followers of Jesus to do good works that would draw others to Him. Watch our study of Romans 8:8-14 as we consider how our good deeds can be a segue for others to see the Lord and glorify Him.
“Give to God…what is God’s.”
There are 3 institutions established by God: the family, the church, and the government. Each have specific roles and responsibilities of contributing to a healthy society.
Our role in the church and in the home is not to enforce the law or distribute justice for breaking the law. As citizens of heaven living on earth, our responsibility is to love our neighbor, even and especially if our neighbor is our enemy. We have a role and responsibility to lead others to Jesus through living out the law of sacrificial love.
But rest assured that God sees what our enemies do to us. And He is not mocked. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and He will repay. He uses His institution of human government to distribute vengeance and dispense justice.
Do you wish to see change in human government? Lead those around you to Jesus. He can and will transform the lives of those in society from the inside out. This includes leading wicked men and women who currently serve in positions of authority. Change begins once we are more concerned about their souls than the preservation of our own property or our pursuit of happiness.
Whether they know it or not, those who serve in human government are ministers of God. It is important to treat them with the appropriate amount of respect. Say what you need to say, but do it in such a way that does not cause needless offense. It’s entirely possible to be thoroughly and uncompromisingly truthful while at the same time being kind and loving.
And when human government commands us to do something that is clearly contradictory to the revealed word of God, then we must obey God and disobey man. But we can still do this with gentleness and respect, considering the soul of the servants that we are standing before.
There is so much wisdom in meeting someone right where they are because you genuinely care about them and what they are going through. When you communicate that they are important and that you care about them, you’ll find that you’ll be able to better serve them and bring them closer to leading them to the Lord.
But too often, we are guilty of trying to evangelize someone without getting to know them or demonstrating that we genuinely care about what they are enduring. Many times, we’re waiting for them to stop talking so that we can share our great wisdom with them without actually getting to know them without hearing what is on their heart.
Remember that Jesus loves that person just as much as He loves you—which means that He cares about what that person is going through just as much as He cares about what you are going through. So listen. Actually listen. Don’t just wait until their done talking so that you can share your wisdom. Actively listen and ask thoughtful questions. Draw them out. Communicate to them that you actually care about them. Love them as Jesus loves you.
“…as much as depends on you…”
“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.”
It is important to do what is right in the sight of all men. And it is important to live peaceably with all men. But sometimes that is not possible. There are those in your life (maybe even now) where it wouldn’t be wise to do what is right in their sight. There are those in your life (maybe even now) where it is not possible to live peaceably with them, and you wouldn’t be a wise steward of your time to continue to try.
Paul knew that these circumstances would hopefully be rare, but the encouragement is true. There is an exhortation to do as much as depends on you to live peaceably with all people. But there is also a release, for there comes a time where you have to admit that you have done as much as depends on you and it is just not possible—for whatever reason—to live peaceably with that person.
That doesn’t mean that you are released to be mean, or that you retaliate or reciprocate hate. It just means that we are not going to be able to live at peace with all people. It’s a reality of life. Some people are always going to be angry or negative or toxic or vengeful or rude. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be.
Remember, this section of scripture instructs us on how to be a good friend to those who treat us poorly. We are to walk wisely and live kindly. We must not retaliate or reciprocate. We leave that up to the Lord (see Romans 12:19). We just get to love like Jesus loves and simply serve.
Though Romans 12:9-21 is only thirteen verses, it contains approximately thirty practical ways that we can practice being the kind of friend that Jesus has been to us.
At the heart of this passage is Jesus. It’s only through His demonstration of love to us that we are able to learn how to love others, even when we feel we have every right and reason to hate. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
With the love of Christ, we can bless our enemies and love those who treat us poorly. In this second portion of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul encourages us to love our enemies with the courage available to us in Christ and reminds us of our purpose to lead our enemies to Jesus.
Watch our study of Romans 12:15-21 and learn how we can overcome evil with good through the love of Jesus.
“Bless those who persecute you…”
If we want to impact the people in the culture around us, it will not be accomplished by shouting louder, reciprocating ridicule, or overcoming evil with more evil.
It will happen by loving others the way that Jesus would love them.
How do we love others the way Jesus loves them? We consider Him. We think constantly of Him. If we are going to be persecuted for being followers of Jesus, it would be appropriate for us to continue to be followers of Jesus in our response to persecution. How will cursing those who persecute us differentiate ourselves as followers of Jesus from those who do not follow Jesus? It will not. How will hatred draw anyone to Jesus? It does not.
So we consider Jesus, “who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself so that we will not grow weary so that we will not lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) We think constantly of Him enduring all that sinful men could say against him so that we will not lose our purpose or our courage to love our enemies.
This doesn’t mean that we turn into doormats. We do not need to compromise our convictions in order to be a good friend to the world. Remember—being a good friend to the world, not of the world, means that we are genuine and honest, while at the same time kind always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect.
It takes a seriously secure person to love an enemy in this way—to pray for your persecutors while they are persecuting you. To bless when it’s so much easier to curse. It takes receiving the love of Jesus to show the love of Jesus.
Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This past Sunday, we spent our time in God’s word studying this one verse—and what a verse it is!
The command to bless our persecutors is counterintuitive, and yet this is how Christianity has made the most genuine impact in the world. The practice of loving when you feel like you have every right and reason to retaliate can only be accomplished with the same love that Jesus has for us and demonstrated to us.
But the ability to bless instead of curse does not come naturally. It takes time to develop and learn at the feet of Jesus as we pay attention to how He loves us so that we can live and love this way for others.
Watch our study of Romans 12:14 and learn what it looks like to be a good friend to those to treat you like an enemy.
Be a good friend (like Jesus)
Romans 12:9-13 is loaded with applications for how we are to be the kind of friend to others that Jesus is to us. Because Jesus is genuine, honest, and loyal to us, we ought to be the same to others.
Jesus is genuine. What you see is what you get. He never sends sideways messages. We never have to read between the lines and wonder what He really meant.
Jesus is honest. He is the real deal. He never shrinks back from telling us the truth, even if it’s a tough truth to tell.
Jesus is loyal. He lets us know that He isn’t going anywhere and we can depend on Him sticking around. He knows everything about us—and at the same time assures us that He will never leave us or forsake us.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus! And because we experience His friendship, we want to be this kind of friend to those around us.
Being a good friend who is genuine doesn’t mean that you always agree with or that you always affirm others actions or behaviors. It means you tell your friend the truth while also communicating loyalty and commitment, letting them know that you’re not going to leave or shun them.
This doesn’t come easily. It takes diligence. It takes intention. It takes practice. It takes the Holy Spirit in us to love others the way Jesus loves us. Because, if we’re honest, people are mean and self-centered. People don’t often reciprocate or even appreciate this kind of genuine, honest, loyal friendship. People are flawed and hurt—and hurt people hurt people.
People like this need friends like Jesus: genuine, honest, and loyal. So be to others what Jesus is to you—a good friend!
Romans 12:9-21 contains approximately 30 exhortations and applications—practical ways we can practice being the kind of friend to others that Jesus has been to us.
This past Sunday, we looked at just 5 verses of that portion of the text and contemplated the depth of love that Christ’s expresses in His friendship with us. He has demonstrated His love for us by laying down His life for us—and we are encouraged to do the same for our brothers and sisters.
Watch our study of Romans 12:9-13 as we learned what a good friend we have in Jesus, then considered how we can be that kind of a friend to those around us.
Let us use them…
When we see and receive God’s mercy, we can’t help but respond. And as we read in Romans 12, our appropriate response in light of His mercy is to offer Him our everything by loving Him with our heart, soul, and mind.
When we do this, we start to mature. As we renew our minds by His word, we see ourselves soberly and honestly as His servants. And as His servants, He is sending us to serve and love our neighbors—to give the people we find around us the gifts that God has given us to give to them.
When we realize that the gifts that God has given us are not really for us but have been given to us to bless and serve others, we begin to grow in our maturity in Christ. He didn’t give us these gifts so that we can draw attention to ourselves or to soothe some personal insecurity that we might have. He didn’t give us these gifts so that we could develop exaggerated ideas of our own importance.
God gives us these gifts to give away. When we all give away the gifts that we have been given, it builds others up so that the body of Christ is healthy, growing, full of love, and maturing.
Romans 12:3-8 – “Love your neighbor.”
When we cooperate with God’s work that He began in us, He leads us toward true maturity. As this begins and continues, something happens within us—we begin to become a bit uncomfortable with always receiving the good things God gives us.
As we worship Him and are blessed by Him, our hearts continue to fill up until we find ourselves responding to God’s love by loving those around us with the very love that He has given us.
This is all part of His plan to mature and strengthen us, and it’s what we considered as we continued our study in Romans 12:3-8. Watch our study from Sunday as we studied what it means to love those around us with the gifts that God has given us.
Keeping His Mercies in View
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
– Romans 12:1
Continually offering our everything to God is our reasonable, rational, and logical response to His mercy. This is one of the reasons why simple Bible study is so important—so that we can see God’s mercies and respond accordingly. It’s the way that the Apostle Paul communicated in his letters—doctrine then application.
But remember, we need to be at the altar, continually in view of God’s mercies because the world is continually distracting us to look away and forget God’s mercies. The world, with it’s philosophy, is competing for our attention and devotion by providing a multitude of distractions so that God’s mercies are no longer in view. And when God’s mercies fade from our view, we forget them and neglect to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.
When that happens, it just means we need a little more time learning who He is, all that He has given us, and all that He has done for us. This response is what worship looks like—a willing, living sacrifice offered in response to just how good Jesus has been to us. It’s this continual process of receiving and responding that is renewing our minds and helping us to know and to do the next right thing.
Many letters written by the Apostle Paul follow a similar trajectory. He opens with doctrine (explaining who we are in Jesus) and ends with application (defining how we are to live in light of our identity in Jesus).
In most letters, you can almost draw a line in the middle at the transition from doctrine to application. Paul follows a similar pattern in Romans, but apparently he had a little more doctrine than application in Romans. The transition from doctrine to application isn’t exactly in the middle—but that doesn’t make the application any less intense.
This past Sunday, we considered just the first two verses of Romans 12 as we transitioned from doctrine to application in the letter to the Romans. Watch our study as we ask two questions of the Lord: Who are you? What do You want me to do?
“The goodness and severity of our God.”
Salvation is either by works or by grace. The deliverance from sin and its consequences is either ALL by your own works or ALL by God’s amazing grace. Going to heaven is either ALL and ONLY a result of your good works or ALL and ONLY a gift of God’s unmerited favor and love.
Think this through: there is no way that it can be a combination of the two. If there was a combo option, Jesus would either wouldn’t have had to die on the cross, or His sacrifice was totally insufficient.
So which is it? By works or by grace?
If you want to earn your own salvation by works, you can try. But there’s a catch—you have to be perfect your entire life without a single slip up, without a single sin.
But since we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s holy standard (see Romans 3:23), salvation is ALL and ONLY by God’s grace. Which means if you continue to try to earn your way to heaven, you will never find salvation. Your good works will not and cannot save you. Only by grace through faith can you have salvation (see Ephesians 2:8). It’s a gift of God that He wants to give you. Receive it today!
In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul provides examples and evidence from scripture that demonstrate that God is not done with Israel. He has not rejected His covenant people. God still has a plan for them.
But before Paul gets into that, he makes an emphatic and enlightening statement about how we are saved: salvation is either all by your own works, or all by God’s amazing grace.
Romans 11 is full of the goodness and severity of our God. Watch our study of this chapter and marvel at the way God has extended His invitation of salvation to those outside of Israel.
Matthew 1 – Irrefutable Proof
The Christmas season is upon us! It’s a time we choose to set aside to ponder and proclaim that “…unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
For the next few weeks, we will take time to pause and consider the coming of our Savior Jesus—reflecting on the account of His birth and the significance of the greatest gift that God has ever given.
Three of the four Gospels have detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus. This week, we considered the account recorded in Matthew 1. Next week (12/18), we will look at Luke’s account. And then on Christmas Eve, we will look at The Gospel of John. Read ahead!
A Still Small Voice
Ministry can be so discouraging, depressing, and frustrating IF we only rely on feelings. That’s because feelings (although tangible and real) are not always the greatest communicators of truth. When we only rely upon our feelings, we fall into making faulty assumptions about others. And if we entertain those assumptions, we’ll eventually believe the best about ourselves, and the worst about everyone else.
This is such a common occurrence for those who take ventures of faith in serving the Lord—like Elijah.
Elijah was one of Israel’s most powerful prophets. He single-handedly took on 450 false prophets by calling down fire from heaven. Then he received a death threat from the wicked queen of Israel…and things started to quickly unravel for him because he focused on his feelings.
Elijah became so scared and discouraged because of this threat that he ran into the wilderness and asked the Lord to end his life. Elijah went from living out great faith to focusing on his feelings. He became depressed, weary, and (quite frankly) annoyingly cranky.
But instead of immediately correcting him, God provided Elijah with good food, good rest, and time to recover. Then God drew Elijah out with thoughtful questions. Once Elijah was quiet and ready to receive, God firmly but gently reaffirmed his calling, giving him something specific to do. You can read all about in 1 Kings 19.
We can learn an important lesson from this episode in Elijah’s life. When we’re tempted to only listen to our feelings, we need to take our eyes off of what we think, feel, or assume others are doing (or not doing), and put it back on the Lord. The discouraging feelings, frustrating assumptions, and constant criticisms of others that we entertain reveal our own immaturity and keep us from doing the work that God has called us to do. But when we take our focus off of our feelings and put it back on the Lord, He will restore and revive us for the work He has prepared for us to do.
God is not done with the nation of Israel. His promises to Israel are to Israel, and He will be faithful to fulfill those promises. God is still stretching out His hands to His covenant people, longing for them to come to Him.
We see that throughout Israel’s history. Even if the majority were functioning in unbelief, there was always a faithful remnant who believed.
Paul points to the prophet Elijah as one of these faithful, but even Elijah struggled at times with discouragement and frustration in his ministry. Why? Watch our study in Romans 11:1-5 as we consider the danger of relying upon feelings rather than the facts of God’s word.
From Pastor Dom...
When I first gave my life to Jesus, there were friends in my life who helped me to grow in my understanding of God, through His word, and for those friends
Strengthened by grace is the Bible Teaching ministry of Pastor Dominic Dinger.
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