Moving Beyond “Hold the Fort”
The farther I go in my walk with the Lord, the more I am impressed with our need for focus, diligence, and full engagement with him. As we see the world succumbing more and more to deception and corruption, we need to do more than “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). If that were our exclusive focus, our approach would only be defensive in nature. I don’t want to minimize the defensive, though, as Peter also spoke of escaping the world’s corruption (2 Peter 1:4).
So, the defensive is a part of the equation, but it is far from the full picture. We must be on guard against the corruption of the world, but we must go further. Paul implores believers to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 NKJV). To borrow some old hymn titles, this means that we don’t simply become “Hold the Fort” but that we advance as instructed in “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Let’s go back to Romans 12:2 for a moment. While that is presented as a negative, “Not being conformed to the world,” We don’t want to miss the tremendous number of positives in the immediate context. Relative to the positive directives, we are admonished as believers to do the following:
- We are to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice and as an act of worship (Romans 12:1).
- We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
- We are to prove (or discover) God’s will, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).
- We are not to be haughty but are to think soberly based on the faith God has given us (Romans 12:3).
- We are to recognize we are not isolated individuals, but we are part of the Body of Christ, and each of us has a function to perform for the good of the overall Body (Romans 12:5-6).
These simple points present a pathway for the direction of our lives as believers. We are not to be conformed to the world or be high-minded or isolationistic in our thinking. We are to worship God with the entirety of our being and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Further, we are to discover and discern God’s will for our lives and function as part of a multi-gifted, multi-graced family of believers. Paul then proceeds to give practical examples of how different members of the Body of Christ function.
“…if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you” (Romans 12:6 NLT).
Unfortunately, when many hear prophecy mentioned, they simply think of “foretelling the future.” While that element may appear at certain times, the New Testament emphasis is somewhat different. Paul explains that “one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them” (1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT). In the context of a gathering of believers, he also states that “one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church” (1 Corinthians 14:4 NLT).
Prophesying does not mean our statements need to be religious-sounding or peppered with phrases such as “Thus saith the Lord.” You can speak relationally with others, in your normal tone of voice, and simply be inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak kind, encouraging, and uplifting words that bring the “fresh air” of God’s presence into another person’s life, or perhaps to a group. Prophesying does not imply that you are trying to predict the future or discern mysterious secrets in their lives; you are simply sharing God-anointed, Spirit-breathed words with them.
“If you are a teacher, teach well” (Romans 12:7 NLT).
Just as some are given grace by the Holy Spirit to speak inspirationally to bring edification, others are given grace to speak instructionally to bring understanding. Teaching has been a vital means of communicating God’s truth for untold centuries. For example, when the people of God returned from Babylonian captivity, teaching re-emerged in a dramatic and powerful way.
Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion… Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet. Then Ezra praised the LORD, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. The Levites… then instructed the people in the Law while everyone remained in their places. They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage (Nehemiah 8:4-8 NLT).
Notice the components of teaching here: (1) They read Scripture verbatim—word for word, (2) They clearly explained the meaning of what they had just read, and (3) They helped the people understand each passage. When minds are open and hearts are eager to learn, teaching is one of the most powerful tools, gifts, or functions that God has placed in his church.
“If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging” (Romans 12:8 NLT).
(* Many modern translations render this word “encouraging” as opposed to “exhortation.”)
Whereas teaching is more logical and instructional, exhortation seems to be more of an appeal—something more motivational in nature. Beyond informing (teaching), exhorting is often an urging for another person to do something, an encouragement to move forward. Exhorters are often considered to be strong motivators who light a fire under people and stir people to action.
Because these different verbal gifts often have similarities, we sometimes see an overlap when Paul mentions them. It might be helpful to think of prophecy, teaching, and exhortation as three petals on the same flower. These expressions are complementary and can work well together; they are not contradictory.
“If your gift is serving others, serve them well” (Romans 12:7 NLT).
In the churches I visit, I am constantly amazed at the wonderful volunteers who work with children and youth, who greet and usher, who clean the building and visit the sick. Others work in areas such as food distribution, nursing home ministry, ushers and greeters, parking lot and media teams, and the areas in which vital contributions are made seem endless. These individuals might never preach behind a pulpit, but their gifts to the health and ministry of the church are of incalculable worth. Many exalt pulpit ministry, and while it is most certainly important, it is not necessarily more important in God’s eyes than what may appear to others to be the humblest of tasks.
“If it [your gift] is giving, give generously” (Romans 12:8 NLT).
Some might find it unusual that Paul indicates there is a special grace—a gift of giving in which believers can operate. After all, aren’t all believers supposed to be giving people? I believe that is exactly correct, that all children of God are to be generous, but it seems that some people have a special grace for giving, just like some have a special grace enabling them to teach or preach. This would be above-and-beyond-the-ordinary type of giving.
“If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously” (Romans 12:8 NLT).
Those who exercise leadership often have a sense of God’s plan and direction, and they influence others accordingly. Godly leaders think far more about their responsibilities from and before God than they do their authority relative to people and organizations. Similarly, many people look at leaders and think of their privileges without recognizing their pressures.
Leaders usually have a strong sense of what “could be” and what “should be” and they channel their efforts to bring people along on a journey toward such destinations. Leaders are often “big picture” people, and they don’t necessarily do well with details. Often, God will lead managers—detail-oriented individuals—to assist visionaries. Likewise, he often will join relationship-oriented individuals with task-oriented people. If people with different strengths like these can learn to respect each other’s gifts and perspectives, powerful teams can be built.
“And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:8 NLT).
In a world that is full of heartache and pain, how great is the need for those who are powerfully moved by God’s mercy and compassion. It is important that we declare God’s word, because people need the truth. It is also important that we demonstrate God’s mercy, because people have a desperate need to sense his love flowing toward them. The Psalmist writes that “Mercy and truth have met together” (Psalm 85:10 NKJV). This is vital, because we don’t want mercy without truth, nor do we desire truth without mercy.
I’m not sure how impressed Jesus is with every sermon that is preached in his name, but I feel confident that he values every act of mercy and compassion that his children display. We may think it’s always the big things that get God’s intention, but Jesus said that if you “give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42 NLT).
We should certainly act on the defensive admonitions of Scripture… to not be conformed to this world and to escape the corruption that is in the world. However, as fully engaged believers, we must aggressively pursue fulfilling the positive directives and admonitions of Scripture as well. Let’s not just “hold the fort,” but let’s move onward, forward, and upward as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. It is an honor to serve King Jesus with you!