But let every man prove his own work, and then he shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden [=responsibilities]. Let him that is taught in the word communicate [=share] unto him that teacheth in all good things.
The word for burden used here is in the sense of responsibility. So what we have then is that each believer will have to bear his own responsibility before God, but in doing so each has to test and prove their own work. Linking this in with the theme of the epistle we can see what the underlying thought is. Paul in the opening verse stated that his calling as an apostle was of God, not man, he had proved his calling throughout his life.
The false brethren, on the other hand, wanted to do their own works and not God’s. They preferred to go seeking the works of the flesh with all the consequences that may entail. So the question we have to face is, are the works we do of the flesh or Spirit? Even though some works may appear religious and pious, what matters is whether they are of God or not.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable [=well pleasing] unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
In this passage in Romans Paul talks about presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is acceptable to God. In doing so we are to prove [=test as genuine] what is the perfect will of God in our lives. Notice Paul doesn’t say: let others tell you what God’s will is for you! Rather each believer is to prove what is that good and acceptable perfect will for themselves.
It really is important to make this point clearly, no one has the right to dominant another person’s faith and walk with the Lord, even Paul refused to do such a thing (II Cor.1:24). One of the most deceptive ideas in Christian circles is when people go round saying that they have had ‘words’ for others telling them what they should be doing. Both here and in Galatians Paul is quite clear, each person has the responsibility (and may we add privilege?) of proving the will of God for themselves.
Paul continues in Romans that each is to behave within the measure of faith given to them. Echoing the Galatian admonition of Gal 6:3. The emphasis here is not ‘how to find your ministry’, but in testing one’s own work and bearing that burden before God. In scripture we can see what responsibilities we have before God and how to conduct ourselves in the Spirit. Obviously we have a part to play within the body of Christ, but let us not forget that the life of faith covers every aspect of life, and scripture deals with them all. Each aspect requires more detail analysis than space permits here, but a brief look will give us a good overview of our responsibilities.
D5.1 An infidel?
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
I Tim. 5:8
The context of this passage is to do with the care of widows in the assembly. The apostle states that if the widows have children etc. then they are the ones responsible for them; they are to provide for their needs. in Paul’s words: to requite their parents, (I Tim. 5:4) in other words the children have a duty of care for their aging parents, and not use ‘religion’ as an excuse to neglect it.
In this practical example from the early Church we see a principle, namely that we have a duty before the Lord to take care of our own families. To neglect this is to deny the faith, and be worse than an non believer, after all, even the unbelievers take care of their own! Strong words, but it’s there in scripture. Provision can of course be in many forms: financial, emotional, support etc. but whatever it is, to neglect such responsibilities is to invite censure from the Lord.
There is in the Gospels a time when Jesus rebuked the leaders of His day for such neglect.
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
This passage shows us the Pharisees’ way of getting around the commandments of God and avoid this duty of parental care. But they did so by making religious duty the excuse! Jesus calls it a breaking of God’s commandment and calls it a tradition of men, and in so doing they make God’s word of no effect! What a terrible thing to happen.
D5.2 In the Home
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.
When talking about the character requirements of leaders in the assemblies, Paul makes it clear that such men are to have an orderly home and be well spoken of by the outsiders. (I Tim.3: 1-13). This highlights that the responsibility of home life, and our lives before the world can not be ignored. On more than one occasion Paul talks about the duties of each one in the home.
The above passage from Colossians is such an example. Note that he prefaces his remarks with the exhortation to do all in the Lord’s name. That is everything is to be done in the light of the Lord’s eye, and for His glory ( I Cor. 10: 31). Wives, husbands, children, servants and masters all are mentioned, there is no station in life that is ignored. Whatever our responsibility we are to see to it that we are faithful to what God requires.
D5.3 Outside the home
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good
Returning to Romans the middle part of the twelfth chapter talks of serving within the body of Christ. The key thought is to do so within the gifting God has given us, and not to go beyond our measure, thinking we may be someone. Of course God may enlarge our ‘ministry’, but that’s God’s doing and not ours! The emphasis is not ‘how we find our ministry’ but rather in encouraging us to discharge it faithfully. He endues us with His gifting and holds us responsible for its use. Any gifting we may have is just that, a gift from God. It is not ‘ours’ to do with as we like, rather it is given to edify the body.
Another aspect is seen in the Galatian passage where we are to: Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. There is a responsibility of those who are not in so called ‘full time public ministry’ to support in some way those who are. This is a sensitive subject, which is in itself subject to extreme viewpoints, and such a discussion would be of place here. But by comparing scriptures that relate to this it does seem that in the early Church supported in some way those who were given to such full time work. It is well known that Paul gave up his ‘right’, if it be such, to that support on several occasions and supported himself by ‘secular’ work. The point however, is that just as we have a responsibility to the ‘every day’ brothers and sisters, so too we have one towards those who are in such ‘full time’ positions. What we are to do is a matter between us and the Lord, and in so doing prove that as well (I Cor. 9:8-14; Phil.4:15-19).
In all of this we are to remember that we are serving Christ and His church and all should be done for edifying. Unlike the false teachers our ‘ministering’ is to point the brethren to Christ and help them in the Faith. It is not building up our own empire, nor drawing people to us or our ‘set’. In all things love is to be the motivation, as described in I Cor.13. Please note that that chapter on love is between the teaching on the Gifts of the Spirit, no gift is of any value unless it be in love.
Paul also mentions our responsibility to those outside of Christ – Bless them which persecute you, do not recompense evil for evil, do not avenge yourselves, feed your enemies. This takes us back to what Jesus said in the ‘ Sermon on the Mount’ (Mtt.5:43-48). In other words we have the duty to show God’s love to those who know not Christ.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Continuing the theme of the outsider, Paul refers to our responsibility to society at large. We are to bear our burden to the authorities as necessary: taxes, tribute, honour and any other legitimate demand made by them. It goes without saying, that if the world demands disobedience to God then we are to obey God rather that man, as summarised by Peter in Acts 5:29. But otherwise our duty before man is clear, we are to be subject to those powers. Being Christian does not give us the option to opt out of the responsibilities of society at large, rather it obligates us to show Christ’s life in the midst of it.
The Christian life affects all aspects of living, we are to work out our salvation day by day in every situation we find ourselves. We are to prove and bear those responsibilities before God, and in it all please Him.