Romans 12: 2
"Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him" (CEV).
"Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect" (NLT).
The phrase itself seems simple enough, but the commentators disagree on exactly what Paul has in mind.
Observations - point us in the right direction.
1. This phrase comes at the end of Paul's call to present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, to become non-conformists to the ways of the world, and to be continually transformed by the renewing of our minds. Knowing/testing/discerning/approving the will of God is the logical result of doing everything Paul has just told us to do.
2. Often we focus on the "will of God" as if it were something we "discover" in a secret compartment, hidden away by God, separated from the rest of our lives. So we search and we worry and we fret and we pray and we struggle and we discuss and we read books and we fidget and fumble and we make our lists and we stay up late at night worrying about things we can't control anyway. These things are not wrong in themselves, and some of them may be quite helpful, but it is a mistake to think about "knowing God's will" as if it is somehow separated from our ongoing walk with the Lord.
The more you pursue knowing God, the more likely you are to end up exactly where God wants you to end up.
3. As long as you refuse to present your body as a living sacrifice, and insist on following the ways of the world, you can forget about knowing God's will for your life. It's not going to happen. There is a moral implication to the will of God that goes beyond - Should I get married? Where should I study? Should I buy a new house? Should I move to Durban or to Scotland? Those questions are purely secondary when it comes to the will of God.
We tend to spend our days obsessing about the secondary issues.
4. Greek word - "know, test," - used to describe the process of examining gold ore to determine if it was genuine or not. In its positive sense, it means to put something to the test in order to demonstrate that it is genuine.
Romans 12: 2 is not about "discovering" God's will as much as it is "proving" that God's will is always good, acceptable and perfect - Psalm 18: 30 - "This God - his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true." The Message - "What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth. Every GOD-direction is road-tested. Everyone who runs toward him makes it."
5. Paul uses 3 words that describe the "will of God." 1. God's will is good - doing things God's way will always prove to be for our ultimate benefit. 10 Commandments - It is good that we have no other gods before God, it is good that we do not worship idols, it is good that we honor our parents, it is good that we do not murder, it is good that we do not commit adultery, it is good that we do not lie, and so on. But there are times when the world pulls us in the direction of idolatry, disobedience, hatred and sexual immorality. There are times when lying seems like fun and when stealing seems okay. Remember that sin does bring pleasure for a short time. If sin were always immediately unpleasant, we'd all sin a lot less than we do. Sin often brings short-term pleasure. When Eve saw the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she saw that "the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise" (Genesis 3:6). All those things were true. So she took the fruit and ate it, and gave it to Adam and he ate it, with disastrous consequences that continue to this very day. Sin always looks good at first. It seems fun and alluring and exciting. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 14:12). But God's will and his way and his path are always good for us. 2. God's will is acceptable - means that which is well pleasing to God. It means to live in such a way that God says at the end, "Well done, good and faithful servant." But it also means that living God's way will also be pleasing to us personally. Not easy, because carrying a cross is not an easy thing to do. But in the end, those who live for Christ will be happier than those who don't. It's really as simple as that. 3. God's will is perfect - means something that is complete or whole, something that has reached its intended destination. If you live for God, you will come to the end of your life satisfied.
If you live for the world, you will have the world's reward - which will satisfy you for only a short time. If you live for God, you will demonstrate to yourself and those who know you that God's way is always good, pleasing and ultimately perfect.
6. The way of the world often seems much more exciting than the way of the Lord. We see the bright lights and we hear the call of the wild and we think, "I'm tired of living by the Book. I'm going to throw off my restraints and have a good time." Like the Prodigal Son, we have a blast while our money lasts. Only at the end do we end up eating with the pigs. The world has plenty to offer the Christian, at least for a short time. But when you drink at the world's fountain, you are drinking polluted water that cannot satisfy the soul. God's way is slower and often harder. We must strive every day to prove to ourselves and to others that God's way is best. It will not be easy at first. But we have the promise of Proverbs 4:18 - "the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." Follow hard after God and his ways and you will have increasing joy, increasing light and increasing clarity.
When you take the easy way of the world, it turns out hard, but when you take the hard path of following God's will, it always ultimately turns out to be the only easy way there is.
7. We must all learn this lesson for ourselves. I can preach it, but that will not prove the matter to you. You can never prove that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect except in the crucible of hard times and tough decisions. When all is going well, the way of the world and the way of the Lord may seem to be equally right. But we prove that God's way is best when we stand at the crossroads of life and make what seems to the world to be a foolish choice. Only in those moments can the wisdom of the Lord be clearly seen.
Story of Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13.
1. "We Are Brothers"
While in Egypt, Abraham had lied to save his life. The lie worked for awhile until God intervened. Then Abraham was forced to leave the country after having been publicly humiliated by the Pharaoh. But he left a much richer man than he came. In spite of his sin, God had blessed him with great wealth in Egypt. It is his great wealth that will now bring him great trouble. If Abraham hadn’t gone to Egypt in the first place, he wouldn’t have this problem now. It’s his compromise and deceit that made him and Lot so rich that they could no longer live together.
The land could not support both of them. The Canaanites controlled most the region, which meant that Abraham and Lot had to live in the neglected areas. That would have been no problem when they were middle class herdsmen, but now that they have moved up the ladder. The problem is having too much money. The herdsmen didn’t start quarreling until the flocks got too big. When they were both middle-class shepherds, everyone was happy. This side of heaven we aren’t always going to see things eye to eye. In that case, it is better to separate than to go on fighting continually. That’s what happened to Abraham and Lot.
v. 8 - Most of our problems in the church would be solved if we would just remember those 4 little words. “For we are brothers.” We tend to forget that in the heat of battle, don’t we? Somehow brothers become adversaries, and friends become enemies.
2. “Two Men, Two Choices”
Abraham’s solution is the only one that will work under the circumstances: v. 9. There’s no need to quarrel because Canaan is big enough for both of them. But in the end, they couldn’t stay together. So Abraham offers Lot his choice of the land. By human standards, this makes no sense. Why did he do such a thing?
A. He wanted to solve the problem peacefully. B. He was willing to lose in the short run in order to keep the peace in the long run.
C. He believed that God would take care of him no matter what happened. So now Lot can choose any part of the Promised Land. North, South, East, West. It’s like winning the toss. The choice is his. It’s painfully clear what was motivating his decision: v. 10. It seemed to Lot that the Jordan valley was like Eden come to life - he saw lush fields for his cattle, plenty of room for vineyards, open areas for homes and he saw that there was plenty of water. Lot makes his choice based on the availability of water. He and Abraham part company, Lot moves toward Sodom while Abraham moved toward Hebron. One went east, the other west.
3. “Who Won?”
Who got the better of this deal? From outward appearances, it looked like Lot won. He got the best land and Abraham had to take what was left. Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom.” You can’t compromise with evil and come away clean. You can’t dance with the devil without paying the price. By choosing to live near Sodom, Lot was exposing himself and his family to gross moral evil. I’m sure he would have said that only lived there because that’s where the best land was. Either he was ignorant of the sin of Sodom or he just didn’t care.
Moral compromise often begins with a tiny step in the wrong direction. It happens so subtly that before we know it, our lives are entangled in a web of deceit and iniquity. James 1: 14 - 15 - Mark the progression carefully. Temptation leads to desire that leads to sin that leads to death. Where did Lot go wrong? He made his choice based only on what he could see at the moment. Because he couldn’t “see” the evil of Sodom, it didn’t bother him at all. Because his eyes were filled with the desire for the lush fields of the Jordan Valley, he made the wrong choice and paid for it dearly. Later on, he would lose everything and barely escape with his own life when God judged Sodom. Sodom may look good today but tomorrow it’s going up in flames.
4. “God Speaks Again”
God does not speak until after Lot has departed. Why? Because the Lord has nothing to say to a compromising believer. You can have Sodom or you can have the Lord, but you can’t have both. So now the Lord comes back to Abraham and reassures him once again – v. 14 - 17.
Abraham must have been amazed. Lot has chosen the best land, but God promises to give all of it to him. He and Sarah have no children, but God promises descendants like the dust of the earth. The Canaanites control the land, but God is giving it to Abraham.
5. “God Honours Those Who Honour Him”
Because Abraham didn’t demand his own way, God gave him back everything he lost and more. Who “won”? Did Lot win? After all, he’s got the best land. But Abraham’s got the Lord. Bishop Desmond Tutu used to say: “When the white man came to Africa, we had the land and he had the Bible. But now we have the Bible and he has the land. We shall see who got the better deal.” Genesis 13 is teaching us what Paul wants us to understand in Romans 12:1-2. You may win in the eyes of the world but end up losing everything. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mark 8:36).
Lot won in the short run, but his victory didn’t last long. Abraham won in the long run. He got all the land and he ended up with the Lord. He proved that God's will is always good, pleasing and perfect. The same will be true for us. We may not win in the short run, but in the long run those who live for Christ will find themselves on the victory side. They will prove to themselves and the world that God's will is good and pleasing and perfect. Amen.