Doing Spiritual Good to One Another: Practical Steps for Busy People

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This was given at our Church Camp 2023 by Pastor Oliver. The theme for the camp was "Doing Spiritual Good to One Another". 

The talk this morning will be in two parts -- doing spiritual good to one another; and practical steps for busy people to walk with others. The first part will be anchored in a short exposition of Romans 12:1-8, while the second will look at practical applications for walking side by side to do spiritual good.

The big idea for this passage is: Because we have received God's mercy, we do spiritual good to one another. And the outline is as follows:

  1. We commit to spiritual good because we received mercy (Rom 12:1)
  2. We do spiritual good because it's God's will (Rom 12:2)
  3. We need every church member to do spiritual good (Rom 12:3-8)
We commit to spiritual good because we received mercy (Rom 12:1)

Romans 12:1 begins with "I appeal to you, therefore…". Paul appeals to us to apply the truths of the gospel to life together in the church and based his appeal on the mercies of God. The word "mercy" is mentioned nine times in Romans 9-11. It is then because of the "mercies of God" that God has elected sinners to be saved from our sins. 

Paul also asks us to "present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship". Romans 12:1b uses the language of temple worship. Rather than sacrificing bulls and goats, we are to offer ourselves as devoted to God. The appropriate response to God's abundant mercy is to offer, or present ourselves to him in his service, i.e. we bow and worship God. This means that proper worship is not only offered when we gather as a church; we are to worship God with our whole lives. 

Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the motivation for our life of worship. The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:10 writes, "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy". In short, because we received the gospel because of God's gracious initiative and mercy,  we are to live out the applications of the gospel. We are saved and freed from sin to love others, we are redeemed to worship God. Because we as believers have received the grace of the gospel, then we are to steward and live out this grace in our life,  especially in our life together as a church.

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Paul tells the church in chapters 12-16 of the letter to the Romans how we can live out the applications of the gospel in doing spiritual good in light of the many mercies of God. And the first area Paul applies the gospel is our life together as a church in Romans 12:3-8.

We do spiritual good because it's God's will (Rom 12:2)

We are to present ourselves as devoted to God's purposes. Paul continues in Romans 12:2 to instruct us what not to do -- "Do not be conformed to this world". Paul says offering ourselves to God means rejecting our old way of life and the way everyone outside of Christ lives, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Our renewed minds, dead to sin but alive to God (Rom 6:11), will know how to please God. 

Paul says we will know God's will when our minds are conformed to God's revealed mind through Scripture. Once our minds are informed and saturated with God's Word, the Scripture, we can discern God's good, acceptable and perfect will.

Paul goes on to describe God's will for the church in Romans 12:3-8 -- that is, to do one another spiritual good to one another in the church. Beloved, we are to do spiritual good to one another because it is God's will for us to do so.

We need every church member to do spiritual good (Rom 12:3-8)

Paul encouraged the believers in the church in Rome to assess themselves humbly and realistically in Romans 12:3. He urges them to adopt a humble attitude toward one another.

Paul speaks not from a superior position but simply as one who has also received grace from God (Rom 12:3). Paul wrote that all the Roman Christians have faith, and they should think of themselves under that faith— not in terms of its quantity (which might lead to a pecking order in the church) but in terms of the simple fact that each has faith. He encouraged believers to use their gifts appropriately to serve the church and do spiritual good.

Paul compares the Roman church to a body, that it is one body in Christ (Rom 12:4 and repeated in Rom 12:5). Paul emphasises that the church body is one and interdependent – that we need one another and draws on the imagery of the human body.There is unity and diversity in the human body. While the human body has many different and unique parts; when working rightly each piece works together for the whole body's health and each part needs the others.

Working together to build the body is a mark of the Christian community just like having relationships of loving interdependence. Just as there are different parts in one human body, there are different and unique members in one church  — we all don't look and act the same way, we have different backgrounds and experiences and yet there is unity. The church is one because we are joined to Christ when we trust in Him as we are joined to Christ, united to one another. 

Just as the parts of the body work together for the whole body's health, the church has many different members with each having a distinct function. And here at Grace Baptist Church, all work together for the good and health of the body.

The church is diminished if one member doesn't want to play their part (or plays a part contrary to the church's health). Each of us should work for the spiritual good of others. GBC, are we working together for the good of each other and the health of our church?

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We often hear on social media: "You don't owe anyone anything.” It is often used in the context that we ought to live and do our things our way. But this is not what Paul tells the church. Believers in the church body are "individually members of one another" (Rom 12:5). As the NLT puts it, "we all belong to one another.” We often understand that as believers, we belong to God. Romans 12:1 tells us to offer ourselves as "living sacrifices" to God. We get that we belong to God, but Paul also says, "Believer, as a church member,  you also belong to each other!” We need others, and others need us. We are connected in a deep mutual, reciprocal relationship. What we do has a bearing on others in the church. What we do or don't do impacts the good of another and the church's health.

What are we to do then? We are then to steward the grace of the gospel we received and work out this application of grace towards and for each other. This truth means we do not gather as a church on Sundays for ourselves to meet our needs. We gather for one another. This other-centred focus reflects the upside-down nature of the gospel — "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. (Mark 8:35)”

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Beloved, do we believe that we "belong to one another," i.e. we need each other? Do we trust that when we spend ourselves doing spiritual good to others, we will gain our life? If this is so, what would change in our interactions?

So, how do we live out the truth that we are one and we belong to one another? We see this in Romans 12:6-8 where we are told to use our God-given gifts to serve one another. We prophesy (it means here to speak God's Word) to one another. We serve one another. We teach and disciple one another. We exhort and encourage one another. We give to one another. We lead one another. We show mercy and kindness, with cheerfulness to one another. In short, we do spiritual good to one another in the church body.

We do this not only when we gather as a church on Sunday, but we can also exercise our gifts for one another's good throughout the week. If we belong to each other, as Romans 12:5 tells us, then we live not for ourselves but for others. As a church, we exercise our different gifts in serving one another.  Otherwise, by refusing to exercise your God-given gift for the sake of one another, the life of the church body is diminished. Because we are one body in Christ and belong to one another, let us love and serve one another.

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community”, he grounds the Christian community in and on the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes, "It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ, we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity".

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, "The goal of all Christian community: They meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation". 

The Christian community of the church is founded on, in and through Jesus Christ. And the message of salvation or the gospel of Jesus Christ is what the church exists for. We bring the gospel to others and we bring the gospel to each other when we gather. The church is to proclaim and picture the gospel of Jesus Christ and build one another up. 

Practical Steps for Busy People to Walk with Others

We commit to spiritual good because we received mercy. We do spiritual good because it's God's will and every church member needs to do spiritual good.

Some may say, "Ollie, I get this, but I'm swamped with work commitments and family responsibilities. How can I do spiritual good to others in the church?”

It is good and even necessary to give attention to family and work. I have 12 practical steps for busy people to walk with others. Much of the following materials comes from reflections and interactions with Romans 12:1-8, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community” and Edward T Welch's book, “Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love”.

As we think about doing spiritual good or disciple-making, we can think of two continuums: From big groups to small groups to 1 to 1 relationships as well as what to do when meeting up.

Preaching on a Sunday involves the whole congregation and consists of a study of the Scripture. Our preaching on Sunday is essential because what is taught echoes through the church's life in the other discipling relationships.

On the other side of the continuum, this involves 1 to 1 (or 1 to 2) in relationships seeking the other spiritual good, which will supplement the preaching ministry. Much of our discipling relationships which does spiritual good to others will come from such meetings.

This session will not focus on the specificities of 1 to 1 Bible reading (you can read more here), but will instead focus on the side-by-side ministry — a coming alongside others in a less formal way to do spiritual good. This means speaking Scripture to one another but in the context of our friendships. Another way to describe this is doing good in our spiritual friendships.

Many of us have been doing it in some way. Some of us I have spoken to have done this well (and I can learn from you. But this approach will weave its way into our informal interactions and friendships as we do spiritual good in our life together.

So, here are 12 practical steps for busy people to walk with one another.

1. We receive with gratitude the privilege of life together

Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, goes on to write, "Because God had already laid the only foundation of our fellowship because God had bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients". 

He reminds us that this gift of others in the church is to be received with gratitude. We ought to be thankful for others God brings alongside us to do us spiritual good. Thankfulness and gratitude should undergird our friendships with one another. We understand that  even as we serve and love the other in our friendships, it is God's gift to us.

2. We have His Spirit

Everything changed when Jesus came. He died for sins, rose from the grave, and then, at Pentecost, sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, now indwells us when we trust in Jesus Christ.

Some of us may feel anxious: "How can I do spiritual good to others -- I am not trained nor qualified!” The Holy Spirit has given us the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. Now, followers of Jesus have all the competencies needed to encourage and instruct each other (Jer 31:33–34; Rom 15:14). This work is not for a few leaders but for ordinary people; it is for the whole church. So, let us all get involved in doing spiritual good.

3. We move toward and greet one another

We remember that God took the initiative to move towards us.

Because He moves toward people, we move toward those around us.

Because He moves toward people who seek him and people who do not, we move toward those who want help and those who seem distant and marginalised. 

Because He moves toward friends and even enemies, we move beyond our circle of friends to those far beyond that circle. 

Practically, the thought of awkward silence and feeling a little stupid causes us to hesitate. But let us not let that hinder us. We can start small by greeting the person, introducing ourselves and inviting them to do likewise. Beloved, this is an area that we have been doing well. Visitors tell me that they sometimes feel overwhelmed that so many people have reached out and introduced themselves to them. So, do not slow down and as a church, let us continue with welcoming and greeting people. Make the first contact as a start to our spiritual friendships.

4. We have thoughtful conversations

We seek to have thoughtful conversations with both new friends, or old friends that we’ve met again after a while. Apart from exchanging pleasantries, and just asking about their children, work or what they do during their holidays, we can ask questions that will reveal what they value. The idea is to follow their affections, and of course, be genuinely interested.

We hear the information and we can pray for them and follow up the next time we see them.If a friend tells you he has been anxious about interacting with his boss, we can follow up with, "I have been praying for your relationship with your boss and that you'll have patience, wisdom, and confidence that God is with you.  How is it going?" 

Or if a friend tells you, his son has been doing poorly in school, we can follow up with,"I've been thinking about your son. I am praying he would not be defeated by the failure he feels in school and would keep talking about it with you."  Pray for one another and follow up with them as this demonstrates that we really care about our friends.

5. We see evidence of grace, and we enjoy one another

We need to learn to look for the good in others. All humanity has been created in God's image (Gen 1:27). Though sin has distorted and sullied that image, the image persists and is why we can enjoy each other (Jas 3:9). So we look out for character qualities or gifts and talents and appreciate them.

For believers, redeemed by the blood of Christ, look for evidence of God's grace. They may show spiritual growth or maturity in an area, it may be an interest in reading a good Christian book or they may be enthusiastic about the church. Point it out and appreciate them. Celebrate the evidence of God's grace in their lives! All of us can see the good in our friends, however Scripture authorises us to see and enjoy the good in all people even when we are not always so good.  This will encourage others and increase our affection for them which will make it much easier to talk about hard things.

6. We walk together and tell stories

Ask for stories when we gather, such as, “Please tell me what happened during your vacation.” Or, “how did you become a follower of Jesus Christ?”or, “You look like you have a rough day. Would you like to talk about it?"

We listen, follow and draw out what is most important. When you don't know what is important in someone's story,  ask them: "What is most meaningful to you about this?  What is the hardest part of this problem for you?" All such questions serve as a reminder that the stories of those you love are interesting and important. So we listen carefully for clues, draw people out and partner them in joys and burdens. We go beyond the surface "Hi's and bye's" and talk about what matters. 

7. We have compassion during trouble

Trouble and suffering will come and when you progress in spiritual friendships, your friends might be vulnerable and open and allow you in when they struggle. When they open up, this is when the pragmatic fix-it Singapore mentality would get us into trouble. When your friend faces trouble, don't say, "It could be worse","what is God teaching you through this", or "God will work this together for good.” and try to fix them.

Remember, suffering is sometimes a mystery and we should proceed humbly and carefully. Being present and sitting with the suffering person can sometimes be comforting and heart-consoling. Suffering reminds us that everything, including us, is not quite right. Everything will be right once Jesus returns and his will is done on earth as presently done in heaven. We are people of hope and we look ahead knowing that Jesus's first coming changed everything. We can meet the practical needs of the sufferer to encourage them and point them to Jesus' second coming when everything will be made right.

8. We pray during trouble

The best thing we can do amid trouble is to pray. We move toward those who are hurting and put compassion into words: 

  • “I want you to know you've been on my heart.”
  • “I’m so sorry that this has happened.”
  • "I've been so saddened by what's happened.”
  • "I think about you often. How are you?  This has been a heavy, heavy burden.”
  • "It might not seem like much,  but I am with you in this. I feel the burden and have been praying for your comfort." 

Also seek to pray for the other. Yes, you pray in your personal prayer times but you can also pray when you gather. Wouldn't seeing us pray in twos or threes when we gather be great?

I was personally encouraged and my heart was strengthened when not one but two brothers approached me after service to pray for an ongoing but seldom voiced struggle I had in caring for my brother and mother. It felt that God's comforting hand was around my shoulders through them.

We pray for comfort and encouragement and we also pray for their hearts. We pray not for God to remove the trouble but for their hearts to grow in trust and obedience to God.

We pray and follow up.

9. We are alert to Satan's devices

When suffering knocks on someone's door, Satan too comes knocking. He waits for those times when people are in the wilderness - vulnerable, desperate and God seems far away or absent altogether. That's when Satan's questions about God's character which might seem silly during the good times, suddenly make sense.

We must therefore consider how Satan's devices affect how we help one another.  Though Satan's power to enslave us was broken by the resurrection of Christ, he still has the power to tempt, accuse, and confuse us. We need to be able to recognise it and know what to do.  

The way to do it is to wisely and lovingly ask questions again.

  • “Any questions about God, his character or questions for him?”
  • "Does this pain make you think you must be guilty of something and have to figure it out? That's the kind of thing Satan does." 
  • "Do you ever get angry with God?  Satan will try to accuse you,  but he will also use this to blame God." 
  • "Are you sure that you have forgiveness of sins in Jesus? Satan is going to suggest all this is your fault." 

Ask questions to help one another to discern the lies we would be tempted to believe.

10. We prepare to talk about sin

Talking about our sins tends to be the last thing we want to do. Who wants to talk about sin among friends? Suffering, yes but sin? That seems risky and judgmental. When sin surfaces in another, we would much rather be silent and secretly judgmental than talk about it. We adopt a don't-ask-don't-tell policy which avoids conflict and also protects us from being accused of sin ourselves. Addressing sin is a tough one. How can we talk about sin with one another? 

Our church culture inadvertently communicates that preachers can talk publicly about sin, and a men's group convened to deal with pornography can talk about it but as a general rule, it is impolite to speak of sin one to one. Why talk about sin?

In GBC's members' covenant, we promised one another: “We will be devoted to one another in brotherly love, to watch over, pray for, patiently bear with, forgive, encourage, and admonish one another with love, humility and gentleness. (Rom 12:10; Luke 17:3; Col 3:13; 1 Thes 5:11; 1 Pet 1:22)" and also “We will strive to pursue personal holiness in our lives and grow in Christ-likeness with the help of the Holy Spirit by resisting conformity to this world and submitting to the authority of Scripture. (Titus 2:12; 1 Pet 1:14)"

If we ignore our brothers' and sisters' sins, we have sinned against them and should ask their forgiveness. We need to move toward fellow sinners. After all, we are family and know the dangerous nature of sin and a life apart from God. 

As we approach our friend to talk about sin, we need to examine ourselves first, and be humble and patient when we approach our friends. We need to see the good God is already doing in their lives and acknowledge (but not excuse) their difficult circumstances.

And then deal with sins one at a time. Growth in Christ-likeness will take a lifetime, we don't have to talk about every sin and idol we witness or suspect all at once.

11. We help fellow sinners

Sin is our most dangerous problem. God's primary means of battling sin is the Spirit, the Word, and the community. Though we prefer to live and let live when it comes to sin, we know God has called us to help one another face our sins. Humans flourish when we battle sin rather than surrender to it. As Ephesians 1:4 tells us, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

Sin is best raised in faithful friendships where hardships have been shared and friends have prayed with each other. When are the occasions to speak up about sin? We do so when someone faces temptations, when we have seen sin or when someone discloses and confesses sin. 

When someone faces temptation, understand the circumstances when your friend is most tempted. For example, when they have lots of time alone or unaccounted for; when they are facing deadlines and pressures from work; or when they have a history of addictions. We aim to bring temptations into the open and grow in saying no to restless desires (Titus 2:11–12). 

When we have seen sin, do not be silent out of fear and anger. Get help if needed. And when we confront a brother and sister, we present just the facts. Our task is to hold up a mirror so that they can see themselves. And we also need to be prepared for negative reactions — understand that they are often not reacting personally but responding when their cherished sin or idol is exposed and attacked.

When someone discloses and confesses sin, don’t just commiserate, do something.Get to the heart of the sin and the heart's desire. You can develop a plan together. Recognise that change and growth are messy, and walk faithfully with each other. And lead in saying "thank you" to God by seeing the gospel of grace at work in the life of a sinner.

12. We keep the story in view.

Learn to keep the Bible's Big Master Story in view. It is important for us to understand the three tenses of salvation. We have been saved: When we repented and trusted in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and we receive new life. We are being saved: The gift of the Holy Spirit now indwells us. Working through the Word of God in the community of the people of God, the Spirit of God will continue to sanctify and change us. We will be saved: One day soon,when Jesus Christ returns, we will receive our resurrection body and be in his joyous presence forever more.

Knowing where all things in heaven and earth are headed,  we can wait and persevere (1 Thess 1:2), and that endurance or perseverance is crucial to a life well lived. Without it, we are left with grumbling, addiction, or despair. With it, we look ahead and tell a different story than the present distress tries to tell. 

Whereas chronic suffering assumes nothing will change, hope knows our rescuer is committed to our good.Hope knows the love of Jesus and grows in confidence that all the promises God makes have already been yes and amen in Christ Jesus.