When I was younger, I used to treasure the summer nights.
When I began learning more about the negative emphasis placed upon the night and the darkness in the scriptures, I became disheartened. “Perhaps”, I thought, “The thing I have so enjoyed is not a good thing after all.” But what I came to realize was that I had appreciated the night without knowing exactly why. And it took an observation in a starless, moonless night to clue me in: I did not relish the nighttime for the darkness, but for the light shining through the darkness. If I did not have the stars and moon in those warm, summer nights, each night would have been nothing short of terrifying–as the nature of total darkness is.
The light of the moon is called the “lesser light” given to rule the night, and the stars also serve this function (Genesis 1:16). (I love that it says the light “rules” the darkness.) Also in Genesis 1:16, we see a greater light, the sun, and that it rules the day. In the kingdom to come, in the great city of New Jerusalem, we see that neither sun nor moon is needed, nor are the stars, “for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23).
So, we might say that the light of the night is “good”, the light of the day, “acceptable”, and the light of God is “perfect”. So it is also with the will of God.
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.
God’s will is divided into three categories, and to take a survey of the will of God concerning us, his creatures, I think we can come to a reasonable conclusion regarding what each of those adjectives refers to.
What’s fascinating about this is, it is evident that God wishes for us to be so discerning that, while we are transformed from conformity to the world, we are also learning to differentiate between things of varying importance in the will of God, ultimately aiming for the absolute best: the perfect will.
The word translated as “good” is a primary word; the word translated as “acceptable” is a Greek compound word, combining two words that could be rendered as “well-pleasing”. That Paul starts the list of three things about the will of God with something very basic and ends with “perfect” seems to indicate an increasing order. No doubt the words are ordered as they are for a reason, because “perfect”, meaning something that is completed, is at the end of the list.
With some study, we can see how the will of God has areas of lesser and greater importance.
For instance, Jesus said,
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
He does not exclude the tithes of mint and anise and cummin. Those were just fine. But it’s foolish to omit things far more important (“weightier” as he says), such as judgment, mercy and faith. In this situation, we could say it would be good to pay such tithes, acceptable to practice judgment, mercy and faith, and perfect to do all of the above.
It is important to realize in these considerations of degrees that lesser does not necessitate omission. Small things are still good and should still be maintained; even a cup of water given to someone who belongs to Christ, and for that cause, is worthy of reward even though it is not a remarkable feat (Mark 9:41). But whatever is greater and greatest should be given priority and should by no means be excluded in favor of the small things.
Paul delighted in summarizing the law. In one place he wrote,
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
In that passage, he specifically mentions adultery, murder, theft, false testimony and coveting as examples of how one person may hurt another. Adultery, of course, is to take another person’s spouse. Murder is to take a life. Theft is to take one’s property. False testimony is to lie about another usually with the intent of defamation. And coveting is, in the context of the law, to desire the property of another, which leads to plotting to get it for oneself; though no action is done, it is harming a neighbor in heart. And covetousness is called idolatry by Paul in Colossians 3:5.
So to simply abstain from doing bad to one’s neighbor is to fulfill the law! In other words, you’d be loving your neighbor to some extent, just by keeping to yourself–not having anything to do with his wife, not seeking to take his life, not robbing him of anything, not lying about him and not desiring his things. To do no wrong to another is love and it is good.
Now, to take it a step farther, to do something acceptable toward your neighbor would be to not only refuse to do him evil, but also to actively do him good.
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
To practice, teach and uphold righteousness, and to bear peace and joy in the Spirit of God–those things are acceptable to God. This service toward Christ actually builds up another as opposed to “working ill”, which would be to tear down.
But this can be taken even farther: to the perfect. To do perfectly, the best of the best, is to not only refuse to harm; not only to do good for another; but to, in addition to both of those things, do good to another to your own harm.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Someone who dies for someone else gives the most that a person can give: his or her life. The one who has given his life for a friend has done that friend no harm; he has done his friend good; and he has done so at the peril of his own well-being.
Now, lest you think that the only way to show this kind of love–the perfect love–is to die, consider this:
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
The law of Christ is love to one’s own detriment; so, to bear another’s burdens is to fulfill a law that is even higher than the law of Moses. It is to seek another’s gain while you yourself lose. But it is not by any means an eternal loss; and this is why we commit ourselves to God. For we know that those who humble themselves in the sight of God shall be lifted up by him (James 4:10). Those who give of themselves, receive from God.
To serve another to your own detriment looks like nothing but loss to the rest of the world. They’ll tell you, “You’re throwing your life away!” or, “You need to start thinking about YOU!” And yet, you can be completely content knowing that the only one whose thoughts and judgments about you truly matter, is thinking about you and regarding you with great pleasure for your work done in the Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). That work will be remembered by him, and no time offered spending yourself for others will be regarded as waste; in fact, it’s much to the contrary. It would actually be unrighteous for him to forget such labor (Hebrews 6:10).
Remember that to bear the burden of another in life is not to share it with someone, but to unload it from the shoulders of another and put it on your own so as to give that person ease.
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
2 Corinthians 12:15
Paul exemplified the fulfillment of the law of Christ. The English is clear and adequate; but the wording in the Greek essentially reads, “I will most gladly incur expense and become completely exhausted for the sake of your life.”
Also to the Corinthians he said,
11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:11, 12
Paul and his companions in labor were in peril “every hour” (1 Corinthians 15:30), not giving place to Satan’s attempts to destroy the work of God. They were constantly delivered to death, so that in hostile places the preaching of Christ, which is the manifestation of his life in their mortal bodies by the words spoken from their mouths, would work life in the hearers.
This attitude can only be explained by a heart that follows fully after God. It is the perfect attitude that a man should have toward his fellow man. And how the world teaches a different thing! Self-sacrifice to the psychology-minded is given some lip service but is not at all recommended. It is much more advisable in that frame of thinking for a person to nurture him- or herself in typical Darwinian fashion: making oneself strong and letting the weak perish. “Seek first thine own, and then another’s good” and, “Every man for himself” are two very famous verses written in the Bible of this world.
Is it any wonder, then, that proving the will of God in all its degrees, means the mind must take on a completely different form, given a complete renovation–a change not unlike the caterpillar to the butterfly.
The word for “transformed” in Romans 12:2 is “metamorphoo” and is the same word rendered as “transfigured” regarding the changing of Jesus’ image on the mount before Peter, James and John as recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. His change was so dramatic, with blazing light coming out from his clothing, that the three onlooking disciples were afraid (Mark 9:6). The same is the word used also for believers changed by the Spirit of God, equally shining forth the glory of Christ, in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
In Romans 12:2, the change is emphasized in that the word “renewing” refers to making something new again, renovating it entirely, which is certainly a change of form. Thus we have a double emphasis and it becomes doubly clear that our thoughts should not look like those of the world around us, just as the body of the terrestrial man does not look like the body of the celestial man (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).
Those who wish to have profound knowledge of the words of God must reject the so-called wisdom of mankind (it’s everywhere you look; remember, the ungodly love to counsel, Psalms 1:1) and seek the wisdom of God which is only to be found in one place. God is very exclusive: you either get it from him or you don’t get it all. Just as he says:
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:30, 31
God has specifically made Jesus Christ, him alone, to be to us: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. As I said, he is very exclusive. Paul boldly exclaims again,
In whom (Christ) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
We read in Isaiah,
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8, 9
…yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Thus, all of our trials in this life should lead us deeper into the mind of God. We turn aside from his counsel to our own peril. And so, working backwards from the original text for which this post was named,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Giving our bodies up as a living sacrifice, set apart and well-pleasing to God, while refusing conformity to the world and accepting no less than making full proof of the threefold will of God, is the only rational conclusion to the compassion of our God toward us. Eleven chapters of God’s mercies are expounded prior to this verse, and Paul judges in the twelfth chapter, first verse, that the only reasonable conclusion is to give one’s body to God–not as a dying sacrifice, but a living one: that is, offered up to God as if it were a sacrifice–as if we were saying goodbye for the last time. And yet life–the life of Christ in you–goes on.
This yielding up of one’s vessel to God is the best thing we will ever do with ourselves; for it is in that offering, giving our bodies up to God just as Jesus did to the Father, that we will also experience the power of the perfect resurrected life of Christ, which entails as one would expect of Christ, a life lived as God intended.
Here are some verses to consider along those lines. Let me know if you find other passages that might be worth mentioning.
Romans 6:4; 8:13, Ephesians 5:1, 2, Hebrews 10:5, 10