The flamboyant one time cabinet minister Norman St John-Stevas was once told that he really should stop name-dropping so much. In response, he sighed and said: “The Queen said exactly the same to me yesterday.”
In the light of that I want you to know that my family met the Queen. Well, when I say “met”, I mean that my daughters were in a choir that sang for the Queen and Prince Philip when they came to Newcastle Central Station on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. So it wasn’t quite an intimate social gathering. But Prince Philip did speak to my daughters. They were dressed in Victorian costume for the occasion. Prince Philip said, “I like your very smart outfit.” And my daughter replied, “Thank you very much.” And the Queen smiled at her. I remember it as if it was yesterday. Though I wasn’t there myself.
That’s the closest I’ve got to the Queen – apart from ten years ago when we were in central London for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee when she road past in her golden coach. I waved at her. I think she must have seen me because she waved back.
I may not know the Queen personally, but, like all of us, I know a good deal about her. And one thing that’s clear is that the Queen is a follower of Jesus Christ – a Christian disciple. It seems to me that we should learn from the Queen’s example. Hence my title – The Queen and Christian Commitment. And I’d like us to take a look at the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12 verses 1-13.
We have a lot in common with the Queen, though you might not think so. Every Christian believer is a member of the only Royal Family that counts for all eternity – and that’s the family of God. So Christian faith is a great leveller.
For the Queen, as for all of us, a life of Christian discipleship flows from gratitude for God’s mercy given to us through the death of Jesus on the cross for our sin.
That’s why this passage in Romans begins (this is 12v1):
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices… (12v1)
We saw a bit of the Coronation Service earlier. What’s become increasingly clear to me as I’ve been looking back over the Queen’s reign is that she meant every word that she said on that day. She has not wavered from that over six decades. So for instance she joined in this prayer from the old Book of Common Prayer, which echoes this very passage from Romans 12:
… grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we … may obtain remission of our sins … And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee…
The Queen’s life and service since then have amply demonstrated that when she said that in 1953, as a woman before her heavenly Father like any other Christian disciple, she meant it.
So in her Christmas Broadcast just last year, the Queen said:
‘Fear not’, [the angels] urged, ‘… For unto you is born this day … a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
… God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general … but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
… It is my prayer that… we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
The life that Jesus gives to those who ask is a forgiven life with him at the heart of it, a useful life, a life of service, free of fear, full of a hope stronger than death itself. It's a free gift, because he's paid for it with his own life. Whatever our circumstances – Royal or not – we need to make living that life our deepest ambition. So what does it look like, this committed life that the apostle Paul urges on us? My three simple headings sum it up: self-sacrifice; faithful service; and sincere devotion. So:
Back to Romans 12v1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (12v1)
On 21 April 1947, the young Princess Elizabeth was with her parents and younger sister on a tour of South Africa. It was her 21st birthday. In a radio broadcast from Cape Town, the Princess dedicated her life to service with these words:
… we must give nothing less than the whole of ourselves. There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors - a noble motto, “I serve”.
… I should like to make that dedication now. It is very simple.
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service …
But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.
The essence of self-sacrifice is not suffering and loss. It is to give ourselves back to God – to make our lives totally available to him. The cost of commitment is real. But when we’ve experienced God’s mercy in Jesus, we gladly pay the price. We do that because we want to thank him. We want to please him with the whole of our lives.
If we want to please God then our lives will be marked by the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices to God. That is the first mark of Christian commitment. Self-sacrifice. Then:
Secondly, FAITHFUL SERVICE
If we want to please God then our lives will be marked by faithful service. The principle is there in verse 11:
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (v11)
Listen to what Jesus said to his followers (this is from Mark 10):
“… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10v43-45)
That theme of service rang through the prayers in the Coronation Service:
… this thy servant Elizabeth, our Queen…
… Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant Elizabeth…
… thy servant Queen Elizabeth…
… thy servant Elizabeth our Queen…
… thy servant Elizabeth…
And the new Queen was urged:
… so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this life, that you may reign for ever with him in the life which is to come.
In the evening on the day of her Coronation, the Queen made a broadcast. In it she said:
Throughout this memorable day I have been uplifted and sustained by the knowledge that your thoughts and prayers were with me.
I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.
… I thank you all from a full heart.
What’s Jesus looking for in our lives? What does he think is important? It’s not the number of palaces and castles we can call home, or whether Presidents and Prime Ministers come knocking on our door, or the amount of gold leaf on our carriage. What Jesus is looking for is a life that’s in line with his – a life of service.
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10v43)
We don't find it easy. The good news is we have help. We have a servant. And our servant is Jesus himself. He’s not just an example to us, though he is that. It’s all very well wanting to be different, but we find ourselves powerless to change ourselves. That’s why Jesus has stepped in. A new life is Jesus’ free gift to us. He’s paid the price. He “gave his life as a ransom for many.”
So whatever service God has equipped you for, do it.
Be humble about it. Verse 3:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…(v3)
Apparently the Queen was in a meeting once when someone’s mobile phone went off. The phone’s owner left it ringing – too embarrassed to respond to it. And the Queen said, “I think you should answer that – it might be someone important.”
Be thankful for what you can do. Verse 6:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. (v6)
It’s only by the grace of God that we can serve at all.
Work hard and consistently in doing what you can in the service of others. That’s what Paul says to leaders in particular, but it applies to all. Verse 8:
If [a man’s gift] is leadership, let him govern diligently… (v8)
Oh, and by the way, let’s not be grumpy and complaining. Verse 8 ends:
If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (v8)
It reminds me of those regal smiles at the end of the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts! Cheerful and willing service lifts the spirits of everyone else around. Grumpy service drags everyone down.
If we want to please God, then our lives will be marked first by self-sacrifice, and secondly by faithful service. And to those we can add one more thing from this passage. So:
Thirdly, SINCERE DEVOTION
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (12v9-13)
Back in 1957 when she was 31 the Queen made the first of those Christmas Broadcasts that was televised. She was at Sandringham. In the course of it she spoke of the sometimes disturbing speed of technological change, and she said:
“But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics …
In the old days the monarch led his soldiers on the battlefield and his leadership at all times was close and personal.
Today things are very different. I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion…”
If we want to please God, then our lives will be marked by sincere devotion. Verse 9:
Love must be sincere. (v9)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. (v10)
‘Devotion’ is a good word, it seems to me, because it avoids the sentimentality and emotionalism that we tend to associate with the word love. But it’s love we’re talking about. Real, practical, hard-edged, Christian love.
Real love is a heartfelt desire for the good of the other. It’s long-term. It’s unwavering. It doesn’t depend on how much love we get back. It affects what we do – how we behave towards people. It makes us willing to pay a price in order that others might benefit.
The truth is that total self-sacrifice and a lifetime of faithful service are worse than useless if they don’t flow from love.
The commitment Christ demands is unlike any other. It’s not optional. It’s not a matter of personal preference. None of us is exempt from its demands. It reaches into the whole of our lives. It’s not easy. But it’s the only appropriate response to God’s mercy towards us in Christ.
Over these last sixty years we’ve seen the Queen’s example of Christian commitment. This is how the Queen ended that first TV Christmas broadcast. She said:
I would like to read you a few lines from 'Pilgrim's Progress', because I am sure we can say with Mr Valiant for Truth, these words:
“Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.”
Christian commitment takes the form of self-sacrifice, faithful service, and sincere devotion. ‘I urge you,’ says the apostle Paul, ‘in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…’ We can’t say no to that, can we?