Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Text: Romans 12:9-16
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
12 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, [f]according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if [g]service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with [h]liberality; he who [i]leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; [j]give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the [k]saints, [l]practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute [m]you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but [n]associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. [o]Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but [p]leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
A recipe for love
So far in the book of Romans the many references to love have had to do with God’s love for us. This is seen in verses like Romans 5:5, “Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts”. 5:8 “God demonstrates his love for us, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. “ And then there is Romans 8:39 “Neither height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Here in Romans 12 Paul focuses on that same love as the Christian response to God’s love to us. Agape love has to do with how you and I behave towards one another our actions and out attitudes. In the King James version its translated as charity and here in Romans 12 Paul lists several important ingredients. The first is sincerity. Paul wrote, “let love be without hypocrisy”. Love is not pretentious. For example Jesus condemned the pretentious love of the Pharisees according to Matthew 23:14 where it says, “woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites because you devour widows houses even while for a pretence you make long prayers therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation.” Their elaborate prayers may have impressed their hearers in the temple courts but they didn’t please God.
Another example of pretend love was seen when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
On the other hand sincere love is demonstrated by Christ who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped but emptied himself taking the form of a servant being made in the likeness of man. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross.” According to the historian Nick Page the early church survived persecution and grew, “because they lived Jesus shaped lives. Their beauty of life caused strangers to join the ranks,… lifestyle preached a message which didn’t contradict but complemented the gospel. Let each of us examine our own hearts is my love sincere? Or am I faking it? I know our love always falls short of the standard, but Christ has dealt with that at the cross but what little love I do have,… is it sincere?
The next ingredient is brotherly love. Paul continues, “abhor what is evil cleave to what is good.” This tells us that love isn’t just a matter of unqualified affection or some misunderstanding of unconditional love. Because love abhors evil it is at times necessary to point it out, name it for what it is, in the hope that the admonishment can help turn someone away from sin. That’s not easy and it risks rejection but it’s the loving thing to do, especially for a brother or sister in Christ.. Love abhors evil and clings to what is good. The verb to cling expresses a sticking or bonding. An example of what that might look like is seen in the next verse. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”
Well how many people do you think are devoted to you? Your husband, your, wife, children or grandparents? Paul is saying here that a love which ‘cleaves to the good’ calls for a devotion to all those who are in Christ. Not because we are always lovable and well behaved but for Christ’s sake who has clothed us in his righteousness. Paul spells it out a little further in verse 10 . “Give preference to one another in honor”. The Greek verb used there means to defer to one another which is what love in the Christian family does. We defer to one another. The way the apostle Paul puts it elsewhere is; “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
3. So two ingredients to love so far sincerity rather than hypocrisy and brotherly love a third one we find in the text is enthusiasm. Paul wrote in verse 11 “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord., literally the Greek is translated, “in diligence not slothful, with a burning spirit serving the Lord.”
When Paul wrote his letter the Roman church in the mid AD 50’s might have been just a few dozen members. The list of names at the end of the book of Rome numbers 26. When Rusticus interviewed Justin Martyr and asked where he and other Christians met in Rome, Justin replied that their meeting place was a room above the Timiotinian bathhouse. In fact the early records of the 1st century church in Rome reveal that they were small groups meeting in rented rooms, above bath houses, in people’s homes and when persecution increased, in the catacombs. Most churches back then were small and poor congregations. How did that affect them?
Well when we consider the list of names in Romans 16 we notice that less than half of them are commended by Paul for their hard work.
Paul is thankful for all of to be sure but he is also aware that enthusiasm and zeal for the Lord’s work can lag. In chapter 14 he addresses those weak in faith, others who were somewhat judgmental, some had contempt for the weaker brother. Enthusiasm for the Lord’s work seemed to be lacking hence Paul’s encouragement to a renewed enthusiasm for the work of the Lord here in verse 11. The same excitement and passion which helps begin churches must go on. And if we’ve been there for ten years or more the way to keep enthusiasm alive is to simply find ways to serve the Lord. Discover and use your spiritual gift. Put it to kingdom work. That’s the Lord’s antidote for a flagging zeal and lack of enthusiasm.
4. So too is the next virtue;.. joyful in hope persevering in affliction faithful in prayer. It seems that the key virtue there is hope including the expectation of being with the Lord. Its hope which gives us joy and encourages us to persevere prayerfully through all our trials.
Conversely when we complain about our trials we are actually complaining against God because God gives us whatever we need, trials included and for our own good. He knows best what we need. So Paul urges readers to rejoice in hope and persevere through trials patiently. This is actually the loving response to trials partly because how we endure our trials can be a powerful witness and encouragement to others.
5. Hospitality is a fifth ingredient. (verse 13) When members have worked hard to build up a church there is often a sense of ownership. We say “this is our church” and that’s a good thing to say if it means that you have real sense of belonging. Its not such a good thing if you think you own the church and want to control it. Or if you think of church as “our friends, our group, our church” in other words a group you feel comfortable in because in such a situation it can happen that there will be those who aren’t included in “our group or groups” and who feel on the outer. When visitors come they feel it. No one talks to them and they’re left standing on the fringes. Will they come back? Probably not. If you are left standing and you feel awkward you tend to head for the nearest exit.
The solution to that problem is here in Romans 12:13 and the injunction to practice hospitality. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia. You can probably guess what that means. Philos is a friend and xenia is a stranger so to practice hospitality literally means to befriend strangers. However what can happen is philadelphia and xenophobia which means brotherly love and fear of strangers hence the encouragement to practice philoxenia.
As Reuel did in Exodus 2:20. His daughters met an Egyptian stranger in need but didn’t offer him any hospitality. When their father Reuel heard about it he said to them “Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him that he may have something to eat.” As it turned out that stranger was Moses.
Leviticus 19:33 also makes it clear that the Lord’s people may not be xenophobic. It says “When a stranger resides with you in your land you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be as the native among you. You shall love him as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
One reason the church had such an impact in early Roman society was because of their charity. A neighbour gets sick and the Christian comes to pray with him. Someone is hungry and though his Christian neighbour is just as poor as he is he shares his food with his neighbour. There were prisoners in jail and the Christians brought them food, drink and blankets.
Behind Christian hospitality is the grace of God. Ephesians 2:12 says “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenant of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Jesus Christ you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ”… and then verse 19 “consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens in God’s household and members of Christ’s body.”
So then, we who were once on the outer have been taken into God’s household. We’re are those who will one day share in the wedding feast of the Lamb. This is a feast which we anticipate again today as we we celebrate the Lord’s supper together.
God welcomes us around his table. So lets not be xenophobic but practice philoxenia.
6. A sixth ingredient to Paul’s recipe for love here in these verses is what we can call good will. Paul wrote “Bless those who persecute you bless and curse not.”
So how did the early Christians who suffered persecution bless rather than curse their persecutors. Well they didn’t retaliate but they tried to reason with their persecutors. They tried to make a case for the Christian faith in the hope that would alleviate persecution. For example in Rome Justin Martyr wrote to the pagan despisers of Christianity who accused Christians of immorality and cannibalism. The apologists pointed out that Christians did neither, nor did they bear false witness but they honour their father and mother, love their neighbours, comfort such as do wrong to them, work to do good to their enemies and to those who are poor.” Eventually the message got through to the extent that the Christian influence was such that by 313 the same empire which once ruthlessly persecuted the church declared itself to be a Christian empire. As was once said “A defeated foe will rise again but one befriended is truly vanquished.”
This was the result of Christian agape love.
At any rate the scriptural injunction to bless and not curse your persecutors and the way it was carried out in church history does guide us in the way we deal with those who might attack the church today.
For example you may have read the recent article from the Guardian about the Syrian and Iraqi refuges and how many of them have been flooding into Europe. Some Europeans want to build high walls to keep them out. They are afraid that there might be terrorists among them. Many Christians on the other hand have shown a great deal of kindness to these refugees. They’ve opened their homes and churches to them and blessed them rather than mutter curses against them. The result of Christian kindness according to the report was that quite a number of these refugees converted to Christianity.
Why are we able to bless rather than curse our enemies? Its because Jesus has blessed us. We were his enemies. We betrayed him with our sin. We are also responsible for his crucifixion. But when the Roman soldiers drove the spikes through his hands and feet he prayed for them and for us saying, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Ever since then through-out the history of the church this great act of love has set the pattern for Christian thinking.
So we also know that it is better to be wronged than to risk wronging someone else. It is better to repay evil with good. At times it is better to overlook an offence rather than make an issue out of it. It is better to counter verbal attacks with a well-reasoned defence of the faith with gentleness and respect. Love displays good-will even to ones detractors and persecutors.
Another aspect of good-will is seen in verse 15 where it says rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” Do we stand aloof from each other’s joys and sorrows? How can we? Christian love enters into each other’s experiences; the laughter as well as the tears.
We conclude this section on good will with verse 16 “be of the same mind towards one another do not be haughty in mind but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”
What really stood out in the early church as well and made Christianity so attractive was humility. It undermined (in the nicest possible way) the class system. Rome was sharply divided by freedmen and slaves and the slave was pretty much a ‘nobody’ who had to do all the hard and dirty jobs and the freemen never mixed socially with the slave.
But there was no such system in the church. All kinds and classes of people were welcome; slave or free, rich and poor male and female and over time this had a transforming effect on the communities Christianity reached. Where did this charitable mind-set come from? Again we have our saviour to thank. He who was rich beyond measure became poor for our sakes so we might become rich.
In conclusion then here is Paul’s recipe for Christians love in Romans 12. It includes sincerity, brotherly love, enthusiasm which doesn’t wane, an infectious hope, hospitality and good will towards all. All of the things that Christ is to us.
As it says in 1 John 4, “Beloved, if God so loved us we ought also to love one another.