- INTRO: What do you want?
I think you want to grow, to change, to experience God.
I believe that is why you are here.
Maybe some other reasons mixed in…but if you keep coming back…its because God is at work in your life and you want to grow.
Romans this year, today we are in 12, starting in verse 9
Remember Paul didn’t write this letter with chapters and verses, they were added later.
In the next section in his letter we see a distinct change in Paul’s writing style
The sentences are much shorter.
Almost all contain a command.
It has the appearance of “stream of consciousness” writing…rather than what we have seen so far in his deliberate, systematic style.
Lots of short directives, thrown out one after another.
His style has changed but he remains deliberate, intentional in his purpose.
He wants to communicate in a way to evoke a response
Not just to think a certain way, but to believe certain things and live a certain way.
Its almost like…”don’t get caught up in the words, keep up with me…love, love, love.”
Don’t make this into a rules list…make this a heart direction…”love, love, love.”
Before I read it its important to point out a key feature of this passage.
In the English translation it begins with “Love must be sincere.”
In the Greek there is no verb so a very literal translation would be “The love Sincere”
Supplying the imperative verb “Love must be sincere” is not wrong…most translations do it.
But it hides the fact that these words are most likely a heading for the rest of the passage.
So we could read it like this…”Love that is sincere will be like this.
Or imagine these words as the heading of a news article “Sincere love seen in action!”
The word translated sincere was the opposite of a word used to describe an actor on a stage playing a part.
So he is saying that sincere love is not hypocritical, not playing at this…taking this whole thing seriously.
Very rarely do the NT writers call us to “love God” they prefer to speak of our relationship towards him in terms of faith and obedience.
Then we are told that the evidence of our faith in God is revealed most clearly in our love for others.
So we are told to grow in “faith in God”…which means we trust him.
-How can we love him if we don’t trust him?
Then we are told to grow in “love for others”…real faith in God shows up in real love for others.
So John wrote in his first letter:
- If you claim to love God but do not obey him you are confused about what loving God means.
- If you claim to know God but do not love others then you are confused about what it means to know God.
But love can sound “vague” and people often turn love into ideals, emotions, opinions…it becomes less than concrete, substantial.
When this happens people lose their bearings and don’t even know what love is.
When that happens, humanity really falls apart.
So Paul is going to give some examples of what sincere love looks like in real life.
This is a representative list, its not meant to communicate a checklist.
It is a heart/life orientation not a set of love rules.
Rom. 12:9 SINCERE LOVE LOOKS LIKE THIS. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Again the point is not a checklist or a set of “love laws”
The point is that the gospel will change us into people who are learning to love people like God loves them…this is some of what it will look like.
So love is not a checklist, but neither is love abstract…it is concrete…it shows up in distinct ways.
Paul helps us get our minds going the right direction with this list.
So, what Paul does here is, in rapid fire fashion, is show us that real faith shows up in real love in our real lives.
We are not playing at this…its for real.
So…”Sincere love” is the heading.
Let’s walk through the applications.
Remember…This is not a “pass/fail” test…where you either feel great or terrible about yourself depending on how many of these you can put a “check” by.
I think if you want to love people better, if you want to express the gospel more consistently in your life then it would be best to see this as opportunity…a challenge to move into.
Joshua asked his people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land “what do you really want…what seems desirable to you? If it is serving the Lord, then choose that.”
Jesus in the gospel of John, in his very first recorded words to some men who began to follow him asked, “What do you want?”
So, perhaps Paul is asking here with this summary title “Sincere Love”…what do you want?
Do you want to experience and express the gospel…then this is part of what it looks like in a life.
So, as we move through…rather than see this as “slap after slap”…ouch, failed there, ouch failed there too.
See this as opportunity after opportunity…”can I really be that, and that, and that?”
Then we see this as part of the good news.
The gospel is the good news that we can be right with God through Jesus Christ.
Furthermore it is the good news that we can live right with each other through Jesus Christ.
So…let’s look at this list of good news in regards to how we can love one another.
He begins with the moral foundation for real love.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Love has a moral dimension, it is more than feeling.
Love hates evil and clings to what is good.
Elsewhere Paul uses the word translated “cling” here to refer to physical intimacy.
Hate (despise evil)…and be intimate with the good.
Love for each other is founded on love (obedience) to God.
When love’s definition and application begin with us it will be twisted.
Love must keep its moral foundation…God is that foundation.
John said God is love…not just that he loves.
If he is love, then he defines it…to know what it is, we look at him.
John also said there is no darkness in him, he is all light. Darkness is a metaphor for evil.
To love like God loves we cannot, must not embrace evil (defined as rebellion to God).
It is not a mere cliché to say “love the sinner, hate the sin”
God does this perfectly; we need to learn to do it better.
But the solution to our inability to do this perfectly is not to abandon the chase and just decide to “love the sinner and accept the sin as well.”
This is not love.
Love distinguishes between good and evil.
“If you love me you would not judge me.”
That is never true is it?…of course love judges.
How could it not?
How could I love and not pass judgment on destructive action and attitudes in the one I love?
How could I love you if I did not care what happens to you…I want good for you and do not want evil for you.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
The word for brotherly love here is “Philadelphia”.
It is a word that describes family love.
As a church we are to have the same kinds of support for one another that are found in the best of healthy families.
Philadelphia (brotherly and sisterly love)…enjoys the success of one another.
My granddaughter Norah (2) hasn’t learned to appreciate her 1 year old brother Ellis yet…he is competition for attention.
I asked her recently if she liked her older brother “Oliver” and she said “yes.” I asked her if she liked her mommy and she said “yes.”
I asked her if she liked Ellis and she said “I like Norah.”
She will learn, she is only 2.
If you are older than 2, it is important to love those around you like brothers and sisters who have matured in their love.
The sad truth is Philadelphia is rare even among adults…but it is to be normative in the church.
The way Philadelphia is expressed is in the second phrase “honor one another above yourselves.”
Put the interests of each other first…like Jesus demonstrated for us.
Love means that we humbly give our lives to promote the good of others for the glory of God.
We are designed by God to thrive when we are giving our lives away and we shrivel up and die when we live for ourselves.
Jesus said it like this…”Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, whoever gives his life will find it.”
In any relationship if both are putting each other first…you have a healthy, growing, beautiful thing.
If both are putting themselves first, you have a dying, undesirable, unsustainable thing.
Often this others first or self-first lifestyle shows up in our words.
Our words are the audible translation of what is going on in our hearts
Jesus said: “Out of the overflow the heart, the mouth speaks.”
How do we talk to and about one another?
Do we take every opportunity to speak well of others…or the opposite?
Do we talk in disparaging ways about others in order to look smart, in the know…or in order to get sympathy, or just because we enjoy it?
Even if what you say is true, but why you say it is not out of love…then it is wrong
Philadelphia is fun…it is available to you and for you.
But to experience it you will have to learn to get out of yourself and insert yourself into the lives of others.
By the way, there is no conspiracy to keep you from experiencing it…if you are not currently experiencing this kind of family love in the church…do not assume the problem is external to you.
Start with yourself and be willing to change if you want to have it in your life
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Literally, “in zeal, don’t be lazy”
But “zeal is an emotion right?” I can’t help it if I am not feeling zeal for something or someone.
Clearly zeal is more than emotion or we could not be lazy in it.
We are to “keep our spiritual fire.” (fervor)
What does this mean? Probably many things but at least this…
We cannot accept apathy in regards to love for one another and obedience to the Lord.
“Not this is not about loving others, its about spiritual fire…being on fire the Lord”
Okay…what does it look like to be “fired up spiritually?”
It looks like love for others.
When we feel apathetic about love for others…we cannot shrug our shoulders and say “Oh, well, it happens.”
It does happen…but fervent love for others doesn’t just happen, it is an ongoing choice.
This is about a spiritual fervor that drives your heart to humility before God and self-sacrifice to others.
Radiators have valves that are designed to allow steam to flow out when the pressure inside becomes too high.
The check-vale on our fervor is the phrase “Serving the Lord.”
Our fervor is to serve him but loving others.
Real spiritual fervor shows up when we quietly (without fanfare) and consistently love one another.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Verse 11 is the fight against apathy as we love one another.
Verse 12 is the fight against discouragement as we love one another.
“I try to do the right things, I try to love others…what do I get for my efforts?”
“I am not appreciated, things don’t go right, people disappointment me.
Stay the course…make sure your hope is well placed.
As you love one another what do you hope will happen?
“They will love me back, they will include me, and I will be appreciated.”
Ok, understandable and reasonable.
But what is to be your foundational hope?
That God has accepted you and you love others because you have been accepted not in order to be accepted by them.
This is hard, too hard on our own…but God will help us move this way.
Patient in affliction.
What if the affliction is from the very people you are trying to love?
What if the people you are blessing, serving, sacrificing for…turn against you, say things about you?
Stand firm (be patient).
This doesn’t mean you are to let people do anything, say anything, and you are to put up with it.
It does mean that you are to endure affliction…whatever its source…by continuing to trust God and love others.
The last phrase helps us understand how…faithful in prayer.
Not just tossing up a prayer, but living in actual, practical relationship with God.
We continually go to him so he will reorient us to what is real and true.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
We exhibit family love by sharing with one another when there is need.
The word “share with” is a word that means “fellowship” deep friendship.(Koinania)
So it is literally “Enter in to fellowship with the needs of the saints.”
Material needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, time needs, all of it…let people into your homes and hearts.
Hospitality is a word that combines “philos” or love with “xenos” or strangers.
Like xenophobia…fear of strangers or foreigners.
Here it is love of strangers.
This doesn’t have to be people of other cultures, though it can be.
In fact every individual family structure (every individual) is in a real sense a different culture than we are, and they all people take some level of acceptance and getting used to.
To practice hospitality means that you invite others into your lives and your homes.
I have observed that a majority of people wait for invitations and a minority of people offer invitations.
I don’t want to be unkind…but this has nothing to do with temperament , personality, or gifting…introvert or extrovert, servant, circumstances.
This is a choice that some people make that others do not.
To be hospitable means first of all…you invite others in…your life, you home, your heart.
If others reciprocate…great.
If they do not…well, continue to invite…into your home and into your heart.
And skip the complaining part…its not helpful…just do it.
There is a risk and a cost to inviting people into your heart and home…but there is a cost to not doing it…and it is much, much greater cost…you will miss life, you will miss love, you will miss seeing God move.
Leave the sidelines and get on the field in this.
“What if they see who I really am?”
“What if they say no?”
“What if they don’t like me, or my home, or my kids, or dinner?”
Take a chance…keep taking it.
Okay, take breath…because now Paul is really going to push us.
The opportunities he outlines next do not look so much like opportunity when they show up in real life…they look like impossibilities.
The theme here is to pursue harmony even at (and especially at) personal cost.
Just as you could not save yourself, grace is required…so too we cannot love this way apart from the grace of God in our lives.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
This is a whole other level from letting people into our hearts and homes.
Bless means to “speak well” of.
To merely not curse those who harass or harm you is an example of what has been called the “silver rule”…”Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”
Paul is giving us the “golden rule” that of course originated with Jesus…”Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
This is an entirely different and revolutionary love ethic.
I could tell many stories of how I have read and even seen lives changed, relationships transformed by people living the golden rule ethic in their relationships.
Here the application is “speaking well” of someone who is being unkind, even ruthless to them.
Challenge to the men last year…in men’s rally (battle staff)
Don’t complain, don’t grip, don’t gossip, don’t speak ill of others.
To curse or to speak ill of those who harm you (or worse, you take up an offense for them)…feels normal, natural, even a sort of release.
Complaining, gossiping, talking about people…it’s a national past time.
You don’t want to be a part of it; it is empty.
Beneath you as a son or daughter of the one who died for people who cursed him.
Sounds delicious to speak ill of those who have offended you…those words will taste so good on the tongue.
But its always like eating a big bowl of sawdust…chew it, maybe pretend it tastes good…but you know it doesn’t.
Stop eating it…there is no opportunity in it.
You will enjoy your life so much more if you become a person who speaks well of people…your life will be so much more compelling to others
Especially when those same people do not speak well of you.
Okay…let’s pick up the pace…remember these are not rules, but a way of thinking and living.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
This is something that happens when you love someone, and this is what you do in order to learn to love someone.
It is both a cause and effect of love.
When I choose to enter into your joy and your sorrow…I can’t help but have a heart for you.
When I get a heart for you…I can’t help but enter into your joy and sorrow.
For this reason many do not enter deeply into people’s lives…it is too risky and too costly.
“They may have more joy than me…I don’t want to watch them prosper, while I suffer.”
“They may have more sorrow than me…I will have to feel their pain, when I would rather enjoy my own pleasure.”
But to enter into life with others like this is not something you want to risk missing…to miss this with your life would indeed be costly.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Low position doesn’t mean less valuable but people who are “down and out.”
People on the margins of society, people whose lives are a continual struggle.
Befriend all people God brings into your life…do not be conceited (by being selective in who is worthy of your love)
After all, do you really believe that you are better than anyone else?
Ultimately, do you really have that much more to offer God than anyone else…we are not worthy of the love of God demonstrated on the cross.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Here Paul gives the “right column and the left column” of love.
17: right column: Do not retaliate…do what is right in regards to others, regardless of how they react to you.
18: Left column: However, it is not always possible to have peace with people…just make sure if there is a lack of peace, you are not the cause.
Two weeks ago I moved a man’s bag from the front of machine he was not using at the Y and he became very angry…cursing…it was amazing how quickly he moved to rage.
I tried to address him but he refused to acknowledge me…just walked away.
I would like to live at peace with him…but at least then, and maybe indefinitely it is not possible.
It takes one to forgive; it takes two to live in peace together.
But the lack of peace should never be because we are not willing to see it happen.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is so countercultural…in every age and place.
Because revenge is universally, a powerful driving force in people’s lives.
It is THE point of many movies.
It animates untold misery in people’s lives.
But in real life it never delivers on its promise…”If you get even, you will be satisfied.”
No you won’t
This has never been true; it never will be true.
So the Kingdom Ethic is…”Feed your enemy, give him drink.”
Why? “Well in order that in so doing I will heap burning coals on his head!”
“Great, I’m in, If I can set my enemies hair on fair by feeding him, here, eat up!”
That’s not the point…the idiom “Coals on his head” indicates that your actions can make his actions look and feel wrong to him.
When you show your enemy grace you give him the best chance of repenting, changing and experiencing God’s grace.
This is where faith comes in…we may not want our enemies to experience grace.
Jonah ran from God for that very reason…the big fish fetched him going the wrong direction because he was afraid that his enemies would respond to his message and be saved.
God help us be people who actually want our enemies to experience grace…to do well and not to suffer.
Then Paul closes the loop on “love in action” by circling back around: he began with hate what is evil, cling to what is good.
He concludes this section with “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
How? By the way of life he has just given us.
A way of life of real love for others, demonstrated in practical, actionable, difficult ways.
We have dealt with applications all along the way, in fact this passage is one big application of gospel love.
This is not a love checklist…it helps us see what gospel love for others will look like.
Let me give you a perspective I got from reading a book this week that challenged and motivated me.
I added some of my own words to it.
Certainly it showed me how I fall short…but mostly it helped me see more clearly what it would look like to be who I want to be.
What it might look like to close the gap on faith and love.
Reflect on what goes on inside of you when you first see another person. It may be a family member, someone at work, or at church. Is your first thought that they should be blessed by God in every way?
That they should be “better” than you…in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Are you prepared to serve them spiritually by lifting them to God in prayer for his utmost gifts to them and by assisting them in their needs?
Do you earnestly long that their light would shine in such a way that others would see their good works and glorify God because of it.
Do you quickly, authentically rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?
Or do we meet others like the Pharisee who prayed alongside the tax man, “I’m better than him.”
Or do we meet them in jealousy and envy. Is that where our minds go first?
Or in insecurity, more concerned with how we appear than how we can love them.
This challenges me, and it encourages me…I have my answers to those questions and you have yours.
Be challenged be encouraged to grow in sincere love.
It is an exciting and freeing possibility…don’t let evil run you down from behind (overcome), run evil over with good (Love)
Frank Laubach once said that “The simple program of Christ for winning the whole world is to make each person he touches magnetic enough with love to draw others.”
Communion: If you need to confess sin to God or one another do it now.