A message on Romans 12:9-21 by Richard Keith on Sunday 22 January 2023
The logic of the gospel goes like this. You are loved. God loves you. He made you for himself. In fact,
God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
It means that you are loved. Therefore love.
The logic of the gospel means that we love because we are loved. That’s important to understand. Our love, our love for God and our love for others, is not the basis of God’s love for us. He doesn’t love us because we are good and kind and loving. But it’s the other way round. His love for us in Jesus Christ made crystal clear in the message of the gospel is the basis of our love for him and for each other.
You are loved. Therefore love.
The second half of Romans chapter 12 makes clear what that love for each other looks like. In verse 9 the apostle Paul writes,
Love must be sincere.
Sincerity is honesty. Sincerity deliberately tells the truth. Not by accident. Not by a slip of the tongue. But on purpose. Our love for each other must be sincere. It must be true. It must be real.
Sincere love doesn’t pretend. It doesn’t play games. It doesn’t put on a show. Sincere love does not put on a mask of caring to hide its inner bitterness and hate. It’s the same on the inside as it is on the outside. True love., sincere love actually cares. And because it cares, it gets involved. It helps. It protects. It heals what is broken. It leaves the world a better place, one action at a time. Love must be sincere because without sincerity it isn’t love.
Verse 9 goes on,
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
It reminds us that evil is real. The world is not just full of nasty inconveniences. Things that scare us or hurt us or make our life worse. No, evil is real. Evil is alive where people forget their God and forsake their true humanity, and treat people like things for their own profit or amusement. Evil is real when people use power and violence against their fellow human beings and neglect those who are in their care.
The Scripture says, “Hate what is evil.” It doesn’t say, “Hate the evildoer.” It’s doesn’t say, “Hate the evil person.” It doesn’t give us permission to answer violence with violence. It doesn’t let us forget our own humanity, just because others have forgotten theirs. But it does say to hate the evil they do. To hate the evil we do. To hate the evil we are tempted to do.
We are to hate evil in all its forms. It is to repel us. It is to disgust us. We are to abhor it. Like a professional sportsman hates losing. Like a car dealer hates missing a sale. Like a craftsman hates doing a shoddy job. We are to hate evil. Not just to not do it. But to avoid it like our lives depend on it, because they do.
Instead we are to cling to what is good. Like a child clings to its mother. Like a miser clings to his money. Rolls his fingers up into a tight fist and won’t let it go. In the same way we are to cling to what is good, what is helpful, what is decent, what is best. When everyone else is letting it go, throwing it to the wind, tossing it off the boat of their life because they think it is weighing them down and making them sink. We are to cling to what is good like it was our last dollar. To cherish it like it was our own flesh and blood. To nourish it like it was a starving child. To protect it like soldiers standing in the last line of defense. To not just do what is good now and then if the mood takes us and if it’s not out of our way, but to value it, to seek it out and to never ever let it go.
Verse 10 says,
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
We are to be devoted to one another like family. We don’t just tolerate each other. We don’t just put up with each other. We are to be devoted to one another. Like a gardener is devoted to her roses. Like a grandmother is devoted to her grandchildren. We are to love each other in brotherly love.
Verse 10 reminds us that we are family. We belong to each other because we belong to God. Through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit we are no longer enemies and strangers to God, but his sons and daughters, heirs of his kingdom, fellow heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. We are family.
If one of us is hurt, we are all hurt. If one of us is happy, we all rejoice. The victory or achievement of any one of us, belongs to all of us. It is not a destructive love like an alcoholic loves his drink. It is not a possessive love like a greedy man loves money. It is not a selfish love like an actress is devoted to her career. It is a family love. We love each other, we really and truly care for each other, because in Christ we belong to each other.
And the church is the body of Christ. Step on my toe and you don’t just hurt my foot, you hurt all of me. Bind up my cut finger and you don’t just heal my hand. You heal all of me. Care for the smallest, youngest, least important of the members of the church, and you take care of the whole church.
Verses 11 and 12 say,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
What these short little sentences have in common is the recognition that we are spiritual beings. Our faith, our religion, is not just a small part of our lives. It isn’t just something we feel, but we don’t think about it or do anything about it. It’s not just something we do in our spare time that has nothing to do with the rest of our life. On the contrary, our life in Christ penetrates into every corner of our life. It stimulates our thoughts. It arouses our feelings. It establishes our habits. It inspires our actions. It is not just the energy with which we take each step, but it is also the goal which determines the direction that our steps take.
It brings joy, but it is not impulsive, because it also develops our character so that joy is our predictable and settled disposition not just an overwhelming feeling now and then. And so our life in Christ is as reliable in times of trouble and affliction and defeat as it is in times of comfort and plenty. It does not become complacent. It does not easily give up. It does not just go through the motions. It does not move in fits and starts. Our faith is not just something we do or practice, it is who we are. We are believers. We are followers of Christ. We are the children of God.
Verse 13 says,
Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Here we see fellowship at work. The real and true communion of the saints that the Apostles’ Creed talks about. And it’s about sharing. Because we are family. We belong to each other. And our things belong to each other as well. We don’t have to sell all our belongings and live with each other in one big commune. But the Bible never lets us forget that that is exactly what the first Christians did. They sold their stuff and shared with those in need. It was never something compulsory. It was never commanded or expected. It was never organised by a central committee and enforced on pain of expulsion. It is something they volunteered from the bottom of their heart. To share not only their faith, but their lives and their livelihoods with each other.
And practicing hospitality doesn’t mean that you have to hire a maid to keep the house clean and to always have the best china ready. All it means is that we share our homes. We share our food. We share our time. We spend time and it doesn’t have to be spent doing something or making anything. We can just waste time with each other because it is that kind of fellowship, it is that depth of communion that is closest to the joys of heaven.
And we look after each other. The church is not just a spiritual factory meeting people’s spiritual needs. We meet all the needs. We bring health and harmony and blessing to each other’s needs. We don’t just pray for people. We become, if possible, the answer to their prayers.
Verse 14 says,
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Here we see the complete harmony of Paul’s teaching with that of the Lord Jesus. Jesus who said, “Love your enemies.” Jesus who said, “Pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus who reminded us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that every human being is our neighbour, even if they are a stranger and a foreigner.
Bless those who persecute you.
It reminds us that our family love is not just for our church family. The church is the communion of saints. But it is not just an inward looking club of like-minded people. But it is in every way outward looking. Not looking to itself but to others. Not focussing only on those who come, but also on those who don’t.
It reminds us too that our love is like God’s love. God who loved us before we loved him. God who in Jesus Christ makes his enemies his friends and makes his friends his children. He calls on us to love our enemies just like he loved his.
And lastly it reminds us that our love is like Jesus’ love. Jesus who did not spit on those who spat on him. Jesus who prayed for his enemies even while they nailed him to the cross. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. For it is the way of Jesus.
Verse 16 says,
Live in harmony with each other. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
We are to live with each other like a choir singing in perfect harmony. A choir that does not sing the same notes with the same voice, but that blends their different voices, singing their individual parts in such a way that it is more beautiful and more moving than if they were singing the same notes.
It’s not a license for bullies to demand uniformity and to judge any kind of dissent to their will as unchristian. But it is a command that our individual lives and individual callings to service centre on Christ so that as we pursue our different ministries we don’t impede each other but enhance each other.
Not every cell in the body does the same thing. Not every person in a community has the same job. But they work together for the good of all. That is the harmony that we are called to.
The greatest enemy of that harmony is pride. Pride that thinks it is better. Pride that thinks it is above others. Pride that demands that the church sings in unison and marches to the same beat of the drum. Pride that maximises its own efforts and minimises the efforts of others. Pride that imagines that it alone knows the will of Christ.
The minister is only a servant. That makes us all ministers as we serve. Servants of God and of each other. Brothers and sisters, heed the word of God. Do not be conceited.
Verses 17 and 18 say,
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
It is not a command to conform. It does not mean, “Don’t do what you think is right. Do what everyone else thinks is right instead.” But it does mean that our own personal convictions should be guided by the wisdom of others. The Christian life is not an escape from real life. It is the completion of real life. So what is right will not just seem good, but it will be good. And that good will be discerned by people of wisdom and grace.
Unfortunately, not by everyone. Some people’s minds are darkened by ignorance and hate. We will not be able to please everyone. And we are not responsible for the choices that other people make. But we are responsible for our own choices and actions. And so as far as it depends on you, as much as you can do anything about it, live in peace with everyone. But don’t be surprised when others won’t live in peace with you.
Finally, verse 19 says,
Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath.
You are not the judge. No one died and made you the final arbiter of right and wrong. But there is an all wise and all powerful God who is not only the judge of others. But he is your judge as well. We know when we have been wronged. But we don’t know everything. We don’t know why people do what they do. We don’t know their struggles. We don’t know their motives. And what we don’t know we fill in with our own guesses and those guesses are usually wrong. And we have a fatal blind spot when it comes to the choices that we make ourselves. We are quick to forgive ourselves and quick to judge others.
But the Bible says, “Don’t take revenge.” If you do, you will only add one more injustice to injustice. God is the judge and he will put all wrongs right even yours in his own good time. To take justice into our own hands is to let go of that hope and to abandon our faith in our wise and holy God.
As the apostle Paul concludes this chapter.
Do not let evil overcome you. Instead, overcome evil with good.
Do not let evil destroy you. Do not become what you hate. Instead, overcome evil with good. Like God did when he raised Jesus to life. Like God did when he put his Holy Spirit into your life to change you from the inside out. If we believe that good overcomes evil, that love overcomes hate, that faith overcomes fear, and that hope overcomes despair, if we believe all that, it is time to start putting it into practice. Do not be overcome by evil. Rather, overcome evil with good.