Attitude with love - Romans 12:9-21

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 1st March 2009.

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Well in a few weeks’ time the wedding season starts again;  in fact on 4 April, I’ve got 2 wedding back-to-back on the same Saturday.    And weddings are all about love aren’t they.  [engage]  Weddings are all about love.  And that’s why many couples choose a passage like 1 Cor 13 for their wedding day.  Love is patient, love is kind and all that.    And it’s true.  Love is kind and patient and all that.  And so we often treat 1 Cor 13 as if it’s some kind of Shakespearean love poem.  But actually it’s a slap round the face for Christians who were big on spiritual gifts, but somewhat lacking in love for their fellow Christians. 

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And it’s the same in Rom 12.    So it you’re not already there, pl turn with me to Rom 12 on p [1057/ 1764];  and look with at v9:     Love must be sincere.   Love must be sincere.  It's the controlling verse for the whole section we’re looking at this morning.    Love must be sincere.  But as always, the power of the application is in the context.    And last week Melvin drew our attention to a very important word at the beginning of chapter 12.  The word 'therefore'.  And as we saw last week, whenever we see the word ‘therefore’ we need to step back and ask what it’s there for!    And the therefore at the beginning of chapter 12 is referring back to everything Paul has said so far in Rom;  the whole of Rom 1-11 that is.  The fact that there is no one righteous not even one.  For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God  and are justified freely through the redemption that came by C Jesus.  That Jewish and Gentile Christian alike are both justified by the same faith as Abraham was back in chapter 4.  That even as Christians, we still battle with sin and sometimes feel like we’re going backwards. 

But that every Christian, including Jews and Gentiles, now has the gift of the HS living within them.  A gift that assures us of our future hope;  our future home in the eternal heavenly new creation that is.  A glorious hope that nothing or no one can take away from us, if we’re truly one of His children that is.    But we mustn’t forget the immediate context.  Cpts 9-11 that is.  We can’t jump from the end of chapter 8 to chapter 12 and pretend that the therefore in 12:1 is only referring to Rom 1-8.  No, in chapter 9-11, we’ve had the curtains drawn back on what was really going on in the 1C Roman church.  And the reality has been pretty ugly hasn’t it?    Because among the scattered houses churches across the city of Rome, there seems to have been a massive division and mutual contempt between the Jewish and the gentile house churches.  There might have been a polite veneer to keep up appearances to the outside world.  But under the mask, the Jewish and gentiles Christians were at each others’ throats. 

And so in chapter s 9-11, Paul has basically been ticking off both sides in the argument.  To the Jewish Christians, he’s basically been saying:  look you’re wrong:  the OT has always said that only a remnant of ethic Jews were true believers;  the OT itself pointed forward to a time when salvation would come to the gentiles as well as the Jews.    The OT itself pointed forward to a time when much of the law would be fulfilled and then superseded by the NC.  And so the NC people of God no longer need the cultural boundaries markers that defined God’s people as a geographic nation state:  circumcision, the Temple and the nation state of Israel are no longer relevant under the NC.    Gentiles can now join God’s people in exactly the same way as Jews;  by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone.  You Jewish Christians:  stop insisting that the gentiles need to become Jews before they can become Christians.  They don’t.  The Gospel is first firth Jew but then also for the Gentile, on exactly the same terms. 

But Paul also had a slap round the face for the gentile Christians as well.  In 11:20 he tells them to stop being so arrogant.  Stop being so spiritually snobbish about the Jews.  Yes you gentile Christians are in a massive majority in the church.  But remember that the NC church is built on the foundations of the Jewish OT;  on all those promises to the Jews.  And even though most of the Jews have currently rejected their messiah, God still has big plans for the Jews in the future.  So don’t be so pompous, so arrogant, so spiritually snobbish. 

                            

Love your fellow Christians (v9-16)

So our first heading in v9-16 is:  love your fellow Christians.  Whatever your differences, love your fellow Christians.  Look with me at v9, although I’m going to read a more literal translation:

Love without hypocrisy, hating evil, clinging to the good, being devoted to one another with brotherly love, not lagging in diligence, fervent in the Spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering under trial, being devoted to prayer, fellowshipping with the saints, pursuing hospitality. 

In the original, v9-13, are all one long sentence.  And the sentence begins with a command to love without hypocrisy.  Because it’s easy, to be a fake lover in Christian circles isn’t it?   We need to get rid of any hypocrisy says Paul.  Love between Christians needs to be sincere.   So what will such love look like?  Well that’s exactly what the rest of v 9-16 are about.

Hate what is evil.  Sincere Christian love is discerning.  God is love.  But God’s also angry about sin.   His righteous wrath flares up against sin and evil.  And so we must be intolerant of sin of every kind as well.  Now maybe we find this surprising.  And if we do, then maybe it’s because the world around us has a different definition of love.  In the world around us, to love someone means to affirm them regardless of their values, choices or behaviour.  In fact, even to mention that some action is morally wrong, is regarded as unloving nowadays. 

But Christian love hates evil.  It hates the sin in our world, the sin in our nation and the sin in ourselves.  Sincere Christian loves hates evil.  And that means that sin needs to be addressed.    But addressed of course in a gracious and godly way. 

Christian love isn’t abstract.  It’s within the context of deep relationships.    Love sincerely, hating evil, clinging to the good, being devoted to each other in brotherly love, says v10.    ‘Be devoted’ is one word in Greek;  and so is ‘brotherly love’, and they both come from the root filleo.  So more literally, the clause in the middle of v10 reads:  “brotherly love each other towards brotherly love”.  In other words, there should be a deep and growing affection among Christians that’s on a par with the closest of families. 

Now the love within families is sadly no longer a good guide nowadays, because so many families are dysfunctional.  But families are meant to stick together and care for each other.  In the best families, we don’t give up on grandma because she’s old, deaf, going blind and can’t get about any more.  Filleo love between members of the same family is a deep affection that goes beyond words, to practical acts of kindness. 

And Paul’s saying that’s the kind of affection we should have between each other in the church, the family of God’s people here at [SF/ Riv] and beyond.  And so we have to ask ourselves:  do we love each other like this?  Do I;  do you love like this.  It’s good to pause and ask the question isn’t it?

And I think there are some very encouraging signs.  When people like [Doreen & Joyce/ Olwen] can’t make it to church for whatever reason, it’s really encouraging to hear that there have been loads of people ringing up, visiting and offering to do practical jobs.  Another example was my grandma’s funeral a few weeks ago back in London.  Kate and I felt it would be easier to go on the train.  We never mentioned it to anyone else at the time, but the fares were quite expensive and would have stretched last month’s budget;  but then 2 days before the funeral, someone in the church anonymously gave us an envelope containing cash that paid for a big chunk of the fares.  And I know that others in the congregation have also been on the receiving end of such practical acts of kindness and generosity. 

But I have to ask the question:  is such love universally applied?  Or do we only express it to the people that we get on with, the people most like us, or the people that are well know in the church?    Yes as a leadership team, we need to ensure that we’ve got good structures of pastoral care in place.  But even with the best structures in the world, if we lack love overall as a congregation, then all our structures would simply be a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal wouldn’t they?

   

So:  how can you brotherly love your fellow Christians better?  What could you do different?  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Or at least I hope it does.

And to help us think practically, let’s look onto the end of v10:  ‘honour one another above yourselves.   We’re back to humility.  Not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought as we saw last week in v3.  We not to be snobs;  we’re not to look down on anyone for any reason:  not because of their clothes, their accent, their job, or lack of job;  not because of their Christian maturity of lack of;  not because of their race or cultural background, or anything else that you think makes you’re superior to the person next to you.  Honour one another above yourselves, and don’t look down on others.   Don’t be a snob.

What else.  Look at v11:  don’t be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.    Serving the Lord by sincerely loving each other will always be an outworking of our zeal for God himself.    Our Christian service will become a burden, it will go dry and fizzle out, if our zeal for God dries up.  

In Rev 2, Jesus criticises the Ephesian church because they’d lost their first love for him;  they’d gone dry and cold.  Sort it out says Jesus, otherwise I’ll come and remove your lamp stand, I’ll withdraw my blessing from you.  You can’t do God’s work, without loving God fervently.  Yes you’ll be called a fanatic, or a fundamentalist, or happy clappy or whatever.  But so what.  It’s God’s verdict that counts.  We need to love Him fervently.  So how’s your love for God?  How fervent are you for God? 

What’s sincere love.  Well v12 tells us it’s all about patience.  Remember the external context.   Not just struggling with internal division between Jewish and gentile Christians.  But there was also opposition and persecution from non-Christian Jews and increasing from the Gentile Roman state.  Yes the Christian faith brings blessing in the here and now, and especially in the quality relationships that should exist in the church.  But the main blessings of the Christian life are in the future.   Heaven.  That’s the hope we live for.  That’s what we rejoice in as we wait.  That’s the hope that should inspire our prayers.  Heaven’s the perspective that allows us to cope and be patient when we experience all kinds of trials and tribulation;  whether it’s external persecution or problems within the family.    Rejoice in Hope, be patient in tribulation and be constant in prayer.  Sincere Christian love is patient.  So how’s our patience levels? 

Sincere love is patient.  But it’s also generous, v13 tells us.  Share with God’s people who are in need.  And the word share here is related to the word fellowship.   Now, in some Christians circles, the words fellowship and sharing have been devalued.  We’re going to have a time of sharing, can mean, we’re going to do a free church version of the peace, where we all go round, hug each other and make some superficially caring comments.  But in the NT, fellowship implies a deep level of commitment and relationship with each other.  As we’ve already seen, it means sharing our money with each other.  Again we need to remember the context in order to apply what it’s saying to us.  When this letter was written, the Greek part of the Roman empire was economically booming.  But there was a famine going on back in Israel, and the Christians there were doing especially badly;  maybe there was even discrimination against Christians when the food aid was being distributed.  So Paul had got all the Greek Churches to have a collection that he was going to take back to Jerusalem.  And after he’d done that, Paul was going to come onto Rome.  So how does the history lesson help us, you might be saying. 

Well true love, means that we who are affluent Christians, need to be financially supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in particular need;  and not just within our own congregation, but across the world;  and we need to be doing this especially where Christians are being discriminated against.  If we’re already doing that, then great, but if not, then I hope it makes you think.  And there are various Christian charities that can help us do precisely that, and if you need help finding one, then come and talk to me after the service. 

And moving onto the end of the section in v15 & 16, we’ve got more of the same.  First in v15, true Christian love empathizes with brothers and sisters in Christ.  When someone’s husband or wife becomes a Christian, when someone has a baby, when someone passes an exam or whatever is the cause for celebration, we rejoice together.  Likewise, when one of us is bereaved, we weep together.  We might not actually cry, but we’re to be intimately involved in each other’s hurts and pains. Bereavement counselling is not just for the clergy.  It’s a job for all of us. 

But where you’re trying to comfort someone going through a tough time, remember to be careful and sensitive.  Quoting from Romans chapter 8 and stating that all things happen for the good of those who love God, is definitely true, of course.  But it might not be helpful to quote that verse the day someone’s lost a spouse or child.  When you’ve lost someone you love, the first thing most people need is an arm round their shoulder and a cry. 

Live in harmony with each other v16 says.  Don’t be proud, but be willing to associate with people of a low position.  Don’t be conceited: or more literally, don’t think wisely of yourselves.  It’s more of the same isn’t it.  Sincere Christian love.  That’s what v9-16 have been all about.  Loving our fellow Christians.  Love your fellow Christians then. 

Love your Enemies (v17-21)

And so moving onto the second heading in v17-21, we’re told to love our enemies.  Love your enemies.  And that command should immediately ring bells with J's teaching.  In fact these verses are packed with allusions or direct quotes from Jesus.    And again remember the wider context.  Opposition  from the Jews and persecution from the Romans.  In that context, how should Christians respond to their enemies? 

Well look with me at v17:

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17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

But hang on a minute, you might be thinking.  I thought we were told to hate evil back in v9.  Well yes.  But, let’s read onto v19:

19Do 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.

We’re to hate sin, because God hates sin.  But we’re not to avenge ourselves as individuals.   Why?  Because it’s God’s job to punish sin, not ours.    And God’s vengeance will be expressed in its entirety on Judgement Day.  But God’s also appointed agents to exercise discipline and judgement in this world.  Next week in chapter 13, we’ll see that the state, even an idolatrous state, is God’s agent to inflict punishment on sinful citizens. 

But as individual Christians, how are we to react when we’re sinned against:  Well in v14, we’re told to bless those who persecute us, bless and do not curse.  And in v17, we’re told not to repay evil for evil.  Don’t retaliate, says Paul.    Why?    Yes because it’s God’s job to express vengeance.  But have a look at the rest of v17 as well:

“Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.”

Now I know that some of you have struggled with unreasonable neighbours.  So I want you to imagine a hypothetical situation.  Imagine you’ve got a really annoying next door neighbour.  Imagine a situation where he throws thing over the fence.  Not just once, but repeatedly for months on end.  Nails, glass, ceramic tiles, garden rubbish, newspapers, kitchen waste.  In fact imagine, he regularly smears the remains of his weekend takeaways all over your car.  How do you respond?  What’s the natural sinful instinct in such a situation?  Tell him precisely what you think of his unreasonable behaviour?  Have a row?  Throw some of it back over the fence?    And say you hit a low point and yell curses over the fence as you’re throwing some of yesterday’s curry back over the fence.  And then you turn round.  And there’s your other neighbour;  the one you’ve been talking to about the love of Jesus.   

Vengeance is mine says the Lord.  And in the meantime, leave issues of justice to my agents:  leave it to the police and the courts.  But you, individual Christian  - you  love your enemies;  pray for them.  Don’t retaliate.   On the contrary says v20:

 "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." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now at first sight, this looks like it’s saying, be nice to your enemies as a roundabout way of stabbing them in the back.  But again context is important.  In the first century, putting burning coals on your head was a sign of repentance. 

What’s the most loving thing you can do for someone you love?  Lead them to Christ, lead them to repentance.  What’s the most loving thing you can do for your enemies?  Lead them to repentance.  Remember the end of v17:

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

As Christians, our lives are always on display.  And if we love our enemies, God might use that to bring them to repentance.   Don’t be overcome by evil.  Don’t respond to sin by sinning back.  Don’t be overcome by evil.  Rather, overcome evil with good.      What do you think?

It’s not real you might be thinking.  And you're right – it’s not natural.  None of us can live like this in our natural selves, because we’re all infected with original sin.  But you can do it if you’re zealous for God, if you’re being fervent in the Spirit, serving the Lord.  You can do it if you’ve grasped the first 11 chapter s of Romans.  If you’ve grasped that you’re a wretched sinner who was facing God’s wrath.  But that in His great mercy, God revealed His righteousness in Jesus and He revealed it in you when he brought you to saving faith. 

So now, as one His spirit-filled subjects, King Jesus is saying to you:  go and live like this.  Love your fellow Christians with a love so intense it aches.  And go and love your enemies with a love that isn’t natural. Love you enemies with a love that costs you dearly.  If you truly love me, say Jesus, then you’ll love your fellow Christians and you’ll love your enemies, just like me.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we pray don’t we?  You can and will do it because of me, says Jesus.  But if we won’t love like this, then perhaps we need to question the reality of our faith.    So the question is my friends:  do we love like this? 

Well let’s pray about that shall we.

  Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, we’re all still far more moulded by the world’s values than we care to admit.  Forgive us Lord and help us to move beyond the superficial and hypocritical to a deep and real love for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And let our love shine out beyond the church.  Help us to love our neighbours and even our enemies, as you loved us when we were your enemies.  For our growth, for the eternal good of those around us, but ultimately for your Glory we pray, Amen.

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