Through the Bible in One Year

Day 277

Romans 12:9-21

Paul continues with the very practical consequences of loving one another, which seems logical but still requires a renewing of the mind (v. 2) and, therefore, instruction from the apostles.  He commends zeal in verse 11, but this is zeal that accords with knowledge (10:2).  Paul shows he knows Jesus’ teaching (e.g., compare 12:14 with Luke 6:27-28).  To rejoice with the joyful and mourn with the mournful (Romans 12:15) is part of being all things to all people for the salvation and benefit of others (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Similarly, in Romans 12:17-18, Paul says that we should not give offense.  We should fit in with the non-Christian world to the extent that we can in order to profess our faith, though without sinning.  Part of living at peace means not taking revenge, for we can leave vengeance to God.  Continuing to be kind to someone who has wronged us will heap burning coals on their heads (v. 20, which is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22).  We must do good to those who harm us so they will feel shame for their sin and may be won over to the Gospel (1 Peter 2:12).

Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.—13:9-21 (NASB)

This passage provides us with a comprehensive and mandatory list of traits that characterize the Spirit-filled life.  Paul presents these characteristics under 4 categories: 1) personal duties (v. 9); 2) family duties (vv. 10-13); 3) duties to others (vv. 14-16); and 4) duties to those who consider us enemies (vv. 17-21).

  1. Personal Duties—“Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good.” (v. 9)

The Greek word for “hypocrite” was used of an actor who wore a mask.  In other words to call someone a “hypocrite” is to literally say that they are showing and/or saying one thing to the outside world and doing quite another thing in their private world.  We all know people who are like that because even though they think they have pulled the wool of people’s eyes they really haven’t.  These are the kinds of people who when asked “How are you doing?”  They will tell you that they are fine when they really are not.  These people do this because they are worried that others will not love them unless they wear a mask of perfection.  What Paul is telling us here is that we are to be the kind of community where it’s safe for people to take their masks off, and the only way that can happen is if we “detest what is evil” and “cling to what is good.”

  1. Family Duties—“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” (Vv. 10-13)

We can love one another deeply once we recognize that we don’t have to like someone to love them well.  Love is often associated with emotion, but it starts with a decision to compassionately and righteously seek the well-being of others.  Just like the small gauge on a boiler indicates how full the vessel is, our love for one another indicates how full our hearts are with the love of Jesus.  In other words, when you are “devoted to one another in brotherly love” then you will be giving “preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”  This all means be devoted to taking care of your home life because true love always starts at home.

  1. Duties to others—“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (vv. 14-16)

If Jesus forgave you when you were his enemy (after all, your sins put him on the cross) shouldn’t that change the way you view your enemies?  In fact, it should change the way you view everybody that you come into contact with.  It should cause you to be happy with those who have had genuinely good things happen to them.  And on the other hand it should cause you to grieve with those who are grieving.

What this all means is this: if you want to keep from thinking too highly of yourself, make it a regular part of your agenda to connect with the humble, people who have nothing to give back.  And you do this by looking for people both inside and outside the church who are without designer clothes, high school diplomas or even steady jobs.  Why, because even though these people may be nobodies in the world’s eyes, in the church they ought to feel like somebodies.  Again, why, because that is how Jesus viewed people.

  1. Duties to those whom you consider enemies—“Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (vv. 17-21)

When we read this section we need to remember that Paul is still talking to the church or those who are followers of Christ!  We also need to remember this we don’t attack our own, even if they are those whom we consider enemies either because we dislike them or they dislike us.  And why, because if you repay people for the wrong or wrongs they have done to you, you will only end up hurting yourself.  In other words, seeking revenge, which means that you have not let go of the wrong and have instead let the anger and the hurt that this wrong either real or imaged to fester, is like drinking poison yourself in the hopes that it will cause harm to someone else.

There is one more thing that we need to remember about this section of Romans 12 and that is a misinterpretation of one verse, verse 18, which says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.”  Many of us read verse 18 in this way, “Be patient for as long as you can, but once your patience runs out, get ready to throw down.”  However, this verse is actually saying, as far as it depends on you, that is, on your side of the relationship, live at peace.  In other words, do everything you can to get along with people, and if they should still harbor a grudge, that’s on them.

Paul ends Romans 12 with these words, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  This is a fitting way to end a chapter that has shown us how faith and righteousness changes our lives, because if you remember Paul opened Romans 12 in this way, “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:1-2).  Paul has given us the formula for letting faith and righteousness change our lives, even if he has not been really clear about what that formula is.  However, this is someone who has given us some clarity to Paul’s formula for letting faith and righteousness change our lives.  That person is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said, “Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. King is telling us that you cannot defeat darkness with more darkness because only light can drive out darkness.  He is, also, telling us the same thing about hate, because you cannot defeat hate with more hate.  In other words you have to be the one to show the world the light through your love, because love is what is ultimately going to be what changes the world.  But not love of ourselves, but a love of others that is fueled and fed by the love we have received through Jesus Christ, who loved each and everyone of us enough to die for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).  And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as we move on to how we as followers of Christ are to deal with government authorities.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Jeremiah 4:19-6:15, Colossians 1:18-2:7, Psalm 77:1-20 and Proverbs 24:23-25

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