There is a story about a man who was walking down the street. He passed a used bookstore, and in the window, he saw a book with this title: How To Hug. He was taken by the title and, being of a somewhat romantic nature, went in to buy the book. To his chagrin, he discovered that it was the third volume of an encyclopedia and covered the subjects How to Hug.
As I think of that story, the church can become like that. The church should be a place where care and compassion are offered, but many times people come to church seeking empathy, only to discover an encyclopedia on theology.
Love makes all the difference.
- G.O.S.P.E.L. Others: We are family
- In Nov-Dec and through advent taught 1Cor 13 on loving others. Today’s passage will help us understand who and how we can best love others.
EXAMINE Romans 12:1, 9-21
God wants us grow living loved (Romans 12:1)
Reading Romans 12:1 “Therefore”, we are arriving late to Paul’s party and reading the middle/end of a letter. If we don’t know what Paul previously wrote, then we might miss his point. This long list of imperatives come after a selection of indicatives. For those who are not English majors, that’s a fancy way of saying expected commands follow declaration statements. God provides us what He requires from us. Christianity starts with what God has done for us, not with what we can do. We function better when we are breathing the air of grace rather than trying work our way through religious pollution or the world’s corruption. The gospel of Jesus Christ is grace-lavishing and life-giving strength that enables us to wake each day.
We function better when we are breathing the air of grace rather than trying work our way through religious pollution or the world’s corruption. The gospel of Jesus Christ is grace-lavishing and life-giving strength that enables us to wake each day.Tweet
Earlier in this letter to Roman Christians, Paul says, “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us… [and] God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners [and enemies], Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:5, 8)
Rom 8:1 says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is no condemnation for you.” If you have surrendered your sins and stopped trying to be someone that you can never be – perfect image and fulling expectations of everyone around you – and trusting in Jesus with His grace that makes you forgiven, accepted, and whole, then there’s no condemnation for you. You are free from slavery to the spiral of earning love and you are adopted into the family of God (Rom 8:15).
And this perfect love from God is strong and steadfast. No one can stand against you and nothing can separate you from Jesus: not suffering or tragedy, no demons or evil habits, not even disease or death. Romans 8 is one of the most beautiful chapters in all Scripture that gives us the confidence of God’s faithful love, and how we can live loved – live whole by sharing out of our brokenness of the One who calms our fears, heals our hurts, and allows our scars to tell a story of God’s redemptive work.
In all, we can never love others helpfully or whole without first experiencing God’s love. This is largely what the first portion of Romans is about – getting us to build our life on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, in Romans 12, Paul changes gears to start making application for how we can love others.
- I wonder if you recognize that you’re tired of the spiral of trying to please everyone but never succeeding. I wonder if you’re tired of breathing polluted and corrupted air that isn’t life-giving and hopeful. I wonder if you are ready to turn to Jesus today and receive His wonderful love. He is available and this is where life begins – living loved.
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
God wants us to grow loving the church (Romans 12:9-13).
We need to remember Romans is a letter to a church. So, like 1Cor 13 was not written for a wedding but a worship community, Romans was to guide relationships within families & churches.
The first and foremost relationship God gave humanity is family. Family is the highest form of community but not the easiest. From the beginning, humanity has found it impossible to get along without the grace of God. This is why Paul starts the passage with a different word for love – not phileo (brotherly love), or storge (friendship or obligatory love), and certainly not eros (passion or lust) but instead the word used is our favorite word for love (ἀγάπη), which Christians distinguished from all other types of love. Agape is the profound and personal love that is unselfish and generous.
Paul not only says our love is to be genuine/sincere and without hypocrisy. A ὑποκριτής was a “play-actor” who projects an image but they were not so in reality.  In essence, Paul is saying that it is easy to give lip service to loving God and/or others. Yet, what we learn is that love is not just a noun, an idea, or even just a positive feeling but a verb. We learn how to love God and others based on His love for us. So, authentic love is active; it’s something we do frequently and fervently.
Love for God demands a living sacrifice (Ro 12:1). It requires attention and obedience to His commands (Jn 14:15). Also Jesus: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Mt 15:7). So, loving the church starts with loving Jesus.
Further, loving Jesus results in loving His church. We cannot separate God the groom from His bride the church. When we love others, we are intentionally looking for ways we can meet needs and do good when it’s within our ability & opportunity to act (Pr 3:27; Jn 13:34-35; Php 2:4). “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24-25)
Illus: sincerity. Our English word sincere comes from the Latin sincerus, which means “without wax.” It stems from a practice of early Roman merchants who set their porcelain jars out for sale. If a crack appeared in one, they would fill it with wax the same color as the jar, so a buyer would be unaware it was cracked. But astute buyers learned to hold these jars out in the sun, and if the jar was cracked, the wax would see through or melt, and the crack would be revealed. So, honest merchants would test their vessels this way and mark them sincerus — without wax.
Our relationships are without wax (or authentic) when we are willing to hold one another up to the light of God’s word. Paul says, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Rom 12:9). These are categories that our world wants to diminish and disregard. Our true self is not found apart from our Creator. We might think authenticity means being who we are and not having to change, but that leaves out the reality that God made us for His purpose. Therefore, our love is based on God’s standards of right and wrong.
Our true self is not found apart from our Creator.Tweet
12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Our churches are not social clubs but special family. We treat each other as parents, children, & siblings. There is value for each person, even bothersome brothers, silly sisters, unusual uncles, & grumpy grandparents.
Our churches are not social clubs but special family. We treat each other as parents, children, & siblings. There is value for each person, even bothersome brothers, silly sisters, unusual uncles, & grumpy grandparents.Tweet
12:10, 13 “Outdo one another in showing honor… Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
This past week, incidences occurred that devalued humanity.
- Politicians voted against protecting infants born after a failed late-term abortion. As we approach SOHL Sunday, we are reminded that honoring the image of God is a forgotten value in today’s society. Sadly, we have cowards and clowns for our country’s leaders (in both parties). While our nation prays for God’s blessing we deserve God’s severe judgment as in biblical days (Ex 21:22-25; 2 Ki 16:3; 21:6; Isa 13:18). Church, we must pray for mercy, stand for justice (March For Life / Pregnancy Clinic support), and walk humbly with our God.
- SPHS had an incident of bullying. We are reminded to honor the image of God in every person, even the physically weak with no person to be viewed as dispensable. For the church, we are to go above and beyond – almost competition-like – showing honor. Can you imagine a community where every single person is viewed as vital and honored?
Some application and action steps for SPBC
- Increasing from friendly church to being a church of friends. Every church thinks their friendly but not every church is filled with friends. The way this happens is we take church beyond Sundays. How are you connecting with church members and ministry throughout the week? Do church members have “refrigerator rights” in your house?
- Flood our First Impressions Ministry. There’s no reason why we need to be begging for volunteers to be a greeter. Do you love SPBC? Then be a greeter formally AND informally as a greeting compass (N-S-E-W).
– It’s like football: our formal greeters playing man-to-man, and then we also have a zone coverage with inside informal greeters.
- Attend and register for our upcoming monthly fellowships. Church is not over after a pastor saying “Amen,” that’s just the worship service. Since church is people – then church isn’t over until we’ve communicated eye-to-eye with someone and said “goodbye.” So, linger in conversation and allow God to use your words to enrich friends, encourage members, and evangelize yet-to-be Christians.
- Understand the impact of hospitality. Paul says “Contribute to needs of saints and show hospitality.” Hospitality = φιλοξενίαν: is a compound word for love and stranger; love for outsiders. So, practicing hospitality is a key component to the mission of our church of growing godly generations and turning strangers into friends, and friends becoming family. We are like our Lord Jesus when we are practicing hospitality “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” (Matthew 9:10)
Practicing hospitality is a key component to the mission of our church of growing godly generations and turning strangers into friends, and friends becoming family. This makes us like Jesus.Tweet
God wants us to grow loving the uncomfortable (Rom 12:14-21).
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
A last area for us to grow in our love is with the uncomfortable – those we are challenged to love. What makes followers of Jesus different is that we imitate His approach toward those we disagree, those who disappoint, dispute, and persecute us.
Illus: There’s a story about a couple were reflecting on conflict in their marriage over the last 30 years. The husband started the conversation with contrition, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry that I’ve got annoyed and angry at you over the years. I’m also thankful that when I’ve blown up, you have stayed calm. How have you kept your composure in our times of conflict?” She replied, “Oh that’s easy honey. You see, whenever you blow up at me, I just go and clean the bathroom, scrub the sink, brush the toilet and tub.” The husband replied, “And that helps?” She said, Oh yes, because when I do, I always use your toothbrush.”
This passage, and the Bible overall, is written to real people with conflicts in their church, messy marriages, frazzled families, and stressed workplaces. And at this point, Rome was uncharitable toward Christians with unfair treatment and discrimination on a regular basis. Tradition tells us Paul was beheaded in Rome. So, this passage is not pie in the sky optimism but practical teaching for Christians wanting to love like Jesus.
What’s a Christian to do when…
- Someone speaking insensitively and conflicting with you.
- Classmates or coworkers who don’t respect your faith.
- Fatigue as parents wanting good for kids but they think you don’t care or know what you’re talking about.
- Struggling marriage with cold and callous communication.
Christians can love the uncomfortable in 3 ways
- Maintain a relationship.
Paul says 14 bless those who persecute. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another… 18 If possible, live peaceably with all.
It is easy to give up and get out of a relationship with someone that you have conflict. But Paul points us to Jesus. Blessing, loving, and praying for our enemies does not come from Paul’s mind but Jesus’ heart (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28). Paul wants us to understand that the same gospel grace we received from Jesus is the same forgiveness we can extend to others. God calls and strengthens us to love through adversity not around it. So, loving others means we maintain some sort of relationship with individuals, including those whom we have conflict.
One caveat need mentioned that I often try to highlight on this topic that people often have questions. Notice Paul’s language in v.18, “If possible.” In other words, there are times when circumstances make it not possible to maintain relationship – or at least the same type of relationship. It is not virtuous or godly to stay in an abusive relationship, or when someone is repeatedly taking advantage of you.
- Prev Rom 12:9 “Abhor evil.” God loathes evil.
Prov 6:16-19 “The LORD hates 6 things, in fact 7 are detestable to Him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness, and one who stirs up trouble among family.
- Next chapter Rom 13 discusses the role of civil authority established by God to exercise justice and protect peace. So, if you know someone in an abusive situation the first phone call is to them.
- Pastor Tim Keller, “Enemies (or abusers) may be so dangerous that to have anything to do with them is to invite them to sin. In that case, the ‘good’ you can do to them is to stay away from them.”
- 2) Maintain your role.
When conflict occurs, don’t try to unseat God from the throne. We can be tempted to try to be judge, jury, and executioner when someone has done wrong. But God wants us to resist revenge and leave room for the wrath of God.
Here’s the thing, if we take revenge, i) the joy is temporary, ii) you may go to jail! Seriously, depending on how far you take your revenge, our paybacks can lead to our setbacks with serious consequences. So, believe that it’s far worse for someone to fall into the hands of a God who hates wrongdoing.
There will be a day when every sin and every sinner will have to give an account. “Vengeance belongs to God!” These sins will either have been paid by the cross or the one who committed them. And trust me, on that day it will be too late to ask Jesus to be your Savior.
- 3) Maintain your witness.
Paul says, 20 “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
You’re like, yes!, heaping fiery coals on their head, that’s what I want. Essentially, the quote/passage can be taken in different ways:
i) Your kindness and forgiveness will shake their expected response and wake them up to repentance. Like cold water to a sleeping person, so a Christian’s witness is to impact unbelievers.
ii) Your kindness will increase their penalty of judgment. They will face God and recall your mercy and faith witness, which will heap upon them significant shame and guilt. So, in a sense, your are killing with kindness, and your goodness is heaping burning coals upon them.
Either way, the Christian’s aim is not to multiply mistreatment (2 wrongs don’t make a right), but to conquer evil. When we resist revenge, stop the spread of sin and reverse the curse. Further, we have an opportunity of seeing the offender come to repentance and faith in Christ.
MLK: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
When we resist revenge, stop the spread of sin and reverse the curse. Further, we have an opportunity of seeing the offender come to repentance and faith in Christ. Let’s overcome evil with good.Tweet
As we read Romans 12:9-21, we see a list of 31 exhortations. We might be tempted to ask, what’s the benefit or point of this long list that we’ll never be able to perfectly imitate. The idea isn’t that we apply them all at once but that we act when it’s needed.
- Trade workers have many tools not to use for every task but for specific problems.
- Chefs love a fully stocked pantry to make different meals.
- Sport teams have various plays and strategies to face different teams.
- God’s word is a vast assortment of wisdom and help for every circumstance or crisis we face.
Overall, we are thankful that Jesus’ love is without hypocrisy… He isn’t fake or fickle but pursues us with grace and accountability – also why we have Holy Spirit / Scripture / and Church – all faithful gifts from God to draw us to His love.
Let us, as His family, love others as a gift to draw them into the grace of God.
 Story from https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/romans/how-to-hug
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9–16, vol. 38B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1988), 740.
 Phrase indicates comfort with person they can open your fridge without feeling uncomfortable bc they feel part of the family.
 Illustration story from J.D. Greear on Romans 12:14-21.
 Tim Keller, Romans For You.
 For more on resisting revenge and forgiving wrongs, see https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2022/12/11/a-gift-that-doesnt-count-1-corinthians-135/.
 Strength To Love sermon.