Thinking of Others (Romans 12:3-21)
March 3, 2019
In just a moment we will begin our study of this text. But before we do I want to tell you about our family vacation. A couple of weeks ago we went to Disney World and we had a blast! The kids acted great and the weather was great with the exception of one day. But everything was really great except one big thing. We booked this Disney trip thinking, “Surely Disney will be mostly empty on the second week in February.” Nope! There were so many people and they just would not get out of my way! I am a fast walker. I don’t like to mope. I like to get where I’m going and sit. But it is impossible with that many people. I started getting really irritated and Jenna could sense that in me so she was like, “chill out!” I started to think about the text we are about to study and it helped me get through it. This text helps us to think about other people differently than we are tempted to. Are people mostly just a nuisance to us? Do they just get in our way and make our life more miserable than it has to be?
In Romans 12:2 we read that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have seen how that affects the way we think of ourselves, but how does that affect the way we see others? In the text we will study tonight there is going to be a long list of commands that seem to cover a wide variety of topics, but they all have one thread throughout. We must love each other. Let’s begin by reading verse 9.
Romans 12:9 (ESV) — 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
This is ground breaking isn’t it? We already know the second greatest command which is to love your neighbor as yourself. But notice that Paul qualifies the love in that command as being “genuine.” The renewed mind loves differently than the world loves. But what does he mean when he says genuine? He immediately follows “let love be genuine” with a command to abhor, hate, or detest what is evil and cling to what is good. Genuine love is a love that is purified of evil. Allowing evil or even just overlooking what is evil takes away from how genuine our love is. Instead, we are to cling to what is good. Don’t we all just naturally love one another in a way that is genuine? Paul says that this is supposed to be a part of our transformed mind. The world tends to love in a way that is fake and self serving and we do to. But Paul wants Christians to let love be genuine. Is our love really genuine toward each other and toward our neighbor? What does a genuine love look like? In the verses that follow Paul gives us a road map to developing a genuine love for one another. We are going to see as we study together that genuine love is affectionate, fervent, and sacrificial.
Genuine Love Is Affectionate
First of all we see that genuine love is intimate. Notice how verse 9 transitions into verse 10, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection.” The need for genuine love that abhors evil and clings to good is best understood in a family relationship. How many of us have seen evil in our families? Have there been any angry outbursts, selfish ambitions, or any kind of mistreatment? If there has then you understand the need to abhor what is evil. Paul says that we are to love one another with brotherly affection. This means that we are to be kind, generous, affectionate, and compassionate toward one another. It means we are to have a love that is sincere, intimate, and deep. The rest of this chapter has commands that are built on this foundation.
Genuine Love Is Fervent
The last half of verse 10 Paul continues to explain what this genuine love looks like. Notice all of the action verbs used in this section.
Romans 12:10–13 (ESV) — 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.
Do you see how genuine love is fervent? He says, “Outdo one another in showing love. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” It is as though he is calling for a sibling rivalry over who can love more. This takes the description of genuine love one step further. It goes from the internal feeling of affection and the outward talking of love to an outward showing of that love by working fervently, as to the Lord. Genuine love goes beyond getting to know one another. We are being called to serve one another with fervency and zeal, as to the Lord.
In verses 12 and 13 we have specific things we can do in order to serve one another and, consequently, serve the Lord. We can continue to show our faith in God and contribute to the needs of the saints with things like hospitality. Paul wants us to consider how we can lift one another up both spiritually and physically. It is not a matter of one without the other. I can’t say, “I provided you with a clean room to sleep in what more do you want?” Nor can we say, “I prayed for you and set a good example for you what more do you want?” Genuine love is a call to action in every way. It is as though Jesus is right here and the needs of the saints are Jesus’ needs. Will we be fervent to fulfill the need? Will our love be genuine?
In the final section of the text we will see how genuine love goes above and beyond being affectionate like family and fulfilling the needs of others fervently. Paul calls us to something radical.
Genuine Love Is Sacrificial
In the last verses of this section he tells us that genuine love sacrifices to serve two groups of people.
Romans 12:14–20 (ESV) — 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.”
He says that we ought to “bless those who curse you,” “weep with those who weep,” “associate with the lowly,” “Repay no one evil for evil,” “live peaceably with all,” “Never avenge yourselves,” and to give your enemy whatever it is that they need. Wow! Do we see all of the sacrifice mentioned in this text? All of these fit into two general categories. 1. Love the lowly. 2. Love your enemy
1. Love The Lowly.
When he commands us to “weep with those who weep” that calls for us to be so invested in each other’s lives that we feel the pain and suffering that others feel. In verse 16 he says to “live in harmony with one another” and then he says “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Genuine love does not choose who to associate based on who will provide the most benefit. That is what the haughty mind does. The haughty mind is evil. It is not the transformed mind because it seeks it’s own gain instead of becoming a living sacrifice. We are called to give ourselves up in order to serve God. That means we pay attention to those who are not normally paid attention to. This sacrificial love is to be genuine love, built on the foundation of a brotherly affection, and a fervent spirit that thinks of itself as serving the Lord.
2. Love Your Enemy
In verse 14 and again in verse 17 we see an evil desire that must be squashed. We want to hurt or be evil toward our enemy when they are evil toward us. But God wants us to show a genuine love toward those who mistreat us. He wants us to do what is honorable and promote peace as much as possible. Our goal is to avoid retaliation and abhor what is evil. This is the ultimate sacrifice of self and the ultimate showing of love.
In studying this text Paul says we must be willing to become affectionate toward one another with a brotherly affection, we must fervently serve each other with our gifts as though we are serving our Lord, and we must be willing to sacrificially love those who we might not think to love.
So now that we have understood more about what Paul had in mind when he commanded genuine love, do we have genuine love? We must evaluate our brotherly affection toward one another, our fervency in working to take care of each other’s needs, and our willingness to sacrifice our time an energy to associate with the lowly and serve our enemies.
Are We Affectionate?
Are we affectionate toward one another? I think a lot of people at this congregation are very affectionate and I appreciate that. But think about the kind of affection we see in our families. We let our family get closer to us than anyone and when they let us down it hurts us deeply. Paul wants Christians to have this kind of love toward each other. He wants us to be open and honest with our family like we will never be with anyone else. We want to share things that are intimate and we run to them when something serious is going on because we share life with them. We make ourselves vulnerable to family hoping that they, of all people, will show the same genuine love and care that we desire to show them. Genuine love goes deeper than surface level. There has to be a willingness to open ourselves up to each other as though we are family because we are! For all eternity we are family.
When I look out at the culture around us all that I see is people who want nothing to do with me. Everyone wants to go it alone and the last thing they seem to want is to help me figure things out when I’m struggling. But God calls us to be different than that. He calls us to be the type of people who are genuinely concerned and loving toward people who are not our family physically, but are our family in Christ. How many times do we see Christians who do not act like they want anything to do with other Christians. How many times do we act this way ourselves? It is a plague. Genuine love is intimate and deeper than the superficial love our American culture has grown so accustomed to. We have to open ourselves up to have brotherly affection toward one another. This is the kind of love spoken of in the second greatest command. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30?
Mark 10:29–30 (ESV) — 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Are We Fervent?
What about the fervency of our work? I see quite a few workers here and I imagine there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that I don’t even know about. But is there more we can do? Could we be more fervent and zealous? Do we see this as a competition? Do we want to do more to love the lowest member here than any other Christian or do we sometimes think, “I am not going to do anything for them because they aren’t doing anything for me.” Paul says for us to be the initiator of love. What kind of things would we do for Jesus? If Jesus were here disguising himself as the lowest brother, how would we act toward them? Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25 as he separated the sheep from the goats? “In as much as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” He said...
Matthew 25:35–36 (ESV) — 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Someone who has made the biggest impact on me just started treating me like a brother. He opened up to me and let me open up to him. He was very patient toward me as I was a raw Christian with a lot of baggage. Over the years I have had a few Christians act this way toward me and it has helped me get through the worst of times. It has also made the best times that much more sweet.
Jesus promised that his people would not be like the world in showing superficial love. Being added to his church means being added to a family that shares a deep bond and shows love through action. The third point Paul makes again adds to the first two points, taking them to another level. Genuine love is more than just speaking with love and doing acts of love with fervency.
Are We Sacrificial?
Finally, are we really willing to be sacrificial toward the lowly or our enemies? Isn’t it difficult for us to love sacrificially? It’s hard to see those who no one else sees. We must ask ourselves, “Are we choosing friends based on the benefits they bring us?” We are called to love those who the world would not love.
Also it is hard for us to overcome our own pride and serve our enemies. When it comes to abhorring evil we often tend to abhor those who do evil instead. Are we able to control ourselves and live peaceably with all? When they are mean and malign us will we show a genuine love in our heart?
Do We Have Genuine Love?
We all want others to think of us in a loving way. If we were the lowly we would want them to love us or if we were enemies we would want to be loved. We all want to be a part of this kind of family with this kind of love. Some of us are from broken families that do not function anything like what is described here. But when we say that this is a family, we want it to be a group of people who are affectionately, fervently, and sacrificially loving one another. We need it to be this way! Jesus told us it would be this way. But we struggle with this. This is a problem that only multiplies in complexity as our number grows. One hundred people should have no problem acting this way toward one another compared to three thousand like they had in the beginning. So, how can we help each other develop this kind of intimate, fervent, and sacrificial love? How can we change our own hearts to have a genuine love?
It is interesting that the phrase “genuine love” is translated a little differently by the Christian Standard Bible. That translation calls this love without hypocrisy. I think this really helps us when trying to solve this problem. If we are honest with ourselves, when we don’t love like we ought to we don’t like to confess it. We put on a vainer that shows everyone we are really loving. We pretend to love and we fake it till we make it. But there is no faking intimacy. There is not faking fervency. There is not faking sacrifice. God knows what we are doing and our lack of genuine love is killing us and those around us. Listen to the words of Jesus...
Matthew 23:25–28 (ESV) — 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Hypocritical love is condemned by Jesus. If we don’t love each other genuinely, from the heart, we better confess and be afraid to continue down this path. Matt Chandler put it like this, “It is okay to not be okay, but it is not okay to stay that way.” That is so true. Hiding our failures only results in misplaced pride and arrogance.
We need affectionate, fervent, and sacrificial love. We need to outdo one another in showing love as though we are serving Jesus. We need to lay down our lives in service to one another. That means giving up our conveniences and comforts. That means giving up our time and energy to contribute to the needs of others. Are you my brother, sister, father, and mother?