April 15, 2018
LOVE AND MORE PARTICULARS OF HOLY LIVING
(36 of 44 in a series through Romans)
There’s a certain artfulness to a sermon. I think in an ideal situation, you begin by telling the congregation why they need to hear what the text you’re about to preach. You try to expose the very areas where our needs are, and then hold up the text as the perfect answer to those very needs. Then, you take the truths of the text and structure an outline, highlighting those truths in sermon points that are brief in number, short, poignant, and memorable. This is pretty much how we instruct our interns and nearly every time that’s how I want to approach preaching when I stand behind this pulpit.
But this morning is an exception. I’m about to violate every element of artfulness to a sermon that I just described. This will be no model for our interns. The outline of this sermon will be no means be brief or memorable. I’m just not sure how to do it. I sat at my desk multiple days this week, working out outlines, reworking them, and then throwing them away. I divided the text one way, then another, and finally just figured nothing I was going to come up with was going to work in a short and simple and straightforward way.
Let me show you why. Numerous biblical texts make an argument and give some exhortations. So, for example, Hebrews 10:19-25 tells us that since we have confidence in Christ to approach our God, let us draw near to God, hold fast to our confession, and consider how to stir one another up to love and good works. That’s a pretty simple three-point sermon, isn’t it? The exhortations in the text become the outline of your sermon. But Romans 12:9-21, though only thirteen verses long, has something like thirty exhortations. And I don’t think a thirty-point outline could be considered brief, simple, and memorable by any stretch.
But, on the other hand, each of these exhortations is powerful, the vision of a community living in light of each of one these ways is beautiful, and spending some time thinking about these things is helpful for us. So, what I want to do is walk through these exhortations under two headings: our relationship with other believers and our relationship with the world. Under those two headings, I’m going to note a number of points, and I’ll list them for you, and you can count them as points, sub-points, both, or neither—whatever works for you. So, how it is then that Paul pictures us, as a church, living with one another and interacting with non-believers in a God-honoring way? Well, the answer is a bit long, but here we go.
Our relationship with other believers
Love one another genuinely, realizing we’re family
I’ve noted this before, but it’s amazing how much of the Christian life revolves around love. The greatest commandment is that we love God. The second greatest commandment involves loving others. Love is so crucial that Paul can even say that giving your body to be burned, if it isn’t done in love, counts for nothing. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Paul’s starting point for how we relate to one another focuses on love. He begins verse 9, “Let love be genuine,” and then adds in verse 10, “Love one another with brotherly affection.”
The idea here is that love shouldn’t be hypocritical. It should be sincere. Paul is saying that we really genuinely need to love our fellow believers, not just act like we do. And one way to aid us in that task is to recognize that we are family, which is why Paul can say that we should love one another with brotherly affection.
Now, you’ll remember, as we’ve noted multiple times, that Jesus was the one who first noted that the church was a family. When his physical family approached him and the crowds expected him to go to them, he responded that his mother and brothers and sisters were those who did the will of God. In other words, his fellow believers were family to him. And that’s the manner in which Paul is exhorting us to think of each other. He wants us to have genuine love for one another that recognizes our fellow believers are our family.
But it’s also helpful that he outlines some qualities of what that looks like. He notes in verse 9, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” In other words, love isn’t simply an emotion we feel (though it’s not less than that), it is something we express toward one another by abhorring evil and loving good. This means that we cannot claim to be genuinely loving someone if we do not care about the evil done to them or by them. So, if you see your brother walking in sin and do not care to help him confront it walk out of it because you don’t want to “risk messing up your relationship,” then you need to recognize that the relationship you have and are trying to preserve isn’t a relationship of love. Love compels us to hate evil and hold fast to what is good in the lives of others.
Paul also shows us another means of expressing love when he commands us to “outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10). When you genuinely love someone, you want to build them up, honor them, and invite others to think well of them. That is the opposite of how the world works, isn’t it? The world is about self-exaltation, which often requires us to tear down those around us. We are taught by the culture to assume the worst when people act or speak and to rejoice when they fail so that our successes can be magnified. But Paul pictures the church in a much different manner. We love one another, and that leads to us seeking to try to outdo one another in showing honor.
Let’s put this very concretely. As we gather and interact with others, let’s seek opportunities to build up one another, encouraging, and loving one another. Now, I know that someone could say, “That would lead to all kinds of arrogance in the church if we all focused on trying to outdo one another in showing honor to one another.” My response to that is two-fold. First, it’s never a good path to try to be wiser than God, and if God’s Word commands us to outdo one another in showing honor, then we need simply to bow the knee to our Lord and obey his command. And, second, doesn’t that ring in your ears as a lie from the devil to tell you that you need to be careful about obeying God’s Word? Brothers and sisters, if ever a voice comes into your head giving your reasons why it’s dangerous to obey God’s Word, just recognize that as the voice of the enemy. That is never good logic. Also, and perhaps more importantly, let’s try to show honor to one another behind each other’s backs. So, when you’re out in conversation with someone and they say, “I know someone who’s a member with you at Cornerstone,” let that sound a siren in your head saying, “Use this opportunity to honor that brother or sister they’re about to name.” Think of an area of the Lord’s grace in that person’s life and speak of it.
There was one day I was in a meeting with other pastors, and one of the pastors spoke ill of his congregation, and I thought to myself, not only do I not want to do that, but I want to do the opposite of that. And that instinct within me that day didn’t originate within me. It’s right here in Romans 12:10. God wants us to honor one another. He even encourages us to make it a competition. Outdo one another in showing honor to one another. Brothers and sisters, how it would honor Christ for his children whom he loves so dearly to commit ourselves to honoring before others our brothers and sisters (i.e., God’s children whom he loves so dearly). Let’s be that people as a congregation. Let us love each other genuinely, realizing we’re family. Next,
Serve the Lord and be steadfast in our commitment to him.
Now, after the nature of the exhortations in verses 9-10, we might not expect what Paul says in verse 11, as he says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” After all, verses 9-10 and 13-21 are going to deal with loving and interacting with others. So, why would Paul pause to talk about not being slothful and serving the Lord? Well, I think the answer is in verses 3-8 that we looked at last week. For Paul, zealously serving the Lord isn’t divorced from loving your brothers and sisters. In involves you functioning in the body according to your gifts, discipling and caring for one another according to the grace given us. And Paul is saying that we should labor in these tasks zealously, fervently, and, as unto the Lord.
However, we all know that one of the things that makes zeal and fervor in service to one another difficult is that, well, life comes our way, doesn’t it? If you’re attempting to serve the Lord with great zeal, you’re not going to struggle to find reasons to feel discouraged, overwhelmed, or downcast along the way. You’ll face suffering personally, you’ll find discouragement in the struggles of others, and you may even go through periods of persecution. So, how do we press on in these times?
Paul tells us in verse 12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” That is, remember that eternity is coming and rejoice in it. Hold fast and don’t get antsy during times of suffering and tribulation but be patient. And then consistently run to the Lord in prayer. This would be a great little three-fold exhortation to remember as we think about being steadfast in obedience. Additionally, Paul exhorts us to:
Care for one another’s tangible needs
Paul continues, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (v. 13). One of the ways that we show our love for one another is by caring for one another’s physical and tangible needs. There are several ways we do that as a church. For one, your giving of your offering on Sundays helps fund a portion of the church budget called “storehouse ministry,” which we use much like the early church in the early chapters of Acts, where we take from this pool of money given by the members and use it to care for other members in need. But it doesn’t take someone being unable to pay bills or the like for there to be need that we can meet in tangible ways.
We ask our small groups to make sure we’re caring for those who are getting married, having children, battling sickness, are simply alone, etc., by throwing them showers, making meals, helping them maintain their homes, etc. Each of those acts is contributing to their needs. When someone asks me how to minister in the church, one of the things I say is, “Attend small group, needs will arise, and seek to meet them.”
But Paul doesn’t envision our care for one another tangibly to be done merely in giving of our resources. He also envisions giving of ourselves. He adds that we should seek to show hospitality. Now, in the first century this would typically manifest itself with believers who were traveling through your town simply showing up and needing a place to stay. In our own day, that need is not as great, but the need to show hospitality is still present, simply in different forms. For us, we have a number of students in our congregation who may well be distant from their families, may not have had a home-cooked meal in a while, and would love to fellowship with you. Be intentional about inviting them into your home. And I used to say this every year, but I think I’ve failed to say it for a while, but, college students, I give you permission to do what your parents would say is imposing. Feel free to approach someone in the church and say, “I’d love to get to know you better, hang out with your family, or share a meal together.” In other words, I’m okay with you inviting yourself over to others’ houses.
But it’s not simply students to whom we can show rich hospitality. Brothers and sisters, we’re all getting older. And until we get resurrection bodies, our bodies are wearing down. This means that for some of us, we’re already in positions where leaving our homes can be challenging—at best. And that’s going to be true for more and more of us as the years pass. So, go visit with that person whom you know would love to fellowship with believers, but can’t get out and go as easily. Jesus himself will say to you on the final day, “It was hard for me to get out of the house, but you came and visited me.” Again, think of Paul’s earlier commands. Let love be genuine, show brotherly affection, and outdo one another in showing honor. One way we honor our brothers and sisters as we age and our bodies just don’t function as they once did is by seeking them out and fellowshipping with that. Then, just have others into your home. Show hospitality That’s what Christian love demands. Again, ministry at Cornerstone isn’t limited to what you see up front on a Sunday morning. If you get in your car and go visit someone who is struggling to get out of the house, have a student over, or just have someone into your home to strengthen that relationship or help someone new feel connected, that is every bit as crucial as being up front on a Sunday morning—maybe more so.
Now, let me skip verse 14 for a second and go to verse 15, where we see that we need to:
Rejoice and weep with those who are rejoicing and weeping
I’m simply restating what Paul says in verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” I simply don’t know of any catchy, clever, memorable way to say that, and I’ve already downplayed any artfulness to this sermon, so I’m just repeating it. The command is that when someone has something that causes them joy, jump in and rejoice with them. When one is going through something that causes them pain, jump in and weep with them.
As straightforward as this command is, there’s also a tricky challenge to it, isn’t there? The challenge is that the very issue that causes someone such joy might be the same issue that causes others to weep. For example, this summer we have like a dozen weddings. People are excited, and there is much rejoicing. That’s easy, right? Rejoice with those who rejoice. But we have other members who are single, wish they were married, and each wedding is another reminder that they’re not getting married—again. Or we have a couple having a baby while another is reminded with every birth that they’ve gone another month unable to get pregnant or reminded that they lost their baby. Or we have a couple celebrating fifty years of marriage, while another member is reminded of the death of a husband or wife that kept them from getting to that mark. Someone else gets hired at a great job while another gets the news that “We’re just going a different direction” one more time. Do you see why I say there’s a tricky challenge to this command? I mean, we could continue this contrast of people’s experiences with example after example after example, some rejoicing and others weeping. So, what do we do?
We could just kind of keep ourselves even keel. If we don’t get too excited or weep too much, then everyone maybe, kind of feels cared for. But there are two reasons that can’t be our approach: 1) actually no one does feel cared for with such a reaction. The person going through tragedy doesn’t feel loved if you refuse to weep, and stay even keel, because someone else had something great happen to them. 2) That’s not Paul’s command. His command is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
So, that’s what we do. We don’t pull back when rejoicing or weeping. We simply throw ourselves into doing both. There’s nothing wrong with throwing a baby shower or clapping and cheering at the announcement of someone expecting and going and hugging and crying with someone you know is battling infertility in back-to-back days or even minutes. This is just life in this age. Thus, we seek to do both and do both well. It’s complex, but (once again) this is what Christian love demands.
Then, in verse 16 we see that we need to:
Walk in unity and humble ourselves toward one another
Paul writes, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (v. 16). Unity in the body of Christ is crucial in the Scriptures. The way we grieve the Spirit is by being divided, tearing one another down. Paul exhorts us to walk in unity and live in harmony. And one key way of doing this is by being humble and not haughty.
Brothers and sisters, there are a number of thoughts and opinions that could divide us. As a pastor, attempting to shepherd the congregation, I see and feel these threats daily. I, sadly, sometimes spend my nights awake thinking about them. But one way we fight this is by making sure that we are not haughty or wise in our own sight. Think, for example, of educating our children, political policies, how best to tackle poverty, law enforcement, government, immigration policies, and on and on. I mean, simply mentioning these things could cause tension to rise up in our hearts. In fact, among our church I not only believe but know that we have members who each have strong opinions on matters and dramatically disagree with others on those matters. So, what do you do? We could divide ourselves into dozens of smaller congregations wherein everyone in our congregation agrees with us on issues that the Bible doesn’t particularly address. But my guess is that with the passage of time, eventually we’d have to dive so small that we’d ultimately end up by ourselves.
But another approach is to think to ourselves, “I could be wrong. And even if I’m right and disagree with my brother or sister on this matter, I’m going to assume the best of that person, considering that they want every good aim I long for as well. And I’m going to humble myself and serve and love them. And together, we’re going to rejoice in the uniting work of Christ and love one another.” What a remarkable statement that would make in our culture, which campaigns for us dividing us a hundred different ways. O the glories of Christian unity! That’s how Paul pictures our relationships with other believers. What about our relationships with unbelievers?
Our relationship with unbelievers
Let me mention three things briefly:
Don’t retaliate when they commit evil against you
Paul mentions this specifically in verses 17 and 19, “Repay no one evil for evil. . . . 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.’” As believers, we may receive persecution, but we don’t retaliate in like manner.
Try to live at peace with them
In what is the most qualified command in the Bible, Paul writes in verse 18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul knows that sometimes there may be nothing you can do. Some unbelievers may simply insist on persecuting you, for example. And in those times, you don’t retaliate, but clearly that’s not a very peaceful relationship. But if it’s possible to live at peace, do so. Don’t be an antagonist. Don’t be a jerk toward your unbelieving neighbor. If he is walking in gross sin, don’t attack him but pity him. Let him think, “I know we disagree strongly, but my Christian neighbor is easy to live across the street from.” Try to live at peace with unbelievers. And finally:
Seek to do good toward and for them
Paul is not content to tell us not to retaliate and be at peace. He says in verse 14 to bless those who persecute us. He tells us in verse 17 to do what is honorable toward those who do evil toward us. He tells us in verses 20-21, “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.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In other words, you may well cause your unbelieving neighbor who attacks you to pause and feel conviction if you seek to do him good and love him. Our culture tells us that those who disagree with us are enemies who need to be removed. Jesus, however, tells us to do good to those who attack us. O how we bear witness to the glory of the gospel when we respond that way to unbelievers who seek evil against us.
Brothers and sisters, as we said last week, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise from the dead simply to bring us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He came to transform our lives even in this age. Therefore, let us pray for strength and grace and discipline ourselves to let our love be genuine, to walk in a Christ-honoring way in our relationships with one another and with unbelievers. And if we think it challenging, let’s keep our eyes on the one who, while we were still sinners and his enemies, came to die for us. Let’s do that now as we come to the table. Amen.