47. Romans 12:9-16
Living in Love
Paul has named a representative list of God’s gifts to His people. He has specified the kinds of behaviors that should mark a Christ-follower’s life and has shown that, equipped by the Holy Spirit, we all have an obligation to live sacrificially for one another. Now Paul shows that the love that marks the church must be active, not mere sentiment.
His first admonition in this passage is that love must be sincere. In the context of loving sincerely, he deepens his instruction by saying, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Generally we don’t think of love in the same context as hating evil and loving good. Yet Paul’s connection of these is significant. Sincere love is the goal of the gospel. In 1 Timothy1: 3-5 Paul tells Timothy to instruct people not to get distracted by “myths and endless genealogies” which lead to speculation rather than to advancing the administration of God. The goal of this instruction, he expounds, is “love from a pure heart with a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
In 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 Paul commends himself to them as God’s servant on the basis of his sufferings for the gospel. He lists an astonishing array of life-threatening situations he has encountered as well as physical privation, but he ends his self-commendation by listing fruit of the Spirit that has shaped his life: understanding, patience and kindness “in the Holy Spirit”, sincere love, truthful speech, and God’s power “with weapons of righteousness in our hands.” Sincere love is not mere sentiment; it is self-sacrificing care for another’s sake, and Paul has loved those for whom he worked with care that came from God. He has not suffered for them for his sake or even, primarily for their sakes—he has loved and suffered for them for God.
Another passage in 1 Timothy defines the purpose of the gospel in terms of outcomes: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” (1 Tim. 1:5-7). The gospel, in other words, is to produce pure hearts, good consciences, sincere faith, and love which flows out of these. A good conscience, a pure heart, and sincere faith would not embrace evil. Only love can reside in a heart and conscience transformed by the Holy Spirit.
The psalmist also connected love with hating evil. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil,” he wrote. God guards the lives of his faithful people. The love the Bible speaks of—love which hates evil and flows from a pure heart—is love that is from God and, as we saw in 1 Timothy 1:5-7, results from the news of God’s salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice taking root in and transforming our hearts and consciences.
The prophet Amos wrote to the rebellious nation of Judah shortly before the Assyrians took them into captivity. He admonished them to seek good, not evil, that they might live. Then, he said, God would be with them. He pled with Judah to hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts—and, if they dedicated themselves to this sort of integrity, “perhaps” God would have mercy on His remnant (Amos 5:14-15). Loving good is intimately connected to hating evil in this text.
To the Thessalonians Paul wrote the caution not to quench the Spirit’s fire. They were not to treat prophecies with contempt but were to test everything, holding onto what was good. They were to avoid evil of every kind.
In Ephesians Paul spelled out in more detail what a loving life avoiding evil would look like. They were to “put off falsehood”. They were not to sin in anger and give the devil a foothold. They were not to steal but to work. They were to let no unwholesome talk come out of their mouths but build each other up according to their need; They were not to grieve the Holy Spirit but were to get rid of all bitterness, brawling, slander, and malice. They were to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to one another just as in Christ God forgave them (Ephesians 4:25-32).
Love is the presence of God in a person’s heart, and when God’s love is present, there is no place for evil.
Honoring others above ourselves
Being devoted to one another in brotherly love, honoring each other above one’s self, is a uniquely new covenant reality. Jesus set the stage for this new way to live when He said He was giving His followers a new command: in the same way He loved us, we are to love one another (John 13:34). This sacrificial love, in fact, would be the mark of His disciples in a dark, self-protective world.
To be sure, the Old Testament commanded Israel to love one another as they loved themselves, but this command could not be fully realized as it is now possible to do, since God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus.
In Psalm 133:1-3 David wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” He continues by comparing brotherly unity to oil running down Aaron’s beard onto the collar of his robes. Further, he compares this unity to the dew on Mt. Hermon falling onto Mt. Zion where God bestows His blessing. The footnotes in the NIV Study Bible point out that in this psalm, David is connecting brotherly unity with two sources of blessing which defined Israel: God blessing them through the mediation of the priests, God’s general blessing that He bestows on all creation. In other words, David is linking brotherly love with the forgiveness and atonement promised by the priestly mediation of sacrifices on behalf of the people, and he also demonstrates that God’s direct blessing underlies the ability of people to live in brotherly love.
In this as in so many Psalms, David foreshadows the atoning work of Jesus, showing that the ability for fallen humans to love and honor one another is not possible separate from the atoning work of God and His overflowing bounty of love to all of us and all creation.
The Macedonian churches became models for sharing brotherly love and concern. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they needed to make good on their promise to take up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem who were suffering from famine. He reminded them that the Macedonian churches, who were impoverished, nevertheless overflowed in thankfulness to God and love for their brothers and gave generously out of their joy and their poverty. In his first letter to the Thessalonian church in Macedonia, Paul acknowledged that they had acted in obedience to God’s teaching to them. In fact, he said, the churches throughout Macedonia had been generous in giving to the needs of the church in distant places. He challenged them, however, to do “more and more” (1 Th 9:9-10).
Further, God’s love in people’s hearts makes it possible for them to do what is not possible for people to sustain naturally. Husbands are empowered to love their wives as Christ loved the church—sacrificially—,and wives are to respect their husbands. Naturally, men respect women more easily than they love them selflessly. Women, on the other hand, tend to love men with a controlling, almost maternal clutch rather than respect them. In Christ, however, these natural tendencies are overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are made able to do what we cannot do naturally (Ephesians 5:22, 25).
Likewise, children are to obey their parents, and parents are not to exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:1, 4), and slaves and master (and employees and employers) must treat one another with respect.
The author of Hebrews admonished his readers to “keep on loving each other as brothers” (Hebrews 13:1). Peter also told his readers that, now that they had purified themselves by obeying the truth so they had sincere love for each other, they were to love each other from the heart. Paul wrote to the Philippians that, if they had any encou8ragement from being unite with Christ, if they had any comfort from His love and fellowship of His Spirit, if they had any tenderness and compassion, they were to be like-minded with one another, “having the same love”, and being one in purpose and spirit. They were to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider one another better than themselves (Philippians 2:1-4).
Furthermore, Paul told the Philippians that he was sending Timothy to them so he could be cheered by news of them. He had no one else like Timothy, he told them. All the others looked out for their own personal interests; Timothy alone was concerned for them with genuine care (Philippians 2:19-22. Moreover, Epaphroditus, a Philippian who had delivered their monetary gift to him, was coming back to them. He had become sick and nearly died, and he was anxious and concerned about the Philippians because he knew they were worried about him. Paul, therefore, was sending Epaphroditus back to them so they would have their hearts put to rest (Ph 2:25-30).
Another way the Philippians showed their love was that they alone had shared with Paul in the matter of giving and receiving and had sent multiple gifts of support to him. They were one of the Macedonian churches wich had been so faithful in their poverty.
The issue of loving sincerely and esteeming one another highly is directly related to being born of the Spirit. He loves through us. He gives us the ability to become mature and attain to the whole measure of Christ. This maturing process occurs through the ministrations of pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, and apostles (Ephesians 4:11-16). As we learn the truth God teaches us, we put off unwholesome talk, bitterness, rage, brawling, slander, and malice. We become kind, compassionate, and forgiving.
In Christ we honor one another above ourselves, calling each other to a standard of trust and faith that is beyond natural. We hold each other accountable and minister to each other with the love of Christ.
Joy in hope; patience in affliction
Paul reminds the Romans to keep their zeal, serving the Lord with spiritual fervor. In Acts 18:25 this word “fervor” is also used to describe Apollos’ teaching. He had not yet learned of God’s finished work in Jesus, but he was fervently preaching about Jesus and baptizing with John’s baptism, for repentance. Priscilla and Aquilla taught him the truth about Jesus’ completed work of salvation, and he embraced this knowledge.
The point of the zeal and spiritual fervor to which Paul refers in Romans and which Luke described in Apollos is the fervor that comes from the Holy Spirit. The spiritual fervor Paul admonishes the Romans to exercise is driven by the power and presence of God in them. It is the source of and power behind all Christ-follower’s zeal and persistence in speaking for God.
In verse 12 Paul give apparently conflicting commands: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction…”For a Christ-follower, however, these two things are concurrent. The hope we have in Jesus is the only way we are able to be patient in affliction. Romans 5:5 says that hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. God’s love and our certain hope in Him persists even when we are afflicted. Our hope is confirmed by the Holy Spirit Himself who testifies with our spirits that we are God’s children. We wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies, groaning as we endure. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit literally prays for us when we do not know how to pray. Our hope is secure; God’s love is poured into our hearts even when we suffer, and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves (Romans 8:16-25).
Peter wrote poignantly about our proper response to suffering. In His mercy, Peter says, God gave us birth into new hope through the resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is being kept for us in heaven. Meanwhile, we are shielded by God’s power, and we rejoice even though we suffer. Further, we are filled—as we suffer—with inexpressible joy because we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls! (1 Peter 1:3-9)
The author of Hebrews also admonishes his writers to persevere. He asks us to remember the days we suffered insults and persecution. We are not to throw away our confidence, no matter what happens, because we will receive what God has promised us. We are not to shrink back (Hebrews 10:32-36).
Shortly before His death, Jesus told His disciples what they could expect as His followers in the future. In John 16:33 He said He was telling them these things about their coming persecution so that they would stay rooted in Him and thus to His peace. He said that His followers would have trouble in the world, but they are not to worry: He has overcome the world. Paul reminded Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12 that everyone who lives a godly life will be persecuted. In the reality of this persecution, however, we are to live lives that are worthy of the Lord, pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in good works and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened by His might and joyfully giving thanks to God for qualifying us to share with the inheritance of the saints (Colossians 1:10-12).
Luke 18:1-8 gives the story of Jesus telling a parable of the widow imploring an unjust judge until she obtained intervention in her plight. Verse 1 actually says that Jesus told this story to show the disciples that “they should always pray and never give up.” Even in suffering and trouble, we are to continue to implore our Father for His blessing and intervention. Paul also instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that we should always be joyful. We must pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is the Father’s will for us. In other words, even during trials our primary response to God needs to be praise for Him and joy in Him. Concurrently, we are to pray in all circumstances. These three commands are God’s will for us. We cannot separate our begging for intervention from our recognition and open praise for God and His sovereign love and care. Our petitions must be bracketed with praise and thanksgiving.
Paul was insistent about the necessity of prayer and thanksgiving. In Philippians 4:4-7 he instructed to rejoice in the Lord always. “Let your gentleness be evident to all,” he continued, and don’t be anxious about anything. With prayer and petition we are to present our requests to God—and the promise for us is that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He wrote related advice to the Ephesians. Right after his admonition to wear the armor of God, he said, “Be alert, and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ep 6:18).
Jesus Himself asked His disciples to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t just ask them to pray for His strength; He asked them to pray so they would not fall into temptation. Then He added, “The Spirit is willing, but the body is weak”(Matthew 26:41). Jesus knew that it would be hard for His people to stay alert in times if deep distress, suffering, and temptation. He also knew that staying in prayer was the only way to avoid falling into temptation.
As Christ-followers, we have to decide to honor the Lord Jesus in whatever happens. We have to choose to praise Him, to submit ourselves to Him in prayer and petition, and to thank Him for Himself in every situation. He keeps our joy alive when we stay centered in Him; he gives us the endurance to stay faithful, and He reminds us to keep praying, offering our circumstances to Him as acts of sacrifice for His glory.
Paul instructs the Romans that they are to have a social conscience; they are to share with the needy and practice hospitality. This responsibility, however, is not to be capricious or impulsive. Christ-followers have a primary responsibility: to care for their families and for the family of God. Just as parents are to first provide for their children before they so God’s people are to care first for the members of the body of Christ who are in need.
When Paul stood before Felix, he stated that “after an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings” (Acts 24:17). A famine had ravage Judea, and the Christians there were suffering. The Gentile churches growing up in Macedonia, especially, had responded to the need and had more than once raised money for their suffering Jewish brothers in Jerusalem.
Near the end of his epistle to the Galatians in which Paul sternly warned against being sucked into practicing Jewish laws and rituals, he gives practical advice. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10). Holy days, circumcision, and ritual practices, He told them, took their eyes away from Christ and endangered their faith. Godliness growing out of the work of the Holy Spirit, however, was God’s will. Caring for the family of God is our responsibility as member of His body.
A story from Elisha’s life further illustrates God’s intentions for how we are to serve one another. A wealthy woman in Shunem invited Elisha to stay for a meal when he passed through her town. She collaborated with her husband, and they built a room for him to use whenever he came in the future. They were even then following God’s principle of providing for those who teach and mediate God’s will.
Hospitality is one of the characteristics of a church overseer, or elder (1 Timothy 3;2). Further, if a family has a widowed parent or grandparent, they are to care for their own families, “and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Tim 5:4). Moreover, Paul said, “I anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). Even further, no widow was to be put on the list for receiving financial help from the church unless she was over 60, had been faithful to her husband, and was well-known “for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Tim 5:10).
The author of Hebrews further exhorts believers to “keep on loving each other as brothers.” We are to entertain strangers, and remember those in prison (Peter was referring to fellow Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith) as if we were their fellow prisoners (Hebrews13:1-3). Peter also instructed that we are to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” each person using whatever gift God has given him to serve others, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:9-10).
We are obligated to care for one another, beginning with our own families and including the family of God.
Bless our persecutors
Paul has been talking about how to live selflessly in the body of Christ. In verse14 he addresses a subject often harder to internalize: reacting to cruelty with God’s compassion. Paul doesn’t merely ask us to stay calm when persecuted; he instructs us to “bless, and do not curse” those who treat us cruelly.
Jesus emphasized that God’s people are to see persecution from God’s perspective rather than from a self-protective one. In His Sermon on the Mount he reminded his audience that they had always heard they were to love their neighbors but hate their enemies, but He was telling them to “love [their] enemies and pray for those who persecute [them], that [they] may be sons of [their] Father in heaven.” He further pointed out that God sends His provision in the form of sun and rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Pagans and tax collectors, Jesus said, are kind and friendly to those who love them. God’s people, on the other hand, need to be different from the pagans. They need to do what their Father in heaven does: be kind to and pray for their enemies. This redemptive response to evil is part of the perfection God asks of His people—perfection only possible by the power of God Himself (Matthew 5:43-48).
Luke records Jesus giving more detailed instructions regarding the proper response to an enemy on the part of one who honors God. Again he says to love one’s enemies, to do good to those who hate one, and to bless and pray for those who mistreat and curse one.
Further, those who honor God are to “go the second mile” for their enemies. We are to do to others as we would have them to do us (Luke 6:31). We are to love our enemies, “do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35). We are to be merciful, just as our Father is merciful (v. 36). If we do these things, we will be “sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
Moreover, we are to consider persecution and hatred for the sake of Jesus to be blessings. When we suffer for the sake of Jesus, we experience what the prophets experienced, and we are to rejoice because our reward in heaven in great (Luke 6:22-23). Jesus further reminded His disciples that they cannot expect more sympathetic reactions than He Himself experienced. “No servant is greater than his master,” he said in John 15:20-21; “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name for they do not know the One who sent me.”
Jesus also promised that when we suffer insult and slander for the sake of righteousness, we will be blessed. In fact, we are to rejoice and be glad when these things happen because our heavenly reward will be great. Besides, people treated the prophets this same way (Matthew 5:10-12).
Beginning with Jesus, the Chief cornerstone of the church, Christ-followers have suffered persecution for the sake of their loyalty to Him. Acts 7:59-60 records Stephen’s death by stoning. Just before he died Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell on his knees then and cried, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” Then he fell asleep. Stephen’s death demonstrates to us for all time the truth of Paul’s assurance in Romans 8:34-36 that no one can condemn us when we are in Christ. Jesus is at “the right hand of God” always interceding for us. Nothing—not even “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” or even death can separate us from the love of Christ.
Paul wrote poignantly about his own response to suffering in 1 Corinthians 4:11-13. He stated that he was often hungry and thirsty. He was in rags and was treated brutally. He was homeless. He worked hard with his hands. Yet, he said, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” He lived his life as Jesus did: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
We can expect that we will be misunderstood, slandered, persecuted, criticized, and otherwise distracted from our responsibility to proclaim Christ unwaveringly. Sometimes our suffering will even come in the form of misunderstandings or attacks from those who know us best. God asks us to expect these kinds of disruptions and to stay grounded in Jesus, taking our suffering and hurt to Him. He asks us not to disengage from life and reality when we feel abandoned or unfairly treated. Rather, He asks us to run to Him and find refuge in His love from which nothing can separate us. He asks us to trust Him to judge justly and not to waver, not to engage in battle with our enemies, whether they are unbelievers or close brothers. Jesus asks us to trust Him, to allow Him to guard our hearts and minds, and to keep us focused on the work He places before us regardless of the opposition.
Strengthen the weak
Along with blessing those who persecute us, Paul admonishes Christ-followers to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to mourn with those who mourn. He expands this command further in Romans 15:1-3: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’.”
In his speech of self-defense, Job iterated the ways he had been moral and righteous. Not understanding yet that even his righteousness did not qualify him to receive God’s blessing, that only repentance before a just and sovereign God could make him right with God, Job defended himself. One of his defenses was the fact that he had wept for those in trouble and grieved for the poor (Job 30:25), but then he expressed his own confusion that this sort of “outreach” did not yield the blessing he anticipated (Job 30:26).
Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane during which Peter, James, and John tried to pray for Him but continued to fall asleep illustrates the spiritual significance of praying for and strengthening the weak. Jesus asked them to pray for their own strength, that they would not fall into temptation. He knew what agony and pressure they would soon face as His followers in the intense spiritual battle that was unfolding. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” He asked when he found them sleeping; “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:40-41).
It was not only for His strength and support that Jesus asked the disciples to pray. He wanted them to pray for themselves. He knew, even as He faced the most intense struggle of His life, that they would be tempted and assaulted beyond their physical ability to withstand. Even their falling asleep was a triumph of flesh over spirit. Jesus needed His friends to be praying for Him—and He also knew they needed the strength of God to successfully withstand the coming days. He was concerned for them in the midst of His own suffering—but even more than that, He was pointing them to God in the midst of suffering. Jesus’ concern did not cause Him to become distracted from the work and prayer He had to do. It caused Him to check on them and to remind them to be alert and faithful to pray, but He did not “rescue” them. He pointed them to God and told them what they needed to do. It was up to the disciples to submit their weariness, their command to pray, and their ignorance of the situation to God.
God asks us to obey Him even when we can’t see what’s actually going on. He asks us to acknowledge our own limitations and to submit to the Father for strength and endurance and faithfulness.
Jesus’ example with His disciples illustrates how we live out Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” We are not to “rescue” the suffering from their trials or provide for them to the exclusion of their own engagement or endurance. We are to be humble and gentle, realizing that we are inherently like they. We are to be patient and bear with them in love. We are not to intervene and “fix” their situations; we are to point them to Jesus and remind them to trust Him. We bear with them, holding them in prayer and giving emotional and spiritual support—but we are not to become “enmeshed” with them in their own problems. Enmeshment keeps us distracted from the work God asks us to do, and it keeps the other from having to face the implications of what God is asking of them.
If we catch someone in sin, we are to “restore them gently”, but we must watch ourselves so we will not also be tempted. We are to carry each other’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ—but we are not to become drawn into the other’s rationalizations and self-indulgence. We bear burdens and call to accountability, but we point people to Jesus, asking Him concurrently to guard our hearts and keep us from being fascinated by the other’s sin.
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus had words of comfort for those crushed in their hearts, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” He said (Matt 5:4). In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Paul explains that when we suffer, it is for the purpose of experiencing the comfort of God so we can turn and comfort others who suffer. “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (2 Cor 1:6-7). The Lord Jesus works through us, His body to comfort and strengthen one another in Him. He walks with us through suffering and teaches us to trust Him, and He equips us to strengthen and comfort one another in their suffering.
Finally, Paul urges that Christ-followers be humble, willing to associate with “people of low position”. The body of Christ is not to be conceited or proud. This command goes against the natural tendency of humanity. In our unregenerate state, it is not possible to interact with others without self-protecting or self-promoting. This command like the others in the passage, are calls to Christ-followers to live by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by one’s normal impulses.
The Bible is full of instruction in humility. In Psalm131:1-2 David, the type of Christ, said to God, “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” He continues by saying he has stilled and quieted his soul; like a weaned child, his soul is quiet. In other words, he has learned not to clamor and demand what he thinks he needs. He has learned to trust God and to be still before Him, knowing He will provide. David doesn’t need to manage his own fulfillment.
Isaiah wrote in 5:21; “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” In the previous chapter, Isaiah 4, God clarifies why cultivating our own wisdom and cleverness is pointless: God exalts and honors those He sovereignly chooses apart from any good or noble behavior they might do to gain favor (v 4). He reiterates in 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” He says he strengthens Israel, even though they have not acknowledged Him. We fail to recognize God as sovereign when we feel we have to fight for position or recognition or even for the strength to do His will.
Paul wrote an extended passage in Philippians about the issue of humility and self-interest. In chapter 2 he admonishes his readers to be united in spirit and purpose. Then he tells them not to do anything out of “selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Furthermore, they should not look out merely for their own interests; they are to look out for the interests of others (v. 1-4).
Paul moves his exhortation to the next level in verses 5-11. He says we are to have the same attitude that Jesus had who made Himself nothing and took the nature of a servant. Then, after emptying Himself and becoming a man, he humbled Himself yet again and became obedient unto death on a cross. Because of His faithful obedience to God and His willingness to humble Himself completely before Him, God has exalted Him, and every knee will bow before Him.
From verses 12 to 18, Paul summarizes his instructions regarding the humility of a Christ-follower. He reminds them that God is at work in them, giving them the desire as well as the inspiration to do His work. “Do everything without complaining or arguing,” he demands (v. 14), “so that you may become blameless and pure. He tells the Philippians that in his suffering and service he is being “poured out like a drink offering”, yet he rejoices, and he shares his joy with them.
Later in the same book, Paul urges one of the leaders in the church to help Euodia and Syntyche to get along. We don’t know what their disagreement was, but we do know that Paul’s main concern was unity of purpose and love for one another. Neither was to “win”; each was to learn to agree with the other.
In Ephesians Paul writes at length about the unity accomplished at the cross in Jesus’ broken body. In 2:14-16 he explains that Jesus Himself is our peace; he has made the Jews and Gentiles one people by destroying “in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” He reconciled both people groups to God through the cross, “by which he put to death their hostility.” We have no excuse to look down on others; in Christ, we have all been made equal in the value before God.
In Ephesians 4 Paul discusses what a humbled and submitted life looks like. We are to be completely humble and gentle. We are to bear with one another in love and “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v.1-6).
Further, in verses 11-16 Paul explains that God gave the church the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher for the purpose of preparing His people for service so the body may be built up “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
This spiritual maturity, which is marked by unity in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus, will mean that the body of Christ will become less vulnerable to deception. This maturity will also be marked by people speaking the truth in love, and we will grow up into Christ who is our Head. He is the One who holds the body together as each part does its work which God gave.
It is noteworthy that this sort of maturity is described as happening within the fellowship of other believers. It does not happen to us alone. We cannot benefit from the ministry and personal experience of the pastors, teachers, evangelists, and those who speak the word of God into the lives of the body if we are isolated. There is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christ-follower. Such a person is isolated from the support, ministry, encouragement, and accountability of the whole body of Christ. Christ is the head of the body—and the body is composed of many parts.
In Ephesians 5 Paul elaborates further on the way we are to treat each other and conduct ourselves as members of Christ’s body. We must be wise, understanding the Lord’s will. We must not be drunk on wine but filled with the Spirit. We are to constantly engage in praise to God and encouragement to one another through songs and psalms, always making music in our hearts to God and giving thanks to the Father for everything. Finally, we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The book of Philemon has an interesting look at Paul’s practical view of humility in the body of Christ. Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon. Onesimus, Paul explains, “became my son while I was in chains”. When he ran away, Onesimus had come into contact with Paul, and he had become a spiritual son of Paul and had become a Christ-follower. Paul explains that before—prior to Onesimus’ being born again—he had been useless to Philemon. Now, he explains, he has become useful both the Paul and to Philemon.
Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. He reminds Philemon that Onesimus is now his brother, and even though he is Philemon’s slave, he is dearer now to Philemon even than he is to Paul because he is both a man and a brother in the Lord. Paul says he would love to let Onesimus stay with him, but he knows Philemon must give his permission for such a thing to happen. He says that perhaps Onesimus’ separation from Philemon was so that Philemon could have him back “for good”. And then he asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as he would welcome Paul himself. Further, Paul says if Onesimus owes anything to Philemon, Paul himself would pay it back.
This story is remarkable in that it describes how people of apparently opposite social classes must honor and care for one another as dear brothers when they are both alive in the Lord. The reality of our position in Christ supersedes the social constraints society imposes. Each Christ-follower, no matter in what social strata they find themselves, is a son /daughter and heir of God. We must be respectful and submissive to one another out of love for Christ and respect for His body—each other—loving and protecting each other as Jesus Himself loves and protects us.
The Lord Jesus is asking you to humble yourself before Him and accept His conviction in your heart about the ways He wants to grow and change you. You and God alone know where you struggle internally. You may have a secret fascination with temptation and certain kinds of evil. You may be superficial in your affection, using “niceness” and flattery as a way to gain favor for yourself instead of honestly respecting another. Perhaps you are lacking zeal for serving God, giving in to discouragement and irritability, forgetting to pray or being casual about prayer.
Some of us struggle with generosity, fearing for our own future and provisions. Some of us have short fuses that lash out when people hurt us—even unintentionally. Others of us lack empathy and fail to offer the comfort of Christ to our neighbors who are suffering. Some of us are just plain annoyed by many of the people around us. They may, indeed, be difficult people—but God asks us to learn to live in harmony. The responsibility lies with us to humble ourselves before God and to ask for His love and truth and strength when we are in contact with cruel or thoughtless people. Finally, He asks us to give up our feelings that we deserve recognition. We are to submit our natural tendency to want affirmation from one another to God, realizing that whatever He does through us for His glory. We are here for His glory, not for our own.
Ask God to humble your heart. Ask Him to show you what is true and real in your life, to give you the courage and ability to see what He wants you to see; to know what He wants you to know, and to change what He wants you to change.
Ask Him to make your heart soft toward Him and to hold you in peace and confidence even when circumstances seem out of control.
God is faithful. He gives us Himself, and He wants us to lean on Him. He asks us to trust Him, and He will take responsibility for our growth, our peace, and our discernment. He will give us His mind—but He asks us to surrender to Him our “right” to manage our circumstances. He is sovereign, and if we seek Him and His kingdom first, He will bring us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
He is faithful.
Evil and good
Share and bless
Rejoice and mourn
Now that Paul has named a representative list of God’s gifts to His people, he proceeds to specify the kinds of behaviors that should mark a Christ-follower’s life. Equipped by the Holy Spirit for special service, we all have the obligation to live sacrificially and lovingly with one another. In verses 3-8 Paul has emphasized a Christ-follower’s obligation to support others. Now he shows that the love that marks the church must be active, not mere emotion.
1. Verse 9 provides the framework for verses 9-21 by saying, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” It also connects sincere love with hating evil and clinging to good. How is sincere love related to loving good and hating evil? (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-7; Ephesians 6:13; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; Psalm 97:10; Amos 5:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; Ephesians 4:25-32)
2. In context, Paul is instructing Christ-followers, members of the His body, how to love and honor one another. What does it look like to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “honor one another above yourselves”? (see Psalm 133:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22-23; Philippians 2:1-4; 2:19-22; 25-30; 4:14-16; Ephesians 4:11-16; 25-32; 5:22, 25; 6:1, 4; 5-9)
3. What is the “hope” which Paul connects to “joy” in verse 12, and how is this joy in hope related to patience in affliction and faithfulness in prayer? (see Romans 5:5; 8:16-25; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Hebrews 10:32-36; John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12; Colossians 1:10-12; Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Ephesians 6:18; Matthew 26:41)
4. A Christ-follower has social responsibility, but it is not to be random. Who is to be the first object of his/her concern, and how should a Christ-follower respond to need? (see Acts 24:17; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Kings 4:8-10; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:9-10; Hebrews 13:1-3; 1 Peter 4:9-10)
5. Paul’s command to “bless those who persecute you” without cursing them echoes Jesus’ commands on the Sermon on the Mount. Up to this point in Romans 12, Paul has been addressing the Christ-followers responsibility primarily to living in the body of Christ. How does this command in verse 14 reflect not only Jesus’ instructions on relating to enemies (who may or may not be perceived to be in the body of Christ) but also the example of the earliest Christians? (see Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36; 6:22;23:33-34; John 15:20-21; Matthew 5:10-12; Acts 7:59-60; Romans 8:34-36; 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 1 Peter 2:23)
6. Paul enjoins us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. What other biblical models are there for coming alongside one another, and why is this important? (see Romans 15:1-3; Job 30:25-26; Matthew 26:36-37; 40-41; 5:4; Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
7. In verse 16 Paul admonishes the Romans not to be proud or conceited, but to live harmoniously, willingly associating with those of “low position”(or, according to a variant reading, “willing to do menial work”). Why is this attitude of humility necessary for Christ-followers? (see Psalm 131:1-2; Isaiah 5:21; Isaiah 45:4-5; Philippians 2:1-4; 5-11; 12-18; 4:2-3; Ephesians 2:14-16; 4:1-6; 11-13; 14-16; 5:15-21; Philemon :8-18)
8. Which of Paul’s exhortations is the most challenging for you ?
9. How is Paul’s description of life in the body different from the way you used to think of it? How is the body itself different?
10. What attitude is God nudging you to surrender to Him, allowing Him to change you and develop new responses in you?
11. Ask God to reveal to you the truth about yourself. Ask Him to teach you what He wants you to know about your own heart and to change you into His likeness, place His humility and heart of submission and service into you. Ask Him to keep you faithful and honoring Him and to glorify Himself through your life.
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