Lesson 48: Romans 12:9-16
by Bob Burridge ©2012
When the Christmas season approaches each year, people make up wish-lists and start dropping hints to loved ones and friends. Stores put up displays designed to entice us to want the products they invested in and put up on their shelves. Commercials on television and ads that pop up on websites try to show us how delighted we will be if we buy their product. Children are made to think that this year’s number one toy will bring them endless hours of delight and fun. Teens become convinced that certain products will instantly make them attractive and popular.
Armed with scribbled or downloaded lists, and minds full of well dropped hints, we shop. To fulfill the dreams of those we love, we brave the traffic either on the streets, or on the internet. Urged on by the joy we hope to bring to those we deeply care about, we fill secret hiding places with gifts, and empty our bank accounts of our extra earnings.
The lists help us select what our loved ones have said they want. However, we need to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that these outward things will really make anyone truly happy, or that they are the best way to show our love and friendship. We need to keep our balance. Our shopping traditions, while probably expressing a genuine love in many cases, may also betray that we put our trust in the wrong things.
In our world of self-interests, people often look to find their joy and satisfaction in clothes, cars, toys, gadgets, entertainment, leisure, sports, and countless other things. They look for security to their investments, possessions, and savings. They measure their worth by earned titles, degrees, and how many people know them by name. Things like these become obsessions. None of them really provides a lasting sense of inner satisfaction. People who get them soon need more, better and newer of whatever they hoped will provide what they believe is missing.
Not that any of these things are wicked to have, but when we think they will bring us inner peace, security, joy and satisfaction, we have elevated created things over the promises and person of the One who made them. To be a healthy part of the body of Christ serving in this present world, we need to know the kinds of things God tells us are best to be the objects of our highest affections. In this next section of Romans Paul shows us that upon which the genuine Christian life should be centered.
As Christians, we ought to love with a genuine sincerity.
Romans 12:9a, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”
The word “hypocrisy” comes from ancient Greek. It came to be used in those times to describe actors playing a part in a play. Today, we say a person is a hypocrite when he pretends to have attitudes and convictions other than what is really in his heart. Dr. Haldane points out that our fallen society is filled with “false pretensions of love”.
The Bible is our Creator’s word to direct us in how those redeemed by Grace can live to show proper honor toward God. In a sense, it should be our operator’s manual for life. There God teaches us that love is not what the world imagines it to be. Our love should come from a heart made alive by Christ. It should reflect the undeserved love of God toward sinners whom he makes into his children.
To the world love is a confused mixture of unexplainable things. Some see it in outward acts of kindness and care for others. The word is often used for the satisfying physical and emotional needs in a romantic situation. Often it is seen as a feeling that mystically overtakes us so that we fall into and out of love passively. These things can all come from very selfish motives. People may to these things only to make themselves feel good or to get others to treat them favorably. They are not the essence of love as God explains it in his word.
Confused fallen people even say that it is love that moves them to abort certain babies, set murderers free, encourage sexual activities outside the bonds of marriage as God instituted it. These are not acts of love at all. They are tragic counterfeits. Biblically, love begins in the redeemed heart, evidences itself in godly actions and attitudes, and results in a good and satisfying feeling because of our engagement in what pleases God.
Those are the 3 elements of love in the Bible.
1. Its foundation is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate, we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can their center of concern change from self to God. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus as Savior, enabling the person to purpose and to do what formerly he could not and would not.
2. The evidence of love is obedience to what God commands us to be and do. Being born-again sets the person free form the bondage of sin and death. This makes the person want to do what is good and right, both toward God himself, and toward others.
Jesus is said in John 14:21 “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Love is always defined by the principles God has revealed to us in the Bible. There is no other way to know what is really right and good. The loving person’s attitude and behavior toward his neighbor should be what God says it ought to be. Also, his attitude and behavior toward God is what Scripture reveals is truly pleasing to the Lord. In this way love is something we can do as enabled by redeeming grace. It is not just something we feel. God commands us to love one another as an action, not as a feeling. 1 John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Therefore, Biblical love is concerned about the true needs of others as seen by God.
3. There is also a feeling of love. This is the blessing that God gives to those who humbly show evidence of his grace at work in their hearts. The feeling is a fruit of love, so it should not be mistaken for love itself. As feelings come and go people often believe they fall into and out of love, almost as if they were victims of forces of nature. Biblically we are commanded to love. It is something we do in obedience to our loving Redeemer. The feeling is sure to follow as the blessing God covenants to give when his ways are honored.
I define the general biblical use of the word “love” this way, “Love is an attitude implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled to obey joyfully the revealed desires of our Creator both toward the Lord Himself and toward one another.”
The love believers should have as members of the body of Christ should not be just an outward show, or a mystical feeling. It comes from redeemed hearts doing all things for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the spiritual growth of their neighbors.
We should not treat evil and good in the same way.
Romans 12:9b, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”
The lost soul has no standard by which he can identify what is good. He tends to think something is good if it makes him feel comfortable. He clings to those things, and avoids as evil whatever disrupts his security and personal peace. He may even see things God forbids as good things if they feed his selfish lusts. He will probably also see the good things God encourages as being time wasting annoyances.
Genuine Christianity should agree with God about what is evil and good. We need to cling to the good tenaciously, while we avoid evil. Bad things cannot simply be pushed out because you suspect they will keep you from happiness. That is just more self-centeredness. You must see how they offend God and therefore you become appalled by them.
To remove the evil it must be displaced by what God says is good. There is no moral neutrality or vacuum. If you wanted to get the darkness out of a room you don’t look for ways to chase it away. You get rid of it by filling the room with light. To successfully overcome hurtful attitudes and behaviors, you need to replace them with that which is good. Paul says you should cling to, become united with, what God says is good. Literally the words mean “be glued together with what is good.”
Our attitude toward others should be honorable.
Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;”
Instead of being devoted to self-needs, the Christian needs to look to the needs of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. The word for “brotherly love” is philadelphia (φιλαδελφία). It is the kind of affection family members have for one another.
We should be good examples by showing honor toward others in Christ’s family. Unlike the world, our goals in career and with friends should never be simply to out-do others. As Paul said it in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Serving the Lord should be the prime concern in our lives.
Romans 12:11,”not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”
The 1611 King James Version has “not slothful in business …” Today we think of the word “business” as having to do with commerce, buying and selling things, and managing a profit making company. That is not the meaning of the words here. The word translated “business” is more broad. It means any activity, whatever we set out to do. Believers in all their zeal need to be motivated in every area of life to be serving the honor of God.
In all we do, career included, we must do our best as those who represent Christ. In Colossians 3:22-23 Paul wrote, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”
There ought to be great joy in the believer’s outlook.
Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.”
The world around us follows the natural way of our fallen souls. It rests in temporal securities such as stable jobs, sound investments, savings, and good health. These are all very uncertain things which bring no assurance of happiness in themselves. Often, concerns about security become destructive worries and obsessions. The more people get, the more they worry about losing it.
When we are redeemed in Christ, we have a more sure confidence. God’s promises are at the foundation. By counting on his word we find hope in whatever circumstances we face, both gains and losses. That sure confidence becomes the foundation for real joy.
The Bible records those promises in undeniable clarity:
Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”
Hebrews 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,”
Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Difficult times can be endured and overcome.
Romans 12:12b, “patient in tribulation,”
Even in times of suffering we know that our God rules in heaven and earth. Life brings tragedies into every life at one time or another. We all experience losses and pain. But through it all we have that confidence that we are not alone. Psalm 23 reminds us that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. In those times we do well to remember Job, David, Habakkuk and so many others who faced losses and hard to understand circumstances. Trust in God, not that he will keep you from adversity, but that he will preserve you through those challenging times.
The true believer relies upon his Heavenly Father.
Romans 12:12c, “continuing steadfastly in prayer;”
Those who trust in God’s promise through Christ must learn to see the importance of prayer. Talking to our Heavenly Father who alone holds all things in his hands, is a great comfort. The greatest cure for human anxiety is to learn the power of personal and regular prayer. Paul, in advising the Christians in Philippi wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
A tragic loneliness comes to those who cut themselves off from communion with God in prayer.
We ought to show concern for the struggles
of others in the family of God.
Romans 12:13, “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”
The world around us would rather leave mercy and care to charitable agencies or government. However, God does not call institutions or governments to care for the needy. He calls his children to do it in love and in the name of Christ to bring glory to God. The greatest benefit in the work of mercy is not the relief of hunger, disease, or poverty. It is the promotion of God’s glory by showing the humble compassion he puts into his children.
The hospitality it speaks of here is not social entertaining in our homes. It is providing for those away from home and family when they have needs. Believers ought to budget their resources and time so that they are able to do all they can to be quick to take care of others in times of special need.
As Christians we should have
a godly response to persecutions.
Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
Here Paul summarizes a larger issue. The world is quick to curse those who trouble them. In contrast, we as children of God ought to actually bless those who treat us badly. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
How easily we respond with an angry glance, a sharp word, or a cold rejection when people take advantage of us, hurt us unjustly, or belittle what we hold dear. Some even respond with violence or try to cause harm and suffering in return.
But it’s to our shame when we act in a way so unlike Jesus Christ. His warnings to the haters of God and to his persecutors was never from personal hurt. He even prayed regarding the forgiveness of the civil crime of his own crucifixion. There were some yet to be redeemed who foolishly called for his death. The first Christian martyr Stephen prayed similarly.
We should learn to be more empathetic toward others.
Romans 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”
The world of fallen souls, of which we too would be a part if it was not for the grace of God, has little real concern for the feelings of others.
In the grip of sin, our society is moved by self-mindedness. When things go well for others, people often jealously wish that the blessing was theirs. When others suffer, they often distance themselves from the situation so their peace of mind will not be troubled. When the lowly in society face problems, the proud bask in their own success as if they were better than those who suffer.
Christians need to join with those who rejoice, to be happy for them and with them. We need to enter into the sorrows of others when they weep, and understand their suffering.
This verse is not so much calling for feelings of sympathy, which often looks down in pride upon troubled people in a condescending and haughty way. Rather it is calling for empathy.
The American College Dictionary defines “empathy” as, “entering into the feeling or spirit of a person”. Being of the same mind is to become united with their feelings about things. When God blesses them, we ought to thank God with them. When they endure adversities, we ought to struggle with them.
We dare not be concerned only for our own feelings and needs. We should learn to see through the other person’s eyes. Understand their struggles and needs. Remember that we are all sinners saved by and blessed by God’s grace alone. Calvin said “… a Christian ought not to aspire, in an ambitious manner, after those things by which he may surpass others, nor indulge in haughty feelings, but meditate rather upon modesty and meekness….” Ambition and personal drive is often the mask of selfish greed.
We ought not to dwell upon our own successes, and conceitedly take pride in our own wisdom. Rather we ought to rejoice in every success as God given. We should also learn to sorrow in every pain since it is the consequence of the fall of man.
A “God-first” attitude changes everything. What a wonderful blessing it would be if we could be such a person for our friends and loved ones. Be a friend, a brother or sister in the body of Christ, a bright spot in a shadowy world of self-interest. God in his word calls us each to develop these characteristics through the power of the one who gave himself that we unworthy rebels might become emissaries of the Creator of all that is.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)