Romans 12:9-21 – Keep to the left of evil!

Context

Romans 1:17 told us that ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ Paul took us through the content of that faith in chapters 1-11 to say that we must devote our trust in God fully for our righteousness. Chapter 12:1-2 began the new phase of Paul’s teaching on how to take this faith into the rest of your life. We are to offer God our bodies and our minds. The way that we use both of these parts of us: what we DO and what we THINK are to be given to God and moulded by the truth of faith. God is God and we are his creatures that needed rescuing.

This next section of Romans continues the theme of how to live out our faith around other people. Although God is in the business of saving and forming his church (the body of Christ, verses 3-8) we also need to live in a world which still hates God.

Observations

The NIV breaks these verses up into 3 paragraphs plus an indented quote. The ESV divides the passage into 2 paragraphs only (9-13 + 14-21). It’s interesting to work out where the paragraph breaks should go, if anywhere! Do you see any clear reasons for breaks?

Verse 9 opens with the charge to love and not to take part in evil. Verse 21 wraps up the whole section with a similar sentiment: don’t be swallowed by evil but kill it with the energy of good. So, the whole section seems to lean toward embracing the light side and staying away from the dark! There is a vibe of combating evil with good instead of with evil. As if two wrongs don’t make a right. If evil comes barging up behind you, huffing and puffing and blowing out smoke from its ears, keep to the left and let evil pass!

The section seems to offer a list of examples and areas of life where love is put into practice and evil is left for God to take care of. The message is: don’t take part in it.

So, let’s go through the verses and see what we see.

Verse 9. Remember the binary use of the words love and hate back in Rom 9:13. Love doesn’t refer only to those things that you are passionate about and hate only those things that you are passionate against. You are either for something or against it. Often when reading the scriptures we need to look into the way that the bible writers use words and not rely on our contemporary use of them.

Having said that, we are told that love needs to be more than just ‘an act of your will.’ Verse 9 tells us that love must be sincere. The ESV uses the word, ‘genuine.’ Not faked or pretend but something that you earnestly want to portray and practice. We can’t pretend to be Christians and we can’t pretend to love others. If this is a struggle with you and somebody else, then pray about that. Ask for God’s help as you put your trust in Him to sanctify your relationships.

‘Hate what is evil.’ This shouldn’t be misunderstood as ‘hate those who are evil’ since later (v14) we are instructed to ‘bless those who persecute you.’ But verse 9 must be talking about the practice of evil. Hate and abhor it. The positive reaction to evil is to ‘cling to what is good.’ Paul says elsewhere to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Don’t gaze at the negative and try to hate it, but set your eyes on the good things in life – the things that God blesses. Distract evil with good.

Verse 10. I like the way the ESV puts this verse: ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.’ It’s great to see family members getting along peacefully and enjoying one another. This may happen too rarley (!) but when it happens, it’s beautiful. We’re not being told to just love your brother though, we’re told to love one another. The way you do that is to put the other person first. Compete to see who can elevate the other higher! Encouraging one another like verse 7 said is a great way to promote honour and respect. How can we put that challenge into action?

Verse 11. Being fervent is to show passionate intensity – hot, burning or glowing! What a description of how to be spiritual! The question is, have you ever been this? We all display emotions and passions differently, so this really is a question for you to ask of yourself: am I passionate about the gospel? Am I 100% for King Jesus. Verse 11 defines zeal and spiritual fervour as ‘serving the Lord.’ Is this a priority to you? At home and at work and on the beach and in the city – do you do all things out of a clear understanding and dedication of your faith. Jesus said to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matt 6:33). Do you remember the zeal you had when you first became a Christian? Do you remember the passion you had for God when/if you were a teenage or young adult Christian? Has life and responsibility squashed that? The warning of the parable of the four soils will tell us that zeal for the gospel is important, or else the business of life will push it out of our minds and lower on our priority list.

How can you fan the flame of your passion and zeal for God? I listened to a good sermon today online and it reminded me of something I had not thought of for a while – it put a smile back into my faith.

Verse 12. ‘Be joyful in hope.’ I could write pages on these four words! It is hope that ought to give us joy! To think that we would not be joyful in hope is odd but then Paul thinks that this needs to be spelled out. There is no reason why we should think of all the promises of God that we look forward to in the resurrection and not produce joy in us. But, it’s one thing to know the content of the gospel and quite another to know that the gospel is for you! It’s one thing to know that Jesus died on the cross for sins – quite another to know that Jesus died on the cross for YOUR sins. It’s one thing to know that heaven will be a great place (I suppose) quite another to know that Jesus has gone away to prepare a place for YOU and he prayed for YOU while he thought about going to the cross (John 17). Like a child who can’t stop smiling on Christmas eve, our faith, when we meditate on it, when we talk about it, when we hear encouragement from one another about it, our faith is a prepaid eternity of rest and play. There might be a long time to wait for it, but the thought of it should warm our hearts and make us smile.

When afflicted: be patient like a person who knows there is relief coming.

Your prayers: constant, unshaken, trusting in the one who is listening.

Verse 13. Two more aspects of love is to share and to welcome. Both of these things we are simply told to do.

Verses 14-16. I’d like to make a broad statement about these 3 verses. They seem to tell us to embrace everyone. If someone is attacking you: embrace them. If someone is celebrating: cheer on their team. If someone is crying out: give them your shoulder. If someone seems different to you: be a chameleon and become like them. Don’t distinguish yourself from everybody else but sing with them.

Verses 17-20. The sentences on their own here are fairly straight forward and clear – it’s the principle that might be hard to understand. The principle comes down to who the Judge of this earth is – and it is God. Deuteronomy 32:35 is quoted in verse 19 as well as Proverbs 25:21,22. Our job is to be God’s holy people who were called out of darkness to live in the light and be a light to the world. It is God’s business to avenge and he will do it very well. When we show compassion and love and kindness and care in the face of hostility and anger and hate, then, if that person doesn’t repent and turn to Christ, it will be like adding heat to the fire on judgement day. When Jesus told the crowd to love their enemy, he didn’t intend for the enemy to get away with everything. He just meant to leave the justice to God.

Verse 21. It will harm us when we get into battle to fight against evil to try and overpower it. We will be swept up in the same evils. The best tool against evil is to embrace righteousness. Replace evil with good.

Meaning

  • Love, in all it’s forms, is the best weapon we have.
  • Love and hate; light and dark; good and evil; our choice is not to convert the latter but to be the former.
  • Don’t focus on what HATE and EVIL isn’t – focus on what LOVE IS!

Application

  • There are many applications here. The trick is to move beyond the general principle and to put some real examples into place.
  • Cling to what is good. Keep passionate about serving the Lord. Show love to those around you. Practice being good.
    • How do you practice being good in the church and in Growth Group?
    • How do you practice being good in the workplace?
    • How do you practice being good while commuting?
    • How do you practice being good in the shopping centre?
    • How do you practice being good in your own home?

Prayer for the week

Dear Father God, we praise you for the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who succeeded in all the challenges that Paul lists for us this week. We ask for your Spirit to guide us, to teach us and to provoke us toward love and good deeds. Because of the mercy that we have received and learned from you, help us to show love and mercy to everybody we meet. Thank you for the hope you have placed in our hearts. Help us to cling to that hope with all the joy that it brings. Amen.

 

Romans 12:3-8 – thinking highly of God’s grace on the church

Context:

The blog has been at rest for a few weeks due to school holidays. Although the schools across NSW have been back for a week now, many groups have chosen to use this first week back as a social time where we get to know one another better and just have some laughs. If that is not the case for you, then I hope you enjoyed Romans 12:1-2 together without the blog behind you.

We have been reading through all of Romans this year and have reached chapter 12. I’m sure that any commentary you picked up on the book of Romans would describe how chapters 12 and onwards (minus some personal greetings in chapter 16) are focused on the outworkings of the first eleven chapters. That is, given how huge and generous God’s mercy is, this is now how you are to act. You could describe chapters 12-16 as the practical part of Romans. You could, but don’t be mislead to thinking that there is no more theology in them, nor that there was a desert of application in chapters 1-11!

Given the abundance of God’s mercy, 12:1-2 tells us to present ourselves willingly to the Lord with all we’ve got. True spiritual worship is to know the mind of God and mould our minds to his. True spiritual worship is to reflect and feed on the word of God, learning of his mercies and give him everything we’ve got. So what does THAT look like? Welcome to verse 3…

Observation:

Verse 3: Paul has something to teach us now and his credentials are simple...’by the grace given him.’ In verse 7 he will exhort all who are given the gift of teaching to teach! He is exercising this gift at verse 3. His gift, by grace, is to teach – and so that is what he will do. It’s not by some authority that he has to lord it over others. He doesn’t think of himself as more important than his readers. He’s not their priest or father – remember how he longed to be with them in Rome back in chapter one so that they could mutually feed on one another’s faith. He has been given the gift to teach. But more on that later.

He teaches us to ‘not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.’ The context makes this clear – God has shown us great mercy – don’t pretend that you are a champion all on your own. Our sinful nature will try to convince you that you are something great and someday the world will stop and wonder why they never noticed such an amazing person like you sooner. You’ll be on the front cover of TIME magazine and interviewed every time public opinion is needed. The reality is though, that even the things that you are good at, are gifts given to you by God. We are told by Paul to ‘think of yourself with sober judgment.’ Give yourself a reality check. Your time here on earth is short, it is unlikely that you will do anything of huge earthly significance and even if you do (like invent the hover-board before 2015) you won’t be remembered for all that long and who cares if you are! You’ll not be around to enjoy the benefits. But God has given us this time on earth to listen to His Son, to receive Him as Lord and Saviour and to influence the small crowd that you interact with in your life so that they too will hear and receive the mercies of God. That’s sober-minded. And what an amazingly important and crucial thing you will be doing by working for the Lord for eternal treasures!

Added to this, Paul says, ‘in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.’ This could mean that different people are given different measures of faith and some are called to do greater things than others. This isn’t the way that faith is described in the bible, however, as it is not to do with the size of our faith but with the object that our faith is directed toward. I believe it means, on the other hand, that we are to have a sober mind with the amount of understand faith God has given you! That is, cast your eyes over the view of God’s mercies – they are plenty and they are wonderful. As you look at that view, be sober minded. Your faith is in the unmeasurable depths of God’s grace and mercy. That’s how sober minded you ought to be. Do you understand God’s mercy? Then by the faith you have put in these mercies, consider how level headed you ought to be about your own priority. Everybody in the church around you has received the same amount of grace and mercy if they have turned to Christ. Don’t think you are any better than anybody you worship alongside. We do have various degrees of maturity in the church, however – those who have considered the mercies of God longer and those who are weakened by the pull, the hardship and the temptations of this world. This leads us to the metaphor of the church.

Verse 4: This verse is the first half of a metaphor and describes the image of the metaphor. The church of Christ is a body – think of your own body – we are not blobs made up of identical cells but we are a complex creature with many different limbs and organs and functions and purposes. Paul has used this metaphor in his other letters: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 and Ephesians 4:16.

Verse 5: The metaphor of the body refers to the church. The qualification for being part of the church is that you be ‘in Christ.’ That is, of the same faith that Paul has been describing since chapter one. If you depend on Christ Jesus for your salvation and your relationship with God for eternity then you are part of the church. If you declare with your lips that Jesus is Lord and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you have been grafted into the body of Christ. Do you have to go to church in order to be part of it? No and YES! How can you be a healthy part of the body unless you are interacting with the body. If I leave my foot behind and let it fend for itself, unattached to my leg  – it will die! Each member of the church belongs to all the others! Think on that! If you are in Christ, then you belong to the other members of the church!

Verses 6-8: Several gifts are mentioned in this section but all are introduced with the simple lesson that gifts are gifted from God – by grace. Merited to those who don’t deserve them!

Prophesying: this is not to be understood as someone who can predict the future. It should be understood as someone who is able to speak the words of God into the culture and times that they are in. See the explanation of Aaron as a prophet to Moses in Exodus 7:1-2. The focus of prophecy in Numbers 12:6-8 is not the method of prophecy (visions and dreams) but that God speaks to them and they are God’s mouthpiece. See Deuteronomy 18:15-22 on the purpose of a prophet – to speak only what the Lord has told them to say. Lastly, know that God has spoken now through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-4). The Word of God has come and the Holy Scriptures have been written down (2 Tim 3:15-17). What we need now is not people who can give us new dreams and visions but those who can correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)! We call them preachers.

‘In proportion to his faith.’ This is tricky. It seems to reflect the similar phrase in verse 3. This can be understood to mean that those who speak the words of God are to reflect the understanding of faith that they have received. A young prophet or preacher will be less informed by wisdom than an older preacher. Young preachers ought to have a sober mind about how much they know. (NB: I will be doing some more commentary work on this phrase later this week for myself to try and be more confident in this understanding).

Serving: a servant is someone who assists and cares for the needs of their master. The idea of service ought to be as common in the church as pews. On the night of the last supper, Jesus washed his disciples feet and told them to do likewise – not to become feet washers but to serve one another. Don’t treat yourself as more highly than anyone else. Ultimately, we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves – this is the act of service through love (Gal 5:13-14). Paul describes himself as a servant of God (Rom 1:9; 2 Tim 1:3) and describes those who preach the word in the church as servants (1 Cor 9:13-14), and Peter describes those who oversee the things done in the church as servants (1 Peter 5:2). All of us in the church are called on to serve – in fact, whatever gift you have been given by God must be used to serve others (1 Peter 4:10).

Teaching: If God has given you the gift to teach then teach. Don’t keep your knowledge in and deny others of the learning that you have. This is why we have theological colleges, and this is also why we have the church, so that we can be equipped by the preachers and teachers of the church to grow in maturity of faith together (Eph 4:12 onwards). But be sure to put this test in place: do not think yourself more highly than you ought and teach others under the guidance of faith.

Encouraging: this simply means to give somebody else courage! To build them up and help others to have strength in all of life – to keep the faith and to fight the good fight. This can be done by words or by letters on a card or by an arm over someone’s shoulder. Thank God that he gives us people in the church that can encourage us when we are feeling week or low – does your Growth Group have this kind of a culture?

Contributing to the needs of others: if you are quipped to give to the needs of others, remember the generosity that God showed you in providing for your needs. The grace of God is to produce the graciousness of His people. The generosity of God is our model.

Leadership: Note two things – 1) the NT instructs us to have leadership in our churches. They are given titles like overseers  who over see everything in order to protect and guide and pastor the flock and like deacons  who are described as servants. Our greatest leader, the Lord Jesus Christ did not come to be served but to serve. So leadership is not tyrannical but there is a definite place for leaders in the church who have a proven background of faith, self-control and care for others. 2) given that there are leaders in the church, it is right for those who are not leaders to regard their leaders with respect and love. If you are to be a leader, then be a good leader. If you have someone leading you in your faith, then let them govern and support you in every way that you can. They are God’s gift to you as you are a gift to them.

Showing mercy: aren’t we all called to show mercy? The challenge is for us to do it cheerfully. Be slow to anger and abounding in love. Show mercy in view of the mercies of God.

Meaning:

The gifts listed in this passage are not exhaustive but they are also not very rare! Who of us are NOT called to serve, encourage, contribute to the needs of others and show mercy? You could also say that so many of us are given the privilege of preaching the word of God in our homes, therefore prophesying; teaching others; and leading others in our homes or ministry teams. All of these gifts and any other gift that you can imagine must be practiced with humility before God and with love to one another.

As a saved people, we ought to view one another as parts of the same body. Love one another and serve. Anything that you have to contribute ought to be done knowing that God has raised you from the dead and you are now partnering with others who have also been raised from the dead.

By the grace of God in Christ, we are the church of God in Christ, and each of us belongs to one another. (23 words – can you summarise this in less words?)

Application

The word humility comes to mind here. The word does not mean to put yourself down or to refrain from being good at anything or think of yourself as a good for nothing. It means to refrain from boasting. It means to act without seeking reward. It means being aware of your ability and deciding to put it to use for the sake of others over yourself. These are my words to define humility… Here’s what John Dickson writes, “Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status and use your influence and resources for the good of others before yourself.” Anyone in the world can practice being humble. But this passage calls us to be humble through our clear recollection of God’s grace shown on us. When we act and plan, consider what God has done for you.

The church is the place to serve. Our modern educated mind will fight this idea and try to explain that we live in a bigger world today – that because of the internet our communities can be spread right across the globe. Why then keep supporting the local church of yester-year. Life is also much more hectic these days and there is less time in our weeks to give to the local church. I can be a Christian in every little external community that I have. These thoughts confine church to being a man-made society which is becoming or has already long become out-dated. That might be exactly the way the world sees church – but God sees the church (the local gathering of believers that represent the greater universal church) as an essential nurturing place for Christians. Everyone in Christ belongs to one another. It is the place to hear the word of God, to be served by your brothers and sisters, to learn and grow in your Christian understanding, to be encouraged, to receive help when in crisis, to find guidance from wiser and maturer Christians and to be accepted even when you don’t feel you should. It is also the place to take the things that God has nurtured in you and to share those with others.

Romans 9:1-29 if God is not for us…

How much are you willing to get to know God? What if you discovered something about God that was upsetting to you? What could you do about that? Paul has been describing the position of rebellion that we are all in and the size of God’s grace and mercy to redeem us and make it right. God has been truly amazing in his mission to save his people. But what about those who are not his people? How should we think about the fact that not everybody is saved?

Romans 9-11 are three chapters of a block of thought. That is, for the next three chapters, Paul will take us through the theology of God’s promise being fulfilled for the true Israel and not for the blood line of Abraham. God never promised that he would save everyone.

CONTEXT

Romans 8:31-39 celebrated the confidence of knowing that if God is for us, then we have God on our side. Verses 37-39 proclaimed how nothing and nowhere can remove us or transport us away from the love of God. God is for us and God loves us! The condition? We are to be ‘in Christ Jesus’. Then, Jesus will intercede for us. Then, the Spirit will work in us to transform us.

Who then is responsible for our salvation? Did we choose Jesus? No, it is God who chose us (v33). It is God who chose us and is therefore for us and loves us. It is in his love for us that he has chosen us.

Paul has, from the beginning of Romans, claimed that salvation comes to all who believe. There is a human expectation in salvation. It does not find fruit in anyone who does not believe. But even belief and faith come from the fact that God has chosen us.

Romans 9:1-29 contemplates this question: who has God chosen? Wasn’t it the Jews? And doesn’t that make all who were not chosen, innocent?

OBSERVATIONS

Romans 9:1-5

Paul proclaims the Jews as priviledged and blessed in huge ways and laments that not all who are Jews will be saved.

Paul still has a national pride.

He also has great love for his nation which will be damned unless they believe.

Notice his passion for the lost. This is a passion for both the people and for the message of the gospel.

Notice how linked the gospel is to the Jews – it is through Abraham’s offspring that came salvation!

Romans 9:6-9

The children of Abraham are not by blood but by promise! The rules have not changed. It has always been about God choosing one instead of another! Isaac and not Ishmael.

God has not broken his promise. He has not changed his mind. He has not had second thoughts. No, the word of God has not failed. We just need to work hard at understanding his word.

Romans 9:10-13

So, if the story of Ishmael and Isaac was not convincing enough, check out Rebekah’s kids: conceived at the same time and yet even before they were born, God had decided which child he would bless.

It is not by works but by the calling of God. I wonder, if Esau had proven to live without sin, would he then still be glorified? I’m thinking yes, hyperthetically, but this is not possible. Unless God redeems us, we are marked by our own sin and rebellion.

“Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.” Rom 9:13

“Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” Mal 1:2-3

I chose Jacob and rejected Esau – this is really the essence of the quote.

How do we juggle the contrast between this statement and the statement that God does not show favouritism? How do we juggle the contrast between this statment and the statement that God so loved the world?

The quote from Malachi is a message of love toward the Jews to remind them of how God has loved them. They received all the blessings of God while Esau has not. We are best to understand the meaning behind love and hate as chosen or rejected – elected or rejected. Along with the election comes the blessings of God. Rejection is absent of that.

Douglas Moo writes: ‘”Love” and “hate” are not here, then, emotions that God feels but actions that he carries out. In an apparent paradox that troubles Paul (cf.9:14 and 19 following) as well as many Christians, God loves “the whole world” at the same time as he witholds his love in action, or election, from some.’ (Moo, Douglas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1996, p587).

Romans 9:14-18

Paul wants to defend the statement of grace that means it is not about us choosing God but about God showing mercy to whom he chooses.

Consider what this means for those who are saved – it is God who knew you before you knew him, it is God who determined to save you, it is God who sent the gospel message to you, it is God who justified you, and it is God who is glorifying you (Rom 8:29-30). But for the grace of God, you would be Ishmael, or Esau, or Pharoah.

Consider Pharoah. God did not determine to save him. But in the story of Pharoah, he saw all the marvelous works of God. He spoke to God’s messenger face to face. He was asked to obey the will of God. But he didn’t. His heart was hard. There was no desire in Pharoah to seek God. There was no heart yearning from him to know and understand the truth. Did God harden his heart? Yes. Is God to blame for his evil? No.

Romans 9:19-21

This is the obvious objection from anyone who is curious about predestination and election. If it is not in us to choose God, then when God doesn’t choose us, that’s his fault and not ours. Paul’s answer smacks of rebuke. This is the wisdom of God.

Reflect here on what it means to worship God. He is not the God who we construct and mould. He is the God who moulded and created us! Let’s get that straight.

Romans 9:22-29

Paul focuses our attention on the correct angle to consider this topic. It is a miracle that anybody is saved! Some are objects of God’s wrath and others are objects of his mercy. Praise God that for the benefit of those he has chosen, he made his own Son the object of his wrath! For our sake, he hated the son in the same way that he hated Esau. He chose to bless us at the expense of his beloved and eternal Son.

He has made us his people who were once not his people. And we can be part of the promise even though we are not blood children of Israel. But we are now children of Abraham and children of God’s because of the love shown to us in Jesus!

THINGS TO CONSIDER

While a discussion on predestination is important and useful – don’t lose focus on why this passage is put here! We are saved at the mercy of God. The focus in on his salvation rather than his exclusion.

The purpose for Paul writing this section only underscores the need for the gospel. You cannot just sit on your ancestry, upbringing, western culture or any other identity to declare that you are saved! You can’t even declare you are one of God’s children simply because you attend church regularly. No, we must hear the gospel, understand it and embrace it!

Predestination or election does not mean that we don’t do anything either. We know that Esau was rejected because he thought lowly of his birthright. We know that Pharoah was unsaved because of the way he responded to God’s word. We know that a true Israelite by faith – a spiritual child of Abraham – is a child of God because of their changed heart and love for the gospel.

Notice that Paul is certain of the continuity between the Old Testament and the New. Between the God of the Jews and the God of the Christian. He sees Christianity, not as a new religion, but rather a continuation of the true Israel.

How can you know if you are one of his elect? Simple, listen to God’s word, consume it, respond to the gospel in faith. Only the elect will declare with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that he was raised from the dead. If you know this and you know the life changing implications of this, then you are loved by God and praise him for that!

APPLICATION

Love The Lord your God a) because he has made you (vv20-21) and b) he has loved you.

Preach the gospel to all. Only in eternity will we know who has been called for glory.

Read the bible for all its worth! There is so much to learn. There is so much to struggle with. There is so much knowledge of God to still discover. The gospel begins for us with God’s knowledge of us! We spend so much time in our lives getting to know things that don’t know us – like stars in the sky, devices that we carry in our pockets, celebrities who don’t know you exist, and about TV characters and their lives – how much time do we spend getting to know the very person who knows you better than you know yourself and who loves you more than you can ever imagine.

Know your Old Testament. The gospel didn’t begin with Jesus in a manger or even with Mary being met by an angel. It began, in once sense, with a man named Abraham who God chose to bless. Learning about the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob gives us great insights into the gospel. It shows us how God loves those who are not lovely, trustworthy or brave. That God blesses families even though they hate one another. That God drives his promises forward despite disbelief, deceit and tragedy. How much do we need to hear stories like that to help us battle with our own lives and our own faith.