by Pastor Doug Stratton — August 30, 2020

Romans 12: 9-21

Romans chapter 12 is a transition point in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The first 11 chapters deal with doctrine. The theological terms are Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, and Christology. These doctrines lay the foundation for what Paul believed. And the “what we believe“ is important. However, Paul knew that “what we believe” is not enough.

Chapters 12-16 give us the rest of the story, and that is the answer to the question “so what?” The technical word for the instructions in 12-16 is Praxis. These chapters will deal with the practical application of our theology.

So listen now for the word of the Lord in Romans 12:9-21

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

CCI: Following Jesus is about living for Him day by day.

As I carefully read this passage, I became acutely aware of the fact that our decision to follow Jesus impacts every area of our lives. And Paul sums up everything he is going to say in this passage with the words,

“Love must be sincere.”

There is no better place to start. We are in the middle of presidential campaign, so I am sure we have all spotted at least of hint of insincerity in these last two weeks. And we have learned to live with insincerity in ourselves as well in the people around us.

But when love is insincere, trust evaporates. That is true in politics, it is true between neighbors, it is true in business, it is true in intimate personal relationships, and it is true in churches. I am sure we could all tell stories of insincere love. Sometimes it is hard to spot, other times it is clear. But we know it when we see it.

Paul seeks to define what it means to love with sincerity. This love begins by defining our standards “hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” Our society does not speak of evil very often, unless it is to point to someone we think is evil. The conventions over the last two weeks have each sought to define the opponent as evil. We look at those who disagree with us and label them or their group as evil. But when we do that, we create a monster who is no longer human, rather they have become more that human, they are evil incarnate. Paul did not say, “Hate those who are evil,” rather he said “Hate what is evil.”

And evil is identified in scripture in many ways. Our tongues are evil when we speak both blessings and curses. Greed is evil as we place things above people. Ambition is evil when we pursue position over people. Evil is found whenever we advance our own desires above people, James put it this way, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

To hate evil is to push it aside and instead cling to what God calls good as defined in Philippians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

When we meditate on these things, our minds and lives will be transformed.

Honor one another above yourself. This is a call to live counter to our culture. We are a me-first society, but we are called to think about the other first. This is not about self-hatred, but rather about community.

To love with sincerity is to be zealous in our service of the Lord – Joyful, patient and faithful. It is to eagerly share with one another.

Do we believe that our possessions are a gift of God? If so, we can hold them loosely and share them freely. A number of years ago I heard a speaker challenge those in attendance to always make our possessions available to any who need them. Perhaps we decide that our lawnmower is available to everyone in the community, or our childcare is shared with any in need. Is there a chance that some may take advantage of you? Of course, but when we honor others above ourselves, that is the risk we take. That is what it means to practice hospitality.

To love with sincerity is live a life of blessing, even with those who persecute you. We bless others when we freely pray for them, not prayers of curses, as the Psalmist does at times when he prays “let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow,” but prayers of blessing and redemption.

To love with sincerity is to refuse to take revenge, but to seek ways of living in peace.
In short, to love with sincerity is to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

While a college student, Heidi Neumark learned what is loving with sincerity meant when she volunteered for a year with a group called Rural Mission. She was sent to Johns Island—off the Carolina coast—where she learned from the sons and daughters of plantation slaves who allowed her to listen in as they sat around telling stories.

In her words:

The most important lesson I learned on Johns Island was from Miss Ellie, who lived miles down a small dirt road in a one-room, wooden home. I loved to visit her. We’d sit in old rocking chairs on the front porch, drinking tall glasses of sweet tea, while she’d tell me stories punctuated with Gullah expressions that would leap from her river of thought like bright, silver fish: Girl, I be so happy I could jump the sky!; I never could find out Miss Ellie’s precise age, but it was somewhere between 90 and 100. She still chopped her own firewood, stacked in neat little piles behind the house.

Miss Ellie had a friend named Netta whom she’d known since they were small girls. In order to get to Netta’s house, Miss Ellie had to walk for miles through fields of tall grass which were home to numerous poisonous snakes: coral snakes, rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and copperheads.

Netta’s home was not that far from Miss Ellie’s place, but there was a stream that cut across the fields. You had to walk quite a distance to get to the place where it narrowed enough to pass. I admired Miss Ellie, who would set off to visit her friend with no worry for the snakes or the long miles. I also felt sorry for her. Poor Miss Ellie, I thought, old and arthritic, having to walk all that way, through the thick summer heat and the snakes.

Then I hit upon the perfect plan. I arranged with some men to help build a simple plank bridge across the stream near Miss Ellie’s house. Our bridge was built in a day. I was so excited that I could hardly wait to see Miss Ellie’s reaction. I went to her house, and practically dragged her off with me to see the bridge. Look! I shouted, a shortcut for you to visit Netta!

Miss Ellie’s face did not register the grateful, happy look I expected. Instead, for a long time, she looked puzzled, then she shook her head and looked at me as though I were the one who needed pity. Child, I don’t need a shortcut; And she told about all the friends she kept up with on her way to visit Netta. A shortcut would cut her off from Mr. Jenkins, with whom she
always swapped gossip; from Miss Hunter, who so looked forward to the quilt scraps she’d bring by; from the raisin wine she’d taste at one place in exchange for her biscuits; and the chance to look in on the old folks who were sick.

Child, she said again, can’t take shortcuts if you want friends in this world. Shortcuts don’t mix with love.

What a powerful truth. We are addicted to shortcuts, but we are called to love, and the two can not live together.

As we come to a close, I want to read this scripture again, slowly. As I do ask yourself what action, word, or phrase that Paul identities will you adopt as a personal discipline this week. Please, comment with that which God is laying on your heart that we might pray for one another.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

~ Pastor Doug