Our best friends are those who have seen us at our best and at our worst yet still love us. They are the friends who have survived our anger, dried our tears, and sat with us in police stations and hospital waiting rooms. How many times have you heard someone say, “When I was going through such and such a difficult time, I found out who my true friends were”?
In Romans 12:9-13 I told you that I believe the Greek construction of the text necessitates that we see verse 9 as a general principle and verses 10-12 as the example or specifics of how that principle is applied. This makes interpreting verses 12 and 13 a little more difficult to understand. If we see these verses as merely isolated commands that came to Paul’s mind while he was writing, we can draw all kinds of lessons from his words. However, if these verses are really about interpersonal relationships then we have to ask the question: how do these admonitions illustrate sincere love? Our goal is to hear what Paul was trying to tell us. He writes,
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Let’s examine the phrases one at a time.
JOYFUL IN HOPE
Hope is not merely wishful thinking. It is the ability to see beyond the present to the glorious future that awaits all who believe. Hope is something joyful because we know we are children of God. We know we are loved. We know God is great, good, and wise. The opposite of hope is despair.
Now, how does this relate to relationships? I think Paul is telling us that when we rejoice in hope we focus on what COULD be rather than on what is. We focus on potential rather than the problems. We look past the petty irritations and realize that God is fitting us for Heaven. People who are rejoicing in hope refuse to give up on other people.
Max Lucado writes,
It would be hard to find someone worse than Judas. Some say he was a good man with a backfired strategy. I don’t buy that. The Bible says, “Judas …was a thief. He was the one who kept the money bag, and he often stole from it” (John 12:6). The man was a crook. Somehow he was able to live in the presence of God and experience the miracles of Christ and remain unchanged. In the end he decided he’d rather have money than a friend, so he sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas was a scoundrel, a cheat, and a bum. How could anyone see him any other way?
I don’t know, but Jesus did. Only inches from the face of his betrayer, Jesus looked at him and said, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Matt. 26:50). What Jesus saw in Judas as worthy of being called a friend, I can’t imagine. But I do know that Jesus doesn’t lie, and in that moment he saw something good in a very bad man. (Just like Jesus p. 123, 135)
This is what joyful hope does. It realizes that this life is a battle. It sees that some people get caught up with the principalities, powers, and spiritual forces of wickedness, but it never loses sight of the fact that “greater is He who is in me, than He who is in the world.”
PATIENT IN AFFLICTION
There are times in our lives when things don’t go as we expect,
You are an honest businessman but you get crushed by those who have no business ethics
You take someone at their word and find that they were only telling you what they believed you wanted to hear.
You trust someone by telling them about a personal struggle and they tell everyone else
You do everything the Doctors tell you and you don’t get any better.
You bail out someone who swears that they have changed or will change, but they don’t
You give your best years to someone in marriage and they reject you.
You forgive someone for the way they hurt you but they take advantage of you again.
You help someone who is having difficulty and they sue you!
In these trying and frustrating times we tend to react. We strike back when someone says something to us. When someone does something mean and hurtful, we respond in kind. We are quick to simply turn away and conclude that people are not “worth the effort”. This is where we need to be patient in affliction.
In 1 Corinthians 13:7 Paul told us that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” The New Living Translation has, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I think this is what Paul is talking about here.
- Patience allows room for God to work, teaching us, instructing us, and refining us through the furnace of affliction. The difficult times are when God often builds in us the deepest character.
- Patience understands that sometimes people are under stress and you catch them at a really bad time. The patient person is willing to take time to understand.
- Patience understands that though we are forgiven, we are not perfect. We all still struggle to apply our Christianity in our living. Some days we are more successful than others.
- The patient person understands that change comes slowly.
In simplest terms, patience means considering your relationships to be important enough to “hang in there”.
BE CONSTANT OR PERSEVERING IN PRAYER
This is a Biblical theme we come back to again and again. . . if we want to grow in the Lord . . . if we want to make an impact in the lives of those around us . . . we must not give up on prayer. The word for “continuing in” means to give constant and steadfast attentive to, to wait on continually.” We are to be determined in our praying.
Why does love demand that we be constant in prayer? Two reasons. First, love comes out of our relationship with the Lord. We will love only to the degree that we have experienced love. Prayer allows us to bask in the grace and love of God. Prayer helps us align our hearts and gives us the perspective we need to grow in our relationships with those around us.
Second, if you truly love others you will know that the best thing you can do for another person is uphold them in prayer. It is impossible to hate another person if you are praying for them. You will not strike out against someone if you have been on your knees sincerely praying for that person. True love refuses to give up on anyone. True love turns to prayer because it understands that only God can change a human heart.
A person of prayer always remembers
The apostle Paul who had formerly persecuted the church
Zaccheus the tax-collector
Nicodemus, the Pharisee
The demon-possessed crazy man that terrorized a town
The woman at the well who had had five husbands and was currently living “in sin”.
The womanizer and party animal by the name of Augustine who became on of the leading theologians and leaders of the church.
The drunk slave trader by the name of John Newton, who wrote the song “Amazing Grace” following his conversion.
The political hatchet man by the name of Chuck Colson who was transformed and began Prison Fellowship
In each case, these people had those who refused to give up on them. The person who has genuine love continues to pray for the wayward child, the cheating spouse, the overbearing person at work. They continue to pray for that person “who rubs them the wrong way” and “pushes all their buttons”. They do this because they know that God can transform even the hardest heart. True love reveals itself on its knees.
The person who truly loves is generous. The word translated ‘share” is the word Koinonia. “It means to enter into fellowship or make one self a sharer or partner.” In other words generosity means that we view the needs of another as our own.
When there is a family crisis (and remember, we are to be like family members) the close family rallies together. It is at this time that family members pool their resources. In times of a family crisis people will mortgage their homes, tap into their 401k, and borrow against life insurance in order to help out a family member. That is what love does.
The person who has authentic love understands that every material blessing is either a tool or a shackle. The material can enslave us. We can spend everything we have gaining more stuff for ourselves. When we do this, obviously we have nothing left to share with others. When we refuse to be generous, we show that we value stuff over people. Before long we will begin trusting what we have rather than the Lord who gave it to us. We spend all our time building mountains of garbage and sacrifice relationships to do so. The generous person invests in people rather than stuff.
Being generous is not the same as being a patsy to every sad story. We must still evaluate the genuineness of a need and determine the best way to help. Sometimes the loving thing is to NOT bail someone out of a situation. The key however is our willingness to use what we have been given to help those who are around us.
The command to show hospitality is an extension of the command to be generous but expands it to include strangers. 1 Peter 4:9 says, “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” In Hebrews 13:2 we are told “don’t forget to entertain strangers because by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Remember the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25 “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was imprisoned and you visited me.” The best way to show our love for Jesus is to extend hospitality to others.
We’ll grant that in Paul’s day this was so much more important than in our own. In those days there weren’t restaurants and hotels like we have today. People traveling often had little and could not afford the Inns of the day. At a time when many Christians were being dispersed throughout the world it was all the more important to show hospitality to people. Traveling ministers (including Jesus) depended on the hospitality of others.
When we open our homes and hearts to another we extend a special blessing. There is an intimacy and warmth that comes from sharing a meal together. It is not an accident that the Bible talks about Heaven as the Heavenly banquet. At that time we will be welcomed in to house of God and we will feel more loved and at home than at any other time in our lives.
Here’s a powerful illustration of the kind of generosity and hospitality the Bible talks about. Former televangelist Jim Bakker spoke of events that occurred immediately after his release from prison:
When I was transferred to my last prison, Franklin [Graham] said he wanted to help me out when I got out—with a job, a house to live in, and a car. It was my fifth Christmas in prison. I thought it over and said, “Franklin, you can’t do this. It will hurt you. The Grahams don’t need my baggage.” He looked at me and he said, “Jim, you were my friend in the past and you are my friend now. If anyone doesn’t like it, I’m looking for a fight.”
So when I got out of prison the Grahams sponsored me and paid for a house for me to live in and gave me a car to drive. The first Sunday out, Ruth Graham called the halfway house I was living in at the Salvation Army and asked permission for me to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning. When I got there, the pastor welcomed me and sat me with the Graham family. There were like two whole rows of them—I think every Graham aunt and uncle and cousin was there. The organ began playing and the place was full except for a seat next to me. Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham. She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-058. I had only been out of prison 48 hours, but she told the world that morning that Jim Bakker was her friend. [“The Re-education of Jim Bakker,” Christianity Today (December 7, 1998]
This is the kind of hospitality God wants from His children. When was the last time you invited someone over for dinner or included someone new in your family celebrations? When we bring a new family in town a meal, when we invite a traveling choir member, missionary or visitor to stay in our home we show the love of Christ is a powerful way. When we cook a meal for someone else we share a part of ourselves that says “love” in a special way.
As we have reflected on these words of Paul about love, I hope you are beginning to get the idea that when a person entrusts themselves to the grace and mercy of God found in Christ, God’s Spirit will begin to change the way we relate to each other. In other words, being a Christian should make a practical difference in how we view and treat the people around us.
So, let’s draw some applications. First, we need to look at our relationships. How is your relationship with your family, your co-workers, and your fellow believers? If you find that you are constantly irritated, upset, or doing battle with someone, it may indicate that there is a spiritual problem. For some reason the love of God is not flowing through you.
When water doesn’t flow through a pipe it means either the pipe or a fixture is defective in some way or there is an obstacle in the pipe. When love doesn’t flow freely from us it sometimes indicates that we are not correctly connected to the King of Kings.
Is it possible that your connection to the Father is wrong? Have you placed your trust in your religious knowledge, experience, or deeds rather than in the work of Christ on your behalf? Are you still relying on your own goodness, religious actions, or reputation? If so, you are not connected to the source of life and love. God owes us nothing but eternal damnation. Our only hope is to cling to the cross of Jesus and trust the promise of God that says whoever trusts in Him will never be cast away. Until we are in right relationship with God, we will not be able to experience this kind of sincere love with each other.
It’s also possible that though you are properly connected there is an obstacle restricting God’s love in you. That obstacle might be a hidden sin, an unforgiving heart, a jealous spirit, spiritual arrogance, or callousness to the hurts of others (sometimes as a way of protecting yourself). In each case the problem is not with the other guy, it is with us. The first step to love flowing freely is to confess your own weakness to the Lord. Be honest before God so He can renew your heart and spirit.
Second, of the illustrations that are listed by the apostle, which is the area of greatest weakness in your life: giving honor to another, focusing on hope, extending the benefit of a doubt, maintaining enthusiasm, being diligent in keeping your spiritual life healthy, using the material as a tool rather than a god, extending hospitality? Whatever your area of greatest weakness, make that a matter of prayer before the Lord. Ask the Lord to fill you with His love until it overflows into the lives of those around you. When that kind of love begins to flow people will not only be drawn to the Lord, that love may very well come back to you.