I frequently tell people that I am a visual person. If you want me to grasp something I often have to see it. In the times when we have talked about additions to our church I have always had to have someone go outside with me and walk off dimensions and help me picture where things would be when the construction was finished. In much the same way, if you are want to do something unique in your wedding I need to come into the sanctuary and have you show me how it will work and where things are going to be positioned. Once I can “see” it, I’ll ‘get’ it.
I find that I am also this way with my faith. I find myself constantly asking, “but what does that mean practically?” I want to flesh things out. I struggle to read textbooks that are long on theory and short on practical application of that theory.
I give you this background because I think Paul is writing Romans 12 for people like me. In verse nine Paul gives us the general principle: “Love must be sincere, hating what is evil and clinging to what is good.” In the verses that follow Paul gives us specifics as to what this means. He, if you will, draws us a picture of what sincere love looks like.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
It is easy to miss how these verses tie together. I’ve missed it for years. In the Greek text Paul strings together nine phrases and starts each one with the dative case. I know, your mind is thinking about drifting away . . .I’ll be quick. This is like Paul is saying, “Let love be sincere, hating what is evil, holding tight to what is good . . . by . . . . being devoted, honoring one another, etc. These things are all practical illustrations of the principles. I love the fact that he gives us a list!!! He is a man after my own heart and I suspect he was the firstborn in his family just like me!
Here is his list of what sincere love looks like.
Being affectionate to one another like family
Giving each other priority in honour.
Being fervent in what we do.
Maintaining spiritual intensity.
Seizing your opportunities for serving the Lord.
Rejoicing in hope.
Meeting tribulation with courage.
Persevering in prayer.
Sharing what you have to help the needs of God’s dedicated people through being hospitable
This is important. I heard a great story this week, “A man was walking down the street. He passed a used book store, and in the window he saw a book with this title, How To Hug. He was taken by the title and, being of a somewhat romantic nature, went in to buy the book. To his chagrin, he discovered that it was the third volume of an encyclopedia and covered the subjects “How” to “Hug.” The church is often like this. Everyone knows that the church is a place where love ought to be manifested, and many people have come to church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to discover an encyclopedia on theology.”
In the verses that follow we see practical instruction as to how to hug or how to love sincerely. This week we will look at the first five phrases that are found in verses 10 & 11. Next week we will look at the last four in verses 12 and 13.
BE AFFECTIONATE TO ONE ANOTHER IN BROTHERLY LOVE
It is interesting that Paul uses the greet word philostorgos. This word means a family love. In other words, we are to love each other as part of the same family. Think about the implications of this reality.
First, this means that our love should be resilient. When we are dealing with others, we love as long as another person seems worthy of love. Family love is different (at least usually). When you are part of a family, you love someone
Even though they make mistakes. Even if your child was guilty of a horrible crime you still will be at their side pleading for mercy.
Even though they are annoying (though sometimes you don’t see how annoying they are). We defend our family with words such as, “But, that is just the way they are.”
Even though change is slow. With family members we remain ever hopeful and are quick to see any glimmer of growth or progress.
Even though others feel there is nothing good in that person. When a person is a part of your family you work hard to see redeeming qualities even when no one else sees such qualities.
How many times have you seen people in a church get mad about something someone did and immediately decide to have nothing more to do with that person, or, sometimes, the church? That’s not family love. Family love recognizes and accepts the weaknesses of others. We don’t gloss over evil but we also aren’t surprised by it. When Christians understand this family love there will be this realization that we are fellow pilgrims walking down the road of life. At times one or the other of us will stumble, fall, or get lost. At that point we will need the other person not to kick us, abandon us, slander us, or ignore us, we will need them to help us get back up. That’s what it means to be a Christian family and that’s what I hope we are developing as a body of Christ in LaHarpe.
Second, we are to be this way not only to those in our church but also to those in other churches. We are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be quick to defend, support, and encourage any believer. If a person is a follower of Jesus Christ they are my brother and sister no matter what church they attend; what country they live in; what language they speak; what color their skin is; or what socio-economic group they are from. We are related.
I know we are closer to some members of the family more than others. That’s natural. However, we are still family. When there is a crisis we should rally around each other. When one member of the family is attacked the rest of us should rise to their defense. We may disagree on things, but our disagreement should not divide us. In the end, blood is thicker than water, meaning the family tie is the strongest of all.
HONOR ONE ANOTHER ABOVE YOURSELVES
It is difficult to know exactly what Paul means in this text. I like the insight of one commentator who concluded,
The exhortation does not demand of me that I deem every fellow-member to be in every respect wiser and abler than I am myself. But it asks that in humble-mindedness I count my fellow-member to be better than I am myself.
A Christian knows that his own motives are not always pure and holy. This is a kind of knowledge which at times causes him to utter the prayer, “O Lord, forgive my good deeds.” On the other hand, the Christian has no right to regard as evil the motives of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Unless a consistently evil pattern is clearly evident in the lives of fellow-members, their outwardly good deeds must be ascribed to good, never to evil, motives. It follows that the child of God who has learned to know himself sufficiently so that at times he feels inclined to utter the cry of the publican (Lord be merciful to me, a sinner) or of Paul (O wretched man that I am) will indeed regard others to be better than himself.
This is such a crucial insight. The person who truly loves sees the inconsistency in their own life while at the same time giving the ‘benefit of the doubt” to others. To honor others above ourselves then would seem to mean,
Assuming the best (rather than worst) about another’s intentions
Being quick to look for the good in others and be willing to praise them
Taking the time to check out all the facts before making any kind of judgment about a situation.
Refusing to belittle someone
Being concerned with the feelings of another rather than just yourself
Refusing to gossip
I love the marriage video by Gary Smalley. He talks about the need for honor in the home. Smalley uses an illustration I’ll never forget. He had this broken down violin. The neck of the violin was hanging from the base by only the strings. Smalley handed the violin to the audience and asked them to look at it. There was nothing extraordinary about the broken down instrument. As the violin was being passed, Smalley remarked, “Don’t forget to look inside the base of the violin where you will see the name of the maker, a guy by the name of Stradivarius. At the sound of this name the audience collectively gasped with wonder. Smalley called attention to their gasp and said when we see the members of our family we should see stamped on their forehead “Stradivarius”. He said each time we see each other there is a sense in which we should gasp with wonder and admiration.
This is what is means to honor another. It means to see and respect their value as a person. It means turning away from our own self-absorption to see the beauty and wonder God placed in another.
NEVER LACKING IN ZEAL
This passage warns us about that tendency to get lazy in our relationships. The Greek words tell us not to be lazy or hesitant in our labor. Let’s illustrate the problem.
Many of us have worked hard at getting in shape and exercising . . . for a day or two. The first day we work for 30 minutes to an hour. We are invigorated. We feel confident about our steps to change our life. Then we wake up on day two! We ache and the thought of getting back to the exercise is a little less attractive. Then on day three we hurt even more! We wonder what in the world we were thinking when we dove into the exercise program. We decide we had better give our body a break before we exercise again. Days, months or years later we start all over again. (I speak from much experience).
This same thing can happen in our spiritual life. We start out fervent for the Lord. We read the Bible for hours, we listen only to Christian radio and spend much time in prayer. In a shorter amount of time than we’d like to admit, our Bible is dusty, our prayers are labored, and service to the Kingdom slides way down on our list of priorities.
A person who is sincere in love maintains his/her enthusiasm. This means we don’t give up and don’t get lazy
In our private lives.
In our relationships with our wife and children.
In the work we do.
In our ministries in the church.
In each of these areas it is easy for us to get lazy and start taking things for granted. When we do this, our relationships, our work, and our spiritual growth suffer. This is why Paul said,
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize[1 Cor 9:24-27)
Paul was not a masochist, he understood that if we don’t keep working hard, if we don’t continually do a personal inventory of our lives and relationships, we will get lazy.
BE FERVENT IN THE SPIRIT . . . SERVING THE LORD
These last two phrases are very similar to each other and to the previous phrase. This leads me to believe that Paul is underscoring the importance of diligence and enthusiasm in our spiritual lives. Paul seems to emphasize that a person who knows how to love, is a person who knows that love comes FROM God and is motivated by love FOR God. Our spiritual lives and our interpersonal lives are intertwined. Being fervent in the Lord helps us keep our priorities in order. When we are right with the Lord, we will be more likely to be right with each other.
In Revelation 3 Jesus tells the church in Laodicea,
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
It is a very sobering thing to realize that most people involved in the church today are people who, quite frankly, are lukewarm. They have lost their zeal. They are coasting.
Sincere love is something supernatural. If we are drifting from God, we will be drifting in our ability to love. If we are taking our spiritual walk with God for granted, our relationships are going to suffer. The two go hand in hand. Paul says, “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
If we want to be a community of people that is known by its love for each other, then we need to be enthusiastic about serving the Lord. We need to pursue the Lord with energy and diligence. When we pursue God in this way, His love will renew us and help us as we love each other.
When the people of God truly love, the world takes notice. When we look like just another lobbying group, we are easy to dismiss. When we look like another business it is easy for people to overlook us. When we try to be as entertaining as the secular world, we seem like but one option among many. But when we love . . .when we truly love one another in this sincere, caring, sacrificial, serving, spiritually vital way, the world will stop and notice. People will want to know who these “lovers” really are and where this love comes from. When they do, we will be able to introduce them to Jesus, the lover of their souls.
Please do an inventory of your heart and life.
Do you see the “family resemblance” in your brothers and sisters in Christ? Is it time that you overlooked the petty things and focused instead on the important things that bind you together?
As you look at others do you see “Stradivarius” on their foreheads? Better yet, do you recognize that those you come in contact with are ALL people who have been created by God and in the image of God? Learn to gasp with wonder at those around you.
Are you getting lazy in your relationships? Are you taking people for granted?
What about your spiritual life. Have you become lukewarm in your faith? If so, it is time to stir the embers of the fire that once burned bright. It is time to serve in a new way, or to make an effort to learn something new about the Lord. If you will seek Him . . . you will find Him. And when you do find Him . . . others will notice by the fact that it changes the way you treat them.
It is my hope that you are beginning to “see” what it means to love with a genuine love. Christian love is not simple an emotion that makes us feel warm and fuzzy, it is consistent, deep, enduring, resilient and needs to be cultivated and maintained. Once we understand what we are supposed to do, it’s time to begin actually putting it into practice.