Fyodor Dostoevsky (19th century Russian philosopher) said, “If God does not exist everything is permitted.”
He does, and everything is not permitted. Though you’d think enforcing morality wouldn’t be necessary among people in whom the Spirit is fulfilling the just requirements of God’s law (Romans 8:1-4). However, the church must learn to think and act together with the inward sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. (It doesn’t happen automatically.)
Therefore, in Romans 12 Paul begins to help the church learn to think and act together with the inward transformation of the Spirit. He begins with a majestic appeal . . .
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:1,2, NIV).
Just a few brief observations, since I commented on this passage before. All the thinking and conduct Paul urges on the Rome church is to be done “in view of God’s mercy” in Christ (chapters 1-11).
Worship explodes out of the Sunday sanctuary into everyday use of our bodies.
This world, which is under the evil one’s power (1 John 5:19b), must not be allowed to squeeze us into its mold. Rather we must allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into thinking “new”.
From those majestic-sounding appeals, Paul gets down into the “nitty-gritty” of church life—how it should be lived.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (12:3-8).
Apparently, some Roman church members have a “high and mighty” attitude about their spiritual gifts. Paul exhorts them to think sensibly about themselves “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”. They must believe the church is the Body of Christ. They must believe each of them belongs to all the others; no one is superior.They must believe their gifts have been given according to grace. They must believe each gift is important for the body’s sake, as each part of the physical body is important for the body’s sake.
LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (12:9-13).
Church members must love one another. By clinging to what is good and so building up one another. By trying to be best at honoring and valuing others. By serving the Lord with passion, because passion is contagious. By responding to suffering, whether one’s own or others, with patience, with joyful hope and with persistent prayer. By giving to needy believers. And by extending that giving even to strangers, so the Body of Christ becomes a welcoming haven to lost outsiders.
Sound idealistic? A church with that kind of love is possible“[B]ecause God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (5:5a).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Or [give yourselves to humble tasks] ). Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:14-18).
It’s curious to me why Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you . . .” among other imperatives that clearly have to do with loving one another. Perhaps because sometimes persecutors can be found in the church. In any case, the loving response is to speak well of them, even to call down God’s gracious power on them. If some members are rejoicing, don’t be jealous—rejoice with them. If some are weeping, don’t just pat them on the shoulder and promise to pray—weep with them. Don’t “pay back”; do what is good and beautiful for all to see. Live in peace with everyone.
LOVE TO ENEMIES
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:19-21).
Emperor Claudius had exiled all Jews from Rome in 49 A.D. But Emperor Nero undid the 49 A.D. ban on Jews in Rome. But, as always, they became easy prey for persecutors, especially if they were Christians. Paul warns the whole church against taking revenge against their abusers. The day is coming when God will right all wrongs. But refraining from revenge is not enough for a Christ-like church. If their enemies are hungry or thirsty, they must give them food and drink. This will “heap burning coals on their heads”. A quote from Proverbs 25:21,22, commentators explaining that burning coals on the head signifies contrition. So, showing love to enemies may move them to repent. In any case, the persecuted Christian, by helping his persecutor in need, will actually “overcome evil with good”.
Jesus once referred to property kept safe by a strong man. “But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he . . . divides his plunder” (Luke 11:22). By doing good to persecutors, the church can be that strong man who overcomes evil.
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The church must hold to sound doctrine (1:1-11:36). But the church must live out the ethical ramifications of those doctrines. Only then can we be more than a classroom; only then can we be the transformed community of Christ.