Romans 12:9-21: Love
March 20, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The great principle of Christian life is summarized in one word: love. It is the golden rule. It is how the greatest commandment is summarized. Love for God. Love for neighbor. The greatest of all is love. But so often in church life, while we know this in theory, we forget it in practice. Our nose gets put out of joint by some slight or other. And while piously we affirm love, even sing about love and preach love, we can still fail to practice love. What to do about it? Paul here gives two great overarching principles that he breaks down into enough detail to make the most godly squirm, and challenge us all by encouraging us by the beauty of love in community.
The first principle is sincerity. “Love must be sincere.” It is so easy in church life to end up faking love. We know we should love so what do we do when we don’t love: we can end up faking it. But Paul tells us to not do so. Be authentic in love. How? Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Don’t be half-hearted. Don’t be wimpish about moral principles on the excuse that it is loving to turn a blind eye to what is wrong. Don’t be half-hearted towards each other. Indeed be devoted to each other. How? Honor one another above ourselves. It is so easy to begin to think that we are better than other people. Such a subtle twist can come to our mind. Of course we are all one in Christ. But, after all, there are some who are more gifted than others, and therefore we establish pecking orders in our mind and consign others around us to lower down the hierarchy. Paul is radical here: not only consider others equal with you, consider them better than you! And never be lacking in zeal, keep the spiritual fervor burning, and be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful especially in prayer. Oh what glorious words to stir the sincere love of the Christian church! Share with those in the Lord’s church who are in need. Be hospitable: love the outsider (be hospitable: literally love the stranger). Sincere love is not only about loving those we are already close to, or in our own families; but loving the newcomer, the outsider, the stranger, the person trying to find their way in the church, or looking to have their questions about God answered, or find a home in the Christian community.
But the second principle is even more pertinent. Not only is our love to be sincere – in the ways that Paul breaks it down as above – but also our love is to be even for those who we perceive as doing us wrong. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” How not? Here is a great principle of action: aim to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Paul is not telling us to be people pleasers. But he is telling us that it is prudent not to do things that will be considered wrong by godly people. Indeed, as far as it is possible, live at peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge: leave room for God’s wrath. There is a space here that we leave up to God, we leave room for God’s wrath; we don’t take the sword of vengeance into our own hands. God is able to do what is right and just. We are not being pushovers when we don’t take vengeance. We are acting in love, and letting God be God. In so doing we “heap burning coals” on the head of an enemy. The point is not that we are doing something nasty towards an enemy, but that we are acting in such a way as is likely to bring conviction to that enemy. We are leaving room for God’s wrath, and by acting above board, lovingly, kindly, in a way that no one could criticize, we are allowing maximum opportunity for the Spirit to prompt the conscience of the people who are acting badly, and so that they would repent. And he ends with a great principle: do not be overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil with good.
Two great principles broken down and applied to help us love in Christian community: love must be sincere; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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