Romans 12:9-21

We are continuing our sermon series entitled 'God's master plan'. Last week we saw how God has operated and will operate in salvation history. This week we are looking at God's plan for his disciples to love. Verse 9 is key to this, 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

The word for love is the Greek 'agape', a type of love where the lover cares more for the loved than themself. This unselfish love is best shown by Jesus voluntarily going to the cross in our place. Jesus said of this, John 15: 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

This love is not based upon emotion, after all, Jesus didn't want to go to the cross. In Luke 22 he prayed, 42"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." This type of love is based on a conscious obedience to the will of God.

There is a two stage process, "Hate what is evil; We are to detest the very thought of doing what is evil. 'Evil' means that which is opposed to God and his ways. This does not mean, however, that we are to hate people, as we will see later on.

cling to what is good." The word for cling comes from the word meaning glue, and is talking about sticking to or joining with something or someone. We are to be joined to God and stick to His ways through Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The love of a Christian must be 'sincere', without hypocrisy, evidenced in thought, word and action. As verses 1-8 indicate, it can only be achieved by humbly offering our whole selves to God with renewed minds and serving Him within the body of believers.

This passage is about how Christians are to love fellow Christians and other people. Christians can give that love because they have received God's love. Just as God's love is free and undeserved so the Christian is called to offer unconditional love.

A rich lady was driven to a five star hotel in her Rolls Royce. As she was met by the attentive hotel staff she told one bell boy to carry her suitcase, another to carry her son's suitcase and the third to carry her son. This last bell boy enquired, 'What's the matter lady, can't he walk ? ' The lady retorted, 'Yes, he can, but thank God he doesn't have to !'

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Never be lacking in zeal literally means 'not slothful' or 'not lazy'. There is no room for resting on our laurels, thinking that because God's grace is free we can sit back and do little or nothing and thinking, "Isn't that what the Vicar is paid to do ?"

These words follow Paul's encouragement to the Roman Christians to be humble and exercise their spiritual gifts within the church, verses 3-8. These words are followed by Paul's practical instructions on how to live with other Christians and with other people.

The rich lady's son would have had his heart and his muscles built up by exercise, and felt better and been more ready and able to do things. Those who serve the Lord are more likely to be energetic for God and keep their spiritual fervour, says Paul.

This love of God is to be grounded in being, verse 12, joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Christians have a certain hope that their relationship with God will continue beyond the grave, and that this relationship will be even better there. Christians will receive perfect resurrection bodies and will live a life in close fellowship with God, unaffected by sin, disease, suffering, hostility, death and mourning. This hope should bring us joy. Not a frothy superficial feeling, but a deep sense of well being from the knowledge of God's perfect plan for our lives.

Patient or enduring in difficulties. These are not just the problems that everyone has but those which come to Christians, such as persecution, abuse, and exclusion.

Faithful in prayer refers to a persevering, seeking the supply of grace that Christians need to go on through hardship, grounded in the confident hope of glory.

Our relationship with God and our desire to follow his plan for our lives should affect how we relate to fellow believers and to others. This is what verses 10,13-21 is about.

Loving the saints.

Verse 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Verse 13 translates the Greek 'haggios' as 'God's people'. Other translations use the words saints, meaning 'sacred' or 'set apart for a purpose'. Unfortunately the word saint has been closely associated with those who are perceived to be exceptionally holy, whereas all God's people are saints, set apart for him and by him.

In truth every saint is a redeemed sinner and we all fall far short of perfection. This caused someone to write :

Living above with the saints above, now that really would be glory.

Living below with the saints we know, now that's another story.

In "The Traditional Family (And Other Myths)" : John H. Stevens wrote "The model of the "traditional family" is not very true to the realities of today... A family exists whenever a particular group thinks or feels that they ARE a family, according to the Scripture. (William Sheek)

"Biblical love creates an environment of security in which problems, differences, and mistakes can be worked through and overcome. It creates homes in which each member of the family knows that whatever happens, acceptance, forgiveness, and love will never be withheld from him or her."

Why are we to love one another ?

We are one family, sharing the same Heavenly Father. We have been unconditionally accepted by him into his family. Therefore, to reject or question or condemn or gossip about a fellow Christian is to reject, question, condemn or gossip about God. It is arrogance, thinking we know better than God. It is sin, putting ourselves in God's place.

The word for 'brotherly love' is about cherishing one's family, especially parents or children, being fond of natural relatives. This is the type of love that we are to have for other believers because we are a church family.

We are also to love fellow believers because Jesus commanded it. John 13: 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Practical, Christian love is a powerful witness in a hard world.

The Duke of Wellington went to take communion at his parish church, and a very poor old man went up the opposite aisle, and reaching the communion table, knelt down close by the side of the Duke. Someone came and touched the poor man on the shoulder, and whispered to him to move farther away, or to rise and wait until the Duke had received the bread and wine. But the Duke clasped the old man's hand and held it to prevent his rising; and quietly, reverently but most distinctly, said, "Do not move; we are all equal here."

How are Christians to love?

With humility... verse 10b Honor one another above yourselves. verse 16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Living in harmony with other believers doesn't mean that we have to be identical and share exactly the same views on everything, although obviously we would want to agree on the fundamentals of the gospel. But we all have different temperaments, experiences, gifts and abilities. Therefore, we are to respect believers, even if they do not agree with us.

We are also to readily love and accept fellow believers and not let anyone feel excluded. Many churches have groups of people who think they are 'it', who will not let anyone into their 'inner circle', who think they have a monopoly on what is right and feel free to condemn others. Such pride, conceit and lack of love has no part within God's people

What should Christians do ?

13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

This is the practical outworking of Christian love. Paul's epistles show that he was keen to encourage Christians to help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. We also know from the New Testament that Christians were persecuted for their faith. This could result in them having to go 'on the run' and needing hospitality as they travelled or initially settled in a new place. This, then is the background to Paul's words.

How, then, do we apply this to today ?

We can help people in need by praying for them and lobbying politicians who can alter their position. This is something that we have done as part of the Jubilee 2000 movement which has now become the Drop the Debt campaign because world leaders have not yet abolished the unpayable debts of many of the world's indebted countries.

There is also a campaign to lobby the World Trade Organization's meeting in November to change the trading rules so they are fair to poor people and to the environment. Refer to Postcards to post to Dept. Trade and Industry.

We can give regular financial support to Christian Aid agencies such as Tear Fund and Christian Aid. We will be able to do this as a congregation in three weeks time when our Harvest offering will be sent to Tear Fund.

We can also help Joe Smith when he goes to Eastern Europe to help the churches. Something that we have done as individuals and a church over the years.

We can also be aware of and pray for Christians who are persecuted. Last month the Church of England News reported that : in Afghanistan eight Christian aid workers had been arrested accused of evangelizing Muslims. 16 Afghans have also been arrested under the same charge which carries the death penalty; in India there have been recent murders and, on August 7th a nun who was a nurse at a hospital was shot in the face; in Pakistan a Christian's appeal against his death sentence for alleged blasphemy was turned down by the Lahore High Court; in Indonesia a Christian mother and daughter were bombed as they parked outside a church.

Some people may want to consider supporting an organization that helps persecuted Christians, such as the Barnabus Fund.

Paul also refers to

Loving unbelievers

First, he answers the question, "How should Christians react to persecutions such as those I have just outlined ?"

There is the negative : do not repay anyone evil for evil, verse 17. Don't even curse them, verse 14. This goes against the way that the world thinks. Some of this is fuelled by films and television where a wronged person sets out on a voyage of violence to avenge injustice and punish the transgressor. This scenario has been called 'redemptive violence' and encourages people to take the law into their own hands. So called 'road rage' incidents are one example of this philosophy that Christians are to reject.

The positive is to bless those who persecute you, verse 14. The inference is that the persecuted person prays for God's blessing for the persecutor. Also verse 17; to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

On April 19th 1995 at 9 a.m. 23 year old Julie Welch was killed with 167 others in the bombing of the Murrah federal Building in Oklahoma. Her father, Bud, is a Christian and had always opposed the death penalty for murderers, but now he had to face up to this issue first hand. After Tim McVeigh and Terry Nicholls had been charged with the murders Bud said that he could have killed them with his bare hands. This "insanity period", as he called it, lasted for five weeks. For another eight months he was an emotional wreck, smoking and drinking to excess. Then one day, he vowed to change "I started to think, how is killing Tim McVeigh going to help me ? It isn't going to bring Julie back. I realised that it's all about revenge and hate. And revenge and hate are why Julie and 167 others are dead today. Tim McVeigh and Terry Nicholls bombed the Murrah Building to avenge the government killings in Waco, Texas, on April 19th, 1993. And I just didn't see that taking someone out of a cage to kill them would make it any better. It's been very popular for victims families to raise their fists and show anger on television. It hasn't been acceptable to want to reconcile things, to go down the path of forgiveness."

Bud Welch continues to fight for the end to capital punishment. He is on the board for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and speaks for organisations opposed to the death penalty. He actively campaigned against the execution of Timothy McVeigh and has built up a relationship with Tim's father, Bill.

Bud is upset that some fellow Christians are some of the strongest campaigners for the death penalty. He said, " A true Christian would recognize that taking a person out of a cage to kill them does nothing to help anyone, and only God should take life".

He is reflecting Paul's words in verse 19, Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

It is God's job to judge. This could happen in a number of ways. Chapter 13 mentions that the job of the government is to administer justice in God's name by punishing the wrongdoer ( 13:4 ). God may also judge someone in this life by bringing a calamity on them. An example of this is Herod in Acts 12:21ff who failed to honour God and was eaten by worms. Thirdly, when Jesus returns God will judge the living and the dead. Those who have done wrong and failed to come to Jesus for forgiveness will be banished from God's presence for ever.

Rather than seeking revenge a Christian is to love his enemy in a practical way. Verse 20, 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." This is a quotation from Proverbs 25:21f. The goal for loving one's enemy in this way is to lead him/her to repentance and reconciliation. Metals were softened by having burning coals poured on them. A hard heart can be softened by Christian love.

An Armenian nurse had been held captive along with her brother by the Turks. Her brother was slain by a Turkish soldier before her eyes. She escaped and later became a nurse in a military hospital.

One day she was stunned to find that the same man who had killed her brother had been captured and brought wounded to the hospital where she worked. Something within her cried out "Vengeance." But a stronger voice called for her to love. She nursed the man back to health.

Finally, the recuperating soldier asked her, "Why didn't you let me die?" Her answer was, "I am a follower of Him who said, 'Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you'" Luke 6:27.

Impressed with her answer, the young soldier replied, "I never heard such words before. Tell me more. I want this kind of religion."

She had a choice, to be overcome by evil and exact revenge, or to overcome evil with good. This is the principle of verse 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We have a Saviour who has overcome evil with good. Let us do all that we can, enabled by his Spirit of love, to imitate him.