Romans 12:1 begins this chapter with an appeal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul has just completed a comprehensive presentation teaching the truth about salvation and the result in the church and in the world. The focus is on love so complete and radical that the world will never understand it. Once we have presented our bodies as a living sacrifice we are enabled to live out the work of the gospel in our life. We are called upon to be sincere. We are to hate evil and cling to good. We are to have genuine affection for one another. We are to honor others above ourselves. And we are to do these things with a passionate zeal! All of this reflects the love we have for the church.
Now we turn to how to live a life of love in the world. How are we to manifest love when the world hates us? Remember, the words of our Lord Jesus “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19). We have seen how love is acted out in the church we now need to see how love is acted out in the world.
Romans 12:14-21, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These must have been difficult words for Paul to write. After all, the world he lived in had not been good to him. We see his description of what life was like for Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. Look at what he wrote in chapter 11:23-28! Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Imagine you are a member of a pastor search committee. In the course of the committee’s work resumes come to them from pastors — or want to be pastors. Imagine a resume like this.
Education: Jewish Bible school under Gamaliel.
Address: Currently in jail for preaching.
(I have wondered if my preaching is clear enough to get me arrested.)
1) Better than the average Servant of Christ.
2) Imprisoned several times. In fact, I always check out the local jail because I possibly will spend more time there than in the pulpit.
3) More than once I have been almost beaten to death in the public square.
4) I usually support myself rather than expect the church to do so.
5) Once I had to leave town in a basket because the rulers were going to kill me.
6) I don’t usually stay very long but I do help the church find a pastor.
7) Unmarried, and I don’t encourage others to marry
8) Was an active persecutor of the Church.
9) I was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent
10) In fact I stood and approved of the death of Stephen the first Christian Martyr.
11) If you do call me as pastor, I will still be concerned about other churches.
Today, the American church thinks of persecution as the zoning Board of appeals not allowing us to change a residential property into a church property. Or perhaps we might be prevented from going door-to-door to hand out invitations to an event. The truth is, the world around us is not sufficiently impressed with us. For most churches, perhaps ours included the worst persecution we will face is being ignored by the world around us.
The world Paul lived in was filled with resistance to the gospel. Look at the list! Paul worked harder than the average apostle. He was in prison more often than the average pastor. He could not remember how many times he had been beaten for preaching the gospel! The list goes on! Jesus had promised just such a life.
The story is found in Luke’s second book that is usually called Acts. Or The Acts of the Apostles! I believe it should have been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”!
Do you recall Paul’s salvation on the Damascus Road? Paul had been struck down by a light from heaven and a voice that asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. He was blinded by the light and had to be led by the hand into the city of Damascus. There, a servant of the Lord Jesus named Ananias was told to go to Paul and lay hands on him for healing. Now Ananias knew who Paul was. (He was known by his given name Saul) Ananias understood that Saul had come to take his life. The Lord told Ananias “Go” I have work for Saul to do. And he concluded his instructions to Ananias with these words, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:16.
From that time forward Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle. He planted churches all over the Roman world and so far as we know was still planning a mission trip to Spain when he was executed in Rome. Possibly, he wrote the book of Romans to prepare them for his arrival. Some believe he actually went there, made the trip to Spain, and was later returned to Rome for execution. Since it is not stated in Scripture that this trip happened I don’t present as true.
Let’s get back to Romans 12. The man who was shown how much he must suffer for Jesus’ sake wrote these words. When they persecute you bless them! Never curse them no matter what they do. Don’t resist, instead pray without ceasing.
We are challenged to bless and not curse. We are to join in rejoicing and take time for those who weep. Remember, we are to do all these things Paul has listed with genuine love. No hypocrisy! What does “blessing and not cursing” look like in practice? We are to offer empathy to those who want to persecute us. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person does, in this case how the persecutor, is feeling or thinking! It is another way of honoring others over ourselves even when the “others” seem to despise us.
In verse 16 Paul shifts from empathy to being of the same mind. We are to not only feel what others feel we must also learn to think the way they think. By no means does this require us to agree with wrong thinking we are just to understand it! He deals with the concept in greater detail in Philippians 2:1-4, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Harmony, not haughtiness, should mark our lives. Being like-minded rises out of the same love Christ has put in the hearts and minds of all those who love him. When the Philippians lived out the Christian life, by being of the same mind, Paul is caused to rejoice! Comparing that statement to Romans 12:16 we can see that the cure for a haughty attitude is associating with the lowly. I don’t mean associating with some kind of underclass of poor people. Associating with the lowly is to redirect our primary interest away from ourselves and toward others. Paul’s remedy is a new perspective that is the basis for blessing rather than cursing, for the empathy to rejoice, or wait on others, and the ability to be like-minded in our thinking.
Too often, local church leaders see themselves, and expect others to see themselves as better than the average person. When I look at the Apostle Paul’s resume I am impressed with his willingness to take the lower position.
Paul’s position is not to be wise in our own eyes! Verse 16 carries on into 17-20. We are to avoid hypocrisy! Never, ever be the one that caused the problem. And as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, always, always be the peacemaker! As far as the ability is given to us to do so we are to be at peace with everyone in the world. We are not to take revenge into our own hands we are to leave it to God. This is easy to do when everything is calm and there is no crisis at hand. It’s a lot harder when anger drives us to take matters into our own hands. When someone does us wrong our natural reaction is to get even. We might think that it will be satisfying to do so. Instead, it just perpetuates the problem. We are to live at peace by remembering, God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” When we choose to carry out vengeance, we are saying that our wisdom is equal to, or better than, God’s! Then, acting the way we are we are willing to take responsibility out of God’s hands and into ours. Romans 12:20 rests comfortably in the words found in Deuteronomy 32:35. Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’
Feed your enemies and help meet their needs — they will never understand why you would do that! It’s not just “vengeance is mine”, it is more than that! Recompense is in God’s hands also. Whatever they owe, those people who hurt you, God will repay.
This truth is taught in Proverbs 25:21-22. If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
Repayment is not just the Lord collecting from the one who hurt you but God will take care of any cost you suffered as a result of another person’s wrongdoing. You can change the world you live in by simply obeying the word of God! You can be a tsunami of good that washes away the trash of evil. When we resist the urge to handle things ourselves and leave them to God we will have peace that passes all understanding. Praise God!
In John chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again.” Our first birth made us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Meaning we were born separated from the loving Father. Our Father sent his Son, and our Saviour, to take our sins into his body and allow the Romans to nail that body to the cross. He took our sin to the grave. Jesus left it there so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Have you believed? This can be your day.
Now, more than ever, we need to obey the words found in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
God willing, Stamford Baptist Church will see you next week. Or rather you will see us if you tune in!
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.