Romans 12:9-21- The Marks of the True Christian
Explanation- Continuing on from our last section, Paul further highlights the practical steps of how we are to walk out this newness of life in a manner that is worthy of our calling in Christ. As you will notice, this chapter is very practical, and much of it deals with our conduct towards others. In our previous section, Paul stresses that we are of one body and should use our individual gifts to edify others in the body. In the section before us, we see practical ways in which this is acted out in daily life. Our love toward one another must be genuine and not artificial; it must stand apart from the love of the world which bases itself on performance or the meeting of a need, rather than on the unconditional love of Christ. I believe that our love meets its greatest test when it is confronted with an object (an object here being a person) that has nothing to offer us in return. Will our love be different toward this one than it is with one who meets many of our heart’s desires? The Love of Christ is such a love that it will lay down its life for one who hates, mocks, and abuses. The love of Christ was given while we were yet enemies of God and rebels against the kingdom. This is our standard in loving one another, for it is from this genuine, Christ-like love that our good works are able to flow toward the brethren effectively. We should never do an act simply for the act’s sake, or out of some religious obligation, but our service should flow from a heart of love, first toward God, and then toward our fellow man.
We are to abhor (or hate/despise) what is evil and cling to what is good. As Jude says, we are to hate, ‘even the garment stained by the flesh.’ (Jude 1:23). How can we who have inherited the righteousness of Christ enjoy those things which put Him to death? Rather we are to hold fast or cleave to that which is good. Our love is to be given generously to the brethren. This will be shown in the way that we seek to, ‘Outdo one another in showing honor.’ While the world may be fixed on seeking to outdo the next man in terms of business or success, we are to outdo one another in showing honor, love, and respect. Our zeal should be such that it is on fire for the cause of Christ and not snuffed out by slothfulness. Our passions should be continually stirred by the glory of Christ. It is much like in Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ when dear Christian encounters the wall of flame that Satan is continually seeking to douse. When he sees this, he wonders how this flame is still set ablaze. It is then that he is brought to see the other side of the flaming wall where Christ is continually funneling oil to the flame to ensure its survival. In a very real sense, this is the zeal that we must fight for in the Christian life. It is the providence of God to add oil to the flame continually, but oftentimes the means by which He accomplishes this work is through our own efforts and prayers. We are to be diligent in Spiritual matters and serve the Lord with purpose of heart. At the end of the day, we may feel the sweat on our brows, but we know that the work is of the Lord, and it is by His strength that we press on.
Paul then calls us to ‘rejoice in hope.’ Hope of what? The hope of all that he has labored to express thus far. We have been redeemed from the curse of the Law, granted righteousness in Christ, persevered through the Spirit, and have an eternal reward awaiting us in glory! If this is our lot, then we are to be patient in our trials, which are both momentary and light. As we consider the riches that have been given to us through Christ, our suffering begins to find purpose, and our consolation increases. In light of this, we are told to be constant in prayer. What else can we do? As our praises build and thanksgiving rises in our hearts, it will inevitably overflow into prayer to God. That may be a prayer for ourselves, the brethren, or seeking to give God praise for all that He has done. A life that has been filled with the grace and favor of the Lord is a life that will be carried along through prayer and praise. With this, our arms should be outstretched, and our hands open to those of the body. Along with outdoing one another in showing honor, we are to be hospitable and provide for others as the Lord provides for us.
Much of what Paul discusses in this section are teachings that Christ Himself taught while He was performing His earthly ministry. This conduct we are to hold is meant to be a reflection of Christ’s own conduct. Thus, through the blessing of our persecutors, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn, and living in harmony with one another, we live as functioning members of Christ’s body. We are not to hold ourselves in high regard, as to lift our own raise our own status, but we are to associate ourselves with the lowly and seek their exaltation in Christ. Let us never be wise in our own estimation, but always seek the wisdom that comes from God. In this wisdom, we are to seek to be at peace with all men as it is in our power to do so. This does not mean that all men will desire to be at peace with us, but like Christ, we must bless our persecutors and seek peace on our part. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. It is His place to exact justice toward our persecutors and not our own. Our job is to do well to those who are evil to us. This may seem counterintuitive, but in the wisdom of God, this the partial means of vengeance.
Application- In light of all that Paul has just spoken, he calls us to, ‘not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ How difficult can this prove to be? When we see the absolute wickedness that runs rampant in our culture, it can be difficult to maintain a spirit of peace and love. If I am honest, I have even found violence in my own heard toward some of the evil that I have seen celebrated in society. I know that this is contrary to the Christian life. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He will not fail to exact justice on those who practice such wickedness. To be overcome of evil is to allow the evil around us to saturate within us and find root in our hearts. Or, in other words, it is to repay evil for evil. It is the ‘if you hit me, I will hit you back’ kind of mindset. The Bible condemns this sort of response toward evil. For in doing so, we become participants in the same evil that we are seeking to overcome. Rather than reacting in this way, Paul calls us to respond to evil by doing good. Obviously, there is still a place for exposing the works of unrighteousness, but it is done in such a way that it does not compromise our new nature in Christ. Our lives are lived in the presence of God, so we must live as those who have escaped from the evil of this world and be careful as to not fall back into it.