Romans 12:9-21 - Matt Heerema
Romans 12:1 (ESV)
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.
THE MERCIES OF GOD (ROMANS 1-11)
The first eleven chapters of Romans points out the human condition. We were created by God to be His children, to bring Him Glory by being who He created us to be: worshipers, image bearers, messengers to all creation of His power, His beauty, His creativity, His magnificence, and His Glory, but we refused.
We wanted to be the ones who made our own rules, we wanted to forge our own identities, we don’t want to give God the glory! We wanted to be noticed for our own glory!
Romans chapter 1 says we exchanged God’s glory for “images resembling ourselves and other created things”. We worship ourselves, calling attention to our beauty, our power, our magnificence. We change the truth for a lie, and make up our own rules. In short: we rebelled.
In an effort to make ourselves God, we cut ourselves off from God. In an effort to be godlike, we acted very unwisely, foolishly, and gave ourselves over to what feels right in the moment rather than what God, our loving creator, tells us is right all the time.
Even those of us who wanted to say that we followed God actually do so out of a desire to be recognized for our religious perfection. Romans tells us that we all fell into ungodliness and considered God our enemy rather than our master.
GOD’S RESPONSE: MERCY
But God, being who He is, not only righteous and just and holy, but also merciful, gave Himself up for us by sending Jesus to serve us, His enemies, by feeding us living bread, and giving us living water to drink, healing our sickness, and ultimately in the greatest act of self-sacrificial love, dying in our place and taking our well-deserved punishment for us, so that we could be restored to fellowship and relationship with God.
God did not fight our rebellion against Him with an iron fist. He did not come, as He could have, with sword drawn to exact justice and to wipe out evil doers (which would have been everyone.)
Rather, He responded to our evil and rebellion against Himself with goodness and with mercy. Isn’t that just like God? Godlike. What a great concept. God-like-ness.
Part of the human condition, part of our fundamental wiring, is a desire to be Godlike.
Romans shows us that in our desire to be Godlike in our own strength, and according to our own wisdom, we become either pagans who toss out God’s law in exchange for our own rules, and forge our own identities (“I identify as _____”), OR we become religious hypocrites who become experts at keeping our own version of God’s rules and then judge those who don’t perform as well as we do (or rather, as well as we think we do, which is actually a different thing.)
But God says, “If you want to be like me, which is a desire I have placed in you: offer yourself as a living sacrifice. You want to worship me? This is how you do it: Romans chapter 12.”
QUICK REVIEW - ROMANS 12:1-8
Last week Brad talked about the first category of things Paul gives us as our way of offering ourselves as a living sacrifice: The Gifts.
Paul tells us to re-frame the way we look at the world and those in the church in light of our gifts and strengths. “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought.” You have one gift-set, they have another. The reason you are better at some things that they are is because they have a different gift mix. If you are honest with yourself, and following this command to not think of yourself more highly than you ought, flip the script and look at the areas they are strong and you are weak!
QUICK STORY: LUKE AND I.
As I was preparing this sermon God hit me with an example of an area I was thinking wrongly in this way.
Over the last several years, I think I’ve been fairly critical of Luke Anderson when it comes to the area of doctrine and teaching. This isn’t a shocking revelation, he and I have talked about this over the last year or so as we’ve been evaluating him for eldership. And I want to be very clear that I see that he has made tremendous strides in this area, to the point where I and the rest of the elders consider him to be qualified, doctrinally, to be an elder, but prior to that I believe I was making an unfair comparison of the sort that Paul warns us against here in chapter 12.
I was evaluating Luke on the basis of my strengths, rather than on the gifts that God has assigned him. There was probably some amount of latent pride in doing so, and I don’t think I was intending to be malicious here, but rather than seeking to lend my gift to my brother, instead I just judged him from a distance. And that simply was not fair.
If I were to flip the script, as I’m talking about here, and compared his gift of mercy to mine, that would have been a very humbling experience. (Which is probably why I didn’t do it.) Luke oozes compassion and a self-sacrificial concern for people’s emotional well-being, for ensuring that they knew that they were loved and cared for in a way I simply do not. Not that I don’t love or am not concerned, I just do not think to show it. (This is an area God has been working on in me.)
I learn from Luke in that way. That is the thing I ought to focus on when I think of him and his contribution to the body. This, by the way, is why we need a body! Why we need a team!
The long and the short of it is: if you are going to compare, which is a dangerous proposition in the first place, compare your strength to theirs. The main point, though, is serve the church with the gift you have. There are a variety of them, and we need all of yours (the whole congregation)!
In this next section that we are studying today, we’re looking at a series of 30 rapid-fire commands (25-30 depending on how you count them, it doesn’t matter...).
Paul gives us a list of how to be like God; how to be Godlike. You want to be like God? Be like this.
What is wonderful about this list is that to actually do it, to actually love genuinely, you must be entirely self-sacrificial. This list is what Jesus did. When we talk about Godliness, this list is what we are talking about. Let’s read it again.
A good title for this passage is “Genuine love.” In fact the greek is not a command. It literally says: “Love un-hypocritical.” Noun-adjective. No verbs. Almost as if Paul is using a heading here. The way he frames this whole section up though, it is not wrong to take it as a command.
Romans 12:9–21 (ESV)
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 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.
I think when most of us think about godliness, and, as the Apostle James put it: “keeping ourselves from being stained by the world,” we often think in very material terms. Some traditions, for example, talk about abstaining from alcohol or smoking, dancing and movies, certain kinds of clothing or entertainment. They say that these things are “worldly” and need to be avoided in order to keep from “stained by the world”. But when I read the New Testament, I just can’t get there.
Paul begins this whole section of Romans by saying:
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This sounds an awful lot like James’s “Keep yourselves from being stained y the world.” and Jesus in John 17 “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” But how does Jesus say it? “I do not ask that they be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from the evil one.” — Not evil things — the Evil One.
How do we keep from being conformed to the world? How do we keep form being stained by the world? How is it that we are kept from the evil one?
By being transformed by the renewal of our mind By offering ourselves as a living sacrifice.
By acting like God does, as Jesus showed us.
This list in Romans 12:9-21 gives us a clear picture of what a sacrificial life looks like. And think for a minute how contrary to the world’s way of doing things this is!
This is what Jesus and His Apostles meant by not conforming to, or being stained by the world. It’s not about avoiding certain foods or drinks. (Now in a few weeks we are going to talk about chapter 14, which does deal with what to do with those who are weaker in their faith who are tripped up by eating certain kinds of foods or drinking certain kinds of drinks, we’ll get to that then.)
Godliness It is about genuine love and mercy. It is about hating evil, which goes against God’s design for our lives, yet serving and being merciful toward our enemies and persecutors.
This is the kind of thing that is meant by our idiom, “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Godliness is about peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness — while still calling evil “evil”, and abhorring it. It is not about cordoning yourself off from “those filthy pagans”. And on the flip side, it is not about accepting as “good” what the scripture clearly calls evil.
HOW TO LIVE THIS OUT?
Godliness is about a life typified by this list, this category of things, and it is shown in our responses to everyday situations. An important note about this list is that it is not a checklist of disparate items you are supposed to run through every day. It is an inextricable mesh of interconnected concepts that is meant to show a mind-set, or a heart-position, rather than simply a set of activities.
The whole mindset that Paul describes here: “Bless those who persecute you. Never avenge yourself. Feed your enemy when he is hungry. Overcome evil with good.” — which echoes Jesus’s teachings from the sermon on the mount — is totally upside down from our western “don’t tread on me!” self- defending, militaristic attitude, isn’t it?
HOW DAVID DID IT
How did King David deal with Saul when Saul was out to kill him? David, though he was the anointed King of Israel, fled into the wilderness, and even when he had multiple opportune to kill Saul and take his rightful place as king, refused to avenge himself.
Now, it wasn't easy for him to do that, and he wrote Psalm 109, a very angry Psalm, pleading with God to avenge him, but he refused to do it himself.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
How did Jesus respond to us in our sin? He gave himself up for us all so that some of us might turn to Him. How did he react when the soldiers dragged him away? He prayed for their forgiveness even as they were driving the nails into His hands and feet and mocking Him. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
WHAT ABOUT US?
So how should we respond to our brothers and sisters in the church? To our husbands or wives? To our parents? To our children? Our friends? Even when we are tempted to see them as our adversary? Even when they have done something which rightly triggers our anger?
How should we respond to neighbors who bug us? Coworkers who we can’t seem to get along with or appease, no matter how hard we’ve tried?
How should we respond to bosses who through neglect, error, or bias put us in a position that could accurately be described as “cursed”? This can happen? Managerial or executive mistakes can actually cause very real hardship in our lives! How should we respond? How can we bless them in return?
What about those in the community who are actively opposed to our beliefs, or are actively working against God’s design and commands? How can we feed them when they are hungry?
How can we “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” such that we we encounter someone who is in opposition to us — when the world would say we have every right to be angry and demand repayment or punishment — how do we return that evil that they have done — and perhaps it was actually very real evil — how do we return it with good? Even to the point of death on a cross for their sake? How far did Jesus go for us when we were His enemy (as Romans 5 says)? How far should we go for our enemies?
Remember where Paul is coming from! Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us! “Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” He tells us in chapter 8. How much less then, can a sneer from someone who we don’t get along with?
The message of Romans 12 is that our right act of worship toward God — our response to what He has done for us through Christ — is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, just as Jesus did, by serving the church with the gifts we’ve been given, appreciating and honoring the gifts others have been given, and giving the world the mercy and genuine love we’ve been given.
This will require us to think and act entirely differently from the way the world tells us to — the way most of us were brought up to do.
And the one who lived this way perfectly, Jesus, was mocked for it, ostracized socially, arrested and killed for it. But he was also glorified for it, loved for it, honored for it, by God and by millions and millions of saints throughout the centuries, and he was ultimately resurrected for it, and given the highest throne in the universe for it.
As we follow Him, our reward will also be very great. This way — Godlikeness — the way of self sacrifice — is worth it.
I’m not saying this is going to be easy. And please don’t hear me suggesting that you can even live this way consistently under your own strength! And here’s the thing about living sacrifices, they have a tendency to crawl off the altar.
But those of us who have believed that Jesus is the son of God, who died in our place, and that God raised Him from the dead, and have trusted in His work for payment for our sin, we have God’s Spirit living inside of us nudging us in this direction, and giving us the strength, and the will to do His work, to live like He did. We’re not left on our own to figure this out. He is with us always. Reminding us, and giving us the strength and motivation to take the next step in this direction.
We can trust that this way of life is the way to go because it’s the way Jesus went! If you are ever wondering “What would Jesus do?”, pull out Romans 12:9-21. If you ever want to know what God’s will is in a specific situation in life, pull out this whole chapter, bring your life into line with it, by God’s grace, and as verse two says, you’ll be able to know.