Sermon: Let Love Be Genuine: Romans 12:3-21

New Testament Reading: Romans 12:1-21

“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. 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. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12, ESV)

Introduction

Last Sunday I preached on Romans 12:1-2. There we found Paul the Apostle pleading with us, by the mercy of God, and based upon all that he has said to us in the previous chapters of his letter concerning the glorious salvation that has come to us in Christ Jesus, to offer ourselves up to God, body and soul, as sacrifices, living, holy, and acceptable.

Evidently the Apostle was not interested in promoting any kind of “easy-believism” wherein a person comes to Christ to receive benefits from him only to turn away from Christ to go on living for himself and according to the sinful ways of the world. That, to Paul, would have been most repugnant. That, Paul would say, is not true faith. Instead Paul insists that to come to Christ, to believe upon him truly, and to benefit from his finished work, does also involve offering yourself to up to God through faith in Christ. To have Christ as Savior one must have him as Lord, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

And so in verses 1 and 2 we do find the Apostle making this beautiful appeal to the Christian. Offer yourselves up to God as a living sacrifice, he says. Do not conform to the sinful patterns of this world, but be transformed to the core of your being by the renewal of your mind so that, over time and by testing, you do find yourself desiring that which God desires, approving of that which God approves, and willing that which God wills. 

Truly, the passage is beautiful and very challenging. And it does apply most directly to individual Christians. We are individually to offer ourselves up to God. We are individually to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The Christian, having considered all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus is to develop and maintain a proper attitude towards God as we live in this word. Our response to God’s amazing grace should be to “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and…soul and… mind and… strength” (Mark 12:30, ESV).

The Apostle Pleads With Us To Develop And Maintain A Proper Attitude Towards One Another As We Live In This Fallen World

But do you see how quickly the Apostle turns to address the Christians attitude towards others? And would you also consider the amount of space that he devotes to this subject. In verse 1 and 2 of chapter 12 he does plead with us to offer ourselves up to God as sacrifices, living, holy and acceptable. And it is only right that he begins there, for that indeed is the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all that we are. If we do not get this right, then we will not have anything right. But look at how quickly he turns to the plead with us to love our neighbor as ourself. And look at how much space he devotes that subject. One only has to glance at the pericope headings from 12:3 on to the end of the book to see that the Apostle labors to exhort the Christian to develop and maintain a proper attitude towards others as we live in this fallen world. And his first concern is that we would love one another in Christ’s church.

I do wonder if we give this matter – our life together in Christ – the same attention that Paul has given to it. I do wonder if we value it enough. It would be hard to find a true Christian who would say, “I need not make much effort in my relationship with God”, but there are many in our day who seem to have little concern at all for cultivating  and maintaining loving relationships within Christ’s church.

Some neglect the local church all together. I was driving my teenage daughter home from school the other day and she was agitated about a conversation she was having with some of her friends. They were claiming to be Christians and yet they were insisting that going to church is not necessary. What maters is that you have a personal relationship with God and that you pray to him at home, they said. It was a happy moment for me to see my daughter really bothered at the thought go this. “I love Jesus but I hate the church”, is a common sentiment today. We would replay, in agreement with brother Blackburn, no, Jesus loves the church, and so should you.

I am not so concerned to address that attitude this evening. I doubt any of you have it. If you do, I’m surprised, though very glad, that you are here. I’m more concerned to address the propensity that even we might have to neglect the cultivation of deep and loving relationships within the body of Christ. Even Christians who have a proper view of the local church may grow tired and negligent in this area, and must be stirred up.

Brothers and sisters, we are to enjoy fellowship with one another within Christ’s church. And let us not trivialize that word. Fellowship is more than engaging in casual conversation after the church service. To have fellowship is to have Christ in common. To have fellowship is to agree that God’s word is true. To have fellowship is to worship God together. Being united together in Christ Jesus, we are to care deeply for one another. Spiritually, we are to build one another up. Physically, we are to address one another’s needs. Friends, we cannot approach our fellowship with one another casually, but we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, ESV). The word “eager” means, “to do something with intense effort and motivation.”

God does care deeply about the our attitude toward one another within Christ’s church. Christ himself did say, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35, ESV).

 “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…”

In verses 3 through 8 of Romans 12 the Apostle urges us to love one another, and he does at first warn against pride. Pride will kill love within the church. Prideful people cannot love others, for they are consumed with loving themselves.

In verse 3 Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3, ESV).

I’ve heard it said that pride is form of insanity. To be puffed up with pride is to loose touch with reality. The prideful person thinks too highly of himself. He lives being unaware of his frailty. He lives unaware of his tremendous need. He thinks that what he has, he has gotten by his own strength. He has forgotten that everything good that he does possess was given to him as a gift from God. His treasures are his because God has given them to him. The same is true of his abilities. The position that he might have is his because God has appointed him to it. The prideful person walks around oblivious to this reality. He thinks of himself, not with sober judgment, but foolishly. He lives according to a  lie.

Paul, in another place warned against Christians being “puffed up in favor of one against another.” And to combat the sinful pride he asked them, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV)

If we are to love one another as Christ has commanded we must keep pride in check. Never should we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. The earlier chapters of Romans certainly help with this, for it is there that we are told of our total depravity, our helpless condition apart from Christ, and our salvation being owed totally to the sovereign grace of God. In another place the Apostle reminds us that, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31, ESV).

Where is there room for boasting, then, in the Christian life? There is no room at all! The more we know about God’s word, the more humble we should grow, for it is there in the scriptures that our smallness and God’s greatness is most clearly revealed. And the more gifts we have the more humble we should be – to think that God would be pleased to use frail and sinful creatures such as ourselves in his kingdom. “When [we] have done all that [we] were commanded” what can we say, except, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, never should we think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, and according to what God’s word does say about us

Secondly, Paul urges us to appreciate the diversity that exists within the church and to celebrate it, rejoicing in the unity we have in Christ Jesus.

Verse 4: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4–5, ESV).

Paul uses the human body to illustrate the principle that in the church there is both great diversity and substantial unity. The human body is made up of many parts. And, as it pertains to their function, those parts do differ greatly from one another. But those parts do make up one body. Paul develops this idea more fully in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and following, but in both places his desire is that we would recognize the diversity within the church, celebrate it, and to honor one another, giving thanks to God for his wisdom and grace.

There is a tendency within the church, I think, for some to, with pride in their heart, say why isn’t every one like me? Why doesn’t everyone have my temperament? Why doesn’t everyone have the passions that I have? Why doesn’t everyone do what I do? Brothers and sisters, we whole give thanks to God that not everyone is like us, but that God has blessed the church with diversity.

Some make the opposite error when they look down upon the gifts that God has given to them and envy the gifts of others, thinking, I have noting to offer, and I wish that I were as they are. 

Both the attitude of pride and the attitude of envy as it pertains to our giftedness within Christ’s church are devastating to the body of Christ. Just as in a healthy human body all of the members, according to their design, do happily do their part for the good of the whole, so to it must be in the local church, for “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

Thirdly, Paul urges us to use our gifts, whatever they may be, for the good of all.

Verse 6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6–8, ESV)

It is our view that the gift of prophesy does not exist within the church today as did in the time of the Apostles. That said, Paul does divide spiritual gifts into two broad categories – those gifts which involve speaking, and those gifts which involve serving. These categories do also correspond to the two offices of the church – elder and deacon.

There is much that can be said about verses 6 through 8, but I would prefer to focus only upon the clear and main principle, that whatever our gift may be, that we use it for the building up of Christ’s church. Friends, church is not something that we attend, but it is something that we are a part of. We are members of the Christ’s body, and as members we all do have a service to preform, a function to fill. Let us love one another.

“Let love be genuine…”

Let us also look briefly at verses 9 through 21 where the Apostle delivers a series of exhortations to the Christian, urging us to maintain a proper attitude or heart towards one another in the church.

The section is a little difficult to preach because it lacks the structure and development that is typical of Paul. The exhortations are delivered in rapid fire succession. There is an intensity to the passage, in my opinion. You can almost hear the appeal in the Apostles voice as if he were pleading, please, brothers and sisters, love one another. 

In verse 9 Paul says, “let love be genuine”. Our love for one another must be sincere and without pretense or show. It is easy to pretend to love, and many do. It is easy to talk as if we love, and many do. But to truly love – that is, to love from the heart and to lay your life down for the good of another – is difficult. The Christian’s love is to be sincere. Paul identifies love as the leading virtue, just as he does elsewhere. 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1,13, ESV). Our love for one another must be genuine.

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good”, he says. Leon Morris notes that “true love involves a deep hatred for all that is evil, for evil can never benefit the beloved.” You cannot love someone by approving of or celebrating their sin, for then you would be rooting for their destruction. You might appear to love the sinner as you validate their behavior, but truly you are hating them. To love others truly one must first love God and the things of God. We must hate with a holy hatred what is evil and stick like glue to what is good.

Verse 10: We are to “love one another with brotherly affection.” The bond that Christians enjoy is a familial bond. We have been adopted as sons of God in Christ Jesus. We are brothers and sisters, united together in Christ, with God as Father. This bond will last for all eternity. Our affection for one another should be great.

This love is more than an emotion, but it does manifest itself when we “outdo one another in showing honor.”

Verse 11: Never should we be “slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, [serving] the Lord.” We should be eager to do things for one another when legitimate needs do arise.

Verse 12: We are to “rejoice in hope… be patient in tribulation… [and] constant in prayer.” When you belong to a local church where the members do know and love one another sincerely you will see your brothers and sisters, from time to time, go through very difficult circumstances. How important it is to love those who are suffering by reminding them of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. This must be done with great care, but it is important for the one who is suffering to be encouraged to look to Jesus for comfort, to remember our salvation in him, and to lay up treasures in the world to come.

Paul does speak often of the power of hope in Christ in his writings. It is Peter who says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (1 Peter 1:3–6, ESV).

Christians are to be patient in tribulation. Patience here means to bear up under difficult circumstances; to endure through suffering. And we are to be constant in prayer. Brothers and sisters, do you endure with one another in the midst of difficulty? Do labor in prayer for one another?

Verse 13: We are to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Do see that our love must be demonstrated practically? “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV).

Verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them”, Paul says. It is not that Paul expects that Christians will persecute Christians. Without question persecution does come from outside the local church. But Paul is concerned for Christians that they keep their heart free from all bitterness even towards their persecutors. Bitterness within the heart, even if it is directed towards those outside the church, will certainly be a cancer to the church. A heart consumed with bitterness cannot love. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” How important it is to empathize with those who are suffering and to celebrate with those who are experiencing success. Chrysostom recognized that it “requires more of a high Christian temper, to rejoice with them that do rejoice, than to weep with those who weep… there is none so hard-hearted as not to weep over him that is in calamity: the other requires a very nobel soul, so as not only to keep from envying, but even to feel pleasure with the person who is in esteem.” The only exception that I would take with this comment is that I think there are some who are so hard hearted who will not weep with those who weep. Perhaps it is not hardness of heart, but indifference that I see.

Verse 16: Christians are to “live in harmony with one another.” Never should we “be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Never should we “be wise in [our] own sight.” Some think too highly of themselves and are unwilling to associate with lowly or hurting people, or to engage in lowly activities. Thankfully, this was not the attitude of our Lord, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6–7, ESV). Brother and sisters, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5, ESV).

Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” If you have been in the church for any length of time you know that Christians do sometimes offend Christians. Certainly non-Christians do sometimes do evil to Christians. Never should we do evil in return, but what is honorable.

Verse 18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I appreciate that Paul does say, “if possible”, for there are some situations where doing what is right will lead to conflict. Paul knew this well. He often found himself at the center of conflict. Our Lord also knew this well. Many hated him, but it was because he was light and they were darkness. True as this may be, we are to do everything in our power to live at peace with others. Never should we unnecessarily offend. In the church we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, ESV).

Verse 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.” As it is with bitterness, so it is with a vengeful heart. The Christian should have nothing to do with either.

In my relatively short time in the ministry I have come to see that Christians are sometimes wronged very badly by others. The desire for vengeance can be very strong.There is nothing at all wrong with wanting justice to be served, or for wanting things to be set right. But this is God’s work, and not ours. And so we are to leave it to God. Never should we take revenge ourselves, and neither should have vengeful hearts.

Verse 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. With hearts free from all bitterness and wrath we are to do good even to our enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” But Christ says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43–45, ESV).

This is how evil is to be overcome – with good. And by responding to our enemy in this way the Apostle says “you will heap burning coals on his head.” I believe that Calvin’s interpretation of this phrase is the correct one. He understands the heaping of burning coals on the head our enemy to mean that when we respond to the evil that our enemy does with good and with kindness, “his mind shall be turned to one side or another; for doubtless our enemy shall either be softened by our benefits, or if he be so savage that nothing can tame him, he shall yet be burnt and tormented by the testimony of his own conscience, on finding himself overwhelmed with our kindness.”

Clearly, there are some exhortations in this string of exhortations that have a Christians attitude towards non-Christians in view. “Bless those who persecute you”, is one example. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him”, is another. But do you see that the Apostles aim is to urge the Christian to maintain a heart of love so that we might love one another in Christ’s church. It is our attitude towards one another that Paul is most concerned with. Our love for one another must be genuine, sincere, and without presence. And if we are to love one another in this way, our hearts must be kept pure. For “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14–16, ESV).

Conclusion

Doctrine does matter.

Right doctrine should produce right practice.

It should move us to love and to worship God supremely and with all that we are.

It should move us to love one another.

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