Live in Love

Explore the Bible Series

January 8, 2006

 

Lesson Passage: Romans 12:9-21

 

Introduction: What are the marks of a renewed mind?  Paul called for his readers to manifest a new way of thinking about the world (See v.2).  How does one recognize this renewal of mind?  As the lesson described last week, Paul began the description of the renewed mind in Romans 12:3-8.  These verses highlighted the importance of humility for the believer.  Christians need one another, and vital involvement in the local church, therefore, is essential for appropriate growth in Christian grace.  No person possesses all of the necessary spiritual gifts required for sanctification.  Each believer needs the ministry of others to promote progress in holiness and grace.  However, the realities of getting along with other believers, in the context of the local church, may prove very difficult. Paul, ever the careful student of human nature, understood the difficulties of these practical matters, and he devoted the rest of Chapter Twelve to addressing the love and harmony of the people of God.

 

Experience with any church will convince the most optimistic person that, at times, Christians struggle with interpersonal relationships.  These conflicts can produce great discouragement and disillusionment.  Large congregations can often mask these problems, but the faults of small churches often prove difficult to hide.  Why do churches have such problems, and how can Christians deal with them?  The reasons for these problems fall, it seems, into several general categories.

 

  1. Remaining sin:  Freedom from the penalty and dominion of sin is not freedom from the presence of sin.  Remaining sin is an inbred principle of the heart.  John Owen said, “Temptations and occasions put nothing in a man, but only draw out what was in him before.”  All real sin proceeds from the heart.  Christians may foolishly believe that present divisive issues have caused the problems that trouble churches. Church conflict does not cause men to stumble; rather, these difficulties arise as a result of the continued presence of sin in the lives of the best of God’s people.
  2. Besetting sin: All Christians have certain areas of weakness that produce repeated, chronic sin, sin believers return to again and again. Some of these transgressions are private, others are public and social.  Experience teaches that often the sins of the present mirror the failings of the past in other church settings.
  3. Satan: Scripture teaches that Satan hates the Lord’s people.  Peter observed that the Devil is, “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  The enemy of the saints constantly assaults believers with temptations and accusations.  As churches undergo biblical reformation, Satan grows increasingly aggressive in his assault, and his attacks on the church often center on sowing seeds of disharmony.
  4. Occasional problems: By this I mean that conflict often attends certain situations that churches face.  In particular, congregations experience grave tests of unity during periods of moral lapses among church leadership, theological disagreement, financial constraints, and leadership crises. 

 

Paul gave valuable counsel to the church in Rome in regard to fostering strong, principled relationships among the Lord’s people.

 

I.                    General Guidelines for Christian Relationships (12:9-13)

A.     “Let love be without hypocrisy”: True love does not resort to “play-acting.”  Christians must avoid, at all times, disingenuous sentimentality.

B.     “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good”: Christian love is principled; that is, one should never confuse love with indulgence of unholy conduct.

C.     “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love”: John Murray wrote, “When good is the atmosphere of our life we suffocate in the paths of in iniquity and the counsel of the ungodly.”

D.     “In honor giving preference to one another”: Some commentators believe this injunction means that an individual should take the lead in showing honor to his brothers.  He should, in this understanding of the phrase, refuse to wait for honor from his brother and take the initiative in giving preference to him.  Other Bible scholars think this verse calls upon Christians to place their brothers in a high position of honor.

E.      “Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”: Godly love possesses earnestness and energy.  This love does not wax and wane; rather, it remains strong and constant. The Christian’s service to Christ demands that love remain ardent.

F.      “Rejoicing in hope”: The believer’s love looks beyond the present circumstances and places its hope in the future glory of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

G.     “Patient in tribulation”: Church relationships often test God’s people severely; nevertheless, God calls Christians to remain patient and longsuffering in the interpersonal trials that come their way.

H.     “Continuing steadfastly in prayer”: Earnest, importunate prayer must buttress the believer’s relationships.  Indeed, sustaining godly relationships will prove impossible apart from a thriving prayer life.

I.        “Distributing to the needs of the saints”: Paul’s admonition clearly indicates the presence of a generous heart.  The Lord’s family takes care of the physical needs of one another. 

J.       “Given to hospitality”: This phrase builds on the previous a-statement.  The homes of the godly must remain open to those in need.

II.                 Special Instructions for Those Who Are Mistreated (12:14-21): Paul, beginning in verse fourteen, addressed the special difficulties of dealing with people who treat us maliciously and unjustly.

A.     “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse”: The apostle takes for granted that relationships will, on occasion, go sour, and the Lord’s people may be treated disgracefully.  These hardships prove particularly painful when they come from people who profess to know the Lord.  The natural response to persecution is to retaliate; however, Paul reminded his readers to return blessing to those who mistreat the Lord’s elect.

B.     “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”:  This verse builds on the principle stated in the previous sentence.  Christians must practice empathy even toward those who mistreat them.

C.     “Be of the same mind with one another”: In the midst of maltreatment, the believer must seek unity and harmony with the church.  The Christian may, in the face of hardship, seek to win people to his side, thus promoting a party-spirit in the congregation.  Paul urged his readers to avoid partisanship.

D.     “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion”: Refuse to see yourself as morally superior to your enemies.  Remain humble, and do not entertain thoughts of your superior wisdom.

E.      “Repay no evil for evil”: Judgment belongs to the Lord, and the Christian must find no place in his heart for personal retribution.  Seeking personal vengeance usurps the place of God.

F.      “Have regard for good things in the sight of all men”: Even lost men should observe the honorable conduct of Christians.  This honor must be retained especially in the face of undeserved mistreatment.

G.     “If it is possible, as much as lies within you, live peaceably with all men”: A believer has no control over the attitudes and conduct of others, but he must, as far as he can, live at peace with all people.  If offenses occur, they must not arise from the Christian.

H.     “Do not avenge yourselves”: Paul again encouraged the Romans to refrain from personal vengeance.  Instead of revenge, the believer must seek the blessing and benefit of those who wrong him.  Paul concluded this section with an admonition to overcome evil with good.  A quotation from Proverbs 25:21-22 reminds us to return kindness for maltreatment.