Throughout this summer and now into the fall we're concentrating on what it takes to "get the Word" out, through our lives and through what we do and say to folks.
I think that perhaps there is no better place to start, to make a personal inventory of behavior that gets people's attention than in our Roman's reading, from Chapter 12, beginning at v. 9!
The character lists in scripture are daunting - something that almost no one, except Jesus himself, can "live up to." We talk a lot here about the need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our life, to make us "look like Jesus" in our inside!
But here in Paul's letter to the Romans, the list is directly tied to the work of the Spirit, just verses before, and to our response to God in verses 1-2 of Rom 12.
This is the Practical Paul that we are reading now. And the question we need to ask about these verses is this: What are others looking for in my life that will show them the love of Jesus? I believe that this section and perhaps Paul's section in 1 Cor 13 are the best outlines of behavior that give witness to God and His love.
Can we sum it up in two words: Genuine love!
Perhaps its best for us to use the rest of the scripture passage itself to expand those two words.
ABHOR EVIL; CLING TO GOOD!
Paul is not unclear in his language here, the verbs he uses are very strong language. Likewise in 1 Cor 13: Love does not act unbecomingly... does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth! The people around us are looking for clarity and righteousness in our choices and behavior. They want to see righteousness in action!
BE DEVOTED: GIVE PREFERENCE AND HONOR!
The early Christians were looked upon with disdain by the Romans, but one of the things that got through was the way in which the Christian community loved each other! Today we are divided up into our little camps and clicks - exclusive to and of one another. Is it any wonder that the world looks on and walks away?
Devotion to one another is almost totally unknown in our culture today. When our culture encounters a people who are devoted to one another they sit up and take notice! When we prefer one another in honor, what does that mean? It means we prefer one another's company and love to honor one another - we rejoice to see one another and to hear about the good things that God is doing among us.
I've always been intrigued by the language Paul uses here - a language of competition: Outdo one another in showing honor! This is one of only two places in the NT where such competition is encouraged in the Church: the other in Hebrews 10 where we are encouraged to "spur one another on to love and to good works."
DO NOT LAG IN ZEAL, BE ARDENT IN SPIRIT, SERVE THE LORD!
Paul is concerned for the fire in the fireplace! As we all know, time takes its toll on a fire, and ours is not different. It takes tending and stoking to maintain our spiritual fervor, our zeal for the Lord and for his people. Even more so, I think, our zeal for the lost! But it is by taking on the attitude of Jesus who was a servant for our sake, that we stoke and maintain our zeal in the Spirit. Nothing causes us to be excited about Jesus more than seeing Him working through us in our day-to-day lives and witness.
Next the watching world will see how we suffer!
REJOICE IN HOPE, BE PATIENT IN SUFFERING, PERSEVERE IN PRAYER...
It is in the midst of our suffering that the hope of the gospel comes most clearly into focus - for us and to those around us. People will ask you about the hope that is within you - Peter tells us to be ready to share that hope, with gentleness.
The qualities here are ones that give us a "testimony" of the grace and goodness of God, even in the midst of suffering.
I'm not sure that we can keep bad things from happening to us, either through the spiritual warfare we engage in or the natural course of our life events, we are subject to the fallenness of our world and the three things here are the most common experience we probably have!
CONTRIBUTE TO NEEDS; EXTEND HOSPITALITY
These things are not suggested behaviors for successful living! They are keys to success in life - living in the way that God himself lives. Living as ambassadors of reconciliation.
The generosity characterized here was a hallmark of the early Christian community, from Acts 2:42 forward! It is no less amazing today to find a community that is open handed toward one another and especially toward strangers.
BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE; DO NOT CURSE THEM;
REJOICE WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE,
WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP;
LIVE IN HARMONY; DON'T BE HAUGHTY;
ASSOCIATE WITH THE LOWLY; DON'T THINK YOU'RE MORE THAN YOU ARE.
Paul is going from preaching to meddling here! But I think we get the point, and perhaps the best point is to end with the invitation of Jesus to his disciples gathered:
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
The cross is the place of suffering for others, on the behalf of others. This is where we are called to go, for Jesus sake, to follow Him. The instructions seem pretty clear from Paul.
But we need the Holy Spirit to carry out the instructions! Without His help these are just another set of heavy rules - WITH His help, we are taking on the character of Jesus and living as His Body!
May we so live as to be the kind of people that he talks about in these verses - to live the kind of life He challenges us to, in response to all that God has done for us!
Let us pray and commit our way to Him to be the people He intends us to be in His Kingdom by the power of the Spirit.
Let us pray...
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your Name.