Living God’s Principles in Community, Part 1
Therefore, In Romans 12:1 signals the beginning of the next step in Paul’s explanation of what it means to be saved. He has completed setting before us his theology. Now he is ready for its ethical implication in daily life. The “Therefore” indicates that the issue of how we live is dependent upon what we believe. Frist comes salvation, then the response to salvation-a pattern that Paul develops in many of his letters.
It is fundamental to Paul that those who have been justified live according to God’s principles. He raised that issue in Romans 6-8 as the only possible result of person’s being raised to “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), but now he will devote three and one-half chapters (Romans 12:1-15:13) to the topic.
He is ready to expand upon the great subtheme with which he brackets the entire letter: “the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26, NIV). For Paul salvation always precedes behavior. People walk with Christ in God’s law because they have already been saved. To the apostle, the order is fundamental. All too many seek to obey without being saved first. The end result is legalism, meanness, spiritual pride, and lostness.
Romans 12:1 contains several key words and phrases pregnant with meaning for Christians living. The first is “brethren,” or “brothers and sisters” (NRSV). Paul now moves beyond the distinction of Jew and Gentiles that has occupied him for the previous three chapters. He will now address all believers as part of the family of God.
Another key phrase is “living sacrifice.” At first it sounds like a contradiction in terms. After all, sacrifice was something that people in Paul’s day took to a temple to be slain ina ritual manner. To suggest that Christians should be living sacrifices is a vivid piece of imagery.
I have often thought that it might be easier to die for Christ than to live for him. After all, as difficult as dying might be, it is only necessary to wind up your courage once. Then it’s all over. But being a living sacrifice means dedication to Christ every day for the rest of my life. It calls for a ceaseless offering of all that I am and all that I have to God. We must have daily grace to live the life of a living sacrifice.
Transformed is the word that jumps off the page in Romans 12:2. We use the Greek word in English as metamorphosis, the biological process by which a slug-like caterpillar becomes a butterfly. That is one of the most graphic illustrations of what happens to a person when he or she meets Jesus. God finds us in our self-centered, proud and self-serving ways and then totally changes us.
And the good news is that God can do it in our lives. He wants to make us like Him in character. Not only does He desire to change us into something we are not, He longs to develop us into new creatures after the image of Jesus.
Romans 12-14 are intimately connected to the admonition in Romans 12:2 to live the transformed life. The word for signals that connection in verse 3-8.
Lesson number one in living the transformed life is that people need to have a correct estimate of themselves in context of the church and its ministries. And that lesson was crucial for the church at Rome. After all, they were not only split along racial and ethnic lines (Jew and Gentile), but, being a normal human population, they had differences in talent, position, and function that could easily lead to unhealthy attitudes and ways of relating (or not relating) to one another.
The real need of the church in Paul’s day and ours is not only to recognize our differences but to put them to use in such a manner that will not only lead to unity in the church but provide a positive blessing. It is in that context that we must examine Paul’s discussion of God’s gifts in Romans 12:3-8.
The first point that he stresses in these verses is that we should each have a correct estimate of ourselves. As second lesson is the need for unity in diversity. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, through many, are one body in Christ and individually members of another” (verse 4, 5). The church may be one in purpose, but the various members each made a different contribution, depending on their special gifts. Thus the plurality of the members leads to the health of the church as a body. Both unity and diversity are important at every level of the church.
Verse 6 notes the fact that God has given different spiritual gifts to various individuals. The only thing that their gifts have in common is that they are all blessing of grace. Thus, they do not reflect on the “value” of one person above another. All of us, no matter what our gifts, are equal in God’s sight as sinners whom He has saved through no merit of our own.
With verse 9 we have come to Paul’s second lesson in transformed living and one of the central words in his vocabulary – love. Just as in I Corinthians 12 and 13, Paul moves from the topic of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8) to that of love. Again in Galatians 5:22 he put love first on his list of the fruit of the Spirit. Beginning with Romans 12:9 Paul begins to spell out what it means to live the life of love. That task will carry him through Romans 15:13. As the new relationship to God can be summered up in one word “Faith”, so the new relationship to men can be summarized in the one word “Love”.
Romans 12:9-16 highlight many facets of that love. It is genuine, hates evil, holds on to the good, rejoices, is hopeful, is patient, blesses one’s enemies, never is vengeful, and so on. Each of us would do well to make a full list of its characteristics along with suggestions as to how our personal lives could better match up to them. Here we would find matter for earnest prayer.
Putting God’s transforming love into practice will revolutionize all human relationships. It wll, Paul tell us in verse 10, lead us to “outdo one another in showing honor.” That spirit was definitely needed in the Roman church with its major divisions between Jews and Gentiles and with some thinking of themselves as better than others because of their special gifts (verse 3-8).
Paul goes out of his way in verse 10 to utilize family terms to highlight the need of the Romans and al the rest of us to truly care for one another. Thus the word he twice uses in that verse to express love (phileo) highlights both family tenderness and a family connections. Christians, he is telling us, love each other because we belong to one family. We have God as our Father and are thereby brothers and sites in the LORD.
Verse 14 moves on from the “normal” aspects of Christian love to the “abnormal,” “b less those who persecute you.” The point to note here is that the Greek tense of persecuting expresses an ongoing action. This is not some aspect of ancient personal history in which you need to forgive someone for an old but somewhat far off hurt. No! it is both present and ongoing! Such is the radical nature of Christian love. It is the kind of love that Jesus said that we must have if we would be perfect like our father in heaven. Jesus was not playing mind games when he told His followers to “pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (verse 44, 45). As He hung on the cross Jesus prayed for those in the act of killing Him (Luke 23:34).
Here, I must say, is a challenge to the genuineness of our Christian love. Have we prayed for our enemies lately? If not, why not? Today – right now – is a perfect time to do something that’s not normal. It could change your life and theirs.
What a wonderful place the church would be if all of its members practices the qualities of genuine love presented in Romans 12:9-16. But the good news is that we as individuals don’t have to wait for others to make the church that way. We can begin the reformation today in our own congregation as we set out in earnest to live the transformed life of verses 1 and 2.
Paul’s third lesson on living the transformed life focuses on how Christians deal with those who mistreat them (verses 17 – 21). Here is a topic that speaks to every person. After all, given the instinct for self-protection that every individual has, it is only natural that thoughts of revenge surface in every human heart. Paul has already touched on the topic in verse 14, in which he said that Christians are to bless, rather than curse, those who persecute them. But that is easier said than done. As a result, he returns to the topic in verses 17 – 21.
One of the great facts of history is the revenge is universal in the human heart. But the core of Christianity centers not only around Christ’s death on the cross and salvation by grace through faith but also on living the transformed life (verse 2) of the new heart and new mind.
Genuine Christianity as Paul pictures it in Romans 12 is intensely practical. It instructs us on how to live in the real world, in which people hurt us deeply. Central to that instruction is the command not to retaliate when people have hurt us.
Retribution is not our task. Why? First because Jesus and Paul have commanded us against it. But second, if you need a real reason, revenge doesn’t work. The history of both nations and individuals tells us that one shove merely brings another in return, usually one with a bit more force. Ellen White writes that “it is the love of self that destroys our peace. While self is all alive, we stand ready continually to guard it from mortification and insult; but when we are dead, out life is hid with Christ in God, we shall not take neglects or slights to heart. We shall be deaf to reproach and blind to scorn and insult.”
The positive command of verse 18 to live in peace with all people is of interest because it contains two conditions that highlight the realism and practicality of the bible and the limitations of living the transformed life in a world of sin. The command to live peaceably with everyone raises a question in our minds if we think about it very long: Is it possible? The answer is an obvious no. That is why Paul adds tow condition in verse 18:
“so far as it depends upon you”
We might as well face it – in a sinful world cantankerous people can make it impossible to live in peace with them. That is why Paul adds “so far as it depends upon you.” While we cannot control other people, we are responsible for ourselves as we seek to be peacemakers in whatever situation we find ourselves.