The Mark of True Gospel Living
Preached at Main Street Church on July 18th, 2019
This message is the third in our series through Romans 12-15 entitled: Gospel Living: 101. Paul wrote the book of Romans as a letter around 60 AD to the church that was in the city of Rome at that time. In the first eleven chapters Paul lays out a thorough explanation of the gospel, and in chapters 12-15 he lays out the application of the gospel to our everyday lives, which is why we have entitled this series, “Gospel Living: 101.” Today we will finish chapter 12 in this section of 30 different direct commands, that all are different, but also share one thing in common. So the title of my message this morning is, “The Mark of True Gospel Living.”
Romans 12:9-21 “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.”
What do you think defines the church? In their book “UnChristian” (published in 2007) David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons worked through loads of research in an attempt to discover why 16-29-year-olds (at that time) had such a negative perception of the church, defining the church with words such as “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental.” In their study:
- 87% of 16-29-year olds outside the church defined present day Christianity as “judgmental”
- 85% defined most Christians as “hypocritical”
- 75% defined them as “too political”
- Only 18% said they would consider most Christians “friendly”
- Only 9% said they would consider most Christians to be people they trust
- And only 16% would define Christians as those who consistently show love for other people.
While it might be tempting to explain away these ideas about Christians, and perhaps, they are not completely justified, the fact is they are accurate at representing how people perceive the church, and ultimately, what they think defines the church.
The one the saddens me the most, is that only 16% said they would define Christians as those who consistently show love for other people.
Love is the number one thing that should define our life as the church, but too often our lives get defined by things other than love. We might be tempted to define ourselves by our politics, our traditions, or our social status, when we ought to be defined by our love.
This passage is saying that since you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define your life.
The true mark of gospel living is love. So this morning we’re going to first define what love is according to this passage, and then learn how that love should define our lives.
- First, we’ll look at verses 9-13 which show that love should define your life with believers
- Second, Verse 14 shows that love should define your life with unbelievers
- Third, Verses 15-21 show that love should define your life with everyone
What Is Genuine Love?
Paul starts off this massive list of thirty different ways to love by clarifying what love is. Look at verse 9 where he says, “9 Let love be genuine.” Literally, “let love be without hypocrisy.” Love that is hypocritical isn’t love at all, that’s fake love. So Paul is saying, don’t be fake with your love, let love be genuine.
Okay, then what is genuine love? The answer is in what Paul says immediately after. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Another way to say it would be “Hate what is evil” or “Loathe what is evil,” and “Cleave to,” or “embrace” what is good.
This means two things: 1) There is an objective, true, unchanging reality of what is good and what is evil. 2) Genuine love is defined by the appropriate response to those realities.
What do I mean? Our society defines good and evil relativistically. For example: someone might say that it is a good thing to cut a cancerous mass of cells out of someone’s body and to kill the cancerous cells. But from the perspective of the cancer cells, cutting them out would not be good, because they would then die. Now this example might seem obvious, but it illustrates the importance of how we define good and evil for less obvious situations in life. This is important because we tend to define good and evil based on what we like and don’t like rather than on what is eternally true.
Paul knows that it is impossible to love genuinely if you don’t have a clear definition of good and evil, because loving someone is doing good to them. So if you can’t define what good is, then you can’t know if your love is genuine, because fake love would be to do something evil to someone and call it ‘love,’ which is what many people do today. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.”
So Paul says at the very beginning, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” God defines what is good, and God defines what is evil, and genuine love abhors what is evil and holds fast to what is good.
1. Love Should Define Your Life with Believers (v. 9-13)
In verses 10-13 Paul is saying since you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define your life with believers.
First he says, “10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The use of the word “one another” two times here, and the mention of saints in v. 13 demonstrate that Paul is talking about loving other believers. What we see here is that genuine love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ includes both our attitudes and our actions. Loving one another with brotherly affection means our attitude that we have towards other believers. Outdoing one another in showing honor means our actions towards other believers. So if you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define your attitudes and actions towards other believers.
Then he says in v. 11: “11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Again we see the pairing of our attitudes with our actions. Our attitude must be defined by zeal and fervency, and our actions must be defined by service to the Lord. The word zeal means enthusiasm or devotion, and the word translated fervent literally means to boil. We are to be boiling with passion for the Lord in our attitudes that leads us to serve the Lord in our actions. So if you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define your attitudes and actions towards other believers.
Verses 12 and 13 say, “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.” If you are rejoicing in the hope you have in Jesus Christ, then you’ll be patient in the midst of tribulation—whether it’s cancer, financial struggles, or marital problems, and your patience will show itself through being constant in prayer. Your attitude of rejoicing in hope will lead you to actions of patience and prayer, and also to acts of generosity and hospitality. If you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love will define your attitudes and actions towards other believers.
There’s a joke that goes like this: I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Are you religious?”
He said: “Yes.”
I said: “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.
Too often our relationships with other believers are defined by sectarianism and arrogance more than they are defined by love. But this text makes it clear that if we’e been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define our life with other believers.
If there’s another Christian that’s really hard for you to get along with the first thing you need to do is pray for them. God will use that act of faith by the power of His Spirit to turn your heart towards that person, so that you will feel “brotherly affection” towards them. Let love define your life with other believers.
When we gather together to worship the Lord, be zealous and fervent in spirit for the sake of the other believers you’re gathering with. Here’s what I mean: if someone goes to a gathering to worship the Christ who rose from the dead and everyone looks like they’d rather be filing their taxes, they’re not really encouraging that person with their attitudes to ‘serve the Lord.’ Especially if that person is going through sickness, or divorce, or getting laid off. But if they see people who are boiling with passion for God and their whole being is lifted towards God in worship, those people are loving that person by inspiring and encouraging them to join them in their adoration of the King. This doesn’t just go for our Sunday gatherings, but when you are at someone’s house, or having lunch with a friend. Let love define your life with other believers.
Show honor to believers from other denominations. Be generous to believers in need even if they’re not from your church. Be hospitable to brothers and sisters in the faith. Being hospitable means people are comforted by your presence. Let’s not make people feel like they have to perform or measure up to a standard, but let’s be generous and hospitable. Let’s let love define our life with other believers.
2. Love Should Define Your Life with Unbelievers (v. 14)
This point is just one verse, but it’s one very, very weighty verse. V. 14 says, “14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
Paul took this idea directly from Jesus in his sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, genuine love for unbelievers is defined by both our attitudes and our actions. Blessing someone is an action, based on an attitude. To bless someone means to hope the best for them. So you can’t bless someone if you’re attitude toward them is hateful. You can only bless them if you feel love for them.
This is an outrageous command, because God’s word is telling us that simply enduring persecution, or remaining silent under mocking is not enough. If we’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, we are commanded to feel love for and show love to unbelievers who persecute us. Only someone who has been transformed by the power of the gospel, can do something as impossible as that.
When Paul made this statement, it would have been personal to him. Because Paul was present at the very first public execution of a Christian. Stephen was something of an early church administrator. He helped sort out the details of serving the widows and orphans in the church. One day Stephen was arrested by Jewish officials because he was declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ. They brought all kinds of false accusations against him and dragged him before the Apostle Paul, who was not yet a believer, and his name at that time was Saul.
Paul was an enemy of Christians, and he sat there with approval as Jewish officials all grabbed large rocks and threw them at Stephens head, beating him with them. Acts 7:58 says, “They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
And years later as Paul wrote these words in Romans 12, I’m sure he was thinking of Jesus’ words, but I can’t help but think he must have had Stephen’s bloodied face burned into his memory and the words of Stephen echoing his Savior’s. Acts 7:59 says, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.”
Stephen had been so transformed by the power of the gospel, that even in his final moments as he was being brutally killed, he blessed the unbelievers who were killing him. He prayed for their forgiveness! And that prayer was answered by God, when Saul, who approved of the death of Stephen, was also transformed by the power of the gospel, and had his name changed to Paul. And would then write these words, with the image of Stephen still in his mind, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” If we’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define our life with unbelievers in the same way it defined Stephen’s.
Blessing those who persecute us means bless the boss who gives you the worst tasks because he knows you’re a Christian. It means bless your peers who mock your faith. It means bless the gang members who plundered your home because you were a missionary. It means bless the government officials who beat you because you for your faith. It means bless the islamic extremists who beheaded your family members. This is a radical love, that we are commanded to show, because we ourselves have been shown the very same radical love in the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:10 says, “For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” If you’ve been transformed by the power of the gospel, love should define your life with unbelievers.
3. Love Should Define Your Life with Everyone (v. 15-21)
Verses 9-13 define our love towards believers, v. 14 defines our love towards unbelievers, and v. 15-21 are comprehensive and tell us how love should define our life with everyone.
Verse 15 says, “15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” That means our love is empathetic. Love takes the the time to try to understand how someone else is feeling.
“16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” That means don’t be so worried about your reputation or time that you won’t sit down and talk to ’those people.’ Genuine love is humble. Paul is emphasizing again that love starts with our attitudes, and affects our actions. If you have a humble attitude, you will have humble actions.
“17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” In other words, we should spend more time thinking about how to honor someone who has wronged us than we should thinking about how we can get back at them.
“18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul said this to Christians in Rome who had already been persecuted for their faith, and would be persecuted even more. But as far as what was in their control, they were to work towards peace.
“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.” It is never right for anyone to take vengeance into their own hands, because God who is a perfect judge will bring judgment on all evil in the world, either through his judgment of sin in the body of Jesus on the cross, or through the final judgment. So we are not to interfere with God’s justice, and trust in his perfect judgment. Our sin was also already judged in Christ when he died on the cross so that we could be forgiven. Here is our job:
“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.” The idea is that you’ll make your enemy “red in the face” when they blush from conviction. So the point of doing good to your enemy is not to embarrass them or make them angry, but to convict them so that they might know something of the love of Christ, and be convicted of their evil ways. Paul clarifies that in the last verse:
“21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” As my old pastor Dr. Greever used to say, “It’s never wrong to do the right thing.” Paul started in v. 9 by commanding Christians to abhor evil and cling to good, and he ends where he started. We are to do what is good, because that is a demonstration of love, and love is what should define our lives with everyone.
On June 17th, 2015, a white supremacist walked into a Bible study and murdered 9 African Americans.
21 year old Dylan Roof drove to the church, asked to see the pastor, and then joined the Bible study where he was welcomed by the members. Roof pulled out a pistol and started shooting. He killed nine of our Christian brothers and sisters in cold blood, leaving another to tell everyone what had happened.
After decades of suffering through segregation, Jim Crow and the civil rights movements, and overt and covert racism for years, if anyone had a right to be bitter, or angry, or exasperated, it was our African American brothers and sisters from Emanuel church in Charleston South Carolina.
But in a shock to the Internet and the media, and everyone who heard the news, people watched, stunned, as Nadine Collier, one of the victim’s family members told Dylan Roof, the murdered these words, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you, and I forgive you too.”
Then Anthony Thompson, the husband of victim Myra Thompson, told Roof, “I forgive you, and my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Change your ways.”
Emanuel church will forever be defined, not by their politics, or their traditions, or their social status, but by their genuine love, rooted in the love of Christ. Since they had been transformed by the power of the gospel, love defined their life with everyone, even the man who murdered their family members.
The way Jesus has intended the world to know and experience his love is through his church. Which means the world won’t see the love of Jesus in the cross, if they don’t see that very love in his church.
Jesus demonstrated genuine love in the cross when he suffered and died for sinful people like you and me, to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from it. And he was buried, and after three days he rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, so that he might restore us to new life.
Jesus bled and died on the cross to unite all believers in him as brothers and sisters, so love should define our life with other believers.
Jesus suffered and died for us while we were his enemies, so love should define our life with unbelievers.
And Jesus poured out his life on the cross so that people would come to know him from every tribe and nation and tongue, so love should define our life with everyone.
If we fix our eyes on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and his love displayed for us in the cross, our lives will be transformed so that love defines them. Let’s be a church that isn’t defined by our politics, our traditions, or our social status, but by the love of Christ that we show to the world. Let’s be a church defined by our love.