We’re in that part of Romans where Paul has moved away from explaining the gospel to teaching us how we’re to live as God’s people. Chapters 1 to 11 are all about what God has done and is doing for sinners like us by his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And chapters 12 to 16 are all about the way to live as God’s people in the world.
I’ve mentioned the Heidelberg Catechism before. It’s similar to our Shorter Catechism, but it’s divided into three parts. First of all, there’s our guilt. We’re sinners who deserve to be condemned. Secondly, there’s God’s grace to us. God sent his Son to redeem us so that we might receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life. Thirdly, there’s our grateful response. We ought to obey God’s law and do his will to express our gratitude for his grace to us. Well, the Catechism’s threefold structure mirrors the structure of Romans. First of all, in chapters 1 to 3, there’s our guilt:
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Then, in chapters 3 to 11 there’s God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus:
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
And so, chapters 12 to 16 are about our grateful response:
In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices.
I said last time that as we go through chapters 12 to 16 and all the things we’re to do, we need to remember the good news of the gospel. We need to remember that there’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We need to remember that nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. We need to remember that God has bound all men over to disobedience that he may have mercy on them all. We need to remember these things, because, on the one hand, we will often fall short of doing what God commands us to do in chapters 12 to 16. In that case, we need to be continually re-assured of God’s willingness to pardon us for our shortcomings. And on the other hand, by remembering God’s grace and mercy and kindness to us in the gospel we’re stirred us up to greater gratitude; and greater gratitude will lead us to greater obedience. So, as we go through these chapters, we need to remember the good news of the gospel to re-assure us of God’s willingness to pardon us and to lead us on to grateful obedience.
And we also need to remember that Paul is describing the heavenly life. We’ve been rescued from this present evil age and raised up with Christ to the heavenly realms; and the life we now live on the earth is to reflect the fact that we now belong in heaven, where Jesus Christ our Saviour is. And so, instead of being conformed to the pattern of this age, instead of walking in the ways of this present evil age, we’ve to live on the earth as citizens of heaven. And Paul is describing that heavenly life here.
And so, we’re to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, wholeheartedly dedicated to doing his will. We’re to use whatever gifts he’s given us in the right way. That’s what verses 1 to 8 were about. And now we come to verses 9 to 21. And it begins, unsurprisingly, with love.
Look with me at verse 9 where Paul writes:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
‘Love must be sincere’ could be the heading for all that follows, because everything that follows is, in a sense, an exposition or an explanation of what sincere love looks like. And, of course, the command to love is fundamental. The greatest commandment, according to the Lord Jesus, is the command to love God. The second greatest commandment, he said, is the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. And here Paul reminds us that our love must be sincere; it must be genuine. One person seems to love us and is kind towards us, but he’s really only interested in himself and what he can get in return. Another person seems to love us and is kind towards us, but behind our back, she mocks us and makes fun of us. But no, says Paul, our love for one another ought to be sincere.
And whenever we possess this sincere, genuine love it will mean we’ll hate doing whatever is evil; and we’ll instead do only what is good for our neighbour. So, we’ll hate doing whatever is evil and wicked and unkind. We’ll be repelled by even the thought of doing something evil and wicked and unkind. And instead we’ll cling to whatever is good and we’ll want to do only that. Just as a husband will cling to his wife and not let go because he loves her, so we’re to cling to whatever is good and not let go, because we now love doing whatever is good.
Verses 10 to 12
In verses 10 to 12 Paul uses the same pattern. Listen to what he’s saying here:
In brotherly love, love one another warmly.
In honour, preferring one another.
In zeal, do not be lazy.
In hope, rejoicing.
In affliction, showing perseverance.
In prayer, steadfastly continuing.
So, in all of these areas of your life, be like this.
Since the church is like a family, and we’re all brothers and sisters in the Lord, we’re to love the members of the church with a brotherly love. And whereas we might be tempted to push ourselves forward and promote ourselves — you know: ‘Me first!’ — instead we’re to honour one another and put others before ourselves. So, love one another and honour one another.
We then come to a group of three. First of all, Paul says:
in zeal, do not be lazy.
Or as the NIV puts it:
Never be lacking in zeal.
We’ve met Christians like that. Once they were full of zeal and they were enthusiastic about obeying the Lord and doing his will. But over time — and it can happen so slowly, like water leaking from a bucket through a small hole; and you don’t even notice until it’s all gone — well, over time their zeal leaks away; and other things begin to take first place in their lives. So, we’re to watch out for that, says Paul.
Instead we need to keep our spiritual fervour. Another way of translating Paul’s words is to say that we’re to burn in spirit. Paul could be referring to the Holy Spirit here, who stirs up our love and devotion. However, I think it’s more likely that he’s referring to our own spirit; and we’re to ensure that we don’t let our love for the Lord grow cold.
And we’re to serve the Lord. One of the commentators points out that this instruction has two functions. If our zeal ever diminished and we become weary in doing good, we’re to remind ourselves that we’re duty-bound to serve the Lord. That’s what we’re for; and that’s what we should do. When we wake up in the morning, let’s shake off sloth by reminding ourselves that we’re to serve the Lord today.
But then, the command to serve the Lord also regulates our zeal. Lots of people are zealous for many things. Even in the church, people can be zealous for many things. But we need to ensure that we’re zealous for the right things. We need to ask ourselves: ‘I’m enthusiastic about this. But is this what the Lord has commanded?’ If we’re not doing what he has commanded in his word, then all our zeal and enthusiasm and hard work is misdirected. So, are you lacking in zeal? Well, serve the Lord. And are you full of zeal? Well, make sure you’re serving the Lord.
And then we come to another group of three:
In hope, rejoicing.
In affliction, showing perseverance.
In prayer, steadfastly continuing.
Or, as the NIV puts it:
Be joyful in hope.
Be patient in affliction.
Be faithful in prayer.
Hope is always directed into the future, isn’t it? So, we might be going through trials and sorrows now, as part of this troubled life, but we have a great hope, don’t we? We believe that all the suffering of this present time is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed to us one day when Jesus Christ returns. That’s the great hope we have. And so, we’re able to rejoice. We’re able to rejoice, because we know the Lord has something far, far, far better in store for us in the future; and all the struggles of this life will be forgotten. So, whereas those who don’t believe have nothing to hope for, we have a sure and certain hope; and it makes us rejoice.
And it also enables us to persevere through trials and afflictions and to endure all things patiently. We persevere and endure all things, because we don’t want to miss out on the glory of come. So, we’ll keep trusting in the Lord; we’ll keep walking in his ways; we’ll keep going along the narrow path because we know it leads to life.
And, of course, as we look forward in hope, and as we patiently endure in the present, we’re able to turn to the Lord in prayer and seek his help and strength to keep going. Do you remember what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1? Paul was writing about suffering and how he was under such great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure. He even despaired of life. He thought:
This is it! I’m going to die. Why did this happen to him?
He tells us:
this happened that we might not rely no ourselves, but on God.
We go through troubles and trials; we can’t cope. So what do we do? The believer turns to God in prayer; he cries out to his loving, heavenly Father and relies on the help that he alone can give.
So, the believer rejoices in hope. And the believer seeks to endure all things patiently. And the believer prays continually and faithfully, seeking the Lord’s help.
And then we come to verse 13 and we’ll stop here today. Listen to what Paul says:
Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
At the end of 1 Corinthians Paul referred to the collection for God’s people. He wanted the believers in Corinth and elsewhere to save up some of their money in order to help needy Christians in Jerusalem. And, of course, at the beginning of the book of Acts, we read how some believers were able to sell some of their property and they used the proceeds to help one another. So, we have these examples of how believers loved one another in practical ways and shared what they had with one another. And here’s Paul instructing every believer to do the same.
And he also instructs believers to show hospitality. This was especially important in New Testament times, where the Apostles and other preachers travelled from place to place with the gospel. And wherever they went, they were relying on believers to open their homes to them. And then, because of persecution, many believers in New Testament times had to give up their homes and flee for their lives. Well, they needed someone to take them in. Now, wouldn’t it be awful if believers in Rome shut their homes to their fellow believers? Wouldn’t it be awful if they said:
You’re not welcome here.
No, says Paul:
This is how you show sincere love to one another: Open your wallets to help believers who are in need. And open your homes too.
And isn’t that interesting? I said at the beginning that Paul is describing for us the heavenly life. The Lord Jesus has rescued us from this prevent evil age. We’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms. We’re to live this heavenly life everyday. But this heavenly life is so down-to-earth and practical: Love one another; put others first; endure afflictions; share what you have; open your homes. That’s how we’re to love one another. That’s how we’re to serve the Lord. We serve the Lord and we bring glory to his name as we go about our daily lives, loving and serving one another.