Romans 12 is probably one of my favorite chapters. All of it.
But today, I just want to go through the latter half for a simple little devotion for all of us:
v.9 “Let love be genuine.”
So simple, really speaking to the heart. Some versions say “let love be without hypocrisy” and, though I split them up here, I believe the verses immediately following speak to how we can love genuinely. Another verse that comes to mind: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18
v.9 “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
By itself, I love this verse. As disciples we are to truly hate sin, not just the consequences of sin. We should truly abhor and want no part of evil because of the grace of Christ, His love toward us and His Spirit within us, lest his grace should be in vain. And we should also hold fast to what is good – we should seek to do good for others, to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, to put on the new man, not just crucify the old and to continue in our faith. However, this verse is sandwiched in between exhortations to love and how to love others, and as the verse in 1 John pointed out- our love should be in truth as well. When it comes to our brothers and sisters, we should be concerned for their spiritual well-being just as much as our own, and part of loving them sometimes means confrontation and spiritual guidance during times of temptation, sin and trials.
v.10 “Love one another with brotherly affection.”
There are so many verses about loving our brothers and sisters. “…have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22 The language is always so moving. Love one another deeply, genuinely, sincerely, from the heart, with affection. We are to be knit together in love. Love is such a foundation of our faith, love for God, love for others, and especially for our brethren. When we become children of God, we are adopted into His family. A fact of life is that we all generally have a natural, lasting love for our earthly families. There’s a special, natural tenderness that we have for those related to us that supersedes love we may have for anyone else. I think this familial bond foreshadows the type of love we cultivate for our spiritual family once we put on Christ. That type of love is a strong type that endures through arguments, disagreements, hardships and quirks. In the same way, love should be at the forefront when considering our brethren. They are not dispensable. We are each members of one body, and severance from one another shouldn’t be something we take lightly.
v.10 “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
This is a concept that can only be understood through humility. When we understand humility and when we master the art of self-forgetfulness by the grace of God, then we can begin to “delight in showing preference for one another”, not having care for whether or not we are being built up the way we should be or given the attention or acknowledgement we feel we deserve, not being concerned with having the last, or first, word. This isn’t something that can be measured by some outward checklist; it’s a principle of the heart. Examine yourself to know whether you have found your identity in Christ, and can therefore rest in true humility and take pleasure in honoring others fervently, not out of empty hypocrisy or because of burdened necessity.
v.11 “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
Each verse is so good! This one reflects an endangered concept, in my opinion. Because zeal is often associated with recklessness, simply because it’s often not tempered with wisdom, I’ve seen many crush the spirits of zealous brethren who feel convicted to do “crazy” things for God. But we should not swing the pendulum too far in the opposite extreme: Do not be slothful in zeal! Don’t let your zeal run out. Be fervent in spirit! Serve the Lord! This is going to look different for different people. Romans 14 talks about how two people may do opposite outward actions, yet they may each do it out of faith and for the purpose of honoring God and it is only when they go against their conscience that they sin. So, when it comes to some things, we each may reach different conclusions on how to honor God, and it’s our privilege and responsibility to act on that. On one hand, don’t let someone crush your conviction, and on the other hand, don’t crush someone else’s conviction just because it looks different than your own. The focus is in trying to serve and glorify God to the best of our abilities, with fervency and zeal. Also, I know from experience that when you do find yourself zealous about how to apply a principle or command to your life, when you don’t act on that, dangerous things can happen. Things like apathy, which is so toxic to our faith and our growth.
v.12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Be constant in prayer, no matter what your life circumstances look like. This takes purposeful diligence, especially in times of smooth-sailing. In Christ, we have hope – that is something we can always rejoice in and we shouldn’t neglect to thank God for it. And that hope stands firm throughout tribulation as well, so we can rejoice, and we can find the strength to be patient. I know we generally have an overwhelming desire to fix whatever is not perfect in our lives but there is a good reason to be patient and let our tribulations run their course:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-8
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5
This is fresh on my heart having just experienced a much needed and very unexpected, uncertain trial which surprisingly led to incredible growth and faith when we both worried things were going to be stuck in the other direction.
“She had mapped out a perfect life, without failures or disappointments. But that is more of a flawed life-plan than the bumpy ride God inevitably maps out for us. People who have never suffered in life have less empathy for others, little knowledge of their own shortcomings and limitations, no endurance in the face of hardship, and unrealistic expectations for life. As the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, anyone God loves experiences hardship (Hebrews 12:1-8).” – Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
v.13 “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Very simplistic and straightforward – an ongoing theme of this chapter, and one reason I love it so much. When we remember that the saints are our family, it should be clear that helping them when they’re in need is something we’re going to care about. This also ties into how we are to love others as we love ourselves – we shouldn’t wait until our brother is destitute before we fill this arbitrary obligation of contributing to the needs of the saints; we don’t wait until our own family is destitute before considering to do something to help our situation. Not only that, but we’ll want to show hospitality at all times – these are our brothers and sisters! We can’t be a tight-knit family when we aren’t continuously meeting together in our homes, just like we desire to do with our natural family members.
v.14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that probably no one reading this article is currently being persecuted. But we can still make the application. We are told to respond to those who are our enemies – not people we don’t like, but people that don’t like us, that are hateful, mean, cruel in whatever way – by blessing them, not cursing them or speaking evil of them. Of course this is reminiscent of Christ’s exhortation: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44
We can pray for our enemies, just as Christ did on the cross, and Stephen did before he was killed. We can do this because of the hope that is in us, because of the grace we’ve experienced, the grace we didn’t deserve. We can do this because we are fulfilled in Christ, not in the pleasures of this life; the approval of others. We can do this because we wish, like our Father, that all may come to repentance.
v.15, 16 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”
Again, this chapter just shows us what love for one another looks like. When we love others as we love ourselves, we will truly and personally experience their times of joy and times of hardship. We’ll always want to be there to celebrate, or to help bear their burden. And this kind of compassion shouldn’t be partial – we shouldn’t reserve it for only a certain group of brethren. Haughtiness presumes that we have something apart from God, something inherent about us, that we can boast in. Haughtiness causes us to see classes of people, to differentiate and show partiality. But genuine love and humility embraces the lowly brother equally, whoever he may be to us. Genuine love and humility bear fruits of compassion, harmony and unity among all brethren.
v.16 “Never be wise in your own sight.”
That reminds me:
“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” – Galatians 6:3
“…that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who makes you to differ from another? And what have you that you did not receive? Now if you did receive it, why do you glory, as if you had not received it?” – 1 Corinthians 4:6, 7
The truth is we owe everything we have and do to the grace of God. The moment we begin to consider something within ourselves as wise or boast-worthy is the moment we begin to lose sight of God and tread dangerous waters. If there’s one thing continuously condemned from Genesis to Revelation – and I mean, reeaally condemned and hated by Almighty God – it is pride in ourselves for whatever reason. True humility takes much effort, and continuously falling before God, allowing ourselves to be humiliated and thanking God for it. And this shouldn’t just be viewed as some other task to check off on our list of godly traits: if there is anything this chapter proves, it is that love and humility are the foundations of the new man. These are two things that cannot be accomplished apart from God, and without them nothing else we do can be pleasing to God. No wonder they are so emphasized in the scriptures – God has made it abundantly clear that these two things are attributes of the Spirit which we need to guard very carefully, for everything else hinges upon them.
v.17-19 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.”
1 Peter 2 says a couple of things that seem related to the first part of this passage:
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” – v.12
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” – v.15
This, combined with the passages about how those in Christ will treat their enemies, really speaks to our responsibility to live peaceably. Yet, we are granted that “as much as depends on” us is all we can have control over. Though we may win some over by our love and good conduct, strife, hate and persecution will endure and we can know this through the example of Christ:
“If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” – John 15:18- 20
And so when that persecution or evil comes in whatever form it may, though or perhaps because, we are striving to do good and serve God, we are not to seek revenge. Ultimately, we are to always hope that our enemies will be saved. But if they never turn to God, He is faithful and will avenge His elect. It is not for us to pronounce judgment.
v.20, 21 “To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Instead, God calls us to a position of service rather than judgment. We can all understand loving and meeting the needs of our brethren, like we’ve discussion before, but here the bar is set higher: care and provide for our enemies as well. Paul is referencing a proverb here which ends with: “For you shall heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord shall reward you.” Again, our focus for anything in life, whether it’s our relations with others or the decisions we make for ourselves and our families, should be on God: will this glorify Him? Am I seeking to please Him above myself or above others? When our eyes are set on pleasing Him alone, exhortations such as this become possible. When we are living by His grace and bearing the fruit of His Spirit, we will overcome evil with good.
And so that concludes our little journey through the latter half of Romans 12. See why I didn’t do the whole chapter? Yeah, because this was long enough :P But you should go refresh your memory and read the first half because the whole chapter is just gold and really encouraging, reminding us where our focus should be as disciples of Christ.