Most of Paul’s letters address doctrinal matters first, followed by a “so what?” section that is very practical in nature. Chapter 12, where our reading begins today, is the point in Romans at which Paul begins to address the practical application of the things he had been talking about in the first 11 chapters. In fact, Paul begins by saying, “I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God…” In other words, in view of all the grace God has given to both Jews and Greeks, in view of Christ’s love that was willing to die for His sinful enemies, in view of God’s great and wise choices, in view of the fact that both Jew and Gentile are now part of the new Israel, and in view of His inseparable love and glorious hope here is how we should live.
Some of the practical things we’ll read could have been written to any church, but other things Paul writes to the Romans are clearly intended to address problems that were especially keen in the church in Rome. Let’s dive in…
Transformation — Romans 12:1,2
Discipleship to Jesus isn’t like self-improvement. In the ancient world there were philosophers to encourage people to improve their lives in certain way. Today we have shelves and shelves of books at Barnes and Noble in the self-help section. But Christianity isn’t betterment, it is about transformation; it’s not just making a better you, it’s about becoming different from who you used to be. The word “transformed” is the same Greek word used when Jesus is being transfigured on the mountain before the eyes of Peter, James, and John — when (Matthew 17:2) “…His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” You see, the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time (1 Cor. 15) isn’t the only time when we’ll be changed into something more glorious, our task as disciples is to start that change now. No doubt this is why Jesus (John 5:25) talked about a first resurrection and why baptism is understood (Romans 6:1-6) as a resurrection. So, let’s stop being satisfied with a self-improvement mentality — and transform!
Use your gifts with oomph! — Romans 12:4ff
As we read through the letters of the New Testament, we’ll find the church is often compared to a body and individual Christians compared to body members or organs. Each organ or member is important; without the proper functioning of each the body either gets sick, is crippled, or dies. Paul repeats that viewpoint here, but with a little tweak; he urges us to use our talents or gifts with zeal and oomph! There is a substantial difference — part of transformation — between using our talents on occasion with ordinary effort and using our talents for the Lord generously and with extraordinary effort: giving with liberality, leading with diligence, showing mercy with cheerfulness! Because after all, sacrifices that are pleasing to the Lord are always the best that we have, right?
Dealing with enemies — Romans 1217ff
This teaching is important in every generation and situation, but it was especially important in a circumstance full of Christian persecution, like Rome. Christianity was not a legal religion in Rome at this time, which made it “open season” on them. Enemies took advantage of this illegal status, and Christianity had plenty of them (especially in the synagogues). The natural response to the deeds of an enemy is to seek revenge, but Paul reminded them that this was not transformed living and he gives suggestions for a “transformed” response:
- Bless those who persecute you — Pray for them and do something for them that benefits their lives
- Never pay back evil for evil — Doing unto others as they have done unto you is not the golden rule
- Respect what is right in the sight of all men — Be careful that your response (in deed, word, or attitude) is not seen by the world as an insult.
- As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men — There are some people who do not want to be at peace with you, but do everything that you can do to be at peace.
- Heap burning coals on your enemy’s head — The cumulative effect of doing many good things to an enemy is often a positive result. Sometimes it’s from guilt, but sometimes the good deeds prove that you do not have evil intentions toward them.
- Overcome evil with good — This is what God Himself does.
The Christian and the government — Romans 13:1ff
It’s easy to imagine what the average Christian living in Rome (or the Roman empire) might have thought of the government: “I pay my taxes and pledge my loyalty, and I get kicked in the teeth with persecution in return, just because of my faith in Jesus. Who needs them? Let’s revolt!” But Paul teaches a different thing — be a good citizen. And Paul’s inspired command is part of what ultimately caused Christianity to overcome the empire. The persecution of a harmless people, who are good citizens, do good things for the community, hold to solid morality, and are a good influence generally just doesn’t make sense.
Learn to get along — Romans 14:1
And now, you Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians — get along! The eating of meats and celebration of holidays appear to be the frontline issues between the two groups (as they often were in other congregations of the Lord’s church around the empire). Transformed living doesn’t criticize, doesn’t judge, doesn’t divide, and doesn’t live unconcerned about how his actions will effect others. Criticism, judgment, division, and lack of love toward another’s soul is CONformed living; but God’s mercy calls us to TRANSformed living. Are you living transformed or conformed in your congregation?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.