Christian Living and Relationships (Part Three)
© C. O. Bishop, 6/3/16 THCF 6/5/16
We have been studying through the book of Romans, and finding a good deal of practical instruction in chapter 12. Probably a really good expositor could provide dozens of sermons all from this chapter. As a teacher, I prefer to always cover enough scripture that we can see the context, and not to get too lost in the miniscule differences between one Greek word and another. So, I seldom preach a sermon on just one verse, though it certainly can be done.
Romans 12:9-16 talks specifically about the Love relationship between believers, and what it is supposed to look like. It seems important to me to remember that the body of Christ (the Church, proper) is an organism, not an organization. A local church may have many characteristics of an organization, but, it, too, is primarily an organism. The assembly of flesh-and blood people like ourselves does require some organization in order to function, but we are not a “social club”, or a “political group”, or any other such thing, so much as an assembly that is a local expression of the body of Christ; and as such, we are closely related to one another: we are to function as a body, though the local assembly is never called a “body” in scripture. And what makes it all work is Love. In spite of what I said about not spending too much time explaining the differences between Greek words, here are two Greek words that are frequently translated the same, but do NOT mean the same thing, and, oddly enough, we are commanded to do both of them.
Love—Agapao and Phileo
9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
I had a valuable experience a number of years ago, because I was out of work. To support my newly-wed bride and our (first) in-progress child, I was taking any job I could find. In November of 1981, I was working in the fields, harvesting Christmas trees. All the other workers were transients of one sort or another. One of them carefully (and cynically) explained to me the difference between a transient and a bum…it was interesting to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And, one of the fellows there was a native-speaking Greek, probably in in his mid-forties, though it is hard to say, for sure. The fellow doing the explanation singled him out and declared him to be a bum. He received vile curses in reply.
But, one day it occurred to me that I had a golden opportunity to hear the differences between two Greek words from a native speaker who had no theological ax to grind. So I asked him, “George, what is the difference between ‘agapao’, and ‘phileo’?” He answered pretty succinctly, for who and what he was: he said “Ah… ‘Phileo’ means ‘I love you! You’re my friend! You’re my brother! I love you!… But… ‘Agapao’…it means ‘I give you my heart! I give you my soul! I love you!”
I thought that was pretty profound for someone the other transients called a bum…he had no problem at all telling me that, except superficially, the two words are not synonymous. We see that truth in the famous conversation between Jesus and Peter; when Jesus asked “Do you love me?” using the ‘agapao’ verb, and Peter kept answering, using the ‘phileo’ verb, until Jesus changed his tack, and used the ‘phileo’ word too, then Peter was grieved. They are not the same…and yet we are commanded to do both. Most frequently and emphatically, we are repeatedly commanded to “Love one another”, and the verb is “agapao.” We are to be completely committed to the well-being of one another, without regard to how it affects us personally. Jesus demonstrated that sort of love when he went to the Cross. Isaiah 53:10 confirms that He was pouring out his soul before the throne of God, for our sake.
When we read about love in 1st Corinthians 13, it is the agape’ love. And every example given is an action, not a feeling. Here in Romans 12:9, Paul says the agape’ love is to be unfeigned—not faked. In fact, the Greek word means “without hypocrisy”. Don’t “pretend” agape’.
The first time I realized that this is a command, (along with many other such passages), it actually set me free, because until then, I simply recognized that I had a “problem” with a “lack of love”. Once I realized that this is not a recommendation, or a suggestion, but a command, I was set free, because God does not say to confess “problems”, but sin.
Once I knew that it was sin to fail to love, I could confess it and be cleansed. Until that day, I recognized the issue, but thought it was something I simply had to stir up and produce on my own. It isn’t! God says “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9) That is no “blanket solution” for problems…it is a blanket promise regarding sin! And, this particular word, agapé, has nothing to do with feelings. It has to do with how you set priorities, and what you do about them.
But, in verse 10, he also says we are to be kindly affectioned (Greek “philostorgos”) one to another, with brotherly love (“philadelphia”). The Love called out here in verse 10 is the phileo love, and it does mean how we feel and how we act toward one another. It even says that we should “prefer one another in honor.” We should see our Christian brothers and sisters as closer relatives than a flesh-and-blood brother. We need to build close relationships with one another, and be drawn together by the love of the brethren. The Greek word philadelphia (not the city) literally means the love of the brethren. Unfortunately, naming a city “brotherly love” does not change how people’s hearts work, and, to my best knowledge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is not much different than other large cities. Love is not what makes that city work.
11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
The Greek word for business, here is “spoude”—it means “diligence.” Not slothful means not lazy—not lackadaisical. We are to be known for diligence and zeal, as we are serving the Lord, in whatever we are doing, one way or another. Ephesians and Colossians both address this idea as well, saying, “…whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” We need to step back from the obvious, humanly visible circumstances, and remember who we actually serve. If you have a hard time with that, please take the time to read of Joseph the patriarch, Daniel the prophet, and Jeremiah the prophet. Each served evil men in hard, evil circumstances, but rose above the trial because they continually remembered who they served.
Joseph could so easily have become bitter: he was kidnapped, sold into slavery by his elder brothers, forced to serve an evil man (Potiphar was the captain of the guard—in charge of the prison, torture and executions.), and imprisoned, accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
Daniel was kidnapped, castrated (remember his boss was the boss of the eunuchs), and forced to serve the evil, monstrous kings of Babylon, who had murdered his people, enslaving the survivors, and who served evil, false gods. But he remembered who he served, and he served faithfully. The result was that at least some of those evil kings became believers…and his prophecy stands today as one of the most important, key prophecies in the Bible.
Jeremiah was drafted by God, to serve as a prophet, but virtually no one believed him! As far as I can tell, the only two who believed his message, during his lifetime, were Baruch (his partner/sidekick) and Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch. But his ministry, though sparse in the day he served by human terms, has continued to benefit believers now, for 2500 years!
All three of those men (as well as countless other men and women of God) served under far harsher circumstances than we may ever expect to experience. And all of them served faithfully. They served diligently. They did what they were assigned to do, and did good, honest work, regardless of how it would be received. And they were rewarded by God accordingly.
Joy, Endurance, and Prayer
12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
Here is another hard one—Habakkuk prayed because of the corruption he saw growing in Israel. He asked why God wasn’t judging the rampant sin in Israel. God responded by revealing that judgment was coming, in the persons of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). Habakkuk was horrified, because he saw the Chaldeans as being far worse than Israel. But God reiterated that he WOULD bring the Chaldeans to purge Israel, but that Babylon would be also destroyed, and Israel would eventually be saved.
Habakkuk’s response was a classic: he said, (Habakkuk 3:17-19) 17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
Notice the things he listed: all of them were things God had used as allegorical teaching regarding Israel: the fig tree, the vine, the olive tree, the flock, and the herd. And all were to be destroyed. Habakkuk foresaw the destruction of his nation in judgment from God. And see his response—an act of the will: I WILL rejoice in the LORD… I WILL joy in the God of my salvation! And God’s response to that sort of faith? He will make me sure-footed, and He will set my feet on high places, allowing me to rise above the grief and shame of the coming judgment. And Habakkuk said this was a song, a hymn of praise and faith.
Share! Be Hospitable!
13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
Reach out to one another’s needs…open your home to others. Distributing to the needs of other believers is something we would tend to do with family, anyway, so keep in mind the fact that we are family.
It is interesting, too, that the word translated “hospitality”, here, is the Greek word “philozenian”— brotherly love toward strangers! This one is not just a “love-one-another-club” benefit. We are to reach out to those we don’t know well—to strangers—as a life-style. I do not think that he is advocating irresponsible carelessness, here, as there are other places specifically warning against false brethren; wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc. But hospitality does not exclude strangers…it necessitates reaching out to strangers.
Sometimes the strangers will not be pleasant back to us. Sometimes our own Christian family may be unkind to us, as well. We are all tarred with the same brush, and each of us has an unsalvageable sin nature living within, as an enemy within the gate. Sometimes that results in unfortunate attitudes, behavior or words. What do you do then?
14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
It is inevitable that, in hostile territory, we will occasionally be attacked, and come under fire for our lifestyle. Bear in mind that, when you received Jesus as your savior, you became the youngest, lowest-ranking greenhorn-recruit in His army, which is already in the process of invading planet Earth. You instantly became the mortal enemy of Satan and all His minions, whether human or otherwise. Life will NOT get easier, in many respects: it will get harder. You are in a war, and now you are surrounded by enemy troops. So—what do you do when you are under attack? Being hated, do you respond in kind? When you are being lied about, do you “fight fire with fire”, and get into a sniping war, taking potshots at them in return? Or do you remember that these are precious souls for whom Jesus already died?
We are told to bless them that persecute us. Bless and curse not! That is a command. It is not easy—in fact, I am of the opinion that the Christian life is beyond difficult: it is impossible, except for His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Walk in Empathy and Humility
15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Don’t hold yourself up as being above other people’s suffering. Empathize! Go ahead and feel their grief. Go ahead and be touched by their pain…and rejoice when they are blessed, as well. We really are brothers and sisters, people. Be glad for your “Christian family” when things are good, and grieve with them when things are hard.
We are to be characterized by Unity, as well. Love and unity (the two things taught here) are the two specific criteria by which the World is invited to judge the church: Jesus said, (John 13:35) “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,”, and later, in John 17:21, he prayed that the church would be one, just as the trinity is one, “…that the world may believe that thou didst send me.” We are told, here, to “be of the same mind one to another”. We read about the tolerance and forbearance we are called to, in Ephesians 4:3.
So…if the church falls down in the area of agapé love, the world is not to be expected to believe that we are His disciples. And, if we fall down in the area of unity, they cannot be expected to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Conclusion: Learn Humility!
Don’t “get the big-head.” Don’t get the idea that you are “something special.” The Emperor Nebuchadnezzar decided that he was something special, and look where it got him. That’s where we read the story of “Nebuchadnezzar, getting down on the farm…” Seven years on a strict vegetarian diet, we are told—in fact, he ate grass like a cow, and thought he was an animal, for all those years. God judged the sin, but saved the man, ultimately. Don’t go through that kind of experience to learn humility. God says “clothe yourself in humility…humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1st Peter 5:5, 6)
Pride, arrogance and self-centeredness are offensive to everyone, including God and Man. So God says that we are to not “mind high things”…not get puffed up with our superior knowledge, our doctrinal purity, our long lists of “things we don’t do”. At that point we have become just another bunch of Pharisees, secure in our own righteousness, and blind to the Holiness of The Almighty God we claim to serve.
Choose humility. Condescend to men of low estate. (Jesus did, for you.) Choose to draw near to uncomfortable people. Choose to love the unlovely. Choose to reflect and to channel the Grace and Love of God to those around you. We are called to be lights in a dark world, but we are also called to be peacemakers, and ministers of God’s Grace. It all works better in humility, not pride.
Allow us to see Your Holiness, and, in comparison, our own sin. Allow us to be changed by your Grace; by your Love; by the engrafted Word of Life, and the indwelling Spirit of the Holy, Almighty God. Make us over into your image.