Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Picture yourself driving on the freeway. You are driving home, and the traffic is particularly light. As you continue home, your favorite song comes on the radio and as you enjoy it obeying all the traffic laws, you spot a car in your rearview mirror coming up rather quickly. As the car gets closer, you hope the driver will go around you, but that is not the case. Instead, the driver gets very close behind you, even though you are not in the fast lane and there are other lanes to go around. All the good things about your drive home are overshadowed by this bad driver, but then the car pulls around you and speeds off. Before the car is too far off though, you notice that it is an out of state vehicle. In our reading from Romans 12, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to love and he provided many examples. Showing love sounds good, but when something bad interrupts something good in our lives, it makes it hard to cling to what is good!
Our reading from Roman’s 12 has us focus on the good that God wants us to do. The first words of our reading start out with God’s summary of what it means for us to do good with the word, love. Before we get into what Paul wrote in Romans 12, it is helpful to understand what he has already covered in his letter to the Romans to see what foundation he has built to now make his point about how we are to live. In the first half of Paul’s sixteen-chapter letter to the Romans, he was careful to cover what God did to save us. In Romans 3:23-24, Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Paul shared the message that all people are sinful or not up to God’s standards. Using the word from Romans 12, in God’s eyes, we have not shown love to him or one another the way he wants us too, and for that we deserve God’s punishment. However, Paul went on to say that all have been saved from punishment through Jesus. We were saved freely, without any cost to us, because Jesus paid the price and gave his life to save us. After laying that foundation, Paul focused the second half of his letter to the Roman Christians on how to live now that Jesus saved them from sin and punishment.
The opening verse of Romans 12 points us to the heart of what it means to live as God’s people. Paul used the short phrase, Romans 12:1 “in view of God’s mercy,” to remind us that living as God’s people is only possible because he showed us mercy by choosing to love us even when we had done nothing to deserve it. God had to show us mercy because our hearts were evil, as Jesus described in Matthew 15:19, “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” With God’s mercy though, we have a new heart like David described in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God created the new heart in us and calling out to that new heart, Paul wrote the words in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Saved by Jesus and with a new spirit inside of us, we are called to avoid what is evil and cling to what is good.
Paul tells us to cling to what is good by having sincere love. The Greek word Paul used to describe the kind of love we are to have is ἀνυπόκριτος. When you hear the word, you might be able to hear our English word, ‘hypocrisy.’ The way Paul describes how we are to love and live as God’s people is to be without hypocrisy or to be sincere and genuine. When we hear that God wants us to have sincere love for one another and hate what is evil, we say, “Yes, of course, sign me up for that kind of life.” We all say that, but we don’t always live that way. And we don’t always live that way because of…other people. Jesus knew that all of us would agree with his call for us to have sincere love for one another and hate what is evil, but he also knew we are our own worst enemy because we treat certain people differently than others. Again, Jesus understood this about us and told a parable about it in our gospel reading from Luke 10. This parable is widely known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Jesus told the parable because he was asked Luke 10:25, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was to love God and your neighbor. Then, he was asked Luke 10:29, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.” After the man was attacked and left for dead, a priest and Levite passed by him and did not help him. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. The point Jesus wanted to make was that all people count as our neighbor and we are to show everyone love. The priest and Levite who did not help the man coming from Jerusalem failed to show love to their neighbor. However, the Samaritan, who by the way would have grown up with a severe resentment and even hatred toward anyone from Jerusalem, stopped to help the man who was attacked.
Hypocrisy reveals itself in our lives when we treat certain people differently than others. You and I don’t always treat everyone with the same kind of love Paul listed in this section of his letter to the Romans. When someone gets a promotion, better grades, a spot on the team, has a lasting marriage, more polite children, etc. we are jealous instead of joyous. When someone goes through a difficult time, we can be sad with them for a little while, but then we get tired of listening to them, bringing them meals and taking the time to reach out to them, so we stop. We like to repay evil with evil and get our own revenge because we aren’t patient with God or trusting in God enough to let him deal out punishment. It has to be our way. When people gossip, betray or persecute us, we don’t bless them, we curse them, which gets confusing living in the South because the phrase “bless your heart,” doesn’t always mean we want nice things to happen to you. And that might be one of the best examples of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means being fake, not telling the truth, hurting others and holding on to what is evil, rather than clinging to what is good.
Let’s get back to the situation we began with about a bad out of state driver ruining your good drive home. You are driving home with everything going well besides this out of state driver coming up really fast on you, then finally going around to speed away. After five minutes, you spot a vehicle on the side of the road ahead with its flashers on. As you get closer, you realize it is the same out of state vehicle that passed you by earlier. At this point you have the choice to stop and help or keep on driving. Now, earlier I said that the thing that keeps us from showing the kind of sincere love God has called us to show is people. Other people keep us from showing sincere love to them when they treat us poorly. However, our issue with other people is more a problem because of who we are, than who they are.
We fail to show sincere love to others because we do not cling to the good God has done for us. Paul finished his list of specific ways we can show sincere love in Romans 12 by quoting two verses from the Old Testament. First, Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 32, saying, “19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Then he quoted from Proverbs 25 saying, 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Finally, Paul gave the reason why he quoted these two passages, 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Paul’s point was not to let the evil outside us influence us to be evil, but to be good to all, even those who are not good.
The sincere love God calls us to show others regardless of who they are happens when we are reminded of what he has done for us. Our reading from Deuteronomy 24, comes in a similar section of Scripture as our reading from Romans 12. As Paul told the Romans how they have been called to live as God’s people, Moses also told the Israelites how they were to live as God’s people. This section in Deuteronomy chapter 24 especially called the Israelites to treat foreigners, the fatherless and widows with love. Moses told the Israelites who to love, but the more important point he made was the reason to show love. Twice, Moses wrote, 18 “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.” God called his people to show love to the poor, weak and fringe people in society because God had rescued Israel when they were all those things as slaves in Egypt. The love God called Israel to show was a love of thankfulness and humility as they lived as a free people.
God freed us from our sins and death through Jesus to give us forgiveness and eternal life. God also freed us to show sincere love. There is a short section in these verses from Romans 12 that show us how to keep that heart of love that clings to what is good. Romans 12:12 reads, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Our joy as God’s people comes from the hope we have in Jesus. Our patience even when others afflict and hurt us comes as we keep our eyes fixed on the good things we have from Jesus. Our faithfulness in prayer comes because we know our God has done great things for us and he will continue to give us what we need.
Let’s pick back up with the good drive home that was interrupted by a bad driver. After seeing the bad out of state driver broken down on the side of the freeway, you stop to help. The driver needs help changing a flat tire and you help. When the tire is fixed, you both get back into your vehicles and drive away. I wonder if the ending to this situation has left you feeling satisfied. The point of this situation was to walk through a scenario in which a person could have avoided doing good to someone who had treated them badly. You and I face situations all day long where we get to hate evil as God’s people and show sincere love to one another. We get to love, bless, rejoice, honor, show hospitality and live at peace because we cling to what is good. We cling to the sincere love Jesus has for us and we cling to showing sincere love to others. Amen.