Romans 12:9-21 Common English Bible (CEB)
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Romans 12 has long been considered an essential description of a Christian. It speaks eloquently of the relationship of the Christian to God and the Christian to the world. Romans 12:1-2, in the New Revised Standard Version says, “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” Then I want you to hear it in a different way. From Eugene Peterson’s The Message, Romans 12:1-2 sounds like this: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
God wants his people to create a new culture, in contrast to the culture of the world. That culture will be defined by the restructuring power of Grace!
What is grace? Grace is the free and undeserved love and favor of God toward us sinners. There are 114 direct references to grace in the NT. One of the most powerful is found in John 1:14, 16-17 “The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. … From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.” In the very person of Jesus Christ God brought grace to live among us, to live in us. God’s mercies displayed in a big way! Grace is what powers God’s genuine, contagious culture.
Once again I want us to hear how The Message relays Romans 12:9-21. You can hear the restructuring of life by grace. “9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”
Life under the lordship of God means a life under the restructuring power of Grace.
There are two threads moving side by side in our text today. One is grace transforming everything from the inside out. That includes the individual Christian, Christian Community, and the World. The second thread is, “don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It starts with the transformation of the individual as described in Romans 12:1-2. We put our lives in the hands of our amazing Lord and begin to live the life he desires for us. It involves a careful eye as to the influence of the world upon us, and even reverses that dynamic. We become agents of change in the culture – changes for the better. The renewed individual begins to make a difference in the community and world. The contagion of grace begins to do its work.
The first section of our passage, Romans 12:9-13, speaks of our relationships within the Christian Community. In Paul’s time, some Christian communities were having trouble getting along with each other. “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.” Do you hear the genuine care for people? Verse 12 describes a culture that is contrary to the normal way of being. Happiness and hope will sustain us in the hardest of circumstances. And it is contagious!
Beyond that, in verses 14-21, Paul calls us to relate to the secular world differently. Remember what it said in Romans 12:1-2. “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” We live in the world, but are to be a positive influence on the world.
Unfortunately, our world is tuned to a different ideal. Competition, revenge, individualism, comparisons, hierarchy, status, evil employed to combat evil! All you have to do is look at our political climate and you can see the effects of current culture. Spirited debate of ideologies and best practices for the good of the country has been replaced with mudslinging and character assassination. “I’m right, you’re wrong. You must be evil.” Sound about right?
What does Paul advocate then to create a genuine, contagious culture? Listen first to Jesus from Luke 6:27-3. ““But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” This is a description of God’s genuine contagious culture. I love the way the Message states the Golden Rule. “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” Isn’t that a lot different from the prevailing culture of today? What might our political scene look like if the Golden Rule was our standard?
This restructuring of life under grace looks like: genuine love, honoring one another, being happy in hope. Blessing and not cursing. Overcoming evil with good. I want to say a word about verse 20. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. First, the image of burning coals was an image of purifying. But this isn’t a “righteous indignation” kind of statement. It is not a Christians license to “stick it to others.” It is more a “Kill them with kindness” statement. If we can keep ourselves grounded in love, steady in the faith, then enemies become an opportunity to shower them with grace and win them for Christ.
There is one final admonition buried in the midst of Paul’s ethical advice. Don’t miss the power of verses 11-12. “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.” Be on fire! Be energetic in purveying this counterculture – this grace-filled culture. It is your enthusiasm for the goodness of God and faith in God that will create this genuine, contagious culture, and transform the world.
And it rolls us right back to grace. In the words of our final hymn, “Every promise we can make, every prayer and step of faith, every difference we can make is only by his grace.” May the grace of God fill us to overflowing, creating a genuine, contagious culture of grace! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman