XIII. Love in the Family of God (Romans 12:1-21)
XIII. Love in the Family of God (12:1-21)
chapter 12 begins the next major section of the book of Romans. The first four chapters dealt with condemnation and justification; chapters 5–8 dealt with sanctification; then Chapters 9–11 were a parenthetical discussion about Israel’s unique position in the program of God. Beginning in chapter 12 (and running to the end of the book), Paul makes a transition to his pragmatic section, his section of application. It was Paul’s habit to discuss theology and then applicability.
12:1 Throughout chapter 12, Paul discusses what our faith looks like with “one another,” a phrase he uses four times here. But before we can have a dynamic, personal involvement with one another, we need a dynamic involvement with God. Step one is responding to the mercies of God (explained in chapters 1–11) by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. That means complete and total surrender. It’s the difference between what a chicken and a pig bring to a bacon-and-egg breakfast. The chicken makes a contribution; the pig gives everything. What we often try to do with God is give an egg here and an egg there, but God wants sacrifice—the ham and bacon. Only total surrender can be called true worship.
12:2 Once we offer ourselves to God, our relationship to the world is altered. Paul urges us not to be conformed to this age, meaning the world system that leaves God out, but to be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind. Notice that both commands are passive. We aren’t conforming or transforming our minds. Someone else is. When God has all of us, and when the world has none of us, God does the work of renewing our confused minds. He brings our thoughts in line with his own so that we think God’s thoughts after him (see 1 Cor 2:16).
God has a goal in renewing our minds. This renewal allows him to merge his thoughts with our thoughts so that he can bring his plans into our lives. He calls it the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. God has a purpose and a plan for each of our lives—one that finds us when we are fully surrendered. But as we’ll see in the following verses, that purpose isn’t just about us.
12:3 If we understand the grace given to us, our worship will overflow in service to others. Whatever abilities, skills, or resources we have, they are the grace of God. They are gifts. So Paul says, nobody should think of himself more highly than he should, because everything we have is a gift. You don’t brag about a birthday present as if you made it and paid for it. Don’t brag about the God-given gifts you have, either. On the flip side, don’t disparage yourself as if God has given you nothing. God has distributed a measure of faith to each one, including you. Don’t think too highly of yourself, but don’t think too low either.
12:4 Paul compares the local church to a human body, in which all the parts do not have the same function, but every part does function for the good of the whole. If I cut my finger off and put it in a jar, it’s still technically a part of my body, but it’s worthless. I’ll say my point bluntly: any Christian who is not a functioning, serving member of a local church is living outside the will of God.
12:5 There are no Lone Rangers in the Christian life, because though we . . . are many, God has put us together as one body in Christ. We are members of that body, not for ourselves, but for one another. Because you’re a part of the body, you matter. But because you’re only one part, it’s not all about you.
12:6a We serve one another because of the grace given to us. The more you understand grace, the easier it is to serve others. Imagine a boy leaving his mother a note, saying, “For mowing the lawn, a dollar. For washing the dishes, a dollar. For making the bed, a dollar. You owe me, Mother, three dollars.” That’s works-based service in a nutshell. Now, imagine a mother leaving her own note: “For being in labor with you for sixteen hours, no charge. For staying up with you all night when you were sick, no charge. For buying you clothing and food, no charge.” That’s grace-based service.
12:6b-8 In the body of Christ, like the human body, each member has different gifts (12:6). Paul lists seven gifts here: prophecy (12:6), service, teaching (12:7), exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy (12:8). We know from other lists of spiritual gifts that these are just a handful of the ways God’s people exercise their gifts. We also know that every Christian has at least one. If you aren’t sure what yours is, start ministering, because God only hits a moving target.
12:9 Contrary to what our culture says, love is not primarily a feeling. Love is an action, meeting the need of someone else, even at personal expense. Thus, Paul says our love for one another must be without hypocrisy. The Greek word for “hypocrite” was used of an actor who wore a mask. Some of the best actors and actresses I know come to church with their masks on. They fake it when people ask them, “How you doing?” They fake it because they’re worried that people won’t love them unless they wear a mask. So to all of us Paul says, be the kind of community where it’s safe for people to take their masks off.
12:10 We can love one another deeply once we recognize that we don’t have to like someone to love them well. Love is associated with emotion, but it starts with a decision to compassionately and righteously seek the well-being of others. That decision is founded in the truth that fellow believers are our brothers and sisters. We are a family. God even says that we can gauge our love for the Father based on our love for our brothers and sisters (see 1 John 4:20). Just like the small gauge on a boiler indicates how full the vessel is, our love for one another indicates how full our hearts are with the love of Jesus.
12:11-12 Behind the Greek word translated fervent is the idea of boiling water. If you’re fervent in the Spirit, you’re boiling for the kingdom of God; you’re fired up to serve the Lord (12:11). Have you ever noticed how kids, who otherwise might seem tired, get a sudden burst of energy if you offer to play some game they love? They boil over with enthusiasm because they love it.
12:13 One way we can serve God and love one another is to share with the saints in their needs and to pursue hospitality. God gave you a job, which brings you money, which pays for your house. Grace got you the house. Grace got you your car. And grace wants you to use them to help the saints. If all of the doors in your life stay closed, you don’t understand hospitality—or grace.
12:14 It’s one thing to love our family in the church. To love our enemies, however, requires a special kind of power. Only Jesus could say something so bold as to bless those who persecute you. But isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Our sins put Jesus on the cross, yet he said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If he forgave you when you were his enemy (after all, your sins put him on the cross), shouldn’t that change the way you view your enemies?
12:15-16 Just as we serve and love one another in the church, we must live in harmony. Unity is the most important aspect of the church. Paul shows us one of the most obvious ways to live that out: associate with the humble (12:16). If you want to keep from thinking too highly of yourself, make it a regular part of your agenda to connect with people who have nothing to give back. And you won’t have to look far. Look for people in the church who are without designer clothes, high school degrees, or even steady jobs. They may be nobodies in the world’s eyes, but in the church, they ought to feel like somebodies. If you see that they are rejoicing, rejoice with them; if you see that they are weeping, weep with them (12:15)—especially when you have no stake in the matter. Do it simply out of love.
12:17 When reading Paul’s reminder to the Romans not to repay anyone evil for evil, it’s important to remember that he’s still talking to the church here! The church is a family, and as the family grows, people grate on each other. Remember, though: the church is also a body. So if your sister is grating on you, she’s a sprained ankle. If a brother is giving you trouble, he’s a dislocated finger. Don’t attack the hurting parts of your body; they’re part of you. If you repay evil for evil, you’ll end up hurting yourself.
12:18 Many misinterpret this verse to say, in essence, “Be patient for as long as you can, but once your patience runs out, get ready to throw down.” This verse is actually saying, as far as it depends on you, that is, on your side of the relationship, live at peace with everyone. Do everything you can to get along with people, and if they should still harbor a grudge, that’s on them.
12:19-20 A question naturally follows Paul’s exhortations to love and forgive our enemies: “If I keep loving my enemies and they never change, isn’t that unfair?” God has an answer. You should never avenge yourselves (12:19), not because God doesn’t care (he does), but because he wants to handle things himself. So when your enemy is hungry, you feed him (12:20), and if he is thirsty, you give him something to drink (12:20)—not only because God commands it, but because by doing this we leave room for God’s wrath (12:19). And he promises to pay in full. It could be that one of the reasons God hasn’t dealt with your enemy yet is that you are still in the way!
12:21 The only way to conquer evil is with good. You don’t overcome evil by being evil too, as natural as that approach feels. Remember: God made Jesus, who knew no sin, “to be sin for” you and me. He did it so that we could “become the righteousness of God,” sharing in his forgiveness (2 Cor 5:21). As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”