Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 18, 2010
Beautiful Saviour Evangelical Lutheran Church
Romans 12:9-21 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one
another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your
spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with
God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn
with those who mourn. 16Live 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 everybody. 18If it is
possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but
leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the
“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. (NIV)
“Christ’s Love Is Tough Love”
Stories have the power to move us. Finishing a tear-jerking novel of love found, love lost, and love
regained might fill one reader’s heart with a burning desire to find the same kind of passionate,
adventurous love. A biography of a famous sports hero or the historical account of a pivotal naval
battle might cause another reader to well up with pride and awe deep inside. But the problems with
some of the greatest stories is that they don’t seem to have much to do with our normal lives.
Jesus tells such a gripping, moving story about the Good Samaritan. But for Christians even if it
might fill us with awe or admiration, it just doesn’t seem very realistic. Some people hear the words of
Jesus as a powerful picture of love in action. This person is thankful the Bible is filled with such useful
suggestions of how the Christian can take practical steps to being a better person, useful guidance for
being more and more like Christ to everyone around. But as motivated and encouraged as this hearer
is, the love of the Good Samaritan doesn’t seem very attainable.
Another hearer might say it’s in fact just a realistic reaction to give up when you hear these words
from Jesus. What else can you do except throw your hands up is frustration and defeat when you
realize you just aren’t capable or qualified to be that patient, that tenderhearted, that compassionate
to every person who needs my love? Do you really grasp what Jesus is really suggesting? Either Jesus
must be just giving us some unattainable example to aim for, or he is demanding something humanly
Motivated optimism or realistic despair. Is it possible there is another way to react? Romans
chapter twelve provides us with just such an alternative when it reminds us Christ’s Love Is Tough
Verse nine of Romans chapter twelve shows us the first way Christ’s love avoids both arrogance
and despair. The Bible tells us: “Love must be sincere.” (Romans 12:9) In other words, love cannot
be cheap or artificial, but must be authentic and genuine. We can hear the poetic musings in pop songs
about love and assume the artist is honestly explaining his feelings. But in His life, Jesus showed a
different kind of love: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died
for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) Even the Apostle Paul had this to say about himself: “Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15).
In the way God looks at things, genuine love can come only from saving faith and genuine faith is
going to show God’s kind of love. With no room for ungodly influences, the believer will “hate what is
evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) A lack of love or an artificial love would easily sink back
into selfish ambition. Genuine love, however, sees the people around us the same way God sees them
and values them. The Bible continues: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” (Romans
12:10). Since the love of Jesus has brought us into God’s family, we show the same family affection and
concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Understanding and appreciating the love of Jesus Christ that caused Him to suffer agony and
experience death on the cross can’t stay inactive inside a believer’s heart. Romans twelve continues:
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)
Genuine love isn’t merely intellectual, but is fueled by the Holy Spirit working through the Scriptures
to animate and activate that loving faith inside us.
Maybe you have noticed that Christians and organized groups of Christians have made efforts to
make God more relevant to our lives. The uncomfortable truth is that God doesn’t occupy a significant
space in the sphere of my daily life. At least, not as significant a place as I would like him to occupy.
And as our world seems to grow more chaotic and shed more influences of Christianity or even once
commonly held morality, those who still believe in some divine being or higher power find it harder to
believe he could be involved in the daily workings of our world or even have much concern for what’s
going on down here. And in trying to make God more relevant, we tried to help people see God as very
useful, a practical power source for our times of need or doubt or worry. So in seeking to make God
more relevant, we end up running to Him the same way we run to Home Depot when we have a
project we’re working on or the way we run to the shoe store when our outfit just doesn’t seem
complete. Ultimately, instead of making God more relevant and meaningful for our lives, we’ve made
Him into a tool or accessory.
Of course God wants to be practical and useful in our lives. But God wants to be more relevant by
becoming the foundation of our lives and the basis for all our interactions. Without His love at the root
of our human relationships, none of the things described in Romans chapter twelve would even be
possible. But with God’s love at the heart of our identity and at the core of our decision making,
Romans 12:12 tells us that we can “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Then
God’s love inside our hearts expands to encompass concern for the people around us: “Share with
God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
Love created by faith in Jesus Christ maintains a necessary focus even while we demonstrate love
and concern for the souls around us. Romans 12:14 tells us why: “Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse.” Can you hear this instruction without the words of Jesus from the cross
echoing in your ears: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke
23:34)? In other words, when the Bible tells us to bless our persecutors, it is not giving us a
challenging assignment, but instructing us to practice a love that Christ showed in His life.
That standard is important to keep in mind, because the words of Romans chapter twelve resonate
with our human ears. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who
mourn.” But the exact opposite is what comes naturally to me. Romans 12:16 tells us: “Live in
harmony with one another.” And then it explains how to live in harmony: “Do not be proud, but be
willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16) These
words sink in. But they are difficult, too difficult for me. But faith remembers that Christ didn’t gloat
over those who mourned or mourn over those who experienced success. Christ never acted like He
was better than anyone else, even though He actually was deserving of all creation’s honor and glory.
Putting Christ’s love into practice isn’t just difficult because it is unnatural to us. It is tough because
Christ’s love defies normal human definitions of justice. Romans 12 tells us “Do not repay anyone
evil for evil…live at peace with everyone…Do not take revenge.” (Romans 12:17,18,19) As
believers in Jesus Christ we have experienced the unconventional and unprecedented love of God.
With the love and forgiveness of Christ we have confidence to present a powerful witness to the world
around us, even if it means doing what is right in God’s eyes rather than the actions everyone else
thinks are appropriate. Rather than looking for what is always most fair for us, we are constantly
looking for ways to end a fight and extend peace.
Ultimately, God gives us a way to truly deal with wrongs and injustices. If we deal with
mistreatment the way we want to, it will almost surely backfire. If we ignore it, our feelings we slowly
smolder inside us until they explode in a rage fitting to the injustices we’ve suffered. But when God
tells us: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” He gives us a way to get rid of our hurt and unburden
ourselves of the damage by giving it over completely to Him (Romans 12:19).
A good story might help you have a good cry or fill you with pride. It might even leave you with a
smile stuck on your face and a contagious jolliness in your belly. The love of a Christian will also have
an effect. It comes from faith and mimics Christ’s unconventional, even controversial love. But when
we treat our neighbor better, with greater love and concern than they’ve treated us, the Bible tells us
the result. We pray this tough love will: “heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20) We pray
our actions will prompt our enemy to feel the heat of his conscience burning inside him. Each child of
the heavenly Father has been set free to show Christ’s unconditional love and mercy to the merciless
and unlovable. We pray that ultimately the ones who insult us and hurt us and persecute us will
repent of his rebellion and rejection.
When that happens, it results in making Christ the real winner. When we aren’t “overcome by
evil, but overcome evil with good,” we can point to Christ who defeated all evil on His cross
(Romans 12:21). Jesus Christ overcame all evil by His noble sacrifice and glorious resurrection to give
victory to every repentant and believing soul. No one said it would be easy. But by demonstrating the
love of the only one who always and completely exemplified the heart of the Good Samaritan, we will
avoid arrogance and despair in our hearts, and give way for Christ’s love to claim another victory in
another human heart.