Sermon: Romans Part 9 -Love in Action

We are comforted by people who know how we feel and what we’re going through.

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Last week, I paralleled our scripture verse from Romans 12 with 1 Corinthians 12; and I said that Paul must have somehow been thinking of the Corinthians when he wrote to the Romans because not only did last week’s scripture parallel with 1 Corinthians 12 but our next set of verses in Romans 12 parallel with 1 Corinthians 13.

So, if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Romans 12 and we’ll start with verse 9 and finish the chapter. Some of you may have the heading, “Love in Action.” And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. If you want, you can also place a bookmark in 1 Corinthians 13 if you’d like, because I’m going to be reading a little bit from there as well.

And even though 1 Corinthians was written earlier, it’s placed as the next book in the Bible after Romans. So, it’s easy to find.

Today, I am going to begin by asking, “What is love?”

That’s a great question, because in our society today, I’m not sure if it’s well defined. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s even a word anymore. When my parents were growing up, love was something romantic. When I was growing up, love was confused with lust, and now, I don’t think love or lust or romance are words anymore.

It’s odd, we’ve gone from not being sexually promiscuous, to being sexually promiscuous, to being ‘whatever you identify yourself as’ is just fine.

I’ve looked at the statistics to see what the divorce rate was now, and what did I find as an answer? Well, the answer is, “It’s complicated.”

For example, on the surface, it might sound better that divorce rates are going down, but it doesn’t mean that marriages are more stable.

What has happened is, Millennials (who are now in their 30s and 40s) would rather live together than marry, and it’s easier to break up when you’re not married. So after a while, you have two half-families living together as one…but what happens after two or three breakups and kids getting shifted around to two or three homes, and well…you can see how it’s complicated.

Now, I don’t want to get bogged down on that subject because we’ll go off on a whole different subject, but the idea is that the word, ‘love’ has changed over time––it used to be more Biblically defined. It used to be that each one commits to the other no matter what, unless there were certain circumstances such as “The Three ‘As”––abuse, abandonment or adultery. But over time, the meaning of love and the expectations of couples have changed. The definition of family has changed.

But through all of these changes, in one way or another, the word ‘love’ has often been defined by the way a person feels about another person.

But that’s only part of the definition of love. If we look at the true Biblical definition of love, it means something much more than feelings.

Scripture: Let’s look at our scripture today. Romans 12:9-21.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That’s one of those scriptures that really speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I mean, I could just leave now and we would all be well-fed and happy sheep. But, do you get the picture? Love goes way beyond how we feel. It’s about how we treat one another in spite of how we feel; or how we have been treated by that person. We might rightfully be angry at someone. But as Paul said to the Ephesians, in our anger, we are not to sin. In our anger, we are still called to love.

If you remember last week, we talked about spiritual gifts. And we talked about how each of us has gifts to use individually that will benefit the church collectively. If each one of us is using our gifts, then the whole body of the church is blessed, and our outreach is strengthened.

In both 1 Corinthians and here in Romans, Paul makes it a point that how we use our gifts is greater than what gift that we’ve been given. Last week, I talked about how people have bragged because they can do this or that better than anyone; or looked down upon someone who doesn’t have a particular gift or doesn’t have it as well as they do. So, instead of going more in that direction, Paul gives us instructions on how we should act, rather than how we shouldn’t.

Warren Wiersbe said, “Love is the circulatory system of the spiritual body, which enables all the members to function in a healthy, harmonious way.”

At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says in verse 31, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” And that segues into Chapter 13 if you want to turn with me there. It’s often called, ‘The Love Chapter.’ And here, Paul begins by reiterating the gifts but adds something to them.

Notice what he adds.

Beginning with verse 1, he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

You see how Paul uses these sort of higher gifts that we might look at and say, ‘wow.’ But then he adds, “But if I do not have love, I am nothing.” What he’s saying is, it’s not how mighty or grand the gift is, it’s how we use it. It’s about our attitude.

In a more everyday sort of way, we could say, “It’s not what you are, it’s who you are.” If I’m the boss; if I’m the biggest celebrity; if I’m the wealthiest person in town and I don’t have love, I am worth nothing. But, if I am nothing––an ordinary individual who’s trying to earn a living getting his hands dirty or working at Walmart or whatever it may be, but I do have love. Then I really am worth something. I am worth more than those who have wealth and prosperity. I think a lot of TV preachers need to think about that.

Paul goes on to give us examples of what real love looks like.

In verses 4-7, he says, 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Now, I’m not going to get into this because I have a whole other sermon on these verses, and I’ll post it up in the comments section on Facebook along with this sermon if you want to read it. But I am going to say, once again, that this is not about how we feel, but how we act toward one another. It’s a practice. And it can only truly be accomplished as a work of The Holy Spirit in our lives.

I’m going to go back to Romans, and I’m not going to spend too much time on the first few verses. I could, there’s a lot there. I could write a separate sermon on each sentence. There’s so much there. But I’m going to quote from a source called Precept Austin.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard Obi-wan Kenobi say that The Force is what binds us together. But in scripture, Christian fellowship builds us up and binds us together. It asks,

Why is this exhortation so vital for believers to put into practice? Because the visual display of this quality of love in the body of Christ is the primary means by which the world recognizes us as followers of Christ.

Remember Jesus said that in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.).

Precept Austin went on to say that: We must love each other because we are members of one family. We are not strangers to each other within the Christian Church; much less we are isolated units; we are brothers and sisters because we have the one father, God.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.”

You notice, he said ‘friend’ not, gift? It wasn’t the gift that rescued him, it was the friendship that rescued him.

And how do we show that friendship?

C.S. Lewis said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

We find comfort when we’re not alone. We are comforted by people who know how we feel and what we’re going through. And if you happen to be with someone who is going through something good or bad, let the Holy Spirit guide you into the best way to be there for them.

Verses 15-16 say, 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

It’s harder than it sounds, isn’t it? We’ve all been there. If we were to be honest, we’ve been with someone who is rejoicing over something…and we just can’t relate. We know the polite thing to say is, “congratulations,” but deep down, we either don’t care or if it’s something fantastic, we’re jealous. If someone wins the lottery or gets a dream job, instead of being happy, we kind of sink, don’t we? It’s like, “God, what about me? Have you forgotten about me?”

Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett received great recognition for his work—but not everyone savored his accomplishments. Beckett’s marriage, in fact, was soured by his wife’s jealousy of his growing fame and success as a writer. One day in 1969 his wife Suzanne answered the telephone, listened for a moment, spoke briefly, and hung up. She then turned to Beckett and with a stricken look whispered, “What a catastrophe!” Was it a devastating personal tragedy? No, she had just learned that Beckett had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature! (Today in the Word)

And I hate to say it, but the same is true––sometimes––when someone is going through something hard. Not that we get angry or jealous, but we become apathetic. We have to learn to mourn with those who mourn. We have to learn to care. That doesn’t necessarily mean “get out the tissues and cry with those who cry,” it just means, let them cry and let them get out what they need to. Be patient and be a listening ear. And on our end, maybe we can offer a prayer. Maybe after hearing what they went through, we can give them words of encouragement, or say, “I know how you feel. I’ve been there too,” just like the C.S. Lewis quote.

Sometimes, it’s okay if we don’t have anything to say.

There’s a story from J.D. Brannon in Our Daily Bread – about a little boy with a big heart. His next-door neighbor was an older gentleman whose wife had recently died. When the youngster saw the elderly man crying, he climbed up onto his lap and simply sat there.

Later, his mother asked the boy what he had said to their saddened neighbor. “Nothing,” the child replied. “I just helped him cry.”

Sometimes that is the best thing we can do for people who are facing profound sorrow. Often, our attempts to say something wise and helpful are far less valuable than just sitting next to the bereaved ones, holding their hand, and crying with them.

One of the ways we can help our fellow believers is to “weep with those who weep” (Ro 12:15). Jesus demonstrated that principle when He visited Mary and Martha after Lazarus died. Sensing the depths of Mary’s despair over her brother Lazarus’ death, Jesus shared her grief by weeping (Jn 11:35). Bystanders took note and said, “See how He loved him!” (v.36).

Sometimes the best thing we can do for those who are traveling life’s most sad and lonely road is to “help them cry.” Jesus showed us that it’s important to share another’s tears. Is there anyone who needs your tears today? –J D Branon (Our Daily Bread)

Paul segues that into reiterating what he said earlier in the chapter. We looked at that last week. In verse 3, he says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Why does he more or less say the same thing again? He says in verse 16: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

Why does he say this again? Because the beginning of verse 16 bridges the gap. “Live in harmony with one another.” How do we live in harmony with one another? Through many of the things, he said already. Through practicing true, brotherly love. Through honoring one another above ourselves; sharing with the Lord’s people who are in need; practicing hospitality; mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice. The sum of adding all that together, in a nutshell, is: living in harmony with one another, which also means we cannot be conceited. Because being conceited blows the whole thing.

That’s why he had to say it twice.

I think I might have used this as an illustration before, but when I do my medical shuttles, I take a lot of really poor people. Some live in conditions that I cannot even imagine. Some have mental issues, whether it be mentally slow or mentally ill. Some have just come out of prison, some are getting clean from alcohol or substance abuse; some are starting a new life out of an abusive relationship…and it’s actually pretty rare to have someone who is ‘all there’ mentally. Sometimes they’ll tell you their whole life story and it’s not always pleasant. Especially those who are going to counseling for depression or something along those lines.

Then, our company also does airport shuttles. Now, the medical shuttles are billed through Medicaid. But the airport shuttles, well, you have a different clientele. They’re paying out of pocket. They’re the complete opposite of those whom I take in the medical shuttles. They’re clean, neat, and educated. Sometimes when I pick them up from their homes, they have really nice homes. They’re intelligent and speak well. It’s evident they live a pretty good life. They’re more ‘with it.’

So, what passengers make me nervous the most? Which type of passenger would I rather be with and which type would I rather not?

Well, I’d much rather take the medical passengers, thank you very much, even if they’re a bit nutty. Why? Humility.

That’s not to say that the occasional airport passenger isn’t humble. In fact, I’d say the majority of them are. But, there have been just enough for me to say, I’d be perfectly fine if I never took another airport run ever again.

There are some things that I can take, and some things I can’t. I can take dirty, uneducated and mentally unstable. But I have a hard time being around conceited, snobby people. Even if they tip well.

And I think that’s why Paul emphasizes humility twice in this one chapter. It’s a bigger deal than we often think it is. We can’t have one body, and we can’t have harmony when some pieces choose to separate themselves above others and not to be equal. We have to be able to associate with people of lower position than ourselves. That’s what makes harmony, harmony.

Paul segues living in harmony to living in peace. Peace and harmony go together. Don’t believe me, just ask Brian Wilson. Or any other musician from the 60s.

How do we live in harmony with one another? How do we show true, Biblical, brotherly love to one another? Well, it’s not by seeking revenge. It’s not by intentionally doing wrong to others. Starting with verse 18, he says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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.”

The Body of Christ can’t be one and be taking out revenge on each other at the same time. We can’t be living at peace with everyone and living in wrath at the same time.

We have to forgive. And we have to, as best as we can, forget and move on. If there needs to be some kind of justice, let the Lord do the work. Leave it to him.

There may be a time and a place for someone to leave this church body and go to another because of something someone has done to you––or keeps doing to you. Maybe it’s the other way around and someone comes here because of some conflict in their previous church. Sometimes, and I’ve actually seen this, the conflict is the pastor’s fault.

It’s okay to leave a church or a group of toxic people, or just one toxic person if you have to. Going back to the Corinthian church, Paul had to address the problem of one toxic person ruining the whole church. The church had to kick that person out in 1 Corinthians; but then in 2 Corinthians, we read where Paul commands them to forgive and accept that person back after that person repented.

Let that be a lesson too. Give the person a chance to repent.

In fact, Paul ends this chapter with probably the best way to encourage someone to repent. He said,

“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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And Paul is quoting here both the Old and New Testaments––Proverbs, Exodus and the words of Jesus all say the same thing. They all call us to do good to our enemies. Why? Well, I think Abraham Lincoln put it best. He once said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

So today, we may have not touched on the essence of romantic love, like I began with. But we talked more about brotherly love. We talked about what love looks like in the church. What love looks like among a body of believers.

And all of this can be applied in every area of our lives. It can be applied to our marriages, our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, and…our enemies.

These words of truth are not easy, but they never fail. The words of 1 Corinthians 13 are not easy, but as Paul said in verse 8, “Love never fails.”

And he ends Chapter 13, The Love Chapter, by saying, “13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, we know, as your word says, that love is the most excellent way. But we get in the way of what we ought to be. Lord, I pray that you would help us, through your Holy Spirit, to act in Godly love towards one another. Whether they are brothers and sisters in Christ or those who are outside the Body of Christ.

I pray that by our love, those outside the Body would know that we are your true disciples. May we bless one another with true love. And may our own lives be blessed by one another’s love. Please bring us into deep friendship with those in the family of God; with those blessed by your love and who have the ability to love. May their love comfort and refresh us, and may we be a comfort and refreshment to them, too. In Jesus’ name, amen.



This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen

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