In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul has led us to see the good news of the gospel, how we have all fallen short of the glory of God, how we each owe a debt that Jesus paid on the cross because of that we can never be separated from the love of God. Romans not the easiest or shortest of Paul’s letters is easily the most challenging of the epistles. I avoided and dreaded it, saying I hated it. That is not good so, I decided to wrestle with Romans and share my findings. This should be a good thing for both the reader, and me, yet I am coming to see that this is becoming more and more comforting and troubling; challenging and provoking. Yes, all of them are present sometimes in the same verses. I am torn and sustained. Part of me wants to be done with this study; another part wants to continue to see this to the end. Even if I walk away with a limp, it will be good to finish this study. I will be better for it.
Today, we will look at what could be seen as rules for ordinary, everyday life. In 12:9-13, Paul gives us a list of things we are to do every day to show our faith and not just talk about it. Our life should be different; we should be becoming more and more the people of God.
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. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)
Paul begins with love. Love is important and risky, an adventure. Something that cannot be stressed enough. A Christian should be known for their love not for their self-righteousness. Christian love is cleansed of selfishness; it is a pure out pouring of the heart. Love is to be an honest and open way of being in the world. Love should be a response to all of life, not just those we like and who like us, but everyone. We are to love good and hate evil, to do good and resist evil, be part of the light not the dark.
I like that bit about cling to what is good. Cling is usually seen as negative. When we cling to a person or the past that means we are stuck. I doubt that is what Paul means here. I think Paul means adhere, stick to, or hold fast to what is good. Now, we must define good. What is good for me—getting lost in a book, a bagel on Sunday morning, playing with my dog—may not be something you think of as good. These are subjective. They are things I enjoy reading is good and something I do a lot. You may not read or enjoy it, as much as I do that doesn’t change its goodness. So, that is not what Paul means.
The good Paul is advising us to cleave to is not subjective or relative, but objective and universal. I know that last statement may upset some. It is popular to say morals are relative that truth subjective. It is not. Something’s are good—loving others, treating others as you would like to be treated, consoling a hurting person, praying for others, including the excluded, sharing a meal with a friend, bearing the burden of a friend. These are all good, good for everyone to do. There is objective good and universal truth. It is true that when you help another both feel good. This is what Paul means when he says cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.
The virtue of patience is a mark of Christians. We are to be patient in all things, hopeful in all things, and joyful in all things. We are to endure all the discord that come with living life on earth. We are to rejoice in all the beauty of this life. We face broken hearts, lost jobs, and departure of loved ones to name only three. Each day we face struggle, it is not that we won’t suffer but how we face suffering that define and mature our commitment to Christ. We must share and spread joy for it to be complete. Paul asks us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Paul faced many dangers and misery along the way, but he didn’t give up. He stayed faithful to his call and he asks that we do the same.
If we are only Christians in the good times when everything is going our way than what does it matter? Our good times should strengthen us for the bad times. Yet, sometimes we need others to hold the light when we are unable to and we need to hold the light for others when they cannot. That is what it means to be the body of Christ.
We must pursue these things like a detective on the heels of a killer, a hound on the trails of a fox. We must pursue the way of Christ in fervent hope, joy, and love.
Grace and Peace