I like to use lists. They help to remind me of everything I need to get done. Before I go to bed at night or early in the morning I will sometimes scribble out a list of things to do for the day. Some time ago my wife inspired me to make little checkboxes beside each item on my list so that I can check them off as they are completed. I find this approach to be surprisingly gratifying. At the end of the day, as I look back over the marked off items, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. The list can be a great tool for success.
This morning we are going to read though a list of directives that, if followed, will enable us to show many different Christian characteristics. The list includes 22 instructions that can assist us in living a godly lifestyle. These are not items to be checked off, but are instead descriptors of a person who is living out their salvation. By practicing the qualities included in this list each and every day, years from now we will be able to look back with a great sense of accomplishment knowing that we lived as the Lord desired us to.
1 Let love be without hypocrisy. (Romans 12:9a)
Hypocrisy is defined as "The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess." It means to say one thing while doing another. As it relates to love, we should never say that we love something or someone when we are unwilling to show it by our actions. Claiming to love God (or others) while living a life that demonstrates exactly the opposite is completely disgraceful. Scripture is clear that if you truly love the Lord you will keep His commandments. (John 14:15)
2 Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9b)
Abhor means "To regard with horror or loathing; to detest". There is a big difference between avoiding doing evil things and abhorring them. Far too many professing Christians still love the sinful ways of this world. Sin doesn't horrify us, or even make us angry. Instead, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us still kind of like it. What we should be doing is clinging to that which is wholesome, pure, and righteous. Our grasp on the "good" should be one of utmost desperation, as we realize that letting go of it will likely bring about ruinous consequences upon our lives.
3 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; (Romans 12:10a)
Devotion is defined as "Ardent, often selfless affection and dedication, as to a person or principle". A person who is devoted to another is fervently committed to them. Devotion includes the ideas of loyalty and faithfulness toward each other. Christians are to exhibit the type of brotherly love that remains strong and steadfast even in the midst of hardship and conflict. We the family of God and should be dedicated one to another as spiritual siblings. The world already hates us and wants to tear us apart - why should we help them by doing these same things to ourselves and each other?
4 give preference to one another in honor; (Romans 12:10b)
Scripture tells us to regard one another as "more important than ourselves". (Phil. 2:3) This is not a command to neglect ourselves or to face life with low self-esteem. Such self-hatred is not pleasing to God or beneficial to His purposes. Rather, only by first knowing our own great value to God we are then truly liberated to extend honor to others. We need to acknowledge and respect one other, giving credit where it is due. This requires us to embrace an attitude of humility.
5 not lagging behind in diligence, (Romans 12:11a)
Diligence means "A steady, persistent, or untiring effort; assiduity". While devotion refers primarily to our thoughts and emotions, the word diligence is more related to our actions. As believers, we are to be diligent in our works for the Lord. Paul urges us not to become weary of doing good, knowing that in due time we will reap of the harvest. (Gal. 6:9) The army of God is marching on, and we must keep up without lagging behind. Those who straggle behind are most susceptible to the enemy...
6 fervent in spirit, (Romans 12:11b)
The greatest commandment given in the Bible is to love the LORD with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) We have already covered devotion to God in our hearts and minds, and diligence to His calling with all our strength. All that remains in Jesus' command is to love God with all our soul, which can be understood to mean our spirit. While the two words are different from one another, their similarities are such that Biblical writers often use them interchangeably. We are advised to be zealous and passionate in spirit - to align our spiritual desires and will to that of the Holy Spirit.
7 serving the Lord; (Romans 12:11c)
The first half of this chapter teaches us that we are "saved to serve". As born-again believers, we are to present our bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice; we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds; we are to check our egos by not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought; and we are to exercise of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ. These are the hallmarks of Christian service, as we discussed thoroughly last week.
8 rejoicing in hope, (Romans 12:12a)
To rejoice means to express joy. Rejoicing is the act of showing delight or ecstatic happiness. We can rejoice in all things because of the great hope we have in Christ. Personally, I am convinced that one of the greatest deterrents to the church today is the overall lack of joy within it. Scripture reveals that the joy of the Lord is our strength. (Neh. 8:10) If we aspire to serve the Lord with all of our strength as discussed previously, we must first learn to rejoice in Him. There is nothing more exhausting than to labor for that which brings you no sense of pleasure.
9 persevering in tribulation, (Romans 12:12b)
Perseverance means "To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement". Those who persevere refuse to quit or give up even while enduring incredible difficulties and challenges. In the midst of our hardships and bitter tribulation, we are told to press forward and never to lose hope. Scripture says that even when we are walking through the darkest valleys, the LORD is with us and there is no cause for fear. Therefore, we must continue to advance the cause of Christ and endure even through the most troubling of circumstances.
10 devoted to prayer, (Romans 12:12c)
Like the absence of joy which was mentioned previously, there is also a profound lack of prayer in the modern church and among individual Christians. Prayer is more than simply a channel of communication with God. It also provides the means to involve Him more deeply in our lives and the lives of others. The Bible is abundantly clear that the LORD is willing and able to do miraculous things that are beyond our human abilities. His only desire is that we ask. When we neglect God through our failure to pray, we are left to face the problems of this world largely on our own.
11 contributing to the needs of the saints, (Romans 12:13a)
We are to give generously in order to help other Christians. While it is true that we should reach out to the poor and the lost, let us not forget that there are fellow believers who are also in need. Scripture indicates that the church must minster to its own members. There are those among us in need of help and provision, whether it be financially or in some other way. By providing for one another, the body of Christ remains healthy and is then able to demonstrate Him to the entire world.
12 practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:13b)
Hospitality is defined as the "Cordial and generous reception of or disposition toward guests". Paul was quite familiar with this, as he was often a guest in the homes and churches to which he traveled. Providing food and lodging for traveling missionaries and evangelists was more common back then, yet even today we should be as hospitable as possible. When we have visitors in our churches or homes we should greet them lovingly and make them feel welcome.
13 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)
To bless someone means to ask the LORD's favor upon them, while to curse someone means to appeal to God for their misfortune. We are encouraged to bless others - even those who persecute us. Jesus modeled this behavior by praying for those who were crucifying Him. Even when confronting His enemies, the Lord's desire was always for their well-being and that they would come to repentance. Wishing ill on others has a way of poisoning our own minds.
14 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
We should learn to share in the emotional experiences of others. When they are joyful, we should celebrate with them. When they are in mourning, we should grieve with them. This command carries with it the idea of compassion. We should not only hurt for people, but actually hurt with them. By putting ourselves in their shoes, we can begin to share in the feelings that they are having. Such empathy will allow us to better understand and join in the emotional expressions of those around us.
15 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. (Romans 12:16a)
We should ascribe equal value to all people. No one is more worthy of affection in God's eyes than an other. As Christians, we would do well to adopt this same perspective. Because all are equally precious to God, we should not be ashamed to associate with those that the world views as lowly. Jesus closely identified with the outcasts of society and spent a good deal of time with those whom the culture had rejected. This attitude does not exclude us from spending time with the wealthy (they need Jesus too), but it reminds us not to neglect the down-trodden and forgotten.
16 Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:16b)
One of the great characteristics of true wisdom is its ability to remain silent. Often the wisest people are those who are the most quiet and thoughtful. They are usually slow to speak and quick to listen. (James 1:19) A wise person rarely "toots his or her own horn" or calls attention to themselves. Such boasting is most often the behavior of a fool. While we should certainly pursue godly wisdom, we should never consider ourselves as having attained it all. A wise person is keenly aware of their own personal folly.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. (Romans 12:17a)
It is human nature for us to mistreat those who mistreat us. When other people act badly toward us, we are inclined to pay them back in-kind. However, we are instructed in this verse to never respond to evil with evil. When someone sins against us we are not justified in sinning against them. The old saying that "Two wrongs don't make a right" is absolutely true. When we are treated unjustly or unfairly the proper response is forgiveness, not retribution.
18 Respect what is right in the sight of all men. (Romans 12:17b)
We must publically and visibly "respect that which is right" so that others will see us doing so. In other words, we must live our Christian lives openly and in the light of day. We are called to work out our salvation before people, so that they can see for themselves the presence of God within us. People look at us should be able to tell that we are believers. Our love to and service for the LORD should not be a secret that we try to keep hidden. At the same time, it should not be a reason to gloat either.
19 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18)
It is possible for us to be at peace with others, even when they refuse to be at peace with us. This means that we avoid engaging in or participating in the fight. When they attack us maliciously, we respond peacefully. This doesn't necessarily mean that we back down, but rather that we don't automatically turn to violence. Peace requires discipline and self-control, and is a sign of great strength. As this verse concedes, peace is not always possible; but if we must fight, it should be done for a just cause and only as a last resort.
20 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
This concept is closely related to that of retribution, which we discussed earlier. Vengeance is retaliation against someone who has harmed us. We desire to personally punish them for what they've done. As such, we become instruments of wrath. Yet the LORD teaches us that He alone is the judge, jury, and executioner. When we intervene, no room is left for God to carry out His vengeance. Scripture assures us that God will pour out His wrath on sinners, and it will be far worse than any revenge we could ever get.
21 "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." (Romans 12:20)
Doing good to your enemies is closely connected to blessing those who persecute you, as we studied already. One nuance that is added in this verse is the concept that such service actually "heaps burning coals on his head". This does not mean that our acts of kindness will amplify their coming punishment. On the contrary, by adding burning coals to the fire a person becomes increasingly purified by the heat. Showing love to our enemies is one of the best ways to diffuse their anger and change their attitudes about us.
22 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Overcoming evil is akin to perservering in tribulation. The notable difference between the two is that we are to actually triumph over evil. We are to do more than merely survive - we are to thrive! This verse presents us with the image of being on offense, actively confronting and defeating that which is evil. Unforunately, many Christians take a defensive perspective. But God does not call us to protect that church; instead, he calls us to overcome the world in Jesus' name!
Many different behaviors and attitudes are displayed in the life of an authentic Christian. This morning we have considered 22 such statements written by Paul in the latter half of Romans 12. For those of us who desire to live as Jesus would have us to, it seems prudent to examine these charateristics and to apply them to our lives. As the redeemed children of God who are being conformed into the Lord's image, we should think and act like Him more every single day.