Last week we started in on Romans 12. We talked about the fact that this section is Paul’s ethical exhortations to the church in Rome. He’s spent the last eleven chapters talking about this incredible thing that God has done in Christ. Now he’s telling the congregations of the Roman church what they need to do about it.
By the way, at our leadership events I’ve been rehearsing a truth that I think matters for the church. When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he was writing to a synod. He was writing to a diocese. The church in Rome was a network of house churches. The church in Corinth was a network of house-churches. Paul wrote to the metropolitan church, a cluster of congregations that he considers the primary unit of the church. A synod is not just a necessary organization evil. It is the basic unit of the church.
Last week we talked about Romans 1-8 being the indicative and 12-15 being the imperative. In the first section of Romans, the theological section, Paul talks about what God has done in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In chapter 12 he boldly asserts what this means for the Christian community and for the world.
Last week we heard Paul telling us that the church is a body with different parts that have different functions. We are members of one another. An individual alone is not the church. A congregation alone is not the church. We are the church together. And we are differently-gifted. It’s supposed to be that way. Respect this. Don’t put down others because they are different. It’s supposed to be that way!
Paul goes on with some ethical exhortations that help us understand why Coleridge referred to Romans as “the profoundest piece of writing in existence.” What follows is right up there with the Sermon on the Mount. You have to know that even though the gospels have not been written, Paul has heard a recap of the Sermon on the Mount. It is echoed in his words. I think the preacher could read them again, very slowly, letting them sink in.
Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is not teaching theology, but spirituality. Paul taught theology in the first ¾ of his letter. Now he’s telling them how this plays out in the real world.
Perhaps these exhortations could make up the prayers of the church Sunday.
- Good and gracious God. Teach us to love genuinely. (Silence.)
- Let this be a community where we outdo one another in showing honor. (Silence.)
- Teach us to extend hospitality to strangers. (Silence.)
And so on.
This is the mature Christian life in its highest form. If Christians lived like this, the whole world would convert. Lord, give us the strength to love like this.
Or perhaps you could pray together the Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.