Hello. My name is Lucius. You may remember me sharing some of my testimony back in January. I am a Gentile who was seeking honor and glory through hard work and the favors of friends. I was a pretty good and civilized person – just another typical Roman citizen. Then a Jewish friend who was just back from going to Jerusalem for a festival called Pentecost told me about Jesus who had died but God raised up from the dead. He was so excited because people from all over the place each heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. This meant that the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon them. And when he started telling me about how the righteousness of God was only available through faith in Jesus suddenly I came to realize that this was what I needed and wanted and I began to follow Jesus. My Jewish friend and many of the Christians that he introduced me to when I was but an infant in Christ were later kicked out of Rome. Some of their own Jewish people persecuted them and emperor Claudius didn’t like the unrest so he kicked all of the Jewish people out of the city. He kicked out both the persecutors and my Jewish friends who had done nothing wrong – they just testified about Jesus. Claudius passed away a few years later and they have all started coming home and things are getting worse again. They thought that our suffering was proof that God does not love us though the apostle Paul wrote to tell us that God loves us with a love that will never let us go. Paul wanted our help with a mission. I thought it was pretty reasonable to be afraid that if we helped Paul then this would get us in trouble with the Roman authorities. I mean I remember what happened to my Jewish friends and I’ve heard about all the troubles Paul has had. But Paul said that what is reasonable was to present our bodies as a sacrifice and for us to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. Indeed, that is reasonable. After all, Christ died for all of the Christians in Rome, myself included, and Christ gave us God’s Spirit to think His thoughts after Him. So Paul wanted the churches in Rome to discover together God’s will for our mission and do it. I was still afraid at what the authorities might do, but then he told me this:
- Paul’s description of genuine love is a really powerful reminder of what Christians do for one another and for our enemies and even for the authorities in cities like Rome.
- These words remind me of the teachings of Jesus: Christian love is not for show or for outward appearance, it comes from the heart. Literally Paul opened this section saying, “the love genuine.” It is like a heading for these verses. “The love” is Christian love. To say it is genuine has the sense of being without pretense. In other words, Christian love isn’t make believe, it isn’t pretending, it isn’t for show or outward appearance. We love one another, Paul said, with brotherly affection. Before becoming a Christian I only heard this kind of language used by family, but the church is my new family. Christian love isn’t pretending to love my brothers and sisters in Christ but to love them like my family. Yet Christian love is not only genuine love for each other but also for our enemies. Paul said, “Bless those who persecute.” I don’t remember hearing the word “you” before. I expected the word “you” but not hearing it made me realize that Christian love blesses those who persecute even if I wasn’t the one being persecuted. “Bless those who persecute.” I knew then that genuine love would seek the well-being of the Roman authorities who kicked my Jewish friends out of Rome even though they hadn’t kicked me out. I’m always amazed at the kind of loopholes I try to make for not being loving – as if because I wasn’t the one being persecuted meant that I didn’t have to love the government authorities who did it. If that wasn’t enough, I remember reading in Proverbs, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” But Paul stopped short of saying, “and the Lord will reward you.” It is so tempting to want to love others because the Lord will reward me, but then again I already have my reward – I’ve been saved from sin and death. Christian love is genuine – it isn’t loving others to get something in return. This even means that when our church does fellowship dinners we should invite our hungry and thirsty enemies. There is no guarantee that having them for the meal will make them into a convert or even a friend. Christian love is without pretense. We aren’t loving others to get them to stop being hostile to us or to get the reward of a new member, we love period. The Lord changed my heart and now from the heart rather than just for show I can love my church family and I can love my enemies and I can love those who persecute. (But don’t misunderstand, love isn’t a feeling that I have in my heart for others as much as it is something that I do like inviting enemies to church dinners. And the love genuine is always doing. For…)
- Christian love is not lazy but it takes the lead. Your translation says to outdo one another in showing honor. Ok, that is one way to put it. I think it fits better what Paul is saying to understand that as “take the lead in honoring one another.” He then said, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Christian love doesn’t sit back and wait – it isn’t slothful or lazy. On the other hand, it is patient in trouble and constant in prayer. Paul said to contribute to the needs of the saints – we are to take care of one another’s material needs. But your translation misses a play on words that Paul does next. He uses a word that can mean both persecute and pursue. In verse 13 it means pursue and in verse 14 it means persecute. So the word translated “seek” is a really strong word. You are to “persecute” to show hospitality – if you take my meaning. I know it doesn’t work in English, but I hope you get the idea. You are to be “really strongly seeking” to show hospitality. Hospitality is something that you offer strangers. Here again Paul was saying not to wait for strangers to beg for help but to take the lead in meeting their needs. I didn’t know all of the Jewish people now coming to Rome, but whether they were going to persecute me or not I could “persecute” to show hospitality. I didn’t have to wait for them to ask for help, but could reach out to them in their time of need. Paul continues, “Bless and do not curse them.” Genuine love isn’t blessing people now so that you can curse them later nor is it to bless people publicly and curse them privately. I’m not to bless government authorities publicly and curse them privately or to bless religious authorities now and curse them later. Indeed, Paul said in v.18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” He isn’t giving me an out here – the point is that I am to do everything in my power to live peaceably with others. Christian love is not lazy, it takes the lead. (And…)
- By loving one another and your enemies from your heart through everyday good deeds you can overcome evil because it is part of a global gospel mission.
- No one could doubt Paul’s courage when he said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I was afraid of what the Roman authorities might do if our church helped Paul with the mission that he was planning. This letter doesn’t tell us until near the end that he wanted to plant churches among the barbarians in Spain. I think if he had been that specific before hearing this passage about genuine love I might have been even more afraid of what the Roman authorities might do to us. They are a rebellious people and there is always trouble coming from that part of the empire. But to think that we could overcome evil through everyday acts of love sounds simply unbelievable. Plus I’m just one person. How is it that I am going to overcome evil with good by inviting someone to a church dinner, or by showing hospitality in my home, or by blessing government authorities, or by contributing to the needs of the saints? How is it that these everyday acts of love will overcome evil? I knew then that Paul was brave. But I see too now that Paul understood that these everyday acts of love would overcome evil because they are part of a much bigger mission for the righteousness of God.
- You might wonder how you as an individual or your church can overcome evil with good deeds. It sounds so excessively ambitious! Then again the churches in Rome collaborating so that there would be churches planted throughout Spain sounded ambitious too. But it is all part of God’s mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. It would be excessively ambitious to say that the churches in Rome could overcome evil with good deeds for one another and our enemies. But we could overcome evil with good deeds in the context of the larger framework of the global mission of the gospel. That is, the good news is of God’s mercy for the ungodly – that the one who is righteous-by-faith-in-Jesus will live. This gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. God’s genuine love in Jesus Christ is for Jews, Gentiles, and barbarians. When I came to faith in Jesus I began praising God and glorifying Him for His mercies and I was able to love my neighbor from the heart. So too when the gospel went to the barbarians. After all, you all sound funny to my Roman ears. I know that God’s love will never let you go, so if you love one another and love your enemies and take the gospel to people in another part of the world, I’m confident that no evil will be able to stop you – no evil will be able to overcome you. You can overcome evil with good. For when you love one another and love your enemies and take the gospel into the world you are following Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.