Have you ever thought about the legacy you want to leave behind when you die? I’m not talking about a physical legacy such as the things you own. I’m talking about how you want people to remember you. The type of legacy you leave behind will depend on the kind of life you lead on earth. Do you want to leave a legacy that is based on the world, its possessions and its sinful nature, or do you want to leave a legacy that is based on a life of service to God and that is pleasing to God? God has put together a checklist for a legacy that is pleasing to him. The most important item on that checklist is Christian love. In Romans 12:12-16 Paul teaches us how to show love in practical ways.
The most important qualities of genuine love are sincerity and discernment. If there is no sincerity, love becomes manipulation, competition and pretense. There is no room for this because love and truth go hand in hand. Love clings to what is good.
Love is characterized by devoted affection. It is to be characterized by the warm affection that is shared by family members. In our case, it is the warm affection we have for all of God’s people. Sometimes this can be difficult, but we must make the effort because our family bonds can’t be broken.
Love is also characterized by honour. This includes letting someone else have his or her own way in matters that are nonessential. We must listen carefully when other people speak, even if and when they disagree with us. We must treat other peoples’ feelings with respect and dignity.
We must also have enthusiasm and passion. It is a passion for doing well by others. It is a boiling passion to love and serve God. This passion can’t be contained. This does not mean that we have to show the same enthusiasm that is shown in charismatic churches such as the Pentecostal church or the Salvation Army.
Love is also patient, especially as explained in 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as “the love chapter”). This can be hard to do in times of trial and difficulties. It means fulfilling obligations and receiving blessings when we are discouraged. We can press on when we devote ourselves to prayer.
Generosity is also a part of love. Love means sharing what we have with the less fortunate. Love means sharing in the suffering of our fellow human beings even when our own circumstances are different. The resources we have been given by God can be the means of blessing or cursing, the instruments of good and evil. The determining factor is whether we regard our resources as personal possessions to be used as we desire or as gracious gifts from God to be used for his glory and man’s benefit.
Closely tied with generosity is hospitality. The original meaning of the word “hospitality” is “loving strangers”. It means showing love to those who are different from us in race, nationality, creed or belief. Love takes the initiative and actively looks for opportunities. A good example is the hospitality many people here in the Maritimes showed during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. When thousands of airplanes had to land at the nearest airport when American airspace was shut down after the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked, Maritimers opened their homes and hearts to stranded passengers by providing food, clothing, shelter and day trips. The same hospitality was shown after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 when people provided food for searchers and comfort to visiting relatives of the passengers.
Also tied in with hospitality and generosity is graciousness. It is the most difficult aspect of love to carry out. Graciousness means returning good for evil. Grace in response to evil is a unique characteristic of a godly person, and grace can only come from God.
True love also means showing compassion, sympathy and empathy. It celebrates joy when fellow believers celebrate joy and grieves when fellow believers grieve or die. Compassion says, “I will do anything I can to stop your hurt.” Jesus was repeatedly moved by compassion. He was willing to do whatever he could to stop others from hurting, including going to the cross. He was willing to die to stop our hurt by giving us a way to receive God’s grace and eternal life.
True love is also characterized by an emphasis on satisfying another person’s need for approval. We are to facilitate another person’s victory. We are to rejoice in hope in the assurance that by doing so, our lives will count both now and for eternity.
Love must always be shown with humility. Paul warns the Gentiles in Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 not to be full of pride, and here in Romans 12:9-21 he repeats the same warning to all of us. Paul urges us to think like other Christians, but not to blindly go along with the group. We are to be for the same things even if our viewpoints and approaches are different. In other words, we are to try to find common ground without sacrificing God’s truth. We are to seek out and serve the outcasts of society. Most of the time love must be tender, compassionate and understanding but there are times when love must be tough, firm and unbending, especially when we are speaking the truth of God’s word.
Part of love is forgiveness. It allows God’s love to flow cleanly and clearly. It is the antidote to the bitterness, anger and resentment that come from our tendency to hurt each other. Paul’s warning to bless those who persecute us are an echo of what Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus says the same thing in Luke 6:28-“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Paul hints that to love others genuinely is to love as Jesus loved.
Love is hard to show when we have been wronged. It’s only natural for us to seek revenge, but we must remember that God will ultimately punish those who have wronged us unless they repent and turn to him. For example, many of us want to curse those who have wronged us, and I don’t mean cursing as in casting spells or using black magic. Instead, we curse them with words
, including words that take God’s name in vain. We must remember that God does not have a last name that is spelled D-A-M-N. We must speak well of those who have wronged us. We must bless them, which is contrary to our human nature. We have to look beyond our hurt to see what good we can do for the offender. Our behaviour must be guided by a godly character and not by a worldly character that seeks revenge. We are to set aside our revenge so that God can use his own brand of revenge to bring the offender to repentance.
There are times when it is not practical or possible not to take revenge. When we are confronted by an evil that is extremely dangerous, we have no choice but to respond with vengeance. If we do not fight evil, we allow lawlessness, tyranny and oppression to gain a foothold. For example, what would have happened if Nazi Germany had not been fought and defeated? What would have happened if NATO had not intervened during the civil war in Yugoslavia? What will likely happen if democratic countries do not stand up and oppose Russian support of the rebels in Ukraine? The most extreme forms of evil must be fought decisively, but they must be fought with a spirit of love and concern for the victims of evil.
Paul does not condemn any actions we take to protect ourselves against physical attacks. For example, if someone breaks into our homes we are not to say, “Here, help yourselves!” We are to call the police, have the offender arrested and press charges. Paul’s aim is to teach us how we are to respond to verbal attacks, slander, lawsuits or dirty politics at work, school or other places.
So how can we respond to issues that make us angry such as oppression, injustice, deception, manipulation and violence? We can’t simply turn a blind eye. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12:9 that we are to hate evil. That means that we are to do everything within our power to fight evil, but at the same time we are not to repay evil for evil. We are to repay evil with good, as mentioned in Romans 12:21. This is easy to say but difficult to do in practice.
When we respond to evil, we must respect what is honourable in the sight of all men. We must be careful in both our proper conduct and appearances. For example, Billy Graham had a policy of not being alone behind closed doors with any woman other than his late wife Ruth. It was one of many rules he and his associates followed for the sake of their reputations. There are also rules in my Diocese that govern how members of the clergy are to interact with other people. The more visible our position, the more careful we must be.
How should we respond when we meet difficult people? Here are four methods that Jesus used:
- Realize that we can’t please everyone.
- Learn to say “no” to unrealistic expectations.
- Never retaliate.
- Pray for them
Paul’s comments on the issue of vengeance are a mission statement for God’s master plan of salvation. He will overcome the world’s evil with his goodness and grace. He will transform the world and bring it back under his righteousness. If we return evil with good, we show our faith in God by playing a role in his pan for the world. Sometimes we feel we are alone in this task. After all, it’s rare to find other believers coming to help us when we are attacked. It is at times like this when we must remember the question Paul asks in Romans 8:31-“If God is for us, who can be against us?” To paraphrase a popular saying, with friends like God, who needs enemies? We can withstand attacks when we have faith in Jesus. We are to overcome evil with good.
Paul’s letter to the Romans offers advice and direction on how we as Christians are to live our lives. Our old habits and rules don’t apply any more. Our new Christian life takes some getting used to because it goes against our human nature. It calls on us to tame our egos and show Christian love to others. In our world where trying to get ahead of one another seems to be the rule, God asks us to consider a new reality: to love genuinely and reciprocally, to clutch that which is good and to compete to show the most integrity. When we show the characteristics of true love, we show our faith in God. We also set a good example for other people to follow. When we die, not only will we go to heaven, but those we leave behind will remember and cherish the great legacy we have left behind, and that is because it is the type of legacy that we will want to leave behind-a legacy of Christian love.
- Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- Pastor Rick Warren, “How Can We Love Difficult People?” Retrieved from www.newsletter.purposedriven.com
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- Pastor Rick Warren, “Your Friends Need You to Share in Their Pain” Retrieved from www.newsletter.purposedriven.com
- Pastor Rick McDaniel, “Have Passion.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
- Kelly McFadden, “The Family of Believers.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
- Sheri Rose Shepherd, “His Presence Every Day-The Bait of Anger.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
- Bayless Conley, “When Peace Isn’t Possible.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- David Zanstra, “Revenge is wrong.” Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
- Exegesis for Romans 12:9-21. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Elizabeth Shively, “Commentary on Romans 12:9-21.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Mark Reasoner, “Commentary on Romans 12:9-21.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org