In Chapter 12, Paul brought us to his great “therefore” in the book of Romans. This “therefore” followed his presentation on God’s grace for our salvation, since all things are “from [God] and through Him and to Him.” Paul continues his exploration on what this means on how we live as God’s people, listing a series of qualities to attend the use of the “gifts” (charis, graces), flowing from God’s grace for us.
Read Romans 12:9-13
Up to this point in Romans, agape (love, which expects nothing in return) described God’s love toward us. Now this love is what the Christian expresses to others. The context from Romans 12:3-8 is living out this love within the Christian community. Thus, our agape is empowered by God’s agape for us. “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
After Paul mentions “genuine agape,” he goes further to show what such love is. He does so by using a series of participles (verbs ending in “ing”).
|Genuine Agape, by:|
- Before the Christian can live out genuine agape, what must first be the case? (vs. 9b)
Two ways: one of life and one of death, and what a difference between the two! Now, the way of life is this: First, you will love the God who made you. Second, love your neighbor as yourself.
- How proactive is the Christian’s expression of love? (vs. 11)
- The last part of vs. 11 and vs. 12 deal with what aspect (toward whom) of the Christian faith?
- With the vertical aspect with God in proper alignment, what then takes place? (vs. 13)
- Understanding Paul’s organization of these verses, the vertical with God coming before the horizontal toward others, discuss “deeds not creeds.”
Commands for Christian Living with Those Outside the Church
In Romans 12:9-13, Paul used a series of participles. In Romans 12:14-21, he switches to a series of imperatival infinitives (a command to do something by using “to” followed by a verb). A switch also takes place on the focus: These verses deal with those outside the Christian community. Paul makes this clear by starting with “those who persecute you.” So, instead of listing characteristics of “genuine love,” Paul commands external behaviors, which do not come naturally, toward those with whom they might want to do otherwise.
Read Romans 12:14
“Bless”: Eulogeo, from where we get “eulogy,” which is to speak well of another, thank and praise someone, or ask for God’s favor on another.
- Matthew 5:44: But I [Jesus] tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
- Luke 6:28: Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
- Discuss ways to “bless” someone who persecutes you?
Read Romans 12:15
In this verse, Paul does a “Martin Luther” with this Old Testament verse in the Septuagint: “Do not fail those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn” (Sirach 7:4). In his exposition of the Ten Commandments, Luther also took a “do-not-do” commandment and turned it into a “do” command.
- What is Paul enjoining Christians to do with non-Christians who are part of their lives?
- How does the Christian balance “clinging to the good and loathing evil,” while also rejoicing with a non-Christian when such rejoicing may be a sinful choice on his part?
We now listen to Paul’s word on “how” to do this?
Read Romans 12:16a-b
In this verse, Paul again switches to using participles, three of them, to showing how rejoicing with someone rejoicing and weeping with someone who weeps is to take place.
- By thinking the same as the other (meaning in his rejoicing or weeping), not being high minded (literally high thinking, not considering yourself too good or above such things), but associating with the lowly.
- Discuss: How did Jesus associate with the lowly of His day (sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes) without affirming their sin?
Read Romans 12:16c-17
[Jesus teaching,] “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
- How is Paul’s command contrary to our natural, fallen instinct?
Read Romans 12:18
- What does Paul recognize about our relations with those outside the Church?
- If we cannot be at peace with those outside the Church, it should be because of whom or what?
Read Romans 12:19
Deuteronomy 32:35-36: Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay. In time their foot will slip, for their day of disaster is near, and their doom rushes upon them. For the Lord will vindicate his people and bring comfort to his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free.
- In the Deuteronomy passage, when does the ultimate “vengeance” take place?
- If a Christian does suffer, to whom does he leave justice?
Read Romans 12:20-21
Proverbs 25:21-22: If your enemy is hungry, give him food 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.
- From the Proverbs passage, from whom does the Christian seek a reward?
- So, instead of responding in our normal, fallen way toward injustice, what is the Christian commanded to do?
Excursus: Burning Coals
When someone feels shame, his face becomes red and hot. The idea of burning coals taps into this physical response of shame. But more is taking place with “burning coals.”
In the Old Covenant, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he came with burning coals from the altar and carried frankincense with him. Once inside, he placed the incense on the burning coals so the smoke would fill the Holy of Holies. The glory of God would descend between the outstretched wings of the golden cherubim over the cover of the ark. This was the shining glory of God being present among His people for their salvation (See Leviticus 16).
In Isaiah 6:1-7, Isaiah received a vision of heaven. He saw a throne on which God sat, with angels (six-winged seraphim) crying out “Holy, holy, holy.” He also saw an altar with burning coals and smoke. An angel took a burning coal and pressed it to Isaiah’s lips to take away his sins.
In Ezekiel 1:13-14, “burning coals” also accompanied being in God’s presence, which was similar to the Apostle Joh’s vision in Revelation 4:4-5.
Burning coals can represent God’s punishment (Psalm 140:10). Here, however, the purpose of the “burning coals” is not punishment but to “overcome evil with good.” In other words, the Christian does the opposite of what is expected and the person may feel shame for his poor treatment of the Christian (but then maybe not). In following the way of Christ, such “burning coals” may help bring the person to Christ, into the forgiveness of sins and God’s presence. This is Paul’s application of Jesus’ words: “In the same way, let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).