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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

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Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Love - August 31, 2014 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Romans 12:9-21

Let me begin this morning by reminding you of the difference between justification and sanctification and I will do so by reminding you that we know we are getting it right when we get right who is doing what. Simply stated, justification is that we are justified, that is we are made just and right in God’s eyes, even though we are sinners and remain sinners, we are made just and right in God’s eyes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith which He has given to us. We are made just and right because of Jesus living the perfect life demanded of us, for us in our place and then taking our sins upon Himself and paying the price for our sins on the cross. We have no part in justification except that it was done for us and it is given to us. When it comes to justification we know we are getting it right when it is all in Jesus’ hands. Now as for sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy. We speak of sanctification in terms of our response of justification. However, I would remind you that our sanctification also has its beginning outside of us, in other words, we do the good works which God has prepared for us in advance to do, but only as He motivates us to do them, as He works in and through us to do them and that they are done to His glory. So notice, the beginning of justification and sanctification is God. In justification God is doing all and we are being done to. In Sanctification God is working in and through us to do the doing. This distinction is important, because in our text for today Paul is speaking in the area of sanctification. Paul is exhorting and encouraging us to live lives of faith, that is to live lives of sanctification, which we can only do as we are first justified and made right in God’s eyes. It is true that once we have been justified we may indeed make good decisions, but only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
Paul begins with love. We read beginning at verse nine, “9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (v. 9-13). Paul urges us to outdo one another in loving each other. Paul’s words remind us of the “Golden Rule,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This “Golden Rule” was first given by Jesus and the emphasis is placed on our loving others  first, as we would have them to love us. Yet, notice again who is the prime mover. We love because Christ first loves us.
 
We are encouraged to love others and to rejoice in hope. Here again, we have mentioned this before, the hope we have as Christians is not an iffy, maybe hope, but is a certainty. We do not merely have an iffy hope of heaven, we have the certainty of heaven. Heaven is ours, right now, at this time. It is ours because it was earned for us by Jesus.
 
We are to rejoice in our hope and we are to be patient in tribulation. When trials come upon us we are to be patient and wait for the Lord. At the same time we are to be in constant prayer. Certainly times of trials and tribulations may be difficult, yet during these times our Lord would draw us closer to Himself so that He might give us comfort and aide, healing and strength. Interestingly enough, Paul begins with love and the word love that is used here is the word “agape,” which is that selfless concern for others. Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, in and of ourselves we cannot agape others. This is the type of love that God has, the type of love He demonstrates in the giving of His life for ours. Thus, the prime mover, again, is our Lord who agapes us and who works in and through us to love others.
 
Paul moves from instructions in love to instructions in blessing. We pick up at verse fourteen, “14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (v. 14-18). Paul speaks some difficult words, yet words which echo the “Golden Rule.” We are to bless and not curse, even those who persecute us. And we see again how we cannot do this ourselves. This is one of those agape love things where in we can only bless and not curse those who persecute us as the Lord stirs in us to do so.
 
Even more, Paul says we are to have true empathy for others. This means not only are we to rejoice with those who rejoice, which is pretty easy. But we are also to weep with those who are weeping. The cliche of the world says, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” Certainly we could attest to this happening in this world, but God tells us, through Paul, to be truly empathetic, to not only rejoice with those who rejoice, but also to cry with those who cry.
 
Paul says we are not to be haughty in other words we are not to be a snob, but we are to associate even with those we believe to be the lowly.
 
And we are to live at peace with one another. Here is another indication of the fact that Paul is speaking about agape love, because true peace can come only from forgiveness. Thus, we are to continually forgiven each other as Christ has forgiven us. So, notice again, as well, who is the prime mover. We do only as Christ has done for us and as He works in and through us.
 
Which brings us to Paul’s last bit of instruction and that is to let God be God. We continue at verse nineteen, “19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 19-21). Paul encourages us to go against our natural instinct. Our natural instinct is not to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” but rather our natural instinct is to do unto others as they do unto us, as they first do unto us. Paul encourages us never to avenge, but to leave vengeance with whom it belongs, namely to God, alone.
 
Instead of being vengeful, we are to be nice, good, and so on to our enemy. Interestingly enough, if we are nice, good and so on to our enemy, that is the worst thing we can do to him, because in so doing we will put him to shame and put burning coals on his head. Perhaps you have heard the cliche, “Kill them with kindness.” I believe this text is where this cliche comes from. We all know how it is. When someone is being purposely mean, they expect us to retaliate, which, in their mind, vindicates their meanness. Once we have retaliated to their meanness, then there can be an escalation of the battle. However, by retaliating with kindness, by retaliating in an unexpected and even kind way, this turns one’s meanness to shame, thus their pain is increased. Kill them with kindness is not just an expression, but a possibility.
 
And so we are to overcome evil with good. It is amazing how often a tense and difficult situation can be defused with a kind word. And yet, we must keep reminding ourselves that this is what we can do only as God is the prime mover. We can only overcome evil with good as God works the good in and through us.
 
What does this mean? Paul’s words of instruction, exhortation and encouragement are good words, good sound advice. Yet, Paul knows as we know that in and of ourselves we are unable to heed his advice. It is only as God gives us the ability to act and react in such a way that we can attempt to heed Paul’s advice. And God gives us that ability even if only inadequately. God is the prime mover. He is the one who’s love is genuine and we see His genuine love, His agape love in His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the one who has accomplished all that Paul encourages us to do. This is the fullness of the Gospel message, not only that Jesus died for us, but also that He lived for us. Jesus has accomplished all that Paul here encourages us to accomplish and yet Jesus did it all, perfectly. What we cannot do, Jesus has done, for us, in our place and by faith in Him this is credited to us.
 
Jesus has accomplished perfection for us and now God stirs in us to respond to all that He has done and all that His has given. We live lives of sanctification, we do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Yes, we do them imperfectly, but with Him stirring in us, we do them.
 
And in our doing, we glorify God. We glorify God as He lives in and through us. Yet, we are always pointed back to Him as the prime mover. And so, we see that even in terms of sanctification, God continues to do it all and He continues to get the credit and the glory. God gives, God does, God moves in us, and we are given to, we are done to, we are moved in and through.
 
And so, I exhort you as Paul exhorts you, I encourage you as Paul encourages you. First and foremost, be given to as God gives. Make regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that the Lord can work through these means to give, strengthen and keep you in faith. Then, continue to be given to as God continues to give. Be given to as the Holy Spirit works in you to respond to all that the Lord does for you and gives to us. Be given to as the Holy Spirit works in you to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for you to do.
 
Let me leave you with Paul’s words because I cannot say it any better than he can: “9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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