In these verses, Paul elaborates on two main points as he writes to the Church community in Rome: Christian living and dealing with one’s enemies. First, he discusses tangible guidelines for practical Christian conduct: genuine love, hating evil, holding to good, mutual affection, showing honor, not lagging in zeal, being ardent, serving God, rejoicing, having patience, persevering in prayer, giving freely, and being hospitable. He expands on these points in the remaining verses of the chapter. Matthew Henry, in his famous commentary, explicitly writes about not being “slothful” in doing God’s business when he notes Romans 12:11. While Henry uses King James language, how Christians live is in direct participation in the economy and life of God. Being proactive for Jesus Christ’s kingdom is essential; patience is critical, but laziness is detrimental. These attributes are continuing themes of Paul; he writes similar guidance to other churches. Among other passages, Galatians 5 comes to mind.
As he continues, Paul further nests within these directions for living how to treat enemies and those who do evil. How one defines enemies and those who do evil can go in a multitude of directions; geopolitical considerations can certainly influence the definitions. Moreover, moral implications of good and evil, both theologically and culturally, should influence understanding. Also, one needs to consider the daily lives of congregants; who do they consider their enemies and how can they love them? Is it the person at work or the neighbor who is vindictive and angry, a member of an opposing political party, or the individual or group who is intent on criminal activities? Paul brings guidelines for Christian living into the Roman church’s reality; church leaders must do the same. Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan is a clear example to follow.
These verses are concrete guidelines for how Christians should express Christ’s love in daily life that, if taken seriously, will make a transformational difference for individuals participating in church communities. Think about stories, whether from life, history, or scripture, that will parallel and illustrate what Paul is saying in a powerful way and use them.
At the root of Christian living is a foundation of God’s love, demonstrated physically in Jesus Christ. At the starting point of Paul’s instructions for Christian living is the very tangible Jesus. Christians love in real ways because Christ loves in real ways; therefore Christian love must clearly reflect what Christ’s love looks like. Henry summarizes Paul’s understanding of Christian love in these verses as “affectionate,” “respectful,” “liberal” (as in freely and abundantly given and not the political term), “sympathizing,” “united,” “condescending” (as in humble and willing to be made low), and “a love that engages us, as much as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men.” If Henry were alive today, he’d hopefully write about living peaceably with all men and women.
There is no doubt that it is a challenge to live this way; it is why Christians must be humble, be patient, persevere, and pray as Paul describes. For example, it takes faith to let go of vengeance and trust God to do with it as he desires. It is only through the regenerating work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit on fallen hearts that living by these guidelines is legitimately possible. Without Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a humble, persevering, and prayerful personal attitude, these actions can reek of self-righteousness and become a stumbling block of pride. However, just as much as Christian living is the outflow and result of the life we have in Christ, it is also something that points hearts back to Christ. An example is when a Christian does a good work because of the love of Christ in that person’s heart and someone else seeing it and being reminded of and oriented back to God. Acts of Christ’s love, such as what Paul describes in Romans 12, align, strengthen, and give hope towards Jesus Christ and the way his universal, catholic Church is supposed to be.
These verses are sandwiched between Paul’s description of new life in Christ⎯the individual in relationship to the community and vice versa⎯and Paul discussing God’s greater providence in government along with God’s role regarding authorities and providing order. Paul goes from the individual, to the community, and to the nations. How Christians live affects people as individuals, as communities, and as citizens of the greater world.
In closing, I want to share a short story. Several other junior Chaplains and I were eating lunch with a senior Chaplain the other day, discussing preaching. Specifically, how do we give hope in our sermons? It can be tempting to say that we should be content because it could be worse, but eventually we will encounter the person who actually has it the worst, such as Job. Overall, preaching should not be about ourselves, with the arrow, or the telos, pointing back towards us. Preaching should be done with that arrow pointing in the direction of the hope of eternity with Jesus Christ. Receiving communion, for example, is a tangible act and very real conduit of the hope we have in Christ. It is a sacrament that points the telos of our lives towards Christ. Paul, in these verses, is directing real actions to real people. What Paul describes in Romans 12 are acts that take the hope of eternity and life with Christ and bring them into the real, physical, concrete lives of people trying to follow God. Christian living brings the hope and promise of eternity with Jesus Christ into the reality of now for the people in our church communities.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (1811), accessed July 17, 2017, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Rom.12.1-Rom.12.21-4919.
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