Summary: In Romans 12:9-21, Paul gives us an overwhelming list of 30 encouragments. However, they can be slimmed down to just two overarching themes: self-sacrificial love and overcome evil with good. We also see how these things point us to Jesus.
Our text from Romans this morning is quite challenging. Paul writes to encourage God’s people to live in their in the calling, but his words are overwhelming to us. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another…be fervent in spirit…rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? This is only a small portion of what he writes in the first three verses. His list goes on and on. In fact, it includes 30 little commands or sayings to encourage us.
Listening to his words though, it is easy to feel exhausted. It is easy to feel unworthy. It is easy to wonder if the Holy Spirit could ever form within us all of these desires of God. Paul’s list is overwhelming and leaves us wondering, “Where do we start? What should we pay attention to? What is a Christian to do with all of these words?”
Let’s say you were to take one exhortation a day and really work on that one. So, for Monday, you take “Let love be genuine” and all day, you try to work on and to demonstrate genuine love. Passing by someone at work or at the store, you say, “How are you doing?”, but only this time, you stop to listen and then respond to what they are saying. For this day, love becomes more than the words of a casual greeting. For Tuesday, you move on to the next exhortation and work on “Abhor what is evil”. If you were to do this for every one of these exhortations, it would take you almost a month to get through the list just once! And that would be spending only one day on each and it would assume that you could actually do these things. Paul’s list is overwhelming for the Christian.
This morning, we’ll focus on two of the overarching thoughts of Paul’s encouragements, which are self-sacrificial love and overcoming evil with good. The first thought, showing self-sacrificial love is shown in the first paragraph (v.9-13). The second thought, overcoming good with evil (14-21), is shown in the second paragraph. We’ll also see how they point us to Jesus.
Paul tells us about self-sacrificial love in the first five verses. He encourages us to have this with these sayings. What is a self-sacrificial love? Let’s see what he says. First of all, it is a genuine love. It is a love that cares for others and their needs. It does not focus on us or demand anything in return for what it does for another. Simply put, it puts others first. Paul says a self-sacrificial love also abhors what is evil. It despises and repulses evil acts and deeds. It is a love that does not seek to harm or avenge oneself. A self-sacrificial love also is one that shows a brotherly love to others. A brotherly love sees people as all alike and on the same level. It does not have favorites. This love transcends our immediate family ties and does not depend on natural or ethnic bonds. In fact, it does not even consider it! Isn’t this what our world needs?
This love according to Paul, shows honor and respect too. It doesn’t wait to be honored, but it makes the first move in honoring others. It considers others better and more important than oneself. He writes that a sacrificial love obviously includes a love for God that comes from the Holy Spirit. This love leads one to serve God with the talents and gifts that one has been given. Lastly, a sacrificial love looks out for the needs of others and shows hospitality. It looks for opportunities to serve, and it goes out of its way to do so.
Right now, we see a lot of examples of this in Texas. This is just one of many. Abe Minor, a man nicknamed “The Houston Hero,” has been rescuing people all week. He started by being sent by his wife to rescue her friend’s family, which included four kids, one of which was an infant. As he was going there, others called out for his help as they saw him with his boat. He said that he couldn’t ignore their pleas, and told them that he would be back to help. He ended up rescuing at least another 20 families as of Tuesday, and goes back out to search for more. This kind of love looks for opportunities to express itself, just like this.
Having a self-sacrificial love can a challenge though, and these challenges stem from a variety of things. In our lives, we are often told to focus on ourselves first and foremost. We hear outrageous things like this: “You need to learn how to love yourself before you can love others.” Or “Love yourself, then love others.” This ordering of love focuses on us. Who knows if it will ever extend to others when it begins at and focuses on us?