Summary: This text shows us four triplets of duties that proceed from the wholehearted offering of ourselves to God.
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 wise in your own sight. 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. (Romans 12:13-21)
All good biblical students know the importance of Systematic Theology. Indifference to the doctrines of the Word of God is a sure road to spiritual immaturity and difficulty.
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, whom some call the “greatest Reformed theologian of the 20th century among English speaking peoples,” wrote in one of his lesser known, but significant works, “The Right of Systematic Theology,” these words, “What, after all, is peculiar to Christianity is not the religious sentiment and its working, but its message of salvation—in a word, its doctrine. To be indifferent to doctrine is thus but another way of saying we are indifferent to Christianity.”
Warfield, of course, was right, and there is no age that needs more to hear his words than our present age of evangelicals, who are so hyped on shallowness and superficiality, and negative to the great doctrines of the Bible.
We find this illustrated by the comments in a recent work on Romans. The author writes,
The title of this chapter, “How to Hug,” was suggested to me by a story I once heard. A man was walking down the street, and as he passed a used book store he saw a book in the window with this title, “How to Hug.” Being of a somewhat romantic nature, he went in to buy the book. To his chagrin, he discovered that it was a certain volume of an encyclopedia and covered the subjects from “How” to “Hug.”
I have often thought of the church as like that. Everyone knows that the church is a place where love ought to be manifested, and many people have come to church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to discover an encyclopedia on theology. But I am grateful that God is changing this situation today. Thank God that hugs are returning to the churches. In the early church the Christians actually greeted one another with a holy kiss. You don’t see that too often these days, but perhaps it is coming back.
Now, there are several things seriously deficient in this analysis of things.
In the first place, while love is to be manifested in the church, love is not the most important thing that one should find there. The truth, the truth about God, the truth about man, and the truth about life is to be found there pre-eminently.
In the second place, it is foolish to affirm that the proper contrast to manifested love is “an encyclopedia of theology.”
And, finally, while I’m not against hugs in the church (so long as they reflect a mutual joy over the common truths that are shared, truths about God, man, Christ, and the divine saving work), I confess that I would be happier if the church were to regain its lost love for systematic Christian doctrine and its propagation.
Warfield, of course, knew that doctrine leads to life (and thus a life demonstrating Christian love), but he also knew that genuine Christian love flows only from orthodox Christian doctrine. In fact, the only life and the only love that has the approval of God is love in the truth of God, for as John writes, “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth” (3 John 1). Warfield puts it this way:
This fact is written large over the epistles of Paul, for example, by the very distri¬bution he makes of this matter: it is ever first the doctrine and then the life with him. The transition at the opening of the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a typical example of his practice in this regard. Eleven chapters of doctrinal exposition had preceded; five chapters of precepts are to succeed: and he passes from the one to the other with what has been called his “tremendous therefore”: “I beseech you therefore brethren”—“therefore,” because all this is so. In these “tremendous therefores” is revealed Paul’s conception of the relation between truth and life.