Three Overarching Instructions

In continuing my series of sermons on Romans 12, this week we looked at Romans 12:9.

We’ve seen previously that in verse one Paul exhorts his readers to become living sacrifices, for that is the logical act of worship which flows out of all that Christ has done for them.  Then, verse two tells us to stop being conformed to the world, fitting with the world’s way of doing things, and be transformed, changed in our very essence and nature.  This transformation comes by the renewing of our mind for the purpose of enabling us to know, approve, and act on God’s will for us.

In verses 3-8, Paul dealt with a particular area in which our minds need to be renewed, the area of right thinking in relation to other believers.  We are to put aside pride for service.  In fact, pride is a form of insanity!

This week, we move on to verse nine, where we find three overarching principles or instructions.  Our text:

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

A few years ago, our family had the privilege of visiting the south of France, and we went to Orange and saw the Roman arch, probably built by Caesar Augustus.

An arch, obviously, goes over something.  In this triumphal arch, you can walk underneath it and look up over your head, and see a construction that has stood for two millenia.  The Romans clearly knew how to build things to last, didn’t they?  When you walked under the arch, with inscriptions and reliefs showing Roman military victories, you were beneath the authority of Roman military might.

Whoever might be the local governor, the functionary who carried out Roman law, the principle was the main thing — you are a subject of Rome, and you answer to Rome.  If you are obedient to Rome, you do not need to fear Roman military might, and everything will fall into line.  If you rebel against Rome, you are going to have trouble.

Side note:  in fact, this is true no matter who Caesar might be.  The principle was Roman authority, not any one Caesar’s personal authority.  Caesar changed?  The arch is still there.  We found it interesting, in the Roman theatre at Orange, that the statue of Caesar was headless.  That made it easy and inexpensive when Caesar died (or was replaced, which generally meant the same thing:  he died).  Just carve new heads and send them around the empire, pop a new head on Caesar’s statue, and everything is fine.  Government budget cuts are not a new phenomenon, I guess. 🙂 (We found it ironic that the Roman Empire required Caesar worship.  How ludicrous to worship a statue with a changeable head!)  This side note brought to you at no extra charge….

As I looked at verse nine, I concluded that this verse gives over-arching principles, instructions that stand over all the others that follow.  Just as, if you accepted Roman authority, everything else was likely to fall in place and you’d be fine in Orange in the 1st century A.D., so also, if you get these three overarching principles right, everything else in Romans 12, and indeed in the Christian life, is going to follow along.

Rapid-Fire Instructions

On Saturday, as part of a family birthday celebration, we went up to Fort George for Historic Scotland’s “Celebration of the Centuries” event.  Part of the day included demonstrations of various weapons through the centuries, from swords and spears to slow-loading muskets, which could be fired maybe 2-3 times a minute, to a WW2 machine gun that fired 550 rounds a minute.

To this point, in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he’s been unfolding a rigorous logical explanation of the Christian faith, explaining things carefully.  The first half of chapter twelve continues that logical progression, as he explains why we are to be living sacrifices, how this comes about, and how it impacts our relationships and our thoughts towards other believers.

Suddenly, Paul begins dishing out instructions at 550 rounds per minute. 🙂  There’s a sudden shift in style, as if Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) suddenly says, “OK, we’ve talked about a living sacrifice, now here’s what a living sacrifice looks like.  Bang, bang, bang, bang….”

For those interested in grammar, there is no Greek verb in verse nine.  Our translators supplied a verb in the first (central) arch to reflect the obvious imperative content, while the following two instructions are participles, perhaps examples of the Koine Greek use of the participle as imperative.  However one takes the grammar, the context and the content clearly indicate that these are commands or instructions, and the translation reflects that.

Yet, the language here is very abrupt, as if Paul is grabbing the attention of his readers with a sudden series of concisely worded instructions, like a drill sergeant taking his troops through a rapid series of commands to get them to the right place quickly.  A translation that conveys the force of this might be something like this:

The love sincere, detesting the evil, glued to the good.

If every sermon should have three main points, I’m a hopeless preacher, but in this case, even I could manage a three point outline:  Love Without Dissimulation, Abhor Evil, Cleave to Good.

Love Without Dissimulation

“Without dissimulation” is a term rarely used these days.  It means sincere, genuine, not feigned or fake, etc.  The underlying Greek word is derived from the word for hypocrite, and is translated elsewhere in Scripture as “unfeigned”.  We are told here to have genuine love, not fake, insincere, or  hypocritical love.  This is the first, perhaps we might say the central, of the three “arches” in this verse.

We humans don’t do very well at truly sincere love.  We may not be as messed up as Judas was in John 12, when he called for more help for the poor just so he could steal.  But too rarely do we love in complete sincerity.  We are simply too selfish, and our own selfish motives interfere.  The “what I’ll get out of this” too easily comes to the forefront, even if all we are getting out of it is feeling good about ourselves, perhaps a little bit of private pride when we see someone benefit from our actions.

Yet, this expectation of sincere love is a common theme in Scripture.  We see it in II Corinthians 6:6, where Paul, talking of his service and example to the church at Corinth, speaks of “unfeigned love”.  Peter speaks of the same:  “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (I Peter 1:22), as does John:  “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18).

How can we manage this pure, fervent, non-hypocritical love?  Right down at the root of it, at the base of the arch so to speak, we find God’s love for us.  “We love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).  Our love flows out of His love for us.  The following verses take us a step further:

19 We love him, because he first loved us. 20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The progression is thus: 1) God loved us.  2) As a result, we love God.  3) As a result, we love our brothers.  At the foundation, we come to that great foundational truth.  God loves us.

You cannot have sincere love until you accept the fact that God loves you.  You won’t have love internalised into your very nature until you internalise God’s love for you.  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, but that starts with His love for us.  The second commandment is to love our neighbour, but that starts with God’s love for us, too.  God didn’t wait until we loved Him to start loving us, He loved us when we were sinners, opposed to Him (Romans 5:8).   That’s GRACE, grace by which we have been saved, the grace in which we stand.

The only way we can really be loving with the pure sincere love to which we are called is to really know God’s love.  If you struggle with sincere love, you need to immerse yourself in God’s love.  If He loved you when you were a sinner, going your own way, in rebellion against Him, how much do you think He loves you now?  Sure, we sin against Him.  Of course, we stumble.  We’re weak, and pitiful in our love for Him at times — but His love shines on, even when we stumble, even when we sin.

I’m not making excuses for sin — God certainly doesn’t.  I’m not saying sin doesn’t matter.  We’ll hit that second arch soon enough.  What I am saying is that GOD LOVES US.  If you ever forget that God loves you, you’ve drifted into a very bad place indeed.

If you want to learn to love sincerely, immerse yourself in His love.  Think about it, study it, learn what it means, rejoice in it, remind yourself of all the way He shows it, remind yourself of the Cross over and over again.  God loves you, and loves you, and loves you, and loves you, and true, sincere love flows out of His love.  Ephesians 3:17-19:

17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

To comprehend the incomprehensible, the great love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to be rooted and grounded in love, to really know His great love for us, this is the key to loving Him sincerely, and loving others as well.

If you can really get a grasp, get a handle, on the love of God for you, it will change everything.  You’ll never see the world in the same way again.  Perfect love casts out fear, John wrote, just one verse earlier in I John 4.  Live, breathe, think, meditate, pray, rejoice on God’s love, and by His grace and power, you will live His love as He transforms you.  Then, your love will be “without dissimulation”.

Two more arches to come….

Navigation note:   First in the series:  “Service” in Romans 12:1;  Previous article:  Hyper-Thinking is Insane!  Next article:  Three Overarching Instructions (part two).

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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