Inscribing the Arches (part one)

On Sunday, I continued my sermon series on Romans 12, looking at verses 10-12.

Romans 12 begins with the exhortation to be “living sacrifices” to the Lord (verse 1), and commands to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (verse 2).  Paul then goes on to elaborate on what it means to be a living sacrifice.

My previous message was on verse nine, which says, “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”  I talked of the three-fold instruction in this verse as three over-arching instructions, out of which flows all that follows.  I summarised that message in three parts, part one (Love Without Dissimulation)part two (Abhor Evil), and part three (Cleave to Good).  I used the Roman arch in Orange, France, as an illustration.

The arch would still be an arch without inscriptions or military reliefs.  It would still be a symbol of Roman military might and Roman conquests — but you might not fully get the message of what it meant without those inscriptions and reliefs.  So also with verse nine of Romans 12 and its tri-fold “arch”.  If you really fully obeyed it, you would be walking the Christian life, but we have what I’m calling “inscriptions” on these arches.  These challenge us to put specific application to the larger principles of loving sincerely, hating evil, and holding to good.

It would be a mistake to think that every application of those principles is detailed here in Romans.  These specific applications teach us first of all that the larger principles need to be applied to every-day life.  Second, they teach us some of the specific ways in which they should be applied.  There are other ways in which we should apply the principles of Scripture, and part of renewing our minds is being alert to those applications.  God doesn’t want us to have lazy brains that can’t move past slavish obedience to a check-list of requirements.  He wants us to love Him, and live that love.  These “inscriptions” in Romans 12 give us some examples of how to do that.  They help us to more fully get the message of the over-arching principles.

Our text (Romans 12:10-12):

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; 11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; 12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

Our translation gives the sense well, but doesn’t really convey the structure of the original Greek.  In these verses, there are eight “in” expressions, describing not only what we are to do but how we are to do it.  Each of these eight items begins with the “in” part of the expression (expressed by the dative case in the Greek, for those interested in the grammar):

In Brotherly Love for One Another Kindly Affectioned
In Honour for One Another Going Before
In Diligence (Business) Not Slothful
In Spirit Bubbling/Boiling
In the Lord Serving/Slaving
In Hope Rejoicing
In Tribulation Enduring
In Prayer Continuing

In this case, it seems to me, the verse breakdown is very helpful.  The two instructions in verse ten deal with our relationships with one another.  The three in verse eleven deal with our labour for the Lord.  Finally, the three commands of verse twelve deal with having a mindset that is different from that of this world.

Two “One Anothers”

In Brotherly Love for One Another, Kindly Affectioned.  The word translated “kindly affectioned” is only used once in the New Testament.  It refers to the close emotional affection between family members.  Often, as in I Corinthians 13, the emphasis of Bible teaching about love is on what we do, rather than what we feel.  True Biblical love is focused on seeking and doing that which is best for the person we love.  That isn’t primarily a matter of the emotions, but of the mind and the will.  We see in this verse, though, that emotional affection is part of Biblical love as well.

I have to admit I’m not very good at this.  My wife always says I’m overly analytical, and having analysed her statement, I’ve concluded she’s correct. 😉  Maybe that’s why I’m a computer programmer, and working in finance, as well.  Let the stereotypes roll.  Anyway, I don’t always express my emotional affection for my brothers and sisters as well as I should.  Perhaps I over-react against those who treat love as nothing more than mushy sentimentalism.  This verse is telling us that, though real love has a rock-solid foundation built on loving actions, a little bit of kindly-affectioned “mush” belongs, too.  Perhaps we need it to cushion our interactions when too many overly analytical people bump up against each other.  We need to be kindly affectioned towards one another.

In Honour for One Another, Going Before.  The exact Greek rendering here is a little difficult, but the general sense is well brought out by the KJV translation.  Our natural tendency is to want honour for ourselves.  We want to push to the head of the queue.  Instead, we are to prefer the honour of others to our own honour.  The original Greek seems to suggest almost a competition, where we are trying to be first in the queue — but not at all in the normal sense.  Here, the idea is that we should want to be first in honouring others.  It’s as if our normal, selfish desire to “get ahead” is turned around and we’re told, “Yes, get ahead, but get ahead in the right thing, the thing you should really want to be the best at — honouring your brothers and sisters.  Be first in putting others first.”  We need to be foremost in honouring one another.

Three on Labour

In Diligence (Business), not Slothful.  Though our translators rendered the Greek word spoude as “business”, this is not simply an instruction for businessmen.  The word is elsewhere translated “zeal” or “diligence”.  The instruction here is that in all of our doing, all of our work, we are to do it diligently and without laziness or sloth.  This is true whether your responsibilities are working away from home, keeping the house, studying at school, or whatever they may be.  Our time is not really ours, if we belong to the Lord and are living sacrifices to Him.  If we belong to Him, our time does, too.  We should be doing the things He has given us to do.  Our labour should be diligent, not slothful.

In Spirit, Boiling.  The word translated “fervent” here literally means boiling, or bubbling.  Obviously, it doesn’t mean we’re to be blowing bubbles all the time (that will be a disappointment to my daughter), it’s a figure of speech which means exactly what our translation says:  fervent.  Our labour should be fervent and enthusiastic.

In the Lord, Serving.  Our labours, in whatever they are, are to be done as servants of the Lord.  The service here, though, is actually the service which a slave provides.  We are not our own — we have been purchased with a price.  As a result, all of our labours are really to be service to Him.  We don’t work for our employers, whatever they may think.  In reality, we work for the Lord.  That means my Boss is always looking over my shoulder.  He sees which links I click, what I type, what I do on work time, whether I take longer work breaks than I should.  He’ll make sure I’m compensated for jobs well done, even if my employer doesn’t.  I may have to wait a little longer to get His reward, but no one can ever take away the rewards He gives.  Our labour should be service to the Lord.

Three “Not of this Worlds”

This world is not our home.  Our citizenship is in Heaven, and we are looking to the Saviour.  In verse twelve, we have three aspects of our “otherworldliness” as believers.

In Hope, Rejoicing.  The world rejoices in what they have.  We rejoice in what we don’t yet have, because we have the confidence that we will receive it.

If you drive past a church and see a wedding party, you look for the guy in a kilt with the biggest smile on his face, and you know, that’s the groom.  He’s rejoicing in what he has.  Go past a football stadium after a match and look at the faces, and you can tell whose team won — they are rejoicing in what they have.

Go to a church, and you’ll see people who may not be rich, they may have struggles with family members, their neighbours may hate them, they may have some health problem, they may even face severe persecution for their faith, but they are singing of the joy of the Lord, and they mean it.  That’s not necessarily true in every church, but it ought to be.  We aren’t rejoicing in what we have, we’re rejoicing in hope.  We know that we have an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us (I Peter 1:4).  The world may think we’re crazy to rejoice over something we can’t see.  We understand why they think that, but we also know they are wrong, and that the things that are most real are the things you can’t see.  We are not of this world.  We rejoice in hope.

In Tribulation, Enduring.  The “patience” in this verse is not the patience that patiently waits for tribulation to end, but the patient endurance that continues forward through the tribulation.  In facing trials, we look through them.  We are not to dwell on them, to give them our focus.  The more time we spend looking at our troubles, the bigger they look.

Christians need to be different in our attitude towards trouble.  We see through trouble to the other side.  We know that God is using trouble to teach and refine us.  We see it for what it is, and we endure it, moving through it, as we look forward and upward.  Our affection is set on things above, not the things on this earth.  We count it all joy when trials come our way, because we can see past them.  We are not of this world.  We are patient in tribulation.

In Prayer, Continuing.  “Continuing instant” in prayer means continuing all the time, diligently, in prayer.  It means that we are to pray about everything.  Every problem in this life, every situation that arises, every joy and every sorrow, is a topic for prayer.  We should never grow tired of praying.  Prayer is turning to God, looking to Him, expressing our trust in Him.

Prayer expresses our “otherworldliness”.  It says that there is Someone outside of this world’s experience and values, and He is interested in us, He cares for us.  He wants us to bring our requests to Him, to give thanks to Him, to have Him in our thoughts as we think of situations in our life.  We are not of this world.  We are people of prayer.

Navigation note:   First in the series:  “Service” in Romans 12:1;  Previous article:  Three Overarching Instructions (part three).  Next article:  Inscribing the Arches (part two).

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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