Inscribing the Arches (part two)

Sunday, continuing in Romans 12, I preached on verses 13-16.

Romans 12 begins with the exhortation to be “living sacrifices” to the Lord (verse 1), and with 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.

Previously we looked at verse nine: “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.  I’ve compared the remaining teaching in chapter 12, which gives some of the ways we live out those three main principles/instructions, to “inscriptions” on the arch — features that let us get a more complete picture of these three main principles in action.  Last week, we looked at the teaching of verses 10-12.

This week, in Romans 12:13-16, we have further detail on what I’ve called the central arch (“love without dissimulation”/love sincerely).  The text:

13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. 14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

Some commentators view verse 14 as an isolated command, somewhat unrelated to the surrounding verses and the rest of the chapter.  Obviously, the Scriptures were not written with a view to generate neat outlines for preachers (alliteration and rhymes inherently present in every passage, of course!), but we should hesitate to assume a verse is isolated.  I view these four verses as a unit, elaborating some of what it means to love sincerely, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Generosity (verses 13-14)

Distributing to the Necessity of the Saints.  The word translated “distributing” is usually translated as “fellowshipping.”  We are to join in each other’s needs, which means that our giving is not to be limited to when it doesn’t “hurt”.  If we have needs and hardship because we have given, we are truly joining in and fellowshipping with the needs of others.  This doesn’t mean we are to give to such an extent that we neglect our responsibilities to our families (I Timothy 5:8) or neglect our responsibility to pay our bills (Romans 13:8).  It does mean we are to be prepared to give until it “hurts”, to be generous when our brothers or sisters are in need.

Given to Hospitality.  We don’t always have an understanding of the importance of hospitality in the early church.  Travel was very important, because the churches didn’t have all of the Scriptures yet, so the apostles and their co-workers traveled and taught.  Persecution was already starting (note the next verse), and this would invariably be directed first against the pastors and teachers, so the churches would, at times, be without Bible teachers, and those who were at liberty would travel to aid the different churches.

You couldn’t just pop into the local Holiday Inn Express and show your Visa or MasterCard.  The inns weren’t numerous, and weren’t particularly safe, especially for leaders of a persecuted group.  Hospitality was vitally important, both because the church was new and because of the persecution.  Without hospitality, the church would have suffered greatly.

Paul here is urging his readers to be given to hospitality, to pursue it.  We should not limit this teaching to hospitality, however.  That was the focus in the first century because that was the need of the first century.  Rather, we should recognise the implication.  If your home is to be at the Lord’s service, then really, everything you have and own is to be at His service.

The Greek word is dioko, pursue, a determined, persistent endeavour.  Paul uses another play on words, as he did earlier in the chapter.  It is the same word which is often translated “persecute”, as it is in the next verse.  With the same determination with which your persecutors pursue you, you should pursue a generosity that puts everything you own at the Lord’s service for the benefit of His people.  They pursue us to persecute us?  We will answer by pursuing generosity and hospitality.

Blessing Your Pursuers/Persecutors.  Verse fourteen comes from the teachings of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27-28.  It tells us to have a generous spirit towards those who persecute us, blessing them and not cursing, praying for them rather than against them.  Certainly, our persecutors are opposing the Lord, and they deserve cursing, but we are to have that generosity that prays for them, for their repentance and salvation, and that they might have the true blessings of Almighty God.

This verse differs grammatically from those around it, in that it includes verbs in the imperative mood, a direct command.  Perhaps this is because we can easily understand generosity to other believers, while a generous spirit towards persecutors is more difficult, and so the command is emphatic.  A more likely reason is simply that it is drawn from the imperative teachings of Christ, and Paul is using the wording of the Master.

This verse and the prior one are connected verbally by the use of dioko, but also conceptually, in that they both teach us to be prepared to give beyond what would naturally be considered the right of the recipient.  They are a unit, not isolated instructions.  Both verses teach generosity of spirit, a vital aspect of sincere, unhypocritical love.

Empathy (verse 15)

The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines empathy as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation.”  That is not too far off what is described in verse 15.

Rejoicing with Rejoicing Ones, Weeping with Weeping Ones.  The Scripture doesn’t talk about “imagining what it would be like” as the dictionary does, but the idea of sharing joys and sorrows is certainly expressed here.  We are to love in such a way that we can begin to feel what others are feeling.

This Demonstrates our Care for Them.  When someone rejoices, and we rejoice with them, it often is because we value the same thing they do.  That is a blessing.  A friend phoned this week to tell me his wife is expecting a baby, and we rejoice, because we value children as blessed gifts from the Lord.  He shares that belief, and we rejoice in that together.  But empathy can go beyond that.  One of my sons supports a football team that, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about.  But he likes them, and if they ever win a championship, I’ll be very glad, just because it will bring him joy and I love him.  (Meanwhile, I tease him that I never have to worry about that happening :).)

When we rejoice with someone, and weep with someone, it says something very important.  I’m with you.  Whether I exactly feel the same way about this situation that you do, or not, I’m with you in it.  I’m on your side.  I care about you.  It’s part of loving sincerely.

One Caveat.  Not everyone “weeping” is really weeping.  Sometimes, people will tell us of their horrible experiences to gain our sympathy as a way of manipulating us.  They want us to do something for them, to give them something, to excuse their wrong behaviour, to make them feel important because of their great “sorrow”, etc.  “Weep with those who weep” does not mean “provide a crutch (emotional or otherwise) for bad behaviour.”  True love wants the best for a person, and it is rarely the best for a person to feed their addiction to emotional manipulation, to encourage them to let emotional sorrow rule their lives, or to communicate that horrible stories are a good way to get someone to give you something.  True empathy is an aspect of true love, but empathy is not the goal to overrule true love — it is only part of the picture of what true love is.

Humble-Minded (verse 16)

Paul uses another word-play in this verse, using forms of the word phren (“mind” or “understanding”) three times as he gives another aspect of love, humility towards one another.

Same-Minded Toward One Another.  Usually, when we encounter instructions in the Scripture to be same-minded, it is emphasising our unity, the fact that we are to agree in valuing those things which God values, desiring those things that God desires.  In this case, something different is in focus.  We are to be same-minded “one toward another”.  We are to all want the same things for one another.  We don’t want better things for ourselves than we want for others.  Our love for each other should manifest itself with wanting our brothers and sisters in Christ to have the same joys, the same victories, the same blessings that we want for ourselves.

Don’t Go for the Glory, Go with the Lowly.  Here is a double-barreled instruction — don’t be high-minded, looking for praise or glory for yourself, but “condescend to men of low estate.”  I remember some years ago, when I was playing football, it was a very common thing for some of the young men to “go for glory”.  Instead of making the easy and positive pass, there would be a sliver of daylight between the ball and the goal, and from 40 yards away he’d go for it.  The chances of even being on goal were slim, and the chances of the ball eluding the goalie were nil, but he would “go for glory” — glory for himself.  There’s little glory in a simple pass, but a goal from here?  That would be awesome!!!  We are not to be high-minded, thinking of ways we can “go for the glory” for ourselves.

On the contrary, we are to “condescend to men of low estate.”  When the KJV Bible was translated, “condescend” did not have the same negative connotations it has now.  Now, if you are “condescending”, you are seen as looking down on others and talking down to them, holding yourself above them.  That’s not the idea in this verse at all — quite the opposite.  It just means “go with” lowly men.  Be on their level.  Don’t try to hold yourself above those who are humble and lowly, because that is all you deserve to be, anyway, and that is what you should be — humble and lowly.  That is your proper place.  Don’t go for the glory, go with the lowly.  True love doesn’t exalt one’s self, but rather takes one’s place with the lowly.

Not Wise in Yourself.  This is the third instance of “mind” in this verse.  We are not to be wise-minded in ourselves and our pride.  This is reminiscent of Isaiah 5:21, which says, “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”  Perhaps the Holy Spirit brought that verse to Paul’s mind as he was writing.

The person who thinks he is wiser than those around him usually finds a way to let it be known.  The wiser we are in our own eyes and our own conceit, our own looking at ourselves, the more arrogant we are, and the less charitable we become to those who are “less wise than I the wise-minded one am.”

Pride is contrary to true love, whether it be the pride that wants glory, or the pride that wants better for ourselves than for others, or the pride that elevates one’s own wisdom.  When pride takes hold in our lives, any love that survives will be “dissimulated” (hypocritical and insincere) love.

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

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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