The Text: Romans 12:9–21 (NIV) “love in action”.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The addition of chapter headings in the text are there to help us. However, they do sometimes interrupt the flow of the text. Last week we noted that Paul talks about the spiritual gifts in the context of our own self-image, and of how we relate to one another as the body of Christ. Although Verses 9-21 are separated by one of those headings (‘love in action’ in the NIV, ‘marks of a true Christian’ in the ESV and ‘behave like a Christian’ in the NKJV), they continue with this theme, they are not a change in tack, but follow on his thoughts. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Paul has moved on to a different subject.

The focus of Paul’s exhortations … ONE ANOTHER

The first thing that Paul looks at is how we view one another and how we treat one another in the fellowship. The bedrock of our witness and evangelism is in our relationships within the family of God—John 13:34,35 says, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Three times in v 9–16, Paul uses the phrase ‘one another’

  • V10 Be devoted to ONE ANOTHER
  • V10 Honour ONE ANOTHER
  • V16 live in harmony with ONE ANOTHER

‘One another’ is a very common phrase in the New Testament, whose writers call us to consider each other far more frequently than we might think. A cursory search of the New Testament makes the following exhortations. (I’ll rattle through these, so you might not keep up if you’re writing them down!):

  1. Be devoted to one another. (Romans 12:10).
  2. Honour one another. (Romans 12:10).
  3. Live in harmony with one another. (Romans 12:16).
  4. Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
  5. Love one another. (John 13:34; Romans 13:8; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 1 John 3:11, 4:7, 4:11,12; 2 John 1:5).
  6. Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50).
  7. Stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13).
  8. Accept one another (Romans 15:7).
  9. Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13).
  10. Prefer one another’s needs (Philippians 12:3).
  11. Clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).
  12. Confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).
  13. Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
  14. Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13).
  15. Bear with one another (Colossians 3:13 / Ephesians 4:2).
  16. Teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
  17. Spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:25).
  18. Encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11 / Ephesians 4:29 / Hebrews 10:25; 3:13 / 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  19. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19).
  20. Wait for one another when we come together to eat. (1 Corinthians 11:33).
  21. Offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
  22. Greet one another with a Holy Kiss (Romans 16:16 / 1 Corinthians 16:20 / 2 Corinthians 13:12 / 1 Peter 5:14).

That is 22 different instructions which appear all over the New Testament! This surely shows how important fellowship is to the writers of the New Testament—and, by implication, to God Himself?

Here, Paul digs down and looks at two qualities we must develop if we are to enhance our ‘one another’s’, our fellowship life together. Firstly, he talks about external characteristics, the relational attitude we must exhibit towards one another, and the internal characteristics we should develop as character traits.

The Outer Man

Here in today’s text, Paul mentions 4 aspects of our love — not forgetting of course that this still forms part of Paul’s teaching about the Holy Spirit. We have already noted that, in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:5). This continues Paul’s teaching and instruction on the matter.

Be DEVOTED to one another in love (v10).

A real echo of Acts 2 which describes the devotion of the first believers to ‘the fellowship’ (Acts 2:42). Like “love”, devoted is a word that has multiple meanings today…

  1. A dog can be devoted to is master.
  2. Someone can be devoted to their sports team.
  3. Happily married couples are often described as devoted to each other.

Each carries a different slant of the meaning of devoted

What did Paul understand when he talks of being devoted? If his understanding was typical of the era, then it would have carried with it a not dissimilar range of meaning that we would understand… to persevere, be constantly diligent, or to attend with perseverance (i.e. to not give up cf. Hebrews 10:24,25  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, Luke 18:1:Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up).

But Paul says not just that we should be devoted to one another, but we should be devoted to one another in brotherly love. This is because devotion is not just an action and it is not just an attitude, it is a product of BOTH action AND attitude. If you or I just say ‘I’m devoted to you’, but we don’t follow through on that statement, it’s just lip service. The Isaiah and Ezekiel both talk about this, in fact, Jesus quotes Isaiah. Malachi also talks about following our words through with our actions. So we read these texts …

Jesus in Matthew 15:7–9 (quoting Isaiah 29:13), You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Ezekiel 33:30–32, As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (this text is a very sobering one for people who go to church—if they take the time and care to really think about it)

Malachi 1:14, “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

Our devotion to one another has to have boots on it. But, IF it is not rooted in our love for one another, it becomes legalistic, it turns into a chore, the newness wears off, as does the enthusiasm. We get jaded in our commitment and tired of it. It becomes a burden. On the other hand, if our devotion to each other is rooted in love, then it flows freely and is easy to express, both verbally and practically.

HONOUR others above ourselves (v10).

In other words, put others FIRST!

You can draw a straight line between this verse and v3, which we looked at last week, and which says, ‘do not think more highly of yourself than you ought’. Honouring other people is a very visible outworking of humility, when we honour people, we are showing them real value.

Interestingly, the Isaiah quote which I’ve referenced to talk about lips service also talks about honour these people honour me with their lips, so we are to honour God.

Essentially, we honour other people to the degree that we consider their position and contributions significant. We are commanded to honour people because of their position, not their performance. We are commanded to honour our fathers and mothers (Deuteronomy 5:16; Mark 7:10), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), and those who rule over us (1 Peter 2:17). So, honouring people in the fellowship shows how much value we place on one another, we referenced last week 1 Corinthians 12 when we had a whistle-stop tour of the gifts of the Spirit, and honour is deemed to be significant …

The parts that we think are less honourable, we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:23–26).

The thing about honour is that its origin is found in our hearts, and it refers to the value we personally place on something or someone. The heart of every man is inclined towards himself and what HE can gain from life. This is the root of sin. Me getting MY way, living MY life the way I want to. When I honour someone else, I am giving someone else that first place, I honour God and that puts HIM first, then I honour others and that puts them first. Honouring God and honouring other people is an antidote to the pride and self-absorption which threatens to engulf each and every one of us.

Supremely, honouring others is at the heart of sacrifice for them, and Jesus says, greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

SHARE with the Lord’s people in need (v13).

Remember that in the early Church, there were no needy persons among them, the description of the early church at the beginning of Acts reports that, All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32ff) and from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need (34,35). In Acts 6 there is a disagreement in the church in Jerusalem, what is it about? The daily distribution of food to the widows. The custom of sharing with the Lord’s people in need.

Even a cursory reading of 2 Corinthians 8 which talks about the collection for the Lord’s people, Paul points out that one of the major purposes is to do exactly what he is talking about here, share with the Lord’s people in need.

  • 2 Corinthians 8:14 “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:12 “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people, but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God”.

James 1:27 links how we help one another in need to our worship, especially those who cannot help themselves: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Which always put me in mind of Isaiah says …

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
(Isaiah 58:6–7)

Jesus himself says I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25:36).

I know the James, Isaiah and Matthew verses relate to anyone, not just those who are in fellowship with us, we sometimes tend to think they only apply to strangers and foreigners, not those in the church, when in fact this is not true. They DO include those in fellowship with us—just as much as they include others.

Practice HOSPITALITY (v13).

In the New Testament, the Greek word ‘philo-xenia’ translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” In fact, it is the antithesis of xenophobia—which is a word thrown about an awful lot today.

Hospitality is especially important for Christian leaders, who are expected to model such things:

  • An overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:7–9).
  • Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:2–3).

But ALL Christians are to show hospitality, which is both commanded and commended throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, it was specifically commanded by God: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:33–34). Peter says, offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9).

Throughout the gospels, we read that, Jesus and His disciples depended entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town. So, for example, the disciples are told whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting (Matthew 10:11–12).

Likewise, the early Christians also depended on and received hospitality from others, so we read that when Paul was in Malta, Luke records that, there was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days (Acts 28:7).

Travellers in ancient times depended heavily on the hospitality of strangers as traveling could be dangerous and there were very few inns, and poor Christians could not afford to stay at them, anyway. This generous provision to strangers also included opening one’s home for church services. The writer of Hebrews reminds us not to forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2), this is described in the life of Abraham when he unknowingly showed hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be the Lord and two angels (Genesis 18:1–8).

Christians are called to show people Christ’s love and compassion, we honour God when we are kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17). We are to show people Christ’s love, but we are also being hospitable to HIM. So, Jesus says … I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25:34–36).

In these days we tend to see hospitality as something we give to friends, but (notwithstanding the context of today’s passage which is the church) we are also called to entertain strangers. Hospitality is an important part of Christian ministry, which play a real part in the proclamation of the Gospel:

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth (3 John 1:5–8).

So, these four qualities of our fellowship (devotion, honour, sharing and hospitality), if we were to fully embrace them, would transform our churches.

The Inner Man

Secondly, I don’t have enough time to really dig into what Paul says about our inner man, but I will recognise it now and develop it next week. In vv 11–13, we read this …

  • Do not be lacking in zeal (v11).
  • Be fervent in spirit (v11).
  • Rejoice in hope (v12).
  • Be patient in tribulation (v12).
  • Be constant in prayer (v12).

I will look at these personal qualities which will help us to live in fellowship more effectively.

Then from v14, Paul turns his attention and thoughts away from relationships within the church, towards how we respond to people who are not sympathetic to us. HOW do we respond in the face of persecution? The thing is, when people attack me, I have a number of responses which I’m tempted to make. I want to hit back, I want to run away, I want to justify myself. At the very least, I want to rant at them!

Remember, though, that as Christians, our response is none of those things, if we want to rant, we should rant at God — the Psalms show us that. Paul gives us a number of other things we should do.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
(Romans 12:14–21).

Some of the responses Paul suggests ..

  1. Bless others (v14).
  2. Don’t take revenge, leave the results to God (v17, 19).
  3. Take care to be sure YOUR life honours God – whatever anyone else does (vv15, 16, 17).
  4. Live at peace with people (v18) (cf. blessed are the peacemakers).