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Romans (Series 1)

The Ultimate Paradox

Romans  12:14-21

Could their be any greater ambition, any greater pride, any greater attempt, than to be like God? The thought is beyond most of us; such arrogance is too great even for the cockiest of most of us. But it has been thought of before. Indeed, it is the great sin of Satan:

(Isa 14:12-14 NIV) How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! {13} You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. {14} I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."

This morning, we will learn how we can be “like the Most High.” Such pride as is Satan’s prevents it. By desiring it so much, to his own glory, Satan prevented himself from approaching it. We can approach it -- in God’s way. We shall see how it is done, by viewing it in the light of our relationships with those outside the church.


There are a few principles which run through our discussion this morning. Our relationships with those outside the church ought to be governed by the following:

·         Evangelism. The Great Commission is still ours, and all of our actions and thoughts must take this into account. Are we doing things which make it more or less difficult for others to come to salvation through Jesus Christ?

·         The Imitation of God. This has two aspects:

·         There is the devotional aspect -- the inner life. It is primarily for our benefit, but the changes that God makes by the renewing of our minds are seen by others.

·         There is the inspirational aspect -- where we deliberately behave in such a way that others will see and glorify God.

·         Fear God, dread naught. Often our relationships with others are clouded by the fears: “what will people think?” “how can I get promoted if I ...?” We need to remember that God is God, and fear Him only.

Having established these as lighthouses, let us navigate the passage of Scripture for today.

Specific Advice

(Rom 12:14-21 NIV) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. {15} Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. {16} Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. {17} Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. {18} If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. {19} Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. {20} 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." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We need to take these specific actions one by one.

Bless, and do not curse

Most of us feel that as long as we don’t curse to our enemy’s face, we have kept the intention of this passage. We feel that we have a right to curse (“I have a right to be angry about this!”) and that (since we haven’t the courage to confront our enemy personally) the other person will never know. Hear, then, what Job had to say about this. He’s listing a series of things that he believes God would condemn him for, had he committed them. Here’s an interesting one:

(Job 31:29-30 NIV) "If I have rejoiced at my enemy's misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him-- {30} I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against his life--

We forget the devotional side: it’s what comes out of the heart that defiles a man. Can we be so double minded as to bless and curse with the same mouth?[1]

We must see this as an imitation of God. Our Lord put it this way:

(Mat 5:44-48 NIV) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {45} that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. {46} If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? {47} And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? {48} Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We have Christ’s own example of this, forgiving those who crucified Him.[2]

Indeed, this can be a powerful example to those outside the church. St. Augustine said that “the church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”[3]

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep

We choose our business associates on the basis of making the most money; we choose our friends by our emotions.

·         Is there anyone so close as the one who has shared your tears? Even our Lord did this, at Lazarus’ grave.[4] For most of us, all the logic of the classroom is not worth the shared tears of sorrow in bringing someone to Christ.

·         Often, however, it is harder to rejoice with them -- especially when we see them as our competitor. We may think this is impossible to avoid -- after all, even that so-and-so gets lucky once in a while -- but it’s not. The question is not whether or not they have something to rejoice over. The question is, do we see them as competitor (rival in pride) or as one for whom Christ died?

Live in harmony

Living in harmony with others seems to be so difficult in our world. Paul gives us three main hints:

·         We are not to be snobbish -- selecting our friends on the basis of their worldly status. Indeed, we are reminded of two things in the Kingdom of God:

·         The “great” in the kingdom are those who humble themselves as a little child.[5]

·         Those of us who are “high” in the church are not there to command, but to lead by example.[6]

·         We must be willing to associate with the lowly, which in Paul’s writings generally meant the poor. In our time, we assign code words for such people: they are “homeless” or “welfare recipients” -- or worse. We miss what God tells us about them:

·         Job -- remember, he was very rich -- talks about justice to them:

(Job 31:13-15 NIV) "If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, {14} what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? {15} Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?

·         Even God himself, the mighty one, does not despise them.[7]

·         More to the point, when we mock the poor, we show contempt not only for them, but for the One who made them.[8]

·         We are given our Lord’s positive command to feed the poor -- and his promise of reward on the day of resurrection for the righteous.[9]

·         We are not to be conceited -- to think highly of our own wisdom -- even if that conceit is our understanding of the Scripture!

·         What a help it is in this to remember that you are a sinner! Indeed, this is one reason why the Holy Spirit continues to convict us of sin.

·         (Prov 3:7-8 NIV) Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. {8} This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

·         If you want the real test of whether or not you are doing this, look at the results. James puts it this way:

(James 3:13 NIV) Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Do not return evil for evil

There is much more to say about this (later), but one point might be brought up quickly. (I am so impatient!) We so often fail in this because we are so impatient! We need to learn to “wait upon the Lord” as the old saints said it:

(Prov 20:22 NIV) Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.

Careful to do right in the eyes of men

Sometimes we like to have the bravado to say, “I don’t care what other people think.” Before we do, consider well:

·         Is not the good reputation of the church a strong point of evangelism? No one wants to join an organization of dolts and felons.

·         We are commanded to look after appearances. Listen to what Paul had to say to young widows, (in the context of which widows should be supported by the church):

(1 Tim 5:14 NIV) So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.[10]

Live at peace with all men

Jesus tells us that “blessed are the peacemakers.”[11] Paul, in this passage, qualifies this in terms of

·         “if it is possible” -- meaning that there are times when conflict is inevitable if the faith is not to be compromised.

·         “as far as it is within you” -- recognizing that some of us are by nature more combative than others. (I really appreciate that point).

Do not take vengeance

We are told in this section to “leave room for the wrath” (the “of God” is implied and is not in the original text). This implies we have a choice. Consider well before you make that choice; you can take vengeance if circumstance permits. But that makes you a thief. A thief? Yes, for you have taken something which God has clearly declared to be his.

There is good reason for this. To take vengeance we must start with passing judgment, and we are commanded not to judge. More than that, as Jesus pointed out in the incident with the woman taken in adultery, clean hands must cast the first stone.[12]

An even better reason is this: there is no hint in the Bible that God will forgive us, if we fail to forgive those who have offended us. Forgiveness is ours on the condition that we give it to others. Can we take vengeance and then forgive?

The Ultimate Weapon

Rather, we are to overcome evil with good. Do you remember the scene which closed The Empire Strikes Back? Luke refuses to use the evil (“dark”) side to triumph over his evil father, Darth Vader. He loses the fight, and wins his soul. It is a metaphor for the Christian. Solomon put it this way:

(Prov 16:32 NIV) Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.

We honor the warrior -- or the athlete -- who strikes out in anger. We honor the conqueror. I recall Winston Churchill’s comment about Richard the Lionhearted: “His life was one vast parade which, when over, left only an empty plain.”

As you sow, so shall you reap. If you return curse for curse, you will be cursed. Rather, as Peter put it:

(1 Pet 3:9 NIV) Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

I can think of no more fitting way to end this lesson than with the words of our Lord:

(Luke 6:27-36 NIV) "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. {29} If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. {30} Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. {31} Do to others as you would have them do to you. {32} "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. {33} And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. {34} And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. {35} But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. {36} Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

[1] James 3:10

[2] Luke 23:34

[3] see Acts 7:60 - 8:1

[4] John 11:33-36

[5] Matthew 18:1-4

[6] 1 Peter 5:3

[7] Job 36:5

[8] Proverbs 17:5

[9] Luke 14:13-14

[10] italics mine

[11] Matthew 5:9

[12] John 8

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