Dr. Richard L. Strauss
July 28, 1991
Purpose: To challenge us to express true Christ-like love to the people around us, believer and unbeliever alike.
I have a dream. My dream is that I am a genuinely nice person--kind, considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic, accepting, tolerant, patient, helpful, friendly, generous, forgiving, humble, and totally unselfish. I dream that I am able to reach out and minister lovingly even to people who don't like me, with more concern about their needs than my own feelings. I dream that I don't have any hard feelings toward people who have hurt me, and have no desire for them to get what's coming to them, but actually long to see God's blessing on their lives.
I dream that I am able to feel genuinely happy when one of my peers gets more honor than I do, especially when its honor that I think I deserve. I dream that I can look for areas of agreement with people who think radically different from the way I think, rather than try to prove that I'm right and they're wrong. I dream that I can look at the lowest ranking human being and not feel the least bit superior to him, but see him as one created in the image of God and realize that he can make some valuable contribution to my life.
Do you know what? That's the impossible dream. I'm so far from that high and lofty ideal that I'm afraid I'll never get anywhere near it. Yet that's God's goal for my life. Those are the very things that the Apostle Paul says should characterize my life as a believer. That's what true Christ-like love looks like.
LOVE! That's the major subject of the passage we're studying--Romans 12:9-21. Unhypocritical love!
In Romans 12:9-13 it was love primarily for other Christians, fellow-members of the family of God. But in Romans 12:14-16 Paul branches out and takes in all human beings generally--believer and non-believer alike. He suggests four things that we will do if we truly love as Jesus loved. And the one thing that impressed me more than anything else as I studied them was, "This is impossible. I can't do this."
That's true--we can't. Unless we do what he has already taught us to do back in Romans 12:1-2--yield our bodies as a living sacrifice, and allow the Spirit of God to transform us by the renewing of our minds. Then MISSION IMPOSSIBLE can actually become MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
Let's look at four ways that true Christ-like love will be expressed to the world at large.
Seeking the Best for Those Who Harm Us
Romans 12:14. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."
To bless people is to ask God to send them His favor, to give them peace and prosper them. On the other hand, to curse them is to ask God not to send His favor on them, and maybe even to intervene and send something terrible into their lives.
Think of someone who has made life unpleasant for you. A teacher who always picks on you and blames you for things that other people do. People who seem to have it in for you and criticize you or make you look bad every chance they get. An ex-mate who is out to get you and takes advantage of every opportunity to make life miserable for you. A boss who doesn't like you, who gives you all the toughest jobs to do and then gripes about the way you do them. Fellow workers who constantly challenge your opinion and make you feel stupid and worthless. Neighbors who are always complaining about something you're doing wrong--letting your leaves fall in their yard, letting your dog bark, letting your kids trample down their flowers, parking your car in front of their house, or whatever.
I've had people like that in my life. People who have willfully distorted what I have said to put me in a bad light. People who have gossiped about me and spread false rumors about me behind my back. People who have criticized me severely and misjudged my motives. And I have to tell you, I didn't feel very kindly toward them. I don't remember asking God to lavish His favor on them, or send them peace, or prosper them. Frankly, I would have been just as happy if they had dropped dead. Is Paul really serious about this? Am I supposed to pray for God's blessing on their lives? That's impossible!
Impossible, that is, unless we've yielded our wills to Christ, and we're being transformed by changing our thinking patterns, by renewing our minds with His Word. It's perfectly human to want some harm to come to them. That's the way the people of the world think. That's the way our sinful human natures respond. And the only way we shall respond any differently is to keep drinking in the Word, studying it with an open mind, allowing it to expose our shortcomings, and letting it mold our way of thinking. We need to adopt God's point of view.
For one thing, we need to remind ourselves of how much God has forgiven us and blessed us, in spite of how hateful we can be. It would also be good to remember how we want others to forgive us and be nice to us even though we have hurt them. And it might also help to think about how God has forgiven the person who has hurt us; how can we do less? And if that doesn't change our attitude, we might try putting ourselves in the other person's shoes. "Why are they doing this? What are they feeling? How have they been hurt in life?" We may end up feeling genuinely sorry for them, and begin to pray for God's best in their lives, and actually take steps to secure it. We may even do some nice things for them.
Many of you have probably read or seen Victor Hugo's play, Les Miserables, the story of Jean Valjean, whose only crime was the theft of a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving children. After serving nineteen years in prison, he was released, but as a former convict, found it impossible to get work. He finally came to the home of a kindly old bishop who gave him supper and a bed for the night. Yielding to temptation, he stole the bishop's silver plates and slipped away with them, but was soon caught and returned to the house. The bishop said, "Why, I gave them to him. And Jean, you forgot to take the candle sticks I gave you as well." Jean was astounded at such kindness and it changed his life (Tan, 2934). That's seeking the best for those who harm us.
God can use our willingness to bless those who wrong us to draw them to the Savior and transform their lives. That was the example that He Himself set for us as He suffered on Calvary's cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). And He taught us to do likewise. In the Sermon on the Mount He said, "...love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
Stephen did it. He prayed for those who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60). And it resulted in the salvation of Saul of Tarsus and the beginning of a powerful new worldwide evangelistic outreach. As one writer put it, "There has been no greater force to move men into Christianity than just this serene forgiveness which the martyrs in every age have showed" (Barclay, p.181).
Are you willing to be like Jesus? I know it sounds like the impossible dream. But it is possible if we will begin to renew our minds with God's Word and learn to think as He thinks. We show our love by seeking the best for those who harm us. But that's not all. We also show it by sharing in the joy and sorrows of others.
Sharing in Others' Joys and Sorrows
Romans 12:15. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."
There is no better way to show love to anyone--a friend, a casual acquaintance, or even an enemy, than to feel with them and to share in their emotions. I think Paul must have put "rejoice with those who rejoice" first because it is so much more difficult to do. It isn't very hard to weep with those who weep. Our hearts naturally go out to people who are suffering pain or loss. We can put ourselves in their place and feel the hurt that they are feeling.
I guess there are times when we do let our sound theology get in the way of expressing true empathy. That God is sovereign and in control of every circumstance, and that He never lets anything happen to His children but what is best. That He works all things together for good. That those who die in Christ enter His presence and are far better off. That God will raise them up some day and reunite us joyfully in His presence. Those things are all true. But don't let them stop you from endeavoring to feel the pain that suffering people are feeling. Not spouting off pious platitudes, as true as they may be. But just being there and trying to share the hurt with them as best you know how.
But rejoicing with those who rejoice--that's the tougher one. What was your first response when your closest friend got the test scores needed to get into the program you wanted, but you failed. Or got the guy or gal that you had your eye on and left you holding the bag. How did you feel when you were passed over for a promotion and salary increase, and it given to someone you felt was less deserving than you. Or when your friends who are irresponsible in handling their money inherited a bundle from their folks, and you who are careful with every penny and generous in giving to God's work got nothing when your folks passed away.
I'll tell you how you probably felt--the same way the rest of us felt--jealous, envious, selfish. "It's just not fair. I deserve it more than they do. Nobody gives me the credit I should have. Why don't good things ever happen to me? Why don't I ever get the breaks?" And then there are those people who make it especially hard for us to rejoice with them, because while they are rejoicing, they also seem to be bragging about their brilliant performance and exceptional abilities, or gloating over their good fortune. It's not reasonable to ask me to rejoice with them. In fact, it's not even possible!
Not possible, of course, unless we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, unless we are learning to think as God thinks. It might be good to remind ourselves that they are family--fellow-members of the family of God. We can usually rejoice when good things happen to family members. It might also be good to remember that we are members of the same body, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26). When my mouth enjoys a good filet mignon, the rest of my body doesn't get jealous about it. The other members rejoice right along it. And the same thing can be true of the spiritual body.
Furthermore, don't forget that God has sent that good thing into their lives. It's part of His sovereign plan for them to have it. To resent it is to resent God. Even if they are unbelievers, God is in control of their lives and has allowed it to happen. And to rejoice with them may be just the thing that draws them to the Savior. Yes, I know it seems impossible to do it. It's just as tough for me as it is for you. But we can do it if we yield our wills to God's will and saturate our minds with God's Word. It's all part of true Christ-like love.
Seeking the best for those who harm us; sharing in others' joys and sorrows; there's a third expression of true love...
Living in Harmony with Those Around Us
"Be of the same mind toward one another" (Romans 12:16a). It says literally, "thinking the same thing to one another." But it has the idea of agreeing with each other and living in harmony with one another. Paul may have had believers especially in mind here, but he may also have been thinking of the effect that our agreement or disagreement with each other has on the world around us. And let's face it, not all believers are very easy to get along with. We've all heard the little ditty that goes:
To dwell with saints in heaven above,
Oh! that will be glory.
But to dwell with saints on earth below,
Now that's a different story!
It's so very easy to pick at things we don't agree with, to magnify our differences, and to find fault with people who see things differently. Some people experience tension and strife in every part of their lives--their homes, their marriages, their jobs, their churches, their recreational activities. And they aren't bright enough to figure out that they are the problem. They're still blaming the conflicts on everybody else.
Maybe the problem is that they doubt themselves, or they don't like themselves, so they try to establish their significance by making major issues out of trivialities and insisting that they're right. I love Peter Marshall's prayer: "O God, when I am wrong, make me easy to change, and when I am right, make me easy to live with!" (Tan, 2956). For some of us, that seems well nigh impossible.
And it is, unless we are willing to renew our minds with the Word of God. It would help if we would remember that our significance isn't found in our acceptance or our approval by other people, or in our success by human standards. It isn't found in being right or in winning arguments or in having things our way. It is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we understand who we are in Him, we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. And that frees us to live in harmony with those around us. We show our love by seeking the best for those who harm us, by sharing in others' joys and sorrows, by living in harmony with those around us, and finally, by avoiding a proud spirit.
Avoiding a Proud and Haughty Spirit
"Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion" (Romans 12:16b). Paul turns his attention to pride and snobbishness because those traits are particularly destructive to unity and harmony in our relationships with each other. Paul is asking us not to put ourselves above anybody, but to associate freely with ordinary and unimportant people, as well as the outcasts of society, without any trace of a patronizing or condescending spirit (Cranfield, 314. Old KJV "condescend to men of low estate" is a very poor translation).
But how is that possible? Let's face it, some of us have certain gifts and abilities that others don't have, or certain cultural and educational advantages that others have lacked. We may hold more prominent and influential positions. We are above other people. How can we not look down on them? Be honest about it. Don't you have a tendency to look down on people in lowly jobs? Or people from certain ethnic, national, and racial backgrounds? Or people who are extremely poor, or poorly dressed. Or people who slaughter the English language. And don't you have a tendency to avoid them? And wouldn't you rather be near celebrity types, people who have made it in life, people of fame, wealth, power and influence?
If you had your choice of whom you could have dinner with today--a poor Mexican Indian family who just arrived from below the border with torn clothes and obviously has had no shower for at least three weeks, or a world-famous Christian musician on his way to a huge concert in the sports arena--which one would you choose? There isn't much doubt, is there?
That's exactly the kind of thing Paul is talking about here. That's being wise in our own opinion, but foolish from God's perspective. We need to change our way of thinking, renew our minds with the Word of God. For instance, it would be helpful to remember that every human being is equally valuable to God. Christ died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2)--even the most uncivilized native in the darkest corner of earth, and the vilest, most ruthless criminal on death row. He loves them; He died for them. They're all important to Him. How can we put ourselves above them? And the least prominent member of the body of Christ is highly honored in His sight.
It's interesting to note that right after teaching that truth in 1 Corinthians 12:22-24, Paul went on immediately to say, "...that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (1 Corinthians 12:25). You see, recognizing the importance and value of others contributes to unity and harmony. And whenever there is conflict and strife, you can be sure that pride is at the bottom of it. Only by pride comes contention (Proverbs 13:10).
Years ago, a country congregation in Missouri listened to a sermon by a young preacher who had walked twenty miles to get there. He was tired and hungry, and he faltered and he floundered through his message. It was an absolute failure. The people were disgusted. Most of them thought they wasted their time in even coming. They didn't know he had walked so far, and when the service was over nobody offered him food or shelter. He had just started down the long road with a broken spirit, when the black janitor of the church stopped him and invited him to share a humble meal in his nearby shanty.
Years passed and the young preacher grew in stature, until he became a famous and influential bishop who was invited to that very spot to dedicate a great new church building. No one really remembered that it was the same man. The whole community was assembled for the magnificent event, and the bishop delivered a powerful sermon. When the service was over, many crowded around him to heap on him their praise and offer him lavish hospitality. But the bishop called the old black janitor to his side, put his arm around him and said, "This is my true friend" (Tan, 2936).
Those two men were different from the others. Both of them were in the process of being transformed by actively renewing their minds with the Word of God. They were feeding on it daily and appropriating it to their lives. That made impossible things possible.
Some of you are in difficult situations: failing marriages, crumbling friendships, hard feelings toward people who have hurt you, conflict on the job or with the neighbors. You know the situation would improve if you could become the loving person God wants you to be and really care about other people. But it seems to be impossible. Open your heart to God's Word! Will you yield your life to Jesus Christ? Will you yield your will to Him? Will you let His Spirit take control of you, and then will you begin to fill your mind daily with the concepts of God's word? Drink in the Word! And then step out in faith and obey Him. He will meet you there with His power and change your life. He'll bring healing and reconciliation where there is hurt and alienation. He can do that. He will.
He will make you the person God wants you to be. And your impossible dream will come true.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
I guess when you think about impossible dreams, the most impossible of all is that almighty God wants me in His heaven with Him. That is incredible to me. God wants me! God loves me! What a wonder. And He loves you and wants you in His heaven. That's why He sent His Son from heaven to earth, to live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death on Calvary's cross, where He paid the debt of our sin and bore the penalty that we deserve. He offers us forgiveness and eternal life.
That's where becoming a loving person has to begin. If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, we invite you to make that decision right now.
Let's bow our heads prayerfully in His presence. With our heads bowed, let's deal with this issue first, shall we? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you put your faith in Him? Not in your religion, not in your good deeds, not in your generous philanthropy--just the finished work of Jesus Christ. Because that's what the Christian faith is all about. That's the theme of the Bible from beginning to end. That's the way of salvation.
If you're willing to acknowledge your sin to God right now, and believe in your heart that Jesus died in your place and paid for your sin, and put your faith in Him, He's willing to receive you into His family and give you His marvelous gift of eternal life. That's His Word.
I invite you to settle it right now. Just in the quiet of your own soul, right where you sit:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I do believe Jesus died for me. I want to become His follower. I put my faith in Him now. Oh, Lord, wash my sins away and give me everlasting life."
He wants to do that. Will you let Him?
Most of you here this morning have already made that decision: You are believers in Jesus Christ. Is His love flowing through you? Oh, there are going to be moments when we fail--we all do--but, I mean, are you growing in Christlike love? Do the people around you see a difference? Would you commit yourself, right now, to Christ? Would you yield yourself to Him? Will you covenant that you are going to change your thinking patterns by filling your mind with the word of God rather than the things of the world? Would you make that decision this morning?
Father, we are such weak and failing individuals. Our flesh is so feeble. But, Lord, I pray that we will drink deeply of You daily, fully yielded to Your will, filled with Your Word--may it dwell in us richly, and may it make a difference in the way we live. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 27: The Ultimate Weapon