Text: Romans 12:9-21
Theme: Yeah they'll know we are Christians by our love. What made Christians distinct in the early Roman empire was their Love of Godly Character, their Love of Each Other, and their Love of the Stranger
Date: 03/19/2017 File Name: Romans_2016_37a.wpd ID Number:
In the first century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, the Greco-Roman world paid little attention. For the most part, the early Christian movement was seen as something still underneath the Jewish umbrella.
But in the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice. And it didn’t like what it saw. Christians were seen as strange and superstitious—a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society. Christians were, well, different.
What made Christians different in the early Roman empire was their Love of Godly Character, their Love of Each Other, and their Love of their enemies—those who persecuted them. That’s what Romans 12:9-21 is all about.
In this passage, we see tripartite affection in action. How will the world know we are Christians?
1. when we arrived at this passage several weeks ago, I told you that one of the distinctives of the early Christians was their love of Godly character
a. their pastors taught them their lives were to be conformed to their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ
2. one moral distinctive that separated Christians from the pagan culture was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods”
a. for the Christian of any era there is only one Lord, and his name is Jesus
1) our primary allegiance is to him
b. this was a constant irritant to those governing officials who preferred to see the pagan temples filled with loyal worshipers (temples which earned a good deal of money from the tributes they collected)
c. from the time of its founding, Rome considered itself to be religious
ILLUS. When its second king, Numa Pompilius took power in 716 B.C., he established the fear of the gods as one of the main principles governing city life
d. citizens believed the fortunes of the city, and the nation depended upon the favor of the gods
1) these newcomers — these Christians — refused to socialize at the public spectacles, refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and refused to worship in Roman temples preferring to worship by themselves in the catacombs
2) how dare these people of “The Way” not worship all the gods
e. as the number of Christians grew, Roman leaders blamed the cult of the Christians for any disaster or difficulty in the Empire, claiming that the gods were taking vengeance for the neglect of temple sacrifices
3. a second moral distinctive that separated Christians from the pagan culture was their sexual ethic
a. while it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices
ILLUS. In his defense of the faith, Tertullian, a mid-2nd century Christian apologist and theologian wrote, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives”
4. a third moral distinctive that separated Christians from the pagan culture was that Christianity was a community of mutual social support
a. when you became a Christian you became part of a family
1) the terms brother and sister were more than merely endearing ways to refer to a fellow believer
b. this leads me to the second part of my message Love in Action
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10, NIV84)
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13, NIV84)
“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.” (Romans 12:15–16, NIV84)
ILLUS. The Romans who saw the brotherly love practiced by Christians knew how radical it was and how offensive it was. Lucian of Samosata, was a Greek satirist of the early second century. He lived at a time when Christianity was exploding into Roman culture, and he watched Christianity growing. He did like Christians and delighted in mocking them and their faith. But in heaping scorn upon the Christians, he gives us a glimpse of their lives. In one tirade he writes: “Their founder, [referring to Jesus] persuades them they should be like brothers to one another and therefore they despise their own privacy and view all their possessions as common property.”
1. the ancient pagans watching these people called Christians, noted that they loved each other and sought to minister to each other
2. again, much could be said about these verses I just read, but let me point out the three general characteristics found in these verses ...
we are to live in harmony with one another
we are to lend happily to one another
we are to lift hardships from one another
a. the emphasis is on one another
1. when the Apostle wrote vs. 16, he must have had Baptists in mind
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16, NIV84)
a. the Apostle would remind us that in the Body of Christ, there is no aristocracy, there is no place for an elite uppercrust in the local church
b. grace excludes boasting or snobbishness
c. a local New Testament Church ought to be the last place in the world were class, or race, or ethnicity, or politics, or economic status causes division — the ground really is level at the foot of the cross
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, NIV84)
d. living in harmony with each other takes hard work
1) pride must be crucified
2) conceit must be replaced with a humble submissiveness to each other
e. if there is no partiality with God, their must be none with us
ILLUS. The Apostle James spoke to this issue. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4, NIV84)
2. the apostle writes in vs. 10, Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves
a. it’s easier to live in harmony with each other, when we are devoted to one another
b. the first word in that sentence, be devoted to one another, is a word that describes a deep natural bond
ILLUS. In the Broadway Musical, Man of Lancha there is a scene that describes the kind of bond the Apostle is talking about. Don Quixote de La Mancha goes on a Knight’s Quest with his faithful “squire” Sancho Panza. If you know the story, you know that Don Quixote sees things a little differently than others. Most people who meet him think his sanity is not quite intact. In their quest Don Quixote and Sancho Panza experience adventure and danger. At a roadside Inn that Don Quixote believes to be a castle he meets Aldonza, a simple country girl, whom he believes to be the lady of the castle. He calls Dulcinea. Aldonza understands that Don Quixote is, as they say, not playing with a full deck, and wants to know why Sancho follows him. In the musical, Sancho falters for a reason, but then bursts into song: I like him! I really like him. Pluck me naked as a scalded chicken! I like him! Don't ask me for why or wherefore, 'Cause I don't have a single good because, Or therefore. You can barbecue my nose. Make a giblet of my toes. Make me freeze. Make me fry. Make me sigh. Make me cry. Still I'll yell to the sky. Though I can't tell you why. That I... like... him!
c. there are Christian bothers and sisters in my life, that I have a devotion to — a deep natural bond with — that I can’t explain other than we are in Christ, and I like them
3. the three commands in vs. 10 all have a central theme — it is an other centeredness in our life toward fellow believers
a. we can distill it down to one word — disposition
b. what is your disposition toward others in the body of Christ?
4. this is answered in part by how we speak about each other to others
ILLUS. You run into an acquaintance at Walmart, and you're just chitchatting about stuff. And your acquaintance says, "I heard an interesting (interesting always means salacious) story about so-and-so. Don't they go to your church? So what's going on?" Do you use that opportunity to honor, or to demean a brother or sister in Christ? Do you use the opportunity to be devoted, or to distance yourself from that brother or sister in Christ? Do you swell up with contempt, and say "Let me give you the scoop."
5. in the ancient world, what the non-Christians very quickly picked up on about the Christians, was that they really loved each other
a. are you devoted to the people in the pews around you?
b. are you willing to honor them above yourself?
6. our harmony with each other is only explained by our love for each other that runs as deep or deeper than family
a. Jesus said this will be the defining characteristic of His Body
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV84)
b. Christian community has to be marked by a lack of snobbishness toward people who are different than us — people of different temperaments and personalities and races and classes
1. one of the great issues of life facing Christians in every age, and especially in times and places of great prosperity — like 21st century America — is how to think about and feel about and handle our money and our possessions
a. for Jesus this was simply huge — or “yuge” if you will
1) he spoke about it over and over again
2) he gave promises and warnings and commandments about stewardship
3) he rebuked people bent on bigger and bigger barns for the sake of their ease
4) he told stories and parables about the wise use of our money and possessions
b. by hoarding possessions, he said, you can perish, and by giving them you can lay up treasures in heaven
c. how we handle our money and possessions is the barometer of how we trust God and treasure Christ
ILLUS. It was the 16th Century Reformer, Martin Luther, who quipped, “There are three conversions necessary — the conversion of the heart, of the mind, and of the purse."
1) Jesus was clear — where you treasure is, there will your heart be also
2. the early Christians were quick to open their hearts, their homes, and their pocket books to meet each other's needs, and show hospitality
a. we have a picture of this very early in the New Testament Book of Acts
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44–47, NIV84)
3. the apostle writes in vs. 13, "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality"
a. the Apostle Peter echos this sentiment, and adds a caveat
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9, NIV84)
b. in our culture, hospitality means have somebody over for dinner
1) it also meant that in the ancient world, but it meant a whole lot more
2) it meant showing hospitality toward those who were needy, and who were struggling, and who could probably never reciprocate
c. it especially meant taking in the weary traveler — especially if they were a fellow Christian
1) finding a good and safe place to stay for the night, or perhaps even for several days, was by no means easy at that time
2) the apostle, himself a great traveler, understood this need
4. what stunned the ancient world was how Christians helped each other
ILLUS. In the year A.D. 251, right at the time of the persecution of Decius, we have a register of the church at Rome. It list all of the pastors, and various groups within the church who are serving and ministering to the various congregations in the city. At the end, it lists over 1,500 widows, and needy persons on the roster of the church at Rome who are being taken care of by the church.
5. what stunned the ancient world even more was how Christians helped neighbors and strangers who weren’t Christians
ILLUS. In A.D. 166, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a plague broke out of pandemic proportions. The pandemic ravaged the entire extent of the Roman Empire. The mortality was so high in many cities that Marcus Aurelius wrote of caravans of carts and wagons hauling the dead from cities. In all, during the fifteen-year duration of the epidemic, a third of the empire's population died. Entire regions were depopulated. In Rome people were dying by the thousands every single day. The politicians, the aristocrats and those who had the means to do so fled the city. You know who purposely stayed behind? The Christians. They ministered to the sick and dying whether they were Christian or not. These earliest believers expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For these believers, God loved humanity, and in order to love God back, one was to love others. This love took on very practical, concrete forms. In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They developed the very first “Meals On Wheels” supplying food for thousands of poor on a daily basis. In the midst of intermittent persecution and colossal misunderstanding, and in an era when serving others was thought to be demeaning, the "followers of The Way," instead of fleeing disease and death, went about ministering to the sick and helping the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned and the aged.
5. the people of the Roman Empire were forced to admire these people called “Christians”
a. "Look how they love one another," was heard on the streets
6. still today, one of the great drawing cards of a local New Testament Church, is the way lost people see saved people treating one another within the Christian community, and they say, "I want that"
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” (Romans 1:8, NIV84)
1. the apostle writes in vs.15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn"
a. this is where we meet each other's emotional and spiritual needs
b. this is where Paul comes back to the body analogy that we looked at a couple of weeks ago
1) when one part of the body hurts the whole body is affected, and ...
2) when one part of the body feels good the whole body feels good
c. into that situation brothers and sisters step up to help and minister
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NIV84)
2. you would think that vs. 15 would be an easy commandment to keep, but it may depend upon why the weeping or why the rejoicing
a. there may by those moments when a person has brought on their weeping because of their own sin, or bad decisions
1) at those times, it may be tempting for us to feel a pious smugness and think to ourselves, “They’re reaping what they’ve sown. I can’t weep for them.”
b. on the other hand, there may be those times that another’s rejoicing causes a resentment in our hearts
1) at those times, we may find ourselves thinking, “They really don’t deserve that promotion. I work harder than she does. I’m not rejoicing with them in that.”
3. the Apostle doesn’t lay out any exceptions — he doesn’t give us the right to judge the motives for why a brother or sister may be weeping or rejoicing
a. it is distinctively Christian to rejoice in the blessings, honor, and welfare of others—especially fellow believers—no matter what may be our personal circumstances
4. it is distinctively Christian to lift hardships from one another
a. we do that by showing a real compassion for those who are weeping over some calamity, and rejoicing with those excited over some blessing
How will the world know that we are Christians? In early 21st century America, a robust orthodox Christianity has emerged that the surrounding secular culture has begun to notice. And it doesn’t like what it sees. Bible-affirming believers are seen as strange and unyielding to the culture — we’re accused of undermining the progressing norms of a hedonistic society. We’re seen as, well, different.
That’s OK. Dare to be different, by daring to be a Christian who takes conformity to Christ seriously.
In a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to orthodox Christianity, how will the world know that we are Christians? The same way they knew in the 1st century.
They'll know we are Christians by our love for godly character
They'll know we are Christians by our love for god’s people
They'll know we are Christians by our love for our enemies