The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 1
Romans 12:9 “Let your love be sincere”
The first three lessons in this series will be taken from Romans 12:9 and define the love lifestyle. First of all “love” is agape, benevolent love. This love is clearly illustrated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His uniquely born Son, so that whoever trusts in Him should not suffer eternal destruction, but have everlasting life.” Benevolent love is giving the person loved what they need, not what they might want that is often an expression of their fallen, human nature. In this case, mankind needed a remedy for his sinful condition; God supplied that remedy in Christ – the forgiveness of sin. “Agape” was sometimes translated “charity” in older translations, (compare 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3, 4 and 13); however, more contemporary translations use “love”, as charity eventually came to describe acts of good will towards the poor or needy.
Then in the last part of this phrase above, we see “sincere” from anupokritos, from the combination of the negative a, and hupokrinomai, to pretend, together they mean, without pretense or hypocrisy, therefore, real, genuine or sincere. This love cannot be feigned, it’s either real or it’s not. And the truth of that will always come out sooner or later in relationships. The principle is this: Real love is only recognized by the action it produces. You cannot merely say you love someone, and then do something that betrays or violates its very meaning. So, love, as narrowly defined here by Paul, must take into consideration both the needs of others and a lack of pretense or hypocrisy.
1 Corinthians 13 is often called “the love chapter”. In verses 4-7 Paul lists 15 characteristics of agape love. They are as follows: Love is 1) patient (longsuffering, calmly enduring the faults and failures of others; bearing misfortune without complaint); 2) kind (gentle, gracious, a tendency to be considerate of the needs of others); 3) not jealous (the desire to have what others possess, or to be what others have become – only without the same opportunity or effort); 4) not boastful (speaking of things with exaggeration, beyond the limits of truth; 5) not prideful (disdainful, contemptuous, thinking you’re better than others); 6) not conceited (does not have an exaggerated estimate of one’s abilities or importance; 7) not selfish (self-seeking, concerned only with one’s own feelings or interests); 8) not resentful (not easily provoked or indignant – showing strong displeasure); 9) not malicious (having evil intentions, the desire to harm); 10) does not celebrate injustice (not happy when others are wronged or taken advantage of); 11) is glad when truth and righteousness prevail; 12) not given to gossip (willing to cover the faults/failures of others with silence); 13) always ready to believe the best of every person; 14) has a hope that never fades (has a confidence in God that is not affected by anything; and 15) endures difficult circumstances without weakening.
When considering these 15 characteristics above, all of them can be applied to how God loves us. They are, in fact, all a part of His character (Who He is) and nature (what He does). This leads us to a second principle, which is: Genuine love is the demonstration of God’s character and nature by one person to another in a relationship. Of course the failure or inconsistent demonstration of Godly character and actions is what can damage or even destroy a relationship. But, carefully consider the gracious and merciful wisdom of God here: it is precisely the application of these 15 characteristics of agape love listed by Paul here that gives us the opportunity to heal and overcome the failures and inconsistencies in ourselves and others. Consider the following two passages from James 3 and Galatians 6.
James talks about a true wisdom that comes from God in James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure (uncontaminated by evil), peace-loving, considerate of others, willing to yield to reason, full of compassion and goodness, without partiality and hypocrisy.” Here, “wisdom” is sophia, the understanding of how to regulate and maintain relationship either with God, or in this context, with others. In the passage that runs from 3:13-18, James talks about overcoming the envy, strife, confusion and evil that comes from a superficial, fleshly, even demonic wisdom that can destroy relationships with a true wisdom possessing the characteristics he lists above in verse 17.
The last verse (18) of this passage is a little convoluted in most translations, at least in my mind. This is the King James translation. “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” The NIV is better. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” There are two words consistent in the original text and in these two translations, “righteousness” and “peace”. Without taking the time to explain the original language here, James is saying, “Righteousness (right standing with God) is the promised reward for those who work to make peace (undisturbed well-being, free from fears or conflict), both in themselves and in others.”
Then the passage in Galatians 6:1-10 is still on subject, but with a more pointed, personal and eternal perspective. I’ll not break it down in detail, but just give my contextual, expanded translation.
“Brothers, if anyone is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, with no sense of superiority, lest you should also be tempted (to wrongly judge him with a “holier than thou” attitude).”
“Patiently endure one another’s faults and in this way fulfill the law of Christ (Who bore our sin willingly and without complaint or judgmentalism).
If anyone thinks himself to be superior or too spiritual to lower himself to do this, he’s wrong, and he deceives himself.”
“But let each one carefully and honestly examine their own conduct. Then they can have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing what is right, without any boastful comparisons to others.”
“For every person must understand and carry his own little load of faults.”
“Let him who receives instruction in the Word of God share all good things with his teacher, contributing to his support (the test of true spirituality).”
“Do not be deceived, God will not allow Himself to be mocked by mere pretense or by his precepts being ignored. For whatever a man sows, that only is what he will reap.”
“For he who follows the promptings of his own flesh will from his flesh reap self-inflicted ruin, but he who follows the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
“And let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for at the appointed time we will reap what is promised, if we don’t quit or give up.”
“So, finally, as we have opportunity, let us do what is for the spiritual good and the physical and emotional well being of others. And let us be mindful to always be a blessing, especially to those who belong to God’s family with you, other believers.”
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 2
Romans 12:9b “abhor what is evil”
This is the second phrase in our text and comes in the form of a warning. At this time I should make something very clear: do not get the impression that I’m teaching this series because I think there are some who might be listening that desperately need to hear this. Last week I went through a list of fifteen characteristics of genuine or sincere agape love, but not because I think some needed to hear it because they lack those things. And I’m about to go through a list of 30 wrong behaviors that damage or even destroy relationships, but not because I think some of you are guilty of any of them. I’m not prejudging anyone.
The reality is that we live in an evil world and must, as a necessity, live, work and associate with people on a regular basis that may lack some of the characteristics we looked at last week and may very well demonstrate some of the negative, even hurtful characteristics we will see tonight. So, understand that I’m not saying that anyone lacks the good characteristics of last week, or that they possess the wrong characteristics in this lesson. The real point is that I want everyone to understand the good and cultivate it in others and know how to protect themselves from the bad when it comes.
First, let’s break down the phrase at the top, “abhor what is evil”. “Abhor” is from apostugeo, and means, to detest or dislike intensely. Then, the key to understanding this fully is the meaning of “evil”. This is from poneros, and means malicious or mischievous and is used to describe a thought process of planning or plotting actions that will be hurtful to others. Being malicious or mischievous is not accidental, its not an innocent mistake, it involves a rational thought process that includes consideration of options and a course of action – it is intentional (and unfortunately with some, even habitual).
The Scriptures contain several lists of wrong behaviors to avoid. One of the most complete is found in 2 Timothy 3:2-13. This list illustrates over and over how wrong thought leads to wrong action. Here they are: 1) self-centered from philautos, literally, loving himself, characterized by an inordinate concern that things be easy and pleasant for himself, but cares nothing for others, utterly selfish; 2) covetous, from philarguros, describes an intense desire for wealth, greedy; 3) given to self-exaltation, from alazon, boasting of things (abilities, successes, etc.) one does not actually possess: 4) proud, from huperephanos, literally, one who places himslf above or better than others, arrogant; 5) abusive, from blasphemos, trying to hurt the good name or reputation of others, evil speaking; 6) disobedient to parents, “disobedient” is from apeithes, the text adds “to parents”, the broader meaning is, stubborn or rebellious towards authority; 7) ungrateful, from acharistos, not having gratitude or appreciation for the good intentions or actions of others, thankless; 8) unholy, from anosios, ungodly, by implication, wicked, morally flawed or depraved; 9) without natural affection, from astorgos, literally, lacking family love, callous or indifferent towards family or those with whom you have a common bond; 10) unforgiving, from aspondos, irreconcilable, refusing to lay aside enmity or efforts of reconciliation, implacable; 11) slanderous, from diabolos, Satan is called diabolos, because he slandered God with false and blasphemous lies, here, the same word is used to describe others who falsely accuse or defame others; 12) lacking self-control, from akrates, unrestrained in behavior, refusing accountability, not responsible or answerable; 13) brutal, from anemeros, not tame, used to describe one who lacks the sense of the right thing to say or do in dealing correctly with people or situations, not tactful; 14) despisers of what is good, from aphilagathos, one who despises or belittles the goodness (benevolence) in others; 15) willing to betray any trust, from prodotes, a traitor, given to treachery or disloyalty, 16) characterized by hasty or rash behavior, from propetes, lacking rational consideration, impetuous, controlled by emotion; 17) insolent, from tuphoo, describes one who is disrespectful of both men and God, prideful, having a false opinion of one’s importance or superiority; 18) lovers of sensual pleasures more than lovers of God, from philedonos, describing those who are controlled by their need for sensual gratification, with no interest in the spiritual; 19) displaying an outward appearance of reverence towards God, from morphosis, outward appearance, eusebeia, worship or reverence (recognition of God’s authority), 20) yet their conduct shows the pretense or hypocrisy of their profession with no evidence of an inward change, from arneomai, to not recognize (a purposeful pretense) and dunamis, the ability of God to affect an inward change (here, from self-will to submission) humanistic; 21) using false spirituality to gain influence over others (from skolex, worm, here, used metaphorically, to act in a devious or dishonest way); 22) taking advantage of weak-willed women easily led away by their own seductive impulses, from gunaikarion, here, a term of contempt for “silly women”, ago, to lead away without violence or a struggle and epithumia, the desires of a diseased soul, lust; 23) always willing to learn what the world teaches, manthano, to seek or learn, used in a negative context; 24) but resisting a clear understanding of truth, from epignosis, a full knowledge or understanding and aletheia, a reality lying clearly before our eyes, here used to contrast truth as opposed to error; 25) whose minds have been corrupted, from kataphtheiro, to spoil, here illustrates something morally wrong or bad, with nous, the mind, mental perception leading to action; 26) who are reprobate concerning the faith, from adokimos, void of sound judgment and pistis, confidence in divine truths; 27) who are evil, again, from poneros, a malicious, intentional plan to hurt others; 28) they entice others to do the same, from goes, an impostor, one who practices deception; 29) their unchecked behavior is in a downward spiral (from bad to worse), from prokopto, to increase and cheiron, illustrates an advance of condition (here, evil behavior is still the context); 30) those who deceive others are themselves easily deceived, from apatao (doubled), to deceive or cheat, continued deception only causes more deception (the implication is the deceiver begins to believe his own deception).
The application here for us is two-fold. First, we must purpose to never do anything that would hurt someone. There can be mistakes, misunderstandings, unfortunate circumstances, etc.; but we should never intentionally set out to hurt someone. Then, second, when we see someone caught up in any of these things described above, we must respond following the instruction of Paul in Galatians 6:1. In the first lesson I quoted it like this: “Brothers, if anyone is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, with no sense of superiority, lest you should also be tempted (to wrongly judge him with a “holier than thou” attitude).”
However, I waited until now to explain the meaning of the word “restore” in this verse. It’s from the word katartizo, to mend, used here metaphorically of the restoration of one overtaken in a trespass, the illustration being a dislocated member of the body restored as it were a disjointed limb put back in joint, by illustration, restored to loving fellowship in the body of Christ. The context suggests it be done with patience and gentleness, so neither the member nor the body be harmed in any way. In fact, the word “restore” in this verse could be rightly rendered “encourage”.
As long as we inhabit this body of flesh, we’re capable of making mistakes that could hurt others (though for most, many of the things listed earlier I know would be unthinkable). So, I’ve gone through all of this simply to explain this mending process of restoration and encouragement can only be affected by the demonstration of those characteristics of genuine, benevolent, agape love listed last week.
“Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 3
Romans 12:9c “cleave only to what is good”
First, let me quickly review the first two parts of Romans 12:9. “Let your love be sincere” made two important points: the first was that agape love is benevolent love (loving in a way that always benefits the one being loved); then the fact that this love is defined by the character and nature of God and is without pretense or hypocrisy (real love is simply the demonstration of Who God is and what He does from one person to another). Then, “abhor what is evil”, taught us we are never to do anything that would hurt another person (evil is from poneros, intentional malicious or malevolent actions), that there is nothing in scripture that gives a believer permission to be critical, judgmental, accusing, confrontive or angry with someone, or use some (wrong) psuedo-spiritual justification for such actions or attitudes. Jesus never taught or modeled such behavior.
So, let’s break down the phrase above. The word “good” is from agathos, used to describe something that is helpful or beneficial to others because it is morally or spiritually right. Recognize the word agathos is closely related to agape; therefore, it has a similar meaning. This word assumes the understanding that whatever is “good” derives its goodness from the fact that it is an accurate representation of the perfect character of God; and therefore it is both beneficial to others and pleasing to Him.
This goodness is the necessary contrast to what we have already seen as evil. Good is the exercise of what will only nurture and strengthen relationships; what has been described as evil can only damage or destroy them. And so we are told to avoid anything that would hurt another person, and do only what will help or bless them. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, the Scriptures don’t make a distinction between believers and unbelievers. Jesus loved both, to the point of dying for them!
Then, “cleave” is from kollao, and means, to glue, to stick, to join tightly to. This is where we get the idea of lifestyle. Kollao is a present participle; meaning it conveys the idea of repeated, continuous action. The phrase above is telling us we should be glued tightly to both the idea and the practice of doing only what is good. That is our lifestyle. This is not what we do only when we like someone, or when we feel like it, or when we’re trying to impress someone. The Scriptures never give us exceptions that would make not doing good acceptable.
This is an expanded, contemporary translation of Romans 12:9. “Let your love be an accurate demonstration of all the ways God loves us; avoid anything that would hurt another person or damage your relationship with them; and make sure your lifestyle is the constant practice of only doing what is right and beneficial to others.”
Let’s look at a couple of proof texts to complete this idea of doing only what is good. This is 1 John 4:8, “He that does not love does not know God; for God is love.” Of course “love” is agape. The word “know” is from ginosko, to know by experience, found here in the aorist tense, meaning there is no reference to time, only the reality of what is stated. In other words, those who do not practice agape (benevolent) love do not have a knowledge of Him based on real experience. Here it is used to illustrate a self-willed person who treats others as their human nature wrongly dictates.
The last part of the verse defines love when John, by the Holy Spirit, says, “God is love.” We need only to reverse the wording to see the definition, “love is God”. The point is, again, real, true love can only be defined by Who God is. Love does not have anything to do with what we think, how we feel, what we experience from others or how we choose to react to them. It is God’s character and nature that sets the only standard for what love is. Man cannot of himself accurately define it or practice it without emulating that standard.
For the application, by comparison God’s lifestye (if I can characterize it in this way) is known for Who He is and what He does and the absolute fact that He is unchanging and consistent in it. And in the same way, we should desire to be known for our love lifestyle, so others can easily see God’s love and goodness in us.
And rather than taking the time to give you a longer key word study of 1 Peter 3:10-13, this is an expanded contemporary translation that is, I think, self-explanatory.
“For he that will love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceit.”
“Let him turn from evil and do only what is good; let him seek peace and eagerly pursue it.”
“For the Lord is watching those who are in right standing with Him, and is listening attentively to their prayers. But the Lord will turn from those who practice evil and frustrate their plans.”
“So, who can hurt you, if you are eager followers of what is good?”
Then there is one more reference I want to look at that has to do with this love lifestyle and presents it not as a suggestion or just a good idea, but the purpose of God for every believer. I want to break this one down a little. This is Ephesians 2:10.
“For we are God’s own handiwork, recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He had always purposed for us to walk in.”
“Handiwork” (workmanship in some versions) is from poiema, a fabric, by implication, that which is made, in this verse, God’s handiwork. Then “recreated” (created in other translations) is ktizo, to create or form, here used in a spiritual sense, to recreate in Christ Jesus (literally, the image of Christ). When you finish the phrase, this recreation in the image of Christ is to equip us to do “good” works – in keeping with the meaning of “good” (agathos) demonstrating to others the character and nature of God.
“Purposed” (ordained in some) is from proetoimazo, to purpose or prepare before. And “walk” is from peripateo, a word used to signify the complete activities of an individual life (a lifestyle). Taken together, it has always been God’s purpose for us to be recreated in the image of Jesus Christ so we could be equipped to live this love lifestyle!
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 4
Romans 12:10 “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, preferring one another.”
This lesson examines the believer’s responsibility to love those with whom they have an obvious common bond. Let’s look at the key words in this verse to understand its full meaning. The words “kindly affectioned” comes from the Greek word philostorgos, from a combination of philo, meaning tender, caring affection, and storgos, meaning love for kindred or family.
Let’s contrast this with the words found in Romans 1:31, “without natural affection”, translated from the word astorgos, a combination of the negative article a, meaning without and (again) storgos, the same word as above. So, astorgos means to be without love for kindred or family, often used to describe someone who is hardhearted, unfeeling or lacking pity or compassion.
The point of this is that Paul (and by implication through revelation, the Holy Spirit) views the failure to love others with whom we have a common bond as unnatural. If we are new creations in Christ (remember the last lesson, we are “recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works”, Ephesians 2:10, compare 2 Corinthians 5:17), then our nature should be to love others as God loves them. John says it best in I John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and he who loves is born of God and is growing more and more in their understanding of Him. The one who does not love in this way does not know God, for God is love.” I underlined “one another” above just to emphasize the context of John’s statement here as being another, clear aspect of a common bond, that is, other believers.
Then we see the term “brotherly love”. This is from philadelphia, a combination of philos, meaning friend and adelphos, brother. This term came to be used in the New Testament to describe the relationship shared by believers in Christ who have a common bond due to the same spiritual life they share. We are brothers and sisters because we share the same spiritual Father. “For this reason I bow before the Father, from Whom the whole family (of believers) on heaven and earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14-15) It is expected that brothers and sisters share the same tender, caring affection for one another; to do less is to deny that common, spiritual bond actually exists.
There is a practical application that absolutely must be made here. The failure of believers to be loyal and genuinely caring and affectionate towards their brothers and sisters in Christ is a betrayal of what they claim to believe and can have a devastating effect. This failure sends a signal to the world that this family is not the safe refuge it purports to be; the same disloyalty and treachery that exists in the world can be found in the family of God as well.
How many believers have been wounded or driven away by the rigid morality of the rules oriented or the controlling, overbearing authority of those supposed to be religious leaders or the competitiveness of those desiring such leadership positions? Unfortunately, it is expected that unrighteousness will thrive in the world, but it cannot in the family of God – there must be an obvious difference. We must consistently demonstrate loyalty, affection and a willingness to sacrifice for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so, we will both enjoy the good will of our Father and show the watching world this difference is real!
In 2 Peter 1:4-9 Peter talks about sharing in God’s divine nature to escape the corruption of the world (verse 4), then he lists 7 essential Christ-like qualities (verses 5-7) and finally he makes an important application (verses 8-9). This passage caught my eye because it includes “brotherly affection” from philadelphia; but in truth, I’m using this passage here because of the application we’ll see at the end.
But first, let’s take a look at the 7 qualities listed. They illustrate the development of Christ-like maturity (one quality leads to the next and so on). “Faith” (confidence in divine truth), leads to “virtue” (the determination to emulate Christ’s character), leads to “knowledge” (the desire to know God by experience – intimacy), leads to self-control (here, the absence of wrong actions towards others), leads to “patience” (enduring the faults of others without complaint, here, refusing to take offense or develop a critical attitude), leads to “brotherly affection” (the ability to love all those with who you share a common bond), leads to “love” (agape love, or benevolent love without limits, the ability to love all those outside that common bond – the ultimate goal of the love lifestyle).
Verse 8 says if these qualities abound in you, then your life will be neither empty nor unprofitable as you mature in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (“knowledge” is the same as the 3rd quality listed above and is from epignosis, full knowledge, always used to describe an intimate relationship formed only through experience). Then verse 9 has the important conclusion to this passage. “But, if anyone lacks these qualities, he is spiritually shortsighted (seeing only what he wants to see), oblivious to the reality that he has been purged from his past faults and failures.”
So, what is the point Peter is making here? Believers are spiritually shortsighted when they live in bondage to their past. They fail to recognize in a continually present, moment-by-moment understanding that they have been cleansed from their past. In Christ we have been completely “purged” from our past (from katharismos, to wash or cleanse and make pure again). The sacrifice of Christ accomplished this purging once and for all (Hebrews 1:3).
It has never been the Father’s intention that His children be in bondage to their past; He has made us free. “You have been set free from sin and have become (willing) slaves to His righteousness (the will of God in thought, purpose and action).” (Romans 6:18) This would even include past wrong or hurtful experiences in childhood that can influence wrong thoughts or actions as an adult.
Now, here is another important aspect of this application: our ability to love in the way described in these lessons is directly dependent on whether we are living in bondage or freedom. Why? Because those who tend to focus on their own past also tend to focus on the past of others. Therefore, they are more prone to be judgmental and critical, have a sense of superiority, be easily offended and justify angry confrontation when dealing with the faults or failures of others, which they wrongly think is their duty to do. And this is a violation of everything we have looked at regarding the love lifestyle so far.
This is the second part of the verse quoted at the beginning of this lesson, “preferring one another”. The key word here, of course, is “preferring”. This is from proegeomai, meaning, to lead the way for others (to set the [good] example), by implication, to show deference (respectful regard), or, to prefer.
I really like the way this word is defined; let me explain. The Amplified Version of Matthew 7:1-2 immediately came to mind. “Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you.” The point Jesus makes here is obvious: if you judge others (setting the wrong example), you will be judged in return – this is the negative side of the equation.
Here’s the positive side: if you “prefer” others (again, setting the example), they will tend to prefer (show respectful regard to) you in return (not necessarily everyone, we still live in an evil world). This is the Amplified Version of Philippians 2:4-5. “Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves]. Let each of you esteem and look upon and be concerned for not [merely] his own interests, but also each for the interests of others. Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]”
And since “humility” is the key word here, I have to mention the definition of this word as I present it in the article entitled “Humility” on the website. It is simply the willingness to be obedient to the will of the Father, regardless of personal cost. As in every aspect of the love lifestyle, Jesus is our example. However, as we well know both from the scriptural record and our own personal experience, the world will not always welcome that example. Yet, the Father will honor it in us in the same way He honored it in His Son. Why else would it be His purpose for us “to be molded into the image of His Son”? (Romans 8:29)
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 5
Romans 12:11 “Never lag in zeal, maintain your spiritual enthusiasm, serve the Lord.”
Now we’re ready for verse 11 quoted above and we’ll need to break it down a little as the KJV translation can be a little confusing. Where I have “never lag in zeal” above, the first phrase in the KJV is translated, “not slothful in business”. “Not slothful” is from okneros, a derivative of okneo, meaning to shrink from or avoid as irksome, unpleasant or grievous. This word in context is actually describing a wrong attitude, as we will see when we look at the complete verse. The second word, “business” is from spoude, and means diligence (persistence) or earnestness (sincere intentions) and usually implies a certain enthusiasm, so it’s often translated “zeal”.
Fortunately most subsequent translations correct the first phrase of this verse to avoid the confusion caused by the KJV translation. However, there have been, and no doubt will continue to be, sermons on Sunday mornings praising the virtues of hard work, integrity and honest business practices (all good things, by the way). Actually, to be accurate here, most dictionaries have as one of the definitions of business, something like “a person’s principal concern”; so, in reality, while the KJV translators were not necessarily wrong, their choice of words has been unfortunate for those who rely heavily on that version.
Let’s look at what Paul is expressing here by using the words okneros and spoude together. First of all, in the context of “preferring one another” in the previous verse, okneros is used to illustrate a wrong attitude we can experience when we realize setting the right example by putting others first is going to take more than we want to give: more time, more money, more energy, more selflessness, more forgiveness, more patience, etc. It’s referring to those times when we know that dealing with a person or situation is going to require more of ourselves than we’re willing to give, so we decide against it.
The love lifestyle requires consistency. Galatians 6:9-10 expresses it well. “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, we will reap in kind what we have sown in due time, if we don’t give up. So, as the occasion arises, let us always do good to everyone, but especially to those who belong to the family of God, that is, fellow believers.” I underlined “good”, as it’s agathos again, a word we saw at the end of verse 9 in lesson 3 that describes an action that is helpful or beneficial and is morally or spiritually right.
One more thought, then we’ll move on to the next part of verse 11. Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 and 8 that our lives are a constant battle between our flesh (sin nature) and our spirit (guided by the Holy Spirit). Therefore, it’s understandable that times could come when our flesh rises up and says “what about me?” or “what about my needs?” It’s then that we must have the answer in our spirit. This is 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves in submission to God’s mighty hand, and He will lift you up at just the right time. Give all your wrong thoughts and concerns to Him, because He watches carefully and affectionately over you.” The simple point made here is this, if we are willing to ignore our flesh and consistently give of ourselves to others, God will be diligent in taking care of us!
Let’s move on to the next phrase, “maintain your spiritual enthusiasm”. There is some difference of opinion on how this phrase should be translated. The Greek pneuma is used here. There are actually 18 different usages of this word in scripture; however, the context suggests the obvious meaning here is a state of mind or attitude as it follows directly behind “never lag in zeal” (another attitude). The primary meaning is wind or breath, used to describe many things that are invisible, immaterial, but real.
Pneuma is also used to indicate the Holy Spirit. The difference of opinion I mentioned above can be seen in different translations of this verse. The KJV has lower case “spirit”, as does the NIV, both indicating a state of mind. But the Amplified Bible has a capitalized “Spirit”, a reference to the Holy Spirit. My Interlinear Greek to English New Testament has a lower case “spirit”. I only mention this to say both the context and my interlinear tell me the lower case “spirit” is proper and is used to indicate a state of mind.
To complete the thought, “enthusiasm” is from zeo, meaning agitated, boiling or bubbling, a word used in an illustrative sense and, depending on the context, can be either positive or negative. Here, it is positive and is used to describe fervency, a burning desire or passion in the sense of enthusiasm. When used as it is in this phrase (in combination with pneuma) it describes a keen commitment and interest in spiritual principles (spiritual enthusiasm).
There is an application I should make here before we go on. We’ve had a warning from Galatians 6:9 to “not grow weary in doing what is right”; and this instruction from 1 Peter 5:7 to “give our wrong thoughts and concerns to Him” (remember, “what about me?); then from Romans 12:11 to “maintain your spiritual enthusiasm”. So, taking these things into consideration it’s important to realize that true, lasting spiritual fervor can only be the result of a continual submission and obedience in following spiritual principles and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Self-imposed, religious feelings and attitudes are both fleeting and inconsistent. We can try to keep ourselves pumped up and excited about doing only what is good; but absent a continual, dynamic spiritual influence we can eventually give in to our mind of the flesh (aptly described as “sense and reason without the Holy Spirit” in Romans 8:6 in the Amplified Bible).
This brings us to the last phrase in verse 11, “serving the Lord.” Here, “serving” is douleuo, literally, to be in the position of a servant (doulos) and act accordingly. This word is used in both a negative sense (as being in bondage to the world in Galatians 4:3) and a positive sense (as it is here) of being in bondage to God (Paul being in bondage to Christ in Philippians 1:13 for example). Douleuo describes being a bondservant and serving in 3 specific ways. The first is loyal dedication. Here, the one in bondage is willingly submitted in such a way that he has deprived himself of his personal freedoms so he can serve his master completely.
Consider Mark 8:34, “And Jesus called out to the crowd following His disciples and said to them, If anyone intends to go where I’m going (to My Father), let him deny himself (disown his personal interests), take up his cross (be willing to suffer the world’s opposition and persecution) and follow Me (follow My example as a loyal disciple). (My contemporary, expanded, contextual translation)
This is the same idea illustrated by Jesus in Matthew 6:24 when He talked about not being able to “serve” two masters. There cannot be divided loyalties (here dedication to the world and dedication to the Lord). As He continues in this verse He explains this divided loyalty will eventually cause one to choose where their loyalty lies; the result being that they will love one master, but despise the other (“despise” coming from kataphroneo, here, to love less). His point is simple, yet powerful: divided loyalties can compromise loyal dedication.
The second part of douleuo is obedience. A true servant understands that he is dependent on his master for instruction and direction and is then obedient to what he receives from his master. He will not act independently according to what he wants, feels or thinks. Paul illustrates this perfectly in Acts 20:22-24 when he says he is going to Jerusalem “bound by the Holy Spirit”, (where “bound” is from deo, compelled by his own convictions and determination to follow what he had received from the Spirit).
He knew suffering and imprisonment awaited him there, yet he was determined to be obedient. The rest of the Book of Acts chronicles the result of Paul’s obedience as he journeys to Jerusalem, then Rome, has freedom to minister and write many of his letters and fulfills the Lord’s purposes in his life to the fullest extent.
Then finally, the third part is trustworthiness. A bondservant will act in his master’s best interest, never his own. The underlying principle here is found in 1 Timothy 6:1 that says, “Let all who are under the yoke as bond servants consider their masters worthy of honor and the greatest respect, so the reputation of God and His teachings will not be slandered.” This verse speaks of a bondservant’s relationship to his master, but the application here can be made: as believers, the children of God and His representatives in this life, we must prove our trustworthiness to a watching world by showing honor and respect to the authority and goodness of God, otherwise His Name and His Word will be brought into disrepute.
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 6
Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
I’ll start with an expanded text of what we’ve looked at so far in Romans 12:9-11. “Let your love be sincere, demonstrating the genuine, benevolent characteristics of
Godly love. Carefully avoid any malicious or mischievous behavior; and stick tightly to anything that is helpful or beneficial to others. Be especially caring and affectionate toward all those with whom you share a common bond (family and fellow believers). Be the example in valuing others above yourself and never tire of this responsibility. Maintain your spiritual enthusiasm through a continual submission to the spiritual principles you’ve been taught and the leadership of the Holy Spirit and always allow Jesus to be your example of true, selfless servanthood.”
The first phrase in the verse above is “rejoice in hope”. As we will see later, rejoicing should be a frequent and normal activity for the child of God. The word “rejoice” (from the Greek chairo) is commonly understood. It simply means, to express joy or gladness and is often connected to the idea of celebration or being thankful or grateful.
The word “hope” requires a little more explanation. This comes from elpis, and has a specific meaning of favorable or confident expectation. This is different than the common usage today of hope being an uncertain expectation or outcome (“I hope it doesn’t rain”). Instead, elpis describes a confidence in God and in His promises based on a relationship with Him, a relationship that produces both reality and assurance, instead of uncertainty or doubt. Paul tells us our hope rests in God and without Him we have no hope, only the hopelessness of the world (Ephesians 2:12, compare 1 Corinthians 15:19). And David connects the two concepts of rejoicing and hope in Psalms 146:5, “happy is he…whose hope is in the Lord his God.” The connection is also clear in Proverbs 10:28, “the hope of the righteous brings gladness.”
As mentioned earlier, rejoicing should be a frequent and normal activity for the child of God. Here are just a few reasons why we should rejoice:
There are many other reasons to rejoice, but you get the idea.
The second phrase in verse 12 is “be patient in tribulation”. We’ve just been looking at reasons to rejoice, and then all of a sudden Paul switches to patience and tribulation. It must be time for a reality check (a common occurrence in scripture). Let’s look at the key words here. “Patient” is hupomeno and literally means, to abide under and is commonly used to express, to be patient, to remain still, to bear quietly, and to endure and is often used to illustrate strength or steadfastness.
“Tribulation” (affliction in the KJV) is from thlipsis, and comes from a root word (thlibo) that means, to press down and is used to indicate pressure. Here, it is used as a metaphor to signify something that burdens the mind, something troublesome or is a cause for concern or worry. This is a proper subject in the context of the Love Lifestyle, as tribulation can put pressure on relationships.
Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your viewpoint or current circumstances), tribulation is a necessary part of life and particularly, of the believer’s experience. Jesus explains this in Matthew 7:13-14 (though most translations fail to express the full and important meaning of what He says here). Here is a contextual, expanded translation that explains what I mean. “Enter through the narrow gate; because broad is the way that leads to destruction and the many (as opposed to the few) are entering there. Because this gate that leads to life (illustrating the life of a follower of Jesus in this world) is full of difficulties (thlibo) and tribulation (thlibo again) and only a few will find it.” And I should mention that Jesus doubles the use of thlibo, once as a participle, then as a verb, to emphasize the negative meaning and the reality of the uncertainties and difficulties of the believer’s life.
So, in the context of the Love Lifestyle and relationships, the need for patience in times of difficulties and tribulation is obvious. The Lord is serious about right relationships. His heart is all about right relationships. He wants a right relationship with us and He wants us to have right relationships with each other. But now (again) we have to acknowledge the problem – our human nature (the flesh).
Here’s that reality check I mentioned above. Life happens! Maybe we’re misunderstood, or we misunderstand someone else. Maybe we’re disappointed in something someone does. Maybe we’re falsely accused of doing something we didn’t do (remember the malicious, “evil” behavior in lesson 2). Maybe we realize we’ve allowed ourselves to become offended with someone or someone is offended with us. Here comes tribulation and the need for patience.
So, here’s what happens: to keep us on track and to teach us how to have right relationships, to help strengthen that quality in us, and bring us to some measure of maturity; He’s going to test our patience and endurance. James makes it clear that patience is essential in the development of Christ-like maturity. Here’s a passage that actually connects the first phrase of verse 12 (rejoicing in hope) with patience, tribulation and this maturity. “Consider it joyful, my brothers, when you experience various kinds of tribulations. This is a testing of your trust and obedience in your relationship with the Lord (active faith) and serves to develop endurance and patience. Then let this patience serve its intended purpose, so you can be mature and completely developed with no weaknesses, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
And just so there is no misunderstanding here when I talk about the failures or weaknesses of our human nature, then quote James talking about a process of gaining maturity and being completely developed, lacking nothing; there is no contradiction here. Both of the underlined above are translated from teleios and both are translated “perfect” in the KJV, “mature” and “complete” in the NIV, and “a thorough work” and “perfectly and fully developed” in the Amplified Bible.
Teleios (perfect, complete, full grown) is used in both an absolute and a relative sense in scripture; God’s perfection is absolute and unchanging, yet man’s perfection is relative, describing some level of perfection that can change (either in a positive sense for the better or negative for worse). Here, James uses teleios in a relative and positive sense to describe a process in which God tests our commitment to endure tribulation with patience to bring us to a greater level of maturity and completeness and make us more like Jesus. Our absolute perfection will come when we receive an immortal, imperishable, incorruptible body like Christ’s at His second coming. (Philippians 3:20-21)
The last part of verse 12 is “be constant in prayer.” Here, “constant” is from proskartereo, a combination of pros, towards, and kartereo, to be strong or endure, here used as a metaphor to signify steadfastness, faithfulness, illustrating a continual activity. “Prayer” is from proseuche, the common word used for prayer to God. Now, some commentary is needed, I’ll be brief. Jesus was specific in both His instruction and example regarding prayer. Prayer is not the repetition of formulas or pet phrases. It’s not a public display or competitive test of false spirituality (I can pray longer and louder than you). It’s not an opportunity to tell God what to do, when to do it, how to do it and who to do it to, because you’ve decided in your wisdom that He needs your advice. And (strangely enough) it’s not prayer when you yell at the devil, telling him what to do or not to do, with an authority you don’t have. Prayer is a private, personal, honest and submitted conversation with God.
It’s (of course) no accident that we find “constant in prayer” in the context of the Love Lifestyle and following “be patient in tribulation”. It’s essential that we give ourselves over to a continual, transparent conversation with God so we can at least try to be prepared to patiently endure the pressures and tribulations that are sure to come in this life. And keep in mind, many of the pressures and tribulations we experience are directly related to our relationships with others. And it’s at those times we might need the wisdom of God. James 1:5-6 tells us how to get “wisdom” (from sophia, here, a reference to Godly, spiritual wisdom describing the ability to regulate or develop relationships according to what is true and right).
We’ll look at this one phrase at a time.
understand He is infinitely creative and wise, so He may not answer in the
way you expect. (compare Matthew 7:7)
into a partnership plan with us. Anytime you go to God with a need, you cannot have an alternate plan of your own held in reserve in case He doesn’t come through the way you wanted. He will see through that every time and will make sure you’re forced to use your own plan first (and probably see it fail). He always knows when you are being double-minded. And He will not take you seriously until He knows you have exhausted all you own options and you have admitted the same.
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 7
Romans 12:13 “Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality.”
Starting in verse 13 and going through 21, Paul begins to give some practical applications of the Love Lifestyle as it relates to both fellow believers and unbelievers alike. So, the beginning of verse 13 above is the practical application of verse 10, here’s a reminder of what it says. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” (KJV) Or, my contextual, expanded translation from lesson 4, “Be especially caring and affectionate towards all those with whom you share a common bond (family and fellow believers in Christ); and always be the example in valuing others above yourself.”
Let’s look at the key words in the first part of verse 13. “Distributing” is from koinoneo, and means to share in common or be a partner. This is a word that is used to illustrate the responsibility of relationship, to share equal obligation, even accountability with all those with whom you share that relationship. The Scriptures do not teach us that only certain “gifted” people have the responsibility, capacity or aptitude to care for others. It does not explain how some may be exempt from caring for others, or that some may be cared for with no obligation on their part, or that it’s O.K. for some to be continually dependent on others.
Of course, there are those who have more resources available to them to care for others; but koinoneo describes equal responsibility, that all should share equally in the obligation, not necessarily in the amount of help or support given. The idea is that everyone has the obligation to care for others, regardless of the resources available to them. The principle is: everyone doing what they can do. In Acts 12 the disciples had been in Antioch (Syria) for some time when they learned there was severe famine in Judea. This is Acts 12:29, “So the disciples resolved to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea, and each one gave according to his own individual ability.” There’s no reason to assume they all participated equally, they all simply accepted the obligation individually to do what they could.
The other key word in this phrase is “necessity” from chreia, meaning, occasion or necessity. It is used here to describe the act of giving whatever is necessary to meet a need. When found in combination with koinoneo, the instruction is for everyone to accept their obligation to do what they can to make sure the need is completely met. It may be easier to understand the concept if we look at it from a different point of view: that is, you cannot stand back when you recognize a need, hoping that someone else will see it and take care of it. Instead, you must get involved and do what you can to meet the need. Then, you have the freedom to ask others to get involved if necessary and what you have started will then encourage them to do what they can.
Just about here, we have to take some caution. There are those who may be critical of their fellow believers saying, “They just didn’t meet my needs.” Some of them could be right; then, again, some may be wrong. Certainly, there are those who have a welfare mentality, expecting others to take care of them (not willing to accept the clear responsibility of caring for themselves) and only looking inward, they never, ever grasp any responsibility to care for others. There are even some who gravitate towards believers in the hope they will do the “Christian” thing and help them out, as they conveniently ignore their own irresponsibility and wrong attitudes.
But let’s not forget, we’re looking at the Love Lifestyle. Case in point: the wrong actions or attitudes of others never release us from doing what is good and right or give us give us permission to develop our own wrong attitude so we can disregard the instruction of God’s Word (I can always tell when I start preaching, the sentences get longer). There are those who have learned to get what they want or need by manipulating others, making them feel guilty if they don’t help out. They want to make you feel obligated, often appealing to your emotions. The impression is, if you don’t help me I, or others, will suffer the consequences of your inaction.
Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:41-42 that believers are not to try to judge the motivations (right or wrong) in others. “When anyone tries to take unfair advantage of you, do even more than they ask . If someone keeps begging you for help, don’t refuse, even if you think they’re trying to take advantage of your generosity.” (again, my contextual translation) In keeping with the Love Lifestyle, it’s far better and most consistent with the character and nature of God, to be too kind, too loving and too generous, rather than too cold, too unloving and too selfish.
There is an immutable principle here found in various forms throughout scripture: a single wrong can never allow us to nullify or avoid following any of God’s instructions to His children. “But I’m telling you, love those who oppose you and pray for those who mistreat you, to prove that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His best available to everyone, the wicked and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45, my translation)
I’ll just quote a couple of verses that touch on the subject of distributing to the necessities of the saints, then we’ll move on. “Do not neglect the right thing: to be generous, contributing to the needs of fellow believers, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16) And finally, “If anyone has the material resources of this world and sees his fellow believer in need, yet shuts his heart of compassion from him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear ones, let us not pretend to love merely by what we say, but let us prove our love by what we do, in sincerity and truth.” (1 John 3:16-17)
So, let’s move on to the final phrase of verse 13, “given to hospitality.” This verse has been generally misinterpreted. I often emphasize the importance of considering the context (what precedes or follows a particular word, phrase or passage that influences its meaning) to understand scripture. In this case, that can be a mistake. Here, “distributing to the necessity of the saints” may or may not have anything to do with “given to hospitality”. The common understanding is that “hospitality” is making sure one is a good host or hostess in times spent with family or friends and because the preceding phrase mentions saints, is most likely a reference to what is called fellowship. As we will see, “hospitality” has nothing to do with the commonly understood meaning of a generous, warm reception of those with whom we know we already have a common bond, friendly relations or even loosely formed associations (as in a common cause).
The word “hospitality” is from philoxenia, the combination of philos, which means loving, and xenos, a stranger. When you use these two words together, the meaning is more than simply making sure you’re a good host or hostess, and it means more that just having fellowship with those with whom you have something in common. The basic idea in philos (remember we saw this in Lesson 4 in philadelphia, “brotherly love”) is tender, caring affection. The point must be emphasized here: philoxenia illustrates both a friendliness and sensitivity towards “strangers”.
You can’t know if you have anything in common with a stranger or not. You don’t know if they claim to be believers or if they’re the worst example of evil in this world. It makes no difference here; philoxenia makes absolutely no distinction. Then, at this point I should explain the full meaning of “given”, from dioko, used in a positive sense meaning, to pursue without hostility (depending on the context, it can be used in a negative sense and mean, to persecute). Here, it’s used as a metaphor with philoxenia to illustrate an eagerness to engage strangers in a friendly and meaningful way.
And this brings up a potential problem today. We live in a somewhat schizophrenic culture where many are withdrawn, suspicious and fearful – but, unfortunately, not without reason. We keep our doors locked, put up privacy fences around our property, drive into garages and close the door without seeing anyone. Some live in a neighborhood for years and never really get to know well those who live only a few feet away. When out in public places, many try to avoid eye contact with strangers. And if there are attempts to appear friendly, those good intentions of dioko can easily be misunderstood or even rebuffed, as if the good intention is suspicious, less than honorable or respectable.
So, trying to follow the instruction here of being “given to hospitality” could be difficult; but, again, the possibility of being misunderstood does not nullify the instruction. This is 1 Peter 4:9, “Practice true hospitality, a willingness to show tender, caring affection to strangers, and do it graciously, without resentment or hesitation, as a representative of Christ.”
One more thing, then I’ll be finished with this. One of the glaring mistakes of religious denominations and institutions is the development of programs designed to care for the needs of others, both members and non-members alike. The reason this is a mistake is that it relieves individuals of the personal responsibility to be hospitable in the way this instruction in Romans 12 obviously tells us (I don’t have to get involved here, I support a program for this in my church). It also takes away the opportunities for spiritual growth, God’s blessing and His acceptance – all obvious results of obedience.
A common deception in religion is the promotion of group activities and programs that negate the personal, individual aspects related to both our personal, individual relationship with the Lord and our individual responsibility to care for others. The emphasis is almost always on participation in group activities, socialization (fellowship) and the health and growth of the institution.
Today, for most believers, everything related to their relationship with God runs through the filter of their concept and experience of church (Do you have a relationship with God? Yes, I go to [a particular] church.). And for the most part that filter was formed by what I just described in the previous paragraph. It’s the big building on the corner where hundreds or thousands of people meet every Sunday morning to do church activities and listen to someone else talk about God (or maybe social or relational or mental health or possibly, political issues).
Let’s look at the history of the “church”. In the New Testament ekklesia is used in several ways (for example, the congregation of Israel in Acts 7:38). However, the two prominent usages of ekklesia are the whole body of believers without restriction of time or place, worldwide (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47, 9:31; Ephesians 1:22-23) and individual assemblies of believers in particular places (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2, Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2), usually small groups in houses.
I’ll not belabor the point, but while it’s true the first church in Jerusalem grew to over 5,000 believers and they enjoyed a brief time of community and spiritual growth, having all things in common (selling their possessions and giving the proceeds to support the whole assembly, Acts 2:44-45); they quickly experienced strife in the church over the distribution of those things (Acts 6:1). Soon after that God used persecution to scatter the church throughout the region (Acts 8:1), so they could begin to carry out their individual responsibilities (8:4).
And while I would never say that the early church’s experiment in socialism was wrong (they eventually began to run out of other people’s money), it really was the Lord’s way of giving these new believers time to learn and develop a measure of maturity before He scattered them and destroyed the concept of the mega church. Only a few apostles remained in Jerusalem (it is assumed everyone else returned to their countries of origin, see Acts 2:8-11 and 11:19, as nothing else is said of them).
After that the references to individual churches are to small groups, usually meeting in homes (as the references earlier indicate), teaching individual, personal spiritual principles and responsibilities. There is no instruction or example of mega churches, institutions or denominations and their tendencies to develop group activities and programs to take the place of the individual accountability and encouragement found best in small, intimate groups.
The Love Lifestyle - Lesson 8
Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless them and do not curse them.”
This could be one of the more difficult lessons in this series. Most of us have probably experienced times when we felt like we were being taken unfair advantage of, falsely accused, harassed or otherwise wronged in some way. And we might remember how quickly we came to our own defense by attacking whoever was responsible. And if we thought they were stretching the truth in their accusations or opposition towards us, we felt justified in stretching the truth in our defense.
Sometimes these situations are allowed to escalate, because we yield to the temptation to get others involved. I’ve talked about this principle before: it’s human nature to think we can win an argument or dispute by getting more people to agree with us or support our side, than whoever is accusing or opposing us can manage to gather to their side. Such thoughts and actions are both fleshly and devilish.
Satan has always worked feverishly to appeal to our flesh to get us to side with him, wrongly thinking if he can get more people to agree with Him he will win his dispute with God and avoid the eventual, eternal destruction already determined upon him. Ever since the fall of Adam he has played the numbers game with great success (as evidenced by Jesus’ comments in Matthew 7:13-14 regarding the many on the broad road to destruction as opposed to the few on the narrow road to life). Of course he’s wrong to think he’ll win this way and we’re just as wrong to entertain the same thought.
Here are the key words in this verse. “Bless” is eulogeo, and means, to speak well of. It probably looks familiar as we get our English words eulogy (a speech honoring or praising someone) and eulogize (also, to honor or praise) from it. When eulogeo is used in reference to God (that is, when He “blesses” us), what He says and what He does are consistent – based on His unchanging character and nature (what He does is always based on Who He is). The same application must be made: when we “bless” someone, it is to not simply to go through the motions and say something that appears to be well-meaning; it should be based on that same Godly character, otherwise it might appear hollow, insincere or even sarcastic.
Then “persecute” is dioko, the same word translated “given” in the last lesson. Remember, I explained then that this word could be used in both a positive sense, to pursue without hostility (as in “given to hospitality”), or in a negative sense, to pursue with hostility (“to persecute”). The context here is to pursue with an accusation: someone says something accusatory or inflammatory and we are to respond with gentleness and kindness to defuse the situation.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“A calm spirit can persuade a judge, and soft speech breaks down the hardest resistance.” (Proverbs 25:15)
Actually, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus carries the thought of responding to hostility to another level by adding a willingness to do or give more than is asked or demanded. In Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus says, we’re not to resist (antihistemi, to act against) the evil man who injures us. Instead, if he strikes us on the right cheek, turn to him the left. Jesus continues saying, if someone sues you and takes your shirt, give him your coat, as well. If someone forces you to carry his load for one mile, carry it two miles. And, if someone asks for something, give it to him. Or (and this is a really difficult one) if someone wants to borrow from you, don’t refuse them; the negative context here is, even if you have every reason to believe they will take advantage of your generosity and not repay. In other words, don’t retaliate and don’t refuse.
The idea is to take the initiative to stop or prevent the injury or possible offense then and there, instead of perpetuating it by your retaliation or refusal. This is a radical concept for many who like to think it’s their Christian duty to discipline those who might take advantage of the gentleness or generosity of others; these same people are more likely to confront those who, in their estimation, have caused offense or in some way have not carefully followed their particular, adopted moral code (moral, meaning man-made). If there is one thing that is illustrated by this lesson series, it is that (for the believer) there is only a spiritual code that mirrors the character and nature of God, instead of the restrictive and controlling ideas of men.
The second part of Romans 12:14 is “bless them and do not curse them.” “Curse” is from kataromai, and the context suggests both a wrong attitude possibly accompanied with a wrong action. Kataromai means, to want someone to suffer evil or harm in some way and the desire can be intense enough to lead one to action to see that the evil or hurt becomes a reality.
So, when others speak against us, accuse us or persecute us in any way, we must resist the temptation to retaliate. We must be merciful and forgiving, seek peace and (if necessary) reconciliation. We must be blameless, speak well of those who pursue us and never wish evil or hurt upon them.
“The merciful and generous man benefits himself, as his good deeds return to bless him. But the one who is cruel and insensitive to the wants or needs of others will suffer the same in return. The wicked man earns deceitful wages, but he who sows righteousness (spiritual conduct in his relations with others) shall reap a sure reward, permanent and satisfying. And he who is unwavering in righteousness attains to life, but he who pursues evil goes to his own destruction. They who are willfully perverse in both thought and action are repulsive in the eyes of the Lord, but those who are blameless in their ways are His delight.” (Proverbs 11:17-20)
This brings us to Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
This instruction is fairly straightforward; I like how the Amplified Version says it. “Rejoice with those who rejoice (sharing others joy), and weep with those who weep (sharing others grief).” This is all about supporting others in good times and bad. It’s about celebrating with others in the joyous, happy, blessed times we all experience in life and being empathetic with those experiencing the times of hurt, suffering or loss.
I must give a little background on the word “rejoice”, as it gives us an understanding of the heart of the Father. It comes from chairo, and should be understood as the experience of joy as a direct result of God’s grace. In other words, it has always been His intention that we experience happy, secure, satisfying, blessed times in our lives (and we will see, He enjoys these times just as much as we do).
Charis comes from the root word chairo, and gives us insight into its full meaning. Charis describes a favor, kindness, benefit or any other source of happiness, contentment or gratitude experienced as a result of the loving-kindness of God towards man extended with no expectation of anything in return except the opportunity to enjoy it with them. Closely related is the word chara, meaning joy, and sometimes a cause of joy or rejoicing.
This is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-21. In the parable the servants are believers serving their Master (capitalized in many translations to let us know he represents God in the parable). I won’t take the time or space here to explain the whole parable, but just give the end result. In verse 21 the Master commends the servant that has shown himself to be faithful and trustworthy and says, “Come and share the joy your Master now enjoys.” So, when we, as believers, do well, the Father wants us to experience joy and know that He is rejoicing with us!
Then the second part is “weep with those who weep.” Here, the word is klaio, commonly used to describe any expression of grief, usually the occasion of mourning over the loss of a loved one. Now, when I read this, I was immediately reminded of John’s account of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11. It’s clear from the account Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus had been dead for several days before He went to Bethany to prove His power over death and give His disciples occasion to strengthen their trust in Him (verses 11, 15 and 17).
When He arrived in Bethany He saw Martha and Mary, along with some friends who were with them still sharing in their grief – “weeping with those who weep” (verse 33). But here is the pertinent part of verse 33, when Jesus saw this “He was deeply moved in His spirit and sighed”. (Just a note here, “sighed” or “troubled” in some translations is from tarasso, used to describe a deep feeling of sorrow.)
Which brings us to what I want to point out here; verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.” The Son of God, when He saw those He loved weeping, was quickly moved in His soul and began to share in their grief! And just as God shares our joy, He shares our suffering and sorrow. Let me give you an expanded, contextual translation of Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15. This is 2:18, “Because He (Jesus) in His humanity suffered when He was tested and tried, He is able to go to help those who are being tested and tried and therefore exposed to the same suffering.”
This is 4:15, “For we do not have a High Priest Who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses and the liabilities of having a human nature, but He is the One Who was tested and tried in every way exactly like we are, yet He never sinned.” The word “sympathize” above (“be touched with the feeling of” in the KJV) is from sumpatheo, a combination of sun, together with and pascho, to suffer, from which we get the English word, sympathy, the ability to share the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble, used to describe compassion (deep sympathy for another’s suffering or misfortune) or empathy (in this context, experiencing the same feelings as those who are suffering or in sorrow).
Let me wrap this up here. This is the Amplified Bible in Colossians 2:9. “For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form (giving complete expression of the divine nature).” In other words, Jesus is the physical expression of both the Father and the Holy Spirit in Who They are (character) and what They do (nature). The character and nature of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are inherent, that is, permanent and unchanging. They have always and will always share in our joy and our grief.
So, Jesus showed us it was His nature to be sympathetic (“Jesus wept”), and He was the physical example of the Father (the unseen God) that we could see and understand. Then Paul tells us the Holy Spirit sympathizes with us in times of weakness, when we don’t know what to pray or how, and intercedes for us. (Romans 8:26) Then the conclusion to all this is that when we sincerely rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, we are simply demonstrating to others the very character and nature of God.
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 9
Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another. Don’t be snobbish or exclusive, but be willing to adjust to people regardless of their social standing. And never exaggerate your abilities or importance.”
In comparing the different translations of this verse I decided to just go ahead and write my own contemporary, contextual translation and explain any differences along the way. In the first part the KJV has “Be of the same mind one toward another.” Many of the more recent translations have “Live in harmony with one another.” This is an accurate expression of the original language, but it leaves out the meaning of the verb phroneo, “mind” in the KJV above, meaning, to think, implying not simply thought, but also the affections, decisions and ethical considerations of what is right or wrong. In the original it is literally “minding the same”. This word, then, establishes the context for the rest of the verse, keeping in “mind” this instruction is for believers in how they relate to each other and to unbelievers alike.
This same thought is found in Romans 15:5, “May the God Who gives steadfast endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity as you follow Christ Jesus.”
The next phrase is “Don’t be snobbish or exclusive”. Here, we see the same verb (phroneo), where the original is literally, “not minding high things.” So, we need to define “high things”, translated from hupselos, used as a metaphor to describe things that are thought to be exclusive or regarded as the most important or desirable, even things not attainable by some. Various translations and commentaries talk about being overly ambitious to be rich and powerful, a thought that fits the context very well, especially when you consider the next part of this verse.
“But be willing to adjust to people regardless of their social standing.” This is where the KJV has “but condescend to men of low estate.” “Condescend” is sunapago, and literally means, “be carried away with” or a more contemporary meaning, “(willing) to associate with”. And where I have “regardless of social standing”, the KJV has “low estate”, the NIV “low position” and my Greek to English Parallel Bible has “humble” (what is actually in the original text). This is tapeinos, literally, low-lying, used as a metaphor to describe those of low rank, position or status. The meaning of “low estate” in the KJV is thought to be a reference to “common” people, that is, the socially inferior or poor. Again, this is a meaning that fits the context.
“And finally all of you should be of the same mind, sympathizing with one another, loving one another as members of the same family, compassionate and courteous.”
“And never exaggerate your abilities or importance.” This is the last part of the verse where the KJV has “Be not wise in your own conceits.” This sentence is a little convoluted, so I’ll try to sort it out. “Wise” is phronimos, meaning prudent (using good judgment), sensible or characterized by practical wisdom, especially in relationships with others. However, here phronimos is used in a negative or evil sense, as in “be not wise”. In fact, the original text does not have “in your own conceits”; it reads “Become not wise with yourselves.” In other words, this last part of verse 16 is expressing the negative idea of having a lack of practical wisdom and, instead, having an exaggerated estimate of yourself, often taken as self-deception.
Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and depart from evil.” (Proverbs 3:7)
“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”
“Make my joy complete by living in harmony with one another, having the same love for one another and being united in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition, but in true humility consider others as better than yourself. Let each of you be concerned not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (the example of true humility).” (Philippians 2:2-5)
Romans 12:17 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. But be careful to do what is honest and proper in the eyes of everyone.”
In the first sentence the KJV has “recompense” where you see “repay” above. This is from apodidomi, meaning, to give back or return, in this context, to repay (pay back). Then “evil” is kakon, the neuter form of kakos, a non-specific form used to describe anything considered to be intentionally injurious (malicious) or depraved (immoral), and in this context (mention of repaying) is used to describe an offense (either perceived or real), where the offended party can become indignant or resentful and desirous of revenge.
When I saw the definitions of kakon, I immediately thought of the term “getting your pound of flesh”. And since I wasn’t exactly sure of the meaning and origin of that saying, I looked it up and found it is “a payment or punishment that involves suffering or sacrifice on the part of the person being punished.” Over time this expression developed from a scene in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice that was a debt legally owed, but has become the repayment of an injury (again, either perceived or real). However, as has already been firmly established, this kind of revenge or repayment is never to be a part of the love lifestyle as it’s described in Romans 12.
“Never say, I’ll pay you back for this evil thing you’ve done; instead, wait on the Lord and He will deliver you (from your own evil attitude).” (Proverbs 20:22)
“Make sure you never repay evil for evil, but always aim to be kind and helpful, not just to the family of God, but to everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
Then the last part of verse 17 is “Be careful to do what is honest and proper in the eyes of everyone.” The KJV has “Provide things honest”, where “provide” is from pronoeomai, to take thought or to care beforehand (why I rendered it “be careful).
This word indicates careful or cautious consideration of situations, circumstances and people involved, before decisions are made and actions are carried out. It is a word that illustrates wisdom, prudence or good judgment.
Then, “honest” is kalos, meaning good, admirable or becoming. This word also carries with it an ethical meaning of what is fair, right, honorable, a conduct worthy of esteem (highly or favorably regarded). This is the rendering of verse 17 in the Amplified Bible. “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is honest and proper and noble [aiming to be above reproach] in the sight of everyone.”
“For we always consider beforehand what is honest and beyond any suspicion, not only in the sight of the Lord, but in the sight of all men.” (2 Corinthians 8:21)
(Where “consider beforehand” is pronoeomai above, illustrating wisdom, prudence or good judgment, a character quality the apostle Paul definitely possessed, as his very survival depended on it.)
Romans 12:18 “And if possible, when it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
This verse is fairly straightforward and the more contemporary rendering above is close to the KJV, NIV and Amplified Bibles, having the same two key words as underlined above. The first is “possible” from the adjective dunatos, usually translated strong, mighty, powerful and able, but sometimes is rendered, “possible” when two different outcomes are implied in the context (compare Matthew 24:24 and 26:39 for example).
The other is “live at peace” from eireneuo, a verb meaning, to live in peace, to be at peace, here, to live at peace. Let me try to tie this together. In the context of the previous verses, the seeming limitation of “if possible, when it depends on you” suggests there can be some doubt that being at peace with everyone (“all men” in the KJV) can always be a reality (or, be possible).
The implication, I believe, is that when you consider the complete context (don’t be snobbish or exclusive, don’t exaggerate your abilities or importance, don’t repay evil for evil, always do what’s honest and proper, and so on), it’s likely disagreements, hurt feelings, bad attitudes, even wrong actions can result in our failure to follow these instructions. This underscores the need for reconciliation to restore peace (“harmony” back in verse 16). However, reconciliation requires the efforts and cooperation of both parties, something that is seen here as only “possible”. Just understand that the phrase “if possible” is not meant to excuse the obligation imposed by the command “live peaceably”, the reason the phrase “when it depends on you” is included. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9)
The Love Lifestyle – Lesson 10
Romans 12:19 “Dearly beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave a place open for (God’s) wrath; for it is written: Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
After researching the original language in Romans 12:19, I decided to include the key words found in the KJV, as any alternatives made only small differences in the meaning and intent of the verse. “Dearly beloved” is from agapetos, an adjective form in agreement with the meaning of the verb agapao (to love) and the noun agape (benevolent love).
Here, it is an expression of affection and a reference to believers who are in relationship with one another based on those meanings above. The implication is that they will find contentment and joy in following the instruction that follows. In other words, when we love one another like God loves us, the only possible outcome is helpful and beneficial both to us and to others, an outcome evident as we look at the rest of this verse.
This verse has two main points, a warning not to do something, then instruction on the right thing to do. First, we’ll look at the warning “never avenge yourselves”. “Avenge” is ekdikeo, to take revenge, avenge or punish. In the last lesson we saw a warning to not repay evil for evil (verse 17), where “evil” was from kakon, the neuter form of kakos, non-specific form used to describe anything considered to be intentionally malicious or immoral, and was used to describe an offense where the offended party can become indignant or resentful and desirous of some form of retaliation (get their “pound of flesh”). Then the last part talked about using wisdom, prudence or cautious consideration in dealing with these relational issues (thinking it through before acting).
Then the next verse (18) talked about living peaceably with everyone. The implication was that the issues here involved less serious things like harsh words, misunderstandings, false accusations, etc. However, the words used here in verse 19 could indicate something more serious. The dictionary definition of “avenge” is, to take “vengeance”. This word can be used to describe physical violence, as we’ll see later.
This becomes even more apparent in the next part of verse 19, “but leave a place open for God’s wrath”. Here “place” is from topos, a word used to describe a room, a locality, a place and is also used metaphorically to indicate a space of time, an occasion or opportunity. In this context it is instruction to not take revenge, do nothing and give the situation some time, in other words, do nothing, just wait.
Then we come to the heart of the matter; what are we waiting for? We’re waiting for the occasion or opportunity for God to show His “wrath”. This is orge, a word that was originally used to describe an impulse, desire or passion, but eventually came to indicate anger or strong displeasure. And note the context of the verse; this is God’s wrath. And I need to contrast orge with thumos, also translated “wrath”. Thumos is used to describe agitation, inward indignation or other descriptions of one’s feelings and tend to be more fleeting or temporary; while orge describes a more lasting condition of mind that tends towards some eventual action. So, while thumos expresses more the inward feelings, orge is a stronger emotion that leads to active revenge or retaliation.
This brings us to the last part of the verse, “for it is written: Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” This is a quote of Deuteronomy 32:35. There’s little difference between the Old Testament Hebrew word naqam and the New Testament Greek ekdikesis found here. Both refer to taking vengeance, a punishment inflicted in retaliation for wrongs committed. The only notable difference is that naqam indicates a penalty inflicted for the violation of a law or command (maybe a distinction without a difference).
To understand why Paul (through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) quotes Deuteronomy in Romans we have to understand the meaning and context of the verse in Deuteronomy to see how it fits here. Chapter 32 talks about God’s character, His tender care for Israel, their lack of appreciation for Him, their corruption, perversion and idolatry that provokes His righteous anger and jealousy, then His promise to eventually or finally judge and punish them, leading to the use of the word vengeance. However, this vengeance will be meted out not in this time or age, but in the future in preparation for eternity – this is a reference to His final judgment.
This verse is not saying, “since so-and-so has hurt me or wronged me in some way, I don’t have to take revenge on them, I just have to wait a little while and God will punish them for me, and it will be so satisfying to watch.” We all probably know how this works. We watch the one who has wronged us to see what might go wrong in their life, and when something negative or hurtful happens (as it usually will in time), we gleefully imagine that God has intervened for us and punished the evildoer.
But in this we ignore an inescapable truth that must be reinforced. When the Lord says, “Vengeance is Mine” He means just that. Vengeance belongs to Him alone; it is not something that we are free to determine for ourselves. Now we’ve gone full circle, remember the beginning of verse 19, as believers we are never to avenge ourselves! The quote of Deuteronomy 32:35 when properly understood simply reinforces this truth!
Now we have to put this in the context of the Love Lifestyle. Verse 19 is not telling us that all we have to do when we’re wronged in some way is just wait awhile, then watch the Lord take up our cause and punish the one responsible. Having a desire to see someone punished for wrongs committed would be a violation of everything we’ve looked at so far regarding the instruction in Romans 12. And, we only have to look at the next verse to see this.
Romans 12:20 “But 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.”
This is a partial quote of Proverbs 25:21-22 (it leaves out the last part of verse 22) and it puts us right back into the true principles of the Love Lifestyle. Here, I like how the NIV treats this. In the previous verse it says, “Do not take revenge”. Then to start verse 20 we see, “On the contrary”. In other words, “do just the opposite”. Instead of taking revenge on your enemy, treat him with compassion and kindness.
To get the full understanding of what is being expressed here we need to go back to Proverbs 25:22 and quote the full verse. “For in doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” I’ll try to make this brief. “Heap” (soreuo) is meant to illustrate a piling up, as in doing one act of kindness after another (the phrase “killing him with kindness” comes to mind). The implication is that this will produce a burning sense of shame for rewarding your kindnesses with hurtful things, will then possibly produce feelings of guilt leading to repentance, then making peace in place of the enmity that existed (Paul explains this principle in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12 where shame is the first step of true repentance).
Then the last part of verse 22 is “and the Lord will reward you.” So, the key word here is “reward” from shalam, a word that has a variety of meanings, depending on the context (to be whole, to be secure, to make peace, to make a friend) and is often used to describe the condition of wholeness in relationships. In this case, it is a wholeness or completeness in one’s relationship with the Father based on submission and obedience to Him.
This is Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45a. “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who pursue you with evil intent, that you can prove to be the true sons of your Father in heaven.” This is where two obvious truths converge: when we love our enemies by showing them kindness and compassion, we are proving our obedience by following the Father’s example of love, showing we are His child by emulating His character and nature and putting ourselves in right relationship, not just with others, but with Him.
Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is simply the conclusion to everything we’ve looked at in these lessons. “Overcome” is nikao, from the root word, nike, to subdue or conquer, a word variously translated, to master, prevail, overcome or get the victory. You overcome all that is morally, ethically or spiritually wrong (kakos) by doing what is helpful, beneficial, esteemed and right in the sight of God (agathos).