Grace For The Journey
There are many kinds of friendship ranging from casual acquaintances to best friends. But what is the nature of the love in friendship that God desires for us to have for one another? Perhaps the following story of two men in WW I gives us an idea of it.
Two friends had enlisted in the Army together. They trained together, were shipped overseas together, and fought side-by-side in the trenches. During an attack, one of the men was critically wounded and unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The field was filled with barbed wire obstacles and was under deadly enemy crossfire. It would be suicide to try to reach him. Yet, his friend decided to try, but before he could get out of his own trench, he sergeant pulled him back in side and order him not to go. “It’s too late,” he said, “You can’t do him any good, and you’ll only get yourself killed.” A few minutes later, when the Sergeant had turned his back, the man instantly climbed out of the trench and went after his friend. A few minutes later he staggered back, mortally wounded, with his friend, now dead, in his arms. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. “What a waste,” he blurted out, “He’s dead and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying man replied, “Oh, yes, it was, Sarge. When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ‘I knew you’d come, Jim!’”
Two passages that are probably familiar to us remind us of this kind of love. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity,” and Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
Commitment and sacrifice are two of the key qualities of love that are expressed in a true friendship. In today’s blog we will be continuing our study of Romans 12 and examine some of the ways in which Christians are to treat one another. Each of the character traits and behaviors we will look at are predicated on foundational principles and commands of verses 1 and 2, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The character traits a Christian are to develop
And the behaviors we are to have
Are simply the practical outworking
Of being a “living sacrifice” that
Is being “transformed by
The renewing of our minds.”
We have already seen some of the practical outworking of being a living sacrifice in our study of the first part of this chapter. Christians are to have attitudes of humility because every Christian is a part of the body of Christ. Each believer is equipped by God with gifts or gifts by which they are to serve Him, and every believer, every gift and every ministry is needed for the body to be healthy and growing in godly maturity.
Christians need one another.
Yesterday we examined the key practical character trait that is a result of being a living sacrifice. Christians are to love without hypocrisy demonstrated by abhorring evil and clinging to what is good. This love is agape, the love marked by its sacrificial nature in giving of itself for the benefit of another and based in conscious choice instead of fleeting emotions. This is the love God has for us. It is the love we are to have for God. And it is the love Christians are to have for one another and all humans.
Many people will act like they love someone, but the reality is that such love is not there. They are hypocrites who seek to use people for their own advantage. Christians are to love without hypocrisy. We say and do what is right for other people because of our response of love for God because of His love for us. As living sacrifices, we seek to honor and please God above all else. Our lives are to be centered on His kingdom and will and not our own. Non-Christians try to avoid being hypocritical by changing their actions to match what they think and feel at any given moment. The Christian avoids being hypocritical by doing what is right regardless of what they feel and then changing their attitude to match.
This true love also reflects God’s character and nature, and for that reason it abhors what is evil while it clings to what is good. The idea of “abhor” here, as I explained yesterday, is . . .
Hating or detesting something
Even more than hell.
There is an aversion to it and
You want to get away from it.
The Christian is to feel that way
Toward anything that does not
Reflect God’s character and nature.
At the same time, they desire
To hold fast to anything that does.
In being a living sacrifice, the Christian has a duty to God and himself to love without hypocrisy by abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. This morning we continue on to verse 9 and the Christian’s duty as a living sacrifice toward other Christians. But before we do, just a quick reminder that these character traits and behaviors are what Christians are to be and do as they are transformed by the renewing of their minds into mature Christians. This is not something automatic and instantaneous, though we wish it were so. Jesus Christ has forgiven His followers, and He has broken the power sin had over them, but Christians are not sinless. We are in the process of being conformed to His image, but that picture is still being developed. It is not perfection that makes the Christian different from the non-Christian, but being forgiven and the direction of their lives.
Believer’s Duties to One Another.
What then are a Christian’s duties to other Christians? Romans 12:10-13 states, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
One of the things I discovered in studying this passage is how much we can miss with an English translation. In English, this section appears to be a series of 10 related but independent statements or commands of how we are to treat each other. However, just as in verse 9 in which there is one statement with two supporting clauses, here we have two statements with supporting clauses under each giving further explanation of how
those statements are to be fulfilled.
A more literal, though wooden, translation of verse 10 would be, “The brotherly love unto one another is devoted, in honor to one another giving preference.” “Giving preference to one another in honor” is not an independent command, but it is the means by which we are to demonstrate our devotion to one another in brotherly love. It defines the nature of this devotion of brotherly love.
Brotherly love is “philadelphia,” a compound word that combines “philos, a word which we saw yesteday referred to love in the sense of affection such as in friendship, and “adelphos,” which means “brother.” “Philadelphia” means “love, affection, or the friendship of a brother.” The city of Philadelphia is supposed to be the city of brotherly love. (Whether it is that way would have to be determined by those who live there). This
term is used throughout the New Testament to describe the relationship Christians are to have with one another.
Peter encouraged believers to develop this character trait, commanding in 2 Peter 1:5-7, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.” It does take some work to develop this quality. The Thessalonians had developed it and so Paul commends them, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for [anyone] to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9), but Paul went on to encourage them to “excel still more” in it (verse 10). It is something we have to let continue (Hebrews 13:1). Peter speaks of the origin of brotherly love when he comments, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
This idea of brotherly love also comes out in how Christians commonly refer to one another as the “brethren” or “brother” or “sister.” That is following a Biblical example, not just a cultural manner of speaking.
Brotherly Love Verses Friendship.
What is the difference between “brotherly love” and regular friendship? It would be nice to just say that it is the greater love you have for your siblings than your friends, but the sad fact is that so many people have bad relationships with their siblings, that such a definition is confusing. Ideally, your siblings should be your closest friends in life except for your spouse.
The major difference between
Brotherly love and other relationships
Is the depth of the commitment.
Friendships come and go based on common interests and how close you live. For example, you might have friends at work, but you do not socialize with them other than that. Other friendships may revolve around a sport or hobby, but the relationship does not go beyond that. You also may be friends with those who live close by, but if they move away, it is rare that the relationship is maintained very long other than perhaps a Christmas card. There are certainly exceptions, and I am glad I have several such exceptions in my own life, but that is how most friendships work. There is a different dynamic that occurs among most siblings, even when they may not share other common interests or live nearby.
The lives of siblings intertwine because of shared heritage and memories and family obligations such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and funerals which force your continued interaction with them even if you live far apart. I live many miles from my brother and sisters. but when we talk, we immediately have an intimacy that does not exist with other friends. Family obligations also invoke the responsibility of caring for each other when hard times comes. Again, as Proverbs 17:17 points out, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Even though I live quite a ways from my brother and sisters, I know we would be there for each other if any of us faced trouble.
Within the Body of Christ
There is not only the idea
Of this greater commitment
To one another that should
Exist among siblings,
Since we are all
Brothers and sisters
By virtue of our common
Adoption into God’s family,
But beyond that is
The ideal of having
Loving relationships in
Which those obligations
Are carried out with joy
Because of our desire
To be with each other.
You want to be involved with your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.
This idea is strengthened by the word that is translated here as “be devoted.” It is another compound word combining “philos,” a word we looked at earlier and meaning love in the sense of affection, with the word “storge,” which we saw yesterday, which describes the love of family members for one another. Our brotherly love for one another is to have the commitment and affection of family members for one another.
As a living sacrifice who are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we are to learn to love without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil, and clinging to what is good. The practical outworking of this in our relationship with other Christians is this brotherly love which is marked by the same type of deep devotion and commitment that is supposed to exist within a family.
Preferring One Another.
How is such brotherly love and devotion demonstrated? Paul explains it in the supporting phrase at the end of verse 10 as “giving preference to one another in honor.” The concept here is that of “leading out in showing the way of giving mutual respect, admiration, and appreciation for one another.” We are not to wait for others to treat us well. We are to set the example that others will follow.
Philippians 2:3-4 gives greater definition of this concept. Paul begins that chapter by speaking of his desire for those in the Body of Christ to be working in harmony with one another. Then he says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is followed by his pointing to Jesus Christ as the example of this. Jesus left the glories of heaven in order to become a man and willingly die on the cross as the
substitute sacrifice for our sins. That is the ultimate example of humility and of self-sacrifice to meet the needs of others. And as Paul said in Romans 5:8, Jesus did this while were still in our sins. We were not deserving of it in any fashion, yet His love for even His enemies compelled Him to do this. How much more then should we sacrifice of our own pride and what we think are our rights in order to serve our Christian brothers and sisters. The reason that Christians struggle with being devoted to one another in brotherly love is their own pride. At the heart of pride is the idea that you are more important than other people.
That is why the proud person thinks other people should serve them. They think they deserve to be honored first, and afterward, they might condescend to show honor to someone else. This is common in the world, but it also occurs in the Church. Christians can think that they and what they do is more important than other believers and what they do.
It is not until we come to the Cross of Christ that we understand what we all really are – worthless sinners who have been saved by God’s grace. We are nothing in ourselves. All that we are at present is only because of God’s mercy in saving us from sin. What we will be in the future is only because of what Jesus Christ will do for His own glory through us.
Remember that even the ministry you have in serving God has been given to you according to His will. You are no more special in the Body of Christ than any other Christian though you have different gifts, different ministries, and different positions within the Body. Everyone is needed for the Body to function properly. We are to treat each other with that mutual respect and honor.
Do you consider the needs of others as more important than your own? The Christian is supposed to do that, and especially so when it comes to other believers. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The selfish person who sees life revolving around themselves has a great, if not impossible, struggle to do this. The Christian is to respond to God’s love for them in Christ by their own love for Jesus and their fellow man. They are to turn from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Life is no longer to be about their own will, but rather about seeing His will fulfilled. Their view of people is to change from what can they get out of them to what can they do to help them walk with God.
A Functioning Family.
A properly functioning family gives of themselves for the best interest of the rest of the family. Moms and dads sacrifice the things they could have had or done in order to care for their children. In fact, I find that most good moms and dads will do things for their children that they would not do for themselves. They train their children to behave that way with each other. I am blessed to come from such a family. My parents sacrificed a lot in order to do what was best for my brothers and I, and they taught us to do the same with each other.
I was blessed with a wonderful younger brother, who I am sure I greatly irritated at times, but he was always there to help me out if he could do so. He has also always been willing to share whatever he has with me even to this day. My sisters were at times very irritating, and we had quite a few fights growing up. As we got older, we matured and learned to get along better and appreciate each other more. I can’t recall ever even having an argument with them since we reached our late teens. I have always been proud of their achievements, even when they were better than my own. We all shared the name Davis, and anything good done by one member of the family was a good reflection on the rest of the family.
That is the way it is supposed to be in the family of God. Being devoted to one another in brotherly love requires the humility to let God do with you as He desires and to rejoice in whatever it is. It also means you rejoice in whatever God is doing in and through the lives of other believers. There is no room for jealously. Anything good done by one Christian is a cause of rejoicing for all Christians.
Another aspect of this brotherly love within the church is that we are to work through any problems that arise because of that mutual love for God and for one another. Friendships too often end when there is a disagreement. Serious conflict can even turn friends into enemies. When that happens in the church, it dishonors God; yet it happens too often among those who profess to love Him.
In a few das we will be examining the end of Romans 12 and how to deal with conflict and enemies, but for now, if you are in conflict with other Christians, or have had friendships end because of them, then you need to be praying about what you will do to resolve the conflict and restore broken relationships. Every Christian is to be devoted to one another in brotherly love which is demonstrated in showing preference for one another in honor. Don’t wait for them, you are to take the lead in being a living sacrifice for God and doing this.
This command does not mean that every Christian will be your best buddy or that you have to share your heart with every other Christian. There are different levels of intimacy and relationship even within a family, so there are different levels within the church. Issues such as common interests, personality and trust affect how deep of a relationship we develop with other people. However, in the family of God, all Christians are to have the commitment of getting along with one another and seeking each other’s best interest. That is the nature of the true love that we are to have for God and one another.
Are you devoted to other believers with brotherly love? Are you showing preference to them in honor?
In verse 11 Paul addresses the diligence by which we are to pursue not only what he has already talked about, but what remains in the chapter as well. The first phrase of verse 11 is translated as “not lagging behind in diligence;” however, the force of the phrase is a little stronger if it is translated a little more wooden, “the diligence is not slothful.” It is not so much that diligence is something that we are to work up and make sure we are not lagging behind in doing, but that being a living sacrifice acceptable to God requires that we are diligent without any laziness in our seeking and serving Him.
The word translated “diligence” here, literally means “haste,” “zeal,” “eagerness,” or “earnestly.” The core idea is that the person quickly responds in earnestness to accomplish, promote, or strive after whatever is being requested. It is how parents would like their children to respond to their commands and how your boss would like you to respond to his instructions. When you are in charge of getting something done, you would like those under your authority to quickly respond and accomplish what you tell them.
The word translated as “not lagging,” can be translated as “slothful,” “lazy,” or “shrinking.” It is the idea of someone who hesitates and delays in responding or doing what is required, and hence someone who is irksome or troublesome.
The two words strengthen each other because they are opposites. Someone who is diligent is not lazy, and someone who hesitates, or delays, is not zealous or eager. Christians are to be marked by a quickness to respond to God’s will as they learn it because they love Him and desire to follow Him. We should be eager to learn more of God and what He desires from us, and then earnestly seek to change to match. As living sacrifices who are being transformed by the renewing of their mind, we are not to be slothful in being diligent to carry out God’s will as quickly as we learn it.
One reason for this diligence is that we know that our lives here are short. We are like grass which flowers and then quickly withers (1 Peter 2:24). We have a limited amount of time to accomplish something with our lives, so we follow Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 5:16 to be wise in making the most of our time, because the days are evil.
Being Zealous in Spirit.
This diligence is driven by the fact that believers are to be zealous in spirit. The word “zealous” here is a transliteration of the Greek word. It means to “boil” or “to be hot” and thus came to mean “fervent.” The Christians’ soul has been touched by the Spirit of God which has given him purpose, meaning and hope in life. We have exciting news to tell the world. God has made a way for man to be forgiven his sin and dwell with God forever in heaven. The result of that should be enthusiasm for serving God with your life.
Complacency and indifference are two of the great evils that can destroy a church. History shows that persecution rarely destroys the church, though it can often destroy buildings and it can drive believers away from certain areas. Usually, the church will grow under persecution, though it may be driven “underground,” and meetings of believers have to become clandestine. It is complacency and indifference that usually causes churches to die.
If you are content with the current state, there is a natural resistance to any changes including having new people to join you since they might cause problems. If you are indifferent to the fact that your neighbors are under God’s condemnation and are bound for hell, you have little reason to go out of your way to tell them the gospel. When the gospel is no longer being proclaimed, there is little reason left for the church’s existence. A church that becomes indifferent to the lost will also be a church that has left its first love of Christ, and that will tolerate heresy and impurity. Some of Jesus’ strongest words in Revelation 2 and 3 were for the church at Laodicea that had become “lukewarm.” He said He would “spit them out” of his mouth.
Christians are to be zealous, fervent, enthusiastic about serving the Lord. It should thrill us just to consider the fact that God, the sovereign and holy creator of everything, not only wants us to serve Him, but has equipped us with spiritual gifts to do so. Our lives can count for eternity. This does not mean that Christians cannot get discouraged, for sometimes what the Lord desires us to do is tough, consider the task He gave Jeremiah, but even then, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:58, we are to, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” A person who is enthusiastic will also be diligent.
Serving the Lord.
The second reason Paul gives for our diligence without any laziness is in recognition of our position and whom we are serving. We are not serving mere men. We are serving God Himself who is our master. The word used here stresses this relationship in service.
Paul uses three different words related to serving in this chapter . . .
- The word used back in verse 1 referred to our service done as a response of worship of God.
- The word used in verse 7 refers to the practical means by which service of God is carried out.
- Here in verse 11, the particular word used for “serving” refers to “service as a bond-slave.”
A bond-slave willingly subjugated his own desires for that of doing his master’s will out of his love for him. The service given was done willingly without any resentment, and hence would be done diligently without any hesitation.
God has provided for our salvation from sin through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The reasonable response to that is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices acceptable to God. We resist the pressure of the world to have us continue to live sinfully, and instead we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ as our minds are renewed through God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. The practical results of these are to be seen in the godly development of our character.
Regardless of whatever you were like before becoming a follower of Christ, now that you are a Christian, your life is changing. It is to be increasingly marked by love without hypocrisy which abhors evil and clings to what is good. It develops relationships with other believers in which the devotion of brotherly love is demonstrated by the preference shown for one another in honor. The needs of others are becoming more important to you than your own. All these things are done with diligence because the Spirit of God has touched your life giving you something to be enthusiastic about. There is nothing more wonderful than having the privilege of having your life count for
eternity through serving the Lord, your master, with whatever gift of gifts He has given you in whatever ministry He opened for you.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”