Romans Lesson 128 - Catching the Right Bus
The Apostle Paul gives us a simple challenge in Romans 12:9 that could change our homes, our churches, and our world if we would take it seriously. "Abhor what is evil
Catching the Right Bus
A few weeks ago someone sent me the Darwin Awards for this past year. These awards are called the Darwin awards because they are bestowed upon, tongue in cheek, the least evolved human beings for acts of stupidity, usually.
This past year there were several winners:
A teenager ended up in the hospital to recover from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he got the injuries, the young man told police that he was trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before being hit . . . and he’s a winner.
In Ann Arbor, a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti early one morning, flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. “You’re gonna have to order breakfast first,” he told the would-be robber. So the man looked at the menu and then said, “Well, I’ll have the onion rings.” To which the clerk said, “Sorry, onion rings aren’t available for breakfast – that’s a lunch item.” To which the robber, totally frustrated by now, simply turned and walked away. He’s a winner.
As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. She immediately called 911 and gave a detailed description of the purse snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the guy. They put him in the car and drove back to the store, where the woman was waiting, just a few blocks away. The thief was then taken out of the police car and told to stand there so they could make a positive identification, to which he immediately said, “Yes, sir, officer, that’s the woman.” He’s a winner.
One more . . almost too hard to believe! A bus driver who was transporting 20 patients from a mental hospital in one city to another, stopped en-route for a drink – which was against the law and his employee regulations. While inside, only briefly, all 20 patients escaped. When he realized his bus was empty, not wanting to admit what he’d done, he went to a nearby bus-stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, but first whispered to the medical staff that these particular patients believed they were actually healthy and living normal lives. The deception was finally uncovered . . . after 3 days!
I don’t know who gets the award for this one – the medical staff who couldn’t figure it out, or the people who took three days to prove they didn’t belong there.
Three days! That would be tough though wouldn’t it? How would you explain it?
“Listen, I’m not supposed to be here . . . I was standing at a bus stop when I was offered a free ride . . . I really do work for IBM; I really do own a house in Cary or Raleigh or Chapel Hill. I really am a student at Duke . . . I know, had I been in my right mind I would have gone to Carolina!
What could you say to prove your sanity?
Maybe it would take three days . . maybe the medical staff had a right to be suspicious.
Suppose you had to prove to someone that you were a Christian.
How long would that take – 3 hours - 3 days – 3 weeks?
What would you say to prove it?
“I’m in church aren’t I?”
Or, how about, “I know the Bible starts with the Book of Genesis and ends with the Book of Romans.”
Those won’t work.
Maybe you’d be say, “Hey look, buster, I’m a Christian because Christ saved me, whether you believe it not!”
That would be effective.
According to the Apostle James, the declaration that we have saving faith is not as critical to a watching world, than a demonstration of saving faith.
We can gather in this auditorium every day of the week and declare we have been born again . . . then go outside, wear sandwich boards with Bible verses all over them, but it won’t provide any real evidence to a world, desperately in need of an authentic demonstration.
What they need is a believer who says, “I belong to God and look! I am pursuing God-likeness.” We call that “godliness.”
But what is godliness?
Defining godliness is a little like trying to define sanity; everybody has a different definition, right?
That’s why Romans 12 is so critical to understand. You discover the Apostle Paul moving from a declaration of Christianity (chapters 1-11) into a demonstration of Christianity in chapter 12 and following.
Romans 12:9 reveals to us the authentic demonstration of God’s character.
Here’s how you know you caught the right bus . . . and you’re headed down the right road.
In the last few verses of this chapter, Paul delivers in rapid fire delivery one statement after another that defines authentic, godly living.
You can’t miss it! In fact, the trouble we will have with this closing paragraph is not that we don’t believe it, but that we refuse to demonstrate it.
In verse 9, Paul delivers three short, staccato statements which begin his inspired thoughts.
The first statement reveals the principle characteristic of godliness.
A. The Principle characteristic of Godliness:
Paul writes, “Let love be without hypocrisy”
It’s little wonder that Paul would begin with love.
To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Then he goes on to describe the actions of love and ends his thoughts by saying, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is what? Love!” (I Corinthians 13:1-3; 13)
Why is love the greatest? Because faith will not last forever – one day it will cease to exist. Hope will also one day be done away.
But love will last forever.
So in Paul’s list of actions that demonstrate authentic godly living, it makes sense then in Romans 12 that this greatest, highest, eternal quality would also be listed first.
Would you notice, Paul says, “love like this – love without hypocrisy” – hupokrites – a reference to Greek actors.
The theater of Paul’s generation did not use elaborate sets and costumes and lighting. There wasn’t any background or scenery.
The actors carried masks so that the audience could easily see whether the character was tragic, comic or melodramatic. The actor walked about the stage carrying his mask.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1982), p. 61
Paul, in effect, was saying, don’t put up a mask of love and yet be unloving in your actions. Don’t be an actor, playing the role of lover, while acting otherwise.
Don’t be the like the Christian who, D. L. Moody used to say, “Was always talking cream, but living skim milk.”
William R. Newell, Romans (Moody Press, 1938), p. 469
Take down the mask . . . and love . . . for real.
This is the love word – agape. The word spurned by secular writers of Paul’s day as boring. They used eros – for sexual love; or philia – for brotherly affection; or storge – for parental love . . . not agape. It was considered unfeeling and cold.
The truth is, it was.
As we learned in our summer series, agape was the word for an intellectual commitment – a decision of the will to give your life for the best interests of the object of your agape.
A young man who tells a young woman that he loves her will want her for a wife, not for a night.
That’s eros . . . this is agape – it is love for keeps.
When I perform weddings I usually refer to this kind of love as I inform the couple standing before me in their beautiful regalia that they are standing at the altar not because they fell in love with one another. They sort of look at me . . . I go on to say, “In fact, this entire wedding has nothing to do with you falling in love with each other.”
By now, they’re wondering why they asked me to do their wedding.
I quickly add – “You have planned this wedding – this moment - because you have chosen to love each other. That’s agape. And agape is love which has made up its mind.
There is no hypocrisy . . . you’re not acting . . . it’s for keeps.
So also in the church – this love is for real. No fooling . . . no faking; no acting! You’re not driven by emotion or fever or fantasy . . . you’ve chosen to love and you have walked into the Christian family with your eyes wide open!
Paul says, “love each other like that.”
That is the greatest demonstration of godliness.
In fact, Jesus Christ said the same thing to his disciples. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you “agape” one another.” (John 13:35)
Do you know what He just did? He just told us that the world now has the ability to determine if we’re godly or not.
By this shall all men know that you are following after me – which is tantamount to saying, following after the character of God – which is to say, pursuing godliness.
Hey, everybody is going to know if you’re the genuine item or not, by the way you make up your mind to love each other.
To look out for one another’s interests. To serve each other.
Did it work?
Minucuis Felix, a Roman attorney living in the generation of this Roman church wrote, “They love each other even without being acquainted with each other.”
Felix said, “if you can imagine this – they don’t even know anything about each other, but as soon as they discover they each belong to Christ, they instantly are committed to one another.”
Julian, the Apostate, a Roman emperor in the 4th century who hated Christ – said in derision of Christians, “Their teacher has implanted the belief in them that they are all related.”
The principle characteristic of godliness is love, one for another.
B. The Price of Godliness: abhor evil
Now Paul gives us the price of godliness. It’s a two-sided coin. One side is negative and the other positive.
Notice first, “abhor what is evil.”
Abhor what is evil.
Abhor appears only here in the entire New Testament.
It’s a strong term that can be translated “hate or loathing.”
Moffatt translates it, “Regard evil with horror.” Williams emphasizes the present tense of this participle by translating it to read, “You must always turn in horror from what is wrong.”
Ralph Earle Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker, 1974), p.201
Wait a minute . . .why would the Apostle Paul need to tell the believer to hate evil . . . to abhor sin?”
Because the truth remains, becoming a Christian doesn’t automatically mean you gonna hate sin.
In fact, one of the traps for the Christian today is that we are surrounded by so much evil and sin that we get used to it.
Martin Luther, in his little commentary on Romans said the truth is “we are [even as believers] inclined to what is evil,” that’s why Paul wrote this.
Martin Luther, Romans: Translated by J Theodore Mueller (Kregel Classics, 1954), p. 174
In fact, sometimes a Christian will approve of it;
We tend to manage evil, not abhor it. We schedule time for evil and flirt with evil and see how close we can come to it’s flame;
We don’t want to offend evil or criticize evil . . . we dialogue with it and talk it over. We re-assure evil that we’re not judgmental or all that different.
Sometimes we buy a ticket to see evil or pay monthly to watch evil and we applaud when evil wins the girl or when evil seduces the man or when evil gets away with its crimes;
Sometimes we give evil our business card and invite it to call;
Sometimes we log-on to evil; sometimes we lust after evil and fantasize for evil things and decide to meet evil someplace, sometime.
Sometimes we walk through the doors of evil or subscribe to it or sign up for it.
We sit with evil and laugh at its stories.
We hide evil and manage evil and in our secret world, we plan evil in our minds and play with evil in our hearts.
This is what it means to catch the wrong bus . . . let me warn you Christian . . . you’ve traveling on the wrong bus . . . and you are not on the road to god-likeness, you are on the road to god-lessness.
You know why Paul wrote this to Christians?
Because, like the great pastor of yesteryear, Charles Spurgeon, we confess our propensity toward evil as he did, in print no less, “There are times when my imagination has taken me down to the sewers of earth. Sometimes when I feel the most devoted to God, and the most earnest in prayer, it often happens that at that very moment, the plague breaks out the worst.”
Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 556
Ladies and Gentlemen, sometimes the Christian can get on the wrong bus. And then you’re gonna have to try and explain why you don’t belong there . . . wherever it ends up.
Part of the pursuit of godliness is in the process of thinking differently about sin. This is part of the process of becoming God-like. When we are godly we will develop a horror and distaste and hatred for sin.
Leslie Flynn tells the story of a mother who was peeling vegetables for a salad when her daughter, home from college, casually mentioned she was going to a rather questionable movie later that evening. Without saying anything, the mother picked up a handful of garbage and dropped it into the mixing bowl and just kept on stirring. The shocked girl said, “Mother, you’re putting garbage in the salad.” “I know,” she replied, “but I thought that if you allowed a little garbage in your mind, you wouldn’t mind a little in your stomach.”
Ibid, p. 556
What kind of evil have we allowed, when we should be abhorred.
I read recently an article that ran in the New York Times. An aerosol propellant with tri-chlorethane was used the spray cans of a household cleaner. It was toxic when used improperly.
In the early 80’s, high-school and college students discovered that they could get high by spraying the cleaner into a plastic bag and breathing the propellant fumes. At least one student died. So the company put on the label a warning of “death or serious injury if this product is inhaled.” Still liability claims kept coming in. Finally the company brass met with their attorneys to come up with a warning that would make a difference. They suggested making the label larger, but that was rejected because the youth would only assume there was now more propellant in the product. One attorney sparked the solution when he asked, “What do people fear more than death or injury?” Another answered, “How they look is of utmost importance.” So they devised a new warning that sniffing this product could disfigure the face. Which is true . . . nothing disfigures the face like death, right?
So the new warning read, “Inhaling this product may cause facial disfigurement.” And the abuse of that product ceased entirely.
They weren’t afraid of death. They weren’t troubled by possible injury. But they were terrified of being disfigured.
What terrifies you about sin?
The ugly consequences of sin? Painful loss? Disease? Addiction? Exposure? Death?
Would you note that Paul does not say that the person who is pursuing godliness – the transformed life – abhors the consequences of sin – he abhors sin.
Yes, we might hate the consequences of sin . . . but the process of becoming godly is evidenced by the development of hatred for sin itself, no matter what the consequences may be.
The principle quality of godliness is love; the price of godliness is the exclusion of and staying away from and hatred of sin. The average Christian is not willing to pay that price. It is refusing to take a ride on the bus that goes anywhere near sin.
As one early church leader said, “Yes, we call out to God for deliverance from the tempestuous waves of temptation, but we also row away from the rocks.”
Now let’s turn over the coin and notice the positive aspect of this price we must expend if we are to become godly.
First, abhor what is evil,
Now this . . . Paul writes, “cling to what is good.”
You might wonder, “what is good.”
It’s everything you’re reading in this paragraph. In fact, it is the very same thing you learn to discover as your mind is transformed by the word of God. So that you are able, verse 2 of this same chapter tell what is good . . . and that which is good will be acceptable to God . . . and that which is acceptable to God is pure.
Whatever is acceptable to God and pure is good.
Cling to that . . . pursue that . . . and you will be pursuing the character of Christ.
Cling to it. Kollwmenoi - it means to glue or cement together. To join firmly.
Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT (Regency, 1976), p. 376
The Bible doesn’t just tell us what not to do – stay away from evil; it tells what to do – stay close to good.
This is the same word used of Phillip who was told to go up to the Ethopian’s chariot and join himself to it . . . in other words, get in the chariot. You and the chariot go in the same direction at the same time.
This is also the same verb which you discover in the Greek Old Testament which describes what a man does when he marries his bride. He is to leave his mother and father and cleave – that’s the same word – he is to cleave to his wife (Genesis 2:24)
He becomes one with his wife. His wife becomes his priority relationship. Mother and father and everyone else no longer take precedence or priority. Everything takes second place to that marital union. The husband and wife are cemented/glued together.
This is the picture of the believer and good. Cleaving to good. Cemented to good . . . desirous of good above all others and everything else. Anything that is not good is not to stick to the hands and heart of the believer.
In other words, Paul is saying that the believer who desires to be godly will avoid evil and be attached to good.
Two principles of final application:
1. This principle characteristic of godliness is not optional, it is essential.
Without love, you cannot demonstrate godliness to the world.
2. The price of godliness is not partial, it is comprehensive.
The original language in Paul’s letter implies the comprehensiveness of this subject. Everything that is evil, avoid; everything that is good, cling to.
The pursuit of godliness involves everything you are, everything you have and everything you do.
We sing it, but do we recognize the comprehensive nature of the godly call.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!
While visiting in Haiti in the early 1900’s, Dale Hayes heard a pastor illustrate to his congregation the need for a total pursuit of Christ-likeness . . . nothing held back. He told of a man he knew who wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man badly wanted it, but couldn’t afford the full price. After much haggling over the price, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the asking price with one stipulation; he would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the front door. The man agreed. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the other man refused. They had settled on the price and the he owned the house, all except for that one nail. So, the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from that single nail he still owned, just over the front door. It wasn’t long before the house became uninhabitable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail. The Haitian pastor went on to illustrate; giving ourselves to Christ must be comprehensive . . . we dare not leave one small nail for the enemy to control, we must give our entire house to Christ.
This is the message of verse 9. Love – comprehensively – nothing held back.
Abhor evil . . . not most of it . . . clean house . . . get rid of all of it. Don’t leave even the smallest nail for the enemy to manipulate. You can’t imagine what he can do with one small nail-hold in your heart!
And cling to what is good . . . not a passing fancy; this is not a one night stand – this is a wedding – this is a marriage where, as God is your witness, you cleave to that which is good.
Do this, and you will be riding along a road that will be marked by your own demonstration of godliness.
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