In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul challenges us to stop believing society's self-preserving, self-serving criteria for relationships, and start demonstrating to the world that real love "God's love "goes far beyond greeting cards and the golden rule.
Beyond Greeting Cards and the Golden Rule
On March 11, 1830, a little British girl was doing her lessons with her tutor. Up to that point, this little girl certainly realized that she was a member of a wealthy family – with advantages and luxuries that many others did not have. But on this particular day, the lesson had to do with the royal family. As she studied the genealogical chart in her history book, she suddenly became aware of the astounding fact that she was next in line for the throne. It struck her young mind for the first time, that she would one day be Queen of Great Britain. At first, little Victoria wept with the sudden wave of responsibility and privilege. Then through her tears, she looked up at her tutor and with great determination delivered those immortalized words, “If I shall be queen, then I will be good!”
Adapted from Warren Wiersbe, Live Like A King (Moody Press, 1976), p. 141
At that moment, the future Queen Victoria grasped the relationship between where she would sit with how she should act. It dawned on her, that who she was going to be, should affect what she was going to be like.
In the Book of Romans, Paul has developed a relationship between who we are (chapter 1-11) with how we act (chapter 12-16).
It’s as if he wants it to dawn on us . . . we are heirs of the grace of God . . . we must act . . . now . . . with grace!
Paul began his practical comments in verse 3, “For through the grace given to me, I say . . .”
In other words, “I am the recipient of grace” GRACE can be defined simply as God’s unmerited favor. We don’t deserve grace . . .but we have a relationship with a gracious God – now, Paul is about to announce the most radical idea – he is about to give concrete illustrations where we are to be gracious with everyone else. That there is a relationship with who we are/how we act; between how we’ve been treated by God and how we treat everyone else.
Look at verse 14 to the end of the chapter (um, don’t get the idea that we’re gonna cover it all today – there’s no way) . . . but I want you to get a sense of this radical grace at work.
14. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. 15. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20. But if your enemy is hungry, feed Him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is what I want to call in this series of studies The Grace Factor. This is the dynamic of grace . . . this is what should dawn on us all – we have inherited unmerited, undeserved favor from God . . . now we become people marked in our lives, our conversations, our activities, our relationships as giving grace to people who might not deserve it either.
Let me repeat it as simply as I can . . . we are sons and daughters of a gracious God . . . therefore we should become gracious people.
I am convinced that the distinction between playing church and living out true Christianity is this ingredient . . . this grace factor.
Having received grace from God, we turn around and pour out grace on everyone else.
And in case you’re wondering who “everyone else” might be, Paul introduces us immediately to three individuals.
Someone who is causing you heartache.
Someone who is experiencing heartache.
- Someone who is enjoying happiness.
- Someone who is experiencing heartache.
Let’s take a closer look at the first one.
Paul dares to suggest in verse 14. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.
This is one of those verses you read and say, “Yeah right . . . Paul doesn’t expect me to take this literally, does he? This verse must be for people like Paul.”
I can’t imagine Paul is saying to you and me, “Here’s how you respond . . . expect this kind of treatment . . . stick it out . . . but more than that, respond with grace.”
But he is!
Our nature is to do anything but that, right?
That’s why we nod our heads in agreement at bumper stickers that say things like:
Don’t get mad, get what? get even!
Do unto others before they do it unto you.
You need to understand that Paul is summarizing something Jesus Christ had said earlier . . . we know it as the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Which happens to be a radical departure from human nature.
In fact, it might be the greatest test of grace!
In His sermon on the Mount the Lord amplified that Golden rule with enough illustrations that no one could miss it.
He said, recorded by Luke, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. . .” (Luke 6:27-28)
Listen, nowhere in pre-Christian Greek literature is there any reference to blessing an enemy.
Blessing is from the verb eulogeo which gives us our word eulogy. You don’t say kind things about an enemy – even when he dies. To eulogize a living enemy is unprecedented in both the Greek and Jewish worlds – and in our world.
Adapted from Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1996), p. 781
But the world has had some commendable versions of how to treat enemies.
500 years before Jesus Christ preached His sermon on the mount, Confucius and his disciples declared that the one word which should be a rule for life was reciprocation. Confucius supposedly said it this way, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” That was the common wisdom – Socrates had said basically the same thing – as did Philo, the first century philosopher and theologian.
Adapted from Haddon W. Robinson, The Solid Rock Construction Company (Discovery House, 1989), p. 110
But that was not was Jesus Christ was saying at all.
You do not live by reciprocating whatever anybody does to you . . . according to Christ, the one word you live by is – grace.
In that same sermon on the mount – in fact, why don’t you turn to that radical new way of living which Paul is summarizing in Romans 12. Go back to Matthew chapter 5. The Lord will not only deliver the golden rule, but He will challenge us to go beyond it.
Notice verse 41. Whoever will force you to go one mile, go with him two.
During the days of Christ, the law of the land gave a Roman soldier the right to force a citizen to carry his gear for one mile. The Jews especially hated this practice, not only because it interrupted their day, but because they had to help their oppressors . . . not to mention touching the things belonging to an unclean Gentile.
Jesus said, “If you get drafted into carrying his gear for one milion – which gives us our word for mile, say to that Roman, something like this, “Because I belong to Jesus Christ, I will be willing to not only carry your gear for one mile, but I’ll go beyond your law and carry your stuff another mile.”
Look back at verse 40. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
Even the law of Moses didn’t allow for someone to take someone’s coat – that was an important garment that doubled as a blanket in the cold night.
But Christ was saying to be willing to be defrauded not only of your tunic- your undergarment, but the very thing which will keep you warm at night.
In other words, when it comes to your property and your liberty, take the radical step of bestowing grace upon an enemy. They don’t deserve it . . . in fact, you are going beyond what anyone would ever expect you to do.
Look back at verse 38. You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, you know about the normal law of the land which is reciprocity . . . do unto others as they have done unto you, right?
Verse 39. But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
What does he mean . . . that you should go around looking for a beating?
No . . . the Lord is referring to something that is easily lost in our culture.
Let me illustrate this demonstration of being slapped on the right cheek, by asking for a volunteer to join me up here.
Volunteer comes forward . . .
By the way, I’m gonna do the slapping . . . you’re gonna give me grace, okay?
This won’t hurt . . . for very long.
Now, friends, look at the text again – whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other.
The average reader and person on the planet is right handed. So if I really want to let my friend here have it, I’ll use my right hand and slap him in the face – the only problem is I’m going to be slapping him on which cheek? I’m right handed – which means he gets hit on the left cheek.
How could I, a right handed person – which would be the normal context here – slap him on the right cheek? There’s only one way, to reverse my direction and use the back of my hand.
What Christ is referring to here is not an attack on one’s body, but an attack on one’s honor.
A back-handed slap was considered a terrible indignity . . . to be treated with disdain. It wouldn’t hurt as much as it would embarrass . . . and bring shame.
Christ is effectively saying we should be willing to be ridiculed for His sake.
THANK YOU FOR NOT SWINGING BACK!
So what the Lord is saying is that we, as sons and daughters of the king, should be willing to be dishonored and mocked and ridiculed and shamed and when someone does something like that to us, we are to turn the other cheek – in other words, we are to accept it, again and again and again and again.
But that’s not natural is it? It is our nature to retaliate. To dish it back!
I read the hilarious story that appeared in Billy Martin’s autobiography. Billy Martin was the rather volatile manager of several professional baseball teams, including the Yankees. I’ve heard several versions of this story, but finally found the source and the original true story in his autobiography. He and his friend Mickey Mantle were going hunting in Texas. Mickey Mantle had a friend who would let them hunt on his ranch. When they reached the ranch, Mickey told Billy Martin to wait in the car while he checked in with this wealthy rancher. Mantle’s friend quickly gave them permission to hunt on his property, but he asked Mickey a favor. He said, “Mickey, I have a pet mule in the barn who is getting old; he’s already deaf and is going blind . . . I don’t have the heart to put him out of his misery . . . would you shoot him for me?” Mickey agreed.
He then went running back to car pretending to be really angry. He slammed the car door and said, “I can’t believe it . . . that old man won’t let us hunt on his property . . . we’ve come all this way for nothing.” Billy said, “You’re kidding?” No . . . and I’m so mad I’m gonna go in his barn and shoot one of his mules!” And he slammed the gas pedal down and went racing for the barn. Martin protested, “You can’t do that . . . we’ll get in a lot of trouble.” Mantle replied, “So what . . . just watch me.” When they reached the barn, Mantle jumped out of the car with his rifle, ran inside and shot the mule. As he was running back, he heard two shots and saw Martin running for the car. “What are you doing?” Mickey Mantle yelled as Billy dove into the car, his face red with anger. “I helped you show that old man . . . I shot two of his cows.”
Leadership Magazine, citation by Scott Bowerman, Bishopville, South Carolina
That’s the law of the land . . . the law of the sin nature . . . do unto others as they do unto you . . . don’t just sit there and take anything off anybody.
How many Christians have said,
“I’m praying that God will give me another job, because people at my job mock my faith . . .they make fun of me . . . I’m sure God doesn’t want me to have to go through this” . . . or;
“I’m never gonna speak to that family member again because they don’t like me . . . they made fun of me . . . they don’t appreciate me” . . . or;
“I’m changing schools because there are students who pick on me here, and ridicule me . . . make fun of my religion”. . . or;
“I’m moving to another apartment because my neighbors know I won’t retaliate to the things they say or do because I’m a Christian and I’m not going to take it any more, so I’m moving away.”
Paul summarizes the teaching of the Lord Jesus in Romans 12:14. by challenging us to do the unthinkable . . . unimaginable . . . to move beyond the Golden rule and bless those who persecute you; bless (eulogize) and curse not.
Verse 15 introduces us to two more individuals or scenarios. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
The earlier verse had the definite article which referred to specific people who were persecuting the believer. In this verse, there are no articles defining any person specifically . . . Paul is simply saying, “rejoice with rejoicing ones! It’s an imperative – you could write an exclamation point after each phrase. Weep with weeping ones (exclamation point).
Adapted from R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, (Augsburg Publishing, 1936), p. 774
Christianity does not strip the believer of emotion . . . whether it’s laughter or crying.
One author wrote perceptively these words, “Christianity is neither denying life’s hardships, nor dulling life’s excitements. Our perspective of eternity in Christ frees us to enter into the full variety of living. Both laughter and tears are appropriate before God.
Grant Osborne, Ed. Life Application Commentary: Romans, (Tyndale House, 1992), p. 241
Think of it . . . God Himself has experienced both! He celebrated at the wedding feast at Cana . . . we have no reason to believe He showed up and told them to pipe down . . . it was His sense of humor that responded with sarcastic humor toward the religionists of His day.
For the believer who will demonstrate the grace factor, he is introduced by Paul to the second person . . . one who is rejoicing. And Paul says we are to rejoice with the rejoicing ones.
Frankly, it’s easier to weep with the sorrowful, than rejoice with the successful.
Especially when we aren’t enjoying the same success.
You can cry with someone you work with when they lose their job; but it’s altogether harder to rejoice when they get promoted over you. “You won’t believe it, I’m your new boss!” “Well, praise the Lord.”
You ever noticed in Sunday School that prayer requests far outnumber praise reports. You can get downright sick of those . . . to hear that so and so got a raise? That’ll make your arthritis flare up for sure.
Maturing in grace means that if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with him (I Corinthians 12:26). To adopt the attitude of Paul who wrote, “My joy is when you have joy (2 Corinthians 2:3b)
The opposite of rejoicing with those who rejoice is what? Envying those who rejoice, right?!
Competing with those who rejoice.
Avoiding those who rejoice.
Resenting those who rejoice.
Why is it Lord that your hand of blessing is always on the other person?!
Maybe for you this is the greatest test of grace.
You can console, but you cannot congratulate!
You’re not alone in that struggle . . . listen as Paul instructs the church through Titus, “For we also were foolish ourselves . . . spending our livers in malice and envy . . . but when the kindness of God our savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us . . . that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life . . . so be careful to engage in good deeds . . .avoiding controversies and strife and disputes . . . (Titus 3).
Did you catch that . . . you are heirs by the grace of God so avoid envy and strife and disputes.
Like little Victoria . . . let it dawn on us that we are royal heirs to the throne . . . and we shall be good!
Demonstrate graciousness . . . rejoice with those who are rejoicing . . . ask God to cleanse your motives and your heart of envy and practice selflessness . . . it will be awkward and difficult . . . but it is a command – which means we can.
The problem is never a matter of can’t, it is a matter of won’t.
Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do most of the things through Christ who strengthens me.” . . . no . . . “I can do all things – how – through Christ who enables me.”
Paul now introduces us to the third person in this text: Paul continues with another imperative – “and weep with those who weep!” (12:15b)
This is going beyond get well cards, though they’re nice to get in the mail.
These are the friends who painted the home of a single mother, abandoned by her husband. I heard the story only recently, how they went into her house while she was away for the weekend and fixed everything, painted everything, cleaned everything.
This is the woman who came over and cut and styled the hair of a widow.
This is the group of guys who showed up to mow the grass of a terminally ill man.
This is entering into the world of suffering and caring.
This is the Lord showing up at the funeral of Lazarus. And he did not say . . . “Wipe those tears off your face . . . what kind of Christian are you anyway? Where’s your faith. Don’t you believe in heaven . . . c’mon, buck up!”
No . . . large tears formed in His eyes and rolled down his weathered cheeks – He the man’s man, if there ever was one, entered into the weeping of those who were weeping.
Jesus Christ never ran from people in grief.
Larry Richards, General Ed. Romans: God’s Word for the Biblically-inept Series (Starburst Publishers, 2000), p. 184
He embraced them and wept with them.
Isaiah called the Messiah, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief . . . surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried . . . (Isaiah 53:3-4)
By the way, He’s still doing that for His people today.
Did you know that to this day, He is still touched with the feelings of your infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).
Until that day when sorrows will cease and grief will be no more.
These are the three people Paul introduces to us – and our gracious response to all three:
To the one who is experiencing happiness –
They may not feel they need grace at the moment – but you share it with them as you set your own lot in life aside and celebrate their success.
Secondly, to the one who is experiencing heartache –
They do not feel grace, they may think grace has departed forever, but you remind them of it and demonstrate it as you enter into their sorrow;
Third, to the one who is actually you heartache . . . your enemy –
they do not deserve grace, but you offer it . . . because you understand that grace is best given when given to those who are undeserving.
By the way, don’t ever forget that the man writing this letter to the Roman church saw this grace factor acted out in living color. Paul had stood by when Stephen was being stoned to death by enraged people after preaching his first and last recorded sermon on the glory of Christ. Just before Stephen passed out and died, Paul heard Stephen pray, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
I’m sure he would never forget that.
In fact, the great theologian, St. Augustine, wrote in the 4th century these words, “The church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”
James Boice, Romans: Volume 4, (Baker, 1995), p. 1609
Paul was moved along toward faith in Christ, by supernatural graciousness in the face of murderous hatred.
There’s no telling who will be brought into the body, because of your contagious grace.
Watchman Nee, a Chinese leader and author of the last generation, told the story of a Chinese Christian he knew who owned a rice paddy next to one owned by an atheist, communist. The atheist scorned his Christian neighbor and wanted nothing to do with Christ. This Christian farmer irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal next to his field. He used one of those leg-operated pumps that make the user appear to be seated on a bicycle. Every day, after several hours of pumping, his rice paddy would be covered with water . . . but when he left his field, his neighbor would remove some boards that kept the water in the Christian’s field and let all the water flow down into his own field. This way, he wouldn’t have to labor at his own pump.
This continued, day after day . . . the Christian struggled with anger and resentment until he finally prayed, “Lord, if this keeps up, I’m going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I have a family to care for . . . this isn’t right or fair . . . what shall I do?”
In answer to his request, the Lord impressed upon his mind a challenge to apply the truth of this text. The next morning he arose much earlier than usual, in the predawn hours of darkness and removed the boards from his field. He then started pumping water into the field of his neighbor. Then, he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice field. IN a few weeks, both fields of rice were thriving . . . and the communist, atheist came to faith in Jesus Christ.
That testimony was too unnatural to be dismissed . . . to gracious to be ignored.
He, and we like him, have ample opportunities to act out who we are . . . as it dawns on us . . . it dawns on us . . . we are in line to reign with Christ . . . we, the royal sons and daughters of God are in line for the throne!
So then . . . we shall be good!
We will act who we are . . . in the presence of suffering . . .
in the presence of success . . . in the presence of sorrow . . .
we could choose to avoid it all or run from it all or ignore it all . . . but instead we choose to endure it and enter into it and embrace it and thus demonstrate to all, this amazing dynamic of grace.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,