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Little Christs In This World

The Gospel in Romans  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  31:51
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Little Christs In This World

When you noticed this title, you may have been a little surprised at the idea of “little Christs in this world.” What, are they all over the place? Are there a bunch of little Jesuses underfoot? Do we need to watch where we step? Are they in our way? Well, you know that’s pretty facetious.
I can use the term “little Christs” because of the meaning of the world Christian, which is variously defined as “having the likeness or of Christ.” Or “a believer in Christ,” but even more importantly, “An individual who seeks to live his or her life according to the principles and values taught by Jesus Christ.”

Bookends of Good in an Evil World

When we are surrounded by so much evil in the world, how can we possibly make a difference?
This passage, Romans 12:9-21, reminds us of not just qualities but actions that Christians, literally “little Christs”, should be doing is all about relationships.
Here is the framework:
in verse 9b, Paul says,

Verse 9b: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Then, at the end of this paragraph, verse 21,

Verse 21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So there is the theme for how we must make a difference.
First, don’t give in to evil. No matter where it comes from. See it for what it is: Evil, the enemy of what is good. The opposite of what is good.
So do what is good so that human relationships in our lives and around us will not be lost to the evil in the world.
In this world made so dark by evil, we must bring the light that shuts it down. In the lives of those we connect with, evil will be overcome with good.
So let’s see how that works out in the lives of us “Little Christs”.

It all Starts with Love

If not for love, we really have no Gospel; “For God so loved the world...”
And also, if not for love, Christ would not have finished the work of salvation for us on the cross.
And if not because of love, and followers of Christ pouring out the love that God has poured into us, we could not have any effect on this world, which to us seems completely overtaken by evil. And that’s partly our fault for not being different than those around us.

“Let Love Be Genuine” (v. 9a)

Romans 12:9 ESV
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
The strict translation of this is something like “love without hypocrisy.” Not couched in evil desires. Not as a cover-up for selfishness. Don’t love because of how it makes you feel, but love for the good of the ones you love. “Genuine love”, àgápe love, is love that focuses on the needs of the other, not the needs of the self.
How do we love like that? It’s not completely natural for us. We are used to loving because we feel so good when we are with the one we love. We are used to loving because we like the one we love. But genuine love is not what we get, it’s what we give. Open hearted and open handed. This is not love that covers up the faults of the one we love, because true love is honest love—without hypocrisy. True love is sometimes corrective. Love tells the truth, not to injure but to heal; not to discourage but to encourage; not to cast off but to gather in.
Love without hypocrisy does not try to paint a rosy picture when the situation is ugly, mean, or abusive. True love does not accept or put up with abuse, in any of its forms. In fact, it will point it out, be sure there is no harm left over because of abuse. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, bullying, and selfishness are simply not acceptable in the definition of Genuine àgápe. Love without hypocrisy. Don’t pretend. Just love.
We don’t always like loving, and loving this way does not always have a return of good to us; love is costly—it’s about what we give and not what we get.

“Abhor Evil, Cling to Good” v 9b

When the scripture says to “abhor” something, it is being very speicific and very forceful about what it means to say. Abhor means to detest or to hate somthing. We get the word from Latin, and it has the basic meaning "with shuddering” To shake with disgust, and/or hate, at even the thought of something.
Abhor evil. Any questions? Make sure you are on the side that isn’t evil. Make sure you don’t allow yourself to be drawn toward evil. It can be enticing. Evil has a lot of facets.
Evil can mean Immoral, which is selfishly doing whatever you want, no matter what social or moral or public or holy laws you might break. Evil may look just plain mean, doing something to or against another person or wishing that something evil would happen to someone else. Evil is wicked and harmful. Choosing what is wrong over what is right.
But still we are enticed by the apparent power over others that we can have for a few moments. People are drawn to evil because it seems too difficult to do good, or too challenging to try to live up to how we try to present ourselves.
Evil happens when we promote ourselves no matter what that means to those we step over or step on or push out of the way. Evil happens when we belittle someone else as we try to make ourselves greater. Even happens when we abuse or use another person. Evil happens when we make a promise and don’t keep it; it happens when we plot to do what isn’t good against someone else, or when we allow ourselves to get caught up in a mob that is pressing into destruction and mischief.
Abhor evil. Shudder at the thought of it. Instead, Paul tells us, cling to what is good.
Another word that translates the Greek word for this is “to be attached to”. So there are two meanings in the same word. To cling to what is good is somethings we do on purpose. Hang on. Don’t let it go. No matter what, wrap yourself around what is good, so that it will become yours, so that good will become your normal and natural way of behaving. And then, to be attached to what is good. The result of clinging is that the good grows on you. You become attached to it.
That’s the first bookend of this passage. Let’s look at what’s in between.

Loving as Brothers

Romans 12:10 ESV
10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
The opening phrase of this passage said to love, àgápe, genuinely. But now there is a different focus of God’s love we need to practice. This is affection describe in English as brotherly, in Greek we know as the name of a famous city in the East: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The city was founded and named by William Penn, who came to America to take possession of lands that were granted to him to pay the debt that King Charles II of England owed his family. William Penn was a devout Christian and was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, whom we remember as Quakers, today known as the “Friends Church.” It’s a picture of Penn we see on a box of Quaker Oats.
When he came to America, he was separated from the whims of the Monarchy and had left England’s oppressive Anglican Church. He was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, and he also showed respect to and developed good relations and made successful treaties with the Native Lenape people. William Penn envisioned a city of religious tolerance where no one would be persecuted, and so chose the name Philadephía.
The name of the city is exactly the word Paul used to remind us that we are brothers (meaning both men and women here) who must show love to one another. But then Paul amplifies the thought by saying we need to be devoted to one another, or dearly love each other. That’s a picture of relationship that, in Christ, overflows into lifting up our fellow humans, shows honor to others, in fact putting others above ourselves in how we think of them.
Loving as if we are truly connected, we also should be...

Serving the Lord

Romans 12:11–12 ESV
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
The old list of “7 deadly sins” includes “sloth,” which can be defined as laziness. Paul uses as word that has nothing to do with a three-toed animal that lives in trees and moves slower than a tortoice. Paul basically says, don’t hang back and watch what others are doing, when you can enthusiastically turn your heart and soul to serving the Lord.
When we serve the Lord like that, doing his will becomes almost automatic, and we make it more so by serving the Lord because our souls no longer carry the burden of sin and can celebrate the hope of eternity wrapped in the Love of God that Christ has given to us.
When we live in that hope, we also have the spiritual means to endure the affliction that this world, without hope and without God, will use to try to discourage us from faithfully serving the Lord. We need to follow the example of Jesus and always make prayer a priority. In our waking and our sleeping, in our thinking and our planning, continue the conversation with God that is part of being one of his children.
But don’t keep the good for yourself. Its important that you are...

Caring for Others

Considering the challenges other Christians were facing in his day, Paul says we should...
Romans 12:13 ESV
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
We usually practice this with gifts and support for missionaries serving the Lord far away, but Paul doesn’t put that kind of a restriction on our support for other Christians. Here, in Romans, Paul is not talking about general welfare. Paul is talking about the direct needs that other faithful Christians, Paul calls them “holy ones,” and open your doors to one another.
The Jewish culture of Paul’s day was generally hospitable, but the Roman culture was generally not. In our day, we have excuses like the danger of not knowing what the other person might really want from us, or the danger they may pose to our home or family.
I don’t think Paul is telling us to take in just anyone; he has attached this practice of hospitality to the idea of the needs of God’s holy ones on earth. Those are other true Christians, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, take the righteousness of Christ in them seriously enough to try to be holy in all they do. So, as Christians, apply the Jewish cultural hospitality even in the setting of a big city like Rome, filled with people who don’t care as much about serving others. Be different than others who don’t know the Lord.
And continue that practice by...

Putting Others First

Even when it doesn’t make sense, don’t think of others as enemies, even if they act that way to you. Paul says,
Romans 12:14–15 ESV
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
It’s just not natural to pour out blessings on those that want to hurt you or turn you from following Jesus Christ in your daily life. But Paul reminds us to take the high road. Even as Jesus from the pain of the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” our practice needs to be to pray for those that want to hurt us. It’s so much easier to live life without grudges and bitterness. So much easier.
Even though I will have a pretty involved surgery on my face this week, I don’t hold a grudge against the person who punched me and rearranged my cheek and teeth more than four years ago. He was a man living in the world without God’s direction, living in the darkness of being away from good and addicted to street drugs. So he acted out of the evil that is in the world when good is absent. For me to be bitter about it is poison for my own soul, and won’t affect him. So I keep him on my prayer list, and don’t live in fear. Bless and don’t curse.
And don’t forget to see what others are celebrating or mourning. Verse 15 is a verse that tells me to be compassionate, which means being with others in their feelings of joy or pain, and even being empathetic, which goes deeper and means I try to feel their joy and I try to feel their pain. When people are glad, be glad for them. Be glad with them. And when they are sad, when they have lost family or friends or homes or health, when all they really want to do is cry, then sit with them. Cry with them. Be sorry with them. Understand them better and quietly share the love that God has poured into you. Rejoice and weep with those around you, in their joys and in their losses.
And when you think about living with others, focus on...

Relationship Not Pride

Paul’s words tell us to ...
Romans 12:16 ESV
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
Harmony feels good in our relationships. It doesn’t mean sameness. If an orchestra only plays in unison, it gets pretty boring. An orchestra moves our souls when each instrument plays their own part as the master composer has designed. That’s what living in harmony is like. Adding to a relationship the unique part that God has given you to play, with your unique skills, gifts, affections and talents. Live in harmony. Bring with you the person God has designed you to be.
And because it is God who is behind who you are, don’t puff yourself up. Pride is deadly to honest and equal relationships, if it takes over in how we deal with people. Paul says don’t be arrogant. Don’t see someone in a bad place as someone you would never think of connecting with. Instead, pull up a chair, hear their story, and know that they, too, have a voice in the choir of God’s creation.
And be careful about thinking you are the smartest person in the room. Paul says don’t be wise in your own sight. Live with enough humility, which means knowing who you truly are so you do not need to blow your own horn. Really. That’s biblical behavior for the Christian. Don’t puff yourself up, and don’t be too proud or insecure that you have to start fights or proclaim you are the only one smart enough to handle what’s going on. Truthfully, being wise in your own sight is unwise.

Make Peace

It’s in our nature to retaliate, but that is rarely helpful. Paul says,
Romans 12:17–18 ESV
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Remember we started this with “abhor evil” and yet Paul must remind us to not retaliate, especially when we have suffered evil and are tempted to give back what others give us. That is one of the things that starts gang wars and school-yard fights. Retaliation doesn’t prove you are stronger; it proves you don’t know any more about how to deal with others than anyone else. It pretty much proves you only know how to act in this world’s standards, not the habits of heaven, the habits of holiness.
Paul gives us another idea. Don’t prove you can be as evil as the next person. Instead he says stop and THINK. What can you do that all will see as something good? What can you do that lifts up others? What can you do that makes you the pride of others, that proves God is with you?
And then, Paul says to be a peace-loving and peace-acting individual. As far as you need to go to live at peace, do that. Whatever it takes that you can do. You can’t change the other person. So change your own attitudes first. And ...

Do the Unexpected

Romans 12:19–20 ESV
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Paul, with love, says don’t take charge of revenge. You don’t have to. God will take care of it. Don’t try to take his job. Let God do what only God can do well. He will take care of the situation.
Here’s what you can do that is unexpected: Don’t treat enemies like enemies. Instead of kicking them when they are down, help them. Feed them. Refresh them. Care about them. Show them the love of God. In fact, love them as God has loved you. For it was while we were sinners Christ came to us. He gave us what we needed most, to show us the love of God.
That’s not expected. And it shows the love of God. Don’t do this to burn their scalp; do this so they know you won’t buy the poison your enemies are selling. Instead, share the love that God freely gives. Be a blessing.

The Bookend of the Passage

Romans 12:21 ESV
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
9b Abhor Evil, Cling to Good began this passage, and Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good ends it.
They are written differently for different reason, but clearly the same message is at the core. Evil is bad not good.
Good is, well, good.
We have lived in the midst of this conflict between good and evil for all our lives. The challenge is that there is always evil around us; there is always sin among us, and there is always the good that should be there instead.
How is it that evil seems to always have a life of its own, but good is something we must earnestly practice? The basic reason is that evil is not a true force of its own; evil is the absence of good. Evil only seems to have power—it is the power we assign to it, not a power essentially in evil. Evil is dark because it lacks light; and it is dark because there is no good there.
The absence of good. God is good. So evil is also the absence of God. How do we overcome evil? By bringing God into the situation.
That’s why it is so important that we bring God into the world where we live; that’s why its so important to be representatives of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. The world needs of bunch of Little Christs that will do what Jesus did, that will do what Jesus would do.
Since evil is the absence of good, we must bring God’s good into every aspect of our lives, but I hope you remember that the core of doing good is all about doing what it takes to be in good relationship with others. Doing good is about relationship. That was Christ’s M.O. too.
We can’t do it without Jesus. Paul is giving us this strong good advise now, after having spent the first long part of Romans stressing that we understand we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, Paul is telling us now how to live for Christ in our world.
Be a little Christ; be someone who strives to do what Jesus did, what Jesus would do. You can’t do it on your own; but you in Christ and Christ in you can make a difference in this world for God. And, your own life will be better as well.
May God bless you as you continue to live for Him.
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