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Bryan Clements - Paul's How To Manual

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 Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at Paul’s “How-To” manual for Christians.  That what Chapter 12 is. 

·       He tells us why we should do what we do.

·       He tells us how we should do it and

·       He even gives us illustrations of what it will look like if we do it right.

We have looked at what Christian love to God and to other Christians should look like.

Paul tells us, In relation to God:

As to diligence-not slothful,

As to the spirit-being hot,

As to the Lord-serving,

As to hope-rejoicing,

As to tribulation-enduring,

As to prayer-constantly attending.

To each other Paul says that we are to try to out honor each other.

And then Paul really challenges Christians.  (Us) 

Verses 14-21

Romans 12:14-21 (NASB95)
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
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 on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul turns from our relationships with God and other believers and He focuses on loving relationships with others. 

Paul advises to, “Praise the ones persecuting you, praise not curse.”

What is our natural response when someone attacks us? 

  Oh no they didn’t!!  That sorry so and so. I’ll show them.

 The natural human response to persecution is to strike back, but Jesus gives a different model to follow.

In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”[1] 

Luke 6:27-28 (NASB95)
27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

The Pharisees taught that you should love those people near and dear to you and that you should hate your enemies.  This was their way of saying that God was using them to judge their enemies.  But Paul says that God’s love extends to everyone. 

Believers are to pray that God will bless their persecutor and are forbidden to ask God to curse them.

That means that we don’t even get the privilege that the psalmist had. 

Even while on the cross Jesus prayed for those who had persecuted him.  It is one thing to endure abuse at the hand of another and it is an extraordinary person who does not fight back, but the gospel calls believers to do the unthinkable; pray for blessings for the ones who would harm us.

That has to be a God thing, because we can’t do that on our own.  It’s just not in us.

Paul’s next command is to rejoice with the ones rejoicing, weep with the ones weeping.

 We are to share in the joys and sorrows of those around us.  Love is expressed in truly celebrating and sharing in another’s joy.  Love expressed in this manner precludes any jealousies that may arise.  Because love causes believers to look outside themselves, it has no room for petty jealousy. 

Sometimes it is easier to share in the sorrows than it is to share in the joy.   It is easy for us to comfort someone going through a trial, but it can be harder to share their joy, we never catch ourselves going, “I wish that was me going through that pain.  But we do catch ourselves saying, “that ought to be me, I deserve that joy.” That jealousy creeps in if we are not careful.

Then we see that Christian love ensures that humility is in place.  Paul admonishes believers to, “Think the same towards one another, do not think lofty but be accommodated with the lowly. Do not be wise in yourself.” 

Paul’s encouragement does not mean that we will agree on every issue.  Rather, he is moving us to live in harmony with each other.  In several of his letters to the churches Paul encourages like-mindedness

Romans 15:5 (NASB95)
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,

2 Corinthians 13:11 (NASB95)
11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Philippians 2:2 (NASB95)
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 4:2 (NASB95)
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.

If we are to be like minded, we want be like God, like minded.

In humility we are not to place ourselves above other people. 

It is normal for people to attach value to another based on appearance, wealth, or social status but Paul does not allow for this.  We are to associate ourselves with those who we might consider to be of lower status than us.

 James warns against catering to those who we would judge to be of higher status.[2]  If believers love their neighbor as themselves we will not create classes based on temporal items, we will see people as God sees people and we will value people as God values them. 

God sees what they are inside; what they can be.   Ladies can learn something from the guys here:

Old junk car on a trailer. What do you see?  Ladies?   Men?

Men see what it can be, what it was meant to be.

That is how God sees.

The final clause of this verse advises to not be wise in yourself.  Paul is saying do not be conceited or think too highly of yourself.  Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus that is found in Luke 14:7-15 in the parable of the guests.  If believers will humble themselves, God will exalt them.  They should look to God for their praise and not to man.  This parable also speaks to this verse when Jesus advises to not invite friends, relatives and those who are rich to the banquet, but to invite the poor, crippled, and handicapped. 

This does not happen by accident; this is intentional love.  By associating with the lowly, believers are affirming the person’s worth and valuing them as God values them. 

Paul then moves on to a more developed theme of how to deal with people who have committed wrongs against believers. 

Paul addresses personal vengeance.[3]  He writes, “Do not repay evil for evil, foreseeing good in the sight of all men.[4]  In verse 14 Paul directs believers to praise the ones persecuting them.  You cannot pray for blessings on a person while you are seeking vengeance on that same person. 

Lord you need to bless them, because I’m going to kill them when I get my hands on them!

Paul is addressing personal retribution.  His readers were familiar with the lex talionis of the Old Testament.  Justice was to be exacted out in equal measure with the crime that was committed.  This is the eye for an eye……

However, the code of the Old Testament does not provide for personal revenge. The law in Lev 19.18 stated, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.[5]  The law allowed for the civil authorities to mete out proper punishment for a crime.  This principal is mentioned in three distinct places of Scripture and each time it is applicable in the court setting, never as a personal vengeance or to be carried out by the one who was injured.

Paul acknowledges that it is not always possible to live at peace but that we should not be found at fault when peace cannot be obtained.  In verse 18 he writes, “If you are able from of you, with all men be at peace.”   Christians should go out of their way to cultivate loving relationships with their neighbors. 

Paul is not advocating peace at any cost; it should be the goal of every Christian as far the Christian is concerned.  Paul’s thought continues in verse 19 as he advises believers to leave a place for God’s wrath and quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35.  Vengeance belongs to God.  If we trust that God is sovereign, as Paul writes earlier in this letter, we must trust that He is also just.

  The concept of vengeance being reserved for God is brought out in several Old Testament passages.

2 Samuel 22:48 (NASB95)
48 The God who executes vengeance for me, And brings down peoples under me,

Proverbs 20:22 (NASB95)
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.

Jeremiah 51:56 (NASB95)
56 For the destroyer is coming against her, against Babylon, And her mighty men will be captured, Their bows are shattered; For the Lord is a God of recompense, He will fully repay.

It is not enough for us to trust God in exacting vengeance, we must forgive the offender and trust the rest to God. In fact we see in Mark 11:25-26 that God demands that believers forgive.

Mark 11:25-26 (NASB95)
25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
26 [“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]

That’s pretty black and white. Well, if forgive them a little, God will forgive me a little, and Lord knows they are much worse than I am so I don’t need as much forgiveness.

Do you want to take that chance with God?

So if I don’t get to hold a grudge, if I don’t get to hate them or get revenge on them, what do I get to do?

Paul gives us another radical option in verse 20. 

Romans 12:20 (NASB95)
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 on his head.”

That’s not the answer that we are looking for when we have been hurt, is it? 

Rather than seeking to do harm, the we should seek to show love to those who would harm us.  This takes us back to verse 9, “Let love be unhypocritical.”

 Love in this manner can only come from God.  We are called to a higher standard of love. 

In Matthew 5:44-48 Jesus teaches, saying, “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

Jesus makes the point that it is easy to love those who love you, but it is godly to love those who do not.  Paul makes this same point back in Chapter 5 where he writes, “but God establishes his own love for us, yet while we were being sinful Christ died for us.” 

I read that and think, “Wow God loved me even when I being sinful and wicked!”  It is amazing that He would love us when we are fighting against Him.

We need to understand that before we come to Christ we are considered an enemy of God, but God still loved, as only He can.  He didn’t hate us. He hated the sin, but He loved us and longed for us to come to Him.  Now that is love! 

We are told over and over again that we need to love as He loves so that means…

Paul tells us what can happen if we love our enemies this way. Look at the last part of vs 20, “for by doing this you will heap burning coals upon his head.”  I have always heard this taught as this would be a form of killing the enemy with kindness; that this would be the best form of vengeance that there is.  People point to Psalm 140:10 (NASB95)
10 “May burning coals fall upon them; May they be cast into the fire, Into deep pits from which they cannot rise.

Psalm 11:6 (NASB95)
6 Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.

 but there is a big difference in fire and coals raining down as punishment, and what is meant in this passage. 

Interpreting genuine acts of Christian as a weapon of vengeance does not fit the context of this passage. 

Using kindness as the means of exacting vengeance does not leave anything to God.  Remember it says we have to leave room for the wrath of God.  and there is definitely no sincerity involved in those actions if the motive is to seek retribution.

 If in the context of this passage a Christian is to be looking toward the other person, this action must have a positive connotation. 

The image of burning coals also carries with it the idea of cleansing and purification, as seen in Isaiah 6.  Burning coals touched to his lips.

There was an ancient Egyptian custom where the person who was repentant symbolized his contrition by carrying a pan of burning coals on his head.   In this way your actions of loving and caring for the other person would not be used as a way to vengeance but as a way of softening the other person’s heart, leading them to repentance. You are helping them not getting back at them.

Paul closes this section and this chapter with, “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer the evil with good.” 

This final sentence sums up the whole of the chapter. Good conquers evil. 

God’s love will not be conquered by anything. 

Each evil act that is dealt to a believer is to be repaid with an act of genuine kindness and prayer for the one perpetrating the act. 

Paul tells believers not to be conquered by the evil.  He’s not necessarily just talking about the act itself. 

We can get so wrapped up in the results of what happened to us and in planning how we are going to pay them back that we are consumed with evil thoughts. 

Bitterness and hate and unforgiveness can take such a hold as to conquer the spirit and leave it in a state of disarray, but Paul knows that Christian love and its expressions towards others are the only way to defeat evil.

This means that we have to go against every natural inclination to repay evil for evil, instead we are told to repay evil with kindness in the hope that our witness of love will turn hearts to God.

We have all seen what happens in neighborhoods where gangs fight with each other.  A gang member gets shot and then his homies have to pay it  back. Then the other side has to even the score.  You can’t let it go because then you lose face.  So this vicious cycle just continues.  They get trapped in it with no way out.

So how do you overcome evil?
with Good.

Good only comes from God.
Evil repaid with evil will only generate more evil, but evil repaid with love breaks the cycle and points people to the love of God. 

Everything we do should point people to the love of God.  Our words, our actions, everything. That is why we are still here.  That is our job as we leave this place this morning.


[1]Mt 5:44.

[2] James 2:1-9.

[3]Cottrell, J. (1996-c1998). Romans : Volume 2. College Press NIV commentary (Ro 12:17). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co.

[4] Romans 12:17.

[5]Leviticus 19.18.

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