After setting out the gospel of grace received by faith, Paul, in chapters 12 to 15 of Romans, gives advice on how to live ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘in Christ’. He starts off by making an appeal for commitment (Romans 12:1). This, he says, involves a radically different way of thinking from that which most people employ.
He is, of course, writing to a community – the church in Rome – and what he says to them is undoubtedly influenced by what he has encountered in other churches. He has seen how pride destroys the unity of the church as, for example, in the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) Personal egos get in the way of faithful and fruitful Christian leadership. So he holds up before them the way of humility.
- Read Romans 12:3-8
It still happens. Pride and jealousy lie behind so many of the disruptions that divide the church. Leaders cling to or make a grab for power and influence. Members become jealous of fellow members who get more attention and congratulations than they do. We become more interested in the size and status of our congregation over against other congregations than in presenting Christ to our neighbours. A person gets into a huff because he or she has not been visited. These are all evidences that the old ‘flesh’ life had not been overcome. Where a person is driven by self-centred desires the Spirit is not being given full sway. We constantly need to repent and open ourselves to the indwelling power of Christ. Knowledgeable, mature Christians can be tempted to feel superior to those who are not well versed in the Scriptures or who are weak in their faith (Romans 14:1). In chapter 14, Paul calls for tolerance. Some of the contentious issues of the time had to do with eating meat that, when butchered, had been dedicated to an idol and keeping the Jewish Sabbath. He called on his readers to be tolerant and accepting of people who think differently from themselves on these topics. The issues may be different, but this has obvious application to the church today. He calls us not only to respect the opinions of others, but to accept restraints, where necessary, for their sake (Romans 14:13-15:6). As loving parents accept restraints on their own freedom for the sake of their children, so Christians should accept restraints where it is seen to be helpful to fellow believers.
- Maybe it would be good to spend some time in silent reflection and in private confession of how one’s own pride and jealousy has affected the spiritual unity of Christ’s church.
- Are there limits to Christian tolerance? If so what determines those limits?
- What’s the difference between ‘anything goes’ and true Christian tolerance?
- Give examples of people accepting restraints on their freedom out of concern for the well being of their fellow human beings.
When Paul said, “Let love be genuine,” he was echoing the emphasis that Jesus placed on love to God and love to neighbour. “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord” and “Love one another with mutual affection.”
- Read Romans 13:8-10
All that he said about accepting restraints on our freedom for the sake of weaker or more immature Christians grows out of love. Love alone willingly accepts restraints upon individual freedoms. If we do it out of duty or obligation, it will be irksome, and, more than likely, we will not do it.
He did not restrict his comments to the way Christian should behave toward one another. He touched also on how to relate to people in the wider community.
- Read Romans 12:14-21
Paul has no doubt about who has ultimate authority over our lives. God as revealed in and through Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority for the Christian. But what about human authorities like governments and magistrates? In chapter 13: 1-7 he tells his readers that they should respect all lawful authority, giving it its due place under God.
Of course the word love has become debased in popular currency, but here it means a genuine desire for the well being of another. Desire for God and God’s ways and a desire for the well being of other people supplants self-serving desires as the motivating force in life. In other words it is life in the Spirit.
- On occasions, faithful Christians have gone against the authority of the state. Can you think of instances?
- In what way is Christian love more than just an emotion?
- Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
- Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.