SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Practicing the Faith by Loving Others as Christ Loves Us All
Key Verse: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:9-10
In Romans 12 Paul appeals to his brothers and sisters to practice the faith. He offers a long list of practical ways to do this. Christian faith for Paul was not so much ritual and dogma as it was a lifestyle of Christlike love for people inside and outside the church.
Paul has written eloquently about salvation in earlier chapters, making it clear that we are saved by grace through faith. Now he moves to a very practical application of the gospel to our daily relationships and behavior. Clear it is that we are not saved to sit and wait for heaven. We are saved to serve on our way to heaven. How then do we serve? How do we demonstrate our love for God?
Our “key verses” (9 & 10) say it all. Observe the twist that J. B. Phillips offers: “Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good. Let us have a real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit.”
Imagine for a moment how much good we could all accomplish if we had no need to receive credit for our work! Imagine how much less tension we would have in our churches if we were all eager to let someone else receive the applause! Paul insists this is the way we ought to live within the family of God.
A friend of mine came under intense criticism from a Christian brother. They disagreed passionately about some issue between them. I wondered how they would relate to each other when they met publicly. My friend said, “I plan to out-nice him.”
That struck me as an interesting concept. Instead of perpetuating the argument, and inviting friends to take sides, both men chose to be “nice” to each other and move on with their lives. That may be the best we can do at times, in the heat of disagreements, until Christ gives us the strength to replace “nice” with forgiving love. Sure it is that God will deny us real peace until we are willing to offer real affection to one another, especially those who have offended us. Ultimately, what God wants is for us to out-love one another, refusing to allow our differences to keep us separated.
No mater how great the hurt others inflict upon us, God will not let us off the hook. If in our pain we insist that we cannot forgive, God’s word is unrelenting. We must forgive. There is no other way than forgiveness. Try to ignore the imperative to forgive and Paul’s words drive you to your knees: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Refuse to forgive someone and you will see that person’s face every time you read Paul’s exhortation, “Live in harmony with one another.” The words will seem to leap off the page as the Spirit pounds them into your conscious mind. God loves us too much to leave us alone to wallow in unforgiving resentment. He will always come to us, knocking on the door and pleading, “Come out, come out of the bondage of hatred and live in the sunshine of redeeming love”!
Since childhood we have been moved by Paul’s appeal to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. The Father no longer desires that we sacrifice animals. He wants us, our bodies, but as a living sacrifice, not a dead one. What God wants is “our all,” everything, all that we are and ever hope to be. Clearly some of our money and a little time for church on Sunday are not enough! An old gospel song asks, “Is your all on the altar?” Nothing less than our total consecration is acceptable to God.
Total commitment includes the surrender of our minds to Christ. A little emotion is not enough. It is with the mind that we will to do the will of God. Jesus, you recall, admonished us to love God with “all your mind,” as well as your heart, soul, and strength. So many worldly things distract us from centering down on God. The gods of our hedonistic culture clamor for our attention. What gets our attention gets us. Paul is pushing us to give God our full attention. J. B. Phillips gives us this unforgettable translation of Romans 12:2:
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.”
When we allow God to “remold our minds from within,” then we find ourselves able to practice the faith as Paul lays it out for us in this chapter. We can live like this only by the grace of God, but his grace is abundantly available to us! God’s grace is like a gushing fountain and we can tap into it by faith. Then, in the words of a popular chorus, we can say “Yes, Lord, Yes” to the ways God expects us to live in the Body of Christ, and in the world. Again, J. B. Phillips offers us in modern English Paul’s expectations of us:
“When trials come, endure them patiently: steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. Give freely to fellow Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them. And as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless. Share the happiness of those who are happy, and the sorrow of those who are sad. Live in harmony with one another. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Don’t pay back a bad turn by a bad turn, to anyone. Don’t say, ‘It doesn’t matter what people think,’ but see that your public behavior is above criticism. As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone. Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: Vengeance belongeth unto me: I will recompense.”
Paul wisely reminds us that it may be impossible to be reconciled with everyone. Sometimes a person may refuse to let bygones be bygones. In that event God requires that we do all we can do to open the door to peace. The true servant of God will live peaceably with anyone, “if it is possible.”
Unbelievers are attracted to Christ
when his people practice the faith. True servanthood draws people to God like a
magnet. Art and Frances Blackburn are missionaries who exemplify Christlike
service. When a days old baby boy died at the hospital where Art serves in
By sharing the grief of a poor family, Art and Frances practiced the gospel, allowing the love of Christ to become real. When this happens anywhere, Satan trembles and the world sees the difference that authentic Christians can make when God has their complete attention!
+ + + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)