Romans: A Call to Love and Other-centeredness

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 13, 2002

Romans 12:9-10

Romans 12:9-10
A Call to Love and Other-Centeredness

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Romans chapter
12. As we go back to the book of Romans, remember where we have been. This is
Paul’s great declaration about the first principles of Christians living. You
can’t get more practical than Paul is here. You can’t get more theological
than Paul is here. He mixes those things together. All his theology is practical
and all his practice is based on good theology. For much of the rest of the
book, beginning here in Romans 12:1, Paul is going to be showing and telling us
what grace produces in the Christian life. You remember all the way back in
Romans chapter 5, he told us that grace reigns in righteousness. Well, beginning
in Romans 12:1 he is going to show us what the reign of grace produces in the
way of righteousness in the Christina life. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to
call this section of Romans ‘The Christian Way Life,’ because Paul is
wanting to show us what God’s righteousness looks like in everyday life.

Let’s look back at verses 1 through 8. In verses 1 and 2, Paul made a
tremendous statement. It’s a statement in which there are six distinct parts
about the nature of the Christian life, and he lays out six truths that make all
the difference in the Christian life in verses 1 and 2. He reminds us of the
basis of God’s call to holiness, and the basis of our holiness in the
Christian life is God’s mercy. Without God’s mercy we wouldn’t be able to
be holy. Without God’s grace we wouldn’t be able to live the Christian life,
and he reminds us of that in Romans 12:1.

He also tells us the call of holiness is a whole life call. It’s a call to
a life of sacrifice in which we give the hole of ourselves to the Lord. He tells
us that the call of holiness is the call of whole life worship. We worship not
just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the whole of our lives. We glorify God.
He tells us that the call of holiness is to a godly nonconformity. We just don’t
go along with the general fads and trends of the age and assume that however our
culture and society are doing it now, that must be fine. We try and think ‘Christianly’
and we strive not to simply conform ourselves to the ways and the behavior and
the habit and the attitudes of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing
of our minds.

He reminds us in this passage that the call of holiness is to an inside-out
transformation. It’s by the renewing of the heart. God, from the inside, out
transforms all of us. Finally, he reminds us that the call of holiness is to
knowing and doing the truth of God. Romans 12:1 and 2 give us a grand manifesto
for the Christian life.

Then in verses 3 through 8, Paul begins talking about how we ought to relate
to other believers. He’s spoken in verses 1 and 2 about what God has made us
to be and how we are to live in light of what God has made us to be. In verses 3
through 8 he starts to talk about how we are to relate to other believers. He is
addressing the Spirit’s gifts to the church in these verses. As he does so, he
tells us several things. He gives us three platforms for our service in the
church. He tells us, first of all, we are to serve one another out of humility,
and secondly he tells us we are to serve one another because we are united and
because we are different. So both our unity and our diversity supply a reason to
serve one another. He tells us that we are to serve one another because the
spiritual gifts God has given us are for the purpose of ministering to one
another. The principle of reciprocity works in the Christians life. What God has
given to you, he has not simply given to you for your enjoyment or for your well
being, but he has given it to you for your Christian brother and sisters help
and well being and encouragement and fullness and completeness in times of need
there comfort and their aid in the Christian life.

At this point, when you get to the end of Romans 12 verse 8, Paul moves from
discussing the Spirit’s charismatic gifting of the church and he turns his
focus on the virtues that he expects to see in believers. He’s talked about
how the Spirit has gifted us in order to minister to one another in verses 3
through 8.

And beginning in verse 9, he speaks to us about what kind of virtues ought to
be present in the Christian life as we are indwelt be the Holy Spirit. As he
does typically, he starts with love, it’s the very first virtue that he wants
to talk about in this passage. This is not the only place that Paul does this. I
say he typically does this. If you were to turn, for instance, to Galatians 5:22
and were to begin to look at the fruits that Paul says result from the Spirit’s
grace work in us, the very first one you would see is love. If you were to turn
to I Corinthians 13, where Paul is addresses this fairly cantankerous
charismatic church in Corinth, where the people are fairly proud of the fact
that they speak in tongues and have words of knowledge and are able to prophesy,
he says to them that love is a greater gift than those extraordinary gifts of
the Spirit. And he goes on to say in I Corinthians 13, that “if you have
faith to move mountains and you give all your money to feed the poor and if you
do not have love you are nothing,” which is his way of saying you are not
even a believer. So the apostle in both of those passages wants to start off
with an emphasis on love. That’s where we are right here. In fact, Paul’s
argument in I Corinthians 13, following on his discussion of the spiritual gifts
is exactly identical in its order here in Romans 12 because he has just
discussed what? The spiritual gifting of the church in verses 3 through 8 and
now in verses 9 and 10 he is going to talk about love. Like a good teacher Paul
repeats himself. So let’s hear God’s word here in Romans 12 verses 9 and 10.

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is
good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one
another in honor.”

Amen. This is God’s word, may He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.


Our Lord and our God we thank You for Your word and we ask now that You not
only enable us by Your spirit to understand it clearly, but that by Your spirit
You would work it’s reality into our hearts. We confess right now that we have
not loved You as we ought, nor have we loved our neighbor as ourselves, nor have
we loved our Christian brothers and sisters as we should have. So we pray that
by Your Spirit You would change us, transform us, amend us by Your grace. In
Jesus name. Amen.

Many, many years ago the Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love.” Now,
actually I’m not quiet sure what they meant by that. I’m not even sure what
they meant by love in that song. You have to ask them. I don’t even remember
if it was John or Paul that wrote that particular lyric. Whatever the case is, I
have this sneaking suspicion that what they meant by love there was not what the
Apostle Paul meant by love here. The Apostle Paul doesn’t leave you guessing
here. In fact, this little two-verse section could be very aptly designated as
Paul’s description of what Christian love is and what it isn’t. What it does
and what it doesn’t, because through this four part description, Paul is
interested in showing you what Christian love looks like in order to move you to
display that kind of Christian love. Not simply to stand back and admire,
“Oh, that’s what love looks like,” and not only simple to aspire to
it, “I’d like to be like that some day,” but actually to act that
way, especially in the context of the church, the communion of the saints. Paul
teaches us here that because Christian love is sincere, and godly, and
affectionate, and self-denying, we must love really and discerningly, and
fervently, and selflessly. Let’s look at the four parts of this great passage
together.

First in verse 9, the first part of the verse you see Paul describing love as
sincere. Christian love, Paul says, first and foremost is sincere, it is
un-feigned. That is the nature of Christian love. In 9 “b”, he
explains to us that Christian love is not to be confused with some sort of an
sentimentality. Christian love isn’t love that is totally blind. Sometimes we
say love is blind in a good way, and by that we mean that love is so loving that
it overlooks some rather obvious flaws in the one we are loving. In that sense,
love is blind for me. I am very thankful for that. I am very thankful that my
wife loves blindly sometimes, but if we mean love is blind in the sense that
love makes no distinctions, then Paul doesn’t want to have anything to do with
that kind of definition of love. He talks about that in the second part of verse
9.

Then if you look at verse 10, the first part of that verse, he emphasizes the
brotherly aspect of love. He emphasizes the family aspect of love. That love is
loyal and fervent. And then in the second half of verse 10, he emphasizes the
selflessness of love. How love is interested in giving honor and preference to
the other first. Let’s look at each part of love as Paul describes it here.


I. Love is sincere.
Beginning in verse 9 with the phrase, let love be
without hypocrisy. Paul is telling us there that love is sincere. That Christian
love is unfeigned. He is telling us that Christians must love really, not
superficially. Paul has emphasized in Romans 8, and now again in Romans 12, that
the believer in Christ is set free not to do as he pleases, not to do nothing at
all, not simply to be, but the Christian to set free in order to love. To love,
Someone once said, is to fulfill the law. So Paul’s words in the New Testament
about ‘freedom’ are not to be set over against ‘responsibility.’
Christian freedom is for the purpose of responsibility and Christian freedom
actually cultivates and enables and prompts and encourages Christian
responsibility. So, we need to be careful when we use the word Christian freedom
because our culture hears ‘freedom’ and hears ‘no responsibility.’ That
is the very last thing that would have entered into Paul or the early Christian
mind when it talked about Christian freedom. This underlying theme of Christian
freedom being unto the purposes of love is evident from Romans 8:2 on and it
pervades and explains this section.

Given that we are to love as Christians, what does it mean to love? What is
love like? Everybody, or almost everybody in our day and time in our culture,
says that they believe in love, but very few agree on what that means. What is
love? Paul begins to answer that question in this four-part description. He does
it again in I Corinthians 13:2 and it’s a little bit longer there, but here
you are seeing a four part description of love.

His first statement about love is that love is genuine. It’s not merely
apparent, it’s not merely superficial, it’s not merely spoken or claimed. It’s
actual, it’s real, it’s genuine, it’s tangible, it’s not just in words,
it’s in deed. It’s not just in our outward perceptions that love exist, but
it is the product of a whole heart. Paul tells us here that real Christian love
is sincere and genuine and therefore must do more than merely talk about love
and more than merely mentally assent to the call of love. Christian love is
wholehearted love that is, as in word, so also in deed.

One commentator on this passage says, “as our new relationship as
believers to God can be summed up in one word-faith, so also our relationship to
men, because of this new relationship with God can be summed up in one
word-love.” Since through faith the door become unlocked to God, the one
towards men is also open. This whole section could actually be entitled,
“What Genuine Love Does And Does Not Do.” Paul starts off by saying
love is genuine, now he shows you in the next three points what genuine love
does and doesn’t do. So there is the first thing. Christian love is sincere,
it ‘s real, it’s tangible, it’s not merely superficial, but it’s real.

That’s so important my friends especially in the South. We are good at
superficial niceties. You know inviting people to drop by any time, then being
absolutely horrified if they do, or beauty pageant niceties. Ever been behind
the stage at a beauty pageant when the girls are smiling at one another, and
then behind their backs they are stabbing one another? Those kinds of niceties,
those kinds of superficialities are not what Paul is calling us to. He is
calling us to real genuine love.

II. Abhor what is evil.
Secondly, in verse 9, the second half of the
passage, he says abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. What’s he doing
there? He’s telling you, let me put this as provocatively as I can, he’s
telling you that love discriminates. Paul is telling you that love, Christians
love is not some sort of sentimentality that feels strongly toward someone, but
passes no judgment on the behavior or the absolute qualities of good or evil. In
other words, Paul is saying that Christians must love with a holy and a goodly
love. You see, some would say that to love, to truly love, means that you do not
hate; but not Paul. In fact, Paul says that you cannot love if you do not hate.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean by that. Love does
not mean ignoring right and wrong. Love always makes that distinction. Love may
chose to love in the face of wrong, and often does. It does not call wrong,
right, and it does not ignore the distinction between wrong and right. Love
distinguishes. In fact, love is not able to manifest itself to the fullness
without making the distinction between wrong and right because the greatest
display of love in the history of the world was when God loved what? His
enemies. And had His love confused enemies and friends and said, after all,
there is really no distinction, then we would never have known the greatness of
the depths of His love. For Paul says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ
dies for the ungodly.” When people tell you that to truly love you must
treat everyone the same, they lie. Because to treat everyone the same would not
be to acknowledge the distinctions that exist in humanity. True love has its
eyes wide open as to right and wrong, enemies and friends, and love manifests
itself in such a way that those distinctions are not evaporated.

Furthermore, Paul says, true love hates certain kinds of behaviors. Look at
what he says in verse 9, “Abhor what is evil.” This is in the context
of a passage in which he is talking about love. Abhor what is evil. Notice what
he goes on to say, “Cling to what is good.” He doesn’t tell us to
just sort of assent. Stick to it like glue. Stick to what is good like glue,
cling to it. Love doesn’t blur distinctions. The contrast between love and
hate is graphic, but when the meaning of love is understood, that contrast is
inevitable for love has the nature of an absolute. It is sensitive to evil, it
holds fast to what is good. Love is not anemic, it is dynamic, therefore it
recognizes the difference between good and evil, right and wrong.

I have heard a minister say, not to long ago, that when you really understand
love, you’ll not make a distinction between gay and straight. Well, I’m
sorry friends, there is nothing in the Bible that remotely comes close to that
claim. That may be an idea that is popular in the culture today, but it’s
absolutely alien to the Bible. Now, does that mean that one hates those who have
chosen to flaunt God’s word and go against His will, and ways, and commands,
in the way they are living? No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I am
saying that to say, love means that you pay no mind to the distinction, is an
ideal totally alien to Paul and, I might also add, totally alien to the Lord
Jesus. Paul says that true love discriminates. It’s not mere sentimentality;
it knows the difference between right and wrong and it clings to the good rather
than the evil.


III. Love is affectionately devoted.
Thirdly in verse 10, Paul says that love is
affectionately devoted. Look at this beautiful phrase, “Be devoted to one
another in brotherly love.” Paul is talking about the loyalty and the
fervency of Christian love. I am told by scholars of the New Testament and the
early Church and of the late Jewish period, that in no other religion does the
idea of ‘brotherly love’ exist amongst those who are not related to one
another. That the idea of brotherly love between a Christian community which is
not drawn together by ethnic or racial or bloodline ties, but rather by a mutual
relationship to Jesus Christ and the resulting communion with one another
because of our membership in His body, that idea is entirely unique in the
ancient world. We may take it for granted. It shows up in city names like
Philadelphia. This call to brotherly love is graphic isn’t it.

Paul is describing love as affectionately devoted. Perhaps from time to time
you parents and grandparents have seen sibling when they are not at war and they
have truly manifest love towards one another it is a beautiful thing to see.
Whether they are very young or older, it is a beautiful thing to see. Siblings
loving one another. The Apostle is saying that kind of love, when it is right,
ought to be the way it should be in the Christian Church. There ought to be
Davids and Jonathans. You know, the Bible does say that there is “a friend
that sticks closer than a brother.” Paul is saying, that’s what the
Church ought to be like. There ought to be those kinds of love relationships in
the church. Jim Phillip puts this in a phrase that is almost impossibly hopeful,
but listen to it, “The Christian Church is the one place on earth where it
should be possible to trust one another’s love and loyally without being
hurt.”

Now I want to say two things about that phrase. First, I want to exhort you
to strive for the church to be like, and start, with you. Strive for the church
to be like that. A place where the love and the loyalty is so strong and so
manifest that it’s safe for people. Now I want to turn to the flip side. If
you have found the opposite in the Christian Church, and you have been wounded
in the Christian Church, and you have been shown disloyalty and dismissal in the
context of relationships in the Christian Church, don’t be cynical. That
reality shouldn’t surprise you. After all, we’re sinners and “the
Church is a hospital where sick sinners get well,” Augustine once said. It
shouldn’t surprise you that sinners don’t live up to this vision, but you
yourself strive to make sure it’s a place where at least with you, love and
loyalty can be experienced in such a way that people are safe. Paul is calling
on us to show family love to one another.

It’s beautiful isn’t it when you see two friends utterly devoted to one
another, I get to see this in this church maybe more than any of you. When
someone is facing a serious problem here, I often get to see other people in
this church who love and care for those people that you don’t know about. One
of the very first visits I made to the funeral home when a wife of a
congregation member died, I remember being surprised by one of our elders who
was quietly sitting and waiting outside of the room where a husband who was now
a widower was meeting with the funeral home help to plan his wife’s funeral.
That elder was just quietly sitting there biding his time. He could not wait to
minister. I had no idea that those two had any type of a relationship at all. It
was very interesting. Not long ago the man that I saw being ministered to in
that situation, I met outside of the door of Baptist Hospital ministering to the
wife of a former deacon of this congregation, whose husband was dying. He hadn’t
known her husband that long, but he had known him long enough to want to show
him Christian love. Let me tell you, that pleases me no end when we see those
kinds of tangible expressions of love. No blood relationship whatsoever there.
The only thing pulling those people together is the common bond that they have
in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet treating one another like family when the
chips are down. That ought to be a goal for us here at First Presbyterian
Church. We shouldn’t use the excuse, “Well, you know there are 3500
people on the role” as an excuse not to be a family. We ought to say,
“Ok, if there are that many people on the role, let’s find the family
first, then when we find them, let’s love them.” That should be our goal,
friends. That kind of family love.


IV. Christian love is selfless and self-giving and
honors the beloved.
One last thing. At the end of verse 10 he says
Christian love is selfless and self-giving and honors first the beloved. Love
honors the One who loved first. Give preference to one another in honor Paul
says. Christians are to be other-centered in other words. Now other-centered is
different than other- directed you understand. One sociologist has characterized
this day and age as an other-directed age. We look to others, desiring their
approval so much, that we allow their choices and their lives and their ways and
their patterns to dictate to us what we ought to be doing. Being other-centered
is not being other-directed. It’s not having no guts to our own choices and
priorities and no sense of anchoring in the word of God, as opposed to the ways
of the world in the way we behave. Being other-centered is not being directed by
others, it’s being concerned with for the well being of others. It’s being
driven by a desire to look out for the best interest of someone else other than
yourself. That’s the kind of other-centeredness that Paul is calling us to
hear.

In this passage he speaks of it in giving preference to one another in honor.
You know, another encouraging thing a minister gets to see is people who
minister in the church not because they want a title, not because they want
status, not because they want to be recognized, not because they want a plaque
on the wall somewhere, but because they genuinely love. Paul is basically saying
here, if you genuinely love, if you love like God wants you to love, you will
find yourself giving yourself selflessly and preferring others over yourself.

I want to say, as I looked through this description of love during the last
couple of weeks, and especially yesterday and the day before as I was meditating
on this about myself, I began to wonder if I had ever loved. So often love is
associated with a profound feeling. It may be the love of a husband and a wife.
It may be a love of two engaged to be married. It may be the love of a friend
and a friend, and in those loves there is locked up so much of a mutual
satisfaction that you wonder sometimes how much altruism there is in that love.
It may be that there is so much gratification in those love relationships, where
you are full and completed and complimented and helped, that the other
directives of that love are minimal. Paul is calling us to other-centeredness
and love. To give ourselves away in love. If you’ve been hurt in love, that
can be very hard to do. If you have been hurt and disappointed in the church,
that can be very hard to do. Paul doesn’t tell you to do this because of the
hope that the people that you are loving and caring for, because of the hope
that they are going to get it right all the time or that they are not going to
let you down, or that your love is going to be reciprocated or responded to in
the way that you hope it will be. He tells you to do this because of what God
has done in you, Romans 12:1 and 2, because of the Spirit He has given you,
Romans12:3 through 8, and because of what God has done for you, Romans 1 through
11. That makes all the difference. Let’s pray.


Lord and God, help us to love and help us to know what it looks like and then
grant us, O Lord, the grace to do it in the face of disappointment because of
what You’ve done for us. In Jesus name. Amen.

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