September 3 2023 Romans 12 9-21

Our text from Romans this morning is quite challenging. Paul writes to encourage God’s people to live in their in the calling, but his words are overwhelming to us. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another…be fervent in spirit…rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? This is only a small portion of what he writes in the first three verses. His list goes on and on. In fact, it includes 30 little commands or sayings to encourage us.

Listening to his words though, it is easy to feel exhausted. It is easy to feel unworthy. It is easy to wonder if the Holy Spirit could ever form within us all of these desires of God. Paul’s list is overwhelming and leaves us wondering, “Where do we start? What should we pay attention to? What is a Christian to do with all of these words?”

Let’s say you were to take one exhortation a day and really work on that one. So, for Monday, you take “Let love be genuine” and all day, you try to work on and to demonstrate genuine love. Passing by someone at work or at the store, you say, “How are you doing?”, but only this time, you stop to listen and then respond to what they are saying. For this day, love becomes more than the words of a casual greeting.

For Tuesday, you move on to the next exhortation and work on “Abhor what is evil”. If you were to do this for every one of these exhortations, it would take you almost a month to get through the list just once! And that would be spending only one day on each and it would assume that you could actually do these things. Paul’s list is overwhelming for the Christian.

This morning, we’ll focus on two of the overarching thoughts of Paul’s encouragements, which are self-sacrificial love and overcoming evil with good.

The first thought, showing self-sacrificial love is shown in the first paragraph (v.9-13).

The second thought, overcoming good with evil (14-21), is shown in the second paragraph. We’ll also see how they point us to Jesus.

Paul tells us about self-sacrificial love in the first five verses. He encourages us to have this with these sayings. What is a self-sacrificial love? Let’s see what he says.

First of all, it is a genuine love. It is a love that cares for others and their needs. It does not focus on us or demand anything in return for what it does for another. Simply put, it puts others first. Paul says a self-sacrificial love also abhors what is evil. It despises and repulses evil acts and deeds. A self-sacrificial love also is one that shows a brotherly love to others. It does not have favorites.

This love according to Paul, shows honor and respect too. He writes that a sacrificial love obviously includes a love for God that comes from the Holy Spirit. This love leads one to serve God with the talents and gifts that one has been given. Lastly, a sacrificial love looks out for the needs of others and shows hospitality. It looks for opportunities to serve, and it goes out of its way to do so.

In our lives, we are often told to focus on ourselves first and foremost. We hear outrageous things like this: “You need to learn how to love yourself before you can love others.” Or “Love yourself, then love others.” This ordering of love focuses on us. Who knows if it will ever extend to others when it begins at and focuses on us?

Complicating matters though can our definition of love. We don’t often see love as an action like Paul and Scripture do. Our love can be conditional, or based on what we can get in return. It is easier to love those who are nice to and who serve us, than it is easier to those who don’t. A self-sacrificial love can also produce fears and concerns for us too. One of the scariest things about showing love to others is that it can go unappreciated, unnoticed, and can be misused. So what if these acts of love go unappreciated, or unnoticed? So what if no one ever knows these precious acts? God knows and sees these acts. They are not unnoticed, but are precious and valuable in His sight. Acts like these care for others and their needs. It puts others first. These acts of love show the mercy and love of Jesus, and are motivated by them. They point us to Him.

As Paul talks about self-sacrificial love, we cannot help but be pointed to Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us. Jesus once said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down His life for His friends.” Jesus loved us so much that He willingly gave up and laid down His life for us, so that we could have His. He did what it took to save us. We only love because He first loved us. This self-sacrificial love that Paul talks about is produced in us through the Holy Spirit. When we share this kind of love with others, it points them to the greatest act done for them, Jesus’ death and resurrection.

After encouraging us to have a self-sacrificial love, Paul moves on to encourage us to overcome evil with good. There are times when we want to return their evil towards us with evil towards them. Paul encourages us not to do so. He encourages us to repay those deeds and acts with good. He encourages us to wait for God to act and give vengeance. He writes: “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.’” The vengeance business is not a space that we are to set up shop in. We leave it in God’s hands. What do we do when we encounter and endure evil? We overcome it with good.

In this section, Paul encourages us to show goodness and mercy by praying for, blessing, feeding, clothing, and providing for the needs of those who have wronged us. It seems to be the wrong, or opposite thing to do, but it has a purpose. These acts might drive these people towards faith and repentance. The mercy that we show them might lead them to the greater mercy that is found in Jesus.

David is a great example of this. King Saul tried to kill David numerous times. David would repeatedly refrain from showing Saul evil. Showing the mercy that Saul didn’t deserve. David waited for God to avenge him, even though that took years. David overcame evil with good.

That is what our God does. He overcomes evil with good. On the cross, where our Savior was nailed and His blood poured out, God overcame many things. He overcame our sin, the violations and wrongs done to Him, through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. He repays our sin with mercy and forgiveness, not with wrath and condemnation. He overcame death with, ironically, the death of His Son.

Through what Satan thought to be his greatest hour, killing God’s Son, came His greatest defeat with Jesus’ resurrection. We will see His victory fully at the Last Day when His enemies will be defeated, and sickness, pain, and sadness will be overcome. Our God overcomes evil with good, He overcame it through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Paul’s list of encouragements can be overwhelming for us, but it points us to Christ and His overwhelming grace and love for us. IN JESUS’ NAME, AMEN.