Seward United Methodist Church
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Loving Each Other September 30, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

One of the things we find from time to time in the New Testament letters are sections of what is called “parenesis.” Parenesis was a common form of moral exhortation in first century writing. It’s basically a rapid-fire string of short statements, often with little common ground between them. I think they can be a little challenging to preach because when I come to a passage, one of the first questions I’m asking is, “What is the common ground? What is the one thing that we should really take away from this?”

Is there common ground here? Not entirely, but it seems to me that almost everything falls under one heading: Love each other. And that is the heart and soul of most of Christian living. Jesus taught us the two greatest commandments are to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. “And the second is like the first,” he said. They are inseparable. We can’t really love God without also loving neighbor, who is created in the image of God. We love God through loving the people he created and for whom Christ died. Almost everything in this text can be read as helping us understand what it means to love each other and how to do it.

First, “Don’t just pretend to love each other.” It is possible to love disingenuously, to love with ulterior motives. We can put on a false pretense of love because we want something in return.

Love is more than just courtesy or politeness. We can be courteous to someone just for the sake of keeping up appearances with no real investment of the heart involved. Genuine love requires a personal investment. Love is costly. If it’s not costly, it’s not really love.

“Love each other with genuine affection.” Affection is an outward and visible expression of love. We are too used to thinking of love as an emotion. But love in the biblical sense is a verb, an action. Love that is just felt and not translated into action is not really love in the truest sense of the word.

“Take delight in honoring each other.” To honor someone is to treat that person as more important than yourself. Again, we can honor someone with an ulterior motive. But we should honor others for who they are: Created in the image of God and people whom God holds in such high regard that Christ died for them.

Second, we love by hating what is wrong and loving that is good. One Bible scholar I read said, “The problem is that we just dislike evil and like good.” Evil, injustice, and sin are to be hated, not just disliked.

To love someone does not mean that we embrace what is wrong in their lives. We don’t embrace the sin they commit or the injustice they are party to. Sin and injustice are

harmful, not just to others, but to oneself. We’ve had a lot of focus on racism in our nation in recent months. Racism is harmful to those who are treated as less than others. But racism is also harmful to the person who is racist. You are hurting yourself if you hate others. “Hate the sin but love the sinner” might sound trite, but it’s basically true. To love someone is to seek what is good for them. We can’t love another and at the same time embrace what is harmful to them.

“Never be lazy but serve enthusiastically.” We might read that as “serve the Lord” or possibly as, “serve the time,” as in make the most of opportunities. There’s some debate among Bible scholars about the best way to read it because the words for “Lord” and “appointed time” in Greek are very similar, KURIOS and KAIROS. But I think the basic truth is the same in any case: We should serve each other enthusiastically, because when we serve each other, we are actually serving the Lord.

“Be glad for what God is planning for you. Be patient. Always be prayerful.” Great advice, but this seems like it doesn’t fit in with the big theme of loving each other.

“When people are in need, especially the members of God’s household, help them.” In verse 10, Paul uses the Greek word STOICHOS that meant “family love.” We are the family of God in Jesus Christ, and as such, we should love each other as family. One of the ways that we expect family to love each other is to help out when there is a need. The thought that in the same congregation, the same town, the same city there are Christians on one hand who are in desperate need, and on the other hand, Christians who are abundantly wealthy should be the shocking to us. How can that happen in the family of God?

“Practice hospitality.” Hospitality was very important in first century Jewish culture. The thought of a traveler having to stay outside or seek refuge in an “inn,” was just about unthinkable. If you came across a fellow Jew traveling, you were expected to take them into your home for the night.

Our world is very different, of course, but that doesn’t mean that hospitality is unimportant now. Hospitality is more than just entertaining, which is what we often think of it as: A “hospitable” person throws a dinner party and invites a bunch of people over. That’s entertaining. In entertaining, the focus is on the honor and prestige of the host. In hospitality, the focus is on the needs and welfare of the guest. There are many ways we can practice hospitality. Giving a sympathetic ear to someone who is struggling is every bit as much hospitality as offering a bed for the night. As someone once said, “Christians must be people of open hearts, open hands, and open doors.”

To love others also means that we must be people of empathy, “rejoicing with others when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep.” In first century Jewish culture, every wedding and funeral was a community affair. It didn’t matter who that person was, if a

funeral procession went by, you joined in the grieving. And in the rejoicing if it was a wedding procession. That ethic carried over into the early Church, and with good reason.

It’s often harder to rejoice in the joy of others. Why? Because we are naturally envious people. It’s often much harder to be glad for someone else’s good fortune than to be sad for their misfortune.

“Be humble, not proud. Don’t think you know it all.” That’s always good advice. No doubt advice I should remember more often than I do…

“Don’t pay back evil with evil. Instead, pray for your enemies.” Often the only way that we can love some people is to pray for them. They may not accept any other kind of love from us.

“As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Peace, in the biblical sense, is living in right relationship with another. Often, we find we are unable to live at peace with someone, but if that happens, be sure it’s because of their choices, not yours. Do all you can to live at peace with all. It is better to suffer evil than do evil. And to hate another person is evil.

“Don’t seek revenge. Leave it in the hands of God.” Only God can judge rightly. Only God knows a person’s thoughts and motives, so only he can judge rightly. And vengeance only perpetuates the cycle of hatred and retaliation. Only forgiveness can break that cycle. And if we profess to be people who have received forgiveness from God for our many sins, then we must be people who offer forgiveness. To seek revenge is to be overcome with hatred and evil.

“Instead, do good for your enemies. This will heap up burning coals on their heads.” There are two ways to interpret that. One is that the good you do for those who hate you will make it even worse for them on the day of judgment. The second is that you will make them ashamed of their behavior. The second seems a lot softer, but the basic sense remains the same. Love is on the side of right, so overcome evil with good.

What does it mean to love each other? It means that we are genuine in our love, not just putting on a show. It means that we embrace everything that is good and right, but we despise everything evil and unjust. It means we must get involved when others are in need. It means we must think more of others than self. It means we must be invested in others, sharing in the joys and hurts of their lives. And it means we must not seek revenge but instead pray and do good for our enemies.

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