August 27 2022 - Romans Chapters 12-16

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Today we finish our series on Romans. When Paul uses the word therefore to start Romans 12:1, we need to see what it’s there for. What it means here is that all that Paul’s going to tell them in this chapter is a natural response to what he’s told them in chapters 1-11. Because of all the mercies of God we’ve been talking about up till now, here’s some ways we should be living out our faith in practical terms as a response to the mercies of God.


First, Paul urges his readers to present themselves to God as living sacrifices. Such an idea was totally new to his audience. A sacrifice, by definition, dies when it is offered. What’s a living sacrifice? A living sacrifice is one that stays alive and useful, a sacrifice that keeps on giving. That’s the kind of sacrifice God wants. The Roman Christians need not offer the other kind any more. God wants to be worshipped, not with dead animals, but with holy lives.


Walter Martin points out that the problem with us as living sacrifices is that we keep squirming off the altar. We need to learn to stay on the altar, and keep offering ourselves to be used by God. We need to learn to give God all of our treasure and energy.


Next, Paul urges his readers, “Don’t be conformed to this world.” One famous version says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold.” We live in a culture that can be hostile to our faith. We are surrounded by influences that can undermine our standards of honesty, purity, compassion, and commitment, our attitudes toward money and what we truly value in life.


The world around us wears provocative clothes. It pumps filth into its brains. The world cuts corners on honesty. It treats people ruthlessly in business. The world shows little compassion or fairness toward the employee, the consumer, or the poor. The world is preoccupied with its own standard of living. And it puts God in a box to be opened only on Sundays, if ever. That’s the world to which Paul warns us not to be conformed.


“Don’t be conformed to this world” doesn’t mean we have to dress like a Saudi Arabian or drive an Amish buggy or listen to Gregorian chants. What it means is that we should avoid becoming so much like our culture that we absorb values and attitudes that drag us away from God. We must resist the temptation to adjust our convictions to what is fashionable. We must avoid becoming a chameleon OR a dinosaur. We must refuse to go along with the crowd or be squeezed into everyone else’s mold.


The real issue, says Paul, is not conformity or non-conformity. The real issue is transformation. Paul says that instead of being con-formed, we need to be trans-formed by the renewal of our minds. The word Paul uses here means a change like changing clay into gold: not a change in appearance, but a change in what we’re made of.


Paul says we need to be transformed like clay into gold – not outwardly, but inwardly. God’s word is truth that can transform our minds. Our minds are naturally full of garbage. By nature, our minds reject God’s truth. That’s why our minds need to be renewed by the work of the Holy Ghost before we can comprehend or accept God’s truth.


In the next 6 verses, Paul urges his readers to make use of the gifts and talents God has given them, including prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and showing mercy. Whatever your gift, Paul says, use it. Give it all you’ve got!


Verse 9 – “Let love be genuine.” Literally, let love be “un-hypocritical.” That’s the kind of love God wants. Don’t just talk about love – show it. Verse 10 – “Love one another with family affection.” We in the church should love one another like family. Paul says we should also “outdo one another in showing honor” – honoring one another out of a pure love for Christ.


Verse 11 – “Never be slack in your zeal.” Don’t let your zeal for Christ ever slow down or fizzle out. That assumes that you have zeal for Christ. Being saved by Christ is naturally going to produce this kind of passion. If that passion’s never been there in your heart, check to make sure he’s there. Now if you’ve lost your zeal because you’re tired or discouraged, maybe you’re attempting too much. Maybe you need to readjust expectations that are set too high. Or maybe you’ve gotten out of touch with God, and need a fresh reminder of God’s love.


Verse 12 – “Rejoice in your hope.” Our hope of eternal life with God is our bottom-line reason for joy. It’s our source of encouragement as we pour ourselves out for God each day. Without this hope of eternal life to inspire us, it’s pointless to try to do all that Paul urges us to do. We won’t have the heart for it. The commands in Romans 12 are only for those who have the joy of knowing that their sins are forgiven. No one else can live this way.


Paul also says “Be patient in suffering” and “Be constant in prayer.” Without a heartfelt excitement what Christ has done for us, it’s hard to be patient when we’re suffering, and it’s hard to take daily time to concentrate on prayer. Because prayer is so effective, the devil makes prayer feel like a chore that we want to avoid.


Paul urges his readers to contribute to the needs of fellow believers who are poor, and to practice “hospitality” (literally “love of strangers”). Hospitality means the most when we do it, not just for family or friends, but for strangers. The verb here means we are not merely to give hospitality, but pursue it. We’re supposed to drag people in off the street, to go out looking for strangers to take in, like Francis Schaeffer, who at his mission in Switzerland took all kinds into his house (even thieves, addicts, and prostitutes) in order to reach them with the claims of Christ.


Verse 15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” We as God’s servants need to share people’s joys and sorrows. There’s a real need in this world for people who will listen. There’s a lot of loneliness out there. It’s hard to be full of joy and not have anyone to share that joy with, or anyone to share the pain of sadness, who tells us it’s OK to feel what we feel. We who believe in Christ need to be the ones who are meeting that need.


“Live in harmony with one another” – “be of the same mind with one another.” We see this again in verse 18: “If it be possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Notice that it may not be possible to live at peace with all, but we must do all we can do to make that happen. Verse 16 says, “Don’t be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.” The church should avoid the trap of becoming snobs. Instead of avoiding or excluding undesirable people, we should do our best to welcome the rejected of this world.


Finally, Paul has advice about persecution and the desire for revenge. In verse 14, Paul quotes the words of Jesus: “Bless those who persecute you.” Harassment because of our faith is a pressure that can bring out the worst in us. Persecuted Christians are tempted to vengeance far more than we are. They’ve had more violence done to them than we’ve had. The temptation is great to respond with violence.


But what does Paul say to believers under fire? “Repay no one evil for evil.” “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” Paul quotes the Hebrew scriptures twice to make his case. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” “If your enemy is hungry, feed him…” We must resist the urge to become the self-appointed agent of God’s wrath, lest we become targets of that wrath ourselves. We must treat our enemies with the same compassion with which God has treated us. Being vengeful is not the Christian way. It’s the way of the non-Christian world to which we are not to be conformed.


Paul wraps up this chapter by saying, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To respond with the same evil done to us is to become just like our enemy, to be dragged down to their level, to be overcome by evil. But Paul says that instead, we must overcome evil with good. We must not let hatred have the last word. We must do all we can to make ourselves an undeniable force for good in the world.


All of what Paul urges his readers to do in Romans 12 is a part of what it means to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, what it means to stay on the altar, to keep offering ourselves to God day after day. But we’ve got to remember: Paul’s not trying to tell us here how to be good enough to earn our way to heaven.


Remember the key word in this chapter? “Therefore” – because of all that Paul has said so far, because Jesus Christ has already put us right with God as a gift we can only receive by faith – therefore, here’s how we can offer ourselves to God in gratitude on a daily basis. If I didn’t already have the assurance of eternal life and peace with God, I’d never have the heart to live this way and keep it up over the long haul, if I thought that’s what I had to do to be saved. But knowing that Christ has already paid the price, knowing that he has paid the debt I could never pay, gives me the inspiration to live the kind of life Paul urges us to live.


If all this is really true, Paul argues – if Jesus Christ has offered up his life in sacrifice for us – the logical response is for us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices on God’s altar, sacrifices that stay on the altar, sacrifices that keep on giving.


In chapter 13, Paul turns to the question: How should Christians relate to Nero? Nero is the emperor who was famous for killing his own mother, and for his killing of Christians, whom he blamed for starting the great fire in Rome in 64 AD. Paul himself would one day be executed by the blade of Nero’s ax. Nero was not only promiscuous, he even married men on 2 different occasions. Nero makes all of today’s political leaders look like Boy Scouts by comparison.


We don’t know how crazy Nero had become by the time Paul wrote his letter to Rome in 57 AD. But we know that Paul never changes his attitude toward the civil government, even when Nero finally goes off the deep end. What does Paul say about obeying this character? Paul writes, “Obey the existing authorities. God has put them here, to execute God’s wrath on wrongdoers.” Paul says that God has given the state the “power of the sword,” the authority to use deadly force against evil.


Paul tells Roman believers that they should obey their government, not only out of fear of punishment, but also for conscience’s sake. Paul urges them to pay respect to whom respect is due (even to a guy like Nero!), honor to whom honor is due, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due.


Paul urges believers to obey the government and pay their taxes, even under an emperor who had lost his marbles, regardless of how their tax money was spent. Christians in the 1st century AD lived in an idolatrous, warlike empire. Their tax money went to pay for luxurious waste, welfare, bread and circuses for the masses, a humongous military machine, and even to pay for the worship of pagan gods. It was all financed by the state. God’s word commanded Christians to pay taxes to a bloody, wasteful, idol-worshipping government. Paul says here that the government authorities are servants of God. They may be wasteful, unrighteous servants, but the money they collect is a necessary part of the divine order for the world.


In chapter 14, Paul addresses other issues of conscience at Rome, including which day to worship, and whether it was OK to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Paul’s advice on the Sabbath is: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let every person be convinced in their own mind.” On food, Paul teaches in verse 14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself.” All food is clean! Paul gets that from Jesus. But Paul teaches in verse 21 that we should not eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes a weaker brother to fall back into sin. Some early copies of Romans end here at the end of chapter 14, but most copies have 2 more chapters.


As we turn to chapter 15, Paul had 1 passion in life, and it wasn’t his possessions. All he had (all he needed) was 1 winter coat and a handful of books (most important: his OT scrolls). Paul and his buddies had an all-consuming mission, and it wasn’t to keep their club going. As we see in verse 20, Paul’s passion was to take Jesus to places where no one else had heard of him before, to win followers for Jesus all the way to the ends of the earth. For Paul, that was Spain. After planting churches all over Turkey and Greece, Paul’s vision was to visit Rome, and then go on to Spain! Jonah sets sail for Spain to run away from God. Paul wants to take God with him to Spain, to carry out God’s mission there.


Paul never does make it to Spain. He does make it to Rome – in chains. When Paul gets released from jail (from what we can tell), instead of going on to Spain, Paul gets sidetracked into unfinished business back east. Paul starts churches all over the island of Crete. He plans to spend the winter in Yugoslavia. But then Paul is arrested and hauled away hurriedly to Rome a second time, this time to be executed by Nero. Paul was cut down on a detour from his vision to reach Spain. Yet Paul was still pursuing his mission, even if it wasn’t exactly where he had in mind.


Finally, in chapter 16, as we read the list of all the folks Paul sends greetings to and from at the end of his letter to the Romans, we find a gold mine of overlooked people whom God used in unique ways. We have no idea what they did or why they were important. Most of these we would call nobodies. But they were just as important to God as the folks like Paul whose names we do know. Each of these souls played a vital role in what God was doing in the early church. Imagine having your name immortalized (so to speak) in the pages of God’s word, like these folks at the end of Paul’s letter to Rome!


Paul passes on greetings from Gaius, “who is host to the entire church.” Gaius Titius Justus was a rich Roman convert whose home was big enough to house the entire Corinthian church. This guy opened up his home to give believers a place to meet. Where would the church at Corinth have met without Gaius? Paul also sends greetings from “Erastus, the city treasurer.” Here we have a Christian in politics at City Hall. We’ve even found a piece of city pavement laid by him – it says “Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense.”


People think that Paul was anti-women. But several women appear on Paul’s list of greetings. Paul sends his letter to the Romans by the hand of Phoebe, whom he calls a “deaconess” or literally a “minister.” It’s the same word Paul uses when he calls himself a “minister” of Jesus Christ. Phoebe hosted an entire church in her house, when she wasn’t in Rome on business. Paul also names other women as fellow-workers: Priscilla, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. In verse 7, Paul even describes 1 woman named Junia as being “outstanding among the apostles.”


In 16:22-23, we find 2 slaves who were given numbers for names: Tertius (which means “Number 3”), and Quartus (which means “Number 4”). How humiliating, to be given a number for a name! But notice what it says: “I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Tertius is the secretary who puts Paul’s words into writing. God used a slave with a number for a name to author an all-time theological classic!


Are you willing to be Tertius the slave, writing words that he never dreamed would be read by hundreds of millions? Are you willing to be Gaius Titius Justus of Corinth, who opened his home for the entire church to meet? Are you willing to be Phoebe, who hosted a new church in her home when she wasn’t on business in Rome? Are you willing to be Erastus, the guy who took Jesus to City Hall, the guy who gave out of his own pocket to build his town? Are you willing to be one of those dozens of names in the church at Rome where nobody remembers what they did but God? Don’t worry about the award ceremonies. Don’t worry about who’s in the audience. We perform for an audience of One, the only One whose praise truly counts.


That’s Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. Next time, we’ll begin a 4-part series on Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, a city that would make Las Vegas or San Francisco look righteous. Join us for our next series on 1st Corinthians on Biblical Words and World!