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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who pray for those who torment them said … AMEN!
Paul is usually a tough read. While I sit hear and listen as people do the readings and please don’t get me wrong, the people who step up here and contribute to this church when they serve as readers do a tremendous service and they do a great job and I want to thank them for stepping up. But there are times when I feel bad, because Paul can get awfully tortuous and it’s difficult to follow a thought and put in the right punctuation in their head. Well today, Paul is about as straight forward and to the point as you can get. First sentence “Let love be genuine.” Very straight forward to read, to explain … well a lot more ambiguous.
This whole pericope is about being “genuine”, being a real Christian disciple. When Paul talks about your love being genuine, it’s that you should want what is absolutely best for the other person. At the end of worship, I try to make sure that I ask for “Faith Sharing” moments. These are not intended for you to put pressure on people to go to the right church and get their life all together instantly. These are intended to keep us all aware that we are disciples, that our life is about sharing Christ, or at least it should be. When we have a “Faith Sharing” moment we are showing genuine love. “I care enough about you to stop and talk to you and to share with you what is really important, that is life in Christ.” Regardless of what the world tells us, of all the things that should be “important”, there is only one truly important thing and I’m sharing this with you right now, that Christ is my Lord and is always with me and that He has promised eternal life in the resurrection to me and does to you as He leads you to true knowledge in Him.” That is true love, that is selflessly putting yourself out so that you can show that person Christ, so that you can witness to that person what is truly important in this world, and eternity. Remember how we really only have one word for love, the Greeks had four words for the same word that we use rather glibly. Be assured that when they used the word agape, they knew exactly what they were saying. They weren’t saying that God was nice, or pleasing, or my buddy, they were saying that God’s love for us is self-sacrificing, that He would do for us whatever would be for our benefit, for our growth, for us to come closer to Him and His will for us in our lives. That self-sacrifice was up to and including giving His life for us so that our sin would be paid for and that we would have that promise of eternal life. Can we bless someone any better than that?
The word “genuine” in Greek is avnupo,kritoj meaning without hypocrisy, it is sincere, unfeigned, the absolute truth. You’ve heard that we should make relationships with people and not deal with the Christian thing. Isn’t that really hypocrisy? If you’re going to know me, I hope you will know that I am a Christian, and that I’m going to live my life as a Christian witness in all parts of my life. Anything else would be insincere, hypocritical.
There is so much in this passage, this could go on for hours, but let’s remember who Paul is writing to, I might be repeating myself, but these people are right on the nub of Christian persecution. Paul is writing from Corinth. I’m sure the contrast wasn’t lost on Paul, “I’m writing from a city that treats Christ like a buddy, the church like a plaything, a place where those in the church have a long way to go to Christian maturity.” I’ll bet Paul was thinking; “how do I show these people what the Roman church is dealing with, people who are being oppressed and persecuted for the faith. I don’t have any problem here, because these people treat church like a party. The Romans are sacrificing everything, up to their lives, and they treat the church like a life-preserver, Christ’s church is the only thing they can rely on in a world that is a very real danger, spiritually and physically.”
Paul probably wrote this epistle in 56 AD, at this point the Roman Republic is beginning to crumble, the Roman army, essentially took over the government and placed their man Claudius as emperor, who was poisoned and followed by Nero. You may know that Nero probably started a fire that burned most of Rome that he subsequently blamed on Christians. I’m sure you can imagine how that made life very difficult for Christians. Nero would have Christians killed in the Roman games and use Christians as human torches to light his garden parties. No doubt Paul was aware of at least some of the things that they endured and was trying to encourage them, but he also wanted to remind them that regardless of how much danger his Christian brothers and sisters faced, they were still expected to be faithful and live a Christ-like life, and remarkably, they did.
Paul’s epistle to people who are being so beaten down is a continuous reminder to us that we, who live a pretty comfortable life in the church, are expected to live up to Christian principles in an even more exemplary manner. Our prayer group has put a lot of focus on Christian brothers and sisters who being systematically murdered in Iraq right now. There is a picture of Christians being crucified, I thought of using that picture, but it is very graphic, but just the very idea of brothers and sisters being crucified and beheaded as we enjoy our comfortable lives here in the United States should be a compelling reminder that we should faithfully live up to Paul’s exhortations in this letter in an even more intentional manner. That we should be more active and intentional in blessing those around us.
In the face of this persecution that the Romans are facing, Paul goes on to remind them: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulations, be constant in prayer.” If someone is trying to hurt us and even murder us, this has to be a tough reminder. Let’s face it, our immediate reaction is to be like the world, someone’s trying to hurt me, I’m going to hurt them back. We are told to “do undo others as we would have them do unto us” (Luke 6:31), the world tells us “to do unto others before they do unto us”. Paul is telling us to rejoice in hope, be patient, PRAY!! It is hard, but as Christians, those who are mature in the faith, we are called to do the “hard” thing. Jesus certainly did! If we are being beaten, tortured, mocked, scorned, hung on a cross, are we going to rejoice, be patient? Aren’t we going to curse them? Jesus didn’t. That’s why we are called to a higher life. While He hung on that cross He said; “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” He who endured so much for us, expects us to reach for the higher standard that He set. We shouldn’t repay evil but are called to do what is honorable. It is interesting that Paul tells us that we are expected to leave vengeance to God. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Paul tells us that we should give our enemy food and drink, why? “…by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” It’s a tough lesson, but that is where our faith comes in, that faith that the Holy Spirit gives us to endure. If you really want payback on your enemy, who would do it much better than you ever could? God can and He promises that He will. In the meantime, we should, in faith, pray for that person. We should follow Jesus’ lead and ask the Father to forgive the person who persecutes us and then trust in how the Father is going to deal with that person. In our Christian hearts what we want for the person is not eternal condemnation, we want them to be a brother or sister in Jesus and come to us for forgiveness.
Spend some time with that journal and think about how we can “overcome evil with good” and trust in our Father’s sovereign judgment. Who is it in our life that needs our prayer, that may be tormenting us but still needs forgiveness as much as we do.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.