Romans 12:9-16 One Another-ing (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Rev. Erik Veerman
We have 2 sermons left in Romans 12, today’s and then in 2 weeks. Next week, I’ll be out of town and pastor Chuck will be preaching from Jeremiah.
Our text this morning is Romans 12:9-16. It is found on page 1127 of the pew Bibles. As I read, you’ll hear that it is packed with commands. These are instructions for us. Most of them are about how we relate to one another. I counted something like 21 imperatives and participles just in these 8 verses. I can’t think of another text of Scriptures so full of exhortations. Honestly, each could be a sermon in and of itself, but we’re going to take them all together. My hope is that it will increase our love and care for one another.
So with that in mind, let’s now turn our attention to God’s Word.
Stand. This is God’s holy and inspired word. And he’s given it to us for our edification and his glory
Reading of Romans 12:9-16
I’ve had this image of a symphony running through my mind all week.
If you’ve ever been to the Atlanta Symphony, then you’ll know that the first musical notes you hear are not when the conductor starts the program. No, there is a critical first step. The concertmaster, which is the first chair violinist, tunes the orchestra. She plays an A above middle C. Technically and A440. That musical note has 440 vibrations per second. It’s the unifying note that they all tune to. So, you’ll first hear a single note on a violin. Then the lead oboist follows suit. Then the woodwinds, the brass, the strings all come in, all tuning together to that A440 standard. The performance doesn’t begin until this happens.
An orchestra has come to mind this week because the heart of Romans 12 is about being unified together in our ministry and relationships. We’re called to be in tune with one another sort of like an orchestra. Each of us, like individual instruments, is to work together with the other instrumentalists. We each have different musical parts, but we are one unified symphony – one community of believers in Christ, worshipping and serving together.
And how do we get in tune with one another? What is the A440 of the church? Well, it’s recognizing the unity that we share in Christ, and it’s seeking to work out that unity in our relationships and ministry together.
If we are not in tune with each other, it would be like an orchestra playing without tuning their instruments. There would be dissonance and discord affecting our ministry and community.
To take a step back, God has made us for community. We’ve been created as relational beings. And that comes from the imagio dei. That’s the Latin for the “image of God.” Our need for relationships and community comes from God’s very nature. He is a God of relationships. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Perfect unity and perfect community. And part of our nature as being created in his image emanates from the intimate relationship that God has within himself.
The call to be in community is especially true for God’s redeemed community in Christ – his covenant community, the church. What I mean is that the restored relationship that we have with God also work itself out in our relationships with each another. So as we worship, we worship together as a community. As we serve, we serve as a fellowship of believers. As we care for and love each other, we do so because we are a community.
Much of Romans 12 is about community. Two weeks ago, we worked through what it means for us to be one body with many members.
If you go back up to verse 5. It says, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that when you come to faith in Christ, when you submit your life to him, you become united to him. Jesus said when we come to him, the true vine, then he abides in us and we in him. And one of the great blessings of being united to Christ, is that we are united to one another. That’s what verse 5 is saying - one body in Christ. Individually members one of another.
Then last week, we saw how that worked out in the different gifts that God has given us for the purpose of serving the community.
And today, we’ll see how that should work out in our relationships – specifically how we relate to one another.
•For example, look at verse 10 – “Love one another” and then, “outdo one another in showing honor.” A call for a brotherly and sisterly love for each other.
•Or verse 13 – “contribute to the needs of the saints, show hospitality.” A call to care for each other.
•Or verse 15 – “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” A call to be with one another in times of joy and times of trial.
•Or verse 16 “Live in harmony with one another.” A call to peace.
And even the other commands that don’t explicitly relate to the community, have an effect on the community. Like verse 9 – “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” When we pursue good and not evil our community is steady. Or verse 11, serving. When we serve each other in the Lord, we are building each other up. Or verse 12 – the calls to patience in tribulation and prayer are calls for the community together.
Overall, you could say that these verses summarize the culture to which the church community is called, especially as worked out in relationships.
Ok, take a moment, turn to someone near you, and say to them – “dear so and so, you are my brother or sister in Christ. You are beloved in the Lord.” Do that. Thank you. You each are my brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved of God.
Let’s now focus in on two things.
•First, the church in Rome and how verses 9-16 related to their cultural situation.
•And second, our understanding of these commands and how they apply to the church
1. Roman Culture
So first, a little bit of Roman culture. Some of you will be familiar with the writings of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer was a Christian philosopher in the middle to late 20th century. He was known for asking and answering deep questions of life and faith and morality. His most well-known book is titled How Should We Then Live? In it Shaeffer traces the philosophies and world views that led to the rise and decline of culture as it relates to virtue. He works through the origins of humanistic thinking and the influence and relationships of Christianity through the centuries.
Chapter 1 of his book focuses on ancient Rome. That includes the time period when the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church, which was 56-57 AD.
The reason Schaeffer begins with Roman culture is because he saw ancient Roman virtue as foundationless. Ancient Rome was essentially godless. Even though there were many gods and goddesses that the Greeks and Romans worshiped, none were personal and none had sovereign power. Add to that, in the two centuries leading up to Jesus’ birth, the authoritarian state took over in order to keep a semblance of peace. From that point, worship was to be directed to the emperor – to the Caesar. What unified the Roman empire was not a society founded on principles and virtues, rather unity came through power and might.
The political elite class was full of vengeance and spite, adultery and assassinations. In fact, the very year that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, Nero, the reigning emperor at the time, forcibly retired his mother. And he eventually had her killed for his own political power.
Cicero, the famous Roman orator who lived in the early first century, often used his speeches to malign those he didn’t like. To him, anger was a tool to be used to arouse emotion and accomplish his goals. Gossip was rampant. Rumors were considered a valid means of communication.
So much of what Paul wrote in these verses contrasted societal norms.
•Verse 9 – “let love be genuine.” The culture lacked genuine love. Relationships served your personal interests.
•“Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Goodness and evil were bound up in the utilitarian legal system of the day. Good was not founded on God’s goodness and love, but rather on what would keep society intact.
•Verse 10 – “outdo one another in showing honor.” Or similarly in verse 16, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Honor, in Roman society, was strictly based on social status. Honor was only due someone in a higher class. But here, the call is to honor everyone! And not just to honor one another, try to be the best an honoring others.
•Verse 14 – “Bless those who persecute you.” If someone opposed you, revenge was the answer. Some Roman laws permitted revenge.
The community ethic of Romans 12 was deeply counter cultural to ancient Rome. God was calling them to something wholly different. They were to show true love and care for each other. They were to pursue goodness and not evil.
And it all had a deep foundation… It emanated from two things. First, God’s nature as eternal, personal, righteous, and just…. and second, it emanated from our relationship with him and with one another through salvation in Christ.
Francis Shaeffer said it this way: “Thus the Christian,” by the way, he speaking about the Christians in ancient Rome, “Thus the Christian, not only had knowledge about the universe and mankind that people cannot find out by themselves, but they had absolute, universal values by which to live…. They had grounds for the basic dignity of the individual as a unique being made in the image of God”
In other words, the community standards of love and peace, are only found in and through the one true God.
Kids, I know I’ve used some big words today – humanism, authoritarian, dignity, virtue. You can ask your parents what those each mean. Let me try to put this all in a simple way. God is good. What is good and right needs to come from God who is good and right and who tells us what is good and right. Also, true love for others is based on God’s love for us in Jesus. Instead of being mean and getting back at others, we’re to show honor and care.
And these commands about goodness and love and honor are especially for God’s people in the church. Does that make better sense?
2. The Church Today
So that’s the first part. The counter-cultural emphasis of Romans 12 for his original audience. The commands present an ethical standard for the community that’s grounded…. grounded in God, his goodness, and his grace.
And now the second part. Applying these commands to the church, today. And it’s actually not that hard to make the jump from ancient Rome to today. Some of our culture is similarly foundationless. To be sure, our country has been shaped by Christianity, but less so every generation. And we see the effects today. Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Instead of honoring, we do our best to discredit and shame other people – especially on social media. Love is not a commitment, it’s an emotion. Again, I’m broadly speaking about the culture in which we live. But it impacts the church community. What I’m saying is that these community standards for the church are similarly counter-cultural today.
So, let’s look at them broadly in relation to other Scripture, and then, focus in on a couple of them.
Look at that phrase, “one another.” You’ll see it twice in verse 10 and once in verse 16. In the Greek, it’s the word allelon (ἀλλήλων ah-LAY-loan). It means a mutual togetherness. A reciprocal relationship. Where we are one with another, as verse 5 said.
That phrase is all over the New Testament. Especially the apostle John and the apostle Paul’s writings.
For example, in the Gospel of John, chapter 13 and 15. love one another, love one another, love one another, love one another. 4 times. That’s very similarly in 1st John chapters 3 and 4. Love one another 5 more times.
In the Apostle Paul’s letters, such as Ephesians 4 and 5 and in 1 Thessalonians 3, 4, 5. encourage one another. be kind to one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, patiently bear with one another, do good to one another.
And many many more such as in the books of Hebrews, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Peter. There are over 50 statements where God is calling us, you and me, into a loving and caring relationship with one another in the church.
An overwhelming part of the call for the church, God’s covenant community, is the relational commitment to one another. You see, it’s not just the roles and functions that we’re called to – the gifts of grace that we considered last week. It’s also a call to be in a loving, committed, forgiving, supporting, and caring relationship with each other.
Here are some others I haven’t mentioned… Serve one another, care for one another, encourage one another, carry each other's burdens, minister to one another, be at peace with one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, be devoted to one another. Or things we are not to do... like do not provoke one another, do not envy one another, do not lie to one another, do not speak evil with one another, and do not grumble with one another.
Do you see? It's an essential part of the call for church family. The church body is not a robot with impersonal parts that work together like cogs in a wheel. Rather the church is a living organization. As we serve together, we’re to serve and love one another.
Let’s look at a couple of examples from our text.
1. Verse 10, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Love one another is the most common one another. We are to care for and cherish and be devoted to each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 says that our love for one another should be increasing as our faith increases. Or take 1 Peter 4:8, we should love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sin. We need to spur one another on to love, Hebrews 10:24. Love, as Scripture defines it, is the essential principle of our relationships with each other. Loving one another is committing to care for and support each other. That love is worked out all through these verses. Like the second half of the verse 10, showing honor to one another. Or verses 15 and 16, being present in times of celebration and grief. And not being wise in your own sight, but listening to and caring for each other in Christ. Think of the other people in this room. Are you working out this kind of love with your brothers and sisters here at Tucker Pres? Something to be thinking about this week.
2. Another example here is verse 16. “Live in harmony with one another.” There’s our musical theme again. One of my undergraduate classes was music theory. It was fascinating, especially the study of harmonics. If you take a single musical note, built into that note are all these overtones like fifths and octaves and thirds. And if you layer the harmonics of the overtones, pretty soon you’ve created chords and scales. Their frequencies overlap, and that’s what creates beautiful sound to our ears. There’s an amazing symmetry to the way God created music. That’s where the idea of living in harmony with one another comes from. We’re not the same musical note, but we blend and work together in one accord. It means living at peace with each other. It means being a cohesive fellowship. It includes being reconciled to one another when conflict arises.
The opposite of harmony is what? Discord! You see, all that language comes from music. When we’re not in tune with each other, then dissonance happens. You know the sound. It’s like playing 2 or 3 notes on the piano right next to each other. It happens when we gossip about or slander one another, or when we pass judgement on one another. When just one instrument in an orchestra is out of tune, it affects the sound of the whole symphony.
On his Gospel Coalition blog, pastor Ray Ortlund lists all the “one anothers” that he could not find in script. Like… “humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another's lives, confess one another's sins, intensify one another's sufferings, and point out one another's failings…”
Beloved, none of those fit in a community of true love and harmony, to which we are called.
No, we are called to be a community in Christ that shows radical love to one another and a community that seeks unity and peace.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? And if relationships were easy, I could end this sermon now. But the fact is, and you well know, our relationships are often strained. As much as we desire love and unity and peace, sin gets in the way. Because of the fallen world in which we live and the fallen hearts that we have, we are not able, in our own strength, to love or be at peace with one another. Our own hearts want to run from reconciliation and forgiveness, not to it. Relationships are messy. Our selfish motivations, our idolatry, and our prejudice betray the love and harmony to which we’re called. As much as we want to love and be at peace, in our own strength, we fail.
And this is where we need to come back to where we began. The Christian ethic, the values and virtues of the community to which we are called, have a foundation. They are not built on a society’s desire for self-preservation, like ancient Roman. Neither are they built on our modern concept of an individual’s preferences and desires. No, that only exacerbates the problem.
Instead, the foundation on which these principles are built is the foundation of the one true God and the one true Gospel. The love to which we are called comes from and is founded on the love of God for us in Christ. The unity and harmony to which we are called comes from and is founded on the reconciliation that we have with God, and the way we are united to him and to each other in him. The meditating work of God in Christ, through the cross, is the A440 of the church. It is why the apostle Paul can call us to live in such a community, and how we can pursue love and unity in it. In other words, we can love and we can have peace because God has first loved us.
The stage is set, the concertmaster has tuned the orchestra. Each instrumentalist has fine-tuned his or her instrument. They are all aligned, well prepared, and ready. The conductor steps up to his podium. Pin-drop silence. He raises his hands and baton, they each take that final breath. And… it begins. Can you hear it? Brahms, Mendelson, a Tchaikovsky concerto, a Beethoven symphony, Vivaldi. The chordal progressions, the runs, the intricate harmonies, the melody passed back and forth between instruments, each note interwoven to produce a heavenly sound. It’s no longer individual instruments, it’s a unified symphony as each member beautifully working together.
The love that God has given us in Christ, which reflects his nature, allows us to be such a community in him. So, with one voice and in one accord, all in tune to the Gospel, may we serve and love one another. May we live out that calling in how we love, honor, serve, bless, pray with, rejoice with, weep with, and live in harmony with one another. May that describe our community here. Amen.