Your Job is to Love
A sermon based on Romans 12:9-21
Sunday, February 23, 2014 – Epiphany 7A
The young man was so excited! He finally got his first job! It was his ticket to a paycheck, which was his ticket to a used car, which was his ticket… to freedom! He would be working as a “courtesy clerk,” the new PC term for what used to be called a “bag boy.” And after a few days of training, he was comfortable with the job description, knew what he was supposed to do and got it done. “Cash, car, freedom, here we come!”
But it seemed like other kids had the same idea, but couldn’t follow through. Showing up late for work, refusing to do the work, but hiding in the back room from any responsibility, other “courtesy clerks,” came and went. It was simple: they didn’t do the work, they lost the job.
Today in our sermon text God, through the Apostle Paul, gives the job description of every Christian. It’s very simple really: Love. Love one another. Love the brothers, that is our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ. And love others. Love unbelievers. Love even those who make themselves your enemies. Love everyone with an agape love—an unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for others no matter what it costs you. And he gives us training to show us what that kind of love looks like.
But sadly, we don’t do a very good job. We don’t always show love to our enemies. We don’t even always show love to our fellow believers. And though we deserve to be “fired,” we’re not. Because thankfully God shows his agape love to us—his unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always sought to serve us, no matter what it cost him.
And this love that God has shown to us, motivates and empowers us to do our job. Our job is to love. We do love the brothers, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And we do love the others, even our enemies. Listen now to Paul’s description of the Christian’s job to love, recorded for us in Romans 12:9-21…
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I. Love the Brothers (v.9-13)
In attempt to be gender-neutral, the updated edition of the New International Version says in verse 10 simply, “Be devoted to one another in love.” They leave out the “brotherly” part. But you know the word in Greek. It’s philadephia. It’s really just two words mashed together: phileo, meaning love—the kind of love among friends—and adelphos, meaning brother. We are to love our brothers in Christ. Of course, the new NIV also usually translates adelphos as “brothers and sisters.” And that’s totally fair. It’s almost always used as a term for Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ and brothers and sisters of Christ.
So how are we to love one another? Well, verse 9 uses a different word for love. It uses agape. Agape is a different kind of love from phileo. Agape is that unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for others no matter what it costs you. And that agape, Paul says, must be sincere—literally without hypocrisy. You’ve often heard me say that the Biblical concept of love is a choice, an action, it’s doing something, not just feeling something. And that’s true. But the reverse is also true: It’s not just doing something sans feelings, going through the motions because you have to or else. That’s duty, not love. Love must be sincere.So what does such a sincere agape love look like? “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” It’s honoring others, not in a show, bowing low and shouting in a theatrical way, “Hello, good sir! What a pleasure to be in your company again. I do hope you’re able to stay a spell.” That’s hypocritical. But sincere love honors others. It wants them to succeed even if you don’t.
“Share with God’s people who are in need.” Sincere love shares with God’s people. Real love—agape love—is expensive. It’s not love if there is no sacrifice. Real love costs. And it costs not just dollars, but your time, your energy, your emotions, yourself… and sometimes with little to no return on your investment. But your dollars aren’t yours, they belong to God. Your energy and emotions are blessings God gives you by giving good health. In fact your very self isn’t yours. You belong to God. And he wants you to spend it all on others, not on yourself.
“Practice hospitality.” Sincere love is hospitable. Do you know where the word ambulance came from? It’s actually an abbreviation of a French term: hospital ambulant. It’s an ambling (or walking) hospital. Before the invention of automobiles, the doctors would amble up to the hurting and bind their wounds. That’s what we are to do as Christians. To look for hurting people and try to care for their needs.
And none of this will be easy. So Paul encourages us to “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Remember who you’re really working for.) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Remember you’re not working alone.)
So how well do you do at your job? Ready for a performance review? Is your love sincere? Are you eager to honor others above yourself? Or to share your money, time, energy and self with others? Do you seek to meet the needs of your hurting brothers and sisters? Do you love your fellow believers with an unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for others no matter what it costs you?
Sadly, brothers and sisters don’t always get along, do they kids? Sadly, they can often be the cruelest to those closest to them. Adults can act that way too, can’t we? We often fail to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our spouses, to our own kids. And if God were to call us into the office for a performance review, we wouldn’t do very well. It’s simple: Don’t do the work in the job description and we deserve to be fired.
But you know that that’s not the case. To see why, we have to have get the context of Romans chapter 12. Go back to verse 1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” And you know that “Whenever you see therefore, you need to find out what it’s there for.”
Well, Paul is really reminding his readers of everything he’s just written in the first 11 chapters: that though the Romans had not kept God’s law the way they ought, whether they were Roman Gentiles who didn’t know the law, or were Roman Jews who knew the law, but still didn’t keep the law, yet, nevertheless, God revealed to them a righteousness that came apart from the law, a righteousness given to them by God through faith in Jesus.
And he summed that all up with the phrase, “in view of God’s mercy.” No more animal sacrifices were needed. The once-for-all sacrifice of the Son of God had been made for them. Jesus loved the brothers (and sisters, the elect, the Church of God) more than he loved himself—with a sincere love. He was an ambulance—walking on this earth, descending to come to be with us sick and dying sinners to make us healthy and whole. And that moved the Romans to offer their bodies as living sacrifices—thank offerings—to Jesus, in view of God’s mercy through him.
And you are spiritually healthy in Christ! He’s made you perfect by that same once-for-all sacrifice. So we sacrifice ourselves in thanks to him, gladly, willingly offering our money, our time, our energy, our emotions, our very lives to God. We cling to what is good. We cling to Christ, glued to him, we go where he goes. We do what he does. And we love as he loves.
So love sincerely just as you’ve been loved. You know the agape love that God shows you in Christ—that unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for you no matter what it costs him. And this love moves you to show that same unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love, that always-seeks-what-is-best-for-others-no-matter-what-it-costs-you kind of love, to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Even when they don’t agree with you. Even when they irritate you. Even when they drive you crazy. (And that’s what siblings do.) But still, we show agape love. Love the brothers. But you also know that it’s not just to our fellow believers that we are to show love. We’re also called to love others…
II. Love the Others (v.14-21)
Do you know what xenophobia is? Xeno means “strangers” in Greek. And a phobia you know is a fear. Xeno-phobia then is the fear of people from other countries, strangers. Well, the word translated as “hospitality” in verse 13 is literally xenophilia. That is xeno (“strangers”) plus phileo (“love among friends”). In other words, we’re not just called to love the brothers, that is the saints who believe as we do. But we’re also called to love the others, that is strangers, even unbelievers, even those who make themselves our enemies. That’s a part of our job description as Christians: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath…”
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…” implies that it won’t always be possible. You won’t always be able to “live at peace with everyone.” Some people will still choose to be your enemies. You can’t control other people. But you can control how you respond. That’s literally what responsible means: You’re able to respond to the situation.
So how do you respond? Here’s how you should… Don’t be proud or conceited. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t seek revenge. But leave it to God. But instead do be helpful, loving, and kind. “On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Be like the good Samaritan, who in spite of the racism shown against him and his people was loving to his Jewish enemy, bound up his wounds, got him the care he needed, and paid for his medical bills. (cf. Luke 10:25-37) Be nice to the guy at work who’s always a jerk. Show love to your spouse even when you’re being insulted. Give up your turn with your favorite toy to your brother or sister who’s being mean to you.
And the result? “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Or as mom always used to say, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” Of course the goal isn’t really to kill him. It’s not to burn him. The context makes it clear that revenge is not the goal.
But if you are only loving and kind when he or she treats you with contempt, eventually they may be ashamed of their actions. They might feel the heat of their own conscience perhaps as never before. Martin Luther said that your enemy will be forced to ask, “Why do I hurt this pious person? Why do I persecute someone so innocent?” And will be led to the conclusion that they are a horrible sinner. Their burning guilt—like hot coals on their head—might them to despair of their pride.
And then, perhaps, through you they may even turn to Jesus to receive the soothing balm of the gospel that puts out the fire of guilt. And so the hot coals of shame produced by your consistently loving actions may eventually kindle the fire of faith. In this way you will “not be overcome by evil, but [will] overcome evil with good.”
So, that’s the job description. How’s your performance? Do you always love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and overcome evil with good? No. Not always. And when we show how little we love others, we show how little we love God. You can’t say you love a friend, but hate his children. And even your enemies are dearly loved by God. Again it’s quite simple: Don’t do the work in the job description and we deserve to be fired.
But we don’t get the hell we deserve because of God’s great love for us.
Paul wrote in Romans 5(:8,10) “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Now in thanks to God for Christ, who loved us when we were hostile to him with that agape, unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for us no matter what it costs him, we are eager to love not just our own, but even our enemies, with that very same unconditional, intentional, self-sacrificing love that always seeks what is best for others no matter what it costs us.
Cling to what is good, dear friends. Stay glued to Christ, who forgives us for our failures, motivates to love him and others, and empowers to love not just the brothers, our fellow believers in Christ, but also the others—even those who hate us.
The job description is tough. What God calls us to do—to love everyone all the time—certainly isn’t an easy job. But we are recipients of God’s agape, self-sacrificing, unconditional, intentional, always seeking what is best for us, no matter what it may cost him love, that he’s given to us in Christ. And we are moved to show that same self-sacrificing, unconditional, intentional, always seeking what is best for others, no matter what it may cost us, kind of love… to our brothers, to our sisters, to our fellow believers… and even to others, to our persecutors, to our enemies. For “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.