By: Adam McClendon
Romans 12:9-21 contains incredibly concise and convicting teachings regarding the Christian life. Paul set the context of this section by first explaining that believers are called to surrender their lives as living sacrifices to God; whereby, he then serves others through us (12:1). In that process, believers are to resist being like the world and submit to being like Christ, in part, through the renewal of the mind, discerning what is right, and then living rightly (12:2).
The truth is that the way we think impacts the way that we live. Paul goes on to show that everyone in the body is uniquely gifted, so be careful not to judge, criticize, or be prideful of your role in the body. Your job is to encourage others and be faithful with the gifts God has given you through the empowerment of his Spirit (12:3-8).
Then the apostle concisely presented some key characteristics that should be evident in a life conformed to Jesus (12:9-21).
Here’s the thing. As I read this section (12:9-21), I am profoundly struck by how far my thinking and advice often strays from biblical Christianity. I find that I am often more influenced by American culture than the word of God. For example:
* “Hone one another above yourselves” (12:10). The ESV says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Why then do I criticize and complain so much? Why do I focus on how others are treating me versus how I am treating others?
* “Be patient in affliction” (12:12b). As soon as tribulation hits, I’m begging God to remove it versus praying for strength to be faithful through it. Nothing is wrong with asking for it to be removed, but why is my first response always bent towards relief and comfort?
* “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14). What? Pray prayers of blessing on the Iranian government that persecutes pastors? Pray for extreme Islamic terrorists? Pray for the ACLU who continues to limit Christianity? Yes. How can I pray for blessing? I can pray that God helps them to experience the joys of a life crucified with Christ and new birth by the Spirit of Almighty God. I can pray God helps them to see the love of the saints and experience God’s mercy in the midst of their hatred in such a way that brings them to repentance.
* “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16b). Why? The lowly can’t help me achieve prominence. The lowly do not have as many resources and talents to contribute to the kingdom. After all, wouldn’t I maximize my time by investing in those who can bring the most to the table? Not in God’s economy. God has a heart for the lowly, the poor, the broken, the one with poor speech and poor hygiene, the one who is humble and gracious. God loves the lowly, do I?
* “Never avenge yourselves” (12:19b). I struggle with this with my own family, much less others. After all, in America, I can’t let others take advantage of me. You are supposed to take them to court, beat them up, do whatever it takes. Isn’t this passage teaching a gross neglect of action? Isn’t it teaching extreme passivity? No, it is not. It is teaching me to go further and die to self even more by showing mercy and blessing to those who seek me harm: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him”. I don’t know what to say to this? I know that I have allowed my culture to influence my heart so much that obedience to this command is incredibly difficult.
In the end, what I know is that I have a long way to go. I am called to die to self daily (Luke 9:23) in allegiance to my King. My problem, in part, lies in the fact that I have spent more time allowing culture to inform my way of life than I have allowing the Bible to do so.