More marks of the Christian life (pt. 1)


Paul, writing to the church at Rome, now giving short exhortations to Christlike living, says,

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:11-15

First, he exhorts them to not be slothful in zeal, but to instead be fervent in spirit and serve the Lord.  Laziness is inconsistent with the salvation given to sinful men.  Truly understanding the gospel and reveling in the undeserved favor and mercy of God should lead to a person’s zeal and fervency.  Because Christians have been saved by grace, through faith, they should be motivated to devote their lives to the Savior.

And yet often, we see a sort of easy-believism.  Sure, I’ll take salvation.  But I’ll continue to live for myself.  This is not consistent with someone who has truly been saved by Christ. Now, we all struggle with laziness and selfishness.  But our Spirit-filled, Christ exalting disposition should be that we will not be slothful in zeal, but be fervent in spirit and serve the Lord.

Paul continues, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  As a whole, the larger passage seems to be a collection of disconnected exhortations, but these three seem closely connected grammatically and meaningfully.  It seems to be talking about the Christian’s attitude in trials and tribulation.  They were to be patient in their sorrows and rejoice in hope.  We have the promises of God.  We can hope in them.  We know that He will return and put His enemies at His feet.  We know that all things are being worked for the good of those who love Him.  We know that He is with us, even to the end of the age.  So, we rejoice.

And in our sufferings, we are to be constant in prayer.  He is the One who has the omnipotence to help us in any tribulation.  So, why would we not constantly run to Him?

Paul goes on, contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  Hospitality was especially important in that day, because travel was arduous.  So, it was Christlike to contribute to each other’s needs and to show each other hospitality.  They were to care for one another.  Sometimes, churches can be so focused on “spiritual” matters that they neglect the needs of the saints and showing hospitality.  The point here is that truly spiritual people will, by God’s grace, be concerned about these things.

He goes on, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Now, Paul might have in mind actually doing good things to those who persecute us, and certainly there is other Scripture to back that up.  But more likely, the type of blessing here stands in opposition to cursing them.

Blessing, then, as the opposite of cursing, is appealing to the Lord for the other’s welfare.  For example, Jacob and Esau were after Isaac’s blessing.  And Isaac’s blessing was a request to God that they would be blessed.

We are to bless those who persecute us.  We are not to wish ill on them, but we are to ask God to bless them.  Ultimately, that means asking that God would save them.  What greater blessing is there than that?

It is unthinkable that we would do anything else, like ask God to condemn them to hell.  We who are saved are only saved but by the grace of God.  We don’t dare ask that God would curse anyone.

Next, Paul says rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Paul hearkens back to the Savior’s teaching on the Mount.  The Christian is to be filled with such a love that when they see someone happy, they feel happy.  And when they see someone sad, they are sad.  It is an unloving heart to not care how someone else is feeling.  Or worse yet, someone could be envious when someone rejoices or happy when someone they don’t like is sad.  This is unbecoming a Christian.  Christlike love empathizes with others.

As we proceed through these exhortations, we need to be reminded that ultimately, it was Jesus Christ who was perfectly aligned with these commands.  No one is more zealous, fervent, serving, rejoicing, patient, prayerful, contributing, hospitable, blessing, and empathetic than the Savior.  And He died to save sinners like you and me.  But we were saved, unconditionally, for good works.  We were saved to be Christlike.  May we continue to strive, by His grace, to be like Him.

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