We are looking at a section of Romans 12 that runs from verse 9 thru 21. Paul begins his exhortation with what seems to be its theme: "Loving without hypocrisy":
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 NASB
Starting here, Paul describes a love that is completely devoid of hypocrisy, a love that is an image of the love that God had demonstrated toward mankind. This section is all about love.
Yeshua said to His disciples:
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35 NASB
Yeshua didn't say that all men will know that you are believers or Christians or kingdom citizens; He said they would "...know that you are My disciples." A disciple is one who follows Christ.
In Hebrew a disciple wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. The decision to follow a rabbi as a disciple meant total commitment in the first century, as it does today. Since a disciple was totally devoted to becoming like the rabbi, he would have spent his entire time listening and observing the teacher to know how to understand the Scripture and how to put it into practice.
A Christian disciple is someone who more than anything else in the world wants to be just like Yeshua. Are you His disciple? If we are going to be disciples, we must be focused on the Rabbi Yeshua Ha' Moshiach . We must live by His teaching (which means we must know those teachings well); and we must imitate Him whenever we can. In other words, everything becomes secondary in life to being like Him.
Our text this morning is a call to discipleship, to follow the Rabbi. Paul says the same thing over and over in this paragraph. Verse 14: "Don't curse those who persecute you." Verse 17: "Don't return evil for evil." Verse 19: "Do not avenge yourselves." Verse 21: "Don't be overcome by evil." This is calling for a life that is counter culture. If you live like this, you will stand out.
The normal response to opposition is demonstrated by Nikita Krushchev, ex-premier of Russia, once stated to the American press,"My sole difference with Christ is that when someone hits me on the right cheek, I hit him on the left so hard that his head falls off."
Commenting on this text, one commentator writes, "Paul's instruction comes in the form of imperatives that are almost poetic in form. Though writing in Greek, he uses a Hebraic form of poetic grammar that will be received comfortably by his Jewish readers." If this was written in Greek, why use Hebraic poetic grammar? This Hebraic grammar is proof that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 NASB
I think a shift is made here from how we treat believers to how we treat those outside the faith; understanding that these apply to believers and unbelievers alike. Love blesses those who curse you. The word "bless" in this text is taken from the Greek word, eulogeo, which means: "To speak well of, to bless or invoke a benediction upon, to pray for their prosperity, bless or praise." And you'll notice that "bless," is a present tense, it's the idea of constantly blessing. We bless others by asking Yahweh to bless them. This is the context of the word when we say, "God bless you."
We are to bless those who persecute us. The Greek word translated "persecute" comes from dioko, which means: "to pursue" or "chase away." Over time it came to mean "to harass" or "treat in an evil manner." In the New Testament it is used of "inflicting suffering on people who hold beliefs that the establishment frowns on, and it is this kind of persecution of which Paul speaks here.
Dioko is actually from the same verb as "practicing" in verse 13. It means: "to pursue." In the former case, it means: "to pursue others in order to lavish hospitality"; here it means: "to pursue with inhospitable intentions."
We, American Christians, have not seen much of the open, violent persecution common throughout the world. That's the other extreme of persecution. We hear stories each Sunday of Christians being hunted down; run out of their homes; their homes and businesses destroyed; churches destroyed; believers or their children beaten, raped, maimed, and killed. Tens of thousands of Christians each year face this kind of horrible treatment. And why? Because of their faith in Yeshua.
But even American Christians will be persecuted. We will be hated, mistreated, misunderstood, lied about, gossiped about, and there will be those who go beyond this to hurt us deeply, leaving scars that last for a lifetime. Sometimes the attacks come from those closest to us, sometimes from within our own family, often from our circle of very close friends, and sometimes from people we thought were our best friends. There is no escaping this reality, and to deny it is like denying the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West. Sooner or later even the people we loved and trusted will let us down, and some of them will turn on us. How are we to respond?
"Bless and do not curse"--that means when they speak evil of you, when they curse you, when they persecute you; you speak well of them. You speak of them with a heart's desire for their welfare. You do not bring defamation upon them or their name. You do not stoop to their level. We usually bless those who persecute us, don't we? Ouch!
We curse others for the smallest infraction. Traffic! Cursing others is very abundant in out society. To say, "God damn you" Or "Go to hell" are demonstrative examples of such a curse.
The injunction to bless those who persecute us is one of the most revolutionary statements in the New Testament and can only be carried out by the Holy Spirit. By asking the Roman believers to bless their enemies, Paul was effectively saying that they should pray for them--not seeking their humiliation or destruction; this is what Yeshua taught:
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:43-44 NASB
Yeshua was referring to the rabbinic teaching, which was supposedly based on Scripture. But the First Testament will be searched in vain for any precept which required the Israelites to entertain any hatred toward their enemies. You shall "hate your enemy" was a rabbinical invention pure and simple.
When the scribes and pharisees taught that you must hate your enemies, they meant you must detest that person, persecute them, and have no love for them. This was the perverted teaching of the scribes and pharisees, which clearly did not come from Scripture. In the First Testament, it is clear that God wants us to love our enemies:
"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. "If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. Exodus 23:4-5 NASB
The point is that Yeshua does not want us to act like the world. He wants us to manifest a behavior that is based upon a supernatural principle of divine life. He desires that we live above the level of mediocrity by the power of His Spirit. He desires for us to live a life that in our own strength we cannot live.
Yeshua says to His followers: you should "...love your enemies." This is a powerful and radical teaching about the inclusiveness of love. The kind of love that Yeshua advocates even embraces our enemies.
When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you blessed or prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you? This is what Yeshua did:
But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. Luke 23:34 NASB
He was praying for those who had hung Him on the cross; He was unjustly condemned and tortured to death. And He prays for those who did it. This is Christ's example!
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 1 Peter 2:21-23 NASB
We are called to follow in the steps of our Rabbi Yeshua, which means that when we are persecuted, we trust that Yahweh brought the persecution for our benefit. The Gospel calls us to live counter-culturally. It demands of us to put our trust and confidence in Christ's rule over our lives--to let that mean something in daily life.
We must learn to view our enemy as a gift from God. Though you don't know it and often can't see it, the person who has hurt you so deeply is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers:
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. Genesis 50:20 NASB
The only way we learn to love is by dealing with unlovely people.
Stephen followed the example of his Lord in praying for those who despitefully used him and persecuted him:
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 NASB
Stephen blessed his enemies; this is not normal behavior, this is Christian behavior!
To show the distinctiveness of being Christians, we need to respond with love to those who hate us and with goodness to those who do evil to us:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 NASB
I think we should see a connection between verses 14 and 15 in that we are called to rejoice with and weep with those who are persecuting us. I don't see Paul here as referring to the normal events in life, events such as births and marriages within the church. Paul usually uses the term "rejoice" in the context of suffering.
Why would you not weep with those who weep? One reason would be that you are glad they are weeping. In other words, you were angry at them for the way they treated you, and then something bad happened to them and you are glad. This is an ungodly attitude:
He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished. Proverbs 17:5 NASB
Rejoicing in others calamity brings judgment. Think of Joseph's brothers. Did they rejoice when their father gave him a beautiful, multi-colored coat? They were jealous! They seethed! Out of their embittered spirit, they looked for an opportunity to do him harm.
The response of the godly is seen in David:
Malicious witnesses rise up; They ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother. But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered themselves together; The smiters whom I did not know gathered together against me, They slandered me without ceasing. Psalms 35:11-15 NASB
This is what Paul is calling believers to do.
Rejoicing means that we find delight in something and give voice to it. Suppose your enemy gets a promotion, but you don't. Do your share their joy? That is the absence of any jealousy, isn't it? That is a distinctly Christian characteristic, to rejoice at someone else's prosperity.
so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NASB
We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and we are to "weep with those who weep"--weeping with those who weep means that we enter into their sorrows, hurts, pains, and trials. The word "weep" here is an interesting word in the Greek, it's the word klaio (klie-o), and it means:" to shed tears." It's a strong word.
Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Romans 12:16 NASB
This may anticipate the tension between Jew and Gentile in the synagogue. The word, which has as its root the meaning of "mind," is found three times here. We see "mind" twice, and then the word for wise is also related to mind.
"Be of the same mind toward one another"--this has the idea of, "Have equal regard for one another." It simply means: "Think about everybody the same, don't be a respecter of persons, don't play up to certain kinds of people or look down on others."
"Do not be haughty in mind"--this means: "don't be high-minded; don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to think" (12:3). It's talking about pride and conceit in the church. There was clearly much evidence of this--Jews looking down on uncircumcised Gentiles, circumcised Gentiles (who called themselves Jews) looking down on uncircumcised Gentiles, and believing Gentiles looking down on unconverted Jews as discarded branches of the olive tree.
"Associate with the lowly"--the verb "associate" was used for a flood that sweeps everything along. It was used of Barnabas being "carried away" by the Jewish hypocrisy in Antioch (Gal 2:13). We are to be swept along with the lowly, to give ourselves over to the lowly.
"Do not be wise in your own estimation"--this is basically saying, "Don't be conceited." In January of 1973 the top pop music hit in the country was "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon. One line of the song was, "You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte." It described the base personality of one who had an unduly high opinion of himself.
Yeshua associated with tax collectors, prostitutes, and drunkards. And He reserved His harshest words for the pharisees who robbed widows' homes and claimed to be serving God.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Romans 12:17 NASB
Some of you who know your Bible might be thinking, "What about the First Testament where it says in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, Deuteronomy 19, "...an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"?
That is talking about public law. That Mosaic prescription has to do with the nation; a nation is to have a system of justice that retaliates against evil. So that where there is a murder, there should be the execution of a murderer; where there is a theft, there should be retribution brought upon the thief. There is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in a society as ruled by men in a government that is ordered by law. But that is not to be for private revenge, that's the point. What is God's design for the society is not vigilante law. Paul gave this same command to the Thessalonians:
See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 NASB
Peter also repeated this command:
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9 NASB
Believers, this is how we are supposed to live.
"Respect what is right in the sight of all men"--a literal rendering of this verse could be, "Stand for what is right in the sight of all." The ESV puts it, "Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all men." In other words, you are having regard for something, you're thinking before hand, you are being preoccupied with a thought. You see, the appropriate actions always begin with right thinking.
The principle is: Live in such a way that no one can make an honest accusation against you. Live so that if they are going to accuse you, they have to tell a lie to do it:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18 NASB
"If" is a third class condition; maybe yes, maybe no. A disciple of Yeshua will make every effort possible to be a peacemaker, to serve as an agent of reconciliation rather than one of division. One who loves without hypocrisy will always seek to live in peace with others, willing to break that peace only in the most extending of circumstances.
"So far as it depends on you"--I'm so glad he said that. It's not a peace at any price, it's not peace by compromising biblical principals or biblical convictions. In some situations, peace might give way to conflict if, for example, the truth is at stake. We don't compromise our convictions for the sake of peace. We don't have peace with the homosexuals by agreeing with their lifestyle. There are times when peace is not possible.
For instance, if you look at the life of David, he tried to be at peace with Saul, he tried it over and over. He asked him, "What have I done wrong to you? How have I wronged you?" He didn't kill him, he didn't take revenge when he had the opportunity. He did everything that he could to be at peace with him, but because of Saul's hostility, his phobias, his narcissism, there was no peace with Saul.
If hostility does erupt, the Christian should not retaliate:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. Romans 12:19 NASB
Revenge is one of the most natural of human responses to hurt or injury or bad attitudes. We always feel that if we treat others according to the way they have treated us, we are only giving them justice.
Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. He was tired and hungry. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclist ,of the Hell's Angels type, decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his french fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it.
How did this trucker respond? How would you respond? Well, this trucker did not respond as one might expect. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.
When she returned, one of the cyclists said to her, "Well, he's not much of a man, is he?" She replied, "I don't know about that, but he sure isn't much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot."
Do you love hearing stories like that? Stories of revenge and retaliation? I think we all share that type of sentiment. We feel that we have a right to retaliate. It was John Kennedy who said, "Don't get mad, get even." That represents the wisdom of the world. And if we are truthful, that's the way most people, even many Christians, operate.
When anyone threatens our rights or takes what we think belongs to us, we are inclined to retaliate. Revenge, or defending your own borders, is the first impulse of the unregenerate. We are not to fight with the same spirit as they do; we must have a Christ-like response.
I think that one of the most convicting Scriptures to our self-centered materialistic attitudes is:
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Hebrews 10:32-34 NASB
It says they, "...accepted joyfully the seizure of your property." I would very much like to tell you that this is a textual error, but it's not! This is very convicting. This is the concrete action of the tribulation mentioned in verse 33. Their property was being confiscated.
The word "seizure" is from the Greek harpage (har-pag-ay'), which most likely points to mob violence, the unjust seizer of their property. Notice that it doesn't say anything about retaliation or resistance. I would like it to say, "And they took their AR-15's and Mossberg 590's and shed blood defending their property." But it says, "They took it joyfully."
Now, I know from experience that ordinarily there is nothing in this world that causes more distress, depression, grief, anxiety, and sorrow than the loss of one's material goods--especially those material goods for which an individual has diligently and honestly labored, and which they and their families still need. But our text says, "They accepted it joyfully." How could they have this attitude? What did they know that we don't? Yahweh! They knew Yahweh in such an intimate way that it controlled how they lived. Joy is a by-product of a spirit controlled life.
Let me ask you a question: "Is anyone brought closer to the Kingdom by your asserting your rights? Is anyone brought closer to the Kingdom by your retaliation?" I think the answer is obvious. We do not win people to Yeshua by beating them up. We were not won that way. Neither do we become more like Christ by asserting our rights. He never did.
You see, God has a purpose. His purpose is to show His grace through His people. His purpose is to touch people's hearts by His mercy. His purpose is to develop our character so that we are conformed to the nature of Yeshua. His purpose is to reveal His Kingdom on earth through His people.
The choice is yours. The choice is either to take matters in your own hands or to be an agent of the Kingdom of God. You can assert your rights, or you can reach out to others. You can retaliate, or you can show compassion.
"VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord--this is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35, which deals with the Lord giving vengeance:
"BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Romans 12:20 NASB
Needless to say, this flies in the face of common sense. You shoot enemies, you don't feed them. Our enemy by definition will almost always be someone close to us. I don't have any enemies in Iran, because I don't know anybody over there.
"FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD"-- is this a proof text for round about revenge? Some say that the burning coals is a figure of God's judgment that will come on the enemy if he persists in his antagonism. This doesn't sound very nice, unless having burning coals on your head is a good thing.
We are dealing with a Hebrew idiom. Idioms come from historical origins and often refers to a particular event or custom, so it may be instructive to ascertain what this idiom meant to the ancient Jew. Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 NASB
That saying is in the middle of several proverbs that use physical images to describe emotional reactions. Right before it is the passage:
Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart. Proverbs 25:20 NASB
The physical picture of discomfort illustrates that trying to make a person in mourning happy just distresses them more. Likewise, the passage about coals is about the emotional discomfort an enemy will feel when you waken his conscience about his conduct toward you. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia1 :
The word "coal" is often used in a metaphorical sense: 2 Samuel 14:7 speaks of the "quenching of the coal" of a man, meaning the complete annihilation of his issue; while in Proverbs 25:22 kindness bestowed upon an enemy is called "heaping coals of fire upon his head," since it tends to waken his deadened conscience and help him to realize his wrong. Ecclus. (Sirach) viii. 10 compares the smoldering and easily roused passion of the godless man to the coal that is easily lighted and breaks forth into flame.
The ancients were a nomadic people who depended upon fire for their daily work. When one would retire for the night, they would stoke the fire with fresh wood so that there would be coals remaining in the morning. It may be necessary to get up in the middle of a particularly cold night and repeat the process so that there are still coals remaining in the morning. However, if one is lazy and does not prepare the fire the night before, the coals are all extinguished in the morning and that individual is forced to go to a neighbor and beg for some hot coals. Envision your enemy coming to you in the morning begging for a few coals. He brought a small bowl with him with which to hold the coals. You have few coals to share since your fire will not be fully built until late morning. However, recognizing your enemy's need, you offer him so many coals that he has a full, large bowl full. The ancients carried a bowl on the top of their head.
To heap burning coals on one's head is to lavish them with a gift that they do not deserve. This is consistent with grace. It is also an act that is deserving reward: "...and the Lord will reward you." That's in the Proverbs passage, not in Romans. There is no measure of hypocrisy and no desire for vengeance in this act. By so doing we leave the judgment and vengeance entirely up to the LORD, doing exactly what the Scripture describes, and exactly what the Holy Spirit would inspire:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 NASB
Being overcome by evil means giving in to the temptation to pay back evil for evil. When people do wrong, they expect to receive evil from those they have wronged. When they receive kindness instead, their hard hearts often become softer.
When Paul says, "Do not be overcome with evil," what he means is, "Don't let revenge destroy your life." Three times in this passage the apostle has stressed the fact that you are not to return evil for evil. In Verses 14, 17, and 21 he states it. It is recorded of the Lord Yeshua that:
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 1 Peter 2:23 NASB
That was given for our admonition that we might behave as Yeshua did in the midst of the world.
Verse 21 really closes an extended discussion that started with verse 9. The foundation of this entire passage is the expression of love that is not mixed with any measure of hypocrisy. Anyone can live in a belligerent, spiteful, revengeful way. It takes a mature child of God to live above the level of this mediocrity and walk in love. Just think how astonishing this love is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?
Romans 12:9-21 would be an excellent passage to commit to memory.
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