Reading for Wednesday, Feb. 15: Romans 12
With Romans 12, we reach a pivot point in Paul’s letter. After laying out the theological ramifications of the Gospel, Paul turns here toward more “practical” matters of Christian living. For Paul, ethics flows naturally from theology; behavior follows belief.
The first word of v1 is of crucial importance: “therefore”. Paul is not offering moralistic advice nor is he distinguishing between theory and practice. He links the two: one who shares the faith presented in the previous 11 chapters lives by the following imperatives: first, and foremost, they present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Under the Old Covenant, life was perpetuated by the blood of goats and rams. Christ’s fulfillment of the Mosaic law renders this sacrificial system obsolete in light of the New Covenant — a Covenant predicated on an entirely different kind of life-giving death. Although “living sacrifice” might sound like a contradiction of terms at first, it gets at the heart of the Gospel. By identifying with Christ’s death in baptism, we experience the new life of His resurrection (Romans 6.4). Paul says our “spiritual act of worship” is to live sacrificially devoted to God.
Paul also urges us to avoid conformity with the world. The Greek word used for “world” is also translated “age”. Those who follow Jesus orient themselves to “the age to come”, believing it has already dawned in Christ. But to live “in the world but not of the world” requires constant renewing of the mind. Christians are called to take up a counter-cultural stance, following the example of Jesus in seeking out Kingdom alternatives for life.
Paul urges humility in community: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (v3). Although each member of the body will function uniquely and differently, these gifts are to be used in humility as gifts of grace from our common God. This humility of spirit becomes a springboard for the Christian community and fosters an atmosphere of fervent, genuine love. “Let love be genuine…Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
One way to avoid conformity with the world is to practice the teachings of Rom. 12:9-21. Instead of cursing those who would persecute you, seek to bless them. Rather than repaying evil for evil, do the honorable thing. Live in peace, insofar as it depends on you. Be hopeful; be patient; be full of zeal and resilience. These are the marks of a Christ-follower.
One final note: Paul’s admonishment to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” is a powerful description of the life of the church, in my opinion. In the church, covenant love is celebrated; joy is shared over the birth of a child; and praise is given to God when a lost sinner comes home. Conversely, the church is the place we share our brokenness and pain; we weep together over a lost loved one; we hold those who have no one to hold anymore; we hold hands in the waiting room as the surgery begins. Through it all — through all the joy and all the tears — we commune together as God’s people. I truly believe God calls us to rejoice together and weep together because this quality is intrinsic to His character. He calls us to this because HE is the one who also rejoices with us; HE is the one who also weeps with us.