In yesterday’s New Testament lesson (Romans 12:1-8), we encountered Paul’s admonition to be transformed by God’s renewing grace rather than conformed to the pattern of the world. And in today’s lesson (Romans 12:9-21), we receive a more detailed picture of what this transformation looks like. But what a challenging picture it is! It starts out simply and safely enough: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.” (vs. 9-10) But before too long, the Apostle is calling us to a path that fundamentally challenges that values around with much of our personal and corporate life is organized: “Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10); “Bless those who persecute you” (v. 14); “Be willing to associate with people of low position” (v. 16); “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…but on the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink'” (vs. 17; 20).
Of course, all of this is really just an expression of the Way of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:34); and who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:6-7). But how many of us are able to embrace this challenging way in our lives as individuals? And how often does one hear these admonitions being championed when talk turns to the “Christian values” upon which our nation is supposedly built?
In one of his other letters, the Apostle Paul counseled: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Phil. 2:12). It is a sacred thing to be invited into the Way of Christ, and we would do well to take with the utmost seriousness the challenge of “working out” that Way in the ebb and flow of our daily lives. But lest we despair because we assume that we can never meet the challenge — or lest we take this hopeful path of peace, joy, and freedom and turn it into a legalistic set of rules — Paul goes on to remind us: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). Even when we are powerless to transform ourselves, God’s Spirit enables us to be transformed. As Jesus puts it in today’s gospel lesson: “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
May our love be sincere today — because it springs from Transforming Love, who alone has the power to renew His image within us.