My Fellow Redeemed,
This week, really this month and this year, has been full of tragedy. Race relations are as controversial topic of conversation as they ever have been in my lifetime. The work our police officers do is under heavy scrutiny. We hold police to a very high standard, and for good reason. We give our police the authority to take away our rights, to detain and even penalize us, so they can keep the peace. We arm them so they can defend us and others. We train them so that they are able to act swiftly and decisively. All this requires a high standard. Without commenting too much on any specific police involved shooting, we can clearly see the consequences, when groups of people feel they cannot trust those sworn to protect and defend to meet that standard.
The greater the stakes are, the higher the standard must be. Reading the Ten commandments, we can see how high God’s standards are, yet often we, like the teacher of the law who questioned Jesus, try to lower them. “Who’s my neighbor? How loving do I really have to be? Do I have to love that person?” Today, as the Apostle Paul gives comfort and guidance to those living in such a world, he helps us see a beautiful truth. Love is love. And love is as love does. Today, we are blessed to see and encouraged to live True Love’s standard, for your fellow believers, and for all others.
Romans Chapter 12 begins a great shift in Paul’s beautiful treatise on Christianity. For 11 chapters Paul has outlined God’s grace. He convicts us all of sins beyond all measure. He shows us how no one meets God’s standard of perfection. He demonstrates that we are saved, declared righteous, by grace. That by faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are righteous in God’s eyes. He comforts us with the knowledge that we have been chosen by God. He encourages us that through Christ, we are God’s Holy people. Then Paul, with elegant beauty, puts our lives on earth in eternal perspective, Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. The last 5 chapters of Romans Paul devotes to telling us how Christians live, what Christians do, not because we have to, not so that we can be saved, but because we are saved, because we live by faith. His instruction can be summed up in one word: Love.
Biblical love isn’t a feeling. It is much more than affection. Love isn’t googly eyes. Biblical love is love of action. Love that looks to others and how to help and serve them. Therefore, Paul says, Love must be without hypocrisy. Perhaps even clearer, Love IS without hypocrisy. Loving others to serve yourself is not love. Loving others out of obligation or fear is not love. Love is sincere or it isn’t love.
Since true love’s standard doesn’t come naturally to us, Paul doesn’t just identify for us what love is, but what love does. Often in our lives we stand at a crossroads, trying to decide what to do. For those who live true love’s standard chose which road to travel based on that love. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. That which God calls evil is bad for us and for those around us body, mind, and spirit. So we can never condone what God calls evil, never excuse it, never participate in it, rather we detest it and cling to what is good. Just as all evil does damage to us and life around us, what God calls good is truly good for us and everyone else. So, that’s what we hold on to, that is what we choose, that is what we encourage. That is how we live, those who live love’s standard cling to the good.
These words aren’t just for us as individuals to take to heart. They are for us as a congregation. We are connected with the bonds of love, therefore, those who live true loves standard will show family affection to one another. We will be devoted to each other, never abandoning our brothers and sisters in Christ to struggle alone. Together, we will seek to outdo one another in showing honor. When we are all striving to show each other the ultimate respect deserving of those God has adopted as heirs of eternal life, what room is left for selfishness or rudeness. There is always work to do, and those who live in love will not sit on their hands; they do not lack diligence are fervent in the spirit, and they take their marching orders from the Lord and his word., serving the Lord. When we gather together, when we face difficulty together, those who live true love’s standard, rejoice in hope. They are patient in affliction. They are persistent in prayer. In other words, in good times and in bad, those who live true loves standard, make themselves busy, not busy solving the world’s problems, not busy solving their own problems, not busy chasing after everything in the world, but busy focusing on God, the hope he gives, the strength he bestows, the promises he maintains. And finally, Paul tells believers that as they apply true love’s standard to their lives, they will share with the saints in their needs; they will pursue hospitality. How often aren’t we afraid to ask for help? So also, by true love’s standard, we Christians will not wait for our brothers and sisters to ask for help, we will give it. We won’t wait for opportunities to come to us to be hospitable, we pursue it.
In times of mourning, in times of great difficulty, when we need help, where do we often go? Home, right? Husbands and wives work through problems together. Children, even adult children ask parents for help and guidance. Siblings rely on one another. Family is the most basic foundation of all societies, so when we need help, family is where we turn. Family is often where we find the people who love us the most.
As it seems like the world and especially our own society is crumbling around us, and we don’t know what to do, we don’t know which way to go, we don’t know how to respond, where do we go? Do we lock ourselves in our rooms, huddled under blankets and hope the world just goes away? Do we pour ourselves into our work and drown out the world and all its problems? Do we find the right recreation to distract us from it all? Do we just go on with our lives as before? Supreme court decisions, police shootings, assassinations, terrorist attacks, political campaigns all seem to take place far away from here don’t they? Maybe if we just mind our own business, it will all go away.
That’s not what Paul encourages us to do today. Paul tells us to look to our family. Not just our blood, but those bought with blood. In hard and confusing times, we need this family more than ever. We need to be there for one another. We need to be reaching out to those who are straying and bringing them back to the good. We need to build one another up with God’s word. WE need to be persistent, that is busy in loving action and prayer. We need to work together to live the true love’s standard. Every other refuge we find against the world is temporary and will fade away, but this family, the family of believers living by true love’s standard is a gift which lasts into eternal life.
Of course, true loves standard doesn’t just start and end here. Love goes out with us into the world. When we deal with those who persecute us, when we deal with those around us, when we deal with those who hate us, true love’s standard goes with us. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Just as Jesus said, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. True love’s standard takes those who do evil to the Lord. We ask God to work on them, to change their hearts, so they may be blessed as we are blessed. And when we endure persecution we are not alone, our family is at our side, so those who live love’s standard rejoice with those who rejoice; we rejoice when we share Christ’s suffering, so we rejoice together. And weep with those who weep; when the evil we face in this world seems to great and we mourn, we do not mourn alone, we help bear each other’s burdens.
The next words are growing harder and harder in our society. In a world of round the clock news and talking heads and pundits, in a time when we can respond instantly and sometimes anonymously, as the internet has given nearly everyone a platform and an echo chamber for their opinions, those who live true love’s standard will strive to be in agreement with one another, do not be proud, instead associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Instead of trying to elevate ourselves and have certain people like us and praise us, Paul instructs us to seek out, associate with and imitate the humble. Do not repay evil with evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. As the Lord reminds us, Let your light shine before men, so will see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. True loves standard means never going out to look for trouble, If possible on your own part live at peace with everyone.
Paul, who had been stoned and left for dead, beaten, imprisoned, and more than once snuck out of cities where people were trying to kill him, Paul certainly knew that trying to live in peace and actually living in peace are two different things. So Paul, once again echoes what God has always said, and the words of Christ, Do not avenge yourselves, instead, leave room for wrath. For it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. If your enemy is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him something to drink. For in doing this you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Even the most calloused heart can have a hard time being cruel to those who treat them kindly, it is uncomfortable; it burns the heart to do evil to those who do good. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit will use our love as an entry place for his word and bring about repentance.
In a society that seems literally hell-bent on running away from God. For most of us our culture has abandoned all morality so fast our heads are spinning. We want to do something. We want to stop it. We want to speak out. We want to defend our beliefs. We want to be able to raise our children and grandchildren in a nation that has some semblance of morality. So people shout out. They take to the internet, to Facebook and blogs. They protest. They sue. They call their legislators to pass laws to protect them, and often we would like to join them, but what are we trying to accomplish? What does true love’s standard say about how we live with those who hate us? We love them. Yes, we disagree. Yes, we must acknowledge sin and its consequences, but we love them. We love those who hate us, from the Muslim terrorist to that obnoxious person you know who holds all the wrong political opinions, we love and pray for them. Love them so completely, that they cannot help but notice how strange we Christians are, how loving, how caring. We love, just as Christ loved us. We love, trusting that God is in control of all things. When we face the evil of this world, we cannot do so without love. In our fervor to defend our beliefs, we can lose our faith. Evil can conquer us. But with true love’s standard on our hearts. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
It is very easy for us to look at the actions of others and pass judgment and comment from afar. We all have standards of how we expect people in a civil society to live. We have standards for how we believe police should act. We even have standard for how people should react to tragic events like those this week. But as we look at the encouragement of Paul and the Words of Jesus, we see how woefully inadequate our puny standards are. True love’s standard is so much higher, high above what we are able to meet. By this standard of love, Jesus lived his life. This standard is so high we could never reach it, that is, until Jesus met it for us. His perfect love he gives to us. Our hate-filled hearts he takes from us. This standard of love, brought our Savior to the cross, to conquer the evil in us, to put death to death. This standard of love, Jesus’ standard, has been met for our salvation. Only as we consider his work, only as we call on him to give us strength, only as we see others as those whom Jesus loves perfectly, only in faith and the knowledge of true love’s standard, can we listen to our Savior’s Word and go and do likewise. Amen.