Exhortations for Our Edification

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:1-13)

In our text this morning, verses 9-13, we find thirteen exhortations, thirteen commandments. And before we even start looking at them specifically, I think something needs to be said about the way we should view God’s commandments.

I have to confess that as I first began studying this passage in my preparation to preach, I got a little discouraged by the fact that there are so many commandments in it. Thirteen commandments in five verses seems a little overwhelming. At least it does to me. Maybe you can relate to me. Do you ever get deflated, do you ever feel burdened or beaten down after reading through lists of commandments like this? Maybe you feel like you can never follow them well enough?

It’s true that none of us can perfectly follow God’s commands. Thankfully we don’t have to, because Christ has atoned for our shortcomings, He has ascribed His righteousness to us, so it’s not about us, it’s not about our obedience.

But when we find ourselves getting discouraged, or even resistant to His commandments, it shows that we’ve forgotten that Christ didn’t save us only from things; He has also saved us to things. Not just from, but also unto things. One of the things we’re saved to is a new life of holiness, liberated from the bondage of sin to which we were once enslaved. We’ve been freed to live out the way of heaven while we’re here on earth. And the way of heaven is characterized by holiness, joy, and love. So it is by the grace of God that we have these thirteen commandments, for our good, to help us live lives like that. Who doesn’t want to live a heavenly life here, full of love, joy, and peace, and all that comes along with that? I think we all want that.

But even as I say that, I know we all have a sinful tendency to disobey the Lord’s commandments, to resist them, to view them negatively. We are often stubborn and rebellious children. Our flesh hates God and loves to do its own wicked thing. How do we fight against that rebellion? How do we fight against this attitude that’s opposed to God? By reminding ourselves of the truth.

What truth? Well, first of all, we know that our God is a loving God. We know He works all things for our good according to His wisdom and power. We talk about that all the time here; Romans 8:28 is a common verse to us. So why would we shrink back from His commandments, knowing all that? Why would we shrink back as if they are designed to steal our happiness and ruin our lives? Because honestly, if His commandments would ruin our lives, then our lives need ruining!

We need His Word, sharper than any two-edged sword, to cut through the deceptive lies that our flesh promotes, and that we so often live by. And that’s where we find ourselves this morning, in that place, in need of the liberating power of God’s Word. So God has given us Scripture today that is just as relevant for us as it was for the early church it was written to. These exhortations are for us, for you and I.

And they’re not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 says God’s commandments are not burdensome. In fact, they free us from burdens! Free us from the burden of sin, they free us to live better lives, full of love for our Lord.

We won’t obey them perfectly, but we are called to make sincere efforts of obedience. Though our efforts are full of imperfections, God takes delight when His children earnestly seek to please Him.

Think about it: if you’re a father, and your son or daughter is learning to ride a bike for the first time, and they fall off the bike, who of you is going to shake your head in disgrace because you’re so displeased with them? No father would do that. No one would. You’re pleased that they’re trying, right? You’re pleased that they’re making a sincere effort. And everyone in here who’s a father is an earthly, sinful father. We’re talking about our heavenly, perfect, loving Father. No father loves like He does. He is compassionate toward us, even when we stumble and fall.

So let’s see what this loving Father has for us today in Scripture. Let’s see how His Word has been given not to burden us, not to weigh us down, but as a gracious gift that’s for our good.

This sermon is titled “Exhortations for Our Edification,” and the reason for this title is that I wanted to highlight that these commandments are not just for my own personal edification, or yours, but also for the edification of the body as a whole. Because as one member of the body grows in faith, maturity, and obedience, the whole body is strengthened. That’s how God set it up.

So we have a responsibility this morning, each of us, as we look at these commandments from God’s Word, to live by them not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of our brothers and sisters around us.

So all of that said, let’s look again at our passage for this morning, and see what God’s graciously calling us to.

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Let love be genuine. (Romans 12:9a)

Paul’s transition from verses 4-8, talking about our spiritual gifts, to this passage in verses 9-13, is very similar to the transition he uses when writing to the church at Corinth. Eric read 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. In chapter 12 you have a description of spiritual gifts and how the body is to function together using those gifts, then Paul starts off chapter 13 by saying that love is key to all of that. Without having love in our service, it’s useless. God values our love in service.

This love for one another is so important because if we don’t have a genuine love for each other, for fellow Christians, we cannot possibly have a genuine love for God. I know that sounds a little radical, but Scripture is clear.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

In the New American Standard Bible, the beginning of verse 9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” By saying that love must be without hypocrisy, Paul is saying that real love doesn’t require acting. It’s not just putting on a show. Our love for each other should spring up naturally from hearts that love God.

There are lots of other passages in Scripture that speak to the way we love genuinely, without hypocrisy, but today I’d like to focus on the text we have before us. Paul gives us a clue as to how we can love genuinely. Look at the second half of verse 9.

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:9b)

When taken in a general sense, these are very broad statements. It’s not news to anyone this morning that we should hold fast to what’s good and abhor evil. That’s kind of common sense for a Christian. I think there’s more to it though. Paul wrote these words within the context of this particular passage, with a focus on how believers are called to live with one another in love. There is a close link between the command to love and the commands to hate evil and embrace good. The second half of verse 9 is descriptive of what the first half commanded. Paul is saying something about what it means to have genuine love. And that is this: in order to love genuinely, without hypocrisy, we have a responsibility to, in our personal lives, abhor evil and cling to good. 

The word “abhor” means “loathe,” or “be disgusted with.” It’s an intense word. Why would Paul say that we need such a fierce hatred of evil in order to really love each other? Because love is a good thing. That’s common sense. Sin, evil, hurts people. How can we think we can love others when we’re holding on to evil in our personal lives?

I love how John Piper explained this while preaching through Romans. He said, “You can’t claim to love people while coddling evil. Don’t make the mistake of saying, ‘The evil I cherish only hurts me, and so it is not unloving to others.’ That’s absolutely false…You were made to display the worth of Christ to others. That is what is good for them. That’s what it means to love them. But if you do things to yourself that damage your delight in Christ and your display of Christ, you sin against others and not just yourself.”

So then, the call to hate evil and cling to good is a call to personal holiness. When we walk uprightly, living holy lives that are pleasing to the Lord, we reflect the glory of Christ to those around us. And there is no greater good than Christ. True love has to hate evil and cling to good.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)

These exhortations put a focus on our attitudes toward each other. Love is an action, yes, but part of the action is our attitude. What I mean by that is, it’s not okay to go around grumbling, like, “Oh okay, I guess I’ll love this person, because I have to,” when really you can’t stand them. Attitude is important. And we see in this verse that there needs to be a predominant attitude of humility in our love.

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)

The only way we can outdo one another in showing honor is by considering all we have in Christ. As Christians we no longer need to seek our own honor, seek to make ourselves look good, we don’t need to seek to gain things for ourselves, because our focus is all on Christ – it’s on what He has given to us, it’s on making Him look good! We’re all about exalting Christ; that’s what we live for as Christians! And as our hearts long to exalt Him, to make Him known, we understand that He is our everything, and our only value comes from Him. Our value doesn’t come from being above others, being thought well of by others, or getting our own way – none of that. It’s all useless. But when we have Christ, we are left in want of nothing. So we can honor others above ourselves, serving them, sacrificing for them, rather than seeking to be served ourselves.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord (Romans 12:11)

We are to do all things as a service to the Lord. We’re called to have a Godward focus in all things.

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Our service – whatever it may be – should be done with earnestness and a fervent spirit, because we know whom we’re serving. And what an awesome honor it is to serve the King!

The phrase translated “be fervent in Spirit” means to have an attitude of passionate purpose. It’s used elsewhere in the New Testament in Acts 18:25. Speaking of Apollos, it says, “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” 

We see this picture of a man who had such a minimal knowledge of the Gospel, yet he had an evident passion about the little bit of truth he did know. He was fervent in spirit because of it. It drove him.

How much more should we, who have the full canon of Scripture, be zealously excited about serving our God? Does the Gospel excite us? Shouldn’t it excite us that we, who were formerly lost, who were hopeless, can now serve and enjoy the King of the universe as His beloved, adopted children?

He has us here on earth for a limited time. We have a unique opportunity now to shine as lights in this dark world, for His glory. So let’s not waste that. Let’s be zealous, in whatever we’re doing, to serve our Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12)

Trial and tribulation are marks of a Christian’s life. To follow Christ is to share in His sufferings, because this world is not our home, just as it was not His home. We are on foreign ground in a time of war. There will be suffering. How do we deal with that? Paul tells us: by rejoicing in hope, being patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer. No matter how bad the suffering gets, no matter what circumstances we’re facing, we can rejoice! Because our hope is not in this place, it’s not in these temporary circumstances. Our hope is great, and it’s sure.

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5)

This life is not the end. We will, upon departing this world, experience the glory of our God like never before. And it will make all the sufferings of this life seem so small.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)

We will be joined with Christ in sin-free relationships, and we’ll have blessings showered on us in an extravagant fashion. This will happen, it’s a sure thing, it will become reality. We know that because, as Romans 5 said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” He is the guarantee of our future inheritance. He’s sealed us. We are sealed with an unbreakable seal that says we are Christ’s, and He is ours, and that’s never going to change! That’s the hope we have as Christians. That’s why we can rejoice!

Why must we be constant in prayer? Because God is our lifeline; He is the one who keeps us going in the midst of trials. He delights when His children cry out to Him constantly, in humble dependence. He’s not like an earthly father who may get annoyed at his child’s crying. No, He loves when we acknowledge our dependence on Him! He loves when we cry out, when we say, “I need you God!” And He desires to help us.

But if we’re not in constant prayer, what we will do? We’ll easily forget Him; we’ll forget the hope we have. Just as Peter did when he was walking on water. He lost sight of Jesus, looking around at all the storming winds, and he lost faith. When we take our eyes off Jesus, looking at all our circumstances, when we focus on that, we’ll lose faith, we’ll lose confidence in the hope we have. We’ll forget all about the sure inheritance that is ours in Christ, and we’ll live as if the circumstances we see are outside of God’s control. We’ll live as if they’re not from Him, as if they’re not loving. But they are.

Every trial we face comes through the hands of a loving God. Our suffering is not meaningless! Every ounce of suffering is used by God for our good. Even the painful trials we face. We may not always see how He uses those trials for our good, but we can have a sure faith that He does, He is doing that, always, and we can rejoice in Him as a result.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:13)

Here I would mainly like to remind us of a couple truths about our position as Christians. First, we know that every good thing we have comes by the grace and mercy of our God. He owes us nothing – never has – yet He lavishly pours blessings upon us.

The second thing to remember is that Christianity is not a call to independence or isolation. Every redeemed man, woman, and child has been called into the family of God, with brothers and sisters to care for, to love on, to cherish. That’s part of our Christian walk. It’s not just our relationship with God, it’s our relationships with each other. So, like the early church we see in Acts 2, our call is to sacrificially love each other as good stewards of all the resources God has blessed us with.

So thirteen exhortations in five verses. Can we see how these thirteen commandments are for our good? How they’re for our edification? Even if we do see that, it can still be challenging to love each other in these ways. If it were easy we would probably all be doing this perfectly, and I know we’re not.

Because we’re all sinners, it’s hard. It’s hard to direct our love away from ourselves, and toward other sinners; yet how has God loved us? He has loved the most vile, the most wicked, as we once were. The people we’re called to love don’t always seem to deserve our love. We can make judgments about whether someone deserves for us to love them or not, sacrifice for them or not, but consider this: God has loved the most undeserving people in existence. We were all in a state of depravity when He set His affections on us. Christ humbled Himself and loved us when we were in that state. He loves us in the most sacrificial way anyone ever could. No one is ever going to be able to top His love. And no one is ever going to be able to top our depravity. It’s not like there are some people who are worse off than we were. We’re all in need of God, we’re all in need of His salvation, and we’re all hopeless apart from Him.

I’d like to read a passage from Ezekiel 16. These words were originally spoken by God to the people of Jerusalem, but in our flesh we are truly no better than they. So let’s consider these words as being for us, for you, for me. The Lord said…

4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. 

6 And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you flourish like a plant of the field…8 I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:4-8)

That’s what God has done for all of us who are His. He loved us when we were consumed by filth. He redeemed us, washed us, cleansed us, so we could be His own children, His prize and possession. Not just to get us out of hell, it’s not just about what He’s saved us from. He saved us so we could live like children of the King. As royalty who walks not like the rest of the world, but who imitates our Father, our Lord.

Do we somehow think that we’re above Him? That we can’t stoop down off of our little thrones, and really love each other in the ways that He has loved us?

I began this sermon by sharing that I had been discouraged by the number of commandments in this morning’s text. And that’s such a sinful response, I know it is. When we respond that way to His commandments, viewing them as burdens that seek to steal away our fun, it really shows what we think of God.

Is He not a loving God? Is He not wise? Does He not do only that which is best for His children? Then we should be happy about these exhortations! We should rejoice and be glad that He is committed to changing us, to making us more like His Son! These commandments mean better life, fuller life in Him.

Are we so satisfied with the way things are, with the sin we still commit all day, every day, even after He’s redeemed us, so satisfied with that, that we will reject the good change He wants to bring to our lives?

I want that change! I hate what sin does to me. I want more joy, more peace, closer fellowship with Him. I think we all do. And yet we still sin so often. We’re still stubborn and rebellious when we come to His Word. How foolish is that?

Our Father desires to change us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. He desires to give us fullness of joy, lasting happiness, both now and forevermore. And the way He does those things is through giving commandments like these. He provides us the direction we need to improve our lives in His Word, and He provides the power to actually change through the Holy Spirit who is actively at work within us.

So can we rejoice over God’s relentless pursuit of our holiness? Can we be glad about that? Can we respond to His Word with sincere efforts of obedience? Knowing that He’s given us all we need to live lives that are worthy. Can we do it out of love for Him, and out of love for each other, the church?

God’s been convicting me in these areas. I know my tendency when I go to His Word is to be proud, to be foolish, to think that I don’t need Him all that much, and I do. I’m grateful this morning for His work in me, His work in all of us, as we seek to follow Him with our whole hearts.

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)