Living Faith

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

For the month of September we have been in Romans 12 together. If you have missed any of those messages, you can go to our website, gbfc.org, and watch, listen to, or read the messages from this great chapter. Bilal, Michael, and Ryan have all contributed to this study, and today and next week, Lord willing, we’re going to wrap up Romans 12. We have titled this short, month-long study, “One Body in Christ: A Romans 12 Church.”

As we have thought through this study in Romans 12, we have asked the question: what would it look like if we, each one of us who are believers in Christ, what would it look like if we were a Romans 12 people? And then further, what if we as a church, by God’s Spirit and strength, what if all of us together were to be a Romans 12 people? What would that look like? 

What would our neighbors think, what would our friends think, what would all of those we associate with at work or school, or wherever we go, what would they think, what might be different in what they see if we were really a Romans 12 people? What would our friends think about Christ, what would it tell them about Christ if we lived this way? About the Father, the Bible, our faith, the Gospel – what would it tell them if we lived this way?

But the most important question is, what would our Lord think? Would He be pleased? Would He be honored? Would our actions, which should spring from our hearts, would they be honoring to Him? 

If we live Romans 12, we would be saying, “Yes, I will take up my cross and follow Him. Yes, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ is the pearl of great price, the finest treasure in the field. I will live for Him who has come and who has rescued me, who has died for me, leaving me with a future of joy in life and in death.” You see, the way we live speaks volumes about what we believe about God. Either we live to say, “God is trustworthy, competent, loving, and wise, and Christ is my Savior,” or, “He’s none of that.” Either we believe the great doctrines of the Bible about who God is, who we are, what the Gospel teaches, or we don’t. And how we live reflects what we really believe, at least what we believe at any given moment in time.

When I played football in high school, we spent hours in what was called the “war room.” It was a small room with walls covered in chalk boards. About fifty guys would cram in there, either the offensive team or the defensive team, and our leader, our coach, who was a former marine drill sergeant, with chalk in hand, would passionately tell us all we needed to know about winning the game. That’s what we did in that room. He would talk football with great precision, in a very technical sense, but at the same time with radical emotion. All of it would clearly come from his heart, from a man who lived and breathed nothing but football and winning, mostly winning. When he would speak in that room, even though they would dim the lights a little bit, you could still see the veins popping out of his neck. His face would get red. He never smiled, he was a very serious man.

When we would leave that room, we would have all the knowledge we needed, and even passion, and we were convinced that we could win. That’s what happened in that room. You’d walk in not so sure, but you’d leave saying, “We’ve got this, we’re winners, we’re going to win.” But there was something that had not yet happened. We had not yet stepped onto the field against an opposing team. We had not yet been tested. Our minds were full, and our hearts were willing, but we had really not yet accomplished anything. All so far had been talk, just talk.

For us, for our team, we were much better suited as a team for those war room experiences than we were for the actual game. We weren’t that good. We could talk, and we could even visualize all we would do, but the testing proved we weren’t that good. Sometimes I’m afraid the church becomes that.

Romans 12 helps to get us in the game. Romans 12 gets us to that testing. The book of Romans prior to chapter 12 gives us those “war room” speeches. It tells us all we need to know about God, ourselves, the Gospel. We learn all that we have in Christ. We have nothing to fear, no worries to carry. We were doomed and now we are saved. We are secure in Christ. We have all we need to grow, the Spirit in us to guide and give us strength. Then we’re left with a question: “Now what? What do we do now?” Well here it is in Romans 12-16. Get out of the war room of discussion and talk and move with that knowledge now to the game. Here is the game, here is life, now live what you have learned and in so doing, you will prove what you really believe. God will be honored and the world, our neighbors, will perhaps for the first time see Christ in how we live.

Bilal mentioned the pushback as we talk about all these commands in Romans 12. It’s some tough stuff, and we’re going to see some of that today. If you feel like you don’t have the strength for Romans 12, to live out the truths we’ve been talking about and will continue talking about, I would encourage you to go back to chapter 1 and read right through to chapter 11 over and over and over again, and be strengthened by that. Be reminded of who you are, who God is, and gain strength then in the Spirit to move into chapter 12, into Christian living. Perhaps you or me at times have forgotten the truths that are meant to carry us through a radical Christian life in Christ.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:14-16)

So here we go…”Bless those who persecute you.” This is not normal. We as humans tend to cringe at persecution in any form. What is natural for any of us is to run from persecution, or return persecution, or change our behavior so as to remove the cause of persecution, or ignore the persecutor, to unfriend the persecutor. We may in our minds write off the persecutor, just simply live life as if that person or those people no longer exist. In most cases we move away from persecution, actively so. We move away for self-protection, self-preservation, and if we move toward our persecutor, it is often to actively return in like kind what we have been given, persecution for persecution.

God says that we are to be active, but not by fleeing nor by returning persecution, but the activity we are to engage in is to bless those who persecute us. When Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you,” he is not giving us anything new. He is instead giving us a truth first given to us by our Savior.

27 But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28)

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)

29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (Luke 6:29-30)

32 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:32-33)

We’re not called to normal, we’re called to a radical life in Christ. To bless those who persecute us would be to treat them as if they have not persecuted us. It is to treat them as a family member or as a friend. It is to treat them with blessing, with a mind focused toward their good. It is choosing not to give them what they deserve, or what we may think they deserve, but to give them good, what is good and helpful for them, what they need. In many cases what those who persecute us need most is they need Christ. And maybe they will see Christ in us. Maybe it will lead to their salvation. Maybe they will some day be your brother or sister in Christ.

How do we bless, how do we live out these attitudes? We can do it as Christ did.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)

For some of us we may be thinking, “Wow, it looks like I need to keep my big mouth shut sometimes.” Yes, that is probably true, but even more than not speaking, or not verbally returning persecution, we need to start doing some things. What can we do to bless those who may persecute us? I mean actively so, what can we do? Who is currently making your life really hard, persecuting you or a family member or a close friend? What can you do for them in the power and name of Jesus Christ to bless them? How can you be Christ to them? Is it even possible to love those who persecute us?

When I think of persecution – real, serious, life-engulfing persecution – I think of men like Richard Wurmbrand. Some of you may know of this man with the odd name. He was in Romania when the communists took over in 1945. When that happened he almost immediately began an underground ministry for which he was arrested repeatedly. Being arrested and imprisoned meant severe torture, which he describes in great detail in some of his writings. Things such as having fingernails removed, being force fed spoonfuls of salt and left with no water, being thin as a skeleton and given one piece of bread per week, and so on. Maybe the worst for him was knowing that his wife was also imprisoned somewhere, facing terrible torture and abuse, and his young son was left homeless on the streets to fend for himself. All of this persecution was due to Richard’s refusal to give up the Gospel, to give up Christ, and to be a puppet of an evil government. It was a choice that he made to receive this sort of torture.

What did Richard do? What would you do? He blessed those who persecuted him, blessed and did not curse. In his mind the way to defeat communism was to love the communists. Tortured Christians in their torture prayed in those prisons for their torturers. Not that the torturers would release them, but that they would see Christ in the Christian prisoners.

He said many times communist leaders would end up in prison with them. Even those who had tortured them would end up in prison with them, sometimes even in their very cells. That is how the system worked. Friends would easily become enemies in the communistic world. They would end up in prison, and when the then-ruling communists in power would throw a torturer in prison with their tortured, they hoped for a certain outcome: that the ones who were tortured would kill their former torturers. That didn’t happen though with Christians. When this would happen the Christians had special opportunities to minister to and love their former persecutors. Wurmbrand said it was not uncommon to see a Christian give his one piece of bread for the week to a former persecutor. Many came to Christ in those prisons. Many found Christ there through the testimony of faithful believers who believed they should bless those who persecuted them, bless and not curse.

How could Richard do this? His aim was to please God, and to win the communists, his enemies, to Christ. There was not a time in his mind that he thought it would be appropriate that he should not bless those who were actively persecuting him. That sounds consistent with our passage. Talk about an opportunity to get off the bench, out of that “war room” environment, and really apply a passage! To stop just talking about obedience and begin living in obedience in radical ways such as this. 

I think it is sometimes risky to give examples like I just gave you. I say that because I think we can then say, “Oh yeah, that is a great opportunity, the way Richard Wurmbrand took that opportunity to show love to those who persecuted him. As soon as I’m there in that situation I think I’ll do the same thing. That worked out well for him, many came to Christ, so when that happens to me I’ll do that.” Hopefully we don’t end up there. But what about where we are? How can we love and show Christ to those who may be aligned as our enemies, enemies of the Gospel of Christ? You can think of individuals you know in your life and you can think of groups of people who stand for things that are unbiblical. How do we bless them? Can we win the lost by blessing them and refusing to curse them?

Paul goes on not with a new direction of teaching but perhaps building on what he has already said

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

It takes an act of faith, a trust in the Lord, to bless those who persecute us. And it may also take the same act of faith and trust in the Lord to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. At first glance we may think, “Well of course I will rejoice in others’ happiness. Of course I’ll do that, why wouldn’t I do that?” But wait, do we always do that? In our flesh, apart from living by faith and believing that God is good and gives us only what is good, apart from living in that kind of faith we are, and can be, a very jealous people. In our flesh we may rejoice with others when we have all that we want, when all is well with us, but what about when the other guy gets the promotion you deserve at work? Or when their child is well behaved and yours is rebellious? When you failed the test and your friend who didn’t study passed it? When he has two cars that run and your one car doesn’t? Are we able to rejoice in what others receive as good even if we are suffering in what we may think we need? Paul doesn’t say rejoice with others when all is well, but simply rejoice with those who rejoice! It is an act of faith when we do this. It says something about what we believe about God and His provision for us, what He has supplied to us, what He has given to us. Do our stated beliefs show themselves in our walk of faith? 

Not only are we to rejoice, but also to weep with those who weep. In both instances this is really entering into other peoples’ world. We put aside our own wants, agendas, plans, and we choose instead to identify with others in both rejoicing and in weeping. We come alongside a friend. Our agenda becomes theirs, and them. We stand with others where they are and we do so in the name of our Savior. 

Walking by faith continues in verse 16.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:16)

Again, not just when it is easy, but all of the time. To live in harmony is to have the same mind toward one another. It is to be impartial with people. James illustrates this for us.

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

Don’t be partial with people. Treat them equally. And as a part of that he goes on to say, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

To be haughty is to be self-seeking in our own pride. It is me thinking I am better than you, or you thinking that you’re better than me, or me thinking that I know better, and I always know better. “I am wise and you are not” sort of attitude. It is simply pride. When we do this, when we live this way with a haughty attitude toward other people, we are really cutting people out of our lives. When we cut people out of our lives we lose the ability to be a witness to them for Christ.

Do you do some things better than other people? Yeah, probably. Are you more of an expert in some areas than others are? Sure, probably so. But can we just downplay those things for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Christ? Who cares if we know more? Let’s not let our knowledge or a place or position become a barrier to others knowing Jesus Christ.

These are some hard things. These are acts, actions, things we can do, attitudes we are to have as we walk by faith with Christ in this world. We can study, we can debate, we can state things then restate them, we can try to convince others, but at some point we have to say, “Let’s go out and, in the strength of Christ, let’s live this way. Let’s step out of the war room and on to the field. Let’s demonstrate the faith given to us. Let’s live this way for the glory of God. That’s what we were created to do, created to be. A light in this dark world. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do it all to the glory of God.” The only way we do this is with a firm trust in God, convinced that He will carry us through.

Richard Wurmbrand is not the only one who will be challenged to live radically under persecution and suffering. Ours might look very different, and vary in severity, but we too have daily opportunities to live for our Lord in obedience to Him. We can, for the glory of God, “do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:14-16)