Just How Am I Supposed to Do That?
This past week’s epistle reading from the lectionary was Romans 12:9-21, in which Paul gives the Roman believers some guidelines for living in Christian community. The passage provides some great material for preaching; however, it also reads kind of like a giant in my path, and I don’t have any smooth stones. What I am saying is that Paul’s instruction, like Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, gives us an uphill climb toward living the Christian life. If you were at Ebenezer on Sunday, don’t stop reading. This isn’t a recap of what I talked about then, but rather an expansion on it.
We have probably all heard the popular origin of the word sincere, that is, without wax. Something that was sine cera would have been made of marble. Much as we might cover up imperfections with paint, some marble workers would cover up imperfections in the stone with wax. Paul uses this illustrative phrase so his reader in Rome would understand when he directed them, “Love must be sincere.” In other words, your love must be honest, without false coverings or statements, not wearing a mask of friendliness when underneath you are no friend at all. The Message says it this way, “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.” I am already behind the eight ball in this passage. You see, deep within, I admit that I tend to be a little bit self-willed (some
might remove the “little bit”) in my interactions with others. Grumbling, especially around the house, is one of my most avid activities. So if I am to love from the center of who I am, without anything fake, I’m afraid I just might be falling behind before I even start.
Paul continues, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” I think I can do that, that is, until I start singing along with the songs from my youth (which are now played over the loudspeakers in grocery stores and pharmacies) and realize that some of the songs I loved promote quite a different way of life than that I now live, or aspire to live. The songs are just fun, you may say, and you would be right. But if I am to hate what is evil, will I not turn away from anything that might inspire to evil, including songs I used to love to sing with my friends?
Now comes the hard part: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (v. 10). Paul is still talking about real love, honest love, the kind of love we read about in 1 Corinthians 13, the kind of love that stands tall, like a mountain before you, when you have no climbing gear. Paul makes it really personal when he says in verse 14, Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. In other words, “practice playing second fiddle” (The Message). Now I’m starting to sweat.
Dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary, defines conceited as “an excessively favorable opinion of one’s own ability, importance, wit, etc.; imagination; fancy.” It isn’t very hard, even for someone with very low self-esteem, to be conceited. After all, even if I don’t consider myself very important, I still am offended when I am treated as such! If I believe I am not good enough, am I not measuring myself with others and thinking I should be on the same level as they? Paul seems to be telling us to just grin and bear it!
The New International Version calls this section “Love in Action,” and Paul continues with the following relationship admonitions:
- Share with the Lord’s people.
- Practice hospitality.
- Bless those who persecute you—no cursing!
- Live in harmony.
- Don’t repay evil for evil.
- Do everything you can to be at peace.
- Feed your enemies.
Because of all of this, I ask again, how am I supposed to do this? I’m pretty good at relationships, but not that good! How can I show this “love in action” without making myself crazy in the process? First of all, I need to remember that I am not perfect (that “do not be conceited” thing). I will not ever be perfect. Although I may strive to do so, I will not ever make the right choice every single time. I will make mistakes. Only Jesus was perfect! Just as you are to treat your enemies and brothers and sisters in Christ with hospitality and grace, give yourself the benefit of recovering from missteps.
Second, I believe it is imperative that we approach “Love in Action” knowing that we are not alone. Paul says earlier, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). You are not saved by your good behavior and good deeds; that would be “of yourselves.” You are saved by grace, forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ, and it is that same grace that helps us love one another.
Finally, it is imperative that I rely on the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in my life to enable me to follow through with “Love in Action.” In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26).
I want to be perfect, but I know that I will never be so. I want to please God, but I know that, because of Christ, God is already pleased with me and forgives me when I fall short. I want to love others, even my enemies, but I also know that living in love is a process that happens as I turn my self-will over to God’s will. There is so much more to say, and so little space and time. Maybe you could read through the book of Romans this week and find more guidance on living love in action. I’d be interested in your ideas about how to become a “Love in Action” disciple.
Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393, Greenfield, MO 65661
Just a few notes this week: On 9/11/11, Ebenezer will be celebrating its annual Homecoming/Back-to-School luncheon immediately after worship. This year we are having a Fish Fry, with our
main fry cook (and fisherman) Pat Burns. Everyone is invited, but we do need to know if you are coming by Monday, September 8th so we are sure we will have enough. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Anne Blackwell, 637-2649.
Members of Ebenezer, invite your friends and family members. If you attended Ebenezer in the past, or if your parents attended, would you consider joining us? During worship (at 11 a.m.) we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by celebrating our continuing freedom as Americans and, especially, in Christ. After church, while lunch is being made, we will have games and prizes for the kids. It will be great fun.
Second, our Sunday school program has been going through some transformative changes this past year, and we are still tweaking the concept. We will begin meeting once again on Sunday, September 18th, at 9:30 a.m., with plans for full-family Christian education. I hope to see you there.