Great Exhortations

Romans 12:9-21


Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends upon you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Father, we pray for Your wisdom as we look into Your word. We thank You that You are the only wise God, and if we are to walk in wisdom, we’re to walk with You and in Your word. So, God, speak to us, give us understanding, transform our minds, that we would be able to display in the world in which we live what is Your good and perfect will, so that people would see You honored in our lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”

You can be seated.

If an abundant life were available to you, what would you do or what would you give to obtain it? In our last study here in the book of Romans, we considered the fact that salvation encompasses more than just our salvation from sin, death, and hell, and our salvation unto eternal life with the Lord in heaven. There’s more to salvation than that. We recognize that God, in salvation, is seeking to bring the believer, the person who’s a follower of Jesus, into the experience of the abundant life. In John chapter 10 Jesus said in verse 10, “The thief has come to steal, to kill, and to destroy. But I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.” And so God’s aim in salvation is bringing us into the experience of that abundant life. Salvation is the entering into that which God designed and created us for when He created there back in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. But then we know the story, that in Genesis chapter 3, we see the fall into sin that is described there. And with the fall we see the destruction, and we see the death of what it is that God intended, what He created us for. But the Gospel brings the restoration of that abundant life. It makes the abundant life again accessible to you and I, that we could know it, that we could live in it, experience it, and also promote it. You see one of the greatest evangelistic tools is promoting the abundant life that God has for us in Christ Jesus. So it should be our desire to come into the experience of that.

And if we are to experience the abundant life, if we are to live that out – the very thing that Jesus came to bring us – then we must take seriously the exhortations that we see in this section of Scripture – Romans chapters 12 through 15. The great exhortations, and there’s about 45 of them here in these 70 or so verses, that we have here, they are essentially God’s instructions to us about how we are to live out the abundant life. Romans chapter 1 through Romans chapter 11 was where we got the doctrinal basis for it; that’s where we see the doctrine, the truth, the theology of this abundant life. But as we come into this section of Scripture, we’re seeing the place where God brings us into the practical outworking of it. What does that doctrine of salvation look like lived out in the life of the believer? What does it look like to walk into this abundant life? Now it’s important to recognize, as we look at this section of Scripture, before we jump right into the exhortations of verses 9 through 21 of Romans chapter 12; it’s important to recognize that these things are contrary to our flesh. In Romans chapter 7 we saw very clearly that man is at least a dichotomy – meaning there two portions of us, there is the body and then there is the soul – but I believe that man is a tri-chotomy – there is the body, the soul, and the spirit. And when we are made alive by the Spirit of God, our spirit comes alive and now is connected to God, as it was before the fall. And so our spirit wants to follow after God, our spirit wants to do those things that are glorifying to God, and ultimately our spirit lives out those things that are the abundant life. But this body, this flesh desires to go after things that are contrary to God. Paul talks about it in Galatians chapter 5; he says, “The flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these two are contrary, so that you do not do the things that you want to do.” In Romans 7 Paul said it like this: “The good things I want to do, I don’t do; the bad things I don’t want to practice, that’s what I do. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” How many of you can identify with the reality of Romans chapter 7? We all can. We all know this conflict between the flesh – this carnal nature that is affected and infected by sin – and the desire of the spirit.

So this section of Scripture, it presents a radically different way of thinking, a radically different way of thinking. Paul speaks of it like this in verse 1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that [you may be able to show forth] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” So this is a radically different way of thinking that’s presented here in this section of Scripture. And our carnal nature, our default tendency doesn’t want to do what this passage of Scripture tells us to do. And yet Paul is showing that this is the path into the experience of the abundant life. This is how we walk into these things. The things that Paul charges us, exhorts us to do here, they are antithetical to our default nature, what we just want to do when we wake up in the morning. How many of you recognize that we are completely self-centered in our default nature? We think about us all the time. And what Paul speaks about here is a way into a different kind of living, a different kind of thinking. But our flesh will always fight against this work that God’s Spirit is aiming to do in us.  But we need to bring our mind under the jurisdiction, under the rule of the new heart that God has given to us, by the Spirit of His grace. We need to bring our mind into the place where it is governed and led by God and no longer by our flesh.

Now the most difficult passages of the Bible to apply are often the passages that are the most clear to understand. The easiest ones to understand are generally the hardest ones to apply. And Romans chapters 12 through 15 need very little interpretation. You don’t gotta spend a lot of time explaining what Paul means when he tells us to love without hypocrisy, when he tells us here in chapter 13 to submit ourselves to the governing authorities that exist. We don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out and exigete the Greek about what is meant when he says “submit yourself to governing authorities.” But the reality is it’s very hard to make application of these things, to work this out in our lives. So the hardest texts of the Bible to apply in our lives are the easiest to understand.

Notice what Paul says here in Romans chapter 12, verse 9: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. [And] cling to what is good.” Paul’s first exhortation here in this passage, for those who are going to experience the abundant life, now recognize, Paul is speaking here to Christians. This isn’t just a general principle to the entire world, that if people did these things we’d live in a better world. Although that is true; this is speaking to the church. Back in verse 1 of chapter 12 he says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren,” so he’s speaking to us who are a part of the body of Christ. And he says that our love is to be without hypocrisy. Another way of saying it is that our love must be unfeigned and sincere. Now it’s hard not to look at that and not sarcastically think, “Well, duh!!.” Of course our love should be without hypocrisy. But that reality is that we find ourselves oftentimes just putting on a show of love, and not actively seeking to love people, to actually exercise the compassion of God in and through our lives. Although it would seem obvious, that it would seem clear that our love needs to be un-hypocritical, we tend, if we really look at it honestly, we tend to walk with great hypocrisy in the area of compassion and love. However, the primary principle of the Christian faith is love!! It’s always love. We see that clearly articulated in the Scriptures. And that love needs to be genuine, it needs to be sincere, it needs to be without kind of a faux appearance to it. It needs to be real. One of the reasons that sometimes we hear people leave the church, not just leave this church but leave the church in general, they no longer want to go to church, they no longer want to associate with Christians is because they say, “They aren’t very loving.” Which, it should be challenging to us when we hear someone say that. Why? Because if you remember in John chapter 13, verse 35 Jesus said that this is one of the identifiable characteristics of those who are Christ’s disciples. What is it that people, both in the church and outside of the church, should be able to see in us and say, “That’s a follower of Jesus?”  John 13:35 – “’By this will all know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” So this is the sign that Jesus says ought to identify the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. “They will know that you’re My followers by the love that you have, one for another.” Not only that, the apostle John tells us in 1 John chapter 4, verse 8 that the one who does not exhibit this love that Paul is speaking of here in Romans chapter 12, this love that Jesus spoke of there in John chapter 13, the individual who does not have this love does not know God, because God, by His very nature is love. 1 John chapter 4, verse 8: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John also tells us in that same section of Scripture that our love for one another should be in response to the way that God has loved us. And God has loved us in a powerful way, in a very demonstratable way. He doesn’t merely say to us, “I love you,” He demonstrates His love towards us that while we were yet sinners, Christ did what for us? He died for us. So there in 1 John chapter 4, verse 11 he says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” This is the ethos of the Christian faith, that because we are those who are loved of God, we ought to love other people, both those who are within the body of Christ and those who are outside the body of Christ.

Now I could go on and on today, and we could spend our entire time talking about love and the importance of it in the Christian faith, because there is a lot that is said in the Scriptures. We know that Jesus says all the law and the prophets hang upon two commandments – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. We know that Paul the apostle, in Galatians chapter 5 said the entirety of the law could be summed up in one word, even this: love. But I think in a lot of ways we comprehend that, we recognize that. The reality is it’s hard to apply it. We know it!! But how hard is it to really actively apply this, to live it out?

Well Paul continues, we’ll come back to the concept of love in just a moment, he says not only are we to love without hypocrisy, but he says we are to “Abhor what is evil,” abhor what is evil. Although love is the fulfilling of the law, Galatians 5:14, we certainly do not do away with the law, exhortation. We do not do away with the commandments. Although the entirety of the commandments are summed up in that one word – love – we can’t just blindly cast them away and say, “We no longer are under those things.” Because there is a way in which the law of God still rules our lives. We are not made righteous by the keeping of the law, but there is a way in which the law of God still governs who we are and what we do. We are to love one another with sincerity, but we’re also to detest and to deplore what is evil. Another way of saying it is: We’re to hate what is evil. Now it seems weird to put the word love in this verse right next to the idea and the concept of hating something, but the reality is that there are things that we are to detest, there are things that we are to deplore.

Now the interesting thing is that we find here in this verse when we read, “Abhor what is evil,” is that there is such a thing as evil. You see we live in a world today where people question whether or not there is evil. There are people who say, “Well, you know, some people have a standard of righteousness for them within their religious group, but there’s no real set standard of righteousness.” But the reality there is; there are moral absolutes. There are things that are absolutely wrong all the time. Of course the question that people sometimes ask when you say something like that is: “Well, who decides? Who decides what those are?” Well as a Christian, we recognize the One who decides is the moral Lawgiver, the One who decides is God. Therefore, we know from the Scriptures that there are things that are evil, there are things that are, without question, wrong!! And the One who defines and decides what those things are is God.

And therefore, what Paul is telling us here when he says, “Abhor what is evil,” he’s saying we, as followers of God, need to hate the things that God hates. We need to hate the things that God hates. Now it may be hard for us to grasp the concept that God hates certain things, but as you study through the Scriptures, you know that it’s very true. There are things that God hates. God hates sin!! God hates a haughty look. God hates feet that run towards evil. God hates these things. And the Christian is not just to turn away from those things, the Christian is to hate those things that God hates. Abhor what is evil.

But the Christian is also to “Cling to what is good.” One of the things that we’re going to see in this section of Scripture, and every section in the epistles of the New Testament that tells us to Do Something, or to not do something; every time there is a put off, that we’re to no longer follow after what is evil, we’re to abhor what is evil; with every put off, there is a put on. Every time God says to reject this, He says hold on to this. So He says, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” In the same way that there is a standard for what is evil in the world, there are moral absolutes as it relates to what is wrong, there are things that are good. There are things that God declares to be good. Therefore, whatever God calls good, if we are to experience and promote the abundant life, we need to hang on to that; we need to cling to whatever is good.

Now the question is: What is good, and how do we know what is good? Well again, God decides. And God has revealed to us what is good. Micah chapter 6, verse 8 is one place where He does that: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.” So God explicitly shows us what is good, and He reveals it to us in His word. Therefore, if we want to “cling to what is good,” we have to get to know what is good by spending time in God’s word. We will not know what is good just by our hearts. It’s a scary thing when you hear someone say, especially someone that’s a Christian, “Well I’m allowing my heart to lead me.” I kind of get freaked out when I hear Christians say, “You know I’m just following my heart.” Why? Because Jeremiah 17, verse 9 says, “The heart of man is desperately wicked.” If you’re just following your heart, you’re liable to find yourself in a bad place!! “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is” what? Say it louder. “Death.” Our ideas of what is right can be wrong. Our ideas of what is good can be wrong. And therefore, if we want to know what is good, so that we can walk in what is good, we need to get to know God and how He has revealed those things to be good. “He has shown you, O man, what is good.”

Well this next section here, of these exhortations – verses 10 and on – is where Paul kind of works out this concept of abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. Look at verse 10, this is in the area of clinging to what is good, this is in the area of loving without hypocrisy: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” The primary principle of the Christian life, a life that is the experience of and the promoting of abundance, the abundant life; a life that is lived out like that, the primary principle is to be played out in love. And how does it work itself out? Paul says here, one of the ways it works it out is in our attitude towards others. Our attitude towards those in the body of Christ should be an attitude of tenderhearted affection. You see it there in verse 10: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.”

Now if we are to experience life more abundantly, then we actually need to engage in doing this; we actually need to work out tenderhearted love towards people within the body of Christ – being kindly affectionate to them with brotherly love. Now the idea of “kindly affectionate with brotherly love,” it gives us the idea that the body of Christ is a family. When you became a Christian, you entered into a family. Now it’s a diverse family, more diverse than any earthly family. You’ve come into a diverse family of people who look different, talk different, smell different, act different, think different than you do. Now you already know in the microcosm that is your family, your blood relatives, that everybody within your family, they’re not identical. They don’t think the same way, they don’t act the same way. And so it takes some work to work together and to live together. How many recognize it’s hard to live as a family? Now just blow that up a little bit bigger, and look around this room. Just look around for a minute. Seriously, look around. Diversity, the people in this room that are a part of your Christian family, your church family, are people that you would never, ever associate with outside of this place. Just be honest. I mean it’s reality. You probably would never be classified as together with some of the people in this room, and yet God, in Christ, makes us a family. And then He says I want you to be “kindly affectionate to one another.” Now, our default nature is not to be kindly affectionate. We don’t just fall into being kindly affectionate, because we’re selfish, because we’re arrogant, because we’re prideful, all those things that are sinful that we need to abhor, those things that are evil, that’s our natural tendency. So to be “kindly affectionate” to someone who maybe we don’t associate with real well, we identify with real well, it’s difficult. That’s why Paul says at the beginning of this section, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” This is impossible apart from God’s help. Recognize the impossibility. It’s absolutely utterly impossible for us to do these things apart from the helping mercies of God enabling us to be kindly affectionate with brotherly love. That word “brotherly love” is the Greek word philadelphia.

Now one can only wonder what the church would look like, and what the world would look like, for that matter, if we, the body of Christ, endeavored, by the Spirit of God, by the Spirit of His grace, to be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love. What would it look like if we were endeavoring to do these things? Of course we can imagine what that world would look like, but the reality is we don’t need to imagine it, we need to actually ask a question. Are we endeavoring to do this? Are we seeking, by God’s help, to be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, with God’s compassion? Is this true of us, and if it’s not been, then why not? What is it that keeps us from being loving and compassionate to people? Well I already listed a couple of things; I’ll just throw them back out there again: number one, pride, selfishness, deceit, just the general carnality of who we are, that we are very self-focused. All of these things are things we are to abhor. We’re to reject those things that are evil; we’re to cling to what is good. And God has given us, by His strength, by His Spirit, He’s given us the ability to love. How do we know? What’s the fruit of the Spirit, the very first one in Galatians chapter 5? The evidence of God’s Spirit dwelling in us is love! From that stems joy, peace, gentleness, all those other things that are listed there in Galatians chapter 5. But the evidence of God’s Spirit being in us is love. Are we actively renouncing our own arrogance, our own selfishness, our own deceit in our hearts? Are we constantly bringing those things to the cross to be crucified in place of saying, “God, we want to walk in Christ-like love.” Paul says if we are to promote and experience the abundant life, that’s what we need to do.

He goes on, and he says, “…in honor giving preference to one another.” The English Standard Version says, “…outdo one another in showing honor.” If we want to enjoy and promote the abundant life, we need to be tripping over each other to show one another honor. What does that mean? Well in Philippians chapter 2, verse 3, Paul says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” How many of you will honestly recognize today that that is not our natural tendency? I know this because our default is to be us-centered, self-centered. And you can judge your default by how you respond and react when you’re tired. See everybody here’s going, “Oh yeah, that’s not a pretty picture. That’s not.” Now Paul says that we need to esteem others better than ourselves, lift them up above ourselves, their needs above ours, if we’re to experience and promote the abundant life. Now we know that’s not our norm. I’ll give you an example: I’ve got four kids and a wife, many of you in here, you’ve got kids, you’ve got a spouse. When I wake up in the morning, and a lot of times I wake up in the morning not because I want to walk up, but because one of my four kids has decided that it’s time for me to wake up. And my first thought, when I realize that one of my kids is up and now I need to help take care of their needs, is, “I don’t want to get up!! I want to stay in bed!! I want to sleep!!” Can anyone relate, or am I the only one? Come on, I’m having a little confession here. I am not naturally others-centered. This is so far from my frame of reference that it’s almost comical when someone says, “I want you to esteem other people above yourself.” Now recognize that one of the reasons that God brought your spouse to you and brought children to your family was to refine and sanctify you, just like He’s refining and sanctifying me. And I know because I’ve heard people say this: “I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to have kids because I’m selfish.” Anyone ever heard someone say that?

I go, “You’re right. And you know what, you have a spouse, you have some kids, and you’ll find really quick just how selfish you are. And then the jackhammer of God will come in there and go, ‘Let’s get rid of some of this stuff here.’” [Laughter] You know what I’m talking about.

Now we just had a Marriage Connection workshop yesterday, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there, but I’m certain that some of the things that were shared there is that marriage can be like a jackhammer experience, where God’s coming in and going, “Let’s get rid of some of this stuff.”

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.” “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind each esteem others better than himself.” This is not our default. Let’s just confess it and say, “God, that’s not who I am. But if I want to experience and promote the abundant life that Jesus came to give, then I need to walk in these things. And the only way to walk in these things is by God’s grace working this out in me, by my complete reliance upon Him.” We’re naturally selfish, and this is why Jesus would exhort us, in Luke chapter 9, verse 23, “’If anyone desires to come after Me, let him take up his cross, deny himself and follow Me daily.’” It’s not a one-time thing. You don’t say, “Yeah, I did that, like five years ago.” No, this is every single day, and some of us recognize it’s two or three times throughout the day because it’s always morning somewhere. We all know this. Jesus exhorts, in Luke chapter 14, verse 10: When you come to a party, sit at the lowest seat. Take the lowest seat. That’s not our nature; that’s not what we default towards. In Matthew chapter 20, verse 26, there Jesus says, “Whoever desires to become great among you,” that is: who desires to be great in the kingdom of God and experience the abundant life, must be a servant of all. Well we don’t like that at all. This is a radically different way of thinking, church. But this is the way to come into the experience of the abundant life.

That’s why these exhortations exist here. We can know, and we can spout all kinds of verses about salvation and the abundant life, we can know what that is theoretically, theologically, doctrinally. But are we actually living it? And this is how it’s lived out.

Paul continues, verse 11 of Romans chapter 12, these imperatives: “…not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Now, simply put, those words – “not lagging in diligence” – simply put, it could be rendered: don’t be lazy!! My natural tendency is laziness. That’s just naturally what we default towards – to be lazy, to not want to do anything other than the things that maybe make us feel good or happy. Our natural tendency is to be lazy, and here he says do not be lazy, never be caught lacking zeal, especially as it relates to the area of serving the Lord. “But be fervent in the spirit.” Be hot in the Spirit of God, the things of the Spirit, and actively engaged in serving God. Now, I mentioned this last week, and it’s of the utmost importance: If we are to experience the abundant life in Christ, it needs to be that we are serving the Lord. If we’re not serving the Lord, if all our Christian experience is is sitting in a seat on a Sunday morning here in a Bible study, we will never experience the abundant life. If that’s all your experience of the Christian life is, and you say, “Yeah, I just don’t know anything about this abundant life,” it’s because we need to actually be fervent in serving the Lord, using the gifts that He’s given to us by His grace, as we saw in 1 Peter chapter 4 last week, that as stewards, good stewards of the great grace of God, we need to minister the gifts that God has given to us. And that word minister means to serve; we need to serve the Lord with the gifts that He’s given to us. And it’s there in serving God that we experience the abundant life. Every single Christian has gifts by God’s grace, by His Spirit. The issue is are we using those for Him, actively and fervently?

Well the exhortations continue, verse 12: “…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” Now it’s my conviction that the second clause of this verse – “patient in tribulation” – it is dependent upon the first and the third. So if we are to be patient, if we are to experience endurance and patience in the middle of trouble and tribulation, then we need to be rejoicing in hope and we need to be continuing steadfastly in prayer. You see every single human being, whether they are a follower of Jesus or not, every single human being experiences difficulty. Jesus didn’t tell us that when you come to Christ you’re not going to have any more difficulty. The abundant life is not the removal of hardship; it’s not the removal of trials and tribulations. Paul told Timothy that anyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer. Jesus said in John chapter 16, verse 33, “’In the world you will have tribulation.” So any Bible preacher who says, “You come to Jesus and you never experience any hardship,” is a liar!! Because Jesus didn’t say that, Jesus said quite the opposite. So every single human being, whether they’re a Christian or not, experiences difficulty, they go through trial and tribulation. But the Christian can be patient in tribulation. Why?

Number one: They have hope. You see it there in verse 12, at the beginning – “…rejoicing in hope.” We have hope. Hope for what? Well because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have absolute certainty – that’s what biblical hope is, it’s absolute certainty – that we’re going to be with Him for eternity, that this is not “all she wrote.” This life is not all there is. And there is a part in every single human being where we connect with that, we realize that this is not all there is. And those people who have convinced themselves that this world is all the life that we have, those people are depressed at the core. But the Christian has rejoicing in hope because they know this is not all there is. In Christ we have absolute assurance that we will be with Him for eternity in heaven. And there will be no suffering there; there will be no tears there. He will wipe away every tear. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to that; that’s a good day!! And that’s what we’re hopeful for. We rejoice in hope. So what we see there in the concept of rejoicing in hope is that in any circumstance, whatever difficulty we go through, we need to connect that to the cross. We need to bring that to the cross and recognize that there is something great with God, although we don’t know everything about it, we will be with Him for eternity.

Secondly, not only can we be patient in tribulation, because we have hope, secondly: We can be patient in tribulation as we are continuing steadfastly in prayer. Why? Because in prayer it brings us to the place where we recognize God is on the throne! We can only be patient in tribulation as we recognize that God is still on the throne. We may not fully know everything that He’s doing – in fact we don’t know everything that He’s doing – but we know this, He is Lord, and He is good!! And we constantly come back to that recognition that He is Lord and He is good. And continuing steadfastly in prayer puts us in that frame of reference. Now sometimes it is actually tribulation itself that causes us to come into prayer. It forces us to pray, maybe like we’ve never prayed before. But if we come into prayer, even if it’s because tribulation has brought us into prayer, may we continue there, continue to stand strong in prayer. Paul said in Romans chapter 8, verse 25, “If we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” We are hoping for what we don’t see – life with the Lord – and we are eagerly waiting for it in continuous prayer with perseverance, even if we are in the midst of tribulation and difficulty.

Well Paul continues, verse 13: “…distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” “Distributing to the needs of the saints,” now that word “distributing” is the Greek word koinōneō. Now some of you, even though you’ve never taken a Greek class, you’ve heard some word like that before; you’ve heard the word koinōnia. Anyone ever heard that word before – koinōnia? It’s the Greek word for fellowship. It’s used there in Acts chapter 2, verse 42, when it says, “and they continued steadfastly in” koinōnia, “fellowship.” The church, the early church, they continued continuously in fellowship. Now we, in the American church, have this idea that fellowship is when we gather together and play a baseball game with other Christians. That’s fellowship. Or we think, “I went out to lunch with some Christians, we had so sweet fellowship.” You know it’s the funny stuff that Christians say. “We had some sweet fellowship together.”

“Oh yeah, what did you do?”

“Oh, you know, we went to the beach. It was just a group of Christians. We had some sweet fellowship. We’re continuing steadfastly in fellowship.”

But that word – koinōnia or koinōneō – it means to share with the needs of one another within the body of Christ. You see the application of that word, after we read it in Acts 2:42, that the early church continued in fellowship, the application comes in verse 45. Turn to Acts 2 for a moment, Acts 2:45. Acts chapter 2, this is what fellowship – koinōnia – this is what it looks like, practically. Acts 2:45: “[and they] sold their possessions and goods, and [they] divided among them all, as anyone had need.” They continued steadfastly in fellowship. What is koinōnia? It’s distributing to the needs of the saints. It’s taking care of those within the body of Christ who have need. And they were so committed to it in Acts chapter 2, in the early church, that there were someone people who said, “You know, I don’t need this that I have over here, I’m not using it, so I’m going to sell it and I’m going to use those things to distribute to the needs of the body of Christ.” Because we’re a family, and we’re loving without hypocrisy. We’re not just loving in a show, just saying to someone, “Yeah, I love you, be warm and filled.” But we’re actively taking care of the needs of one another.

So Paul is telling us here, and I recognize this is a radical transformation of our thinking, I know that. Because our American mindset, our American culture is totally against this concept, this idea. In fact, some years ago I was teaching through Acts chapter 2, and we were talking about the communal environment the church lived in. I literally got some e-mails from some people in the church, who said to me, “That sounds terribly like communism, and we’re not like that.”

I said, “Wait a minute. That’s Biblicism.” It’s not communism. It’s taking care of the needs of your family, because we’re the body of Christ, we’re a family.

He says here that we’re “given to hospitality,” back to Romans chapter 12. “Given to hospitality.” That word given, it means pursuing it that you might lay hold of it. It’s tracking it down. It’s literally the same word that’s translated a few verses later as persecution. Persecuting hospitality, get that in your mind. That’s a strange picture, but the idea is that the Christian is so into it that they’re ravenously going after hospitality – “I want this to be a part of my life!!” That’s a totally different way to look at this because I know I’ve thought, and I’ve actually heard people say before, “I don’t have the gift of hospitality. I just don’t have that gift. Some people do, but I don’t.” Well, it doesn’t matter!! If you’re to experience and promote the abundant life, then he says “persecute hospitality,” ravenously seek it down, make it a part of your life.

How does that look? Well Acts chapter 2 again, right after it says they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers, it says in verse 46, “So continuing daily with one accord,” that’s together, continuing everyday as one, “in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” That church was experiencing the abundant life. And how were they experiencing it? In hospitable community with one another. You see, our culture, exalting and lifting up this idea that we separate ourselves and we have these boxes that we call houses, and every single afternoon our garages open up and eat our cars, and we go inside and never see our neighbors. Everything exists in the backyard behind walls and no one… We don’t anyone to see us, and let’s put ADT sign out in front of the house. I know I got one. We don’t want anybody to have any of our stuff!! Our whole culture lives in this world of making your little thing and no one comes into your world. That is the culture under the sway of the wicked one that does not want us to enter into the abundant life. It’s a radically different way of thinking, I know.

It gets even more radical. Look at verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you.” Wait! What?! Yes!! “Bless and do not curse.” Now, what’s your default response to someone who does something mean to you? What’s the immediate response? Someone will say it? Do something back, right?! And we justify it with Scripture, don’t we – “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Right? We got our justification, we’re good. You do something bad to me, I do something bad to you, and maybe just a tiny bit more.  Listen, we see this in marriage, don’t we? Your spouse says something to you that just seems a little off. You go, “I’m gonna stand my ground. I got my rights, and I’m gonna defend my rights.” And so you fire one back. And they go, “Really?!?” Fire one back!! And now you’re having a really sweet abundant marriage, aren’t you? [Laughter] “Bless those who persecute you.” Jesus said, because of course Paul isn’t making this stuff up, this is from the Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew chapter 5, it’s the Sermon on the Mount, verse 44, He says, “’But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.’” Now I know you’re probably thinking like I am, “I’m gonna pray one of those prayers of David – God break their teeth in their mouth, destroy them!!” Right? That’s not the nature of what Jesus is saying though, is it? Not only that, how did Jesus act this out. “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” Blessing the very people who put nails in His hands and said, “Crucify Him!!” Praying for them, for their salvation, for their forgiveness. Boy that’s a radically different way of thinking. Why would Jesus tell us to do this? Matthew chapter 5, verse 44, He says to do this, verse 45, He says this: “’that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” It is evidence that we are God’s children when we bless those who persecute us. That’s hard. That’s hard for us to live with.

He says in verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Now sometimes it’s easy for us to rejoice with those who rejoice. How many of you actually like going to weddings? I know I’m having you raise your hands for a lot of things. Do you like going to weddings? I was at a wedding last week, it was great. Last Sunday one of my cousins got married. My son was in the wedding, Ethan, walking down there. My daughter, Addison, walking down, it was cute. They’re all dressed up. And then Ethan, at the reception, there’s a dance floor, he’s spent like an hour and a half out on the dance floor. He’s the only person dancing, it was awesome. It was beautiful. We just sat there like, “That’s my kid!” I can’t dance, neither can he, but it’s cuter when he does it. We like to rejoice with those who rejoice, right? Unless the person rejoicing is rejoicing in the promotion that they got that you didn’t get. Unless the person who’s rejoicing is rejoicing because they received the gift that you didn’t receive. Rejoicing with those who rejoice, it’s kind of a catch-22, because sometimes it’s hard to rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s even harder to weep with those who weep. You know sometimes we want to rejoice when other people are weeping. “They got what they deserved!!” It says weep with those who weep. He doesn’t give a condition on it. He doesn’t give the condition that, if you like them, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. He says just rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Verse 16: “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” Paul is exhorting us here to live harmoniously with one another. He’s going to amplify upon it in verse 18, we’ll see in just a moment. But he’s saying live in harmony with one another. It’s very much the same thing that Paul said in Philippians chapter 2, verse 2, when he said, “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord,” being gathered together, “of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” He says, “Do not set your mind on high things.” The New Living Translation renders it this way: “Do not be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people, and don’t think that you know it all.” This is the path to experiencing and promoting the abundant life.

Verse 17, this one’s hard for us: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.” Now I mentioned it a moment ago, and I know that our minds go there, “’You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”’” A lot of times we figure, “Well they did it to me and it’s retribution, I’m going to get back at them. I have my rights.” But Jesus, in Matthew chapter 5, verse 38, he said there, “’You have heard that it has been said of old time, you shall give “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”’” But He goes on, “’But I tell you do not resist an evil person, and if someone smacks you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.’” Listen, in and of my own strength, I cannot do this. I can’t do this. This is where we are constantly calling out to God, “God, enable me by Your grace to do this, because I know this is the way into the abundant life.”

Verse 18: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” In other words, make every effort to live at peace with people. Another way of saying it is: Never be an aggressor!! Never be an aggressor!! Just think about that for a moment. Never be an aggressor!! Why? Well Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Remember, our Lord, Isaiah chapter 9 says He is the Prince of what? He’s the Prince of Peace. Never be an aggressor!!

Verse 19: “Beloved, do not,” the NIV says, “Never.” “Do not avenge yourselves.” “Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written,” Paul quoting Deuteronomy 32:35, “for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says” who? “The Lord.” Now this is an issue of faith. Do we really believe this? Do we really believe that God will be just?! Do we absolutely hold in our hearts the faith that He will take care of every wrong one day? Because that’s the only way that we can walk in this, and fulfill this, to never avenge ourselves. Now we don’t need to be taught to retaliate, do we? We just don’t. You know, one of your kids pushes, you know, pushes his sister, you go, “Ethan, why did you push your sister?”

“Well, she did…” Right? Instantly, we just instantly go to that. “Well they did this to me.” “I was just…” “They too my toy, and I” [smack]!

I don’t like picking on my kids. I guess they’re too young to really be bothered by it yet. So I’ll just keep doing it. [laughter] But my daughter, Evangeline, she’s like the cutest thing in the world, but she, man, she’s like retribution queen. You do somethin’ to her, she’s gonna let you know it. You know, and we didn’t teach her that, I didn’t teach her that. Although I’m a martial artist, and I think, “Yeah, that was a nice little right hook you go there. I like that.” NO!! I didn’t teach her to do that. It’s just part of us; it’s just innate; that’s just who we are. Our natural instinct is to be retributive. We want to give retribution to people. And this is where we’re submitting to the fact that God is God, and He is Lord, and He will repay, “Vengeance is Mine.” It’s not yours, He says, “I will repay.”

“Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry,’” verse 20, “’feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’” YES!! There’s a part of us that likes that. There’s a lot of different discussion by commentators, what is meant by heaping coals of fire. Some people say it’s a hospitable thing, and some people say no, this goes back to the Psalms, and it’s retribution from God. Whatever it is, the reality is this: We are trusting God to take those things in His hands, and we’re laying it down saying, “God, it’s in Your control. We’re going to leave it with You.”

Now I know that our minds immediately go to, “Well what if the government is a bad government?” We’re going to get into that next week when we get into chapter 13, and we read there, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God.” And remember the time and place in which Paul wrote this, he’s writing this to Christians who are living in what city? Rome. And who was the leader of Rome? It was the emperor of Rome, Claudius Caesar, the very guy who would remove Paul’s head from his body a few years after this point. You think you live under a wicked regime. You don’t.

He says, “Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you heap coals of fire on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Now this again is an issue of faith. Do we really believe that evil can be overcome with good? Do we really believe that? I suggest to you the greatest example of it is Jesus on the cross. He overcame evil with good. And the path into the abundant life is the path where we say, “God, in and of my own strength I can’t do these things, but I ask by Your power that You would enable me to do just what it is that I see here in this passage, so that I might experience and promote the life that You came to give.”

Let’s stand and pray.

Father, we thank You for Your great grace. God, Your grace that enables us to be more and be better than what we are in our default. God, enable us by Your grace to live these things out, even this week, maybe as we’re driving to work tomorrow and someone cuts us off, and our immediate reaction is to react in the flesh, to do what our nature would want to do. But God, would You enable us by the quickening of Your Spirit to bring that thought captive to the obedience of Your Son. Work in us, Lord, that we would work these things out by Your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.