“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.” (Romans 12:15-17 HCSB)
Have you ever had mixed emotions in a situation? Happy about something but also sad, at the same time. I can tell you, this has happened to me on many occasions. For example, I felt happy, excited and thrilled as my children married but also sad and even a bit apprehensive as they were leaving home, establishing their own families and homes and our relationship was changing and growing. I’ve always known that was my goal, my purpose as a father to teach them and help them grow to that point, but it still left me with mixed emotions.
In this section, Paul gives us even more specific challenges on how to love one another in a godly manner and it often involves adjusting our emotional state. Our culture often encourages the expression of our raw emotions. Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel. Social media not only gives us an outlet for sharing those raw emotions with divisive words, outrageous videos, questionable photos and heavy sarcasm, it even seems to encourage it. I work in the technology field and I’ve watched with keen interest as the CEOs of the large social media platforms have been called to testify before Congress regarding their social media platform’s responsibility in spreading disinformation and fake news. The algorithms that govern what you see on these platforms were designed to give you more and more of what you liked, viewed or consumed. In other words, it simply encouraged and fed your existing behavior.
While discipline is something we definitely need it is not necessarily something we desire or pursue. As I mentioned last week, without resistance our bodies would grow weak and would become unable to support us or sustain life. The same is true when it comes to disciplining our thoughts and emotions. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-6; “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.” In other words, adjust your own attitude regarding your position and place in the world. How you fit. Why you exist. What you ought to be doing and how you ought to feel about it. While God gave you the ability and option to choose your own path and purpose, His desire is that you choose to live life His way, according to His purpose.
We begin this section with the admonition to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Paul wants our love of one another to be practical and real. Authentic. Not hypocritical or fake. So, when someone is hurting then we must be willing to feel their pain and cry along with them and when someone is rejoicing we ought to celebrate with them. But I thought he wanted us to be authentic, real in our expression of love for each other? Exactly. When we truly love one another then we hurt when they hurt, we cry when they cry, we celebrate when they celebrate. We join them in their journey through life and we begin to have a shared experience and our hearts begin to beat in rhythm, as one.
This concept certainly describes the marriage relationship that God calls us to share with our spouse. “…and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6 HCSB) While the marriage relationship is sacred and Christ calls us to live and love to a higher standard than our culture in that area, He also calls us to do the same in the marriage relationship He has with His bride, the Church.
My wife and I have been married for over 43 years. We have learned each other’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and we often finish one another’s thoughts and sentences. It just comes naturally with time, attention and intimacy. Do we get on each other’s nerves? Of course. Far too often. But, we also know one another’s moods and feelings. Tina has learned that I often need time off and away from work and church duties in the fall. I can’t explain why, it just happens. If I don’t get a few days away then I tend to get a bit depressed and moody. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or far away, just some time to stop, reflect, reset and adjust. We’ve also walked together through life’s darkest times and hardest struggles. When she hurts, I hurt. When I hurt, she hurts. When one of us rejoices then the other joins in the joy. When one laughs, we laugh together.
That’s what love does. That’s what the church ought to do. We must learn to love one another, like that. But love like that can’t happen, doesn’t happen in church without time, commitment and intent. Especially, in our culture. We need to learn to have Jesus’ compassion. He would look on the crowds that came to hear Him and be moved by their needs. The word compassion comes from the word for “bowels” and references when you feel something so deeply that you feel it inwardly, deep within yourself and you must act. You must rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those weeping, you can’t help it. It just comes out of the depths of who you are, of who He has made you to be and is making you to be – Christlike.
Next, we must be of the same mind or in agreement with one another. This doesn’t mean uniformity but, rather, unity of mind and purpose. We all want and are aiming for the same thing. We have the same goal and are headed in the same direction. We are walking together in this life journey with Christ. However, notice he immediately adds that we must be in agreement with one another and not too proud or unwilling to associate with humble people or do humble things. We are often willing to be of the same mind or agree with others, but only when they align with us, our thoughts and our desires, our goals and direction. I agree with you, but only if you do things my way. I’ll go along with the plan, but only if you put me in charge. I think you’re right, but this is how we’re going to do it. Sound familiar?
Often our pride gets in the way of following Christ. We have multiple examples in the Gospels of this occurring among the disciples. Peter is our classic example. He often let his personal pride get in the way and Jesus taught him some tough lessons – “get behind me Satan. You are thinking more about what you want and not what God wants.” (See Matt. 16:23) James and John had to learn this lesson when they desired the best position among the disciples because of their family ties – “it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.” (See Mark 10:42-45)
If we are going to be of one mind, to be in agreement with one another, then we must be willing to be humble, to work with humble people in humble circumstances doing humble tasks. Why? Because of Christ’s example and command. To be great in God’s Kingdom requires that we be servants, slaves to all. We must have Christ’s attitude. We must be willing to step down from the loftiness of our own thoughts about ourselves and our dreams, to abandon our desires and the self-inflating opinions of our skills and abilities and become like Christ – a servant of God’s will. I love how Paul puts it, “don’t be wise in your own estimation.” Don’t be wise only in your own mind. Don’t consider yourself wise just because you tell yourself you are. Your opinion is quite skewed, in this instance. Wisdom will be evident in how you live and act, daily.
Finally, we get slapped in the face with these words: “don’t repay anyone evil for evil. Instead, plan on doing what is right before God and everyone else.” When someone does something evil to you, don’t repay them with evil. Instead, plan beforehand to give them what will bring honor to God. Do what’s right in God’s sight but do it before all men. I intentionally started this paragraph with the phrase: we get slapped in the face with these words.” Why? Because a slap in the face might leave us stunned but ready to lash out in anger at the person who slapped us. That might be the natural human response, but it isn’t the response of someone led by God’s Spirit. That’s why Paul says, “do not repay but plan to do what is right or honorable.”
To repay is to give what is expected in response to what was received. In the case of a business transaction, it is to give payment for product or services received. In the case of evil, it is to give back evil for evil, slap for slap. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – revenge, retribution and repayment. I’ll pay you back, alright! However, in the case of a Christ follower, it is to give back what is unexpected, humanly speaking. To give back what God is expecting – the honorable thing, the godly response – MERCY! Paul is echoing Jesus words from Matthew, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. (Matthew 5:38-40 HCSB)
We want justice, it is a part of our nature. We want things to be made right. We want those who are guilty to be held accountable for their deeds. Don’t we? But God has not given you the right to take out your own vengeance. He says, “Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay.” (Deut. 32:35) We are going to visit this in more detail, next week, but what I want you to focus on, this week, is our call to do what is right and honorable in everyone’s sight. One quick point of clarification, to do what is honorable in everyone’s sight does not mean that we do what our culture deems honorable or right. Rather, it means to do what is right (in God’s sight) but do it so that everyone may see you do it. We must be purposeful and intentional in our efforts at putting God’s Word on display in our daily lives. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. You don’t light a lamp and then cover it up. Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works (honorable actions, Christ-like living) and give glory to God.” (Matt. 5:14-16, my paraphrase)
You may have noticed how many times I pulled quotes from Matthew 5, this week. Words written in RED – Jesus’ words. Paul is not teaching us something new. He’s relating Jesus’ words to these Roman house churches. He’s telling them how to live in accordance with Christ’s commands. He’s telling them that to live for Christ is to let His words come to life in how they live life, each and every day. That’s what I’m telling you! To live for Christ is not to quote His Words in condemnation or judgment of your neighbors, family or co-workers. To live for Christ is to live them out in obedience as an example, as a light in this dark world. Plan ahead time to do what is right and honorable when someone strikes you, when they slap you or takes something that belongs to you. Do what is right in God’s sight, in accordance with His Word, and do it so that others may see you do it and glorify God. We are not called to stand in judgment of others, that’s God’s job. We are called to be lights, to pray for our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give others the same mercy and forgiveness that God has given us.
Don’t repay evil words, thoughts or actions with evil words, thoughts or actions. Don’t give others what’s expected, give them God’s mercy. Begin planning now to give them what’s unexpected, what’s surprising, what’s life changing – give them God’s love. Rejoice when others rejoice, weep when they weep. Be in agreement with each other while walking together in fellowship, of the same mind and same goal, not proud and insisting on your own way. Associate with humble people and be willing to do humble tasks in obedience to God’s call to serve one another. If you’re only wise in your own mind, you’re not very wise. Wisdom is displayed through obedience to God’s Word. Be wise by living like Christ in a very public way – light in a very dark world. Be right minded, it results in right, God-honoring actions.