Life-Altar-4x3-1Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp have written a helpful book entitled Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.  In one of their chapters, they ask the question, “Why bother?” Of course, they are asking, “Why bother with relationships at all in light of how they are often painful and troubling?” Lane and Tripp argue strongly, and biblically, that instead of calling for a détente on all relationships, we should see them from this perspective:

“God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with him as well as with others. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for him. And every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in him.”[1]

Not only do we have to deal regularly with our own sinful attitudes and tendencies, which makes life hard, but we have to work through painful relationships in the course of living our life as a follower of Christ.

God’s plan is not to avoid problems, but to work through them by his grace and for his glory. The relationships in a local church become the training ground for all believers to learn to love as Christ loves us (Ephesians 4:31,32).  We are prone to speak in generalities about loving others. We prefer to love people from afar where they can’t mess up our comforts and preferences. Truth be known, the following describes us well,

To dwell above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory; But to dwell below with the saints we know, Well, that is another story!

We know such thinking will never fly for the believer trusting in the One who came from heaven to earth to be with us. God’s plan is for us to live life together which, in turn, allows us to give and receive in important ways.  Authentic relationships become one of the strongest evangelistic strategies a church can have. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his followers if we have love for one another (John 13:34,35).  When a church loves in this way, it possesses a tremendous drawing power.

This theme leads us to Part 3 in our series of articles entitled, “Life on the Altar.”  Since January we have been exploring the powerful word picture of the apostle Paul found in Romans 12:1,2, “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. 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.”  This command, based upon the gospel which Paul has set forth from the beginning of Romans, is one of surrender to Him who is worthy of our very best. This is life on the altar, and it is the life we are called to live.

Such a life points others to the saving work of Christ through his life, death, and resurrection. I gather from the collective statements of Jesus in the gospels that believers are to reflect the supernatural change that has occurred within us by God’s saving grace. I see this as Paul continues in Romans 12.  Beginning in verse 9 through the end of the chapter in v. 21, there are a series of short, terse commands on how we are to live with others.  I want to argue in this section that these commands are nothing short of supernatural living.  This is the very life that Jesus called us to live. It is the fruit of life on the altar and the most compelling witness we can give.

We often find in Scripture a list of virtues or character qualities that we are commanded to pursue or to put off.[2] What is remarkable about these lists is how unremarkable these character qualities are in the sense that they seem to be common knowledge of what is good. They are standards that Christians should live by as a rule. Paul’s list in Romans 12:9-21 is no different as he presents marks of a true believer. Not that we could live these out in our own strength and power, but through the power of the Spirit who dwells within us.

Romans 12 is filled with directives that we are to pursue in obedience to Christ. To present ourselves to God as living sacrifices brings forth an otherworldly witness that flows out of us when we build our lives on the mercy of God found in Christ. I would like to take the next few posts to look at the following:

Verse 9-10: LOVE- “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Verse 11: ZEAL-Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

Verse 12: HOPE- “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

Verse 13: GENEROSITY- “Contribute to the needs of the saints.”

Verse 14-15: SUFFERING- “Bless those who persecute you…weep with those who weep”

Verse 16b: HUMILITY- “Associate with the lowly.”

Verse 17-18: PEACEMAKERS- “Repay no one evil for evil….If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Verse 19-20: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES- “Never avenge yourselves…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

Verse 21: OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD- “Overcome evil with good.”

First Love, Then Hate

Paul begins with love in v. 9. This is not surprising because love (agape) is always at the top of the list of Christian virtues. Here Paul, calls for genuine love, unhypocritical love. Greek scholar A. T. Robertson asserted, “Hypocritical or pretended love is no love at all.”[3]  Every expression of our faith should be offered with sincere and genuine care for the well-being of others.

One of the biggest misunderstandings among Christians is that we can have intimate fellowship with God, but not be in fellowship with other believers.  We can commune with God, but despise our brothers and sisters. We can love God and hate our neighbor. However, such thinking falls apart when we look at Scripture.  The apostle John wrote, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”[4]

Paul pivots from love and calls believers to, “Abhor what is evil.” We are to hate what is wrong, evil, and wicked. Where there is love, evil is not only to be grieved, it is to be hated.  Lest we think that love means being a doormat that never contends or opposes anything, this simple command rescues us from many false ideas of what love is. Any love that is marked by indifference and neglect is not a true expression of love. It is a sham. As we present ourselves to God, we will find that our attitudes, feelings, and actions start to change as the Holy Spirit renews our mind.  We begin to embrace a new standard for living that brings glory to our Redeemer and joy to our hearts.

These commands to love and hate take me to the cross of Christ where I find the ultimate express of love and hate.  At the cross, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”[5] The mercy of God flows to sinners, and the wrath of God is poured out upon Jesus as a once-for-all payment for our guilt and a timeless statement of God’s hatred for sin. Life on the altar comes from this supernatural power. May we live with such focus and determination that the song of our life would be:

Let it be said of us

We were marked by forgiveness

We were known by our love

And delighted in meekness

We were ruled by his peace

Heeding unity’s call

Joined as one body

That Christ would be seen by all.[5]

[1] Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. “Relationships: A Mess Worthy Making” Kindle Edition Page 7, Location 138.

[2] Ephesians 4:25-32; Colossians 3:5-10; 12-14; I Timothy 3:1-7; 2 Peter 1:3-10 are examples.

[3] I John 4:20

[4] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ro 12:9). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[5] Steve Fry, Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.