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Sunday August 31, 2008

Rev. Robert L. Clark II


Romans 12:9-21

Romans 12:9-21

12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; (10) Love one another with mutual
affection; outdo one another in showing honor. (11) Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
(12) Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. (13) Contribute to the needs of the
saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (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; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (17) Do not repay
anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. (18) If it is possible, so far as it
depends on you, live peaceably with all. (19) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the
wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (20) No, "if your
enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you
will heap burning coals on their heads." (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Last week we began to talk about what it means to live as a transformed Christian. In today’s reading

Paul presents a collection of admonishments concerning the living of the Christ life, the transformed life.

Top on Paul’s list is “Let love be genuine”. Once, somebody asked Jesus to name the most important of

God’s commandments. Jesus didn’t hesitate in giving his answer, “’You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first

commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two

commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (NRSV Matthew 22:37-40)

The obligation to love is according to Jesus the one unqualified moral demand of the Christian life. It is

the one commandment on which all the others are hinged. We must love and Paul tells us that the love

with which we love must be genuine, which is to say that it must be sincere. It must be without

hypocrisy, without self-interest, and without obligation. To fully understand what Jesus and Paul are

trying to tell us, it will help to understand that the Greek language, in which the New Testament was

written, has three words which in English are all translated as ‘love’. The first of these, Eros, is a word

that does not appear in the New Testament. It refers to the romantic love one human being feels for

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another. The second is ‘philia’, which means the type of love one has for a brother. The third type of

love is called ‘agape’. This is the word Paul uses when he says let love be genuine. It is the word Jesus

uses when he tells us to love God and to love our enemies. Agape is the type of love that God has for

creation. It is a love that is not based on attraction. It is not subject to perception or effected by

expectation. Agape love is unfettered by condition. It is unconditional love. It is ‘I love you’ not ‘I love

you because’…Agape love is by definition genuine. It cannot be faked or contrived.

Paul’s second admonition is to “hate what is evil.” Someone once said, “The opposite of Love is not hate.

The opposite of love is apathy.” It is not enough that a Christian ignore or avoid evil. For a Christian

turning a blind eye to evil is not an option, running from evil is not an option. The transformed Christian,

the Christian who has within his or her being the Spirit of Christ must actively hate that which is evil and

must do so without participating in it. For this reason evil must never be met with evil. Violence must

not be met with violence. This is perhaps the most radical of all Jesus’ teachings. To hate what is evil

means to refuse to participate in doing evil. It means loving your enemies because to hate them would be

to engage in evil. Hating evil means forgiving those who do you harm because to seek revenge would be

to enter into evil. Hating evil means possessing the willingness to place one’s life on the line to oppose it.

It does not mean a willingness to take the life of another; to take a life is to participate in evil. Hating evil

means refusing to take advantage of another person for personal gain. It means never paying a lower

wage than the one you would willingly work for. Hating evil means refusing, in as much as it is in your

power to do so, to do business with those who exploit others for profit. It means never denying another

human being any right that you would claim for your own. Hating evil means refusing to participate in

slander or gossip and more than that it means refusing to sanction or condone others participation in such

practices. Hating evil means always seeking the good and having found it clinging to it with all your

might.

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This brings us to Paul’s third admonition, “hold fast to what is good’. To truly love requires one to hate.

I cannot love another human being and not hate that which brings harm to humanity. Yet it is not enough

to hate. Hating is something done in response to evil. It is reactive, meaning it is motivated by feelings,

circumstances, and/or conditions that exist outside of oneself and are thus beyond one’s control. Hatred is

an appropriate yet insufficient response to evil. To love with genuine love requires that we do the good.

It requires us to be proactive. To be proactive means to act in response to an inner motivation, to do the

right thing because it is the right thing, to act according to our deepest beliefs and convictions. If we are

to live the transformed live that Christ offers us in its fullness we must overcome evil and the only way

that can happen is by holding fast to that which is good. The only antidote to the poison of evil is a

healthy dose of the good. Paul tells us this and then goes to explain what doing the good might look like.

First Paul says, “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” This is a

place where we, Christians, often get it wrong. We think that doing the good means something like being

charitable. We think it is a demonstration of love when we give food, clothing, or other necessities to the

anonymous poor. Giving to the anonymous poor is not a bad thing but it is not an act of love. Love is

mutual. Love is when we share what we have with one another. If I have food I share with those who are

in need of food and those who are in need of food share with me that which I am in need of. Genuine

love is love between equals. It is love that honors the dignity of the beloved. It is love that respects the

personhood of the beloved. When Jesus sat down with the Samaritan woman at the well, the first thing he

did was to ask her for a drink of water. By his asking Jesus affirms the Samaritan woman as a person of

significance, a person of value, a person of power. By his asking he confers on her the power to say no.

He humbles himself while bestowing honor on her. His asking is an example of a genuine act of love.

Paul goes on to list a number of other examples of what it means to live as a transformed Christian, serve

the Lord, pray continually , extend hospitality to strangers, bless those who persecute you, “Get along

with each other, Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. In as much as it is up to you, get along with

everybody. Forget about getting even with those whom you imagine to have wronged you. If you see

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your enemy hungry, feed that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise

him with goodness.” (MSG Romans 12:16-20 adapted)

It is important to remember that these are just a few examples of what the Christ life, the life of love

might look like. There are as many ways to live the life of love as there are people to live it out. The

really important point here is this, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NRSV

Romans 12:21) Evil is a constant and a very real force in this world. No person, place, or institution is

free from its presence. No one is immune to its influence. For this reason we must constantly be on

guard so as not to be seduced into its practice. Remember, the best defense we have against evil is a good

offense. Evil is a powerful adversary. No one can beat evil at its own game. It is foolishness to try. The

only weapon we have against evil is the good. The good has the power to overcome evil. This week I

want to invite you to spend time thinking about the ways in which evil slips in and takes control in your

life. Then I would ask that you think about how you respond to evil. Are seduced by anger into returning

evil for evil and by so doing become a slave to evil? Are you tricked by your own ego into thinking more

highly of yourself than you ought to think and thus become evils pawn? Do you turn a blind eye to the

evil that is all around you and by so doing give silent assent to injustice, oppression, and violence? If

your answer to one or more of these questions is yes, then I encourage you to fall on your knees before

the Living God and beg to be given the ability to love with a genuine love. Ask God to give you the

strength to meet evil with the good, to love you enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. Amen.