Thursday, December 14, 2017

This week's lesson (December 9-15): the Elect

Some things are more difficult to appreciate than others.
Take music recitals, for instance – we’ve all been to music recitals, band concerts, and school programs put on by children . . .
And I know that our children all sound good. Yes, our children always do a wonderful job – a wonderful job any time they’re in one of those recitals, concerts or school programs . . .
But we’ve all been to recitals – recitals, concerts, and school programs . . . in which some of those other children were not quite so easy to enjoy as our own.
And if you know what that’s like – yes, if you know just how difficult it can be to appreciate some people . . . then you know what Paul’s talking about here in Romans 12:9-21. You see, here in Romans 12:9ff, Paul’s writes to a church that’s made-up of two, very different groups. Yes, some of those believers are Jewish, and some are Gentiles.
And when you’ve got two groups like this in the same church – two groups who don’t eat the same, and they don’t dress the same, and you’d better believe they don’t listen to the same kind of music . . . then it’s easy to see why these two groups don’t always get along!
Just like those recitals, in other words, it’s easy to love what our kids are doing – and not so easy to love somebody else’s kids!
But here in Romans 12:9ff, Paul makes it easy on us – and that’s because Paul says that we don’t need to pretend we love everybody! No, we don’t need to pretend that we love anybody; we just need to act like we do – and to see what I mean, take a look at a group that’s easy to love, here in Romans 12:9ff.
Verse nine: “Love must be sincere” – and when Paul says “love must be sincere,” he literally says that “love can’t wear a mask.” 
You see, actors in those days never showed their real face; no, if you were in a play, a skit, or a musical, then you had to wear a mask.
If you played someone who was happy, for instance, then you wore a “smiley” mask.
But if you played somebody sad, then you had to wear a “frowny” mask.
In short, nobody ever saw “the real you” out on that stage; no, all they saw was that mask – that thing you wore on your face . . .
And that’s why their word for an actor was literally, “a hypocrite.”
You see “hupo” means “upon.”
“Kritos” means “a face.”
So put them together, and you’ve got a “hypocrite” – literally “somebody who wears something on their face” . . . or in our words, “somebody who wears a mask.”
So go back to verse nine – and when Paul says, “love must be sincere,” what he’s saying is that we can’t just wear the mask. We can’t just play a role. We don’t need a church full of people who just pretend to love each other. Verse nine:
Love must be sincere [and what does that mean? It means you] hate what is evil; [and you] cling to what is good. [It means you are] devoted to one another in brotherly love. [It means you should] never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. [Yes, sincere love is] joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. [It shares] with God’s people who are in need, [and it practices] hospitality.
Yes, that’s what Paul means when he talks about “sincere love” – and we all know what this is like; we’ve all seen this in action. You go to the airport, for instance; yes, you watch a group that’s waiting for someone to get off the plane – someone they haven’t seen for a long, long time.
Maybe it’s a kid home from college.
Maybe it’s a soldier home on leave.
Or maybe it’s a Student Missionary who’s just spent the last year on some island in the Pacific – but whoever it is, that whole family’s waiting for them . . . and when they show up, then you’re going to see the zeal . . . you’re going to see the fervor . . . you’re going to see the kind of love that Paul talks about in these verses!
Yes, when that family at the airport finally sees that person they’ve been waiting to see for so long . . . then the love you see is real. Ain’t nobody wearing a mask!
Again, that kind of love is real – but it’s not always easy. No, it’s not always easy to feel that kind of love for some people . . . and to be honest, some people don’t make it easy!
Read what happens next, as a matter of fact, and it reminds me of the time I learned how to use an AED – one of those Automatic Emergency Defibrillators; the things that “zap” people whose heart has stopped.
Now I don’t have a problem with “zapping” people – in fact, I think that’s pretty cool.
But then they tell me that part of this “zapping” people means giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation – and to be honest, that doesn’t sound nearly so cool.
Then they tell me the people who need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation the most . . . well, I’m not going into detail here, but they tell me the people who need it most may not be the kind of people to whom you want to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!
Likewise, read verses 14ff, and it’s clear that the people who need God’s love the most . . . they may not be kind of people you feel like loving. Look at the kind of people Paul describes here, for instance, in verses 14ff:
“Bless those who persecute you,” says Paul – and when Paul talks about those who “persecute” us by the way, he literally means people who pursue us, people who come after us, people who are always on our case.
And no, these are not loveable people – but Paul still says in verses 14ff that we should:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
To be sure, I don’t always feel like treating some people this way – no more than I’d feel like giving some people mouth-to-mouth resuscitation . . . but when it comes to First Aid, you don’t have to feel right to do right. No, you just go ahead and do it anyway.
Likewise, Paul doesn’t say we need to feel this great surge of love for the people who treat us wrong; you read verses 17ff, as a matter of fact, and you’ll notice he say doesn’t say anything about the way we’re supposed to feel! Just like First Aid, in other words, you don’t need to like them; no, you just need to treat them right. Verse 17:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, given him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
And no, I don’t know what it means with this talk of burning coals – but I do understand verse 21: “Do not be overcome by evil,” Paul says, “but overcome evil with good.”
When Paul talks about love, in other words, he doesn’t talk about the way I’m supposed to feel; no, he talks about the way I'm supposed to act.
I mean, we can’t always change the way someone feels about us – and that’s especially true if they don’t like us. That’s why I’m glad Paul doesn’t say we need to make people think nice thoughts about us; no, he just says that “if it is possible, as far as it depends on [us, that we should] live at peace with everyone.”
What’s more, we can’t always change the way we feel about someone – and that’s especially true if we think they’ve been mean to us. That’s why I’m glad Paul doesn’t say we need to feel good about these people; he just says we need to treat them good.
Finally, we can’t always pretend that nothing is wrong with some people – that we wouldn’t notice these things if we really loved them. No, Paul says flat-out that some people do bad stuff: they persecute us. They do evil to us. They tempt us to revenge – and we’ve all been tempted to revenge.
But we don’t need to give in to those temptations.
No, Paul says the best way to we overcome evil . . . is with good.
Think of all those recitals my parents attended, for instance – all those recitals, concerts, and band programs that I put them through when I was growing up . . . and even then, I knew they were awful; no, I knew just how bad we really were.
But even then, my parents still went to those programs.
Even then, my parents still clapped at those programs.
Even then, my parents still took us out for ice cream when the program was over – and if you asked them what they thought about the program, then they’d just change the subject.
You see, I don’t know what they thought about those programs. No, I don’t know if they were bored, if they were proud, if they were relieved that it was over, or if they were irritated they were missing their favorite TV program.
But no matter how they felt, I can tell you this: I can tell you that my parents treated me with love – the kind of love Paul talks about.
In much the same way: somebody may not like us – but we can still be good to them.
And we may not like somebody else – but we’re not hypocrites; we don’t smile in their face while we stab them in the back. No, we may not like them – but we still treat them right.
And it may take a long, long time before our feelings catch up with our actions – yes, we may need to be nice for years to people we don’t like very much . . . but that’s okay. That’s fine. By God’s grace, we can do it.
That’s because we don’t need to pretend that we love everybody. 
No, we don’t need to pretend we love them; we just need to act like we do.

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