April 9. Romans 12:12.How to Love part 9: Pray Constantly.

Romans 12:9-12. Let love be genuine…be constant in prayer.

There is no better way to love and to demonstrate your love for the community of faith than to pray for one another. Often prayer is last on our list, but we must move it to the top. Of all the things that Paul is listing her in Romans 12 as ways to love, this one leaves us with no excuses. Every Christian can pray. Every Christian is praying (and you might not even know it).

Romans 8:26-27. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Even when we don’t know how to pray the Spirit is praying in and through us.

This is why Paul can say constantly be praying.

The word constant here means constant. Devoted. Persevering. To continue all the time in one place.

There’s no doubt that none of us is praying like we want to be, or know we should be. But have you thought about your praying as an act of love? Or as the overflow of the life of Christ in you? Have you thought about it as part of being a “living sacrifice” (12:1) and as part of your “mind renewal” (12:2)? Does praying connect you to your union with Christ and to your union with the Body of Christ?

Prayer IS the outflow of our union with Christ. It is the intersection of grace and faith. Of being IN CHRIST and CHRIST IN YOU.

We can pray because we are in Christ. We can boldly approach the throne of grace. We have access to God himself, our Abba. We are represented by Jesus and the Spirit in prayer.

And we can pray for each other from the love that Christ has put into our hearts. The Jesus in us wants to pray for others. We can pray in faith AS Jesus. Wow.

The point here (especially in Romans 12) is that prayer is a communal not only a personal discipline. Prayer awakens us to the needs of the body. It deepens our commitment to each other. It presents us to God as an instrument of his righteousness to be used in the life of another believer.

Who did you pray for today? Yesterday? This week? This month?

Do you want to know God better? Then pray for others. It is in prayer that we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ. It is in prayer that God’s heart becomes our heart. it is in prayer that we literally give of our time and energy to sacrifice for the cause of our Savior. It is in prayer that we truly find that “to live is Christ.”

April 8. Romans 12:12. How to Love part 8: Endure in Tribulation.

Romans 12:9-12. Let love be genuine…be patient in tribulation.

There are many things in our lives that are hopeless. (When I say “hopeless” I mean there is not much chance, if any, of the situation changing. There is no promise in scripture declaring that it will go away this side of Heaven). There are many things in our lives that are never going to change, things that we will never get better at, and things that will never get better. There are burdens that we must carry. Some of these are “smaller” things (work difficulties, family trials), others are much bigger (death, disease, infertility, mood disorders, sin and temptation, war, poverty, etc.).

For example, in my life there are physical struggles, aches and pains, that will most likely never end. There are spiritual temptations that I will probably face until I die. I don’t expect my struggle with depression and anxiety to just disappear. I have lost family and friends to the sting of death. Your list is probably similar or even more intense.

But these are earthly things. They are not eternal things. They are “hopeless” in this life. But they are not our ultimate Hope. They are what Paul calls here in Romans 12:12 tribulations.

Tribulation (thlipsis): affliction, pressure, impossible to escape or control.

Patient (hypomeno): to remain under, to carry like a burden, to not run away from, to endure.

Look at Paul’s other uses of these words:

Romans 5:3-5. but we rejoice in our sufferings (thlipsis), knowing that suffering (thlipsis) produces endurance (hypomone). 4 and endurance (hypomone) produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 8:35. What shall separate us from the love (agape) of Christ? Shall tribulation (thlipsis), or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

1 Corinthians 13:7. Love (agape) endures (hypomeno) all things.

How do we survive the hopeless situations of life? The answer is with hope. We must see beyond the hopeless things in this earthly life to what gives us everlasting hope, Jesus Christ and his love.

Look again at the verses above. See how Paul connects patient endurance (hypomone) through tribulations (thlipsis) to love (agape)?

  • Our thlipsis produces hypomone because God’s agape has been poured into our hearts.
  • No thlipsis can separate us from God’s agape.
  • Agape hypomenos all things (every thlipsis).

The Princess Bride: Wesley hypomenos his thlipsis for the cause of agape.

These three passages are all indicatives. What has been done for us. Truths to rest in.

But Romans 12:12 is an imperative. What we must do. Loving actions we must take.

The imperative of Romans 12:12 is that our genuine love must be patient in tribulations. But how are we supposed to do that? How do we love even in the situations of life that will never get better, never go away, and from which there is no earthly escape? Why would God even ask us to entertain such a thing? Why would we be asked to endure such hopeless pressure?

The answer is “because we can because of love.” We can because we have ultimate hope. We have eternal love. We have everlasting life. The truth is that there IS an escape. And that escape is our death and resurrection, just like it was for Jesus himself.

You see, when you believe that there is a next life full of love. When you believe that your death is not the end. When you believe that you will be resurrected unto eternal life. You can endure anything. You can bear the burden. You can withstand the pressure.

And not in a fake hypocritical way. Remember, this is genuine love. Not fake love. Our genuine love is rooted in God’s genuine love for us. So we don’t have to “put up” with life. Yes, it’s very hard. But it’s not the end. It’s a journey to a final destination. It’s a suffering unto glory.

Hebrews 12:2. looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured (hypomone) the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Christ endured the thlipsis of the cross because his eyes were on the joy to follow. He endured. He didn’t run away. He didn’t reject the sorrow. He didn’t let the hopelessness of life keep him from true hope. His genuine love for you bore that burden to the point of death, even death on a cross.

What are your eyes on? Are you looking to Jesus? Are you focused solely on your trial? Or are you letting your hopeless trial give you hope? The hope of “to live is Christ?” Are you plotting your escape? Are looking to run away? Are you convinced that you can’t carry the burden for one more second? Look to Jesus. Remember that he already carried it for you. Find strength in your weakness today through his strength. Let his love for you empower your love for others. Let the hope of Christ’s life in you empower your genuine love for the world.

April 5. Romans 12:12. How to Love part 7: Rejoicing in THE Hope.

Romans 12:9-12. Let love be genuine…Rejoice in hope.

Literally it says, “in the hope, rejoicing.”

Rejoicing – present and ongoing. Joy is the constant state of our heart. Even in sorrow.

In THE hope – not just any old hope. THE hope. The hope of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul gave us a much deeper look at the connection between hope and love back in Romans 5.
Romans 5:1-5. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

All our hope is rooted in our justification. We have peace with God. We have access into grace. No fear of wrath. No fear of rejection. No fear of death. We have real hope – a confident expectation.

Because we are in Christ, and because of God’s grace, we share in the hope of the glory of God. God wins in the end. Everything God does is for God’s glory, a glory that we will experience with him for eternity. We have this guaranteed hope.

But hope is also something we grow in. Our suffering produces endurance, then character, then hope. We have the hope, and hope is being produced in us. Our hope in Christ turns our suffering into our hoping for Christ.

But what does this have to do with love? Paul answers in two ways:

First, we have hope because God’s agape love has been poured into our hearts (5:5). This is subjective, but that doesn’t make it less real. We know our hope is real because we feel God’s love for us inside of us by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. We can rejoice in hope because we know we are loved. We feel it. We experience it in our hearts.

Second, the objective truth of Christ’s death for us:

Romans 5:8. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yes, our hope is a feeling rooted in the love that God pours into us. But it is also a fact that God loved us and sent his son to die for our sins. And this happened while we were still sinners. While we were God’s enemies we were loved. While we were hostile to God, he sacrificed himself for us. God gave his beloved son for those who did not and could not love him.

From there Paul concludes that if God already did the hardest thing ever, dying for those who did not deserve it, then we can be sure that he will do the much easier part of salvation, bringing those he saved into eternity.
Romans 5:9-10. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

If God loved us when we were enemies, much more he will love us when we are justified, adopted, cleansed, and reconciled. Our hope is in the much more of God’s love.

Star Wars tells great stories of hope. God tells a story of great hope. Hope in the greatest of loves in the universe. Hope in a God who would give his life even for his enemy.

What we’ve seen is that there is no hope without God’s love for us. But there is also no love for others without this hope. A love that is not accompanied by rejoicing in hope is most likely a fake, self-manufactured love. And that is a love that will ultimately fail. Why? Because others will fail us.

Anyone can love when they are loved back. The atheist. The secularist. The naturalist. Even animals will groom each other. But true agape is demonstrated when we love those who fail us. Hurt us. Even reject us. Which is pretty much all of us.

Hope is what makes our love genuine (not hypocritical). Our love must be rooted in THE hope of being in Christ. When we lose this hope, we lose our power to love. It’s hard to love when you think that no good will ultimately come from it. But in Christ and in the gospel we know that everything we do will be used and redeemed by God. All the love we pour out is backed up by THE hope of Christ. Of eternal gain and everlasting reward.

There is no hope without love, and there is no love without hope. “To live is Christ” gives us both. Do you believe this? When you do, your love will be full of joy filled hope.

April 4. Romans 12:11. How to Love part 6: Burning and Serving.

Romans 12:9-11. Let love be genuine…be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.

Let’s pause for a brief second and remember the first two verses of this glorious chapter:
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. 2 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.

“To live is Christ” means that we have the life of Christ in us, breaking out of us, yearning to reveal itself through us. Through our everyday lives. We are living sacrifices only because it is Jesus who is in us. He is THE living sacrifice. He is the One into which we are being transformed. His is the mind unto which our mind is being renewed.

Why do I bring all this up? Because of the next thing Paul says to us in Romans 12:11 about genuine love – be fervent in spirit.

OK first, almost every time Paul says spirit he means the Holy Spirit. So most likely he is saying that we need to be fervent in the Holy Spirit.

Second, the word fervent. Glowing. Boiling. Burning. On fire. “Keep the fire of the Spirit burning.”

Third, look at the very next phrase – serving the Lord. (Note: the order is important here)

First Reformed: one of the best movies of 2018 (IMO). What does fervor really look like? Hope or destruction?

What does all this mean?

First, fervent in Spirit, is not a new spiritual experience to pray, hope, or work for. It’s faith. It’s believing that the Spirit is at work in you. We don’t just try to have more fervor. We trust. We receive. We rest. It’s our ongoing reality in Christ. It’s part of our “spiritual worship” and being a “living sacrifice.” We experience the Spirit, we “burn in the Spirit.” We are fervent in Spirit, only when we have faith in our co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ.

Remember Christian, you cannot get more of the Spirit. You cannot get more of Christ’s life in you. You can’t be more Spirit filled than you are right now. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work conforming you to Christ’s image. He is not waiting for you to figure anything out before he can act. He works ALL THINGS for your good, your transformation. Do you believe this? If so, then you are fervent in the Spirit.

Second, fervent in the Spirit will result in serving the Lord. Or more literally “slaving in the Lord.” This means that genuine love and “burning in the Spirit” will always look like the serving, sacrificial, submissive, crucified life of Christ. Too many Christians have completely disassociated the Spirit from Christ and his crucifixion. The Spirit isn’t taking you higher, he’s taking you lower, to experience the glory of union with Christ and his sufferings. This is the true path to joy. To hope. To resurrection. To zeal. To fervor. To “burning in the Spirit.” To “burn in the Spirit” is to trust his saving work in your life through Christ and to allow him to turn you into the servant of mankind that Jesus was.

Like we said, the order is important here. “To live is Christ” means that we are fervent in the Spirit by faith. A faith that settles us deeper and deeper into God’s grace and then motivates us to serve in the Lord. First grace, then faith, then service. First the “mercies of God,” then “fervor in the Spirit,” then “serving in the Lord.”

The Spirit has raised us to new life in Christ and this new life burns in us. It burns through us for others. This is the life of Christ in us. This is genuine love.

April 3. Romans 12:11. How to Love part 5: Loving with Zeal.

Romans 12:9-11. Let love be genuine…Do not be slothful in zeal

Our life in Christ is a journey. Jesus is leading us to the mountain top of genuine love. Learning to love with Christ’s agape love is our destination, our goal, our summit. But it is fraught with dangers. And so Paul has given us a strong admonition – do not be slothful in zeal.

Zeal?

Yes, zeal.

Excitedness. Eagerness. Fervor. Doing something with passion and speed.

And I’m supposed to love this way?

Yes.

What does this mean?

Make the love of Jesus the reason you do everything. Don’t let your passion burn out. Keep moving forward in love. Climb that mountain. Keep serving others. Keep engaging. Don’t give up on that person. Send that card. Return that email. Reach out to that neighbor again. Show up for your turn in the church nursery. Re-institute date night. Go to your kid’s recital. Say yes to that invitation. Dig deeper into hearts and souls. Mentor. Disciple. Listen. Cry. Feel. Admit. Apologize. Love fiercely.

Taken: a story of the zealous pursuit of a father’s love.

But beware of the dangers on the journey, the things that will steal your zeal:

Forgetting your need for grace – it’s easy to read a command like this and run off without even considering that you have absolutely no power apart from Christ’s love to keep this commandment. Your response must flow from the “mercies of God” (12:1). Trusting that he loves you with an everlasting love. That you are complete in him. That all will be accomplished by God’s all-consuming love. Now you can begin to zealously love hard.

Forgetting the true nature of grace – grace never produces less love. If you’re mindset is “well my lazy loving will be covered by God’s grace anyway, so let me just coast,” then you, my friend, do not understand the nature of grace. Grace can make us slothful when we only see grace as forgiveness and fail to see it as new life. Christ’s life in us. His love in us. Has God’s grace caused you to love him more or love him less? Obviously the answer should be “more.” If that’s the case, then you will love what he loves. And that’s people. All people.

Forgetting the power of love – it’s easy to blow off this command, ignore it, or justify our pathetic level of love as “zealous enough.” It’s not. But Christ never asks for anything from us that he does not empower. The Christ IN YOU has empowered you with resurrection power to love others with zeal, not laziness. God’s grace is power. To know we are loved, forgiven, received, adopted, and eternally secure IS the power to love others as Christ loves others.

Forgetting the context for zealous love – the church. This is where we go to be loved and to love. This is where Christ’s powerful love is made complete in us. It finds it’s end here. The church community is where you hear of needs and sorrows. It’s where you learn how to love and practice loving together. It’s where you pool your physical, emotional, and spiritual resources so as to not be burned out and lose your zeal.

Fearing a broken heart – Maybe you’ve been hurt trying to love. Maybe you’ve been rejected and given up on learning to love like Christ. Maybe you’ve given up on a relationship, or written a person or group of people off. Maybe even the church.

Don’t quit. Rest in Christ. Remember the love of Christ for you. A love that never quits. A love that loves you even when you don’t return that love. Even when you rejected Christ, he died for you. He loved first.

“To live is Christ” is to love as Christ loves. With zeal. Never lazy. Pursuing it. Loving hard. But first, letting yourself be loved. Realizing Christ’s zeal for you. God’s jealousy for you. His love is never slothful. It washes over us like a flood, empowering our zeal for the hearts and minds of others.

Our love for one another is the greatest apologetic for the world, and the greatest healing for our own souls. Do you believe this?

April 2. Romans 12:10b. How to Love part 4: Win at Honoring Others.

Romans 12:9-10. Let love be genuine… Outdo one another in showing honor.

Paul’s words here are beautifully ironic.

Win at Honoring.

Be the best at not always having to be the best.

Come in first at coming in second.

Become really good at pointing out the really good that others are doing.

Find your value in finding the value in others.

Agape love will always shine the light on others, not the self. This shouldn’t be hard for us as Christians. First, our model is the greatest display of honor in the universe – the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit always promote the other over the self. The glory of the one depends on the glorification by the other two. And it never falls short. The dance of honor never ends. In God there is no room for ego. No self promotion. Only selfless giving, submission, humility, honor, and admiration.

If we believe that everyone is made in the image and likeness of this Trinitarian God, then everyone deserves respect and honor. Everyone is valuable. To honor another person is to honor God. Further, if we are in Christ (and we are), then to honor another Christian is to honor Christ. If that can’t motivate us well then…

Honor was extremely important in Paul’s day, and it still is of course. Paul uses a word that means “to value.” How do we love genuinely? By valuing each other. And by delighting in valuing each other. Does God value him? Would he do anything for her? Would he delight in doing good for them? Of course he would. Why? Because of the good in us? Nope. Rather, in spite of the bad in us. God honors us because of the Christ in us.

This too is how we must honor each other. Not for physical strength, beauty, or style. Not just for good grades or points scored. Not just for earthly accomplishments or standards met. All of these will fade away. All of us will eventually fail. We honor each other for the sake of Christ. We honor the Jesus within. The Spirit’s work. In Christ we impute honor to those who may not deserve that honor in the flesh. This is why it is genuine love “without hypocrisy.”

This is how people are built up. This is how we move beyond our woundedness? This is how we gain strength. This is how people are restored to emotional health. This is what allows others to move forward in confidence. To grow. To find strength. We are honored. We are affirmed. We are valued. We are loved. God honors us through each other. He affirms us as we affirm each other. Yes, the final proof of God’s genuine love is the cross, but today the manifestation of God’s genuine love (equally important) is our love for each other, our honoring of each other.

Frodo and Samwise honor one another.

And remember, this is not done by seeing ourselves as less than others. Because we are in Christ our identity is set. We think about ourselves with “sober judgment” (12:3-4). This frees you up to promote others and then let Christ promote you as he sees fit.

How much do you think about yourself? How much do you talk about yourself? Do you dominate conversations? Do you fail to really connect to others deeply? Do you genuinely listen to others? Their hopes and dreams? Imagine a community where everyone is practicing this discipline of esteeming others as better than themselves? What could that actually look like.

“To live is Christ” makes this more than just a dream. It can be our reality. Christ honoring you is your reality. He’s doing it right now. He’s loving you genuinely and affirming you by the Spirit. Do you believe this? Can you do this? In Christ you can.

Maybe honoring includes letting someone go free.

April 1. Romans 12:10a. How to Love part 3: Love Like Framily.

Romans 12:9-10. Let love be genuine….Love one another with brotherly affection.

As you probably know, in Greek there are several words for love:

Agape: this is the covenant love of God. God IS agape. In scripture this is God’s unique self-giving love that he shares with us. To agape is to seek the well-being of others, even if they will never “pay you back.” Agape is far more than a feeling, at it’s core it is action. It is love that moves towards others and meets practical needs. Jesus is God’s agape. His action toward us. His self-giving.

In Romans 12:9 Paul says let agape be genuine.

Now, there are two other words for love that Paul will use in Romans 12:10 – storge and philia. As we can see they are not different from agape, they are manifestations of agape. They are agape specified.

Storge: this love is affection, usually that of a parent to a child. It is familial love. Storge is connected more to feelings, feelings that are generated naturally by the people we love and the situations we love. It’s the love we feel when we’ve been away from home for a while and we walk in the front door to the hugs, laughs, and cries of our family.

Philia: this is friendship love. Camaraderie. A shared journey or vision. It is side by side love. Philia is also called “brotherly love.” But even here the brotherhood of friendship is in view.

OK now look again at Romans 12:10 – Love one another with brotherly affection.

Love one another: The word for love here used by Paul is philostorgos. Do you see what he did? Philostorgos is not a real word. It occurs nowhere else in the Bible or all of antiquity except here. Why? Because he made it up. He smushed philia and storge together and made up a new word for love.

with brotherly affection: “brotherly affection” here is the word philadelphia. Brotherly love. Kinship. Friendship.

Oh by the way. In Greek the order is reversed. It literally says “With philadelphia philostorgos.” Paul moves us from friendship love to family love.

So…what do we learn about how to love?

Love like friends and love like family. Love like a framily.

The truth is that most of our love is quite shallow isn’t it? How well do we really know anyone? Even the people in our biological families, much less our church. We are also painfully unaware of our own need for affection. Philostorgos is a call for knowing each other and showing affection to each other. Why? Because we all need to be known and cared for.

I grew up in a home without much affection. My parents did things for me – fed me, clothed me, bought me my first car. But hugs? Kind words? Gentle touches? Handwritten cards on birthdays? These are affections that I’ve only experienced in marriage. Showing this kind of affection to others has always been difficult for me. But I am learning how to show brotherly and familial affection with the men in my church. And how to show it appropriately with the women in my church.

The church can do for us what our families never did. Or our families can be a training ground for learning how to show affection within the church. This is the purpose of the church. To learn tenderness. To love by doing for, but to love also by being with. To love with a gentle word and simple gestures. To move into relational intimacy. To express love verbally.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“I care about you.”

“I’m so sorry that you are going through this.”

“Can I pray for you right now?”

If the church could learn how to love this way, and welcome everyone into this kind of love, it would go a long way to seeing a far more healthy expression of sexuality as well. How much of our fantasy lives, our porn addiction, our hooking up is rooted in a failure to simply know how to express our social sexuality through genuine agape expressed as storge and philia? Men with men. Women with women. Men and women together as the Body of Christ. Could our wounds be healed? Could our fears be abated? But I digress.

“To live is Christ” is to live in a Christian community that lives and loves like friends and like family. Christ is in us. God is in us. The Trinity. The greatest family, the greatest of friends. The greatest affection, kindness, and caring. Now we can love the way we are being loved. Like framily.