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Loving and Just Behavior
Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 3: Paul Teaches About New Life in Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 19, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: Romans 12:9-21 (CEB)
Purpose: To affirm the marvelous marks of true love as followers of Christ.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
“Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)
The text in context
The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series
’ author begins this lesson addressing the matters of “loving and just behavior,” and “ethical and moral relevance” of Paul’s theology as it appears in Romans before our lesson’s text. Because of these focuses, the writer wants us to consider this question, “How do believers respond to the gift of salvation in Christ?” Secondly, he uses the question from the early hearers of Peter that asked, “What should we do?” (Acts 2:37).
The author characterizes Romans 1-11 and Romans 12 as theological building foundations for practical ways for the believers to live out their faith. These fundamentals lead to our lesson text, Romans 12:9-21, which describes practical ways that demonstrate faithfulness. The writer communicates that our previous study lesson from Romans, the first part of Lesson 10, helped us understand the letter to Rome from a historical perspective. However, our lesson will provide an outline summary format of the whole letter. The author provides the following outline:
Romans begins with Paul’s opening greeting and 1) an outline of who he was, 2) the purpose of the letter, 3) an assurance to the congregation who received the epistle that he included his prayers for their well-being, and 4) writings about the relationship with God in which Jews and Gentiles found themselves.Also, pointing to Romans 3:21 as the rationale to where Paul began about justification by faith in Christ, giving us peace with God.
The author says that Paul wrote about how justification related theologically to Christian life from Romans 6:1 through Romans 8:39 and used chapters 9-11 to provide an interpretation of Gentiles and Jews in God’s order of salvation, showing how they would share in God’s deliverance for the world. Also, the section before Paul’s concluding remarks in Romans 15:14-16:27 includes a part of our lesson text, which provides guidance, teaching, or counsel.
The narrow context of Romans 12
The author categorizes this context as to how Christian believers respond to the good news of justification of faith yet expresses that it is problematic for Christian theology that some have changed “Jesus’ gospel into a gospel of moral rectitude.” By this, he means that we place value on what we do as a way to determine our status before God and our confidence in the gospel as a way of meaning we are a “moral/ethical” individual. However, the author conveys that we should not disregard the importance of those qualities, but believe that we alone are capable of making ourselves clean and presentable before God for salvation is the opposite of how it works. We have to have God in our lives first, and then the transformation begins.
The writer communicates two primary reasons that God is first in our quest for Christian life. First, people who are not Christians may live by moral and ethical qualities. It is not that those qualities are not good Christianly characteristics, but what Paul writes about surpasses those qualities as a part of justification by faith: “Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Secondly, the significance of Paul’s writing is that he first presented the “theological underpinnings for Christian life and then addressed the response we make to God’s pardoning gift of grace to humankind.” Paul is expressing that God’s saving grace is more than anything that humanity can do or offer as a response to the gospel.
In verse 9, the author communicates that Paul begins with a list of ways that individuals and groups are to conduct themselves and that love is a top priority. His writings demonstrate that love is not based on feelings but shows itself in “practical” ways, which also build communities. To this point, the writer says that when Paul wrote: “Love each other like the members of your family,” he was referring to the life in the community. Also, this statement, combined with verse 13 “Contribute to the needs of God’s people,” provides the conclusion that it has to do with the church. When he wrote, “Love should be shown without pretending” or “let love be genuine” (verse 9), he was referring to “authentic” love, an agape love or unconditional love and bases all of his following guidance about matters concerning moral conduct in this section of Romans. Verses 11-12 demonstrate love and community building. In verse 13, the theme continues as Paul writes about welcoming the stranger into the home and giving them what they need, demonstrating love as a fundamental Biblical principle in the everyday Christian life. However, overall the writer sums up Romans 12:9-21 as a portrayal of “merciful and just Christian living.”
The author communicates that often in the English language we lump the word “love” together in all senses, but explains the word love in the Greek language has three different meanings: first, in the Greek, phileo
means “to love” or “to fall in love.” Another example of love is in the New Testament books Luke and Acts, addressed to Theophilus, which means “lover of God.” The second meaning of love is another Greek word, eros
, which means an erotic love. The third kind of love is agape, used by Greeks, especially in the New Testament, as the “highest and most devoted kind of love.” To this point, the author uses the statement by Jesus, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).
Where have we experienced agape love or seen others experience agape love? How can we be more Christlike in our agape love of others?
Paul shifts in verse 14 to address those who harass and want to bring harm. His counsel is to “Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.” The author says that this counsel would be difficult for those readers to receive, as it is the opposite of human nature. Paul counsel is taken from Jesus’ teachings: “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Matthew 5:44); “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
Paul shifts, again, and writes about sharing in the emotions of joy and grief, “Be happy with those who are crying” (verse 15). Then, in verse 16, he provides counsel about equality, thinking too highly of ourselves and our intellect, “Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart.
In verse 19, Paul expounds on how to treat those who do evil actions by stating not to seek revenge (evil for evil) but to show respect for what is believed to be good. This would be another difficult counsel for the readers, as the human nature is sometimes challenged by what appears to be docility and passive responses to evil actions. The writer cites Deuteronomy 32:35 as a warning against using actions of revenge because God will take care of all the grievances by his judgment: “Vengeance is mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.”
In verse 20, Paul addresses the matter of how to treat an enemy. His response is to feed a hungry enemy and give water to a thirsty enemy. “By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head.” Furthermore, the writer conveys that this counsel is given in Proverbs 25:21-22 and also is based on Jesus’ teachings which oppose retaliation or revenge in hopes that the enemies will have a change of heart, thus, changing their lives.
What are other scriptures where Jesus’ teachings serve as a model for opposing the human nature to retaliate or seek revenge?
In the lesson’s concluding verse, Paul leaves the readers with a loving a statement: “Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” (verse 21). The writer says that Paul is expressing an example that Jesus often did: to live in community with each other even when it is difficult.
The author reminds us that Jesus’s life, as lived out in the Gospels, shows us how to address other people’s evil actions by “turning the other cheek” and that this practice in modern society is called “non-violent resistance.” However, it does not mean to allow for evil to run rampant in our lives, but to practice doing good and not harm.
As Christians, how can we strengthen ourselves in acts of “non-violent resistance” to show love for those that actions are “unlovable?”
Loving God, we pray as Christians that our actions demonstrate our love to you and for others, even those that are difficult to love. Let us be genuine in all that we do and in the spirit of agape love as we strive to build a beloved community. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.