Service in a Fallen World

Romans 12:9-21

Romans 12 appeals to us by the mercies of God to offer up ourselves as living sacrifices. Then it tells us that God has gifted each of us for service. By the grace of God, we are individually members one of another, forming a body, the Body of Christ. And, each of us has an important role to fill in the body.

This synopsis takes us through the first eight verses of Romans 12. Verses 9 through 21 show us what our service looks like in a fallen, hostile world. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” (John 16:33) and Romans 12:9-21 shows us our response to the world’s hostility.

As Christians living in a fallen world, our faith should show three things to the world. Verses 9-13 show us how our faith should show our solidarity to the world. Verses 14-16 show us how our faith should show our meekness to the world. And, verses 17-21 show us how our faith should show our strength to the world.

The first issue addressed is that of our solidarity before the world. We are a body and as such our unity is essential, especially before the world. Romans 12:9-13 speaks to this issue. The first issue addressed is: “Let love be Genuine.” (Romans 12:9, ESV)

I love how the King James Version translates this sentence. “Let love be without dissimulation.” According to the dictionary, dissimulation means “concealment of one's thoughts, feelings, or character; pretense.”[1] I found myself fascinated by the word used in the Greek which was simply “not hypocritical.”

It is easy to feign love, but to have genuine love requires the help of the Holy Spirit. We know the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and the second is like it in that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. However, do any of us keep these commandments? All the behaviors described in Romans 12:9-21 grow out of or are a result of genuine love.

The world is hostile to the Gospel and the Church, and the first thing the world needs to see is that we genuinely love one another. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)

This love is an integral part of our being a body and is part of the framework of our unity. Each command that follows in verses 9 through 13 is another piece of our unity as a body before the world. These verses read:
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. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13 ESV)

Should we as a body harbor evil? Can we stand if we do not hold fast to what is good?

How do we display brotherly affection? Is it not by considering others as more important than ourselves? Brotherly affection is followed naturally by the next command. “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Honoring each other is a natural part of genuine love. If it is feigned or fake, it will do much damage to the unity of the body. However, brotherly affection and honoring one another lead naturally to strengthening and building each other up. Solidarity means standing together, presenting a united front against the enemy who is out to destroy us. We must remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against evil in the heavenly places.

This spiritual battle is also why it is vital that we remain zealous and fervent in spirit. Let us take a warning from the church in Laodicea. When Jesus addressed this church He said:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16 ESV)

Zeal and passion for the service of the Lord, and the wellbeing of the body and of our brothers and sisters in Christ must set us apart from the world. These also are the marks of genuine love.

While this solidarity in the face of the enemy is essential for the body, it is not the only thing that is necessary. In verses 14-16, Romans shows us our need to demonstrate our faith through meekness. It begins this by stating, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14, ESV)

If you are tempted to think of meekness as weakness, this command should put that idea to rest. What kind of strength does it take to bless those who persecute you? Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5 ESV) True meekness displays strength and faith that will inherit the earth.

I liked the definition that Wikipedia provides:
Meekness is an attribute of human nature and behavior. It has been defined several ways: righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering, long suffering, willing to follow gospel teachings; an attribute of a true disciple.

Meekness has been contrasted with humility as referring to behavior towards others, whereas humility refers to an attitude towards oneself – meekness meaning restraining one's own power, so as to allow room for others.[2]

Meekness demonstrates faith as we trust in the justice, love, and faithfulness of our God and Father. Blessing those who curse us signals the ultimate defeat of our enemy. However, having spoken of the defeat of our enemy, we must once again remind ourselves that our enemy is not flesh and blood. This is why we bless those who curse us. This is why we pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44)

The attitude of meekness is shown in verses 15 and 16 in our attitude toward our neighbors. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. This mutual sharing of joys and sorrows is not limited to those in the Body of Christ. It is to be our practice wherever we are. Christians have always had unbelieving neighbors. The love of Christ compels us to show preference to them in love, to live in harmony with them and to not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

Verse 16 ends with the admonition to “Never be wise in your own sight.” As Christians, we have the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Since we know the way, the truth, and the life, we can be tempted to think that we also know more or are somehow better than our unbelieving neighbor. Just as Romans 12:3 warns us not to overestimate our importance in the body, we also must not overestimate our wisdom in the world. An unbeliever may be more intelligent, better educated and more capable than a believer. It is not our wisdom or cleverness that has saved us. It is the grace of God that saves.

We must pray for the unbelieving. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 tells us:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

In the case of the unbelieving, the god of this world has blinded their minds. This does not mean that they might not be much more intelligent than you or I. It does mean they need our prayers and it does mean that we might learn something by dialoguing with them. We do not have to win an argument or prove the truth. Instead of assuming we are wiser, it may be more productive to seek to understand.

Humility goes hand in hand with meekness. Meekness is humility clothed in strength, and that strength comes from faith in our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Are we so afraid of being overcome that we must bluster our way through when we do not know all the answers?

This leads us to the next thing that our faith should show to the world, our strength.

Strength is so closely related to meekness that I debated the wisdom of separating the two for our purposes today. For example, we demonstrate our strength when we bless those who persecute us, which is also a function of meekness. However, the admonitions of Romans 12:17-21 bring into clear focus the strength gained through faith.

When we do not repay evil for evil and when we leave vengeance to God, we demonstrate the strength that comes from the Spirit of God. Philippians 1:28 makes an excellent point about this when it says:
Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. (Philippians 1:28 NLT)

Our strength is demonstrated by overcoming evil with good, by returning kindness for cursing.

However, no matter how kind, loving and respectful we may be, not everyone will want to live peaceably with us. Romans 12:18 says:
 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18 ESV)

We will never live at peace with all men because not all men desire to be at peace with us. This is why it is necessary for us to trust God and leave room for His vengeance and judgment.

While I have stressed that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, Romans 12:20 assumes that we will have enemies that we can minister to with water when they are thirsty and food when they are hungry. The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and therefore, we are instructed to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. While we are to be kind to and pray for our enemies, there are people under the control of the evil one that we would not want to be alone with, give the key to our house to or even our address. Romans 13 tells us that the civil authorities exist to deal with those who do wrong, and many people do wrong.

Jesus warned us (Matthew 10:16) that He was sending us out as sheep among wolves, making it clear that our service for Him would be carried out in a hostile world. Our faith shows itself to the world in our solidarity, meekness, and strength. We have looked briefly at Romans 12:9-21 at how these things work out practically in our lives. The point is that we are overcomers.  We overcome evil with good because we are victors in our Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome the world, and our faith overcomes the world through Him.

[1] Google, accessed Oct 18, 2018.
[2], accessed October 20, 2018,


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