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06.12.16 Love Yourself—God Does Romans 12:3-5, 9-18 Sermon Summary

by on June 13, 2016

Fulfilling the “greatest commandment” is, at root, a matter of letting God’s love flow through us.

  • Why God doesn’t love some more than others
  • 9 observations on Christian love
  • How Paul is really just writing about God’s love

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Can we love others if we don’t love ourselves? Paul’s letter to the Romans teaches us how God’s love transforms us so that we can fulfill the greatest commandment.

I’m sure that God loved Paul as a teacher, but he didn’t love Paul more than anyone else in the Roman church. This is why Paul writes that “by the grace given to me, as a teacher, everyone else should think with sober judgment about themselves, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” God loves Paul, and you, but not more than anyone else.

But aren’t we all different? Clearly we contribute in unique ways. Wouldn’t this demand different levels of love? Paul recognizes a variety of functions, but he asserts that none is more important than another. This is what it means that we are one in Christ. He says there is no place for pride, haughtiness, or lofty, exclusionary thoughts of oneself in the one Body of Christ comprised of many diverse members.

Instead, what ought to characterize a diverse Christian fellowship, is love. Here are some thoughts on what Christian love looks like.

  1. We are capable of it. Paul writes that love should be genuine, by which we means we “reject (‘hate’) what is evil and hold fast to what is good.” Love is the choice of good over evil, and ironically our capacity to do this goes all the way back to Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of bad thing, this disobedience led to our ability to love. What the rest of the Bible teaches, is that we need God’s Spirit in Christ to be able to choose good over evil, to be able to love.
  2. Christian love is to show honor. Paul urges us to outdo one another in showing honor, to be zealous and ardent in our practice of love. When we show honor to others, we are in fact serving the Lord, Paul says. Because the reason we love others is because we see Christ in them.
  3. But what about when love is hard? Christian faith teaches that love is our destiny. God created in love, redeems us in love, and will restore us in love. Christian faith believes this is true, and so it is the basis of our hope. So Paul invites us to “rejoice in hope” (not in present pleasantness), to “be patient in suffering” (our present situation), and to “persevere in prayer” (when there is nothing else we can do). If the suffering caused by someone hinders our loving them, we can at least pray and hope for a better future.
  4. When saints have needs, love contributes to them. And when strangers come to us, love welcomes them.
  5. Love blesses our enemies. The reason we love our enemies is because God loves our enemies. In other words, love includes our enemies in the hope of redemption and restoration (above).
  6. Love accompanies the sad and the joyful. This is hard to do when we are not sad or joyful. Our ego gets in the way of moving towards the sad when we are not sad, and towards the joyful when we are not joyful. Ego wants others to move towards it, not the other way around. But love overcomes ego.
  7. Love relates to all people without prejudice. “Don’t be haughty,” Paul writes, “but associate with the lowly—do not claim to be wiser that you are.” It’s not the prejudice against others that Paul warns us about, but the prejudice about ourselves. It’s not that we think others are lower than we are, but that we are higher. Here again, love overcomes ego.
  8. Love does not seek retribution, but reconciliation. Love doesn’t repay evil for evil, but pursues what is “noble in the sight of all.” This “all” includes even the offenders. Love seeks the “third way” that benefits everyone involved, not the “reactive way” which seeks only to balance the scales of offense. True justice doesn’t just balance scales; it restores relationship.
  9. Bottom line, love pursues peace with all.

These are the characteristics of Christian love. And the best example of Christian love is God himself.

God loves us zealously and ardently because we are in Christ—and God loves Christ.

God desires to meet our needs, and we recognize it when we are candid about our needs. This is the transforming power of prayer—candidly expressing our needs reveals to us later how they are met and leads us to thanksgiving.

God welcomes us even when we consider ourselves strangers to him.

God blesses us even when we act as his enemies. He blesses us; he does not curse.

God rejoices in our gladness, and weeps in our sadness.

In Christ, God does not consider himself higher than us, but associates with the lowly—us.

God does not seek punishment, but reconciliation.

“As far as it depends on God,” to use Paul’s phrase, he seeks peace with us. And in Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection, God shows that it all depends on God.

God loves us—that is the message of the Bible. If this is so, then we can love ourselves. And if this is so, then we can love others.

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