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Lesson 81: Sincere Love (Romans 12:9-10)

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When sin entered this world, its immediate effect was to damage relationships. Adam and Eve were instantly separated from the God whose fellowship they had formerly enjoyed. Guilt prompted them to try to hide from Him. And they were suddenly estranged from each other. Before sin they were naked and unashamed in one another’s presence, but after they sinned, they sewed fig leaves together to try to hide their shame from one another (Gen. 2:24, 3:7). Sin always damages relationships.

And so the whole thrust of the Bible is to show us how we can and should love God with our total being and love one another as we in fact love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). To love God, we must first understand that He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Romans 5:8 puts it, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ had to die to pay the just penalty for our sin that we deserved. God offers a full pardon and complete justification as a gift to all who will trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). Believing the gospel reconciles us to God and floods our hearts with His love so that we can begin the lifelong battle of loving Him and others more and more.

And it is a lifelong battle! Because of indwelling sin, our default mode is to be selfish, not to sacrifice ourselves in love for God and others. And so the Christian life is a constant battle to dethrone self and enthrone Christ. It isn’t automatic. It’s a fight. And one of the most practical tests of whether Christ is truly our Lord is seen in our relationships. Am I growing in sincere love from the heart for my family, my fellow believers, and the unbelievers that I know and have contact with? Sincere love for God always spills over into sincere love for others.

This is the consistent message of the New Testament. The apostle John unmasks our tendency toward hypocrisy in this matter of love when he writes (1 John 4:20), “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” He also says that our love for one another is evidence that we have been born again (1 John 3:14): “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (Also, see 1 Pet. 1:22-23.)

The apostle Paul also puts a strong emphasis on love in all of his letters. It’s interesting that in 1 Corinthians 12 he talks about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts and then follows with his famous chapter on love. Here, more succinctly, he talks about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts (12:4-8) and then talks about love (Rom. 12:9-10): “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor ….” The theme of love actually runs through verse 21.

It’s difficult to know how to outline verses 9-21 and to divide it for preaching. Paul gives in machine gun fashion a series of practical commands, most of which have to do with loving relationships. If it weren’t for verse 14, we could say that verses 9-16 deal with love in the church and verses 17-21 with love toward enemies outside of the church who wrong us. But in the middle of commands that relate mostly to the church, verse 14 interjects how to respond to those who persecute us.

Because of that, some argue that verses 9-13 focus on love in the church, while verses 14-21 deal with loving our enemies. But then verses 15 & 16 don’t seem to fit that theme. And, while verses 17-21 mainly apply to relationships with those outside of the church, most of us have been wronged by someone in the church. In fact, those are often the most difficult wrongs to deal with! And so all of verses 9-21 apply to love in all of our relationships.

To break it into a manageable size, I’m going to limit this message to verses 9-10, which we can sum up:

Sacrificial, transformed living calls us to love others sincerely.

I say “sacrificial, transformed living” because the commands in 12:9-21 are built on the foundation of 12:1-2. Paul is showing us the practical outworking of those important verses. At the heart of everything are the mercies of God. If you have not experienced God’s mercies in Christ, as Paul spelled out in chapters 1-11, you cannot begin to apply Romans 12:9-21.

Then, based on God’s mercies, you are to present your body as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your rational service of worship (12:1). Then you are not to be conformed to this age, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you prove in practice God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2). So verses 9-21 spell out in detail what God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will looks like in loving relationships.

Before we work through verses 9 & 10, note that consistently throughout the New Testament love is not an uncontrollable feeling that comes over you once in a while. Rather, it is a commandment to be obeyed. The Lord Jesus made this explicit (John 13:34), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The supreme demonstration of Jesus’ love was when He went to the cross and bore God’s wrath on our behalf. He didn’t do that because He just felt an impulsive urge to do something nice for us. He did it in obedience to the will of the Father.

Based on Christ’s self-sacrificing love on the cross, we can define biblical love as “a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” If you’re not seeking to live out that kind of love in your relationships, you’re disobeying God. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you can choose to sacrifice your selfish interests on behalf of others with the aim that they will be conformed to the image of Christ (their highest good). The first fruit that results from walking in the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:16, 22-23). In our text, Paul spells out four aspects of biblical love:

1. Biblical love must be without hypocrisy (12:9a).

Paul would not have written that unless he knew that there is a strong tendency, even among believers, to put on a mask of love to cover hearts that are full of selfishness, jealousy, manipulation, and even hatred. The epitome of “love” with hypocrisy was when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:48). Outwardly, it looked as if he really cared for Jesus, but in reality, he was giving Jesus over to bloodthirsty men who would torture and kill Him. But Paul is calling us to sincere love from the heart.

The English word “sincere” comes from two Latin words meaning, “without wax.” Dishonest merchants would fill a crack in a pot with wax and glaze over it, selling the defective pot as if it were just fine. Only later would the buyer discover that the pot was worthless. So honest dealers would stamp sine cera on the pot, verifying that it was without wax.

The Greek word that Paul uses means “without hypocrisy.” The word was used of the masks used by actors on the stage. You have probably seen these in advertisements for stage plays in our day. Some of the masks were happy, others were sad. The actor did not necessarily feel as the mask signaled, but the mask showed the role that he was playing. Paul says that our love for one another is not to be a phony mask or role playing, but rather be the real thing. We should genuinely desire God’s best for others and speak and act toward that goal.

The apostle John puts it (1 John 3:15-18), “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Biblical love must be wise and discerning, always keeping in mind the highest good of the one loved. It may not be for the person’s highest good to dole out money to him, because you may be helping him to continue an irresponsible, lazy way of life. You may be enabling him to continue an undisciplined pattern of spending on frivolous things. Or, you may be contributing to his dependence on alcohol or drugs. So biblical love sometimes confronts sin, rather than just being nice and ignoring sin. Positively, to show love, you may need to teach the person biblical principles of stewardship and spend time helping him establish a budget or control his spending. Your heart motive is to help him grow in godliness.

So Paul’s point is that your motive must always be sincere, to seek the other person’s conformity to the image of Christ. If you’re just looking out for your own interests and trying to manipulate the situation for your own benefit, you’re not practicing biblical love. If you praise the person to his face and then run him down behind his back, you’re not practicing biblical love. Biblical love is without hypocrisy. It is sincere.

By the way, as far as I know, the Bible never commands us to like everyone, but it does command us to love everyone. Liking someone is a matter of our mutual personalities and our enjoyment of similar things. It is one basis for forming close friendships. But loving those I may not choose as my close friends means that I genuinely care for them and I’m committed to help them be all that God wants them to be.

2. Biblical love must be holy (12:9b).

“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” In the Greek text, “abhor” and “cling” are participles that show how love without hypocrisy operates: “abhorring what is evil; clinging to what is good.” In other words, biblical love is discerning (Phil. 1:9). It never endorses, aligns itself, or encourages in others attitudes or behavior that is evil. Rather, it embraces what is good in God’s sight: His good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2).

Paul’s words obviously imply that there is an objective, knowable standard of what is evil and what is good. This standard does not change with the times or with different cultures. God has revealed His holy standards of right and wrong in His Word. For example, if His Word plainly states that homosexual behavior is sinful, then it does not change when public opinion polls or a U. S. President say that it is acceptable. If it is sin in God’s sight, then it is not loving to treat such behavior as morally acceptable, because sin hurts people. Rather, the loving thing to do is gently and with compassion, tell the person the truth about his sin and point him to Christ so that he can be saved from it before it destroys him.

Did you see the recent “Dear Abby” column where a mother whose son just came out as homosexual wrote to Abby about her confusion? She wasn’t sure how God really views gays and lesbians. She knew that some religious people think that they will go to hell. She tried to read the Bible to find out what it said, but couldn’t understand it. So she asked Abby if she believes that a gay person will go to heaven.

Abby explained (Arizona Daily Sun, 4/30/2012), “I believe that entrance to heaven is based upon a person’s character, not his or her sexual orientation. Today, because of modern scientific studies, we know more about homosexuality than was known when the Bible was written, and that sexual orientation is not a ‘choice.’” I am not aware of any scientific studies that have proved that homosexuality is genetically caused. But even if such studies exist, they do not refute God’s moral standards, which are not subject to so-called “science.” So if God’s Word is true, then Dear Abby gave the most hateful advice possible, because she did not abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. We do not love people who are in sin (whether homosexuality or any other sin) if we overlook or, worse, endorse their sinful behavior.

Also, note that Paul doesn’t just say to avoid evil, but to abhor it. We are to detest it, or hate it. The Greek verb (used only here in the NT) has the nuance of shrinking back in horror from evil. It is an emotional reaction against all that displeases God. Since God hates sin, to be indifferent toward sin is to be indifferent toward God. Obviously, to laugh at evil or be entertained by evil, whether in person or on a movie or TV screen, is not to abhor it.

The opposite of abhorring what is evil is to “cling to what is good.” The verb, “cling to,” literally, is to be “glued to.” “The good” is God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (12:2), His moral will, which is revealed in His Word. In Philippians 4:8, Paul instructs, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

We must hold tightly to that which is good because the enemy is always trying to get us to loosen our grip on the good by being more tolerant of what is evil. He whispers, “You need to be more accepting, don’t be so judgmental!” One of his favorite verses to quote out of context is (Matt. 7:1), “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Jesus is clear that first and foremost, we must judge our own sin before we judge others for their sin. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).

But once we have judged our own sin, we are still to hate evil and cling to what is good. Psalm 97:10 commands, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord.” Or, Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” Loving God and fearing Him are the basis for the proper hatred and disgust of all that is evil. It is only to the degree that we love Him for the beauty of His holiness that we will hate evil and cling to what is good.

3. Biblical love must be brotherly (12:10a).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love ….” Paul uses the word, philadelphia, which refers to the natural love among brothers and adds another word that refers to family affection. James Boice (Romans [Baker], 4:1598) gives the sense, “In respect to the love of our Christian brothers and sisters, we are to be marked by a devotion that is characteristic of a loving, close-knit, and mutually supportive family.”

Again, this is a command, not a suggestion to try when you’re in a good mood. But it involves our emotions. So how do you command your emotions?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], p. 349) points out that it never works to approach the emotions directly. Rather, he says, “Feelings are always the result of something else, the result, ultimately, of understanding and of thought.” He points out that if we just put on a cloak of feelings which we do not have, it would be sheer hypocrisy. Rather, we must go back to the doctrines that Paul has expounded in Romans 1-11, and to the logical conclusion that he urges in 12:1-2. Then we will realize that by God’s mercy, we have been born into His family, along with all others who have trusted in Christ. None of us deserved it. But now we all are related through the new birth and we will be spending eternity together. So heartfelt obedience to these commands comes from responding to the teaching of who we are in Christ (Rom. 6:17). All who believe in Christ are a part of God’s family. We should feel closer to a brother or sister in Christ than we do to a relative who does not know Christ.

Thus sacrificial, transformed living calls us to love without hypocrisy. This love must be holy. It must be brotherly. Finally,

4. Biblical love must be selflessly humble (12:10b).

“Give preference to one another in honor ….” The Greek word translated “give preference to” means to lead or go before, thus to set an example. Dr. Boice (ibid., 1599) says that Paul means, “Don’t wait around for people to recognize your contributions and praise you. Instead, be alert to what they are contributing and honor them.” We are not to seek honor for ourselves, but rather genuinely to rejoice when others receive honor and we don’t. That’s easily said and hard to practice!

We need to be clear that Paul is not saying that we should set aside our gifts or our knowledge and practice a kind of mock humility where we say, “I’m nothing! I’m a nobody! Don’t regard what I say.” That would contradict what Paul said in 12:3, that we are “to think with sound judgment as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” For example, when Paul went to Jerusalem to confront the Judaizers, he was not overawed with those in power so that he just kept quiet and listened. He says of those who were of high reputation (Gal. 2:6), “What they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.” So Paul defended his gospel before James, Peter, and John (Gal. 2:9). Again, when Peter came to Antioch and withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers because of his fear of the Judaizers, Paul openly confronted Peter with his hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-14).

So when Paul says, “Give preference to one another in honor,” he doesn’t mean that we should deny our gifts or knowledge. Rather, he means that we should have a true estimate of ourselves. We should not over-estimate ourselves and under-estimate others. As Paul says (1 Cor. 15:10), “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the other apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”


How do we grow in this sincere love for one another? Here are four practical ways:

First, instantly judge your selfishness and anger as sin and ask God’s forgiveness. Self is the main enemy when we fail to love others. Sincerely ask forgiveness from the one you sinned against (beginning with your mate and kids!).

Second, focus on God’s love for you at the cross. In Ephesians 4:32-5:2, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Third, walk moment by moment in submission to and dependence on the Holy Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, we will not carry out the deeds of the flesh, which include “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissension, factions, envying” (Gal. 5:20-21a). Rather, His fruit will grow in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Fourth, memorize 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, so that you can evaluate whether your attitudes, words, and actions are in line with biblical love: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Read those verses over each morning until they shape the way that you relate to your family and to others.

I pray that in our homes and in this church it may be said of us, “They love one another without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good. They are devoted to one another in brotherly love. They give preference to one another in honor.”

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to recognize that love is a command, not a feeling? If we obey the command without the feelings, are we being hypocritical?
  2. It is often said, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Is this biblical? Consider Ps. 5:5-6; 139:21; Jude 23. Should we be friends with evil people? What are the biblical guidelines?
  3. How can we develop godly hatred for evil?
  4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (p. 357) says, “A wrong view of self is the source of nearly all evil.” How can we develop a balanced view of ourselves?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Love

Homosexuality and the Church

This article is a companion article to the more comprehensive one entitled Homosexuality: The Biblical-Christian View.

For those in the church, Jesus has set a pattern to follow. He was not afraid to deal with the issues and sins of the day. For those holding onto them in their pride (religious leaders) He was very strong in pointing it out. He does this throughout the Sermon on the Mount. For those caught in their sins and repentant He was not hesitant to offer His grace (John 8:3-11 ). For those looked down upon in society He was not afraid to socialize with them as He lovingly shared the truth (John 4:4-42). For those lost He was not reluctant to pursue them (Luke 15:1-10). Neither should we be. Grace and truth should characterize our lives. Wisdom will seek to discern what is the most appropriate word or action for a given situation.

Since we have been forgiven by Jesus of our sins, since we have been rescued from our slavery to sin, then we of all people on this planet should be able to relate to the struggles that others are going through. We know that our redemption has been entirely by His grace. It has been apart from any merit of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). We should earnestly desire with every fiber of our being to see the same freedom come to those in the LGBT1 community. Our issues may be in a different area, but it is the same destructive sin that we all face. We should help others see God’s work in our lives and how He is helping us day by day. We should let them see how fellow believers and God’s Word help us to continue to overcome in our own struggles. We should have the most compassion and concern for others since we know our own helplessness in our own strength against sin.

Jesus laid down His life for us while we were His enemies. While we hated Him He died willingly for us. Nothing deterred him from loving, redeeming, and rescuing us from our sin. (Rom. 5:6-11, John 5:17-20) Nothing should deter us from being His ambassadors of love and truth.

Love will mean being honest about the truth of sin—our sin, and the sin of all people— without partiality. No one will want to hear that their covetousness, lying, fornication, evil thoughts, strife, homosexuality, gossip, pride, envy, adultery, taking the name of the Lord in vain, lust, murder, etc. deserves God’s judgment. Yet the most hateful thing one could do is pretend everything with God is okay when it is not. The consequences are eternal. What makes this so hard is that this point can be both over-emphasized and under-emphasized. We do not want to over-emphasize it so much that the next point of God’s gracious love is missed. Nor do we want to under-emphasize it so much that God’s gracious love become irrelevant. (If there is no problem between us and God, then Jesus’ death means nothing.)

Love will likewise mean being honest that the grace of God can redeem any sinner. God can overcome any sin. Though it will be a lifelong battle to walk in God’s grace there is victory through faith in Jesus Christ. We do still live in this fallen world and in our sin-affected bodies, but God’s grace is sufficient.

Love also means that we should follow Christ’s example and be willing to give up our lives to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ as they too try to grow in becoming more Christ-like. Many sins and struggles that are deeply ingrained require a process of walking alongside. Just like our struggles when we became believers (or that we struggle with now) might require continual encouragement and assistance, so too will those who come to faith in Christ from LGBT experiences. We should be part of the expression of God’s grace to our fellow believers—whatever struggle they might be going through.

Love also means that we should follow Christ’s example and be willing to give up our lives to serve those who do not believe in Christ. If the grace of God is real to us, and if we have truly believed it, and if it has truly changed our lives, then we should be learning to become more like Christ in sharing the good news of the gospel through both our actions and our words. This is not a giving to get. This is a giving like Christ gave. Everything.

So, brother or sister in Christ, how are you doing? Are you walking in truth and love? Are you expressing the saving grace of God through your words and actions? Are you expressing the same grace that saved you? Are you growing in your understanding of God’s grace? Are there any sins that you are holding onto that God is strongly calling you to give over to Him? Is your local assembly of Christians a place where people will see Jesus Christ faithfully proclaimed? Will they see both the truth of sin called out impartially as well as God’s loving grace? Will they see God’s grace changing you and how it can transform them?

May we seek God in prayer and through His Word daily so that we continue to become more like Christ in these ways.

1 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Equip, Forgiveness, Grace, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Homosexuality: The Biblical-Christian View

I. Introduction

Homosexuality is a controversial issue in many societies. For some it has become an equal rights issue to legalize same-sex marriage. For many it is also a religious and moral issue because it is addressed within the Bible. Debates, discussions, arguments, and, very sadly, sometimes even violence occurs from interactions on this issue.

For some this issue of the Biblical perspective on homosexuality has a merely academic attraction. This would perhaps be the person who is neither a Christian, nor a homosexual. The topic might not personally affect them, but since it is a current issue it is of interest. For others this is very personal. This would perhaps be the person identifying as a Christian, as a homosexual, or as a homosexual Christian. Regardless, this article is intended to be a gracious, loving, and truthful resource. In that manner then, this article will detail the Biblical-Christian view of homosexuality.1

It will not take long for the reader to uncover that the direction of this article will move towards the conclusion that homosexuality is a sin. With this designation a couple things need to be clearly stated to prevent any misunderstanding.

1. This author, all Christians, and all non-Christians have sinned and are sinners. Sadly this is one equality that all are fully involved in. It is not a unique situation.

2. This article presents the logical conclusions on how Christians should respond to this Biblical teaching on homosexuality. While it does not deal with every situation it does present the attitude and heart from which every response should come: grace and love. There is no room for any violence, insults, or mistreatment by Christians toward any other person. It is with genuine love and care for all my fellow human beings that this article has been written.

With that in mind, this article will look at homosexuality in the Old Testament, homosexuality in the New Testament, and Jesus’ teaching on sexuality –before finishing with some personal remarks. Each point will have its own concluding section. An additional question/answer section may be found after the main article. Likewise, further resources are provided for your consideration at the end of the article. See the table of contents below to quickly jump to a specific location.

I. Introduction

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

VI. Questions and Answers

VII. Resources

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament homosexuality is most explicitly discussed in four passages. Two are prohibitions in the law against homosexual activity. The other two are historical events: Sodom/Gomorrah and Gibeah. We will not attempt to answer every issue that could be raised about each text. This has already been done in a number of resources that will be referenced. However time will be taken to clearly establish the Bible’s viewpoint, and therefore the perspective that the Christian should hold. In our discussion we will begin by looking at the treatment of homosexuality in the Law. Then we will look at the two narrative accounts.

A. Leviticus 18:22, Prohibition of Homosexuality in the Law

Lev 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.

This straightforward law prohibits all homosexual acts. It makes no distinctions as to whether or not they were consensual. It comes in the midst of a section of laws related to sexual relationships. No consequence is given here in each verse for the individual laws, but rather they are all listed as things that must not be done. All of the items in this chapter’s list are said to “defile” (Lev. 18:24) and are called “abominations” (Lev. 18:27, 30). In balance, homosexuality here is not singled out from among the rest of the sexual sins (which themselves are being highlighted), but is included with the rest. Likewise, those who break any of these laws are to be “cut off from the midst of their people” (Lev. 18:29). These various sexual activities are ones which brought about the punishment of God upon the previous inhabitants of the land (Lev. 18:24). Thus in the law homosexuality was an offense against God. It, along with the other sexual sins, was not to exist in Israel at all.

B. Leviticus 20:13, Punishment of Homosexuality in the Law

Lev 20:13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.

This straightforward law gives the consequences for homosexual acts as they were to be carried out under Israel’s theocratic government. It comes in the midst of a section detailing crime and punishment lists. This particular section deals with sexual offenses and their judgments. The punishment for homosexual acts was to be death for both participants. This seems to clarify what was meant by being “cut off from the midst of their people” in the earlier discussion of sexual sins in Leviticus 18. Thus in the law homosexuality was a sin against God that required capital punishment.2

C. Genesis 19:1-11, Sodom and Gomorrah

In Genesis 18:20-21 God declared that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the “outcry…is so great and their sin so blatant.” When two angels went to see “if they are as wicked as the outcry suggests,” they were inhospitably treated by all of the inhabitants except Lot. Indeed all the men of the city tried desperately to rape them. Attempts have been made to see the sin here as only inhospitality, or of unnatural relations with angels. However the text nowhere points out that anyone in the city knew they were angels—instead they are called “men” by both the citizens and Lot (Gen. 19:5, and Gen. 19:8 respectively). Similarly, the face value reading that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah included not only inhospitality but also the homosexual activity is the best interpretation.3 Jude 1:7 corroborates this:

Jude 1:7 So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

While aspects of this verse (unnatural desires similar to angels) may raise questions, it definitely extends the sinful conduct beyond hospitality to sexual immorality. 4 The only sexual immorality that we are told of in Sodom and Gomorrah is the attempted homosexual acts against the angels (indeed, they scorned the effort to mollify them through the offer of heterosexual immorality—Gen. 19:9).

Thus, before the giving of the law, God considered this attempt at homosexual rape—which continued even after the men were blinded— to be part of the great wickedness that resulted in the wholesale destruction of these towns.

D. Judges 19:22ff, Gibeah

In Judges 19 another example of inhospitality and attempted homosexual rape occurs. In this instance it is not all of the men of the city, but rather “some good-for-nothings.” Here, however, they were pacified with the man’s concubine who was sent out to them in his place. She died after their treatment of her.

These actions led to the first civil war in Israel’s history, and the near extinction of the tribe of Benjamin. This war was sanctioned by God’s approval after Gibeah refused to hand over the offending men for judgment (Judges 20:18; 20:23; 20:28; 20:35).

Like many real life issues today, the sin that resulted in all this seems to have been an array of actions. First, these men attempted to do a “wicked thing” and “know” these men sexually (19:22-23a).5 Secondly, to compound that, it was attempted on a person who was under the hospitality of another—a “disgraceful thing” (Judges 19:23b). Thirdly, they raped and abused the traveler’s concubine all night and caused her death (Judges 19:25-30). Fourthly, the rest of the tribe of Benjamin refused to turn these men over to punishment (Judges 20:13).

The brief re-telling of the story to the tribes (Judges 20:5) does not focus on the sexual side of the intent towards the traveler like the original event does (Judges 19:22-24). In the re-telling it seems that there was more of a focus on the actual offenses rather than on the intended ones. However, the attempt is included in the longer record of the event and distinctly labeled as wrong. Consequently, it is fully appropriate to see it as part of the events being judged. For further consideration of this incident see Bob Deffinbaugh’s article on this passage.6

Thus, after the giving of the law, attempted homosexual rape was part of the sin that resulted in a God-sanctioned civil war.

Conclusion to Homosexuality in the Old Testament

Both before the law was given and then under the law, homosexuality was considered to be sin for Israelites and non-Israelites. This was true for consensual and non-consensual cases. It resulted in God’s judgment and death.

Before the law was given this was not the only incident of God directly judging the sinfulness of man on a large scale (cf. the far greater judgment of the flood in Genesis 6— which incidentally makes no mention of homosexual activity). Likewise, after the law was given, God’s acts of judgment occurred for other sins (cf. God’s judgment for idolatry and related sins: on Israel in 2 Kings 17, on the Assyrians in 2 Kings 19, and on Judah in 2 Kings 24-25).

Far from minimizing (or maximizing) any particular sin, this shows that God is active both in declaring many deeds to be sin and in punishing them all. There is no injustice with God. His actions were not limited to one particular sin, and many other examples from the Old Testament could be cited showing His involvement in dealing with sin. This emphasis on judgment for idolatry, homosexuality, and other sins should not surprise us since part of the purpose of the law was to reveal sin as sin, and God’s righteous standard as determinative (Rom. 7:7-14). It is possible, though, that the variety of sexual sins and their subsequent connection with idolatry may have been more strictly punished and warned against as a whole (cf. Lev. 18:24-30, and the judgments listed above).

However this is not where the story ends in the Old Testament. Many examples could likewise be cited of God’s grace: Noah and his family, Lot and his family, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, David (a prime example of grace to one whose sins deserved death under the law), the remnant of Israel and Judah, the giving of the sacrificial system, Jonah and Nineveh etc. Though God’s righteous standard is set, His gracious provision is also constant.

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

In the New Testament many passages generally prohibit “sexual immoral” activity (cf. Acts 15:20; 15:29, 1 Thess. 4:3, Heb. 13:4, Rev. 21:8; 22:15). These commands would include homosexuality. However, homosexuality is most explicitly discussed in three passages. The first of these three discusses homosexuality at length. Whereas the last two are in lists of sins. Like the discussion in the Old Testament section this will not be an attempt to discuss every possible issue arising from these texts. Rather the goal will be to express the Biblical and Christian view on homosexuality that these verses teach. As before, further resources will be noted for those desiring a deeper investigation.

A. Romans 1:20-32

Rom 1:20-32 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. (22) Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (24) Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. (25) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(26) For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, (27) and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. (29) They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, (31) senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. (32) Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

This text discusses homosexuality more extensively than any other New Testament passage. However, homosexuality is not the overarching theme of this section. Paul wants to clearly explain the gospel. To do that though, it is necessary to show that all people are under God’s judgment and condemnation—and thus in need of the gospel. He starts by declaring that because the testimony of God is visible in nature all are without excuse for their rebellion against Him. The just wrath of God is on all ungodliness (Rom. 1). Then he shows that in condemning the sin of others we actually condemn ourselves (Rom. 2). Likewise even the Jewish people with the law are still fully under God’s condemnation for their sin. Furthermore they are incapable of remedying the situation (Rom. 2-3). Thus it does not matter whether one is apart from the law or under it. All people stand condemned without partiality. This paves the way for explaining God’s grace in Jesus—which is the good news of the gospel. There is indeed one way of deliverance from this predicament.

So this section on homosexuality occurs in the portion showing why God’s wrath is upon humanity, and how humanity is inexcusable before Him. Before moving to the negative, Paul starts with the positive good news that he is intent on sharing. The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel which is received by faith (Rom. 1:17). By contrast the wrath of God is revealed as being upon the ungodliness of mankind (Rom. 1:18). Where is this ungodliness seen? Where is this suppressing of the truth seen? It is seen in the inexcusable idolatry of humanity. All have seen in creation the invisible attributes of God, His eternal power and nature (Rom. 1:19-20). However instead of worshipping the true creator, humanity moved to idolatry and worshipping creation (Rom. 1:23-25). The existence of nature demands that there be a designer. This truth is suppressed and turned to the worship of self or some other created thing. One of God’s judgments for this behavior is the turning over of humanity to their own sinful desires (Rom. 1:24). This giving over to sinfulness and its consequences specifically includes homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-28). It also includes a whole list of other sins more briefly mentioned (Rom. 1:29-32).

An objection has been proposed against this text’s discussion of homosexuality. It states that this passage only refers to heterosexuals committing homosexual acts (or the “abuses” of homosexuality), and that this would not apply if one’s “natural” desire was for the same sex and carried on monogamously (or in some kind of “marriage”). This does not hold up under examination. Paul is not talking about what is or has become “natural” desire. He is talking about function. God has designed men and women with functional capabilities. According to this text these capabilities are rebelled against through homosexual acts.7

From this text then, we see that homosexuality is an example of God having delivered people over to the consequences of having rebelled against Him. It is not the only sin listed, but is indeed the highlighted one. It seems that this example is given because homosexuality diametrically opposes the clear design of God. God made people in His image (Gen. 1:27) with a built in complementary design in the marriage of a male to a female (Gen. 2:22-25). To commit actions clearly opposite God’s plan at the nature level distinctly declare the reality of rebellion. It declares that God’s very design and plan were wrong and inadequate. As it is listed here, homosexuality and the rest of the sins listed, are a part of God’s immediate (though not final) judgment. Sin is a judgment upon itself—in that it reaps what it sows.8 Additionally, the willful exchange of the truth of God for a lie can result in God delivering people over to a depraved mind. One’s ability to reason or view things in an accurate moral way can be seriously impaired (Rom. 1:28).

However, lest any become self-righteous, Paul immediately moves on to showing that all are condemned under sin. Indeed, condemning the sin of others condemns oneself (Rom. 2:1-5). The only reason Paul can share any of this in a worthwhile way is because he is not relying on his own righteousness. He is relying on the righteousness of God. This has been given to him in Christ Jesus by the grace of God. He himself has been forgiven of his sin. The point was not to condemn others in order to justify himself. The point was to make clear the existence of sin for every individual so that the grace of God that had rescued him could be shared with fellow humans who needed deliverance just like he had needed it.

The same purpose and point that Paul had here in the book of Romans remains for Christians to share today. We too are fellow sinners. We too were under God’s full and immense wrath. I too am a sinner condemned by these truths. By God’s grace we may be forgiven. Yet even with that grace, in ourselves we are not any better than anyone else. We have nothing of which to boast. This shows God’s work to be that much more amazing. That He would love and redeem us while we were His enemies in such a deep rebellion against Him is almost incomprehensible. This same grace that has changed and is changing our lives and that will bring us eternity with God in a perfected existence is available to the whole world. No person, gender, race, nationality, ethnic group, class, or any other possible division is excluded from this offer of the gift of grace. This is the grace Christians should be offering, because it is the true grace of God.

B. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Inheriting the Kingdom of God

1 Cor. 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, (10) thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. (11) Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Some have raised questions about the two Greek words for homosexual activity in this verse. They would interpret them as referring only to a moral softness (μαλακος), and to a male prostitute (αρσενοκοιτης). However this kind of translation disagrees with the premier Biblical Greek Lexicon (BDAG).9 Beyond that it essentially disagrees with most (if not all) the other standard English lexicons and is not a good translation for these words here.10 Thus these words in context do refer to the two different roles in homosexual relationships.

Unequivocally then this is a strong and definitive statement about sin and its consequences as well as about the one way to be rescued from them. In this context Paul is powerfully reminding the Corinthian church that these kinds of behavior are not compatible with the kingdom of God. In this portion of the book Paul has been dealing with quite a number of behavioral and ethical problems that have been plaguing the church. Their former behaviors were influencing their lives presently in a completely inappropriate way. Apparently it had gotten so bad that Paul even challenged them in a following letter to examine themselves to see whether they had truly become believers (2 Cor. 13:5).

These sins in and of themselves were nothing that would keep them from truly accepting the grace of God and becoming children of God. However a continuation in them as a manner of life11 would be an indication that they were not truly believers and not going to inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 John 3). Quite helpfully for us today, this is a clear statement that some of the Corinthians had become believers out of that manner of life. This should lead us to at least two conclusions:

1. Like other sins, homosexual behavior may be forgiven. God’s grace is not limited by this or any other sin. As Romans 5:20 states:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (21) That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (KJV)

2. Since Christians have come out of such sins, they should be the ones most desirous to share God’s love with others. As 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 states:

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away — look, what is new has come! (18) And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (19) In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. (20) Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christs behalf, Be reconciled to God!” (21) God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (NET Bible, emphasis added)

C. 1 Timothy 1:8-15, The Worst of Sinners-- Paul

1 Tim. 1:8-15 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, (9) realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, (10) sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers — in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. (11) This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me. (12) I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, (13) even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, (14) and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. (15) This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them!

In this list Paul points out the purpose of the law in contrast to the view of others who were misusing it (1 Tim. 1:6-7). The law reveals sinfulness and the need to be “saved.” In the examples that Paul then gives, homosexuality is clearly included as being unrighteous.12 As far as the hypothetical “righteous person” here (v. 9) it should be noted that Jesus was the only righteous person (Heb. 4:15, Rom. 3:10-24).

Some people may try to appear as if they were righteous. However this should not be confused with truly being righteous. They will receive the judgment of God, because it is His holy standard that is the measuring line. The only thing that they will accomplish with this attempt is that they will have in their own minds mentally removed themselves from the offer of God’s grace. How could it apply to them if they will not acknowledge their need?

This list of sinful activity includes homosexuality and many sins that might be considered by people to be the “worse” ones: killing parents, sexual immorality, kidnapping, profanity, and lawlessness. It is highly interesting that at the end of this list Paul says the bottom line is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that he (Paul) was the worst of them. From what we know of Paul elsewhere in Scripture he was blameless in front of the righteousness of the law (Phil. 3:6).13 Paul may not have committed certain sins that to others or to the letter of the law would be the most heinous. Yet he knew that before God they were indeed still the most wicked. No doubt I too am the worst of sinners. Thanks be to God through the Lord Jesus Christ that in Him I no longer have any condemnation. Nor need you.

Conclusion to Homosexuality in the New Testament

Homosexuality is indeed sin. It is not okay. It is not moral. It, along with all other sins, reaps the judgment of God. These Scriptures confirm that. Yet that is not where it stops. Nor should we as we discuss the Biblical view of homosexuality. The Biblical and Christian view of homosexuality is that it is wrong, but Gods grace—just like it did for us—offers freedom from sin to all people. God’s grace can bring new life and help every step of the way. As Jesus said in His first coming:

John 3:16-21 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. (18) The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. (19) Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. (21) But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God. (NET Bible, emphasis added)

Since I have seen the power of sin in my life, when I see Scripture call something sin, or an abomination, or that people committing certain actions will not inherit the kingdom of God I can instantly relate to that. My sin too is an abomination to God:

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: (17) haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, (18) a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, (19) a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members. (NET, emphasis added)

I remember the pain, anguish, emptiness, and despair that I experienced.14 I cannot help but want everyone else in these circumstances to know the grace and love of God that so changed my life. I want that freedom for you.

Jesus experienced the struggles of this life. He can truly sympathize with our weakness—He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He alone has the power to overcome all sin and walk with us through this life. While I have of course not experienced every situation, I have seen enough of sin in my own life to want three things for you:

1.      I want no one else to experience the pain and results of sin like I did.

2.      I want everyone to experience the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus that gives new, eternal life.

3.      I want to continue to grow in my similarities to Jesus through His enablement. This alone will enable me to better express His truth in love—in both my words and my actions.

Will you walk alongside of me in this?

Likewise, if you have truly received this same grace will you lovingly share it and live it?

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

When discussions of Jesus and homosexuality or the LGBT15 lifestyle come up some might try to claim that Jesus never dealt with the issue. However that is not really accurate. Jesus, as God, was a unique teacher. He often dealt authoritatively with the principles that were behind not just one action, but a whole host of possible ones. He often discerned through to the heart and intent of people and exposed both our sinful hearts, and His holy standard. The following two examples carefully show us that we all fall short and are desperately in need of God’s grace.

A. Matthew 5:27-28, A Maximized Definition of Sin

Mat 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus made clear that God’s standard of right and wrong did not simply stop with an external act, but rather included our thoughts and heart. It is wrong to even fantasize immorally.16

Most directly this deals with married people and the sin of both physical and mental adultery. However it goes much further than this when the principle of what Jesus was teaching is seen. Jesus was pointing out to the religious leaders and the society that sin goes beyond just what they do to what they allow themselves to think and dwell on. In His discussion of murder in the section immediately prior to this one (Matt. 5:21-26) He points out that being angry with or insulting a brother will also bring God’s judgment—not just the actual deed of murdering. Clearly God’s standard goes deeper than mere actions, and clearly (contrary to the self-righteous perspectives of those religious leaders) it was impossible for them to keep. That is one of the chief points of the law: to point out our sin—and then drive us to faith in God and His provision of grace.

Sexual sins go much further than just adultery or a physical act. Sins of anger and broken relationships go much further than that between brothers. These are examples and specific cases in which sin goes beyond the mere “letter of the law.” People might try to restrict the applicability of the law to make themselves appear to be holy and righteous. Regardless, God is not deceived. Whether it is the minimizing of lying, cheating, stealing, envy, covetousness, adultery, witchcraft, pornography, fornication, swindling, drunkenness, homosexuality, or any other unrighteousness—Jesus here intentionally shows that He would not be in agreement with such a handling of God’s Word. If anything His definition of these sins is broader than we would like to think. Jesus’ ethic would thus clearly apply to homosexuality as part of the law (Lev. 18:22, 20:13) which would not become void (Luke 16:17).

B. Matthew 19:3-9, A Specified Definition of Marriage

Mat 19:3-9 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (4) He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, (5) and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (6) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (7) They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” (8) Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. (9) Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”

Here Jesus was very specific on God’s plan for men and women and marriage. The basis for Jesus’ answer to one question about relationships was to go back to God’s original plan and design. That plan and design has been warped and twisted by our sinfulness and hardness of heart in almost every possible manner. In this specific case it was divorce, immorality, and adultery. However all other possible variants from God’s original design would equally be against God’s plan—which Jesus reiterates here. By affirming God’s creational plan Jesus undermines, invalidates, and declares wrong any other activity which is in opposition to that design. The one divorce exception seems to be in light of the discontinuation of theocratic punishment of death upon adulterers (which would have freed the unoffending member).17 Immorality, like divorce, declares that God’s provision and design were insufficient. Homosexuality does the same thing.

In most societies this standard of right and wrong would have far more implications (by sheer numbers) for those people involved in general immorality, living together, one night stands, adultery, divorce, child abuse, pornography, etc. than those in the LGBT community. However, God’s Word and God’s standards to us are not comparative with how other people are doing. It is all wrong before God. Indeed, those situations all need to be truthfully and loving addressed. It is all contrary to God’s original designed plan. It is all deserving of His judgment. We have all failed meeting God’s standard. All are at fault, whether it is in thought or in deed. The one good that may come out of this strong pronouncement of Jesus is recognizing like I did (and do) that I am wicked, I am desperate, I cannot fix this, I am ruined. Then we must let it point us to the amazing grace, love, forgiveness, and life transforming power of Jesus Christ. Through faith in His work in taking our penalty on the cross there can be new life (John 10:9-11).

Conclusion to Jesus on Sexuality

From these teachings of Jesus we see that none of us escape from being included in His teaching on God’s standards of sexuality and marriage. Jesus Himself taught a sexual and marital ethic that more clearly and strictly emphasized God’s original plan for pure monogamous heterosexual relationships alone. Nothing else was valid—not even lustful thoughts in any other direction.

For those involved with any heterosexual or homosexual interactions outside of a man/woman marriage these truths have wide reaching implications. Jesus’ pronouncement is that these relationships are not valid and are sin.

Even for those who may no longer be involved with any of these kinds of sins externally, these truths still have implications. The fact is you and I probably struggle with it internally in one way or another and will until the day we die. I have had enough insightful conversations with lucid 90+ year olds to know that some things do not change while still in these sin corrupted bodies. If we, as Christians, are depending on the grace of God day by day, then we will want to try to lovingly share it with others. If we are not depending on that grace then we are living a lie and pretending to be holier than we are. The only holiness that we have is the holiness that we are given in Jesus Christ and that He works within us. There is no room for personal pride or boasting.

It does not matter whether our sin is from external or internal actions, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature, or whether other people can see it or not. If we continue in this behavior, the result is that we will slowly but surely destroy our lives through these sins. We cannot live up to God’s plan and standard with this kind of behavior. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is the only answer. (Acts 4:12, Titus 3:3-7)

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

The Bible is realistic about human nature. It tells us that we all fall short of God’s standard of righteousness, and thus none are righteous before Him (Rom. 3:10-23). All other religions of the world somehow offer the hope that by self-effort heaven may be achieved. The Bible does not do that. Instead the Bible gives us God’s humanly-impossible-to-attain standard.

I18 have personally found these standards impossible to keep, and that resulted in the worst period of my life. I was in my early teens, and had grown up hearing the Bible taught. Previously I had asked Jesus to save me from my sins through what He did on the cross to take my place. Yet as I grew older, I let pride and self-sufficiency take over. I began struggling intensely with a particular sin. I knew it was wrong. I knew what the Bible said. My school work began to suffer. I knew there was nothing more important in life than my relationship with the one who created me. Yet my heart was too cold for more than empty prayers. As time wore on the only reason I did not commit suicide was because I knew that would be sin too. The despair and emptiness in my life at this time were the worst experience I have ever had. Sin had control over my life. I knew it was empty and destructive. I knew there was something better. But I could not fix my thoughts. I could not stop my sinning. I could try to ignore it for a while, but the haunting thoughts and reality were always lurking. The truth was that I was not keeping God’s standards. I was not holy. I deserved nothing but God’s judgment.

But then God intervened. While it was impossible for me to overcome, it was not impossible for God. He used a combination of His Word that I was reading, and of messages that I heard on the radio to open my eyes to the rest of the truth.

My journal at this time goes from records of my continual failures each day, of my heart being so hard against God, of my struggling anguish, of the realities of my sinfulness, of knowing that I needed to repent yet could not in my cold-heartedness— to all of a sudden ecstatically thanking God for His amazing love.

What happened? Over time I had realized my sinfulness in its awful self-destroying reality. I realized fully my incapability. I could not fix my life on my own. I could not earn God’s love, approval, or forgiveness. In my pride and self-sufficiency I needed to see the realities of my situation before I would or could humble myself enough to throw myself entirely on God’s grace. But as I did see those realities and surrendered myself to Him, He opened my eyes to also truly realize His love and grace.

God’s grace, mercy, and help extended beyond just a one-time experience as a child to an every day reality as a young man. Only by God’s enablement and grace could I be initially and eternally saved from my sin. Likewise, only by continuing to walk in that grace could I daily live out the manner of life that God desired. This is the radical nature of the life-transforming power of the work of God. It could change my evil, proud, sinful life into something that could reflect more and more the “impossible” manner of life of Jesus.

Since this time I have strongly desired to share this with other people. I do not want anyone to ever go through what I went through in those torturous days of anguish and despair while I walked in bondage to my sin. I did not “do” something to earn God’s love or to receive it. I have no magic formula. Somehow God helped me see my sin for what it truly was, somehow I admitted it before Him truthfully, and somehow I received His overwhelming love, grace, forgiveness, and help to overcome my sin. I knew the facts long before that though. Yet God brought them to a reality in my heart and life at this time. I gave up, and in simple faith I entrusted my life to Him. Just like He overcame sin in His death, burial, and resurrection, He overcame my sin. From that time on I knew that there was victory over my sin. I would be fine. He would be with me and help me daily with my life-long struggles. As I continued relying on Him He would be faithful. And He has.

So what does that have to do with the Biblical or Christian view of Homosexuality? Just like my sin initially prevented me from the kingdom of God, and just like my sin and pride enslaved me and nearly destroyed my life as I continually gave in to it: so too will any and every other sin do to you.

From the beginning of my struggle I was convinced of my sin from Scripture. Maybe that is not the case for you. Maybe there are still some questions in your mind. The resources listed in the footnotes and at the end of this article would be highly recommended for your consideration.

For those convinced of the truth of what the Bible teaches about this and other sins, then maybe the best thing you could do would be to read the gospels. (Romans could also be helpful to the detail oriented.) There you will read what Christ has done to free us from our sin. May the love of God that has changed my life overtake yours too.

For those for whom this issue of homosexuality is just an academic question about what the Bible says, remember: all sin will enslave you and make you worthy of Gods just condemnation just like it did to me. There is no socially acceptable sin before God. There is however forgiveness, redemption, and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, I would plead with you. Jesus Christ offers you the same freedom that I could not earn and that I was too proud to accept for way too long. Please do not put yourself through the torture that I went through. Please do not wait until it is too late. If God could raise Jesus from the dead, forgive my sin, overcome my struggle, and help me daily, then He can free you. In Him our condemnation for sin is removed (Romans 8).

Lastly, for those of you who are believers in Jesus Christ, I would encourage you to think about this issue through the eyes of the Word of God. Then follow the Master in daily letting Him deal with your sin and transform your life. As we do that we will be prepared to follow our Lord in reaching out to others suffering from this same plight of sin. For more information on this see the short article: “https://bible.org/article/homosexuality-and-church.

VI. Questions and Answers

Q1. What is homosexuality?

Homosexuality is the expression of sexuality towards a person of the same gender.

Q2. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong?

To determine if anything is right or wrong one must have a standard by which the questionable action may be measured. The only one with the full authority to set such a standard is the creator and sovereign of all things. Since God has given humankind His Word in the Bible that is the source of determining if anything, including homosexuality, is morally right or wrong. Cultural and personal preferences vary, however the standard of the creator who made all things does not.

Q3. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?

The Bible explicitly teaches that homosexuality is a sin in both the Old and New Testaments. It also explicitly teaches that God offers His grace to redeem and reconcile every kind of sinner to Himself at His own expense through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The conclusion of the New Testament section succinctly states it this way: “The Biblical and Christian view of homosexuality is that it is wrong, but God’s grace, just like it did for us, offers freedom from sin to all people.” (See above for details.)

Q4. Is it true that all of the times homosexuality is referenced in the Bible it is bundled with false worship, rape, prostitution, or abuses, and that this combination was the problem/sin before God?

It is true that the main references to homosexuality in the Bible do mention other sins in the immediate context (reading the passages discussed above will allow one to note this quite easily). However, as far as the rest of the claim that it was homosexuality mixed with other activity that made it sinful this is completely inaccurate. If one simply reads the passages talking about homosexuality one will note that the specific acts of homosexuality are explicitly described as being wrong. For instance, in Romans 1 “natural relations” are exchanged and abandoned (Rom. 1:26-27). “Shameless acts” are committed (Rom. 1:27). Homosexuality is contrary to God’s creational design. Since all sin is idolatry and rebellion against God it should come as no surprise that those elements are seen in the context. See the resources footnoted in the Romans 1 section of this article for further discussion of this issue. Particularly note Guenther Haas’s article entitled, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice” Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99), http://phc.edu/gj_haas_hermen.php

Q5. Does committing a homosexual act automatically mean one is going to hell?

No. Jesus came to bear the penalty of sin upon Himself and offer forgiveness to all who trust in His work on their behalf. Any who do truly trust in Him will not go to hell. In this way homosexual sin is the same as any other sin. It can be forgiven. Conversely, like every other sin, it too needs forgiveness, and it too needs to be overcome by the grace of God. See the biblical discussion above for more details.

Q6. Are homosexual acts worse sins than other sins in the Bible?

Scripture does not give the clearest “grading” of sins. That makes this a hard question to answer. On the one hand Jesus said that if the works that had been done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom it would have remained to that day (would not have been judged because it would have repented). Additionally, He said that it would be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum (Matt. 11:23-24). This seems to indicate that the severity of Gods judgment will vary depending upon the knowledge and witness of God: those who should know better “more so” will be judged more strongly. On the other hand Romans 1 does specifically point out homosexuality as an example of persistent rebellion against God and as being an example of the judgment of God. Interestingly, in this passage it does seem like there is a strong knowledge of the sinfulness of their activities. It is despite their knowledge of God and His judgment that they pursue their course and encourage others to do the same. From these examples we can see that Scripture does not really answer this question directly. However it does seem to indicate that the more willful a sin is the worse will be Gods judgment—regardless of what the practice of the sin is. Even more clearly than that though, and more importantly Scripture answers a different question about homosexuality. The question it answers is whether God’s grace is sufficient to rescue and deliver from this sin. It is.

Q7. How do you explain marriage ceremonies in which two persons of the same sex are united by an officiating clergyman or justice of the peace?

Governments in a number of regions have legalized this practice and officially recognize these unions as a marriage. This does give legal authority to them and to many it also gives the appearance of moral sanction. However, only God can truly give moral approval. He has declared homosexuality to be sin. Christians should respond to this like they should respond to all other sins: with truth and love. Some clergy and denominations claiming to be Christian allow for same sex marriages. Their actions are without sanction of the Bible or God. This is readily apparent from the contradiction between their actions and the truths of Scripture seen in this article.

Q8. Why should two people who sincerely love each other not be allowed to get married just because they are of the same gender?

The answer to this is controversial in many circles today both politically and religiously. The short answer seems to boil down to one’s definition of love, marriage, and how one views morals. True love does what is best for another person regardless of the expense to oneself. By God’s design for humanity marriage was to be between a man and a woman (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25.). Woman was the God-given companion who was suitable for man. Morals are determined by God’s standards and what He has set as right and wrong. By these definitions then, it would not be the most loving thing to marry someone when it violated God’s moral standards, when that is not the design for what marriage should be, and when one would not be the most suitable kind of companion.

Since most non-believers would not acknowledge God’s standard of morals or design this viewpoint is mostly irrelevant to them. For the Christian, however, questions of “should” and morals are to be determined by the one who determines right and wrong. Indeed, not just for Christians, but for all who talk about “rights” this needs to be a consideration. “Rights” only exist if one acknowledges moral standards endowed with creation by a creator. A naturalistic system has no place for rights.19

Politically in America, other belief systems with a creator might have a different code of morality which could be followed as the basis for redefining marriage beyond its traditional definition. However seeking a rare or newer religious system based on this criteria seems to be an example of the tail wagging the dog and not true moral conviction.

Trying to define marriage by the often vague term “love” is not a safe means for expanding its definition.20 Indeed people “love” all sorts of things. This does not make it make it necessary or right for all of sorts of behaviors to be carried out. Nor does it mean government must promote all of those behaviors. Likewise, since same sex marriage is indeed different than opposite sex marriage it is not an issue of equality.21

Q9. Is homosexuality genetic? If it is genetic or “natural” does that make it morally okay?

The issue of whether homosexuality is genetic is an interesting one. Due to the changing nature of scientific studies and the intricacies of the issue this article would soon become outdated if a discussion were entered upon at any length. For those interested, as of 2013, no genetic or DNA links have been found for homosexuality.22 However it should be strongly stressed that whether or not it is genetic in some way is not a deciding factor on whether something is moral or not. Theoretically someone might have a genetic disposition towards drug or alcohol abuse, or towards lying,23 or kleptomania. This does not change the morality of those issues.

Two of Greg Koukl’s articles helpfully discuss this issue of whether something “natural” is necessarily moral. The first approaches the issue from a logical and philosophical angle: Homosexuality Is Unnatural: The Is-Ought Fallacy? http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-unnatural-ought-fallacy The second approaches the issue more directly from a look at the teaching of Scripture: Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality, http://bible.org/article/paul-romans-and-homosexuality. Whether something is genetic or not does not necessarily follow that it is natural (a designation of design). Likewise, even if it is natural it does not necessarily follow that it is moral (David Hume Is-Ought fallacy).

Q10. Are there contributing factors to homosexuality for which a homosexual might not be responsible?

We all have contributing factors towards different activity that we engage in. These definitely make it easier to see how one would be more likely to conduct oneself in a particular way. However we retain responsibility for our actions. We may not be responsible for those things which are done to us, but we are responsible for our choices.

We all have our own propensities or orientation towards specific sins. The question for all of us is: what will we do with them? 24 For way too long I held onto mine. To be quite honest I am tempted every day to go back to them. Sometimes new ones crop up. This is and will be a lifelong process of learning my identity in Christ, of growing in resisting temptations and walking in truth. I cannot overcome my sin. Faith in Jesus is the victory that overcomes sin and the world (1 John 3:2-3; 5:4). With these kinds of intense struggles there is no room to underestimate the struggles of each other. With the commonality of sin there is no room to look down upon one another.

There is a sense of needing to just “get over it” in that we need to recognize sins as sins, and we need to decide to begin doing what is right by God’s grace and provision. That, however, is just the beginning. The daily walking with and helping one another to apply our identity in Christ is one that must be sustained. It is then a “get on with it in grace” issue. So let’s “get over it” by God’s grace and then “get on with it” in His grace! Without His grace neither will happen.

Q11. How should Christians treat people in same sex relationships?

We should treat them with the same love and grace that God has shown to us. All of us are sinners. Our sins may vary, but it is all rebellion against God. We have been and are being rescued from sin. That should allow us of all people to be able to relate with compassion and true care. The love of Jesus did not leave people where they were, but it did meet them there.

Christians should not expect those who are not believers in Jesus to live like they were followers of Him (1 Cor. 5:9-11). While we may not condone sin or become involved with it (whether sexual or other), we should pursue friendships with all people like Christ did. There is no room for partiality, disdain, disrespect, or unkindness. There is only plenty of room for showing the same grace of God that we are receiving.

Christians should help those who are believers to live like followers of Him. Growth is a lifelong process. The kinds of issues believers struggle with varies from person to person and at different times in life. Regardless, we should continually be available to assist, disciple, encourage, counsel, challenge, and rebuke as needed. This availability should be throughout the course of our lives and involvements with each other. For the one claiming to be a Christian and persisting in living this way the normal process of church discipline should be exercised (Matthew 18:15-22). In this way, homosexuality is no different than any other persistent sin. In all of this our actions must be done with humility and in love (Gal. 6:1).

For those who struggle with the same sin caution should be exercised in any relationship. The kindness and grace of God should always be shown. However care must be taken that the kinds of involvements present do not lead one into sin oneself.

Q12. How can we help Christians who get involved in the practice of homosexuality? Or who become Christians and have had these kinds of experiences? Or have same sex attraction?

Addictions rewire the brain, whether it is pornography, alcoholism, or smoking. People get into patterns and habits that are hard to break and leave a permanent deep-seated impact. Sexual activities make a lasting impact on who we are. God’s grace forgives and cleanses. God forgives. Yet being Jesus’ disciple is a life-long pursuit. We all have come through different experiences, and have different struggles. Regardless of what the struggles are Christians must be committed to life-long ministry with one another.

Remaining mentally and morally pure to one’s spouse is a lifelong intentional battle for heterosexual people. Sexual issues are deep ones because they go to the core of our beings as humans. Why should we expect it would be any different for those encountering same-sex attraction issues? Some may have a more immediate, complete victory over this. Most will probably be like you and me. They will have victory over temptations one day at a time through God’s grace. This will come for us all as we grow in understanding our identity in Christ. This is not simply a sin-management attempt, but a walk in knowing and becoming like Christ.

VII. Resources

(Free unless otherwise noted)

A. Audio Resources

Dallas Theological Seminary (Audio + Video)
Homosexuality in the Context of Christian Sexual Ethics, Podcasthttp://www.dts.edu/thetable/play/discussing-homosexuality-sexuality-together/
Controversial Same-Sex Texts In The Bible, Podcast, http://www.dts.edu/thetable/play/queen-james-passages-old-testament/

Greg Koukl (Audio for purchase)
Setting the Record Straight: The Bible and Homosexuality https://secure2.convio.net/str/site/Ecommerce/1202380276?VIEW_PRODUCT=true&product_id=3981&store_id=1161

John MacArthur (Audio + Manuscripts)
Answering Key Questions About Homosexuality, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/GTY89/answering-key-questions-about-homosexuality
Homosexuality and the Bible (Selected Scriptures, 2 messages), http://www.gty.org/resources/sermon-series/12
God’s Plan for the Gay Agenda, http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A170/Gods-Plan-for-the-Gay-Agenda

John Piper (Audio + Manuscripts + some Video)
Why is Homosexuality Wrong?, (Some gracious thoughts on the brokenness of us all) http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-is-homosexuality-wrong
Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage (Romans 12:1-2), http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/discerning-the-will-of-god-concerning-homosexuality-and-marriage
The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 (Romans 1:24-28), (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-other-dark-exchange-homosexuality-part-1
The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 2 (Romans 1:24-28), http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-other-dark-exchange-homosexuality-part-2
Bethlehem’s Position on Homosexuality (a sample of a church's attempt to practically live out a Biblical view of homosexuality), http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/bethlehems-position-on-homosexuality

Frank Turek
March 16th podcast from his radio show dealing with same sex marriage issues, equality, and reason: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/feelings-or-reason-march-16/id337782458?i=136358756&mt=2.

B. Article Resources

Wayne Grudem
The Bible and Homosexuality, reprinted in World Magazine with permission from Crossway. Original article is from the ESV Study Bible. http://www.worldmag.com/2013/04/the_bible_and_homosexuality

Stanton Jones
Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality. Text version: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/Hot-Topics PDF Download: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/CACE-Print-Resources/Articles

Bible.org Articles:

Sue Bohlin
Homosexuality: Questions and Answers, http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-questions-and-answers)
Can Homosexuals Change?, http://bible.org/article/can-homosexuals-change
Answers to Questions Most Asked by Gay-Identifying Youth, Answers to Questions Most Asked by Gay-Identifying Youth
When Someone in Your Congregation Says “I’m Gay”, http://bible.org/article/when-someone-your-congregation-says-im-gay
Keys to Recovery from Same-Sex Attractions, http://bible.org/article/keys-recovery-same-sex-attractions

Bob Deffinbaugh
Israel’s Sodom and Gomorrah (Judges 19-21) http://bible.org/seriespage/israel%E2%80%99s-sodom-and-gomorrah-judges-19-21

Daniel Wallace
Review of Mel White’s ‘What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Homosexuality’ (deals with Romans 1:26-27), http://bible.org/article/review-mel-white%E2%80%99s-what-bible-says%E2%80%94and-doesn%E2%80%99t-say%E2%80%94about-homosexuality

Christian Apologetics Research Ministry Articles:

Matt Slick
On "There is nothing wrong with two homosexuals getting married if they love each other", http://carm.org/love-homosexual-marriage

Stand To Reason Articles:

Greg Koukl
Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality, http://bible.org/article/paul-romans-and-homosexuality
Homosexuality Is Unnatural: An Is-Ought Fallacy?, http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-unnatural-ought-fallacy
Homosexuality: Giving Your Point of View, http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5302

Alen Shlemon
Homosexuality: Know the Truth and Speak it with Compassion, http://www.str.org/site/News2?id=8779

Cross Examined Articles: 

Frank Turek (Articles + Radio show podcast)
The Case Against “Equality” Part 1 and 2 (Deals with the political issue of marriage and the claim of inequality in its not being applied to homosexual relationships.) http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2013/02/28/the-case-against-equality-n1521881/page/full/ and http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2013/03/01/the-case-against-equality-part-2-n1523048/page/full/

C. Theological Journal Resources (All may be accessed for monthly fee or purchased through the Theological Journals Library http://www.galaxie.com//)

Gary R. Gromacki
Why Be Concerned about Same-Sex Marriage? Journal of Ministry and Theology, 09:2 (Fall/05)

Guenther Haas
Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice, Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99), http://phc.edu/gj_haas_hermen.php

David E. Malick
The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Bibliotheca Sacra, 150:600 (10/93)

Mark McGinniss
The Church’s Response To The Homosexual, Journal of Ministry and Theology, 14:2 (Fall/10)

P. Michael Ukleja
Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83)
The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83)

D. Blog Resources

Darrell Bock


Tim Challies


Michael Patton


E. Ministry Resources

Living Hope Ministries http://livehope.org/

Outpost Ministries http://www.outpostministries.org/home.htm

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Homosexuality in the Old Testament

A. Leviticus 18:22, Prohibition of Homosexuality in the Law
B. Leviticus 20:13, Punishment of Homosexuality in the Law
C. Genesis 19:1-11, Sodom and Gomorrah
D. Judges 19:22ff, Gibeah
Conclusion to Homosexuality in the Old Testament

III. Homosexuality in the New Testament

A. Romans 1:20-32
B. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Inheriting the Kingdom of God
C. 1 Timothy 1:8-15, The Worst of Sinners-- Paul
Conclusion to Homosexuality in the New Testament

IV. Jesus on Sexuality

A. Matthew 5:27-28, A Maximized Definition of Sin
B. Matthew 19:3-9, A Specified Definition of Marriage
Conclusion to Jesus on Sexuality

V. Conclusion: Loving in Truth—My Background

VI. Questions and Answers

Q1. What is homosexuality?
Q2. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong?
Q3. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?
Q4. Is it true that all of the times homosexuality is referenced in the Bible it is bundled with false worship, rape, prostitution, or abuses, and that this combination was the problem/sin before God?
Q5. Does committing a homosexual act automatically mean one is going to hell?
Q6. Are homosexual acts worse sins than other sins in the Bible?
Q7. How do you explain marriage ceremonies in which two persons of the same sex are united by an officiating clergyman or justice of the peace?
Q8. Why should two people who sincerely love each other not be allowed to get married just because they are of the same gender?
Q9. Is homosexuality genetic? If it is genetic or “natural” does that make it morally okay?
Q10. Are there contributing factors to homosexuality for which a homosexual might not be responsible?
Q11. How should Christians treat people in same sex relationships?
Q12. How can we help Christians who get involved in the practice of homosexuality? Or who become Christians and have had these kinds of experiences? Or have same sex attraction?

VII. Resources

A. Audio Resources
B. Article Resources
C. Theological Journal Resources
D. Blog Resources
E. Ministry Resources

VIII. Detailed Table of Contents


1 The goal of this article is three-fold.

1. To provide a Biblical expression of the Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality in a loving way.

2. To build the church (a) by clearly showing the grace of God, (b) by promoting Christians to love in truth those identifying as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), and (c) by removing misconceptions about the Bible, Jesus, and the Church.

3. To provide resources for further study (a) on the Scripture texts on homosexuality, as well as (b) on how Christians may best express the truth in love as they try to truly live like Christ.

2 For a discussion of the these texts in the law as being moral prohibitions rather than simple religious ones (that might somehow be disregarded) see P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83). This article also finishes with a helpful discussion of the continued relevance of the law to Christians today.

3 See P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83).

4 See the NET Bible notes on Jude 1:7, as well as the article referenced in footnote #1 for further discussion of all aspects of the interpretation of this verse and its relation to the Genesis account.

5 For a discussion of this term “know” and its clear meaning here see the section discussing this in P. Michael Ukleja, Homosexuality and the Old Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:559 (07/83). Also note that in the context they were not simply wanting to be acquainted with the man. The owner of the house knew that (Judges 19:23). Likewise the way they treated the traveler’s concubine is a very clear indicator of their intentions. Thus it is concluded that these men had clear male-to-male sexual intentions.

6 Bob Deffinbaugh, Israel’s Sodom and Gomorrah (Judges 19-21) http://bible.org/seriespage/israel%E2%80%99s-sodom-and-gomorrah-judges-19-21.

7 For a more detailed discussion of this objection and its lack of tenability see Greg Koukl, Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality, http://bible.org/article/paul-romans-and-homosexuality, and Homosexuality Is Unnatural: An Is-Ought Fallacy?, http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-unnatural-ought-fallacy.

Also from a more hermeneutical perspective see Guenther Haas, Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice, Global Journal of Classical Theology, Vol 1, No. 2 (2/99), http://phc.edu/gj_haas_hermen.php and P. Michael Ukleja, The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83).

For a more expositional perspective on this text see John Piper, The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 (Romans 1:24-28) (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-other-dark-exchange-homosexuality-part-1 and The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 2 (Romans 1:24-28), http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-other-dark-exchange-homosexuality-part-2

8 This is not always recognized, but is insightfully pointed out by Bob Deffinbaugh in his series: Romans: The Righteousness of God. http://bible.org/seriespage/present-wrath-god-romans-115-32

9 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 135, and 613.

10 P. Michael Ukleja, The Bible and Homosexuality Part 2: Homosexuality in the New Testament, Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:560 (10/83). For a further discussion of these words, and other issues, such as pederasty, see David E. Malick, The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Bibliotheca Sacra, 150:600 (10/93). The NET Bible notes on 1 Corinthians 6:9 are also instructive. They are accessible for free online: https://net.bible.org/#!bible/1+Corinthians+6.

11 Here we are not speaking of a life-long struggle— which we all have as residents in a sinful world and sinful body. In these we can be conquerors through Jesus Christ and faith (1 John 5:3-5).

12 For a discussion of the particular word used here, note the resources referenced in the discussion of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The same Greek word, αρσενοκοιτης, is used in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

13 With what he says here, and with the teachings of Jesus that we will see further down in this article he must have recognized his intense guiltiness before God. (cf. What he says about himself in Romans 7:7-25.)

14 See the conclusion for a further discussion of my own experience.

15 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

16 For a careful discussion of this text see Bob Deffinbaugh: http://bible.org/seriespage/avoiding-sin-adultery-matthew-527-30

17 For further discussion of this text and the salient discussions see, William F. Luck, Sr.’s discussion in his book on Bible.org: http://bible.org/series/divorce-and-re-marriage-recovering-biblical-view

18 The author works with Bible.org, and holds a ThM. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He may be contacted here through the website.

19 See Greg Koukl, http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-unnatural-ought-fallacy for a discussion of the is-ought fallacy and the teleological argument’s relationship to rights. Also see Fred Turek’s helpful 2 part column, http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2013/02/28/the-case-against-equality-n1521881/page/full/ and http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2013/03/01/the-case-against-equality-part-2-n1523048/page/full/. These columns deal with the political issue of marriage and the false claim of inequality in its not being applied to homosexual relationships. For an audio discussion of the issue see Turek’s March 16th podcast from his radio show: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/feelings-or-reason-march-16/id337782458?i=136358756&mt=2

20 See Matt Slick’s article on love and homosexual marriage for a brief discussion on this topic at Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: http://carm.org/love-homosexual-marriage.

21 See the resources by Fred Turek listed under footnote 17. Dr. Turek’s book on the topic would also no doubt be a helpful resource for those wanting to investigate the topic further: Correct, NOT Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone.

22 According to a Dec. 2012 Time web article “despite intensive investigations” scientists have failed so far to find “gay genes.” A researcher cited in the article emphatically states that “It’s not genetics. It’s not DNA. It’s not pieces of DNA. It’s epigenetics.” He states this as he puts forth a new theory that homosexuality is caused by “epi-marks” that relate to hormones in the womb. Thus at this stage nothing remains scientifically proven—other than no genetic or DNA links have been found. Theories are continuing to be discussed. This article was accessed 4/5/2013: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/13/new-insight-into-the-epigenetic-roots-of-homosexuality/ This data will of course be outdated in some way within a few years, however it is more important to reiterate that even if it is genetic in some way it does not necessarily follow logically that it is moral. See the other articles referenced in the main body of the question for a fuller discussion.

Dr. Stanton Jones also has a very helpful analysis of the latest in scientific studies in his article entitled “Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality.” Text version: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/Hot-Topics PDF Download: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/CACE-Print-Resources/Articles. (Accessed 4/15/2013)

23 Whether there is a genetic connection for lying might not be determined, but there are indeed some differences in the brains of chronic liars. See http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/187/4/320.abstract (Accessed 4/16/2013)

24 See John Piper’s brief essay/video on “Why Homosexuality is sin?” for a gracious reminder of these truths. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-is-homosexuality-wrong

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Ecclesiology (The Church), Engage, Equip, Ethics, Evangelism, Fellowship, Forgiveness, Grace, Hamartiology (Sin), Heaven, Hell, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Love, Marriage, Sanctification, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life, Temptation, Worldview

Lesson 82: How to Serve the Lord (Romans 12:11)

Related Media

As most of you know, Marla and I like to hike. So when we started having children, we started them hiking at a young age. Of course when they’re toddlers, you have to carry them a lot. But as they grew older and got too heavy to carry, they had to walk by themselves. And sometimes we took them on difficult hikes, climbing to the tops of mountains that required a lot of stamina.

Before you accuse us of child abuse, let me explain that we discovered that the kids had more physical strength than we did. We were not forcing them to do something that their bodies could not endure. The real issue was motivation. If they were motivated, they could literally run on a trail where Marla and I were struggling just to walk. But if they were not motivated, they acted like they could not walk a step farther.

And so it was always a challenge to figure out how to motivate the kids to climb a mountain. I remember when our second daughter, Joy, was about seven and we were climbing Mt. Lassen in Northern California, which is over 10,400 feet high. It requires gaining almost 2,000 feet of elevation in about two and a half miles. I told her that I would beat her to the top. That was all the motivation that Joy needed. She took off going faster than I could ever go. I would see her two or three switchbacks above and call out, “Slow down, Joy, so that I can catch up.” She would laugh and move even faster. She beat us all to the summit. The issue was not muscle strength; the issue was motivation. At other times, I might add, we would bribe the kids with Skittles candy. “See that ridge up there? If you get up there, I’ll give you some Skittles.” Somehow they all grew up reasonably healthy in spite of our sugary bribes!

I tell that story because in Romans 12:11, Paul says that we are to be “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” He’s talking about people who are motivated to “run up the mountain,” passionate in their service for the Lord. So I must ask myself and ask you to ask yourself, “Does that describe me?” Am I (are you) not lagging behind (the word means, “lazy”) in diligence? Am I (are you) fervent in spirit in my service for the Lord? Or, like the church in Laodicea, whom the Lord threatened to spew out of His mouth, could I be lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16)? Could I be lazy in serving the Lord? Could I be indifferent to the cause of the Lord and Master who bought me with His blood?

Perhaps some of you are thinking, “I used to be diligent and fervent in serving the Lord, but I burned out. Other Christians criticized me. Some spread false rumors about me. No one seemed to appreciate all of the long, hard hours I spent working behind the scenes. So I don’t feel like going through that again. I’ll attend church and leave, but I don’t want to get involved in serving.”

If you feel like that, you need to refocus so that you get the proper motivation to serve. And Paul has set forth the motivation that you need in Romans 12:1: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” He goes on to tell us not to be conformed to this age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The supreme motivation to sacrificial, transformed service is “the mercies of God,” which Paul lays out in chapters 1-11. And in our text (12:11), Paul shows how to serve the Lord. He’s saying:

The mercies of God call us to diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

I’m proceeding on the assumption that you have personally experienced the abundant mercies of God that are to be found in knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. If you have not trusted in Christ, then nothing else that I say in this message applies to you. Or, if you have trusted in Christ, but your love for Him has grown cold because you have forgotten the many mercies of His love for you on the cross, then you need to park yourself at the foot of the cross. The mercies of God are the motivation for diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

Paul first gives us the negative, then the positive, and then the focus of the command.

1. The mercies of God call out: “Don’t be lazy, but be diligent in serving the Lord” (12:11a).

Romans 12:11a: “not lagging behind in diligence.” As I said, “lagging behind” translates a Greek word that means “lazy.” Jesus used the word to describe the lazy servant who didn’t bother to invest his master’s money that had been entrusted to him, but just buried it in the ground until the master returned (Matt. 25:26). That lazy servant put his own convenience above the Master’s purpose. The word is used in Proverbs 6:6, 9 (LXX) to describe the sluggard, who needs to go to the ant and consider its hard work in storing up food in the summer for the winter.

Although he doesn’t use the same word, Paul describes the same concept in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Or, after describing at length the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the certainty of our resurrection, Paul concludes (1 Cor. 15:58), “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Don’t be lazy; be diligent in serving the Lord.

So I ask, “Do you work hard to serve the Lord?” Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve got to work hard to earn a living. I’m too beat after work to serve the Lord.” I would respond with two comments. First, you should view your work as service to the Lord and therefore do it heartily as unto Him. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul writes to believing slaves, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” If those words applied to slaves, who had the most menial jobs imaginable, then they certainly apply to your job. Your mindset should be that you are serving the Lord; therefore, don’t be lazy. Work hard.

Second, God has given you spiritual gifts to be used in serving Him (Rom. 12:3-8) and when you use those gifts to serve His kingdom purposes, He energizes you with His power. As Paul explains (Col. 1:29), “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Of course, we all need to evaluate how much we are able to commit to. We disqualify ourselves from service if we neglect family responsibilities (1 Tim. 3:4-5). And we will not be effective if we take on so much that we neglect our own souls (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16). But when you do what God has gifted you to do in the power that He supplies, it energizes you. You may be tired, but you’ll also be deeply satisfied.

2. The mercies of God call out: “Be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord (12:11b).

Romans 12:11b: “fervent in spirit.” Commentators argue over whether “spirit” refers to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit (in the original Greek there were no capitals for proper names). But perhaps, as several scholars suggest, we do not need to take an either-or position. Paul may be referring to the human spirit as motivated and energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thomas Schreiner puts it (Romans [Baker], p. 665), “Believers are to burn and seethe in their spirits, but the means by which this is done is the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The word translated “fervent” literally means, “to boil.” So Paul is describing a holy zeal or passion for God and His kingdom purposes. J. C. Ryle describes this godly zeal (A New Birth [Old Paths Gospel Press], p. 235), “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way.”

So Paul isn’t describing someone who needs to be arm-twisted into “volunteering” for some ministry until finally he feels guilty and can’t figure a way out, so he grudgingly says, “Okay.” Rather, he’s describing those who are boiling over with zeal to the point that they probably need to be counseled to focus their efforts, because their tendency would be to get involved in just about every opportunity to serve the Lord that comes along.

Jim Elliot, who was martyred in Ecuador at age 28 in his attempt to take the gospel to the fierce Auca Indians, was a man who embodied true godly zeal. If you haven’t read his story, you’re missing a great blessing. His widow, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote Through Gates of Splendor [Spire Books], which tells the story of all five men who were murdered. Her book, Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan] focuses more on Elliot’s life alone. Jim wrote in his diary (Through Gates of Splendor, pp. 19-20, italics in original), “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” Or, as Jonathan Edwards wrote as a young man in his 70 resolutions (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:xx, # 6): “Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.” Both men are saying, “Don’t be indifferent about the Lord and His cause. Be fervent in spirit!”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s fine for all the Type A, naturally zealous people. But I’m just not that type. I’m too laid back to be fervent in spirit as you’re describing.” But this isn’t a matter of personality types. Paul writes this to the whole church in Rome. It applies to every personality type. It applies both to young people, but also to the old. It’s a matter of passion, of what gets you excited. No matter what your personality type, some things get you excited. Whether it’s politics or sports or music or nature or your job or your family, you are passionate about something.

If you’ve been tracking with Romans 1-11, then you know that Paul is shouting, “Jesus Christ and the gospel should make your spirit boil! The good news that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners should excite you! The glorious fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord should stir your heart! Let the many mercies of God that rescued you from condemnation fuel the fires of passion for Christ and His kingdom! Don’t be lukewarm about such wonderful truths. Be fervent in spirit as you serve the Lord.”

3. The mercies of God call out: “Serve the Lord” (12:11c).

Romans 12:11c: “serving the Lord.” These three simple words are packed with some important practical truths.

A. All believers are called on to serve the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the entire church at Rome, not just to the pastors or church leaders. All Christians, not just so-called “full time Christian workers,” are to be serving the Lord in some capacity. We saw this in 12:4-8, where Paul develops the analogy of the church as the body of Christ. Every part of the body is valuable and useful to the overall functioning of the body. Even so, every believer has been given spiritual gifts to use for the building up of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as a non-serving member of the body. If you’re not serving, you need to ask the Lord how He wants you to serve and begin doing it.

B. We serve the Lord as His slaves, not as His volunteers.

The Greek word for “serve” means to be enslaved. Since the Lord bought us with His blood out of the slave market of sin, we are not our own. We belong to Him as His slaves. Thus all that we are and have is not ours, but His. Our time is not ours to use as we please. Our money is not ours to spend as we please. Our families are not ours, to take priority over allegiance to the Lord. Our careers are not ours, to pursue as we wish. Everything we are and have belongs to the Lord, to be used for His glory and purpose.

There is a fundamental difference between slaves and volunteers. Volunteers choose when and how they serve; slaves are on call day and night, whether they feel like serving or not. Volunteers can quit serving if they get tired; slaves are slaves for life. The master may change their duties, but they aren’t free to quit. Volunteers have certain expectations. They expect to be treated with respect. They expect proper working conditions and consideration of their needs. They expect to be honored for their service. But slaves don’t have any such expectations. Jesus illustrated this in Luke 17:7-10:

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Do you view yourself as a slave of Jesus Christ? If that sounds harsh, remember the alternative. As Bob Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.” If you’re not a slave of Christ, then you’re a slave of the devil and sin. Christ is a loving, caring Master, who never abuses His slaves. The devil is a conniving, self-serving tyrant, who has no concern for his slaves. It is far better to be Christ’s slave than to be enslaved to Satan and to sin.

C. Serving the Lord means that we are not serving ourselves.

Paul warns the Roman believers about those who serve themselves, not Christ (16:17-18):

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

These men were manipulators, using the ministry to satisfy their own lusts. Some are in the ministry because they love to be in power over people, not to build them in Christ. Some use the ministry for financial gain, using false promises of healing to milk people of donations so that they can support a lavish lifestyle. Others despicably use their position in ministry to prey on vulnerable women, using them to gratify their sexual lusts. All such men are serving themselves, not Christ as Lord.

While I hope that none of us are so crass, we can fall into the more subtle snare of using our service for Christ to serve our own needs. I’ve read secular articles that urge people to volunteer in some sort of community service, where the pitch is, “You will benefit from serving.” So people serve for what it can do for them.

But it’s easy for Christians to fall into this mindset, where it becomes “my ministry.” It brings me fulfillment. My whole identity gets tied up with “my ministry.” I love the feeling of significance that I get when I help out. I love the praise that people give me when I serve them. While there is great joy in serving the Lord and there is a legitimate sense of fulfillment when God uses you to serve others, we need to beware of serving ourselves rather than serving the Lord. It sets you up for getting hurt when others do not give you the praise and affirmation that you’re seeking. Serving the Lord means that we’re not serving ourselves.

D. Serving the Lord means that we are not primarily serving others.

True, there is a sense in which through love we serve one another (Gal. 5:13). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).

But there is another sense in which we serve the Lord, not people. In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” “Bond-servant” is the Greek word for “slave.” If our focus in serving people is to gain their favor, then we’re not serving Christ. If we care more about what people think of us than about what the Lord thinks about us, then we’re serving them, but not Christ. We need to aim at pleasing God, who examines our hearts. We need to be faithful to His truth, even if people despise us for it. We only serve people secondarily. It is the Lord Christ whom we serve.

Of course, when we serve Christ by aiming to please Him above all, we truly serve people. If you’re a people pleaser, craving popularity, you won’t confront those in sin, because they might not like you. But to let people go on in sin is not to love and serve them, because their sin will destroy them. But if you’re a servant of Christ, then you aren’t dependent on the praise of people. If you need to confront, you do it in obedience to Christ and out of love for the sinner. But you’re not worried about what people think of you. You’re only concerned that you please your Master.

So we’re all called to serve Christ. We serve as His slaves, not as volunteers. Serving the Lord means that we are not serving ourselves and we’re not primarily serving others. Finally,

E. Serving the Lord means that we serve the One who loved us and gave Himself for us while we were yet sinners.

He is the Lord of glory, who gave up the splendor of heaven to endure the abuse of sinners in order to bring us to glory. It’s a great privilege to serve this gracious, loving Lord! It’s not a burdensome duty, but a joy to serve the King of kings, who sacrificed Himself to rescue me from condemnation.

William Carey, the pioneer missionary to India, had a son named Felix, who resigned from the mission to accept a position as Burma’s ambassador to the British government in India. William deeply lamented this and wrote to Andrew Fuller (Pearce Carey, William Carey [The Wakeman Trust], p. 317, italics in original), “Felix is shriveled from a missionary into an ambassador.” William Carey knew what a privilege it is to serve the King of kings.


So how should we serve the Lord? First, make sure that your motivation is right. You serve Him because of His great mercies toward you in the gospel. That motivation moves you not to be lazy, but diligent in serving Him. Serving Christ becomes your passion, so that you do it fervently. And, remember that you’re serving none other than the Lord Himself.

Years ago, I heard about a successful Southern California doctor who met Jesus Christ. He left his lucrative practice to serve in a primitive country. His non-Christian partner couldn’t believe that he would do this. On one of his trips around the world, he stopped in to see his former partner.

The Christian doctor was performing surgery on a poor woman in very primitive circumstances. The non-Christian doctor asked, “Don’t you remember how much you would have made doing this surgery in Southern California?” “Yes, many thousands,” replied the Christian. “Then why are you doing it?”

“Several reasons. See her clenched fist? In it there are several coins which she will give to our mission. See those kids in the other room? They will be forever grateful if I can save their mother’s life. But there’s one more thing—I hope to receive from my Lord some day the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” The mercies of God call us to diligent, fervent service for the Lord.

Application Questions

  1. Why is the proper motivation essential in serving the Lord? What can happen when our motivation is skewed?
  2. Why are so many Christians lazy about serving the Lord?
  3. Why is it crucial to keep in mind the distinctions between volunteers and slaves?
  4. What kinds of problems can develop when people think that they’re serving the Lord, but are actually serving themselves?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship

Lesson 83: Joyful, Prayerful Perseverance (Romans 12:12)

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Over the years, I’ve encountered many Christians who think that God is supposed to protect them from all trials. They will say, “I just don’t understand why I’m going through these trials. I’m reading the Bible every day. I’m trying to obey the Lord. Why is He allowing these things to happen to me?” Their expectation is that following the Lord is supposed to exempt us from trials.

I don’t know which Bible version these folks are reading because from cover to cover the Bible makes it clear that godly people often suffer intense trials. Job was the most righteous man on the earth in his day, but look at what he suffered! David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he spent the better part of his twenties running for his life from the mad King Saul. Daniel was a faithful, godly prophet, who witnessed boldly about God to pagan kings, and yet as an old man, he got thrown into the lions’ den. And there are many other examples in the Old Testament of godly people who suffered terribly (Heb. 11:35-38).

When you come to the New Testament, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born (Matt. 11:11), and yet he got thrown into prison and beheaded because he confronted the wicked Herod for his sin. The apostle Paul was one of the boldest, most faithful witnesses for Christ who has ever lived. And yet he went through false accusations, beatings, imprisonments, threats on his life, being stoned, three shipwrecks, and much more (2 Cor. 11:23-28). He also endured many disappointments and difficulties in his labors for the Lord. He instructed new believers (Acts 14:22), “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

When the apostle Peter wrote to believers who were enduring horrible persecution, he exhorted them (1 Pet. 4:12-13), “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” In the same vein, James (1:2-4) wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Or, look at the Lord Jesus Himself. He was the sinless Son of God, who went about doing good for everyone. Yet look at how He suffered! If our Lord suffered so horribly, why should we think that we would be exempt, especially since the Bible repeatedly tells us to expect suffering? Jesus plainly warned the disciples (Matt. 24:9), “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” The Bible never promises those who follow Christ a trouble-free life.

And so in the context of loving one another and serving the Lord (Rom. 12:9-11), Paul indicates that we will face tribulation and he tells us how to endure it (12:12): “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”

As I said last week with regard to verse 11, I need to ask myself regarding verse 12, “Do these three phrases describe me? Is my life full of joy in hope? Do I joyfully persevere in tribulation or grumble as I muddle through it? Am I devoted to prayer or do I dabble at it?” To the extent that you and I fall short of these qualities, we need to grow!

As I’ve said repeatedly with reference to 12:9-21, these commands are built on 12:1-2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Everything in 12:9-21 assumes that you have personally experienced the many mercies of God that are spelled out in chapters 1-11. You must come to God as a guilty sinner and receive the free pardon and redemption that is offered through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the foundation and motivation for these commands. We should desire to grow in these qualities because we have received God’s many mercies in Christ, shown to us while we were yet sinners.

Let me try to deal with a difficult question that comes up regarding 12:9-21: Is there any logical flow to all of these commands or are they just random thoughts that came to Paul’s mind in no particular order? Many argue for the latter. Douglas Moo (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 772) says that Paul is using a style known as “parenesis” (a technical term for “exhortation”), which is characterized by a lack of concern for sequence of thought and development of a single theme. That may be so.

But, since Paul is always so deliberately logical (especially in Romans) a few try to establish a flow of thought (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Christian Conduct [Banner of Truth], pp. 332-333). Here’s my stab at it:

In 12:9-21, Paul is spelling out the specifics of what mercy-motivated, sacrificial, transformed (12:1-2) Christian living looks like. Each person must humbly evaluate himself or herself in light of God’s grace (12:3). This evaluation will recognize that God has gifted us as unique members of the one body of Christ, each with different functions (12:4-5). Our spiritual gifts (12:6-8) must be exercised in genuine love (12:9-10). We must not be lazy or lagging behind in showing love or in exercising our gifts, but be fervent in spirit as we serve the Lord (12:11). Even when trials come, we must maintain the right attitude, rejoicing in hope, persevering in the trials, and sustained through devotion to prayer (12:12). And in those trials, we must not become self-absorbed, but keep an eye out for how we can contribute to the needs of other believers and go after opportunities to show hospitality (12:13).

Then Paul focuses on what transformed attitudes toward others look like: When persecuted, mercy-motivated, transformed believers bless their persecutors (12:14). Even under persecution, they do not become so self-focused that they are oblivious to the feelings of others; rather, they enter sympathetically into their joys and sorrows (12:15). This focus on others also means that mercy-motivated, transformed minds are humble, not proud (12:16). Even when wronged, whether by unbelievers or by believers, mercy-motivated, transformed believers do not seek vengeance, but seek to bless the wrongdoer and overcome the evil with good (12:17-21). All of this is so that Christ will be glorified as people see Him in our loving relationships.

With that as a general overview of the context, let’s zero in on 12:12, where Paul tells us that…

The mercies of God call us to joyful, prayerful perseverance in trials.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones observes (ibid., p. 402), “Tribulation, hope and prayer always go together in the New Testament and it is a very good way of testing ourselves to ask whether they always go together in our experience. They should.”

Paul has linked hope, tribulation, and perseverance in Romans 5:3-5, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

And, he links hope, perseverance, and prayer in 8:24-26, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” So, again, it is important to keep in mind that just because we have experienced God’s mercies does not mean that we will be exempt from trials. Rather, the Bible shows us how God uses trials to conform us to the image of Christ and to be glorified through us as we joyfully depend on Him in our trials.

1. The mercies of God call us to rejoice in hope (12:12a).

Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.” Does that describe you, especially when you’re going through a difficult trial? According to the U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine percent of those in the United States report that they suffer from current depression (within two weeks of the survey), with four percent suffering from major depression (www.cdc.gov/Features /dsDepression). And believers are not exempt. Some godly saints, such as Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and the hymn writer, William Cowper, have suffered from severe depression. Probably some of you are depressed right now. But since joy and hope are the opposite of depression, we all should try to understand what the Bible teaches about how we can have such joy and hope, especially in the face of difficult trials.

Before we look at what the Bible says, let me say that the causes of depression can be very complex. It can stem from various diseases, from physical conditions (such as post-partum depression in women), from grief over loss, or from our genetic brain chemistry. Psychiatrists do not understand exactly how brain chemistry or anti-depressant drugs work. If you suffer from inexplicable depression, the first thing you should do is get a medical checkup, to see if a doctor can determine the cause.

Regarding anti-depressant drugs, my view is that if you need them to get out of the pit so that you’re able to function somewhat normally again, then take the drug as you would any other medication if you were sick. But once you’re stable, unless you absolutely need the drug to remain depression-free, I would advise weaning yourself off the drugs under a physician’s supervision.

But having said that, I have a caution: If your depression stems from some known sin, taking an anti-depressant so that you feel better and moving on with life without dealing with your sin is spiritually and emotionally damaging. God designed things so that our sin has negative emotional effects to get our attention. The proper response to sin is not to take a pill, but to repent and seek to please Him.

Depression is often an emotional indicator that you are living to please yourself, not to please God. Those who are severely depressed to the point of being suicidal are not thinking about pleasing God or about the effect their action would have on others. Rather, they are focused on how to get out of their pain, with no regard for pleasing God or serving others. So when you’re battling depression, seek to please God beginning on the thought level.

The first man born in sin disobeyed God and became jealous of his brother, who obeyed God. When Cain sinned, he became depressed and angry (those emotions often go together). God didn’t prescribe an anti-depressant. Rather, He confronted Cain with his sin and told him to counter it with godly behavior (Gen. 4:6-7): “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” God’s prescription for Cain’s depression and anger was obedience.

The Bible often (as in our text) says that believers are to be full of joy and hope, even in the midst of severe trials. Joy is not a minor theme in the Bible. The Psalms are full of commands to praise the Lord and rejoice in Him. Joy is promised to all that walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Paul wrote Philippians when he was in prison and other believers were attacking him. That short book is brimming with joy in the Lord. He writes (3:1), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” In case we missed it, he repeats (4:4), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

To help you understand this important matter, let me mention three things that biblical joy is not and then show how to get it. By the way, no one has written more capably on this than John Piper. All of his books deal with it, but I especially recommend When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy [Crossway]. As he often says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Our joy is all about glorifying our merciful God and Savior.

First, biblical joy is not a matter of personality or temperament. Some by nature are cheery and optimistic. Others are naturally more gloomy and pessimistic. But biblical joy comes from walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, not by natural temperament. Those who are naturally more melancholic will have to fight harder to attain biblical joy. But those who are naturally cheery should not assume that they have biblical joy, unless they know that their joy comes from dependence on God and His promises.

Second, biblical joy is not a matter of happy circumstances. Paul could rejoice in prison and in the face of many trials because his joy was in the Lord, not in circumstances. In the Psalms, the psalmist is often in horrible circumstances, sometimes despairing of life itself, but when he puts his trust in the Lord, he ends up praising and thanking Him and literally singing for joy.

Third, biblical joy is not a phony, superficial happiness that smiles on the outside when the heart is hurting on the inside. Just three verses after our text, Paul tells us to “weep with those who weep.” He doesn’t say, “Tell those who weep to buck up and smile!” There is a time for grieving and sorrow. Paul described himself (2 Cor. 6:10) “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” The shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.” The shortest verse in the English New Testament is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” There is no contradiction. Biblical joy is a solid undercurrent that is not affected by the surface storms of life.

Then how do we get this joy? Paul says here that it comes from hope. And hope comes from focusing your mind on the sure promises of God for the future. The Bible tells us that we can set our minds on certain things that are true of us in Christ (Col. 3:1-4):

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Either Jesus and Paul were liars and you can chuck the entire Christian faith, or they spoke the truth. Jesus promised to come back and complete our redemption, so that we will share His glory. Focus on that truth, even if you don’t feel like it! Feelings eventually follow your thoughts. Set your mind on the hope of eternal glory and joy in the Lord will follow.

2. The mercies of God call us to persevere in tribulation (12:12b).

Romans 12:12b: “persevering in tribulation.” I’ve already shown how to persevere in tribulation, namely, by rejoicing in the certain hope of eternal life. So persevering is not a matter of gritting your teeth and grimly enduring it. “Rejoicing in hope” is how you persevere in tribulation.

The Greek word translated “tribulation” means “pressure.” Our English word actually comes from the Latin, tribulum, which was an instrument used to crush corn in order to get flour. So tribulation refers to events that bring pressure upon your mind and heart, which tend to get you down or crush your spirit. “Persevering” comes from a Greek verb meaning to remain steadfast, to stand your ground, or to bear up under a situation.

Often when we’re in a time of trial, we pray for relief from the trial, and that’s not necessarily wrong. But Paul prayed that believers would be strengthened with God’s power so that we could endure trials with joy and thankfulness (Col. 1:9-12):

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

You don’t need “steadfastness” (the same Greek word root translated “persevering” in our text) unless you’re going through a trial. So our experience of God’s mighty power is not necessarily to miraculously deliver us from the trial, but to give us joyful, thankful hearts as we persevere through it. Finally,

3. The mercies of God call us to be devoted to prayer (12:12c).

Romans 12:12c: “devoted to prayer.” I intended to cover this point adequately in this message, but I’m out of time and can only touch on it here. Next time I want to devote the entire message to how practically we can grow to be more devoted to prayer.

For now, let me point out that it is our trials that often drive us to be devoted to prayer. You’ve probably had the same experience that I’ve had, where you work through your prayer list, but without much intensity or fervency. But then a trial hits and you pray often and fervently. The more intense the trial, the more intensely you pray. As you think about the trial often during the day, you cry out to God for help. Prayer is the lifeline that lays hold of the living God to supply our needs during times of tribulation. Being devoted to prayer is the only way that you can rejoice in hope and persevere in tribulation.

The God who poured out His mercies on us in salvation is not going to abandon us in our trials. So as the psalmist exhorts (Ps. 62:8), “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Be devoted to God in prayer.


How can we put verse 12 into practice? First, honestly evaluate yourself in light of these three phrases. Are you grumbling in depression or cynicism? Then you’re not “rejoicing in hope.” Are you giving up or despairing in your trials? Then you’re not “persevering in tribulation.” Are you grabbing every remedy that the world has to offer to get out of your trials? Then you’re not “devoted to prayer.” You can’t begin to grow in these qualities until you honestly evaluate where you’re falling short.

Second, begin each day by focusing on the hope that you have in the gospel. Even if you have small children demanding your attention first thing in the morning, you can still direct your thoughts to the mercies of God that saved you from your sins. You can focus your mind on the hope of the glory of God that you will share when Christ returns. As soon as you’re able, spend some time in God’s presence through His Word. Bring all of your needs before Him, knowing that He is your loving, all-powerful Creator and Father.

Also, put key promises from God’s Word on 3x5 cards and read them over often during the day. Here’s one (Jer. 32:17): “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You….” There are hundreds of wonderful promises like that in God’s Word. Meditate on them often when you’re depressed.

Finally, don’t try to go it alone. You’re part of the body of Christ. The Lord intends for you to share your burdens with other believers (men with men, women with women, or with your spouse). God’s many mercies call us to be “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.”

Application Questions

  1. Discuss the four application points in the conclusion with your spouse or a trusted Christian friend and begin to practice them daily.
  2. How long is it healthy to grieve or be sad over a difficult loss or disappointment? When is it time to move on?
  3. Are you more naturally prone to being cheerful or gloomy? Given your natural personality, how can you develop true joy in the Holy Spirit?
  4. How do you usually pray when you’re in a trial? In light of Col. 1:9-12, should your prayer focus shift? If so, how?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Prayer, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 84: Devoted to Prayer (Romans 12:12c)

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Our text is only three words, “devoted to prayer,” and yet these three words raise more guilt than almost any other subject in the Bible. Not many of us could honestly say, “Yes, being devoted to prayer describes me.” I’ve read how Martin Luther was so busy that he had to devote four hours every morning to prayer and it drives me further under the pile of guilt and inadequacy in my prayer life. Maybe Luther’s prayer life has motivated some to become more faithful in prayer, but to be honest, it de-motivates me because it’s so far from where I live that I know I’ll never come close. And so I muddle along in my inadequacy.

My aim in this message is not to raise your guilt level about prayer, because guilt is a crummy motivator. Rather, I hope that this will be a practical message that will motivate you by God’s grace to become more devoted to prayer (NASB) or constant in prayer (ESV). I want this church to become devoted to prayer, so that all the glory for any results goes to God alone. In our text, Paul is saying,

The mercies of God call us to be devoted to prayer.

The Greek verb means to adhere to, persist in, be devoted to, or hold fast to something (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich [University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed.], p. 715). It is often used with reference to prayer in the New Testament. As the early church waited for the promised Day of Pentecost, we read, Acts 1:14, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer ….” Later, Luke sums up the activities of the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:42), “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

When the apostles sought to find seven faithful men to take care of the problem of meeting the needs of the widows, they explained (Acts 6:4), “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Paul instructed the Ephesians (6:18) about prayer, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints ….” “Perseverance” translates the noun that is related to the verb, “be devoted to.” In Colossians 4:2, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” And, although he does not use the same word, Paul expresses the same concept in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” The Greek word translated “without ceasing” was used of a hacking cough and of repeated military assaults. So the idea is not that we pray every waking minute, but that we keep coming back to prayer again and again. We are relentless in prayer.

So these verses tell us that prayer is not to be a little segment of our lives, where the extent of our praying is to bless our food before meals or to pray with our kids as we tuck them into bed. Rather, prayer is to permeate all of life. We should pray about virtually anything and everything. And so, being devoted to prayer is one of those commands that I’ll never be able to check off my list and say, “I’ve got that one down. What’s next?” No, there is always room to grow more devoted to prayer. My prayer is that this message will help move you in that direction.

First, I’m going to mention some books (besides the Bible) that have been especially helpful to me for growing in devotion to prayer. Then I’ll mention four grace-oriented motivators for growing in devotion to prayer. I’ll conclude with brief answers to seven questions about prayer.

Some helpful books on prayer:

I’ve read many good books on prayer, but these are some that I keep going back to for help.

First, as I’ve told you before, God changed my spiritual life in the summer of 1970 when I read for the first time, George Muller of Bristol, by A. T. Pierson [Revell]. While my prayer life is no where close to that of Muller, his testimony of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer still motivates me to pray. Read anything about George Muller and your prayer life will be strengthened.

Second, John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], Book 3, Chapter 20) has about 70 pages on prayer that are very helpful. This has recently been collected into a book, On Prayer: Conversation with God [Westminster], with an introduction, summary, and discussion questions by John Hesselink. Calvin has rich, practical insights on prayer. For example, on the problem of unanswered prayer, Calvin observes (3:20:52, p. 919) that our praying is not in vain even if we do not perceive any fruit from it, because we will have drawn near to God. If we have Him, we have all good things in Him. We’ll understand the rest on the day of judgment. I’ve compiled some insights on prayer from John Calvin and George Muller, which are on the church web site (fcfonline.org/Resources).

Third, Paul Miller’s A Praying Life [NavPress] is down-to-earth and practical. Miller shares his struggles and his victories. He has some encouraging counsel on praying like a child. He has many practical insights, such as (p. 65), “You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.” For a message by Miller that sums up the book, go to DesiringGod.org, “Conference Messages,” 2011 Conference for Pastors.

Fourth, Bill Thrasher’s A Journey to Victorious Praying [Moody Press] has many practical insights and encouraging stories.

Finally, Praying [IVP] by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom has many helpful insights on deepening your prayer life.

Again, there are many more books that I could mention. Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer [Reformation Heritage Books], edited by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour collects many rich insights on prayer into one source. Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer [Christian Focus], edited by Ligon Duncan, shows a plan for prayer and how to use Scripture in prayer. So dig in and grow by reading about prayer.

Four grace-oriented motivators for growing in devotion to prayer:

Legalism and guilt do not motivate me to pray. By legalism, I mean setting up unbiblical standards to try to follow so that I can feel good about having met those standards: “I prayed for an hour today, so I am spiritual!” By guilt, I mean that often we feel guilty because of our lack of prayer, so we determine to pray through a list or pray for a certain amount of time, thinking that it will ease our guilt. But, it is God’s grace and mercy in Christ that motivates me to pray. Prayer is drawing near to our gracious, loving Father.

1. To be devoted to prayer, consider often the mercies of God.

As I’ve mentioned, Romans 12:9-21 is built on Romans 12:1-2, which is founded on Romans 1-11. It is because of God’s many mercies as spelled out in chapters 1-11 that we present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Because of His mercies, we should be motivated to draw near to Him in prayer. As we saw in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” If the Father paid that great price to save us and if the Son is at His right hand interceding for us (Rom. 8:34) and if the Holy Spirit is helping us by praying for us with groanings too deep for words (8:26), that motivates me to pray. The author of Hebrews puts it this way (Heb. 4:14-16):

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you need mercy and grace to live? You’ll find them at the same place you found them for salvation: at God’s throne of grace. Let that motivate you to pray!

2. To be devoted to prayer, begin each day by finding delight in God Himself through His Word.

George Muller taught this frequently from his own experience. He said (Pierson, p. 257), “The chief business of every day is first of all to seek to be truly at rest and happy in God.” Muller’s prayer life was rooted in his reading and meditation on God’s Word. When he was 92, Muller told Pierson that for every page of any other reading he was sure he read ten of the Bible. During the last 20 years of his life, he read through the Bible carefully four or five times per year (Pierson, p. 49). His prayer life was directed by his communion with God through His Word.

So don’t neglect the Bible or your prayers will be misdirected. Rather, let the Bible direct your prayers in line with God’s promises and purposes. Use the Word to find delight in God each day.

3. To be devoted to prayer, think about your absolute need for God to work in your situation.

Jesus said (John 15:5), “… apart from Me you can do nothing.” But as the angel told the virgin Mary (Luke 1:37), “For nothing will be impossible with God.” C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 25:352) said, “Nothing sets a man more eagerly upon prayer than a deep sense of his need of that which he is seeking at the Lord’s hand.” In speaking of our Lord’s prayer life, Paul Miller puts it this way (p. 44), “If you know that you, like Jesus, can’t do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense.” He adds (p. 55), “Prayer is bringing your helplessness to Jesus.”

Miller shares a lot about their struggles in rearing their children, one of whom is severely autistic. He says (p. 169), “Until we become convinced we can’t change our child’s heart, we will not take prayer seriously.” He adds that when we see our child’s self-will and anger, we need to ask ourselves, “How am I self-willed? How am I angry?” Prayer isn’t so that we can dominate our children and have a more comfortable life. It is to show us our deep need to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. To the extent that you see your need and God’s gracious offer to meet your need, you’ll be motivated to pray.

Thus to be devoted to prayer, consider often God’s mercies that saved you. Begin each day by finding delight in God Himself through His Word and prayer. Think about your absolute need and God’s willingness to work in your situation.

4. To be devoted to prayer, consider what God can do through your faithful praying.

James 5:16b says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” To be effective, we must come to God as clean vessels, seeking to please Him in all respects. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” James 4:3 points out one reason for unanswered prayer: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” But in Psalm 81:10, which was a favorite promise for George Muller, the Lord says, “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

Dorothy Clapp was an older Christian lady who felt God leading her to pray for a public high school near her home in New Jersey. So day after day, month after month, year after year she prayed that God would save young people in that school. She began to pray that God would not only save them, but also send them to the ends of the earth. After 12 years of praying, she began praying for one young male student. She sent him a Gospel of John. For three years she prayed and at last, God saved George Verwer.

Before long, George had led 200 other students to Christ. In 1957, three of them went to Mexico to evangelize during their summer vacation. That was the beginning of Operation Mobilization, which now has a worldwide outreach into many of the most difficult countries to penetrate with the gospel (story by Wesley Duewel, told by Thrasher, pp. 36-38). Sometimes, of course, we won’t see the results of our prayers until we’re in heaven. But if we are seeking God’s glory and the furtherance of His kingdom, He can do mighty things through our prayers. Finally:

Seven questions about prayer:

1. What conditions must we meet to have our prayers answered?

George Muller outlined the following conditions of prayer (in Pierson, pp. 170, 455, 456): (1) We must ask for that which it would be for God’s glory to give us. (2) Ask in dependence on the name of the Lord Jesus, that is, expect it only on the ground of His merits and worthiness. (3) Be separated from all known sin. (4) Believe that God is able and willing to give us what we ask Him for. (5) Continue in prayer, expecting God to answer, until the blessing comes. Packer & Nystrom put it this way (p. 154): “We are to make requests to the Father that the Lord Jesus will back.”

2. What should be our motive or aim in prayer?

As I just said, our motive should always be that God would be glorified and that His will might be done. That’s easily said, but it’s easy for selfish desires to take first place so that we forget about God’s glory: “God, heal my marriage! God help our children to follow You!” Why? “So that we’ll be a happy family!” Okay, but why? The answer should be, “So that God will be glorified through our happy family.”

3. On what basis can we come to God with our needs?

As just mentioned, we come on the basis of the merits of Christ and through His blood. While we must be separated from all known sin, we do not come on the basis of our performance: “I’ve been faithful in reading the Bible and praying and serving the Lord, so now He should answer my prayers.” Rather, come to the Father through His grace and through the merits of His Son, who is our high priest (Heb. 4:14-16). Come as His needy child, laying hold of His promise (Luke 11:9), “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

4. What should we pray for others and for ourselves?

Often our prayers are too broad and generic: “God bless the pastor, bless the church, and bless the missionaries. Amen!” This is where praying the Scriptures back to God for others and for yourself can help. I took a list that Will Bruce of Overseas Missionary Fellowship prepared and added to it and added the biblical references. You can probably come up with more, but I listed 20 things (you can access it on fcfonline.org/Resources). I don’t have time here to list all 20, but pray that the person (family member, missionary, pastor, yourself, etc.) will love God more fervently from the heart. Pray that he will be filled with and walk in the Holy Spirit. Pray that he will be regular in reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word. Pray that he will grow in Christlike maturity, developing the fruit of the Spirit in his life. Pray that he will not love the world or the things in the world. Pray that he will grow in humility and have a servant’s heart. Pray that he will be a good steward in financial matters. Etc.

Regarding physical healing, pray for it but realize that it may or may not be God’s will to heal. But whatever His will regarding the healing, pray that He will use the illness to glorify Himself, to reach others with the gospel, and to shape the person who is ill into the image of Jesus Christ.

5. Why does God delay or deny answers to our prayers at times?

This is always difficult. I struggle often with it, in that it seems that I get more delays or denials to my prayers than immediate answers. I can only touch on it here. One reason for the delay may be that God wants me to grow closer to Him and as long as the need persists, it keeps me drawing near through prayer. All parents know that if you give your children everything that they ask for at the minute they ask, they do not learn patience. They do not learn self-denial. They do not learn to trust your word. Even so, we often grow by waiting patiently for the Lord.

Also, the Lord may want to purge my motives, so that I truly want His glory above all else. Often we ask selfishly, with no thought of God’s purpose or His glory. By waiting, we learn our own weakness and His strength. We abandon all thought of our own glory and seek His glory alone.

Also, if He instantly granted every request, I might not appreciate the answers as much as I do after I’ve cried out to Him for a long time. Waiting deepens our gratitude when the blessing is granted. Even after 38 years, I’m thankful every day for Marla because I had to wait a long time for her!

Also, the Lord knows all things and so He knows the best time and circumstances to answer our prayers. I only see things from my narrow perspective, but God sees the big picture, taking all factors into account.

6. How long should we persevere in praying for a need?

Jesus told the parable of the friend who comes asking for bread at midnight and the parable of the unrighteous judge (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8) to teach us that we need to persist in prayer. Bill Thrasher (pp. 192-193) offers some guidelines on when to persevere. Persevere “when you desire God more than you desire the answer to your prayer.” Jonathan Edwards put it this way (cited in Taking Hold of God, p. 201), “The good that shall be sought by prayer is God himself.” Also, persevere “when you are standing on the Word of God.” Argue your case using the promises of the Word. Third, persevere “when you are willing to wait on God’s timing for the answer.” George Muller said (Pierson, p. 457, italics in original), “Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained and in not expecting the blessing.”

7. How do I begin and how do I develop a habit of devotion to prayer?

Start simply. If you’re not praying consistently now, don’t begin by aiming for an hour of prayer daily. Set your alarm 30 minutes early. Get up, read a Psalm and a portion from the Old and New Testaments. Turn what you read back into prayer.

I find it helpful to use the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) as an outline: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Begin by worshiping the Father for who He is and asking that His name be holy (hallowed) in your life and the lives of your loved ones. “Your kingdom come ….” Pray for missions and missionaries. “Your will be done ….” Pray for discipleship and submission to God’s will in your life and the lives of those you have contact with. Pray for lost people you know to come to salvation.

“Give us this day our daily bread ….” Pray for personal needs. “And forgive us our debts ….” Confess your sins and appropriate His forgiveness. “As we forgive our debtors…. Pray about your relationships and make sure that you’re not harboring bitterness. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray for holiness in thought and deed for yourself and others.

Also, begin to send up short prayers during the day for every situation that you encounter. It can be as short as, “Help!” (See Neh. 2:4-5.) If your child is upset or disobedient, pray before you deal with the child. If your mate is upset, stop and pray with her before you talk about the problem. If you’re going into a meeting at work, pray. In any and every situation, pray. God is merciful. We lay hold of His mercies through prayer. That’s why we need to be devoted to prayer.

Application Questions

  1. What is your biggest struggle with prayer? How could you begin to overcome it?
  2. Do you agree or disagree with Paul Miller’s comment, “You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit”? Why?
  3. Someone complains, “If God is so ready, willing, and able to answer my prayers, why are so few answered?” Your reply?
  4. What does it mean to ask “in Jesus’ name”? Why is this important?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Prayer

Lesson 85: Generous and Hospitable (Romans 12:13)

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As I mentioned last week, Paul’s three words in verse 12, “devoted to prayer” are likely to raise the guilt level for most of us, because we know that our prayer lives are inadequate. But then he has the nerve to follow that up with another topic that produces more guilt, namely, giving (Rom. 12:13): “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Paul is calling us to generosity and hospitality, which also includes sharing our resources.

But as we consider this touchy subject, let me remind you again that Paul is not motivating us by guilt. His commands in this section are based on Romans 12:1-2, which is the logical conclusion of chapters 1-11. Paul is saying that if you have experienced God’s many mercies in Christ, then it is only reasonable that you give yourself totally to Him and live in a manner that is pleasing to Him. God’s mercy and grace are the motivation to surrender all to Christ, including our money and possessions.

Paul uses the same logic in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” In the context, Paul is appealing to the Corinthians to be generous toward the poor believers in Jerusalem. The appeal is: Christ’s grace in giving Himself for us on the cross when we were spiritually helpless and destitute should motivate us to be generous to those in need. And the bottom line, as always, is that our generosity would glorify the generous God who gave His own Son for us. So in verse 13 Paul is saying,

The mercies of God call us to be generous and hospitable.

It is estimated that 15 percent of everything Jesus said (as recorded in the gospels) relates to money or possessions. He said more about money than about heaven and hell combined (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle [Multnomah Publishers], p. 8). As Alcorn says so well (p. 73), “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.” Ouch!

Jesus taught that how we handle money is the litmus test of our faith in Him. He said (Luke 16:10), “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” That verse is often used to say that if we’re faithful in some insignificant job, then we’ll get promoted to more important jobs. While that may be true, that application overlooks the fact that in the context, the “very little thing” is money, while the “much” refers to things of eternal value. It’s quite ironic that the thing that for us is a very big deal (money) Jesus calls a very little thing! Jesus is saying that if we’re faithful stewards of the money that He entrusts to us, then we’ll be faithful with the things that really matter, namely, eternal riches.

So the question we all must ask ourselves is, am I treasuring stuff and laying up treasures of stuff on earth, or am I treasuring Christ and laying up treasures in heaven by generously giving to promote His kingdom purposes?

1. The mercies of God call us to be generous toward the saints.

Romans 12:13a, “contributing to the needs of the saints.” “Contributing” (Rom. 12:13) is the familiar Greek verb, koinoneo, often translated as “fellowshipping” or “sharing together.” It (and related nouns) is used in reference to sharing material goods in several other places (Acts 2:44; 4:32; Rom. 15:27; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 13:16). “Saints” refers, of course, to fellow believers. It could refer to the poor (such as Paul’s efforts to collect funds for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8 & 9), or to Christian workers who needed support (1 Cor. 9:4-18; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). By mentioning the saints, Paul is not denying the need to help unbelievers, but rather emphasizing that our priority should be towards fellow Christians (Gal. 6:10).

First I want to give you some guidelines to help evaluate your own generosity. Second, we will look at how to grow in generosity. Then we’ll look briefly at how to determine to whom you should give.

A. Some guidelines to help evaluate your generosity:

Generosity is a lifestyle that flows out of an attitude. It’s a bit difficult to define, since there is a subjective element in generosity. Webster says that it refers to liberality in giving. But what seems generous to one person may seem stingy to another. Also, we don’t know whether a person is giving sacrificially or out of an overflow of abundance. So what may look to us like a stingy gift may actually be quite generous if the giver is poor, or what may look to us like a generous gift may be stingy if the giver is wealthy. So we should not judge others, but seek to please God with our giving and let Him be the judge of others. Here are four guidelines to use in evaluating your own generosity:

(1). A generous person has received God’s generous mercy in Christ and it overflows in generosity toward others.

This gets at our heart motives for giving. There are a lot of wrong motives for giving: pride; the desire for power; guilt; greed (the thought that if I give, God will give back to me far more); pressure; or, responding to gimmicks. The right motive for giving is that God has mercifully, generously given me eternal life through the sacrifice of His own Son. In response, out of a desire to please God and glorify Him by reflecting His generous nature to others, I give. So ask yourself, “Does my life help others to see that my Heavenly Father is generous?”

(2). A generous person gives cheerfully and thankfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion.

Paul puts it this way (2 Cor. 9:7): “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Generosity is closely tied in with a cheerful, thankful attitude. If it takes pressure tactics or guilt to get you to give, you’re probably not giving generously. Ask yourself, “Do I give cheerfully with thankfulness to God for His unspeakable gift to me?”

(3). A generous person gives prayerfully, systematically, and faithfully, not impulsively or sporadically.

As we just read, biblical givers “purpose in their hearts.” They plan to give. As Paul wrote (1 Cor. 16:2), “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” He wanted the believers to be thoughtful, systematic, and disciplined with their giving. Impulsive, sporadic giving is usually not generous. Often it is a response to alleviate guilt. So ask yourself, “Do I give prayerfully, systematically, and faithfully, or only impulsively and sporadically?”

(4). A generous person gives as the Lord has prospered him, with his sights on eternity.

I think that it’s a significant silence that Paul never wrote to Gentile churches to explain the need to tithe. (See my message, “Why You Should Not Tithe,” on the church web site.) Rather, the standard is, “as he may prosper.” If the Lord has prospered you so that you have enough to provide for your family, then don’t use the extra to buy more and nicer stuff. Use it to give generously to the Lord’s work or to genuinely needy saints.

The reason a generous person does this is that he realizes that whatever he lays up on earth will be lost, but whatever he lays up in heaven will be his eternally. As Jesus said (Matt. 6:19-21), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Randy Alcorn (ibid., p. 13, italics his) comments, “But when Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on earth, it’s not just because wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. No exceptions.” So ask, “As God prospers me more, do I look for ways to give more or to spend more? Is my aim to collect more stuff here or to invest in that which lasts for eternity?”

B. How to grow in generosity:

Let me suggest five ways:

(1). Yield all of your money and possessions to the Lord (who already owns them) and then manage them in light of His kingdom purposes.

God owns the world and all that is in it (Ps. 24:1; 50:10-12). He has entrusted each of us with a certain amount to use for His purposes until He returns, when we will give an account (Matt. 25:14-30). Jesus made it clear: You either serve God or Mammon, but not both (Matt. 6:24). So we have to view ourselves as managers, not as owners, and keep the Owner’s objectives in view. Since His aim is to glorify Himself by having disciples from every people group before His throne in glory, we need to use His resources in view of that goal. To keep Mammon from its gradual encroachment, I need to constantly reaffirm God as the owner of all.

(2). Get a job and work hard to earn so that you can give.

The American dream is to get a good-paying job so that you can pile up money and stuff for your own pleasure. But God’s way, as Alcorn put it, is, “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.” Paul gives this instruction (Eph. 4:28), “ He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” A thief who merely stops stealing hasn’t dealt with the laziness and greed that led him to steal. To deal with laziness and greed, the former thief needs to work so as to have extra to give to those in need.

Your primary responsibility is to provide for your own needs and those of your family. Paul didn’t mince words when he said (1 Tim. 5:8), “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Even unbelievers work to provide for their own families. Believers should not do less. But once your family’s needs are met, you should think and pray about how the Lord may want you to invest it for eternity, rather than to run out and buy more stuff.

(3). Begin a lifelong war against greed.

Paul equated greed with idolatry (Col. 3:5), which is not a minor sin! Jesus warned (Luke 12:15), “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” All of the ads that constantly bombard us are designed to feed our greed. The advertisers want us to think that we can’t be happy unless we buy their product. But even after we’ve got their stuff, there is always something else.

The opposite of greed is contentment. Hebrews 13:5 exhorts, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’” Paul said (1 Tim. 6:8), “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Then he went on to warn (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” So a major part of fighting greed is to find contentment in Christ, not in stuff.

(4). Get out of debt, live frugally, and establish a savings buffer.

Debt goes hand in hand with greed, because it feeds off greed by giving us what we want now, rather than making us wait for it or work for it in advance. Debt almost always reflects impulsiveness, which is the opposite of self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. It usually reflects mismanagement and irresponsibility, which are not the marks of a good manager.

You can’t be generous in giving if you’re in debt. You need to develop a plan to pay off your creditors, live carefully within your means, and have a savings account to provide for upcoming bills and unforeseen emergencies. This requires discipline, of course. But you won’t get out of debt unless you spend less than you earn. And you won’t be free to be generous if you don’t get out of debt.

(5). Give faithfully, generously, and regularly off the top of each paycheck.

If you wait to give until you see how much you have left over after everything else, you won’t give generously, if at all. So plan how much the Lord wants you to give and give it off the top, before you spend it.

How much should you give? If the tithe was the standard under the Law, it would seem that under grace we should give more, not less than ten percent. We used to give ten percent until early in my ministry, I made the “mistake” of preaching a sermon series on the Christian and money! Since then, we’ve been able to give pretty consistently at or slightly above 20 percent of our gross income (before taxes) each year. The New Testament standard is, if the Lord prospers you more, give more.

George Muller, whom I mentioned last week as a great example for prayer, was also an example for giving. In 1874, he received for personal income (from donations) 3,100 pounds. That was a tidy sum back then, and he could have lived lavishly. But he and his family lived on 250 pounds (8%) and gave away the rest (92%). From 1870 on, Muller personally fully supported 20 missionaries with the China Inland Mission. Over the years 1831-1885, I calculated that he gave away 86 percent of his income to the Lord’s work! God funneled it in the top, but Muller kept the bottom open, never hoarding it or squandering it on personal luxury.

B. To whom should I give?

This is a very difficult question to answer! Paul says that we should contribute to the needs of the saints (fellow Christians), but even that is not easy, since the saints may be needy for a number of reasons. Paul does not say to contribute to the greed of the saints, but to their needs. But a believer may be needy because he has been undisciplined with spending on non-essential or extravagant things. He may be needy because he has been too lazy to work or because he does not work hard on the job and gets fired. To give to alleviate needs due to those reasons would only treat the symptoms, not the cause. But, some are truly needy due to factors beyond their control. They are the ones we should try to help.

Generally, our first responsibility in giving is toward truly needy family members (1 Tim. 5:3-16). To fail here is to be worse than an unbeliever, as we’ve seen. Next would be to support the local church, which is God’s ordained means for evangelism and discipleship. The church should support workers sent out to spread the gospel among those who have not yet heard (3 John 7; 1 Cor. 9:3-14). Beyond that, Christian organizations that preach the gospel and alleviate the needs of the poor are worthy of your help. But do your homework. Make sure you know and agree with the organization’s statement of faith, objectives, programs, and methods. Make sure that they are financially accountable.

I’ve recently read several excellent books on the subject of giving. When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert [Moody Publishers] gives many wise and tested insights. For example, the first step in working with the poor is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development (pp. 103-104). When people come to the church needing funds to alleviate a crisis, they recommend asking four questions (p. 106): First, is there really a crisis at hand? Second, to what degree was the individual personally responsible for the crisis? Have they learned from their mistakes? Third, can the person help himself? Fourth, to what extent has this person already been receiving relief from you or others in the past?

Another excellent book is Jonathan Martin’s Giving Wisely [Last Chapter Publishing]. He gives four helpful criteria by which to evaluate your giving, whether overseas or here at home. He uses the acronym RAISE (pp. 61-129): Relationship: “A working and viable relationship is the foundation for wise giving.” Accountability: Giving to anyone without appropriate accountability is a setup for sin. Indigenous Sustainability: Our giving should not create dependency on long-term outside help. Equity: Our gifts should not create economic inequities in the place it is given.

I would like to see a task force in our church work through these two books and come up with some ways that we can do a better job of contributing to the needs of the saints and helping the poor, whether locally or globally. Keep working at growing in generosity for the glory of God.

2. The mercies of God call us to pursue hospitality.

Romans 12:13b: “practicing hospitality.” The word “practicing” is not a helpful translation. It literally is, “pursuing.” In fact, it is the word used in the next verse for “persecute.” The idea is that we ought to go after or pursue opportunities to show the love of Christ by welcoming people into our homes.

In Paul’s day, there were few safe inns and so believers would take in traveling Christians, especially gospel workers (3 John 5-8), in many cases whom they did not know (“hospitality” is literally, “the love of strangers”). Hospitality was enjoined on the entire church (Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:7-9) and was a necessary qualification for elders (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). At the judgment, hospitality will be one mark that we are Jesus’ true disciples (Matt. 25:34-35).

One way that you can practice hospitality is to open your home to visiting missionaries. You and your children will be blessed by the experience and you will form a bond that will help you to pray for the missionary’s labors on the field. Another way is if you have room, to take in a student (perhaps an international) for a semester or year. Also, we need everyone at church to keep an eye out for new people in church, to make them feel warmly welcomed and at home. If you’re able to do it occasionally, invite a new person home for a meal after church. Don’t make a huge fuss over having your house in perfect order, or you’ll never get around to hospitality. On the other hand, if your house is a perpetual disaster zone, the first step toward becoming more hospitable might be to get your house in reasonable order.


Here are a few action points:

(1) Do a financial inventory in light of being a manager of God’s resources. Are you managing things in light of His kingdom purposes? Are you thinking in terms of biblical priorities when it comes to money and possessions? Are you spending too much on non-essentials in light of eternity? Do you need to get out of debt? Are you giving generously and wisely?

(2) Evaluate how you’re doing at hospitality. Are you using your home often as a place to make others feel welcome and accepted? On Sundays, are you focusing on welcoming new people into the church?

(3) Do some reading. In addition to When Helping Hurts and Giving Wisely, try David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream [Multnomah Books]. You may not agree with all of it, but he will make you think! Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle is a short, provocative, and convicting read. Also, there is a short article by the late Roberta Winter, “The Non-Essentials of Life.” We have a few hard copies here or you can read it at: reconsecration.org/pdf/NonEssentials.pdf.

(4) Take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course that we offer here and begin applying his principles.

To glorify our gracious God, we need to be motivated by His mercies to be generous and hospitable.

Application Questions

  1. How does a conscientious Christian determine a proper level of living in light of appalling world poverty? Is it wrong to live comfortably while people are starving?
  2. How do we determine how much to save towards future needs (kids’ education, retirement, etc.)? When does prudent saving cross the line into ungodly hoarding?
  3. Is it sin to want a nicer house, furniture, car, etc.? How do we assess such desires in light of 1 Tim. 6:9-10?
  4. Which of the four action points (in the conclusion) do you most need to work on? Put in your schedule a time to start.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Finance

Lesson 86: Transformed Attitudes (Romans 12:14-16)

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My task is to talk to you about something that I have almost no experience with and neither do most of you. Paul tells us (Rom. 12:14), “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Most of us in America have not experienced anything comparable to the persecution that our brothers and sisters in other countries are facing. In Nigeria, the extremist Muslim group, Boko Haram, has been slaughtering Christians and destroying churches. In many other countries, numerous Christians have been imprisoned, killed or forced to leave their homes and flee for their lives.

Some of you may have been ostracized at work or suffered discrimination when it came time for a promotion because of your Christian faith. Perhaps family members have been mean to you because you’re a Christian. Maybe a professor at the university ridiculed you in front of the class because you believe in God as the creator or you believe that homosexuality is sin. While I’m not belittling such persecution, I think you’d readily agree that it does not compare to seeing your loved ones slaughtered or having your house burned down and being forced to flee with only the clothes on your back. But we may be facing increased persecution and difficult times in the future here in America, so we need to understand how to respond to persecution in a way that pleases God.

In addition to persecution, Paul jumps to two other topics (sympathy and humility) that seem unrelated (12:15-16): “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Are these just random thoughts that Paul throws out without any connection with each other? Perhaps, but there do seem to be some connecting factors. For one thing, each of these commands reflects transformed attitudes. Back in 12:2, Paul said, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Now he is showing what this transformed, renewed mind looks like. It blesses enemies who have persecuted them, it sympathizes with others in their joys and sorrows and it demonstrates genuine humility.

There is another connection between these three seemingly disjointed verses: they all are rooted in selflessness or self-denial. We can only bless our persecutors and not curse them if we are more concerned about their eternal welfare than we are about our suffering. We can only rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep if our focus is off ourselves and on their situation. We can only be of the same mind with one another and not be haughty or wise in our own estimation if our eyes are on the Lord and others, not on ourselves. Selflessness is the thread that ties all three verses together.

Also, there is the connection that if someone persecutes you and then something bad happens to him, you may rejoice at his suffering: “I’m glad that he got what he deserved!” Or, if your persecutor has something good happen to him, you might be angry, not rejoicing, at his good fortune. For example, if someone at work who has slandered you and turned other workers against you, gets a promotion, you wouldn’t be rejoicing. But God commands you to bless your persecutor, not to rejoice at his downfall or be unhappy about his success. So verse 15 has a practical link with verse 14.

But how can we possibly rejoice at a persecutor’s success or be sorrowful at his troubles? Paul isn’t talking about faking it, where you smile at the news of your enemy’s promotion, while in your heart you’re thinking, “I hope that dirty rat gets what’s coming to him!” No, Paul is talking about genuinely rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. How can we do that from the heart? Verse 16 shows that the only way we can do that is to grow in genuine humility

I also add that while verse 14 may relate to persecution from those outside the church, whereas the next two qualities may apply more to relationships within the church, that isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes those who are in the church can wound you much worse than those outside. You kind of expect that outsiders may give you trouble, but you don’t expect that those in the church would deliberately try to hurt you. But, sadly, it happens! So these verses are applicable both to situations in the world and in the church. Paul is saying,

The mercies of God call us to bless our enemies, sympathize with others, and practice humility.

You can tell a lot about a person by his or her attitude, especially when he is going through difficult times. The test of genuine change is when our attitudes change. This is especially true when we are treated wrongly and our attitudes reflect the character of Christ. Thus Paul’s first command is not easy, but it is one that we need if we want to be like Christ:

1. The mercies of God call us to bless our enemies.

Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Paul repeats the command to bless for emphasis, adding the second time, “Do not curse.” This verse assumes that we will face persecution as believers. As Paul wrote (2 Tim. 3:12), “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The reason people persecute Christians is that people hate God, and we represent God to them. Even when we do what is right, they hate us for it (1 Pet. 3:13-17). So rather than wonder, “What’s wrong?” when others mistreat us because of our faith, we should expect such mistreatment. If they hated our Lord, they will hate us, too (John 15:18-21).

By “blessing,” Paul means genuinely praying for and seeking the well-being of the persecutor. He means asking God to save the one who has mistreated us, which is the greatest blessing of all. By not cursing, he doesn’t mean not swearing at him, but rather, not calling down a curse from God on him. We should not wish that the persecutor rot in hell for what he did. It’s not enough just to refrain from retaliating or to get rid of our desire for vengeance. Rather, we are to ask God to bless him. As we have opportunity, we are to seek ways of helping the one who wronged us. We should not speak evil about him or get delight in thinking of evil things that could happen to him. We should bless him. Needless to say, this is not a natural or easy thing to do!

Paul is reflecting the words of our Lord Jesus. He said (Matt. 5:44), “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In Luke 6:27-28 Jesus put it this way: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” A few verses later, He added (Luke 6:35-36), “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” In Matthew 5:11-12, He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Regarding his own ministry, Paul said (1 Cor. 4:12b-13), “When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” Peter also held up the example of Jesus to his readers who were suffering unjustly as slaves (1 Pet. 2:19-23):

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Peter also said that our response to evil should be (1 Pet. 3:9), “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” These verses show that the uniform teaching of the New Testament runs contrary to our natural reaction when we’re mistreated. We are to respond not only by not retaliating, but positively by blessing those who persecute us.

The reason we should seek to respond to persecution by blessing our persecutors is that we are seeking to reflect the character of Christ to them. We want God to be glorified as we reflect His grace and love to sinners. As Jesus said (Luke 6:35), “He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”

A great help in obeying this command is to keep in mind that God was gracious to me when I was a sinner. He continues to be gracious to me when I sin, even as His child. And so I should be gracious to those in Satan’s domain of darkness, who are slaves to sin. My blessing those who persecute me may be the startling behavior that opens them up to the Savior.

This is a story that I’ve shared with you before, but I’ve never forgotten it since I read it over 30 years ago. And the author, Josephine Ligon, had not forgotten it, although it had happened to her as a young girl. There was a family named Parsons in her hometown that preached and practiced forgiveness. On one occasion, Josephine and some of her third-grade friends put a handful of pencil shavings into the Parsons girl’s sandwich, just to be mean and to make her mad. But she didn’t get mad. Instead, the next day, without any sign of repentance from her persecutors, the Parsons girl brought everyone in the class a large, beautiful, hand-decorated cookie that said, “Jesus loves you.” With her mother’s help, that little girl blessed her persecutors, and those third graders remembered it for the rest of their lives! (“Your Daffodils are Pretty,” Christianity Today [3/2/1979], p. 18)

You may wonder whether the New Testament is commanding total pacifism in the face of aggressors. Is it wrong to defend yourself against a bully or an intruder or robber? Is there a place for praying the imprecatory psalms against our persecutors, calling down the judgment of God on them? I can only comment briefly. My understanding is that there is a rightful place for defending your family or your own person from a violent aggressor. If possible, call the police and let them defend you. But if there is not time, it is not wrong to protect yourself or your family against a lawbreaker. But you should use the least amount of force necessary to restrain him and you should not seek to retaliate later.

Regarding the imprecatory psalms, it is important to realize that they were judicial and national, rather than personal cries for vengeance. On a personal level, David often refrained from taking vengeance on his enemies. But as the king over God’s people, David was crying out for God to bring justice on evildoers. Also, they reflect the fact that one day Christ will bring judgment on all who do not repent. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying that He will either save or judge the wicked. So an appropriate prayer for those who have persecuted us may be, “Lord, would You please save him, but if not, I know that You will judge him righteously.” The transformed attitude that we are to reflect is: because God was merciful to me while I was His enemy, I need to bless those who have treated me wrongfully.

2. The mercies of God call us to sympathize with others.

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This command is not as difficult as verse 14, but still it isn’t necessarily easy, because it requires self-denial. To enter sincerely into others’ joys and sorrows, you have to take the focus off yourself. You have to tune in and really listen to what they are saying, both verbally and non-verbally. You have to take the time to understand what they are going through.

To rejoice with those who rejoice sounds easy, but it’s often difficult. Chrysostom thought that Paul put it first because it is the more difficult of the two commands. We naturally weep with those who weep, but envy, pride, and a spirit of competition can keep us from rejoicing with those who rejoice. If you think that you deserved the success or blessings that they are enjoying, it takes selflessness and grace to truly rejoice with them. Self is always the major problem that we must battle.

But it’s not easy, either, to weep with those who weep. We feel the need to say something wise or appropriate, but we often end up saying something that we shouldn’t say. Job’s three friends did well when they sat silently with him for a week. They got into trouble when they tried to explain to him why he was suffering. Fewer words are usually better and wiser. Paul doesn’t say, “Counsel those who weep,” but “Weep with those who weep.”

A little girl lost a playmate in death. One day she told her parents that she had gone to comfort the grieving mother. “What did you say?” her parents asked. “Nothing,” she replied. “I just climbed up on her lap and cried with her.” She was a wise comforter!

Joseph Bayly and his wife lost three of their seven children in death. He wrote (The Last Thing We Talk About [David C. Cook], pp. 55-56), “I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true.

“I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

“Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.

“I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

The mercies of God call us to sympathize with others in both their joys and their sorrows.

3. The mercies of God call us to practice humility.

Romans 12:16: “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Paul keeps hammering this theme. In 11:20 he warned the Gentile believers, “Do not be conceited, but fear.” In 11:25, he explained, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” In 12:3, he hits it again: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

The command, “Be of the same mind toward one another” is one that Paul often repeated. He will repeat it in Romans 15:5, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” He repeats the idea three times in the short letter to the Philippians. In 1:27, he writes, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” In 2:2, he repeats, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” And again in 4:2 he says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” “Live in harmony” is literally, in the Greek text, “to think the same thing.” (See, also, 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11.)

Paul is not insisting that we all think alike or agree on every issue, which isn’t going to happen in this life. Rather, he is calling us to unity based on our common salvation, our shared purpose in the gospel, and our shared hope in Christ. His command does not suggest that we set aside essential doctrinal truth for the sake of unity, which would be to compromise the gospel. Rather, as in Ephesians 4:2-3, he is saying, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

When he says (Rom. 12:16b), “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly,” he could mean either lowly things or lowly people, or both. The verb, “associate with,” is literally, “to be carried away by,” as a flood that sweeps someone away (it is used in Gal. 2:13; 2 Pet. 3:17). So the idea is not to resist doing lowly tasks, but to be carried away with doing them. If you see trash on the floor at church, pick it up and throw it away. If you see that the trash bags are full at a church function, carry them out. Or, as applied to people who may be beneath your economic or educational level, reach out in love and make them feel accepted. Put yourself on the same level and relate graciously to them as you would want to be related to if you were in their shoes.

“Do not be wise in your own estimation” comes from Proverbs 3:7, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 451) observes, “The person who is wise in his own eyes is rarely so in the eyes of other people.” Even some unbelievers get this. Jay Leno was asked what the secret was to his long marriage. He said (Parade, 5/20/12), “If you don’t fool around, it’s not that hard. I think the key to life is low self-esteem—believing you’re not the smartest or most handsome person in the room. All the people who have high self-esteem are criminals and actors.”

Paul is warning us of the danger of intellectual pride. This was the sin that Adam and Eve fell to in the garden, when they thought that by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they could be like God (Gen. 3:5-6). It is the sin that Paul referred to in Romans 1, of those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (1:22). Through Jeremiah (9:23-24), the Lord warns, ‘“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.”


How transformed are your attitudes? Are you blessing those who have wronged you? Are you sympathizing with others in their joys and sorrows? Are you practicing humility through true Christian unity, through being quick to take on lowly jobs or to befriend people of no earthly status, and through not being impressed with your own wisdom? If you need to grow in any of these, go often to the foot of the cross, where Christ humbled Himself for your sake (Phil. 2:5-11).

Application Questions

  1. How can we know whether to confront or resist an aggressor versus blessing him?
  2. What Scriptures would you use to argue that pacifism (whether individual or national) is not mandated in the Bible?
  3. How can an insensitive person grow in genuine sympathy?
  4. Where should we draw the lines of Christian unity? How much doctrinal error (if any) should we tolerate to promote unity?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Spiritual Life

Lesson 87: Doing Right When You’re Wronged (Romans 12:17-21)

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What I said last week also applies to this message: I’m speaking on a subject about which I have almost no experience: Doing right when you’re wronged. I’ve had many instances where people did wrong things to me, of course, but rarely anything traumatic. My parents loved me, brought me to faith in Christ, and taught me His ways. I had a relatively easy childhood.

But some of you have suffered traumatic wrongs. You may have had parents who were emotionally, physically, or even sexually abusive. Some of you have suffered (or perhaps are currently suffering) in an abusive marriage. You live daily under a barrage of verbal and emotional attacks that include either threats of physical harm or actual physical abuse. Or, perhaps your mate was unfaithful and you struggle with bitterness over being betrayed.

Some of you have been victims of major fraud or theft. A few may have been the victim of a violent crime, such as rape or assault. Perhaps a loved one was murdered. Some may have suffered injury or trauma serving our country in the military.

But here in America, few of us have suffered as much as our brothers and sisters in countries where there is open hostility toward the gospel. John Piper (“Do not Avenge Yourselves, but Give Place to Wrath,” on DesiringGod.org) tells the story of the martyrdom of Graham Staines and his two sons:

In January, 1999 Graham Staines and his two sons, Phillip (10) and Timothy (6) were mobbed by radical Hindus, trapped inside their vehicle in … India, and burned alive. The three charred bodies were recovered clinging to each other. Graham Staines had spent 34 years serving the people of India in the name of Jesus. He was the director of the Leprosy Mission in Baripada, Orissa.

He left behind his widow Gladys and daughter Esther. … Her response was in every paper in India to the glory of Christ. She said, a few days after the martyrdom of her husband and sons, “I have only one message for the people of India. I’m not bitter. Neither am I angry. But I have one great desire: that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who gave his life for their sins … let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ’s love.”

Everyone thought she would move back to Australia. No. She said God had called them to India, and she would not leave. She said, “My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation; India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy.” Then, perhaps most remarkable of all—listen to this all you who are teenagers—her daughter Esther was asked how she felt about the murder of her dad, and the thirteen year old, said, “I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him.”

Wow! That is a God-thing! There is no other way to explain it. A similar thing happened in 2007 in Turkey, where Islamic militants mutilated and murdered German missionary Tilman Geske, a father of three, and two Turkish believers, one of whom had two young children. Geske’s widow also publicly forgave the murderers and vowed to continue her ministry in Turkey.

That’s the high biblical standard that we’re called to! I’m not going to tell you that I could respond as those godly widows did, unless God gave me unusual grace. But we need to understand how God wants us to respond when we are wronged, whether in a relatively minor or in a major way. We need to practice with the minor wrongs that we suffer so that we’ll be prepared for the major wrongs. In Romans 12:17-21, Paul teaches that…

The Christian response to being wronged is to do right toward your enemy, leaving all vengeance with God.

As with the previous section (12:14-16), the thread of selflessness or self-denial runs through our text. Our aim must be (as Paul’s was; Phil. 1:20), to exalt Christ in our bodies, whether by life or by death. Our desire should be that our enemy would come to know the same mercy and grace that we found at the cross. And so, rather than responding to the evil done against us with evil or with vengeance, we are commanded to respond with the radical love of Christ that overcomes evil with good. The world says, “Don’t get mad; get even!” But our Lord says (Luke 6:27), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

1. The wrong response to being wronged is to pay it back with wrong.

Paul says this three times in slightly different ways for emphasis: Romans 12:17a: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Verse 19a, “Never take your own revenge, beloved….” Verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil….” Paul gives a similar command in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “ See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” (See, also, 1 Peter 3:9.)

John Calvin points out that returning evil for evil may not be as severe as seeking revenge, but it is still forbidden. For example, your husband snaps unkindly at you and you respond by being cold to him or by not speaking to him. You aren’t plotting revenge, but you’re not exactly blessing him. You’re returning evil for evil. Or, if someone makes a cutting remark and you try to counter it, even in jest, you’re returning evil for evil.

I still remember when the Lord convicted me of this. When I was in college, a bunch of guys met weekly for dinner and Bible study. While we were waiting for dinner and exchanging small talk, it often devolved into a “chop” session, where one guy would make a humorous put-down about another guy, and he would respond with a funny put-down of the first guy. We all would laugh and sometimes pile on with more humorous put-downs.

Then one night, a newer Christian in our group said with a serious look on his face, “Guys, we’re sinning to talk like this.” We all jumped on him with our excuses: “Come on, we’re just having fun.” But he stood his ground and cited verses like Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” One by one, we all finally admitted that he was right. We asked forgiveness of one another and the chop sessions ended that night.

Revenge, which goes a step beyond returning evil for evil, is motivated by pride. Someone’s sinful actions against us wound our pride, so we want to get even to restore our honor. Many cultures around the world are driven by these honor codes. One family or tribe offends another tribe, so the offended party retaliates by inflicting revenge. This momentarily puts them on top, but only until their rival can devise a way to get even. Sometimes these feuds go on for centuries, resulting in needless bloodshed and warfare. The same mindset is behind the Muslim “honor killings,” where a family member who shames the family is killed to restore the family’s honor. It all stems from sinful pride.

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh (bible.org, “Loving Your Enemies: Overcoming Evil with Good”) shows four reasons from these verses that it is always wrong to take your own revenge. (1) “Revenge runs contrary to what society deems to be right.” Note verse 17b: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Our laws prohibit vigilante justice, where one person takes it upon himself to right some perceived wrong. And, while we sometimes chuckle at the absurd extremes that people take to get revenge, at least our culture usually knows that their behavior is wrong. The world generally knows that revenge solves nothing.

(2) “Revenge does not promote peace but incites men to hostility.” In verse 18, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Vengeance doesn’t lead to peace, but to further vengeance. It keeps the vicious cycle going.

(3) “Revenge usurps a task which belongs only to God.” In verse 19, Paul says, “Leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” We are incompetent to carry out personal vengeance, because we cannot know all of the motives and circumstances that were behind a person’s wrongful action towards us. Besides, our emotions get involved and cloud our judgment. Only God, who knows all things, is a competent and righteous Judge.

(4) “Revenge succumbs to evil rather than overcoming evil with good.” As Paul commands (12:21), “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” To take revenge is to respond to sin with more sin. It puts you on the same level as the one who sinned against you.

And so, as difficult as it is (and it is difficult!), it is always wrong to respond to wrong with more wrong. Paying back evil for evil or taking revenge is always motivated by selfishness or pride. It does not honor our merciful God. It will not lead to the conversion of the one who sinned against you. So you have to determine in advance that when you are wronged, you will not retaliate with more wrong.

2. The right response when you are wronged is to do what is right toward your enemy.

Paul states the right response to wrong several times for emphasis: Romans 12:17b: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Verse 18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Verse 20: “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink ….” Verse 21b: “Overcome evil with good.”

Again, I would emphasize that this is not our natural reaction. Our natural reaction is: He hit me; I’ll hit him back even harder! He yelled at me; I’ll yell at him even louder! He cussed me out; I’ll let that no good bum hear a few choice words from me! It requires submission to the indwelling Spirit of God to respond to wrongs by doing what is right.

A. Doing what is right requires some forethought.

Verse 17b should literally be translated, “Take thought in advance for what is visibly good in the sight of all people.” In New Testament Greek there are two words that convey the idea of goodness. One refers to inherent goodness. The other, the word used here, refers to external or visible goodness. It means good “in the sense of right, fair, noble, honorable” (A Manual Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, G. Abbott-Smith [Charles Scribner’s Sons], p. 229).

When Paul says that we should take thought for what is right in the sight of all people, he does not mean that we should determine our behavior by public opinion. Public opinion may run contrary to God’s Word. Rather, he means that we should think about our testimony to a watching world. What idea of the Christian faith will the world form when it sees or hears about how we responded to the wrong that was done to us? If we react with rage, we’re not being a good witness. If we stop to think about our witness, we can then respond in a Christlike manner.

Somewhere in his writings (I could not find the exact source) the late Chinese sufferer for Christ, Watchman Nee, tells of two Chinese terrace farmers. The farmer whose field was higher up the hill was a Christian. He would get up early and work hard to pump water by hand for his crops. But his shifty neighbor below him would cut a path through his upper neighbor’s dikes and let the water flow down to his lower field. This happened more than once and the Christian farmer was quite irritated with his lazy neighbor.

But rather than going down and yelling at his neighbor, the Christian farmer started pumping water first for his neighbor’s field and then for his own. As I recall the story, the lazy neighbor soon came under conviction, went to the Christian and apologized, and then listened to the Christian’s witness about Christ and came to faith in Christ himself.

You may wonder, what should I do if I’ve already blown it? Maybe you didn’t stop to think about how you should respond and so you exploded in anger at a difficult neighbor or family member. You pretty much ruined your testimony. Now what?

The answer is, humble yourself, go to the person you wronged, and ask forgiveness. Don’t try to use your apology to witness to him, because he will think you’re just apologizing so that you can give him the religious pitch. Just ask forgiveness and leave it with him to ask about your faith.

I’ve told you before about my own embarrassing failure. In California, we had a collie that was a good dog, except that whenever the neighbor drove by in his truck or the UPS truck went by, this dog would go into a frenzy of barking. It must have really bugged our neighbor, because one morning when our daughter Christa, who was about 12, went out to feed the dog, the neighbor came outside and started yelling at her, with a lot of profanity, to keep our dog quiet.

I was inside and could hear what was going on and it made me mad that he would use such foul language on my sweet daughter. So I went outside and yelled back at him to keep his filthy mouth shut around my kids. He yelled back at me and I went back inside.

This was Sunday morning and I had to preach God’s Word in a few minutes! God was convicting me about my angry exchange with my neighbor. The church was only about a quarter mile away, so I walked to church. As I came out of the house with my tie on and briefcase in hand, the neighbor and his daughter’s live-in boyfriend drove by. The dog was going crazy. I raised my hand to signal my neighbor to stop. He and the boyfriend looked like they were ready to pile out of the truck for a fight. Before they did, I said to the neighbor, “I’m really sorry that I yelled at you as I did, and I’m sorry about our dog. I ask your forgiveness. I don’t know how to get him to stop barking at your truck.”

His countenance changed instantly. He apologized for yelling at our daughter. And from then on, we always exchanged a friendly wave whenever we crossed paths. I never got to share the gospel with him, but I’m sure that he knew I was a pastor. At least he knew that I wasn’t a religious hypocrite. Give thought to what is right in the sight of all men.

B. Doing what is right may or may not result in peace, but peace should be your aim.

Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Sometimes in spite of all that we do, the other person does not want to make peace. He’s mad at God and you represent God to him. But Paul’s point is, don’t provoke a quarrel by your obnoxious behavior and then claim that you’re being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Bend over backwards to make peace. Let the difficult person know that you want to be on friendly terms. If he rejects it, at least it’s not your fault.

I should add that seeking peace does not include compromising key biblical truth for the sake of peace. Paul would not make peace with the Judaizers, who insisted on circumcision in addition to faith for salvation. He confronted Peter over his hypocrisy in trying to stay on their good side. Sometimes it is sin to make peace. We need wisdom and discernment to know when to stand firm.

C. Doing what is right includes kind, loving deeds to meet the needs of your enemy.

Romans 12:20: “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink ….” Feeding your enemy or giving him a drink represents all kind deeds that you can do to meet your enemy’s needs. Deeds often speak louder than words.

During a time of terrible atrocities in Armenia, a Turkish soldier pursued a young woman and her brother down a street. He cornered them and then mercilessly shot the brother and let the sister go free, but only after she saw her brother’s brutal murder.

Later, the woman was working as a nurse in a military hospital when the Turkish soldier who had shot her brother was brought into her ward. He was critically wounded and if she had left him alone, he would have died. At first, she wrestled with the desire for vengeance. But she realized that the Lord wanted her to treat this man with kindness, so she gently nursed him back to health.

One day the Turk, who recognized her, said, “Why didn’t you let me die?” She replied, “I am a follower of Jesus and He said, ‘Love your enemies.’” The man was silent for a long time, but finally said, “I never knew that anyone could have such a faith. If that’s what it does, tell me more about it. I want it.” (“Our Daily Bread,” 11/81)

So the wrong response to being wronged is to pay it back with wrong. The right response when you are wronged is to do what is right toward your enemy. Finally,

3. After you have responded to wrong with right, you can leave all vengeance to God.

Paul’s command (12:19) not to take vengeance relates to personal revenge, not to utilizing proper authorities for protection or redress. If someone is breaking the law, it is right to report him to the authorities (as Paul discusses in the very next section). In the local church, the elders sometimes must discipline members who sin against others and refuse to repent. And Paul’s point is that God is the final judge who will repay all that do not repent. So you can leave your case in His hands, knowing that He will be righteous and just in punishing those who have sinned against you. So your aim should be to bless your persecutors (12:14) and do right towards them (12:17). But if they refuse to repent, you don’t have to seek revenge, because God will right all wrongs at the judgment.

What does Paul mean, though, when he cites Proverbs 25:21-22 about your good deeds heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head? Most commentators say that the burning coals are burning pangs of shame that may bring the wrongdoer to repentance. In light of the context, which urges us to overcome evil with good, they argue that it could not mean that our good deeds will result in greater judgment for our enemy.

But John Piper (“Christ Overcame Evil with Good—Do the Same” on DesiringGod.org) and Thomas Schreiner (Romans [Baker], pp. 674-676) argue that all of the Old Testament references to burning coals refer to God’s judgment on His enemies, not to bringing the shame of guilt or repentance on them. For example, in Psalm 140:10, David cries out with regard to his enemies, “May burning coals fall upon them ….” So the meaning of Romans 12:20 would be that if you do good toward your enemy and he doesn’t repent, you can rest assured that God will one day redress your wrong by bringing severe judgment on your enemy.

Your motive in doing the good deeds is not to increase your enemy’s judgment, but prayerfully to bring him to repentance. But if he doesn’t repent, you can know that God will ultimately bring him to justice. In that sense, the righteous will rejoice when God brings judgment on the wicked (Deut. 32:43; Ps. 58:10-11; Rev. 6:10; 18:20). But our job is to bear witness to Christ by doing good towards our enemies and leaving all vengeance with God.


So the hard question that this Scripture leaves us with is, have I paid back evil with evil to anyone? Is this my pattern with my spouse? Is this the way I deal with my kids? How are my relationships with my extended family? Is this how I deal with difficult people at work or in my neighborhood? If so, first ask God’s forgiveness. Then figure out a way to ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. Even if they don’t repent, think about ways that you can bless them with kindness. That’s how to do right when you’ve been wronged.

Application Questions

  1. How can we determine when it is right to fight for our rights and when we should just accept being wronged?
  2. Why does reporting an abusive spouse or parent to civil authorities not violate the commands of our text?
  3. Does Scripture require us to try to carry on a relationship with a difficult person? Can we keep our distance?
  4. Is there a situation where you need to apply the principles of our text? How will you go about doing it?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Fellowship, Forgiveness, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 88: The Government and You (Romans 13:1-7)

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Imagine that you are a Christian farmer, living peacefully in colonial America, when word comes that a bunch of politicians in Philadelphia have declared independence from Great Britain. You are aware of what Paul teaches in Romans 13 about being in submission to the governing authorities. What should you do? Which side should you take? What if General Washington later conscripts you to join his revolutionary army?

Or, you’re living in Germany in the 1930’s when Adolph Hitler came to power. You watch with growing horror as he begins systematically exterminating the Jews. Some of your Jewish neighbors, who were good friends, are herded off to the death camps, never to be seen alive again. Then you hear about a plot to assassinate Hitler and you’re invited to join the conspiracy. If Hitler could be killed, it could conceivably save the lives of millions of Jews. But you’re aware of Romans 13, which commands you to be subject to the governing authorities. What should you do?

How should Christians relate to their government? If you think that I’m going to be able to give easy answers to these issues, thank you for your confidence in my wisdom, but I’m afraid that you’re too optimistic! Hopefully, none of us will ever face dilemmas as difficult as the ones I’ve described. But Romans 13:1-7 raises these and other important issues concerning our relationship as Christians with the government. When (if ever) is civil disobedience justifiable? What about armed rebellion or revolution against a corrupt government? What about capital punishment? Should Christians withhold part of their taxes to protest government misuse of our tax dollars?

At first glance, Romans 13:1-7 may seem to be out of context. Paul shifts subjects with no transition or introduction. But in the context, Paul is speaking about how believers are to live in love and to get along peaceably with all people. He has just forbidden taking vengeance and advocated treating with kindness those who mistreat us. This raises the questions, “Is it wrong to report those who mistreat us to civil authorities for prosecution? Is it wrong to use force to resist an aggressor?” So Paul shows that it is proper for the government to protect law-abiding citizens and to punish evildoers.

Also, Paul was writing to Christians, some of whom were Jews, in the capital of the Roman Empire. Claudius, the previous emperor, had expelled the Jews from Rome a few years before because he viewed them as dangerous (Acts 18:2). The Jews hated being under Roman rule. The Romans often viewed Christians as a Jewish sect, so that suspicion of revolution was always a concern in the minds of the rulers. Also, Christians easily could have taken Jesus’ teaching about the coming kingdom of God to mean that they should work for the overthrow of the secular, morally corrupt government in order to help bring in Christ’s kingdom. In fact, when Paul wrote Romans, Nero, one of the most evil rulers of all time, was on the throne. What a time for a revolution!

So Paul wanted the Roman Christians to be clear on how they should relate to the civil government. In Paul’s day, there was no Christian consensus or Christian-based constitutional law. There was no Jewish theocracy, as in the Old Testament. But these principles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, apply to believers down through the ages, living under various forms of government. Contrary to what many Americans may think, the Bible never mandates one type of government over another. While arguably a constitutional democracy with a balance of powers is the best form of government, the Bible does not ordain it or forbid monarchy or other forms of government. We can sum up Romans 13:1-7:

Because God has ordained government authority for our good, we must be subject to our government.

This week, I’m going to work through these verses. Next week I hope to give an overview from all of Scripture on to what extent Christians and the church should be involved in politics.

First, I’ll give a brief overview of Paul’s flow of thought and then we’ll explore four principles stemming from the text. First (13:1) Paul states that every person is to be subject to the governing authorities, because God is the sovereign who ordains all human governments. Then (13:2) he draws the implication: If you resist government authority, which God has established, you are opposing God Himself and you’ll come under judgment. Then (13:3-4) Paul explains that the purpose of civil government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers. As such, the government is acting as a minister of God in avenging wrong. Thus (13:5) there are two reasons to be in subjection to the government: Fear of punishment and conscience before God, who has ordained the government. Finally (13:6-7), Paul applies it by showing why we should pay taxes, namely, because government officials are servants of God. Thus they deserve our taxes as well as our respect.

1. The general principle: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be subject to it (13:1-2).

Paul first lays down a general principle (13:1a), “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” Then (13:1b) he explains the reason behind this principle: “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” He follows this (13:2) with a logical conclusion: “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

God has ordained various spheres of authority for the blessing and protection of those under authority: the government, the local church, the family, and employment. Due to sin, those in authority are often prone to misuse their authority for their own benefit, not for the benefit of those under their authority. But Paul, writing under wicked Nero, does not allow for exceptions. He states categorically (13:1b), “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Therefore every person is to be subject to their civil government.

Some do not want to go so far as to say that God established or ordained wicked tyrants like Nero. So they say that God ordained the institution of government, not the individual rulers. But that is a weak attempt to dodge a problem that Scripture repeatedly affirms. For example, Jeroboam, who rebelled against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, subsequently set up false gods and a false worship center so that his people would not go to Jerusalem. Yet his rebellion and kingdom was “a turn of events from the Lord,” to establish His prophecy through Ahijah (1 Kings 12:15).

Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, slaughtered many Jewish people, and carried most of the survivors to Babylon. But God calls him His “servant” and says that He gave all of the land he conquered into his hand (Jer. 27:6).

Pilate was a pagan Roman governor who allowed Jesus to be crucified. Note this interesting exchange between Pilate and Jesus (John 19:10-11): “So Pilate said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’”

Even the wicked dragon (Satan) and the beast (Antichrist) do not thwart God’s purpose for the ages. They are under His sovereign authority, even when they persecute the saints (Rev. 13). Daniel’s testimony to both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar was consistent and clear: “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).

When Paul says (13:2) that those who disobey government authority “will receive condemnation upon themselves,” I understand him primarily to be referring to the judgment that the government brings on law-breakers. In verse 4 he says that the government “bears the sword,” which refers to the authority to punish law-breakers. He also calls it “an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” These expressions do not refer to God’s eternal wrath, but to His temporal wrath inflicted by the government on evildoers so that it can uphold law and order.

Thus, because the government is God’s minister to inflict punishment on those who do evil, Christians must be in subjection to the government. But this raises the questions, “What about civil disobedience against corrupt governments or bad laws? What about armed rebellion against evil, tyrannical governments?”

Regarding civil disobedience, when the government commands us to do something that is disobedient to God’s Word, we must resist the government and obey God. When the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, they replied (Acts 4:19-20), “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Later, when the command was repeated, Peter answered (Acts 5:29), “We must obey God rather than men.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Dan. 3). In defiance of the king’s edict, Daniel continued to pray (Dan. 6).

If the government forced us to abort babies to maintain population control, we should resist. If the government forbad us to gather as believers, we should gather anyway. If the government banned the Bible, we should own and distribute Bibles anyway. If the government commanded us not to say anything against homosexual behavior, we should teach what the Bible says anyway.

Should Christians ever take up arms against the government or attempt to assassinate a wicked ruler, such as Hitler? Were the thirteen colonies right to declare independence from Britain? These are difficult questions that must be prayerfully thought through in each situation. Godly believers differ in their conclusions.

While I would agree that it is wrong to murder an abortionist, which would be overcoming evil by evil (Rom. 12:21), I must admit that if I had lived in Nazi Germany and had had an opportunity to take out Hitler, it would have been very tempting. As you know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested and subsequently hanged because he was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Killing Hitler would have saved the lives of millions of Jews. I realize that by the same logic it could be argued that killing an abortionist saves hundreds of babies. So I’m being a bit inconsistent. But Hitler was so horrifically evil that, as I said, it would have been tempting to kill him.

Regarding revolution against the government, I agree with Sam Storms, who writes (on EnjoyingGodMinistries.com), “Armed revolution is justified … only if the state has become totally opposed to the purpose for which God ordained it, and if there is no other recourse available to prevent massive evil.” Obviously, this involves a judgment call. Some justify the American Revolution on the principle “that it is morally right for a lower government official to protect the citizens in his care from a higher official who is committing crimes against these citizens” (cited by Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible [Zondervan], p. 89, italics his). This view goes back to Calvin’s Institutes (ibid.).

But in my judgment, I cannot justify the American Revolution on biblical grounds, although I am thankful for our nation and our freedoms. While King George was corrupt and repressive, I don’t think he was so bad as to justify rebellion. Again, I realize that godly thinkers disagree on this. It’s not an easy issue! But the general principle is clear and exceptions to it must be weighed very carefully: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be in subjection to it or we are in rebellion against God Himself.

2. The purpose for government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers (13:3-4).

Romans 13:3-4: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

Paul is presenting the general purpose and practice of government: to protect those who do right and to punish those who do wrong. Granted, there have been many exceptions throughout history. Corrupt governments punish law-abiding citizens who speak out against the corruption and they reward scoundrels who help keep them in power. John Calvin argues (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 480) that God uses wicked rulers as His scourge to punish the sins of the people. In other words, we get the rulers that we deserve! But when governments function as they are supposed to, they protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers.

To do this, the government must legislate morality. You often hear that we should not legislate morality, but that is absurd. I had an exchange in the local newspaper earlier this year with an opinion piece where the author argued that imposing “personal, moralistic beliefs” challenges our freedom by disregarding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I pointed out in my response that we impose personal, moralistic beliefs all the time. We have laws against rape, wife-beating, honor killings, stealing, assault, murder, pedophilia, and many other immoral behaviors, and rightly so. We forcefully impose these “moralistic” beliefs on all in our society, even though they go against the personal beliefs of a minority.

The responses to my article were unbelievable. One man argued that “murder, rape, pedophilia, and assault are crimes, not bad morals.” Hello? Another lamented, “It is true that our laws are informed by our collective beliefs. Unfortunately, those beliefs are often derived from a jumble of ancient religious texts.” But he is hopeful, as he continues, “Fortunately, more and more people are discarding those antiquated religious beliefs in favor of a morality based on science and reason.” He goes on to state proudly that he is in favor of women being allowed to kill their babies (he calls it “pro-choice”) and that he chooses “science, reason and freedom.” What delusion! Sadly, that man used to attend this church!

If God’s purpose for civil governments is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers, then it follows that we should use civil authorities for protection and due process. Paul himself did this in Philippi, where he was unjustly beaten and imprisoned without a trial, although he was a Roman citizen. When the authorities realized their error and wanted to quietly usher him out of town, Paul wouldn’t stand for it (Acts 16:35-40). He also invoked his Roman citizenship to avoid a scouring and to appeal to Caesar rather than face a kangaroo court (Acts 22:25; 25:11).

This means that if someone is physically or sexually abusing you, you should report it to the proper authorities. If your husband is physically abusive, call the police. If he is a church member, let the elders know so that we can implement church discipline. If you are being defrauded by a church member, first attempt to resolve the matter in the church (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If it can’t be resolved, you may have to take your case to secular courts. The purpose of government is to protect law-abiding people and punish evildoers.

What about capital punishment? Paul mentions the government “bearing the sword.” As far back as the covenant with Noah, God ordained that if someone deliberately takes another person’s life, his life should be taken (Gen. 9:6). Under the Mosaic covenant, there were many other crimes punishable by death. But those laws applied specifically to Israel under the law.

My understanding is that capital punishment is still fitting for first degree murder. It upholds the sanctity of human life to impose the penalty of life for life. But the way that our government practices capital punishment is inept. Murderers are allowed to live on death row for decades while they file appeal after appeal, often on technicalities. My view is that if a criminal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, he should be executed immediately after his trial. Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” To argue that a criminal should not be executed because he is insane is insane. To insist that we must execute him as painlessly as possible is insane. The issue is that he ruthlessly murdered innocent people. The punishment for that crime should be quick, painful death. Anything else cheapens the lives that he slaughtered.

The general principle is that since God has ordained government authority, we must be subject to it. The purpose for government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers.

3. We should be subject to government not only because it is for our good, but also because it is right (13:5).

Romans 13:5: “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” Paul means that we should be subject to our government not only because we fear punishment if we break the law, but also because we fear God, who knows our hearts. This makes keeping the laws of our land not just a matter of outward compliance, but also of inward obedience to God. With outward compliance, you are honest on your income tax forms because you’re afraid that if you aren’t, you might get caught. With inward obedience, you are honest because you want to have a clear conscience before God, who reads your tax forms before you send them in!

4. Paying taxes and giving proper respect to government officials is part of submission (13:6-7).

Romans 13:6-7: “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

For the third time Paul mentions that government officials are servants of God, but this time he uses a different word that is sometimes used for those who serve in the temple and also of angels (Heb. 1:7). This may hint that these officials are performing a sacred function, although that may be reading too much into the use of the word here (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 804). But by saying that they are “servants of God,” Paul wants us to see the importance of submitting to them, paying taxes, and giving them proper honor.

Paul uses two words for taxes. The first refers to direct taxes paid by subject nations, such as property tax and income tax. The second word refers to more indirect tax, such as sales tax and customs (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 686). The point is, although we often disagree with how our government spends our tax dollars, we should pay our taxes conscientiously before the Lord. We can protest our taxes through proper channels and we can vote for those who might lower our taxes, but we aren’t free to opt out of paying our taxes.

“Fear” should probably be translated “respect” here. In the context, Paul is not speaking about fearing God, but about the proper respect given to government leaders. We should confront the evil behavior of rulers. John the Baptist confronted Herod’s taking his brother’s wife (Matt. 14:4). Jesus called Herod “that fox” (Luke 13:32), which referred either to his deceptiveness or his destructiveness (Darrell Bock, Luke [Baker], 2:1247). Our current President promotes evil views on abortion and homosexuality. It is right to confront him on this. My understanding is that all civil authorities are worthy of respect because of their office. But honor is only due to those who deserve it because they are honorable in their personal integrity, morals, and in the way that they serve.


Our text rests on the assumption that you are in subjection to God and want to please Him. Paul is not promoting moralism, but rather submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. He is showing us how that submission plays out in our relationship to our government. So before you get right with the government, you’ve got to get right with God by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Your relationship with Christ provides the basis for proper submission toward the government.

Application Questions

  1. On what biblical grounds would you argue in favor of or against the American Revolution?
  2. Some argue that it is wrong for Christians to protest at abortion clinics or at civil rights marches. Others argue that it is wrong not to do these things. What is your view and why?
  3. To what extent (if any) is it right to use satire, sarcasm, or ridicule toward government leaders in view of Rom. 13:7?
  4. What Scriptures support capital punishment? Should any crimes other than murder be subject to the death penalty?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Spiritual Life