Big Idea: Gospel doctrine leads to gospel culture, which leads to gospel behavior.
Today we’re looking at a passage in the book of Romans, but before we look at it I want to tell you what I find fascinating about it.
Romans is one of the most profound books ever written. It stands as a masterpiece in Scripture. Reading the book of Romans is like going to the Louvre in Paris to look at art or going to Switzerland to look at mountains. You’re reading some of the richest theology ever written. Martin Luther said this about Romans:
This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.
If you get into Romans you’ll never be the same. Paul explains some of the deepest theology for eleven rich chapters, and each chapter is worth any effort it takes. If you’ve never studies this book, you need to. You won’t regret it.
But here’s what I find fascinating. When Paul begins to explain what all of this theology means to us, where does he begin? He begins with our relationships.
In Romans 12, Paul shifts his attention to a very real church — a group of people just like us — and says, “Let me tell you what all this rich theology means for you.” His big umbrella statement is found in verses 1 and 2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Your whole life belongs to God. So respond to God’s grace by living your life in such a way that pleases God.
How do we do this? It’s interesting that Paul goes directly to our relationships. When we understand what Jesus has done for us, it profoundly shapes the way that we relate to others. So Paul goes right there. He tells us 3 to 8 to get over ourselves; to see ourselves realistically and to use our gifts to serve others.
But here’s where I want to go today. In the rest of the chapter Paul unpacks the implications of verse 10: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The rest of the chapter is a loosely structured series of commands. But everything, I think, is an outgrowth of this verse.
Think about it. How do we apply the riches of the gospel today? There are many ways, but here’s where to start: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Let’s look at this passage and how it can work itself out at Liberty Grace Church.
There are two commands in this passage.
Love — “Love one another with brotherly affection.” That sounds pretty simple, but there’s a lot there.
I want you to see that this is a command given to the church. It’s not meant for everyone. Of course, we should love those who aren’t part of the church. We’re called to be the most loving, the most inviting people in the community bar none. When people think about where they should go to be genuinely loved and cared for, we want them to think of Liberty Grace Church. Why? Because everyone in this community is made in God’s image. Everyone in this community is valuable. It doesn’t matter what they believe or how they live. We want to extend love to everyone in Jesus’ name. That’s what we want to be known for.
But in this verse, that’s not what Paul is talking about. Paul is talking about how we’re to relate to each other within the church. That’s what he means when he says “one another.” “Wherever else you have affection, have it here. And whomever else you honor, show honor here” (John Piper).
So what are we supposed to do? Love, and as we’re going to see in a minute, show honor. These are emotion-laden words.
Paul uses two words for love in this passage.
In verse 9, the word love is about a strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person. It carries along with it a willingness to sacrifice our rights and privileges on their behalf.
But then in verse 10, he uses couple of other words for love. Both of them have to do with family. The verb at the beginning — love — is usually used of the relationship between a husband and wife, mother and child, father and son, and so on. You know that these kinds of bonds within a family are usually among the strongest that exist anywhere. The second has to do with the affection that takes place between siblings.
Paul is talking about family-like affection that comes with long familiarity and the deepest of bonds. When you’re in a family you can have squabbles and fights, but you’re still committed to each other. When someone comes along and threatens someone in your family, you’re going to rise up in defense. If someone in your family comes down with a life-threatening illness or disease, you’re going to suffer with them like you wouldn’t suffer with anyone else.
Honor — The other command here is honor. “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Paul’s talked about how we should feel about each other. Now he tells us how we should treat each other: by honoring each other — actually by outdoing one another in showing honor. Don’t just show honor. Be extravagant in showing honor. See if you can outdo each other.
I love Ray Ortlund’s words:
Here is a competition in which everyone wins, here is where we can fight for first place in line: in honoring one another. Not just accepting one another, not just forgiving one another, not just tolerating one another, but honoring one another.
Every church can be a culture of honor. Why? Because of the doctrine of glorification. It’s the punch-line of the gospel: “Them he glorified” (Romans 8:30). Every Christian you know will be forever glorious inside and out with the glory of the risen Jesus: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Let’s see one another not as we are but as we will be. That gospel-perception makes Romans 12:10 an obvious thing to do. Romans 12:10 might be the most disobeyed Scripture in our churches today, but it really is the wardrobe into Narnia.
Who wouldn’t want to walk into church this next Sunday morning to a hero’s welcome?
Another time he asks, “Will we ever be in danger of obeying this verse too much?”
Why should we love each other this way? Why should we outdo each other in showing honor? The answer is hidden in verses 9 and 10. The words that Paul uses for love are family words. We’re to love each other like family because we actually are family.
One church has put it this way:
We are God’s chosen people – His family – set apart to live in such a way that the world would know what he is like. Through faith in Jesus we believe we are Children of God and brothers and sisters with each other. As God’s family we see it as our obligation to personally care for the needs of one another – both physically and spiritually. We disciple, nurture and hold each other accountable to Gospel life together.
What we have here is a gospel culture: one in which people are loved; one in which we receive an actual new family where everyone is loved and honored.
Don’t you want this? I do. This is what I meant by beauty. Imagine if we were this kind of church. Imagine what it would feel like to come in and be loved like crazy. Imagine if we tripped over each other in honoring each other. This would be the safest, the most welcoming, the most loving place in the entire community. I want a church culture like this!
We get this. This isn’t too hard to understand.
The problem is that it sounds like a bit of a pipe dream to some of us. Maybe you’ve been around church and you’ve never experienced this. Maybe you don’t even know where to start, but you certainly know you’re not going to start loving the people around you just by trying harder. What Paul commands here seems impossible. Paul tells us how to feel and what to do. Just because he says that we’re family doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to start doing it.
I remember somebody visiting our church one day. He really liked our church. But then he began reading some of our literature. He read about us wanting to be this kind of community, and he thought, “Oh, boy.” He’d been part of a church that had also put a lot of emphasis on this, and it hadn’t worked. The more they tried to make community happen, the worse it went until it eventually fell apart.
He was right. How are we going to become a church that has a beautiful gospel culture?
The answer’s right in front of us. Remember at the beginning that I said that Romans is a tour through the richest theology? For eleven chapters Paul has been playing the music of the gospel. By chapter twelve he’s got us swinging to the music, and so Paul describes what a church looks like that’s playing the music of the gospel.
If you start in chapter 12 and try to build what he describes, you’ll fail. The only way you can succeed in chapter 12 is if you’re playing the music that’s found in chapters 1 to 11. It’s the gospel that creates the community that Paul talks about.
As one author puts it:
The point is not the community; the point is God. Community is merely the effect.
Our new society of the church is not a mutual admiration society, but a shared admiration society. Our affection for each other is derivative. It derives from our worship of God— a God who saved us from a million different “communities” of this world to become his family. Our identify no longer stems from our families of origin, our professions, or our interests and ambitions, but the fact that we are in Christ. We are Christians. And so as an urban American of the professional class, I have more in common with my working class, rural, Sudanese brother in Christ than with my own non-Christian blood brother. Thus the song of heaven is praise for this culmination of Christ’s exploits, that “by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5: 9). God and his glory in the church are the point, not the community we seek.
Listen to the money quote that follows:
When the gospel is believed, the supernatural community described in the New Testament happens. (The Compelling Community)
Or, as Ray Ortlund puts it, “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace.”
How will we become a community that loves and honors each other? When we become a community that believes the gospel. Through the gospel.
Gospel doctrine leads to gospel culture, which leads to gospel behavior. When we hear the music of the gospel, it will create a certain kind of community within the church that will then do the things we read about in the rest of the chapter: contributing to the needs of the saints; showing hospitality; sharing joys and sorrows; living in harmony; associating with the lowly.
How do we get the behavior? Not by trying to get the behavior. We get the behavior by focusing on the gospel until it shapes our culture, and then that culture will shape our actions.
That’s what we need. Years ago Francis Schaeffer said:
One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.
I’m so not wanting to start a “normal” church. The last thing I want to do is to start a church that just goes through the motions.
Last week we talked about the fact that we’re family — not like a family, but actually family. Today we’ve looked at what makes this possible: the gospel. When we begin to play the music of the gospel, this is the kind of community that will result.
So today I want to ask you: are you ready to play this music? The sheet music is in chapters 1 to 11. It’s what Jesus has done for us in all of its riches. Let’s learn it. Let’s not just learn it, but let’s tap our feet to it. Let’s carry that tune in our hearts all day long.
Then let’s get together and play that music together. Let’s unite not around common interests or affinities, but around Jesus and what he’s done for us. And as we do so, let’s love each other like the brothers and the sisters we already are. Let’s try to outdo one another in showing honor.
And then let’s expect that the music of the gospel won’t just stay in our hearts or within our church, but will be heard in the whole community too.