The Countercultural Disciple: Choose Love
Pastor Russell Scoggins
Sermon Date: 8/4/2019
Bible Reference: Romans 12:9-21
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
There was a man. This man had made mistakes in his life. He had a felony on his record…. But for a number of years he had been back on the right track. He found a company that was willing to hire him in spite of his record. He had met a beautiful and good woman and gotten married. They had two little children. Things seemed to be going fairly well… but then hard times hit. This man’s wife got cancer. The cancer took her in a matter of months. The man really struggled to keep everything together. Not long after his wife’s death, he went back to drinking too much. He got fired from his job because he showed up to work under the influence. That made him realize he needed to get sober again…. Which he managed pretty well. However; he didn’t have a job. He had two kids to support and no income. No family to help. No friends willing to help. He searched and searched for a job but nobody would hire him because of his record. Times were so tough he resorted to begging. So he would sit there, on the busy sidewalk, with his two kids, and hold a sign. He would just pray that someone would be gracious enough to give them enough money so that his family could eat that day.
One day as he’s sitting there, a republican sees him. The republican doesn't stop or say anything to the man and his family—he just walks past. However, once he finally gets where he’s going, he sits down, pulls out his phone and types up a big long public post about how frustrating it is that people think it’s okay to just mooch off of other people and the government. He bemoans the country’s democrats for encouraging this kind of behavior in people by giving free handouts. “Goodness gracious people! Learn how to get a job and pull your own weight!” He yells to his Facebook audience.
Back to the man begging for money… Later that day, the man is still sitting on the street with his kids begging for money. A democrat sees him. The democrat doesn't stop or say anything to the man and his family—he just walks past. However, once he finally gets where he’s going, he sits down, pulls out his phone and types up a big long public post about how frustrating it is that there are people who would ignore the underprivileged and struggling in our midst. He bemoans the country’s republicans for being unloving, selfish, and ignoring those who have legitimate need. “Goodness gracious people! Learn how to show some compassion!” He yells to his facebook audience.
Back to the man begging for money… Later that day, the man is still sitting there with his family. An undocumented immigrant that is out walking sees the man and his family. As he gets close to the man and his family, he stops. He reads the sign he is holding. The undocumented immigrant pulls something out of his pocket. He gets down on his knees so that he can speak to the man and his kids. He says to them, “The only thing I have with me right now is this McDonalds gift card. I can see that you and your family need it more than I do. I want you to have it.”
If you didn’t catch what I did there… I essentially asked the question, what if Jesus had lived during this time period, in this nation, and told the story of the Good Samaritan? Sometimes, when we read the Bible, we forget that Jesus came and operated in the midst of a very politically and racially tense era. There were the Pharisees—they were the conservatives of the day. There were the Sadducees—they were the liberals of the day. You had the herodians—the pro big government people of the day. Then you had the zealots—the anti-government people of the day. And then you had the Essenes—those who looked at everyone else and said, “Y’all are all crazy. We’re packing up and leaving.”
So often we fail to realize that Jesus lived and moved and operated in the midst of a very politically charged and divided world. The story of the Good Samaritan—for its original hearers, that would have been a racially and politically charged story. The verses we have in front of us from Romans 12 and then continuing into Romans 13: Those too may have been politically shocking words to the Romans who read Paul’s letter. By our best estimate, when Paul wrote Romans, Nero was the Emperor in Rome. Nero was a bad dude. Under Nero, Christians were being chased and brutally and violently murdered. They were being burned alive. They were being ripped to shreds by hunting dogs. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be a Christian in that day and age. And then, on top of all the trouble you’re already experiencing, you get a letter from the apostle Paul. The letter says things like, “14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone… Live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge…” I mean, come on Paul. Where’s the justice in that way of living? Paul goes on, more shocking words are coming. Imagine being in the midst of horrible persecution and slaughter and injustice—all being carried out by the bidding of the government and societal groups that hate Christians. Then you read the next line from Paul (Romans 13:1): “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” How would that make you feel? Really Paul? Now we’ve heard it all. How is that fair? You expect us to submit to THESE governing authorities?
One of the things I’ve always loved about Jesus is that he can’t be pigeonholed. When Jesus came, he reached out to people on every side of every political aisle. Case in point—two of his disciples—Matthew and Simon. Before following Jesus Matthew was a? Tax collector. An individual who worked for government. Simon was? A zealot. Simon the zealot—anti-government. It would have been fun to see those two discuss things. God, Jesus, Scripture itself—they straddle politics. Thinking about it in our context… Jesus was neither red nor blue. Parts of God’s Word line up with some Republican agendas and parts of it condemn some Republican agendas. Parts of God’s Word line up with some Democratic agendas and parts of it condemn some Democratic agendas. You have WELS brothers and sisters in Christ who are Republicans—some of them may be in this very room—and there’s nothing wrong with them. Just like you, they are children of God and heirs of heaven. You have WELS brothers and sisters in Christ who are Democrats—some of them may be in this very room—and there’s nothing wrong with them. Just like you, they are children of God and heirs of heaven. You have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who have vastly different political views than you… and the same is true, there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re children of God and heirs of heaven.
In all reality, this topic of politics and how to navigate them as Christians who live in a politically charged culture deserves it’s own sermon series. It’s one we don’t speak about enough. I’m thinking that next year leading up to the election—maybe August or September of 2020—we’ll do a sermon series aimed at helping us keep our level headedness and how to encourage others to keep a level head as election season is heating up.
But today, we’re just doing the brief overview. We’re considering Paul’s encouragement for us. I’ve summarized Paul’s encouragement for us with these words: Choose Love. Do you think it’s a coincidence that right before Paul begins one of Scripture’s most clear political commentaries in Romans chapter 13, he spends 13 verses in chapter 12 speaking about loving your neighbor? Probably not a coincidence. Politics has the power to make Christians lose their minds. When Christians get too wrapped up in politics, guess what the first things to go is? Love for our neighbor. When we deal with political opponents, if we are more concerned with being right than we are with drawing them to Christ’s love, we’ve lost our way. Is our goal to win the argument, or win the soul? In this politically charged culture, we far too often find ourselves looking to win the argument. When that’s the case, it means we’re in need of a spiritual reality check. Thank goodness Jesus wasn’t concerned with winning the argument when he came to earth. His focus? Winning souls.
Alright, Paul fires off a lot of things right here, so let’s pick out a few highlights. Here’s the 5 highlights we’re going to look at: (1) Love must be sincere. (2) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (3) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (4) Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (5) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(1) “Love must be sincere.” In the original language it literally says, “Love must be without hypocrisy.” That, right there, is huge. It’s the root of everything Paul is about to say. Love must be without hypocrisy. Guess what happens when we CLAIM to be Christians, we CLAIM to love all people, but then we do the opposite? It makes God look bad. It makes Christianity look bad. When we CLAIM to be Christians and then turn around and repost hateful political memes, we’ve got a hypocrisy problem. When we CLAIM to be Christians but turn around and post articles that smear or make fun of the governmental leaders, groups and policies we disagree with, we have a hypocrisy problem. When we CLAIM to be Christians but turn around and repost articles about how our favorite leaders are essentially the second messiah, we’ve got a hypocrisy problem. When we CLAIM to be Christians but then turn around and use our mouths to say things that dishonor those we don’t agree with, we’ve got a hypocrisy problem.
(2 & 3) Let’s take those next two similar phrases together: (2) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (3) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Here’s what’s happening in our nation. As Christians, regardless of what your political views are, there is a huge temptation to curse those who persecute you and repay evil with evil—especially within our political context. I constantly see people from all sides of the political aisle post things that are hateful, unloving, offensive. I constantly see people from all sides that repost news articles that only consider one side of an issue and then smear and condemn all who think differently. It’s just plain evil. And in our world of public social media platform, abandoning Paul’s call to love our neighbor is only a couple clicks away. We give into that temptation to say our piece just like everybody else and we throw love to the wind—we end up repaying evil for evil. Just because someone who disagrees with me loudly proclaims their opinions through distasteful memes and one-sided/hypercritical articles, that does not make it okay for me as a Christian to do the same.
(4) Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. This phrase here, it’s a good chance to talk about how all this plays out practically speaking. Why, to the best of our ability, do we want to do what’s right in the eyes of everyone? Because if we aren’t striving after this encouragement, we end up distracting people from Jesus. Example: I want you to imagine that you make a new friend. Just like we’ve been talking about over the course of the past few weeks, you’re intentional with this new relationship. You aim to strengthen the friendship so that you can invite them to church. But before you even get the chance to invite them to church, they send you a friend request on Facebook. Uh-ho. If you are someone who regularly posts political articles and memes…. Guess what. You now have a 50% chance of spoiling that friendship and never having the opportunity to invite them to church. (This doesn’t just happen on social media—it can happen in real life as well if we’re too wrapped up in the affairs of this world.)
(5) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It’s a great summary statement from Paul. Because, ultimately, isn’t that what happens when we give in? When we give in, when we take the bait, aren’t we being overcome by evil? If they’re allowed to post ridiculous things online, well, then I should be allowed to post whatever I want. If they’re allowed to let hateful things come out of their mouths, well, then I should be allowed to say whatever I want. God does not call us to be right. He does not call us to get even. He does not call us to prove our point. He does not call us to love only those who share our political views. He calls us to love EVERYONE. The love with which God calls us to love others crosses political lines. It crosses racial lines. It crosses borders and boundaries. The love with which God calls us to love others has no earthly agenda—only an eternal one.
As Christians living in a certain time and place, part of our calling is to be good earthly citizens. So yes, you can have political views. You can be a good citizen and work for political change. God’s Word leaves room for you to be a Democrat, it leaves room for you to be a Republican, it leaves room for you to be something in between if you like. But God’s Word does not have any room for us to lose our heads and stop loving our neighbor. So closing question: how do we keep our heads and love our neighbor—every neighbor? We keep our focus on the one who came and loved all of humanity regardless of their political leanings. Love must be without hypocrisy. That was Jesus in every way. He didn’t just SAY he loved every person. He loved every person. He didn’t just SAY he cared about the poor and the broken. He actually cared for the poor and the broken. He didn’t just CLAIM to love people of every race and every nation. He actually stretched out his arms and died for people of every race and every nation. Jesus didn’t merely proclaim that he had a heart for every sinner. He died and rose again for every sinner. He died and rose again for you and me. Jesus loved you without an earthly agenda. His love touched your heart and life. It’s the reason you sit here today. It’s the reason you have an eternity in heaven waiting for you. Let’s spread that transformational love of Christ—every person we come into contact with needs it just as desperately as we do, regardless of their political leanings, their background, or their country of origin. Choose love—Christ’s love. It’s the only thing that has the power to heal divides. It’s the only thing that has the power to ease tensions. It’s the only thing that has the power to win souls—nothing else does. Amen? Amen.